Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Scientists No Longer Needed: We Have Machines That Can Do That Now

I heard this story a few weeks ago regarding the stunning news that a machine has uncovered the laws of motion (meaning that it didn't have a human tell it what the laws of motion were, it just figured it out) after playing with a pendulum for a few hours.


To put that into perspective, it took humans a few centuries of work to figure those same laws out. And it took a little fella named Newton to invent Calculus to really get them worked out mathematically.

And some 'ol machine figures them out by messing around for an afternoon. I shake my head at the absurdity.

But what that tells me, on a much deeper level, is that we really are living in the future. Folks like Ray Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge have been preaching about the coming singularity for a while now... and I'm starting to get that little tingle in the back of my skull that they may be right. I just wonder if we'll really be able to tell when it's happening.

Oh, and the singularity is that magical moment when machines/AI surpasses humans in intelligence. At least in the Kurzweil version, once that happens we'll have a runaway chain reaction of advancement that will leave humanity surrounded by godlike machine intelligences that will be capable of insights and wonders that we won't even begin to be able to understand.

How can that happen? Well, the thought is that if you have a machine, smarter than any human, that designs the next generation of machine/AI/computer, then you'll have something that is greater than what any human could ever build.

Oh, and then this new, even smarter machine goes and designs and builds it successor, which is even more advanced.

And so on and so on. Before you know it, people are so removed from the process, and have been left so far behind intellectually, that we won't be capable of understanding machines anymore... hence the godlike entities I mentioned earlier.

Given that a rather plain machine was capable of uncovering the laws of Newtonian physics in a few short hours now. Imagine what sort of wonders it could uncover if it were a trillion times more advanced.

Again, we're really living in a sci-fi world.

All that being said, I'm a wee bit skeptical of the singularity actually happening as I described above, maybe a lifetime of seeing movies like the Terminator and the Matrix has made me take the prospect of computer overlords as silly.

But you never know.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More About the Wonder

I just finished Steal Across The Sky by Nancy Kress this week. I have never read anything by her before so I wasn't sure what to expect. Without knowing how she writes or paces a story made me a little antsy about reading this. The premise was fantastic and I figured that even if she isn't going to be my favorite writer I should still enjoy it based on the can't miss plot. After reading it my take on the story is.... well, somewhat irrelevant I suppose.

I liked it though. I can't recall the last time it took me so long to read a book this short. I think it drug out for weeks. I don't know if it is her writing style or the things I've been dealing with that made it go so slowly. I've been somewhat busy of late. Cleaning my garage out at home, doing schoolwork and enjoying a bit of the spring weather. But still, it seems like I should have read it quicker.

But there are different kinds of enjoyment I can get from books I read. Some are quick reads that I knock out over a weekend and love while reading, only to forget about it a few minutes later. Others, like this one, I slug through slowly and after I close the book for the final time I sit and think about it for a bit. Going over the the details in my mind. Sometimes a book like that can stick with me for weeks.

Resonance is the term that is used for that effect, authors generally want their stories to resonate with the reader. Ms. Kress' book may not quite do that for me, but it is pretty philosophical in nature and I enjoy the attempt she made to tell an entertaining story.

So while that sense of wonder I wrote about yesterday may not have been captured but the attempt was worthy. So I say read it and see for yourself.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ah, To Wonder about Wonder

The geniuses at io9 have given me the best article I've read in a while about the attempt to capture a sense of wonder in writing.

The problem? Science fiction used to give the reader a sense of wonder about the universe. Nowdays everything pales in comparison to the brilliant works of the past.

Their take: You're getting old. You've read a variant of the same story so many times that it's become a cliche. You want a sense of wonder? Then be 14 again.

I like it. The article is brilliant. The writer makes his points well and with enough anecdotal evidence that it feels authoritative.

But it's wrong. The whole thing is just... wrong. I've been reading science fiction since I was a kid. The first summer I remember reading a novel included Foundation, Watchers, Riverworld, Millienum and Clan of the Cave Bear. The summer of 86 maybe.

Anyway, the point is that I've been reading science fiction novels for at a minimum of 23 years. Not ridiculously long, but long enough that I've encountered that sense of wonder more than once.

I mentioned in an earlier post about the awe I felt when I read Stephen Baxter's Ring. That was around 1995. I felt that after reading Arthur C. Clarke's Rama books (I read several back to back) in the early 90's. I even felt that sense of awe as recently as 2005 when I read Olaf Stapledon's Starmaker. Hell, that thing is 80 years old.

So is it me? Or is it the story? I agree that I can now read something and think that I would have liked it much more if I'd stumbled upon it 10 or 15 years ago. But that doesn't stop me from being appropriately wowed - the writer just can't be lazy about it and throw in a subplot about the transgalactic aliens that are here with godlike powers. I will need more that that.

I'm tempted to go on a rant about what it is that even draws me to science fiction in the first place. But I run the risk of getting stuck knee deep in my own crap. I'll save that one for a future post.

So please, read the original article, enjoy it, but don't believe it. It just isn't true.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Howdy Mr. Alien... Have You Ever Tried Grilled Cheese?

As an aspiring science fiction author, I read a lot of science and science related materials. Although I am firmly a layperson in all matters science I have a fascination and appreciation for it that is pretty powerful. Science, my hat is off to you good sir. Thanks for cell phones, the internet and the eradication of polio (although I'm not entirely thrilled with nuclear weapons and killer bees).

So the folks over at New Scientist magazine have put together a short look at what was actually on the voyager probes that NASA sent off into the depths of space back in the seventies.

In case anyone doesn't know, the Voyager missions (after the Pioneer missions a few years earlier) were intended to photograph the outer planets - and afterward they were just supposed to keep going.

And like the energizer bunny, they are. 32 years later they are still traveling at 40,000 mph deeper into the blackness of space.

After thinking that some aliens may stumble upon one of our spacecraft at some point in the far future as our beloved voyagers enter into a new solar system, the great Carl Sagan helped in designing a small multimedia device that would serve as a simple "hello" from the people of earth.

The amount of storage date available at the time was pretty limited. A handful of pictures and data that has to teach any would be life-forms the basics of earth, language, humanity and whatever else they need to know to get a good idea of who and what we are. No small task.

So Carl and the gang produced a gold record of what they thought was important for the denizens of the galaxy to know about us. So what was on this mysterious golden record?

That's right, a bald guy eating grilled cheese, a young girl treating an ice cream cone, er, inappropriately, and of course, Stevie Wonder.

Wow. No wonder aliens are always hell bent on destroying us when they show up in the movies, look at the crap we are inundating them with. At least the stuff we transmit from earth is on accident, we did this on purpose.

I weep for us all.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Lookie Me!

I'm not usually one for horror sort of stuff, but I sketched this ugly fella out while I was on hold at work today (I do actually work though). I was relatively frustrated and started to draw a screaming man. But I pushed the reality a bit too far and it ended up looking more like a guy with either an unhinged jaw or someone suffering from a werewolfy sort of thing.

So I gave him fangs and that was that.

All that makes me think of fan art. I read several of E.E. Knight's Vampire Earth novels over the winter and noticed that his series has spawned a bit of fan art that he has taken and made a book trailer out of. Take a look:

I've always wanted to do some sort of fan art - but outside of superheros I never really have gotten so caught up in a fictional universe that I felt I had anything to contribute. But I think I may be willing to try something soon. I can just feel it coming. I'll have to find the right book first, and something that I think I can pull off without it going beyond my ability to actually produce.

So, if anything comes to mind, I'll be sure to give it a shot and post it here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Word About Pencils

To the right is a sketch I did recently (now that's answering the phone with an attitude). I've always been pretty okay with the pencil, but as always, I've found that the internet is the great humbler. A quick search of penciled pieces of art quickly reminds me of what the difference is between a true artist and someone like me - as proud of myself as I can be sometimes I am deeply awed by the skills of others. It'll either inspire me to achieve the impossible... or make me shrug my shoulders and just quit.

And why is that? Seeing the works of artists who've produced some of the most beautiful images I've ever seen has a tendency to make me want to throw down my pencils and quit. But reading a particularly moving short-story or novel seems to inspire me to try to do go write.

Odd. I'd place that one up to desire maybe. My dreams of being an accomplished writer far outweigh any thoughts I may have of being an accomplished artist. In the end I guess I need a creative outlet in order to fill sane. In my distant past it was art, later it was music, then photography, and for the last half decade or so it's been writing.

I hope this one sticks, I seem to enjoy the process of writing more than the others I've mentioned and if I got something to say I don't have to take a picture about it... I can just write it.

Talk again soon.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Little Shout Out to My Friends: Part Deux

After making my last post I realized that for the most part, the entire thing was a tangent. Oops.

There are two items regarding the links on the side of the page I wanted to bring to the world's attention that I didn't touch on earlier that I would like to now.

Firstly, the book cover to the right is indeed a book I contributed too that was recently released (the picture is really a link, go ahead, click it). There are two stories of my own creation that fill the pages: Nanoswarm and War Angel. Both of which are up for some pretty major awards... er, ok, maybe not. But still...

Anyhow, the book was done by the writing group I frequent and for the hope that we can make someone's life a least a tiny bit better. So all of the proceeds are going to a Knoxville charity that services the homeless. So seriously, buy it.

Secondly, when I actually sit down to write, finding the muse can be a bit of a challenge. Music often serves me as the perfect mood setting device. If I'm writing an intense action scene I'll try to have something playing that appropriately coveys the mood I'm trying to find in what I'm writing - as long as it doesn't actually distract me from the writing itself I'm inspired.

Anyway, spend a few minutes checking out the musical diversions - right now it only has the Nashville songwriter Angus Danu and his soothing tunes but I'll post another or two in the coming days.

Happy writing.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Little Shout Out to My Friends

I've recently started adding links (which any attentive reader should pay close attention to) on the sidebar of this page. I always thought of links as a rather personal thing, unless one is being compensated for it, it's almost like a diary of who we are and what we like.

The links I've provided so far are mostly of authors who all have varying degrees of success within the profession. They are all science fiction writers and all have one thing in common that I really like: They interact with their readers.

Almost since I first stumbled onto this wondrous thing we call the internet, I've sought out my favorite authors to try and discover what kind of personality they have, to see what their interests are and to find out as much as I can about what their creative process is like.

Although his latest works have not moved me the way his older ones have, Stephen Baxter has long since been my favorite writer. He certainly wasn't the first science fiction writer I read, but he was definately the first to fill me with awe about the universe. When I first read Ring I would lie awake at night for weeks and think about the universe - it was almost a religious experience.

He has also frustrated me moreso than any other author I can think of because judging by his internet presence he appears to be a recluse.

I don't really think that's the case, he appears to be a busy man, but despite his relative youth (early 50's maybe) he is reminiscent of previous era, more like an Arthur C Clark or Isaac Asimov. I don't think he thinks of the internet as a tool the way others do. His website looks like a static page with a news feed that appears to be done by a publicist or agent that gets updated every few weeks or months. As opposed to the writer himself engaging his fans it instead just feels old, outdated, and a reminder of the way things used to be done.

Of authors that have come upon the scene the last few years, most that I've become aware of are tireless self-promoters. They have their loyal legions of fans that remind me more of how an unsigned band might develop a core following long before they ever hit it big. These new writers are releasing their product on the web, via podcasting their novels, sharing PDF's of their works or any of a whole host of unorthodox methods.

Many have raised questions about how sustainable a business model it is to just give your product away and hope the money flows afterwards. I was ambivilent and undecided about it until recently (as I stated in an earlier post), but now I really think that in the future sucessful writers will have to have an strong online presence. Unless you are a J.K Rowling or Stephanie Meyer that is.

Just like many underground and unsigned musical acts have used the internet as a forum to propel themselves to mainstream success, I think a model it beginning to appear for writers to do the same thing.

But the future mid-lister's (that means everyone who isn't a J.K Rowling or Stephanie Meyer) are going to have to work a bit harder to maintain a career as an author.

I'm looking forward to it. So while the author's links I mentioned earlier may not be a collection of the greatest writers in the world, they are as a whole much more active that those that have been around for a while. Take a look.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Attack With a GL-417

Markus Guthman placed his GL-417 assault rifle gently on the table. He had seen too much in his life to place it appropriately in the storage locker like regulations state. He took his seat across from his civilian commander, rifle within reach.

“Are you ready to eat?” She asked, standing tall over the table.

Markus shook his head, “I had field rations earlier, I’m okay.”

She slid into the chair opposite Markus and looked him in the eye, “We need to talk,” she said, “about your most recent behavior.”

Markus sat up straight in his chair, suddenly alert and on the defensive, “My behavior? My behavior has protected countless numbers of lives. I hope you are about to thank me for my behavior.”

She bit her lower lip, “Markus, I don’t want-”

Markus put up his hand, her queue to be quiet. He could see her ears grow red, he would have her wrath to deal with later… if there was a later. Right now he could hear soft whispering just outside the door.

He grabbed his rifle from the table and stood. He placed one finger to his lips, reminding her to keep quiet. “They’re here,” he whispered, “find a place to hide.”

She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could make a sound the door burst open. Small, lithe bodies flooded into the room, firing indiscriminately.

“Down!” Markus shouted as he dove for safety.

He caught his civcom staring, wide-eyed, as the attackers flooded the room with weapons fire. Markus hid as priceless treasures and heirlooms were ruined, he could see his way of life coming to an end.

He had an instant, any longer and their situation would be hopeless. He sighed deeply and prepared to counter their attack. It was then that his civcom came alive.
In a flash she covered the space between the nearest attacker and herself. The assailant was pinned and disarmed before he could so much as raise his hand in defense.
She moved with frightening speed, from one attacker to the next. In less than half a minute there were no more enemies for Markus to shoot, they were all captured.

Markus stood from his hiding spot, disbelieving. “Mom?” Markus whispered.

“Markus Reginald Guthman.” She said, her teeth clenched, “You are grounded. Billy, Timothy, Lenny. I am calling your parents. Give me your water guns.

“Yes Ma’am.” They muttered.

Markus handed over his weapon and took his punishment in stride. The war was as good as over anyways. He slowly climbed the steps to his room when he caught sight of something from the upstairs window.

Zipping past was a scout vessel from a long vanquished foe, one long since forgotten. The Aldorian slug people.

A new war had begun.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Piddler's Plea

I'm a piddler. I dabble in all sorts of time-wasting endeavors. I spend a great deal of time at my day job on the phone and on hold. So I do what anyone would do when that happens: I doodle.

On occasion I'll get a doodle that I like, scan it and email to the house where I can tinker with it on my PC. As you can see, the notebook lines still run through my old man there.

But it gets me thinking about myself. I don't recall ever finishing much of anything. For a guy who spent his entire youth (or at least from 3rd grade through my Junior year of high school) convinced that he was going to become an artist, I never finished much of anything.

When thinking further about it, I was the same way as a musician too. I don't think I ever wrote an entire song. I would come up with a melody or riff then quit and move on to something else. It was like I would get bored with something before I could finish it.

Well, you know who else couldn't seem to get anything done? Leonardo Da Vinci. Leonardo was a notorious non-finisher too, hell, it took him 15 years to get around to finishing the Mona Lisa. He was too busy inventing helicopters and steam punk robots to waste his time on some stupid portrait. So history does have at least one example of a slacker who didn't like finishing things... and I think he still did okay for himself.

So I won't give up hope, I've got plenty of time to be a published novelist. I have a few (3 to be exact) nearly complete novels lying around that are all in various stages of editing/rewriting. The very thing that has plagued me my entire life continues to do so now in my writing. Nearly done and then I'm off to work on something else.

Oh well, if Leonardo can successfully muddle his way past his waning attention span, I'm sure I can too.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Listen to any good books lately?

Of late, I've stumbled upon on the of the greatest gems of the internet age: Podcast audiobooks.

I've been a fan of podcasts for some time, I like hearing about the latest news in astronomy, learning the intricacies of beer appreciation, or even something as mundane as interviews with authors. But the idea of podcasting a novel didn't strike me as the best idea in the world. In fact, I thought it was stupid.

And did I mention that it was free? Even stupider, it assures that not only will the product be crap, but those poor souls that worked for so long to produce their crap won't see a measly little penny for it.

I had assumed the literary quality would be horrendous, the voices would be annoying and the whole affair would be a large embarrassment to the internet at large.

Boy, was I wrong.

The first book I attempted to listen too didn't work out too well. I had technical difficulties and never really enjoyed the storyline or the presentation. Strike one.

Then I chanced upon a book by Scott Sigler, he's become a bit of a phenom due mostly to the populartiy of his podcast novels, and he is one of the first, if not THE first, to even attempt to tell a story in this format. He managed to turn his experiment into mainstream success, a big book deal, and a movie in pre-production based on his novel, Infected.

But I chose The Rookie, I was familiar with the novel after I heard an interview with Mr. Sigler (on a podcast, of course) and thought I would give it a shot.

Before I knew what was happening I was looking for excuses to listen to the next chapter. Any excuse. I was spending extra time at the gym, taking the long way home from the store, wearing my ipod to do yardwork or housework, any excuse I could find.

I was hooked. It was a home run.

The best part... it's all free. Scott has, and will, certainly make his money from me. I've purchased Infected at the bookstore and I'll be pre-ordering The Rookie as soon as it's available later this month. That stupid "giving it away for free" method really worked.

And what a brilliant idea it was. I knew all along it would work.

Listen to him tell the story himself

For anyone interested, Podiobooks is where I've been listening. Since I finished Mr. Sigler's book I've moved on to others and have generally been impressed. They even have a dandy little donate button if you're so moved to do so.

Til next time.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why Blog?

Why would anyone in the world decide to start blogging now? it's so 2005.

Excellent question. I am tempted to say that my encyclopedic knowledge of wigormoofs or plantongas is a niche that needs to be exploited, but the truth is that I just have this overpowering need to express myself. Who cares if I have nothing to add?

But nonetheless, I anticipate that I'll be posting every so often about things that interest me: writing, entertainment, books.

It'll be a blast.