Fixing the IoT isn't going to be easy

Oct. 21st, 2016 11:35 pm
[personal profile] mjg59
A large part of the internet became inaccessible today after a botnet made up of IP cameras and digital video recorders was used to DoS a major DNS provider. This highlighted a bunch of things including how maybe having all your DNS handled by a single provider is not the best of plans, but in the long run there's no real amount of diversification that can fix this - malicious actors have control of a sufficiently large number of hosts that they could easily take out multiple providers simultaneously.

To fix this properly we need to get rid of the compromised systems. The question is how. Many of these devices are sold by resellers who have no resources to handle any kind of recall. The manufacturer may not have any kind of legal presence in many of the countries where their products are sold. There's no way anybody can compel a recall, and even if they could it probably wouldn't help. If I've paid a contractor to install a security camera in my office, and if I get a notification that my camera is being used to take down Twitter, what do I do? Pay someone to come and take the camera down again, wait for a fixed one and pay to get that put up? That's probably not going to happen. As long as the device carries on working, many users are going to ignore any voluntary request.

We're left with more aggressive remedies. If ISPs threaten to cut off customers who host compromised devices, we might get somewhere. But, inevitably, a number of small businesses and unskilled users will get cut off. Probably a large number. The economic damage is still going to be significant. And it doesn't necessarily help that much - if the US were to compel ISPs to do this, but nobody else did, public outcry would be massive, the botnet would not be much smaller and the attacks would continue. Do we start cutting off countries that fail to police their internet?

Ok, so maybe we just chalk this one up as a loss and have everyone build out enough infrastructure that we're able to withstand attacks from this botnet and take steps to ensure that nobody is ever able to build a bigger one. To do that, we'd need to ensure that all IoT devices are secure, all the time. So, uh, how do we do that?

These devices had trivial vulnerabilities in the form of hardcoded passwords and open telnet. It wouldn't take terribly strong skills to identify this at import time and block a shipment, so the "obvious" answer is to set up forces in customs who do a security analysis of each device. We'll ignore the fact that this would be a pretty huge set of people to keep up with the sheer quantity of crap being developed and skip straight to the explanation for why this wouldn't work.

Yeah, sure, this vulnerability was obvious. But what about the product from a well-known vendor that included a debug app listening on a high numbered UDP port that accepted a packet of the form "BackdoorPacketCmdLine_Req" and then executed the rest of the payload as root? A portscan's not going to show that up[1]. Finding this kind of thing involves pulling the device apart, dumping the firmware and reverse engineering the binaries. It typically takes me about a day to do that. Amazon has over 30,000 listings that match "IP camera" right now, so you're going to need 99 more of me and a year just to examine the cameras. And that's assuming nobody ships any new ones.

Even that's insufficient. Ok, with luck we've identified all the cases where the vendor has left an explicit backdoor in the code[2]. But these devices are still running software that's going to be full of bugs and which is almost certainly still vulnerable to at least half a dozen buffer overflows[3]. Who's going to audit that? All it takes is one attacker to find one flaw in one popular device line, and that's another botnet built.

If we can't stop the vulnerabilities getting into people's homes in the first place, can we at least fix them afterwards? From an economic perspective, demanding that vendors ship security updates whenever a vulnerability is discovered no matter how old the device is is just not going to work. Many of these vendors are small enough that it'd be more cost effective for them to simply fold the company and reopen under a new name than it would be to put the engineering work into fixing a decade old codebase. And how does this actually help? So far the attackers building these networks haven't been terribly competent. The first thing a competent attacker would do would be to silently disable the firmware update mechanism.

We can't easily fix the already broken devices, we can't easily stop more broken devices from being shipped and we can't easily guarantee that we can fix future devices that end up broken. The only solution I see working at all is to require ISPs to cut people off, and that's going to involve a great deal of pain. The harsh reality is that this is almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg, and things are going to get much worse before they get any better.

Right. I'm off to portscan another smart socket.

[1] UDP connection refused messages are typically ratelimited to one per second, so it'll take almost a day to do a full UDP portscan, and even then you have no idea what the service actually does.

[2] It's worth noting that this is usually leftover test or debug code, not an overtly malicious act. Vendors should have processes in place to ensure that this isn't left in release builds, but ha well.

[3] My vacuum cleaner crashes if I send certain malformed HTTP requests to the local API endpoint, which isn't a good sign
srukle: (Default)
[personal profile] srukle

I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year

Since I'm not working or studying full-time (which is a change), I have a little bit of free time to dedicate about 10 hours each week to writing. Though this will be a major pain in some ways (like crappy writing), I'm elated that I'm actually going to able to get this one done this year. I've tried throughout the years (as you'd note on my profile), but nothing really went anywhere.

I made a new account since my old account held a lot of private information. And it's better to keep things on the Internet pseudo-private.

I'm hoping to get through this year with some help of friends.

I also want to do some studying prior to writing. I'm looking for:
  • Sci fi horror movie suggestions
  • Sci fi book suggestions
  • Sci fi horror art, comics, and books
  • Cyber punk movies, music, art
Post in a comment if you have any suggestions. :)

(no subject)

Oct. 20th, 2016 03:44 pm
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
[personal profile] seekingferret
Maimonides by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel, this is an early work of Heschel, written when he was 28 and living in Berlin in 1935. That... is an astonishing fact to recall as you read, and think about the questions and dangers to his community that Heschel was grappling with as he tried to provide context and meaning to the life and works of the Rambam.

Heschel's biography is primarily informed by the primary sources- Rambam's own writings about this life, as well as what can be inferred about Rambam's life from his theological and philosphical writings. He pulls a little extra detail from the writings of Yehuda HaLevi and Yosef Ibn Aknin and some of the Rambam's other contemporaries, but not a whole lot. The biography is therefore, on the whole, a direct intellectual conversation between Heschel and Maimonides, both giants of Jewish philosophy. That is something to treasure.

Heschel is extremely interested in Maimonides's wandering, how he went from Spain to Morocco to Israel to Egypt, fleeing Islamic persecution and seeking a stable, safe Jewish community, and at the same time trying in all of his sojourns to offer meaningful and pragmatic spiritual succor to the Jews living under pressure. It's a tradition he links to Rambam's father, Rabbi Maimon, who wrote a powerful letter providing halachic cover to Jews forced to pretend to be Muslims and only practice Judaism in secret, against hardliners in the Jewish community insisting that only those who risked martyrdom by openly practicing Judaism were offering valid worship to God. Rambam picked up the responsibility when his father died, engaging with splinter sects and messianic cults in a desperate and important effort to hold Jewish unity against the siege of Almohad persecution. Just imagine Heschel reading these texts in 1935 and thinking about their applicability to his own situation, how to create a viable Judaism in response to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis! How just three years after he published the book, the Jews of Berlin would see a pogram as bad as anything Maimonides ever saw, how he would lose most of his family to the Holocaust over the next decade.

Heschel sees in Maimonides's teachings a very clear response, and it is the response that informed the rest of Heschel's own life: Torah education and the spiritual exploration it fosters is the reason man was placed in the world, and it is the great protection of the survival of Judaism and the Jews. Maimonides, in both Mishneh Torah and Moreh Nevuchin, as well as Iggeret Teiman and his responsa literature, was creating the pathway for Jews to survive in spite of the persecution of the Almohades. Heschel reviews all of this literature in detail and in context. Earlier this year I reviewed Seeskin's A Guide for Today's Perplexed, which offers an interpretive gloss on Moreh Nevuchin in an explicitly modern philosophical language. Seeskin is asking how to understand Maimonides in the wake of Kant and Hegel and so on. Heschel is interested in understanding Maimonides on his own terms, in relation to medieval philosophy generally. This is, generally speaking, a less useful approach to engaging with the philosophical message of Maimonides, but it is a much richer approach to engaging with Maimonides as a person and as a leader. Heschel's biography of Maimonides is a thrilling guidebook to thinking about how to keep Judaism thriving.
jesse_the_k: Pill Headed Stick Person (pill head)
[personal profile] jesse_the_k
My doc just told me about a double-blind RCT study showing combo aspirin & acetaminophen was as effective as oral morphine (and both better than placebo) for post-surgical dental pain.

I'm doing it now and it helps )

Atch's Handwriting

Oct. 20th, 2016 07:01 pm
tealin: (terranova)
[personal profile] tealin

I've been spending a lot of time with Atch's handwriting lately. It's been awesome and amazing and I feel incredibly privileged to be able to do so ... but it's also a bit like forensic graphology crossed with necromancy. Which is no less cool, mind, just a little exhausting ...

(no subject)

Oct. 19th, 2016 11:16 pm
echan: Kaworu Nagisa from Evangelion (Default)
[personal profile] echan
I've been trying to watch more vids lately. I've got a collection downloaded that I mostly watch on shuffle at work, and I've worn it out, it needs fresh meat. I've also got a backlog of vids bookmarked to watch stretching back years. So this shouldn't be a problem.

And yet. I wind up feeling bad about every part of it.

* Some comments I don't leave, because I can't put my thoughts into words.
* Some comments I do leave, and reread for any possible negative interpretation.
* Some vids I don't finish watching, because I don't understand the appeal.
* Some vids I don't like and I don't know why -- the song, the fandom, I like both, even the thematic approach is interesting, but I just don't care, I don't like the vid, I must be doing it wrong, if I were a better viewer or nicer person or just better I would enjoy it and know what to say and be kind and friendly and not an antisocial asshole.

I'm just wrong.

(no subject)

Oct. 20th, 2016 12:03 am
synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)
[personal profile] synecdochic
We've arranged for our vet to come over on Saturday afternoon and euthanize Noah, who's reached the point where all he wants to do is hole up in the basement and sit in his cat bed. He's still eating, and he still purrs up a storm when you come to pet him, but Sarah and I both think he's going downhill and we don't want to drag things out until he's suffering.

This year keeps getting worse.

(Comments off because I am at the end of all my cope. About, like, everything.)
jjhunter: a watercolor 'teal deer' (tl;dr)
[personal profile] jjhunter
context: "Oh wow, Wednesday night parkour class is *amazing*"

Lovely Yuletide author, are you into any movement practices? Anything to do with how different people move differently through space - all those little nuances of pace and rhythm and posture - is totally my jam right now. Akata Witch has some of this foregrounded with Sunny, who shifts into classic dance movement when she summons her spirit face, and goodness, Mars, whole different baseline for gravity right there. (If people getting off ships have sea legs, would people getting off spaceships have cramped-from-too-little-space legs? Heh.) Bren Cameron in the Foreigner series tends to notice subtler movements, particularly Guild and staff - there's a great description from his POV of Algini unusually resplendent and quietly satisfied pacing into the room at one point, which never actually references cats but brings that kind of lithe 'little /emperor without a realm, /conquistador without a country, /smallest tiger in the salon' entrance instantly to mind. Pumzi's weird interesting communication stuff with very little direct speech voiced (I'd have to check to be sure, but it may even be that all the speech is computer-generated/computer-filtered?) tends to magnify the unspoken speech of body language; I could see Asha or Binti's POV being very attuned to body movement, and tending toward kind of extra explicit body movement you see actors do in old silent films where people are trying to speak with as much nuance and clarity as they can without any words.

And the lightbulb goes on…

Oct. 19th, 2016 05:14 pm
alexandraerin: (Default)
[personal profile] alexandraerin

So, I have been dragging all week. Brain foggy, body tired, zero creativity. I’ve been really worried that I’m getting sick (Jack was sick last week), but I haven’t had any of the symptoms of a cold. Then earlier today, I glanced at the digital thermometer on my electric tea kettle: 87 degrees.

After weeks in the seventies and then the sixties all last week, I had changed my office and sleeping area from summer mode to winter mode… right in time for a mid-October heat wave, apparently. My temperature regulation issues make me very susceptible to heat, but not very susceptible to noticing it.

Luckily I had not removed the AC from the window, so the office is cooling down to a usable state as we speak. When my brain cools down a bit, I’m going to figure out how to set up an automated alert for days where the high is 80 degrees or above, because this is not an unusual event for me.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

Please, talk about masturbation

Oct. 19th, 2016 07:14 pm
marnanel: (Default)
[personal profile] marnanel
[I commented this in a discussion about the "birds and the bees" talk. I think it's worth posting separately.] Please, talk about masturbation too, and don't wait until puberty. Here's a (very personal) story I've never told in full before. I discovered masturbation when I was about ten, before I started puberty. Nobody had talked about it, so I didn't know it was normal; I didn't even know there was a word for it. So I worried. About a year later I started puberty and of course I became able to ejaculate. And again, nobody had talked about that. They'd mentioned wet dreams, but never this. So I didn't know it was normal, and I worried. A few months later, I got what I now think was some kind of fungal skin infection. The skin where my pubic hair would soon be growing was alternately red and painful, or dry, cracked, and itchy. For all I knew, this was another weird side-effect of masturbation, like ejaculation. And since nobody had talked about the other stuff, I wasn't comfortable with asking anyone about it. So I put up with the discomfort for months. Even after my pubic hair grew, the rash was still visible and I remember deflecting questions in the changing-rooms after games lessons about whether it was a scar from an operation. All that worry and discomfort could have been avoided. Please, remember to talk about it.

Der Hund von Baskerville (1937)

Oct. 19th, 2016 09:11 am
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
[personal profile] sanguinity
(I watched and wrote this in mid-September -- I meant to do a chunk of HOUN liveblogs alongside [ profile] okapi1895 -- but I got swamped, ugh, and am only now getting around to posting. SORRY OKAPI.)

Der Hund von Baskerville (1937), Bruno Güttner and Fritz Odemar

So, I scrubbed (video-speak for “skimmed”) the first chunk back when I was making the vid, but I don't otherwise know much about this one. However, scrubbing was enough to learn that:
  1. it’s a non-standard treatment of HOUN,
  2. it’s filmed in modern dress (as everything was in this era),
  3. Holmes wears a turtleneck as a matter of course (!!!), and
  4. Watson lies far enough outside the general run of Watsons that he’s difficult to recognize.

That was all mildly intriguing, but I didn’t investigate further: the film was made in Nazi Germany and I had neither the time, the background, nor the German to discover how much trouble I would be letting myself in for if I tried putting it into the vid.

But now I have subtitles, time, and nothing at stake: it’s not like this thing going to get ick all over a year’s work if this turns out to be Nazi propaganda made by war-criminals. So let’s do this.

Read more... )

…so there was definitely some stuff I missed along the way (who was in the shrubbery with Beryl near the end? what was the urgent phone call about back at the beginning? who is Schmidt?) but that was a fascinating take on the Holmes-Watson partnership. There were at least two Deutsche Hunde before this film (1914 and 1929), and more generally, a solid nexus of Deutsche Holmes adaptations made before WWII. (You know how over the last half-century, there's been a solid Russian fanbase, enough to fund a body of Russian-language productions? From what I can tell, that same thing was happening in Germany before WWII.) Anyway, I am now hugely curious about that body of German adaptations look like. Is this one an outlier from the rest in how it portrays Holmes and Watson, or is this what Holmes and Watson looked like to pre-WWII Germans?
alexandraerin: (Default)
[personal profile] alexandraerin

Over on his blog, Scott Adams (who reminds us that he is a master persuader, as evidenced primarily by the fact that he managed to convince himself that he is a master persuader) has laid out his case to “un-hypnotize” (as he puts it) anti-Trump voters.

His reasoning goes like this: when there’s a difference in what people see in a situation, the people who are seeing an unlikely addition to reality are the ones who are hallucinating. If everybody can see a pink elephant, the pink elephant exists. If even one person doesn’t see the pink elephant, though, it can be chalked up to a mass hallucination.

It’s basically an application of Occam’s Razor, and as principles for reasoning goes, it’s not a bad one. So let’s follow Master Persuader Scott Adams a little farther along this garden path.

Some people, he notes, look at Donald Trump and see the next Hitler. That is, some people see a fascist strongman rising to power on a wave of hatred and populism. And some people, like he himself, don’t. A Hitler figure is an unlikely addition to reality, so if some people see the danger and some people don’t, then the danger must not be real. He doesn’t see Trump as Hitler, so it can’t be real.

Well, color me reassured. Because if I accept this logic, not only am I thoroughly reassured that Trump cannot be Hitler, I must also accept a rose-tinted rearview mirror of history in which Hitler could not have been Hitler.

Follow Scott’s logic: some people looked at Hitler and saw a dangerous maniac who would fan the flames of hatred and risk plunging Europe and beyond into a war that would dwarf the “Great War” from which it had so recently emerged. And some people didn’t. Some people saw a dangerous demagogue who would scapegoat whole populations and persecute them to the brink of extinction and beyond if he could. And some people didn’t.

I think we can all agree that “patriotic man who wants only the best for his homeland” is more likely in politics than “genocidal demagogue and would-be world conqueror”. So if anyone could look at Hitler back then and not see the unlikely addition to reality presented by Hitler-qua-Hitler, that more extreme conception of Hitler must not exist. At least, not according to the persuasive logic of Scott Adams, Trained Hypnotist.

Of course, he might rebut this by saying that a historical case is different, because we have evidence that the popular conception of Hitler existed and now there is no longer any doubt. That’s very nice, but there are two problems with it.

One, it still leaves us with the fact that at the time of Hitler’s rise to power, the thing that would have struck a Herr Adams, Meister der Überzeugung, as the “pink elephant” of the situation was in fact actual reality, which means that we cannot in the present situation count on anyone being able to determine what is actual reality and what is an unlikely addition just based on an eyeball declaration.

Two, there are still people today who dispute the evidence that Adolf Hitler was anything more than a German patriot who wanted the best for his people. There are people today who still make the same “pink elephant” style arguments against Hitler’s worst excesses and biggest crimes.

Scott Adams tells us that if everybody is looking at something big and bafflingly unlikely like a pink elephant, and some people can see it and some people can’t, it’s proof that the pink elephant does not exist. He tells us that it’s always the addition that is suspect, always the people who do not see any evidence of the addition’s existence that are correct.

So what do we make of Hitler’s apologists? What do we make of Holocaust deniers?

It turns out there a lot of elephants in the world, Scott. That is, there are a lot of things that are big and (to some people, at least) unexpected and showing up in places people would rather not face their existence.

Scott Adams’s rubric for navigating a world like this is that if even one person says a thing doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t. It can’t.

By that logic… what would we be left with? And who decides what the “unlikely addition” is, anyway? In a battle between flat earthers and everyone else, the flat earthers see a mostly round earth as being the pink elephant. They see no evidence of it, so they can dismiss it, quite correctly, using Scott’s rule of thumb. “But they’re wrong,” Scott might say, “and you could prove them wrong by providing them evidence of _____.” And then that’s the pink elephant. It won’t do, Scott. I’m afraid it’s pink elephants all the way down.

The is the worst, sloppiest, and most self-serving example of “consensus reality” I’ve ever seen. As a lens for viewing the world, it dispenses with all the utility of Occam’s Razor by insisting on always shaving at the same angle.

And the thing is, I think Scott Adams knows this. I believe his blog post is structured not to “un-hypnotize” anyone, not to “de-persuade” them, but rather the opposite. He’s trying to use rhetorical techniques to lead his readers to a pre-determined conclusion.

It’s a very straightforward, by the numbers approach, though it’s ruined by his ham-handed application.

Sidenote: I believe that Scott Adams has studied persuasion, but he made the mistake of doing it without studying people, and without any real appreciation for his limits. Nuance and statistical tendencies are liberal myths, after all, just like implicit bias and systemic prejudice. Things either work or they don’t, in Scott-land.

Imagine a frumpy middle-aged sitcom couch lump trying to court a lady using a book labeled “The Art of Seduction”. He shows up on her doorstep, and when she answers the doorbell, he says in a flat monotone with the book open in front of him, “Step one compliment the lady on her appearance being sure to highlight those aspects that are within control such as her clothes or hairstyle hello that is a lovely dress you are wearing step one complete.”

That’s Scott Adams, Master Persuader.

But clumsy and clueless as his approach is, he’s at least trying to follow some good advice.

He starts by proposing a thought experiment. This makes you more likely to accept his premise, because it’s all hypothetical. Few people are going to have a visceral “HECK NO!” reaction to that. He then leads the reader through a series of hypotheticals which are pretty much guaranteed to elicit agreement. By the time he gets to third and final scenario, the average reader’s going to be like, “Yeah, obviously.” It’s not a guarantee that a person who has agreed with you three times will agree with whatever follows, but it doesn’t hurt anything.

This is the point where he breaks in to state his (snerk) “credentials”, so that you will see him as an authority. It’s a jarring misstep, as it breaks the nominal spell his opening created. It’s one thing to lay out your credentials on an area of informational expertise in order to give your words more weight, but telling someone you’re a master of persuasion is like daring them to disagree with you, and it usually produces the same result.

The next two paragraphs are appeals to what I’ll call the fantasist’s ego and then to intellect. The fantasist’s ego is that special section of the ego that wants everything to be a life and death struggle, that wants the ego’s possessor to be the protagonist of reality. There are real-life supervillains targeting you for mind control, Scott Adams says. You’re in the Matrix, Scott Adams tells you.

But don’t worry: he’s not calling you stupid. Even the most intelligent person is susceptible to the mind-bending powers of… GODZILLA. Okay. I should explain to everyone scratching their heads. Scott Adams, Master Persuader, thinks that labeling the shadowy Svengali he imagines is coaching Team Clinton on psyops “Godzilla” is going to make the implication resonate more strongly and deeply with you. Because… Godzilla… is… big? Or scary? Or radioactive?

Or the actual hero of the vast majority of the movies in which he appears.

Nobody knows where he’s trying to go with this, but the actual effect is to make his claims risible and easier to dismiss.

I mean, his set-up is all morpheus.gif “WHAT IF I TOLD YOU THAT HILLARY CLINTON IS” and the punchline is “BEING TRAINED IN PERSUASION BY GODZILLA”.

You’d be laughed out of the sub-reddit, Scott.

That’s what would happen if you told us that.

He could have gone with Svengali or Rasputin, which have the advantage of sounding sinister and foreign to people who don’t know who they are. He could have tapped into the zeitgeist by dubbing the mysterious master of manipulation “Killgrave”, which, again, sounds threatening. But no. He went with Godzilla. Which, okay, Godzilla would be incomprehensibly terrifying in real life, but: nobody’s afraid of Godzilla, not the way they’re afraid of other movie monsters or killers or villains. Godzilla is awesome in the classic sense of the word. Godzilla is too big and too powerful for the human mind to really take in as a threat.

From there, it’s all downhill. He’s still following well-worn advice, but following it increasingly badly. He asserts his supposed neutrality on the topic (not fooling anyone, Scott), he mentions his “credentials” again, he tries to bring up an example of a mass hallucination that he thinks most people will agree with (“everybody else’s religion but yours”, basically), but because he does not understand people, he doesn’t realize that this is not going to resonate with the religious.

Scott, the evangelical Christian in your audience knows that a Hindu reading it is getting the same message. And even people who don’t believe other religions have validity also don’t believe that their followers are hallucinating. This is a cynical atheist’s attempt to relate to the religious mindset on a “how do you do, fellow kids?” level

His closing is terrible. He tries again for the “several things you will agree with, and then a conclusion you will thus also agree with”: he doesn’t believe in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus or luck or God, and he doesn’t believe Trump is dangerous.

Here we come to the thing that’s really holding Scott Adams back, which is that years ago he wrote a line that struck him as clever and it’s shaped everything about how he interacts with people since then: “When did ignorance become a point of view?” In the battle between the comically clueless Pointy-Haired Boss and Dilbert, it’s a great zinger, but using it as a rule of logic for life requires you to assume that you have an innate ability to tell ignorance apart from real knowledge at a glance.

And okay, everybody’s got some of that ability. It’s called critical thinking. But like the saying goes: garbage in, garbage out. If you have any faulty assumptions rattling around in your head, the most logical processes of critical thinking you apply will produce some errors. The less critical you are about your own assumptions, the more often this will happen without you noticing, and the more errors pile up, and you get a feedback loop until you wind up where Scott Adams is, at the point where he’s saying a man who leveraged himself badly in order to open up a series of three casinos in direct competition with each other for no other reason than he really wanted his name to be on the biggest and most impressive one ever built “knows risk management”.

At the point where Scott Adams decided that the world divided neatly into True Knowledge (what he knows) and Ignorance (what other people who disagree with him thinks), critical thinking became a fool’s errand for him. And since persuasion, for the short on charisma, consists largely of critically thinking out loud in a way that others can follow, his career as a master persuader was doomed to failure in that moment.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

Farmer in the Sky, by Robert Heinlein

Oct. 19th, 2016 01:40 pm
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
[personal profile] rachelmanija
A Heinlein juvenile about a family that joins a colony terraforming Ganymede. I read it as a kid, but didn’t remember much. Continuing my theme of surprise!grimdark, I thought it would be a charming tale of explorer spirit and space farming, and it turned out to be awesomely depressing despite a pasted on yay semi-upbeat conclusion. That is not the normal tone of a Heinlein juvenile, which could have dark aspects but were overall optimistic. It also has my least favorite of Heinlein’s juvenile heroes, Bill. He’s clearly meant to have flaws and learn to be better, but I really disliked him for a good 80% of the book.

Bill, an Eagle Scout, lives with his father after their mother’s death in a glum dystopian Earth with food rationing and few opportunities. (It does have microwave dinners, though – good prediction, Heinlein!) Due to being bad tempered and insecure in that awful teenage way that manifests in constantly trying to prove himself and thinking he’s better than everyone, he doesn’t play well with others. Also, he despises girls and women. The misogyny is partly a sign of the times thing and partly a character trait that he’ll mostly get over, but it’s really grating.

He begs his father to let him go be a colonist and farmer on Ganymede, and is pleased when his dad, after testing him to see if he’ll flip out if his father goes without him, tells him they’re going. But first he has to get married! Right now! To a woman Bill barely knows, with a daughter he’s never met before!

You can see where Bill gets his interpersonal skills.

Bill sulks, is mean to the daughter (Peggy, who is younger than him and clearly adores him), and refuses to go to the wedding. Nevertheless, they embark. The space voyage involves Bill running a scout troop, learning to be slightly less of a colossal jerkwad, and saving a bunch of lives by plugging a hole in the ship with his precious scout uniform after a meteorite strike. There are also multiple pages of math and physics explaining… stuff. I skipped those.

At Ganymede, the colonists find that they have been victims of a bait and switch: the farms they were promised are not available and won’t be for years, and the existing colonists don’t want them. It’s hard or impossible to go back, and conditions suck. Poor Peggy can’t adjust to the low air pressure and has to be lodged in a special pressurized room for as long as they’re there. This is super depressing, but the gloom lets up a bit when Bill sharecrops for a nice family who has successfully farmed, and the family eventually gets a farm of their own though Peggy is still stuck in her room and can only leave it in a bubble stretcher.

The farming part is unusual. Due to the expense of transporting mass, there’s very little equipment and farmers need to pulverize rock into dust, then mix it with bacteria to create dirt. It’s backbreaking labor, and that’s most of the farming we see. I was a disappointed, as I wanted more “Little House on Ganymede” details, Bill learning about cows when he’s never seen one before, etc, but most of what we get is pulverizing rock.

And then! Depressing spoilers! Read more... )

Day 2 of Tech Writing

Oct. 18th, 2016 10:24 pm
srukle: (Default)
[personal profile] srukle
This day I learned how the internal time tracking system works.

Of course I knew how to use a punch card, but this time I learned how to tell my company what I'm doing at all times.

After learning this I had a two hour conversation about company history and the software I will be using daily to create documentation. I tried to stay focused by asking articulate questions at the end, making the presenter laugh at the end with some sharp questions about the system and the history. I think she laughed mostly because she was surprised. I kept very still and silent until that point. It was difficult to stay engaged as many of the presented concepts were too broad for specific details, and I imagine that most of things I really want to know are already written in the style guide.

Though no one seems to want me to do this, I think would really benefit from a three hour reading session of the entire style guide.

After this I took a break. I then shadowed one of my colleagues who showed me the basic procedure.

Then I chatted with the others, talked about English classes (we all were English majors besides one other).

The atmosphere is nice. Beyond nice. I cannot express how glad I am to be part of such a team. And I'm unsure where to place this joy.

Part of the issue is that I'm surprised by how much I enjoy it so far. Whenever asked how the training is going, I respond with enthusiasm: "I'm glad to be here." Some nods. But what I want to say is: "This is going too well. I enjoy this too much. I don't want to be a programmer." Regardless, I'm still going to stay in school to be a programmer.

Speaking of college, I'm trying to avoid taking a rudimentary college algebra. I didn't have to take a math course in class besides higher level math classes that related to philosophy and computer science. This is fine until you apply to a technical school that requires college algebra. I am requesting to skip or test out if possible. Yet perhaps the experience would come in handy when I'm learning database design.

It's fun to learn how to create software professionally while also writing for a professional software company.

Dear Festividder

Oct. 18th, 2016 09:08 pm
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
[personal profile] seekingferret
Dear Festividder!

This will be my fourth festivids, but only my second time signing up- the past two years I've only done treats. I'm nervous and apprehensive about having to create a vid to someone's request again, but every time I've participated in festivids in any fashion, I've had fun, so I look forward to more fun this year.

I really don't want to constrain you too much in what you want to make. My musical taste is almost laughably eclectic and it's basically impossible to come up with a musical style I am resistant to. I have vidded to speed metal and to opera and I welcome anything within the gamut. Please just try to have fun and make a vid you are proud of.

Some thoughts on fandom feelings:

Alpha House (2013) [TV]

I'm fond of all the members of the house, but especially Gil John, and especially season 2 Gil John: defiantly a perks person, and magnificently goaded into waging a defense of old-style business-as-usual politics. I know it is super weird to say it, but if the West Wing is the left's idealized version of the Democratic Party, Alpha House is my idealized version of my own Republican Party. The Circle of Civility is everything. And just as the Democrats get Janel Moloney on the West Wing, we Republicans get her in Alpha House. Walking a treadmill in heels, like a boss! Drawing a gun in the Capitol, to prove a point!

I'm a conservative, but obviously this is a show that makes fun of the Republican Party quite a lot. And also obviously it's likely given the demographics of fandom that you are not a conservative. Don't worry about any of that, I'm pretty comfortable seeing media that contradicts my political instincts, and I'm not all that tribal when it comes to politics.

Alphaville: Une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965) [Movie]

This is my favorite SF film of all time. Godard makes Paris seem like another planet, the noir blends perfectly with the surrealism, and the sense of dislocation and the tension between individuality and community is so powerful. I've vidded Skynet and would love a character study of Alpha-60- robot intelligence and transhumanism is totally my thing. Shippy vids, of any sort, would also be welcome. Also, while I haven't seen any of the other Eddie Constantine as Lemmy Caution films myself, I've been meaning to and I think it'd be interesting to play those off against Alphaville if you're familiar with them.

The Cape (2011) [TV]

My favorite thing about this show was the training montages, how they were entertaining and imaginative and also character-building. Anything exploring the relationship between Max and Vince and how they both grow through their training together would be great. I'm also interested in Palm City as a failed city- Orwell, Portman and their struggle to fix Palm City not via Cape-style vigilantism but by improving governance, and how Vince gets pulled along on their crusade.

Ghostwriter [TV]

I was a religious watcher of this show growing up. I'm a lover of wordplay and punning and language games and Ghostwriter does a great job of taking these things and making them visual, and I'd like a vid that focuses on the word stuff and Ghostwriter as much as I'd like a character-centric vid. That said, Lenni and Jamal are my favorite characters- gloriously creative, unrepentant nerds!

The Newsroom (Canada) (1996-2005) [TV]

I've only seen S1 and parts of S2, but feel free to use whatever source you feel like. Talking about favorite characters seems amiss here- everyone on the show is deliberately unlikeable, and petty and self-centered to boot. I do not have a favorite character, and would not looks amiss at a vid trashing any or all of them. That said, what is important and powerful about the Newsroom is the cynical idea that our media is not filled with sincere and idealistic truth-seekers, but just ordinary people trying to get through a day at work by any means necessary. And that that does not mean that the media is sick or broken, it just means that the media is like everyone else, not worth putting on a pedestal. Much more effective than Aaron Sorkin's Newsroom.

Only Connect [TV]

No idea how to vid this show, but curious what emerges. The Board Gamers of Series 8 are my favorite team, but I was also very fond of last season's Wayfarers. Needless to say, "Why Aren't There Dolphins on Only Connect" seems the natural vidsong, but I'm open to other ideas, lateral thinking.

A Serious Man (2009) [Movie]

My favorite part of the film is the dybbuk sequence, but I also love the three Rabbis sequence. I love how rooted the film is in both realism (My father, upon seeing the film, declared "I know Sy Ableman! No, I know twenty Sy Ablemans!") and in Yiddish storytelling traditions. I love how perfectly the set dressing is done, how the Coens and their team capture the era so perfectly, and how deep and difficult the films questions about faith are to answer.

Whodunnit? US (2013) [TV]

As always when talking about this fandom, my interest is in ignoring the metagame and treating this as if the murders were actually real. I think this gets easier as the show goes on and the players get deeper into the fantasy, and particularly after Don's death the players seem to really take the deaths seriously. I'm particularly interested in the social dynamics of the final foursome. And I'm interested in the murderer as a cipher who never really reveals their motivation for the murders.

Today in True Confessions

Oct. 18th, 2016 10:14 pm
rhivolution: David Tennant does the Thinker (Default)
[personal profile] rhivolution
So uh, I posted this meme five years ago today, and I've left the notif email open in my Gmail for FIVE YEARS, intending to do it. Suffice it to say, I think it is not going to get done, unless someone is still interested in my answers, which are probably incredibly different now than they'd have been back then.

Leave a comment, let me know.

Life continues apace, work has been absolutely frantic for the last month or two, and I've mostly been using DW to do RP stuff, hence the lack of posting here. I am feeling like I'm sucking at being a friend for most people and therefore am close to no one at all. The brainweasels mean that I feel I need to respond to everything, and when I can't do that, I kind of shut down entirely.

For which I am sorry. I am trying, always trying, to do better.

As I seem to do well in snippets and wry remarks, you can, of course, also find me having an opinion on the Twitters (those who can't do, pundit) and very occasionally on the book of Face, and sometimes here even. Festivids is coming up so more here, yes? Yes.

But for those who are not on social media: I am all right. I am getting by. I have a nasty cough right now, but I am dealing. Know I think of you often--yes, even you who is having a brainweasel attack and feel like no one gives a damn but that is a weasel-lie--with love.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
[personal profile] rachelmanija
A pair of '90s portal fantasies about veterinary students who travel to a fantasyland called Crossroads to treat centaurs, unicorns, griffins, and other magical beasts. I read these years ago and re-read recently with the intention of finally reading book three, which I had either failed to find or failed to read previously. Now that I have re-read, I understand why I never read the final book. I had remembered the fun parts (vet students figuring out how to treat magical creatures, and that is both accurate to my knowledge and very fun if you like that sort of thing) and forgotten about the truly amazing amount of awesome depressingness surrounding them.

I also have to mention that O'Donohoe also wrote an sf novel in a dystopian future, Too Too Solid Flesh about androids programmed with the personalities of the characters of Hamlet. This was also fairly depressing (though with way less torture), but more appropriate to the subject matter and I recall liking it a lot, despite a manic pixie dream girl.

Too, Too Solid Flesh

The Magic And The Healing

Under the Healing Sign

The Magic and the Healing

BJ Vaughan, a vet student, is understandably depressed. Her mother committed suicide out of the blue, leaving a note saying that she was dying of Huntington's Chorea (a horrific, fatal genetic disease) and BJ should be tested to see if she's going to get it too. BJ, who has been having mysterious symptoms lately, gets tested. Sure enough, she has it. She tells no one, but begins planning her suicide. I will cut to the chase and say that she continues telling no one and planning her suicide for the entire book, and in fact by the end of the second book, though she is no longer planning suicide, she has still told very, very few people and has not informed the people who most need to know.

But! Something more cheerful happens, and about time. BJ and some other students are invited on to a special exotic animal rotation, which of course turns out to be in Crossroads. The magical creatures, their cultures, and their ecologies are sketched-in but interesting and convincing. My favorite for cuteness was the flowerbinders, which are kittens the size of German Shepherds who catch their prey by winding flowers into their fur and camouflaging themselves as a bush or hillock of wildflowers. My favorite for interesting worldbuilding were the several sentient species which remain the prey of other sentient species, and how intelligent beings evolved cultures, laws, and rituals which account for that. There are a handful of human inhabitants of Crossroads, most of whom are essentially refugees who stumbled in while fleeing for their lives, but it's mostly populated by centaurs, fauns, griffins, etc.

As BJ and the other students ply their trade, they learn more about how the magic of Crossroads works, and BJ realizes that though traumatic injury and some diseases exist in Crossroads, cancer and degenerative diseases don't. If she stays, can she arrest or even cure her own degenerative illness? Is she willing to give up her entire previous life for the chance at a new one?

I think this is plenty of story for a novel, and if this had been the entire story, the book would have been much better, much less grim, and also much less ridiculous. Unfortunately, there is another plotline involving one of the most moustache-twirling villains I've ever come across. Her name is Morgan, and she is a sadistic genocidal sociopathic mass murderer whose hobbies include torture, mass graves, bathing in blood (literally), invasion, getting people hooked on drugs, slaughtering her own minions in front of her entire army just for the fun of it, and slaughtering everyone in sight. She plans to invade Crossroads, slaughter everyone, and then go to another world and slaughter everyone there. Rinse, repeat. Inexplicably, her army does not desert en masse despite her periodically torturing her own soldiers to death. Oh, yeah, and did I mention that she's immortal and invulnerable, so no one can just whack her?

She has a backstory. Sort of. It's the sort which introduces more plotholes than it resolves. Why is she the way she is? She's angry. NO SHIT. What's she angry about? Who knows! Why is she immortal? Because it was somehow a condition of booting her out of Crossroads earlier, when she was just a non-immortal homicidal maniac. Why the hell would you make a homicidal maniac immortal? Uh... the magic works that way! Why not kill her when you had the chance? Because the king was in love with her! WHY? Because she didn't seem evil right away. I realize this sort of thing happens in real life (the charming sociopath, I mean) but 1) we never see the charm, 2) if your choice is "kill the genocidal maniac you still kind of love, or make her immortal so she can come back and murder you and every citizen of your country," you need to suck it up and break out the guillotine.

Nobody in Crossroads thinks they have a chance of fighting her off, though they're planning a hopeless last stand anyway. Periodically Morgan sneaks in, tortures or kills some animals or people, and sneaks out. I don't mind reading about hurt animals in the context of veterinary medicine, but I draw the line at animal torture. Anyway, eventually the good guys beat her back, but it's just for now. They're still doomed. (Until book two! No, wait. Still doomed.)

There is also an extremely unconvincing romance between BJ and a faun named Stefan. They have no chemistry and nothing in common other than that they both like animals. They never have sex because BJ doesn't tell him she's dying but doesn't want to commit when she's dying. This entire plotline really didn't work for me. Alas, it continues in exactly the same vein in book two, except BJ is no longer dying and they do have sex... but she still doesn't tell him and continues to angst in the exact same way.

Approximately half of a pretty cool book melded to half of a pretty terrible book. Perhaps this was meant to be symbolic of Crossroads' many chimera-creatures... Nah.

Under the Healing Sign

My feelings about the sequel are summed up by an Amazon reader who wrote, "On the whole, it [the third book] is much better than the second book of the very same series, "Under The Healing Sign", which made me wish to commite suicide immediately upon reading the last chapter of it."

Despite the charmingly pastoral cover, what actually happens in this book is mostly death, despair, defeat, torture, animal and child harm, and the least triumphant "happy ending" I've ever read in a fantasy book. It does have some sweet scenes a la the good parts of the first book and introduces a really awesome character(who, shockingly, does not die), a gay and fabulous cross-dressing, swordfighting veterinarian, Dr. Esteban Protera, who needed to star or co-star in a cheerier book. But overall, I'm with the Amazon reviewer.

Spoilers, if anyone cares. I'll just hit a few of the grimdark highlights. Read more... )
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