Ever since I’ve gotten back home and don’t have immediate concerns, I’ve been catching up on reading. Here are reviews on the first batch:
A collection of short stories by Cory Doctorow.
I’ve read most of the stories already in here, but it was a blast reading through them again, and picking up those that I haven’t read yet. Some notes on selected stories:
I’ve read The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away (yes, based on the joco song) before, but it’s interesting to read it after learning that other people are also interested in collecting data on the self under the banner of quantified self, how we’re doing it outside of a monastery.
After reading The Right Book, it makes me wonder why no one has tried making something like The Story so Far yet: or, someone’s tried starting it, but it keeps getting buried before it reaches critical mass. Maybe we could just start it as a forum game, and keep going until it attains critical mass.
Human Readable conflicts me: on the one hand, I want the ant simulators to win, because you can’t always ask your machines to explain themselves, similar to how many machine learning algorithms are black boxes. On the other hand, giving up that control and understanding essentially means we give up the control to the “matrix”: even if there is no malignant consciousness, we give up the control to the aether. And we love control, myself included.
Epoch has another set of lines that tickle my geek nodes: “Later that night, she took me home and we spent the whole night hacking replacement parts for her collection of ancient stand-up video games.” The fact that Ubuntu’s Mark Shuttleworth commissioned the story is also cool: when I get rich and famous, I’ll have to remember I can commission stories.
I will gripe that unordered collections have no business being flattened into a linear strictly-ordered collection, and that as an ebook we can do better. I’d love to see how people display and navigate through an unordered collection.
TLDR: THE STORIES ARE AWESOME READ THEM ALL
Honestly, this book kind of sucked: I only got halfway through it before the wooden dialog, random plotting, and soft scifi pseudo-science slew my desire to keep reading, and this is coming from someone that will plow through utter shit just to finish it. This either means I’m getting better at rejecting books that aren’t worth my time, or that the book is worse than utter shit. I’m not sure.
The 2nd latest work from Cory Doctorow, which is merely a collection of blog posts put into book form. I say merely, partly because I’ve already read most of the material in one form or another, and also because as I’ve said before, unordered collections presented as ordered feel wrong.
The essays themselves are wonderful, and a good thing about them being short, page-long essays is that I can’t really spoiler them, so I’ll just ramble a bit:
If I ever become a parent, I hope to be as good as integrating technology into family time as Cory is in Jack and the Interstalk (corrected for technological advancement).
Beyond Censorware brought to the fore that old dream that I could lead some class in primary or secondary education, because it’s too often that kids don’t meet good technologists until what I would argue is much too late. Of course, the fact that I’m a few nines high with regards to technology means I’ve traded off some social acumen, and
it seems like being somewhat normal is a good thing for primary/secondary school teachers. Also, there’s the fact that if we treat money as whuffie (another Cory concept), then we don’t value teachers very much, and we get job destroyers off destroying jobs instead of teaching the next generation how to replace themselves with shell scripts.
When I’m Dead details how to handle deceased dude’s digital data. I once thought about creating a “dead-man’s” switch for myself/as a service so my encrypted digital data wouldn’t die with me, so it was instructive to hear Doctorow talk about why he wouldn’t use one (trust), and his solution (split the key, keep it with two other trusted people). Doctorow’s solution would work especially well with myself: I have several groups of friends that are widely physically and socially disparate from each other (6 steps non-withstanding). However, having friends maintain awareness of the key shards is problem-prone, whereas Doctorow has one closely trusted party (wife) and someone he pays to care (lawyer). I suppose this means I need to get married and get a lawyer, or get married twice on opposite ends of the globe.
The sentiments in Reports of Blogging’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated are obviously shared by myself.
It’s interesting to note that Doctorow thinks Search Is Too Important to Leave to One Company, since when I read that title I immediately think of DuckDuckGo.
Personal Data is as Hot as Nuclear Waste reiterates in my mind that we need to encrypt everything (shame on myself for not encrypting my mail! shame on myself for not encrypting my hard drives!), and with the increased capabilities of data mining, we need to add more obscurity just to keep the amount of anonymity level.
Memento Mori is an interesting look at how we fetishize old objects: aside from a straightforward fascination, they also act as ways to keep us honest about the promises of technology. I’m somewhat young (perhaps too young) to remember these past revolutions that promised the world and failed to deliver, but I’ll keep in mind curating my own memonto mori collection.
Cory also talks about sex in his books, writing for YA, his writing process/tools, email (both the problem of spam and how he controls his inbox), re-iterates the thesis that scifi is really about the present, fandom, r-reproduction, licensing, publishing MVPs, CC, Net Neutrality (since the book was published in late 2011, there’s nothing on the new challenges to the internet), the evils of DRM, why 3d movies are a gimmick, phishing, piracy (media piracy in particular), why we need statistical literacy, and 3d printing.
TLDR: I’ve you’re an avid reader of Doctorow’s blog, you might be familiar with the material, but it’s fun to go back and read this collection of “greatest hits”. If you don’t follow Doctorow, then these essays are fun, bite sized thoughts wrapped up in a nice box, which I highly recommend.
What’s next? Maybe Anathem, or the latest from Cory Doctorow (The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow), something by Charlie Stross, or something be Vernor Vinge. In other words, ALL THE SCIENCE FICTION.