Older blog entries for Skud (starting at number 176)

The Plan, Revisited

Last May I posted about The Plan. You might have heard the quote, variously attributed to all kinds of people but apparently actually said by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, “No plan ever survives contact with the enemy.” That’s not to say mean that there’s no point planning, but that your plans need to be adaptable and learn how to roll with it once the action starts.

I don’t really like to think of TAFE as “the enemy” but I will concede that a few months’ contact with it made it very clear that my plan needed to adapt. After lots of discussion (including on this blog the other day) I decided that I the benefits of TAFE (a structured curriculum and a piece of paper of dubious value at the end of it) weren’t worth the cost (4 days a week and endless boredom and frustration).

So, I let the people at school know I wouldn’t be back, and now I guess I’m technically unemployed until I line up a bit more paying work. Meanwhile I’m sidekicking gigs with a few different sound dudes, trying to get some more hours crewing for the production companies, looking forward to some studio work that should ramp up in a couple of months, helping a couple of people set up studios (home and pro), and doing a bit of low-key sysadmin on the side. My main goal between now and the end of the year is to get more paying work.

Oh, and I didn’t finish Anathem. I skimmed to the end, though, and found that even when I knew how it ended I didn’t really care.

Syndicated 2012-06-21 05:44:10 from Infotropism

Sunk Costs Fallacy

[Contains spoilers for Anathem, if anyone cares.]

I’m going through two intensely frustrating things at present:

  1. The end of my first semester of sound engineering school, and
  2. Reading Neal Stephenson’s Anathem

School: it’s TAFE, which means no exams worth mentioning, and they really don’t want to fail anyone if they can help it. That means the assessment tasks aren’t too difficult, and in many cases we finish them long before the end of semester so that there’s time for marking, resubmission, late submission, or whatever. The side-effect of this is that the last weeks of semester seem to be spent mostly sitting around not doing much. Last week I had a couple of days where we essentially did nothing — or nothing that I either hadn’t done before, or which I couldn’t do myself via Google or Wikipedia in a fraction of the time — which as you might imagine I found rather irritating. Wait, that’s perhaps too much understatement. I was literally bored to tears, and yes, I do know the meaning of the word “literally” thank you very much.

By Wednesday afternoon I’d started to think the whole TAFE thing was a waste of time. Perhaps I could do better working (paid or unpaid, or most likely a mix of both) in the industry and learning on the job. I’d almost certainly find it more fulfilling than sitting in class, and over the same time period I’d probably learn more and certainly get more hands-on experience and industry contacts. When I approached one of our teaching staff about this, asking for his opinion, he said that I “might as well finish what I started”. In other words: I’ve done a semester of a course that takes two semesters to receive a piece of paper (and four semesters to receive a more advanced piece of paper, but two semesters is the first relevant exit point). Now that I’ve sunk the costs into the first half-year, I might as well go through to the end of it, even if what we’re doing in class is of only limited use to me, and not all that good for my mental health.

On another note, Anathem: a few weeks ago, probably because I was missing Wiscon, I found myself in an SF-reading mood. I wanted to catch up on a lot of the books my friends had been talking about over the last couple of years, while I’d been reading other things. I ordered an ebook reader, which would take a couple of weeks to arrive from the US, and in the meantime I hit the public library and borrowed a couple of books I’d been meaning to read or re-read, to tide me over. One of them was Anathem.

Before I start panning the book, I should mention that I’m actually a moderate Stephenson fan. This website is named after a term I found in one of his books, after all. I first encountered his work when found Snow Crash on the shelf of a general bookstore in Ballarat, sometime in the early 90s. I picked it up because the cover looked cool and bought it because the first paragraph grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Cryptonomicon came out the same year the geeky consultancy company I was running was working on a gambling project on an offshore data haven; all our servers were named things like “kinakuta” and “raft”, and my laptop was “yt”. Hell, I even got hold of a copy of The Big U and read it. So, I’m not generally averse to the guy, and I have a fairly high tolerance for his diversions, random infodumps, and half-assed endings.

It was only when I got to the Baroque Cycle that I couldn’t handle it. At the time I was reading a lot of historical fiction and had pretty firm ideas on what constituted good writing in that genre. Quicksilver rubbed the wrong way against those genre conventions once too often, and since Stephenson was a relative newcomer to a period I already knew a bit about, his geeky fascination with things I considered commonplace (muskets and slow-match, for example) started to grate. Quicksilver was the first of his books that I didn’t finish, and I didn’t pick up another one until now.

Anathem is about a monk-like order who have survived thousands of years, who remain cloistered for up to a thousand years at a time, and who have a daily service of winding their giant clock, which has not just minute and hour hands, but year/decade/century/millenium hands too. It came out when I was working at Metaweb, on Freebase. The company had been named after Baroque-cycle-affiliated wiki of all knowledge, “The Metaweb” (now defunct, but you can see it on the Wayback Machine), and was founded by people closely associated with the Long Now Foundation, who are actually building a 10,000 year clock. Long Now talk was common at the office when I worked there, and there was lots of enthusiasm for Anathem when it came out — I remember there being an offer of tickets to a launch event or author talk or something for Metaweb staff — but I wasn’t in an SF-reading phase, so I skipped it. When Metaweb was acquired by Google, one of our founders gave a speech at our acquisition party talking about how Freebase was meant to be a repository of information that would last 10,000 years, and getting it into Google was the best possible way of furthering that goal. (True? Not sure.)

Enough background. A couple of weeks ago when I was standing in the Darebin Public Library’s Adult SFF section wondering what to read, I saw Anathem and grabbed it. I figured it would fill the time before my ebook reader arrived, I’d get to see what connections it had to Metaweb-the-company-where-I-worked, and it couldn’t hurt to have some of pop-cultural awareness of what it’s all about, the same as how I went to see Avengers, even though I don’t have much interest in the franchise, just so I’d know what people were talking about. All these were reasons to have a shot at it even though I knew there was a risk that I might find it as tedious and annoying as Quicksilver.

Surprise! It’s tedious and annoying! Stephenson finally found a way to add even more tangential infodumps into the story, by having almost the entire cast of characters be philosophers/theoretical scientists who spend most of their time lecturing or in Socratic-style dialogue about things like geometrical puzzles or the sensory perceptions of worms. Most of it ties in to the overall plot development, which at least is an improvement on some of his previous works.

The other thing that annoyed me was his worldbuilding: it’s set in another world where the people in it have “jeejahs” that are almost identical to our mobile phones and tablet devices; where the plebs wear baggy pants and sports jerseys with numbers on the back; where the dominant religion has a schism directly equivalent to the Reformation; and where details ranging from canvas-covered military transport vehicles to bucket-sized “sugar-water” drinks are all surprisingly familiar. The overall effect was of the kind of lazy worldbuilding where everything gets an “alien” name full of Zs and Qs and apostrophes, but is otherwise exactly the same as our world.

And then, over the course of hundreds and hundreds of pages, you eventually realise — SPOILER — that it’s all because parallel universes blah blah. Wait, you’ve been irritating me with your sloppy worldbuilding and “jeejahs” for all this time just so you could go SURPRISE! ALTERNATE EARTH!? And I’m meant to go “oh, wow, you’re not sloppy, you’re actually BRILLIANT!” Sorry, not feeling it.

So, I’m seven-hundred-something pages in to the book, and about ready to throw it across the room. And yet I find myself thinking, “Well, I’ve come this far, I may as well finish. Maybe it’ll get better.” At the same time, I have books ready and loaded on my ebook reader that I could be reading now, and probably enjoying more.

So the questions I’ve been asking myself, and which I ask you, if you care to take a shot at them: Firstly, with about two hundred pages to go, should I finish Anathem? Secondly, should I stay in school? If your answers differ, then why?

Syndicated 2012-06-17 04:32:35 from Infotropism

Open thread, June 2012

Here’s an open thread where you can comment or talk about anything, including older posts whose comments are now closed.

Syndicated 2012-06-16 02:41:51 from Infotropism

Feminist SFF t-shirts

So, I finally discovered a website that will let me sell t-shirts that I would actually want to wear *. At long last, I can act upon all my suppressed t-shirt-making urges!

First up, and as a sort of trial run, I offer you the I-wish-I-could-have-been-at-Wiscon t-shirt:

Feminist SFF t-shirt: Russ & Butler & Tiptree & Le Guin

Feminist SFF rockstars t-shirt, available in fitted and straight-cut styles, including larger sizes.

If there were a superstar rock band of classic feminist science fiction and fantasy, the members would be Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler, James Tiptree, Jr. (alias Alice Sheldon), and Ursula K. Le Guin.

These t-shirts are 100% organic cotton, and are available in fitted and straight-cut styles up to 3XL (around 54″/135cm in circumference). The straight-cut style also comes in smaller sizes down to 18″/45cm circumference, for smaller people. They’re available in black, charcoal, navy blue, chocolate, and a dark olivey green.

There’s also a zippered tote bag, in black only:

Feminist SFF tote bag: Russ & Butler & Tiptree & Le Guin

Feminist SFF rockstars zippered tote bag.

Sorry, no other items (coffee mugs, etc) are available in this design; I was limited by what had a dark background for printing. If there’s enough demand, I might do a dark-on-light version which would allow for more of the items listed here, so let me know if that interests you.

Buy a feminist SFF t-shirt or tote bag now.

Shirt orders are fulfilled by Printfection.com. This is the first time I’ve worked with them, so I’m interested in hearing how people find the experience. If you have any problems with ordering or shipment you’ll have to deal with them to resolve it, but I’d like to hear about it too so I know whether this is working out okay or not.



* In other words, they’re available in sizes and styles that fit me, in dark colours, and in this case — an added bonus — they’re also organic cotton, all at what I consider to be a reasonable price. You might be surprised how many t-shirts don’t fit even the first criteria. For more information see T-shirts at the Geek Feminism wiki. Back.

Syndicated 2012-06-10 07:10:47 from Infotropism

Fresh links for May 31st through June 10th

  • Printfection – Looks like I've got a new favourite t-shirt supplier: Printfection has organic cotton Ts in fitted ("women's") sizes up to 54" in 13 different colours, and at $19.99 each which isn't too bad. They do zazzle/cafepress style fulfilment, though it looks like they're aiming more for a pro market than a hobbyist one. Fine by me! I think I'm about to start selling t-shirts! (I've been putting it off for years because I couldn't find tshirt stock I wanted to wear.)
  • Joshua Ellis revisits the Grim Meathook Future – This post pretty much reflects the contents of my brain when it comes to a) the fuckedness of the VC-driven tech industry, and b) dystopian futurism (or rather, presentism). Except for the bit where he blames technologists for the death of newspapers and record sales, because really, can't we share that with Murdoch and his musical equivalents? Anyway, a must-read on the subject of the grim, meathook, unevenly-distributed, venture-funded, watching-cops-assault-people-on-YouTube present and/or future.
  • Salon.com » The case for telling everyone what you make – This is something I believe in pretty strongly. I'd also love to see a buttload more salary transparency when jobs are advertised (yeah, dream on) but at least an increased culture of sharing this info should be good for websites like glassdoor where you can find salary info when you're jobhunting.
  • Popping the social media zit – sabreuse talks bucketloads of sense about those "share" buttons that are like acne all over websites.

Syndicated 2012-06-10 03:39:12 from Infotropism

Further thoughts on workflow

Further to My mostly-mobile digital workflow a couple of weeks ago. It’s had a little while to shake down, and I’ve come up with two real problems so far:

First, the exercise of replying to comments is tricky on mobile. Quite apart from the typing-on-my-phone issue is the problem that I can’t see the comment I’m replying to as I reply to it. This leads to me saying to myself, “I’ll answer that when I’m next at my laptop”, and then forgetting. Apologies to anyone who’s had belated or entirely absent replies lately. I think a semi-fix for this might simply to be to open the “reply” in a separate window from the comment I’m reading (in WordPress, I could have a reading copy open in Safari while replying via the WordPress app). It’s a bit fiddly though. Other suggestions welcome.

(As an aside, this seems like a must-have feature for blogging platforms that have mobile apps. Why doesn’t WordPress have this? Anyway, consider it noted as a desired feature for any future Dreamwidth mobile app development.)

Secondly, I am missing an RSS reader. I switched from Google Reader to NewsBlur last year around the time of the kerfuffle that I won’t bother linking to, but I have one fundamental problem with NewsBlur on mobile: there’s no star/favourite/etc option on the mobile client, and I use that (or used to use it) heavily for “interesting, come back and deal with it later” articles: often recipes or knitting patterns from my various food and craft blogs that I want to do something with later, but don’t really want to go through the steps of bookmarking right now. That may sound incredibly lazy — how hard is it to bookmark something on the spot? — but opening a link to the article on its blog site, then clicking through to Pinboard, then zooming in and entering tags and all that, then saving, is a pretty heavy multi-step process for something non-urgent. I used to like just starring them all and then one night when I was in the mood for looking at recipes and knitting patterns, going through and dealing with them all as a batch.

The upshot of this, anyway, is that I’m not really using NewsBlur as much as I could be, and I wind up missing lots of posts by people I’d like to read. Or rather, I sometimes eventually see them, but usually after the comments have peaked and died, and so it’s more of an archival reading exercise than a live one. (See, eg., Charlie Stross’s meta post on comments, which — ironically yet predictably — I didn’t see til it had about 250 comments, after someone I follow on Twitter linked it.

I would actually like to see those things more or less as they’re posted. For those bloggers who automatically post on Twitter when they have a new post, I can do that. For those that don’t… *sigh*. I’m actually pondering setting up an RSS reader via Twitter, since that’s something I check nearly constantly. I could create an account for the purpose, and a set of RSS-to-Twitter ifttt recipes. Has anyone done something similar? The obvious pitfall I can see looming is that I’m not sure ifttt supports multiple Twitter accounts, so I might need a separate ifttt account as well. Ugh. Thoughts?

A final alternative: I’ve been using Flipboard a bit for random browsing, but could quite happily upgrade it to a more serious role in my workflow. It supports RSS but only via Google Reader. Don’t suppose anyone knows of a way to get RSS on Flipboard without Google?

Syndicated 2012-06-03 08:54:52 from Infotropism

Fresh links for May 24th through May 31st

  • How Headphones Changed the World – "A short philosophical history of personal music", at The Atlantic
  • Amanda Palmer And Steve Albini On ‘Piracy’: It Only Helps Musicians – Surprise! (NB: not actually surprising) Steve Albini "rejects the term piracy" and thinks sharing music for free helps musicians, especially those who tour and play lots of live gigs. BTW, if you've never read Steve's rant about where money goes when you sign with a major label (linked from this article) then you definitely should.
  • A respose to Tom Tom’s OSM FUD – Tom Tom (the satnav provider) tries to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about OpenStreetMap; here's a great takedown of their claims. Via David Gerard.
  • Commodore 64 Bass Guitar by Jeri Ellsworth – A bass guitar made out of an old C64. Nuff said.
  • Internet Arbitration | Judge.me – I honestly don't know whether this is an excellent disruption of a broken system, or a sign that we're heading even faster into an SFnal dystopian future. The fact you can pay by bitcoin makes me think the latter's more likely.

Syndicated 2012-05-31 13:14:49 from Infotropism

Technology without fossil fuel

Okay, I polled the twitters and enough people said that musing about worldbuilding was more interesting than it was masturbatory. So, in that case:

Assume that I desire a world different from ours in tech, but quite advanced in its own way. Does it make sense for this world to not have fossil fuels, and thus not have (or have a very different, less dirty) industrial revolution? Could it get to a point where it has, let’s say, widespread electric (or similar) power, intensive agriculture, and advanced medical technology (or at least around our level)? What differences would be implied for their culture? What sort of lifestyle would they have?

Example: lack of fossil fuels implies fewer/different plastics, and thus not having cheap synthetic fabrics. Clothing would be less disposable, people would own less of it, and it would be made/repaired with greater care.

For extra credit: does the scenario change if a) their environment is physically/geographically constrained so as to limit growth, and/or b) the society did not develop independently, but was seeded by another high tech one (e.g. us) so that they started out already having reasonably good non-fossil-fuel energy sources.

Syndicated 2012-05-30 22:01:41 from Infotropism

How is story formed???

This morning in the shower (formerly my favourite place for musing about random shit, though rapidly being supplanted by my bike commute) I was pondering something a teacher said about XLR cables and gender changers, and I got to thinking about what sort of lifeform would be male at one end and female at the other, and if that existed, what role would something play that was female (or male) at both ends? Next thing I knew, I had a fairly complex society imagined, with line marriages and rites of passage and institutional oppression and all that good stuff* (* not actually good stuff). And of course I started thinking that I should write something. The problem is, I have this world but no story to go in it.

Last time this happened, it was a complex alternate history of convict-era Australia, where the French invade in 1802 and the resistance is formed of the former NSW Corps and some of my favourite bits of the Royal Navy. But, hilarious as it would be to make Macarthur and Bligh team up to fight crime the French, I don’t actually want to tell that kind of “yay! colonialism!” story, and so all my detailed worldbuilding sat and gathered dust for a good long while.

I can’t remember which of our summer house-guests it was (anatsuno?) who suggested that I simply tell another story — one that I wanted to tell — set in that world, with all the military invasion stuff as background rather than foreground. It was excellent advice, and the story that I subsequently started to write is definitely the better for it.

So, what about this world with the gender stuff I was thinking about? I’ve got the background, but what’s the actual story? I randomly wondered what a police procedural would be like, and started building something around that on the bike ride home. It’s turning out quite interesting in my head, but that was a genre chosen more or less at random, which seems like a rather hit-or-miss method.

Do any of you have this worldbuilding-first habit? If so, how do you find the damn story?

Syndicated 2012-05-29 07:30:20 from Infotropism

When Alice Met Bob

The night before last, I had a dream that O’Reilly Media were making a Hollywood film — a romantic comedy, to be exact — about public key cryptography. The lead characters were called Alice and Bob, and they met cute by bumping into each other on the street and dropping the USB thumbdrives that had their private keys on them.

I’m suspect you could actually make a good story out of this, albeit a bit of an over-didactic Doctorow/Stephenson-esque one, since you’d have to ram in quite a lot of techno-cultural exposition along the way if you wanted it to make any sense at all.

Syndicated 2012-05-26 00:59:25 from Infotropism

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