Thursday, December 28, 2006

Alas, Poor Yorick!

"Shakespeare jokes for the easily confused."

A few months ago, I complained about how there are cyborgs already here: people who never put their portable electronic devices away. (I thought about linking to it, but decided against it, because it's embarrassing. Go find it yourself if you care that much; it's not all that impressive.) Why this annoys me, I'm not sure, but it does. Mostly on principle. The idea that humans ought not to spend all their time with machines, get some fresh air, that sort of thing. Not that I ever do that, of course, but it's a matter of principle. That's supposed to be hypocritical.

It's something I worry about. I still don't own a cell phone. I had one, which I lost, and I haven't gotten another one; partially out of apathy, partially out of worrying. I like technology, but I worry about it. I worry about spending too much time with it, on the computer, on the internet, and not enough on "important things." Things that will last.

I worry about mortality. I've been thinking, lately, about how finite time is. How it's always counts down. Quasi-existential nonsense, mostly. I hate making decisions, and it's partially because of the worrying about time. You can never really undo a decision. Even the decision not to make a decision. Every action is permanent.

So I worry that I'm losing time. Losing time to computers, video games, web surfing, television. I don't have that worry about reading, because that, I feel, is not just "recreation." It's also a means to an end. Writing well myself. I don't feel that way about movies (usually) because again, its a means to an end. Studying the craft of storytelling. (Which causes its own problems. I have a hard time just watching movies. I'm constantly analyzing the structure. Which has certain advantages, but it's also distracting.) I do feel that way about television--that it's useless, a waste of time. That's why I don't watch it. Except that I don't feel like Firefly is a waste of time, because its "good."

So where's the line? Is the distinction I make between "frivolity" and "seriousness" in media real, or is it me internalizing useless cultural value judgments? Is it useful? Do I really have to worry about how I spend every minute of my time, and how it's going to affect the world after I'm dead?

I think there's something wrong with me. I'm seventeen, and I'm worrying about my legacy.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Interpreting the Bible for Fun and Profit

So. I was hanging out on this cool website I found today, Creationism vs. Science. I love sites like this: tons of text, history, interesting philosophy. There's a lot of material there. The help on debating creationism is useful, the history of fundamentalism is enlightening, and the essay on how Hitler was not (contrary to popular belief) an atheist, but a Christian, is somehow amusing.

Better than all of those, though, is this gem: Morality Comes From Humans, Not God!

God had to learn morality from humans. A God cannot, by its very nature, (immortal, omnipotent, etc.) understand what humans think of as morality. Brilliant. I may have to do something with this.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Kansas Drug Tax

I swear, they actually call it a Drug Tax. You buy stamps. It's all anonymous. I have no idea how they enforce it, but apparently they expect that people care more about tax laws than they do about drug laws.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Geek SF

You may have seen, recently, Gene Neuroses 101 on Charlie's Diary. Interesting article, a lot of people have been linking to it. (The most interesting bit for me is towards the beginning, when it talks about the current state of horror fiction. How it's not really scary, and has morphed into this weird Romance meet Christian revival by way of vampire thing.) It talks about how modern American SF has recently started to suck, and the obsession with "alternate history" stories. (THE NAZIS WON! OMGWTF!)


There's another article on that site that's very interesting, also talks about "the decline of science fiction," but approaching it from the readership angle rather than the writership angle. It's sort of a response to an essay by Kristine Kathryn Rusch that defends Star Wars and its tropes, that I read when it was published in Asimov's. (Which you should read, by the way. It's an excellent magazine.) This time, the really interesting bit is about two thirds of the way down:

We've arrived in a different future, and central planning doesn't work. Things are fast, chaotic, cheap, and out of control. Ad hoc is the new plan. There's a new cultural strange attractor at work, sucking in the young, smart, deracinated mechanistically-minded readers who used to be the natural prey of the SF movement. It's geek culture.

There's more, but that's the basic gist. Read the article.

Now, the reason this is interesting is because I'm nominally a member of geek culture, as well as a reader of science fiction. (I say "nominally" for geek culture because I'm not really much of a techno-geek. I participate in geek culture through the roleplaying side of things, and by hanging out with techno-geeks.) So I don't think that geek culture and science fiction are naturally antagonistic to each other.

Particularly, I think that created worlds are attractive to the same kinds of people who are attracted to geek culture. It's one of the major features that I find interesting in sf. "Near-future" types of science fiction, where the focus on how various technologies will affect the world in the next few decades, are not as interesting to me as things set futher into the future, or seperate worlds all together. Partially because the near-future sf I've read has generally been either preachy, frankenstein-type warnings, or singularity nonsense.

I don't read enough science fiction, though. I read a lot of short stories, but I don't really know what's going on with novels. Seems to be time for a trip to the library.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Door-to-door Atheism

This is pretty awesome. This atheist guy (he's an Australian, naturally) gets fed up with Mormons coming around in the morning and trying to convert him, so he flies to Utah to return the favor. Predictably, they don't appreciate it.

There's a bit of wonkyness at just one point in the second half, when they're going door-to-door talking to people, when he says that "we follow the teachings of Charles Darwin." Generally speaking, that's not really true for atheists. We tend not to follow anyone's teachings, that's kind of the point. Charles Darwin was, however, crucial for the development of atheism as a movement and a belief system, because it basically says that God is not necessary to explain life as we know it. Minor quibble, really, but just a point I wanted to make.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Logic Death

Nifty article on why horror heroines are so stupid.

There's some game theory, some evolutionary biology, some cognitive psychology. It's all good stuff.

The most interesting, to me, is this bit about halfway through:

But for better or worse, the neocortex is dominated by its left hemisphere, which tends to be not only logical but gullible, rationalizing and self-deceiving. You know that voice inside your head that says everything is all right, there's nothing to worry about here, just ignore your gut feeling and get on with the task at hand? That's your brilliantly stupid left brain talking, and if you listen to it long enough, eventually it will kill you.
I don't think I've ever heard the left/right brain divide categorized this way, but it makes sense. "Logical" and "sensible" aren't necessarily the same thing. Asimov makes this point in several stories; "Reason," a short story where a robot gets religion (and demonstrates that logic can prove anything, if you start with the right postulates), and The Caves of Steel, a novel that concerns a detective who worries about his robot partner replacing him as they solve a murder together. The detective in question discovers while working with the robot that this is not likely to happen, and one of the reasons is the difference between "logical" and "rational." Asimovian robots are both perfectly logical and perfectly irrational, and it turns out that being rational counts for more in terms of being human.

(Those summaries are horrible bastardizations, especially the Caves one, so go read them both to find out what I'm actually talking about. "Reason" is found in the book I, Robot.)

I'd argue that this ability to clamp down on fear, even when it might be more useful to listen to that fear, is a direct result of the brain's "right sided" imaginative, intuitive abilities. Human's aren't limited to fearing real things; we're perfectly capable of inventing things to fear, so there needs to be some mechanism to determine between reasonable and unreasonable fears. Sometimes this mechanism goes a bit haywire, as most mechanisms do.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

4:30

Most people would take "cackling madly every time they finish a sentence" as a sign that they should go to bed.

And now that sentence is also inexplicably hilarious.

Party Ben, Mash Up Master

Three posts within three hours? Yeah, that's how you know there's something I'm supposed to be doing. But instead, I'm reading Twenty Sided! Whee . . .

Anyhow. There's this guy, Party Ben, and he does Mashups. Sticks songs together so they sound like one song. It's freakish, mind-bending goodness.

What you do: Go to the downloads page. Find yourself a song that you know really, really well. "Singing along without actually realizing it" well. The mashup should produce a weird kind of gear switch grinding sensation in your brain.

Or is that just the lack of sleep?

Freakish Quiz Results

Your results:
You are Superman

Spider-Man 65%
Hulk 65%
Robin 62%
Green Lantern 50%
Supergirl 45%
The Flash 35%
Iron Man 30%
Wonder Woman 25%
Catwoman 20%
Batman 10%

Superman? How am I like Superman? Heck, how am I like Spiderman? Hulk I can kind of understand. (Emotionally unstable? Check. Prone to doing unbelievably stupid things because I think everyone's out to get me? Check.) The other two, though . . .

I like how Batman is down all the way at the bottom of the list, though. And how Catwoman is listed as a superhero. I guess she is, these days, but how long is that going to last?

(And yes, the chart did look all nifty originally, but it was also displaying with funky spaces in between things, so I had to fix it. Bleah. It's waaaay to late for me to actually be thinking.)

Starship Crew Quiz




You scored as Serenity (Firefly). You like to live your own way and don't enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.

Serenity (Firefly)


81%

Moya (Farscape)


69%

SG-1 (Stargate)


69%

Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


69%

Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


63%

Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


56%

Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


56%

Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


56%

Enterprise D (Star Trek)


50%

Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


44%

Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


44%

FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


38%

Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with QuizFarm.com


Actually a fairly neat quiz. The main result doesn't really surprise me (And of course it wasn't because I threw some of the questions. Allow fugitives on my ship if they were basically harmless and provided some useful services? That could mean anything.) but I am kind of amused by the next three, since I know nothing about any of them. I think I saw an episode of Farscape, once.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Guerilla Mail: Words Fail Me

Yeah, I know. Two posts in one short day! But this is just too awesome to wait. Even though I need to finish my laundry, finish my homework, take a shower, and get to sleep, it can all wait until I have informed the world of the 21 day revolution of this amazing website, Guerrilla Mail.

I was thinking, earlier today, about how I hate having to use my e-mail address to register for things. Sure, they say they won't use it for anything untoward, but if they were planning on selling it to 12-year-old Nigerian spam-lords, do you really think they'd tell you about it first? No, of course not. Setting up an auxilary e-mail wouldn't do much more good, because eventually it would just get so clogged up with spam that it would be useless. So the ideal situation would be to have a disposable e-mail address, that could be set up with a minimum of fuss, and then easily deleted once it had outlived its usefulness.

Enter Guerilla Mail.

Direct from the website:
Guerrilla Mail provides you with disposable e-mail addresses which expire after 15 minutes. You can read and reply to e-mails that are sent to the temporary e-mail address within the given time frame.
This is pure genius. Awesomeness on a level unheard of by man or Batman. Sheer intellectual perfection unheard of since the invention of sliced bread.

This, my friends, is zero-cool.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Amaze Your Friends! Confuse Your Enemies!

The Language Construction Kit is one of the coolest sites on the web. It's one of the coolest things I've ever seen, period. It's up there with mimes dancing to Christian rock in front of the Jefferson memorial.

It's a guide to creating your own language. It doesn't cover everything you need to know to make a "perfect" conlang, but it covers enough to make a decent one, especially if you don't know anything else about linguistics. It's also a great general starting point for learning about languages.

Best of all (to my mind) are the sections on making related languages, and using conlangs to enrich worldbuilding. It's very hard, if not impossible, to really get a feel for "what it's like to be there" if you don't at least have a rough idea of how the people in a culture talk.

All that is just icing, though. The best reason to get into conlanging, and to check out this website, is that there's no better way to confuse people than to start speaking your own language.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Blogger Beta

Just updated. It now supports multi-person blogs, so I was finally able to transfer the account. That's why, suddenly, this thing looks completely different. Well, that and my uncontrollable urge to fiddle with things.

Current color scheme, and all future color schemes, will be subject to sudden, unpredictable, irrational, and entirely too frequent change. You have been warned!

I really like the way all white looks, but unfortunately making it all white would hide the links.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Life of a Reformed Jerk

This is weirdly meaningful.

I don't know why. This blog is mostly random thoughts, day to day details, and the occasional acerbic observation. The combination produces something somehow important.

Found it using the blogger tool bar, a couple of days ago. A most excellent feature, I must say.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Amazing Screw On Head



This is a pilot for a show called, "The Amazing Screw On Head." Originally published on the Sci Fi Channel website; they were doing a survey on it. It's based on a one shot comic of the same name by Mike Mignola. Between this, Hellboy, and his run on Batman, the man is clearly a genius.

Just watch it, that should answer all relevant plot, background, and punchline questions you may have that I can answer.

The awesome inherent in just the name of this show--when Abraham Lincoln says the words "The Amazing Screw On Head" aloud you know you've got something good--should be more than enough to convince every right thinking American that this must be made. I would actually watch TV for this.

Emperor Zombie is so Monkey Island . . .

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Awesome? Zero-Cool!

I've been thinking lately that I really need to expand my vocabulary. There's one specific word that has prompted this thought: Awesome. As awesome as it is, it's one word, and I use it all the time, to describe everything. So I've decided to find some synonyms to replace it with, at least occasionally.

Google wasn't particularly helpful, in this instance. Typing in "define:awesome" yielded but two entries, one of which had something to do with flying and one where "awesome" was used in the definition of "amazing." Google wasn't entirely useless, however. When I accidentally type "definition:awesome" instead of "define:awesome" it produced this result:

This more or less vindicated the entire enterprise. (Read the second line of the Tip carefully.)

With that chapter of my search concluded, I returned to an old favorite, Thesaurus.com. I've used this site many, many times, never for anything remotely useful. In this case, entering "awesome" into the search field produced the following list:

alarming, astonishing, awe-inspring, awful, beautiful, breathtaking, daunting, dreadful, exalted, far out, fearful, fearsome, formidable, frantic, frightening, grand, hairy*, horrible, horrifying, imposing, impressive, intimidating, magnificent, majestic, mind-blowing*, moving, nervous, overwhelming, shocking, striking, stunning, stupefying, terrible, terrifying, wondrous, zero-cool*

*Words that Thesaurus.com classifies as slang.

Some of these words are obviously useless, for various reasons. They fail the yell aloud test, they fail the Batman test. In fact, none of them really approach the Awesome inherent in the word Awesome.

Except zero-cool. A word I've never heard before. It's apparently the name of a movie, the title of an early Michael Crichton book, and the nickname of a character in the movie Hackers. It's essentially a variation on the word and concept "cool." (What's cooler than being cool?)

And I may actually consider using it. Because "z" is an awesome letter.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Monkeys For Helping

If you read one blog, it should be Monkeys For Helping.

Actually, it should be this blog, because then you'll be able to find out about many more things approaching the sheer Awesome of Monkeys For Helping. But definitely consider MFH as a second choice.

Particular favorites include:
Frog in a Dragonball hat
"It's hard being me"
Giant Rat Cannon!

And that's all just on the first page. There's over a year and a half of archives of this stuff. It's great.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Mexico Zeitgeist

So I was checking out Google's zeitgeist, because I was reading the archives for this blog and I thought, "Yeah, that was cool. I wonder what's up today?" Nothing really interesting in the US section, so I headed over to the international monthly section, and I scrolled down. A lot of Steve Irwin, a lot of celebrities like Paris Hilton. A lot of wikipedia. And then I see . . .
It's a bit blurry, but yes, "goku" clocks at number 4, "dragon ball z" is number 6, and "pokemon" is number 10. And yes, all those terms mean the same thing in Spanish as the do in English, as far as Google is concerned. Finland and Chile also have "pokemon" in their lists, at 11 and 14 respectively, but Mexico is the only one with the DBZ terms.

Apparently, there are things about Mexico of which I was not aware.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Motivational Posters

Make your own!

This is what the internet is all about. It occurs to me that this would be an excellent way to design the decor for my evil lair/rebel hideout. Can you imagine how much better the Empire's Stormtroopers would have performed if they'd had a giant poster on the wall of Luke's head with the words "Don't Miss" underneath it?

So much awesome . . .

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Google!

Behold the awesome that is Google.

I discovered this excellent feature through Unixjunkie Blog. It was the only thing on there that I could even come close to understanding. But this -- this was worth the trip.

Thanks to Unixjunkie, I've now discovered that Google has all kinds of awesome functions, like Definitions.

Truly, Google is God.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

DeepGenre

DeepGenre is a cool blog. Discusses speculative fiction, from a variety angles. Craft, analysis, different media, the publishing process.

A few particularly good articles:

What Does Story Do? -- Why we read fiction, particularly speculative fiction.

6 More Things I Could do Without in Fantastic Literature & I don’t plan to use except to make fun of and its companion article, 11 Things in Fantasy/SF That I Don't Promise Not to Use (or Keep Using) in My Writing -- The bit about stew in the second one are particularly good.


If you read science fiction, check it out. If you write science fiction, check it out. If you don't read science fiction, you're missing out.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Wikipedia Down


It says "Wikipedia has a problem." First time I've ever gotten an error message from the Wiki; something about not being able to contact the database server, because they're all busy. I took a picture, but I can't get the picture function on Blogger to work.

Edit November 28, 2006 at 7:56 PM:
Picture added. Wooh.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Watchmaker

If you've ever heard of the watchmaker objection to Darwinian evolution (if there is a watch, there must be a watchmaker; by analogy, creatures must have designers) and Darwin's response (the blind watchmaker) then check this out.

The article points out that even a watch doesn't have to have a single maker. A number of people are involved in its construction, none of whom would be able to make a watch from scratch. Even its designer depends on a number of other people's knowledge of watchmaking, accumulated over the centuries.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Boredom! 3: Electric Boogalee

Yep. I've got papers to write, computer games to play, Thanksgiving dinner to help with, and instead I'm going through my bookmarks and dishing out asinine commentary. Aren't I awesome?

Without further ado: A rough semi-fortnight's worth of random sites.

Spore! Well, Spore news, anyway. Sort of a repository of everything currently known by the internet about the game. If you don't know what Spore is, leave now, and don't come back. Seriously, though, it looks like it's going to be an awesome game. You're going to be able to control an entire intergalactic empire -- and perform genetic experiments on your subjects! "Awesome" seems rather inadequate.

Speaking of evil overlords . . . This is an excellent page, both funny and insightful. Tons of information about evil, science, and evil science. Great for any world domination hobbyist.

Gadsby. A story of over 50,000 words without using the letter "E." 'Nuff said.

A fairly good general reference site on colored gemstones. I found this when I was researching gems for some sort of creative, world-building type project, either a novel or a campaign world. I like gemstones, and whenever I do fantasy they tend to creep in. Not that I write much fantasy.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Commons

Dave Johnson's comments on Capitalism 3.0, A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons are pretty interesting.

I'm not so sure that having everything be "owned" by someone (or someones) is the right way to go, though. It's certainly better than the current system, where you pretend the atmosphere (or whatever) isn't owned by anyone but a handful of powerful people/corporations/countries get to act like they own it. But it doesn't address the deeper problem, which is the idea that it's okay to do whatever you want unless someone (with more power than you) tells you otherwise.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Pessimist

Prediction: The U.S will never do anything serious about global climate change. No significant carbon tax, no mass voluntary energy use reduction.

Even if sea levels rise and storms destroy Florida, we're not going to stop using oil and coal.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Worse Reasons for Poetry

I've decided that I like Walt Whitman's Song of Myself after all.

Because there are a couple of people in my class who don't like it, and I want to argue with them.

They think it's too long, that he says the same thing over and over again. I say, that's the point. It's a poem, not a philosophical treatise.

Or is it?!!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Boredom! 2: Electric Boogaloo

Yes, it's that time again. That magical time of year, when, having at least five things I ought to be doing, I decide to do none of them and instead go through my bookmark list.

Photobucket. Why is this bookmarked? I never use it. I don't have an account. I guess because I thought, at some point, that I ought to. Certainly be useful, but I use pictures rarely enough on the web that it doesn't seem worth the effort.

Poodle Predictor. "See your site like Google does!" Another link I wonder why I bookmarked. I don't have any conceivable use for it. I don't even know how it works. Technical competence is probably nice.

SUPERFRIENDS! Now this page, I know why I bookmarked it. It's laugh out loud funny. Seanbaby's review/critique/lampoon of the old Hanna Barbera Superfriends TV show. It's funny even without having seen the show, although it helps. The section on Superman is particularly funny (the "spin around it" theory of physics!) but everything on this page is funny.

Stupid Plot Tricks. Neat brainstorming advice, useful mostly as an exercise for beginning fiction writers. Or if you have trouble with plots, and think such things are important.

And that's this week's installment of arbitrary randomness.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Communism

You know what's funny about Communism? It's exactly like Capitalism, except that you have just one person in charge of things. (Or one group.) It's what would happen if you ever had just one corporation in the whole economy. Especially in a political system like the U.S.'s, where money and speech are interchangeable.

The problem with capitalism isn't who's in control. There's no such thing as a benevolent dictator. Capitalism is slighty better than Communism, I suppose, since at least you've got more than one dictator, and anyone can (hypothetically) become a dictator. But it still doesn't solve the problem, which is the dictators telling people what to do.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Boredom!

More going through my bookmarks file, because I have that sinking feeling that I ought to be doing something productive. A feeling that I'm going to ignore.

Bug Me Not is a nifty site. One that I should use more often. It just never occurs to me. Basically, it allows you to log into all those sites that want you to register for no particular reason (washingtonpost.com, say . . . ) by letting you use a dummy registration set up for general use. It's a database of these things. Definitely an asset for revolutionary activities.

I really can't say anything about this site, other than that it's a good boredom activity, and that it's immensely freaky. FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS! Basically it's a whole list of simple activities that will make you look like a loon.

Things you never wanted to know about the world, at Google's Zeitgeist. The Big List of things people are searching for. Top ten, that deal. Some of them make sense. Some of them . . . don't.

Just a bunch of personality tests. Basically useless. Found it through the Sims personality, test. It was a forum.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Brave New Free Novel

I'm bored, and have nothing better to say. Or rather, I probably have something better to say, but don't want to take the time to say it.

Instead, I've started going through my horribly disorganized folder of bookmarks.

Thus, Brave New World. The whole novel for your reading pleasure. If you're into literary analysis, scroll down to the bottom, there' s some interesting stuff on soma and "paradise engineering."

Friday, September 15, 2006

Jay Pinkerton Takes On Batman

Behold the awesome.

There's really nothing I can say to make this more awesome. It's hilarious, it's Batman. It's awesome.

Yeah, I've got nothing better to do.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Internet Has No Death Squads

I'm beginning to think that revolutionaries don't matter. Or that they shouldn't. When revolutionaries matter, bad things happen. The revolutions they matterto are fragile, because they can end with just one government ordered assassination. They take on an inquisitional character, as the person becomes more important than the cause, and uses the cause to do things in their interests rather than the interests of the cause.

Successful revolutions are usually independent of any one individual. The internet revolution, for example. Now that it's off the ground, it can't be stopped, because there are so many people involved with it. This is more a feature of technological revolutions than political ones, but political revolutionaries should take note of it. Getting people on board with the revolution itself, rather than onboard with you, personally, can be an extremely effective tactic.

Not least because it means that if Things Go Wrong, at least people will be killing each other for the revolution, and not for you. Small consolation, sure -- but if you frame the rest of the revolution right, it also means that Things are a lot less likely to Go Wrong. And that's a big deal.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Yoda Was Wrong!

The Last Angry Young Man

This website is awesome. It's about how people should get angry, and a whole list of things to get angry about. This is cool.

Anger is underrated. People think of it as something that makes people attack each other. That's something that idiots do when they get angry, but it's got nothing to do with anger itself. The idea that humans should maintain a kind of neutral emotionlessness is so bizarre, so counterproductive, it denies the point of emotions. They've been around a long time (main ones, fear and such, are part of the so-called "lizard brain" that mammals borrowed from reptiles because it's JUST THAT AWESOME) and they've been around for reason.

You know what anger really leads to? Anger leads to action. If you're angry about something, you care about it, and if you care about it, you're going to do something about it. Unless you're a spineless twit.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Pluto

Science by committee. Ugh. The very nerve of it. Astrophysicists, quibbling over matters of definition like biologists!

Not that biologists do science by committee. No, that particular joy is reserved for matters of great importance, like: Which useless balls of rock get to be called planets?

So now Pluto's a "dwarf planet." Whatever that means. Along with Ceres, Xena, and a few other things I can't remember. Anything round is a dwarf planet, particularly. To be a proper planet, it's also got to clear it's own neighborhood, whatever that means, and be orbiting a star. (And only a star.) Check it out.

What I like particularly in this is this gem, from a Mr. Mike Brown:
"The analogy that I always like to use is the word "continent". You know, the word "continent" has no scientific definition ... they're just cultural definitions, and I think the geologists are wise to leave that one alone and not try to redefine things so that the word "continent" has a big, strict definition."
Great, great. Except that, guess what, they aren't discovering new continents!

We need some sort of a definition of planet, so we can keep the riff-raff out of the club, and so we know what to call the various extra-solar objects we might find in future examinations of the stars. Honestly, I don't think Pluto should have ever gotten into the club in the first place. It's strange, got a funky orbit, and although it seems to be a relatively interesting and important object, being one of the larger things in that part of the Kuiper Belt, it doesn't really muster up the way the other eight do.

But that's beside the point. There's just not a whole lot of use to having a big conference, like that's going to decide anything. This'll get worked out the same way everything in science gets worked out: arguing. Possibly with some name calling, and public vilification. (The world of science is nasty place.) Not with committees.

On the other hand, this will get the astrologists all frazzled, so it can't be that bad.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Cyborgs: The Future Is Now!

Seeing as I've been sans computer for about a week now, I figure this is a good time to bring this up.

See, it's my belief that cyborgs are already here.

If you're in high school or college, you definitely know what I'm talking about. If you're past that glorious stage of your life, you almost definitely know what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the person who never goes anywhere without their mp3 player, or their cell phone, or their lap top. Who complains every damn time they're asked to put the device away. Who can't live without whatever electronic device helps them get through their day.

And, yeah, the whiz-bang fancy kind of cyborg is around too. There are people who can move cursors on screens because they're directly hooked in to their machines. But you don't have to look that far to find cyborgs. We're already pretty dependent on our computers, the internet, and all that related electronic paraphernalia. And maybe I'm being paranoid, maybe I haven't thought about it enough, maybe I'm a Luddite reactionary, but that doesn't seem like such a great idea.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's . . . a piece of rock!

Brickbat is a wicked awesome word. How can you not love a word that means both "criticism" and "a piece of rock used for hitting people"? All it needs now is a verb form. But that's the beauty of English, right?

I brickbat thee, cretin!

Silly Reasons for a Serious Suggestion

Revolutionaries should play Dungeons and Dragons.

Any roleplaying game will do, really. Or just any game that fulfills a couple of requirements, but roleplaying games come to mind as a good example, mostly because I'm familiar with them. Which is why I mention D&D, too. The personal familiarity. (I happen to play a lot of D&D.)

Why do I say revolutionaries (and that means You!) should play D&D?

It's fun. Even revolutionaries can't be all deadly serious all the time. And we spend enough time gathered around tables covered in maps, discussing things with people normal society thinks are delusional, that roleplaying isn't a huge stretch as a mode of entertainment.

It's tinkerable. There's a set of rules, but you can add or subtract whatever you want, change whatever you want. That's another reason I mention D&D, is that it's particularly good for that. It's got plenty of obvious things to fiddle with, a lot of examples changes to look at and mess with, and a large amateur designer base to get feedback from. And making changes to a large, complicated set of rules is what revolutionaries are all about.

Tinkering with it is actually surprisingly good practice for tinkering with "real" systems, like government. It trains you to think about consequences. This article, and also this one, on "proud nails" in the game are good examples, and are what got me thinking along this track. When you're fiddling with big, complicated, rules based systems, you can't just be thinking about the single rule. You've also got to think about the context, and practicality, and what it's actually going to encourage people to do. The bit about "identifying bears, but only small ones" is a pretty good example of how even well intentioned and well functioning rules can go horribly wrong.

Not that rules are a particularly good way to organize society. But the basic principle applies even if you're using more modern concepts. Like "mission statements."

As a completely irrelevant closing point, it's also good training for dealing with social ostracization. Or, since that's not a real word, being laughed at. As Gandhi says, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." But you don't get to the last to if you run away because people laughing at you hurt your feelings.

But then, revolutionaries don't really need practice being laughed at. It's practically on the "Official Revolutionary Checklist." (Been laughed at? Check. Vowed to destroy them all? Check. Invented/stole a really snazzy doctrine that will make them all wish they hadn't mocked me, so they could be part of my inner circle and use awesome words like "proletariat" in public? Indeed, check.)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Windows Security Is A Watermelon?

This explains everything.
"If you think of basic security flaws as low-hanging fruit, then we've taken away all of the watermelons lying on the ground," Andrew Cushman, director of security engineering at Microsoft, explained to Computerworld.com.

The problem with Windows is that it has too many watermelons lying on the ground! And making metaphors surreally incomprehensible is a good thing!

Check the whole article: Vista Gets Hacked. For the most part, it's pretty good. Except for, y'know, the bit about the fruit.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Literary Metaphor and Killer B-Movie Plot

Fences. Fences are horrible. Terrible. Very Bad. No Good.

Evil.

Whenever people start talking "fence," things go wrong. Maginot line, basically a really big, well built, fortified fence. Nothing good came of it. Israel's "security fence." I'm not totally up to date on how that's doing, but it has mad a lot of people mad, and Israel's still not exactly what one generally calls "secure." Except in the Orwellian sense. The fence on the America-Mexico border. That proposal's still lurking around on the Hill -- it'll never really die -- but it hasn't done it's proposers and proponents prospects a whole world of good. The Berlin Wall. No caption necessary. Oh, and then there's China's fence, the Great Wall. That worked out all right, at least in the large scale, but how many people died building it?

What I'm really talking about, though, are not these kinds of big, geopolitical scale fences. What I'm really talking about are little fences. Suburban scale fences. Backyard fences.

As an example of what I'm talking about: I've lived in my present abode for nigh on five years now. I know the name of one of my neighbors, because he has a dog who's friends with my dog. One. Name. And that's out of all the neighbors I have: next door, across the street, down the street, up the street, the other side of the backyard fence. All of them. Some of them I see every day, but I don't know their names.

Of course, this probably says more about me than anything else. But fences are a handy metaphor. There's a feeling of isolation, here in the depths of suburbia. Even though there are people all around me, I don't know any of them. We all have our individual houses, our individuals yards, and individual families. Serving sized.

It's there on a larger scale, too. Just look at all the effort countries put into fences, borders, boundaries. I listed some of the bigger ones earlier, but plenty of countries have some kind of physical boundary at their border, even it's just a chain link fence for a couple of miles.

We don't need that. There's enough division, enough isolation, inherent in the human condition without cutting ourselves apart with even more artificial distinctions.

Besides, what if they really are evil? In the very literal, ambulatory sense? It's possible. I can see it now: quaint little countryside, marred by monstrous marauding lines of picket and steel, with great horrible fangs, chewing up everything in their path. So quick, before it's too late! Get rid of your fences! Tear down those walls! Before they destroy us all!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Revolution: Look It Up!

Revolution. There are four dictionary definitions of the word. (Three entries, but four seperate definitons shared between them.) Two refer to physical events, two to metaphorical or political ones. My meaning is related to the two metaphorical definitions, but it falls somewhere in between them. Neither really covers exactly what I mean.

It makes mention of "overthrow of one government and its replacement by another." This catches part of my meaning, because my particular definition of revolution is concerned with governments. However, it is not concerned exclusively with governments. Further, the idea of government -- for simplicity, defined as "a group of people who make decisions for a larger group of people" -- is simplistic and outdated. I'm interested in the overthrow of governments, but the replacement of said governments with other governments is beside the point.

"A sudden or momentous change in a situation" also encompasses part of my definition, but not all of it. There's nothing in my definition of revolution of how long it takes. It could take a day, a year, an entire generation. Longer. It's still a revolution, if it completes the basic requirement.

A revolution has happened when things started one way and ended in a completely different way.

It's broad, somewhat clumsy, and lacks a certain linguistic panache. But it works, because it catches both the military and civilian, governmental and societal, and it ignores things were a new group of people took over but nothing really changed. So when I talk about revolution, that's what I mean.

Cuba, Castro, and Exploding Clams

Cuba. Suddenly that's in the news, because Fidel Castro's sick, had to go to the hospital, and has temporarily handed power over to his brother, Raul. Also, because nothing has happened. (Almost too bad he didn't die: Castro is dead! Long live Castro!)

This has sparked a flurry of Cuba-related news in the papers, and a flurry of Cuba-related searching on my computer. Google news is a wonderful thing. What I've learned so far:

  • His assassination has been attempted 638 times, at least once with brightly colored exploding mollusks. (This is what the CIA does with it's time?)
  • Castro and related officials refer to his government as a "revolution." As in "the revolution will continue to move forward."
  • Cuban exiles are an interesting bunch. Most of the early ones were fairly well off, and left when Castro took their stuff and gave it to the state and "the people." More recent Cuban emigrants are poorer, and left because Cuba's economy isn't that great, and would probably collapse if Venezuela & Co. didn't provide aid.
  • The U.S. embargo is mostly about money. Not human rights. Not democracy. These are issues, but they're ancillary to the basic reason, which is that the Cuban government took away rich people's stuff.
  • On a related note, the embargo has helped Castro and hurt Cuba's people. It keeps Cubans poor, keeps Americans, American money, and American ideas out of Cuba, and encourages the idea of Cuba vs. The World that cements Castro's position as the center of a national personality cult.
  • Castro isn't evil. Cuba's life expectancy is equal (or nearly so) to that of the United States, it's health care system is sane, (Preventative medicine? You don't say!) and the man actually seems pretty popular. Of course, that could very well be because he imprisons or executes dissidents, and the country has an abysmal human rights record.
So what does this all mean? Couple of things. One, that revolutionaries, even ones with good intentions, have to watch it. As far as I can tell, ol' Fidel down there had great intentions. Still does, even. But that hasn't stopped him from committing atrocities, imprisoning people who shouldn't have been, and executing political opponents in the name of "the cause." And it doesn't excuse those actions.

The other isn't so much a cautionary morality play as it is a concrete piece of advice. Watch out for the U.S. A major part of the current American ideology is: Stuff is good. Stuff makes people happy. Taking people's stuff = Bad. And trying to put together a country, an economic system, based on the idea that stuff doesn't make people happy? That they're better off without it? Better make sure that all your other credentials are picture perfect, or you're going to get 638 assassination attempts and a cold shoulder. (Although, in hindsight, throwing it in with the Soviets really wasn't the greatest ideas. Which is another lesson: don't tie your fate to that of a huge, morally questionable, somewhat ideologically aligned juggernaut.)

Oh, and watch out for brightly colored mollusks.