Thursday, April 18, 2019

Babylon's Ashes: a very short review

It had been six months, so I picked up the next episode of The Expanse: Babylon's Ashes.

I'm not actually sure how many series I've read this far, i.e., all the way to Book Six. Patrick O'Brian's stories of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin is the only other that comes to mind.

Of course, O'Brian's books were one of the great literary achievements of the 20th century; that's a high bar!

But clearly The Expanse has something going on.

I agree with those who say that Babylon's Ashes was not the strongest of the series so far. Book Five was much better. The Free Navy are not very interesting, and I'm not sure where I stand on the investigation into the soul of Filip Nagata.

However, one of the strongest parts of the overall series is the way that characters with dark pasts are developed into rich and fascinating stories. Think of Clarissa Mao, or Basia Merton, or even Joe Miller from Book One (Leviathan Wakes).

And, we get some great space battles, we get a very new interesting character in Michio Pa.

My pattern of late has been to take a bit of a break between books. After all, I have much else to read.

But I'm sure I'll be back for Book Seven. I suspect that, just as summer turns into fall, Persepolis Rising will be finding its way into my hands...

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

For historians of the birth of computer games

Here's a pretty amazing resource:

  • The Infocom Cabinet: Binders and Folders of Infocom, Inc. (1981-1987)
    In 2006, documentary filmmaker Jason Scott began production on GET LAMP, a video documentary about the realm of text adventures and interactive fiction. Shooting and research time was roughly 4 years, during which Jason interacted with a large variety of members of the various communities and companies that made up the story of text adventures. Among these was Steve Meretzky, developer at Infocom, Inc, arguably the largest and most influential of the 1980s adventure game companies.

    During his time at Infocom, Steve Meretzky meticulously gathered thousands of pages of notes, journals, maps, memos, forms and other printable materials related to all aspects of Infocom, and kept them in his basement for decades. During the GET LAMP production, Jason Scott scanned in roughly 9,000 pages of these documents across a number of months, borrowing the materials from Steve and scanning them as quickly as possible, at around 600dpi. From these scans, a portion was used in the GET LAMP movie to illustrate various scenes and descriptions by interviewees.

  • Historical Source
    A collection of historical source files, for education and perusal.
  • Source Code For A Ton Of Classic Infocom Games Appears
    A generous benefactor has very kindly offered retro fans and the wider internet a glorious gift this morning: a dump of source code from classic Infocom text games, including the original Zork adventures, Shogun, and Infocom's adaptation of the legendary Douglas Adams novel, Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Now, about those other 16 hours per day that I requested in order to study all this...

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The (un)happy Medium

Generally speaking, I feel like I ought to like Medium

So why is it that I seem to be actively avoiding every medium link that shows up in my various feeds, nowadays.

I can't clearly express the unease I have about the platform.

What do you think? Is Medium to be avoided, embraced, or is it just "meh"?

Sunday, April 7, 2019

We are stardust, we are golden; we are billion year old carbon

Every year, as we approach Earth Day, it's good to remember, and good to consider, this magical aggregate of dust upon which we all survive:

  • This Woman Paddled 730 miles up the Green River - to save our water systems.
    I’m paddling the length of the river, to try and understand that risk, my own and other people’s, and to see, from river level, what we could stand to lose if we don’t change how we use and allocate water. “Throughout the whole last century, if you needed more water it always worked out somehow, but it doesn’t work when you get to the point where you’re storing every last drop,” Doug Kenney, Director of the Western Water Policy program at the University of Colorado, tells me before I set out on the river. “You have to talk people through it, and explain that for every new reservoir you try and fill you’re putting more stress on the other parts of the system. Things are changing and we should behave in a way that limits our risk.”

    (See also: Heather Hansman: The Dam Problem in the West)

  • Letter From a Drowned Canyon
    On a map, Glen Canyon before its submersion looks like a centipede: a 200-mile-long central canyon bending and twisting with a host of little canyons like legs on either side. Those side canyons were sometimes hundreds of feet deep; some were so cramped you could touch both walls with your outstretched hands; some had year-round running water in them or potholes that explorers had to swim across. Sometimes in the cool shade of side-canyon ledges and crevices, ferns and other moisture-loving plants made hanging gardens. Even the names of these places are beautiful: Forbidding Canyon, Face Canyon, Dove Canyon, Red Canyon, Twilight Canyon, Balanced Rock Canyon, Ribbon Canyon. Like Dungeon Canyon, they are now mostly underwater.

    When the Sierra Club pronounced Glen Canyon dead in 1963, the organization’s leaders expected it to stay dead under Lake Powell. But this old world is re-emerging, and its fate is being debated again. The future we foresee is often not the one we get, and Lake Powell is shriveling, thanks to more water consumption and less water supply than anyone anticipated. Beneath it lies not just canyons but spires, crests, labyrinths of sandstone, Anasazi ruins, petroglyphs, and burial sites, an intricate complexity hidden by water, depth lost in surface. The uninvited guest, the unanticipated disaster, reducing rainfall and snowmelt and increasing drought and evaporation in the Southwest, is climate change.

  • How the Flint River got so toxic
    Why did Flint’s river pose so many problems? Before processing, the water itself is polluted from four sources: natural biological waste; treated industrial and human waste; untreated waste intentionally or accidentally dumped into the river; and contaminants washed into the river by rain or snow. The river is also warmer than Lake Huron, and its flow is less constant, particularly in the summer. All of this raises levels of bacteria and organic matter and introduces a wide range of other potential contaminants, whether natural or human-made.

    In fact, while the Flint River had been improving thanks to the new regulations, the departure of heavy industry, and local cleanup efforts, it had long been known as an exceptionally polluted river. Until very recently, it had been repeatedly ruled out as a primary source for the city’s drinking water. It is hard to imagine why anyone familiar with the river’s history would ever decide to use it even as a temporary water source. But they did.

  • Looking Again at the Chernobyl Disaster
    A neglected step caused the reactor’s power to plunge, and frantic attempts to revive it created an unexpected power surge. Poorly trained operators panicked. An explosion of hydrogen and oxygen sent Elena into the air “like a flipped coin” and destroyed the reactor. Operators vainly tried to stop a meltdown by planning to shove control rods in by hand. Escaping radiation shot a pillar of blue-white phosphorescent light into the air.

    The explosion occurs less than 100 pages into this 366-page book (plus more than 100 pages of notes, glossary, cast of characters and explanation of radiation units). But what follows is equally gripping. Radio-controlled repair bulldozers became stuck in the rubble. Exposure to radiation made voices grow high and squeaky. A dying man whispered to his nurse to step back because he was too radioactive. A workman’s radioactive shoe was the first sign in Sweden of a nuclear accident 1,000 miles upwind. Soviet bigwigs entered the area with high-tech dosimeters they didn’t know how to turn on. Investigations blamed the accident on six tweakers, portrayed them as “hooligans” and convicted them.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

A sense of fullness

Here's one take: Trump, following border trip, says country is full: 'We can't do it anymore'

President Trump, fresh off a trip to the U.S. southern border, doubled-down on his message that “the country is full”

...

“The country is full. We have ... our system is full. We can't do it anymore,” Trump said

...

The president shared the same message earlier in the day at a roundtable with law enforcement and immigration officials, telling any potential migrants to “turn around” because the U.S. “can’t take you anymore.”

And here's another: Heartland Visas Report

  • U.S. population growth has fallen to 80-year lows. The country now adds approximately 900,000 fewer people each year than it did in the early 2000s.
  • The last decade marks the first time in the past century that the United States has experienced low population growth and low prime working age growth on a sustained basis at the same time.
  • Uneven population growth is leaving more places behind. 86% of counties now grow more slowly than the nation as a whole, up from 64% in the 1990s.
  • In total, 61 million Americans live in counties with stagnant or shrinking populations and 38 million live in the 41% of U.S. counties experiencing rates of demographic decline similar to Japan’s.
  • 80% of U.S. counties, home to 149 million Americans, lost prime working age adults from 2007 to 2017, and 65% will again over the next decade.
  • By 2037, two-thirds of U.S. counties will contain fewer prime working age adults than they did in 1997, even though the country will add 24.1 million prime working age adults and 98.8 million people in total over that same period.
  • Population decline affects communities in every state. Half of U.S. states lost prime working age adults from 2007-2017. 43% of counties in the average state lost population in that same time period, and 76% lost prime working age adults.
  • Shrinking places are also aging the most rapidly. By 2027, 26% of the population in the fastest shrinking counties will be 65 and older compared to 20% nationwide.
  • Population loss is hitting many places with already weak socioeconomic foundations. The share of the adult population with at least a bachelor’s degree in the bottom decile of population loss is half that in the top decile of population growth. Educational attainment in the fastest shrinking counties is on average equivalent to that of Mexico today or the United States in 1978.
  • Population loss itself perpetuates economic decline. Its deleterious effects on housing markets, local government finances, productivity, and dynamism make it harder for communities to bounce back. For example, this analysis found that a 1 percentage point decline in a county’s population growth rate is associated with a 2-3 percentage point decline in its startup rate over the past decade.

Happily for me, I live in one of those areas where immigrants are welcomed; nearly everyone that I spend my waking hours with is either an immigrant or a child of an immigrant, and my part of the country is experiencing the most breathtaking growth, both cultural growth and economic growth, since the pre-Civil-War "Gold Rush" years of 1849-1850.

But I understand that other areas of the country are different.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Alex Honnold breaks it down

Two great tastes that taste great together! Alex Honnold Breaks Down Iconic Rock Climbing Scenes.

Thanks very much, GQ, for making and sharing this very entertaining 15 minute short feature!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

This seems pointless to me...

... I visit news.google.com.

... It shows me a story that looks interesting.

... I click on the link

... The web site loads, displays the same headline that I saw on news.google.com, and then puts up a pop-up saying that I've reached my article limit and would I like to subscribe?

Nowadays, I just scan news.google.com, and don't bother clicking on most of the links, unless I'm sure that they're to a site, like reuters or cnn or bbc, that isn't going to refuse to show me their article.

I realize that, for the most part, that means that I am that worst of news consumers, the headline-only reader.

So I compromise and I read the entire newspaper once a week, on Sunday.

It seems like not much happens between one Sunday and the next, actually, anyway.

So maybe I'm not missing much.

And I have more time to read books.

And play God of War.