A real-live (OK, real-mechanical) Turing Machine, and a real-live Hoosier locution.

For any of y’all sufficiently ungeekoid so as to not understand why this machine is only the coolest thing in the history of fuckall, first, Welcome to Wetmachine, and how the frack did you end up here? And second, please see this very helpful wikipedia article, which will get you up to speed.

As a special, special, bonus, right about the 4-minute mark into this video the narrator/machine-maker uses a locution (is there a name for it? pls ans) in which the words “to be” are omitted from the object-verb of the verb “to need”, and the naked past participle is used instead, viz, Each loop of the Turing program reads the current cell and uses the transition rules to determine if that cell needs changed. N.B. “needs changed”, not “needs *to be* changed”. About this idiomatic usage, Wiktionary says:

Rarely, with a past participle, as in “Something needs done”, which is synonymous with “Something needs to be done.” Note that many speakers do not find this construction to be acceptable.

Please note that *this* speaker, me, finds this construction perfectly acceptable. My Dear Wife, a native of Evansville, Indiana, uses it, and finds herself unable to change that habit after 30 years of effort to speak more “correctly” since I first pointed it out to her. I just think it’s charming when she speaks Southern-Indiana-style and will be heartbroken if she ever drops this usage.

But I doubt she will. After all, according to this source referenced by Wikipedia,

“ (If you’re a need/want+Ved speaker — ”The garden needs watered“ — you can go for decades without realizing that lots of other people don’t use this construction, ever.)”.

But I’ll bet Alan Turing would have noticed. That guy didn’t miss much. (I nearly said “That guy didn’t miss a trick”, but that would have opened a whole nother can ‘o worms.)

Proficiently Enhanced

When John asked me to write here, I was tempted mainly for two reasons. The first was that I had a lot of ideas tumbling around my head about the publishing industry, the software industry, and the ways in which they are both alike and different. When I have something in my head, my natural impulse is to write it down. I was contemplating hanging out my own shingle on the World Wide Web. But while I was planning my own perfect site, John offered a spot at Wetmachine, and it struck me that this was a place that was already well suited for sharing these writings.

We are certainly living in interesting times, when publishers are grappling with tectonic shifts in technology and culture, while creators are exploring new ways of reaching audiences. “They” have been saying that media is dying for longer than I can remember, but to me that sounds like a meaningless statement. I think media is about to get bigger than ever, in almost every way imaginable, and some ways we can’t even conceive of yet. When it comes to the media of tomorrow, I believe there are going to be even more ways to discover words, images, sounds, and ideas than there are today, more ways to soak them in and have them become a part of you.

You can get a taste of this every day just by dipping your cup into the ever-churning sea of the Internet, which is the other reason I wanted to write here. There are people everywhere doing fascinating things that stretch our ideas of what art is, or what a story looks like. There are tons of smart people writing about some of the same topics that I’m preoccupied with. I wanted a place to share these discoveries as well.

Now, my goal here is not to be another conduit for memes flowing from screen to glowing screen, but writing on the Web is inherently about creating links, making connections, and spreading ideas. So sometimes I’ll use this space just to offer you a sip from my cup when I’ve found something brilliant and to say “try this — it’s awesome” but most of the time I hope to build upon what already exists out there and contribute something that is worth folding back into the mix.

I didn’t exactly plan for my first link here to be to one of my own projects. I believe it’s both interesting and germane, but I’ll let you be the judge. It’s a new science fiction magazine that I’m starting with some friends. My role is editorial director, and I wanted to give a little insight into what that means to me.

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Nanomachines manipulating DNA– and Grigory Perleman

Yesterday on Slashdot, a link to an article about nanomachines that can target individual genes — in this case to cure cancer. A long discussion follows in the comments (500+ comments) about implications of this technology, whether it might be used for ill as well as good.

I have not yet had the heart to read many of the comments. The technology described, and the implications thereof, are, of course, are pretty much the essence of my novel Acts of the Apostles, which I began writing 15 years ago and published more than ten years ago. Every time I see life imitating (my) art like this, I confess, my inner Grigory Perleman kinda starts to make rumbling noises deep in my bosom. Perleman’s the math genius & Howard-Hughes style recluse who refuses to accept $$ millions prizes for his solution of the Poincare conjecture because he’s evidently pissed off that his genius wasn’t recognized earlier. “You are disturbing me! I am picking mushrooms,” he hollers through the door to reporters who want to ask him about his mathematics and his opinion on prizes.

I did make a comment on Slashdot posting a link to this glowing Slashdot review of Acts by Slashdot co-founder Hemos. He at least recognized my genius. The other Slashdotters have probably modded by comment into oblivion by now. Such is the fate of us geniuses.

But just for the record, if anybody wants to give me a million dollar prize for writing Acts of the Apostles, I promise you I’ll accept. In fact, I’ll be happy if you just buy a copy.

Taking a flyer

My father is among many people who use the idiom “take a flyer” to mean “take a risk”. (I know that millions of other people use the expression also, but I always hear it in my father’s voice: “Go ahead, take a flyer. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” etc, etc). Well, I certainly took a flyer when I got laid off from the proverbial day job sixteen years ago and decided to move to Martha’s Vineyard & try to make a living as a freelance technical writer. And I took a flyer when I then took a few years to write a novel in between stints as truck driver, construction laborer, etc. And I took a flyer when I decided to self-publish. But today I’m going to talk about when I took a flyer & crafted a cheesy hand-drawn flyer as a marketing tool for my books, making me look perhaps even more of a crackpot than I actually am, if that’s possible. In some ways it was the most successful of all of these flyers.

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Sufficiently Advanced

Well, now, how do I follow that introduction from John, here in his arena with the spotlight on? Best stick with the original plan.


What do I mean by “Incantations”?

Well, it’s about this: I believe in magic. I believe magic is happening right now, and that you are a part of it. See, I’m typing these words and, at some future point in time from where I’m sitting now, you are reading them. And two amazing things are happening. I am sending the thoughts that are currently passing through my brain into the future and, even more miraculously, into your brain.

We do this every day, but it doesn’t make it any less fantastic. Sure, it’s not always perfect. In fact, it hardly ever is. We misspeak. We misunderstand. Information and nuance gets lost or mangled in the transmission, and the worst part of the whole transaction is that it’s so hard to tell the ways in which we’ve fallen short. We may never really know the full extent of our failure, or how to repair it. I’ve spent most of my conscious life fascinated by how we use language and most of my working life in search of ways to wield that tool to best effect.

I started the quest in trade publishing — an industry that takes the words of millions of hopeful scribes, winnows them down, polishes them up, and in the end, produces these magnificent artifacts called books. Whether you think publishers are any good at any part of this process of selecting, editing, designing, printing, and distributing books; whether you think they have their priorities straight; whether you think they are likely to survive the next decade, year, or season — and I have my own opinions — I still believe the overall endeavor is a worthy one. I learned so very much in that milieu, including the fact that, in the end, Big Trade Publishing isn’t my game.

Instead my journey has taken me into the field of technical documentation for computer software (with a push in that direction from one John Sundman, we should note). Sure, it’s a different world. We have source code repositories instead of bookshelves. Web sites backed by hard drives instead of shopfronts supplied by warehouses. But all this — intelligently arranging ones and zeros to a particular purpose — is its own realm of magic, just like artfully arranging words in sequence. And at the core, my part in this new world is the same as it always was. I may be documenting APIs, but really I’m working on brain-to-brain interfaces, implanting information into people’s heads in the most effective way possible.

So what I plan to write about here is technology and publishing, language and code. I want to practice a little magic and telepathy. I aim to put thoughts into your head for your consideration. Whether you’re ultimately convinced by them or not, I hope to at least reshape or augment existing thoughts that you’re already carrying around with you. I also hope you’ll do the same, and use this complex system that enables communication between you and me to put thoughts in my head that weren’t there before, or to turn the kaleidoscope in my brain a notch. Truthfully … I want this all to be a little mystical.

My posts probably won’t be terribly timely. They may not always be deep. But I hope that, from time to time, you will find them interesting. I have so much in my head that I want to pour through the ether into yours. And so:

Hello, Wetmachine world. How do you do?

Incanting Incantations

All y’all regular Wetmachine readers please note Incantations, the new blog of my dear friend Helen Michaud, added to the masthead above. Helen’s inaugural Incantation will follow soon in which she’ll tell you what-all she expects to write about here.

Helen’s a geekoid technical writer with a very interesting background in the NYC and Boston publishing biz.

She is a kick-ass writer. She tends to specialize in the Nicholson Baker idiom of the precisely observed intimate conversation, but her range is vast. (See for example, her backwards-written twitter novel.) Moreover, like Wetmechanic Harold Feld, Helen has an undergraduate degree from Princeton University, where all the smart people go to school, so you can rest assured that she is ipso-facto smart. (But unlike Harold, Helen was eligible for membership in the Princeton Asian Students Association as chronicled in Harold and Kumar go to White Castle Top that, Harold! . . . I digress. . .(by the way, were you guys (classmates???))

I met Helen nearly a decade ago on an open-diary site which has since fallen on trollish hard times, but which once rocked, big-time. I was a fan of her writing long before I knew her whereabouts on Earth. I just loved her stories– which were and are mainly micro-stories of overheard conversations, absurd encounters in public spaces, misunderstood marital exchanges, and similar. I was pleasantly surprised to find out, a while later, that she & I both resided near Boston, USA. Eventualy we met in meat-space. We became friends, and among other things, Helen went on to edit my book The Pains— not for any $$, mind you, but because she wanted to help me out. Whatever you may think of The Pains as a book, please take it from me that that book would have been a much, much less interesting effort absent her editorial ministrations.

Recently Helen has embarked upon a challenging, commendable, and daunting project — she’s editorial director of AE, an SF magazine a-borning; it’s devoted to Canadian Science Fiction. She’s raising funds for it on Kickstarter: please check it out and support her.

As a long-winded blabbermouth myself, I admire and envy those mininaturists who are masters of the apercu,
n 1.
A first view or glance, or the perception or estimation so obtained; an immediate apprehension or insight, appreciative rather than analytic.
The main object being to develop the several aperçus or insights which furnish the method of such psychology.
– W. T. Harris.
A series of partial and more or less disparate aperçus or outlooks; each for itself a center of experience.
– James Ward.
Hence, a brief or detached view; conspectus; sketch.

I myself have four favorite miniaturists: Emily Dickinson, Beatrix Potter, Joseph Cornell and Helen. I would be hard-pressed to say which of these is my #1 favorite.

I try to keep my Wetmachine entries limited to a shorter first paragraph than this, but I’m indulging myself here, because I am delighted to announce Helen’s decision to join us here on Wetmachine. Now go check out AE, and pledge money.

Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen

Grasshopper, Grasshopper, buzz off why don’t ya?

That special time of year, when St. Urhu’s day elides into the name-day of St. Padraic, is again upon us. Longtime readers know that here at Wetmachine we have a special place in our hearts for this great Finno-Irish-American festival–mainly on account of I started this site and I’m a Finno-Irish American, of which there ain’t too damn many offer dere, as my late Grandfather “Pop” used to say.

Ode to Saint Urho
Ooksie kooksi coolama vee – Santia Urho is ta poy for me!
He sase out ta hoppers as pig as pirds – Neffer peefor haff I hurd tose words!
He reely tolt tose pugs of kreen – Braffest Finn I effer seen!
Some celebrate for St. Pat unt hiss nakes – Putt Urho poyka kot what it takes.
He kot tall and trong from feelia sour – Unt ate kala moyakka effery hour.
Tat’s why tat kuy could sase toes peetles – What krew as thick as chack bine neetles.
So let’s give a cheer in hower pest vay – On Sixteenth March, St. Urho’s Tay!

P.S. The Irish, sure, will take care o’ temselves on the morrow; of that I’ve do doubt.

How to sell a million copies of your novel

Self-publishing novelist R.W. Ridley has some interesting comments. In order to sell a million copies of my novel, he says, I have to change the culture such that *I* am so fracking interesting that people will buy my books because they’re by me. In other words, people are buying the novelist, not the novel.

Not quite sure how to go about making myself that J.K. Rowling/Tom Clancy/Stephen King/Thomas Pynchon(??) -style compelling character, but I’m working on it. In my own bumbling manner. Very bumbling. . . Pynchon???? . . .

Don't look now, but in silico brains just got closer

According to this article in Nano Letters, scientists at the University of Michigan have built a memristor — a chip that conserves memory, as neurons do:

A memristor is a two-terminal electronic device whose conductance can be precisely modulated by charge or flux through it. Here we experimentally demonstrate a nanoscale silicon-based memristor device and show that a hybrid system composed of complementary metal−oxide semiconductor neurons and memristor synapses can support important synaptic functions such as spike timing dependent plasticity. Using memristors as synapses in neuromorphic circuits can potentially offer both high connectivity and high density required for efficient computing.

Just in case you missed the implications, the title of their article is Nanoscale Memristor Device as Synapse in Neuromorphic Systems.

I discovered this article from this article in New Scientist (this link may or may not work for you). New Scientist cheerfully calls this memristor the “missing link” on the path towards true electronic brains, and points out that “the military” is already hard at work looking for applications. Gee, this all sounds so exciting! Why am I suddenly feeling very queasy?

Any of y’all others intrigued by implications of nanomachines and brains– and perhaps with a healthy touch of technoparanoia — are encouraged to check out my novels (if you haven’t done so already), especially the critically acclaimed Acts of the Apostles now available in sundry ebook formats!