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May 19, 2019

[SPOILER] If it’s really a game of thrones, here’s how Game of Thrones should end

SPOILER ALERT: I’m writing this hours before the final episode and will spoil prior episodes.

Based on the end of Episode 5 of Season 8 — the penultimate episode — it sure looks like Arya is on her way to kill Dany. But that’d be a cop out. I hope GoT goes all Red Weddingon us.

The GoT is a pacifist work intent on reminding us of the cost of war. War is unpredictable at both its micro level — even obvious heroes can be killed without warning — and macro level.

At the macro level, Dany certainly seems to have lost her claim to be a virtuous ruler. But so what? GoT should not end based on what will make its audience feel good.

Dany should become the ruler of Westeros. That will require killing Jon since he’s the legit heir to the throne. After that, the script writers will do the old Towering Infernothing of deciding who lives and who dies — for God’s sake, why did they have to kill Fred Astaire? — and who makes it. If I had to guess, I’d say Sansa dies, Tyrion survives in some humiliating role, and Arya lives on as an enemy. Because GoT should not fully resolve … which, given GRRM’s pace, it looks like it never will.

[Confidence level: 12%]

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April 15, 2019

Fountain Pens: The Tool, the Minor Fetish

In response to a tweet asking writers what they write out longhand, I replied that if I’m particularly at sea, I’ll write out an outline, usually with lots of looping arrows, on a pad. But only with a fountain pen. Ballpoints don’t work.

My old bloggy friend AKMA wondered how he’d known me so long without knowing that I’m a fountain pen guy. The truth is that I’ve only recently become one. I’ve liked them at various times over the course my life, but only about four years ago did I integrate fountain pens into my personality.

It happened because I bought a $20 Lamy Safari on impulse in a stationery store. From there I got some single-digit Chinese fountain pens. Then, when I made some money on a writing contract, I treated myself to a $120 Lamy 2000, a lifetime pen. It’s pretty much perfect, from the classic 1960s design to the way the ink flows onto paper just wet enough and with enough scratchiness to feel like you’re on a small creek splashing over stones as it carves out words.

I have recently purchased a TWSBI ECO for $30. It has replaced my Safari as my daily pen. It’s lovely to write with, holds a lot of ink, and feels slightly sturdier than the Safari. Recommended.

Even though my handwriting is horrendous, I look forward to opportunities to write with these pens. But I avoid writing anything I’ll then have to transcribe because transcribing is so tedious. I do harbor a romantic notion of writing fiction longhand with a fountain pen on pads of Ampad “golden fibre.” Given that my fiction is worse than my handwriting, we can only hope that this notion itself remains a fiction.

So much of my writing is undoing, Penelope-like, the words I wove the day before that I am not tempted even a little to switch from word processors when the words and their order are the object. But when the words are mere vehicles, my thinking is helped — I believe — by a pen that drags its feet in the dirt.

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July 4, 2018

Moral rights kill culture

<rant>

Moral rights of creators are inventions grounded in a bad analogy with property rights.

If you want to maintain your “moral right” to what you’ve written, then don’t publish it.

If you publish it, you are making it public. Thank you for doing so.

You will make money from it for some fixed period — a period designed to provide you (but not necessarily Stephen King) with sufficient incentive to continue to create and publish works, but a short enough period that creative works can be assimilated by the culture.

Why put limits on the author’s exclusive right to publish? To keep culture lively. Which is the same as keeping that culture alive.

Cultural assimilation requires the freedom to talk about your work, to reuse it, misuse it, abuse it, to get it terribly wrong, to make it our own as individuals, to make it ours as a culture.

Imagine a Renaissance in which “moral rights” were enforced. Can’t.

Moral rights kill culture.

(Note that this applies to works that are published as copies. Please don’t take a hammer to any irreplaceable statues. Thanks.)

</rant>

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June 19, 2018

Game addiction

From Jane Wakefield at the BBC:

Its 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD) will include the condition “gaming disorder”.

The draft document describes it as a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour so severe that it takes “precedence over other life interests”.

Oy. IMO, this will go down in history as a ludicrous example of the hysteria we’re living through, which I take as strong evidence of the depth of the changes the Internet is bringing. It’ll be the example of cultural hysteria mentioned after the anti-comic-book hysteria of the 1950s.

That’s not to deny that some people suffer from the symptoms listed. But we don’t have a disease called “fingernail addiction” because some people chew their nails compulsively. Or TV addiction. These obsessive behaviors are (in my non-expert opinion) expressions of other issues, not caused by the object of the obsession. Or else games are a peculiarly finicky addictive substance. If only heroin were so selective!

Pardon me, but I left my character in Tom Clancy’s Wildlands
sitting on the edge of an airfield, awaiting her 37th attempt to steal that frigging airplane.

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May 16, 2018

[liveblog] Aubrey de Grey

I’m at the CUBE Tech conference in Berlin. (I’m going to give a first keynote on the book I’m finishing.) Aubrey de Grey begins his keynote begins by changing the question from “Who wants to get old?” to “Who wants Alzheimers?” because we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that aging is somehow good for us: we get wiser, get to retire, etc. Now we are developing treatments for aging. Ambiguity about aging is now “hugely damaging” because it hinders the support of research. E.g., his SENS Research Foundation is going too slowly because of funding restraints.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

“The defeat of aging via medicine is foreseseeable now.” He says he has to be credible because people have been saying this forever and have been wrong.

“Why is aging still a problem?” One hundred years ago, a third of babies would die before they were one year old. We fixed this in the industrialized world through simple advances, e.g., hygiene, mosquito, antibiotics. So why are diseases of old age so much harder to control? People think it’s because so many things go wrong with us late in life, interacting with one another and creating incredible complexity. But that’s not the main answer.

“Aging is easy to define: it is a side effect of being alive.” “It’s a fact of the operation of the human body generates damage.” It accumulates. The body tolerates a certain amount. When you pass that amount, you get pathologies of old age. Our approach has been to develop geriatric medicine to counteract those pathologies. That’s where most of the research goes.

aubrey de gray metabolism diagram

“Metabolism: The ultimate undocumented spaghetti code”

But that won’t work because the damage continues. Geriatric medicine bangs away at the pathologies, but will necessarily become less effective over time. “We make this mistake because of a misclassification we make.”

If you ask people to make categories of disease, they’ll come up with communicable, congenital, and chronic. Then most people add a fourth way of being sick: aging itself. It includes fraility, sarcopenia (loss of muscle), immunosenesence (aging of the immune system)…But that’s silly. Aging in a living organism is the same as aging in a machine. “Aging is the accumulation of damage that occurs as a side-effect of the body’s normal operation.”It is the accumulation of damage to the body that occurs as an intrinsic side-effect of the body’s normal operation. That means the categories are right, except aging covers column 3 and 4. Column 3 — specific diseases such as alzheimer’s and cancer — is also part aging. This means that aging isn’t a blessing in surprise, and that we can’t say that column 3 are high-priorities of medicine but those in 4 are not.

A hundred years ago a few people started to think about this and realized that if we tried to interfere with the process of aging earlier one, we’d do better. This became the field of gerontology. Some species age much more slowly than others. Maybe we can figure out the basis for that variation. But the metabolism is really really complicated. “This is the ultimate nightmare of uncommented spaghetti code.” We know so little about how the body works.

“There is another approach. And it’s completely bleeding obvious”: Periodically repair the damage. We don’t need to slow down the rate at which metabolism causes damage. We need to engineer a system we don’t understand. But “we don’t need to understand how metabolism causes damag”we don’t need to understand how metabolism causes damage. Nor do we need to know what to do when the damage is too great, because we’re not going to let it get to that state. We do this with, say, antique cars. Preventitive maintenance works. “The only question is, can we do it for a much more complicated machine like the human body?

“We’re sidestepping our ignorance of metabolism and pathology. But we have to cope with the fact that damage is complicated” All of the types of damage, from cell loss toe extracellular matrix stiffening — there are 7 categories — can be repaired through a single approach: genetic repair. E.g., loss of cells can be repaired by replacing them using stem cells. Unfortunately, most of the funding is going only to this first category. SENS was created to enable research on the other seven. Aubrey talks about SENS’ work on protecting cells from the bad effects of cholesterol.

He points to another group (unnamed) that has reinvented this approach and is getting a lot of notice.

He says longevity is not what people think it is. These therapies will let people stay alive longer, but they will also stay youthful longer. “”Longevity is a side effect of health.” ”“Longevity is a side effect of health.”

Will this be only for the rich? Overpopulation? Boredom? Pensions collapse? We’re taking care of overpopulation by cleaning up its effects, he says. He says there are solutions to these problems. But there are choices we have to make. No one wants to get Alzheimers. We can’t have it both ways. Either we want to keep people healthy or not.

He says SENS has been successful enough that they’ve been able to spin out some of the research into commercial operations. But we need to cary on in the non-profit research world as well. Project 21 aims at human rejuvenation clinical trials.

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Banks everywhere

I just took a 45 minute walk through Berlin and did not pass a single bank. I know this because I was looking for an ATM.

In Brookline, you can’t walk a block without passing two banks. When a local establishment goes out of business, the chances are about 90 percent that a bank is going to go in. The town is now 83 percent banks.[1]

pie chart of businesses

Lovely.

[1] All figures are approximate.

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May 10, 2018

When Edison chose not to invent speech-to-text tech

In 1911, the former mayor of Kingston, Jamaica, wrote a letter [pdf] to Thomas Alva Edison declaring that “The days of sitting down and writing one’s thoughts are now over” … at least if Edison were to agree to take his invention of the voice recorder just one step further and invent a device that transcribes voice recordings into speech. It was, alas, an idea too audacious for its time.

Here’s the text of Philip Cohen Stern’s letter:

Dear Sir :-

Your world wide reputation has induced me to trouble you with the following :-

As by talking in the in the Gramaphone [sic] we can have our own voices recorded why can this not in some way act upon a typewriter and reproduce the speech in typewriting

Under the present condition we dictate our matter to a shorthand writer who then has to typewrite it. What a labour saving device it would be if we could talk direct to the typewriter itself! The convenience of it would be enormous. It frequently occurs that a man’s best thoughts occur to him after his business hours and afetr [sic] his stenographer and typist have left and if he had such an instrument he would be independent of their presence.

The days of sitting down and writing out one’s thoughts are now over. It is not alone that there is always the danger in the process of striking out and repairing as we go along, but I am afraid most business-men have lost the art by the constant use of stenographer and their thoughts won’t run into their fingers. I remember the time very well when I could not think without a pen in my hand, now the reverse is the case and if I walk about and dictate the result is not only quicker in time but better in matter; and it occurred to me that such an instrument as I have described is possible and that if it be possible there is no man on earth but you who could do it

If my idea is worthless I hope you will pardon me for trespassing on your time and not denounce me too much for my stupidity. If it is not, I think it is a machine that would be of general utility not only in the commercial world but also for Public Speakers etc.

I am unfortunately not an engineer only a lawyer. If you care about wasting a few lines on me, drop a line to Philip Stern, Barrister-at-Law at above address, marking “Personal” or “Private” on the letter.

Yours very truly,
[signed] Philip Stern.

At the top, Edison has written:

The problem you speak of would be enormously difficult I cannot at present time imagine how it could be done.

The scan of the letter lives at Rutger’s Thomas A. Edison Papers Digital Edition site: “Letter from Philip Cohen Stern to Thomas Alva Edison, June 5th, 1911,” Edison Papers Digital Edition, accessed May 6, 2018, http://edison.rutgers.edu/digital/items/show/57054. Thanks to Rutgers for mounting the collection and making it public. And a special thanks to Lewis Brett Smiler, the extremely helpful person who noted Stern’s letter to my sister-in-law, Meredith Sue Willis, as a result of a talk she gave recently on The Novelist in the Digital Age.

By the way, here’s Philip Stern’s obituary.

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March 24, 2018

Sixteen speeches

In case you missed any of today’s speeches at The March for Our Lives, here’s a page that has sixteen of them

I, on the other hand, am speechless.

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January 11, 2018

Artificial water (+ women at PC Gamer)

I’ve long wondered — like for a couple of decades — when software developers who write algorithms that produce beautiful animations of water will be treated with the respect accorded to painters who create beautiful paintings of water. Both require the creators to observe carefully, choose what they want to express, and apply their skills to realizing their vision. When it comes to artistic vision or merit, are there any serious differences?

In the January issue of PC Gamer , Philippa Warr [twitter: philippawarr] — recently snagged
from Rock, Paper, Shotgun points to v r 3 a museum of water animations put together by Pippin Barr. (It’s conceivable that Pippin Barr is Philippa’s hobbit name. I’m just putting that out there.) The museum is software you download (here) that displays 24 varieties of computer-generated water, from the complex and realistic, to simple textures, to purposefully stylized low-information versions.

[ IMAGE ]

Philippa also points to the Seascape
page by Alexander Alekseev where you can read the code that procedurally produces an astounding graphic of the open sea. You can directly fiddle with the algorithm to immediately see the results. (Thank you, Alexander, for putting this out under a Creative Commons license.) Here’s a video someone made of the result:

Philippa also points to David Li’s Waves where you can adjust wind, choppiness, and scale through sliders.

More than ten years ago we got to the point where bodies of water look stunning in video games. (Falling water is a different question.) In ten years, perhaps we’ll be there with hair. In the meantime, we should recognize software designers as artists when they produce art.

 


 

Good work, PC Gamer, in increasing the number of women reviewers, and especially as members of your editorial staff. As a long-time subscriber I can say that their voices have definitely improved the magazine. More please!

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December 15, 2017

[liveblog] Geun-Sik Jo on AR and video mashups

I’m at the STEAM ed Finland conference in Jyväskylä. Geun-Sik Jo is a professor at Inha University in Seoul. He teaches AI and is an augmented reality expert. He also has a startup using AR for aircraft maintenance [pdf].

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Why do we need mashups? To foster innovation. To create new systems very efficiently. He uses the integration of Google Maps into Craigslist as a simple example.


Interactive video — video with clickable spots — is often a mashup: click and go to a product page or send a text to a friend. E.g., https://www.wirewax.com or http://www.raptmedia or http://www.zentrick.com
http://www.zentrick.com .


TVs today are computers with their own operating systems and applications. Prof. Jo shows a video of AR TV. The “screen” is a virtual image displayed on special glasses.


If we mash up services, linked data clouds, TV content, social media, int an AR device, “we can do nice things.”


He shows some videos created by his students that present AR objects that are linked to the Internet: a clickable travel ad, location-based pizza ordering, a very cool dance instruction video, a short movie.


He shows a demo of the AI Content Creation System that can make movies. In the example, it creates a drama, mashing up scenes from multiple movies. The system identifies the characters, their actions, and their displayed emotions.


Is this creative? “I’m not a philosopher. I’m explaining this from the engineering point of view,” he says modestly. [If remixes count as creativity — and I certainly think they do — then it’s creative. Does that mean the AI system is creative? Not necessarily in any meaningful sense. Debate amongst yourselves.]

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