Now show Newton an Apple. Pull out an iPhone from your pocket, and turn it on so that the screen is glowing and full of icons, and hand it to him. Newton, who revealed how white light is made from components of different-colored light by pulling apart sunlight with a prism and then putting it back together, would no doubt be surprised at such a small object producing such vivid colors in the darkness of the chapel. Now play a movie of an English country scene, and then some church music that he would have heard. And then show him a Web page with the 500-plus pages of his personally annotated copy of his masterpiece Principia, teaching him how to use the pinch gesture to zoom in on details.
Could Newton begin to explain how this small device did all that? Although he invented calculus and explained both optics and gravity, he was never able to sort out chemistry from alchemy. So I think he would be flummoxed, and unable to come up with even the barest coherent outline of what this device was. It would be no different to him from an embodiment of the occult — something that was of great interest to him. It would be indistinguishable from magic. And remember, Newton was a really smart dude.
The article references Clarke's Third Law:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
And the author points out that just like an iPhone would be magic to Newton, a self aware AI would be magic to us. Why? Because we haven't the faintest idea how to make one. Hell, we don't know how we're self aware much less how to make the AlphaGo Zero program self aware. That's not to say we won't understand ourselves better or that we won't be able to produce a HAL 9000 in a century. But it is to say that right now we don't have a clue.
And by the way, the article doesn't mention this but I'm a little tired of the NY Times and other mainstream news sources posting dire warnings from people like Stephen Hawking about the treat from AI. You know what Hawking does for a living? He's a theoretical physicist. His observations about AI are every bit as valid as my observations about football.
One last thing, if you follow the AlphaGo Zero link you'll reach an article on Gizmodo called Stunning AI Breakthrough Takes Us One Step Closer to the Singularity. And no, it's not taking us one step closer to the singularity. Allowing a program to learn how to do something over time without human intervention has been going on for a while. Read this article on evolutionary algorithms if you're interested in how AlphaGo Zero learned to kick ass.
October 18, 2017
Star Trek Discovery
So then, there will be some spoilers for the show. I'll put in a few lines just to be nice.
There we go.
Talking to a Trek fan committed to Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future is like talking to me about Denethor in Return of the King. In both cases honest disagreement can slowly turn into irrationality. Certainly it did in my case.
For what it's worth I'm better now.
So, Star Trek has an ideal future. People don't work for economic gain they work to better themselves. Bigotry is gone. There's a federation of like minded worlds cooperating to explore the galaxy, celebrating infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
Unless you're a Klingon who challenged your wife's murderer to adjudication by combat. Worf ended up killing Duras, perfectly legal under Klingon law and Worf had witnesses who'd testify that Duras legally accepted Worf's challenge. Didn't matter, the Federation is above such sordid violence.
Unless of course, it's Vulcan ritual combat during the koon-ut-kal-if-fee. If that's the case, then killing is just fine.
And while the Federation is accepting of all cultures, they draw the line at Ferengi capitalism. It's unseemly and it's perfectly acceptable to mock Ferengi citizens who accept money for services rendered. Capitalism is by nature predatory and is to be discouraged, unless you happen to be from Tellar Prime, a founding member of the Federation. Then if you raid an underdeveloped planet like say, Coridan, to rob them of their mineral wealth and sell it on the open market, well we'll just paper over that.
Star Trek's universe might be brighter and shinier then our own but it still has its share of shittiness, every universe does.
In Star Trek Discovery the Federation and the Klingons are at war. By episode five the war has been going on for six months and the only advantage the Federation has is the Discovery, an experimental ship equipped with a spore drive. The spores are in touch with, "a microscopic web that spans the entire cosmos. An intergalactic ecosystem. An infinite number of roads leading everywhere." But to use it you need something to interface with the spores. Discovery has something a possibly sentient life form called a Tardigrade. It can interface with the spores but only at the cost of pain to itself and neurological damage. Not to worry we're at war here. The Tardigrade is popped into a chamber and subjected to agony until it moves the Discovery to where it's needed. It's Starfleet's secret weapon.
It it seems like I'm scoffing, I'm not. Too often Starfleet captains come off like young guys wearing white shirts, black ties, who just want to talk to you about our lord and savior Jesus for a few minutes. Captain Gabriel Lorca of the Discovery is committed to winning the war. He's done some shitty stuff in the past and he does shitty stuff in the present. In episode five he finds himself in a Klingon prison cell on a prison ship, sharing it with Lieutenant Ash Tyler. Tyler's been a prisoner for six months and has survived by fucking the ship's captain. Lorca is cool with that. He's not cool with his other cell mate, one Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Mudd, it turns out has been spying on his fellow prisoners in return for not being tortured. While Ash's actions are noble, Mudd's are reprehensible and when Lorca and Ash escape, they leave fellow Federation citizen Mudd behind. Of course, Mudd got off on Lorca's bad side by calling bullshit on Starfleet's whole mission statement:
Lorca: Starfleet didn't start this war.
Mudd: Of course you did. The moment you decided to boldly go where no one had gone before. What did you think would happen when you bumped into someone who didn't want you in their front yard?
I think this show is very good. A lot of fans hate it for the same reason so many disliked Deep Space 9, it presents the Federation and its military arm as fallible, willing to perform immoral actions for what they perceive as the greater good.
But it's still Trek. In the end the ship's engineer injects himself with some of the Tardigrade's DNA so he can interface with the spore drive. The Tardigrade is set free. And I wouldn't have it any other way. But it's the darkest Trek to date and I hope its numbers merit a second season.
October 16, 2017
Halt and Catch Fire: Part 2
It's important to remember that any technology, no matter how wondrous and exciting, becomes stuff. For my Dad the wondrous tech was the automobile and the promise that you could go anywhere. For me it was computers. Regardless, you start to take things for granted. The best you can hope for is to try to remember your initial excitement.
October 15, 2017
Halt and Catch Fire
They say that you shouldn't start a business unless you can afford to fail. I've also heard the statistic kicked around that 9 out of 10 new businesses go under.
Halt and Catch Fire had its series finale last Friday. It was a show about the early days of the computer biz. The characters worked and tried to make the one new thing from 1983 until 1995. They always missed the boat. At 1984 the debut a portable computer called the Giant, only to see a competitor introduce a faster and cheaper portable called the Slingshot. So they failed.
And that's the way it goes, by season four we're in 1995. Gordon Clark and Joe MacMillan work on a curated guide to the internet called Comet, it was initially designed by Gordon's daughter, Haley Clark. Meanwhile Gordon's ex wife Donna is heading a team working on a search engine called Rover. Both teams fail when they discover that Netscape is giving Yahoo their own button on their new browser.
In its first season Halt and Catch Fire went heavy on corporate intrigue and tech. Half way through that season they discovered that the real strength of the show was with the characters. And yet it was still thrilling for me to see them live through the 80s and 90s. They went from building a computer to hosting a game service to trying to capitalize on the internet with a search engine. Hell, I can remember how excited we all were for Google when it came out in 1997. Search engines pretty well sucked before that.
And dear me the end of Halt and Catch Fire has left me feeling rather nostalgic. So I changed my wallpaper to honor and old friend.
October 15, 2017
Last week Fane, The Red Prince, Ifan ben-Mezed and I broke out of prison. When Dallis, who seems to be head of the Magisters, attacked our ship Malady manged to teleport it to some astral plane as we prevented her from being killed.
Figuring that at 29 hours I was half way in I took a half time break. However I've learned I'm only finished with the first act. At any rate I will buy some frosty beverages on Friday and get back into the world.
October 12, 2017
Synchronized to Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King.
October 11, 2017
Blade Runner 2049
Although film noir is associated with crime dramas, Blade Runner was as much an action film as it was a science fiction detective story. Blade Runner 2049 has K doing more traditional gumshoeing then Deckard did.
I liked Blade Runner but it was the look of the film that really got me. It was impossible for Blade Runner 2049 to surprise in that department, although the imposing sea wall around Los Angeles was pretty damn impressive.
I won't be watching it a second time in the theater, but I do intend to rent it when it's available. I suspect that they intended a third film. That doesn't seem in the cards now and I think that's a good thing. Not because of any animus towards the franchise, it's just that the ending was perfect and self contained. Casablanca is a perfectly self contained story and I really don't care about Rick and Louis' adventures fighting Nazis. And the two Blade Runner movies form a unit and tell the story of Rick Deckard to its conclusion. We really don't need anything more, especially a War for the Planet of the Replicants.
October 11, 2017
The Place of the Lion
You know who Tolkien is and you've probably heard of C.S. Lewis, but you can be forgiven for not having heard of Charles Williams. Williams was an editor at Oxford University Press. He hung out with Tolkien and Lewis and like them he wrote fantasy. His fantasy novels are sort of hard to get into. Right now I'm reading The Place of the Lion. In that one, two gentleman on a walking tour learn that a lioness has escaped from a menagerie. They encounter the animal only to have it replaced by the platonic archetype of a lion. That's right, someone has summoned platonic archetypes into our little world and hilarity ensues.
The Wikipedia article on Williams has this line:
Williams was an unswerving and devoted member of the Church of England, reputedly with a tolerance of the scepticism of others and a firm belief in the necessity of a "doubting Thomas" in any apostolic body.
That alone is enough to make me sympathetic towards him.
If you decide you want to check out Williams, May I suggest that you start with Descent into Hell? It's considered his best novel by many and here's the description:
Generally thought to be Williams’s best novel, Descent deals with various forms of selfishness, and how the cycle of sin brings about the necessity for redemptive acts. In it, an academic becomes so far removed from the world that he fetishizes a woman to the extent that his perversion takes the form of a succubus. Characters include a doppelgänger and the ghost of a suicidal Victorian laborer. It is illustrative of Williams’s belief in the replacement of sin and substitutional love.
It's not nearly as bad as all that but it's not Narnia or the Shire either. And if you're really put off, as well it might, you can read C.S. Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength. It's easier going and you don't have to deal with stuff like substitutional love.
It's curious that while I love authors like Michael Moorcock, Phillip Pullman and China Miéville, I have an affections for folks like Lewis, Tolkien and Williams too. You might say I have catholic tastes in literature (rimshot).
October 9, 2017
As a kid I saw this cartoon many times but I never saw it in color before (we had a black and white set). Interesting palette.
October 9, 2017
So, Mike Pence walked out of the Colts game after some of the football players knelt down during the National Anthem. And the thing is, he must have known that the kneeling thing was going to happen before he arrived. Fine. Dandy. Whatever. And if he was flying to the game on his own dime then great, he made a statement. But if he used taxpayer money then I want the government to be reimbursed, either by Pence or the Republican National Committee. Officious little prick, he's the type of asshole who goes to a steak house and bitches because they don't have a vegetarian menu.
October 9, 2017
Blade Runner 2049 Box Office
Near future science fiction is a dicey thing. It's one thing to speculate that 300 years into the future humans will have warp drive, transporters and a galactic federation. But Star Trek also had humanity nearly destroying itself during the Eugenics Wars from 1992 to 1996.
Some futures age better then others.
In the early 1980s there were two visionary works of near future science fiction, Blade Runner was released in 1982 and Neuromancer was published in 1984. The film was set in 2019 and the book was set a bit further down the road in the 2030s.
When it came out, Blade Runner did not do well, we tend to forget that. It made only $33.8 million on a budget of $28 million. Now it's a classic but it was a failure when it was released.
Both Scott's movie and Gibson's book extrapolated from the early 80s and both were noir works. But Gibson was interested in how computers would change society and since he had no idea how personal computers worked, he just made shit up. Here's what humans found when entering cyberspace:
"A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding."
There's an effort to bring Neuromancer to the screen in some form. But Neuromancer is a product of its time and I don't know how it would fly today. It could be done, you'd have to set it further down the road to the end of this century, eliminate references to the Soviet Union and add smart phones but maybe it could be done.
Now Blade Runner is a different work. If Gibson was commenting on the changes computers were bringing to society, Scott was interested in what makes a person a person. Blade Runner was a philosophy film dressed up as a 1940s detective movie. With some really powerful computers, and a disdain for copyright law, you could edit Harrison Ford out, put Humphrey Bogart in, give Bogie Ford's lines and it would work just as well .
And Los Angeles 2019 is a marvel, a rainy, gritty depressing place. The best and brightest of Earth have left for the off world colonies. The Earth is now home to parasites, like Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the sick, like J.F. Sebastian and the cynical, like Deckard.
It's a world without personal computers, smart phones, personal assistants, social media and (mercifully) Donald Trump. But it has flying cars, replicant slaves and artificial snakes.
And it's a world of phone kiosks, and the ghosts of businesses long gone. But Scott, like Gibson, wasn't trying to predict the future. He was commenting on identity and the situation in the early 80s. That was a time when good people thought that Ronald Reagan was as bad as it gets.
And all of this is to note the sad fact that Blade Runner 2049 had a bad opening weekend, bringing in just $31.5 million during its opening. Perhaps it's the film's length, perhaps the audience isn't in the mood for a dystopia right now.
Or perhaps Blade Runner was never as popular as people thought. Perhaps its fans spoke and wrote all out of proportion to their numbers.
And perhaps, twenty years later, Blade Runner 2049 will be considered a classic.
October 8, 2017
In the 90s my Mom became a big fan of Rush Limbaugh. She never tired of saying, "He tells it like it is!" Of course he didn't, he was, and still is a bottom feeding reptile that spews out whatever bullshit he thinks will stick to the wall. But my point is not that Limbaugh should be hounded off the air, I'm just saying that fake news is not a new problem. People have been hawking demagoguery since the days of Father Coughlin.
I don't think it's surprising that the Russians are planting bullshit news stories on Facebook and Twitter and I don't think that requiring those two sites to exercise a stronger editorial had would do much good. But think back to my Mom, she was convinced back then that Bill Clinton was possessed by a demon. And I'm sure there were a lot of other people out there who believed the demon possession hypothesis. But in 1996 there was no easy way for those folks to network, 21 years later that's not the case. They can network, plan and exchange information.
It's tempting to want to kick assholes like Milo Yiannopoulos off the net. But I don't see anyway of doing that with out interfering with my right to be here. But that's beside the point, the main thing is that bullshit has been around for a long time and thanks to the internet, it available 24/7.
October 6, 2017
That's the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence to you and me. Radio telescopes are combing the sky, looking for radio signals that would show that there are other technological civilizations out there.
Consider a culture that's doing the same about 100 light years away. In 2050 it locks onto our star and gets a shit ton of radio and television signals. They conclude we might be worth checking out and they decide to do another pass 60 years later. So they lock onto Earth in 2110 and discover that the amount of radio traffic has declined alarmingly. Sadly, they conclude that their nearest neighbor is losing its technology, too bad.
I don't think I ever lived in a place (as an adult) where I used an antenna for over the air television. And while I use an antenna for radio in my car, sometimes I listen to the music on my phone. And at home I use an Echo for radio. It looks like Earth's period of blasting huge amounts of radio signals into space was just a phase.
And really, would we really recognize signs of an advanced civilization if we found them? Maybe yes and maybe no, I keep remembering these guys, you know?
October 6, 2017
That's the bridge of the USS Discovery, a Starfleet science vessel circa 2256. Nice looking, a little dark but the show is a little dark, at least compared to other Treks.
And that's the bridge of the USS Enterprise a Starfleet heavy cruiser circa 2266. Now for its day, and its day was 1966, the Enterprise looked so advanced. But special effects don't age very well and the Discovery looks far more advanced then Enterprise. That's not a problem for me, I just sort of pretend the Enterprise is a bad ass ship and leave it at that. For that matter the ridgeless Klingons from the original series never bothered me. The show didn't have the ability to make really alien Klingons but they did the best they could with what they had. I didn't need the explanation provided by Star Trek Enterprise. I just pretended they had forehead ridges in 1966.
The old series has been remastered with improved special effects. I do like the improved effects but I understand why some people hate them. The effects are limited to exterior shots, stuff like the Enterprise in space. They also added the city of Shi'kar to the episode Amok Time, that sort of thing.
Star Trek Discovery looks like it could be set in the Kelvin timeline but the producers insist that the show is set in the original timeline. So fans are trying to work out an in universe explanation for why the Enterprise's tech looks inferior to the Discovery's. And when I was younger I would have been right there with them. But I've mellowed with age and the explanation, "Because," is good enough for me. I'm not sure if that is a sign of maturity or weakness.
October 5, 2017
Me and my Chicken
The short guy is alChandler, a Dwarf with a grudge. The blackish, chicken looking thing is Peeper, a tainted chicken who thinks I'm her mom.
In Divinity Original Sin 2 pretty much everybody takes the pet pal perk that allows you to talk with animals. Last night I was walking and I heard some chickens screaming so my party and I decided to investigate. It turned out that their eggs were stolen by a voidwalker, so I volunteer to retrieve them.
Unfortunately all but one of the eggs had been corrupted. We fought a battle, killed the bad guys and took the one uncorrupted egg back to the hens. They're grateful and I went on my way. But the next time I passed the chickens they've all been killed by Peeper, the chicken who hatched from that egg. It turned out that it was kind of corrupted after all. Peeper calls me Mama and as long as she's with me she won't be going on a murderous rage. Although, aside from chickens, Peeper can't do much damage, she's level 1.
October 5, 2017
If You Ever Wanted to Read the Silmarillion
But were daunted by the old timey language, Tor Books has a Silmarillion Primer, they do the reading so you don't have to. And if you're thinking of giving the book a try but don't know if you can do it, take the King James Bible test. If you can read, understand and appreciate the language in good ol' King James then you'll have no trouble with the Silmarillion. But if you find yourself zoning out halfway through Genesis, there's no shame in reading the Cliff Notes version of the Silmarillion.
October 5, 2017
Two Days in Hiding
I woke up on Monday to the massacre in Vegas, and for the last 48 hours or so I've been hiding in Divinity Original Sin 2. So, in 48 hours I escaped from Fort Joy, defeated the magisters, defeated Bishop Alexander, led the other former prisoners to the good ship Lady o' War, took command of said ship, kept the mysterious woman known only as Malady alive during an attack by the game's big bad, Dallis (Malady needed time to weave a teleport spell to transport our ship out of danger), and now I've reached the shores of Reaper's Coast. I put 15 hours into the game since Monday.
I need to escape and fortunately I had a place to go to. I really didn't warm to Divinity Original Sin but I'm having fun in the sequel. And now it's time to play with Newton for a bit and go to bed.
October 4, 2017
At the 11th Hour
My little party has made it outside the prison camp called Fort Joy. We just got to a camp of outlaws and we're safe for the moment. I have to go back to the fort because Ifan ben-Mezd wants to kill the archbishop who's running the Fort Joy and aside from the fact that he's my companion, I've got a bone to pick with the guy myself. Rounding out the party is the Red Prince, a lizard man who want to regain his kingdom and Fane. Fane is an immortal animated skeleton who trying to find out what happened to the rest of his kind
I'm almost level 5 and I've been playing the game for about 11 hours. So far it's a lot better then Divinity Original Sin. While there's a seat of your pants approach to the plot, I don't feel board. So I think there's a chance I just might finish this game. We'll see.
Newton Is Four
Like a lot of shelter cats, nobody really knew when Newton was born. But I got him in April, 2014 and the shelter neutered him before I took him home. That meant he was at least six months old and backtracking a little I arbitrarily declared 10/1/13 as his birthday.
I got him a birthday present in September. I had to board him for ten days in August and he let me know he was very upset and shaken by the whole thing. So I bought him a new bed and that seems to have mollified him. In the end, he's a forgiving sort and he's put his trust in me. So happy birthday little buddy.
October 1, 2017
Divinity Original Sin 2
Over the last few days I've been in two major fights in this game. They were hard even though I'm playing on the easiest setting. Its been over 30 years since I played AD&D but I've watched the Penny Arcade crew play over at Pax and the combat in Divinity Original Sin 2 has the same feel to it.
The second fight was unnecessary. I'm in a sort of refugee/prison camp and the inmate in charge is a guy named Griff. He's holding an elf named Amryo prisoner and I need to free the guy. So I cut a deal with Griff, he'll free Amryo if I find the person who stole drugs from him. I do indeed find the culprit, a lizard man named Stingtail. Stingtale took the drugs for a noble purpose and I convince him to give them back. So I schlep back to Griff and give him the drugs but he won't free Amryo unless I tell him who the thief was.
My entire party starts screaming that I can't give Stingtail up so I turn Griff down and a big fight ensues. Griff and his gang are level 3s and we're all level 2s. The first time I tried the fight it was a party wipe. The second time I was a bit more strategic and we won. Only later did I learn that there are no consequences to telling your party to fuck themselves and dime out Stingtail. Still it was good experience and after the last guy went down we all hit level 3. Now all I have to do is get this stupid collar off, it stops me from using source magic, but that's for tomorrow.
September 30, 2017
A Shameful Confession
Last night I broke down and signed up for CBS All Access so I could watch the rest of Star Trek Discovery. I'll say this for the show, it's a lot better then Voyager or Enterprise. And yeah, I realize that's not saying a lot.
So, they'll be new episodes until November, then the second half of the season will unroll in January. After that I'll cancel until season 2 rolls out, that's if there is a season 2. If you want to know what changed my mind it was this editorial by Jerry Holkins. He's the bastard who pushed me over the edge.
September 30, 2017
Today Trump tweeted about Puerto Rico:
You know, there were a lot of people who voted for Trump last year who are now trying to convince anyone who'll listen that they had no idea things would be this bad. I'm calling bullshit on that. They voted for an incompetent businessman who bragged about his ability to sexually assault women and who spouted racist venom from the very start of his campaign:
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. ... They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
That's from the speech he gave in June, 2015 when he announced his candidacy.
So no, you guys don't get a pass, not from me anyway. You knew how vile he was and either you didn't care or else in your heart of hearts you agreed with him. And where is the commander in chief today? Why at his gold course in Bedminster, NJ. Because he really doesn't give two shits about the crisis in Puerto Rico.
September 30, 2017
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