“Islands in the Net” by Bruce Sterling

“Islands in the Net” is a 1988 novel by Bruce Sterling. I really like Bruce Sterling’s stuff, in general, but there are a few novels of his I don’t really care for. “Islands in the Net” is one of my favorites of his.

I have a six-week old, and read this in the last few weeks, so this review will be a little scattered, but this book has stayed with me enough I want to write even more about it.

Some parts of it are really, really dated, which is to be expected from an SF book from nearly 30 years ago. He mentions faxes, and while there is a worldwide computer network that people use to share information with each other, it’s mostly pre-recorded things–like video recordings or text files, and he nearly completely missed realtime interactions. On the other hand, some parts fly right by without notice. Drones, maybe even quadcopters, that are basically toys, with guns attached as a terrorist tool? Good portions seem like they were written during the 2016 presidential campaign, or at least, certainly after 9/11–but nope, the Berlin Wall was still up when this book was published.

What’s my favorite part? Technovoodoo, or the rewilding with the iron camels, or Rizome, or “The Lawrence Doctrine and Post Industrial Insurgency” by Jonathan Gresham, or ‘Net-burned’, or this song?

Listen, people of the Kel Tamashek,
We are the Inadin, the blacksmiths.
We have always wandered among the tribes and clans,
We have always carried your messages.
Our fathers’ lives were better than ours,
Our grandfathers’ better still..

Once our people traveled everywhere,
Kano, Zanfara, Agadez.
Now we live in the cities and are turned into numbers and letters,
Now we live in the camps and eat magic food from tubes.

Our fathers had sweet milk and dates,
We have only nettles and thorns.
Why do we sufffer like this?
Is it the end of the world?
No, because we are not evil men,
No, because now we have tisma.
We are blacksmiths who have secret magic,
We are silversmiths who see the past and future.
In the past this was a rich and green land,
Now it is rock and. dust.

But where there is rock, there can be grass,
Where there is grass, the rain comes.
The roots of grass will hold the rain,
The leaves of grass will tame the sandstorm.
But we were the enemies of grass,
That is why we suffer.
What our cows did not eat, the sheep ate.
What the sheep refused, the goats consumed.
What the goats left behind, the camels devoured.
Now we must be the friends of grass,
We must apologize to it and treat it kindly.
Its enemies are our enemies.
We must kill the cow and the sheep,
We must butcher the goat and behead the camel.
For a thousand years we loved our herds,
For a thousand years we must praise the grass.
We will eat the tisma food to live,
We will buy Iron Camels from GoMotion
Unlimited in Santa Clara California.

(After finishing this, I *definitely* need to re-read The Caryatids!)

Happy Esperanto Day!

December 15th is Esperanto Day! Esperanto is a created language, started in the 1880s by L. L. Zamenhof. December 15th was his birthday, and it’s suitably close to the winter holidays that it’s become the largest Esperanto holiday.

I’ve been studying Esperanto every day for a bit more than 500 days, and I’m still having a lot of fun with it.

I wrote more about Esperanto Day last year.

Cardboard Charging Box

One of the key insights I think I’ve had is the importance of being able to work a medium that you keep around.

Cardboard Charger Box

If the majority of the things around you are made of metal and plastic, either know how to work finished metal or plastic, or keep other materials around.

Case in point: Cardboard!

I had an Anker 5 port USB charger on my desk to charge some of my geegaw. It was always in a big nest of cables, even when I bought short cables for it. After a year of being irritated at the messiness, I grabbed a cardboard box that I bought to hold filled breadboards, took out my multitool, and cut some holes. There’s plenty of space inside, it doesn’t get too hot, and the cleanliness pleases me everyday.

Opened Cardboard Charger Box

Power plug end

I’m really glad I finally took the ten minutes to do this!

Five-Fingered Hand of Eris

Hand of Eris on chain
Hand of Eris on chain

I like to design symbols from things I read in CAD software. (Wow, that sounds nerdy even for me!)

I designed a few different “Five-Fingered Hand of Eris” symbols from Principia Discordia, one with a longer middle than the other. Both have a hole for a chain.

I posted the Five-Fingered Hand of Eris files over at Thingiverse.

Hail Eris. The Goddess Prevails!

“Tactical Awareness” by Marcelo Rinesi

I recently read “Tactical Awareness” by Marcelo Rinesi.  It’s a free collection of a hundred SF short stories, each a hundred words long.  There are no common characters, or common settings.  There’s a few common themes–unintended consequences, maybe? or

Realistically, the closest thing they were like were 100 microepisodes of “Black Mirror”.  Some were so-so, many were good, and a few were really, really great.  Few were happy.

Highly recommended.

“Getting Things Done”

A decade or so ago, David Allen published a book called “Getting Things Done”. It’s a relatively short book, detailing how he organizes the projects and tasks in his life to enable “mind like water”, where he can relax and feel confident he’s doing what he should be doing at any moment. (This doesn’t just mean work.) It also describes project planning, and while it focuses on the nitty-gritty day-to-day task-by-task process, it discusses “bigger picture” planning a bit too.

It was a life-changer. The book, however, assumed you were a business professional, working in an office with a lot of paper.

In 2015, David Allen re-released the book. I just read it this past month. I’ve been living this life for a decade, and I can say the re-release is awesome. It doesn’t assume you’re a business professional. It isn’t nearly as paper-heavy as it was before (although I think he still talks too much about file folders for me…).

Anyway, if you haven’t read it, or tried before and it didn’t seem to talk to you, it might be time to pick up the re-release.

“The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness”

I read an interesting paper recently, called “Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness”. It’s by Steven Levitt, who you may know as the “Freakonomics” guy. I’m, uh, mixed, on the Freakonomics stuff in general.

Here’s the abstract:

Little is known about whether people make good choices when facing important decisions. This paper reports on a large-scale randomized field experiment in which research subjects having difficulty making a decision flipped a coin to help determine their choice. For important decisions (e.g. quitting a job or ending a relationship), those who make a change (regardless of the outcome of the coin toss) report being substantially happier two months and six months later. This correlation, however, need not reflect a causal impact. To assess causality, I use the outcome of a coin toss. Individuals who are told by the coin toss to make a change are much more likely to make a change and are happier six months later than those who were told by the coin to maintain the status quo. The results of this paper suggest that people may be excessively cautious when facing life-changing choices.

They actually made a website where people self-selected, asked a question, got a virtual coin flip and filled out a little survey. The survey asked them how happy they were, and they got a followup survey six months later. The ones who were told by the coin flip to “change” vs “maintain status quo” (and did it) reported being happier.

Hmm.

(I have the original paper saved in my Pocket, but I’m not sure why. When I go to the link in a browser, it shows a paywall.)

The curse is over!

I know so many of you are waiting for a curse update. On July 30th, I decided to go back to drinking caffeine. 30 minutes after a large cold brew coffee, I got an email from a stranger who had found my wallet after it had been riding around on the bus for five days. This was the end of the curse.

Phew! (Coffee, I will never leave you again.)

Curses

You ever have a string of bad luck?

My entire July has been a series of unfortunate events. I’ve lost my wallet, twice. My wife misplaced her house keys. I had an expensive custom part start on fire on my desk. Some parts I overnighted from Amazon were packed wrong in the warehouse, and I got iPhone cases instead–and now the part I actually want are out of stock. We closed the garage door on our car, and it the garage door damage was bad enough we had to replace the garage door.

Hopefully it stays in July. I’m optimistic!