ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Rebirth - A 100 Word Story

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Yes, boys, girls, and paramecia, it's time for another 100 Word Story. As usual, this was submitted to the Weekly Challenge; stop on over there and vote for my story (and any others over there you think are worthy)! The flash player's below; if it's borked, there's a direct link to an MP3 here. And keep in mind, that you can play too - the next week's topic is "The Message"; you can find directions on how to enter right here.









The water closes over my head.

As always, it is shockingly cold, flooding through the thin white robes. The minister – or is he a preacher? Pastor? – almost lets go. It's symbolism, I think. Or maybe his hands are cold.

I am at the bottom of the pool. Please, I think, please stay down this time.

His hands pull me up, up, and I breach the water. The congregation claps. I clear the water from my eyes.

"Didn't take, Padre," I say, and snap his neck.

As I slaughter the sheep – his "flock" – I wonder if I should try Buddhism next.

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What kind of computer is your sci-fi franchise?

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I'm headed to MARCON this weekend, and in preparation, I wanted to share this revelation with you. It came to me while I was watching a mashup video using video from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

They were using iPads.

Or at least, something a lot like it. And that got me to thinking. The iPad is primarily a content consumption device. By all accounts, it's great for reading books, magazines, and comics on. It's wonderful for video and generally watching media. But it's not so big on the content creation side of things. Touch typists, for example, have griped about the onscreen keyboard. The lack of expandability can make it (more) difficult to use for creating artwork or video than a traditional computer.

But that's just like Star Trek.

I mean, really, who besides Scotty (or the Chief Engineer of your choice) is anything besides an end user? Barring deus ex machina, nobody shows any desire (or competence) with being a hacker or maker. And that got me to thinking about other franchises...

  • Apple: Star Trek, specifically TNG and the reboot for reasons mentioned above. I can so see Data downloading implants from the iPersonality App Store. God help him with the DRM. So does this make Enterprise the original Mac OS? Or is it better to talk about the hardware here - with the reboot being the iPad and so on? Discuss.
  • Microsoft: The Empire (Star Wars). I mean, really. Look at the Death Star. One critical flaw and the whole thing crashes? In multiple versions? Which Windows version corresponds to which Death Star? Discuss.
  • Linux (pre-Ubuntu): The Rebel Alliance (Star Wars). Tinkerers who built efficient and useful ships that outperform the standard (see: Millenium Falcon, X-Wings), but are not quite as polished or require constant tweaking (see: Chewie repairing the Falcon on Hoth). Which distro corresponds to which craft? Is Puppy Linux the Millenium Falcon of distros? Discuss.
  • Ubuntu and derivatives: The Old Republic (Star Wars). This isn't a slam on Ubuntu - the Old Republic ships are frequently much more advanced than the Rebel Alliance ones. They're polished, often sleek and pretty. And often have somewhat unusual color schemes.
I've not touched on a lot of OS variants - and skipped a lot of franchises (Firefly, Stargate, Babylon 5, etc). I've probably gotten some details wrong. Completely wrong.

What do you think? Put your thoughts below, and have a great weekend.

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Clouding the Measurements

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I recently read the Alternate View from Analog Magzine's Nov 2009 issue "Lessons from the Lab" by Jeffery Kooistra. In it, he points out that a survey of surface-temperature monitoring equipment shows that the data has been skewed both by changes in the equipment and where the placement of the equipment violates the NOAA's own guidelines.

He's very correct in pointing out how deplorable this is... but then jumps (as he has before) to denouncing global climate change and the steps society (and government) are taking to reduce carbon emissions, pollution, and so on. In this, I think he errs.

There's one big (scientific) reason for this, and several other (non-scientific) ones.

The scientific reason is pretty simple: The argument for Global Climate change doesn't rely on only one set of data. What he (by reporting Anthony Watts' research) reveals is, make no mistake, a huge blow to the accuracy of our models. But there's more to the case than that. The very argument he makes - that manmade structures alter local climate - is a smaller version of the well-documented "heat sink" effect of our paved cities. We've seen effects on climate from man-made activities for quite some time (most dramatically, the changes in cloud cover during the no-fly time after 9/11) [1]. We can debate exactly what, and how much, impact we're having on the environment, but make no mistake that we are.

The non-scientific reasons can be summed up by this:
We can talk about how Cleveland used to have a river that burned - but has a clean river now. Or the runoff that made the creek by my great-grandparent's house a brilliant orange - but is now clean and clear. Or we can talk about upcoming energy crises which are be closer than we seem to think they are. It's ironic that in the very same issue as Kooistra's essay, there's a story featuring protagonists who explicitly talk about humans exponential discounting - treating far-off consequences as essentially unreal.

My life has been roughly as long as the modern environmental movement - and so I can just remember how bad things used to be. Things have come a long way - but that doesn't mean we're done yet (take a look at those recent pictures of smog again). Maybe the effects of global climate change won't be as big as we fear. But the actions we take to minimize them now are also good for the environmental health of the planet. That's good, of course. But let me make this more clear: Every time we genuinely "go green", we are making the planet healthier for us. We can debate - and rightly so - which ways are the best, most effective, and least disruptive. But that doesn't matter if no change is going to happen.

On a very practical level, I don't care if the climate change predictions are overly bad [2] - because the results are so desperately needed regardless of what motivates that cause. We are addicted to oil. We are addicted to pollution.

If a prior vice-president can help us break that addiction - which will be good for us - then I have a hard time finding fault with it.

[1] It's surprisingly difficult to find a decent article on such today, simply because there's so much other crap when you look for relevant terms. This (non-peer reviewed) article has the study I refer to being called into question by a physicist who is comparing apples to oranges... but no direct citation. If you've got the citation for the original study, I'd love to see it.
[2] As noted - I don't think they are. No one set of data - in any realm of science - should be used alone.

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Generation Ship - A 100 Word Story

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Yes, it's that time again - another 100 Word story. This one does have audio (so do take the time to listen, won't you?), and was entered in this week's Weekly Challenge. You can stop by that website to hear (and read) the other entries and to vote for my story. If for some reason the audio player is borked, there's a direct download of the audio right here.









As a child I read illustrated books about asteroid starships. I dreamed of living in generation ships - islands of humanity in the void. And now I do.

A cylinder is our artificial sun. Fields of grains feed us and replenish our oxygen. The asteroid's spin provides gravity. Imagine a multiracial Rockwell painting in space. We'll make a new world like in the books.

The books left out the undead horde writhing over the planet we left behind. The other ships have already succumbed, signals vanishing after a few transmitted screams.

Our ship is uninfected.

But oh God, am I hungry.

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Online Fiction - 365 Tomorrows

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If you've not seen it - or haven't looked in a while, 365 Tomorrows is still around and producing a work of flash fiction daily. I've had a few of my works appear there - Dinner Date, Domestically Disabled, and Third Person.

I imagine that keeping up a high standard of quality every day - every day - would be hard, and it shows. Sometimes the daily offerings are a bit less awesome than others. Recently, however, there were four I wanted to bring your attention to, simply because they were pretty darn awesome. Way Out by Ellen Couch explores an old trope a little bit differently than I've ever seen it before, to nice effect. Kayak Angst by Stephen Ira is a very ... well, almost literary work (and I don't mean that as a pejorative, either). Camping and Love at First Sip, both by Jacqueline Rochow, are excellent "young adult" SF flash fiction, with nice little twists of the knife at the end.

With hits like these, 365 Tomorrows definitely keeps its place in my feedreader.

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Ripping off the Veil (of secrecy)

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The problem with words is that anyone can use them.

I ran into this problem as a young adult. When I was attracted to women, all the things I'd say to them had the opposite effect than I expected. Too often, they'd say something like this:

"That's what all the other guys said. Suuuuure you mean it."

As a somewhat ironic side note, those repeated accusations usually ended up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But now, governments and companies have gotten really good at doing the same thing. One of the most obvious examples lately has been "greenwashing". I know of a local business that has made a big deal of putting in recycling initiatives in the public areas... but still tosses huge amounts of corrugated cardboard and plastic bottles in the trash in employee and warehouse areas.

They're using the same words - but as propaganda. Recycling and environmental concerns per se do not actually matter to the company. Otherwise recycling would be a concern throughout the whole company. Because the company is primarily concerned with public appearances, however, it's obvious that the company only cares about public relations.

This isn't inherently a bad thing - it's what we expect from the sociopathic entities we call corporations. But it also means that we as the public should not expect actual altruism from any company. Instead, we must demand transparency.

When we demand (and get) transparency, it forces the company to stay honest. Corporations, just like people, act very differently when they know they're being watched and may be held accountable for their actions.

There is no reasonable reason for corporations to hide their true intention behind a veil of secrecy. It's time to demand transparency and openness from companies.

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Historical Inaccuracy - A 100 Word Story

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The iron toes of their mechs slammed into the Cretaceous dirt.

"Dude!" Sara shouted, "This. Is. So. Rad."

Mike's mech balanced the hundred cameras on titanium joints. "We could have just modeled this in the computer."

Sara's mech took ten meter strides toward the primitive jungle. "Time travel was almost as cheap - and much cooler."

A Tyrannosaur - tall as her mech - burst from the woods. Sara tensed, robot exoskeleton ready to fight. "You filming this, Mike?"

Sara looked back to see another dinosaur's jaws crushing the metal around Mike's head.

"Crap," she said, and punched the tyrannosaur in the jaw.

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Erratic Errata

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A couple of quick notes:


  • I have a nonfiction essay in Mock Turtle's May 2010 issue. It's a local (Dayton, OH) 'zine; you can pick up copies at the Ohio Coffee Company on Jefferson and Ludlow (next to Spaghetti Warehouse) or at the Sideshow at the Armory (in the Oregon District).

  • Some of my Very Short Stories appear in #VSS Anthology Volume 01. Here's a direct link to mine, but do check out the rest.

  • I'll be at MARCON over Memorial Day weekend, and on several interesting panels (schedule below):
    FRI 08:30pm Cthulhu 101
    SAT 10:00am Marketing your story
    SAT 07:00pm Reading
    SAT 10:00pm Religion in SF
    SUN 11:30am Paper vs. E-books vs. Audio Books

  • I recently agreed to be a part of "The Library" at Origins in Columbus. I won't be there the whole time, but will be there on Saturday and Sunday. The programming for that isn't completely hammered out yet, but I believe I'll be hosting a table at a brunch, be a special guest in a game, doing a reading, and being on panels and whatnot.

  • And you're right - you haven't seen a 100 word story yet this week. I have one, but I didn't finish it in time for the weekly challenge. I'll be posting it in the next day or two.

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Sharing too much...

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Over the weekend, I found out that an anonymous blogger had reposted Jim C. Hines' first novel survey results. Not just an excerpt, but the whole couple thousand word post in full, directly linking to images from Jim's server. I'm not providing a link to the plagarizer's post for reasons that will be clear in a moment.

Jim's a friend of mine, so I posted a comment on that other blog:

Y'know, on one level I'm impressed that you actually replicated all of the links and everything when you plagiarized Jim's post.

On another level, that also tells me it wasn't just a cut-and-paste job. It wasn't ignorance.

Boingboing's quote of Jim's post falls well within fair use. Copying the entire thing verbatim - when you could have just linked to it - is unethical.


I got quite a lengthy response. I've heard many of the pro-plagiarizing arguments this anonymous blogger made before, so I'm posting this response here as a critique of those arguments.

  • Ad hominem attacks make you look stupid. First thing this person does is call me a "smug dickbag". I think there should be a variant of Godwin's Law that applies to ad hominem attacks of all types.


  • I didn't represent it as my own / I'm sharing / I'm giving exposure to you There was one or two sentences noting that Jim wrote the post, then the couple thousand words of Jim's post and images. That's substantially someone else's work, and unless it's CC-licensed (as some of mine is) reposting the whole item isn't legal. That's not "sharing" - that's copying. Contrast that to how Cory Doctorow - a copyfighter himself - shared Jim's link on boingboing. A paragraph or two and an image to give people the idea of whether or not they'd want to click through. (For another example, the images I use on this blog are CC-licensed or my own, with attributive links to the flickr page of the image to fulfill the CC-license.) You might also want to look at what fair use really means.


  • I used blockquotes. See above. You can also look at my Homeschool Resource List for another example of doing it well; I give credit for the text I cite, for the sole purpose of promoting the sites I mention. Which drives us to the next point....


  • "I don’t want to daisy chain to one site who blockquoted another that linked to a third site who linked the original. Waste of time." This is actually a direct quotation from the anonymous blogger - and one point that I agree with. It would be stupid to daisychain like that. There's a convention for getting around it - link to the item in question, with a "via" or "thanks to" link to the referring site. And that brings us to...


  • "I don’t run ads and the site generates zero income. - nobody redirects to me and I’m not interested upping someone else’s traffic for profit. I gain nothing." This is another direct quotation, and honestly it's the heart of the matter. Earlier the anonymous blogger had said "It's worth sharing" while trying to justify not excerpting the work. Thing is, it may be zero profit (direct or indirectly) for the person who reposts the work, but it takes away profit for the content creator. Whether in terms of whuffie or actual money, the anonymous blogger stole from Jim. Links (and traffic) are ways of measuring whuffie - which for professional writers also factors into their real income.


There's quite a bit more, actually - an entire second part that's a mix of ad hominem attacks (claiming I'm jealous that he didn't rip me off, calling my city "Nowhere, Ohio", etc) and praise for the work mixed with putting down the work. They claim that I'm being pissy because they're not as big as boingboing (false - I've thanked people who mentioned my posts/work on small blogs before), but that last bullet point really is key.

Links and traffic are the closest thing to whuffie we have on the internet. It not only tells the internet at large (via Google, Technorati, and Twitter for three quick examples) who is important, but it also lets content creators know that they're doing something worthwhile. If there's something or someone worthwhile out there, you point people at them... not keep them in your own front yard.

And that is why I'm not linking to the anonymous blogger's post. There's no such thing as negrep (or deducting whuffie) on the wide internet yet. For all their spluttering about sharing, they're not actually helping.

It's a value-added thing. This site (or Jim's blog) tend towards content creation. Both of us link to things, but we focus on creating new material. Boingboing (and on a much smaller scale, my resource list) add value by directing people to interesting sites they may have otherwise missed. Both boingboing and Lifehacker also add original content to nearly every post, and sometimes have completely original content. Again, they're directing people to the end content creator, rather than keeping people on their own site.

Which, ironically, keeps us coming back to to them, and grateful for the service they provide.

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Privacy Is Trust

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All of the issues concerning the (repeated) privacy fails around the IntarWebs these days can be traced to one simple principle:

Privacy Is Trust.

That's really why Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's early confession that only "dumb f*cks" trust him is such a big deal.

I put a lot of information about myself out on the Internet. Much of it – or links to it – is on my own "nameplate" site. But once you get past that original bit of information, it becomes a lot harder.

That's on purpose.

Like everyone, there are things about me – things I've done, or said, or seen – that only a very few people know about. Things I have shared, but only to a very small, select group of people.

People that I trust.

One of the things that I originally liked about Facebook was how I could control who got to see what information. Even if it took a bit of work, I could control it as effectively as real life.

Now, though?

Zuckerberg's actions are like when you confided in a friend, to only find out that they told your secrets to half the school. I've stripped a lot of information out of Facebook already; most of what's left are public information (or that I've shared elsewhere). I'm immensely glad that Facebook was never my primary source of sharing material.

I'm still on Facebook – you can become a fan of me here, actually – but like MySpace, I'm now mostly there because of other people. It's not worth it anymore.

I simply don't trust Mark Zuckerberg – or Facebook – anymore.

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Worth 1000 Words

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Of course, this doesn't apply to anybody or anything in real life. Click to embiggen.

fuuuuu

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Reviewing Zelazny

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[Spoiler for one story below, but it's like 40 years old, folks.]

It's interesting, going back and re-reading the classics of science fiction. I mainlined Roger Zelazny recently, re-reading The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth, Doorways in the Sand, Keys to December, and A Rose for Ecclesiastes. (With the exception of Doorways in the Sand, all appear in the collection The Doors of His Face, The Lamp of His Mouth.) All of these works have Zelazny's characteristic command of language - not "flowery", but poetic. Sometimes it gets a bit too poetic, where allegory isn't clearly separated from science fiction or fantasy, but those moments are rare.

Doorways in the Sand is a chaotic text. The action jumps and leaps - without bothering to check and see if you've kept up. When you're not sure that chapter three is the same story as chapters one and two, and check for a binding accident (which I did), then that's jumping about too fast. Zelazny also puts the climax of many of the chapters at the beginning, making those chapters essentially extended flashbacks. While that did make me wonder how they got to that point, it got tiresome after a while. Featuring roof-climbing perpetual students, alien artifacts, and smugglers, the pace reminded me of a not-quite successful Discworld novel. It was just a little too chaotic and surreal.

Keys To December has an interesting premise: What if we genetically engineered our kids to live in a hostile environment... and then that world was destroyed before they reached maturity? There's some other interesting ideas that bustle around in this story, but it failed to really grip me or give me an emotional hook the way the last two stories did.

The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth and A Rose for Ecclesiastes are easily the most moving of these selections (though not necessarily in that order). Both stories are wonderfully layered with a primary text (a fishing story, a romance), an initial layer of deeper meaning (defining of self), and then something even below that that you can sense, but not truly define. Their use of language and layers of story are excellent.

Yet all are sexist in a way that simply wouldn't (one hopes) fly today. It's never really blatant, but it's there. Women are objectified as sex objects fairly routinely throughout - perhaps in a common way for the1960s and 1970s when these were published, but are more than a bit offputting today. Further, women have secondary roles (at best) in all of these stories. Women are backdrop in Doorways in the Sand, and little more than motivation in Keys To December. Carl is condescending to Jean throughout The Doors of His Face..., even as she manages to acheive what Carl could not. It's even worse in A Rose for Ecclesiastes: The narrator says that he "know all about [the Martian's] taboos...don't worry. I've lived in the Orient, remember?" Not that the narrator's ignorant - he's a linguist and poet - but he sure as hell is condescending. I wondered for a while if it was just the character being an asshat - because he does grow out of being that asshat by the end of the story.

But then I thought about the central concept of the plot: the Matriarchs of a Martian tribe must be taught the error of their ways by a white man who learns their ways and bests them - by showing the cultural superiority of his own "tribe's" work, and impregnating one of the Martian women.

::facepalm::

It's really a shame, because I can still see the beauty of the story and language in these stories. Zelazny had a wonderful gift, and uses words in a way I can only hope to. I grew up reading Zelazny's short stories and many of the Amber books. He, like all of us, was a product of his time. Reading these makes me wonder how we'll seem in forty years, how provincial our tales will be.

Still, these are excellently written stores. I want to be able to unreservedly recommend these beautiful stories to new, modern readers.

And, quite simply, with these stories, I can't.

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Bill - A 100 Word Story

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This week's topic for the Weekly Challenge was "Bill". This week's story is below, and you can listen to it with the embedded player, or download it here if the player's borked. Be sure to vote for my story over at the 100 Word Story Weekly challenge site.

Oh, an extended version of this story is on my Facebook fan page - why not become a fan? And if you haven't already, take my five-minute poll about monster preference and politics, okay? Thanks!










The aliens look like cartoon ducks, but I think they're kind of sexy. Besides, they like poetry. Which is how I, a grad student, ended up interviewing one of them.

I called him by hyperwave. His name was a musical throat-swallowing gargle of a sound. He said "Call me Bill." We talked until the late hours of the morning. And every day for a month.

I owe the hyperwave company more than my student loans. I got a huge bill for talking to an alien named Bill, who has a bill.

He thought it was poetic.

I changed majors.

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Politics of Monsters

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Back at Millenicon, I was on the "Politics of the Undead" panel. The idea was that certain movie monsters seem to gain popularity when certain political parties are in power. We talked merrily about the possible ways that this could go. Is it real? If so, why? What mechanism or Jungian archetype is scaring the pants off of different types of folks?

It was great fun - but all pure speculation. Sure, I could run a survey - but who has the time to code all those answers?

And then I was introduced to SurveyGizmo. I'm student-teaching an undergraduate research methods class. The professor suggested that the students try this service out. (Our college has determined that SurveyGizmo meets their standards of accessiblity and information security, and so recommends it. I've not tried any of the others.) Since I'm a student (though a graduate one), I decided to try out the student account so I could help my students.

And what better survey to try it with than politics and monsters? Since MARCON is this month (and has a horror theme), I thought it'd be a great thing to talk about.

So if you have two to five minutes (it really is that short), take my survey. Then pass it along to two (or more!) friends! The link to the survey is here. I'll be keeping the survey live for a little while (approximately a month), unless we reach the maximum respondents for the free student account sooner. I'll run the data and write it up here (keeping the stats geekery to a minimum) for your pleasure in June.

[1] In the United States of America. Sorry.

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When the (school) levy breaks...

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School levies had really mixed results in my area yesterday. Which got me to thinking.

I've done a considerable [1] amount of academic studying of economics and education. I've also homeschooled, sent my kids to public and private schools, been myself in public and private schools... so I think I have some expertise in order to talk about school levies just a little bit.

#1: Supporting public education is in every citizen's benefit, whether their kids are personally benefiting or not. And yes, I'm talking to both rich people and elderly folks on a fixed income. Unless they're willing to start footing the entire bill for the police protection they get... right. You get my point. (This is also why vouchers are a bad idea.)

#2: Making schools compete on the free market means they're going to try to maximize profits - not education. That's what the free market does. If you think skimping's a bad idea for education, then maybe

#3: The idea that "education is reading, writing, and arithmetic" is so 19th century.

#4: Adding money to a school system does not always make it better. This is true. Removing funding from a school system always makes it worse.

#5: Bad administrators cause a majority of problems in school systems. When their funds are reduced, they never cut their own jobs.

Keep those in mind the next time a levy issue comes up in your area.

[1] More than the average person, at least.

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Evolving Our Economics

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Economics is evolution, but we don't recognize it.

Look at the coverage of the economic recovery. Listen to the language that we're using: "Things are getting back to normal." We expect things to continue the same way they always have - even though it never does.

Media industries are another example of this. From printed sheet music, to radios, to MP3s, the music industry has tried to stop the evolution of production. The movie industry originally fought VCRs - but ended up profiting (think of direct-to-video movies, folks). Print publishers originally (and still, to some extent) fought e-books. DRM and draconian anti-piracy measures are all attempts to keep their businesses running exactly the same way as before.

When it's pointed out, recognizing that evolution isn't difficult (corporate CEOs notwithstanding). The problem now is realizing that economics is even more like evolution than we thought.

Our understanding of biological evolution has changed relatively recently. We used to think that evolution was a gradual process, with slow changes accumulating over time. It's only recently that the "punctuated equilibrium" (or "punk-eek") model gained acceptance. Briefly, this says that things stay pretty much the change for a while, and that biological change occurs rapidly. When there's a new niche, a change in environment, whatever - that trigger causes much more rapid and radical change than previously thought.

The housing crisis of the 2000's is an example of punctuated equilibrium in economics. New instruments and deregulation combined to rapidly change the world of mortgages and finance. CDOs, sub-prime lending, and debt swaps were seen as relatively innocuous innovations, but led to massive changes (and exploits) that regulators - and in many cases, outside observers - were unable to keep up with.

This implies that we can expect further economics changes to be rapid and radical. Some of this is due to the increased speed of feedback and information loops, but I believe we've been seeing punctuated equilibrium in the economic world for quite some time. This has huge implications for all economists. Neo-Keynesians (like myself) will have a much harder time reacting to economic change. This model implies that it may even be impossible to create a steady economy.

But we still have to try. The Chicago school of economists claim that the market will take care of itself and return to equilibrium. I think a punctuated equilibrium economic model does imply that equilibrium will return. But that's not the same as everything going back to "normal". I think the evolutionary model fits here as well.

An equilibrium is reached after an evolutionary event - but it's a new equilibrium. It does not imply anything about how good that new equilibrium is for the organisms that used to thrive. Or put another way, I don't think humans can "kill" the Earth. Life will persist on this planet, even if we pollute the hell out of it. That doesn't mean that humans will.

The Great Recession seems to be achieving a new equilibrium. The "moral hazard" bankers succumbed to (from deregulation and "innovative" financial instruments) are still thriving. Maybe the bank isn't - but the individuals who made those decisions are.

It's the rest of us who are suffering and paying the cost for their sins. The question now is this: Will we ensure that the financial system evolves to support them... or us?

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Galaxies - A 100 Word Story

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Yup. 100 Word Story Weekly Challenge time! Be sure to stop by and vote for my story, which you can also read (and hear) below. If the player's borked, try this direct link.









Sanson knew it was wrong when he woke to snow on his eyelashes. His memories downloaded across the clone's brain, restless after being stored in the ship's routers during the interstellar flight. Snow?

Sanson followed sounds of hammering and laughing to the bridge, dodging snowdrifts along the way. The galaxy, stretched by hyperspace dilation, rippled like water beneath the transparent floor of the bridge. A bearded figure sat in the captain's chair, supervising small aliens making strange toys.

"Have a seat," it told Sanson with a laugh. "we have to speed up to make it to every house in one night!"

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Little Brother - Book Review

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Cory Doctorow's novel Little Brother [site | AMZ | B&N ] is a pretty good - and sometimes terrifying - cautionary YA novel about civil liberties, freedoms, and how fast it can all go away.

As a firm believer that YA novels are often regular novels with younger protagonists and different branding, this one both lives up to and subverts that expectation. It is a solid near-future (or alternate history, take your pick) novel that could just as easily co-exist alongside "adult" fiction. It also presents, unapologetically, teenage motivations, point of view, and passions.

In this world, the Department of Homeland Security has gone just a little - just a little - farther than they did in ours. Marcus got caught up in DHS's liberty-removing crackdown... and fought back. His trials and tribulations (along with the possibility of romance), and how he tries to outwit the DHS and bring freedom back to America are compelling.

Did I mention the romance? Marcus is a 17 year old. As a result, he's horny - and Marcus isn't gelded in Doctorow's work. The sexual/romantic elements are neither gratutitous or glorified - they're presented straightforwardly and are a natural part of the story. It does mean I'm going to wait a year or four before giving this book to my (now) twelve year old.

Unlike the sex, there is a political point to this book, and it occasionally gets in the way of the story. Much like Orwell's 1984 (though much less obnoxiously), characters sometimes break into political monologues to clarify a point. Again, these aren't the many-paged oratories that Orwell tended to do; they are usually only a few paragraphs in length. But they are present, and there's no mistaking which side we're expected to identify with.

And it should be said - I do identify with that side. I loathe "security theater" (including much of the data mining); not only is it bad for actual security, but its failures discredit real security. I've been interested in public-key encryption for a long time as well, and this book also rekindled my interest.

It's an intriguing (and sometimes rightfully paranoia-inducing) book. Like most of Doctorow's works, it's released under a Creative Commons license, so you can check the book out for free on Cory's site. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to start up my TOR relay again, and figure out how to use PGP with Thunderbird...

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