What I want instead of an iPhone


Something like the current iPhone, but without the “Phone”. I have a phone. I’m happy with my phone, and it’s not tied to one specific GSM carrier.


  • More storage. More than the current iPod. 120GB would not be too much.
  • Bluetooth support that includes A2DP and the ability to use a Bluetooth phone or LAN access point for network access.
  • A cabled remote with an integrated microphone, making the iNotAPhone capable of acting as a Bluetooth headset for something which is a phone. (This should automatically pause the music, too.)
  • Palm OS emulation.

Things to keep:

  • The screen, and the multitouch interface, and the predictive keyboard.
  • WiFi.
  • The apps: Safari, Mail, and so on.
  • Coverflow.

That would give me something that could replace both my Palm TX and my iPod while adding additional functionality. I’d keep my phone, but still manage to lower my Batman Utility Belt Factor.

© 2007 ckd | Permalink | No comments

Paul Thurrott exaggerates while bemoaning exaggeration


Paul Thurrott’s post on Mac OS X Leopard says things like “It’s too bad they [Apple] feel the need to exaggerate so much”.

He also says that he thinks that “virtually none” of the five Mac OS X releases since 2001 have been “major updates”. Presumably “virtually none” means only one, since we’re only considering five options here, and 40% seems a bit high for “virtually none”. Which one? Well, I’d have to guess 10.0, since except for the Public Beta that was the first version that was available and was therefore the biggest difference from Mac OS 9.

He then goes on to say “(Unless you count the cost. At $129 for each version, that’s about $750 on Mac OS X upgrades since 2001. That kind of puts the cost of Windows in perspective.)”

Except for a minor detail: 10.1 (Puma) was a free upgrade, so the cost now drops to a maximum of $645 (including the cost of Leopard, since his number makes no sense without doing so); that also only applies if you count buying 10.0 among “Mac OS X upgrades” rather than an initial acquisition cost. Admittedly, that’s still a chunk of change, though it’s only an issue if you had bought a G3 or older G4 and are still using it. Anything later came with at least 10.0, saving you another $129. How many Windows users are still using 2001-vintage machines?

“More than any other company I cover regularly, Apple plays light and loose with facts.” Hey, Paul, what do you call overestimating the cost of keeping up with Mac OS X by 20% (counting the purchase price of 10.0 as a cost) or more? (Perhaps 20% is “virtually none” for price errors in Paul’s mind?)

© 2006 ckd | Permalink | 1 comment

John Allen Paulos on the mean and the median


In an ABC news commentary, he points out something that is easily mathematically demonstrable[1], but isn’t necessarily noticed by the general public: the difference between the mean and the median.

The Republican spin machine has been carefully misusing the mean to say that the economy is improving, because (using 2004’s numbers) mean income is up; however, the median is down. The increase in incomes at the high end brought the mean up, but that’s only because the richest 1% had their incomes grow by almost 17%.

Even within that small group, there’s a lot of inequality. Half of the increase in income going to the top 1% of households went to the top 0.1%….

This is why the Republicans will only raise the minimum wage if they can cut the estate tax.

[1] You live in a town of 10 people. Last year: eight of you had incomes of $20K, one made $10K, and the tenth person wound up with $90K. The mean income was $26K, but the median was $20K.

This year: the $10K person lost his job and made $5K at a part-time job, six of the eight lost hours at their jobs and made $15K each, two folks managed to keep their salaries where they were at $20K, and Thurston Gateston IV over there made $150K. Mean (per capita) income? $28.5K! Hey, that’s a huge increase, over 42% higher than last year! Ignore the fact that the median dropped from $20K to $15K, and the economy looks great. (If you’re Thurston, it is; his income increased by 67%.)

© 2006 ckd | Permalink | No comments

Readercon 17: Sunday


The third (and, alas, final) day of the convention.

1000: Terrors of Today Someone (un-noted who) said that stories were less about terrorism and more about pandemics. Graham Sleight added that the disease/cure model makes for a better story arc. Judith Berman said that she doesn’t write about what she’s scared about, but rather what she can control in the story. Tom Disch compared PyrE from Bester’s The Stars My Destination to the ability of terrorists to strike in nearly any location using few resources, calling it “the triumph of the stupid over the bright”.

Gordon van Gelder said that it was easier to tell a personal disaster story, due to the smaller scale. Disch said that if you wanted to do an end of the world, do Tolkien’s world [I think this was something about ‘fading away into the West’ perhaps; notes are incomplete]. The third-worlding and dumbing down of America as a slow-motion disaster; misery takes years instead of the bang of terrorism. Sleight said that scenario reminded him of Miéville’s works.

F. Brett Cox mentioned a bar conversation from the previous night on the near future/far future split, and said that one difference is that you can’t write the “we can fix this” as a near future story. The panelists then kicked around the comparison of Sterling’s Heavy Weather and Hurricane Katrina (but I don’t recall any mention of Barnes’s Mother of Storms, nor the observation that the Batman “No Man’s Land” story arc was considered quite unrealistic yet something similar happened to New Orleans).

Disch suggested that perhaps each disaster should have a group lobbying for prevention and/or preparedness, so that money will be put into those areas. Sleight replied “so you want a lobby against giant mutant bee attacks?”

Disch closed with the suggestion that the worst disaster he can imagine is a virus that removes human memories.

1100: lunch and whatnot Another $5 lobby table sandwich. Hey, it wasn’t bad. I also bought my membership for next year’s Readercon.

1200: Social Class and Speculative Fiction This wound up becoming a bit more about social class in SF writers and editors than about social class in SF characters, but was no less interesting for all that.

Naturally, China Miéville had plenty to say on the topic of social class, saying that even the notion of a protagonist is a form of class. James Macdonald noted that despite the prevalence of military SF, very little deals with the class distinction between enlisted ranks and officers. (IME, it’s generally focused on the officer class, with the obligatory Grizzled Veteran NCO around to supply exposition advice to the young, inexperienced officer.)

As the topic shifted to social class in the SF community rather than in the stories themselves, comments were made about the idea of the “starving artist” as a challenge to producing work rather than as a way to inspire it. Patrick Nielsen Hayden pointed out that artists with a background that gives them a safety net seem to survive the “starving artist” phase better than those without. Shariann Lewitt said that she had suffered and that the experience was not helpful to her writing. “Being dead doesn’t make you a better artist.” She closed with an observation that while fans/geeks may feel marginalized, “real marginalization results in anger, or giving up, or dying.”

1400: My Secret (or Not-So-Secret) Story Structure See Kate Nepveu’s report as well.

While I haven’t read most of the works cited in the panel blurb (the exception being Brunner’s The Squares of the City), I very much enjoyed having the various authors explain the structures they used for particular stories. Greer Gilman’s revelations about the structure she used for Moonwise were particularly interesting. (She also said “I’ve written a Fibonacci series” in reference to her output covering the range from short story to novel, in size order.)

Tom Disch, as could be expected, had a number of interesting comments. “What if you wrote the end, then the middle, then the beginning? Well, the middle would still be in the right place….” He also said “Writers talk about the structure of novels and it’s usually bullshit. It’s about story. When I think of structure in literature I think of sonnets.”

Gilman wished she could write a novel that was a fugue. John Crowley brought up E.M. Forster, who distinguished between “pattern” and “rhythm”; the former is the overall structure, while the latter is built from internal repetition. Crowley said that since structure is static but fiction moves the story through time, rhythms are a better principle to use when building a story.

Michael Burstein said that he saw a common thread of “structure as liberating” through the comments; Disch disagreed, saying that structure was precisely not liberating (comparing it to the foxtrot), and that when you do something well enough, you can make it look improvised. He gave the example of Dick’s The Man in the High Castle and the use of random I Ching hexagrams to build the structure.

In response to this, Gilman closed with “I’m waiting for the anthology of the stochastic fantastic.”

1500: Departure I considered the Gripe Session, but had neither gripes nor any particularly useful suggestions/positive comments; instead, I got ready to leave and noticed some folks poring over the MBTA #350 schedule. I asked if they were headed into town, and they were (eventually to get to South Station for Chinatown bus service back to NYC). Since that would have involved the hotel shuttle to the Burlington Mall, the #350 to Alewife, the Red Line to Kendall, the shuttle bus replacement “service” to Park Street, and the Red Line to South Station I thought it was a bit simpler to offer them a ride since I was headed into town anyway and had room in the car. So off we went, and that was the Readercon that was.

© 2006 ckd | Permalink | 1 comment

Readercon 17: Saturday


Saturday was another good day: good programming events of all sorts, good random hallway/bar/etc discussions…oh, and the purchase of good books.

The change to Saturday morning traffic instead of Friday afternoon traffic meant arriving in plenty of time for the 1000 start of programming without any problems.

1000: David G. Hartwell/Kathryn Cramer (kaffeeklatsch) Of the several wonderful choices in that time slot, I chose the Hartwell/Cramer kaffeeklatsch on two grounds: first, that it sounded like the best wake-me-up option for the morning; second, that it was the one least likely for anyone else to post a con report from.

This was an interesting discussion. A large part of it was about the process of doing the Year’s Best SF anthologies and the tradeoffs involved as the choice of stories to include is affected by their length, balance between different authors, and similar issues. The Nature short stories were mentioned in particular, since their limited length means that they’re more likely to be able to be fit into YBSF where a longer story might be harder to squeeze in.

The Hard SF Renaissance and the recently (since Readercon!) released The Space Opera Renaissance [which I have just picked up from the library] were also discussed; the latter was apparently split off from the former due to length limitations there, though it took a few years before being completed and making it to shelves.

1100: Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden (kaffeeklatsch) This wound up adding Karl Schroeder, who had the ill fortune to be up against what was possibly the most popular kaffeeklatsch of the con; nobody signed up for his. The two tables were pushed together, and the additional space was used to add more folks to the Nielsen Haydens’ kaffeeklatsch.

As might be expected, this was very much like Making Light around a table, and moved far too quickly for even an attempt at taking notes. A few points of interest, though, did strike me as notable enough to jot down.

During a discussion of reading protocols and expectations (echoing the previous night’s Readercon 101 panel), I was struck by the parallels between SF reading protocols and the way certain types of systems documentation are intended to be read. UNIX “man page” documentation is written in a particular style, and it’s expected that the reader is able to recognize the implications of what is (and isn’t!) included in the page to make the best use of the program.

Quotable: Ernest Lilley calling J.K. Rowling the “master of just-in-time exposition”; Patrick Nielsen Hayden likening over-workshopping a story to “literary freezer burn”.

1200: lunch and bookshop browsing The $5 pre-packed buy-in-lobby sandwiches weren’t bad, actually. I’d thought of making a mall food court run, but didn’t bother.

1300: Architecture, Science Fiction and Beyond: Building a Grammar for Reality The description in the program guide didn’t really help me understand what this was going to be about, but I figured that it was worth a shot and I could always sneak out if my brain started leaking out my ears.

I’m so very glad I went to this.

The talk, and Cramer’s odd journey through the past year, started with an attempt to teach math to young kids using Mathematica as a tool. This led her to read up on architectural metaphor and the classical art of memory (the good old “memory palace” trick) as a way of better understanding how the brain does math and connects ideas.

Then Hurricane Katrina hit. She realized that the news media weren’t putting the pieces together to give a full picture of what was going on with the levees. She therefore started putting together the pieces using various tools (including Google Earth), with help from a bunch of folks around the net (using her blog as a force multiplier/coordination point). She eventually got a set of instructions written, since a million people wanted the info and having a small group give it out wouldn’t scale.

Instructions written and posted, she figured that it was “problem solved” and headed off to vacation in an area with no cell service. She checked her email…six press queries, from organizations like the New York Times and Forbes. The Times article led to more queries. The Forbes article got the attention of someone in the White House, who contacted the Google Earth folks and said “we have 2000 new NOAA photos; how quickly can you process them?”

This led to her being invited to the Wolfram technical conference, where she met Theodore Gray and Stephen Wolfram. They discussed ways to use Mathematica as a tool for disaster visualization, and said “we’ll have to do this for the next disaster”.

While she was still at the conference, the Pakistan earthquake hit.

She told Stephen Wolfram: “Pakistan has had a stroke. Time is brain.” His response: “come with me.” They took advantage of the many very smart people at the conference to start getting things together. The challenges were often greater than the ones she’d hit with Katrina, particularly bad data (differing information on the latitude and longitude of Islamabad) and missing data (there was a UN ban on good satellite images of the area due to the India/Pakistan disputes over Kashmir, which was lifted after the quake).

The results of this effort led to a commentary for Nature, which asked for a high-resolution graphic to accompany it…and wound up using it for the cover.

Cramer’s talk ended with some discussion of other aspects of her blogging about private military companies, her use of her weblog as a “sensory organ” to gather information, and a return to the original topic of mathematics in young children. (The example of trading Pokemon cards and creating a measure of relative value that nicely matches their price on eBay or similar venues was given.)

1400: another bookshop visit, random socialization I had a chance to chat with a number of folks, including Michael and Nomi Burstein, Elizabeth Bear, Deb Geisler, Geri Sullivan, and many more who I am not intentionally slighting by failing to remember them in this report. (Sorry.) During my perambulations, I was also asked by a Boston Globe reporter about the convention, why I had come, and so forth. The article ran on July 13. I got sort-of quoted. (As I suspected from the questions the reporter was asking, the lead was pretty much “wow, they’re not all dressed like Captain Kirk!” Sigh.)

At this point I still hadn’t bought many books; I’d put a few dollars on some used paperbacks from one of the $1/book tables, but nothing more. Of course, this would not last, since books are my DOOOOOOOOM.

1500: Baseball and the Fantastic This started off with the panelists giving their suggestions for a canon of baseball-themed fantastic literature, including Malamud’s The Natural (”magic realism”) and Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, as well as Michael Bishop’s Brittle Innings.

The discussion then turned to other topics, including the comparison of Stratomatic to RPGs (game scenarios, dice…) and the role of baseball as an anchor for American myth. (Without the historical myths of other cultures, we had to come up with something….)

1600+: book shopping This is when the danger zone hit. Most of my book buying was done Saturday afternoon.

Among my finds was Blue State Blues, which I wouldn’t have expected to find at a science fiction convention…but the Wesleyan University Press folks had brought some copies in case any of the Cambridge/Somerville folks there might be interested. Since I live in the district Slavitt ran in and remembered his campaign, I figured it was worth a look and the random page test impressed me enough with his writing voice that I was thinking about buying it; since they weren’t staying for Sunday I was offered a “I don’t want to pack it up and haul it back” price, which I took.

Other book haulage included a few more $1 used books; Charles Stross’s short story collection Toast; Future Washington (signed by the editor, Ernest Lilley); the Ace Double that contained DeVet & MacLean’s Cosmic Checkmate (since I liked the novelette “Second Game”) [and Rich Horton’s review makes me think that this is the version I want]; Bill Fawcett’s How to Lose a Battle; and a signed copy of Elizabeth Bear’s The Chains That You Refuse.

After the book shoppage, more hanging around and chatting, then I wound up as part of a group headed to the Thai restaurant Lemon Tree. (Since I had a reasonably-sized rental car, I could take some more folks along….) A good dinner and much good conversation later, we returned to the Marriott for:

2000: The 20th Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition My notes on this all wound up in the clammy embrace of the Hell-Thing. There was a silent explosion of crimson light.

After that, more hanging about in the bar, visiting the various parties (the Montréal WorldCon bid is looking pretty good to me), an amusing debate on watch-wearing between Ernest Lilley and Bob Devney, and finally watching part of a game of Mafia before heading home.

© 2006 ckd | Permalink | No comments

Readercon 17: Friday


The first portion of the con report follows after the jump.

Summary: a good start to the convention.

The day began with work, followed by work, with an 80% chance of more work. Also, lunch in there somewhere.

What with one thing and another, I didn’t get to the rental agency to pick up the car until 1530 (and it took a while to get the car). After that? Hit the road and immediately hit traffic. (Friday afternoon traffic on I-93? What an incredible surprise. Gee, I wonder why I don’t own a car….)

Arrival at Burlington wound up being around 1630, which was a bummer since it meant I’d missed the first half of the 1600 panel on political systems in fantasy. Figuring that I may as well take the time to do some other stuff rather than hitting a panel likely to be moving at a fairly quick pace by that point, I hit the bookshop (Readercon’s version of the traditional dealers room). I made my saving throw vs. booksellers and avoided buying anything. Go me.

1700: “Libraries in Imaginative Literature” This panel (see also Yoon Ha Lee’s impressions) was itself a great place for me to start the convention. I really like the Readercon “comfy living room” panel setup, I really like libraries, I really like SF.

This panel started with each panelist reading a passage dealing with an imaginative library. Given his role as the Dead GoH and mention in the panel blurb, Borges was naturally the first to be read (by Greer Gilman). Other authors read included Ray Bradbury, Mervyn Peake, Paul Levinson (read by himself), Walter Miller, and Gene Wolfe. Someone (I don’t remember who and my notes are unhelpful) said “We have an anthology.”

Other comments I noted: “forensic librarianism”, and Gilman’s role in chasing down a book-slasher. The fact that pre-Columbian explorers of the Americas predated the printing press, resulting in their visits being effectively unrecorded and uncommunicated. The printing press, therefore, became a driver of the Age of Discovery.

Sandra McDonald said that she didn’t see paper going away any time soon (I agree; the “paperless office” is very much not so) and extolling its usual virtues (durability; ability to be used without power or additional hardware or knowledge of encodings beyond the alphabet, syllabary, or ideographs; portability).

Fred Lerner made The Comment Of The Panel: “if I could have one book from an alien society, it would be their library cataloging system.” This is one of those statements that is plainly obvious in retrospect, but which most of us would never think of ourselves. I can see the comparison just between the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress systems and their different focuses; it’s notable that the Boston Public Library uses LoC, where most public libraries use Dewey.

1800: “War of the Worldviews” This one made my brain hurt. I had some trouble keeping up with the panelists just in terms of the speed of the discussion, let alone the content! My notes make telegraph messages look verbose. My pathetic attempts to reconstruct them follow.

China Miéville started off with a strong assertion that “progress” is a late Victorian idea, WWI was the crisis in the rational worldview, and only JRR Tolkien and HP Lovecraft were able to recognize that and bring it into fiction. “Campbellian SF is post-facto propaganda for a failed idea; the Campbellians are bullshitters and they know it, that’s why they’re so nervous.”

James Morrow then opined that the French Revolution was the true crisis point, when “the guillotine replaced Occam’s Razor”. He felt that Disch’s On Wings of Song (which I, being an illiterate philistine or at least feeling like one already at this point in the panel, have not read) saw the situation we’re in now, and had the courage to specify that the Christian argument was causing the problem.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden made comments about “chino” (Christian In Name Only) folks who despoil widows and orphans while going into eschatology. [I fail to remember enough of the context around this comment to do it justice and my notes suck here.] She also said that WWI is still with us [a comment I can understand! hooray!].

Barry Malzberg then brought up Virginia Woolf, who apparently said something about human nature going wrong around 1910. He asked “what is so rationalist about Campbellian SF?” He referenced some comment Lawrence Janifer made about reading Malzberg and feeling that it was “like a man using a megaphone to denounce megaphones” and something about “how can you say science doesn’t work when everyone’s carrying a cell phone”. [More suckage in the notes here as I continue to fail to keep up.]

Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman books are SF disguised as fantasy, and rational methods of thought allow her protagonist to discover the workings of her world.

F. Brett Cox wanted to say “ok, your turn” but felt some interesting points had emerged. Something about WWI being a turning point that smashed both Enlightenment rationality and romanticism.

James Morrow noted Campbell’s interest in psi, Dean Drive, Scientology vs the perception of him as “rationalist”.

Miéville called WWI the “collapse of a crude vulgarization of the Enlightenment”, said that Woolf was a Fabianist so of course she had to blame human nature for the failure, and something about the Island of Doctor Moreau. (People acting like beasts? More not-keeping-up in the notes.) Miéville also said that Lovecraft saw rationality used to mow down the flower of a generation, and Cthulhu is WWI (the large, impersonal force that just wipes people out or drives them mad? something like that).

Teresa Nielsen Hayden pointed out that Spock is the most debased image of rationality, because he uses logic on things it’s not applicable to. Mentioned his penchant for rattling off “exact odds” that don’t apply.

Kirstein: science and logic are not sufficient in themselves, they’re just tools to use in a conversation with the universe. Same with math.

Some audience member asked if the “other side” wrote SF, and the Left Behind books were mentioned.

Morrow said that the secular humanist dream is to “domesticate the dark side of religion”, and that people live mythically (that’s what the notes say, I think it was that people live by creating myths).

Teresa Nielsen Hayden: the parallels between millenarians and survivalists. Kirstein: both want a clean slate to start over with.

1900: “Readercon 101″ After the brain-melter that was the previous panel, I figured this might be more my speed. Training wheels, maybe. I didn’t get notes on who said what in every case.

“trope”: Greer Gilman: “not the same as tropism”. (laugh) Judith Berman: “a piece of genre convention”. Like a motif. Debra Doyle: “specifically a liturgical ornament” (something about the etymology) Unknown: How do we decide something is a trope or cliché? “Nobody calls past tense a cliché.” Discussion of folk stories and the idea that original is bad rather than good. Myths accreting new bits. The use of new ideas with attribution, like the Langford basilisk.

“meme”: Gilman: “a memetic lexicon”. Doyle: something about “floating ballad verses” which I have forgotten the context for. Unknown: Slogans, tunes, earworms, phrases/words that propagate. “Zero draft” given as an example.

“slipstream”: Stuff not shelved as SF, but still of interest. Neal Stephenson’s early books The Big U and Zodiac were mentioned.

Doyle: The Handmaid’s Tale as “SF in funny glasses”. Berman: other literary traditions have different boundaries. Russian literature, or “magic realism”, have fantastic elements.

“reading protocols”: Doyle: “a set of spectacles you put on to read a work”. Unknown: If there’s a scene described in detail, the genre will cause it to be read differently. In a mystery, the reader is looking for the clue. In mainstream, the reader will see it as a metaphor for something. In SF, it’ll be looked at for worldbuilding hints or “incluing” (a Jo Walton term that has spread, see above under “meme”).

The Delany example of “her world exploded”. In SF, perhaps literally…just ask Princess Leia. Reading protocols are what the reader brings to the book.

I have a line in the notes reading “gateway SF: can you write it intentionally?” that I cannot remember the context for.

“real year”: Clute’s term for the time the story is grounded in (not set in or written in). [I think of this as “this is a very 50s story” for example.]

Doyle: The Handmaid’s Tale is actually The Stone Pillow, it’s just written by a Canadian feminist instead of an American navy veteran.

Some discussion of “speculative fiction” vs “science fiction” and the origin and evolution of the term. Notes too fragmented to reassemble.

From there, the rest of the evening was a mix of mostly-social activities, including hanging out and socializing (including a not-too-bad ham sandwich in the hotel bar) with various folks who were fun to talk to, both people I had met previously and folks new to me.

The evening also had me catching part of a reading, going to the Meet the Pros(e) party (I didn’t try collecting the quotes, but had fun anyway; more people who were fun to talk to), and then returning home to sleep.

© 2006 ckd | Permalink | No comments