Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘David Brin

The Last Political Endorsement You’ll Ever Need

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Wednesday Night

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* Those communists at the ACLU are at it again; they say the president can’t just have people murdered any time he wants. Check your Constitution, hippie!

* Only the cameraman didn’t volunteer: Five Men Agree To Stand Directly Under An Exploding Nuclear Bomb.

* Some refreshing honesty: Cheney, 71, said defense spending is “not a spigot you can turn on and turn off, that you need to keep money flowing in a predictable way so you can plan for the next war,” Graham said after the Senate Republicans’ weekly luncheon.

* Okay, points there: Director Christopher Nolan says he has a simple explanation for why he refused to shoot The Dark Knight Rises in 3D: He doesn’t know anyone who actually enjoys it.

* It’s just as good as real learningEven as traditional universities have embraced massive free courses, those institutions have drawn a line on the matter of offering credit. Some professors send a letter of recognition to students who succeed in the free, online versions of their courses, but the universities have refrained from offering those students course credits that count toward the completion of a traditional degree. So far the only way students might redeem their success in MOOCs for formal college credit is by seeking validation through prior-learning assessment apparatuses.

* When David Brin met Orson Scott Card at Comic-Con.

Bryan Fuller’s mystery Pushing Daisies project may be a musical.

* And will UNESCO protect Tranquility Base from nonexistent space tourists? Tune in tomorrow, Moon Rangers, for the exciting conclusion!

‘Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality’

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The only fan fiction I’ve ever recommended, and perhaps even read at all: “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality,” loosely organized around an alternate universe version of the J.K. Rowling novels in which (among other things) Harry’s adoptive parents were not the repulsive Dursleys but instead an rationalist Oxford scientist. The piece is written in accordance with the author’s self-established principles of fan fiction:

The First Law of Fanfiction states that every change which strengthens the protagonists requires a corresponding worsening of their challenges. Or in plainer language: You can’t make Frodo a Jedi without giving Sauron the Death Star. Read any book on writing ever and it will tell you that stories are about conflict; a hero too strong for their conflict is no longer in tense, heart-pounding difficulty. For example, Dark!Dumbledore and Dark!Harry both permit a Harry strengthened over canon – the first by turning one of Harry’s canon!allies against him, and the second by turning Harry against his canon!allies. The most spectacular application of this principle that I’ve seen is Harry Potter and the Wastelands of Time, in which Harry has gained all the knowledge of ancient Atlantis and has been through literally hundreds of Peggy Sue cycles in which he learns every possible twist of fate… and Voldemort, who unfortunately got to Atlantis first, has still won every time. The Mary Sue is not defined by her power, but by her lack of an even more powerful opponent. I mention this (1) so that you know I know it and (2) because the First Law of Fanfiction ought to be in a giant banner on every fanfiction site. The most fatal temptation of fanfiction writing is to think of how much easier some character’s life would be if they were a ninja. We are naturally inclined to think up ways to solve our characters’ problems for them, but must learn instead to make their lives more difficult.

The Rule of Rationalist Fiction states that rationality is not magic; being rational does not require magical potential or royal bloodlines or even amazing gadgets, and the principles of rationality work for understandable reasons.A rationalist!hero should excel by thinking – moreover, thinking in understandable patterns that readers can, in principle, adopt for themselves. As opposed to the hero just being a born “genius” who comes up with amazing gadgets through an opaque discovery process, or who pulls off incredibly complicated gambits that would fail miserably if the reader tried something similar in real life.

I found this strange and slightly wonderful mess (where else?) at TV Tropes, which points out that it’s a self-conscious Author Tract for self-educated AI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky, who seems to take Bayes’s theorem as something like religion.

Of course “HPatMoR” is definitely not for everyone—I can only imagine what Alex will say if he takes the bait and clicks the link—but it displays that precise nerdly obsessiveness I find I just can’t resist. When a fan-fic writers imagines his souped-up Voldemort turning the outbound Pioneer 11 spacecraft into one of his many Horcuxes—well, look, I’m not made of stone.

I should also say this link is roughly the complete opposite of “breaking news”—the ongoing project is nearly a year old.

Friday Night Everything

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* The long-awaited (but oddly dissatisfying) Lost epilogue has appeared online, though who knows for how long or with whose permission.

* Decadence watch: municipalities are cutting back on public transit, de-paving roads, cutting back on education and even city lights, and closing public libraries. Naturally, the wars continue apace.

* Elena Kagan post-mortems from Jonathan Chait and Glenn Greenwald.

* Neal Stephenson talks SF at Gresham College. The link has another, shorter talk from David Brin as well. Thanks to Melody for the link.

* Silly games of the night: Epic Coaster and Color Theory.

* Visiting the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.

* Power stations of the retrofuture.

* Marmaduke (by Franz Kafka).

* America’s first test-tube baby has turned her back on her heritage.

* You had me at huge Back to the Future trilogy timeline.

* Google says there are 129,864,880 books In existence. I swear, I swear, mine’s coming.

* And neither English nor philosophy makes this list of the ten lowest-paying college majors. Take that, everyone I knew in college!

Wednesday Links

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Wednesday links.

* Scandal at UConn! The Plank says the story is peanuts; this sort of corruption is endemic to the NCAA.

* Cover Stories From the Most-Requested Back Issues of The American Prognosticator (1853–1987).

* Duke University professor and civil rights icon John Hope Franklin has died.

* Upright Citizens Brigade parodies Wes Anderson. Bastards!

* A 93-year-old Japanese man has become the first person certified as a survivor of both U.S. atomic bombings at the end of the Second World War.

* The first unambiguous case of electronic voting machine fraud in the U.S.?

* Solitary confinement as torture.

* Roman engineers chipped an aqueduct through more than 100 kilometers of stone to connect water to cities in the ancient province of Syria. The monumental effort took more than a century, says the German researcher who discovered it. How could the Romans think in terms of centuries but we can’t think past a single business cycle?

* Lots of people are linking to this letter from an AIG bonus recipient. The merits of the contracts aside—I’ve said before they should be enforced unless fraudulent or predicated on fraud—but I don’t think he helps his case much when he puts a number on it. His one-time after-tax “bonus” is more than I would have made in thirty years of adjuncting.

* David Brin wants to “uplift” animals, i.e., make them sentient. This is exactly why people don’t take science fiction seriously; it’s totally crazy, pointless, and cruel and it wouldn’t even work…

Science Fiction in Academia

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David Brin talks about the position of science fiction in academia. I have to say that I don’t really agree with him about this at all—in my little corner of academia at least science fiction is the only literature anybody seems to be talking about.

Written by gerrycanavan

February 1, 2008 at 1:53 pm