Log in

Books! (Wars and Coups Edition)

Governing Through Technology: Information Artifacts and Social Practice (Jannis Kallinikos, 2017/#37): Basically "The Medium is the Message" for ERP software and the internet in general (weirdly, I don't recall it mentioning McLuhan). It makes the interesting remark than even before we "negotiate" with a technology we've already been affected by (trained to be conversant with) it, and that the flexibility of software comes paired with extremely rigid constraints. I would add: we confuse the number of options with their range (this feels like a short way to describe a lot of situations...). I think it misses the mark in a number of things, but it's certainly an interesting book.

Eliphas Levi and the French Occult Revival (Christopher McIntosh, 2017/#38): An entertaining book, if not one that'll reinforce your faith on the rational powers of the human mind.

Caesar's Legacy: Civil War and the Emergence of the Roman Empire (Josiah Osgood, 2017/#39): A cleverly titled book about the civil war(s) between the murder of Julius Caesar and the immediate aftermath of Actium. It's a period of time I haven't read much about — a lot of history books go "Republic, Caesar, Ides, mumblemumble, Augustus." Yet the way the book describes it, it was a deeply traumatic period pretty much around the Mediterranean, and particularly in Italy, and you can't really understand Augustus' empire (or, it turns out, Roman imperial literature) without the background of the wars. Highly recommended.

Sacred Plunder: Venice and the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade (David M. Perry, 2017/#40): Mostly a study of the ways people narrated and reacted to the transfer plunder pious theft movement of sacred relics from Constantinople to the West after the Fourth Crusade, with something of an emphasis on Venice. Not as much as I had hoped, though, and with more textual analysis than I'd have liked, so the book was a relative disappointment.

Seizing Power: The Strategic Logic of Military Coups (Naunihal Singh, 2017/#41): A reasonable application of game theory (more specifically, the concept of coordination games) to coups. It actually applies to most organizational changes, I think.

The Atlantic in World History (Karen Ordahl Kupperman, 2017/#42): A short, somewhat impressionistic look at history with the Atlantic Ocean as the guiding focus. Interesting facts and observations, but probably not as structured as it could be.


Ever got the impression that Grant Morrison is truly comics-style insane? He has a well-known penchant for (and I think, a literal belief in) modern versions of magic, so maybe his comics are less art than performative magic — changing the shape of reality by changing the shape of stories, microcosm-vs-macrocosm, Borgesian Kabbalah, etc. That's even the underpinning of his own stories, isn't it? That's how the universes he writes work: comics in his world are windows to other realities (remember the Multiversity).

So maybe he thinks that's how it works.

And you know how in pretty much every one of his big events there's some sort of almost extra-universal (extra-textual) force trying to kill everything? Maybe that's part of him. Maybe there's a part of him that wants to destroy the very archetypal plane of comics (can that be any different from wanting to destroying everything, given his metaphysics?), maybe that's most of him, and the only way he can prevent himself from doing it is with the help of all the characters.

Maybe his comics are one continuous retelling and re-fighting of his battle against a part of himself he doesn't think he can defeat, but he invokes Batman and Superman and everybody else and then he does. Who knows what he thinks would happen to his mind if he wrote and got published a true end of everything.

Who knows what he thinks would happen to comics as a genre (can you keep writing Batman comics after all Batmen in all universes have been corrupted and killed? no, no you can't).

Who knows what he thinks would happen to all realities, including our own.

Maybe he keeps telling that story because he keeps feeling a thing trying to break in from Outside the universe through the weakest spot of the barrier, our minds.

And because words have their own logic and I'm a sucker for certain patterns, I have to add without believing it (not that he'd think it makes a difference): maybe he's right.

ETA: This is about a mostly-fictional Grant Morrison inside my head, as I know very little about the man. But he does talk about this kind of magic in more or less serious terms, and he does write this kind of thing more or less all the time, and increasingly so. It'd take somebody with much more self-restraint than I have not to go there with that kind of set up.

The LEGO Batman Movie

Er... meh? Not the movie's fault - it does what it sets out to do, message(s) and all. But that's kind of the thing: I was there for the over-the-top-ridiculousness, not the by-the-numbers personal growth, and while the former never abated, I found the latter distracting. Probably mostly a function of my emotional state.

Don't take this as an anti-rec: if you think you'll like the movie, you probably will, and the over-the-topness was definitely there.


Physicists these days: Let's try to build computers encoding information in a Platonic non-local space built out of events that could've happened but we don't know if they did.

No, really:

If there are N distinct fusion channels in the presence of a pair of particles, the system exhibits N-fold
degeneracy spanned by these states. We refer to this non-local space shared by the non-Abelian
anyons, regardless of where they are located, as the fusion space. Under the assumption that all
microscopics of the system giving rise to the anyons are decoupled from the low-energy physics, the
states in the fusion space are perfectly degenerate. As it is a collective non-local property of the
anyons, no local perturbation can act on it and it is hence a decoherence-free subspace. As such it is
an ideal place to non-locally encode quantum information. We stress that the fusion space arises from
the distinct ways anyons can be fused over how they are fused. If two anyons are actually fused and the
outcome of the fusion is detected, this would correspond to performing a projective measurement in the
fusion space

"Introduction to Topological Quantum Computation"

Leveraging the stories you can tell about the particles in your system as a computational substrate built out of nothing but mathematics and a delicately engineered suspension of both belief and disbelief is something people are working towards building primitive prototypes of, right now, as I type this.

What an absurdly beautiful universe.
Aristeia: An aristeia or aristia (/ærᵻˈstiː.ə/; Ancient Greek: ἀριστεία, IPA: [aristěːaː], "excellence") is a scene in the dramatic conventions of epic poetry as in the Iliad, where a hero in battle has his finest moments (aristos = "best").

Also known in contemporary epic (e.g. set piece battles in comic crossovers) as Crowning Moment of Awesome. The relationship seems to go deeper than this, though: the way large comic battles are depicted — the roll calls, the individual combat, the tides and turns — seems, with the obvious changes from an oral to a visual medium, very similar. I think it goes deeper than the straightforward observation that hero is a common term in both, and that metas = (demi)gods; it seems to be a common narrative trait (I'm not familiar with, e.g., Hindu epics, but if I had to bet I'd say that it owes more to the intersection between human cognitive limitations and the synchronous complexity of battles than to an specific cultural tradition).

Anyway, nice to know DC and Marvel do live up to very old traditions (although not even Homer dared have the Greeks do a new siege of troy every year).


The Terror (Arthur Machen, 2017/#31): Much like The Great God Pan, I found it ridiculous in form, content, politics, and spirit, and yet somehow not unenjoyable. Censorship plays a large role in this novel, but not as something to be feared — the whole text lies upon a bedrock of trust in the Government — and the explanation of the explanation, so to speak, echoes the least agreeable sides of Chesterton (now that I think about it, there's more than one Chestertonian element in the novel, not all of them unsatisfactory ones).

Harvesting the Biosphere (Vaclav Smil, 2017/#32): Mostly a bunch of numbers interleaved with why most of those numbers are unavoidably imprecise estimations, with some drily snarky asides as to how other numbers are avoidably imprecise estimations, but as those numbers are probably our current best guesses as to how much biomass the Earth creates every year and how much we take off it (for varying definitions of both, historically and in the past) it's a pretty fascinating book. You could make a good case for having a year-long high school course based on his books; they can be usefully understood without a lot of background, and they provide the same sort of framework that, e.g., general historical surveys do, but for aspects of the world that are seldom covered.

Pax Romana (Adrian Goldsworthy, 2017/#33): Something of a complement to The Limits of Empire, with more of an emphasis on the way the Empire worked, rather than on the ways it didn't. It's not sparing on the brutal and self-serving nature of Rome, but puts it in the context of a world where that was pretty much the norm, and notes that local polities, at least at the beginning of Roman influence, saw them more than anything as a tool in their own internal conflicts. A good book.

Popes, Cardinals, and War (D. S. Chambers, 2017/#34): As described by its subtitle: The Military Church in Renaissance and Early Modern Europe. Interesting, although heavier on events than causal forces (and the epilogue is a bit uncomfortable; you'll know what I mean if you read it). Read just after Pax Romana, at some level it feels like a farce — can't anybody *keep* a conquest any more, dammit? — but the comparison isn't fair. The Romans first expanded in that same geographical environment, which was also a patchwork of near-peer polities, but everything from economics to the military was different (in large part due to the Romans' own developments) and they never had to deal with the temptation of inviting the French, the Spanish, etc (given how often *they* were called into a zone in the same way, you could read this book as karmic comeuppance for the previous one, if you were so inclined).

Understanding Latin Literature (Susanna Morton Braund, 2017/#35): A very good introductory text, specially for a relative newcomer like me.

Hamlet (William Shakespeare, 2017/#36): A frequent reread. This time around, I noticed that you could stage a version of the play where almost everybody is, as Tumblr says, "sassy af" (with Hamlet on his own category of "savage af") without changing a single word, just adding ironical expressions and eye-rolling at key places, which I'm not convinced isn't how Shakespeare directed it. Heck, even the melancholy Dane spends almost as much time cracking jokes as deploring the world, some of them quite bawdy. The audience might have cried or booed at Ophelia's death (and, I'm sure, cheered during the duel), but they also laughed a lot. By the same token, Polonius can be played as much less of a fool than he's usually portrayed as; he doesn't necessarily lack self-awareness or insight (although he's handicapped by lacking Hamlet's supernaturally sourced information), and if nothing else, he knows his job. He's overly verbose, yes, and slow to get to the point, but (a) part of it is just CYA I can relate to, (b) I shouldn't cast that particular stone, and (c) Hamlet of all people shouldn't cast that particular stone. Hamlet's relationship with Yorick gets a lot of analytical millage, but I think the young prince got part of his love of and skill in verbal jousting from Polonius, whether he knows and accepts it or not. He certainly didn't get it from his father! This directing choice, I think, wouldn't be Shakespeare's, with the foolish counselor being such an obvious character, but I can see their interactions framed by Polonius' perpetual expression of long-suffering patience as the Prince keeps throwing barbs he knows very well Polonius won't reply to in public. Frankly, I think insofar as Hamlet gives a rat's ass about anything in Denmark, he cares about his mother; the only times he really gets into the spirit of things while not being cajoled by the ghost (bad pun not intended) is when he's berating her, when he thinks the King is *in her room* (in contrast with every other time he has been near the King, here he didn't had to talk himself into or out of doing anything, he just went from zero to *swordstab* in half a second) and after the King has accidentally killed her. Even after he foils the King's first death trap for him he's just "meh, I'll get him in a bit."
I was finishing Act IV when the idea hit me. So I put down the tablet, wrote it, gave it a quick once-over, and here it is. Be kind, I pray, and suit your expectation of the dish to the haste with which an unprepared cook was compelled to make it.

Title: On the papers found in Hamlet's rooms in Elsinore
Fandom: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Rating: PG13

It is said that of all the tasks loyal Horace performed after the death of Hamlet and so many others, it was both the bitterest and the sweetest to collect and order the papers the Prince had last written.Collapse )
Assorted thoughts, in no particular order:

By Season 7, Counselor Troy had a much more active role; considering how often the Enterprise's problems had to do with weird entities, telepathic traces, and so on, it makes sense, and gives the lie to the cliche about her being "useless."

There was this scene where a Lore-influenced Borg was making Data accept that he had enjoyed killing another Borg and would do it again (he was being influenced by some carrier wave thingy at the time, but whatever) that could've been lifted word by word from a Hannibal episode.

Data being reprogrammed, taken over, or unable to deal with feelings are a significant fraction of the Enterprise's problems.

Lore's a very Loki character.

Geordi has terrible luck with his romantic life, but he's also kind of a creep in that sense. Guy's very respectful of Data's personal boundaries, but needs some remedial courses when it comes to women's.

The scenes about paperwork and routine stuff are my favorite, and there are quite a bit of them, considering.

Every series has a Die Hard episode, but TNG's was an almost direct homage.

The ship runs on dilithium and gossip, and not in that order.

The Starfleet of the TNG era is essentially the quandrant's biggest nerd club. Yes, they'll raise shields and/or shoot photon torpedoes if needed, but they prefer to charter nebulae and do archaeological surveys, and in their downtime they do theater plays or gardening (they also do martial arts or whatever, but in a nerdy way).

It's a series where and we must treat it with the same respect with which we would treat any other sentient being can be said with a straight face, and mean something.

Emergence (S7E23), the one where the Enterprise just decides out of nowhere to become slightly self-aware and build and give birth to a little weird-looking knotty ship wasn't particularly thrilling, but it'd have been a nice ending to the series. What would've been more TNG than that last scene, with Picard, Earl Grey cup on his hand, telling Data:

The intelligence that was formed on the Enterprise didn't just come out of the ship's systems. It came from us. From our mission records, personal logs, holodeck programs, our fantasies. Now, if our experiences with the Enterprise have been honourable, can't we trust that the sum of those experiences will be the same?

Almost a metatextual send-off to the series, although in terms of what should've and still might come later, I do prefer Q's:

For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. *That* is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.


Captain's log: Something weird and/or awful and/or curious is going on. We're going to be rational, humane, and calmly professional, and science the shit out of it.

For all of its failings, it's a contant lesson on how much can be accomplished by people with expertise, poise, curiosity, and good will. Some people make fun of their low-key "our ship is stranded at the end of the universe, but crew members still walk calmly in the background holding their tablets, while others are literally having lunch" approach, but that's the kind of work environment I like, both for capital-W weird stuff and the small-w regular weird Starfleet stuff.

That said, I find the follower sequence hilarious:

Traveler: Wesley is a Mozart of physics and engineering. Don't feed his ego, but encourage him to learn and play.

Picard, twenty minutes later: *makes him an Ensign*

Traveler, from somewhere in another plane of what we quaintly call reality: JEEZUS, I MEANT A SCIENCE SCHOLARSHIP OR SOMETHING, NOT ENROLLING HIM. IN WHAT WAY DID "MOZART" MADE YOU THINK "ENSIGN"?

Beginning with that, one minor thread of TNG will be Picard, in his absolute inability to deal with kids, trying to make Wesley an Starfleet officer, while Wesley, not the strongest of personalities at that age and looking for a father figure, trying to be one. I agree that Wesley needs structure, and the Enterprise is something of the Beagle of weird science, but he's not Starfleet material. Let the boy be a shy Enterprise-schooled nerd, then send him to Cambridge or somewhere like that under the care of some suitably wordly and sane friend of Picard or Crusher. He'll be happier as part of one of those non-Starfleet research bases that the Enterprise has to save every time they screw spacetime up or discover a sentient civilization of algebraic structures they urgently have to broker a peace deal with.

Wesley and Data would be pen pals about science and how the hell human relationships work, plus Data would keep Picard appraised of Wes' research schedule, so they can make sure they are near his lab whenever he's about to do something particularly likely to end up being an episode.

Nb, I'm not saying this because I dislike Wes, or because I think he has no place in the Enterprise. He fits right into the fascinating recent fannish hypothesis about the Federation being the reckless, overenthusiastic Doc Browns of the quadrant, the undisputed kings of not reading the metaphorical manual before trying to see what happens if you plug this thing into that other thing. I just think it would be good for him to have space to figure out what he wants to be before committing to something like Starfleet.


Random fannish thoughts

Saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. I wasn't unentertained, but it was mostly thanks to the fun and/or violent beats within an overall plot (in terms both of concrete dangers and emotional arcs) I didn't really care about. Why does everything has to be about emotional growth, family, and so on? You've got a talking raccoon with explosives! Just do a caper movie or something like that.

In related non-news, it's weird how weird it feels to see ESPN ads about the upcoming Champions League final in Cardiff (I did tell you about my how I'm avoiding news channels as much as I can out of psychological self-defense), without making a single reference to Torchwood.

If I were in charge of the BBC, I'd have John Barrowman as Captain Harness be seen briefly during the official transmission; unannounced and unmentioned, doing something vaguely mysterious on the background for a short moment. The parts of the internet you want to know, will see it and pass the word around. Like, in seconds.

Likewise, I'd have every Doctor I can talk into it appear randomly in the background of events, sonicking things, appearing to fix others, just going somewhere else. Turning a corner slightly ahead of a moving camera, and yet not being there when the camera follows. Never giving a heads up, never acknowledging anything. Just have the Doctor, Torchwood, etc, be a random part of the world. You never know where you'll come across the Doctor, and if you're lucky and he's successful, you won't find out what he was trying to prevent.

Hell, if you want to introduce a new Doctor, you just put him in the background of some real events, and then you have bits of his (or her, wouldn't it be nice to dream) episode take place sideways to that event, Rosencrantz and Guilderstein are Dead-style. So, say, a BBC live music event would show, briefly, a guy deliver a music sheet to a pianist, and then months later part of a Doctor Who episode would involve the Doctor replacing a music sheet for a music event with an specific date and place with a deadly tonal harmonic overlay with the proper one, our viewpoint from a side of the stage as he walks to the pianist and gives him the sheet. And the internet would take about thirty seconds to say "hey, that was a real BBC event," and then somebody will watch that video and see a man they now know is the Doctor do the thing right there in reality. Cue, I hope, the yay.

Not that Doctor Who needs any help with the internet, of course. But the BBC, the Doctor, and the United Kingdom might be the only studios, character, and place where you could pull this off in a seamless manner, so why not go for it?

If no British museum ever put Doctor easter eggs in a historical exposition or two and quietly asked somebody's niece to post a photo or two to Tumblr, then I don't know what they think "native social media marketing" is.

Secrets, quoth Hubertus Bigend, are the root of cool.


cass, can you not

Latest Month

June 2017



RSS Atom
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow