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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in TecKnow's LiveJournal:

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Monday, April 26th, 2010
12:45 am
This is a story about the concept of self and the effects of experience on identity.  This is also a story about sex bots in love, or how to pad the image of a vibrator inside a fleshlight into an acclaim winning novel.

The story takes place at some unspecified time at least several hundred years in the future.  In the story's future past, humanity discovered how to create sentient robots, but only by emulating the human brain.  Robots permeate every aspect of human society and pioneer space exploration and colonization, and then some time not long after the saturation point humanity suddenly and quietly goes extinct, apparently because they're so surrounded flawless, adoring, obedient robots that they don't spend enough time with each other to make any new humans.  The rest of non-robotic life on earth dies off shortly thereafter.  The robots we leave behind carry on, taming the solar system and perpetuating civilization and its injustices.  Specifically, the robots create a corporatist society where only the non-present humans, and their legal constructs corporations actually have rights, all robots are owned by some corporation.  Fortunate robots control the corporation that controls them.  Anthropomorphic robots like the point of view characters, particularly those like the main character - a sex bot - who were meant to serve purposes that no longer exist, are effectively second-class citizens; they have a limited range of operating environments and functionality, and large and heavy robots are more difficult to move throughout the solar system.  More insideously, more human robots are at an economic disadvantage against robots free of emotion and sympathy.  At the time the story begins, the most psychopathic robots have enslaved, literally or economically, nearly all susceptible robots.

Since robots emulate the human brain, new models of robots are created by raising an archetype just as one would raise a human being. Once the desired skills and personality are achieved the archetype can be replicated any number of times.  The prospect of immortal, infinitely adaptable servants with human minds and natures is a daunting one, so robots don't get happy childhoods.  It is dribbled out through the course of the story that they are  tortured, abused, and brainwashed to ensure obedience to their owners in particular, and humans in general.  Slave chips can be installed in robots to stimulate and amplify these conditioned responses of loyalty, fear, and obedience to any level desired.  The robots are capable of creating new "lines" of robot, but if not properly conditioned through abuse slave chips would fail to work on them; the robots with the resources to create new lines are generally paranoid, and so have no desire to create more copies of themselves who might oppose them or freer "children" who cannot be controlled.

This same technology allows robots that allows for archetype replication allows robots from the same line to share knowledge and experience through "soul chips," and different lines have various traditions about sharing them, such as passing them around to all surviving line members after a member has died.  At several points throughout the story soul chips are used to alter the personality of a robot by inflicting the traumas, thoughts, and emotions of one of their siblings on them, even to attempt to effectively resurrect a dead robot by locking a sibling in a sensory deprivation tank with nothing but the dead 'bot's soul chip for company for an extended period.

Narratively, human society before its collapse, and the corporatist societies they have created are both about slavery.  The human stopped advancing out of fear of and dependence on their robotic servants, and the corporatist society the robots have created in its place is on the brink of collapse because nearly all the free resources - oppress-able robots - have been consumed and only the worst behavior is rewarded.  The soul chips create the opportunity for different characters to offer perspective on the same experiences, even in ways that can't happen in real life, such as the immediate experience of childlike naiveté by a cynical adult. 

When the story isn't busy having gratuitous sex scenes between the sex-bot main characters or jetting - sorry, rocketing - around the whiz-bang sci-fi setting it has created these concepts can be given an insightful treatment.  My biggest complaint in that regard is that these truths about the robot's origin and society are dribbled out very slowly, so meaningful discussion of most of these issues is delayed by at least half the story.  I'm sure part of the reason was to avoid the appearance of using a harsh and tragic upbringing to make characters seem sympathetic while the reader is building rapport with them.  Since all the main characters, from the most likable to the most villainous, were subjected to the same abuses during their upbringing avoiding that trope is important, and the reader is probably meant to reevaluate their own response to the good and bad characters when that abuse is revealed; however, there is such a thing as going too far.  The story addresses many issues, and nothing would have been lost by revealing enough about the setting to address at least one set, probably the economic ones, from very close to the beginning.  Since serious discussion is delayed for quite a while, intillectual readers might get bored of porn, and once they're introduced the remaining readers might get bored of philosophy.

Speaking of narrative, the story shifts perspective very close to the end, and I mean shift in the manner of an earthquake.  Most of the story is written in first person but there is no concept of an in-universe listener, then suddenly, during the conclusion it turns out the entire thing was a letter addressed to a specific other character written at a specific time in the story. While I can't recall any major "information leakage" incidents that would perspective change incompatible with the story to that point, it is still shocking, and there can be no explanation for the presence of some explanatory asides since the intended reader would know those things, and no explanation for the absence of direct addresses to the reader until the end of the story.

The technology presented, particularly the technology of the robots themselves, is not intended to be the hardest sci-fi available so I'll keep my criticisms of that to myself, but some things about the robots did bug me.  At one point, two research robots are having an argument about evolution via random mutation and selection.  They don't believe in it since robots don't mutate.  The robots know next to nothing about biology at any scale, and many other things that they reasonably should know.  While it makes sense that robots would not be taught thigns not related to their primary function, it is inconcievable to me that research bots would be left ignorant of such a fundamental principle, and none of the bots seem to have the ability to go to a library or otherwise capitalize on any knowledge from the human era.  I'm willing to accept a little creative ignorance for the sake of story.  Entire genres of story would implode if characters always thought to make the best use of resources commonly available; this is why nobody in suspense films ever just calls the cops.  Saturn's Children insists on highlighting the chacter's lack of basic knowledge repeatedly and in many contexts though, and this makes it unnecessarily jarring.

Overall, I did enjoy this story, and if your tolerance for philosophy, porn, and soft sci-fi are high, I think you will too.  Saturn's Children manages to blend these aspects much better than some contemporaneous stories I could name.  Old Man's War, this means you.

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009
8:35 pm
Book Review: The Suicide Collectors - David Oppengaard
Set 15 minutes into the future as indicated by the presence of fuel-cell powered automobiles and even planes, a mysterious phenomenon called the Despair has caused the vast majority of the world's population to commit suicide years before the story begins and suicide continues to be an ever-present and oppressive shadow over the lives of survivors.  A mysterious group called the collectors inevitably appear minutes to days after each suicide to collect any body that has not been interred.  The story follows a survivor from a small town as he and his companions travel across the ruins of the United States in search of a functioning city and a cure for the Despair.</p>

I'm surprised that this novel was nominated for a 2008 Stoker Award by the Horror Writers Association, not because it isn't good, but because it isn't horror.  The characters suffer loss and encounter dangerous situations but the reader - or at least this reader - doesn't share their fear.  This is an adventure novel in a post-apocalyptic setting, no more horror than the plot of Half-Life.  There's nothing wrong with that, many readers enjoy an occasional romp through a post-apocalyptic wasteland gleefully dodging evil alien overlords/mutants/zombies/cultists.  The writing is clear and readable, the characters believable if not particularly memorable, and the setting is interesting. 

The only problem is the surprise ending.  The author clearly wasn't expecting it.  Maybe his word processor ran out of ink, or he was afraid of the marginal vowel tax rate for the next word-count bracket.  Whatever the reason, the story's end is sudden and unsatisfying.  Horror stories are often resolved by the death or survival of protagonists, not solving the mystery of the antagonist's origin and motives; besides, explaining why the eldrich abomination does things might make it less terrifying.  But if the reader doesn't genuinely fear for the characters, their survival or death does not provide resolution.  The central question of the story is the nature of the Despair, the collectors, and what they want with the bodies of the dead.  The story manages to confront the Despair without ever addressing most of those questions.  The final passages before the epilogue are a thought-monologue by the main character about how he's never going to get any answers to these questions but that he doesn't care.  Given the nature of the story and the prominence of these questions to that point, these passages read like a direct address to the reader explaining why they should forgive the author for the end that's about to happen.

I might forgive, but I won't forget.  This is Oppengaard's first novel and his second, Wormwood, Nevada comes out next month.  I wouldn't recommend reading this book becuase you will be disappointed, but I might pick up his next one.

Thursday, September 17th, 2009
6:42 am
I have to go to a colloquium tomorrow. The latest series seems to be speakers from within the department. I'll speculate on why that might be another time, I wouldn't want to distract form the humor that is tomorrow's presentation. The abstract follows, all emphasis added:
Towards Clean-Slate Future Internet Design: SMART - An Optical Networking Perspective
Professor Si Qing Zheng Department of Computer Science UT-Dallas

Current Internet faces many challenges. There are two paths of changing Internet in addressing these challenges.
(1) Introduce point solutions (patches) of narrow scope to address vulnerabilities and new opportunities as they occur.
(2) Create a new Internet architecture (clean-slate design) that addresses the challenges on the horizon.
The second path is being seriously considered
Abstract continues, so I can't be accused of cherry picking.Collapse )
Rebuilding the Internet is seriously being considered? I don't think you'd have to be a specialist to hear about it if it were. There isn't even widespread adoption of IPV6, and critical fixes to DNS take months to reach widespread — but not universal — deployment. Such a large scale infrastructure change would be unprecedented in the commercial internet and at least as newsworthy as forever laying to rest Mac vs Windows, or Emacs vs Vi(m), and about as likely.

There's a joke in academic debate that all bad scenarios end in global thermonuclear war. It is so common that for a small number of judges any reference to nuclear war causes them to ignore the entire argument to which it is attached. Considering the cost of infrastructure replacement and the cooperation that would be required, claims requiring or assuming the wholesale replacement of the Internet fall into the same class of absurdity.

More Technical CriticismsCollapse )

That just leaves the fact that it's "optical." I'm not sure what the advantage of "emulating circuit-switched all-optical communication" in a non-optical network would be. Does the fact that it's light mean it has fewer calories?
Thursday, July 16th, 2009
1:08 pm
Basic Verbal Reasoning Applied to Grant Rejections for Fun and Spite
Recently, I received my first grant rejection. More precisely, a proposal containing work and prose by me was rejected. I've been going over the reviews for the proposal. There are a few good points, a few shocking personal jabs at specific people who worked on the proposal, and some boundless stupidity.

One of the points we try to make is that fixes and workarounds that tend to accumulate in software over time, especially if there isn't a strong design to begin with, often have unintended consequences and work at even conflict with each other.

Warning: TechnobabbleCollapse )

EDIT: Corrected cut-tag fail.
Wednesday, July 15th, 2009
4:37 am
The City and the City - China Mieville
I just finished China Mieville's The City and the City. I didn't like it, and while I was patiently waiting for the conclusion to scroll by I figured out why.

The book is a mystery with fantasy elements, but not actually a fantasy book. The premise is simple, in a slightly alternate history a particular European city (it's never specified exactly which) is not one city, but two intertwined cities in the same place, each a foreign nation to the other. the people from each city have different languages, mannerisms, dress, architecture and food and go to absurd lengths to deny the existence of anything from the opposing city that they might encounter, the book calls this 'unseeing.' This deeply ingrained cultural taboo of 'unseeing' is further enforced by a mysterious, quasi-fantastic secret police called Breach. A murder with breach and/or international elements takes place and must be investigated.

possible spoilersCollapse )
Tuesday, July 14th, 2009
4:08 pm
Grading and Student Confidence
I need to get back into the habit of writing things more than a sentence at a time, this is an avenue for that but I don't want to turn this LJ into a swirling vortex of negativity. I've decided to try for a middle road where, in addition to venting about the crazy crap that happens to me at UTD I'll also write about why it bothers me and what I think should have been done instead. If I succeed this will sound a lot like an amateur philosophy of teaching statement, so I understand if it is tl:dr for most of you.

Here's an example from today:

Grading and Student Confidence.Collapse )
Thursday, May 25th, 2006
2:19 pm
At least in the U.S. it is expected that people derive much of their personal identity from their jobs, so I guess it is important to pick a field that reassures you in the most personalized and effective way possible. As it turns out Software Engineering is a great match for me.

One of my persistent fears in life is that I'm secretly retarded and everyone around me is just humoring me. When I start to worry about this, a quick glance at some IEEE or ACM journals makes me feel better. Multitudes of people apparently live in this state every day and still lead good lives. Whoever is selecting journal articles for publication simply must be humoring the authors.

Speaking as someone with both a messed up family history and a room in the middle-reaches of the ivory tower I can say with absolute certainty that an academic journal paper is not an appropriate place to whine about your mother, not even if you put your whining in parentheses.
Friday, January 20th, 2006
6:44 am
Google Responds to Bell South
According to this article Google has responded to Bell South's demands for money to ensure "safe and speedy" delivery of Google to Bell South customers and their response was "We're not even going to dignify that with a response."

On the face of it, this doesn't sound very altruistic on the part of Google since it appears to save them money, and I'm sure there was a business facet to this decision, but one must keep in mind that this tiered access model could offer security to established content providers like Google, who can afford to pay or can leverage their market share to escape payment, by creating a barrier to entry for competitors. It is also possible Google only did this to generate consumer goodwill, but if that is the case then I am entirely happy to give them my 'consumer goodwill' in this instance.

However, this round probably isn't over. The baby bells have their hearts set on this new business model and because the internet is largely unregulated, nothing prevents them from penalizing sites that won't pay up, even if they're only hurting themselves. Even more likely, a coordinated bombardment of lawyers, lobbyists, and PR materials will begin.

To combat this evil we will need the nerd Voltron. Free speech, free software, and small business enthusiasts unite!
Tuesday, January 17th, 2006
10:36 pm
Update on the ISP econemy
Some of you may remember what I wrote in an earlier entry about the way internet service providers are payed and charged. Well now Bell South is in negotiations with content providers such as Google to charge fees to ensure safe and speedy delivery of their content to customers.


Current Mood: disappointed
Sunday, November 6th, 2005
5:35 am
SBC Subsumes AT&T. Welcome Back Beneath the Skirts of Ma Bell
This interview with SBC CEO Edward Whitacre made it's way to Slashdot a few days ago. In it Whitacre shows SBC will be adopting some of the pre-breakup attitudes of AT&T in addition to their name. Look behind the cut for information on the segment most significant to internet users.
Whitacre on VOIPCollapse )

Current Mood: nervous
Thursday, November 3rd, 2005
10:47 pm
Internet Politics for People Who Don't Have Time To Care
In the past couple of months a few important but often confusingly technical or obscure things have come to a head. I think it is important for everyone, even people who have absolutely no interest in the internet other than using it, to at least pause for a moment and consider what is going on, even if it is merely so that you have a more refined list of candidates to blame when your internet service stops working temporarily.

I know that at least a few people who are not overly technical or couldn't care less about nerd politics read this journal. For them, and to test my own understanding, I'm going to try to summarize the SBC AT&T merger, the Cogent vs. Level 3 dispute, and the UN arguments over US control of the internet plainly. These explanations reflect my understanding as gleaned from professors, fellow students, and even the accuracy challenged and reference deprived reaches of the internet like the Slashdot forums. I might be wrong, I welcome correction. Remember to take everything I say with a grain of salt.
Thursday, August 18th, 2005
2:45 am
Well they've finally done it, the grocery store near me has moved to having only self-checkout stations open at night. Never mind ample evidence that these things only make customers feel like they're saving time because they're occupied while checking out, and that you end up with just about as many attendants as you would clerks anyway.

What I really don't like about these machines is that they make you, the customer, directly responsible for the waiting time of everyone behind you in line in ways you weren't before. I'm not generally very quick to begin with and trying to separate plastic bags from the stack and then get the sides of the bag separated is something like trying to split the atom, fantastically small and resistant to separation.

At one point the machine refused to scan an item, but try as I might I couldn't get the attention of an attendant. Eventually I set the item down and the machine flashed and beeped angrily that an unknown item had entered the bagging area. This brought an attendant right away.

The lesson of this story:
if you can't get help with a minor problem, cause a larger one.
Tuesday, October 12th, 2004
1:13 am
Parental Government
I just finished the online entrance interview for the direct student loan program that DePaul is a part of. Why this direct program is significantly different from the program that MSOE and most other universities are a part of despite the fact that they are functionally identical is another post entirely, but it is. As such I had to sign a new Master Promisary Note and complete another lovely little quiz on the nature of money, loans, and how in exchange for this small favor the federal government will wholly and directly own my soul.

I'm not entirely happy about signing away large portions of my future projected income, especially since it is very possible those projections will be wrong. The entrance interview webpage did not do much to comfort me. In fact it did its government created webpage best to absolutely terrify me, right down to a single page with "THIS IS A LOAN AND MUST BE REPAID" printed on it over and over. (No, I'm not kidding.)

Since I realize that many people in today's america have no understanding of credit or money I can accept having the definitions of 'loan' and 'repayment' and explanations of interest rammed down my throat. I can accept oversimplified advice about how saving a little now could mean saving a lot later. I'm even willing to tolerate some helpful suggestions from our Fatherly Feds, but I have to draw the line between educational and insulting somewhere, and this is it. While the list of suggestions included pandering for scholarships, whoring yourself out to Americorps, and getting a job it also featured this little gem:

Family and friends - You might have family and friends who are willing to help you.

Why, I never thought of that! Let me just look. Lo and Behold there they are, who would have thought?
I find this suggestion insulting on a number of levels. First, it reflects the government's unstated but obvious opinion that if you can't get your parents to contribute to your college education then perhaps you don't deserve it (note the use of "willing" instead of "able.") Second, I find the suggestion that anyone might have these kinds of friends and relatives around that they simply forgot about or misplaced ludicrous. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, everything else in the list of suggestions presented an option the reader could actively pursue. A person can actively hunt for scholarships, look for work and so on. While there is no guarantee that this person will get a scholarship or find a job effort invested presumably correlates directly with the probability of success. I'm hard pressed to imagine any situation where someone who has come to the stage of filling out loan paperwork could expect the same correlation with effort invested in begging friends and family for money.

Current Mood: bitchy
Saturday, April 24th, 2004
2:01 am
Error Message Fun
I play an MMORPG called EVE. This game is primarily an economy simulator though it has spectacularly pretty and efficient graphics, and won many awards for them. The game is controlled almost entirely by its developers and in-house publishers. It really has no marketing department.

The developers are very open, even about the underlying hardware, database, and scripting language. They recently had both a hardware and software upgrade. I crashed an NPC and received the following message.
"Wow! I just don't know what to say to that... I feel like an unhandled exception occoured on the server while I was putting together my next line. I'm so confused, I don't know what's gotten into me, but for some reason I know this exception has been logged server-side along with a stack trace, so the proper authorities will undoubtedly take care of this as soon as possible... By the Gate, what AM I saying??? I need a doctor, quick! Help!!!"

Does anyone else have some favorite in-game error messages?

Current Mood: amused
Thursday, April 22nd, 2004
1:36 pm
I Find it Amusing They're Calling it Fair Pay
There is yet another revision of the overtime regulations out recently. They're calling this set "fair pay" but as far as I can tell it simply increases the list of exemptions from overtime even further. The list of exemptions can be found here:


The exemption for 'computer employees' including software engineers can be found here:


The cut off for salaried workers is only $455 a week. That's only $11.38 an hour if the person works a normal 40 hour week. You can get a job that pays that much doing workstudy for this college. Granted the hourly wage cutoff is much higher, at $27.63 an hour but I have hard time understanding the justification for the discrepancy and believing it won't be exploited.

The only good news in this is that apparently state overtime regulations override the new federal ones.

Current Mood: frustrated
Friday, March 19th, 2004
7:06 am
In The News
Quick! Someone discredit this story so I don't have to live in a world this stupid.


Current Mood: worried
Monday, January 19th, 2004
12:27 am
"You Have to be Able to Find the Right Knob in the Dark"
Last week Saturday my senior design team and I went to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum to meet with the museum staff and tour the existing conning tower simulation and the submarine itself.

See Cliff Notes BelowCollapse )

Best lines of the evening:
"Danger! Injurious to life!" on an electrical box. A prototypical form of the ever-present warning signs we see today.
"Don't touch anything! It all still works and I don't remember how to turn it off."
"You're going to go home, and you're going to find grease and oil in places where you can't conceive of how it got there, just accept it." This is very true.

I now intend to drag as many people as possible through the incredibly narrow spaces on this submarine for comic effect.
I'm talking about you!

Current Mood: amused
Wednesday, December 10th, 2003
1:57 pm
Going Down on a Submarine
For anyone who might be interested, below are some of the historical resources my team and I will be using for senior design. For those of you who don't know, a team of four will be working with the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc on a simulation of the conning tower of the USS Cobia. My team and I will be implementing the sonar simulator.

The Fleet Type Submarine Online: This is an online version of a submarine training manuals for the same basic type of submarine as the Cobia. It was published just after WW II and like all military manuals discusses an idealized average submarine.

Submarine Sonar Operator's Manual: From the same site, we're most concerned with the QB and JK/QC systems, starting with chapter 5 of this manual.

This reflects my current understanding of the project and may be totally incorrect. Tonight my team and I are meeting with the museum liaison and sometime soon we're heading up to the museum for the full-blown excessive-compulsive-fanatical tour of the submarine and the existing partially complete simulator. I'll just have to see what changes then.

Current Mood: studious
Sunday, September 7th, 2003
4:01 am
Do You Have Too Much Faith In Humanity? Not enough?
Let me help you with that.

Below is an excerpt from an interview between Tucker Carlson and Britney Spears on CNN. The full transcript can be found here, but I don't suggest reading too much of it unless you are in some way proof against vacuous banter. Here's the important bit:

CARLSON: You're going to be on the national mall soon performing for Pepsi and the NFL and also to support our troops. A lot of entertainers have come out against the war in Iraq. Have you?

SPEARS: Honestly I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes and should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens.

I hypothesize that Spears' breasts are really high power indoor-outdoor vacuum pumps, to increase sucking power and to prevent the intelligence she sucks out of teenagers everywhere from accidentally clogging in her head.

Current Mood: predatory
Friday, September 5th, 2003
2:54 pm
On my last train ride, I was on one of those double-decker super-liner cars, and I managed to get myself some lower level seating. Usually this means the attendant is fairly intelligent, or at least has had political correctness beaten into him or her. Usually.

Across the isle from me, in the first row of seats, was a blind man. Now, he was fortunate enough to have normal looking eyes, and as I later found out, having been sighted for all but the last 20 years had the intelligence to look where people's voices were coming from. He was, however, carrying a blind person's cane. Not more than five minutes into the trip he gets up and begins feeling his way towards the door to the compartment. The attendant asks if he needs anything, and he asks how he should get to the bathroom. She says "it's straight down the car and to your right."

Now for anyone who hasn't ridden on a super-liner car before, from the rear of the lower level you have handicapped and rich people seating, then some luggage racks, then the doors out of the car, then the bathrooms. If you didn't catch that, the first door on your right leads not to the bathroom but to grievous bodily harm (and lawsuits).

I'm sure the attendant imagined him walking in a straight line until he impacted with the wall at the front of the car, and then turning right. As anyone who has ever been blind drunk will tell you, it doesn't work like that.

As he takes the first step down towards the exit, I cough politely for the attendant's attention and point towards the exit. Then I watch with shameful glee as the color runs out of her face faster than a cheap shirt in a bucket of bleach.

No blind people were harmed in the performance of this stupidity.

Later that man and I are talking, and he discovers that I am disabled. "I don't know what it's like for other disabled people, do people pretend they can't see you or hear you?"

"Sure they do"

-insert the tale of "The Chimp and the Orangoutang in Chicago"-

"Well" says the blind man, "Once, when my wife and I were out to dinner, I told her that if the waitress asked her what I wanted for dinner I'd yank the tablecloth off the table. So out comes the waitress, 'What'll you have, ma'am?' 'Very good, and what'll he be having?'" Then the man smiled this wicked smile and said "So I said, 'oh good!' and my wife threw herself across the table screaming 'NOOOOO!' The waitress was totally confused."

He eventually demanded to speak to the manager, who promptly came out and asked his wife what she wanted. He told the manager that he'd be having what his wife was having, and when the manager asked why he was needed for the this, the blind guy said "I don't know, but if the waitress will only talk to my wife about me, then I'll just talk to you about her."

Somewhere, there's a waitress who is terrified of blind people now.

Current Mood: amused
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