18 September 2013 - 11:13Confessions of a Robotic Overlord (new story)

Hey All!

I wrote a new short story! It is science fiction comedy, told from the viewpoint of a robot tasked with establishing a new human colony on a distant world.  Jess liked reading it, and I liked writing it, so all is well.



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28 September 2010 - 23:41Music I’m listening to

I was reminded by Jamie Bristol’s blog of the apparently bizarre music selection that never gets radio airtime but might actually be the best thing ever.

So here’s my current list of music, by band and an example song:

Mumford and sons, little lion man
Carina Round, Down Slow
The Heavy, how you like me now
Ani Defranco, with both hands
PJ Harvey, down by the water
Edward Sharpe and the magnetic zeros, home
the dodos, fables
the black keys, tighten up
Kaki King, Life being what it is,
Diane Birch, Valentino
Regina Spektor, Us
metric, the twist
shiny toy guns, ricochet
king’s singers, fair phyllis I saw
mother mother, hayloft
The sources for this is mainly my brother for the indy music… although he probably doesn’t forgive my obsession with female vocalists.  The King’s Singers is a co-worker who will be singing that piece in a concert in a week (go Dan Clouse!).

A special shout-out goes to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.  Stewart Cole is a friend from WAY back and he is the trumpet in the band.  I had no idea until I was showing off a video of them to Robert Hogg and he said “Isn’t that stewart on the trumpet?”  Really good band.

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1 September 2010 - 23:57Raka’s Break Up

The latest short story is within a larger sci-fi world that I may never get time to write.   This is really just a scene in a long series of very bad things that happen to the main character, but it is a complete scene at least.

“finished” to a short story is like “washable” to a new fashion design.  Both are desirable qualities, but we all hope for more when we’re making them.

Call it “Raka’s Break Up”, occurs one week after “Cata’s first date”.


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20 August 2010 - 23:34Side project- iSamurai iPhone game

I realized I should have posted this a long time ago, but better late than never.  In my spare time I have joined up with some friends to write an iPhone app, called iSamurai. Our website is www.toykite.com, and iSamurai has gotten some really positive reviews and response. We actually have fans, which is awesome.
The game turns your phone into an imaginary sword using the accelerometers (“measures acceleration”) in the phone to figure out how you are swinging the phone.
The game is two player, so you can fight a friend and duel, each sword blow either blocked or landed depending on how you hold and swing the phone.  It is pretty funny to watch, people get very excited.  I had a few friends at work try the game and narrowly avoid throwing their phone through a window as they swung energetically towards their foe.

We’re still doing updates, new version coming out (hopefully) soon.

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29 June 2010 - 23:253 Cups of Tea

I’m trying to catch up on my book reviews, books I thought worth recommending to others.

3 Cups of Tea:

Greg Mortensen is a mountain climber who failed to climb Everest and then became friends with a small village who nursed him back to health on his trip down.  He later decided to build a school there for the children, the first school for the village.  After that success he began a program to build many schools all across the Pakistan and Afghanistan region, many specifically for girls who could not get an education otherwise.  It’s about making things go right (eventually) in chaotic and difficult circumstances.
I particularly enjoyed the character study of Greg- perfect example of someone with good intention trying to make it go by willpower alone, no concept or skill at administration or coordination, just brute enthusiasm and determination.  You can get a long way on that, but he really began to grow in his ability to have an effect once he accumulated allies and people who admired what he was doing so much that they began to lend a hand, and particularly once he allowed people to take control and delegate some responsibility to them.
The other really interesting detail is just how much money other groups are throwing into the region, on less ethical goals.  Two groups, really: the US military, and the Islamic fundamentalists.  The military was bringing in huge money to Afghansistan and to the Pakistani government, but typically in the form of weapons and munitions.  The amount of money for infrastructure or health was pretty minimal.  Also, a lot of that money was covert during the Cold War, so the people receiving weapons did so from black market contacts or straight up criminals, never knowing to thank the US or thinking this was conditional upon human rights or anything else.
The Islamic fundamentalists were really interesting; they hailed commonly from Saudi Arabia, and would arrive with suitcases full of cash to build schools by the hundreds.  These schools are called madrassas, and teach both religion intensively and general education.  Many of these religious schools were much like our Catholic schools- run for and paid by Catholics, but focusing on general education.  However, the other schools were used as recruiting grounds for radical islamic groups, and most of the terrorists under Al Qaida were recruited or trained in these madrassas.  The Islamic leaders did something else very clever- they watched for the best and brightest among the students and sent them to religious college in Saudi Arabia, then returned them home again, wealthy and educated, with the command to acquire multiple wives and many children.  They are planning on the long game, winning by population control alone.

I’d never heard of this angle on global politics before.

But political commentary aside, 3 Cups of Tea is a bluntly written but inspiriting story, and Greg Mortenson is worthy of praise for his educational efforts.

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10 June 2010 - 23:46Best. WebComic. Ever.

RedvsBlue.com is officially my favorite online video comic.  Of all time.

It is sometimes hit and miss, but the source of more actual, out-loud embarrassing laughing in my cubicle farm moments than every other comic put together.

A few selections for your delectation:

Epic, just… epic.  Their most impressive CG episode:


One of the better CG sequences, beating down with a jeep:
sargisms (sarge is The Man)

Exactly how any rescue of mine would end:


And my personal hero, Tucker.  Bow Chicka Bow Wow! (skip to 3:30 if you’ve never followed the series before)


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25 March 2010 - 23:36Space travel ramble

I’ve been thinking a lot about space travel recently, particularly the recurring theme in the sci-fi world of ‘seed ships’, ships that take hundreds of years to reach their destination, carrying everything they need to start a culture from scratch. They locate a habitable world first, then load up and go.
There is this incredible (and real) device called a 3-D printer that allows you to build parts, any part, from plastic or metal dust.  There are several ways you do this, but my favorite is where they lay some dust down, then shine lasers from different angles to intersect at the spot of dust they want to melt.  The liquid dries quickly, but by sprinkling down layer after layer of dust, and melting into liquid only the parts they want, they can ‘extrude’, or melt into being, an entire part.
I was thinking about the fact that you are going to want to replace ANY part on the spacecraft at will during the hundred year voyage to your new home, so a great idea would be to make every part on the spaceship out of material that can be used in a 3-D printer, and store digital copies of every part you make the spaceship out of.  Then, as long as you take enough metal powder with you, you could remake the entire spaceship!  And if you were really clever, you could plan on stopping by asteroids on the way made up of the metal type you use.
The trick would be how to design each part so that they could be made piecemeal in the (relatively small) printer and then assembled within the spacecraft.  Also, electronics are normally made from HUNDREDS of different materials, which would be too complex.  You would need to rethink all of your electronic and mechanical design to limit the number of elements used to just a handful, OR you would need a way to convert basic, plentiful elements into all the elements you need.
The awesome thing is that given sufficient interest we could build a spacecraft with all the properties described above.
The only problem is that a) our propulsion technology is so limited it would take hundreds of thousands of years to get to the nearest star, and b) without some form of artificial gravity the passengers would all die of various illnesses after several decades in space.

Bummer.  Give us two, three hundred years though, and we’ll be so ready.

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11 March 2010 - 23:37James Cameron visits JPL

In the random life of Arin, I just met James Cameron.  He was getting a tour of JPL, so my crew showed off our formation flying robots.  We gave the whole spiel about how they are designed to detect Earth-like planets around other stars, and he was very interested, said we “were doing great work”.  He is damned sharp, faster and quicker to get each concept than our academic peers who we normally give tours to.
I’m officially impressed.

heh, he also said: “you guys are almost doing the ‘pre-research’ for Avatar.  In order to have any reasonable time frame of exploring other stars, 150-200 years, you’d need a pressing reason to do so. Avatar was based on the idea that this had already happened, and that’s exactly what you are trying to do- find an Earth like planet.  Very good work.”

Like I said, a cool guy.  I did NOT tell him I haven’t actually seen his movie yet.

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15 February 2010 - 23:32Bottom Billion book summary

Another book summary:

Economists’ discussion of how to help the bottom billion often focus not on financial aid, but on raising certain pillars of society first.  Human rights are those pillars.  There are several parts to this book that really grabbed me, even though it is written with the dry language of an economics professor, and not a novelist.  He goes into great detail on a phenomena nicknamed the “Dutch Disease”, which is the destructive effect that bringing aid money into a developing country has on their export industry.  I spent 10 hours just looking at how a developing economy depends upon its export industry, and how best to help their country while still protecting the export industry’s growth and development.

The other part of the book that was remarkable was the observation that the most important indications of future growth were the pillars of a society in the form of human rights, legal ethics, business ethics, banking ethics, etc.  These are the things we take for granted but depend upon for our normal lives, that once gone leave you crippled and unable to do business, unable to trust your government or military, unable to communicate freely and live. 

Easy to forget, I think, because such things are hard to quantify.  A failure of statistiticans, is what that is.

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26 April 2008 - 18:39The Golden Rule in practice

Religion is often a divisive topic, but there are certain beliefs that are shared so closely between faiths that they can unify people across all backgrounds. The Golden Rule is one such belief.

Karen Armstrong

Official Spiel: As she accepts her 2008 TED Prize, author and scholar Karen Armstrong talks about how the Abrahamic religions — Islam, Judaism, Christianity — have been diverted from the moral purpose they share to foster compassion. But Armstrong has seen a yearning to change this fact. People want to be religious, she says; we should act to help make religion a force for harmony. She asks the TED community to help her build a Charter for Compassion — to help restore the Golden Rule as the central global religious doctrine.

My Spiel: The talk is largely about the Golden Rule, “treat others the way you would like
to be treated”, and about how compassion is at the heart of every major world religion. The speaker was in a convent, then left disenchanted. In time she came back to religion after studying other religions and realizing that it is action aligned with your beliefs that matters, not blind belief alone, and that everything else in a religion is mere window dressing to the application of the Golden Rule.

In talking to my atheist engineer/geek friends I have found that their disagreement with religion comes when religious people use religion to a)  forward non-religious political ends b) defend their own actions in the face of all logic to the contrary or c) to excuse hatred or bigotry.  Most atheists I know believe in the Golden Rule themselves and lost religion in their youth because they found hypocrisy instead of compassion in their Sunday sermons.

A compassionate talk, strongly recommended.

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