Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Congratulations to me, I suppose

Contrary to my own expectations, I've somehow managed to survive into official "old age"; yes, I'm 65 years old today.

Still waiting on my Medicare card to show up, of course. Fortunately I've been getting my health care from the VA for a year now, so I'm well familiar with how government health care "functions". It's only to be expected, I suppose. It'll get sorted out soon enough.

It's not all that much of an accomplishment really, just a matter of staying mobile and keeping breathing on your own. Still, there's plenty who don't manage it for all that. I'll just keep on as I have done and see what new experience today brings.

It'll almost certainly be an improvement on the alternative.

-----

Also, I don't think I've ever made an issue of this blog's age, so this seems an appropriate time for that too; a link to my first - and to be expected inappropriate - blog post from August, 2007:

https://wheretheresawilliam.blogspot.com/2007/08/and-now-for-something-more-usual.html

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A Good Day

So, a couple days ago the John Sanford novel "Holy Ghost (A Virgil Flowers Novel)" came available on Amazon, which means my copy arrived yesterday. I started reading it about 3 pm and finished around 11 pm (there was a trip to the Walmart and dinner to cook in there too). Virgil finds himself assigned to look into a shooting in a small town that might - or might not - be related to a recent religious "miracle". Events cascade one onto another, with seeming solutions to the case(s) dying faster than the victims.

What a wonderful way to end the long dry spell of pleasure reading this summer has been.

Do recommend.

And, there will be a new Lucas Davenport novel ("Neon Prey") releasing next April 23 to look forward to over the winter.

I think I can set things up so I can re-read all of the Prey novels in succession - maybe starting next March - so that I finish the most recent book ("Twisted Prey") the day before the new one arrives. There are 28 novels in the series so far; managing to keep myself to a rate of only 4 books a week should fill the bill nicely.

John Ringo's next Black Tide Rising novel "The Valley of Shadows" is scheduled for release on Nov 6, with S. M. Stirling's (reportedly) last book in the Change series "The Sky Blue Wolves" coming on Nov 13 ought to take care of the reading Jones for that month.

WEB Griffin's latest in the Clandestine Operations series "The Enemy Of My Enemy" comes out Dec 11, and David Weber's next Safehold novel "Through Fiery Trials" arrives Jan 8, followed by book 2 in Larry Correia's Saga Of The Forgotten Warrior series "House Of Assassins" on Feb 5.

Mar 5 brings us to book 2 in the John Ringo/Gary Poole Black Tide Rising anthology "Voices of the Fall", with May 7 bringing us S. M. Stirling's second title "Theater of Spies" in his new Alternate World War series.

These next 7 months or so offer so much to look forward to.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

On Friendship

A couple of long-simmering thoughts on the topic of Friendship and relationships more generally have come to the forefront of what passes for my brain recently, so I thought I'd share.

Firstly, much as in the novel Fight Club, there are rules to Friendship in real life. The First Rule of Friendship being: "Never Lie". Not too surprisingly to anyone who has been party to pretty much any relationship with another human being, there is the Occasional Corollary to the First Rule which reads: "SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!", which itself has the subsequent Supporting Directive of: "Immediately Change The Subject as compellingly as you can".

Lemme 'splain this last one.

Say your Significant Other asks you: "Does this make me look fat?" (regardless of what "this" is).

Your immediate rejoinder should be something along the lines of: "You and I both know how much thought and effort you put into your diet and fitness, and how much your fashion choices and physical appearance always reflect that. Anyway, you have the ability to make anything look good."

You see how this works? The subsequent fight will be over willingness to accept responsibility (which will be your fault too) rather than your poor (not to mention cruel) judgement. These distinctions matter farther into the future than you may believe (yet).

Unlike the (purely hypothetical, he says) example above, there are those unfortunate situations in real life, when you feel compelled as a friend to abide by Rule 1 even though you know full well that all would be so much more placid in your life if you went with the Occasional Corollary option instead. Should you find yourself in such a circumstance, bide your time until the Placatory Offering tactic becomes acceptable by both (all? who knows these days?) involved (never forgetting the non-involved who have waaay too much to say about not-their-business) parties, then present your best considered offering (and, yes, there's a strategy for getting through this process too :)).

Secondly, the issue of Intra-Species Relationship Courtesies and Considerations has brought itself to my attention - again. Particularly as these involve both genders of the species (look, this issue is complicated enough without trying to slice this particular biological pie any more finely than it comes out of the slot in the usual fashion - don't deliberately make this any harder to live through!).

With no offense intended to Mr. Bill Maher;

New Rule: Anyones personal cell phone, hand bag or wallet is theirs alone, and no one else has any reason for gettin' inside anyone elses!

Now, I understand that the cops claim an exception to this, which basically works out for the rest of us as: "even if you should somehow win this particular segment of the argument, you're still going to lose the rest of the fight, so surrendering as gracefully as you can is usually your best option". Other than the cops though, if it ain't yours, stay out of it!

Look, if my wife/girlfriend/Mother asks me to get her something out of her purse, what's going to happen is I'm going to hand her the entire bag. I don't know what's in there. I don't even want to know what's in there. Should I ever have to ask anyone to hand me my wallet (? it goes in my pocket well before the gun does), I don't think I am at all out of line, or the least bit unreasonable, to expect and insist that all that happens is that the entire wallet - contents unexamined - ends up in my hand. I also don't think it the least bit exceptional to expect such consideration from other's about my or any other cell phone that isn't their personal property (Ok, the exception that proves the rule; if you give your child something like a cell phone, it's a basic term of the transaction that you are only allowing them mutual access to whatever it is - as long as you're paying for it, it's yours too).

If you want to share content from your phone with anyone, Forward it to their email (or whatever) or just show it to them directly. Other than that, nobody has any right to access the contents of your cell phone, handbag, or wallet, and any effort to convince you otherwise should arouse immediate doubt in your mind about the desirability of keeping the person making such an argument quite so closely involved in your life.

Life is a complicated experience, involving an ever-changing matrix of competing influences to impinge upon our decision making process, the result of which often seems to make suicide an option at least briefly worth considering. With Healthy Life Extension scientific research from people like the SENS Research Foundation offering more and better treatments and therapies to consider, it seems a foregone conclusion that we can only expect an even longer time span in which to suffer the consequences of our more poorly chosen actions and statements towards our loved one's. Adherence to a few basic, simple rules should go a long way towards making that extended healthy life a much Happier one too. Never mind the children; think of yourself! 

Friday, May 4, 2018

A Public Letter To Matthew McConaughey

My thanks to Instapundit for the initial link to the Christian Toto post.

In this recently posted piece in Hollywood In Toto, fellow Texan (as in by actual birth, not a late-comer migrant like myself) and justly famous actor Matthew McConaughey is quoted as saying the following regarding the ongoing public debate over firearms ownership in Texas and the USA more generally:
“The two sides (have) got to talk. Because we both agree that there’s an epidemic. We both agree something has got to change. So I was for what they were marching for, and I wanted to speak to my hometown on the capital of my state Texas’ steps. And also talk to the many men and women who I grew up with, I know that had the guns, that owned the guns, and say hey, do we really, where can we reach across the aisle here? Find a compromise for the betterment of all of us?”
Other observations were also attributed to him in the article (which, to be honest, had an entirely different, if well argued, direction), but I want to focus on this statement for now.

Yes Matthew (if I may be so bold), we do agree; all citizens of our state and country have got to talk about this very fundamental condition of our shared citizenship, but I submit to you that posing the conversation as being a binary issue (pro or con only) makes that admirable goal much harder to accomplish. There are legitimate distinctions that shade and give necessary context to this general topic that an either/or juxtaposition simply doesn't permit, if only as a result of the initial premise such an oratorical construct requires. You made the statement quoted above at a public (and at least somewhat spontaneous) public event, so post facto insistence on scholarly citation and the like would be unfair at the very least, and I make no such demands of you here. I am confident that you would agree that such citations and references will be necessary to arriving at a well considered conclusion.

We do both agree that there is an epidemic, but I would argue that it is mostly composed of a lack of agreement on the nature and substance of personal and public education on the contributing factors that lead up to individual gun ownership and usage. If I may, more on this later.

Taking a public position on an issue one can be certain beforehand will be widely regarded as controversial at best, requires a degree of personal courage and integrity that I compliment you on embodying so well. There are few enough of us at any time who are prepared to do so "in front of God and all" as my grandmother was known to say; anyone who does so is worthy of public recognition as a matter of simple justice. That said, can we also talk about the record of the compromises made by various parties to this issue over the past century or so?

May I suggest we begin our talk with this brief (I promise) Quora discussion of the topic by B. F. Caffrey: Why wont gun owners ever compromise? I will simply offer the opinion that compromise has been a well-trod path here-to-fore, very much in one direction. As always (who is this Mr. Phelps guy?), venture into the Comments section at your own peril.

I will leave the arguments for further restriction on our rights and opportunity to gun ownership and usage to those prepared to make them; I am perfectly willing to discuss things with those so convinced of course, but I feel unprepared to honestly state their case for them. On the other hand, may I assume that I am the first to introduce you to my fellow blogger (and Arizonan, but let's not hold that against him) Kevin Baker? Unlike so many, Kevin has spent literally decades researching and discussing most of the various aspects of firearm ownership and usage from as scholarly and practical a viewpoint as anyone I am familiar with (who isn't actually being paid to do such a thing). Please Matthew, take the time to click on his name and follow the link to his blog page The Smallest Minority (redundancy alert!) and scroll down the page, paying attention to the links listed on the (somewhat ironic) left hand side of the page. Click on any of them; no apologies from me for leading you down into that warren of intellectual rabbit holes, but I hope you will agree that the topic is indeed well and truly explored as well as critically examined.

If you have any energy left after that traumatic experience, you might also want to give some attention to the ravings being spouted by that well-known right-wing propaganda site (sorry, the snark got away from me there) The Washington Post. On October 4, 2017, that newspaper published an article by one Cari S. Babitzke (identified as a PhD candidate in history from Boston University, so presumably not a working journalist) (sorry, I'll quit). Not wanting to commit any gender assumption faux pas, I will limit my observations to noting the article's obvious effort at an even-handed approach to the topic.

Returning to my earlier mention of education, I hope I have gone some way toward demonstrating why I believe the talk we need to have about guns ought best to center around the sub-text of education. Not just the more traditional approach to history, but the philosophical, legal, and economic influences that resulted in our being asked when we were school boys to memorize "Four score and seven years ago ..." and all that. Elsewhere in the HiT article I quoted from at the outset of this letter, you are also quoted as saying:
“One, let’s ban the assault weapons for civilians. This is a no-brainer. And to my friends out there that are responsible owners of these recreational assault weapons that they use for recreation, please let’s just take one for the team here and set it down. That issue saves lives,” he said. “Number two, let’s restrict the capacity of the magazines. Look here: in the state of Texas, we have a three shell limit to hunt migratory birds. Do the math. You get my point.”
Once you have had opportunity to read the links I suggested above, you will realize that your point One isn't nearly as simple as it is commonly believed to be. In all seriousness, would you be willing to argue that a bolt action hunting rifle in 30:06 caliber would qualify as an "assault rifle" given it's descent in this country from the M1907 rifle issued to US combat troops deployed to the European Theater of Operations (circa 1917) and the Pacific Theater of Operations (circa 1941 - 1945 inclusive)? You know, (Great?) Grandpa's deer rifle. If not, why not? If so, how is that rifle in any practicable way different in design or purpose from the AR-15 gas-operated rifle (which is actually Eugene Stoner's civilian rifle design that eventually would lead to the US Army's M-16 rifle)? Can we agree that there is much to learn, starting with the applicability (not to say actual basis in reality, but ...) of the descriptive terms used? Indeed, I hope we can talk about many other assumptions that seem to inevitably appear in any conversation about guns, and gain a more transparent understanding of them.

I hope you will forgive me this observation, but your point Two is problematic at best. Your example of migratory bird hunting is a sterling example of those questionable assumptions I just mentioned. To be blunt, neither you nor I, our friends and families, not even the irritating neighbor down the street who (enter particular irritation here); none of us - nor, hopefully, any of our fellow citizens, ever - are game animals, Matthew. We are none of us, nor should we ever be thought to be, subject to the rules and regulations governing the sustainable practice of wildlife population control through hunting. The assumption that those rules ought in any way to be considered as applicable to any of us does your - and anyone else who says something so silly and thoughtless - reputation no good at all.

In closing Matthew, I wish to suggest you consider how the entirely ordinary business of instruction in an extensive selection of martial arts disciplines that exists in our state, indeed the country as a whole, might be adapted to provide an ordinary and commonplace means to educate ourselves (yes, starting as children, just as we already do) on how to safely and responsibly incorporate firearms into the routine of our lives. Martial arts instruction generally assumes that the individual is the proper level of societal judgement as regards questions of self defense, an assumption that admittedly makes for some degree of feelings of parental-unit nervousness, but no widespread, organized objection to such instruction being offered for sale that I'm aware of. As well, there are many existing schools that already include weapons usage, along with training in safe practice and related issues regarding weapons handling generally to the civil population, a great many of them children. Other than engineering issues, how are guns in any effective way different from archery or any of the other "antique" distance weapons developed during the course of human history? Can we agree that dangerousness isn't an acceptable disqualification all on its own? We already know how to safely and responsibly train, carry, use, store, and otherwise own weapons, we just don't choose to include guns (outside of the hunting/target shooting competition niche the NRA, USPSA, and IDPA (among others) already occupies quite effectively in the USA) as just one more physical activity that's part of our everyday lives because ... reasons, I guess.

I am a (not very accomplished, I'm afraid) life member of HEMA Alliance, "a martial arts federation dedicated to the study of Historical European Martial Arts". One of the distinctions between HEMA and many other studies of martial arts is the requirement that there be an existing historical document describing the technique(s) and their usage upon which to base the effort at re-creation of the particular art form in a modern practice context. While there are arguments as to how well this works as a training format, I am confident that you can see how this documentary requirement for inclusion could be applied to the study of modern firearms in a modern martial arts context. Simply expanding the existing martial arts school business model to include firearms instruction would create the widest possible availability of such education (not just academic instruction, but the actual physical safe practices of usage, the history of the weapons as examples of durable complex tool engineering, the philosophy and legal ramifications that lead to their creation as well as those that arose from their existence ... the whole thing) to include - well, everybody thanks to the internet, but certainly our fellow Texans and those other folks still trying to get here. Joining together to independently research source documents, to base a series of publicly available courses of instruction upon, that potentially lead to inclusion in established education syllabi teaching the make up and function of human civilization? That's a talk I'd like to have.

No, my idea isn't The Answer; hell, it's not even that well thought out, to be honest, but isn't that what we're talking about here, Matthew? Talking about how to work out how to safely live with guns in our midst, a condition that I believe can be honestly and fairly argued to ultimately be a necessary one, sadly. We do need to talk about guns, but together, not at (or worse, past) each other, and the only way I can see any us getting to that point in this whole thing, is if some of those few of us who have achieved a degree of public acclaim will agree to participate in some public way that sets the stage, so to speak, for the wider positive conversations we hope will develop.

There's an old saying that applies to us all equally here, I think; Lead, Follow, or get out of the way. I'm stepping up here as best an old guy can, Matthew. Help a brother out?

Monday, March 26, 2018

Proof of Life

Let's see if I can remember how this thing works.

There have been many changes in my life over the past 9 months or so. No, I wasn't pregnant, nor was anyone else because of me. Leave it for now that I have retired from my former place of employment in a somewhat spontaneous fashion, with pretty much all of the chaos - fiscal and otherwise - that might be assumed, given the complete lack of planning and preparation. Social Security and my pension, along with medical treatment through the VA (who have pleasantly surprised, consistently), are now arriving on schedule and I find myself adjusting more or less successfully to my transition into the social category of gainfully unemployed.

Having become used to not having to do anything to anyone else's schedule, I'm trying writing for money as an alternative to simple mental vegetation. Book? Movie? Can't tell yet. So far it's just words lined up one after another on the digital page, with a certain amount of coherency of narrative periodically detectable.

We'll see.

I'm still alive, probably more annoying to others than ever, with every intention of remaining so well beyond the statistical norm for my cultural demographic if I can. Come on Aubrey de Grey!

Updated 3/27/18 to add a link to a BBC interview with Aubrey de Grey (beware the autostart):

BBC interview

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Who 'da Man 2

The Verge has an interview with Yann LeCun, identified as "Facebook's AI chief ", that ties in well with my own understanding of AI, both as to function and the rate and direction of development efforts. Having read the article, I am more convinced than before that "robots" will quickly come to mean "human-controlled mechanistic devices" and "AI" will mean "non-human controlled systems". Robots will be the machines doing things (under direct - more or less - control of human operators). AI's will be complex constructions controlling devices that semi-autonomously operate systems like vehicle traffic control systems, or shipping/receiving/warehousing systems.
I keep repeating this whenever I talk to the public: we’re very far from building truly intelligent machines. All you’re seeing now — all these feats of AI like self-driving cars, interpreting medical images, beating the world champion at Go and so on — these are very narrow intelligences, and they’re really trained for a particular purpose. They’re situations where we can collect a lot of data.
So for example, and I don’t want to minimize at all the engineering and research work done on AlphaGo by our friends at DeepMind, but when [people interpret the development of AlphaGo] as significant process towards general intelligence, it’s wrong. It just isn’t. it’s not because there’s a machine that can beat people at Go, there’ll be intelligent robots running round the streets. It doesn’t even help with that problem, it’s completely separate. Others may claim otherwise, but that’s my personal opinion.

We’re very far from having machines that can learn the most basic things about the world in the way humans and animals can do. Like, yes, in particular areas machines have superhuman performance, but in terms of general intelligence we’re not even close to a rat. This makes a lot of questions people are asking themselves premature. . That’s not to say we shouldn’t think about them, but there’s no danger in the immediate or even medium term. There are real dangers in the department of AI, real risks, but they’re not Terminator scenarios.
Vehicles in the near-term future will undoubtedly have some form of semi-autonomous "AI" that will operate the vehicle without continuous direct human operator input (in limited applications, at least), but the more likely scenario will be AI semi-autonomous operation of a traffic control system allowing vehicle access to highways, stop light timing, variance of traffic speed limits to conform with road conditions (changing weather or traffic load for instance). The vehicles themselves would still require operator input to function, but the AI traffic control system would have direct access to the vehicles internal control system "AI" to limit the operator's choices (presumably with an emergency override function - factory installed or otherwise :)).

I am also pleased that Mr. LeCun agrees that the virtual assistant application is the most likely near-term market that will most broadly interact with the most people (what I called a "data orchestra")
here.
 I think virtual assistants really are going to be the big thing. Current assistants are entirely scripted, with a tree of possible things they can tell you. So that makes the creation of bots really tedious, expensive, and brittle, though they work in certain situations like customer care. The next step will be systems that have a little more learning in them, and that’s one of the things we’re working on at Facebook. Where you have a machine that reads a long text and then answers any questions related to it — that’d be useful as a function.
Having a virtual assistant that you can verbally (and presumably textually or pictorially too) interact with, one that has internal data bases of reference sources, would be an exponential improvement of the education and skills development (training) activities that are central to achieving any success in a technologic society (education is mathematics, history, languages, art; skills development is the construction/maintenance trades, martial arts/physical fitness, ultimately engineering generally). A personal device that can provide you with immediate access to information, when and where you need it, would drastically alter the way and extent of human learning and personal capability.

One that could also call emergency services (or your lawyer) semi-autonomously would no doubt prove useful too.

Someone is going to arrive at the decision to make a business of improving humanity's individual ability to provide for itself, simply as a means to increase his/her customer base in both total numbers as well as in total market range of participation. Maybe that will be Jeff Bezos, but it obviously doesn't have to be. What it continues to seem more and more we can be certain of is that it will be.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Who 'da man?

On August 3rd of this year, I wrote about my then-recent appearance on the podcast The World Transformed, in which I discussed my contribution (finally titled, "Ask Jeff Bezos To Hire Humanity") to Phil Bowermaster and Stephen Gordon's book Visions for a World Transformed. In that interview I mentioned that one of the ways that Jeff Bezos could make money from hiring humanity was to create a means whereby people could learn how to remotely operate robotic devices (for a modest fee) and, not incidentally, create a place from which they could subsequently do so and earn themselves a living in this brave new robotic world (less another modest fee to him, of course).

Proving that opportunity is also fleeting, I read with interest this article in IEEE Spectrum magazine by Ben Wolff (CEO of SARCOS Robotics) about a company building robotic devices intended to be controlled by human operators:

Imagine a machine that is your personal proxy, controlled by you, leveraging your intelligence, knowledge, instincts, intuition, and judgment while able to physically perform in the same manner as your own body, but safely, and with super-human strength, endurance, and precision. This vision is at the core of the Guardian robot systems concept developed at my company, Sarcos Robotics, based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

It doesn't take any special visionary powers to foresee the likely results of peoples openly discussed development efforts, whether for robotics or for human education or employment. It does take a willingness to test your level of confidence in your personal vision to allow for incorporation of other's vision therein. There is a telling turn-of-phrase from the athletics world, "Comes the hour, comes the man". That hour is steadily approaching; it remains to be seen if Jeff Bezos has it within himself to be that man.

Someone does.

Monday, September 4, 2017

More Life In The Future

Via the Instapundit, I read in the Telegraph an article by one Sarah Knapton: "Nanomachines that drill into cancer cells killing them in just 60 seconds developed by scientists". I'm hoping the headline writer doesn't have it in for Our Sarah as much as the just quoted example leads me to believe might be the case.

That aside, Ms Knapton goes into informative detail about the anticipated benefits sufferers of skin and breast cancers may soon receive, while ignoring all of the pictures scattered throughout her article of the aforementioned nanomachines drilling into prostate cancer cells.

If I've read her article right (not always a given, that), women can expect to have smooth skin and breasts as a result of their glowing cancer treatments, while we guys can anticipate getting a UV flashlight up the back channel for ours. One hopes it won't require multiple "D" cell batteries.

Tell me again about the advantages of Male Patriarchy, will you? I need something to keep me focused on holding the old cheeks tight while I'm dominating all and sundry.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Have You Ever Heard The Phrase "Tit For Tat"?

From Peter over at Bayou Renaissance Man comes notice of the latest display of terminal stupidity by the 21st century's version of The New Soviet Man (that would be the clown posse styling themselves as Antifa). Not content to swan about in black gym clothes with diapers over their faces, now they've gone and challenged the denizens of 4chan directly.

As ought to have been predicted by even this collective of dubious intellects, 4chan immediately demonstrated their willingness to bring all of the Tat in response to Antifa's latest display of Tit. If you have ever wondered about whether or not someone of your acquaintance (heaven forfend you might actually share DNA) really is as stupid as you've long thought, now you can look up his/her/zir name. Helpfully listed in alphabetical order.

I suppose it would be too much to ask for the nice people at 8chan to reorganize the list by locality?

Do go read Peter's post and follow the links he provides. How does that saying go; "When your enemies are making a mistake, never get in their way"? Well played, 4chan, well played indeed.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Adding To My Intellectual Posterity (or, Yet Another Failure To STFU :))

I'm going to archive my most recent foray into Internet Fame here because, if you can't be narcissistic on your own blog, why bother to even keep breathing on your own, I ask you?

Part The First: Should Jeff Bezos Hire Humanity?

For the permalink challenged: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/worldtransformed/2017/08/01/should-jeff-bezos-hire-humanity

Followed "the next day" by Part The Second: The Semi-Automated Economy by The World Transformed

Second chorus, same as the first:
https://soundcloud.com/phil-bowermaster/the-semi-automated-economy?fb_action_ids=10156475543678712&fb_action_types=soundcloud%3Apublish

Proof positive that you don't actually have to know what you're talking about to have a "respectable" (or at least printable) opinion.

You really should buy the book:

Visions for a World Transformed