Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Climbing the Ladder of Inference


A commonplace in management training is The Ladder of Inference.  The ladder was described by Chris Argyris, and later included in The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, by Peter Senge. The ladder is used when teaching problem-solving, management decision-making, and similar skill sets.  The awareness of the ladder and the errors it leads to serve to warn against "jumping to conclusions."

A better phrase, in keeping with the metaphor, might be "climbing too fast."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cleaning Out the Tabs Day

Good Thing it Was a Controlled Experiment
"In a controlled experiment carried out by Alcoa Aluminium, 20 kilos (44 pounds) of molten aluminium was allowed to react with 20 litres of water, along with a small quantity of rust. 'The explosion destroyed the entire laboratory and left a crater 30 metres (100 feet) in diameter,' [scientist Christian] Simensen said."
--Agence France-Presse, Sept. 21
(h/t WSJ Best of the Web)
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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Finality vs. Efficiency

Updated. 

Once Upon a Time in the West
There was this little thing called the Scientific Revolution.  This tends to loom large in a number of areas, like Science Fiction and tendentious web sites where Science!™ is worshiped as a god, used as a club, but seldom discussed as such.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Amish Desperados and Shwantzendongles

Fear Not
Your government is protecting you from these scofflaws

who did not affix orange safety triangles to their buggies.  The Swartzentruber Amish in Kentucky evidently consider the bright orange devices hochmutig, or "showy," and prefer to use more humble reflective tape.  They look like hobbits.  Note the height of the desperado in the lower left.  Personally, I think they are being hochmutig about not being hochmutig, but then my ancestors were regular church, Gott sei dank.
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Saturday, September 10, 2011

On the pile

What Flynn is Reading
  1. Game of Thrones, etc.  Just finished the 4th volume of George RR Martin's Game of Thrones series.  Mr. Martin cannot write a bad story, but after a time I did become weary of the interminable comings and goings of various characters, and the odds-on bet that whatever a character sets out to do, he/she will fail at doing it.  There are actually multiple novels going on simultaneously, but many are not linked thematically, and the whole lacks the Aristotelian unity.  A little remorselessness goes a long way, I find.  
  2. The Scarecrow (Michael Connelly).  A thriller.  Mr. Connelly writes competently and creates well-realized characters in a common milieu, for example, his detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch.  I am about a quarter into it, and find it uses a trope I invented for In the Country of the Blind; viz., someone using the National Datanet Internet to watch for people who get interested in a Certain Topic.
  3. From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again (Etienne Gilson).  This book explores the inherent teleology of Darwinism and evolution.  It provides a wonderful opportunity for folks to utterly misunderstand teleology.  But striving to reproduce to the utmost and the struggle for existence, the two pillars of natural selection are inherently teleological, as both striving and struggling implies an end or goal, a "towardness."  Just started. 
  4. Dogs (Nancy Kress).  Another thriller.  This was the book that was too distressing for the original publisher.  Ms. Kress is another who cannot not write well.  Just received; not started. 
  5. The Message in the Bottle (Walker Percy).  A series of linked essays addressing the role of language, sign, and symbol.  It's the sort of topic that gets people saying "But what about Koko!"  "What about Alex the Parrot!"  Or perhaps even "What about Clever Hans the Arithmetical Horse!"  
What Flynn is Writing
  1. "Places Where the Roads Don't Go."  One of a pair of old college friends wants to create AI and his philosopher friend does not think it is possible.  Turing tests and Chinese rooms and a dollop of topology...  What could be more exciting?  Currently undergoing major narrative surgery, removing some cancerous lumps of exposition.  This is intended for a collection of novelettes and novellas, #4.  
  2. "Buried Hopes." Rann Velkran is weepy and emotional and upset over the recent de-orbiting of the old International Space Station.  So he begins to dig a swimming pool in his back yard.  Currently steeping to await a re-read.  Also intended for the collection, #4.  
  3. "Hopeful Monsters." It was a brilliant spring day when Karen Sorklose brought home her perfect baby.   She had used a very reputable firm of baby designers.  Currently steeping to await a re-read. Maybe the collection; maybe I'll send it to ANALOG.  
  4. Captive Dreams.  This is the title for the collection consisting of "Melodies of the Heart," "Captive Dreams," "Remember'd Kisses," plus "Places Where the Roads Don't Go," "Buried Hopes," and/or "Hopeful Monsters."  The conceit of the collection is that the main character in each story lives along the same oval road encircling a woodland. The stories will be available in ebook format, collectively (and probably individually).  
  5. "The Journeyman."  Teodorq sunna Nagarajan is on the run, having killed the son of the Serpentine clan chief in a fair fight.  The Serps see matters differently.  In progress.  Teodorq has left the long grass prairie and entered the short grass prairie and is shortly to find a strange artifact supposedly from the days of the First Men on World.  His journey will eventually take him most of the way across World.  Readers of Up Jim River, if any there should be, will recognize the Wildman. 
  6. The Chieftain.  The world has a shortage of medieval Celtic fantasies.  No, really.  This one is set in Ireland in AD 1225, and is the same milieu as the alternate history short "The Iron Shirts," except it is straight, not alternate.  It was written long ago, in and shortly after college, as an historical, the market for which can best be described as multiples of SQRT(-1).  The writing is sucky because I was younger; but it is as capable of rewrite as The January Dancer was.  A bit of medieval magic should pepper it right up.  Don't usually see prayers instead of spells, or saints instead of imps to answer them; so we shall see.  And calling on God may not be quite as simple as calling on gods....
  7. The Shipwrecks of Time.  Back in the early 1340s, Heinrich of Regensburg was brutally murdered over a now-lost manuscript known as "The Peruzzi Papers."  In AD 1968, an historical researcher in Milwaukee becomes interested in the contents.  What could have been so dangerous to know that the author was so brutally killed?  Why did House Peruzzi keep the papers secret for 600 years?  Inquiring minds want to know.  But maybe they should not be so inquiring?  Later, a documentary film-maker in 1980s Denver and a small town police detective in the fictional 2010s Neston PA are also entangled in the mystery.  Some mss. are better left unread, it seems. 
  8. In the Lion's Mouth. 
    It’s a big Spiral Arm, and the scarred man, Donavan buigh, has gone missing in it, upsetting the harper Mearana's plans for a reconciliation between her parents. Bridget ban, a Hound of the League, doubts that reconciliation is possible or desirable; but nonetheless has dispatched agents to investigate the disappearance. 
    The powerful Ravn Olafsdottr, a Shadow of the Names, slips into Clanthompson Hall to tell mother and daughter of the fate of Donovan buigh. In the Long Game between the Confederation of Central Worlds and the United League of the Periphery, Hound and Shadow are mortal enemies; yet a truce descends between them so that the Shadow may tell her tale. There is a struggle in the Lion’s Mouth, the bureau that oversees the Shadows—a clandestine civil war of sabotage and assassination between those who would overthrow Those of Name and the loyalists who support them. And Donovan, one-time Confederal agent, has been recalled to take a key part, willingly or no.

    This is written and the uncorrected page proofs have been circulating.  The third book in the Spiral Arm series, it picks up where Up Jim River left off.   Scheduled for January 2012
  9. On the Razor's Edge.  This is written, but awaits editorial action and rewrites.  It is the finale to the Spiral Arm series that began with The January Dancer.   And you thought you knew what was going on.....

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The French will be issuing a paperback edition of EIFELHEIM.  Perhaps winning the Prix Julie Verlanger was persuasive.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Passing the Turing Test

"Defense Cuts Spat Clouds Deficit Panel Debate"--headline, Reuters, Sept. 8

Now obviously Defense doesn't need spats, since they are long out of fashion; but cutting spats doesn't mean they have to cut the panel debate over the clouds deficit, too.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Product of Conception

A reader with the Davidic name of Jesse has asked a series of questions on the other site about our previous post. I'm bringing it up as a new post because his questions raise interesting points; and it's easier to handle than in the comm box.

Perceiving percepts.
Jesse wrote:
A "concept" itself seems not completely sharply defined, for example does it require verbal ability or could a highly autistic person who never developed the ability to understand language be said to have "concepts"?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice

Adam and Eve discover
they are naked. 
Human race follows.
John Farrel has written a column at his Forbes site entitled "Can Theology Evolve," quoting from an epistle of Jerry Coyne:
"I’ve always maintained that this piece of the Old Testament, which is easily falsified by modern genetics (modern humans descended from a group of no fewer than 10,000 individuals), shows more than anything else the incompatibility between science and faith. For if you reject the Adam and Eve tale as literal truth, you reject two central tenets of Christianity: the Fall of Man and human specialness." 
Now, by "literal truth" Coyne undoubtedly intended "literal fact," since a thing may be true without being fact, and a fact has no truth value in itself.  I do not know Dr. Coyne's bona fides for drawing doctrinal conclusions or for interpreting scriptures, although he seems to lean toward the fundamentalist persuasion.  Nor am I sure how Dr. Coyne's assertion necessarily entails a falsification of human specialness (whatever he means by that).  I never heard of such a doctrine in my Storied Youth(^1) though it is pretty obvious from a scientific-empirical point of view.  You are not reading this on an Internet produced by kangaroos or petunias.
It is not even clear what his claim means regarding the Fall.  Neither the Eastern Orthodox nor the Roman Catholic churches ever insisted on a naive-literal reading of their scriptures, and yet both asserted as dogma the Fall of Man.(^2

Now modern genetics does not falsify the Adam and Eve tale for the excellent reason that it does not address the same matter as the Adam and Eve tale.  One is about the origin of species; the other is about the origin of sin.  One may as well say that a painting of a meal falsifies haute cuisine.
Still, there are some interesting points about the myth of Adam and Eve and the Fall.  Not least is the common late-modern usage of "myth" to mean "something false" rather than "an organizing story by which a culture explains itself to itself."  Consider, for example, the "myth of progress" that was so important during the Modern Ages.  Or the equally famous "myth of Galileo" which was a sort of Genesis myth for the Modern Ages.  With the fading of the Modern Ages, these myths have lost their power and have been exploded by post-modernism or by historians of science.  Before we consider the Fall, let us consider the Summer.  No.  Wait.  I mean the Summary. 
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(^1) storied youth.  Literally.  My brother and I wrote stories when we were kids. 
(^2) Makes you wonder what their actual reasoning was, if it was not some backwoods 19th century American reading an archaic English translation of some Greek texts.