Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fear of Physics.

I just got done reading Fear of Physics by Lawrence M. Krauss. It bills itself as A Guide for the Perplexed, but I find it has one major flaw.

I'm not a physicist, budding or otherwise, but I am a science fiction author and feel it is my duty to keep up on science. While I don't detest math, I find that I don't have that inspirational jump when it comes to math, that I do with other things. So most of my science comes from magazines, the Discover and other channels, and books marketed to the non-scientist.

And that brings us to the major, and almost unforgivable flaw. As an author, the first rule is to know who your audience is, but in writing Fear of Physics, Mr. Krauss seems to have forgotten it.

He starts out with good intentions, but quickly blunders into an ecstasy of the mind where the book comes across as if a know-it-all has finally been given free reign. Reading it, you can feel Mr. Krauss trembling with the sheer joy of expounding forth ideas he's been percolating for years.

He has fallen into the trap that I call intelligent stupidity. It's where someone is obviously smart and knowledgeable in their subject, but gets so wrapped up in it they forget how to communicate to those not so enraptured. Basically, it's like the scientist on The Simpson's, he's speaking truth, but he over complicates the language to the point where no one but himself, or fellow devotees, understand it.

P.S. It did have a redeeming moment. I have a story where a team of scientists are awarded the Nobel prize within a year of their discovery and that is typically not the case, (as one overzealous reader pointed out.) But, at the end of the book Mr. Krauss mentions Chen Ning Yang and Tsung Dao Lee who were awarded the Nobel within a year of their discovery. And, so my story is vindicated and I feel the cost of the book was worth it.

I'm smart and I'll make you believe it

Recently I've been reading some blogs of authors whose books that I like. I usually don't do this, but since I have hours of time to fill at work on some days, I occupy myself online.

There is one author who I think of as a smart person technically, but the more I read his/her blog I realize he/she doesn't fit with one of my personal creeds. Which is:

A wise man knows he is not wise, and a smart man knows he is not smart.

(For the picky, feel free to substitute genders at will.)

I won't name the author, since I'm trying to keep this post as a general commentary. This author is not from the USA, which I have no problem with, considering some of my favorite authors are not from here. (If fact I have and still do classify him/her as one.) But, I find this author unselfconsciously Eurocentric, and in my opinion, self-consciously arrogant.

There is no hint that the author is self deprecating, no acknowledgment that he/she has ever been wrong or ever will be. Humility is probably a curse word and something to be avoided, and might even have been banned from the author's respective dictionary. I also find the author is fond of blanket statements, confusing them for enlightened facts, and more than fond of jumping on any bandwagon of political correctness that toots a horn.

But the important part of this, is that he/she, if confronted by these opinions, would deny them unto death or to an unreasonable grudge. And this is the heart of the conflict to the above creed.

This is just one example, but I have met others like him/her, though none so far along in their delusion. So this has prompted me to codify a way of recognizing such.

1. They are usually the loudest. Meaning, they will find some way to speak out about their opinions and "truths" or "facts", and will usually do so unsolicited. Also, they tend to do this with a high frequency, believing if they say it enough, it must be true.

2. Will only present themselves as intelligent. They may or may not be intelligent, but they will never, under any circumstances, let themselves come across as anything other than the smartest person in the group/world.

3. Call others on the carpet over minutia. If someone else talks about learning something, or knowing something, they will be the first, or most obnoxious, to point out where the person got such and such wrong. And will do so with no care or thought of the consequences for interpersonal or emotional damage.

4. Does not let up on points 1, 2, or 3, ever.

I think that most of us have or do fall into these behaviors once in a while (I know I have, and unfortunately, still do.) but it's point 4, that is the crux of the definition.

So, this has prompted me to make a decision. I will no longer purchase this author's books. I will read them, borrowed, free, or from the library, but otherwise will eschew them, unless I can get them for no cost.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Digital Plague: System of Federated Nations Department of Public Health

An author I've been reading, Jeff Somers, who wrote The Electric Church and The Digital Plague, has these Alternate Reality Games or puzzles for each of the books. The first one was already solved by a forum called Unfiction, which is a ARG gaming forum. But the second is still going.

So, I've been trying to figure it out. There are a couple posts on the Unfiction boards and a member says that he emailed someone from the game and they emailed him back. But when I emailed him, a different person emailed me back. But here's the fun part, it was another person, who I took to be a character from the game!

So, the only conclusion is that the person I emailed, has to be the same person as the person on the Unfiction boards. Which means it's a plant, a la Pattern Recognition, a novel by William Gibson to get the game up and rolling. But I believe that I may be one of very few who are actually doing this, based on the small amount of signed up users, and the low post count on the Unification boards.

So I've figured out a couple things. There are number and letter combinations that seem out of place to me. I tried to figure out what they meant, like maybe they were a password and username, or maybe if you replaced the numbers with the corresponding letters from a telephone keypad you would get a meassage, but so far it hasn't worked, or I've chosen the wrong letters, or wrong substitution key for the numbers.

I thought that I was going up the wrong path, but then after I got this email from a character in the game from someone who professed to be a player of the game I examined "her" posts and found a puzzle that confirmed I'm on the right path. It's a first letter puzzle, where the first letter of each sentence, if read down, gives another sentence. Which is a trick Cordwainer Smith used in one of his books to say something about Kennedy.

So, the post I found says this:

Even now, I am afraid to move.
My batteries on this handheld are low
and I have no way of charging them.
Instinct tells me not to trust communications anyway.
Lines are party these days--they're sussing out survivors.
So I have to find other, more obscure ways of communicating.
In fact, a lot of what I say will mean nothing.
Going to die here, I suspect.
Not without a fight, of course.
And why should I survive anyway?
Too many others, dead, half the city or more--maybe everyone.
Unfair, isn't it.
Rightfully, I should have been one of the first to go.
Even now, I am afraid to move.
And if you read down the first letter you get this:


Which is where I've been finding the numbers and codes!

So, I know I'm on the right path, I just have to figure out the solution.

If you want to check it out it's at

If you figure something out let me know!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why William Gibson is awesome

Here's a post from William Gibson's, the author of Neuromancer's, blog.

A Steely Dan concert is akin to witnessing the passage of a single multiplex vehicle the size of a motorcade or convoy, its various segments comprising limousines, ice-cream wagons, hearses, lunch-carts, ambulances, black marias, and motorcycle outriders, all of it Rolls-grade and lacquered like a tropical beetle. The horns glint, as it rolls majestically past, splendid, a thing of legend, and utterly peculiar unto itself.
Can you imagine thinking like that? I mean it's not in a book, he didn't spend 2 hours and 10 rewrites to write it, he just thinks that way.

Man, I'm jealous and hope my book has anything as cool as that in it.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Real men use soap and water.

I know I haven't posted in a couple months, which in blog time is about 30 million years, and probably no one will read this, but while I'm stranded on Cube Island, a.k.a. at work, I thought I would further pollute the future history of mankind with my ramblings.

The washroom at my work, a.k.a. the john, head, water closet, bathroom, restroom, little/big boy's/girl's/men's/women's room, privy, latrine, lavatory, garderobe, the land of #1 and #2, squat and dump, crapperville, the two holer, or whatever you call it, is pretty typical. Three urinals, three stalls, three sinks, two soap dispensers, two towel dispensers, two trash cans, one mirror. White tile with a red, blue, or yellow one thrown in for effect, or because the tile setter had some extras and wanted to get rid of them.

Anyway, like I said, there are three urinals. Everyday when I have to relieve myself I visit the one and only men's room in the building. And everyday I cringe. Two of the urinals are set so high that you either have to be Sasquatch, pee through your chest, or leave a pressed ham on the ceramic. That leaves number three, and the stalls, but stalls don't leave you hanging out there for all the world to see and so aren't considered manly.

Urinal three, is lower to the ground. Some might think this is to accommodate any younglings that might happen by, but really it's the plumbers ode to gravity.

See, at least on this planet, things fall to the ground, so a urinal that is placed below chest height is still usable by, Sasquatch or any other abnormally tall people, and everyone else, but it's The Guild of Architects For the Confusion of Humanity, that make the plans. And in recent years a decree was passed to make all urinals chest high to increase the world's net stock in confusion.

But, a secret clause was added by the Plumbers Guild For Things That Make Sense, called the Wee Ones Need To Pee. And so there is always one lower urinal, masquerading as a child's waste disposal unit. (How you can tell it's not truly intended for children is because it's the same size as the "adult" ones.) (And not in kid friendly colors.) (And not shaped like Barney's head.) (Of course peeing in Barney's mouth would be fun, but that would add to confusion, and we don't want kids thinking they should pee in your friend's mouth when your friend is just trying to talk.) (And I know he loves you, and you love him, but should Barney still be your friend at your age?)

Okay, I've gotten a little sidetracked, so back to business a.k.a. doing the business.

Piss. Everyone's got it, and needs to get rid of it.

So, everyday I go to the W.C. and before I walk around the "privacy" wall, I hope that little ol' number three is ready for a fill up. And everyday I'm confronted by The Well of Yellow Brown Despair.

Someone in my building has not mastered the art of the flush. And I know it's the same person, because The Well is filled to the brim with the darkest piss you've ever seen. I mean, this guy must be simmering a side of beef in his bladder to get it that dark. Mechanics washing up at the end of the day would have to throw in an extra can of grease to get it that dark. It's so dark, it moonlights as the source for Darth Vader's evil power.

I have two choices, cozy up to the cold nasty ceramic of doom, or flush for the incompetent. I have a problem with flushing for him though. First of all the principle of the thing, and second, once you pull that lever whatever's in The Well is going to splash all over. And then I have to touch myself with whatever nasties were lurking there, so that I can finish my own business.

So, what I end up doing is a quick Flush 'N' Run, followed up with a hand washing and then I go and use good 'ol number three. But while I'm doing this I have time to think.

Did even the remedial school for flushing give up on him? Did a gangster cut off his flushing finger? Was he short on cash and the part of his brain that tells normal folk to clean up after themselves auctioned off at The Fair of Medical Mystery? Was he in a horrible eating contest accident and didn't stop until he realized he had eaten both his left and right arms?

Or he is one of those deluded souls who think, "I showered, that means I'm clean down thar! If I don't flush, no washing for me!". SOAP BOX ALERT(No you're not clean down there, even after you shower. And if you don't know why, use this thing called the Internet and go find out.) (An old article by the Straight Dope is particularly enlightening, if it still exists.) END ALERT

So, I decided that if I ever get to do one of those "The More You Know" bits, or any other public service announcement, I'm going to campaign for flushing. My catch phrase will be, "Just flush and wash". Unless you're one of those aliens that drink sour milk, soap and water won't kill you.

Be a man, pull the lever and wash your hands. And stop providing the source for Darth Vader's evil.

P.S. (If the maker of The Well of Yellow Brown Despair reads this, go drink some water. With piss that dark you're going to be putting in for a kidney transplant in 1 to 2 years.)