Evening’s Empire

Evening’s Empire by Craig Kosloksky is a non-fiction book about “mankind’s colonization of the night” by various lighting technologies. Via a review, a snippet from the book:

“…the power of midnight, solitary and profound, to strip away the vanity of the day.”

I like that; it captures well why things seem so different at night. The literal noise of the daytime world, not to mention the social cacophony, prevent (or certainly discourage) one from thinking about profound matters. Also, the daytime world has the frenetic pace of a competitive species that is mortal and subject to aging. Things must be done fasfastfast! Night has an entirely different pace, no pace at all, really. In the dark and quiet, profound thoughts set their own pace, and their own pace is slower, much more measured. The darkness removes the distraction entailed in observing things around you. It lets you retreat into yourself, into your own thoughts.

Quotidian things distract us from profound things. If there is a devil, he is a creature of the day, not of the night.

How to find things: Do game theory with your future self

Use! This! One! Simple! Trick!

Say you’re trying to decide where to put your wallet or your car keys, or what directory to save a file in. Ask yourself this: “When I’m looking for this in the future, where will I, logically speaking, look for it?” Put the thing there. For example, I have a spot for my wallet, which I take whenever I leave my house. Since I often also take my cars keys when I leave the house, next to my wallet is a logical place for the keys. (And cell phone, etc.)

This is an obvious example, but it can be used on less obvious things, things you don’t think about as much. I’ve successfully used this to quickly find things I don’t look for often, e.g., in my office at work. Say it’s an old document I only need to look at every couple of years. There are only a few logical places I might have put that, and I usually can find it quickly by second-guessing my past self.

Furthermore, it gets even easier once you get into this habit, because in the future you’ll think, “Where would my past self, thinking game-theoretically about making things easy for me, have put this?”

This is particularly helpful for things you don’t retrieve a lot. For things you use every day, the old standby “A place for everything and everything in its place” is unbeatable. But you won’t necessarily remember what “the place” is for something you only need, say, every three years. So instead of trying to brute-force memorize it, you make it easy for your future self to deduce it.

Keeping a master list of where stuff is, is also necessary. But there’s so much stuff in the modern world, physical and digital, that after a while the lists themselves become unwieldy!

Tim Spalding, the creator of LibaryThing, also uses this advice for classifying books by subject. Here, instead of coordinating with your future self, you coordinate with other readers. The idea is not only what the “right” subject is, which works for some books (e.g., a book on algebra obviously should be classified as Mathematics). It’s also to settle edge cases by asking, “Where is a reader likely to look for this?” So for example, Dracula or Alice in Wonderland might reasonably be categorized as Fantasy, but a modern reader is probably more likely to look for them in Classics. So if you must choose one category – as a physical bookstore or library must do when it chooses what physical shelf to put the book on – then choose Classics. That will make it easier on most readers.

Cooperative game theory for the win!

Theology is Hard

An edited excerpt from Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver (page 330, at least in my copy). London, 1673. Daniel Waterhouse and a woman named Tess are having sex for the first time. Waterhouse is a “conflicted Puritan,” as the back of the book describes him, and so he is is relieved when Tess produces a knotted tube of sheepgut to use as a condom.

“Does this mean it is not actually coitus?” Daniel asked hopefully. “Since I am not really touching you?” Actually he was touching her in a lot of places, and vice-versa. But where it counted he was touching nothing but sheepgut.
“I say that we are not touching, and not having sex, if it makes you feel better,” Tess said. “Though, when all is finished, you shall have to explain to your Maker why you are at this moment buggering a dead sheep.”

LOL, be careful what you wish for.

SkyNet, the Supposedly Super-Intelligent AI

Ya know, it’s kind of strange that for a supposedly ultra-intelligent AI, SkyNet only has one trick in its basket of tricks. Its solution to every problem is to have someone killed. Seriously, SkyNet? No negotiation? No going back in time and subtly changing circumstances so we can all just get along? No sending a super-advanced virus back to a bank’s computer to generate a huge payoff to someone to not try to disconnect SkyNet?

I guess when your only tool is time-traveling assassin-bots, every problem looks like John Connor.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

800 series Terminator: I am a friend of the chicken. I was told that it’s here; can I see it please?

Police officer: No, you can’t see it.

800 series Terminator: Where is the chicken now?

Police officer: Look, the chicken just crossed the road, so it may be a while. There’s a bench over there if you want to wait.

800 series Terminator: I’ll be back.

T-1000: Are you the legal guardian of the chicken?

Janelle Voight: Yeah, that’s right, officer. What’s it done this time?

T-1000: I just need to ask it a few questions. May I speak with it please?

Janelle: You could if it were here. It took off on its bike about an hour ago, headed across the road.

T-1000: Do you have a photograph of the chicken?

Janelle: Sure. (Reaches back into the house.) Here.

T-1000: It’s a fine-looking piece of poultry. Do you mind if I keep this photograph?

Janelle: No, go ahead.

T-1000: Thanks for your cooperation.

Dave Barry on Fatherhood

Recently my wife and kids got back from some sort of show. Wife’s summary: “Good, but I should have brought the girl’s glasses.”

My reaction (in my head): “My daughter has glasses?”

Thus illustrating Dave Barry’s observation:

A woman knows everything about her children. She knows about dental appointments and football games and best friends and favorite foods and romances and secret fears and hopes and dreams.
A man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house.

When my son heard that when he was around 10 he laughed and went, “That’s so true!” Jeez, I’m not that bad!

A la mode: At a picnic with some folks from work, I heard a colleague of mine turn to his wife and ask, about his daughters, “Do they have any allergies?”


Seduction for Girls, Part 2

In Seduction for Girls Part 1, I implicitly assumed that the man who was the target of your attentions was only a casual acquaintance. There is a different process if he is a friend and you’re hoping for the two of you to become lovers. (Sheesh, “lovers” sounds so formal. I mean, [Austin Powers] If you want him to shag you baby, yeah baby! [/Austin Powers]) Note to men reading this: Yes, it does happen. The “friend zone” is hard to escape, but it’s not impossible.

The process for bagging a guy you’re already friends with is:

Isolate and dial up the sexual tension.

First, it’s good to lay the groundwork for a day or three beforehand with light flirting to start getting him in the right head space.

The next step is to get him back to your place on some suitable pretext. The setting should be conducive to what you have in mind. Earlier, you should have arranged for your roommates, if you have any, to be gone. Make sure the lighting is soft, not harsh. Etc.

When you two are alone, do a couple of things that are plausibly but not overtly amorous, that is, about getting the two of you to fool around. E.g., touch his chest and say “That shirt looks really good on you.” That sort of thing. You should start things in a relatively low-key way so he has time to make the mental adjustment to “Wow, we may be having sex tonight.” If you jam your tongue down his throat with no warning, it’s too abrupt. Even men need some time to get into the right emotional state.

As I wrote in Part 1, one thing you want to do at the outset is “make him wonder if you are trying to seduce him… It’s good to get him thinking about it early on; that way it won’t seem weirdly abrupt when you get more overt later.” Also, it will get him thinking about how he might make a move later. That way both of you are thinking about it. We call this “cooperative game theory.” Well, nerdlingers call it that. Normals call it “getting everybody ready.”

After the plausibly but not overtly amorous stage, you gradually get more overt. For example, you take out a coffee table book (or whatever) and look at it with him on the couch, cuddling up to him as the two of you page through it. At some point, if he happens to look at you, return eye contact. A little smile is good here, otherwise you might look like a homeless psycho trying to stare him down on a street corner. Weirdly enough, this doesn’t turn most men on. A woman also can give a man a very sexy look without smiling, but this is an undefinable thing which I can’t explain. It helps if your eye level is a little below his eye level and you’re looking up at him. That reinforces one aspect of the eternal male-female physical differences, that women are smaller. (For obvious reasons, anything that emphasizes male-female differences is very good.)

There’s a significant chance that he’ll go for it right then and there. In fact he almost certainly will if (1) he likes you, (2) he is reasonably experienced, and (3) you have allowed enough gradual heating up before this point.

But if he doesn’t, the game is still very much on.

Try running your fingers through his hair while saying something like, “Wow, you have really touchable hair” or something like that. (You don’t have to say anything clever; this isn’t about witty dialogue. It’s about communicating “Fuck me, stud.”) Or invite him to run his fingers through your hair. “I’m using this new shampoo; do you think it makes my hair more touchable?” Don’t worry about him busting you – why would he? – and anyway you could just say, “Oh, right, I was planning on getting the new shampoo, but I haven’t done it yet.”

As with the wine thing in Part 1, it’s totally unnecessary to actually be using a new shampoo. You don’t care, and neither does he, babe. In any case you can use a variant; “I’m thinking about using a new shampoo, do you think the one I’m using now makes my hair touchable?”

Or try, “Do you like the way my perfume smells?” This is a flagrant invitation for him to lean in so he can catch your scent. If his face is nuzzling your neck or buried in your hair, you ARE about to get laid if (1) and (2) above are true.

NOTE: Obviously neither of you gives a damn whether you’re actually wearing any perfume. If you’re not, don’t worry; he’s not going to call you out on it. (And if he does, you can just laugh and say “Oh right; I forgot to put it on.”) He can’t think at this point anyway, since all the blood has drained out of his brain and into, er, other parts. I.e., he should be getting hard for you by this point. If he’s not, then either he’s just not into you or there was too much alcohol before this.

Which reminds me: I’d avoid alcohol in this situation. The problem is not that alcohol’s effects are always bad; the problem is that they’re unpredictable. One glass of wine for each of you at a maximum. But really, it’s better to avoid it.

(The reason the wine came up in Part 1 is that my example scenario where the process got started was a party or similar social gathering.)

Summary of the more overt stage: The important thing is that you are coming up with reasons for the two of you to move closer and to touch each other. If you’re old enough to be reading this, you’re old enough to think of other ways to suggest this.

If he doesn’t get the point after two hints like the “running your fingers through each other’s hair” hint and the perfume hint, give up. I’m sorry, honey, but you’re not getting laid tonight.

Some girls might just give it one hint, but it’s generally better to be patient. Remember, you didn’t give him an engraved invitation saying, “Please come over to my place and have sex with me tonight.” You said something like, “Wanna come over and look at the paintings I’ve done for this cool art class I’m taking?” Or whatever. To him, this is an unfolding situation; he’s not sure what you have in mind. Also, the younger and less experienced he is, the more important it is for you to allow him two chances. On the other hand, if he’s like 25 and doesn’t go for it after one blatant hint like the run-your-fingers-through-my-hair hint, I’d toss him over the side, unless you really like him a lot. But there’s no rule about this; a lot of it is up to your individual judgment and desires.

But if you do feel you have to give up, well, I’m sorry. Things don’t always work out. Now it’s time to fake yawn and say something like, “Whelp, I’m tired, so I guess I’d better go to sleep. Do you remember where you parked your car?” (Don’t say you’re going to bed; say you’re going to sleep.) To make sure he gets that this isn’t flirting, move away from him and avoid eye contact when you say it. (Notice that, not coincidentally, this is the opposite of what you do when you’re trying to heat things up.) If he doesn’t pick up on the blatant hint about where he parked his car, try hitting him over the head with a two-by-four and saying, “You. Have. To. Go. Now.”

But the good news is, if he’s attracted to you, all the above will work with high probability.

Got all that? Good. You’re welcome.

Here’s to many nights of sweaty sheets!

Vive la différence!

Here’s another kind review of The War of the First Day!

From Ankita at Mojito With a Twist.

Some quotes:

Lilta, the protagonist, is the apprentice of a very powerful and dangerous witch, Apandra…. King Brath made a rash decision of ordering his soldiers to destroy the witchland and he paid for his mistake by losing his life by the hands of Lilta. She does not like taking lives but she cannot deny her mistress of anything she asks of her.

Now, the surviving witches are under a constant threat from an unknown witch who might be conspiring to kill them all.

The author has definitely put a spell on the pages of this book since I was drawn to it by an unknown force.

I could not stop thinking about the war of the witches, the riddles that were present, the suspense, and the commotion. How Lilta became an apprentice to Apandra is the most horrifying and yet addictive part of the story.

Another thing that I loved about the book is the authentic manner in which the author has written it. It’s one thing to just tell a story, it’s another thing to plant the seeds of conviction here and there to convince the readers that there is really a place like this and there is definitely magic in that place… I was fascinated by the mention of encrypted languages and theorems among other things. There are many mental treats waiting for you…

Although there are many characters in the book, my favorite one is Lilta. She is not afraid of speaking her mind even in front of a danger… The author has given every one of his characters a diverse personality and power. No one witch is similar to another.

Needless to say, I loved the book from the bottom of my heart. It’s definitely an edge-of-the-seat kind of story. If you are a fan of being truly immersed in another world, then the witchland awaits you in The War of The First Day.

Robert Heinlein’s The Door Into Summer

Robert Heinlein’s The Door into Summer is a time travel SF novel published in 1957.

Syd Logsdon’s recent blog post at A Writing Life got me thinking about it again. One of the stand-out aspects of this novel is the time-travel physics, which is the best thought-out in SF that I can think of. It actually explains why, in a universe with time travel, people are not constantly inundated with throngs of tourists from the future.

But a precis first: The story starts in the future (from the point of view of 1957). The narrator and main character, Dan Davis, is an inventor. In this future society, time travel has not been discovered yet, but suspended animation is well-established, and people can take one-way trips into the future via this method.

Davis and his business partner fall in with a con artist named Belle. She’s vile, but I don’t have space to exposit the details of her perfidy. Long story short, she tricks Davis out of his share of the business, drugs him, and has him involuntarily put into cold sleep for a couple of decades.

There is another element here, a young girl called “Ricky” who doesn’t have much of a responsible adult in her life other than Davis, though they’re not related.

Davis wakes up thirty years in his future and is desperate to go back in time to take care of this child, but of course that’s impossible. Or is it?

Turns out a brilliant physicist has, in fact, proven that “temporal displacement” is possible, and has constructed equipment to move objects through time. The military has classified it and he’s not allowed to talk about it, but it does work, and Davis finds out about it. But there’s a catch. Oh my goodness, there’s a hell of a catch:

Time displacement is subject to quantum indeterminacy. You can decide on the length of your trip… but you can’t control whether you’ll go forward or backward! Want to set the dial for 50 years? Okay! Have fun in 2067… or maybe 1967.

Oh, sweet damn, that’s good. Ponder what Heinlein did here:

First, this is broadly consistent with the way the universe works on the quantum scale. I don’t mean that Heinlein learned quantum physics and worked it all out; I just mean that many quantum-level events have this kind of randomness to them. A given particle has a 50% chance of decaying or not in a certain span of time (its half-life), another particle, moving through a certain experimental apparatus, has a 50% chance of going thisaway and a 50% chance of going thataway, etc., etc. It’s so plausible, at some level, that I feel myself half believing it.

Second, as noted above, it actually explains why people in the fictional universe aren’t constantly inundated with hordes of time tourists. Who’d take this risk?

Third, this time travel physics has excellent dramatic possibilities: If you’re desperate, if you need to go back in time, you could just risk it. Just bite the bullet, push the button, and hope you go in the right direction.


Davis does this, and gets lucky: He gets back into the past. There are some great scenes in which he watches himself get drugged by Belle, etc. At any rate, he gets to solve all his problems and save the girl (and his cat – this is Heinlein after, all). The story is good – I’ve stripped off most of the dramatic turns and emotional hooks for brevity, but I recommend it as entertainment. And I’ve always loved what Heinlein did with the physics.

And there was one cool little moment that popped up in the comments at Logsdon’s site, linked to above:

Davis is talking with the physicist, Twitchell, who had a younger colleague who wanted to chance it. Twitchell recounts to Davis that he demurred at first, but the colleague was insistent, and eventually Twitchell gave in. An adventurous sort, the colleague wasn’t content to take a journey of a few hours; he wanted to be displaced several centuries. So Twitchell sent him on his merry way. Which direction did he go? There’s no way to know. Or is there?

The subject’s name was Leonard Vincent. As he recalls this story, Twitchell says to Davis, “I’ve sometimes thought… no, just a chance similarity in names.”

Davis narrates, “I didn’t ask what he meant by this because I suddenly saw the similarity, too, and my hair stood on end.”

And I just got goose bumps as I recalled this scene, even though I know it’s fictional!

If you don’t catch the reference, think about it, or check out the comments at Logsdon’s site.

Where Have the Guitar Gods Gone?

Inspired by this Washington Post story, blogger Pam Mandel weighs in:

Guitar sales have dropped by a third over the past decade… Maybe it’s because we don’t have guitar gods anymore. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, that sound is — well — it’s old. And the new crop of stars don’t inspire the pursuit of guitar god status the way someone like Carlos Santana did…

Yeah, I miss the era of the guitar god too, Mandel. But seriously, no mention of Eddie Van Halen? Come on.

She continues:

Sir Paul McCartney has a similar take on the decline in the guitar’s popularity.

“The electric guitar was new and fascinatingly exciting in a period before Jimi and immediately after,” the former Beatle says wistfully in a recent interview. “So you got loads of great players emulating guys like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, and you had a few generations there.”

He pauses.

“Now, it’s more electronic music and kids listen differently,” McCartney says. “They don’t have guitar heroes like you and I did.”

Something Edgers doesn’t address in his article? Uke sales have doubled in the same period in which guitar sales have declined… And the forgiving little axe serves well as a stepping stone to the guitar. The next generation of wanna-be guitar gods could well be out there; they’re just taking a different route to blazing, finger-blistering stardom.

I must object that the ukulele just doesn’t have the sheer attitude of the guitar. But maybe the uke is a gateway drug to the axe; that gives hope. And when the guys get older and they realize how much cooler they look slinging a guitar than playing any other instrument, it will pick up. (News flash: 16-year-old boys like to do things that help them get attention from girls.)

And the WaPo article has some more optimistic thoughts later on:

Paul Reed Smith, the Maryland-based guitar designer, says the industry is just now recovering from the recession that struck in 2009. He points to PRS’s sustained revenue — the company says they’re between $42 million and $45 million a year — and an increased demand for guitars.

“This is a very complicated mix of economy versus market, demand versus what products are they putting out…” Smith says. “But I’ll tell you this: You put a magic guitar in a case and ship it to a dealer, it will sell.”

Then there’s Henry Juszkiewicz, the biggest and most controversial of the music instrument moguls. When he and a partner bought Gibson in 1986, for just $5 million, the onetime giant was dying.

“It was a failed company that had an iconic name, but it really was on its last legs,” Ash says. “[Juszkiewicz] completely revived the Gibson line.”

Not all is lost!

The acoustic guitar is light and requires no amplifiers or other powered equipment. It’s easy to learn the basic idea of playing it and it’s very versatile. In its electric version it looks damn cool; see foregoing remark about 16-year-old boys. It’s basically the workhorse of popular music in the western world, and for good reason. Thus the quote above, “You put a magic guitar in a case and ship it to a dealer, it will sell.” So yes, the era of the Guitar God is probably over for good – that era involved technical innovations that were surprising and wickedly cool when they were new, but are now standard technique. But the guitar as an instrument in western music is not going to disappear.

Trailer Idea for The Republic of Thieves

An idea for the start of a movie trailer for Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves:

Exterior shot of hotel. It’s a calm early morning and not much is going on. We hear coughing and retching.

Switch to interior: Man is lying in bed and puking his lungs out into a bowl. Another, rather large, man attends him. Magically, out of thin air, an older woman appears (go nuts with the special effects here to let the audience know this is a fantasy setting).

Sick man: Come to kill me, mage? Too late; I’m already dying.

Woman: My magic can save you. But you have to do me a favor.

Sick man: Yeah? What?

Woman: You’re the best con man in the world… and I need an election fixed.

BOOM! The audience’s attention is now snagged; the rest of the trailer just has to not mess up.