Pardon My Abscence

Is Sargastic Irrevalence back? I’m not sure. But I can say that the months have been strange, and will certainly get stranger. Certain events prompted me to take the site offline for a while, and while that’s over with, other things are keeping me occupied.

I have discovered my birth mother, and learned that I have an extended family of very cool people that I want to learn more about. I now have a mother, a sister, and a brother that I never knew. Right now, my life is in what could best be described as “emotional upheaval.” Probably because I’ve always worked at being an unemotional and “even” person. Now that I have no choice but to experience intense emotion, I’ve discovered that my usual defenses are unequal to the task. There are some things that just rip into your soul, and I’ve hit them head on. That’s not to say they aren’t wonderful – they are – but for someone like me, “up” emotions are just as dangerous as “down” emotions. I must seek a balance.

In any case, perhaps I’ll blog about it. The story in itself is fascinating, and quite thought provoking.

In 150 Years

PumpkinToday, I’m looking a hundred and fifty years into the future. Fun! What kind of changes in technology and culture can we expect to see? Obviously, I can’t cover everything, so I’m just going to spew. Here are a few thoughts.


The ability to make and encode human brains and put them into computer systems. Think of it as a simulation of yourself, your memories, your personality, everything – a snapshot of you that’s then left running. Of course, it then takes a life of its own, but when you die, it continues. So, in a lot of cases, this becomes “retirement.” When your body fails, your mind is encoded. You die, but your copy lives on in cyberspace. Given enough of this, cyberspace then becomes filled with undead AI that are all people from the past. I’m not sure if we’ll be there in a hundred years, but the groundwork for it is being paved now.

Meat Puppets

Growing new bodies for the retired undead eventually becomes possible, but a lot of them won’t want to leave their cyberspace environment. Some do, some don’t. And there needs to be a reason someone would want to be a meat person. Still, it changes the life-cycle of humanity in some significant ways, particularly if and when this technology becomes commonplace. Not every meat-person you run into will be new. Some of them will be ancient copies of personalities from the past. And these people will demand the same rights as meat people, inside of cyberspace or out.

Medical Technology

It will probably depend on what you can afford. I expect it will stratify from a “basic” plan that covers the standard stuff all the way up to an entirely new body. Cancer will be a thing of the past. Oh, people will still get it, but it will be easily cured. Alzheimers and dementia will be gone. Almost any body part can be regrown from one’s own cells. That includes hair. Baldness will be a choice – so long as you can afford the growth and transplant of new hair. People will live longer, but there will still be a cap on how long you can keep an old body running. The wealthy who can afford the most advanced care will, of course, live the longest.

Becoming a Parent

Birth control – as in the right to procreate – will likely eventually no longer be a right but a privilege. First world countries burdened with overpopulation will likely be the first to impose laws. Homogeneous countries with forward thinking populations will likely accept these restrictions far easier than countries with mixed populations and different social and religious beliefs. They will be more likely to rebel against it, and there may be civil wars. Regardless, some form of population management will eventually become necessary or the Earth will no longer sustain humanity, and artificial means will be required. Given that humans are horrid at this type of self-regulation, it’s more likely that we’ll undergo complete removal of the Earth’s biomass and all food will be produced by artificial means. Imagine a world that’s one big city. Some countries will refuse to regulate their populations. They will overflow and there will be wars.

The Environment

Environment control – think weather control – may become a necessity if we can’t halt global warming. This means we’ll have to have artificial means of heating and cooling the planet. To a large degree that may require some kind of solar shield. A mesh network of nanotech particulate in the upper atmosphere that can be programmed to absorb or let light through, for example. Rings of umbrella satellites that can be closed or open to focus sunlight in specific areas. And a computer system called something like “The Butterfly’s Wings” that can calculate the massive number of variables in this chaos and determine the changes to make to artificially stabilize the earth’s heating and cooling. Will we be capable of this in a hundred years? Maybe. But even if we are, I expect the polar ice caps will be gone by then, and the heating of the ocean will result in the loss of coastal cities, islands, and probably massive storms.

Class Structures

Expect the further fragmentation of society into classes with very wealthy, moderate, poor, and very poor. Upward mobility through that system will become more and more difficult. The cost of education will become prohibitive. Genetic engineering of progeny may also have a factor – ala Brave New World on some level or another. This will further fragment things to the point that the children of the wealthy with genetically engineered intellect may run everything, and everyone else is basically screwed.


Employment may change significantly with the advent of advanced robotic systems. In some countries there may be no more menial labor and physical labor jobs will become a thing of the past. For many people, there simply may be no work. Some countries will pay people anyway – a form of socialism that keeps capitalism alive by giving people money to spend so that they can continue to function as consumers. Without this (at least as an intermediary step) entire economies may collapse. Educated jobs will suffer as well once computer AI become advanced enough to take over some of those jobs. What won’t change, at least right away, will be those profession that require creativity and originality, but even they will have to compete with computers eventually. And they’ll have to compete with the “retired” people in cyberspace.

The Speed of Change

Expect all changes to occur in stages and mostly slowly. It will be a piecemeal social and cultural evolution, and be different in different locations, while at the same time it will be visible to everyone due to the exposure of the internet. Which brings me to privacy and information security. There won’t be any for the poor. Anything and everything most people do will be easily accessible to their governments (which is largely the case now). The only exception is quantum entanglement. If we crack that nut, and we end up with FTL communication, then expect the hardcore exploration of our current solar system and nearby ones to take place via robotics.

Windows 8.1

MSWeedsAs of Oct 18 2013, Microsoft has finally capitulated to user demand and restored a normal desktop to Windows 8. As you are probably aware, if you’ve ever been forced into the undesirable situation of having to use Windows 8, it completely ignores the vast majority of things Microsoft has been teaching users to do on Windows systems for the last twenty years. Yes, if you have been using MS operating systems, and you grew up with them, Windows 8 changes everything. And NOT for the better. Microsoft should have just said, “buy Apple for the next 3 years.” It would have been cheaper.

The problem is simplicity. And simplicity comes from Apple. It’s one of the primary reasons I don’t use iOS products. In Windows, getting to detailed settings and digging down into the OS used to be fairly easy. And a lot of people knew how to do it. System tools, Control Panel, even the Registry are all pretty easy to get to and play with. Or they were until Windows 8.

Making shit simple for simple people is Apple’s strong point. They build the hardware, they operate as the portal for the software, and they control everything. So things work very well, and most settings common users won’t need are hidden deep. For fifteen years Microsoft nearly destroyed Apple by allowing Windows to run on all kinds of hardware and using software developed by practically anyone. As a result, the programs available for Windows were cheap and ubiquitous, just like the computers running Windows. But Microsoft failed to push their product lines further, and Apple came back with the iPod, then the iPhone. Pretty soon, the idea of making shit simple took off, and software developers and interface designers everywhere were suddenly burying everything the user didn’t need – or whatever they thought the user didn’t need. Windows 8 is Microsoft’s capitulation to the simplicity paradigm, and the worst implementation of it. Steve Ballmer deserved to be fired for letting such a travesty escape the bowels of R&D. I can’t imagine what the QA leads were saying when they were forced to accept it. I hope they were screaming their heads off.

As a touch-screen interface on a tablet with no keyboard, Windows 8 might have been tolerable. And that’s the only place it belongs. In fact, at release time, it should have detected the presence of a keyboard on boot and switched to a normal classic desktop interface, operating just like Windows 7. Key shortcut combinations should have been identical for everything. Standard paradigms should have been adhered to. You’d think they’d have learned from the mistakes of Vista. I used Windows XP for 7 years because of Vista. And I’ll use Windows 7 until they release something that doesn’t make a hideous mess.

Will Windows 8.1 with the restored desktop and start icon make a difference? I can’t say. I have one machine with Windows 8 on it, and I’ll give 8.1 a try. Frankly, I don’t use that machine much, because it HAS Windows 8 on it. But maybe, just maybe, it won’t be a fuster cluck. I won’t hold my breath.

Assumption of Knowledge Syndrome

WorldInHandRecently, while functioning as “reader” and “sounding board” for another writer, I came across an incidence of a syndrome that had been only theoretical for me up to this point. I knew it was out there, but I’d never come across it. It is called Assumption of Knowledge Syndrome or AKS.

I believe it typically starts with world-building, and is a danger of WBD (World Building Disease). As you are probably aware, WBD only strikes when someone become so obsessed with world building that they feel the compulsion and unmitigated need to construct an entire world in all detail before they begin writing their story. In short, world building becomes an obsession, and every aspect of culture, society, geography, architecture, and history are mapped out, then obeyed.

Personally, I am of the opinion that it is relatively easy to avoid WBD simply by starting with a map and then drafting the story. Take from the story and put it in the world-building document. Then, after the story is shaping up and there are several chapters, you may use the world-building document for ideas about the culture, but never hesitate to change the world-building document to match the story. That’s the important thing. In terms of priority the story is always more important, and the World-building document is second. It’s there as a tool. Don’t “obey” it if it doesn’t fit the story.

When WBD is present, AKS is often the result. This is because obsessive world-builders understand their world to such an extent that they write from the perspective of being in that world (which is good until AKS strikes). Unfortunately, the reader is not in that world, and that world doesn’t exist for them except as it is depicted in the story. Therefore, when things don’t make sense, it’s because the writer has assumed the reader has knowledge that only the writer possesses. The mistake is simple and easily avoided – the writer only need place the missing knowledge somewhere in the story (preferably before the missing knowledge becomes a problem). And, of course, the knowledge should be placed in context and not dropped in as an info-dump. (IDD, or “Info Dump Disease” is another major issue to avoid).

If you are a writer with WBD, then ensure you take care not to under-explain the aspects of your story that readers wonder about. Be aware that WBD makes you prone to AKS. And even writers without WBD can fall into AKS from time to time. Having a reader point out what doesn’t make sense or what they don’t understand is the best method for rooting out AKS issues. You can also ask yourself the question when you’re reading – “will people understand this aspect of my culture?” and “have I explained it previously, or am I assuming knowledge?”

Pacific Rim Review

PacificRimDid you grow up watching Godzilla movies? Were those special effects bad or what? I mean, a guy in a giant rubber suit trashing a bunch of cardboard boxes. But, hey, it was fun, wasn’t it. Makes you wonder what those guys would have done if they’d had today’s special effects technology.

Enter Pacific Rim. But, Godzilla is kind of old-hat, so it’s time for some new giant monsters. And, of course, we’ve got giant robot technology. Forget about Mecha-Godzilla (whose idea was that anyway)? No, we’re going to build mechs and do these monsters Gundam style. And, naturally, by the time this movie takes place – most of the mechs have already been trashed, and only a few remain – while the monsters are getting worse all the time. It’s desperation! Save humanity, cancel the Apocalypse. But, um… why aren’t we building more giant robots if this is so important? One can only assume the technology required to build them no longer exists because the giant monsters have destroyed it. I could never figure that out.

This movie had some serious plot-holes, so let’s just call it Science Fantasy and have done with it. I mean, a collection of helicopters lifting what is effectively a skyscraper was only the beginning of the ludicrous. And a giant robot doesn’t make much sense to begin with. Funny how missiles from anything other than a giant robot won’t harm the monsters, but that’s okay, it’s a giant robot / giant monster movie, so let’s quit bitching about the insanity of a thirty story machine being dropped 50,000 feet through the atmosphere and “purging” it’s reactor to slow it down.

The good parts about this movie – the fun parts – were simply watching the action. And in that regard, they could have done more in-city. The few scenes they had with urban battle were great. The reason I prefer urban battle for giant monsters is that you can see how big they are. Out in the ocean, it’s just a bunch of CGI. But when they start hammering buildings, and you’ve got people screaming and running in the streets below – now that makes for a good monster movie.

I enjoyed Pacific Rim for what it was – mindless crazy mayhem. And I loved the little side-plot with the scientist, and Ron Perlman as a salesmen of giant monster parts (who eats this stuff)? Perlman was great. But, someone in wardrobe should have made sure his glasses were on straight. They were always cockeyed.

Anyway, if you’re hankering for some monster mashing, or you just want to see some ludicrously huge giant robots, or you need a little martial arts action, then this is probably your only option for the year. At least in this particular combination.

Batfleck, Superfleck and Darefleck

Watching Good Will Hunting again over the weekend (for lack of anything better to watch, and because it happened to be on, and because my wife likes it) I was again struck by the acting potential of Ben Affleck. What acting potential, you might ask? Well, for one, I think he does a great job of playing certain roles. A con-artist, for example. Or a card player. Or a movie director. Or maybe even a bank robber. But there’s something about him that just doesn’t feel, well… threatening. And that makes him a hard fit for your typical hero – particularly an anti-hero like Batman.

Many people say Daredevil was a horrible movie, and some people will point to Ben Affleck as the reason. Personally, I didn’t hate Daredevil, but the parts I liked were mainly the villains. Colin Farrell made a fun Bullseye. The best part of the movie was his scene in the bar going crazy and killing people.

As for Batfleck, I’ll have to wait and see. He’s definitely not someone I would have selected for the role, but who knows, maybe he’ll pull it off?

Why are Chemical Weapons Bad?

ChemicalWeaponsYou’re an evil dictator. You rule your country with an iron fist. Then, one day, your neighboring ruler gets deposed when his people and his military rise up against him. You’ve seen this before, and you remember how your father dealt with it. So when your own people get inspired by the event and start protesting and demanding changes to the way you run your administration, you take a page out of your father’s rule book and handle it the old fashioned way – by killing them.

At first, it’s just bullets and bombs – the usual stuff. You order your security forces to fire on protesters. You order them to discourage the protests by shooting anyone that doesn’t appear completely loyal to your regime. And if your forces feel like raping them and torturing them, you look the other way. After all, you don’t care too much about these people – they aren’t really “your” people, they follow a slightly different flavor of your religion. It’s too bad there are so many of them. Wouldn’t life be better if there were fewer?

Then you decide to use chemical weapons. Why not? That’s what you’ve got them for. Of course, you know it’s against the laws of war, and that other countries will call you a monster, but so what? You ARE a monster. So you give it a try to see how the other countries react. What are they going to do? You’ve got Russia as your staunchest ally, and the Chinese are worried about any military action that will destabilize oil production and slow the economy. So you try it, and get the expected results. A little death, a lot of bitching, but no action. So you try it again on a slightly larger scale, and the same thing happens. Looks like the US is just going to sit on the sidelines and throw words. Sure, you know they could get riled up eventually and toss some cruise missiles in your direction, but it doesn’t look like more than that. So you try it again, and kill even more people.

NOW the US president is getting pretty pissed off, and the US people are wondering if they’re going to have another war on their hands. The bees nest has been kicked. The ants have been stirred, and still nothing has been done.

So, some of the people may be asking the question – when you’ve got an evil dictator that kills tens of thousands of people with bombs and bullets, what’s the big deal if he uses nerve gas to kill a thousand more? Why are chemical weapons such a big deal? Does it make sense to whine about “how” these people are being killed vs. the fact that they’re being murdered?

Here’s the answer. It’s not about the method, it’s about the how the method selects it’s targets. Guns are aimed. Bombs are – to a degree – aimed as well (although that can be argued). But gas doesn’t really aim at anything, it simply kills whatever breathes it.

In April 15th 1915, the Germans first used chlorine gas in the Second Battle of Ypres. Prior to this, the only chemical weapons used were irritants such as tear gas. The use of chemical weapons escalated, and was used by both sides. Phosgene came next. Then mustard gas, a blistering agent. By 1918, the use of gas became widespread. Bromine and chloropicrin were introduced. The total number of casualties from gas numbered 1,240,853.

In 1925, the world governments got together at Geneva and decided to ban the stuff. Why? Well, first off, it’s a fricken nasty way to die. But, more importantly, it’s an indiscriminate killer – more a tool of terror than a tool of war. Gas doesn’t care about who it kills, it’s just gas, and if you use it, that indicates you don’t care about who you’re killing either, particularly when you use it in urban environments. Sure, you might kill some of your enemies, but you’ll kill plenty of civilians in the bargain. It is a weapon of mass destruction. It’s how we kill insects and pests. In short, it’s disgusting. And so it was agreed that the “rules of war” would include strictures against the use of chemical weapons. Who enforces these rules? Well the international community does.

And the international community includes those countries allied to the countries that are using the gas. And, yes, invading Syria probably would have a negative effect on the global economy. And, yes, the rebel factions that are rising up in Syria do include terrorist elements that, if successful in overthrowing the government, could create an even worse regime with specific hatred toward the US.

So, the question of whether the US should toss some cruise missiles at the current regime as retribution for their use of gas and the murder of civilians isn’t a simple one. Is it the “right” thing to do? Probably. But will it result in a future that’s any better? Probably not. Personally, I do not envy the president his position, and asking Congress for permission wasn’t only the right thing to do – it was the smart thing to do.

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