Sunday, September 28, 2014

An Adventure in Meter, Part I

We play a lot of role playing games around here. In one of them, I'm playing a bard. So, I figured I would practice my iambic pentameter by putting my bard's adventures into a Shakespearean like play. (Yes, I know it's terrible, but at least I'm trying to expand my creative horizons.) We are going through the initial Adventure Path of the Rise of the Runelords, so if part of it seems familiar to you gamers, that is why.

Rey 
Gora, Goblin Rogue by Who Drew This
A bright new temple, Sandpoint built to gods
of many. Planned a dedication party large
The whole of Sandpoint came, with many from
Afar to celebrate the great cathedral built.
As sunlight brushed the buildings, goblins came.
They over ran the town. They lit some fires.
And rampaged, laughing, dying under blades.
They ended ceremonies 'fore they start.
One lit the fuel for Tower flame to give
The other goblin's torches, free of charge.
A second stuffed itself on fish. This e'en
Though he was ringed by ready heroes eager.
When attacked, fought back with is at hand -
A fish!

Dem
- - A fish? And what could salmon do?

Rey
It pricked the pride of a paragon of faith,
Who quickly killed the small offending thing.
Then moved he onto bigger

Dem 
- - fish?

Rey 
- - No, those
small goblins. One of which did ride a dog.

Dem 
a dog?

Rey 
- - a goblin dog, and carried that
great knife, a dog slicer, which many do.
This nameless junk minder had trapped a man
named Foxglove Tight midst heaps of useless junk.

Dem 
To this did come those three great heroes named:
Aramis de Leon, a Paladin
Then Baena Inic, Monk of Eastern Ways;
Last Swift Flight, Bard and student always, still.
They all sent goblins running fast to death.
They leaped from buildings over walls to die
And none did stay to question, given choice
And garbage searchers managed intel by
Just talking to the fleeing bodies quick.

Kurg 
A longshanks -

Rey
- - Long shanks?

Kurg 
- - Human, tall one sent
Us into town to burn and kill

Dem 
- - But why?

Kurg
Like we know?

Rey 
- - Come. You will tell us.

Kurg 
- - No! Don't!

Dem
They cannot tell what they do not know.

Kurg 
Wait!

Rey 
You see? They do know.

Kurg
- - Not all, but yes some.

Rey 
And what is it that you do know?

Kurg 
- - Just this!
That he was looking through the graves in town.

Rey 
And where?

Kurg 
- - O, behind temple newly built.

Rey 
And who did this dark villain seek?

Kurg  
- - Don't know!

Rey
Now tell us else we will be quick to pry
Such intel through your pain and suffering!

Kurg 
This goblin does not know! Does not!

Dem
- - Now Rey,
It is quite possible that this poor mite
Does not know which man's grave the "longshanks" sought.

Rey 
Suppose he does.

Dem 
- - Or not. There are some clean
And easy ways to find the name he sought.

Rey 
Oh bah! Then get on with you filthy junk
And garbage delver.

Dem 
- - Now, to graveyard go
To find an open wound of dirt, a name.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Fahrenheit 451, Part I

I have never read this book before. However, Robert's 9th-grade class is reading it. So I picked it up too. Will and I are both reading it so that we can discuss it as a family. Since I have to read it slowly and cannot do a single end review, and then I'm going to do it in short sections. I'll start with posting the quotes that spoke to me from "Part I: The Hearth and the Salamander," and why they spoke to me.

Note before I begin: my copy of the book may not have the same corresponding page numbers. Please double check the page numbers and make sure you line up the quotes if you choose to use them in a paper that you write.
"It never went away that smile, it never ever went away, as long as he remembered." ~ page 4
 This sentence is particularly creepy. It feels a little like there is already a subconscious fear or a niggling worry. Also, because it is permanent, it becomes almost disfiguring. Humans should not have permanent expressions.
"I’m seventeen and I’m crazy. My uncle says the two always go together." ~ page 7
This is so true, and should be written on a shirt.  Unfortunately, I don't think that very many people would know where the quote came from.
"... you answer right off. You never stop to think what I’ve asked you." ~ page 8
Unthinking response makes for a smooth conversation under normal circumstances, but if you want a deeper connection then, you have to take your time and answer slowly.
"But what do you talk about?" ~ page 10
This quote highlights the problem with the world today. No one talks to each other. They scream at each other, but they do not talk.
“That’s sad,” said Montag, quietly, “because all we put into it is hunting and finding and killing. What a shame if that’s all it can ever now.” ~ page 27 
Montag's sadness might be referring to the machines that we create. It may also be referring to the children we raise. What comes after us, will be heavily influenced by what we show it, and what we teach it. Most will never think beyond that.
"Social to me means talking to you about things like this. ... Or talking about how strange the world is. .. But I don't think it's social to get a bunch of people together and not let them talk, do you?" ~ page 29 
In the 1950's "school" meant a lot of time listening to lectures, and responding by rote. It had nothing to do with collaboration. Beliefs about education, and how teachers teach is something that has improved over time. However, we still have 'social' events which are more 'ritual' than 'social.' These include weddings, graduations, and funerals. The parties all happen as separate events afterwards.
"... nobody says anything different from anyone else." ~ page 31
Society, both in the novel, and in reality does it's best to make everyone agree with everyone else. What happened to "We can agree to disagree" and continuing the discussion?
"None of these books agree with each other." ~ page 38
See the previous comment.
"And his eyes were beginning to feel hunger, as if they must look at something, anything, everything." ~ page 41 
I understand this feeling completely.
"We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in awhile. How long is it since you were really bothered about something important, about something real?" ~ page 52
About something that affects people for the long term? We worry about little things that affect no one, and will disappear when the next 'major' thing comes along. We are getting better about this; we watch celebrities be activists, donate money to a cause, and then forget about it until the next cause becomes a fad. How many of us actually are activists?

By the way, I fully admit that I am not an activist. I like to read; I'll help out one person at a time, but organized mass help is not my thing. I'm always worried that my efforts are not going where it needs to go.
"Once books appealed to a few people, ... They could afford to be different the world was roomy. But then the world got full... Films and radios, magazines, books leveled down to a sort of paste pudding norm." ~ page 54
The idea of a "full world" makes sense to me. It also makes me think of both the Anne McCaffrey books Pegasus in Flight and Pegasus in Space. The talents are different, and they live on a large roomy estate. However, the rest of the population is crammed into "linears," which I interpret to be giant skyscraper apartment buildings, where the only difference in class is how high you live in the liner.

On the other hand, the idea that as there are more people in the world our entertainment shifts down to the lowest common denominator is quite normal. And certainly, many connoisseurs of different kinds of media have watched it happen.
"Classics cut to fifteen minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten or twelve line dictionary resume." ~ page 54 
Twitter anyone? 140 characters. A quick google search turned up a book published by Penguin called Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books Retold through Twitter.  A tweet by Olga Belogolova led me to a quiz that had turned the first line of classic novels into emoji (the little pictures) format. Finally, The Telegraph has an article that includes some examples of classic novels cut down to 140 characters or less. Just go read the novel, or at least watch the movie with an open mind.
"School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fixing nuts and bolts?" ~ page 55
Learn what we need to. Nothing we don't. Kick back and enjoy life; however, we want to. It sounds like a good plan, except that if everyone does it then life never improves it stays the same.
"More sports for everyone, more group spirit, fun, and you don't have to think, eh?... More cartoons in books. More pictures. The mind drinks less and less." ~ page 57
No thinking! Don't think. Don't you even look like you're planning to think!
"Now, let's take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, .... The bigger your market, ... the less you handle controversy... All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca.... There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the government down.... Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried.... Today... you can stay happy all the time." ~ page 58 
We cannot insult anyone. We cannot make a negative statement about a group, even if we have facts to back it up. We must sanitize it and dress it nicely so that no one gets upset. These days, with the fast communication, the "market," the "civilization" involved is the whole world.

Now, just to be clear. I agree that we should not insult anyone. I also agree that we should be careful not to anger people. However, a fact is a fact. If I have scientific data that says one thing, then it should not be couched in pretty language, or shoved under the rug. It should be brought to light, and we should deal with it together. If we need to find a deeper cause, then let's do it. If it means solving the problem, then that's better.

On the other hand, a single comment by single person should not result in fights or riots.

Also, the last bit, about the fact that government is not the one that initiated the censorship. It was the masses that did not want to insult each other and be perceived as being too hard. Does this sound familiar?
"With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word 'intelllectual' ... became the swear word it deserved to be." ~ page 58 
It is wonderful that we are healthier (runners, jumpers, racers). It is beautiful that we have more people creating more things (imaginative creators). It is fantastic that we know more, and can discuss which things are worth knowing (critics and knowers). It is amazing that we have more engineers to create, and push us farther into the future (tinkerers). However, it is not good that we are producing more theft of all varieties (grabbers and snatchers). It is even worse that we cannot think about all of this together and discuss whether or not it is good. Why is being an 'intellectual' a bad thing?
"... our civilization is so vast that we can't have our minorities upset and stirred." ~ page 59 
See the comments two quotes up.
"She didn't want to know how a thing was done, but why." ~ page 60 
Clarisse sounds a lot like me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Football Update

Last year I did a great job of keeping you up to date on all of Robert's games. This year, I haven't. It's very unfortunate, and I'm really unhappy to be missing his games.

I also haven't been able to attend all of his games. Some of them have been while I've been working for his coaches. Others have been when Will had to work and I couldn't get a ride. However, I am here to share what photos I have been able to get. I will also share what scores they got on all their games (regardless of whether or not I attended). Finally, I will provide a link for you to keep up to date on his scores as well.

Before I tell you about Robert's games, I'm going to talk about how the teams at the high school are set up. As usual, there is more than one team. The top tier team is the varsity team, and below that are two junior varsity teams. An "A" team, which his high school calls "maroon" and a "B" team, which KHS calls "white." Finally, they have two freshman teams, "maroon" and "white" respectively (again).

Robert plays on the Freshman White team.

I know Robert is "54" in the dress photo, but in the games he wears number "42." (Yes, the answer to 'life, the universe and everything' a la Douglas Adams).

The scores for his games this season include:
Us-Them
36-0
22-36
28-21
46-0

So, we've won three games, and lost one games. That final game was the homecoming game. In the 28-21 game, we were the only team that won, every other KHS team lost to. Robert was very happy about winning that game.

Here is the Football 2014 album. I'll try to get some photos from this week's game to update the album. Come back and check it out every week. I'll try to update it more.

Finally, if you want to keep up on the scores weekly. Here is the link to the Rank One Report for KHS Freshman White team.

There are six more games in his season. I hope to catch most of them.




Monday, September 22, 2014

On Replicators and the Economy

From Star Trek via Ilium Gazette
A staple technology of many far-flung science fiction worlds is that of an "auto-crafter." Audiences can see this replicator in several TV and movies based in space. A character walks up to the hole in the wall, punches in an elaborate entry in, and out pops a gourmet meal - no humans involved. It is a simple technology to utilize, without having to explain in full. Mostly, this is because we can already see it coming.


We can see it coming in the 3D printers that are beginning to appear. The use of these for scientific, educational, and entertainment purposes is slowly becoming more widely known. The ones we have are moving from a novelty to a useful tool. Between where we are, and where the sci-fi novels and movies show there is a lot of ground to cover between one and another. It is not going to be fast, nor is it going to be soon. However, the one thing that many of these books and movies do not include is how saturation of these far more advanced 3D printers will affect the economy around them.


Formlab's 3D Printer via GizMag
One of the first ways that it will change society is it will create a new discussion. When businesses sell templates (as many are on Etsy even now) are they sold for multiple printings or a single print off, and if they want to create it again, they have to buy it again. What happens will probably follow patterns that have come before. One-time use items will be cheaper than repetitive use items of the same economic level. However, just like with anything digital, the hackers will be there to ‘liberate’ restricted items.


With the saturation of these type of printers, objects themselves are no longer what makes the sale, but the templates for them. Because it is not objects, but templates, trends become more of a driving force than they are now. For example, I buy a template of a little black dress, that I can print as many times as I want. What is going to make me buy a new model? I can print a new one when the current one gets a tear, why spend more money? The only answer I can devise is that the item I have on file no longer looks like it is in style, now I need to buy a new style.


More expensive than the multiuse templates are those that come with further personalization or customization options. Back to the little black dress, suppose I also want the ability to change the hemline, sleeve length, or depth of the neckline. If I buy a template where this is a possibility then, it will be more expensive for two significant reasons. The first is that it is a more complex pattern. The second is that it means that I am not going to buy different combinations of the above, thus not giving the designer any more money.


Lastly, because these are templates rather than objects, resell will probably not be an option. Inability to resell the templates will be for a variety of reasons is for a couple of reasons. The designer wants the money of a separate sale of course. In addition, the template will have (or should have) been customized to me, so the market for who else it would fit would shrink.


All of this is going to affect the majority of people. It says nothing about the top few percent or the lowest income bracket. For the rich, the printers are an everyday thing, and they want to stand out, so getting out and being seen while shopping in elite, expensive shops is the thing to do. Among a certain set, hand tailored and crafted objects would be status symbols. Similarly, the upper middle class would treat these boutiques as events. Something to do for a particular occasion, the way brides and their entourages utilize bridal boutique today. Boutiques themselves will have to step up their game and offerings to draw people out of their homes away from their material synthesizers. Turn shopping into an event and take tips from the bridal shops.


On the other hand, the poor will be stuck with preprogrammed templates that include little to no tailoring or customization. If science fiction is right, these will be one-piece jumpsuits. In order to dress themselves up, second-hand purchases, and personal alterations will be used. However, the first will be hard to find because of the increased recycling which I will talk about later. A visible difference will be patched clothing, because they can not afford the materials to print new, but most ‘gently used’ clothing would be “unmade” in order to provide materials for new clothing, the poor would have to stick with what they have. Not a great place to be, but it does bring up the next point.


Garbage collection and recycling now becomes a major industry, because they supply many of the raw materials that the materializers use. Since factories are no longer major players, sorting and purification plants, as well as packaging of individual materials or even elements becomes the big mover and shaker. In this culture saturated with these 3D printers any article of clothing or furniture.


The last aspect that I will tackle in this essay is how retail therapy will change due to the saturation of fabricators. Of course, the classic of physically going shopping to the stores will always exist, but it will be limited to the more affluent population. The more recent invention of shopping via the internet from the comfort of their home will continue to exist as well. However, these days such merchandise can be returned unopened for a refund, credit, or an exchange. How does one return a digital template tailored to the remorseful buyer? Therapeutic shopping sprees would become a lot more lasting. Finally, just as some people like baking for therapy rather than shopping, some will print and hoard their templates. It will still be a kind of retail therapy because they are acquiring new physical things with relative ease.


From simple ideas of retail therapy, to the major industries capitalizing on the saturation of the technology of fabricators., and fancy 3D printers, life will change. The rich will want a personal touch; the middle class will turn shopping into an event, and the poor will have to make do with what comes out of their replicators, not second-hand stores. And yet, our ideas about single use, multiuse, and options available will still influence our use of the new technology. Because, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Monster in the Closet

Image by Justin Gurbisz
When monsters fill the door and darken us,
A hero must then come to save our minds
In armor, with a sword, now him discuss:
A brave and fearless man the child finds.

Well lit sword to strike a darkened foe,
An iron shield to block each charring swipe,
A steed so noble, giving charging blow
But armor weapons horses fail. Dark stripe.

A lone and dying knight that blocks the beast
From children's beds. Then comes a shining light.
She throws a bolt to kill. The lady priest
Defeats the thing. Her dogs then chase the fright.

Now children sleep as sweetened dreams do dance
Through peaceful heads in this so quiet manse.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Back to the Beginning

On Basilisk Station by David Weber
Honor Harrington Book 1
Having made him look a fool, she's been exiled to Basilisk Station in disgrace and set up for ruin by a superior who hates her. 
Her demoralized crew blames her for their ship's humiliating posting to an out-of-the-way picket station. 
The aborigines of the system's only habitable planet are smoking homicide-inducing hallucinogens. 
Parliament isn't sure it wants to keep the place; the major local industry is smuggling; the merchant cartels want her head; the star-conquering, so-called "Republic" of Haven is Up To Something; and Honor Harrington has a single, over-age light cruiser with an armament that doesn't work to police the entire star system. 
But the people out to get her have made one mistake. They've made her mad.
Since finishing the young adult Star Kingdom novels, I decided to go back and try the Honor Harrington novels. I'm glad I did.

The first one is On Basilisk Station. Basilisk Station is a remote outpost that no one wants to get stationed on. It is considered a dumping post for persons not quite bad enough to be kicked out, but not good enough for a regular post either. Honor and her ship, the Fearless are sent there, not because of their own screw up, but because someone is trying to cover up their own screw up and they want Honor as far away as possible.

Because of the same actions, her crew isn't really a crew, but simply a collection of individuals that are angry with Honor, depressed with where their sent, and generally not acting as a group.

The problem with getting sent to this remote outpost is that the person in charge of Basilisk Station doesn't like Honor either and sets up Honor to be stabbed in the back.

So starts the heart of the book in which Honor must overcome all of this to create a solid crew out of a disparate discouraged group of people in a backwater hole that now needs protecting against someone. Honor doesn't know whom it is, but the reader learns from the outset (or nearly so) that it is the Haven Empire.

Some of the lessons in this book include the fact that Welfare states must continue to expand and conquer in order to keep people living the lifestyle that they have become accustomed to. The point is small, and the paragraph or two about it felt really out of place. However, they fit so well with what some of the political groups have been trying to do for decades that it bears watching. On the other hand, Honor's own kingdom isn't perfect either. The wealthy have political power and because of political infighting things are at a standstill.

Having finished it once I want to continue through the series and finish it. Once I have I want to go back and read them again to get more of the political side of things and see some of the political commentary. Usually, when I read things the first time through I get more of the surface plot and characterizations than I do anything else.

However, I certainly agree that the book deserves a read through at least once. As I was reading it, I felt that this was the sci-fi version of some of Tamora Pierce's characters. Alanna and Kel immediately spring to mind, Kel even more than Alanna sometimes. Ender is another one that I thought of on occasion, but at least Honor got into this knowing what she was getting into in the first place. This is because all three of these characters have the strong cohesive leadership skills needed to take charge of large groups of people. Try Alanna: The First Adventure to start Tortall if you prefer fantasy and females. Ender's Game is a great place to start if you like space operas that have a lot of social commentary in them.

If it's the general idea of the space opera you like, try anything from the Star Wars extended universe (most of which is now getting thrown out of canon). However, Nor Crystal Tears by Alan Dean Foster kicks off the Thranx series which is another great space opera that crosses centuries and several different planets and main characters.

Now that I gave in and actually read one of Weber's books I find myself regretting that I didn't do so earlier.

On Basilisk Station is available for free through the Baen Free Library, but who knows for how long. Check it out while you can.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Good, The Bad and The Civilization

Treecat Wars by David Weber and Jane Lindskold
Two young settlers on a pioneer planet seek to stop a war and to save the intelligent alien treecats from exploitation by unscrupulous humans.
The fires are out, but the trouble’s just beginning for the treecats... 
On pioneer planet Sphinx, ruined lands and the approach of winter force the now Landless Clan to seek new territory. They have one big problem—there’s nowhere to go. Worse, their efforts to find a new home awaken the enmity of the closest treecat clan—a stronger group who’s not giving up a single branch without a fight. 
Stephanie Harrington, the treecats’ greatest advocate, is off to Manticore for extensive training—and up to her ears in challenges there. That leaves only Stephanie’s best friends, Jessica and Anders, to save the treecats from themselves. And now a group of xenoanthropologists is once again after the great secret of the treecats—that they are intelligent, empathic telepaths—and their agenda will lead to nothing less that treecat exploitation. 
Finally, Jessica and Anders face problems of their own, including their growing attraction to one another. It is an attraction that seems a betrayal of Stephanie Harrington, the best friend either of them have ever had.
Treecat Wars picks up right where Fire Season leaves off with very little gap. This book continues the themes of "How do we deal with the new civilization?" as well as "We have to come together to survive." It adds in consequences for ones actions and even consequences for events which were out of the character's control. This second is often forgotten. Finally, it includes the lesson "Everything has a downside, and emotional wounds can be overcome." This last is mostly from the perspective of the humans.

The fire has left the human settlements alone, but a clan of Treecats has lost their home. They are on the verge of starving, but the debate still rages about whether to involve the humans in their search for a new home. In a nearby Treecat settlement, the forest fire has caused mental and emotional chaos to rampage through their clan, making them unwilling to allow a scout to go through their territory, to look for unclaimed territory elsewhere. They don't know if they want help from the humans either. Things slowly spiral out of control.

Meanwhile, what the proven sapience (although Weber keeps using the word sentience) means for the colony on Sphinx and those who have invested in it, comes to a head on the central colony, Manticore. The group with the most invested continues to try to show treecats to be frightful monsters, but their actions often show them to be more civilized than humanity (at least in my opinion).

Between the two contrasting views, it shows both the best of what a civilization can create as well as the worst of it. It, too, is a great continuation to the series, and I hope that Weber and Lindskold go on to publish more in the same series.