Tag Archives: technology

Woe of Hours Wasted

IMG_9339This afternoon I read a sci fi short story entitled “The Gold at the Starbow’s End” by Frederik Pohl (1973). In it, a scientist devises a plan to strand eight people on a spacecraft bound for Alpha Centauri on a contrived mission to colonize a planet that doesn’t really exist. He does this because he believes that if you put humans into a situation away from distractions and modern convenience and allow them to focus solely on solving difficult problems that the results will be profound and sufficient to change the world. The story, in its detail, is fairly preposterous but I think that there may be a hefty thread of truth winding through this concept.

If you look at our modern workaday world in historical context, we’ve got some amazing advantages over our forebearers only 100 years ago. We have more leisure time than any group of humans ever. Our access to information is mind-boggling; if you want to study the mating habits of Nicaraguan sea turtles you can have access to that information in under 60 seconds. While disposable income varies wildly, the internet allows us to obtain just about anything you can imagine. We are the most intellectually empowered species in the history of this planet.

But what do we actually do with all that power? There are, of course, the elite few who are putting their brains to the proverbial grindstone and pushing to make the world a better place but it seems that for the vast majority of us (and I do not absolve myself from this one iota) we go to work at jobs that don’t really challenge us and then come home to lives that don’t really put us to the test or stretch us as people and simply float by on a cloud of recreation waiting for the next life event to come to pass. In every sense of it this is a terrible waste of an amazing opportunity.

Speaking personally, I look back on previous versions of myself (at times represented in this blog) and I yearn for that person that I used to be. I was far from ideal to be sure but I did more. I wrote more keenly; I thought more profoundly. Perhaps not with so much wisdom as I might hope for now but there was an energy that I haven’t found again. Ironically, I’m much more empowered in every sense than I was 10 years ago yet I’ve still lost something.

Looking at the world as a whole, I believe that collectively we have all the energy both mental and physical to solve all of our problems 1000 times over. What we lack is leadership and direction to point us in the right direction and when humans lack direction, leadership and inspiration the collective psyche devolves to watching cat videos, random complaining, and heavy drinking. I can’t deny that I’ve certainly frittered my share of hours away and dream keenly of what better use they could have been put to.

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Reviews: Smartbrain (Penchant Series Book 1) by G. F. Smith

51a-zv-JbCL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_As is often the case, I received this book for the purposes of review. Despite that immense kindness, I give my candid thoughts below.

The summary on this one is tough because it evolves quite a bit as it goes on. It starts out mildly creepy techno thriller and ends somewhere completely different with all manner of action bits. I won’t give you much more detail than that to avoid spoilers.

So to the positive, our author is a reasonably good writer. His prose is measured, well constructed and easily consumed. His characters are real and vividly described and you do begin to feel for them. Mr. Smith’s creativity is also obvious as he puts his characters through a dizzying gauntlet of situations and one is left with a sort of whiplash once all is revealed.

The negatives, however, left me gasping in annoyance at the end. This book is exceptionally long and not because of the complexity of what’s going on. His description of events and situations is almost Dickensian in scope but with none of the quaintness of the old classics. One eventually has to skim in self-defense and at the end of a couple pages finds that nothing much has really been missed. Further, the book changes gears dramatically at 37% through (based on my Kindle’s reckoning) and it takes a long time to figure out what’s real and what’s not. This is, I suspect, part of the author’s intent, to keep us a bit confused as readers, but it’s a major distraction in a book that has a lot of difficulty holding the attention of its reader.

Further, some of the book’s most obvious points are in need of a close examination. The cover alone made me fear for the quality of the book and it took considerable reading time to assuage those fears. Unfortunately, the author’s choice of proper nouns is overly simplistic and almost young adult so they add a major distraction. The name of the device, for example: Smartbrain seems like something from a 60s B-movie. Add to that names like Vectren, Athena and ‘Brain Computer Interface’ and the tone of the whole book seems to be in a bit of conflict about whether it’s trying to be mid-20th century or more modern.

In summary, I think the author has a solid foundation for this story but it just tries to go too many places at once and takes far too long to get there. I packaged away my incredulity during the first third of book only to have it all spill out repeatedly in the last two-thirds and have to be packed away again. As much story as actually resides between these pages it could be half the length and cause me much less impulse to sigh, “What? You mean there’s MORE!?!??!” and consider hurling my Kindle across the room and taking a belt of whiskey. To quote Emperor Joseph II, there are simply too many notes… or something along those lines.

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Space Science Fiction Magazine – August 1957

spaceI picked this little gem up from a Yerdle swap a few months ago and have finally gotten around to reading it. I’m not trying to do a book report here but do want to jot down a few notes just to jog my memory in the future.


“Flying Saucers Do Exist” – Steve Frazee
This 48-page novella is simply the standard narrative of a young man who shows up in town with a wild story about aliens and the townsfolk have a hard time swallowing his tale. As time goes on more evidence comes to the fore but not until… well, I don’t want to be a complete spoiler but needless to say it’s not a happy ending.

One item of note is that Frazee’s aliens are pretty unique in their creepiness.  It’s rare that non-humanoids make an appearance in space lit but in this case they’re weird H-shaped creatures that cartwheel around their craft.  The imagery is a bit jarring.


The Thing From Outer Space – Jean Martin
At about 18 pages this one is very brief. I’d categorize it as a weird mix of gardening, alien visitation and a love story. If my grandfather were to summarize it he’d probably say something along the lines of “Alien critters came down and got in the punkin’ patch”. The overall moral pitch of this tale though is a not common one. Didn’t God make all of us, even aliens? It points out.


The Star Dream – Raymond F. Jones
I’d summarize this 25-page story as a love-triangle with sides that span space and time. Our protagonist is building a massive device to fling himself to the nearest star in hopes of finding his long-lost love. This is all well and good except that his Earth-wife isn’t terribly happy about the competition. The narrative flows along well enough until it reaches its horribly maudlin conclusion and bows out with the line (paraphrasing) “I’ve found something so much faster than the speed of light: an angel’s wings”


An Experiment in Gumdrops – Russ Winterbotham
At under 10 pages this was one of the briefest stories in the edition but to me it was one of the most pointedly apropos. A businessman travels to an alien planet and recruits a life form with a very helpful skill to assist with his newest business venture. He pays for this unique talent with the most minimal of remittances and all seems well until the alien wises up… in a manner of speaking.

This one has a strong undercurrent of that old adage that you never know what you’re missing until you have it. Ignorance truly is bliss even if you’re on a barren rock digging your way through solid stone for a living.


A Practical Man’s Guide – Jack Vance
At a mere 7 pages this one hits fast and quick. Our protagonist is the editor of a DIY magazine and he’s come across a real doozie of an idea from one of his readers. The submitter’s description of the idea is vague enough that we never really do find out for sure what it is but when the editor follows the submitter’s incomplete instructions he finds himself…. well, we don’t really know where. This one is a delightfully open-ended little story that might end up a thousand different ways. Almost everything is left to the reader’s imagination.


Slow Djinn – Mack Reynolds
As you might guess, this little story revolves around that most ubiquitous and troublesome of magical servants, the Djinn. Rather than being a malevolent beast though this one is just downright idiotic. He certainly does try but despite the intent all goes to rot and ruin until his clever master finally figures the right way to utilize this slave’s exponential ignorance.


Critical Mass – Arthur C. Clarke
Who knows what horrendous thing will happen if Clarke’s main character can’t contain the destruction that’s rumbling down the road in this tiny story. Excitement builds to a fever pitch until nobody can stand it any longer in this honey of a tale.


OK, so that’s the 2-minute overview. On to the next book!

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How to be a Victorian – Notes, Chapter 2 – Men’s Fashion

g2573Everything below came to my attention because of one little book. Well, a rather large book. If you want the real stuff and not my notes, go buy a copy here.  I won’t be held responsible for any loss of productivity you might encounter because of it, however.

So what was life like in Britain between 1837 and 1901?  Chapter 2 describes the fashions of the era.

  • Men’s Undergarments tended to be practical and geared towards keeping out the cold.  Sleeved vets and full length pants were the fashion of the day.  A man of this era would have found it disgusting to not wear full pants and vest between his skin and his outer garments
  • In shirts, among the wealthy, only the collars and cuffs were visible.  Taking off your jacket was something done in only the most casual environments.  Many colors were available but white was the mark of the rich since they were so difficult to keep clean.  Checked and striped were popular with the working people.
  • Collars were an essential part of any moneyed person’s attire.  Typically these were detachable from the shirt and starched very high.  Collars were such a pain to do at home that often they were sent out to be done by a professional even if the rest of laundry was done at home.  Often they were so starched that if one attempted to bend them they would crack.  A turned down collar was reserved for only the most informal occasions.
  • Offices and homes were typically kept around 50 degrees so fabrics of the day were much more substantial.  Waistcoats were made of very stiff, thick material that was often embroidered.
  • Gaiters, waterproof fabric wrapped around the ankles, was worn to protect the pants.
  • Slim waists were the fashion of the day even for men.  Many men wore corsets.  Trousers for men too were slim fit often with stirrups that went under the heel of the shoe.
  • The introduction of the sewing machine in 1845 changed the world of fashion considerably.  Previously the only ready-to-wear fashions available were baggy and any fashionable person would have to have their clothes custom made.  With the introduction of the sewing machine the available ready-to-wear lines became much more varied.
  • The 1860s saw the introduction of new chemical dyes to replace the previously plant and animal derived ones.  Men of fashion tended towards black for both fashion reasons and also for practical ones since the black did not show the ubiquitous coal dust of the city so readily.  Women tended towards bright eye-catching colors like never before.
  • No respectable man of the day would be seen without a hat.  Commonly they were only removed to show respect to another.
  • Hats had a strict social hierarchy with the top hat standing alone as the most aristocratic.  These hats stood up to 14 inches tall and could cost up to 3 months of a normal worker’s wages.
  • The Bowler hat was introduced by the Bowler brothers in 1849 at the request of a customer who wanted a hat that was “robust and easy to keep on”.  This replaced the top hat in many situations but still was a sufficient sign of status that a factory worker who attempted to wear one would likely be dismissed from his position.
  • Straw hats also saw wide use.  A high quality hat might last a lifetime.  These were considered rather luxurious items until cheaper imports of straw mats from China in 1880 made them more affordable.

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Friend Me – A book you might soon see in a theatre (4/5)

Firstly, and as is usually the case, I must provide a disclaimer that I didn’t really buy this book. Instead, I received it directly from the author who just happens to sit a scant 10 feet from me at work each day. Despite this kind consideration, and the fact that anything I say might cause my cubicle to be set aflame before I arrive at work tomorrow, I will review this title with absolute candor. Anything less would be a violation of my personal integrity, which is worth more than a few flaming cubicles. It also bears revelation that this novel is fairly rife with Christian themes and while I am an upstanding and sometimes outspoken “secularist” I will in no way hold that fundamental disagreement against the book, even at the risk of a burning bush appearing to accompany the ashes of my office chair.

Also as usual, I begin with the positive. When the author described the premise of this novel to me months ago I was mightily impressed with the novelty of the overarching story-line. Faubion’s central idea in this novel, social networking run amok, is not only original but timely and at its kernel, very believable. John also has a way of describing tense scenes with great vividity that pulls the reader along quite against their will. It was an act of willpower to put the book down at times and only the threat of having the author beat me into the office the next morning was sufficient to get me to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Touching briefly on the religious aspects of the novel, Faubion’s characters are clearly Christian and they’re not afraid to show it. Despite that, their appearance in the novel is at no time preachy or obtrusive even to one who isn’t exactly in the book’s target demographic.

Moving to the negative side of the review, while the main theme was strong, much of the small-scale execution left me scratching my head. The characters seem to flit into and out of situations with little regard for reality. The whole narrative seems rather whitewashed and devoid of any real detail about what’s going on. In general, and as you will no doubt notice from my other reviews, I am a fairly punctilious reader and lack of detail is a serious bother to me in this book. At many points, particularly the last third, the novel seemed rushed and more like a hurried summary of events than a meticulously planned out work of literature.

In summary, this book revolves around a truly inspired premise but seems to fail in the details. What it lacks in literary merits it makes up for in concept. This reads like a screenplay or movie novelization and I fully expect to see this adapted to the screen, perhaps with Tom Cruise playing the role of the author.


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The Week in Reviews

I’ve been remiss in my posting duties for a while but not in my reviewing duties. As always you can just follow me here and not have the lag if you prefer.

Altered is the sequel to Gennifer Albin’s novel ‘Crewel’ in which she describes a world of technology run amok after an alternate World War II. This is a teen-lit novel so it’s an easy read and one of the few teen novels that I don’t rip to shreds for being thematically inappropriate. As always, click on the image for my more complete review.

Like Altered, ‘Relic’ is teen post-apocalypse literature. This time the polar caps have melted and the remnants of humanity are trapped on an island in the Arctic. This too is teen literature that I’m not afraid to give to a child. It was a good week in that regard.

Lastly in the realm of books I’m late to the party on ‘Wonder’. This is certainly a very simple and breezy read but it’s got a good message to convey. It’s been out long enough though that it’s likely I’m nearly the last person to read it. It’s become pretty standard reading in a lot of middle school curricula.

Finally, I have something outside the realm of books but still of interest to the wordy crowd who likes to read. As any of my readers know I get a lot of stuff free on my doorstep but this one you can download for free yourself. It’s a rebus-based word game for the Kindle and Google play. It’s downloadable to try for free at the moment and though it lacks a bit in polish it will offer hours of entertainment. Throw it up on the TV for a family game. The author would appreciate honest reviews so don’t hesitate to leave him one and tell him that the Tattered Thread sent you. As always, click the image to access my full review and get a copy of your own.

Alright, that’s the random stuff that’s rumbled through my life since last I wrote.  See you next time!

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Kids today are so different… but not really.

It’s been many moons ago, but believe it or not, I used to be a kid. I recall it with great vividness as I saved up the money to buy my first computer from Radio Shack. I’m fairly certain I’ve told the story of the Color Computer 2 I bought, complete with no permanent storage (unless you hooked up the tape drive to it and recorded over your least favorite Bananarama tape) and an epic 64K of RAM. As the years wore on I moved up to the 386 and the 486 and that holiest of holies, the “Pentium” processor. Because sometimes you’re a chip manufacturer and you just run out of numbers.

It was at the 386 stage that I started to get curious. No, not about that hair that suddenly sprang up “down there.” I started to get curious about how these blasted things worked. Sure, I’d seen that other people who ‘built their own’ or ‘upgraded’ something or ‘overclocked’ their processors but that was all a mystery to me because I was on a flipping $5 a week allowance and the idea of spending $50 on some computer component was the financial equivalent of climbing a large mountain in the middle of a blizzard.

At some point though, curiosity overcame practicality. I had exactly one computer to my name and I spent a LOT of time on it. At the time my life consisted of three activities: Eating, Getting rid of the things I’d eaten previously, and doing something on the computer. So it was with great trepidation that I proceeded to unscrew the screws on the back of my trusty 386. Before you know it, I had the blasted thing apart and could identify the vital components by sight. I was awash in adolescent hormones and my stress level was through the roof. It was as if I had taken apart my whole life, spread it out on the carpet and having properly dissected it, hoped fervently that I could put it back together again.

Twenty minutes later the poor little thing was back together and it was time to hit the power button. … … You haven’t lived until you’ve taken your only computer apart and then had to wait for it to boot up. I won’t go so far as to say it’s something really serious like, oh, a doctor who’s restarting his patient’s heart after a quadruple bypass, but at the time it seemed just about as serious. This little rectangle was 90% of my waking hours. If it went away…. what on EARTH was I going to do? Why had I ever been so foolish as to tempt fate in this way?!!??! In the end, it started up. Old reliable Windows 3.1 came up just as it always had but somehow I’d managed to zap the 3.5″ floppy in the process. Damn. But, if the random electrons were going to find their way to zapping something I’m glad they chose to zap the part that I could most readily ignore for a while. Heck, I’d already put the 12 floppies in that were required to install Windows in the first place so I was golden as long as I was happy with whatever software happened to be on my computer at the time. (Keep in mind that the idea of a download was limited by a little device called the 2400 baud modem).

So fast forward to today. I’m an adult (by many definitions) and I could buy anything I wanted. I have the cloud to back me up so worse comes to absolute worst, I go to H.H. Gregg, ask one of the exceptional sales staff for advice, and I walk out with a brand new computer. All that remains is to download my entire life history from Google and Facebook. Easy as pie. But when Laura’s son started exhibiting signs of curiosity about his own computer, part of me sprang to life. I recalled those days many, MANY years ago when curiosity fought with practicality and I wanted to dissect what it was a really bad idea to dissect.

It began simply for Laura’s son but the signs were obvious. He started with peripherals. Before we knew it the mouse was in pieces in front of us. The earphones weren’t far behind and I knew then that if this monster of curiosity was not fed then it would not soon abate. Luckily, in this day and age hardware is easily had for a song so I went upon my way looking for something to sate the insatiable beast. As I write today the machinations are in progress to get a machine for the boy to tear apart from step to stern, to inspect in all its most intriguing detail without an iota of guilt. A luxury that I didn’t have as a lad but would have most assuredly killed for.

But then…. but then it struck me. We think of the younger generation as so uniquely hip. They are eons advanced from where we were at their age… but really…. really they’re not at all. They’re the same curious creatures that we were, digging into every nook and every cranny that they can avail themselves of. They reach, claw and scrabble to seek more, to do more, to be more. They stretch the boundaries of their assigned paradigm to its utmost. Just as we did. The difference? In my case, my parents couldn’t have given fewer shits about what I was doing. Today…. today, I see that gleam and I want to feed it. I don’t want him to go through the sadness of “breakage” on his way to expertise. So I’m out on the lookout for cheap hardware that will open the door to his curiosity without closing the door on my budget. It’s what I would have wanted when I was his age. In the end though, it just goes to show that the kids of the current generation aren’t really all that different. They want to push the envelope the same way we did. It just so happens that it’s a different envelope.

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