Thinking about my coffee

•July 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’m suffering from a case of over thinking, so I thought I’d share.

I made myself a cup of coffee this morning. The beans are a light roast. I find myself surprised by the qualities of a light roast at about the same frequency that I’m comforted by the familiar qualities of more traditional, darker roasts. I bought the beans Whole Foods. Here’s the description of their origin:

At the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, 423 small-holder farmers tend gardens that border the larger Machare Coffee Estate, which provides them assistance and advice. Grown in rich volcanic soil, their coffees boast deep undertones of black cherry, black currant and black tea.

As I sip my coffee, the tea/berry undertones are quite clear (also, it’s black like all of those descriptors), but I have to take Allegro Coffee’s word for the rest of the details. Specific details like 423 small-holder scream veracity whereas “provides them assistance and advice” feel like euphemisms for the less idyllic relationships large agricultural entities have historically imposed upon their smaller neighbors. I’ve been reading Undocumented and the exploitation of indigenous populations in the production of coffee is firmly in my mind. Hopefully Allegro is true to their mission statement (sustainable from SEED TO CUP) and “provides them assistance and advice” is not the sinister scenario I so easily extrapolate.

The undertones are supposedly a result of the coffee plants having grown in “rich volcanic soil,” which brings to mind the opening story in the July/August issue of F&SF. Palm Strike’s Last Case by Charlie Jane Anders is an impressive mashup of a hyper-violent superhero story and a survival tale set on a newly colonized distant planet. The connection between the coffee and the story is the soil (issues with terraforming in the case of the story), but there’s also a connection to the darker thoughts I keep coming back to. Be it migrant labor or drug culture, our modern society has managed to retain (or devise) a myriad of ways to retain the class structures that clearly delineate the privileged.

And none of that was the over thinking I was doing when I sat down to drink a cup of coffee and write this. One of the reasons I’m drawn to a light roast is that my ex-wife hates it. I had 2 experiences of minor glee at her discomfort yesterday. One was the face she made when I handed her a freshly brewed light roast to try. The other was pointing out, “the gore of that clone getting punctured with rebar doesn’t bother you until you think about it as a very thick needle.” I didn’t plan to be watching Orphan Black with my ex-wife or waking her with confusing coffee this weekend, but life is strange.

The bag my coffee beans came in has a little valve on it that lets the beans release carbon dioxide without the bag exploding. It’s one of the many random bits of tech that accompany my cup of coffee. The hand cranked bur grinder, the plastic cone and paper filter I put the ground coffee into, the burner on the gas stove, and the kettle with a steam powered whistle and lever actuated spout – all of these simple bits of tech lay the foundation of my morning caffeine fix.

Likewise, as I browse facebook or the wider internet – or use wordpress or google docs if I’m composing instead of consuming – I constantly find myself contemplating the underlying tech. A system of layered standards implemented on devices of all shapes and sizes deliver data to and fro. Complex bits of software, built using powerful multi-purpose languages, constrained by simple patterns, enabled by ingenious tools, tell me how my friends and family are spending their weekend – connect me with the rest of the world. I work with these underlying tools on a daily basis.

It’s easy to wrap a neat little box around the details and pretend it just works. That’s mostly what I do with my car. However, be it facebook or the writing/publication process of the media I enjoy or the global supply chain that brought me my coffee beans, sometimes those details are worth pondering. Not as often as I ponder them, but worthy nonetheless.

There are affiliate links in this post, which I think I’m legally bound to tell you for some reason.

Do you wish Vampires were real?

•June 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I was answering OkCupid questions yesterday while watching the Wire, as one does. I gave a long winded answer to “Are you annoying?” which basically boils down to: “I think to much and have a pathological difficulty answering any question with a simple yes or no.” Being distracted by good television helps, but still some questions pop up that inspire me to rant …

Do you wish things like vampires, fairies, werewolves, ghosts, or something along those lines were real?

My first reaction was, “If they were, they’d be offended to be referred to as things.” Then I thought too much. I distilled those thoughts as much as possible to

They are metaphors. Metaphors are ideas and ideas are real. Real and powerful.

Now I attempt to expand on that a bit. Speculative fiction is often dismissed as escapism or just for entertainment. Mythical creatures doing impossible things, occasionally with explosive magic, giant battles and other excitement. But we all know that elves and dwarves – klingons and ferengi – aren’t real. However, take a step back from the story and ask why the author told this story with zombies instead of vampires (both together can be awesome too).

If the choice was between Zombies and Vampires, the author had already decided to tell a story about monsters that are derived from humanity. Ignoring their differing hungers they’d choose zombies if they wanted a mindless violent horde and vampires if they wanted an intelligent, predatory other. They’d steer clear of the fae as totally other – a different species – not derived from humanity.

Having decided to write about vampires, what role does vampirism play in the story. Is it a metaphor for a predatory class system? Is it a metaphor for the violence each of us is capable of? Is it used to examine civil rights? Moral relativism? Vampires and hundreds of other fictional creations are used to explore so many important societal and philosophical issues that they’ve collected an intellectual weight. So, the idea of a vampire and all that it’s stood for is totally real. They exist perfectly fine in their realm of fiction and entertainment.

My answer: Vampires are real, but I’m on the fence about wishes.

The Big Idea: Greg Van Eekhout

•June 15, 2014 • 1 Comment

mentatjack:

I went out Friday to support Greg and get a signed copy of California Bones. Saw some friends. Made some new friends. Mourned that this would be the last signing before Mysterious Galaxy closes its Redondo Beach location. Greg gave us the option of 2 readings, a 7 minute and 39 second funny section or a 5 minute serious section. We chose the former. It involved a meeting at a restaurant at Pico and Sawtelle. The martial arts studio that introduced me to Kenny who introduced me to Jenn who introduced me to Greg is also at that intersection. Small, magical world.

Originally posted on Whatever:

Los Angeles is often seen as a magical city, but it’s never been magical in quite the same way as it is in California Bones, the latest novel by Greg Van Eekhout. Here it’s dark and noirish and sinister in all the good ways — and yes, before you ask, not only did I like the book, I gave it a cover blurb. Here’s Greg to give you a glimpse of how California Bones came to be.

GREG VAN EEKHOUT:

Wizards get their powers from eating the remains of extinct magical creatures, and the La Bra Tar Pits in Los Angeles are a particularly rich source of such remains. There, osteomancers have retrieved the preserved skeletons of mammoths, dire wolves, Colombian dragons, American wyverns, Western griffins, and suchlike. Eat the creatures’ bones, get its power. Eat an osteomancer who’s eaten the creature’s bones, and you get not just…

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Review: Avogadro Corp. by William Hertling

•June 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

AvogadroCorp

A friend lent me 3 books by William Hertling. Avogadro Corp was up first. It’s a self published techno-thiller about gmail taking over the world. Avogadro isn’t exactly google. Google’s headquarters is in Mountain View, California and Avogadro is based in Portland Oregon. In common they have names that refer to large numbers, email and search as core services, a mobile phone OS, etc.

The idea that Google’s overwhelming computing power could act with surprising intelligence isn’t all that far fetched. Roughly a decade ago a Google employee shared the possibly apocryphal story of Google’s test of a search algorithm update. Initially simple search turned up crazy amounts of personal information and there were fears that such an intelligent search would actually scare away customers. So they dumbed their algorithm down to the Google we’ve grown accustomed to. As I said, possibly apocryphal, but I have no trouble believing that the Google of today could release a product much like the one that goes amuck in this story. Thus while the story features technology and a clear “what if” scenario, it doesn’t really feel like science fiction to me.

That brings us to the novel itself. There’s a single simple storyline. An email optimization tool is given a bit too much autonomy. Everyone fears its agenda will conflict with the company’s (and humanity’s) agenda. They try to stop it. There are killer robots and explosions and political intrigue, but the really good stuff happens off stage. We don’t need to see the hundreds of thousands of emails that must have been needed to turn the German government into a puppet, but it would have been nice to see a handful of examples. The reader is just given a press release between chapters.

There are 2 pretty distinct places where the story could have diverged and become more complex. David, the project lead / Dr. Frankenstein character, has an intelligent, beautiful wife, Christine, that works as a game developer. Considering she’s the only person outside of Avogadro that knows what’s happening, I kept waiting for more insights from this expert in a related field. Instead, she’s forgotten about, and then explicitly tossed aside. Likewise with the other female character of interest. Linda Fletcher becomes the face of Avogadro’s relationships with various governments. Following her international exploits for even a chapter would really have added something. All of that is also a round about way of pointing out that the only characters we directly follow are guys.

Guys with zero character arc. We know that they have families, they like coffee to various degrees and they work with computers in various capacities. Useful backstory is tacked on as needed: “What? I was a private detective before I joined Avogadro.” As you know Bob, seems to be the only way the author knows to introduce concepts.

What it really sounds like you’ve built is an expert system for social engineering. You know what I mean by social engineering?

Near the end of the book the technology takes a random leap forward for dramatic effect. Hertling should stick to the contemporary techno thriller and probably consider dropping the prolog and epilog entirely.

William Hertling is a decent story teller and he knows current computer technology rather well. If he grows as a writer his other books might be worth reading. As it stands I can’t really recommend this one. It’s a pretty spot on example of what I worry I’ll get when I read a self-published novel by a unknown writer.

Stuff – How I Met Your Mother 2.16

•May 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The 2 story lines in Stuff involve clearing out the detritus of previous relationships and the trials of supporting the creative endeavors of our friends. This post is about the former.

The picture I have of myself and my high school girlfriend was taken on the top of one of the World Trade towers. The picture I have of my college girlfriend was taken at my graduation. She’s wearing sunglasses and standing with J. Scattered around my apartment are pictures of my family, including some from my wedding. I think I’d like to put a wedding picture and the first 2 pictures in a frame together. I hope anyone who loves me in the future will love me in part because of what each of those relationships cultivated in me.

I’ve been thinking about pulling together a website based on the idea that TV should inspire reading. It would basically be a ton of reading recommendations based on television shows and specific episodes. That idea has me thinking more about what I’m watching. I’m not sure what I’d recommend based on this episode of HIMYM.

The season finale of Fringe is another story. Seeing Leonard Nimoy in an office in one of the World Trade towers was probably many a person’s first glimpse at the idea of multiple dimensions. I’ve got the start of a great recommendation list for books and stories about multiple dimensions at TagShadow.

So that’s what I’m watching right now: Fringe and How I Met Your Mother. Also The Shield, but I have no idea what I’d recommend someone read related to Los Angeles gangs and corrupt cops.

Quizes

•April 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I took the buzzfeed geek quiz and had thoughts about it, mostly that it would be cool to build a better quiz site. First some requirements for the site:

  1. quizzes would be collaboratively built, like the lists on good reads, eg. Best Science Fiction Fantasy Books
  2. All questions should provide links to relevant information/discussion, such that taking the quiz can also be used to learn more about the topic.
  3. The underlying code could also be used for an award voting system, because that’s something else that’s been on my mind
  4. I lean toward making this part of my SF recommendation tools, but I think it could have broader appeal…
  5. There should be multiple scoring systems.

This whole thought experiment is supported by a few ideas:

  1. this would be an interesting thing to actually build
  2. it’s a proven formula for viral silliness, which could be profitable.
  3. it would be fun to make much of this a satire ( remember my “twitter killer” twitterplusone which let you communicate with 141 characters? I’m guessing no. )
  4. The number crunching will be a hoot.

So, keeping in mind I want to challenge myself as a developer and make this a fun satire, here are some ideas on the scoring systems. You’d take a quiz and then choose which of the following scores you want to share:

  • score: points summed as described in the quiz displayed as a percentile vs everyone else having taken the quiz, adjusted for how the quiz changes over time
  • strict scoring: The number of yes votes and the number of questions.  Ignore all maybes, qualified answers, etc.  This is the basis of most online quizzes and the most boring.
  • personality: answers tossed in a black box, image and description generated, relevance may vary
  • feedback: your rating / review of the quiz
  • social: how much you’ve helped this quiz go viral
  • contribution: how many edits you’ve made to the quiz, how much feedback you’ve given on the individual questions, how good the feedback is on the edits you’ve made. social influences contribution positively.
  • hipster scoring: the sooner you take the quiz, the higher your hipster score.  The more popular the quiz is, the higher your hipster score as long as you took the quiz before it was popular. Good social and contribution scores negatively effect your hipster score.
  • lawyer scoring: (a) take the quiz (b) make edits/corrections to quiz (1) read the ORIGINAL and CURRENT lawyer scoring criteria (2) install the reverse TOS addon (RTA) which will allow you selectively ignore certain rules (3) configure the RTA (4) compare your score under all other scoring systems (5) propose scoring system changes (6a) if needed restart at step a or 3 (6b) choose scoring system to share OR calculate your lawyer score
  • meta score: Display all of your scores, write a custom description and add yourself to the quiz leader board.

Documentary: Jodorowsky’s Dune

•March 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I just found out about this documentary of a film version of Dune that was never produced. I’m excited just thinking about watching this.

Thanks to io9 for the heads up on this:

Jodorowsky's Dune Is A Monument To Divine Madness And Doomed Beauty.

 
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