ashnistrike: (lightning)
Elizabeth Bear ([livejournal.com profile] matociquala) has an excellent guest post on SF Signal, about disability in science fiction--why it's worth including, how to do it right, and how to do it wrong.  I read it with interest, both because it's a topic that interests me in general and because it's a topic that shows up in my own stories.  I like playing with how deficits get defined, and by who, and how much trouble comes from an actual physical or mental issue versus how much comes from the way society handles it.

But, so, anyway.  The first comment--actually, the first 3 or 4 comments--is S.M.Stirling "pointing out" that within a hundred years we'll have a perfect understanding of biology, and therefore we won't have disabilities, so why should we write about them.

Obviously one could argue with every assumption in that very weird statement.  From a purely scientific standpoint, for a start... since we've never reached a perfect understanding of any other field of inquiry, we have no data points to infer how long it will take in biology.  Nor do we have any reason to suppose that perfect understanding equals perfect control.  We understand computer programs pretty well, after all, having created them.

Also, I just went to a seminar on neuroscience data, and we were all really excited by a database that mapped the physical shape of 13 neurons in the hippocampus.  They had 2000 human neurons total.  Not all from the same human, you understand, or connected to each other.  I'm sure we'll get better at this over the next few years, but from a Bayesian standpoint I would bet a fair amount that perfection will take longer than a century.

But, so anyway.  Circumstances did not permit me to get in a neuroscience slapfight on Tuesday merely because someone was wrong on the internet, and by the time I got back someone else had done it.  Instead, I decided to take Stirling's scientific postulates for granted--we will have a perfect understanding of biology, and perfect understanding allows perfect control--and asked what disability would look like under those circumstances.
Read more... )

ETA: S.M. Stirling, not Steve Brust. Apologies to Brust, whose name was in my head because I just got excited about the publication date for Hawk.

Holidays

Sep. 27th, 2013 11:41 pm
ashnistrike: (lightning)
Happy belated Stanislav Petrov Day!  One does appreciate the world still being here, however fubarred it may occasionally seem.

Today is my birthday, and also Google's.  Every year I go through approximately 15 seconds of being creeped out by the "personalized" Google doodle until I remember this.  Oh my god, this evening they do have a personalized doodle that says "Happy birthday Ruthanna" when I mouse-over.  Happy birthday, Panopticon.

My family, chosen and otherwise, are an awesome family.  I had mushroom leek tart that I did not have to cook, and chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting that I did not have to bake.  And I am now the proud owner of a Tam Lin t-shirt (with Janet wrestling the lion), and a mint copy of the "Peter Principle" game in which the goal is to avoid promotion.  I am also the even prouder owner of the 1983 Avalon Hill catalog that came with the game, including gems like Amoeba Wars and Empire of the Overmind, and a chart of which games can be played on which computers that also carefully explains how to read a chart.  1981, you had your points but I do not miss you.
ashnistrike: (lightning)
Thank you to everyone who shared data on phone plans.  After some discussion, we decided to stay with our current provider after all, for a single smartphone.  S will stick with a plan-free dumb phone for now, and in a few months when the budget gets more predictable we'll try out the cheap smartphone plan that [livejournal.com profile] danceswthcobras suggested.

So I now have a lovely new Samsung Galaxy S2 with Android, and like everything about it except that, like all smartphones, it doesn't actually fit in my hand.  I'll cope, but I'm a little sad for the passing of tiny flip-top communicators.  Be that as it may, I'm now in the much more fun stage of finding apps.  I once again seek suggestions.

My app aesthetic is that anything that's cluttering up my screen should take advantage of the fact that this is a small, portable device with GPS and/or camera.  Carbon footprint calculator that would work fine on a laptop except that I wouldn't have to squint?  No thank you.  Something that tells me the carbon footprint of the trip I'm taking right now?  Much more interesting.

I'm particularly looking for

  • a shopping list program that can pull up coupons for things I'm already planning on buying, but that is primarily an easy way to track needs and purchases.  Bonus for comparing prices at the stores I visit most often without me having to enter them by hand.  Bonus for pulling up sustainability information.

  • a packing list program as good as Packing Pro is supposed to be, but for Android--one where I can create sublists to add or subtract from a given trip (e.g., a "con costuming" list that means I don't have to remember, every Wiscon, that we need both my belt pouch and S's gloves)

  • good naturalist identification programs--what's that bird?  What's this plant?

  • Anything that will tell me cool things I didn't know about the space around me--for example, right now I've got Google Field Trip running, and it tells me about historic events that happened along my commute.

  • A Twitter client that will let me easily flip between my lists, with one click to open a new message window.  I tried Twicca, which is well-reviewed but doesn't seem to work on my phone.  Right now I'm stuck with the standard Twitter app.

  • A widget that will let me access my camera from my home page.  Maybe this is something in settings, rather than a separate app?

  • A good face recognition app--I don't think this actually exists yet.

  • Apps that can distract toddlers without driving me up a tree.  That means no talking, and the option of turning off sound when the point is to keep the kid quiet for a few precious minutes.  I know I've seen these around--apps that create colorful lines or fireworks trailing behind your fingers.  Right now the best thing I can find is a sort of minimal bubble-blowing-and-popping app.

  • Good adult fidget apps.  May overlap with the toddler apps.

  • Interesting sustainability/environment apps with some sort of enhanced reality component

  • Physiological measurement and tracking--pulse rate, sleep quality, etc.

  • A traffic avoidance program known to work well in the Northeast.

  • apps to facilitate taking over the world and/or showing them all

  • Other things you've found particularly useful or fun.

The future is kind of a strange place.
ashnistrike: (Default)
-Somehow, it's become Spring. The garden is full of apple mint and scallions. The yard is full of lilac and honeysuckle. Edible "weeds" are poking up all over our yard: mustard greens, sorrel, dandelion, bee balm. I never get over the way plants just grow.

-If the Internets know why my copy of Firefox now sticks my previous e-mail into any attempt to reply to someone, rather than quoting their e-mail, I'd appreciate them sharing their wisdom. It also sticks a copy of my previous lj post into the text box whenever I start to make a new post--and a copy of my previous comment on a given journal/community into the text box for my next comment. It does not confuse these different types of text entry with each other. My other copy of Firefox (on my work computer) does not do this. [ETA: Aha! It was the Greasemonkey "Backup text area" extension. It's gone now, and my e-mails quote properly again.]

-After correcting 60 undergraduate papers, every misplaced apostrophe digs into my flesh like a tiny thorn. "It's" = "it is"; "its" = possessive form of "it". Plurals do not get apostrophes, no matter how much they beg. Editors and teachers everywhere will love you for getting this right.

-If anyone, like me, is silly enough to use Windows Media Player for their music, I highly recommend not upgrading to version 11 when it's offered. The interface, based on the princple that graphics are good, and more graphics are better, is hideously ugly and hides most of the information that is presented on the surface in version 10. Particularly if you use any of the more esoteric columns (like "mood"), it absolutely refuses to give access to those. It took me half an hour to figure out that a rollback was even possible, and another hour to do it.

-My favorite typo yesterday--mine this time: I'd written, of a small tabby-colored dragon, "He looks like one of the Norse breeds, so he probably expects to eat bark in the winter." I attempted to change this to, "...he probably expects bark in the winter." Result? "He probably expects to bark in the winter." Nameseeker assumed this was an interesting evolutionary adaptation, but couldn't figure out how it might be a survival characteristic.
ashnistrike: (Default)
This is sheer, unadulterated procrastination, but possibly it will help. Because I have a pile of transhumanist and anti-transhumanist books on my desk, and I want to smack the authors of all of them.

Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near.

Posited: "Evolution" can be charted on a graph of state changes, starting with the emergence of life and including major technological developments. Humans are a step above non-sapient animals. Strong AI will be a step above us.

Conclusion: The AIs we create will be intensely grateful to us and devoted to our well-being.

Unstated assumption required for this chain of logic to work: Humans have been utterly devoted to the well-being of our evolutionary predecessors.

SMACK!


Michael Crichton, Prey. (Skip to the next SMACK, if you don't want the whole plot spoiled.)

Set-up: A new military camera is created, using a swarm of flying nanobots. Their movements are based on an artificial life program, in turn based on the movements, but not the actual motivations or hunting behavior, of a population of generic predators. An evolutionary programming algorithm, not entirely in control of the programmers, is used to produce swarms that don't blow apart in a strong wind.

Result: The swarms develop A) the ability to not blow apart in a strong wind, B) a method of drawing energy by eating meat (note, need not be human--they just happen to be carnivores), C) sapience (strong AI), and D) the ability to create utility fog (highly advanced nanotech, capable of eliminating poverty and reliance on non-renewable resources forever).

Conclusion: The only possible way to deal with a fellow sapient that speaks English, has already demonstrated a capacity for becoming fond of humans, and knows that you basically have a gun to its head... is to destroy it entirely, without getting records of how it developed technologies that could save millions of lives.

Bonus Assumption: A developmental psychologist, given the opportunity for first contact with a non-human intelligence, would have to be out of her mind to want to test its mental capacities.

SMACK!


Bill McKibben, Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age.

Posited: "Just because I'm writing an anti-technological screed doesn't mean I'm a luddite."

In Support: Overview of several upcoming genetic technologies, described in such a way as to get the maximum possible kneejerk negative reaction. Use of rhetorical questions about "Is this a good idea?" to which the reader is obviously supposed to answer "No," but to which my answer is, "Well, maybe."

SMACK!


Martin Rees, Our Final Hour.

I haven't picked this one up yet, but it came out in 2003. Perhaps he ought to change the title.

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