Descriptions of the Nondescript

Agent Queries

I sent a query letter to an agent today. It included five pages of my Dying to Live Forever and a brief pitch and some other stuff.

I have all fingers, toes, and eyes crossed.

[Postscript, August 12, 2019] I have now submitted six such letters to different agencies. None of them have replied other than automatically to tell me they received my query. Since they're all basically only committing to contact me if they like me, I have to wait up to two months to find out that nobody loves my stuff and move on. I hate this relic of the 19th century this industry still clings to. Sending an email with a "sorry not interested" would take $0.0000000001 and about a millisecond of effort on someone's part. It would be a great service to those of us who have no way to know if we're on the right track or not without such long unreasonable delays.

Tools for the Writer

I got tired to installing the same tools over and over on each Linux box I work on and each time I build a new one. Finally I realized what I really needed was consistency and repeatability with all of the tools pegged at the versions that work for my workflow. DING! My brain finally matched the pattern. I needed a container for my tools.

So I wrote one using Docker. Check out the sample-work subfolder for an example. You can literally type make in that directory and the Docker magic (assuming you have Docker installed on your Linux box as the docker command) will just happen. Automagically, as they say.

The container is not minimal. But it does what I need and I don't care that it takes a few seconds to download.

Oho! I'm Writing Again

writing-revisions
writing-revisions

I'm writing again. I have about 68k words (no, not words about the Good Old Days MC680x0 processors from Motorola [as my Twitter acquaintance @tiltdad thought](https://twitter.com/tiltdad/status/1112456639012106242)). These precious little balloons of thought have languished on my computer for several years now. They really are something I am proud of, but I just couldn't get past the effort to finally finish the couple of remaining scenes, do the revisions, and get it shipped off to someone to publish.

I know that's stupid. Thank you.

I'm working on it now. Revisions are many, but I'm already about a quarter of the way through the manuscript, and I'm motivated to finish. If published, I think this one would be something I could really be proud of. (My previous book was my first. 'Nuff said.)

In case you're interested, this story is about an AI that emerges from experiments run by a hacker who "gets lucky". But there are many in the world who don't want such a powerful thing to be controlled by (or in league with) just some guy... The working title is now Emergent Patterns. I have some very early draft chapters elsewhere on this site under the tag ANGEL.

Probably a lot of my future posts here will be about this book --- at least until it's "out there" and its fate is in the hands of the ... fates.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: Experienced Asia Traveler

taipei-scooters
taipei-scooters

I'm sitting in Taipei's wonderful Taoyuan International Airport, as I have been since early this afternoon, awaiting the nearly midnight departure of my flight back to Seattle and home. I'm here rather than doing the tourist thing because of the never-to-be-sufficently-damned bones and muscles surrounding my spinal cord. Apparently the damage I sustained trying to run and move 350 pounds of concrete in each wheelbarrow load as a 16-year-old didn't really heal after all. My relationship with ibuprofen is love-hate at best because of a tragically sensistive stomach. What can I say? I'm a delicate flower rough, tough he-man.

The first destination in this trip was Shanghai to work with my team there for about a week. I then hopped a quick couple of hours south to Taipei for a few days of meetings with my other team. This city is completely different from Shanghai, but they each have their delightful charms. The Shanghainese are relentless and driven, all while managing to maintain a happy, jolly family feeling. That bustling city is going places --- and has been for a thousand years.

Taipei, on the other hand, is easy going but busy in a way that you have to see to understand how different it can be from the Chinese way. It's probably the most American friendly city in Asia in that its citizens seem to embrace their version of what seem to me to be substantially American-like ways of life. Furthermore, they clearly resist Chinese authority and Chinese lifestyle choices. Many Taiwanese have excellent English skills that they will tell you have been enhanced by their consumption of American TV shows. But Taipei is also undeniably southeast Asian and tropical in its flavor. There seem to be some rural zones embedded in the urban --- a bit like what I've seen Hawaii.

Where Shanghai, with its population frozen at 25 million, has everyone riding in the excellent Metro and bus system or piloting government-encouraged electric bikes and cars for their daily transport, Taipei is dedicated to scooters powered by buzzing four cycle gasoline engines. At a guess, I'd say they outnumber cars at least three to one. They seem to abide by no perceptible traffic rules other than mandatory stop for red traffic lights. Each major intersection has a designated area for the scooters to settle into as they await the checkered flag --- er, green light. The cars and trucks are right behind them, bearing down on them with visible zeal. The scooter driver who isn't paying close attention or with a weak or cantankerous engine is probably not long for this world.

I love traveling. I do miss my wife, and I get lonely and start talking to myself (more than usual) after a long absence, but seeing new places or returning to old ones is something I have always loved. I normally embrace the strangeness (to me) of places and people who aren't like the 'Muricans I grew up with. It's not that I don't like Americans and America, but I also like seeing how everyone else solves the daily problems of life and raising their children and making and spending money. I suppose I'm a xeno-phile.

But not always. I remember arriving in Paris at Gare du Nord with my children on vacation a few years ago, feeling elation and a strange sense of xenophobia. I reacted to this unaccustomed fear by becoming cranky and conservative --- something my mostly adult offspring didn't appreciate one bit. Of course it may have been at least partially due to the walking pneumonia and double ear infections I later discovered I had been suffering from for the entire trip to that point. I eventually settled into my normal groove and we had a fabulous time, despite the energy limitations the illness saddled me with.

My secret shame is stealing glances at strangers and trying to guess the details their story --- how they got to their current situation in life. Imagine the sights seen by that 80-something couple walking down the street helping each other and holding hands. Or the young chick in the tight leather pants who looks paranoid and seems like she hasn't slept for a week. Or those four guys chattering about "BIOS" and "PCIe hot plug", holding laptops precariously under their arms while they scarf burgers and rush back to their workplace.

I think I'll just sit here in the airport, biding my time and watching the people. It's only four more hours or so until I board my twelve hour long flight home.

Come to think of it, maybe that's the real reason I didn't go sightseeing today. The people watching is always best in airports, and you can do it without having to pretend you're doing anything else. Everybody people watches in airports. It's expected.

Writing Never Quite Lets You Go

I've been away from my blog for a long time. There were several little issues that I think of as "reasons," but the real problem was the damage I took in being relegated to the scrapheap by my former employer when they laid me off. I didn't admit to myself how much that hurt me --- how it left me unconfident and devastated, despite my sure knowledge that it wasn't personal, it wasn't even reasonable, and that I could be more than I had been in my new role.

So I'm writing again. A little. Here in this blog, and maybe some day soon I'll be finishing my A.N.G.E.L. story.

One hurdle in getting this blog back into shape was that I had started moving the whole thing to another hosting mechanism. I started with WordPress, found it appalling, then moved to Ghost, which was nicer but seemed just not quite what I wanted.

I found Hexo and it's just what I wanted.

I do have a new role. I'm a system architect for a gigantic electronics manufacturing company (no, not that evil one everyone knows from Apple's struggles with human rights, but one nearly that big). What I do isn't directly engineer as such --- it's more like I act as a translator (sometimes literally) between our customers and their needs and the "real" engineers, who are mostly located in Shanghai.

Ah, Shanghai --- one of the largest cities in the world, and a showpiece for the thriving future China envisions for all of its citizens. What a vibrant, exciting, self-contradictory place it is. I've spent many weeks there in the first six months of my new job, and I expect I'll continue that. The people I work with there are good folks with talents and energy and a real sense of espirit de corps in their work environment. This despite the causually dismissive attitude that seems to pervade the electronics and engineering communities when it comes to Chinese talent. These people are a product of their history, but they also have a lot of future create and they are fucking doing it.

Be Proud of China

I've been in Shanghai for four of the last eight weeks. I'm to return from my second trip in a few days. I've had some time to walk around by myself, to explore, and to meet a lot of people here.

I'm struck by how completely different this country is from the one we were told about when I was a kid in the 1970s. These people aren't oppressed, they're not sweating in stinking hovels, and they're definitely not living under Communist economic rule.

It's true there are vestiges of the old authoritarian ways. The Great Firewall of China supposedly "protects" them from evil foreign sexy web. Instead, its true purpose seems to be to help locally created companies thrive selling services like search and chat and social networking to Chinese consumers who eat that shit up like nobody I've ever seen.

Almost literally everyone has a smart phone, mostly either Apple or local manufacturers. And they use them 24x7 for every aspect of life. WeChat is ubiquitous in every day Life. It's like a combination of Facebook, Snapchat, Android/Apple Pay, and iMessage.

People don't use cash. They use WeChat to pay for their lunch, coffee (yes, there are Starbucks here), or to buy groceries. They meet and become friends on WeChat by scanning QRcodes with their phones. They use WeChat like business cards and contact lists and to hail a cab.

Shanghai is unbelievably impressive. This city went from 500k people in the 1990s to 25 million now. It's a modern and well planned city with functional freeways and a density that only Asian cities seem to be able to pull off. And at night the place is brilliant with every tall building (and they have a great many of those) covered in moving video or light shows. There must be trillions of LEDs in Shanghai. Even the ramps connecting the raised highways with surface streets are decorated with blue LEDs along their edges.

There's an excitement of possibilities here. The people of Shanghai appear to believe they're building the Jetsons future - to sell to the rest of the world of course. And they're justifiably proud of their accomplishments and those of their great country.

China is not just rising. China is risen. They deserve to be a great world superpower just as the US did in the 20th century. They're not without their flaws, certainly. But China is now in many ways what my own country was when I was young and no longer is - youthful, exuberant, and full of promise. I wish I could read and speak Mandarin.

Being Laid Off Draws a Hard Vacuum

I was laid off yesterday in a move that, as it was explained to me, was part of a "corporate restructuring". The company where I'd worked for the last sixteen years now has a bright new CEO (whom I like a lot, based on very little data) and is planning to move ahead in major new directions. They were moving some pieces around on the board, cleaning out a little bit of dead wood, retargeting their resources. Evidently they felt I was looking a little undernourished — and probably overpaid. I could argue they were absolutely wrong and insane to let someone of my calibre go, but that would be a supremely self-serving thing to do, wouldn't it?

I have to say that after walking a couple of miles from the office in the hot Seattle afternoon I found it pretty easy to get over being hurt and supremely pissed off. In fact, I saw, this might be one of the best things to happen to me in a long time, career-wise. To be honest (and I always try to be), I had been getting a little sedentary in my old job. Not in the ways that would lead to me actually being redundant or suitable to be laid off, mind you. But in my own mind. I was finding myself dreading each day whacking away at the same old problems, no matter how comfortable and familiar they'd become.

Today I set my course upon a new, hopefully happy trail. I'm hoping I'll find a way to pay my bills long before I have to start having to dip into my retirement savings to do so. We'll have to see how it turns out.

Evolution of Thought

manifesto-cover
manifesto-cover

Our brothers and sisters in Canada are moved to make a public statement of support and transformation. We are in desperate need of something like this in the USA.

We've moved from a values-driven, caring, compassionate society to one that is divided. This division can be traced back at least to political machinations begun in the 1960s that created a schism in our country where the very values that should bind us all are treated with disdain and are mocked - not by a small group of misguided and warped bigots in secret, but in public and with frequent agreement and affirmation. The very idea that "political correctness" could be mocked by people who claim as their heritage a Christian set of values is patently ludicrous, yet we see this as commonplace in daily conversations.

How did this happen? It's very clear how it was done. It began as a deliberate manipulation of the thoughts and minds of good, solid people to create in them a distrust and abhorrence of their neighbors and fellow countrymen - those upon whom we all inter-depend. Many have been led, slowly, gradually, without seeming to be led, toward a set of beliefs that would never have been thinkable when the process was begun years ago, but has become acceptable through this incremental evolution.

Conservatives were well aware of this shift and its bad effects even in the early years. In a 1994 interview, by then retired Senator Barry Goldwater said, "When you say 'radical right' today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye."

From Conservapedia:

In response to Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell's opposition to the nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, of which Falwell had said, "Every good Christian should be concerned", Goldwater retorted: "Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass."

I find myself appalled and dismayed at the shocking lack of compassion and trust and respect we see routinely displayed in our media's coverage of the political system, everyday interactions between everyday people, and in the entertainment we all consume. We've sunk to new lows with each passing decade of my life, and we seem destined to continue to do so, slowly abolishing in our society the very values that made this country what it was and is no longer.

Our Founding Fathers would be instantly disgusted if they were to appear here and now and witness what we've done with their imperfect, and yet powerful and promising beginning. I wish I could somehow show the perspective I've been gradually acquiring to everyone. I believe it would show the stark, bitter contrast between what we all think we want and what many of us are working toward because of ideations perverted for short-term political gain that have gradually taken on a life of their own and as such may well destroy our society.

Space Will Save Us

[Future Earth]

It's not about wanting to go individually. It's about running out of ideas about how to expand the human race, running out of energy and resources, and generally needing a new frontier to expand into. We're stagnating as a civilization.

Space is full of things we need both for up there and down here: energy, metals, water, air, organics, heat, cold, vacuum, zero-G. We can bring a lot of new wealth to us down here and we do a lot up there that isn't easy here. But it's more important than resources.

We need a place for the wild wild west to play out over and over. We need to try new ideas in government and society. Down here it's too easy for these experiments to be swamped by external influences before anything useful is learned. People are too "comfortable" in the sense of "comfort zones". We need to shove a bunch of people into a new pool and make them swim or die, honestly. It's what we're FOR as a species, and it's what we're good at. We're wasting our intrinsic talents down here and we're wasting away because of it.

Think about this. The population is thousand times or a million times what it was in the time of the original discoverers of most of our basic understanding of government, society, the physical world, human discourse, law, mathematics, and many other subjects. We have, therefore, thousands or millions of geniuses to those eras' one. Why aren't we making fundamental progress on such things?

We're limited by our comfort zones. Capitalism, while powerful and definitely most of the reason we're all here and alive and eating and housed today, isn't the last word in solutions to the problems it was evolved to solve. Nor is democracy. Nor socialism, nor Christianity, nor Buddhism, nor Islam, nor American way of doing things, nor are lots of things.

Nobody is trying anymore. Because the cost of trying is just way too high. Natural selection, natural experimentation, evolution - they've all stopped in the world of ideas. That is, until there is a crisis or a war or a disaster. Then we might dabble a bit to fix what we think might have been the cause or recover from the devastation. But we don't have to fix things most of the time.

The Wonky Allotment

I have a friend who writes almost compulsively. I think she's motivated by the combination of her brilliant mind and an inability to be idle, despite constantly struggling with her health. Her writing is captivating, I'm sure you'll agree.

We're all a little like this a little of the time. Chiller keeps plugging along, despite the setbacks, slowly, surely. I feel a bit like this sometimes - albeit without the seriousness of her setbacks to really know what it feels like.

Maybe re-emergence is possible. It was for someone far more seriously ill than I've ever been. Thanks, Chiller.