Quotulatiousness

October 23, 2014

The risks of writing near-future SF stories

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Charles Stross tells a sad tale of woe about his “Laundry” series of SF/Occult novels:

There’s some kind of bizarre curse hanging over my Laundry Files series. Or maybe it’s a deeper underlying problem with writing fiction set in the very near future (or past): I’m not sure which. All I’m sure is that that for the past decade, reality has been out to get me: and I’m fed up.

My first intimation came a long time ago — in 2001. I’d just finished writing The Atrocity Archive and it was being edited for serial publication in issues 7-9 of the Scottish SF magazine Spectrum SF (which folded a couple of issues later, in 2003). It was late September, and I found myself reading a terse email from the editor, Paul Fraser: “Charlie, about your story — do you think you can possibly find some new bad guys for Chapter 4? Because you’ve just been overtaken by current events …”

In Chapter 4 of The Atrocity Archive Bob learns from Angleton who the middle eastern bad guys who kidnapped Mo, intending to use her sacrifice to open a gateway to somewhere bad, really were … and when I originally wrote the story, in 1999-2000, they were a relatively obscure bunch of anti-American zealots who’d blown up the USS Stark and an embassy in Africa. I know this may boggle the imagination of younger or more forgetful readers, but Al Quaida and Osama bin Laden had not at that time hijacked any airliners, much less etched themselves into the pages of world history: they were not, at that time, the Emmanuel Goldstein of the New World Order.

QotD: When “impostor syndrome” meets the “Dunning-Kruger effect”

Filed under: Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The more I think about things like the Dunning-Kruger Effect and Impostor Syndrome, the more I suspect they’re sociological as opposed to psychological.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the name of a cognitive bias where people consistently rate themselves as being higher skilled than others, even (especially?) then they are decidedly not. In other words, people are nowhere near as good as they think they are.

Diametrically opposed to that is Impostor Syndrome, where people refuse to acknowledge their accomplishments and competencies.

If you’re aware of both of them, you might constantly vacillate between them, occasionally thinking you’re awesome, then realizing that it probably means you aren’t, going back and forth like a church bell. I know nothing of this, I assure you. But the point is that I think they’re almost certainly related to the people that we surround ourselves with.

Matt Simmons, “The Impostor Effect vs Dunning-Kruger”, Standalone Sysadmin, 2013-02-27.

October 22, 2014

What would Milton Friedman do?

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Politics, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:20

David Friedman, who we can safely assume has a better sense of the late Milton Friedman’s thoughts and beliefs than most people, disagrees with a recent Forbes article asking WWMFD:

A recent Forbes article is headlined “What Would Milton Friedman Do About Climate Change? Tax Carbon.” It reports on a forum at the University of Chicago at which several economists, including Michael Greenstone, described as the “Milton Friedman Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago,” argued that Friedman would have supported a carbon tax. The evidence for that claim was a 1979 clip from the Phil Donahue show where Milton Friedman argued that if the government is going to do something about emissions, they should use an effluent tax rather than direct regulation. He does not actually say that government should do something about emissions, only that there is a case for doing so and, if it is done, the best way to do it is by a tax on emissions.

To get from there to the conclusion that he would have favored a carbon tax requires at least one further step, a reason to think that he would have believed that global warming due to CO2 emissions produced net negative externalities large enough to justify doing something about them. The problem with that claim is that warming can be expected to produce both negative externalities such as sea level rise and hotter summers and positive ones such as longer growing seasons and milder winters. The effects will be spread out over a long and uncertain future, making their size difficult to estimate. My own conclusion, defended in past posts here (one example), is that the uncertainties are large enough so that one cannot sign the sum, cannot say whether the net effect will be positive or negative.

I do not know if my father would have agreed but I have at least a little evidence on the subject, more than offered in the Forbes article. The same issue arose in the earlier controversy over population. Just as it is now routinely assumed that warming is bad, it was then routinely assumed that population increase was bad. Forty years ago I wrote a piece on the subject for the Population Council in which I attempted to estimate the externalities associated with population. I concluded that they were too uncertain for me to tell whether the net effect was good or bad. My father read the piece and commented on it. If he had disagreed he would have said so, and he did not. It is possible that he would have felt differently in the case of climate change, but I can see no reason to expect it.

“Will the American fashion industry ever tolerate another de la Renta?”

Filed under: Business, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:57

I don’t follow fashion at all, so it hadn’t occurred to me that the recent death of Oscar de la Renta would be much more than a footnote, but Virginia Postrel would disagree:

When fashion designer Oscar de la Renta died Monday, he left neatly resolved two issues that might have otherwise marred his legacy.

The first was the question of who would succeed him. Many a fashion house has been thrown into chaos by the death of its founder. But last week, Oscar de la Renta LLC, the privately held company headed by de la Renta’s stepson-in-law Alex Bolen, said it was appointing Peter Copping, the former artistic director of Nina Ricci, as its creative director. There will be no messy crisis this time.

The second was a matter of state. De la Renta had dressed every first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy — except Michelle Obama. To have the stylish first lady shun the dean of American fashion was tantamount to a public feud. Two weeks ago, the conflict ended when Mrs. Obama wore an Oscar de la Renta dress to a White House cocktail party filled with fashion insiders. Her appearance in the crisply tailored black cocktail dress embellished with silver and blue flowers — a quintessential de la Renta balance of precise lines with ornamentation and color — preserved the designer’s White House legacy.

The clean resolution of these two issues shortly before de la Renta’s passing befits the grace of his life’s work.

But a cultural question remains: Will the American fashion industry ever tolerate another de la Renta? His brand will continue, but the classic elegance for which he was known is as old-fashioned as it is beloved. It defies the prestige accorded to innovators who “move fashion forward” rather than simply creating fresh collections. Michelle Obama wouldn’t have won all those plaudits as a fashion leader if she’d worn his dresses and followed his rules. She would have merely been another tastefully attired Hillary Clinton or Laura Bush.

Playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” with a Gun

Filed under: USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Published on 3 Aug 2014

Welcome to Musical Targets! Your source for armory harmony. Please visit us at www.MusicalTargets.com, or like us on Facebook.

H/T to Adam Baldwin for the link. “The Star-Spangled Banner played with a gun is reason enough for 30 round mags.”

QotD: Ancient history

Filed under: History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

New interests and different locations are provided by an iPad app that gathers pages relevant to my interests, and lets me indulge particular subjects, like “Ancient History.” This gives me the impression I am learning something, and perhaps I am, but when you finish an article about Xobar the Cruel who ruled during the Middle Period of the Crinchothian Empire (140 square miles in modern-day Herzo-Slavbonia) you think “well, there’s something of which I was previously unaware, and let’s preen for a second about being the sort of person who cares about ancient history,” and then it’s all forgotten. It’s all the history of rulers, which means the history of cruelty, and the remnants of settlements, which means the history of floors and walls and tombs. I fault myself for not having a better grasp on the shadowy beginnings of civilization; it doesn’t snap into focus until the Greeks, and then you’re surprised because they have shoes and religion and government and traditions and the rest of the recognizable pillars that hold up the ceiling mankind builds to put some space between himself and the raging caprices of the gods above. Except for Egypt, where they were doing stuff for a long time, but it was weird.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2014-04-01

October 21, 2014

A legal warning shot for Manga fans in England

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:14

A man in Middlesbrough has been convicted of possessing illegal images of children … in his Manga collection. That is, cartoon drawings in the Japanese style called Manga. Gareth Lightfoot reports on the case for the Gazette:

A jobless animation fan has made legal history as he was convicted of having illegal pictures of cartoon children.

Robul Hoque, 39, is believed to be the first in the UK hauled before court over his collection of Japanese Manga or Anime-style images alone.

He admitted 10 counts of possessing prohibited images of children at Teesside Crown Court.

His barrister Richard Bennett said: “These are not what would be termed as paedophilic images. These are cartoons.”

And Mr Bennett revealed that such banned images were freely available on legitimate sites.

He said: “This case should serve as a warning to every Manga and Anime fan to be careful. It seems there are many thousands of people in this country, if they are less then careful, who may find themselves in that position too.”

Police found the images when they seized Hoque’s computer from his home on June 13, 2012, said prosecutor Harry Hadfield. He said officers found 288 still and 99 moving images, but none were of real people.

They were classified as prohibited images as they depicted young girls, some in school uniforms, some exposing themselves or taking part in sexual activity.

For obvious reasons, the newspaper article does not show any examples of the images in question, but Rob Beschizza warns you not to read his post at BoingBoing if you’re in England, as it does show an image that may or may not have been part of the investigation.

A welcome bit of local by-election news

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:01

I’ve been a bit busy to pay much attention to the by-election going on here in Whitby-Oshawa for the seat of the late Jim Flaherty, but I was delighted to get this bit of news:

At least I know I’ve got someone I can vote for without having to hold my nose.

A different approach to building your own PC case

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Published on 13 Nov 2012

In this video I show the features of my homemade silent wooden PC case, and how I built it.

Most silent PCs compromise on speed for silence, but not this one. Specs:

i7 2600k @ 4.4Ghz
GTX 460
24GB RAM
3TB HDD space + SSD

QotD: Hipster economics

Filed under: Economics, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Hipster economics are standard economics because hipsters are everything the US economy has ever wished for in one convenient package. It’s a group consisting largely of young, upper-middle class people with very little conviction, who will spend large amounts of money to maintain their own comfort and the appearance of diversity and rebellion. They are activists as long as it’s easy, poor as long as it doesn’t involve dirt or hunger, and selfless as long as they don’t stand to lose anything. They represent the sanitizing of national issues so that they can be discussed without being addressed. And all you have to do to control them is use some reverse psychology. They’re not rebels, they’re not even malicious, because they’re not anything except a bunch of kids playing pretend. They’ll eventually grow up and become bankers, lawyers and politicians, just like their parents…

“Robert” commenting on “The peril of hipster economics: When urban decay becomes a set piece to be remodelled or romanticised“, by Sarah Kendzior, 2014-05-28.

October 20, 2014

Marc Andreessen still thinks optimism is the right attitude

Filed under: Technology, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:14

In NYMag, Kevin Roose talks to Marc Andreessen on a range of topics:

It’s not hard to coax an opinion out of Marc Andreessen. The tall, bald, spring-loaded venture capitalist, who invented the first mainstream internet browser, co-founded Netscape, then made a fortune as an early investor in Twitter and Facebook, has since become Silicon Valley’s resident philosopher-king. He’s ubiquitous on Twitter, where his machine-gun fusillade of bold, wide-ranging proclamations has attracted an army of acolytes (and gotten him in some very big fights). At a controversial moment for the tech industry, Andreessen is the sector’s biggest cheerleader and a forceful advocate for his peculiar brand of futurism.

I love this moment where you’re meeting Mark Zuckerberg for the first time and he says to you something like, “What was Netscape?”

He didn’t know.

He was in middle school when you started Netscape. What’s it like to work in an industry where the turnover is so rapid that ten years can create a whole new collective memory?

I think it’s fantastic. For example, I think there’s sort of two Silicon Valleys right now. There’s the Silicon Valley of the people who were here during the 2000 crash, and there’s the Silicon Valley of the people who weren’t, and the psychology is actually totally different. Those of us who were here in 2000 have, like, scar tissue, because shit went wrong and it sucked.

You came to Silicon Valley in 1994. What was it like?

It was dead. Dead in the water. There had been this PC boom in the ’80s, and it was gigantic—that was Apple and Intel and Microsoft up in Seattle. And then the American economic recession hit—in ’88, ’89—and that was on the heels of the rapid ten-year rise of Japan. Silicon Valley had had this sort of brief shining moment, but Japan was going to take over everything. And that’s when the American economy went straight into a ditch. You’d pick up the newspaper, and it was just endless misery and woe. Technology in the U.S. is dead; economic growth in the U.S. is dead. All of the American kids were Gen-X slackers — no ambition, never going to do anything.

Vikings fall to Bills, 17-16 on last-second touchdown

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:03

This was described by fans of both teams as “must win”, with Buffalo hoping to stay close to New England in their division, and Minnesota hoping to have some faint hope of relevance in the NFC North. Buffalo came in to the game sporting one of the top defensive squads in the league, while the Vikings defence is starting to look at least respectable after a few years of far below average play.

Both teams are starting to look like patchwork quilts, with all the backup players thrust into starting roles, and by the end of the game Buffalo was down to one healthy running back, while Minnesota had to plug in their reserve centre and swing tackle at guard due to injuries to John Sullivan and Vladimir Ducasse.

Ted Glover hands out his Blue Chip Investments:

Jerick McKinnon, RB: Coming into this game, the Bills had the best running defense in the NFL, giving up less than 70 yards a game on the ground. All McKinnon did was go for 103 yards on 19 carries, leading a ground attack that chewed the Bills up for 158 yards. He’s taken over the starting job at running back, and although he’s not going to fill the shoes left by Adrian Peterson’s absence, we’re finding out that once AP’s time in Minnesota is over, the Vikings running game should be in good hands.

Anthony Barr, LB: Barr is making a strong case for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and had another fantastic game against the Bills–10 tackles, two fumble recoveries, broke up a pass, and was generally the Tasmanian Devil from the Looney Tunes cartoons–a mini hurricane that was all over the place. This kind of game is starting to become routine for Barr, and as exciting as that is for us as Vikings fans, I hope it’s scaring the Hell out of the rest of the NFL.

Everson Griffen, DE: I’m not trying to be a braggart when I say this, but I’ve been on a bunch of radio spots and podcasts between free agency and today, and in all those interviews, well, let’s just say I wish I had a nickel for every time I was asked if the Vikings made the right call in keeping Griffen and letting Jared Allen walk. After today, when Griffen had 3.5 sacks and was an absolute beast on the outside, I’m pretty sure I won’t be asked that question anymore. On the season, Griffen now has seven sacks. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Allen has one, and saw his playing time drop today against the Dolphins.

Blair Walsh, K: We really haven’t talked about Walsh much this year, but once again we got a reminder as to why he’s one of the best kickers in the NFL. He was 3/3 on field goal attempts, including a 55 yarder right before the half that might have been good from 65. In Buffalo.

Kate Bush “Hounds Of Love”

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Uploaded on 31 May 2010

Kate Bush. Hounds Of Love – Gone To Earth version. 1985.

“It’s in the trees!
It’s coming!”

When I was a child:
Running in the night,
Afraid of what might be

Hiding in the dark,
Hiding in the street,
And of what was following me…

Now hounds of love are hunting.
I’ve always been a coward,
And I don’t know what’s good for me.

QotD: Sexual differentiation

Filed under: Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Our sexual differences can be more or less general, or more or less individual i.e. they may be typical for the whole sex or for only an individual member of that sex. Men with a vigorous growth of beard, hairy chests broad shoulders narrow hips, big penises, for example, are generally more in demand as are, conversely, women with delicate skin, big breasts, wide hips. The more individual polarity exists in any given case, the more ideal the sexual relationship is likely to become. We all do what we can to emphasize our sexual differentiation from the opposite sex — or with respect to a specific member of the opposite sex — as skillfully as possible. Whoever is not strikingly male or female will do everything possible to seem so by, for example, developing his biceps through gymnastics, pad her bra, style the hairdo, etc.

The same motivation also underlies the so-called ‘typically masculine’ and ‘typically feminine’ kinds of behavior: it is always a conscious or unconscious parading of sex-specific characteristics. To smile rarely or often, talk much or little, swing the hips or not in walking, makes people ‘more manly’ or ‘more womanly.’ This kind of behavior is simulated, as shown by the fact that it is subject to fashion and can be dropped at will. The ‘womanly’ mannerisms of the stars in the old movies are markedly different from those we see in films by Truffault or Godard. To behave like a movie vamp of the twenties today is to appear not womanly but ridiculous.

Esther Vilar, The Polygamous Sex, 1976.

October 19, 2014

Sex-toy-shaped installation deflated by Paris vandal (or someone with good taste)

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:49

In the Telegraph, David Chazan tells the tale of the now-deflated artwork:

Vandals deflated a blow-up art installation in an exclusive Paris square on Saturday after outraged conservative groups said it resembled a “giant sex toy”.

The 79-foot-high inflatable green exhibit was called “Tree” because it looked vaguely like a Christmas tree, but the American artist, Paul McCarthy, told Le Monde newspaper that it was inspired by a sex toy known as an anal plug and was meant “as a joke”.

However, conservative politicians and many Parisians failed to appreciate the humour and called for the removal of the “offensive” installation after it was erected in Place Vendôme on Thursday.

Hours later, McCarthy, 69, was slapped in the face by a passer-by who screamed: “You’re not French and this has no place in the square”. The artist was dazed and shocked, but unhurt. “Does this sort of thing happen often in Paris?” he asked as his assailant fled before he could be apprehended.

In the early hours of Saturday, vandals climbed a metal fence around the exhibit, cut the power supply to a pump that kept it filled with air, and severed one of the straps that held it upright, police said.

By the morning, it was a shapeless green mess. McCarthy said he did not want it to be repaired or re-erected.

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