"There is a black sun which is not visible to the human eye. It is our beacon and its fire burns within us." -- Akkadian temple inscription

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Black Sun

Steven Kaye's irregularly updated blog

I've been playing with the iTunes Music Store since I got the new laptop, and overall I'm very impressed. You can buy entire albums (some labels are only providing partial albums, for reasons best known to themselves) or individual songs, there's a decent selection of songs across a variety of genres (though they need to beef up their selections from Russian composers, among others), and if you're disconnected while downloading a song you've purchased you can reconnect and resume downloading (no billing twice or having to repurchase). If an artist or album isn't available, you can request it - we'll see what happens with that but there's at least the illusion of listening to customers. For a while last night, the classical music section's search was fouled up. I could see the cover of an album of Beethoven music, but plugging Beethoven into the general "Search Music Store" search bar didn't yield any results, But that's been fixed. You're asked to confirm the purchase of an album or song, in case you've clicked on it accidentally. Power Search lets me search by the composer as well as the artist, useful for classical music. So if I'm interested in von Karajan's recording of a particular piece, I can search for that. Friendster continues to evolve - I do wish that one could block individuals from one's Personal Network, and that one could view one's Personal Network in terms of steps (everyone I've accepted as a friend, everyone those people have accepted as friends, etc.). Right now you can view your immediate friends and your entire network, nothing in-between. "Fake friends" spotted include most of the cast of the Simpsons, most of the characters from Star Wars, Anarchism, José Cuervo, Dr. Seuss and Aldous Huxley. Haven't been able to find H.P. Lovecraft yet, though. On the recommendation of a friend, checked out the House Jacks at the Bitter End last night. They're an a capella group that can imitate any musical instrument. I know, at first it sounded as exciting as an air guitar Battle of the Bands when my friend told me about it, but once you've seen them you'll understand. And any band willing to do AC/DC covering "The Rainbow Connection" is to be encouraged. Or burned at the stake, I'm still up in the air on that one.
Last week the Special Libraries Association annual meeting was right next door. Since none of the researchers in the New York office were SLA members and one of us had more free exhibit hall passes than we knew what to do with, the moral imperative was clear. Get loot! For those of you unfamiliar with the exhibit halls at SLA conferences, there are all manner of database vendors, publishers, library shelf providers and taxonomy-shilling maniacs all competing for the attention of attendees. There are the usual free pens and bags common to any trade show, along with bowls of candy. But this year was a swell haul. Placating a plethora of vendors slyly offering to enter me into drawings for PocketPCs, Palms or iPaqs if I left my business card with them, I managed to get away with:
  • Containers of Silly Putty, two
  • Weird keychain-like device containing a retractable phone cord, suitable for connecting computers to wall jacks, one
  • Pop-out map of New York City/sixty-four page city guide/compass and pen, one
  • Swiss Army knife, one
  • Pen, one (I felt quite pleased with my restraint in this matter)
  • The inevitable, but extremely useful, Chemical Abstracts Services bag, suitable for carrying around the conference program, guide to New York City, exhibit hall guide, and of course loot
I also picked up free copies of the magazines Information Today and KMWorld, the latter featuring a brief article by the prolific Dave Weinberger, "The Truth of Weblogs." So some nod was made to the ostensible purpose of the convention, i.e., learning about things useful to librarians. And to be fair, I also purchased copies of Douglas Raber's The Problem of Information: An Introduction to Information Science and Blaise Cronin's Pulp Friction: From the Margins of Libraryland from Scarecrow Press. And despite assurances that we wouldn't be confused with a certain other organization, the members overwhelmingly voted to neither change our name to 'SLA' nor to 'Information Professionals International.' I'm glad we avoided IPI - people were pronouncing it 'Ippie' and I was reminded of that annoying orphan from Silas Marner. Interestingly, everybody's favorite Marvel comics villain, HYDRA, seems to have been based on the Symbionese Liberation Army. The Symbionese Liberation Army's symbol was a multi-headed serpent, and there was a storyline which involved Madam Hydra kidnapping a company executive and brainwashing him just like Patty Hearst. Er, if Patty Hearst had been subjected to the mental domination of an elder god through the use of Lemurian technology. Talk about missed opportunities. Steranko could do our brochures and posters and we could make all the technical services people wear funny yellow beekeeper outfits. And which is a more impressive motto - "Putting Knowledge to Work" or the more stirring words of Madam Hydra: "HAIL HYDRA! IMMORTAL HYDRA! WE SHALL NEVER BE DESTROYED! CUT OFF A LIMB, AND TWO MORE SHALL TAKE ITS PLACE!" 'Nuff said.
Lots of stuff to catch up on, but I should note that this is the first blog entry with my new laptop Smoking Mirror. Say hello to the nice people, Smoking Mirror.
He is arbitrary, he is capricious, he mocks. He wills in the manner he desires. He is placing us in the palm of his hand; he is making us round. We roll; we become as pellets. He is casting us from side to side. We make him laugh; he is making a mockery of us.
(from Burr Cartwright Brundage's translation of Fray Bernardino de Sahagun's Historia general de las cosas de Nueva Espana) Well then, there you have it. I'll see if we can get more Nahuatl wisdom from Smoking Mirror later, but for now there's a discussion of Permanence to be had. Because I'm in a nostalgic mood, I'm going to disguise the crucial plot bits with ROT13. You can find a decoder here. In the world of Schroeder's novel, the big scary menace is a civilization called the Rights Economy, which seeks to incorporate all other alien or human civilizations into itself. Permanence presents a few alternatives for future civilization, with the deck stacked in favor of open collaboration of equals without demand for compensation. Sounds idyllic. Our heroine Rue is fleeing her brother Jentry who's threatened to sell her into slavery (along with his claiming a fossil left to her by her grandmother for himself). So right away we're seeing ownership portrayed in a negative light, except for the local laws which give her claims to the shuttle she takes (she and her brother have equal ownership, and in such situations the one physically present is the captain of the vehicle). She files a claim on a comet she sees as she escapes. Rue makes her way to Erythrion where she risks becoming a debtor due to docking fees, but finds that what she first thought was a comet and then a human spaceship is in fact an alien spaceship. But to make her claim lasting she has to land on it and learn how to steer its course. Now throughout the book Schroeder comes up with nifty ideas, like a civilization based around brown dwarfs (which can generate strong magnetic fields - power - and infrared radiation - heat) or using augmented reality to conceal things from people without the proper clearance (entrances don't appear on a military ship unless you're authorized to see them - everyone has brain implants giving them the ability to see 'inscapes'). He has a character who practices a form of Shinto based on enabling other people to cope with alien environments by visualizing the kami of those places. Schroeder has a great argument about sentience and the inevitability (or lack of same) of consciousness as we know it in the universe. But that darn Rights Economy is such a ridiculous caricature it lessens the joy of reading Permanence. As presented, the Rights Economy seeks to keep humanity from speciating away from its origins through economic and other means. It's arguable whether that's a viable strategy, long-term, but OK. But wait, how does it hold itself together, you ask? Simple - everything is linked by economic transactions. You literally cannot offer services for free, and that includes religions. Any property not claimed by individuals is appropriated by the government. At least one colony is forced to erect a dome to keep a breathable atmosphere because the evil Rights Owners (yes, it's capitalized in the book) back on Earth don't consider terraforming the planet to be an economically viable option any more. Genetic engineering, at least on humans, is forbidden (part of the whole speciation thing). There is a rebel movement against the expansion of the Rights Economy, but it's scattered and without much clout. Yes, it's an incredibly unsubtle attack on the current situation with intellectual property. But wait, it gets better (here's the ROT13 bit, kids): Gur rivy Nqzveny Pevfyre vf qrgrezvarq gb qrfgebl gur eroryyvba ntnvafg gur Evtugf Rpbabzl bapr naq sbe nyy, jvgu n fhcrejrncba snpgbel Ehr boyvtvatyl yrq uvz gb. Hasbeghangryl, uvf fpurzr sbe qrfgeblvat gurz vaibyirf nyybjvat gur fhcrejrncbaf gb oerrq naq ebnz gur havirefr ybbxvat sbe nalguvat abg cneg bs gur Evtugf Rpbabzl. Abg whfg gur eroryf, ohg nyy nyvra yvsr guebhtubhg gur havirefr. Nsgre nyy, gurler abg cneg bs gur bar gehr pvivyvmngvba. Puevfg! Pevfyre qbrfa'g unir n oynpx zhfgnpuvb ur gjveyf bofrffviryl naq tb nebhaq glvat jbzra gb envyebnq genpxf, ohg vg'f nobhg gung onq. Rue preaches at people in the best Heinlein character tradition throughout the novel, and eventually gur qlvat Plpyre Pbzcnpg pvivyvmngvba onfrq nebhaq gur oebja qjnesf vf erfgberq, jvgu rirelbar pbbcrengvat sbe gur terngre tbbq. Naq ubj vf guvf rasbeprq? Na beqre bs zbaxf jvgu pbageby bs gur fhcrejrncbaf, bs pbhefr. Ercynpr bar qvpgngbefuvc jvgu nabgure. Onu! N tha vf fgvyy n tha! Open source collaboration is good for some things. Obviously Schroeder thinks so, or he wouldn't have worked on OpenCola. It's not so good for others. Modeling economic goods as property is good for some things. It's not so good for others. But that wouldn't be a useful straw man argument, which is ultimately what Permanence boils down to.
© 2002, Steven Kaye