Wednesday, December 24, 2008

teaching an old dog a new trick

learning a new trick is always a difficult proposition. The new trick I am attempting to master this time is the use of dictation with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
It actually feels somewhat silly to sit and talk to your computer.
Which is doubly so for me given that I was raised reading science fiction.

Teaching this old dog new trick of using dictation software instead of typing is going to take a bit more practice than I had expected. I hope that at the end of this process dictation will prove faster than typing and I may yet get a few short stories into electronic ink.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Useful thought for getting going

Web Worker Daily was a lovely article on rescuing an unproductive day.
I really have to thank them for reminding me to turn the music on.

Drowning out the conversations from the cubes around the floor, and the noises of the toys the folks around here use to help adjust attitude when taking support calls is a godsend.

Pandora really helps in providing the soundtrack I actually want to listen to. Setting up a channel for 80s bubble-gum pop music, or loud, stompy industrial, is great for fixing a broken day.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Adventures of Pirx the Pilot

Stanislaw Lem is a brilliant author. This is the first book of stories about pilot (or cadet, in the first story) Pirx of the space service.
We open with Pirx as a cadet, learning to fly the atomic rocket. This is almost identical to the rockets described by Charles Stross in his current science fiction stories, which is rather telling in terms of the perception of atomic fission as the source of energy for rockets in space. But I digress.
Pirx is worried about his performance, and comparing himself to the best and brightest in his class. I know that I did that through highschool and college as well. But when Pirx emerges from the simulator that he thought was a real training flight he finds that his overthinking of things has led him to land while the bright boy crashed his simulator into the moor.
Pirx is an everyman of a character who thinks too much, and analyzes too much. He is worried that his name will impact his ability to get a date. "I'm Pirx" doesn't really roll off the tongue but I'm sure it wouldn't really stop some one from dating him. He spends much of the stories thinking things through, which I greatly enjoyed.

The short stories are all about novella length, so set some time aside for reading them. You will find that you are finishing the story about the time you also realize it's past bed time. Lem is most known for Solaris, but I find most of his works to be incredibly readable and enjoyable.

In "Pirx the Pilot" we spend much of the time alone with Pirx in space, learning about the rockets and seeing what life in the military of the far future is like. Unfortunately it seems about as dull as todays duty watching Arctic Ice for an invasion, or flying patrol over the Pacific. The moments of excitement reflect much of what life is like now and probably will be in the future for humans, with machine error, human error, and mistaken identity playing their role in making everyone jump.

This is a must read for fans who want to know where modern sci-fi comes from.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Charles Stross once again delivers a romping good read.
Cramming in a good number of the current trendy terms and concepts from the singularist camp, Accelerando is a fast forward look at what might happen if the computers do take over.
Uploading into the net, external mental components, ability to fork yourself into multiple versions, these are the wet dreams of the technorati.

The cat as the family curse is a nice subplot, but does seem a bit Deus Ex Machine; the whole story being centered around the machines does tend to lend itself to those sorts of plot devices however. The idea of a robotic cat that is upgradable really is a nice extension of the Aibo and other products currently on the market.

The idea put forth of a Matrioshka brain instead of a Dyson Sphere as the final outcome of a solar system that has uploaded itself is very compelling. Given the change from consuming all resources to support the human form, to consuming all resources to support the virtual worlds, surrounding the star with ring upon ring of computronium is the next logical step.

The argument that even after upload, the humans will still be supplanted by AI, since the AI will be in their natural habitat and the uploads will be foreigners is also a logical outcome of the changes from physical to virtual dwelling.

The first part of the book has several good arguments hidden in it. What about upload, property ownership, marriage, multiple selves, etc. will the current legal systems of the world handle, and how will these systems have to change to handle the new technologies.

I highly recommend this as a good read.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Music, that's what has been missing

I keep forgetting how much having music in my life helps me. My creativity always seems to be a little higher when I have music playing in the background.

I must say a thanks to a few friends who turned me on the where I can build a radio station that plays my favorite hits without commercial interruption.

Unfortunately most of the creativity is now going to get turned into doing a large project for work that suddenly became a top priority, but at least I am creating content of some form.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Writers block or just procrastination

I'm afraid I have to beg procrastination in this case. Just too distracted by reading blogs to write in mine.
The days are still way too short, and I am way too sleepy most of the time. I really had the best of intentions, which still amount to a rather empty journal compared the the loft goals of the new year.

Monday, January 14, 2008

self mating socks

Okay, maybe not the best product name in the world, but what does an engineer know about naming products. We just call them like we see them.

It all started one morning when my wife was complaining yet again about not being able to find an actual pair of socks. Naturally I offered to help, but the question "aren't these a pair?" was met with a snort and the look, clearly indicating that I couldn't tell that those two socks were not really identical.

This ritual had been performed almost daily since we were married, but for some reason this morning it struck a nerve and I was determined to use technology to solve the problem once and for all. Socks that would find each other. Self mating socks.

For several days I thought about socks and socks and socks. The first problem is that you buy more socks that just a single pair. So how would each pair know that they were not the same as the other two pairs from that bag. That and how to make what ever solution worked keep working about laundry day.

Well, the first trial run was not really the success I was hoping for. My wife comes in to the work room and looks over my shoulder, "So, you wanted a large ball of socks?" she asks.
"No, I was trying to get the individual pairs to mate." I reply tartly.

So obviously just messing with giving the socks some sort of charge was out. You ended up with a large ball of clean socks sitting in the middle of the dryer. Fortunately after the kitchen incident I thought things out more, and had purchased these socks at the local thrift outlet instead of using socks from around the house.

Experiments with magnets showed about the same result. One large ball of socks, sort of Koosh (tm) looking, but not really the desired result.

Working on a different project that involved muscle-wire (tm) as well as RFID and some really strange ideas on micro-robotics, I had a breakthrough on the sock issue.

So now the socks are really well behaved. Each pair has a pair identity that they know and share. So when they come out of the dryer and start cooling, each one seeks out it's mate.

So what should they be called, that won't devolve into mirth at the mere mention of the name?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

District 13

Banlieue 13

Or District 13, if you have the American release.

An action move by Luc Besson in the spirit of "The Transporter" or "Wasabi", staring David Bell as Leito and Cyril Raffaelli as Capt. Damien Tomaso.

The movie is in what amount to three acts. In the first act we meet Leito the local boy who is trying to keep his building from becoming a graffiti covered haven for crime. He is busy trying to get rid of some drugs when K2 (who has his name shaved into his head) and the hard boys show up to reposes said drugs. Things get worse from there. Leitos big mistake comes at the end of the act.

In act two we meet Damien the local cop with a bad attitude. He spends the act taking down the local crime ring gambling establishment. I should note that the take-down of the big boss is fabulous and makes the gang in Oceans 11 and 12 look like complete amatures.

Act three is when our unlikely pair of heros team up to take on the local crime boss of District 13, who has accidentally ended up with a nuke in his hands. The nuke, I might add, has a countdown timer running and only a few hours left before the barrio is leveled.

The writing is good, and the acting is sharp. The chase scenes are Jackie Chan at his best with some Jet Li thrown in for good measure. If you are an action genera fan, I really recommend this movie.

The subtitling in English is a little week here and there, but for the most part either sub or dub is worth watching.

Also, Bell and Raffaelli are well and away the best pair of action move jocks this decade. I would watch for them in upcoming films.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Growth Industry next decade

The growth of high-rise assisted living buildings here in Seattle is startling. There is one gowing up in a rather dubious location on Denny with a rather steep walk to and from the local grocery, transit, etc.

So why are these popping up like giant mushrooms in the wet weather? Well, in looking at the statistics for population and aging, I see that the Baby Boomers are all aging rapidly and will be living in those assisted living communities in the next twenty years. According to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging by 2030 approximately 20% of the population of the US will be over 60. That is a huge amount of population needing elderly care of some form.

With so many people moving from homes to assisted living, or moving in with the kids or grandkids to be taken care of, I think that the 2020's housing market will be an interesting slide. However, the rise of high-rise assisted care buildings in the 10's will be great.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The start of a new year

Time to think on what I want for the new year, and what I want rid of from the old.

I think it's time for a wardrobe purge, among other things. As well as maybe a cleaning of the bookcases.

The goal this year is to land and complete at least one freelance project. Either software or writing, not really sure yet which it will be, but one must be bid, granted, completed and billed.

The other goal is to update this journal much more often. I will take once a day on week days, but that is the minimum.

Book Review - Iron Sunrise

Once again Mr. Stross delivers an excellent read.
Following our protagonists from their strange and divergent starting points, through their journeys and ending up at a common meeting point was quite the ride.

The only down-side was that the bad guys feel a little too much like Nazis. Calling them the Remastered makes sense, but still sounds a little too much like the Master Race to me.

On the plus side, having an AI as the Deus ex is vastly amusing and handled very well. Knowing that there is something watching through time to keep humans in line really helps drive some of the more subtle parts of the story.

The view of technology in the future is also quite excellent and deep. From implants that allow you to talk to the computer network and get e-mail in your head to the young girl noticing that hers are no where near state of the art compared to those on the plant she arrives at give a good insight into the future of strange and personal technology. Throwing in biotechnology as well as silicon and neural components make a strong mix that more closely parallels the real world than many authors.

All in all this is another must read from Charlie Stross.