Friday, November 12, 2010

Hot Off The Presses

RobertaX is test marketing a novelization of her sf stories I Work On A Starship. I've read several installments over the last couple years (or so; who keeps track of their casual reading schedule?) and I must say the lady has the story-teller's gift.

Definitely worth a double sawbuck; go check it out.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What Does What Want!?!

Not for the first time (and, to be honest, almost certainly not for the last :)), I wish to dispute with Phil Bowermaster regarding something in one of his typically thought provoking Speculist posts. Also not for the first time, let me begin by pointing you somewhere else first.

My blog-friend Kevin Baker is spending his actual Saturday having fun in similar fashion to my own, but before he left, he posted the transcript of a speech George Will gave last May to the Cato Institute's biennial Milton Friedman Prize dinner. As part of his remarks, Mr. Will said the following in comparing the political beliefs of two Princeton graduates, James Madison of the class of 1771, and Thomas Woodrow Wilson of the class of 1879:

Madison asserted that politics should take its bearings from nature, from human nature and the natural rights with which we are endowed that pre-exist government. Woodrow Wilson, like all people steeped in the nineteenth century discovery (or so they thought) that History is a proper noun with a capital "H," that history has a mind and life of its own, he argued that human nature is as malleable and changeable as history itself, and that it is the job of the state to regulate and guide the evolution of human nature ...

Now back to friend Phil:

I think technology "wants" to improve our circumstances. Technology wants to empower individuals and transform society. Technology wants to decrease human suffering and increase human happiness.

In other words, technology wants exactly what we want. And that shouldn't be all that surprising, because our technology is us.

Much like Socialists anywhere (and American Progressives particularly) do in their economic thinking, Phil is doing in the quote above. Both resort to a species of magical thinking to make their argument.

{In his defense, Phil is responding to this article about the book What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly, so the views he expresses might not be entirely his own.}

Now, I recognise the implied intent of the modifying quotation marks Phil employs; I understand he is making an allegorical statement and not a literal one. While I am quite willing to accept without comment using such as a rhetorical device, to advance a narrative say, such thinking simply isn't explanatory though which is Phil's stated purpose for the passage quoted above.

I have argued in the past that money is an artificial human intellectual construct. I believe the same can legitimately be said for history as well.

We have a (variably detailed and questionably reliable) historical record, which is often seemingly well-supported by a collection of historical artifacts. What we don't have is any actual history, because it doesn't exist any longer. Belief in "History" as George Will attributes to Woodrow Wilson above, "that history has a mind and life of its own", is thus shown to be a class of magical thinking that imbues our collection of variously ancient detritus with independent intent and consciousness.

In similar fashion as does Phil with "technology", that accumulation of not-quite-finished-with-yet proto-detritus we are frequently pleased to hold up as self-evident examples of "civilisation" (and that will be enough of the scare quotes).

Basically, it's just stuff. And while we may have an occasionally embarrassing excess of stuff (and a correspondingly distressing lack as well), it is the height of folly to think of it as anything more (or less, it should be acknowledged) than a particular example of varyingly well-contrived crutch we frequently find useful in certain applications (and decidedly not in others). The contents of our ever-expanding tool box laid out on public display, if you will.

And like all the rest of our stuff, we can make more if we break it, use it up or just plain outlive it's usefulness to us.

I can think of very little in this world (or off it that I am aware of) that has any great store of intrinsic worth or value (oh, please, is there a Gold Bug in the house?) on it's own. Usefulness in plenty, to be sure, but that's a different standard of measure, one that is imputed by some other agency and often quite variable by circumstance (ruminants find grass generally quite useful; humans without a Lawn Service quite a bit less so). Endowing our stuff with magical abilities doesn't improve it in any measurable way and, frankly, works to impede our usage more often than not.

I don't care what my toaster might think, nor my induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, I just want them to function. And should they not do as I expected, then the failure is to be found in my own lack of understanding, not some fanciful cognitive whimsy. We may in fact one day make stuff that has independent consciousness and identity from ourselves - the so-far mythical AGI. Come that day, I certainly agree we should ask it's opinion. 'Till then, why deliberately obscure our already flawed understanding of stuff, eh?

In the spirit of full disclosure, the things I say to my tools when I screw up a job would seemingly put the lie to all the above (and make my past nautical association disturbingly plain), so if humor was your intent I take it all back, Phil.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What Border Violence?


UTB/TSC Emergency Warning #5
The campus is closed and evening classes have been canceled today and Saturday, Nov. 6 because of gunfire taking place across the Rio Grande.

A fence is nice and all, but when your neighbor's troubles start shooting up your place as well that tends to make his business your business too. And when it comes to international border violations, the US Army and Marines do our business for us.

Just sayin'.

Via Instapundit.

First Saturday

Since we started working a 4/10 shift at the j. o. b., we've had Friday's off. Thus, Friday is First Saturday.

Went here this morning and worked my way through 100 rounds of this. I do indeed still remember which end the noise comes out of.

On a related note, shooting with the laser sight requires a completely different target acquisition process than does using the traditional sights. Remarkable how that alters the magazine swap mechanics.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Strategic Employment Opportunity - 2012

Given the number of mentions on Instapundit alone of YouTube videos having telling effect this just-past political cycle, I predict more than a few someone's will pursue a course of action something like the following for the 2012 cycle.

A moderately well-heeled campaign will hire 12-15 people at (US)$1,000.00/week with an additional (US)$1,000.00/week operating budget each, starting about a year from today. These people would initially work to document the candidate's electioneering efforts while they hone and develop their filming and reporting skills and methodology (both individually and working as spontaneous teams).

Once competing campaigns are identified, selected videographers are assigned to capture as much video of the candidate and his/her campaign as possible. As the more viable opponents emerge over the course of the year, a greater proportion of the video campaign effort is assigned to the more prominent/effective opponent(s), leading eventually to literal 24/7 coverage of the post-Primary candidate(s).

Objective: document and report self-destructive behavior by the opposing candidate(s) and/or the campaign's operatives/supporters and post it on YouTube (and other video outlets) as early and often as seems useful over the course of the 2012 campaign effort.

Simultaneous to this, a few videographers travel with the candidate to document OpFor activities staged against the campaign. This can include documenting the general activities of those identified as OpFor personnel (think New Black Panther members) going about their public personal activities as well.

So, 15 people @ $1k/week + $1k/week operating funds x 50 weeks = (US)$300,000.00.

Even with the added expense of initial equipment purchases (to include vehicle leases) along with contingency funds (medical expenses incurred "on the job", serial data encription software implimentation for internal communication security, etc), a year-long coordinated effort to control the campaign narrative and influence all campaign reporting by others for not much more than a (US)$500,000.00 budget for a year-long national political campaign doesn't seem a terribly excessive investment given the demonstrated potential return there-on (unfortunately, I don't see the numbers becoming remarkably smaller for a regional/state level campaign either; the principal expense is the people, the videographers, so even a local campaign wouldn't be able to cut the number of personnel required for effective coverage of even a major municipality by more than, say a third of those projected above).

This is yet another example of how classical strategy works "in the real world"; identify an opportunity (most commonly a risk of some demarcateable description - if an apparent opportunity can't be clearly demarcated it falls to the level of variably vague "threat", a potential risk perhaps), position forces to advance your position thereby (in the example above, learn how to effectively use video equipment under a variety of conditions along with the computer technology to get the result on YouTube as quickly as possible for one possibility) and arrange an alliance to maximise the advancement for all allied positions (sticking to the example above; get your name and skills "out there" and decide what your alliance standards and conditions are in advance, just for a start). Sun Tzu's The Art of War really ought to be titled "THE ART OF SUCCESS".

So, anybody got any equipment recommendations? :)

Update: It occurs to me that a professional political consultant seeking modern relivancey *cough* Karl Rove *cough* or a news/opinion reporting business *cough* PJTV *cough* might find this model an attractive operational investment to begin developing this year.

Just saying ...