Tuesday, March 27, 2007

talkin bout carbon feetprints now - the semantic web tax

so in these days of sustainability, we should consider the damage done to the environment by spam - it requires processing (85% of email I send is spam, that means that 99% of email you get from me is spam - that means 99% of CPUs in the world are consuming spam) and generates (as do cows) much heat due to the lack of optimisation of todays processors - we should either
i) demand that intel, amd etc build processors for which spam is a no-op and can be removed by the instruction scheduler
ii) fine the spammers for causing us t oreach the heat death of the universe sooner than we would with more meaningful electronic communication

indeed, this might be achieved by
i) minimum entropy coding of instruction sets
ii) a negative tax on meaning.

0wning the air - new mobile threat

batnets, flights of radio controlled helicopters with wifi, gsm and UMTS and wimax transceivers , descend like locusts (or like vampire bats) and 0wn the airpsace, physically AND virtually.

coming to a community wifi and 3G Provider near you real soon now. the
Vampire batnet phenomenon - remember, you saw it here first.

[perhaps this will also be known as a denial of surface attack]

Saturday, March 24, 2007

science finction and the canon

So I just went to the first half of this - and jolly good it was too - congrats to the organiser for putting together some great speakers and fun people!

SF & the Canon at Anglia Ruskin University. Alas I had to bail (to go help clear out a library in london of a couple of thousand old SF books, by bizarre coincidence), but the first 1/2 of the talks were very informative, thought provoking, and, compared to a lot of "pure" old SF events I used to go to, human. Several thoughts of interest from discussions (not mine - I'm just noting them):

1. was Asimov a closet marxist - maybe (looking at the later Grand Unification of Gaia and Robots and Empire, he was - psycho-history is far more Das Kapital than Beyond the Pleasure Principle) - btw, harry harrison has a great throway line in one of his books about how "free markets were some mad social scheme tried in the dim past along with nazism and christianity, that noone can remmeber why anymore because its so clear they are bad ideas)

2. interstial joke - someone needs to do that trick that Lewis Caroll did with the ultra-short chapter (and it really was a kitten after all), and neal stephenson did in Snow Crash with a epic phantasy space opera between 1 volume and the next should be an ultra-slim volume with one line "and then there was the usual odessey"...

I misread the title "the past is an acid planet", and was disappointed it wasn't all about Lord of Light...

3. the asimovian speaker had spotted my cheeky blog and did a riff on it - he was spot on!

4 a paper on Sparrow (which i realized half way through, i had actually read!), was very very moving - I hadn't appreciated how powerful it was and will now go re-read it! makes my sf structure as joke look a bit weak in fact (even if its mostly harmlessly true)

5. a paper about the genealogy of cyborgs was interesting - the only one i had the nerve to make an observation about - that

  • cyborgs in ancient times were gadgets vought to life with magic (ichor) and runes ("meth/emeth", for golem on/off).
  • cyborgs later were monsters given some of the elements of life by unethical scientists (viktor)
  • cybermen were people who gave up part of their humanity (the borg)
  • but there are nore democritised cyber-folks (extropians) who take a wider view of the use of technology to enhance the human condition
  • often, the view of the cyber-organism reflects the superstitions of the time - magic creats robots, but they may be random liek the ancient gods. eldridtch science may bring dead cadavers back to life, but it is a Bad Thing and will lead to No Good, and even the Monster will be Pissed Off...especially when he has to float around in the melting polar sea.
  • but then science may remove your soul, which would be even worse (Dr Who, Seven of Nine etc etc?), on the other hand, it might be even better if the soul was just some illusion that caused confusion and made you remove somethign actually useful, whereas with out it you might just add something (like a keyboard, mouse, cell phone, pda, noise cancelling headphones and nanotech muscle toner).
  • oh, on afterthought/discussion with speaker, i think John Sladek's Roderick book, especially th first one, contains a LOT of good material o nthe difference between robots and cyborgs and where we perceive the difference too...remember to be unafraid of robots may be just as dangerous as to be terribly afraid, jung and annafreud as they say.

I hadn't thought what a clever clogs pun it is to call Arnie (the termiantor) the "governator" ( as in Gubernator or kybernetes) - some americal gags are quite erudite (and amusingly e-it-rude)

6. great paper about the pastoral (as in elizabethan literature such as Arcadia) and the way le Guin (especially in Always Coming Home) is an interesting angle on pastoral - i wondered if one might view anares in the dispossessed as an allegory of the early Kibbutzim in pre-UN sanctioned Israel - also, the Canticle for Leibowitz looks pretty pastroal in the first half.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

gaming the shareprice spammers to death?

so has anyone done a study of the correlation between spam on share price predictions and actual stock market behaviour? a colleague suggests this ought to be easy to game - that'd stop people doing it pretty fast...or if not would make for interesting world depression:)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Science Fiction is no laughing matter

There's a pile of work about the nature of satire. Basically the "modern" view is that satirical writing is inherently reactionary. Essentially, satire uses exaggeration to ridicule, and in doing so, re-enforces stereotypes, and preaches to the converted. Typically it works within the comfort zone of the reader.

Satirical work in science fiction goes back to Lucian (satirical sketches includes a trip to the moon) and forward until now. Dystopia is a common feature of the genre (whatever that is) and many dystopic visions use satirical mechanisms to present aspects of society to good or bad contrast. (Think Swift, Laputa etc). Again, SF lives in the comfort zone of the reader (or viewer in film, TV, or even music).

More specifically, SF often uses the form (particularly in short stories) of a joke - quite literally in the case of some writers such as Norman Spinrad, Robert Sheckley, Fred Pohl/Cyril Kornbluth, Philip K. Dick and similar, particularly in magazines of the 1950s and 1960s - where the structure is often extremely closely modelled on the "shaggy dog story" or other extended joke - viz Freud's Jokes&the Unconscious and other sad attempts to explain poor humour. At its height one can see this very clearly in the snappy Twilight Zone tales of Rod Serling - one story that one could home in on, though, is The Joker, by Isaac Asimov. This is a self-referential tale (somewhat like the Lottery of Babylon, the Library of Babel, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller etc etc), but also echos back to the Ancient Greek (viz Lucian, above) with the motif of a Theos Ex Maxina (deus Ex Machina- sorry for lack of Greek font and spelling:).

So what's the point here - well I guess I am going to make some sort of terrible faux pas when it comes to post-modern criticism, as I am making a value judgement - this sort of SF is poor. There is other writing (such as Vonnegut, some Arthur Clark, and Dorothy L. Sayers and one early Mervyn Peake) which attempts to examine this aspect of life without falling into the reactionary trap - I am thinking of the play, Comedians, by Trevor Griffiths (a fairly harrowing experience if you ever get a chance to see it - there is a fairly good film of the original stage production) - it is NOT funny.

So you want a joke: well, all I can say is that I take humour very seriously and Science Fiction is no laughing matter. But if you want something funny then how about this:

An Englishman, a Welshman and a Scotsman go into a bar, and the barman says:
"Is this some kind of a joke?".

A Martian, a dolphin and a robot go into a bar, and the Earthman says
"Twighlight Zone is next door, we only serve people here"
"OK it'll be a human for me, and the robot and dolphin will take an oil cheque"


A possible form for the dissertation (based on something radical a friend of
mine did in the alternative English faculty in Cambridge in 1981 - his
dissertation was about TS Eliot's "The Waste Land", and was written entirely
using quites from critiques of Eliot's work, and more specifically, by
juxtaposing writings that agreed with each other, where my friend agreed with them,
and disagreed with each other, where he disagreed with them, and the context of
the pome made it clear who was "wrong".

I propose to write at least one version of the dissertation as an annotation
in the same manner, of "The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams,
showing where the
original version of a joke (e.g. 42 versus the mystical significance of the
number 23 in the Illumianatus Trilogy; also, overly friendly doors and
depressive robots in Sheckley (actually also the bathetic character
of Slartibartfast == GoD)).

Thesis Outline

Satire and Futurism
Gods and Aliens
Jokes and the Clairvoyant

Motivation and Background
The Liberal Ethic in Speculative Fiction
The Liberal Ethic and Humour
The Structure of Some Jokes
The structure of the classic 1950s SF short story
Combat Liberalism, and the Reactionary Nature of Satire
Combat Liberalism, and the Reactionary Nature of Satire

The Joker and other Self Referential Concepts in SF Writings of the Period
Gods and Alients - Deus ex Machine revisited

Film and Text
Dr Feelgood and the Bomb
Dr Strangelove and the Joke
How I learned to live with depressed robots

Exaggeration in One Dimension
In Humour
In Satire
In Speculative (Science) Fiction
Exaggeration as a tool for Bisociation

Conclusions and Remarks
How was it for you?
How many science fiction writers does it take to change a light bulb?
Why are there no cell phones in SF movies?
Towards a radical chic for true SF satire.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

reactobad glasses and DASERs

so you've seen reactolite glasses that turn shade on as the sunlights up your day, and are quite cool - but wouldn't it be cooler still if you had shades that reacted to the scene you were in ? say things turn bad, you need to look cool even if its dark - think bruce willis crawling thru the aircon ducts in the airport at nite in die hard XVII, or sigourney weaver about to combat a googleplex of aliens on the moon with no name, or vin diesel in pitch black....then when things lighten up metaphorasmically, you wanna look innerlecktual and smart, your glasses revery to full on transparency...presto, Professor Indiana Jones, voila, ecco ergo cogito

of course, silly of me to forget that dna invented something quite similar...so how about this as Another Bad Idea: Rechargeable Glassses - these use sunlight to charge up and then show you things in the dark that were there earlier - these things may not be there anymore, but at least you can feel like there's an element of visual stability about the scene. brings a whole new meaning to the after dinner speech announcement: "gentlemen, re-charge your glasses"....

The DASER Is a new device that we have come up with at the Institute. It is an aronym which stands for "Darkness Amplified by Stimulated Evasion of Radiation", and it (like noise cancelling headphones) is not hard to imagine, but is quite hard to get right. There is a short story in the cunningly crafted collection of cornucopia by Arthur C. Clark called "Takes from the White Stag", which describes how noise cancellation (a.k.a. zone of silence) can go horribly wrong. Try to imagine the end of the universe and bacon sandwiches at the same time, and you will understand how bad a DASER could be in the wrong hands.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Engendered Species and SF

There's a sub-genre of SF where a world with some gender variance is envisaged - e.g. Left Hand of Darkness, where people are hermaphrodite, or Maul, where (most) males are dead - so most of these are proto-feminist literature trying to examine societies without male dominance arrogance and aggression, and are often very fine (and frequently (all?) by women authors...

so its about time we had one where all women died out - the speculation i would have is that society might not become either spartan (gay buddy+violence) or particularly random (mad max, random acts of senseless violence, escape from new york) - without women to SHOW OFF to, men might become civilized:)

as one of trician sullivan's excellent character's says, why werent the wives, mothers and sisters of the concentration camp commandants tried too? They stood by while their husbands, sons and brothers committed those crimes - perhaps if they hadn't been there, the crimes might not have happened...

oh, ok so we need to figure out cloning and stuff, but thats just the standard SciFi McGuffin (backstory)....easy peasy - the hard bit is how socieity would switch as
People of a Pure Chromosomic Nature (women) start to die off...

Friday, March 09, 2007

recovered memory

No I am not talking about those expensive (but useful) services where they extract data of your hard drive after a head crash - Yes I am talking about the psychological phenomena where you recall something but cannot tell if it is a true event or not (all recall is, of course, re-invention anyhow - we are softwired not hardwired)

So, I was always puzzled about how and why i found my first computing course so easy and natural a subject to study - i had this dream that a math teacher had taken a class of us in 1963 to a hospital where we spent an afternoon every week for a term learning this weird code and punching holes in tapes and getting an electronic beastie to do stuff for us that made maths easier. I talked to an old (yes really, thanks matthew bury)) friend who was at same school and he confirms that we did in fact do this - it really wasn't a dream after all. it was a DEC PDP 8, and we learned machine code (yes, machine code, not assembler) on it - the ibm 360 running pheonix in cambridge duing phsycis was much less interesting. the DEC 10 i programmed (cobol, fortran and algol 60, yes and Bliss) at north london poly was bliss in comparison. The ICL2980 at QMW which i programmed in algol 68 (truly the Flaubert's Parrot of programming languages - it should get le Palme Pilote d'Or at the Palais des Festivals at Cannes merely for its layout) was "interesting", when one had to use a glass tty to type code in on ,but then print out punch cards to input to the remote access/job entry system...argh!!!

so clearing out my mum's cllectio nof old sf trivia this weekend, we came across the manifesto for the Cybernetics Serendipity show at the ICA in 1968 - this remined me - I went to that - Donald Michie was showing off AI and a lot of very cool computer music and graphics stuff was on show - again, I had forgotten I went to it (or that I'd actually understood what was going on) as it was more in my memory as a "happening" (a bit like some Pink FFloyd gigs and the Notting Hill carnival I used to get dragged to around then) - looking at the event programme, there were a LOT of cool people involved from MIT, Cambridge etc etc!!

Then there was the real time OS (no-one I ask ever seems to know this, from MITRE) called MOS on LSI/11s and version 6 unix on LSI/PDP 11 (programmed in macro 11), and for a bit, 2.8 and 4.1cBSD Unix on PDP 11/44,
then there's these odd 16032 whitechapel computers (
better than sun 2s with their naff bus and 68k processor, but just british, so doomed from day zero - the story of the BSD unix port to those nice machines is interesting and would be good to get gospel on from people who were there)...

We also had some Sun 1s (never sold by Sun - same board as cisco router - sun=stanford university network, and stanford were always a bit slack on who got to walk away with tech from their labs:) ah well, IPR rules now would never let that happen, now xen, now xen...virtualisation is just a state of mind.

Not as mad as the sun workstion with a paper tape reader which connected to a paper tape punch connected to an A2D device on an analogue radar system on a US navy aircraft carreier in the naval ocean systems center in a farady cage as big as San Diego harbour (where it was), so that the sun workstation could display the SAME roatating green display you got on the original analoigue radar, I am not kidding:)

At some point along the way, i spose i did this port of SR to a few weird architecture machines (i dreamt i was re-doin the runtime in assembler on an
ICL1900, but that cannae be so there).

Luckily now i have given up programming as, like maryjane and charlie, sex, religion and rock and roll, it screws with ones ability to programme.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

science friction

theres this interesting "sci fi and the canon" workshop coming up soon:-
anglia ruskin university)

the agenda is below with my annotations - my personal feeling is that
this is more about Sci Fi and the Fugue....in the Freudian sense:)

Tony Keen: Open University - 'A Secret Psychohistory: Appropriating Gibbon in Asimov's Foundation'

Asimov's main problem was his over-compensation for an almost neurotic anxiety about being Russian in origin and having to be more american than americans to offset this - the approproaite of gibbon in Foundation is not as relevant as the re-invention of America in the Future as Rome of Empire - the myth was inherent/and explicit, in Star Trek of course.

3. Genevieve Liveley: University of Bristol - 'A Cyborg Genealogy: Science, Fiction, and the Classics'

Read Sladek on RUR and Golem - many myths on Zombie/Golem/Mandrake/Dryad, come together in the cyborg - for filmic horror sci fi, you can't do a whole lot better than videodrome. I like the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition at the ICA in around 1968....the attributes of the gods as spaceshoes of the gods (or basically technology so advanced that it is indestingishuable from an Arthur C Clark story) (as in Zelazny's excellent Lord of Light), etc etc

11.15 to 11.30 Coffee

coffee is basically mental-space-craft fuel.

11.30 to 12.45 Session Two: Science Fiction, Genre and the Canon
1. Andy Sawyer: Liverpool University - 'U.K. Le Guin and Pastoral'

Le Guin's "pastorals" are actually pretty gruesome au font - lik lullabys, superficially things are fine (in form) but fundamentally thigns are bad (content)
really some are pretty harsh allegories (e.g. of vietnam war)

2. Rowlie Wymer: Anglia Ruskin University - 'Mary Doria Russell's Rakhat novels'
as in jeff (high) noon, anthropology and human inform much better class of books!
12.45 to 14.00 Lunch
which comes before the long dark tea-time of the first post-lunch fallout dystopia

14.00 to 15.30 Session Three: Two Parallel Panels Panel One: Science Fiction and the Victorian Imagination

1. Christopher Pittard: University of Exeter - 'Dickens: Bleak House and the Dystopia of Bladerunner'
do androids dream of electric steam irons

2. Jess Nevins: Sam Houston State University - 'Victorian SF and the Canon'
The homegenisation of victorian era is weird - it was a very long period which went thru many changes...i wonder if here was any english working class oral/folk sci fi tradition? we'll probably never know. perhaps Mark and Darwin will turn out to be science fiction (maybe there really is a flying spaghetti monster, and she's pissed)

3. Katalin Kocsis: Szeged University - 'The Island of Doctor Moreau'

Islands are an interesting genre within the utopic literature - thing Aldous Huxley, the Island, and other Island books (and films - viz classic: This Island Earth) -
No man is an I&I land living in an Un-sound-system (brixton dub circa 1980)

Panel Two: Steampunk, Cyberpunk and the Contemporary Canon
1. Sandor Klapcsik: Debrecen Univeristy (Eotvos Fellow at Liverpool University) - 'Cyberpunk and the Contemporary Canon'

A lot of loose canons here - my persona feeling is that cyberpunk uses chandleresque shorthand as a prop to cover up for the (usual) lack of characterisation. (If a real character showed up in a hard sf book, it would scare the bejesus out of the sterotypical spotty adolescent geek male reader)

2. Lovorka Gruit Grmusa: Rijeka University - 'The Postmodern Perspective: Is SF only a tool?'

See Geek Chic - how many self-conscious moments are there in Sci Fi (and horror) movies when someone stops to do mugshot to audience and say "we did't really break the rules there did we?" -c.f. time travel for example (time&again, by his bootstraps)

3. Jason Ellis: Liverpool University - 'Steampunk and H. G. Wells'
The original vulcan? fire and fear eats the soul - I never liked Wells, esp. not Mr Polly - I think some histories are not worth learning from.

15.30 to 16.15 Tea

16.15 to 17.30 Session Four
1. Keverne Smith: Kings Lynn - 'The Tempest and Frankenstein: Forerunners of SF'
Ariel and Robbie the Robot?
Mary Shelley and Metropolis?
A Midsummer Nights Manned Mission to Mars?

Given Patrick Stewert appearing in the RSCs Tempest right now, this is timely, if not barking

2. Patricia MacCormack: Anglia Ruskin University - 'Deleuze and the Daemonic Fold: Lovecraft's Baroque Becomings'

Cthulu is mainly an experiment in getting readers to sound silly in front of their friends - eldritch is possibly a good name for a Detective Fiction writer from Harvard in 1874 -

17.30 Wine Reception and Closing Paper Michael Bywater: writer and journalist - 'Zorking Hell: How The PC Made Hobbits of Us All'

As a Mac using hobbit, I resent this:)

[added note in response to comment: while its true that multi-player networked games VR/dungeons&dragons and other fantasy, economy and eco type systems are far more common on PCs than on Apple platforms now, they were originally developed on pre-PC systems (see wikipedia entry on zork including apple, atari and commodores, because those systems had the functionality and had the user base (i.e. geeks) before the PC existed and long after until PCs got decent graphics. of course the point of the talk above iis probably going to be in the "Us All" bit, so its ubiquity of platform that matters and thats surely now the wintel boxen. however, the 3rd gen console systems are all networked, and PS3, WII and Xbox are way way better experiences and may end up replacing PCs since most people don't really want to run Microsoft Office at home - most the "Us All" want skype/IM, web, email, media center and games console (and whatever new mad thing people come up with) - Gates' was clueful when he targetted business applications, which is why the PC was always the unpleasant clunky cousin of computers that were "designed for living" - it wasn't a priority for Microsoft - but as computers vanish into the environment, incorporating design becomes a priority.

what i find interesting about the big online community games is that aspects of
Real Life like economy, and gritty grottiness somees to be a priority - this is something that a lot of fantasy literature seems to live out (do Orcs shit in the woods of Lorian?)

Monday, March 05, 2007

geek definitions #101

did you ever wonder what a myth was? my best take is that a myth is a smell

a smell triggersmemory like nothing else - in geek terms, its the key for content addressable memory (e.g. you hash the smell and it directly returns the event it was last associated with) - a myth is the same, but the hash is like a bloom filter in that it works for ANYONE despite the fact that lots of people have different specific memories - it is a leaky/approximate hash and works to address content in your memory whoever you are - this is why different explnations of myths from different people, err, differ:)

neurolinguistic programmers note: hash, bloom and buckey/collision are standard tricks available to lowly assembler and C programmers, so we've got your number, whereever you are

the Enki of Loki are but a Tokeni Bucketi Lookupi away - oh lord, gimme shelter from
Los Angelos Ducatti

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Less' (as in not Moore's) Law and the Internet

Less law miht make you think I am some sort of anti-litigous nutter (which I am) but what I am writing about here is the same thing that John Ousterhout observed a while back (
"why arent operating systems geting faster as fast as hardware?").

The net got a lot bigger. we built a lot of big, fat pipes everywhere. Since 1987 (20 years), in accordance with Moore's law and it's variants for storage capacity and commincations bandwidth, we have had approximately 2^20, which is a staggering 1 Million-fold increase in the basic hardware performance on any metric you care to choose - check out the simplest thing, a cell phone - my cell has 1Gig of memory and a 100MHz processor, a 2Mbps wireless UMTS link and cost under 100$, so it must be true right?

Wrong. because of bloat. some of the bloat is sensible - p2p (storage localized to you rather than the data center or content provider) is there to beat the "tyranny of latency" thus a HUGE amount of storage is distributed around the world in 1 Billion pCs on the internet, just so's you don't have to wait 100msec to get it over your DSL line.

On the other hand the laptop I am typing on has a dual core intel procvessor and 2Gig of memory. in 1979, I used to use a DEC 10 which supported 300 simulataneous users doing engineering design on CAD software and it ony had 600kwords of memory (K,. not M and certainly not G) - try supporting 300 users on a Mac Book:)

Basically, there's no incentive for the software vendors to fix this because the price of gadgets keeps going down. However, service providers might think about it, as the energy consumption of the net keeps going UP. The heat death of the Internet is imminent, unless we come up with a scheme (e.g. like Bit torrent's tit for tat)

Perhaps we should have a Carbon Tax on profligate power consumption - we could start by instrumenting services and allowing people to do Ethical, Eco-Friendly Internet Browsing.

We could add meta data to HTTP/HTML (dare i say XML? - no way - XML is one of the MOST bloated bits of nonsense). And then users could vote with their feet (well, maybe with their Mice).

Governments could enforce it - Bush could invade countries that have hidden Weapons of Mass Deforestation and harbour carbon terrorists! No wait, he'd have to invade california first....oh well, thats the end of another fine idea...pip pip

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misery me, there is a floccipaucinihilipilification (*) of chronsynclastic infundibuli in these parts and I must therefore refer you to frank zappa instead, and go home