Interesting Times

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on

Everyone’s familiar with the supposed Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.” Probably not Chinese. The closest actual equivalent source is from a writer named Feng Menglong in 1627: “Better to be a dog in times of tranquility than a human in times of chaos.” For my part I’m not sure if it rises to the level of a curse in the first place. More like the normal human condition. I mean, seriously, has there ever been a period in human history that hasn’t been “interesting” in its own way? As a species we’re a lot of things but “boring” isn’t one of them, and I can certainly see where Feng was coming from.

Frankly, I could do with a bit of boredom right now.

Not gonna happen. Latest developments in AI research just got real. By now AI language models like GPT-3 that can converse on a near-human level are widespread. Another really interesting development is scientists have plotted AI Language models’ responses to language interpretation and found the graphs are eerily similar to the same responses in the human brain. Google has apparently taken the next step by integrating their own language model into a robot powered by a custom AI brain. Frankly, it’s the next logical step and I’m a little surprised it took this long. Google might be the first but it won’t be the last.

So what’s the point? Simple: instead of robots either remotely controlled or specifically programmed for a narrow range of tasks, now there is a platform where the robot can “understand” a written command and attempt to carry it out. This is different from other platforms like “Sylvia” which at heart are just very advanced chatbots.This new type of robot, in addition to processing language, can analyze its physical environment and interact with it in response to how it interprets what the language model tells it. Naturally, it’s still learning and doesn’t always successfully complete its task…the first time. Note the “learning” aspect. Also, there isn’t just one robot, there are several. And if one learns how to successfully complete a task, they ALL do.

One take on the concept of AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) is it won’t happen until AI is out of the computer, so to speak, and able to truly interact with its environment the same way human children learn. Thus, robots. It’s happening now. Will this lead to a truly general AI? No one knows for certain, but that’s the goal.

Interesting times.

Mulling It Over

As the giveaway promotion for The Long Look draws to a close, it’s really too soon to draw any solid conclusions, especially the main one: Are they worth it? It’s something I admit to curiosity about, and in a few days maybe I’ll have the perspective to draw a more solid conclusion.

As you can guess, free books aren’t scored quite the same as bought books; they’re kept on a separate list. Even so, in that list TLL rose to the second overall position in the Action and Adventure category, and broke the top ten in a couple of others. The cumulative score for the book dropped below a thousand for the first time…ever (and in the cumulative score, less is definitely more).

So far as the promo goes, I did about as well as I expected to do, perhaps a little better. The idea was to try and get the book before a wider readership, and the promotion at least technically accomplished that. Will it have any long-term effects?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Post-It Note

For those not on the Reader’s List*, and just so you know, First in the Laws of Power Series,The Long Look, is having a special for the next five days, wherein it is completely free. This should be the case for all markets, but my login doesn’t let me verify whether it’s set properly for the UK, Canada, and Elsewhere. It should be, and I’ve queried Amazon to check.

For those who already own the book, I’ll try to make it up to you somehow. Probably by finally finishing the last book in the series as soon as possible.

*What I’m calling the mail list, because it’s what I’m hoping is a more accurate description of its intent and function…and if you’re not on it, why not?

Alarums and Excursions

Buttlermilk Falls

I’d heard of this falls pretty soon after we moved here. With First Reader’s mobility issues and then Covid and then…well, it took a while. But after a new knee and some instructions from friends, we finally found it. Buttermilk Falls, which I presume is so named because of the whitewater effect. It’s quite beautiful, but this was as close as we could get without crossing the creek, which was at high water and rushing a bit itself. When we first arrived I assumed the roar I heard was from the falls, but no. The creek dives underground about 100 yards from the falls, and I have no idea where it comes out. No bridge, of course. We plan to come back later when the creek is tamer. I’d definitely like to get closer to the falls.

My plant ID app got a workout there and back. I’m more familiar with the undergrowth down south, but a lot of the native plants here are still strange to me. Let’s see…Canadian Nettle, White Snakeroot, Common Burdock, Black Ash, White Ash, American Linden, Red Oak. A nice walk through nature, and I hadn’t been in the woods (any woods) in a long time.

Today was primary day, and oddly enough, the first primary I’ve ever voted in. I’ve been a registered Independent for most of my voting life, but finally had to put my smug aloofness away and pick a side. Cruel Fascism or Flawed Democracy. Hardly a choice at all.

Writing is Like…


People write for a lot of reasons. It occurs to me one of my primary motivations was something along the lines of “I can never find enough stories of the kind I want to read.” I’ve always found a lot, don’t get me wrong. But there’s a certain point in the process of being a voracious reader (as I started out when I first learned to read) that there simply aren’t enough. So the solution was obvious.

Make my own.

I’ve been doing that for a long time now. It also remains one of my primary metrics for evaluating any particular book or story: “If I didn’t write this, would I want to read this?” And when the answer is an unequivocal YES, then I know it’s a successful story by my own standards. How it fares in the market is another matter, and frankly, not my problem.

This “make your own” mindset applies to other things as well: bread, boxes, garden arches, whatever. Which brings me to the above picture. See, I once played chess. A lot. I was on my college team, though it was informal and we only played one inter-collegiate tournament (I won my game, so there). Still have an episodic interest, usually chess problems and suchlike noodling. I once had a nice tournament quality chess set, but it didn’t make the move to NY, and every now and again I found myself missing it. Thought about getting a new one. Then I remembered I had a 3D printer and a rudimentary knowledge of computer aided design(CAD).

So, with some valuable online instruction and a little time, I made my own. Most of the pieces were easier than I expected. Except for the knight. The knight required a little drafting skill, but after five iterations I got something I was happy with. So there they are.

Next time I feel like setting up the board, I’ll be ready.