Thursday, June 19, 2008

Another Book

Today I read Charles Stross's Glasshouse. I had previously read Accelerando, which is available online, and felt that it was an excellent work. Glasshouse is certainly on par, and the pair (they are both stand alone stories) really make me want to snag the rest of his work.

Glasshouse is a post-Singularity novel, set in a future radically different from our current conception. The mastery of space, captive wormhole technology (essentially teleporation), and nano-assembly have allowed humans to expand wildly, assume new shapes, and produce backups of themselves.

Robin is fresh out of a memory wipe on a planet he can't remember being on before, and someone is trying to kill him. After foiling a series of increasingly dramatic assassination attempts, he signs up for an extended experiment to avoid his pursuers. He will be living in the dark ages of humanity (1950-2040) with a group of similarly mind wiped volunteers attempting to recreate the social structure of the time. As the experiment progresses she realizes there is more at stake than just keeping up appearances.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Three More Books

I've been working 4 hour shifts at the Science Library lab, and since it is summer and classes are out, I've had very little to do. I've taken to plowing through my pile of e-books, with the net result being that I've read three books in the past three days: Idoru and Burning Chrome by William Gibson, as well as The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect by Roger Williams. Of the three, Metamorphosis was by far the best.

It addresses the development of a greater than human artificial intelligence and the digitization of human consciousness in a rational, yet very macabre way. Rather than focusing on the human ideal it goes muckraking, exploring the empowerment of sociopaths, rapists and murderers in an environment where you can't permanently kill anyone. Definitely a good read, however it does get graphic at times, with a fair number of people getting seriously maimed/"killed" in a virtual environment.

Burning Chrome is a collection of short stories, and many of the themes in it are expounded on further in Gibson's books. It is a good book if you enjoy short stories and are not bothered that they generally don't resolve in any meaningful way. Those who have read other works by Gibson stand a better chance of enjoying it, as in and of themselves the stories leave you wanting just a little more than they offer.

Idoru was very disappointing. It lacks the richness and development of other books by Gibson, and does not contribute much to the storyline in the Bridge trilogy. The first and third books (Virtual Light, All Tomorrow's Parties) present a much more cohesive story, with Idoru (the second) hanging around in a corner talking to itself. It should be the place where two characters, Laney and Yamazaki, could be fleshed out and placed in context. However, they read like shallow copies of the same characters in the third book, where they play a comparatively minor role. Likewise, the plot is so self-contained as to almost exclude it from the rest of the series. The connections to the preceding book are flimsy at best, and the third draws much more strongly from the first then the second. I wouldn't recommend this book to a casual reader. I only finished it because: A. If I don't I die a little on the inside, and B. I'd read the other two books already.
Robert Alverson


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Reading OCR'd Scans

I've been doing a lot of reading recently, a fair amount of it on the
computer because of the move. All my hard copy books, and anything
else I want, are buried under piles of my cruft and other people's
junk. It's a mildly amusing situation. Anyway, most of the scans of
current books I get are not revised. Someone scans in the books,
OCR's the whole thing, and dumps the text output online.
Unfortunately, OCR isn't all it's cracked up to be, and sometimes the
recognition is a little off. In the particular book I'm reading now,
"~" swapped for an "s" is a fairly common occurrence, and bad
recognition like "W~Uiam Gib~3on" instead of 'William Gibson' happens
occasionally. The neat part is that unless I'm reading word by word
the typos are irrelevant and I fill in the banks from context. It
makes me wonder why there hasn't been an adaptation to the OCR
software to try to catch these things: if you know it's a book, and
that it's in English, you can do all sorts of word checking. It would
certainly be a boon to organizations like Project Gutenberg, as well
as Google Book search.
Robert Alverson


Monday, June 9, 2008

Xbox Media Center

My poor Xbox has been having issues with audio for a long time.  I stripped it apart last night, and repaired a cold joint on the motherboard and modchip.  Sadly, although my soldering skills have improved greatly since I first assembled the Xbox, the problem was apparently not the shoddy soldering job.  My new theory is that the flashed BIOS my be iffy, and if thats not the case then there is likely a pretty deep hardware problem.  Bummer.  Then it's simply a question of spending money to make a new XBMC Xbox, or put money into a VGA-NTSC converter or video card for one of my existing computers.

Robert Alverson