Sunday, June 29, 2008

ALERT: email screwups

As sometimes happens in cyberspace, something went wrong.

So, my main address: till@owlglass.com has temporarily become defunct.

For all those wishing to contact me, please use tillowlglass@gmail.com.

This was a public service announcement.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

P.S.

As a post-script to my last blog—the one with lots of gasoline guzzling aircraft that must surely be offensive to Greenies and Global Warmingers—here's something to amuse you. Or not, depending on who you are. And when you get over Mr. Gore's energy consumption, you might also ponder the profit he has made for himself by riding high on the GW bandwagon.

Energy Guzzled by Al Gore’s Home in Past Year Could Power 232 U.S. Homes for a Month

Paper-napkin calculation for those needing it: that means the consumption is almost 20 times as high as that of the average US household.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen


They'll be back! Whoopee! Long live serialism and big-budget block busters. If this one is anything as good as the first, that alone will make 2009 into a good year movie-wise. And since it's being directed, again, by Michael Bay, my personal favorite among 'action' movie directors, how could I—and you and you; yes, you!—do anything but await the sequel with impatience and breathless anticipation.

Here's the synopsis from IMDb. Don't know how accurate it is, but it sounds promising:

The battle for Earth has ended but the battle for the universe has just begun. After returning to Cybertron, Starscream assumes command of the Decepticons, and has decided to return to Earth with force. The Autobots believing that peace was possible finds out that Megatron's dead body has been stolen from the US Military by Skorpinox and revives him using his own spark. Now Megatron is back seeking revenge and with Starscream and more Decepticon reinforcements on the way, the Autobots with reinforcements of their own, may have more to deal with then meets the eye.

I know all this enthusiasm may sound pathetic to the crowd of arterati, but, let's face it and when all is said and done and at the end of the day—to use as many platitudes as I can lay my tongue on; an metaphor that must surely make people cringe—Transformers was the most enjoyable flick of 2007, hands down and tied behind the back. For me it replaces my old standbys The Mummy and The Mummy Returns as the flick that I'd watch if I really had no clue about what to watch, and still could be sure that I'd enjoy it.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Asteroids Kill


Ever see Armageddon? Yeah, I know, the physics sucked and the 'America Saves the World' theme had anti-Americans everywhere puking all over the cinemas and DVD players. But, but, but...

The odds that a potentially devastating space rock will hit Earth this century may be as high as one in 10. So why isn’t NASA trying harder to prevent catastrophe?

So why is everybody expecting NASA do do this? What about the Russians? The Chinese. The Europeans? Why not expect some significant monetary input from the obscenely rich in the UAE? Do I hear the words 'self-serving damn hypocrites' and/or 'freeloaders' somewhere? We berate the US for their evils, social and world-wide, but then we also expect them to save our asses? Am I the only one who finds something wrong with that?

As to why NASA isn't doing anything, I have just one word for you: Ostrich. Or make that three words (four actually, altogether, and including 'ostrich'): Global F..ing Warming; and this weird current osbession with something that we'll probably survive, though it might give us some serious trouble. With that comes a bizarre amount of research-fund wastage on finding out—duh!—that the world is getting warmer, and, ultimately, there will be the realization—double-duh!—that it would have gotten warmer with or without us and that there's diddly-squat we can do about it.

But a killer asteroid is more than just 'serious trouble'. It's 'extinction', folks—for everybody, and not just a few cutsey species of animals, and probably even for roaches, because this is cery serious shit. So how about getting a life, remembering what matters, and giving the rsearch funds for Gobal F..ing Warming a miss and invest them into serious space-things? Like tomorrow, if that's all right!

But, not, it's gonna be 'ostrich' all the way, with you-know-which part of the anatomy most prominently displayed. I also sometime wonder just how much those bemoaning the extinction of animal species—something which has happened on a regular basis for billions of years—must actually despise their own species; thinking obviously, that an attempt to save it from total annihilation is somehow less worthy than...ahh, I don't know...saving some extremely rare species of snail maybe? It also occurs to me that these same people often do have children who are also members of the human race. So, where's anything to be found in their heads that even remotely resembles 'reason'?

The thing becomes even more bizarre and terminally existentially ironic when we consider, e.g., this and this (said 'this' being about serious human life extension)—which the same people who want to save cutsey animals but won't get worked up over the extinction of the human race, would probably find morally and otherwise objectionable. We're so close to becoming something more than we ever seriously considered possible—at least on a large scale—and now we should be wiped out by a cosmic accident because we're not looking over our shoulders? How stupid would that be? How horrible would that be? Think of the terminal nature of death. Multiply that by billions and billions. And then take a breath and get a damn life!

Of course, it could be that we haven't got a chance and that there's a fiendish cosmic mechanism at work that will nuke us as it may have nuked a gazillion species of intelligent life before us and may well do so for myriads of others coming after, somewhere in the cosmos. Yep, that's possible also. But I'll be damned if I'd allow myself to accept that. Where there's life, there's hope. Where there's death, there's nothing. Take your pick and choose.

The billions of dollars spent on space-technology aren't 'wasted' just because they don't feed starving people or aren't spent on 'Combating Global Warming'. On the day that that Killer Asteroid is finally heading straight toward us and we realize that we could have done something if only we'd had the brains, rather than the 'Global Warming' runs...on that day we'll know just how dismally stupid we were—and all those people those misguided idiots are claiming they're trying to 'help' with those resources not 'wasted' on space technology will be dead anyway, and their species—that being OURS, too, just in case those 'tards forgot!—imperfect as it was, will be extinct. And, as one fav Greenie bumper sticker says:

EXTINCTION IS FOREVER.

If only those idiots would heed their own slogans!

Still, as Robert Heinlein also once wrote, the human race has been nothing if not unbelievably lucky. Let's hope it holds for long enough for us to learn better and get away with it.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Who Are You?

Following on from here and here—just in case you're wondering where this is coming from. You may have to at least skim these two blogs, unless you still remember them well enough. They all had to do with cloning computer disks. Apparently banal subject, I know, but is it?

Anyway, the question some may ask—while others may wonder why 'some' may even ask it; but please bear with me—is why one should want to clone a disk. There a gazillion backup schemes and utilities about and the Mac itself has something very nifty called 'Time Machine' that works very nicely indeed. It is a real backup, in that one can restore older, now modified, copies of files and so on. A clone doesn't do that. A clone clones what is there now If you deleted a file or changed it from a previous version that you didn't make a backup copy of you're screwed. It's gone. Poof.

So, what's the good of a clone? The short answers are 'speed' and 'faithfulness'. 'Speed' because if your machine's disk crashes or the computer gives up its spirit—like my old PowerBook G4 did, it usually takes significant time to get back up and running. You can restore stuff from your backup disks, but maybe tomorrow you'll have everything you need to continue working. And even then you can't be sure that you've gotten everything back, because by and large you don't actually know where 'everything' actually is.

And that's where 'faithfulness' comes in. Everything is where it is when you cloned it. Period. The myriad little things that you added to your computer; your setups your browser preferences and bookmarks and that history that reminds you of the site you visited only an hour before the crash; your display preferences and how you arranged that second monitor; and so on. All the things that give even the most out-of-the-box computer a kind of weird 'personality'; what makes it different from the same computer that our friend across the road has.

Cloning in combination with regular backups, like through Time Machine, ensures that you can literally 'plug-and-play' your Mac back into life and, if you really want to, you can just re-clone its identity onto some new machine you just bought from the store. It's like a transmigration of souls. Reincarnation in the closest real-life instance imaginable.

The basic assumption underlying this process is that, in a certain sense, the computer's 'personality' if you will—that 'personality' aspect relating to Operating System, installed applications, documents on the disk, settings for system and applications, configuration, etc—is independent of its actual hardware. Not strictly so, because you couldn't just plug the disk into your typical PC yet, because PCs don't have some essential hardware and firmware necessary to actually 'load' the stuff on the disk into their system; not does much of their hardware support certain functions of what a Mac disk would need to 'reincarnate'. So, there is some hardware dependency. But subject to certain requirements being fulfilled, one could say that basically everything that makes your Mac into your Mac, as opposed to Jack's Mac across the street, can be 'transmigrated'.

That assumption is different from the one that would apply to a different kind of technology, where you'd have computers that are basically the same, with the same firmware, and who, in interaction with the world, develop an entirely memory-based—i.e. no disk you can take out— configuration that depends on the computer's use by whoever uses it and what kind of environment it's exposed to. You might be able to clone such computers, but you'd basically have to make a model of their memory states and configurations and somehow transfer these to other similar computers by basically imposing those configurations on the memories and firmware of those machines. And there's no guarantee that you'd be able to completely configure the target machine to be a true 'clone'. Especially if it doesn't contain all the necessary circuitry—possibly not 'yet', because it might still be in the process of growing, as for example human brains do.

The basic debate in the philosophy of mind camps of Cognitive Science—and also between, say, Absurdists and Religionists, because they kind of represent very similar point-of-view—is which one of those two pictures of what 'we' are, is the correct one; or maybe, if there's a mix of sorts, what that mix looks like.

The debate is confused, as you might expect; mainly because philosophers, like all people, are wont to ask dumb questions that severely limit the range of possible answers. Actually, philosophers, being prone to asking more questions about such things than your average Joe, are likely to come up with proportionally more dumb-ass questions. But that's life.

So, here is it, and here's the question: who are you? The special 'you', the one and only, the one that maybe survives bodily extinction—or not. Are 'you' a clonable thing, like my Mac disks, or are you a unique hardware-firmware configuration that has certain things in common with those other unique hardware-firmware configuration that you call your 'fellow humans'? Are there cosmic mechanisms that allow what is 'you' to persist in some way after the hardware has gone belly-up? Do these 'you'-things have the same relationship that the Eratrya hard-drive has with my MacBook—paging bits and pieces into 'memory' and executing programs that really live on a permanent kind of basis somewhere else? Is there a mix here, maybe in the sense that the hardware becomes modified—i.e. it's like programmable flash memory or something along those lines—in interaction with the software?

And if the hardware goes to the dogs—as it might in degenerative nervous system diseases like Parkinsons—does that map back onto whatever is stored on that disk; so that, and here's a thought!, a person dying in mental decrepitude ends up being an equally decrepit unincarnated 'soul'? Pretty much the same thing that usually happened to the dear departed in Dead Like Me.

Anyway, I think I'll wind up the subject for the time being. There's enough food for thought for those whose thoughts feed on these kinds of notions, to keep them busy pondering for a while.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Democracy of Tyrants?

Just to add a few more stray thoughts to the ones from my last blog:

  • Do we truly want to live in a world where the 'demos' rules?
  • From an individual's point of view, is this actually a desirable state of affairs?
  • Do we truly want this to be a rule-of-the-demos as is typically envisaged by the modern version of 'Democrat'-type inclusionists, who would put every decision in sight, important and trivial—well, enough of them to make it into an absurdity of principle and practical procedure—to a plebiscite?
  • What is worse from the point of view of individual 'liberty' and its practice: dominion of the 'demos' or dominion of, say, a king?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Democracy of the Dreikäsehochs

I've decided that maybe I'm not as much of a democrat as I sometimes think I am. Or maybe that's putting it the wrong way: I'm not as much of a fan of our western style of representative government as I should be in order to be politically correct.

Readers of my books will not find this surprising. After all, on Tethys there isn't a system of Representative Democracy in sight; and neither is there on any of the worlds in the systems controlled by 'The Authority' as they are revealed in the currently-last novel of the series.

I didn't really plan it that way; it just happened. It may have been because of genre conventions. Who ever heard of a representative democracy context for a far-off-sf/f story? It was also necessary to tell this particular story, because if Armist and Tahlia hadn't been obliged to assume responsibilities imposed on them by 'tradition' that had to do with some kind of royalty-issue it wouldn't have been half as much fun. If that 'tradition' had involved merely some pathetic royalty-knockoff as currently exists, for example, in the UK, that wouldn't really have worked either. The UK royals and aristocracy are a bunch of losers, acting out a stage play for fools, albeit mostly rather rich fools. There are some other royalist systems extant in other parts of the world that are closer to what might be usable for writers like me. I guess I stole some ideas from the way those systems work, though I believe that the scheme by which the 'House of Keaen' connects with the common folk through a twisted ritual of breeding hasn't been used before. It might have, because there's nothing new under the sun, but I certainly haven't read anything along those lines. (The practice of bartering off 'royal' brides for favors from noblemen or other royals, on the other hand, used to be commonplace and still is in certain places. It's just a variant of the basic despicable practice of bartering women—or anybody who suits the purpose, but mainly women—for goods and/or services.)

Back to democracy, which basically means, 'rule of the people'. Wikipedia's entry will do:

Democracy is a system of government by which political sovereignty is retained by the people and either exercised directly by citizens or through their elected representatives. It is derived from the Greek δημοκρατία ([demokratia]), "popular government" which was coined from δήμος (dēmos), "people" and κράτος (kratos), "rule, strength" in the middle of the 5th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens.

Or 'strength of the people'. Interesting that the term 'kratos' should express two things.

Of course, nowadays, democracy is synonymous with 'representative democracy', which usually involved a bunch of elected 'representatives' doing law-mongering, administrating and 'governing', with the due support from public servants of all kinds, from bureaucrats to law-enforcers. A former teacher of mine—long time ago, I know—referred to democracy as the 'Rule of the Dreikäsehochs'. (Mixing languages here!) The English translation for Dreikäsehoch, which literally means 'Three cheeses tall', is something like 'squirt' or 'nipper'. 'Little boy' basically, with no knowledge of anything that matters, and preoccupied with play and day-to-day affairs; ignorant, shortsighted, foolish. You get the idea. And remember that cheese also smells to the point of 'stink', is greasy, soft... There's a world of meaning and meta-meaning in the term.

The implication of putting things this way is that there are people presumed not to be of a similar disposition, but knowledgeable, far-sighted, intelligent, wise, benevolent, benignly disposed toward the people in their care, and so on. You know, the kind of crap that aristocrats often put forward to make themselves appear—to themselves and everybody else—less loser-ish and pretentious-asshole-ish than they tend to be. And, yes, there are those in the 'demos' who believe that kind of crap. I have a friend, a highly intelligent person of great erudition and otherwise pretty good thought processes, who basically completely buys into this kind of nonsense.

'Rulers' who are wise and benevolent and unselfish and interested more in the welfare of their people than their own or their cronies', are of course only the stuff of heroic fantasies. The Tethys series is an example of such a fantasy. So was, for example, the most recent version of the Arthurian tale, King Arthur, which ended with 'Arthur' being crowned 'King' with he full approval of the populace. One would presume, within the context of this particular heroic fantasy, that he ruled wisely and reponsibly and so on. That's no guarantee that his heirs would end up doing the same, of course.

There's no doubt that the likes of the Antoine Fuqua version of King Arthur are the stuff of fantasy. There's nothing in history to suggest that there have been, and even less that there are, people around in those roles who qualify as wise and benevolent and caring and all that. Therefore—and also for reasons based on 'human rights', especially those relating to 'determining your own political destiny' and stuff like that; all fictitious—so the narrative goes, the 'representative democracy' version of ruler-dom is far preferable. Meaning that people prefer systems where, on a regular basis, everybody of a suitable age and disposition to be considered a 'citizen', is allowed to—and, in Australia, compelled to!—go and vote for a number of individuals to represent 'popular' interests and administer nations and their affairs, internal and external.

Said individuals are almost always of inferior personal quality; far too desirous of assuming the mantle of what they like to call 'public service'; will basically lie and cheat and tell people whatever it takes to make them be elected to the office they aspire to; and which almost invariably have no qualification to act as 'rulers' or even makers of sensible laws. At the top of the pyramid of these elected 'representatives' reside a class of more-equal-than-others, who end up in the roles of 'ministers' with a 'prime minister' at the top—or, in the case of the US, with a 'president', who at least is able to select his cabinet of 'secretaries' from anywhere, rather than having to choose it from the pool of those that were 'elected'.

When I watch this system of government in action I sometimes ask myself whether the only reason for its existence isn't that those who support it don't also actually live in a fantasy world, which is based on the assumption that indeed this kind of system is somehow 'best' for those living under it. There's a whole host of assumptions going with the 'representative democracy' mythos that are at least as hair-raisingly unfounded and simply dumb-ass as those that would support a 'constitutional monarchy' kind of system. We can start with the whole notion that those wallies we elect to 'parliament' actually 'represent' anything but the gullibility of those who thought they 'represented' them. And that's just the start. I am a great admirer of Roger Scruton's The West and the Rest, but as of recent I've begin to doubt, not his historical analyses or theses, but his assertion that indeed, 'representative democracy' is actually the best thing for ensuring personal 'freedom', or 'liberty' as the American Founders would have put it, that's ever come our way.

Nor do I see it as stable, as is evidenced by the current trends in state-individual relationships the world over. That doesn't mean that I think in the Western Democracies there's going to be a return to autocracy or royalism or something truly off-putting like sharia law. But it must be clear that modern 'democracies' are rapidly turning into something worse than 'police states'; and that those on the 'left' of the political spectrum are just as dangerous, if not more so, to 'liberty' than those on the right.

Over-regulation of life—no matter whether 'benevolently' or not. Over-surveillance in public places. Infiltration of governments with 'special interests', from capitalist enterprise to 'missionary Green-dom'. These are just three areas that immediately stand out.

It is probable that 'representative democracy' has systemic flaws that will ultimately pervert it into something else; and doing so by basically re-defining itself as the perversion proceeds. If this is so, then in a comparative few years we will still call it that, but it will just be a label without substance. The 'Authority' in the Tethys series is the not-so-far-removed offspring of 'representative democracy', with all the perversions that will bring—for people will remain people for a long, long time to come.

The worst thing about the 'democratic' systems of government we have is possibly their power to delude. The rituals are all there and are followed and paid homage to ad nauseam, to make us believe that the Dreikäsehochs actually do have a say in what happens to them. This deception is not performed, by and large, with the intention to deceive, but simply because people are stupid and those doing the deceiving—with the vast majority of 'media' people leading the charge—actually believe this bullshit themselves. On the part of others, of course, the deception is intentional, deliberate, self-serving, cynical, ruthless, devoid of respect for anybody but their own interests.

So, I ask and I wonder, is it maybe better for the sake of 'liberty' itself, to have a system of government that doesn't bear the seeds of such deception? Which fantasy 'works' better in the long run: that of the constitutional monarch who is also a ruler, or that of the 'elected representatives' of 'the people'?

If we speak about 'liberty' the question then becomes: 'liberty' to do what?

For those not adverse to some very troubling notions, I recommend not only Jack Vance's short-story Ulan Dhor, but also the Normal Spinrad novel The Men in the Jungle.