Um, is it 2015, or 1984? Watch out for Facecrimes

Actual quote from 1984 by George Orwell that we were listening to in the car the other day

“He did not know how long she had been looking at him, but perhaps for as much as five minutes, and it was possible that his features had not been perfectly under control. It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself — anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: FACECRIME, it was called.”

Actual quote from Scientific American publication that arrived at my house later that same day….

The Big Screen: High-tech security on the ground keeps passengers safe in the air

“Anyone showing up at the airport with bad intentions is unlikely to comport himself like he’s spending the day at the beach. At the minimum, he’ll be furtive and evince some measure of edginess—even if subtle and subconscious. And this is where California-based Eyeris’s micro-expression recognition software, EmoVu, comes in.

Interfaced with a color or 3-D time-of-flight camera overlooking an airport terminal, EmoVu’s self-learning algorithms register even the subtlest facial cues—lasting just 1/20th of a second—that correspond to a suite of universal human emotions: joy, surprise, anger, sadness, fear, disgust, neutral. To put this into perspective, the human eye only recognizes macro-expressions, such as a smile or grimace, which usually last just 0.5 to 4 seconds. Such performance is largely determined by how many frames per second (fps) a visual device can capture, with the human eye topping out at about 5 fps, and EmoVu processing images at 140 fps. In addition, the human brain needs several seconds to register what the eye is seeing, but EmoVu’s “brain” does so almost instantaneously.

In practice, EmoVu functions like so: 12:05 pm, three people in field of view, 1 male—distressed, 2 females—happy. If programmed accordingly, it can then dispatch a security alert when certain affective criteria are crossed.

Eyeris’s CEO, Modar (JR) Alaoui, claims that his software consistently boasts an astounding 96.8% accuracy on account of its self-correcting and deep-learning artificial intelligence, which makes it more accurate at interpreting facial cues as it collects more data. In other words, the longer the technology operates, the more formidable it becomes.


Coincidence? I think not…

Using baby griffin to avoid facecrime

Best way to avoid committing a Facecrime? Wear steampunk goggles and a baby griffin, and look distractedly off into the distance…(at Convergence 2015–yay, SF conventions!)

All the Old Books are New Again

…at least, they are for me right now, as I’m having the intensely pleasurable experience of introducing my son to the great science fiction that I grew up with, and recommending good current fiction as well.

My Aspergian son reads well but slowly, so he’s not able to get through the sheer number of books I did at his age (plus, I never had to deal with the siren song of the digital world.) He often listens to recorded books (thank you, Audible subscription) but I still have to make recommendations knowing that he won’t read as many books.

So, where do you start? Start in the Golden Age and work your way up? Start now and go back?

I also homeschool him for his core classes, including English and Social Studies, so a few novels made their way in under the guise of assigned reading. Last year, he read Little Brother by Cory Doctorow at the same time we were following the Edward Snowden situation, so that was a huge success (my son is feverishly reading Homeland right now.) We also started listening to 1984 on a car ride recently, and maybe it was the narrator, but we were both super creeped out by descriptions of the Ministries in the beginning, especially the Ministry of Love–I’d forgotten how great George Orwell’s prose is.

This past school year, my son read Starship Troopers and then All Quiet on the Western Front, which, along with The Iliad, made for an entire year-long examination of war in literature. He has a dystopian literature class coming up, so he’ll read Fahrenheit 451 and Ready Player One. (The class also covers World War Z, which he’s read and loves–of course…)

So my son’s getting quite a dose of dystopian fiction–I’ll need to bring in a broader view of science fiction and fantasy. For sure more Heinlein, some Asimov and Clarke. Plus John Scalzi, Neal Stephenson, Iain Banks, Stephen King…LOTR! Narnia!!!

So many great books, so little time…luckily, he likes to get recommendations from me (so far), and even more luckily, I feel the need to revisit these novels to make sure my recommendations hold up over time…

Any ideas? If you could read only ten books EVER again, what would they be? Or, if you were designing a high school curriculum around science fiction, how would that look?

This was the cover of my copy of Starship Troopers, from when I first read it in the late seventies or very early eighties. I had to get a new copy for my son because this one sadly fell apart when I tried to read it.

This was the cover of my copy of Starship Troopers, from when I first read it in the late seventies or very early eighties. I had to get a new copy for my son because this one sadly fell apart when I tried to read it.

A Box of Pure Radiation: The Martian, by Andy Weir

As with most of life’s problems, this one can be solved by a box of pure radiation.”
Andy Weir, The Martian

I am once again reviewing a book that has been out for a while, but it’s only because I just discovered it. (Well, technically, my friend Marty discovered it, and then gave it to me.)

I love hard science fiction. Sometimes. I used to love it more, back when I was reading any science fiction I could get my hands on, when I was catching up on everything that Clarke/Asimov/Heinlein, were writing and had written. But full enjoyment of hard science fiction can be elusive for me, and I think it has a lot to do with the types of characters I encounter–anytime I get pulled out of the narrative by sub-optimal characterization, I start to get antsy and will put the book down. I’ve become a horribly fair-weather reader: it only takes a few slip-ups for me to turn elsewhere for my limited reading time pleasure. Gone are the childhood days of sticking with books that I wasn’t sure I liked and re-reading anything I liked as often as I liked. Now, I need to be AMAZED…

The Martian by Andy Weir amazed me. Over and over again, until I was hiding in my own house, compulsively reading, hoping no one would notice that it was time for ski practice or dinner or that the kids should really be going to bed. I finished in two sittings, but I would have done it in one if I could have managed it (damn you, responsibilities and schedules! Why did I think growing up was a GOOD thing?)

Main character,  Mark Watney, is totally a guy you want to spend time with, and he has a consistent, utterly believable voice. I forgot I was even reading, and I’m pretty jaded as a reader (see above.) He’s stranded on Mars and has to survive by his own ingenuity. That’s pretty much it, and I was actually shocked at how much I liked the book right away. All of the science and engineering felt real, but never in a didactic way. I even recommended the book to my non-SF friends. The gems of real science are fully embedded and if you skim over a few places that don’t fascinate you, that’s okay. Mark’s voice is so utterly compelling, though, that I really wanted him to explain to me how he had to electrolyze his urine…

SLIGHT SPOILER: It’s Incredibly suspenseful–is he going to DIIE?–even though I was pretty sure my friend Marty would have warned me if the author had killed him off in the end; we’ve had several discussions in our writer’s group about endings in which the main character dies (I’m looking at you, Iain Banks!)

I’m still laughing at things the main character said, and the box of pure radiation quote is my favorite. I kind of want to steal it and write a novel called A Box of Pure Radiation. I have no idea what it would be about, but it would have to be awesome if it had a title like that.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Lexicon, by Max Barry, has turned me into a drug dealer-ish book pusher

Is it totally lame to review a book that’s been out for over a year? Well, I can’t help it. Lexicon has genius plotting and amazing characters, but the thing that makes me sigh with jealousy and admiration is the voice. I loved Max Barry’s prose style in Jennifer Government and Machine Man, but he’s reached new heights of awesome in Lexicon.

I’ve been accused of being a little drug dealer-ish about pushing this book on people, but it’s just so incredible that I can’t help it. It’s helped me lay off the evangelizing of How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, and World War Z by Max Brooks a little, but everyone needs a friendly neighborhood book pusher, right?

I’ve ordered extra copies of all of the above to lend to people so I don’t have to give them my personal copy and risk it not coming back. I need all of the above books close by so if I feel sad or discouraged in any way I can open any of them for a little dose of pure happiness. (Okay, that sounds worryingly druggy…)

Reading Every Book (Ars longa, vita brevis)

My Childhood Library  When I was a child, I wanted to read every book in the library. And I had a plan.

I wasn’t completely delusional. I was only planning to read all of the fiction in the library, and not even all of that. I had no interest in the picture books, and I figured I had read most of what would no be considered middle grade (Judy Blume and Laura Ingalls Wilder, most notably.) My plan involved moving through all of the “Juvenile” section. I didn’t think much beyond that, other than vaguely considering the day that I’d be done with the children’s room and move on to the adult shelves on the main floor of the library.

I even remember trying to decide if I would allow myself to skip books that didn’t look interesting, or if all the books meant all the books. And I don’t remember if Louisa May Alcott was really the first author on the first shelf, but those are the books I always think of being on that shelf. Little Women. Little Men. I know made it at least as far as Lloyd Alexander (The Black Cauldron series.)

It’s unlikely that I really thought this project would work, although I was a very fast reader and I had lots of time on my hands–you can only watch so much Brady Bunch, cable/videos/internet hadn’t been invented yet, and I had few responsibilities of any kind. Plus, I was only about ten, so I had a lifetime to get through the Juvenile section.

But maybe I did. My grasp of reality was definitely more tenuous back then. I know I had some trouble with the concept of fiction versus non-fiction, even well into the time I was starting to read adult science fiction (I remember asking my mother if it Lankar of Callisto by Lin Carter was fiction, specifically if it was possible to find a magical portal in some earthly jungle and wake up on one of the moons of Saturn. She said if I wanted to believe it, then it was possible, which for some reason I thought was an acceptable answer.)

At some point, I abandoned my plan to read all of the books. I read a lot, but I didn’t confine myself to alphabetical by author, and at some time around age twelve I started hitting science fiction and Stephen King pretty hard, so that was it for the juvenile section (which had almost no science fiction.)

I’m having a similar problem now. I fully realize that I won’t read everything; I have finally grasped the magnitude of the situation: number of books in print + number of books published ever year+ actually having responsibilities now. And I don’t want to read everything, anyway. Definitely not the boring ones.

However, now I want to write everything.

I love writing (most of the time.) But it takes a long time, especially to revise and make an okay book into a good book. So I have this anxiety about writing now: There are so many characters, so many stories. So many kinds of stories.

I want to write an amazing space opera like Iain Banks’ Culture novels , and a young adult novel as shocking and perfect as How I Live Now. And a complicated thriller like Reamde. And insanely funny stuff like Hyperbole and a Half. Definitely nonfiction about how I got magically teleported to the moon of Saturn one day while exploring the Amazon Basin.

I know that I won’t write everything. I won’t even write all of the books that I have inside me right now–some, sad to say, don’t deserve to be written, and the competition for my writing time is intense. I’m figuring out what I do write best, and not surprisingly, it’s the kind of stories that I’ve always liked best…but told the way I tell them.

There’s even Latin phrase for this feeling: Ars longa, vita brevis.

So, back to finishing The Decline and Fall of Taran Elember. And then my in progress YA trilogy about the Singularity. And then that one with the AI dragons that I wrote just for fun but I really like…

Art is long, life is short.