Descriptions of the Nondescript

Slogging and blogging

Gawd this is a slog! I'm at the 63% point in my manuscript, according to my text editor. This is going slowly, but I feel good about it. The revisions are valuable --- I'm making this much better. And I'm finding various small (usually) errors and inconsistencies in the story telling. I needed to do this.

Some people might be interested in the tool chain I'm using to finish this book. Most of the book has been written using these tools, although I started out --- years ago, now --- using what used to be called StarOffice back in the day.

I have always used Linux from the beginning. I hate Windows, and I didn't get a Macbook until recently, and that is the property of my employer anyway. So, Linux it is. I use KDE on Ubuntu, and I'm pretty happy with it. I have eschewed fancy and distracting WYSIWYG word processors for something simpler and more contained.

The GNU Emacs logo I use GNU Emacs for editing the text itself, a GNU Makefile to drive the tools to transform this into the finished PDF and EBOOK formats, and various other tools as they're needed. I couldn't live without Emacs' ispell package, and I have made good use of ediff to merge versions of the manuscript when I screwed up and edited them on two different computers and had to recover from that.

I have an ARM based Samsung Chromebook for when I'm working on the train or out and about. ChromeOS is wonderful for many things, but I wanted my Linux tools, so I installed crouton to get emacs and the other Linux goodies. I use a desktop PC (built it myself!) at home for the really heavy editing when I'm there.

After editing the text form, which is in Markdown format by the way, I pass the whole thing through pandoc to get HTML for one version and EPUB for another. The HTML goes through LibreOffice using an unfortunately still mostly manual process to create a PDF for someone who needs dead-trees copy to write on.

The EPUB version goes through Calibre to be transformed into the various eBook formats required by Google, Amazon, Apple, and SmashWords. These conversions are still somewhat buggy. Before I publish this thing I'm going to have to make them bullet-proof. I already have a very nice book design and cover, but getting the tools to generate a form that each of these eBook vendors can gobble up and feed to the various eBook readers while retaining some semblance of the original formatting is hard.

I'm learning by doing. I have new respect for the publishing houses and the companies that do all of these things as a service. When I'm rich someday I might ask someone else to do these jobs for me. For now, my time is free.



Sign placed for decor in a pub I had lunch in. I had an appointment to see my doctor this morning (I'm fine), and I escaped the medical facility's vampirous clutches just at noon. Since breakfast was at 6am and it was getting awfully lonely in there, I was powerfully motivated to find some good provender --- and quickly. There's an ale house down the street from my doctor here in Queen Anne, and the menu looked quite good to my famished eyes, so I stepped in and found a small unassuming table on one wall.

The whiskey tenor bartender was one of those guys who calls everyone "Bud" or "Hun" while heartily clapping their back. I'm not at all offended by such behavior, but I wonder about people who feel like they don't know him well enough to receive that sort of treatment.

I ordered some "award winning" fish tacos (Irish food), and settled in with the perky jazz trumpets while surrounded by friendly bantering fellows. It's this "hail fellow, well met" comfort that I came here for. Everyone has food, but you can't go wrong in a pub for atmosphere.

The tacos were delicious, by the way.

Ecology, Economy, Growth, and Invention

I have been thinking about how we come to get richer over time as a planetary civilization. It's clear that the world is richer than it was when I was born, more than five decades ago. World population has multiplied by two and half times, and of that population a far smaller percentage is desperately poor (i.e., starving) and a far greater percentage is quite wealthy indeed. This trend is accelerating, and there are those who are starting to predict the end of poverty. In fact, if you look at the actual economic value in the world, it's greater by a big multiplier over even those fifty years.

Why is this? What makes us all richer over time? These questions are easily answered by a mid-level economics student. But I wanted an intuitive grasp of this, and I wanted to try to derive the reasons for it myself to get that.

Take an example from everyday life. When I was born, or even thirty years ago, there were virtually no mobile phones. If you wanted to talk to someone far away, you shared a single instrument or two, attached to a physical pair of copper wires leading from your home or place of business to a switching center where that pair was temporarily tied to another pair leading to more switching centers and, eventually, to the instrument adjacent to the mouth and ears of the person you want to chat with. This is complicated, but it's technology that remained substantially unchanged except in detail for nearly a century.

Even the wired telephone devices added huge value to the economy of the world, but that's not what I want to focus on here. That's just a pedestal upon which the next step rests.

Consider what happened since the 1980s with mobile phones. At first, of course, they were of limited usefulness and were very costly. But gradually, as technologists did what they always do, things got better, more flexible, cheaper, and more reliable. As this happened, more and more people could use the things to add value to their lives, their businesses, or whatever. We went, in thirty years, from nobody having a technology that could only be afforded by the wealthiest members of society to now, when virtually everyone has and uses it daily. Today a middle school child can ask his parents for a mobile phone for Christmas and there might be a brief moment of parental eye rolling, but the parents will eventually realize this is just something that has to happen. At least by high school age, by around age sixteen, where they are starting to be able to drive cars, most kids in families of middle class means have their own phones.

What changed? Yes, the things got cheaper. But they're not free. In fact, my household pays hundreds of dollars a month for the five people on my mobile phone plan to each have a smartphone. They don't actually have to have a this thing to live, but it is convenient and helpful and it is actually expected that everyone will have one. We didn't have to stop eating or driving our cars (another example of this phenomenon in itself), or living in a decent home, or wearing clothes in order to afford the cost of these things. What we did, as a society, was to get richer by enough to afford these devices.

How did we do that? We did it because of the devices, and because of computers and televisions and microwave ovens and many other innovations that have made our lives simpler, quicker, easier, and more productive in myriad ways. All of these, as a whole, have made it possible for all of us, en masse to afford these modern conveniences without corresponding reduction in our lifestyle to do it.

Mobile phones enable instant access to information, freeing time and mental energy for people to do more things that might make society richer --- creating works of art, inventing new things, managing a team that builds gallium mines, designing buildings, or whatever. It is the savings of time that was heretofore lost to drudge work or delay of access to information while the thought is fresh or lost time while waiting for someone to arrive at the office to receive a message that has made us all richer --- incrementally, over years and decades, but richer nonetheless. These riches help us to pay for our new toys, which in turn help to pay for more engineers, manufacturing, gallium mines, and even stupid TV commercials. These all pay people to do things that enables them to pay for things, completing the cycle.

There is no single flow in an economy. It's more of a cycle, but it's a wheels-within-wheels contraption made up of frillions (a technical term in economics and in science fiction) of those cycles all entangled and intertwined in such a way that nobody can really make sense of them individually, but there can be rules for the results that show some of what is going on at a high level view. (This lack of visibility or attention to details is one reason for economic meltdowns like the one in 2008.)

An ecology is like this too. If you start with the primordial soup, clusters of what is hardly more than loosely organized globs of chemicals that happen to be able to translate energy and other chemicals into more copies of themselves, and then you move forward in time to complex ecosystems like a steaming, fecund world filled with ferns and dinosaurs, you can see how the same process has occurred. The creatures of the ecosystem became richer --- more efficient at transforming energy and foodstuffs into more creatures --- and were able to afford ever more complicated creatures who were, in turn, even more able in various ways to survive and to make more of themselves, over and over again.

It is hardly a new idea that we humans and our machines and inventions are just another step in ecosystem evolution on this planet. It's also not a new idea that those inventions might become another step.

I wanted to see this by having thought through it in this way, and I wanted to invite you to come along for the ride. I'm probably wrong in some particulars I have described here, but fundamentally, this has to be how it all works, and has worked for sagans of years.

An Eye Toward the Future

I have nearly completed my first book. I hope to have it published this weekend or, at the latest, this coming week. More on this when there is news...

Of course I haven't been idly sitting around waiting for editing, review feedback, and other processes external to me that have been required to publish the book. I already have two more stories in the pipeline. Both of these are in an arc or series called the ANGEL Stories. I'm expecting these to finish as novella sized - quick and easy to read, and with a fast moving pace for the action, which is one important component of each of them. They're science fiction, set in our time, filled with action, as I said, along with political intrigue, and many things a computer geek, especially, would find to be entertaining reading.

The first has working title of In the Beginning: ANGEL This is the "genesis" of the series, introducing the three main characters who will be present in the entire arc. In fact, this first book involves the creation of one of the characters --- ANGEL, who is an artificial intelligence with a predominantly female persona. ANGEL is, of course, an acronym for "Algorithmic + Natural Genetic Evolution and Learning" that describes the fundamental technology through which ANGEL came to be. The other two main characters are Ross Reynolds, an aging geek who spends his evenings playing with genetic algorithms for fun, and Lenora Crosley, an expert in malware and computer crime who works for the National Security Agency. Together the three of them form the "Triumvirate" --- a team devoted to improving the conditions of society through subtle and invisible nudges of politics, technology, and culture in directions that will make everything better for everyone. The first draft of this book is now being edited. I hope to have it published in early 2015.

The second story in the series has the working title ANGEL and Kings. This book reaches deep into the past to the time of the beginning of the Crusades, where a secret society comes together around the power struggles in the Church and in the Islamic world, surviving and flourishing into the present day. ANGEL and the Triumvirate become involved when they work backward from a correlation between various movements in the financial world leading to funding of radical jihadi groups and thence to the people who are providing those funds. The identity of these people is surprising, revealing a secret held close by a select few over nearly a thousand years.

Stay tuned as these stories work through their cycles of creation, refinement, and eventual publishing. I'm very excited to see what people think of these. They have been --- are being --- great good fun to write.

One more reviewer!

I have incorporated revisions suggested by two of the three last reviewers of my first book - Dying to Live Forever.

I'm just waiting for one more reviewer's comments. Unfortunately, he's reviewing the book while on vacation, so I can't really ask him to hurry it up, can I?

*taps foot impatiently*

First Draft of SECOND Book About to be Delivered to Editor

My first book is in the throes of its last review by three people.

My second book, tentatively entitled In the Beginning: ANGEL because it's the first in a series of stories about an AI named ANGEL, has been in the "Draft #1 COMPLETED" state for a month or two.

I am printing the draft right now to give to my wonderful editor, my wife Theresa. She likes writing on actual paper. I know -- stone aged, right?

I have the third book, which has the working title of ANGEL and Kings, is about 20% drafted. Maybe even 25%.

This is a lot of fun.

Houston, we have blurbage and a cover

[Cover design for Dying to Live Forever.] Cover design for Dying to Live Forever.

My first book, Dying to Live Forever, now has a blurb and a cover design. I'm still tweaking both. Well, to be honest, I'm mostly tweaking the blurb.

Celebrity scientist and inventor Rik van der Gelder finds his lust for living waning after having lived two full lifetimes, courtesy of the 'fountain of youth' rejuvenation technology he helped to introduce. Bored nearly to death, he escapes alone in his starship, desperately searching for some relief from the never ending job of living. But a deadly attack and crash landing on an isolated and dangerous planet force him into a desperate struggle for his life.

Surviving the bizarre, deadly terrain and venomous creatures won't be easy. Assaulted at every turn, Rik encounters an alien artifact that leads him down a rabbit hole of discovery and intrigue. Standing together with artificial intelligences and the insect-like race that built them against a common enemy could result in a deadly battle and the end of Rik. Or maybe it's just the beginning…