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Journal - 10/23

Oct. 23rd, 2017 02:47 pm
albedinous: (Default)
[personal profile] albedinous
It's been a quiet week; not too much has been going on. It's slowly getting colder; it's been damp and rainy for the last two days, which definitely affects things. I've been trying to use my SAD lamp properly, because my body definitely wants to sleep an inordinate amount right now, unsurprisingly.

I'm still working on getting the house up to par. My folks came in yesterday and helped me get my new dryer up and running - getting the electrical cord installed and a vent to blow air off to the side a bit. Apparently Grampa always just had a tube with pantyhose attached to catch the dust and lint vented by the dryer. Installed a new door strike - the little metal bit that the door itself latches into. Got Mom to take or part with a bunch of the junk cluttering my basement. Moved the freezer into the laundry room. I went and replaced my shower head, got a new toilet seat, got some light bulbs. Lots of terribly exciting stuff.

I did lose my temper yesterday morning and just hack off all my hair, and then had to run to Target and get hair clippers so I could tidy up the shorter bits. Once you get below half an inch, it's apparently not very forgiving with scissors; you can definitely see when bits are clipped shorter. But my hair's not causing me distress, and I didn't have to have other people touching my head, so I'm... pretty happy, all things considered, even if it's a bit uneven.

(And I admit, the prospect of having the buzzed parts of my head fuzzy all the time is really pleasing; I like the texture a lot.)

There's still a lot more to do, but I've been keeping up with the basic chores enough that things are... well, not a filthy depression-hole? So that's good, and probably speaks to internal state well.

Work's going alright; it's still a little hard to be enthused about, but I'm working on it.

Went to the makerspace again on Friday, and again today. I saw a lot of people on Friday, which was nice; I think C is still a little awkward with me after the whole attempted-dating thing, and the fact that I left the D&D group rather suddenly and ... well, for reasons I'm not sure that she and L agreed with. (Those being basically, "I'd been trying to slowly remove myself for a while because I was overloaded and the plot was getting too dark, and I felt like my silly characterization wasn't fitting at all anymore, and then I got triggered hard and noped out completely.")

Nice to see people though. S is working on some really cool CNC-embroidered lace pumpkins which are going to have tealights in them, which is fun.

I'm still working on the hue shift afghan; I'm up to square 37/100. That's going to be a running theme.

Reading Sapiens (Yuval Noah Harari), which is somewhat pop-science but interesting. It argues that other members of the genus Homo deserve the title 'human' as much as our species, and that the trait which has brought Homo sapiens to dominance is basically fiction - the ability to talk about things that aren't tangible, and therefore to gossip more effectively, organize people based on ideology, and create new technology at a more rapid pace. It's a theory I haven't really seen framed in this way - that it isn't specifically human language but rather human imagination and fiction which is significant, in that various animals have complex language but we aren't aware of other species which use symbols and stories the way we do. Also a lot of emphasis on how our archaeological evidence is perforce limited by the materials which have survived, and hunter-gatherer cultures and belief systems are immensely diverse. So that's nice. It's a bit like Guns, Germs and Steel in that I'm not sure I buy the Big Ideas that they're trying to sell, but they're also pretty interesting ideas, moderately well-written if a bit professorial in tone, and generally avoiding cultural imperialism and superiority complexes. So that's fun.

Watched the first few episodes of Steven Universe with Zin a few days ago, up through "Giant Woman", so that was fun. I like how long it's taking Steven to get any reliable use of his powers, and how he needs to improvise to be able to do much. Also, Steven and Connie are cute kids.

Just started the Crystal Kingdom arc of The Adventure Zone; the Director's name has been revealed, and Lucas is on a slowly-sinking lab that's been turned to crystal. So that looks like it'll be fun.

I'm working my way through Australia's Next Top Model, which continues to be moderately amusing.

Zin and Ilya and I have been playing with... well. What was originally an excuse for trashy, trashy RP, but then we got involved and now there's a game system and worldbuilding.

It's loosely themed around the 13th century Mongol invasions, in Turkey-analogue, with a matriarchal society based around the use of werewolves in war instead of cavalry. The werewolf gene is X-linked, so only people with two werewolf X-chromosomes - implicitly, pretty much all women - can go full horse-sized wolf monster. People with one wolf-X trait can turn into a Hollywood wolf-man, which is still scary but not nearly as physically intimidating or prestigious as the full warg. We think that the wargs sometimes pull chariots into battle, and of course their mobility in combat is as high as that of cavalry, so they're a pretty effective fighting force which no one has figured out how to counter yet.

Zin's been playing with a loosely Babylonian/Persian dragon culture which has recently come into contact with the Mongol wolves. The dragons are also shapeshifters and culturally value trade and wealth above anything else, which is leading to some interesting cultural conflicts with the family-and-dominance-oriented wolves, particularly because the dragons are also hermaphroditic and non-gendered.

Ilya has a bloodthirsty Mongol wolf-princess, up and coming and going on campaign to conquer Europe. I have a wolf-man with a clubfoot, Erdene, who's moderately disabled and was therefore basically given to the princess as a harem boy because he's basically valuable for his genetics, household skills, and ... well, as eye candy. And Zin's playing a dragon princex, Ningishzida, who snuck themself into a box of spices and ended up stuck in the wolf court for ransom for six months.

Ningishzida definitely tried to climb up a chimney to escape. Then sulked for months. And kept trying to eat Erdene's shiny buttons. (And did not accept scritches and cuddles and licking, which makes Erdene very sad, because he's fond of Zida and trying to bond with them through physical affection. The culture clash is hella.)

Anyway, Zida got ransomed back to their people last night, and has recently turned up in wolf territory making trouble, being a very skilled merchant and diplomat and taking all of the wolves' money. Marriage alliance to follow, maybe.

(Hopefully!)

Just One Thing (23 October 2017)

Oct. 23rd, 2017 09:28 pm
hollymath: (Default)
[personal profile] hollymath posting in [community profile] awesomeers
It's challenge time!

Comment with Just One Thing you've accomplished in the last 24 hours or so. It doesn't have to be a hard thing, or even a thing that you think is particularly awesome. Just a thing that you did.

Feel free to share more than one thing if you're feeling particularly accomplished!

Extra credit: find someone in the comments and give them props for what they achieved!

Nothing is too big, too small, too strange or too cryptic. And in case you'd rather do this in private, anonymous comments are screened. I will only unscreen if you ask me to.

Go!
larryhammer: animation of the kanji for four seasonal birds fading into each other in endless cycle (seasons)
[personal profile] larryhammer
Given we're having record high temperatures in the 90s -- STILL -- for Poetry Monday something aspirational:


The Winter Lakes, William Wilfred Campbell

Out in a world of death far to the northward lying,
    Under the sun and the moon, under the dusk and the day;
Under the glimmer of stars and the purple of sunsets dying,
    Wan and waste and white, stretch the great lakes away.

Never a bud of spring, never a laugh of summer,
    Never a dream of love, never a song of bird;
But only the silence and white, the shores that grow chiller and dumber,
    Wherever the ice winds sob, and the griefs of winter are heard.

Crags that are black and wet out of the grey lake looming,
    Under the sunset's flush and the pallid, faint glimmer of dawn;
Shadowy, ghost-like shores, where midnight surfs are booming
    Thunders of wintry woe over the spaces wan.

Lands that loom like spectres, whited regions of winter,
    Wastes of desolate woods, deserts of water and shore;
A world of winter and death, within these regions who enter,
    Lost to summer and life, go to return no more.

Moons that glimmer above, waters that lie white under,
    Miles and miles of lake far out under the night;
Foaming crests of waves, surfs that shoreward thunder,
    Shadowy shapes that flee, haunting the spaces white.

Lonely hidden bays, moon-lit, ice-rimmed, winding,
    Fringed by forests and crags, haunted by shadowy shores;
Hushed from the outward strife, where the mighty surf is grinding
    Death and hate on the rocks, as sandward and landward it roars.


Campbell was a Canadian poet, one of the so-called Confederation Poets, a coterie born in the few years around 1860 when the Confederation was founded.

---L.

Subject quote from "The Show-Shower," William Cullent Bryant.

Lambiel vs. Polunin: who did it best?

Oct. 23rd, 2017 09:00 pm
naraht: (Default)
[personal profile] naraht
Bearing in mind that a fair contest requires you to imagine Lambiel 1) with top-notch high definition camera work and 2) wearing only a pair of ballet tights... I think it's close...

(Though you could argue that Polunin musters up more authentic agony, whereas Lambiel just looks like he's having a lot of fun.)



[syndicated profile] arstechnica_feed

Posted by Jeff Dunn

Enlarge / Amazon's Echo Show may have a Google-made rival in the near future. (credit: Amazon)

Sections of code within a recent update to the Google app seem to bolster reports that Google is working on a competitor to Amazon’s Echo Show smart speaker.

An Android Police teardown of the Google app’s v7.14.15 beta update uncovered several references to functions and commands that can be performed by a device or feature codenamed “Quartz.”

The code suggests that Quartz is activated through voice commands and can perform typical smart speaker tasks like setting a timer or checking the weather. However, it also points to several functions that would likely involve a screen, such as Web browsing, showing Google Maps data, and displaying recipes and other cooking info. The update also seems to contain different layouts for watching videos on YouTube, which Google pulled from Amazon’s touchscreen speaker last month with little explanation.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[syndicated profile] arstechnica_feed

Posted by Joe Mullin

Enlarge / People hold their iPhone during the Apple iPhone 3G launch ceremony in Seoul, South Korea, in 2009. (credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

The Apple v. Samsung lawsuit is getting a big "reset," thanks to last year's Supreme Court ruling on design patents.

The long-running litigation rollercoaster has included so many turns it's hard to keep track. The case was filed in 2011 and went to a 2012 jury trial, which resulted in a blockbuster verdict of more than $1 billion. Post-trial damage motions whittled that down, and then there was a 2013 damages re-trial in front of a separate jury. An appeals court kicked out trademark-related damages altogether.

Meanwhile, a whole separate case moved forward in which Apple sued over a new generation of Samsung products. That lawsuit went to a jury trial in 2014 and resulted in a $120 million verdict, far less than the $2 billion Apple was seeking. That verdict was thrown out on appeal, then reinstated on a subsequent appeal. So that one appears to stand.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[syndicated profile] arstechnica_feed

Posted by Cyrus Farivar

Enlarge / Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) and Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif). (credit: CBS)

On Monday, the day after Star Trek: Discovery’s sixth episode aired, CBS announced that the show would be brought back for a second season.

The show—which is only available on CBS All Access, the network’s online streaming platform—has been met with generally positive reviews, including here at Ars.

"This series has a remarkable creative team and cast who have demonstrated their ability to carry on the Star Trek legacy," said Marc DeBevoise, president and chief operating officer of CBS Interactive in a statement. "We are extremely proud of what they've accomplished and are thrilled to be bringing fans a second season of this tremendous series."

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beatrice_otter: Me in red--face not shown (Default)
[personal profile] beatrice_otter

When the Supreme Court hears Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission they'll be deciding the future of equality in America. We need to make sure Supreme Court Justices hear loud and clear that America stands on the side of progress – and that means making sure your Members of Congress stand up with you, too.

Send an email to tell your Members of Congress to sign a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of our clients Charlie and David, and the future of equality..

Also, friendly reminder that if you are a US Citizen who would like to keep pressure on Congress to do the right thing, 5calls.org is an excellent website that gives you a bunch of current issues to choose from, phone numbers to call, and a script to say.

[syndicated profile] pennyarcade_feed
Tycho: Because of how the gears of the universe catch, pause, and clang, Morak is heading down to Australia on a solo flight.  And, because we aren’t allowed to overlap in any respect, this is an untenable, ghost-ridden scenario for him while it’s a magic carpet ride for me. I know that people attend a PAX show on vacation, and I certainly enjoy going - even after almost a decade and a half.  It gets my head right.  My life is very abstract oftentimes, which has gotten me into trouble before.  I spend most of my conscious hours puttering around in a kind of…

happy birthday to me

Oct. 23rd, 2017 02:06 pm
lireavue: A red-haired woman in a black dress, playing violin while leaves swirl around her. (Default)
[personal profile] lireavue
I think I broke my toe.

(no, not doing urgent care, I know the drill, I've iced and taped and naproxen'd and I have the crutches for limping around the apartment with less weight on the bad foot which OF COURSE is the same foot as my bad knee which means minimal PT for awhile.)

(and yeah it could just be a nasty bruise/sprain/something but look it fucking HURTS to put weight on it, so really this makes no difference in treatment unless something starts being wonky in the healing process. I've even broken THIS VERY TOE before.)
turlough: Gerard Way & Frank Iero with arms over each others shoulders, in Australia early February 2012 ((mcr) frank/gerard started my downfall)
[personal profile] turlough
Gerard pauses for a minute then looks down, unbuttons his pants, and carefully slides the zipper down. He starts to wiggle them down his hips, but they're really fucking tight, and he's having trouble. "Fuck," he says, kind of under his breath.

Gerard keeps trying to push them down, and Frank tries really hard to pretend he's not noticing. Gerard's making it hard, though, as he uses both hands and squirms around even more, even bumping into Frank a few times. Frank's concentrating so hard on not watching the epic struggle between Gerard and his pants that when Gerard suddenly stops moving he glances over, only to see that after all that, Gerard has only succeeded in getting them halfway down his ass.

Frank can't help it then and collapses onto his other side, cracking up. "Pants: one; Gerard: zero," he gasps out between giggles.


- [archiveofourown.org profile] shiningartifact's More

Weekly Fic Wrap Up, Week 42, 2017

Oct. 23rd, 2017 01:45 pm
alisanne: (Default)
[personal profile] alisanne
It's another crazy Monday here, hope everyones doing okay!

Ali's List of Fics: October 16 - October 22 )
Ali’s To-Do/WsIP List )

So I've a lot of writing to do in the next few weeks. To that end, I have joined [livejournal.com profile] mini_wrimo. Anyone else need some motivation?
[syndicated profile] arstechnica_feed

Posted by David Kravets

Enlarge (credit: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Police body cams worn by 2,600 officers in the nation's capital did not affect citizen complaints or the use of force by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), according to a new study.

"We found essentially that we could not detect any statistically significant effect of the body-worn cameras," according to Anita Ravishankar, an MPD researcher at a city government group named Lab @ DC.

To conduct the study, researchers identified officers across the seven metro police districts that fit a specific criteria: the officer had to have active, full duty administrative status without a scheduled leave of absence during the study; the officer had to hold a rank of sergeant or below; and the officer had to be assigned to patrol duties in a patrol district or to a non-administrative role at a police station. From there, officers were split into control (no body cams) and treatment groups. "Our sample consisted of 2,224 MPD members, with 1,035 members assigned to the control group, and 1,189 members assigned to the treatment group," the study notes.

The study (PDF) then measured four outcome factors: reported uses of force, civilian complaints, policing activities (which includes tickets, warnings, arrests, etc.), and judicial outcomes, specifically whether MPD arrest charges led to prosecutions.

DC Police Chief Peter Newsham told NPR that everybody was expecting a different conclusion about the agency's $5.1 million program. "I think we're surprised by the result. I think a lot of people were suggesting that the body-worn cameras would change behavior. There was no indication that the cameras changed behavior at all."

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The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts

Oct. 23rd, 2017 08:00 am
[syndicated profile] strangehorizons_feed

Posted by Kevin Power

 

In Plato’s Symposium, Alcibiades describes Socrates as resembling “one of those Silenus-figures sculptors have on their shelves. They’re made with flutes or pipes. You can open them up, and when you do you find little figures of the gods inside.” Translation: Socrates may have looked like nothing much (with his peasant’s clothes, his boorish manners), but if you cracked him open, you would find that wisdom lurked within.

Adam Roberts’s sixteenth novel, The Real-Town Murders, is a bit of a Silenus figure. Superficially, what we have here is a propulsive near-future thriller, somewhat in the mode of John Scalzi’s Lock In (2014). There are murders, mean streets, chases, ticking clocks. The plot is ingenious. The SF conceits are elegantly done (“sims,” “hybrid trees,” “myrmidrones,” an immersive Internet analogue called the Shine). You could take The Real-Town Murders with you to the beach (this would probably be an unusually highbrow beach) and read it for fun. Or you could open it up and take a look inside – in which case, you would find that, hidden inside the trunk of this particular jalopy, Roberts has smuggled a profound excursus on noticing and seeing. Because it turns out that The Real-Town Murders is a novel about attention: how we use it, what it means. So, caveat lector: in a novel about attention, we should be careful about what we notice, or we just might discover, when the final page is turned, that we have noticed nothing at all.

The Real-Town Murders pops up at an interesting moment in Roberts’s career. In a blog post published on his website in August 2016 (and since deleted), Roberts mused on the SF community’s semi-indifferent response to his previous novel, The Thing Itself (2015). “Latterly,” he wrote, “my writing has shifted from being an also-ran to a not-even ran.” It was a moment of uncharacteristic pessimism. Characteristically, it lasted no longer than a paragraph:

Enough of the doleful countenance: I've reappraised. My next novel, coming from Gollancz in 2017, will be a lot less ambitious (a lot less pretentious, you might say). It will be a near-future puzzle whodunit, and I hope it's entertaining, ingenious, and readable. But that's all it will be: it will attempt no Thing Itself-style contortions or clever-clevernesses, it will push no envelopes, certainly not to tearing-point.

Pondering this, a cynic might conclude that Roberts was all set to go slumming. “[E]ntertaining, ingenious, and readable”: it sounds like a frank grab for commercial appeal. On the other hand, by May 2017, Roberts was describing The Real-Town Murders as “part locked-room puzzle-whodunit, part SF/Hitchcockian thriller, and part literary-pretentious meditation on location, gender and textuality.” Kicked out the door, ambition and pretentiousness appeared to have snuck back in through the window. Perhaps it was a case of plus ça change, plus c’est la chose elle-meme (oh dear).

But let’s have a look at the thing itself. The inciting incident of The Real-Town Murders derives from an unrealised idea of Alfred Hitchcock’s, which Roberts recounted in a pre-publication interview for Amazing Stories:

The germ of the book was an account I came across of a film Hitchcock never got around to making. He had the idea for a pre-credits sequence, set (this was the early 1970s) in a fully automated, robot-only car factory. He said the camera would follow the whole process of a car being made: you’d see the raw materials being delivered by automated truck; the camera would work its way along the assembly line […] No people around at all; everything automated […] the camera would follow the now completely built car out the other end of the factory, down a ramp to join a long line of similarly assembled autos […] and … inside would be a dead body. “If only I could figure out how that dead body got into that car,” Hitchcock said, “I would make that movie.” But he never did, and so the movie was never made.

And this, transposed to a UK roughly half a century hence, is the opening scene of The Real-Town Murders. Our protagonist is Alma (no surname given), a licensed private security agent who lives in R!-Town (formerly Reading) with her partner, Marguerite. When the novel begins, Alma has been hired by the owners of McA, a company that makes “artisanal autos, built the old-fashioned way, not just squirted out of an industrial printer, each detail checked by hand” (p. 6). (This is sly: Roberts knows that new bits of tech make old bits of tech look more “natural,” and therefore more authentic.) In the trunk of a car manufactured at McA’s all-robot plant, the body of Adam Kem, a civil servant in his 50s, is discovered. Kem’s internal organs have been pureed by an unknown weapon. Nobody knows how his body wound up in the trunk: the car has been constructed entirely by machines under the supervision of the factory AI, and the security feed shows no human interference of any kind. The mystery seems insoluble. Worse, secret government agencies are circling, and Alma’s movements are heavily constrained: her partner Marguerite has been maliciously infected with a genehacked disease, an “aggressive neoplastic lipid” that can only be treated once every four hours, and only by Alma herself, “or a sudden brainstem inflammation would kill Marguerite in minutes.” Alma’s iron need to treat Marguerite every four hours generates much of the novel’s suspense: will she make it home in time? Will she outwit the police myrmidrone stationed by conspirators outside the door of her apartment? More piquantly still, Marguerite is the brains of the operation—the one most likely to actually solve the case. As she reminds Alma, “I’m the Mycroft here. You’re not the Mycroft. You’re the Yourcroft, at best” (p. 9). The chase is on.

So far, so near-future-thriller-business-as-usual—although we must admit, we’re in the presence of an unusually good near-future thriller, in which the ticking-clock mechanisms have been designed as if by one of those artisanal robots, with near-inhuman precision and poise. But at this stage, we’re still only seeing the outside of the Silenus-figure. It is, I suppose, theoretically possible to read The Real-Town Murders without noticing any evidence at all for the existence of the little gods within. But look again: that sequence in which Alma, paralysed by a sedative, succeeds in crashing a plane and escaping her captors—isn’t that vaguely familiar? And what about the scene in which an army of predatory drones settles ominously all over the street, the individual drones whirring and cheeping as Alma picks her way past—haven’t we seen that before?

Of course we have. The plane-crash set-piece is a riff on a drunken Cary Grant escaping his captors in North by Northwest (1959). And the drone attack (the chapter is called “The Drones”) homages the ending of The Birds (1963). By the time we get to the climactic battle—which takes place in and around a giant chalk effigy of William Shakespeare’s face, carved into the Cliffs of Dover—it would take real effort to miss the point: Roberts has written a Hitchcockian chase thriller crammed full of Hitchcockian allusions. Let’s see: Hitchcock’s original title for North by Northwest was “The Man who Sneezed in Lincoln’s Nose”; the final showdown of The Real-Town Murders takes place in a chapter called “The Woman who Sneezed in Shakespeare’s Nose.” And Alma, of course, was the name of Hitchcock’s wife and screenwriting partner (although the word alma—as the classically-trained Professor Roberts certainly knows—also derives from the Latin almus, meaning “nourishing,” making it precisely the right name for a character who nourishes her bedridden partner both literally and figuratively). And finally—In case we’re still feeling obtuse—the epigraph to Part 1, from T.S. Eliot, is attributed, or misattributed, to a poem called North by North Wasteland (“Think of the key, each in his prison/Thinking of the key”). No clever-clevernesses, eh? As D.H. Lawrence said: trust the tale, not the teller.

But hang on: what the hell is The Waste Land doing there, at the head of a novel that pays such elaborate homage to Alfred Hitchcock? Think of the key: this sounds like an instruction, direct from Roberts himself. And the key, in this instance, is the Shine—the World Wide Web on steroids, the implacably seductive cyberspatial playground that sits at the heart of Roberts’s vision of the world to come. I mentioned Scalzi’s Lock In up above. In that novel, victims of a paralytic syndrome called Haden’s have been furnished with an immersive virtual-reality forum called the Agora, in which they can act, think, fantasize, and be. The Shine is Roberts’s version of this concept—not by any means a new SF idea, but used, in The Real-Town Murders, in a deeply interesting way. As a deluded government whistleblower called (ho ho!) Derp Throat tells Alma, the Shine is:

online and inline. It’s immersive […] Almost everybody has visited. And why wouldn’t they? It’s so rich an environment. It’s a place where dreams can be actualised. Made to come true. It’s a technicolour paradise. It’s a million paradises stacked up, and easy access to any of them […] People gravitate to the Shine because […] it’s simply better […] You can’t bully people into staying in a place they don’t want to stay in. (pp. 50-52).

The Shine, it transpires, is so great, so rich and interesting and cool, that almost everybody on earth is more than willing to spend every waking second inside it. Rather than unplug from the Shine, people zip themselves into “body-mesh” suits designed to move their physical form automatically, “to keep it limber, to avoid bedsores, stretch the muscles a little” (p. 9). When people do exit the Shine, they have forgotten how to speak: their verbal prose gets mangled in all sorts of interesting ways (a conceit worthy of Roberts’s great hero Anthony Burgess, this). The streets are denuded of people: this is a world in which eight individuals gathered together constitutes a crowd (p. 173), and in which Reading—or R!-Town—is “a desert cityscape” (p. 78), “all servers and storage” (p. 94). The terrain of the real has been sterilised and abandoned to machines: “Everything was continually cleaned away by tireless bots. It gave the whole place the vibe of a film set. Alma found herself wishing for a little honest urban dirt” (p. 223). The triumph of the Shine has also meant the wholesale export of civic participation to the online realm: questions of real-world political economy now languish, neglected, as everyone pursues online trade and pleasure. As another government employee—the sinisterly omnicompetent Pu Sto—puts it: “It’s not that people in the Shine don’t care, exactly: it’s that the Shine is so absorbing and so entertaining and so distracting that they only care if things intrude too disruptively” (p. 158).

Subsidiary to the Shine—and not entirely of it—is the feed: a neurological interface by means of which people can scan each other’s profiles, fire off instant messages, access email, and perform general interwebby ablutions. The feed is not immersive, but it has become indispensable to the business of daily life. For various reasons (ill-health, religion, principle), stray individuals choose or are compelled to live outside the Shine, but they still depend quite heavily on their feeds, which keep them jacked in to the global information networks. Alma is one of these individuals. Because of Marguerite’s condition, Alma must remain outside the Shine, adrift in Real-Town, among the bots and the server farms, in the eerily empty streets—her attention fixed (now we’re getting somewhere) on a world that has become (oh, yes) a waste land.

Think of the key … The key thing about the Shine and the feed is that they’re not reality. In fact, they’re better: character after character wonders aloud why anyone would prefer reality to the Shine. The Shine co-opts human attention on a global scale. But as readers we have no choice other to take all this on trust. Like Alma, we find ourselves excluded from the Shine. Roberts never shows us the stacked paradises of his neuromantic utopia. We only get to hear about them secondhand. This is interesting. But then again, the novel isn’t called The Shine-Town Murders. It’s called The Real-Town Murders. And Real-Town—or, more simply, real town—is what Roberts wants to talk about. (Compare, again, Scalzi’s Lock In, in which we are blithely escorted into an Agora that turns out to be kind of dull.)

This is a novel in which the old version of reality, deprived of attention, is losing vital substance to the new. The rebranding of Reading as R!-Town—updated, along with Wow-it’s-Slough! and Basingstoked!—was, we discover, part of a desperate attempt to sex up reality, to make the real as interesting as the Shine. But the only result has been to cheapen reality further. In UK-OK!—and in the world more generally—the attention of human beings has shifted to the virtual nonworld, and the real is fading fast. By now, you get the point: attention, in this novel, really matters. If there’s a hidden philosophical axiom underwriting The Real-Town Murders (if there is indeed a little god inside this particular Silenus-figure), it’s this: What you pay attention to, you make real. The book in fact begins with an act of attention, as Alma watches the security footage that shows the discovery of Kem’s body at the end of that assembly line. Notice is served: attention is what matters, to Alma, to Roberts, and to us.

A thousand SF writers have been ready to suggest that a wholly virtual future—a world stripped of the benefits of human attention—might turn out be threatening, or dangerous, or desolate, or corrupt. It takes Adam Roberts to show us that such a future would be terribly sad. Roberts is explicit about this:

Two neighbours, deep in the Shine for over a month now, were bodily out and about in their mesh-suits […] Overhead the sky was yawning into mauve, the first stars pipping into view. Alma’s block looked like a stilled chainsaw on its end. Something sad, somewhere. Something very sad, iceberg-sized and immovable and decanted into solidity from a thousand years of sorrow drizzling down from above. Was it hers, this sorrow? Surely not. (p. 24)

Of course, this “iceberg-sized” sorrow is partly Alma’s. She has sound personal reasons for feeling sad (Marguerite’s illness; her own isolation and fear). But the sadness Roberts is evoking here isn’t merely Alma’s. It’s a sadness that permeates the whole cosmos of The Real-Town Murders. Roberts seems to suggest that the ultimate victory of the online world—the victory of the Shine, with its massively supervening claims on our attention—is a kind of tragedy. (And, of course, it is: it is the tragedy of our moment, now, the moment at which, in case you need reminding, a bloviating orange-haired con-man is trying to start a nuclear war via Twitter.) Roberts isn’t going to let this tragedy pass unmarked. If humanity, in The Real-Town Murders, is a hermit-crab that has outgrown its shell, Roberts is going to make us look around our abandoned domicile. He’s going to compel us to put our attention back where it properly belongs: the streets of real town.

He does this the way a writer would: with his prose. This is Roberts’s description of the McA factory’s assembly line at work:

She watched the supply packtruc deliver raw materials, and toggled the p-o-v three-sixty as the materiel was unloaded and prepped. She watched old-school robots, fixed to the floor, pick up panels and slip them into the slots of various presses. Not a person in sight. Blocky machines spat smaller components down a slope, chrome nuggets tumbling like scree. She watched other robots, nothing more than metallic models of giant insect legs, bowing and lifting, moving with a series of rapid sweeps and abrupt stops like bodypopping dancers. Not a human being in sight. Rapidly the shape of the automobile assembled; a skeleton of rollbars and support with – her Alma froze the image, swung it about, zoomed in: nothing inside. Restart. The panels were welded zippily into place. The body of the car rolled down the line. It was a process familiar, traditional, as old as manufacture itself, and it went without a hitch. (p. 4)

This is a brilliantly paradoxical bit of writing: a lyrical account of a mechanical process. The prose, here, partakes of what Gerard Manley Hopkins called sprung rhythm, that bouncy metre in which spondees predominate. “[P]acktruc,” “old-school,” “machines spat smaller,” abrupt stops,” “zoomed in,” “Restart”—it all suggests the rhythmic swing and the jerky movements (“abrupt stops”) of preprogrammed machines. There is also a hidden joke, at the very end of this passage: if the process went off “without a hitch,” then the absent hitch, surely, is the Hitchcock who never got around to filming precisely this scene. This is very rich writing. In fact, its very richness is what compels attention. Real-Town might be Thriller-Town, all chases and fights. But it’s also real town, where the real still lives. And for Roberts, the real lives in language. This is why The Real-Town Murders repeatedly interrupts its action scenes and battles with bursts of beautiful perception. Towards the beginning, Alma notes “many starlings silhouetted against the sky like tea leaves left at the bottom of a pale china pot” (p. 20). Flying above the Channel, she sees a “cargoraft” on the open sea, “drawing a great bridal train of a wake behind it” (p. 71)—the word “drawing,” here, is laudably precise. More flying: “A pebbledash beach swung beneath them, and then a fuss of verdure” (p. 71)—that “fuss of verdure” is almost onomatopoeic; you can practically hear the grass hiss beneath you in the wind. Fleeing her pursuers in an underground car park, Alma crests “a DNA curl of concrete ramp” (p. 154).

Roberts’s lyricism extends, too, to his descriptions—more Eliot than Hitchcock—of R!-Town’s various outposts of abandonment and decay. He gives us “a decommissioned brick factory whose loading yard was littered with what looked like dusty avantgarde sculptural discards—a rusting truck cab, a stacked heap of metal casings, a large metal cube the colour of Marmite brailled all over with weathered pockmarks” (p. 10). Note, again, the sprung rhythm (“truck cab,” “stacked heap”). Note, especially, “brailled.” You can feel this world with your fingertips—which is, of course, entirely the point. Roberts’s prose, in attending so closely and so inventively to the felt textures of life, scatters water on the parched earth of the waste land. Welcome to the desert of the real? Not if Adam Roberts has anything to say about it.

The secret story of The Real-Town Murders is all about how Alma is forced to dispense with the virtual world and confront the textures of the real. When Alma, meeting Derp Throat, finds that she must switch off her feed to evade police detection, she is immediately overwhelmed by the realness of reality: “Perhaps she had spent too long plugged in […] The light had a different quality […] Seawater flaking and shoaling. Mist burning into gemlight. Abruptly she couldn’t look, and covered her eyes with her hands. Get a grip on yourself, lady” (p. 47). As the book progresses, Alma comes to appreciate the virtues of a no-filter sensorium. Here she is, seeing the jazzed-up Cliffs of Dover for the first time:

The White Cliffs of Dover had been sculpted all along their length into the gigantic visages of famous Brits—another attempt at injecting rebrand vibrancy into the declining real-world economy […] The real-world giant chalk faces reeked of desperation, people said. A desperate attempt to inject cool into a radically uncool Reality. Yet she had to concede, seeing them with her own eyes: there was something rather impressive about them. (p. 64)

The key phrase here (Think of that key) is “with her own eyes.” There is, after all, “something rather impressive” about reality—about the thing itself. The sculpted Cliffs are scorned by denizens of the Shine, who have seen much cooler stuff in their unreal kingdom. But Alma comes to understand that the real is worth attending to—that what we attend to is, in fact, where we truly live. When you see with your own eyes, you give life to what you see. This is a lesson for us, now, here. It’s impossible to imagine The Real-Town Murders appearing in any year other than 2017. Like the best SF, it isn’t about where we’re going; it’s about where we are: marooned on the steel beach, staring at our phones, endlessly invoking the dopamine hit of another tweet, another meme, another like, while around us, the real world dwindles. All of which is to say that The Real-Town Murders carries an urgent message—for those who are willing to hear.

But let’s put the hidden gods aside for now and look, once again, at the exterior of the Silenus-figure that is The Real-Town Murders. Do Alma and Marguerite solve the mystery of Adam Kem’s appearance in the boot of the machine-made car? They do—and brilliantly. (Hint: the first solution you’ll think of is wrong.) The journey is gripping—as gripping as North by Northwest, or The Birds, or (another reference-point here) The 39 Steps. Roberts is a tremendously expert plotter—which is another way of saying that he is a tremendously expert storyteller. The Real-Town Murders works as a story before it works as anything else, and this, I think, is what accounts for the unique pleasure to be found in reading it. The ideas, in Roberts’s work, are inseparable from the stories that tell them—just as the Silenus-figure is at once “made with flutes or pipes” (the materials of pleasure) and a container of hidden gods (the repositories of wisdom). The Real-Town Murders is, as Roberts intended, entertaining, ingenious, and readable. But it’s also a great deal more—if, that is, you care to take a closer look.


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[personal profile] conuly
Until the 30th. (That site was easier to navigate than Amazon's, which is all flashy flashy, of course.) There are also book giveaways this week, though you probably won't win.
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[personal profile] tehexile posting in [community profile] picture_prompt_fun
Title: According to Plan
Fandom: The Legend of Heroes: Sora no Kiseki FC
Character: Joshua Astray, Georg Weissman
Length: 368
Rating: G/Gen
tags:: major spoilers, endgame, brainwashing, villain POV

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Posted by Sean Gallagher

Enlarge / Kaspersky Lab CEO and Chairman Eugene Kaspersky speaks at a conference in Russia on July 10, 2017. (credit: Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images)

After reports that data collected by the company's anti-malware client was used to target an NSA contractor and various accusations of connections to Russian intelligence, today Kaspersky Lab announced the launch of what company executives call a "Global Transparency Initiative." As part of the effort aimed at regaining the trust of corporate and government customers among others, a Kaspersky spokesperson said that the company would open product code and the company's secure coding practices to independent review by the first quarter of 2018.

In a statement released by the company, founder Eugene Kaspersky said, "We want to show how we’re completely open and transparent. We’ve nothing to hide. And I believe that with these actions we’ll be able to overcome mistrust and support our commitment to protecting people in any country on our planet."

As part of the initiative, Kaspersky Lab will open three "Transparency Centers" for code review—one in the US, one in Asia, and one in Europe. This is similar to the practices of Microsoft and other large major software companies that allow code reviews by major government customers in a controlled environment. Kaspersky isn't the first vendor accused of providing espionage backdoors to follow this route—a similar practice was launched by Chinese networking hardware vendor Huawei in 2012 in the United Kingdom. At the time, Huawei offered to do the same for Australia and the US, but the offer was rejected and the company was banned from sensitive network work in the US by Congress.

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