This past weekend my wife and son were making Halloween decorations (as I've mentioned before, my boy is somewhat enthusiastic about autumn) and demanded bat paper dolls.
I'd struggled to make paper dolls as a kid (I'm not super visual), so I was pretty shocked when I managed to make these lil guys on the first try. Here are some pointers:
The thing getting hyped about this fantastic time-lapse footage from the International Space Station is the opportunity to see the Aurora Australis from above, but what gets me every time I watch this is how many freaking thunderstorms are happening on earth at any given time, and the breathtaking contrast between those chaotic blue lightning flashes and the static golden glow of human-made electrical networks.
This past summer The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction published my novelette "The Traveling Salesman Solution--which has generally been lauded for getting some hard math right[*] in the service of posing a totally non-mathematical ethical dilemma.
If you're the sort of reader who dug that story--or would dig such a story--for the math, then you are gonna *love* this: A guy named Todd W. Schneider has put together a neat littler interactive web-app for solving instances of the Traveling Salesman Problem using simulated annealing.
For folks who've read the story, you may wonder: Is this Todd guy gonna build a doomsday device now ('cause, naturally, that's what you do with computer hardware/software that solves the TSP). The answer is, "No," because his program doesn't *solve* the TSP, per se. The neat thing about simulated annealing is that it's a short cut for finding *good* solutions, not *optimum*, solutions. You save time by settling for something less than perfect (which, itself, is sort of a tidy lesson in trade-offs, ethical and otherwise). Very neat, but not the world-shaking all-purpose always-optimal TSP-solver that poor old Bryce built in the story.
For more abut the story, you can check out this interview. Sadly, it's not available as an ebook yet (I've been busy), but you can order the print back issue directly from F&SF, or contact me directly and I'll see if I can hook you up with a PDF or something.
(I got wind of Todd W. Schneider's simulated annealing TSP web app via The Atlantic's City Lab)
I was doing a book event at a farmer's market early last month, before I got insanely sick. I don't *blame* the goat for my illness, but I'm just sayin' . . . aw, hell, I can't stay mad at this lil guy! Goat, I can't quit you!
I am depressed.
I've been depressed and anxious for a couple days, because this is how my brain is, especially as the seasons change toward the tail-end of the year. The angle of the sun early and late in the day becomes more acute, your shadow stretches out in front of you like a wendigo. It's a harbinger of the gloom that will dominate the clock once fall finishes falling, and the cloud ceiling feels like it's about seven feet over your head, waiting to crush you.
Once the sun starts getting low and skulky like that I begin to constantly feel like I'm about to tip over backward in a chair, like there's someone just behind me about to punch me in the back of the neck. It's unnerving, and constant, and so I'm anxious, and so I'm depressed.
Normally I'd treat this depression with alcohol or coffee, but it's 9am and my stomach has been off and there's a point where you Have to Talk to Someone About Thus, Dude, and I'd prefer that not be today.
So I made a new swing for my kids. The old one broke the other day, and I didn't take it down immediately, and my 8-year-old has subsequently been sort of clinging to the remainder and dangling in a vain attempt to swing, which is pretty pathetic, and also sort of eerie looking, like a sophomore-year interpretive dance of a public hanging.
The new swing is a jankety-ass hack made from some junk from the garage (a length of 2" PVC, a length of nylon runner I used to use for rock climbing, back in during the Clinton Administration), but I feel somewhat better. The sun was a little higher in the sky by the time I finished, and so I felt less like my shadow was waiting to stab me in the back, so that helped. Also, there's something to be said for a cylindrical swing seat--it's more like a trapeze, and easier on my old butt. I'm sure the kids will come up with some new and dangerous way to take advantage of this new design.
Anyway, I want to suggest this same mode of treatment to you, Gentle Readers:
If you are feeling depressed or anxious, and it is not yet at the Point Where You Have to Talk to Your Doctor, Dude, make your kids a new swing out of garage junk. Because here's the thing: You'll probably feel at least a little better--on account you will have exercised your rugged individualism or done something physical or reformed the world in your image or tikkun olamed a smidge, or however your worldview best frames voluntary unpaid manual labor in or near the home. But even if you don't feel a damn bit better after you're done building your swing, your kids will still get home at the end of the day, and there'll be a new swing, and they'll be happy about that.
And that alone will help. And all day you'll know this one fundamental truth: At the end of the day your kids will be happy because there's a new swing. And since you've increased the net daily happiness in the world, you have also increased the mean happiness enjoyed by any single human, even if only a smidge. By the magic of division, you're *technically* happier already.
And, shit, by Internet standards, being *technically* happier--like being *technically* more qualified or deserving or right--is even better than being *actually* better. I think you could get round one VC funding on the basis of that math alone.
But whatever. One way or the other, your kids have a new swing--and you've got about six hours left in the day that you can use that swing all you want with no one trying to horn in on it.
The most foreboding sentence in the video embedded below--in terms of the obvious teledildonic applications of this tech--has to be: "Predicting the behavior of soft robotic devices is difficult." Yikes!
For reals, though, there is *a lot* of legit awesome here (both in mainstream R&D and homebrew garage mad-science)--as well as the only legitimately feasibly use of 3D printing I've yet seen suggested[*]
Thanks to a new toolkit released by researchers at Harvard University, those garage robot tinkerers can now expand into the realm of "soft" robots, e.g. robots made to squish and deform like mechanical slugs or eels.
Here's a cool lil vid of a pretty evolved example of "soft robotics." I think this little fella was even programmed to feel pain, regret, and ennui!
DISCLOSURE: There is currently no pair of words in the English language that activate my couldn't-give-a-shit gag response faster than "stretch goal"—nonetheless, I have to admit that this is a pretty damn worthwhile Kickstarter project: Clarkesworld: Chinese Science Fiction Translation Project by Neil Clarke — Kickstarter
Clarke is a good editor, and his magazine an excellent venue. I've got at least three readily articulable reasons that I think this isn't just a good or lofty project, but rather a goddamned vital one. Here goes:
1) YOU ARE PROBABLY BIGOTED ABOUT CHINA If you are an American reader (and Google Analytics tells me that your probably are) who mostly interacts with other Americans, you almost certainly harbor a whole host of really fucked-up opinions about China and its citizens, which you repeat often and take as gospel and don't even realize are fucked up and baseless. I host the very same psycho-flora in my own brain-gut--and only became aware if it because I happened to go to Costa Rica for a long visit two years running. CR has *much* friendly relations with China than the US does, and that trickles down to rank and file citizens. It was only in visiting CR that I became aware of the clanging bigotry of what were, in the US, totally garden variety "factual" observations about China. I needed the contrast to see it. This is a similar source of that much-needed contrast, but without having to pay a passport fee or ride an airplane.
2) YOU ARE GOING TO BE CHARMED BY THE SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE WORLDVIEWS PRESENTED IN THESE STORIES AND YOUR OWN This is another one that totally blindsided me, and it was only by the grace of fickle Fortune that I even got the chance to get blindsided. See, I've got this lil wistful steampunk robot-soldier-sexbot novella that got translated into Chinese a while back. The book is set just after the Civil War, and is largely about the uncomfortable quasi-friendship of a pair of outcasts, one a crippled Confederate veteran, the other a Japanese-American veterinarian/doctor. The clockwork soldiers are sort of a narrative foil, at best--or, at least, that's totally how American readers take it (myself included). But then I saw a couple reviews from Chinese readers, and the scales fell from my eyes. To these Chinese readers, the story wasn't really about the outcast crippled Confederate and doctor; it was about those those identical clockwork soldiers, who had done their duty and finally been released by their government, only to be viciously punished by their human neighbors for attempting to live free and remake themselves in some new image. Yeah, all of that was always there in the novella, but it took this new group of readers--and their own fears and fascinations and cultural baggage--to make it visible.
3) FOR THE MOST PART, WE DON'T GET MUCH IN TRANSLATION The US is a *major* worldwide culture creator and exporter; most everyone else takes *a lot* of their entertainment in translation. Meanwhile, we have the privilege of getting most of our thrills, chills, shits, and giggles in our own language and packaged in our own ubiquitous culture and its biases. It is good for your brain to have to try and breakdown strange new cultural proteins.
3.1) CHINA MAKES THIS WORLD The other side: Look around you (including the thing on which you are looking at these words): Without China, an easy 90% of the things in your house don't exist, don't function, or don't matter because the things they need in order to function either don't exist or don't function, because they were MADE IN CHINA. It's time we understood China much, much better, on its own terms.
Just sayin', this is worth your support--but more than that, it is worth your *attention*.
I wrote my final column for the Ann Arbor Chronicle this month, marking the beginning of the school year and the end of that publication's six years of perpetual (and profitable) publication. That final column is about our schools, education, the SAW film franchise, Presidents in Peril, ersatz wales, kids, and the ways we, as communities, show our children our true priorities. I'm pleased with how all of this has turned out, and relieved that we crossed the finish line *before* I succumbed to strep throat, followed by pneumonia, capped with a minor head wound and water heater repair. It's been a helluva damned month. L'shana Tova, mofos!
My final column starts something like this:
He clearly demonstrated that he was learning things somehow – he was reading ever more voraciously, and suddenly knew perfect squares through 10 and what a rhombus was. If the school accomplished that through long days spent sitting motionless and staring into space, far be it from me to disrupt their zen practice. “Nothing” was, after all, getting results.
But as it turns out, my kid is a damned liar. They hardly did any “nothing” at all at that school.
. . .
. . . and goes on that way. There are more pictures than usual. Check it out: The Ann Arbor Chronicle | In It For The Money: Our Schools
Listen: I did this for you. I don't know why, but I did.