Uncharted, Recharted, Charts Lost

I’m a big fan of the writer Robin Sloan, not only for the output of his writing, but for his process, and the way in which he offers his readers access to (and participation in) that process. If you go over to his website, there’s an invitation to enter your email address “for secrets, etc.” I dropped my email in the box some time ago, and it’s a low-traffic, high-delight kind of subscription that reminds me a lot of the experience of backing Robin’s Kickstarter project and following along with him as he made a book.

A recent missive of his opened thus:


(That’s what Alexander Graham Bell wanted people to say when they picked up the telephone. I love stuff like that; it reminds us that every medium was wacky and uncharted once.)

It’s stuck in my mind since reading it, but perhaps not exactly in the way Robin meant it. Because what it reminds me of is the way that every medium, however familiar, becomes uncharted. That’s why I’m fascinated by things like telegraph code — we think omitting vowels, substituting homophonic numbers, and using acronyms to shave character count is zomg-clever, though I guess characters are comparatively cheap these days. And what about calling cards (not the plastic pre-paid kind) — how cool were they? But would you know how to interpret the turned-down corner of a calling card now? That reminds us that all communication is predicated on convention, on a shared set of assumptions about what we want to say to each other. People who came from Twitter to Facebook sound different from those who migrated in the other direction. Continue reading

The Internet Is For Porn — House of Representatives Version

Based on this news report, it would appear lots of member offices in the House of Representatives are using BitTorrent to download lots of infringing material. Including, not surprisingly, porn. Now we know why SOPA supporters are convinced that the only use for peer-2-peer and cloud services is piracy and porn. It’s what they use it for.

Inspired by Rep. Jared Polis’ inclusion of the lyrics of the “Internet is For Porn” from the musical Avenue Q in the record during the SOPA mark up, I bring you the fair use parody below . . . .

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The brain, the computer, and the economy

“The brain, the computer, and the economy: all three are devices whose purpose is to solve fundamental information problems in coordinating the activities of individual units – the neurons, the transistors, or individual people.” Robert J. Schiller

I have a love-hate relationship with the idea of neuroeconomics. The materialist neuroscience side of my brain likes the idea that behavior – even behavior resulting from emergent properties of complex networks – is quantifiable and predictable. It’s only predictable if you know all the input parameters (and you can’t know that Subject X has an aversion to green for reasons that have something to do with a lollipop at Coney Island when he was six). But the central fallacy of economics has been the “rational actor” paradigm, which is based on the assumption that individuals make rational choices when it comes to money and will always behave to maximize their own economic interests. They don’t. Economist with a clue understand this. Really smart economists are trying to understand the underlying why and how. Let’s start with the experimental result from psychology showing that humans are more likely to make a bad economic decision out of fear of loss than they are like to make that decision out of hope of gain. Does information have any effect?
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Cyberpunk Pioneer John Jurek’s nanotech-powered programmable KaeLF Skin finally arrives

Photo from Endgaget of nanotech "artificial skin"

Jurek's KaeLF Skin seen in the wild


I see from Engadget that some wacky scientists at a “defense”-related (quasi?)-governmental research laboratory have invented a “cyberpunky” electronic skin using nanotechnology:

Researchers working for the Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab have figured out how to create relatively inexpensive “electronic skin” comprising carbon nanotubes enriched with semiconductors. Their process involves an enriched single walled carbon nanotube (SWNT) solution embedded in a honeycomb pattern of hexagonal holes. . .

The article goes on to say that this is a development reminiscent of the novels of William Gibson et al. But Gibson’s not the cyberpunk author that this story brought to my mind. I thought of John Jurek, whose 2000 self-published novel KaeLF Skin was about just such an artificial skin and the various fun and vicious uses it could be put to.  If I remember right, Jurek’s KaeLF Skin was invented at a quasi-governmental research lab — perhaps even Berkeley itself; I can’t seem to find my copy of the book right now to fact-check. But in any event, much of the book concerns Berkeley Laboratory-type doings. The Engadget article could have been ripped from KaeLF Skin’s prologue, that’s how close Jurek’s book is to this story.

I forget how John and I discovered each other’s books, but since we had both written and published cyberpunky thrillers based on nanotech themes, we agreed to do a book swap: he sent me an iUniverse (printed) copy of KaeLF Skin and I sent him a copy of my Acts of the Apostles.  He wrote a glowing review of my book for the Midwest Book Review,(alas, since confined to oblivion), and an abbreviated version of that glorious review for Amazon. I wrote a positive but somewhat less glowing review of his book and posted it on Amazon. After that we exchanged emails for a few months, and I remember that he was pretty down about the poor reception that his book gotten– like most self-published novels KaeLF Skin didn’t sell many copies and got few reviews.

My original review of KaeLF Skin, which I posted on Amazon, is below. Continue reading

My David Mitchell Cloud Atlas Problem

Picture of a Russian nesting doll

The Structure of Cloud Atlas

I see that the Wachowski brothers are making a movie from David Mitchell’s metafictiony novel Cloud Atlas. From PurpleRevolver:

Based on David Mitchell’s best-selling novel, Cloud Atlas is an epic story of humankind in which the actions and consequences of our lives impact one another throughout the past, present and future.

One soul is shaped from a murderer into a saviour and a single act of kindness ripples out for centuries to inspire a revolution.

The independently financed film will be co-directed and written by the directors/writers of the hugely successful Matrix trilogy, Andy and Lana Wachowski and Perfume director Tom Tykwer.

The guys who made the Matrix movies, which are all about Philip K. Dick-type reality-within-reality-within-reality self-referential story-systems, taking on Cloud Atlas seems to me perhaps a pretty good match (so long as there are no techno-orgy scenes). But the prospect still makes me a bit antsy. (Even setting aside the elephant-in-the room Keanu question.) Will they find the emotional heart to the heart of the story, or go for the whiz-bang-slo-mo-bullet-dodging effects?

Mitchell’s book, which I enjoyed, is structured like a matryoska doll. It’s got six or seven narratives, each written in a different style, that enclose each other like parens in a Lisp program. The first (and last) story is in an archaic faux Daniel Defoe style; it gets interrupted midway through, where the next story, an epistolary novelette told in letters written by a jaded modernist English composer and leech living in Belgium between WW1 and WW2 begins; that tale gets cut in the middle & succeeded by the first half of hard-boiled Raymond Chandler-style noir detective story. There’s also a far-future science fiction tale, a surreal Kafkaesque fable and one told in a kind of pidgin.

There are hundreds of reviews of Cloud Atlas out there on the net that will tell you all you want or don’t want to know about the near-virtuosic literary technique Mitchell employs (or shows off) in the service of his tale.

Below the fold, my David Mitchell Cloud Atlas problem. Continue reading

AT&T’s Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day In Court

Today AT&T and the Department of Justice met to have a status conference with Judge Huvelle on the pending litigation. It unfolded very much as I predicted last week, but even better than I could possibly have imagined.  Most of the news coverage has been surprisingly anemic and failed to capture how Judge Huvelle spent 45 minutes racking AT&T Counsel Mark Hansen over the coals. (Cecilia Kang at Washpo and Brent Kendall at Marketwatch being the exception, but even they cannot capture the utter savageness of the beat down Judge Huvelle gave). Mind you, Hansen did not help himself with his “nothing to see here judge, move along” attitude. Also, when the judge says: “I think I should hear from the government now” that is not the time for you to make the same argument she just dissed again. You shut up and sit down.

Some rapturous details, indecent gloating, and a few further predictions below . . . .

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Mostly Reliable Performance of Software Processes by Dynamic Control of Quality Parameters

[I wrote this just over four years ago for a conference I never went to. I’m submitting it now in the sprit of my “Disclose This” entry, in which I promised to disclose ideas that I’d like myself and others to be able to use, and not be prevented from doing so by software patents.]


We have a complex software application with a number of multi-media subsystem processes. We would like the application to meet certain minimum overall performance criteria. Many of the subsystem processes can be executed at varying quality levels, and these have various effects on system performance. The situation is complicated by the fact that system performance is also dependent on factors outside the software application itself (e.g., processor and network load from other applications). We apply a number of independently-operating standard industrial process-controllers to vary subsystem quality as needed so that performance criteria is met or exceeded when possible.
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That Was The Week That Was For AT&T/T-Mo. Is There A Next Week?

It’s been a fun few days in AT&T/T-Mo land to say the least. I swear, this has become my favorite telecom reality show since Death Star Reborn: The AT&T/BellSouth Telenovella finished its series run back in December 2006.

With even the German government, Deutsche Telekom’s largest shareholder, resigning itself to the deal unwinding, the only question that remains is how long AT&T will resist the inevitable. A review of this week’s developments below . . . .

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