Seeds of Joy

I just fin­ished read­ing through my sec­ond issue of Seed mag­a­zine, as I was con­sid­er­ing get­ting a sub­scrip­tion. It’s already been on the news­stand for a year or so, but I tend to be behind the curve on these sorts of things. The mag­a­zine, which comes out bi-month­ly, is fan­tas­tic read­ing. It has the cul­tur­al aspects of Wired, and like Wired, does­n’t pull punch­es when it comes to the sci­ence. The design and lay­out are great, with tons of infor­ma­tion spread through­out. The pho­tog­ra­phy sci­ence-as-art, with many being pho­tos by researchers them­selves. At least one of the two issues I’ve read even gave scales on a num­ber pho­tos for ref­er­ence, which was wel­come infor­ma­tion. I get almanacs of the year’s best sci­ence writ­ing each year, and I’m sure I’ll be see­ing writ­ing from these pages in there along with those from Wired and Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can.

The mag­a­zine is unapolo­get­i­cal­ly pro-sci­ence, which should­n’t be too much of a sur­prise. The writ­ers delve into the pol­i­tics and divi­sions with­in the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty and remind us how these affect our lives and our futures. We are all tied to the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty and Seed brings that rel­e­vance front and cen­ter.

Seed’s web­site has a num­ber of their arti­cles and shorts, as well. Also checked out their pod­cast. I high­ly rec­om­mend it. Most episodes are sub-ten min­utes and are enter­tain­ing and infor­ma­tive. Imag­ine an a abbre­vi­at­ed sci­ence show from NPR. My review after read­ing a cou­ple of issues: I sub­scrib­ing for sure as I can’t wait to read the next issue.

Clueless in Tampa

Back in the late Spring of 2003, I was locat­ed in Tam­pa for two-and-a-half months for busi­ness. While there, I had a great deal of time to catch up on read­ing and, for what ever rea­son, decid­ed to spend it on polit­i­cal sci­ence books. While pick­ing up a cou­ple of books at the local Barnes & Noble one evening, I was being checked out by a woman who looked to be in her mid for­ties and who appeared to be per­fect­ly sane, at first:

“Hey, those seem like two great books! We don’t get too many peo­ple buy­ing these down here. I’ve nev­er heard of this one, but I like the title: The Emerg­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic Major­i­ty.

“Yeah, I read a piece by one of the authors, in The Nation, I think, and I thought this book seemed inter­est­ing. It’s most­ly wonky, sta­tis­ti­cal stuff, though.”

“Well, we need some­thing to turn this coun­try around. That oth­er book (The Con­science of a Lib­er­al: Reclaim­ing the Com­pas­sion­ate Agen­da) by Sen­a­tor Well­stone is sup­posed to be great. We’ll sure miss him.”

“Yeah, he was a great man.”

“I just can’t stand this cur­rent Bush admin­is­tra­tion. I did­n’t real­ly like Clin­ton because he could­n’t keep it in his pants, but he’s a male and your all that way, so I just have to be under­stand­ing. But these peo­ple are just despi­ca­ble.”

silence

“My hus­band and I worked on the Nad­er cam­paign in 2000. We real­ly helped to get a lot of peo­ple inter­est­ed here in Tam­pa.”

“You live in Flori­da and you worked to get peo­ple to vote for Ralph Nad­er?”

“Yes, I think he’s some­body who real­ly could help Amer­i­ca.”

I prompt­ly dove across the counter and stran­gled a per­son who, along with her hus­band, might have for­ev­er ruined my beloved coun­try. Okay, that part’s not true at all. How­ev­er, you can imag­ine the per­son­al restraint on my part to resist such a com­pul­sion.

“Hey, ______ (can’t remem­ber names, don’t want to), are you going to talk that guy to death or check him out. He’s just stand­ing there with a blank look wait­ing for you to hush and ring him up.” says the lady at the next reg­is­ter, unwit­ting­ly not­ing my defense mech­a­nism.

“Oh, of course. Sor­ry about that. It’s just nice to see some­one who thinks the way I do.”

“Uh-huh.” (!?)

She pro­ceeds to ring me up for my two books and I walk out, think­ing how I final­ly met one of those wacky moon­bats that Rush Lim­baugh is always going on-and-on about and just astound­ed at the fact that she was sure she’d found some kin­dred spir­it in me. I kept look­ing over my shoul­der for the Kick Me sign that was sure­ly taped on there.

“Neuromancer” by William Gibson

I recent­ly fin­ished read­ing William Gib­son’s clas­sic sci­ence fic­tion nov­el, “Neu­ro­mancer;” the 1984 nov­el which is wide­ly cred­it­ed with begin­ning the cyber-punk genre.

Neuromancer

William Gib­son’s “Neu­ro­mancer

I recent­ly (okay, two months ago… I’ve been up to oth­er stuff) fin­ished read­ing William Gib­son’s clas­sic sci­ence fic­tion nov­el, “Neu­ro­mancer;” the 1984 nov­el which is wide­ly cred­it­ed with begin­ning the cyber-punk genre. My par­tic­u­lar book is an anniver­sary edi­tion that opens with a ret­ro­spec­tive for­ward writ­ten by the author. He explains, upon ret­ro­spect, that the only aspect of the future he failed to cap­ture was the rise in pop­u­lar­i­ty of mobile phones. Upon read­ing this, I ini­tial­ly saw this as a bit of hubris, that is for him to think that he had envi­sioned every­thing else with such accu­ra­cy as to com­ment on the one thing he had missed. After read­ing the book, I’d say that it has noth­ing to do with pre­dict­ing the future. This book helped to cre­ate the future. If Gib­son had wrote this sto­ry includ­ing mobile phones, then they would have only caught on that much soon­er.

Com­put­er sci­en­tist Alan Kay famous­ly said “The best way to pre­dict the future is to invent it.” Many peo­ple love to quote him on that one, but I sup­pose most instances refer to phys­i­cal tin­ker­ing; the physics and chem­istry and nuts and bolts aspects of inven­tion. How­ev­er, much cred­it should be giv­en to the sci­ence fic­tion authors who often first envi­sion the future1. They seem to guide the sci­en­tists and engi­neers down their path, many of whom are fans of sci­ence fic­tion. Such would be the case with Gib­son’s nov­el. It isn’t so much prophet­ic as it is direc­to­r­i­al. Writ­ten near the dawn of the per­son­al com­put­ing age, it was as if Gib­son saw the first train tracks being laid west­ward and wrote about the train reach­ing some love­ly moun­tains and beach­es, caus­ing the peo­ple lay­ing the tracks to then say ‘that sounds great, let’s go look­ing for love­ly moun­tains and beach­es.’

There is a cer­tain amount of lin­go that nev­er real­ly caught on, but some phras­es real­ly stuck with the mass­es; such as the once ubiq­ui­tous “cyber­space” for refer­ring to the online world. It’s not used as much any­more, much like the phrase Infor­ma­tion Super­high­way has fall­en to its own way­side. I sus­pect their both causal­i­ties of the gen­er­al pop­u­lace becom­ing more famil­iar with tra­di­tion­al­ly geek terms like inter­net, world-wide-web, etc. Not as poet­ic, but more accu­rate. How­ev­er, even if much of the lin­go isn’t with us, you can see the impact of this nov­el else­where. The film “The Matrix” draws heav­i­ly upon this nov­el for ideas and ter­mi­nol­o­gy, as does the Ani­me clas­sic, “Ghost In The Machine.” While not the first sci­ence fic­tion instance of an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (oops, belat­ed spoil­er alert…), sure­ly none before cap­tured Gib­son’s accu­ra­cy of the notion that A.I. would indeed be soft­ware and not some shiny alloy humanoid with a unex­plain­able Aus­tri­an accent. It seems like an obvi­ous state­ment now, but in 1984, how rev­o­lu­tion­ary was it to imprison the great­est threat to human­i­ty by keep­ing it from con­nect­ing to a world wide com­put­er net­work?

The nov­el cen­ters around a rel­a­tive­ly washed up hack­er named Case, who is giv­en a sec­ond chance to get back into the work he once loved (eleven years before Kevin Mit­nick would be sen­tenced to a prison and a com­put­er ban). He is recruit­ed by a mys­te­ri­ous woman who acts as the mus­cle for a small and secre­tive oper­a­tion which Case acts as the brains for, well at least jacked into cyber­space. We meet some oth­er odd char­ac­ters along the way, many of whom have had some black mar­ket DNA alter­ation or surgery to enhance or cre­ate abil­i­ties. The world, as Gib­son describes it, isn’t as clean as the black print on white paper would first appear. His is a noir adven­ture bounc­ing from a ful­ly immersible online world to a rough, grit­ty, and com­mer­cial­ized world; in either of which Max Head­room would feel right at home.

Some­thing very com­mon amongst sci­ence fic­tion writ­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly that of the past 30 years, is the incor­po­ra­tion of cor­po­ra­tions (either real or fic­tion­al ones). Some­times they are the great evil, some­times they are just dropped to lend a sense of authen­tic­i­ty to the sto­ry. Both are often done in a bla­tant and heavy way, some­times so much so that I can­not deter­mine whether the author got paid for the name drop or real­ly hates large con­glom­er­ates so much as to make them a cen­tral vil­lain. Gib­son, how­ev­er, does this about as per­fect­ly as can be done. He cre­ates a sense of con­ti­nu­ity between 1984 (and 2005) and the date­less future. This reminds me of “Dune,” for which Frank Her­bert incor­po­rat­ed Ara­bic words to invoke a sense of his­to­ry as well as stir up imagery of desert life. (Of course, in my world, all sci­ence fic­tion reminds me of Frank Her­bert).

“Neu­ro­mancer” would go on to win three major award for sci­ence fic­tion writ­ing. Not bad for his first nov­el. I’d like to con­tin­ue on read­ing the oth­er two books in the “sprawl” tril­o­gy (every good sci­ence fic­tion nov­el must be part of a tril­o­gy, in which there are often four or more books). I’d rec­om­mend it as well, as there is a sense some­thing near nos­tal­gia for cyber-punk in it for my gen­er­a­tion. Were it not for this book, we might not have this medi­um with which to com­mu­ni­cate. At least, it might have tak­en longer to get here as Gib­son’s fans would­n’t have been there, try­ing to cre­ate the future he had writ­ten about.

1 The excep­tion here is Arthur C. Clark, who is cred­it­ed for the inven­tion of the use of geo­sta­tion­ary orbit­ing satel­lites could aid in telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions. He wrote about it in a short arti­cle for a sci­ence and engi­neer­ing mag­a­zine in 1945, rather than in a fic­tion nov­el. Had the lat­ter occurred, it is quite pos­si­ble no one would have been will­ing to give cred­it for the idea.

Ama­zon SIPs for this book: tox­in sacs, new pan­creas, shark thing, leather jeans

My Life by William J. Clinton

Not so much a straight biog­ra­phy, but a auto­bi­og­ra­phy from an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent who real­ly under­stood all the pres­i­dents before him. The kind of per­spec­tive only some­one with this posi­tion and his kind of love for his­to­ry and pol­i­tics could write.

My Life

While I began read­ing My Life by for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton back in the sum­mer of last year, my read­ing of it was inter­rupt­ed by the release of a install­ment in the Dune series (weird pri­or­i­ties, I know). How­ev­er, I’ve been back on it recent­ly, and I find the book well worth the time.

I sup­pose most peo­ple skimmed through the first half or more of the book just to read what­ev­er sala­cious details about extra-mar­i­tal affairs they could find, or sim­ply imply. Hon­est­ly, I could care less. I always thought that was a lit­tle too per­son­al for my busi­ness. What’s more, my opin­ion is this: it hap­pened, he lied to con­gress, he was cen­sured, I moved on. It’s not the most sig­nif­i­cant thing in the man’s life and I’m not going to spend any­more of this post or my time wor­ry­ing about it. It’s not like a war got start­ed over it…

Bill Clin­ton is, and prob­a­bly always will be, a nerd of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty (or in politi­co-ease, a wonk). I mean this as a com­pli­ment, in that he is tru­ly one of the mod­ern times great minds in pol­i­tics. He is a stu­dent of the game, so to speak. As A studi­er of his­to­ry and as a per­son who lived through some of the coun­tries more tumul­tuous times, he is able to put ideas and pol­i­cy in per­spec­tive. As a can­di­date and as Pres­i­dent, he received a lot of atten­tion for his pain feel­ing abil­i­ties, but after read­ing more about his youth, I don’t real­ly doubt him. How­ev­er, it is a true love of pol­i­tics that makes him a nerd. I get the impres­sion that this is a man who seeks out polit­i­cal races like a com­pul­sive gam­bler finds race tracks. Sure, he’s a pro­gres­sive who wants change, but I think he also likes the chal­lenge just for the sake of it.

The parts of the books I enjoy most, aside from some inter­est­ing tales of his youth, are the insights into Amer­i­ca’s his­to­ry. Mr. Clin­ton does an nice job of mak­ing Jef­fer­son, Tru­man, and Kennedy all feel as though they were con­tem­po­raries as much as ances­tors. Of course, he has inti­mate knowl­edge of mak­ing his­to­ry, but he hon­est­ly makes Amer­i­ca’s past seem not just inter­est­ing but rel­e­vant. I was aware from read­ing oth­er books by staffers about the Pres­i­den­t’s love for read­ing and how he often would ref­er­ence events in the lives of for­mer pres­i­dents back to Wash­ing­ton for insight. This is what I was look­ing for­ward to in this book. Not so much a straight biog­ra­phy, but a auto­bi­og­ra­phy from an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent who real­ly under­stood all the pres­i­dents before him. The kind of per­spec­tive only some­one with this posi­tion and his kind of love for his­to­ry and pol­i­tics could write. I’m sor­ry to say that up until now in the book, it has only been com­ing in snip­pets.

I can imag­ine crit­ics not car­ing for the all-over-the-map style of writ­ing. How­ev­er, I love it. It adds a sense of place to every inci­dent described. Sure, there are some goofy parts and some anec­dotes that just seem out of place. On the whole, I’d say it’s a good read. I know that many of his detrac­tors sim­ply think this book is revi­sion­ist his­to­ry. I’d say that if some­one is going to attack the man and his work, the least you could do is read his side of the sto­ry, and here it is.

TiVo Hacks by Raffi Krikorian

In my impa­tience for TiVo To Go, I recent­ly bought TiVo Hacks by Raf­fi Kriko­ri­aned.

In my impa­tience for TiVo To Go, I recent­ly bought TiVo Hacks by Raf­fi Kriko­ri­aned­st­ly use­ful hacks, like pret­ty much all of the books in the O’Reil­ly ____ Hacks series. I say most­ly… who wants to make all of the text on your TiVo inter­face in ital­ics (seri­ous­ly, hack no. 9).

I’d say that of all the books out there for hack­ing your TiVo, this is prob­a­bly the most con­cise and up-to-date. Of course, there’s part of the prob­lem. If you have Series 2 TiVo, you trade off for nicer fea­tures with the inabil­i­ty to do many of the more pop­u­lar hacks for the TiVo. You can’t use FTP to get your video off of your TiVo with a Series 2 becuase the video is scram­bled on it. Okay, you can FTP it, but what’s the point? Any­way, none of this is the author’s fault, and he goes iin­to some detail to explain exact­ly what mod­els can do what.

The great­est hack, in my opin­ion, for any TiVo is going to be adding more hard dri­ve space. You’re real­ly not going to improve on the fea­tures of the UI by adding a screen clock and the whole web-surf­ing thing sounds fun until you remem­ber that surf­ing with just a TiVo remote is going to suck (that’s why you have a lap­top). Adding/replacing hard disks is the killer hack, and this book tells you pret­ty much all you need to know. Of course, all you may need to know is to just buy a kit from Bill Reg­n­ery. How­ev­er, this book still goes a long way and I’d rec­om­mend it to any­one who owns a TiVo and is curi­ous about what’s inside the box and how to make it do some cool tricks.