The Punch Escrow

So, a month or so ago I came across this book, The Punch Escrow, that seemed right up my alley. I had also come across this really excellent book-review blog, Avalinah’s Books around the same time.  I discovered the writer there, Evelina and I share similar tastes in books. And she suggested we read the book and then ask each other questions about the book. These are my answers to her questions.

To see her answers to my questions, click here. She’s way more deep and smart with her reviews than I am, so I bet you will enjoy her take on The Punch Escrow.

First, a brief synopsis:

It’s the year 2147. Advancements in nanotechnology have enabled us to control aging. We’ve genetically engineered mosquitoes to feast on carbon fumes instead of blood, ending air pollution. And teleportation has become the ideal mode of transportation, offered exclusively by International Transport―the world’s most powerful corporation, in a world controlled by corporations.

Joel Byram spends his days training artificial-intelligence engines to act more human and trying to salvage his deteriorating marriage. He’s pretty much an everyday twenty-second century guy with everyday problems―until he’s accidentally duplicated while teleporting.

Now Joel must outsmart the shadowy organization that controls teleportation, outrun the religious sect out to destroy it, and find a way to get back to the woman he loves in a world that now has two of him.

 Now, on to my answers:

1. So what did you think of salting? (In the book the main character, Joel, is a Salter. Salters spent their days enriching the cognitive algorithms of artificially intelligent things (tricking them to help them learn to be more human-like).

I love the idea of Salting. I think that would be such a fun job.

2. How did you like the witty main character?

I liked the main character Joel. I think he approached most things with a logical frame of mind, something I can much relate to. I’m a computer programmer as a profession and although that isn’t the same as Joel’s “Salting” I think both use a form of problem solving in their application.

One gripe I had with the book that was minor but still there was I wasn’t sure why the protagonist cared about 1980s music though. Certainly by the year 2147 popular culture has come up with an answer to 80’s pop. That was depressing to me.

3. What do you think about the government situation, where corporations have taken over the rule of state?

I think this is eerily close to where we already are in the United States. I mean, I can draw a very short and straight line from where we are now to where the book is.

We have a for-profit “healthcare” system here as well as a growing for-profit prison system. And those corporations that benefit from these systems heavily influence laws that effect their industries.

 So yeah, this is not far-fetched for me at all.

4. In the book, the author often offers snippets that explain a certain scientific aspect of the world in the book. How did you love the science, invented and real, and how those meshed?

The science bits were probably my favorite part. I’ve always been fascinated by teleportation but have realized that the type in Star Trek for example “kills” the traveler only to reassemble them on the other side (how else can they de-materialize then re-materialize on the other side?)

I could spend all day talking about the tech. It’s my favorite part of the book, even more-so than the plot.

 In fact, I very much enjoyed the idea of the pee-ing mosquitoes that convert CO2 to water, saving us from global warming. Because, governments and corporations aren’t going to save us here. It will be up to science and human ingenuity again.

Okay, one more piece of tech. I particularly bookmarked a page in the book where they talked about deep-space travel and how they could just store all of the “astronauts” on a hard drive, send that somewhere, and when they got there they could just “print” the “astronauts” out. No need to bring along food for the trip, get rid of human waste, or deal with any of that human stuff on the trip. Of course, they would have to “kill” the originals before they traveled. Or would they?

Spoilers beyond this point:

5. The villains in the book – yay or nay?

I thought the main villain of the book was not the obvious choice at first and there were a few entities that were possible main antagonists. I thought the main dude at the end was a little one-dimensional and comic book villain-y, but this didn’t ruin the book for me.

6. Spoiler section. Which of the Mona Lisas would you deem real?

 Define “real” 🙂 . Actually, I would have to say that the “real” Mona Lisa was destroyed.

7. Spoiler section as well – would you say that the people die when they are teleported, or do you think that’s a bit far-fetched? It is kind of philosophical at that point.

I would say they absolutely die. Now, if you believe in a soul I would say they die and then a copy is made. But does that copy share a “soul”? That wouldn’t make sense because then the “soul” is just data. But even if you don’t believe in an idea of a soul you must admit the traveler dies, for a moment at least, before being reassembled.

Actually this is one other small part that bugged me about the book. I wasn’t sure how anybody in that universe could have ever thought they weren’t “dying” for a moment then being reconstructed. Or maybe most people knew this deep down but were fine with it because who wouldn’t want instant travel to any point in the world?

Thanks Evelina for this wonderful exercise. Seriously everybody, go check out her blog Avalinah’s Books. And go read The Punch Escrow.

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Goodreads Profile

Anybody else out there on Goodreads? I use it mainly as a tool for my old-man brain to keep track of what I’ve read.

I’ve given most of the books I’ve listed a four or five star rating because I only rate books I finish, and I only  finish books I like.

Anyway, for the curious, here’s a link to my profile on goodreads. Maybe you’ll find a book on there you’ve never read, but is the book for you. If that happens, let me know because stuff like that helps my Grinch-heart grow.

The Good Things

 

This happened in my back yard last Friday as we were having a little back yard camp fire. Double rainbows. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that live in all my life, or if I did but didn’t have the maturity to care.

So, I’m not dead. Just wanted to put that out there. I haven’t posted in a long while though. Because there really isn’t much to say. But maybe I’ll start to post again. I have been writing a little bit here and there. Maybe I’ll post some of that too.

Interesting article: Unexpected Consequences of Self Driving Cars by Rodney Brooks

This is an interesting article about the unexpected consequences of self-driving cars. I’m still unconvinced that 100% self-driving cars will happen in my lifetime.  I’m not even sure I’d want it, though I do understand there is probably a significant safety argument to be made to get humans away from the steering wheel (many of us are quite dumb and reckless).

But I come at this from a rural-ish part of the USA where I don’t see everybody being able to afford, let alone want or trust a fully autonomous vehicle. But who knows.

In this post I will explore two possible consequences of having self driving cars, two consequences that I have not seen being discussed, while various car companies, non-traditional players, and startups debate what level of autonomy we might expect in our cars and when. These potential consequences are self-driving cars as social outcasts and anti-social behavior of owners. Both may have tremendous and unexpected influence on the uptake of self-driving cars. Both are more about the social realm than the technical realm, which is perhaps why technologists have not addressed them. And then I’ll finish, however, by dissing a non-technical aspect of self driving cars that has been overdone by technologists and other amateur philosophers with an all out flame. And yes, I am at best an amateur philosopher too. That’s why it is a flame.

Source: Unexpected Consequences of Self Driving Cars – Rodney Brooks

Build It To The Sun: A Short Story

I wrote this story a number of years ago when my daughter was quite a bit younger than she is now. I quite like this story, actually. To be honest, I’m surprised at the quality. Doesn’t seem much like me. Anyway, I thought I’d share it here because I think it deserves some more views.

Build It To The Sun

“What are you building there, honey?”  said Ashley, raising her eyes from her smart phone just enough to verify her daughter was still in the room and that she was playing with something that was neither breakable nor lethal. The prior night had been such a trying one, again, and all she wanted to do was veg. At least her Facebook friends would provide her some sympathy.

“I’m building a ladder to the Sun, Mumma,” answered Sam, a pink spoke amidst a colorful loop of Duplo bricks.  “I’m makin’ it real high.”

“That’s nice honey,” Ashley answered. “You do know you can’t really build a ladder all the way to the Sun, though, don’t you?”  She was all for imagination, of course. However, preschool was less than a year away and theirs was a house of science, not fancy.

“Yes I can do it,” cried Sam, squeezing a brick with all her strength. “I’m doing it right now.”

“You don’t have enough bricks to build all the way to the Sun sweetie,” said Ashley. Why did they make the keys on phones so tiny anyway, she thought. And were the letters getting smaller and smaller, or had her eyes begun to age like the rest of her body?

“We could buy some more,” said Sam. “I don’t need much more.”

Ashley hit the send button on her status update, waited a moment, and then refreshed the screen, hopeful for the oncoming parade of comments and likes. She skimmed her friend’s status updates, clicking Like here and typing LOL there. “And how would you breathe when your ladder exited the Earth’s atmosphere? There is no air in space, you know.  You would need a helmet and oxygen.”

“I have my Dora helmet,” said Sam. “But I don’t wanna wear it.” Now on her tip-toes, she placed a blue block on top of the stack. The blues ones always went on top of the stack.

“Mmm hmm”.  Ashley  launched her phone’s web browser because Facebook was so dead. Her status update had received just a single Like. Everybody was probably eating breakfast, she figured.  She and Sam had done that hours ago, early as always.

This conversation was definitely post-worthy anyway. She contemplated putting away her phone and walking to the office to get the laptop, but she was just… so… tired.  The thumb pain would be worth it.  She logged into her blogging dashboard.

“Mumma,” said Sam, her voice loud with excitement.  “I’m really very close to the Sun now, Mumma.”

“Sammy,” said Ashley, typing a title to her post as fast as she could. “I’m sure you tried very hard but it just isn’t possible. The Sun is just too far away.”

“I know, Mumma,” said Sam. “You said.”  She turned the remaining blue brick in her tiny soft left hand. “But could you help me please Mumma?”

“Fine,” Ashley said. Come to think of it she was too tired to write anyway. She would blog later.

Placing her phone in her pocket, Ashley lifted herself off the couch. Stretching her arms, then her legs, she cracked her neck.  Then, finally, she looked up at her daughter’s creation. For the first time that morning, she saw.

A winding, mish mashed tower of blocks, thin in some areas and thick in others, was balanced just so against the living room wall. The ladder stretched ever onward to the ceiling ending just below the Sun-patterned border at the top of the wall.

“You were right Sam,” said Ashley with a whisper, kneeling down to kiss the top of her daughter’s head. “You really are close.”

Ashley reached in her pocket and for a moment considered taking a picture, but instead walked to the kitchen and placed her phone in the top drawer. The junk drawer.  “Why don’t we finish this up and then get out the play-doh,” she said, dabbing away the tear from the corner of her eye.  “Would that be fun?”

“Yes!” replied Sam, clapping her hands.  “I’m gonna make a car that can fly to the Moon.”

“That sounds brilliant,” answered Ashley.

Worth a look via Smithsonian: When Robots Take All of Our Jobs, Remember the Luddites

Another interesting article on automation and how workers responded in the past, and how things might play out in our future.

What happens then? If this vision is even halfway correct, it’ll be a vertiginous pace of change, upending work as we know it. As the last election amply illustrated, a big chunk of Americans already hotly blame foreigners and immigrants for taking their jobs. How will Americans react to robots and computers taking even more?

One clue might lie in the early 19th century. That’s when the first generation of workers had the experience of being suddenly thrown out of their jobs by automation. But rather than accept it, they fought back—calling themselves the “Luddites,” and staging an audacious attack against the machines.

Source: When Robots Take All of Our Jobs, Remember the Luddites | Innovation | Smithsonian

What the Robots Are Doing to the Middle Class…

So we’ve been told that the election of Voldemort in the most recent US election is a reaction to people losing their jobs and being scared for their future. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. I thought this might be of interest.

The simplistic response to the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on employment is that we’ve experienced this before, during the Industrial Revolution and beyond, and that the “market” will eventually provide plenty of jobs. The reality is that tens of millions of Americans will have to accept food service and retail and personal care jobs that don’t pay a living wage.

Source: What the Robots Are Doing to the Middle Class | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

And this…

At a time when robots crowd factory lines, algorithms steer cars and smart screens litter the checkout aisles, automation is the new spectre. The robots, they say, are coming for our jobs.Let them, reply the luxury communists.

Source: Fully automated luxury communism | Guardian Sustainable Business | The Guardian

I don’t know what the answer is/will be, but it would be nice if we had a united government that would seriously look at the issue and comes up with a solution that will help us all. That is probably the most far-fetched idea in this entire scenario, but hey it’s 2017 and we might as well hope.

Women of Harry Potter: Luna Lovegood’s Relentless Optimism | Tor.com

 has written several outstanding pieces on the Women of Harry Potter, but this one might be my favorite. Luna Lovegood has always been one of my favorite characters. She is considered weird (like I always considered myself) but she is also brave in her weirdness (which I never was).

Here is a tiny excerpt, but go over there and read it all. And like, print it out and stick it up on your wall.

Cynicism is tempting. It hovers constantly at the edge of every hopeful moment, whispering “it will never happen.” It looks intelligent. It looks wry and elegant and worldly.

And it has never managed to ensnare Luna Lovegood.

Luna has spent years being told to give up. She has spent years being told that if she doesn’t give up, she’ll be left alone, barefoot and reviled. She has spent years among the Ravenclaws, being treated as stupid because she will not bend to cynicism.

She is precisely what the rebellion needs.

Source: Women of Harry Potter: Luna Lovegood’s Relentless Optimism | Tor.com