Ruby programmer & Linux sysadmin. Apparently that means 'DevOps'
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Feed readers and their interpretation of the Atom 'title' element

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My entry yesterday had the title of The HTML <pre> element doesn't do very much, which as you'll notice has a HTML element named in plain text in the title. In the wake of posting the entry, I had a couple of people tell me that their feed reader didn't render the title of my entry correctly, generally silently omitting the '<pre>' (there was a comment on the entry and a report on Twitter). Ironically, this is also what happened in Liferea, my usual feed reader, although that is a known Liferea issue. However, other feed readers display it correctly, such as The Old Reader (on their website) and Newsblur (in the iOS client).

(I read my feed in a surprising variety of syndication feed readers, for various reasons.)

As far as I can tell, my Atom feed is correct. The raw text of my Atom feed for the Atom <title> element is:

<title type="html">The HTML &amp;lt;pre&gt; element doesn&#39;t do very much</title>

The Atom RFC describes the "type" attribute and its various interpretations in section 3.1.1, which helpfully even has an explicit example of '<title type="html">' in it. For 'type="html"', it says:

If the value of "type" is "html", the content of the Text construct MUST NOT contain child elements and SHOULD be suitable for handling as HTML. Any markup within MUST be escaped; for example, "<br>" as "&lt;br>".

The plain text '<pre>' in my title is encoded as '&amp;lt;pre&gt;'. Decoded from Atom-encoded text to HTML, this gives us '&lt;pre>', which is not HTML markup but an encoded plain-text '<pre>' with the starting '<' escaped (as it is rendered repeatedly in the raw HTML of this entry and yesterday's).

(My Atom syndication feed generation encodes '>' to '&gt;' in an excess of caution; as we see from the RFC, it is not strictly required.)

Despite that, many syndication feed readers appear to be doing something wrong. I was going to say that I could imagine several options, but after thinking about it more, I can't really. I know that Liferea's issue apparently at least starts with decoding the 'type="html"' title attribute twice instead of once, but I'm not sure if it then decides to try to strip markup from the result (which would strip out the '<pre>' that the excess decoding has materialized) or if it passes the result to something that renders HTML and so silently swallows the un-closed <pre>. I can imagine a syndication feed reader that correctly decodes the <title> once, but then passes it to a display widget that expects encoded HTML instead of straight HTML. An alternate is that the display widget only accepts plain text and the feed reader made a mistake in the process of trying to transform HTML to plain text where it decodes entities before removing HTML tags instead of the other way around.

(Decoding things more times than you should can be a hard mistake to spot. Often the extra decoding has no effect on most text.)

Since some syndication feed readers get it right and some get it wrong, I'm not sure there's anything I can do to fix this in my feed. I've used an awkward workaround in the title of this entry so that it will be clear even in feed readers, but otherwise I'm probably going to keep on using HTML element names and other awkward things in my titles every so often.

(My titles even contain markup from time to time, which is valid in Atom feeds but which gives various syndication feed readers some degree of heartburn. Usually the markup is setting things in 'monospace', eg here, although every once in a while it includes links.)

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353 days ago
I wonder if this is something that @samuelclay is aware of.
Phoenix, AZ
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Batman With a Little b


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1257 days ago
I love his friends messing around, but I'll be honest: I don't get the punchline. Irish Stu? What?
Phoenix, AZ
1257 days ago
Irish Stu =(sorta)= I arrest you
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1 public comment
1257 days ago
Vancouver Island, Canada

Your Black Mirror reading list

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Black Mirror Reading List

Over at GQ, Lincoln Michel shares 12 Books to Read After Binge-Watching Black Mirror. Among them:

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Version Control by Dexter Palmer.
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami.
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang.

Earlier this month, Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker shared 105 cultural artifacts that influenced the series, including some surprises like Fawlty Towers — “often in our episodes, someone is trapped at the center of a dilemma they never get out of, and that describes every episode of Fawlty Towers” — Airplane!, and Radiohead’s The National Anthem, as well as more familiar influences like 2001, The X-Files, and The Matrix. Only a handful of books on the list though, including:

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders.
On Killing by Dave Grossman.

On Twitter recently, Joshua Topolsky called Black Mirror “the show for people who’ve never read any science fiction”. Perhaps that’s because Brooker hasn’t really either?

Tags: Black Mirror   books   Charlie Brooker   Joshua Topolsky   Lincoln Michel   TV
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1304 days ago
A bunch of books to add to my winter reading list!
Phoenix, AZ
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Towards a taxonomy of cliches in Space Opera

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So I'm chewing over the idea of eventually returning to writing far future SF-in-spaaaace, because that's what my editors tell me is hot right now (subtext: "Charlie, won't you write us a space opera?"). A secondary requirement is that it has to be all new—no sequels to earlier work need apply. But I have a headache, because the new space opera turns 30 this year, with the anniversary of the publication of "Consider Phlebas" (or maybe "Schismatrix")—or even 40 (with the anniversary of the original "Star Wars"). There's a lot of prior art, much of it not very good, and the field has accumulated a huge and hoary body of cliches.

Some of you might remember the Evil Overlord's List, a list of all the generic cliche mistakes that Evil Overlords tend to make in fiction (16: I will never utter the sentence "But before I kill you, there's just one thing I want to know."). I think that it might be a good idea to begin bolting together a similar list of the cliches to which Space Opera is prone, purely as an exercise in making sure that once I get under way I only make new and original mistakes, rather than recycling the same-old same-old.

This is not an exhaustive list—it's merely a start, the tip of a very large iceberg glimpsed on the horizon. And note that I'm specifically excluding the big media franchise products—Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, and similar—from consideration: any one of them could provide a huge cliche list in its own right, but I'm interested in the substance of the literary genre rather than in what TV and film have built using the borrowed furniture of the field.

List follows, below the cut.

  1. Planetary civilizations

    This subheading covers common cliches/mistakes made in discussing inhabited (Earthlike) planets and the people who live on them.

    • Planets are small and easily explored
    • All the land masses on a planet are easily accessible
    • You can fly anywhere on a planet in a short time without leaving the atmosphere
    • You can fly anywhere at Mach 2.2+ without experiencing hull heating due to atmospheric friction
    • You can fly anywhere at Mach 2.2+ without worrying about Air Traffic Control and NOTAMs
    • Everywhere on a planet shares a common climate and the same weather patterns
    • The same plants and animals can be found everywhere on a given planet
    • Coriolis force, trade winds, cyclones, what are those?
    • Oceans are small, land-locked, and mainly useful for fishing
    • Plate tectonics is easily ignored, unless the plot requires a Volcano/Earthquake
    • Deep carbon cycle, subduction, ionosphere UV splitting of water, long-term terraforming stability: why worry about little things like that?
    • Ice ages are inevitably global
    • Some planets have a breathable atmosphere but no water
  2. Space and cosmology

    Common blunders in cosmology, planetography, orbital mechanics, and related.

    • Moons are good, the more the better!
    • Suns are good, too, the more the better!
    • ... Especially if one of them is a giant. (Those never explode or flare messily.)
    • Planetary ring systems are picturesque, not dangerous
    • Planets have a diurnal period precisely 86,400 Earth seconds long
    • Planets rotate east-to-west
    • Planets have magnetic poles that approximate their rotational axis
    • Planetary gravity can be approximated to a point source for purposes of calculating orbital dynamics
    • All satellites orbit the equator
    • You can change orbital inclination easily
    • Stuff in orbit doesn't change orbital inclination spontaneously
    • Geosynchronous orbit is easy to get to
    • If you are in geosynchronous orbit away from the equator you still hover over the same spot on the planetary surface all the time
    • Planets are close together
    • Concentric planets orbit the same distance apart
    • The flight time between planets in an inner star system is the same as between planets in the outer system
    • Asteroids are so close together that you can hide between them
    • ... but they never clump into planets
    • Asteroidal dust makes an irritating ping as it bounces off a ship's hull
    • ... for some reason you never run into it at multiple km/sec
    • Actually, hitting a space rock or other spaceship is no big deal, a bit like being in a minor car accident
    • ... Even though the kinetic energy released by an impact increases with the square of the velocity, and you're travelling hundreds to millions of time faster
    • Gas giants are good for mining volatiles
    • ... Because dealing with Mach 6 wind shear, 10,000 Bar pressure, and a lethally deep gravity well is trivial
    • ... Because we need volatiles such as 3He, to fuel our aneutronic fusion reactors (hint: Boron is cheaper and much less scarce)
    • All comets have tails
    • ... they're sort of hairless and scaly, like a [sarcasm limit exceeded - Ed.]
    • Rocky planets are either airless or shirt-sleeves worlds with breathable air
    • Pay no attention to Venus, runaway greenhouse worlds are imaginary
    • Big stars are as long-lived and likely to have planets as dwarf stars
    • Supernovae happen routinely and are no big deal
    • Interstellar space is totally empty
    • ... You can fly as fast as you like without worrying about dust particles
    • You don't have to worry about interstellar gas, either
    • ... Except when there's not enough of it to keep your ramscoop accelerating
    • Incidentally? Ramscoops totally work! (Larry Niven said so in 1968.)
    • You can go fast enough to experience relativistic time dilation without worrying about the pesky cosmic background radiation blue-shifting into hard X-rays and frying you
    • You can forget all about hitting the occasional interstellar 4He nucleus with some multiple of the energy of an alpha particle, several million times a second
    • ... Don't worry about hitting the electrons bound to the neutral hydrogen either, gamma photons totally aren't a thing
    • You can use handy black holes and neutron stars to make handbrake turns in space
    • You an also use gas giants to make handbrake turns, at high relativistic speeds
    • Don't let the fact the space is full of exciting high energy physics put you off going there, squishy meatsack-persons!
  3. Biology

    Biology is complicated—so much so that many SF authors suffer from Dunning-Kruger syndrome in approaching the design of life-supporting planets.

    • All planets harbour a single apex predator that eats people
    • All planets harbour is a single venomous insect/reptile analog that poisons people
    • The native flora and fauna use a biochemistry that we can derive sustenance from
    • ... This includes weird-ass micronutrients
    • Pay no attention to the native microbiota, they're harmless
    • ... You won't even suffer from hay fever! Much less systemic anaphylaxis.
    • Ecosystems are robust; why not let your ship's cat stretch her legs whenever you land?
    • ... This goes for your ship's rats, too
    • Planets only have one class of plant-analog and one class of animal-analog
    • ... Only Earth has reptiles, amphibia, fish, birds, insects, mammals, fungi, etc.
    • Terraforming is really simple; you can do it with algae capsules delivered from orbit
    • There are no native parasites that might eat Maize, so we can turn the entire largest continent into a robot-run plantation
    • ... Soil exhaustion isn't a thing
    • ... Terrestrial constraints on agriculture don't apply on other planets
    • You can keep a starship crew healthy and sane indefinitely using a life support system running on blue-green algae, tilapia, and maybe the odd soy bean plant
    • Life support systems are simple, stable, and self-managing
    • It is safe to put bleach down the toilet on a starship; your algae/tilapia/soy will totally deal with it it when it comes out of the recycler
    • Vitamins? Naah, we'll just genetically modify the crew to make their own
    • If you implant humans with the gene for chlorophyl they can magically become photosynthetic
    • ... Okay, if you add the genes for RuBiSCO and the C3 pathway they can magically become photosynthetic
    • ... Because of course two square meters of skin is enough surface area to photosynthetically capture enough energy for a high-metabolic-rate mammal to live off
    • Humans can too hibernate/deep sleep between star systems! All you need is a cold enough chest freezer
    • ... Just as long as their intestinal flora go into cold sleep at the same time
    • ... and so do the low metabolic rate arctic pseudofungi spores they picked up at the last planetary stop
  4. Economics

    Fingernails-on-blackboard time for me. (See also: Neptune's Brood)

    • New Colonies may be either agricultural or mining colonies; rarely, resort colonies
    • Everyone uses Money to mediate exchanges of value
    • Money is always denominated in uniform ratios divisible by 10
    • Money is made out of shiny bits of metal, OR pieces of green paper, OR credit stored in a computer network
    • There is only one kind of Money on any given planet, or one credit network
    • The same kind of Money is accepted everywhere as payment for all debts
    • Visitors are always equipped to interface with the planet-wide credit network
    • Planetary credit networks are incredibly secure except when the visitor needs to hack into someone else's bank account
    • Barter is a sign of primitive people who haven't invented money
    • People who rely on Barter are simple, trusting folks (and a bit stupid on the side)
    • Inflation? What is this, I don't even ...
    • Deflation? What will they think of next?
    • Sales tax? What's that?
    • Income tax? What's that?
    • Import duty? What's ... (rinse, spin, repeat)
    • You can get a loan from your friendly bank manager whenever you need one
    • Bank loans accrue interest
    • If you fail to replay a bank loan you may be arrested and held in debtor's prison
    • ... Or sold into slavery
    • ... Or your organs can be seized
    • ... Because your body is just one of your fungible assets, right?
    • ... And harvesting organs for transplant surgery is a universal practice
    • People on planets have not heard of Ponzi Schemes
    • People on planets have not heard of Credit Default Swaps or the Black-Scholes equation
    • If money is made of shiny bits of metal or green paper, banks have vaults where they store lots of money
    • Money sitting in a bank vault is worth something
    • Visitors to a Colony can print fake currency without fear of consequences
    • Visitors to a Colony can leave their money with a bank between infrequent visits without fear of consequences
    • Banks are stable, because ...
    • ... The planetary government will never let a bank go bust, because ...
    • ... The galactic emperor will never let a planetary government go bust, because ...
    • Traders on starships land on planets to load and unload cargo
    • ... Or they carry their own orbit-to-surface shuttle
    • ... Which is as easy and safe to operate as a fork-lift truck
    • Cargo is bought and sold in starports
    • It is profitable to ship crude break-bulk cargo like timber or foodstuffs between star systems because starships are cheap and easy to repair and operate
    • Break-bulk shipping in open cargo holds has never been improved upon
    • Multimodal freight containers, EDI/EDIFACT standards for commerce, bar codes, bourses, and RFID technologies are just inferior and unnecessarily complicated alternatives to all inferior logistics toolkits than a bazaar or indoor market
    • Insurance underwriting? Arbitrage? What's that? (rinse, spin, repeat)
    • All cargo starships need plenty of unskilled deck hands to help load and unload cargo
    • All cargo starships need gun turrets to fight off swarms of space pirates
    • ... Cargo starships with guns can fight off space pirates
    • Cargo starship crews can fix battle damage
    • ... All it takes is enough duct tape and determination
    • ... Because space pirate weapons are as deadly as shotguns, not H-bombs
    • ... And starships cost no more to build and operate than a 1920s tramp steamer
    • Space pirates will happily open fire on a cargo ship to damage it before boarding
    • Space pirates need to board cargo ships in order to steal their cargo
    • ... And impress/conscript/enslave their crew
    • Piracy is a huge problem for space traders
    • You can tell the difference between a pirate and a space trader with a glance
    • A cargo captain in a hole might easily turn to smuggling to improve their bottom line
    • Navies are a lesser threat to smugglers than random encounters with pirates
    • Nobody has ever heard of end-user certificates or bonded cargo
    • Nobody ever thinks to ship their high-tax cargo via a free port or use other complex financial arrangements to avoid customs duty without having to hire a dodgy armed ship with a poor credit rating
  5. Politics

    • Planets have a single unitary government (or none at all)
    • Planetary governance is no more complex than running a village or small township
    • ... This is because the planetary capital is a village or small township, not, say, Beijing or Mexico City
    • If there are two or more ethnicities represented on a planet their collective politics are simple and easily understood by analogy to 20th century US race relations
    • All planetary natives everywhere speak Galactic Standard English, or Trade Pidgin
    • New Colonies can't afford police, detectives, customs inspectors, or the FBI
    • New Colonies don't require visting spacers to conform to local dress codes or laws
    • New Colonies don't have gun control laws
    • New Colonies don't have laws, or if they do they were written by a mad libertarian
    • Despite the lack of laws, nobody underage drinks in the saloon
    • ... Nobody underage works in the saloon rooms you rent by the hour, either
    • ... Nor is there an extensive school truancy problem or much illiteracy
    • On reaching pensionable age, all colonists are forced to retire and deported to the Planet of the Pensioners
    • There is no unemployment because happy smiley frontier needs cowboys or something
    • If the planetary government is a democracy, the new Mayor will be elected by a town meeting
    • If the planetary government is an oligarchy, the new Patrician will be elected by a town meeting (of oligarchs, in the back room of the saloon)
    • If the planetary government is a theocracy, there will be only one sect of the planetary religion and no awkward long-standing heresies that are too strong/embedded to suppress
    • ... And there will be direct rule by Clergy, along the lines of an oligarchy: no Committees of Guardians of the Faith, no separation of executive and legislature, none of the complexity and internal rivalries of Terrestrial theocracies (e.g. Iran, Saudi Arabia)
    • If the planet is a colony of the Galactic Empire, the new Planetary Governor will be appointed by the local Sector Governor
    • ... It's Governors all the way up (until you hit the Emperor)
    • Monarchy is the natural and perfectly ideal form of government
    • Only an Imperial Monarchy can ensure the good local governance of a myriad of inhabited planets scattered across the vast reaches of deep space
    • Monarchies are never a Single Point Of [Galactic] Failure
    • Monarchs are never stupid, mad, ill, or distracted by a secret ambition to be a house painter instead
    • Viziers are Always (a) Grand and (b) Evil. (At this point, let's just #include the regular Evil Overlord list, m'kay?)
    • Democracies are always corrupt
    • You can always bribe your way out of sticky situation if you're from off-world
    • All planetary legal systems work the same way (some remix of Common Law, constitutional governance, and trial by jury).
    • The standard punishments for a crime range from a small fine, to slavery in the uranium mines for life (about 18 months), to an excruciating death
    • Trials are swift and punishments are simple and easy to understand
    • Justice is always punitive/retributive/exemplary, never compensatory/preventative/rehabilitative, much less poetic/cryptic/incomprehensible
    • ... If the Author disapproves of the death penalty, substitute mind-wipe for the death penalty (like, there's a difference?)
  6. Culture

    • There is usually only one culture per planet
    • ... Sometimes there are two, to provide for an oppositional plot dynamic
    • ... Pay no attention to the blank spots on the map
    • ... And especially don't go looking for the unmarked mass graves
    • Planetary natives are either Colonists or Indigenous
    • Indigenous peoples are either Primitive or Advanced (and Decadent)
    • Advanced Indigines either don't have space travel or gave it up (see: Decadent)
    • Primitive Indigines are either Tribal or Mediaeval
    • Mediaeval Indigines invariably recapitulate the politics of the Hundred Years War
    • Visits to Mediaeval Indigenous Colonies can be approximated to a side-quest into Fantasyland
    • If the planet is a Colony it is either a Lost Colony or a New Colony
    • Lost Colonies may resemble Primitive Indigines but never Advanced
    • New Colonies resemble Tombstone, AZ, circa 1880
    • New Colonists live in log cabins, ride mules/horses and carry ~six-guns~ blasters
    • ... You can find logs (cabins, for the construction of) everywhere on planets
    • ... They're like abandoned crates in first-person shooters
    • Psychologically speaking, everybody is either WEIRD or Primitive
    • Primitive (non-WEIRD) people are stupid and unimaginative
    • WEIRD people accept and embrace change and innovation; non-WEIRD people reject both
    • Colonies are usually modelled on WEIRD 1950s cultural norms
    • Colony People come in two genders
    • The Women on New Colonies are either:
    • ... Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen (because colonies need babies)
    • ... Dungaree-wearing two-fisted starship-engineering-obsessed lesbians desperate to get off-world
    • The Men on New Colonies are either:
    • ... Manly plaid-shirt-wearing heterosexual farmers breaking sod in the ~west~ new world
    • ... Dastardly drunken muggers waiting behind the spaceport saloon for an unwary spacer
    • QUILTBAG: huh? Who are those people and why doesn't somebody cure them?
    • ... (Alternatively: everybody is QUILTBAG, pale patriarchal heterosexual penis people are extinct)
    • Clothing invariably obeys some regional dress code that has been observed on Earth in the past thousand years; in extreme cases 1950s business attire will serve to avoid attracting undue attention
    • You can recognize someone's gender on any planet because:
    • ... Women wear dresses or skirts with make-up and long hair
    • ... Men wear pants (or occasionally suits of armour)
    • ... Hijra? Hermaphrodites? Transgender? Asexual? What are those?
    • On some planets people go naked, except for body paint
    • ... This causes no problems, whether social or practical
    • Colony Planets are invariably a Crapsack World that people are desperate to escape from, unless they're the planetary governor or some species of NPC
    • The only place worse than a Colony World is Old Earth
    • Old Earth is
    • ... An over-crowded overpopulated hell-hole
    • ... An over-regulated bureaucratic hell-hole
    • ... A poverty-stricken backwater and hell-hole
    • ... Destroyed
    • ... Lost (because everyone in the galaxy somehow forgot the way home)
    • ... Mythical (and many people think it never existed)
    • ... Somewhere to run away from
    • ... (Rarely) Somewhere to run to
    • Slavery is
    • ... Ubiquitous
    • ... No big deal
    • ... Illegal but all the bad guys do it
    • "the best thing we ever did for them; they're much happier now"
    • Humans are free; aliens are slaves
    • Humans are slaves; aliens are free
  7. Technology - space travel

    • Running a nuclear power plant is kid's business; even a drunken college drop-out can be a ship's engineer
    • Rocket motors are simple to maintain and operate, too—they never break
    • Reaction mass is incredibly dense, cheap, and easy to stash away in a spare corner
    • ... It never runs out
    • ... It doesn't require special handling procedures
    • ... It's never toxic, cryogenic, teratogenic, radioactive, or corrosive
    • Oxygen is freely available in space
    • You can go as fast as you like if you just accelerate in a straight line
    • Spaceships accelerate at right angles to the direction the occupants experience gravity in
    • Spaceships are:
    • ... bilaterally symmetrical
    • ... rugged and able to survive impacts with other objects
    • ... easily maintained by semi-skilled labour/shade tree mechanics
    • ... about as complex as a 1920s tramp steamer, or maybe a deep-sea fishing trawler
    • ... easily piloted
    • ... can stop on a dime
    • ... available second-hand in good working order from scrapyards
    • ... have wings and an undercarriage, like a biplane
    • ... You can hear them coming a parsec away
    • Generating electricity aboard a spaceship without solar panels is easy
    • ... So is getting rid of waste heat
    • ... The bigger the spaceship, the easier it gets (because the square-cube law doesn't exist)
    • ... The Death Star would totally not melt itself with its waste heat whenever it fired its planet-zapper!
    • Faster than light travel is easy
    • ... But the jump drive is fuelled by unobtanium
    • Causality violation: what's that?
    • There are no regulatory frameworks or licensing regimes for starships
    • Nobody would ever think to run a starship up to 50% of light-speed and ram a planet
    • ... Even if they did that, the effect wouldn't be significantly worse than a 1940s atom bomb
    • There's no regulatory framework for shuttlecraft, either
    • ... Because nobody has heard of Kessler syndrome
    • ... Also, a space shuttle in-falling from low earth orbit totally doesn't arrive at ground level with kinetic energy equal to about ten times it's own mass in TNT, because if it did it would be a field-expedient weapon of mass destruction
    • Flying a spaceship is not only easy, it's easier than flying a Cessna
    • Spaceship life support systems are simple to maintain and repair and very forgiving
    • Spaceships communicate across interplanetary or interstellar distances by radio
    • ... Interplanetary radio works instantaneously
    • ... Interplanetary radio communications are as easy to operate as tuning your car stereo to a new AM channel
    • GPS works in space beyond low earth orbit: who needs navigation skills these days?
  8. Technology - Pew! Pew! Pew!

    • Radar gives us an instantaneously updated map of everything in a star system
    • ... But stealth technology is totally a thing!
    • We can't detect spaceships by looking for their infrared emissions against the 2.7 kelvin cosmic background temperature
    • Also, spaceships can hide behind planets or asteroids indefinitely without using their engines or knowing the bearing of the enemy they're hiding from
    • Laser beams are instantaneous, don't spread or disperse, and can melt anything
    • ... Except a force field that somehow refracts/bends/absorbs the confused photons
    • Missiles, with a constrained (small) propulsion system, can overhaul a much bigger/less constrained spaceship at great range
    • Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties don't bother to count Free Trader Beowulf's point-defense nuclear missile battery for treaty purposes—only naval nukes count
    • Gun turrets have to have a glassed-in canopy and a gunner inside or they won't work
    • Also, human gunners can totally draw a bead on a hostile pirate ship maneuvering a few light seconds away. Fire control computers, not so much
    • Boarding actions have mysteriously made a come-back from the 1850s.
    • Guns are still bang-sticks that require a human to point them at a target
    • Stun-guns have no unpleasant after-effects
    • Bullets are brainless
    • You can dodge laser beams
    • Fisticuffs are universally considered to be the optimal way to resolve a sincere difference of opinion over complex commercial interactions
    • All starships need to carry armed guards, or at least a gun locker full of blasters for the crew when they're visiting a Colony planet
    • Knife missiles—who ordered that?
  9. Aliens

    • Aliens are multicellular organisms with nervous systems and musculoskeletal systems
    • Aliens communicate in language
    • ... Using noises
    • ... Emitted by their mouths
    • ... At frequency ranges we can perceive
    • Aliens are individuals
    • Aliens are eusocial hive organisms
    • Spacefaring aliens are conscious
    • Aliens are WEIRD people with latex face paint or funny haircuts
    • ... Because primates are a universal deterministic outcome of evolution on all worlds
    • Wittgenstein was wrong about talking lions. (If they could speak we'd find what they can say fascinating—mostly because we'd be waiting for them to mutter, "I wonder what those bipeds taste like?")
    • Aliens build starships sort-of like humans, but with wonky furniture
    • Aliens are interested in us (see Wittgenstein above)
    • Aliens want to trade with us
    • Aliens want to exchange bodily fluids with us (ewww ...)
    • Aliens want to induct us into their civilizational-level fraternity/sorority and make contact in order to teach us the house rules
    • Alien species only have one dominant culture
    • Alien species are noteworthy for their universally applicable stereotypy, utterly unlike us complicated and divergent human beings
    • Aliens have a much longer history of spaceflight than humans, but unaccountably failed to stumble upon and domesticate us during the 11th century
    • Aliens have religious beliefs because they have the same theory of mind as human beings and attribute intentionality to natural phenomena (see also: Daniel Dennett)
    • Alien religion resembles those of a human culture that thrived prior to 1000 CE and is now considered quaintly obsolescent by most humans
    • Aliens can't control themselves
    • Aliens are unconditionally hostile
    • Aliens are robots
    • ... Robot-aliens are just like alien-aliens, only more alien, because robots
    • Aliens are incomprehensible
    • Aliens have no sense of humor
    • Aliens have a human sense of humor
    • Aliens have been extinct for millions of years, but:
    • ... have left treasures behind in their death-trap-riddled tombs
    • ... their ephemeral technologies still work flawlessly
    • ... If humans trip the burglar alarm, they're coming back—and they'll be mad
    • ... they're extinct because they Sublimed
    • ... they're extinct because they became Decadent
    • ... they're extinct because they suicided
    • ... (robot-alien remix): they're extinct because they tripped over the Halting Problem
    • ... they're extinct because (insert dodgy social darwinist argument here)

What do you think I'm missing from the list?

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1540 days ago
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1540 days ago
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2 public comments
1541 days ago
falsehoods science fiction authors believe about fictional world
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
1541 days ago
In many cases, I wish they'd thought about them enough to reach the level of a belief: there are so many good stories you could have by intentionally breaking some of these and letting the characters figure out how something impossible is staring them in the face.
1541 days ago
Oh man, saving this. So ... many...
Waterloo, Canada

Create an archlinux docker image from archlinux

1 Comment

Some time ago, I wrote this article: How to create an archlinux docker image from the latest bootstrap but I think the below approach is even better.

Step 0

This step is optional.
If you want to reduce the size of the docker image:

# vi /etc/pacman.conf

and add the below lines:

NoExtract = usr/lib/firmware/*
NoExtract = usr/lib/modules/*
NoExtract = usr/share/locale/*
NoExtract = usr/share/man/*

Step 1

Create the latest archlinux on a temporary directory:

# mkdir -pv /tmp/latestarchlinux/var/lib/pacman
# pacman -Syy -r /tmp/latestarchlinux/
# pacman -S base -r /tmp/latestarchlinux/ --noconfirm

Step 2

dockerized the above directory

# cd /tmp/latestarchlinux/
# tar -c . | docker import - archlinux:latest

Step 3

Actually you ‘ve done !
Just play with it already.

# docker run -t -i --rm archlinux:latest bash
[root@de9b7a1d6058 /]#
Tag(s): docker, archlinux
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1578 days ago
Arch is simple. So simple, it's a 2 (or 3) step process of making a container out of it.
Phoenix, AZ
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The paranoid style in 2016

5 Comments and 11 Shares

I like to keep track of US politics, because it's generally less traumatic to contemplate someone else's smoking wreckage than one's own house when it's on fire.

2016 is a Presidential election year in the United States, and I make no predictions as to the outcome. However, a lot of my friends and acquaintances are looking at the Republican party primary debates in slack-jawed disbelief and coming out with variations on, "OMG, we're doomed! Did he really say that?"

Well yes, in most cases he did. What we're seeing is the climactic efflorescence of tendencies that have been running in American right-wing politics for longer than I've been alive, so none of this is a surprise: but if you find it bizarre or confusing and want to know where it's come from, carry on reading.

In the earlier "Long-range forecast" thread, one of the regular commenters said, my human side wonders if the toxins can be sucked out and hatreds healed and works on that assumption. (Innocence-with-awareness).

I fear that her human side is wrong, at least in the short term, for values of "short" on the approximate order of my lifespan. I have two essays I'd like to cite, both by historian-journalists in search of the heart of [American] darkness.

The first one, by Richard J. Hofstadter, was published a month after I was born, so it's over 51 years old and predates Nixon's Southern Strategy: The Paranoid Style in American Politics. It tells you how deep some of the taproots of crazy go. The essay's a classic. In it, Hofstadter explores (per wiki) "political paranoia against Illuminism (intellectual subversion), freemasonry (corporate subversion), and the Jesuits (religious subversion), then progresses through U.S. politics to its contemporary (1950s-60s) modern incarnations of McCarthyism and the John Birch Society." (Note that the John Birch society was co-founded by Fred C. Koch. His children's political activities today should require no introduction.)

The second one is more recent. It's by Rick Perlstein, published in 2012, and it's all about the motives of the people who irrigate those taproots: The Long Con: mail-order conservativism. The key point is that the conspiracy tendencies Hofstadter pointed to in the 1960s are still around and in use to this day by opportunist hucksters who rely on Republican party mailing lists to milk donations from the gullible and frightened, just as televangelists use variant theology to solicit donations from their own flock of believers.

If you've read and inwardly digested these, and have an understanding of Altemeyer's book on Authoritarian Followers (wikipedia crib notes here), then you're equipped to understand how this deeply toxic meme complex perpetuates itself—or at least how it did so up to roughly 2007.

2007 is when the human species accidentally invented telepathy (via the fusion of twitter, facebook, and other disclosure-induction social media with always-connected handheld internet devices). Telepathy, unfortunately, turns out to not be all about elevated Apollonian abstract intellectualism: it's an emotion amplifier and taps into the most toxic wellsprings of the subconscious. As implemented, it brings out the worst in us. Twitter and Facebook et al are fine-tuned to turn us all into car-crash rubberneckers and public execution spectators. It can be used for good, but more often it drags us down into the dim-witted, outraged weltanschauung of the mob.

It turns out that when you take the old paranoid-style driven give-us-all-your-money mailing list scams (and their old-media spin-offs like Fox News and Clear Channel's talk radio shock jocks) and add telepathy, what you get is the whole festering stew of the Neo-reactionary movement, a scream of rage directed against the modern world. (Let's not forget that the ideological roots of the neo-reactionaries, notably Nick Land's writings on accelerationism, emerged during the late 1990s, not at all coincidentally at the same time that internet access among the western bourgeoisie was becoming A Thing.) When you add telepathy to the toxic stew of rejection of the Enlightenment legacy you get an ad-hoc movement of angry ideologues who have jabbed their fungal hyphae into the cerebral cortex of Reddit and n-chan to parasitically control the rageface collective.

Of course higher-order top-down parasites like the NSA, GCHQ, the Five Eyes and the 50-Cent Party have also noticed this fertile disinformation vector and are using it to provide evidence to justify their existing bureaucratic imperatives: and combat newer ad-hoc upstart rivals. Oh, and to drag it all in a circle, if you look at Da'esh and the Neoreactionaries? East is East and West is West and this is your face in a mirror.

But here's the key take-away: 2016 will be the first US Presidential Election where the outcome will be visibly influenced by telepathic broadcasts direct from the political id, with the more plugged-in candidates (cough, Donald Trump) speaking in tweets rather than TV-friendly sound-bites and making their play in real time to their audience reactions, much like the plot of a novel co-written by Neal Stephenson before he got famous. If you've wondered why Trump can say the things he says, it's because his core constituency want him to. If you want to know why Islamic State are so awful, you can find the answer in Hofstadter and Altemeyer's work—just add Islam instead of Capitalism as a guiding ideology. And if you want to know what the worst possible case outcome for the USA looks like (caveat: I think it's highly unlikely it'll go that far), now you've got the tools to figure it out for yourself. It looks kinda like Da'esh's caliphate, only with the NRA instead of religious police, Facebook instead of the Friday sermon after the call to prayer, and a surplus of unhappy zoned-out worker-consumer-units on tranquillizers.

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1586 days ago
"2007 is when the human species accidentally invented telepathy (via the fusion media with always-connected handheld internet devices). Telepathy, unfortunately, turns out to not be all about elevated Apollonian abstract intellectualism: it's an emotion amplifier and taps into the most toxic wellsprings of the subconscious."

Interesting view, and I think would be closest we come to Sci-Fi becoming reality for humans.
Phoenix, AZ
1587 days ago
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4 public comments
1586 days ago
Charlie nails it
1586 days ago
"if you look at Da'esh and the Neoreactionaries? East is East and West is West and this is your face in a mirror."
Apparently the comparison to ISIS is the new "You're Hitler."
1587 days ago
Oof. Insightful, and Oof.
Princeton, NJ
1586 days ago
Might one say that trump is the andrew jackson of our time?
1587 days ago
Section on 'inventing telepathy' is particularly nice.
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