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posted by chromas on Thursday October 11 2018, @02:22AM   Printer-friendly

I previously reviewed Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy and Postsingular and found that Rudy Rucker's best work comes after ideas had the most time to percolate. Postsingular was a relative dud, although still far superior to Neal Stephenson's REAMDE. In contrast, Rainbows End is highly recommended. Indeed, it is essential reading for anyone concerned about the progression of software from desktop, web and mobile to augmented reality. The book has a shockingly similar game to Pokémon Go in addition to a plausible mix of tech mergers and new entrants in a near-future universe where smartphones have given way to wearable augmented reality.

Many books, comics and films have covered the purgatory of high school and some have covered the special purgatory of going back to high school (for a re-union or as a student). The film: 21 Jump Street is a particularly silly example of the sub-genre. Rainbows End covers a world leading humanities academic who spends years in the fugue of dementia, responds almost perfectly to medical advances and is enrolled in high school to complete his therapy. While he looks almost perfectly like a 17 year old, his contemporaries remain in decline or have bounced back with far more random results.

Although he has physically recovered, he has lost his razor-sharp insight and biting wit[1]. Like other patients, he finds talents in unrelated areas. His computer fluency, which was sufficient to publish in academic journals, is now 20 years out of date. During this period, laptops have become as thin as paper and also horrendously obsolete. Although the paper-thin laptops can be configured as a variety of legacy desktop environments and legacy web browsers, rendering data from the (almost) ubiquitous wireless network is less successful than accessing the current World Wide Web without images or JavaScript. However, this is only one slice of purgatory.

Almost everyone and everything from the protagonist's granddaughter to classmates to the high school syllabus pressures him into getting his own augmented reality client. It is worse than the current pressure to join social networks. Understandably, many curmudgeons[2] never take the leap. Obviously, narrative would greatly suffer if our protagonist wasn't one of the bold few. But, whoa, what a world which awaits! It is easier to flip through augmented reality overlays than to change channel in IRC. He also gets acquainted with instant messaging, tele-presence and the innards of network jitter. He stays in contact with faculty and, from this, some of the action is set around UCSD's Geisel Library. However, the protagonist has fractious relations with family, is failing classes in a downmarket charter school, is socially awkward and makes zero progress on a personal cornerstone of academic publication. Old friends suspect that he's lost his spark. Meanwhile, new talents are frustrated by digital certificate chains, "secure" management engines, DRM and no user serviceable parts (with particular reference to vehicles). "Computer says no." is enough to test anyone's sanity.

The protagonist endures art classes which are mostly editing and sequencing augmented reality effects; shop classes which use a patronising wifi, DRM, augmented reality, servo construction set (a plausible successor to Lego Mindstorms); and "Search And Analysis", trite MBA classes for the effective use of search engines, analytics, forums and crowd-sourcing. Meanwhile, there are sub-plots involving a library digitization project, a biological threat and a hacker portrayed as a white rabbit. The white rabbit is a cheeky, winsome character more like Bugs Bunny or Roger Rabbit than Lewis Carroll's nervous White Rabbit. It is not new for an author to have a theme about literacy heritage. (Or lack thereof.) Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 covers book burning in the most literal and alarming form. Rudy Rucker covers subtle matters. For example, when the physical becomes virtual, the loss (or reduced use) of alphabetical index reduces serendipity. It also covers the matter of gifting public collections to billionaires; ostensibly in the name of progress.

Many of the characters perform double duty and this creates a soap opera bubble of reality. It feels like an author being clever with an overly constrained plot. Before the midpoint of the book, it is quite apparent that the loose ends of the plot get resolved far too tidily. Nevertheless, it is highly enjoyable and has technical merit while doing more with less. Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy takes the mythical imipolex plastic of Thomas Pynchon's book: Gravity's Rainbow (written in similar style to the Illuminatus trilogy) and infuses it with general purpose artificial intelligence. Postsingular has nanobot gray goo and parallel universes. Rainbows End is more alarming because no such leaps are required.

Rainbows End by Rudy Rucker is widely available in print.

After reading Rainbows End, I had a peculiar dream where a widespread implementation of augmented reality used a three dimensional version of CSS. This provided bounding boxes for trigger events written in JavaScript. I explained this to a friend who physically recoiled at the concept - and only partly in jest. Historically, interactive VRML was implemented with Java. Since then, CSS, JavaScript and SSL have become increasingly ubiquitous. Even Google Glass apps used a perverse HTTP interface rather than the more logical choice of extending the Android API. (implements Runnable extends Wearable?) The missing piece (Augmented Reality CSS), which I perceived so vividly, could supersede almost every piece of software except main-frame and game-frame back-ends. Obviously, this would create one big cloudy mess of business and leisure applications implemented with terabytes of JavaScript to form a modal consensus reality. From that foundation, magic occurs.

Notes: [1] and [2] These links are reproduced exactly as received and are numbered here should the submitter wish to provide corrected links in the comments.

Original Submission

Related Stories

Oliver Stone Calls Pokemon Go "A New Level of Invasion” and Says We Should All be Worried 95 comments

This data-mining game is what they call totalitarianism is how Oliver Stone described Pokémon Go at Comic Con. Earlier in the month Al Franken also expressed some concern asking the creator of the game about privacy, data sharing, and account access.

More from Stone:

They're data-mining every person in this room for information as to what you're buying, what you like, and above all, your behaviour. Pokémon Go kicks into that. But this is everywhere. It's what some people call surveillance capitalism. It's the newest stage. It's not for profit in the beginning, but it becomes for profit in the end.

It manipulates your behaviour. It has happened already quite a bit on the Internet, but you'll see it everywhere—you'll see a new form of, frankly, a robot society, where they will know how you want to behave and they will make the mockup that matches how you behave and feed you. It's what they call totalitarianism.

Personally I gave up my smart phone more than two years ago because I did not want a spy machine in my pocket; I've never played Pokémon Go but it seemed like a great way for the game creators to get people to run around and point the players camera at what ever they want, obtain other location based data, or focus players into businesses that pay for the privilege. Perhaps I just need to adjust my tinfoil hat but what do the 'lentils think? Is Stone just trying to plug his new movie or is this a legitimate concern?

Original Submission

Book Review: REAMDE by Neal Stephenson 43 comments

This review contains spoilers.

I thought I'd got a remaindered, 1000 page, hardback book, from a prominent author, at an absolute bargain price because the publisher made a typo on the cover. Unfortunately, that typo is deliberate. It was made by one of the characters in the book and gets propagated widely in malware.

I read this book to the end so that I could provide a fair review for SoylentNews but I really wish that I hadn't. At around the 75% mark, I wanted to abandon the book. Around the 95% mark, I was more interested in my bookmark than the book itself. The problem is that the book is too detailed and yet not detailed enough. The plot flips from a semi-autobiographical character to a dodgy Scottish accountant for the Russian Mafia to a needlessly exotic Black, Welsh, lesser-known contemporary of Osama bin Laden. Internal motive is rarely explained and therefore Welsh's Islamic subjugation of another needlessly exotic character makes her seem like a really irritating Mary Sue when it should have been a highly researched study of cultural belief.

Until reading What ISIS Really Wants, I thought the book would have benefited highly from Mary Sue being killed in the first half. Either way, it may be beneficial to read this book while referring to an atlas. It certainly seems to be written that way.


Book Review: Ware Tetralogy by Rudy Rucker 12 comments

Without checking copyright dates, it was more accurate to describe the Ware Tetralogy as two pairs of books. The compendium begins rather ominously with a family tree and I was concerned that I might have to keep notes of 22 clones or suchlike. Thankfully, this was not the case and it would be easier to describe the story as being centered around one AI researcher and his descendants. However, character names can be quite bizarre. Ralph Numbers is one of the more moderate examples.

The researcher, Cobb Anderson, is a very strong character. From the afterword, it is explained that Cobb Anderson is based upon Rudy Rucker's father. Overall, Rudy Rucker writes exceptionally good father/son or master/apprentice relationships. Despite descriptions to the contrary, I imagined Cobb Anderson and Stan Mooney to be more like the disgraced Walter White and the youthfully impatient Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. This was re-inforced by a particular incident which could have influenced an episode of Breaking Bad.

In addition to write strong relationships, Rudy Rucker writes some of the scariest antagonists. Mr. Frostee is particularly creepy. In the afterword, Rudy Rucker apologises for some of the technical details around Mr. Frostee. No apology is required. The rôle of cults is largely unexplored. Likewise, comic relief is vastly under-used. (Tuthmosis Snooks is particularly under-utilized.)

Book Review: Postsingular by Rudy Rucker 3 comments

I was initally under the impression that Postsingular and Hylozoic continued the Ware Tetralogy but these are two distinct fictional "universes". Although there is an expectation for authors to continually out-do themselves with ever more fantastical ideas, Postsingular fails to satisfy on multiple criteria. It is too knowingly in the present, using "tweet" in the contemporary context and also having search engines. It may be that Rudy Rucker's feedback from fans and increased knowledge about computing makes the book less entertaining.

Regardless, nanotechnology, synthetic telepathy, natural telepathy and multiple forms of teleportation are explored in depth in the context of reality television, augmented reality spam and post-scarcity economics. Several characters are introduced very poorly and Rudy Rucker continues a tradition of ridiculous character names. Thankfully, characters become more rounded as plot develops. One character, Dick Dibbs, is uncannily similar to Donald Trump and Postsingular accurately captures some of the North American 2016 pre-election hysteria almost 10 years before it occurred.

Intel Management Engine Critical Firmware Update 57 comments

It's time to update your Management Engine:

Intel has issued a security alert that management firmware on a number of recent PC, server, and Internet-of-Things processor platforms are vulnerable to remote attack. Using the vulnerabilities, the most severe of which was uncovered by Mark Ermolov and Maxim Goryachy of Positive Technologies Research, remote attackers could launch commands on a host of Intel-based computers, including laptops and desktops shipped with Intel Core processors since 2015. They could gain access to privileged system information, and millions of computers could essentially be taken over as a result of the bug. Most of the vulnerabilities require physical access to the targeted device, but one allows remote attacks with administrative access.

The company has posted a detection tool on its support website for Windows and Linux to help identify systems that are vulnerable. In the security alert, members of Intel's security team stated that "in response to issues identified by external researchers, Intel has performed an in-depth comprehensive security review of its Intel® Management Engine (ME), Intel® Trusted Execution Engine (TXE), and Intel® Server Platform Services (SPS) with the objective of enhancing firmware resilience."

Intel® Management Engine Critical Firmware Update (Intel SA-00086)

China's Surveillance State and "Citizen Scores" 25 comments

Imagine a society in which you are rated by the government on your trustworthiness. Your "citizen score" follows you wherever you go. A high score allows you access to faster internet service or a fast-tracked visa to Europe. If you make political posts online without a permit, or question or contradict the government's official narrative on current events, however, your score decreases. To calculate the score, private companies working with your government constantly trawl through vast amounts of your social media and online shopping data.

When you step outside your door, your actions in the physical world are also swept into the dragnet: The government gathers an enormous collection of information through the video cameras placed on your street and all over your city. If you commit a crime—or simply jaywalk—facial recognition algorithms will match video footage of your face to your photo in a national ID database. It won't be long before the police show up at your door.

This society may seem dystopian, but it isn't farfetched: It may be China in a few years. The country is racing to become the first to implement a pervasive system of algorithmic surveillance. Harnessing advances in artificial intelligence and data mining and storage to construct detailed profiles on all citizens, China's communist party-state is developing a "citizen score" to incentivize "good" behavior. A vast accompanying network of surveillance cameras will constantly monitor citizens' movements, purportedly to reduce crime and terrorism. While the expanding Orwellian eye may improve "public safety," it poses a chilling new threat to civil liberties in a country that already has one of the most oppressive and controlling governments in the world.

China's evolving algorithmic surveillance system will rely on the security organs of the communist party-state to filter, collect, and analyze staggering volumes of data flowing across the internet. Justifying controls in the name of national security and social stability, China originally planned to develop what it called a "Golden Shield" surveillance system allowing easy access to local, national, and regional records on each citizen. This ambitious project has so far been mostly confined to a content-filtering Great Firewall, which prohibits foreign internet sites including Google, Facebook, and The New York Times. According to Freedom House, China's level of internet freedom is already the worst on the planet. Now, the Communist Party of China is finally building the extensive, multilevel data-gathering system it has dreamed of for decades.

God bless China for showing the U.S. the way to protect its people.

Original Submission

Cambridge Analytica Staff Set Up New Firm 19 comments

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

Former staff from scandal-hit Cambridge Analytica (CA) have set up another data analysis company.

Auspex International will be "ethically based" and offer "boutique geopolitical consultancy" services, according to its website.

CA was shut down by its parent company, SCL Elections, which itself faces criminal charges over failure to supply data when requested.

Auspex will work in the Middle East and Africa initially.

The company was set up by Ahmed Al-Khatib, a former director of Emerdata, which was also created in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal to continue the work it was doing.

In a press release announcing the new company, he says CA's collapse was a "bitter disappointment" to him.

-- submitted from IRC

Original Submission

Blind Person Claims Apple Web Design Violates Law 22 comments

Apple, which prides itself on design, faces a lawsuit alleging that its web page layout violates the law.

In a complaint [PDF] filed on Sunday in a Manhattan district court, plaintiff Himelda Mendez claims that Apple's website, by virtue of its availability in Apple Stores, violates Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Mendez is a visually impaired and legally blind person who uses a screen-reader, which can translate written website text into spoken words or tactile Braille.

The National Federation of the Blind estimates there are about 7.3mn people age 16 or older in the US with a visual disability.

According to the complaint, Apple's website code lacks alt-text attributes that allow screen readers to convey textual descriptions of graphics. webpages, it's said, contain empty links with no text, which confuses screen-readers and those using them.

Then there's the issue of redundant links next to each other that all point to the same address, a situation that can be difficult for users of screen-readers to understand. Also, Apple's linked images, it's claimed, lack alt-text tags. That means screen-readers have no way to tell users the function of links.

"For screen-reading software to function, the information on a website must be capable of being rendered into text," the complaint says. "If the website content is not capable of being rendered into text, the blind or visually-impaired user is unable to access the same content available to sighted users."

Original Submission

Films to Watch During a Pandemic 57 comments

Here's a quick overview of "documentaries" to watch before, during and after a pandemic:

The Andromeda Strain film: An early Michael Crichton adaptation which came before the Westworld film and series and the Jurassic Park film series. Like many Michael Crichton stories, factual science is extended with credible speculation. In this case, a prion-like infection has killed almost everyone in a village and the survivors are seemingly unrelated. The film is best known for its cartoonish but very photogenic indoor set which serves as the backdrop of a Level 4 Biolab. Such eloborate sets were common in the era. (Other examples include Rollerball and disaster parody/Airplane predecessor, The Big Bus.) The film features concurrent action which was a common experimental film technique in the 1960s but, nowadays, is most commonly associated with Kiefer Sutherland in the 24 series. There is also a lesser-known mini-series.

Outbreak: A rather dull film which nevertheless provides a graphic portrayal of uncontained pandemic and towns being quarantined. It would be marginally improved if the antagonists were re-cast. Possible source material for DeepFaking.

The Resident Evil film series: These films considerably advanced the tropes of amoral corporation, rogue artificial intelligence as antagonist, reality within reality, experimentation without informed consent and the horror of a medicalized vampire/zombie rabies virus. The Red Queen versus White Queen subplot dovetails with Alice in Wonderland, prey versus predator evolution and Umbrella Corp's red and white logo which - in a case of life mirroring art - was copied by Wuhan's Level 4 Biolab. Many people prefer the competent and detailed Resident Evil series of computer games which are arguably better than the Half Life series or the SCP game.

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  • (Score: 4, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @03:41AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @03:41AM (#747277)

    I'm pretty sure you mean Vernor Vinge.

    • (Score: 2) by cafebabe on Saturday October 13 2018, @03:26PM

      by cafebabe (894) on Saturday October 13 2018, @03:26PM (#748316) Journal

      I apologise profusely. I'm going through a large pile of books and it kinda merges together.

  • (Score: 2) by bzipitidoo on Thursday October 11 2018, @04:55AM (1 child)

    by bzipitidoo (4388) on Thursday October 11 2018, @04:55AM (#747290) Journal

    A Fire Upon the Deep is good. At the risk of spoiling it a little, A Fire Upon the Deep is somewhat similar to the old Star Trek episode, the Doomsday Machine, only it's a Doomsday Computer Virus rather than a machine. Though it's ambiguous and unknown whether that particular virus could be considered an intelligent life form.

    The sequel, The Children of the Sky, is okay. I wouldn't call it good, but neither is it a stinker. The aliens' physical characteristics were interesting and enjoyable. However, his profession and training as a Computer Scientist gets embarrassing in its obviousness and clumsiness here and there in the sequel. I plodded on and made it through the whole thing.

    I started A Deepness in the Sky, but wasn't hooked after some 50 pages, and set it aside. Been meaning to come back to it, but so far, haven't.

    Don't know a thing about this Rainbow's End.

    One thing I've wondered about for some time is why he and Joan Vinge, author of The Snow Queen, got divorced. Is it just not possible for two great writers to live and work together, they're too cussedly independent? Writing is too individualistic? Didn't turn up anything on that subject online with a few casual searches, so whatever it is, apparently no one cares or they managed to keep it quiet, or both.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @08:39AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @08:39AM (#747336)

      A Deepness in the Sky

      That book was much more entertaining than Rainbow's End. So if you didn't finish that, you will probably not enjoy Rainbow's End.

      Don't know a thing about this Rainbow's End.

      It's about augmented reality. Kind of in a way like Fahrenheit 451 is about alternative reality too and in a way they have quite a lot in common - people lose real social interactions in exchange for "screens" or VR or whatever else you want to call it. We give up our lives to live in fantasy worlds.

      Fahrenheit 451 was about self-censorship and instant gratification. You see it all around you today with Facebook communication bubbles, Instagram, tailored "news", and the like.

      Rainbow's End was about augmented reality, instant gratification, unbridled capitalism and growing inequality. Again, all around us with Facebook, etc.

      The difference is Fahrenheit was about a world where TV rules the day, and books are "not instant" enough. Rainbow's End is where VR and Internet rules the day, because reality is not enough. Both are distopians where technology takes over our lives. Rainbow's End is most likely like just a play on words about what the "pot of gold at the end of the internet rainbow's end is"...

      I've wondered about for some time is why he and Joan Vinge, author of The Snow Queen, got divorced.

      Because maybe they don't like each other? People fall in love for wrong reasons and then they realize they have conflicting life goals.

      IMHO, when you fall in love with someone because you like to do the same thing together, well, I think that quickly turns out to become a nightmare ;) Your spouse is suppose to provide a break from your work or hobby, not to add to it! You go to your spouse to escape your hobby. You go to your hobby to escape your spouse. You mix the two, it becomes disaster. Like when you mix your hobby with your work == burnout, unless you find another hobby.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @02:05PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @02:05PM (#747425)

    You should read it even if all the building blocks it uses are not something you are not already familiar with. Or maybe because of that.