I don't speak on behalf of Penguicon and I'm not claiming the views expressed here are representative of anyone else running it. That's as it should be. Penguicon is all about 1. Fun, 2. More Fun, and 3. Keep Fun First. It's not about ideology. But Penguicon has two incidental side benefits that get me excited and are very fun for me. One is spreading Free and Open Source Software to fans of science fiction, fantasy, games, anime, and comics, who aren't technically skilled. The other is to use the political and social visions of science fiction to interest some of those hackers who are not yet interested in Hacktivism. I want to get them excited about how the fight for “knowledge goods”-- not just code alone-- benefits hackers, how non-engineer users benefit hackers, and how damage to the knowledge ecology harms innovators first like canaries in a coal mine. Specifically, I want to get more hackers interested in contributing to software for non-engineer users, and keeping non-engineer users around with volunteer tech support.

Read more... )

Cory Doctorow blogged about the video of liquid nitrogen being thrown in the swimming pool at Penguicon, and ever since, many of the comments to the video on YouTube have been debating whether it was faked with dry ice. Most of the comments are in Spanish, so I've been carrying on the debate bilingually with the help of Altavista's Babelfish. Fortunately, one fotografía is worth a thousand words.

Here's a tip I've learned while using this method to correspond internationally: When you translate your own text into another language, translate the result back into English to see if it's been garbled.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
I hadn't previously heard of a few of the speakers at Stanford's Singularity Summit, but I know every single one of the following eight names, and it's the most exciting lineup of Guests of Honor ever. It's interesting to finally find out from their photos what some of them look like.

- Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist, author of "The Singularity Is Near"
- Douglas Hofstadter, cognitive scientist, author of "Gödel, Escher, Bach"
- K. Eric Drexler, nanotechnology pioneer, author of "Engines of Creation"
- Nick Bostrom, director of the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute
- Cory Doctorow, science fiction author, blogger, technology activist
- Eliezer Yudkowski, Director and Research Fellow, Singularity Institute
- Christine Peterson, VP Public Policy, Foresight Nanotech Institute
- Tyler Emerson, Executive Director, Singularity Institute

The "What others have said" section shows Marvin Minsky, Hans Moravec, Vernor Vinge, Ben Goertzel, Jamais Cascio and Jaron Lanier. I wonder if they'll be at the summit? That section also lists Bill Gates, Bill Joy and Stephen Hawking.

But it's not a science fiction convention, it's an academic conference. These aren't really Guests of Honor, because that implies the presence of their fans at the event. This is by RSVP only. That's fine-- it's important that specialist professionals gather to do valuable work on the problems and promises of the Singularity in peace. That having been said, it would also be fantastic to get any of these to speak at Penguicon, especially since it's a Linux and Open Source software expo in addition to a science fiction convention. Many of them would probably demand an appearance fee, which all-volunteer not-for-profit SF conventions don't pay. And many of them probably would not want to be seen to be associated with a science fiction event (except for Cory Doctorow, who has already been our Guest of Honor). But Christine Peterson says in her Singularity Summit promotional blurb "If you're trying to project the long-term future, and what you get sounds like science fiction, you might be wrong. But if it doesn't sound like science fiction, it's definitely wrong."

I enjoyed reading the comment by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Professor of Law, University of Tennessee, which is extremely signifigant to me as a non-specialist:

Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
I'm still breathing, so it can't be that bad, he tells himself hopefully. Remember, if you break your neck during a botched parachute landing and then a mad conspiracy-theorist injects black market nanomachines into you, it's highly unlikely that anything worse can happen before sundown, he tells himself in a spirit of misplaced optimism.

Appeals Court by Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross is the sequel to another of their collaborations, Jury Service. Their powers combined, these two stories form a novella titled "The Rapture of the Nerds," now available free online in its entirety.

Remember how hilariously surreal Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was? I used to think science fiction humor had to be absurdist comedy like that. But hilariously surreal is the phrase I use to describe this team. Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow constantly throw dizzying and head-swimming curveballs, while setting the wierdness in the hard science fiction near term, ripped from the headlines of genetic, nano and A.I. research with their own political twist. Frankly, some of you might not be ready to directly inject the neuropetrol of Stross & Doctorow. I dare you to read it! But read them in order. Start off with Jury Service first.


Oct. 11th, 2005 10:22 pm
In the fifth installment of his serialized novel "Themepunks" Cory Doctorow uses an idea which occurred to me independently long ago: multiple small dishwashers for bachelor roommate pads. Don't use cupboards, just leave the cleaned dishes in the dishwasher and transfer them to the other dishwasher when they're dirty. It's really just an idea whose time has come.
Last night we drove down to East Lansing for Cory Doctorow's book signing. It was impossible to get there in time for his reading, but I bought his latest novel Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town and got it signed. Also Cory transferred the digital version from his handheld to mine, in person, which is as close to a signing as it can get in that format without being in the Second Life online game.


Jun. 20th, 2005 09:53 am
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
This is my daydream today.
Imagine that we live in a post-scarcity society. We take high-speed planes or subterranean trains that acheive orbital speeds in vacuum-pressurized tunnels to commute transcontinentally to work. Or we telecommute. Our houses float with autonomous utilities and water recycling. We can travel and socialize and be at home, all at the same time. The offline world is becoming more like the internet: physical location is not so demanding anymore.

As a result, some of the social circles in SF/F fandom take over an abandoned Russian children's park. We mow it, clean it, and fix it, similar to the ad-hocracy depicted running Disney World in Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. We hold a convention there as our homes temporarily occupy the sky above the park.
I'm LMAO. You've got to read this parody article on Locus Online:
Charles Stross Attains Posthuman Status
"... Aussie critic and potential "Spiker" himself, Damien Broderick, comments, "I tried to visit [Greg] Egan years ago, and found myself stuck in a timelike infinity loop once I got too close to his nominal address. Only the concerted efforts of Stephen Baxter, Vernor Vinge and Greg Bear were able to free me."
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
As reported by BoingBoing.net, Science fiction author Charlie Stross has started a Wiki called Singularity! A tough guide to the rapture of the nerds. The stated intent is to learn about the Singularity, but this would only be true in roughly the same sense that QuackWatch is a site to "learn about" alternative medicine. What Stross has written in his wiki so far is pretty funny, but it's difficult to interpret his intent as anything but debunking and ridicule. I recommmend Eliezer Yudkowski's mind-bending Shock Level 4 Wiki to those interested in learning about the Singularity.

Charlie Stross has written serious fiction that is fascinating and enjoyable for those interested in the Singularity, such as the delightful "Toast: A Con Report." But from a self-marketing perspective, what effect does he expect to have on his readership by expressing off-handed contempt for them in this site? Consider how his sometimes-collaborator Cory Doctorow gains readership and sells books by positioning himself as the champion of our media consumer rights, thus shaping the actual future. Both of these self-marketing strategies-- Doctorow's brilliant one and Stross' apparent lack of one-- are unrelated to the writing talent of the author, and of course both of these authors would not have succeeded unless they were talented, but it's a fact of life that attracting the necessary attention to succeed in media is about understanding who is making what entertainment choices and the psychology behind it.

For instance, I used to read Orson Scott Card voraciously until he turned the center of his public platform into his religious views, instead of his fiction. (Homosexuals and secular humanists did not do that, he did. Those who want to keep their private religious views from affecting their sales are wise, and don't write newspaper editorials about it.) These days I shrug and "ho-hum" over his novels even though they are no less brilliant. It's natural for authors to prioritize writing talent over all other concerns, but do they understand that not all their fans are like that? We're not just "the readers," we continue to exist after we put the book down. That means we don't care about quality fiction as much as we care about our own passions, from which our reading choices stem.

Charlie Stross could take a lesson from the approach of Matthew Woodring Stover's interview with The SF Site. Stover criticizes problems with the fantasy genre as currently seen on store shelves, but unlike Stross he does not have fun at the expense of those who enjoy it, he flatters them with having a craving for better. His criticism is in earnest, he cares enough to repair fantasy rather than discard it, and he describes how he does so. As a result, this interview was the first time I felt a real interest in reading fantasy, and if I do it will be Matthew Woodring Stover.

This is the correct approach to pointing out problems (of which there are many) with the Singularity meme for anyone who wants to be an SF author. Point out issues with Eric K. Drexler and Ray Kurzweil in that way and we will flock to you; if the best you can do when we are introduced to you is call us goobers for having taken them seriously, we will not be motivated to read you. As Eliezer Yudkowsky has said about certain Singularity fiction authors in a conversation with Damien Broderick, "The Singularity is not an ironic commentary on the rate of change." As that rare creature, a science fiction fan who still actually believes in the future, I know what it's like to thoughtfully ponder outrageous possibilities, with an eye that is critical without being an antagonistic outsider. I want to read an author only when I can tell that she or he knows what that is like.
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
OpenCola wouldn't carbonate very much. However, it tasted much, much better than it did when completely flat. Next year we'll do two things to make it a fizzier soft drink: carbonate the water before mixing it with the syrup, and use phosphoric acid instead of citric acid. The citric acid made us radically reduce the orange, lime and lemon oils in the flavor formula to compensate for its taste. We made several improvements to the recipe, so the "Penguicon build" of OpenCola will go on next year's Penguicon website soon. New flavors are also planned.

I was pleased when the Chaos Guest did not suck. At ConClave 2004, I approached Bill about a sudden brainstorm. "Bill! We have a tech guest, an author guest, a media guest and a gaming guest. OK: CHAOS GUEST." Bill came up with the idea that this should be a randomly selected attendee. At opening ceremonies I said, "Bill and I went certifiably insane and are going to try something cool and fun and see if it works. This is an experimental convention so we try weird stuff and see whether it sucks, but this could be awesome. Some of you may have noticed on the cover of the program book, in the characature of the Guests of Honor, a shadowy figure labeled SECRET MYSTERY SURPRISE INSIDE. This is because we don't know who it is yet. Neither does this guest. But we will find out... now." Dramatic pause. "Everyone look under your chairs."

Then someone behind me (Cory or Nat, I think) started saying "you win a car, and you win a car, and you win a car..." But what was found taped to the bottom of 11 chairs were rainbow-colored ribbons. One was mis-spelled "CHOAS GUEST" (isn't that chaotic?) and the other ten were "CHAOS NIFTY." Our Chaos Guest was Natalie, better known as Gnat. "Bill, tell them what they've won!" I read an invitation letter to her: "Dear occupant," and she accepted. She got a free membership in next year's convention, access to the green room, and could make up two or three panel topics which would be written in to the schedule. The Chaos Nifty guest ribbons were handed out in case she declined.
Our guests may not have drawn crowds but they were the kind of guests that rock the casbah. Each of them was praised to the skies by their fans. Which reminds me: Cory Doctorow lives up to his own self-marketing. He rocked Penguicon. He embodied Penguicon. His buddies Joey "accordionguy" deVilla and Wil Wheaton had to cancel their appearances but he did get to see Nat Torkington.

I'm still humming the tunes from "Buffy The Musical." That was the highlight of most people's convention, but when I say I liked it I don't just mean I like the performance (which I did), I mean I was glad to be introduced to the songs. Some people really liked my unrehearsed 30-second performance as the Fabio guy who gets rescued and snubbed by [livejournal.com profile] netmouse. :)

Did you see the guy who dressed as Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan? There have got to be pictures!
For all the benefit of the communications plan I devised last year for Penguicon 3.0, it has one drawback. With the four or five different versions I'm maintaining, it's difficult to track all the changes in multiple places.
1. programming's original spreadsheet,
2. website programming page,
3. program book PDF from InDesign,
4. pocket program PDF from InDesign,
5. kiosk html documents,
6. Master Wall Schedule document,
7. signs on the door of each room listing the events there,
8. Palm OS schedule doc
(edited to add: It seems that this list gave the impression that the attendees will only get a PDF of the program book and pocket program. No, they get them in paper, the PDF/InDesign is merely what I've got to deal with. This convention will have paper galore; in fact, more so than normal. The only thing we are not having is the newsletter. Also, I know that hardly anybody carries or uses PDAs, but the PalmOS schedule is a nice frill for the few of us who do.)
It's a lot of work but it's still worth it. Next year I would like there to be a way to synchronize all the versions together just by updating one place.
This communications plan imitates the organic nature of the world wide web, or as Vernor Vinge would put it, "The Net of a Thousand Lies." In any one given instance, at any one time or place, it does not have the reliability we expect from brick and mortar. But it is flexible and responsive in a way that no paper program book can ever be. It's redundantly distributed and has what seems like a million participants sharing the work. I was reminded of this while reading an editorial about the internet by Cory Doctorow's on O'Reilly: link
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
The formula and equipment for OpenCola arrived today! Who wants to help brew the test batch?
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Cory Doctorow asked to present a panel at Penguicon about "The Hidden Totalitarian Assumptions of I, Robot." I've been curious ever since he told me this.

Now it turns out he's published a new story about it on the Infinite Matrix website titled I, Robot. After the story he writes, "Last spring, in the wake of Ray Bradbury pitching a tantrum over Michael Moore appropriating the title of 'Fahrenheit 451' to make Fahrenheit 9/11, I conceived of a plan to write a series of stories with the same titles as famous sf shorts, which would pick apart the toalitarian assumptions underpinning some of sf's classic narratives."

It's an excellent story but I still don't get the point. The money quote is probably this from a Eurasian missionary/secret agent to a Canadian cop: "You live in a country where it is illegal to express certain mathematics in software, where state apparatchiks regulate all innovation, where inconvenient science is criminalized, where whole avenues of experimentation and research are shut down in the service of a half-baked superstition about the moral qualities of your three laws, and you call my home corrupt?" But as far as I can tell, some characters decided to be totalitarian dictators, and other characters in their society allowed them to be, for reasons which I can only dimly connect to the three laws or to Asimov's book, probably because it's been years since I read it. (The movie, which was a script called Hard Wired until they slapped the I, Robot name on it for no good reason, doesn't count.) Why don't the Eurasian robots, who are not "3 Laws Safe," run amok and take over the world? The story does not say. In asking that question, am I making one of the totalitarian assumptions of I, Robot?

A few months ago I bought it the e-book from Fictionwise.com, but from this LJ entry you might recall how Digital Rights Management screwed me out of my property. I don't know if I'd call that totalitarian though.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, a science fiction novel by Penguicon's Guest of Honor Cory Doctorow, is a finalist for the 2004 Nebula Award for Best Novel!Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
0wnzored is from Cory Doctorow's collection A Place So Foreign and Eight More. I love it because it expresses the direct connection between the hacker culture and transhumanism. For that matter, depending how far you want to take the "root-level superuser of your own body" idea and extend it to the mind, it expresses the potential connection between those two and technopaganism.

Though the story is fiction, "Honorable Computing," described in 0wnz0red as "your basic Bond-villain world-domination horseshit," is real. The characters talk about "the Senator from Disney who wants to make computers illegal"-- this is Fritz Hollings, as the story says, but it could also be Orrin Hatch. Hatch believes in creating legislation allowing content providers to do malicious computer intrusion to spy on any computer that they think has copyrighted content. With no oversight, no due-process. Just the company deciding behind closed doors in a smoky room. Another idea Hatch supports is to allow corporations to decide (again with no oversight) to destroy the computers of people caught stealing music. World-Domination Bond Villian? Yes. In the vision of the entertainment industries and the legislators who they've bought and own, all computers would have to become like DVD players, where the industry has their proprietary code built in so that they are in total control over what you do with your property-- your computer becomes the entertainment industry's property. The industry is going into exactly the same conniptions that they did when VCRs came out and they nearly killed videotape then.

0wnz0red is published under the Creative Commons license, so the author and publisher want it to be copied far and wide. Please do so!
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
I've been a loyal customer of Fictionwise for years, and am a big promoter of the science fiction short stories they sell as e-books. The short stories have no copy protection, but the novels are sold in secure formats such as Secure Palm Reader. I've always been leery of digital rights management, but hearing Karl Schroeder at last year's (2004) ConFusion describe his novel Permanence was what first tempted me to venture slowly into them. I found it ironic that this was a book about digital rights management being encoded with nanotags and micropayment radio frequencies into all the physical property in the society. For instance, if you stop paying royalties for the door on your house, the door stops opening for you. This has just happened to me with my secure e-books, and I do not plan to purchase secure digital formats in the foreseeable future. For that matter, I'm incapable of doing so now that I don't have credit cards. DRM apparently doesn't care for the business of those who pay on Fictionwise only with micropayments sent through Paypal.

At ConFusion I asked Robert Sawyer when he would be putting more work on Fictionwise, and he said he had just recently done so. I went home and bought several of his short stories (which are not DRM, they work just fine) and a Secure Palm Reader e-book, Hominids. Years ago I entered a credit card with Fictionwise, but I lost all my credit cards last year during my layoff. I only use Paypal online. When I downloaded Hominids and went to read it, the secure software on my Palm asked me for that old credit card number as copyright protection. I discovered that the old secure e-books such as Permanence are now asking me for it too because they're on a new device. But I cut up that old card and no longer have the number. I tried switching credit cards on my Fictionwise account but they submitted it to the credit card company-- despite the fact that I've already paid for my books-- and of course it was declined. I have no valid credit cards to use.

I own these books. I have paid for them. I am not willing to go out and buy a paper copy of Hominids now that I've already paid for it and can never read the one I paid for. I'm pissed. I don't know how it must feel to be an author. I don't blame them and I'm not in their shoes. But I know how it feels to be in my situation, and it's wrong, wrong, wrong. Cory Doctorow is a smart self-marketer-- he has positioned himself as the champion of my consumer rights. I'll go out and buy another paper copy of his free books (Eastern Standard Tribe, this time) tonight on my way to the M.O.F.O. meeting, just to reward Cory for pioneering with his own intellectual property. Lots of people write about the future-- Cory is creating it. I can't wait to meet him at Penguicon this year. Download his TOTALLY free Hugo-winning, Nebula-pre-nominated e-books and read them! Try before you buy!
nemorathwald: (me Matt)
More and more often I find myself referencing Eric S. Raymond's essay Dancing With The Gods. It's very close to Karen Armstrong's book The Battle For God on my required reading list for the power of the explanatory models of religious experience and institutional development that these writings provide. The essay makes me wonder if god archetypes have ever manifested themselves in me, and if so, which ones. Perhaps if I brought it up somebody would say "oh yeah, we see you acting like so-and-so sometimes." Dancing With The Gods left me with some questions.Read more... )
- Ask Cory about tech GoH suggestions
- Surplus restaurant cashier screen systems, for the touch-screen kiosks: can we make them run Linux?
- Panel about "This Land" parody copyright dispute
- Panel about the promising interstellar signal received recently by SETI@home
- Joey Devilla
- Ask dealers for their spare stuff, as prizes to give workers
- When we post flyers on campuses, indicate that reg $ is comped for volunteers
- Assistant to the Conchair, job is Conchair caretaker at con
- Publicize with movie slides, Google adwords, SF book clubs

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