Author Response Speed Record

I just e-mailed a well known author and got a personal response- so not from an assistant or a bot, in under half an hour. The author is Joe Abercrombie and he is clearly not getting enough fan mail. Of course, I wasn’t precisely sending fan mail. After all, I haven’t actually finished any of his books yet. The first hundred pages or so of The Blade Itself was good though.

Here are the e-mails, for the curious. Timestamps are shifted to EST and, as I am not a public figure, my name and e-mail address are blocked out.

—-
@4:34

I’m nudging as hard as I can, man, don’t worry.

Best,
Joe Abercrombie

—–Original Message—–
From: Me [mailto: Me@mywebsite]
Sent: 14 January 2010 4:07
To: Joe@joeabercrombie.com
Subject: Kindle Publication

I picked up The Blade Itself in a bookstore the other day and read
through the first hundred pages. The person who was interviewing me at
the time was somehow still impressed which I attribute solely to the
mind numbing power of your writing.

Interview finished, I did the most mind numbingly arrogant thing it is
possible to do in a bookstore. I pulled out my Kindle to look up your
book. The sheer audacity of this action must be increased exponentially
because this was a Barnes & Noble. I later went to the Nook booth and
did a side by side comparison of the devices. Your book was available
for purchase on neither.

Now I realize that the fact I prefer to read my books in a digital
format makes me a robotic monstrosity with very little pocket change,
but is there anything you could do to try and make The First Law trilogy
available on Kindle? I understand that this is largely the publisher’s
decision, but I noticed that Best Served Cold is available for Kindle,
so perhaps they just need a little reminding.

Now, I’ve done my part. There’s a little link you can click on the
Amazon website “I’d like to read this book on Kindle” that is supposed
to notify the publisher that you would like their book to be available
digitally. Well, I clicked it for all three books. However, on the off
chance that your publisher is unaware of the fact that the satisfaction
of my every whim is vital to the future of the world at large, I thought
it best to see if you couldn’t nudge things along.

Sincerely,
Me
P.S. Thank you for contributing to the Worldbuilder’s Fundraiser. It’s a
great cause, and your’s was a good interview.

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Story Idea #15: Unnaturally Gay

What if homosexuality was a ‘disease?’ What if a cause was isolated, and a ‘cure’ found?

This was the common way of thinking for some time, and many were sent to (or chose to go to) halfway houses where they would be ‘cured’ of their homosexuality. Whether homosexuality is caused by genetic, psychological, environmental or other factors has yet to be determined. Perhaps it never will be. Considering that it has become a social, rather than a scientific, issue of significance with many making it a part of their intrinsic identity, I rather doubt too much work will go into discovering the cause of homosexuality for some time. Not until things calm down on the social front, anyhow.

If homosexuality was discovered, scientifically, to be curable, what would happen to Gay Pride parades?

I’m not entirely sure what conclusions a story based around this might lead to, but here’s how I’d start. The story takes place in the present day, focusing on the scientist- the doctor?- who discovers the cause and figures out the cure. He does not immediately reveal his findings, and instead leaves the office/lab early in order to contemplate the significance of his findings. He’s heterosexual. I’m not sure I could write this from any other perspective. I’m not up to the challenge of writing this from the perspective of a homosexual man (or woman) making this discovery. I get confused just thinking about it.Gay Pride Flag

The doctor has one- at least one- close friend who is homosexual. Also, let’s set this in San Fransisco. He goes to confide in his friend- potentially his friend was part of the group of test subjects he got the results from. The friend compares being gay, in light of this discovery, to having a non-critical medical condition. A hammertoe (my own affliction), acne, or anything along those lines. Anything that might cause someone to want plastic surgery as well. The medical technology exists to ‘fix’ these conditions, but to what end? To make the person more ‘normal,’ to work the way we believe the human body was designed to work? When asked, the friend decides that he would not seek treatment if such a thing was made available.

Now, let’s also have the doctor’s teenage son- or daughter- be homosexual. My first notion was to have it be a son, but at this rate the entire cast of characters will be male. Either way, they will make the opposite position. For them being gay has been anything but. They have found it to be a hardship. After the father informs his child of the possibility of a ‘cure,’ the child will ask whether the father would want them to seek treatment. The doctor considers telling the child that they should- he wants grandchildren. Instead, he tells them that the choice is entirely up to them. They decide that, if it were to be made available, they would seek treatment.

The doctor goes to bed, but cannot sleep. He feels guilty that he might have pressured his child into the decision, and is still unresolved as to whether or not to publish his result. Late into the night he calls his homosexual friend on the phone and asks if he can come over to talk. The friend says yes (of course) but chooses to meet him at a 7-11 or some similar all night location, likely within sight of a ‘gay bar.’ He doesn’t want to reveal the results to his partner, who for a long time was uncomfortable with his homosexuality.

The discussion now revolves around the potential aftermath of revealing the doctor’s findings. The doctor is a researcher at heart, and few things matter to him more than the truth. At the same time he realizes that such findings would make the movement for gay rights nearly impossible, which he believes would be unfair. He asks his friend whether he might not wait until gay rights at been achieved, and then publishing the results. The friend says that might not be a bad idea, but that like as not it might cause a reversal (Any law which can be passed can also be revoked.) The friend okays the publication of the results saying that “If it’s the truth, people might as well know. I believe that the cause is in the right. This will change the minds of some other people, but I wouldn’t have you hide the truth. Perhaps I’m hopelessly naive, but I’d like to believe that the right side should be able to win by being fully honest. Otherwise they shouldn’t win. Now, maybe I’m not right… I’m as capable of doubt as the next person. But I’m invested. This is who I am… etc.” In short, while the research will make progress more difficult, he won’t stand in its way.

Walking around the city until the sun rises, the doctor contemplates each side of the argument and, as the first rays of light illuminate the city, reaches a decision.

I don’t choose to reveal what that decision might be. That will be left to the reader.

Idea #8: Root Recovery

In a Neuromancer-like future world, a novice programmer is given the root password on his family’s integrated home maintenance and personal computing system and given directions to organize, clean up, and archive all the folders on the system that find Saturday in order to earn his allowance.

Eager to get out of the house, he rushes through the task and accidentally deletes a directory containing the home’s temperature control system preferences. Worse yet, his father had custom configured the automated AC control (that process may have been the reason the son needed to ‘neaten up’ all the household files) in such a way that the AC automator reads ‘0’ when there is no preferences file to reference.

That may mean 0 Kelvin, 0 Celcius, or 0 Fahrenheit. I’m thinking Kelvin, just for kicks. Wouldn’t it make sense if everyone used the Kelvin temperature in the future?

In any case, the house is clearly incapable of lowering the internal temperature all the way to 0 degrees Kelvin, but it begins to do it’s darndest, calculating that it will reach that point in 120 years, but that it will have gotten half way to the appointed temperature in 4 hours and 53 minutes. I’ll come up with a more significant time later. I’m sure we can do something cool (buhdum-ch) with that. Actually, I just thought of it. I was only off by two minutes. It will have gotten half way to the appointed temperature in 4 hours and 51 minutes. Too bad I chose Kelvin over Fahrenheit. If it was Fahrenheit it would be getting to that temperature (rather than halfway) in that time.

Here’s where the Neuromancer bit comes in. Poor fool that he is, Kevin (that, I’ve decided, is the boy’s name) can’t figure out a way to recover the file through the command line interface of the administrative access panel. Frankly, neither could I. So, with the energy bill skyrocketing and unsure whether he’ll die of hypothermia before his parents get home or manage to solve the problem before either occurrence, he patches his VR gaming system into the administrative interface and jacks in to attempt to recover the data as his body temperature in the real world gradually lowers.

Progress through Processors

Yesterday, TechWorthy posted about a fantastic opportunity for you to get involved with scientific research taking place around the globe- and all you need is a Facebook account and a minute to download a new application. You can choose from among several scientific endeavors to lend your computing power to, and there appears to be no downside. The program only uses processing capabilities that you aren’t accessing, and your own needs will always come first. The moment you need all of your computer’s power, you’ll have it- the processor sharing application will run quietly in the background, and you’ll never know that it’s there.

I would have downloaded it right away except for one concern: security. While I’m no IA expert, it seems to me that if another computer is being allowed to access my processing power, someone could easily conduct a man-in-the-middle type attack to take over my computer, and the post I’d read did little to address my worries.

This morning, however, I found an article on Wired.com which claims that Progress through Processors creates a folder on your computer which is incapable of accessing the rest of your hard drive, so all of your files are safe. Furthermore, there is a one way interaction: “No third party site contacts your computer. It’s only your computer that reaches out.”

I’m not entirely sure how that’s possible, but I’m willing to trust that until I learn anything to the contrary. I’ll begin donating my processing power tonight.

New iPod Touch

My iPod recently broke down beyond repair and, being outside the warranty, I was encouraged to recycle it and get ten percent off a new one. I was going to get a nano, or maybe even a shuffle, believing that they suited my needs adequately at a lower price.
For better or worse, I was investigating this with my mother before a long anticipated brunch. She insisted upon getting me the iPod Touch as a replacement.
In order to display my mother’s bizarre mind reading prowess, allow me to outline the event precisely. We walk in and are directed to the concierge in charge of making appointments for broken devices, etc. I tell him the problem “It’s utterly and completely dead,” he runs tests to make sure I’m not just like the last idiot to come in and say that, confirms my diagnosis, and outlines my options considering that it is out of warranty. 1. Buy a new one at 10% off through the recycling program or 2. Trade it in for a used one, without a warranty, that will be cheaper than a new one.
My mother directs me to ‘go look at iPods.’ I carefully read all the specs and, despite the fact that my now deceased iPod was an iPod classic (with video, etc.), that the smallest Nano would suit my needs, but that I would be willing to settle for the older version of the shuffle. My one hesitation in buying the Nano would have been that it wouldn’t fit in my armband for running- I’d need to get a new one. This was small change compared to the difference between the classic and the nano, however, so I determined it wouldn’t be a problem. The reason I wanted a Nano rather than the Shuffle was the video capability. A few years ago I would have been perfectly satisfied without any video- this was the case when I was given the deceased iPod. I had never, in fact, made real use of the video capabilities until less than a month ago when I downloaded some free courses from Yale’s website. Even so, I decided, I was perfectly capable of downloading the audio only versions instead. It would involve losing some of the content, but not too much, I decided. In any case, I could always go back and look at the videos on my computer.
Thus I had almost talked myself down to a Shuffle when my mother walks up. “You’re getting a Touch, where are the Touches?”
She leaves me trying to translate the apps labeled in Chinese on the display Touch while she goes to make the purchase. I go back and interrupt her.
“I really don’t think this is necessary, I mean, all I need is a Nano.”
“I knew that’s what you were planning on getting.”
“I would have gotten a Shuffle, it’s so much cheaper, except that I want the video so that I can-”
“Do the Open Yale Courses, I know.”
She scares me sometimes.

In any case, this is a call for help. The only worse thing than a very bad piece of technology is a very good piece of technology that the user doesn’t know how to operate. Therefore, please, take pity on me. Let me know all the cool things that my new iPod Touch will be capable of when my mother brings it by in a few hours. (I ran home from our brunch) How should I use it? What features do I need to be aware of. Don’t allow me to be the poor sod who walks into the Apple Store saying that his iPod isn’t working when, in fact, he simply doesn’t know what he’s doing.

AI Object Recognition

Over the holidays I found myself reading great amounts of non-fiction. Among the books I read was ‘Physics of the Impossible’ by Michio Kaku. From that book I discovered that scientists are having trouble designing a robot which can manouver around a room due to difficulties in recognizing complex shapes. This is because the computer looks at the room as a series of straight lines and has great trouble with curves, or anything complex. An example the book gave of how slow progress is would be to compare the number of neurons required for a fly to do incredible loop-the-loops around a room to the huge amount of processing it takes for a robot move around on the floor of a furnished room. Clearly, although the fly processes far fewer bits of information, it is better suited for movement.

Why is this? Here’s my reasoning: the fly recognizes far less than scientists are assuming. Let’s move up the food chain a bit for an example. Birds will avoid eating moths with eyespots on their wings.

Consider that. You or I will look at a moth and will know that it is a moth, regardless of what spots it might have on its wings. If it is camouflaged into a tree or something else, we may not see it, but that is a seperate issue. Yet a bird will see the spots and fly away, avoiding the moth entirely. Why is this? The bird sees the spots and believes that the ‘eyes’ belong to a predator. Thus they avoid the moth. This is caused by a very simple object identification system.

Back to the fly. A fly will land on almost anything, even people, unless it is moving fast. It avoids anything which is moving fast- e.i. that could squash it. They’ve even been known to land on waiting frogs. They also don’t fly straight into any object, they slow and land on them, or go around.

This should be applicable to robot AI. It would be simple enough to scan the area to determine where obstacles are. There is no need to determine what they are, or even their exact shape. From there, as needed, the AI could be programmed to recognize certain things, such as chairs or coffee mugs, and be given instructions other than ‘avoid.’

Thoughts? Hopefully this is an example of where cross-disciplinary thinking can get you, but there may be a flaw in my reasoning.

Abort, Retry, Ignore?

This poem made my inner nerd very happy. It also happens that Edgar Allen Poe is my favorite poet and gothic author. Found here.

Abort, Retry, Ignore?
by Anonymous Works

Once upon a midnight dreary, fingers cramped and vision bleary,
System manuals piled high and wasted paper on the floor,
Longing for the warmth of bed sheets, still I sat there doing spreadsheets.
Having reached the bottom line I took a floppy from the drawer,
I then invoked the SAVE command and waited for the disk to store,
Only this and nothing more.

Deep into the monitor peering, long I sat there wond’ring, fearing,
Doubting, while the disk kept churning, turning yet to churn some more.
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token.
“Save!” I said, “You cursed mother! Save my data from before!”
One thing did the phosphors answer, only this and nothing more,
Just, “Abort, Retry, Ignore?”

Was this some occult illusion, some maniacal intrusion?
These were choices undesired, ones I’d never faced before.
Carefully I weighed the choices as the disk made impish noises.
The cursor flashed, insistent, waiting, baiting me to type some more.
Clearly I must press a key, choosing one and nothing more,
From “Abort, Retry, Ignore?”

With fingers pale and trembling, slowly toward the keyboard bending,
Longing for a happy ending, hoping all would be restored,
Praying for some guarantee, timidly, I pressed a key.
But on the screen there still persisted words appearing as before.
Ghastly grim they blinked and taunted, haunted, as my patience wore,
Saying “Abort, Retry, Ignore?”

I tried to catch the chips off guard, and pressed again, but twice as hard.
I pleaded with the cursed machine: I begged and cried and then I swore.
Now in mighty desperation, trying random combinations,
Still there came the incantation, just as senseless as before.
Cursor blinking, angrily winking, blinking nonsense as before.
Reading, “Abort, Retry, Ignore?”

There I sat, distraught, exhausted, by my own machine accosted.
Getting up I turned away and paced across the office floor.
And then I saw a dreadful sight: a lightning bolt cut through the night.
A gasp of horror overtook me, shook me to my very core.
The lightning zapped my previous data, lost and gone forevermore.
Not even, “Abort, Retry, Ignore?”

To this day I do not know the place to which lost data go.
What demonic nether world us wrought where lost data will be stored,
Beyond the reach of mortal souls, beyond the ether, into black holes?
But sure as there’s C, Pascal, Lotus, Ashton-Tate and more,
You will be one day be left to wander, lost on some Plutonian shore,
Pleading, “Abort, Retry, Ignore?”