Book Review: AI Unbound by Nancy Kress (Three Stars)

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Book Review: AI Unbound: Two Stories of Artificial Intelligence by Nancy Kress

Three Stars out of Five

Two short cautionary tales about human interactions with self-aware superintelligences which they created. Whether they end well depends on your point of view.

Well-told, straight-forward stories about the expectations and results of humans creating artificial intelligences.

Hint: not what they expected.

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Book Review: Song of Time by Ian R. MacLeod (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Song of Time by Ian R. MacLeod

Four Stars out of Five

“Life … is a series of acts which we eventually grow tired of performing.”

Thrilled and disappointed simultaneously. Subtle future technology juxtaposition with timeless issues of living and dying. Literary post-apocalyptic science fiction. Unfortunately, self-consciously literary.

Brilliant imagery, clumsy storytelling. Occasional homophones or similar faulty word choice. Several epigrams could become catch phrases for the culture were they not so ineptly worded. As if it was dashed off, but not re-read. Knocks the reader out of the story’s spell. Needed a good editing, if not a rewrite.

Two threads, before and after the collapse. Lots of forward and back flashes. Sometimes confusing. Many clichés. The usual suspects (both cultural and personal stereotypes); little originality in characterization. Excellent evocation of a pop culture fifty years in the future. Believable future developments in technology, ecology, culture and legal issues.

“No wonder people believe in God, now that they’ve realized just how useless politicians are.”

Will read differently depending on the age of the reader. After reflecting a while, I may adjust my rating up or down.

Paradox: While reading this book, terror attacks struck Paris. Dinner conversation turned (in a different context) turned to the potential for a Yellowstone cataclysm.

“If you don’t believe in hope, and in love as well, what was the point of anything?”

A Logistician Again

The line between disorder and order lies in logistics…” – Sun Tzu

Spent part of Veteran’s Day back in the Air Force … figuratively. Not as the Colonel again, but as the Logistician. A new granite counter was to be delivered for our hosts’ bathroom. I volunteered to watch the contractor remove the old counter, set the new, and install the fixtures, so our hostess Candy and my wife Treva could attend a ladies’ meeting.

As I ask what seemed obvious questions about the project, Candy realized she wasn’t ready. Where does the old counter go? Where are the new sinks? Under the bed; only one bowl under the bed. (Call her husband Tom at work; the contractor took it to make the right size and shape holes.) Where are the fixtures? Also under the bed. Where can I reach you and Tom?

Meanwhile the ladies cleaned the bathroom, made the bed and arranged the decorator pillows.

Will the contractor disconnect the old fittings? Yes, but we need to turn off the water supply. Under the sink? No, for the whole house. Where? In the basement, behind … uh, we need Tom. The ladies emptied the under-sink cabinets while Tom returned to show me where to turn off the water. (I’d never have found it.)

The contract crew arrived, and the installation went off without a hitch.

Logistics is as much about avoiding what might go wrong as about planning for success. Murphy’s law applies. It’s almost the logistician’s credo. Pilots used to ask me why I always told them why they couldn’t do what they wanted. I’d answer, no, I’m assuring that nothing goes wrong or having a backup plan or two.

Many folks dream dreams and stumble through life expecting things to “turn out.” Not logisticians. We are that dour breed which always looks for the thorns on the rose bush. The better to avoid them.

It’s not quite as bad as the classic The Logistician, but almost. And it’s not just generals, strategists and tacticians who undervalue logisticians to their peril. Titans of business, entertainment and politics ignore logistics at their peril.

Forget logistics, you lose.” – Lt. Gen. Fredrick M. Franks, Jr., USA, 7th Corps Commander, Desert Storm

Happy Veterans Day to all who survived because some loggie did his or her job well.

Movie Review: Cowboys and Aliens (Three Stars)

Movie Review: Cowboys and Aliens directed by John Favreau

Three Stars out of Five

Did not see this when it was released because, despite the draw of Harrison Ford and Danial Craig on the marquee, the premise seemed silly. Silly perhaps, but well done.

The story opens as an archetypal western with the hero seeking his identity, a strange artifact, a wise old man, and confrontations with both official and unofficial authority. Then the aliens show up. If War of the Worlds was plausible in 1897 (or 1938), then why not in the 1870s?

Good action, good special effects, good scenery. (Technical level of a made-for-television movie.) Predictable, but fun. Good hearted.

Excellent support for pop corn futures.

Family Recipes: Grandma Marie’s German Potato Soup

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Background:

In 1913 fifteen-year-old Marie Kiesler immigrated to the United States from Stalluponen, (East Prussia) Germany (now Nesterov, Russia). She joined her sister Martha in Kansas City, Kansas, where both served as housekeepers/nannies to American families. In 1919 Marie married John H. Hodge, a soldier at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Marie returned once to visit her family in 1937, whence she got in trouble for refusing to display the Nazi salute. Marie died in 1949.

This simple soup uses readily available materials. Follow the directions exactly or it won’t have that authentic German taste.

Ingredients:

6 slices bacon

½ c. chopped celery

½ c. chopped onion

8 medium potatoes, cubed

1 qt. milk

Salt and pepper, to taste

Garlic powder

2 Tbsp. bacon grease

Preparation:

Fry bacon until crisp; drain. Crumble when cool. Save bacon grease.

Cook celery and onions in large pot (in which soup will be prepared) in just enough water to cover for five minutes. Add chopped potatoes. Cook covered until soft, being careful not to let it boil dry. Mash potatoes coarsely. Add enough milk to reach soup consistency. (Depending on your taste, it may be as little as half a quart of milk.) Heat until almost boiling.

Add bacon and bacon grease. Season with salt, pepper and garlic, as desired.

Preparation options:

Finely chop onion and celery. Use uncured bacon. Bake rather than fry the bacon. Use fresh garlic rather than powder. Use whole milk. Serve with garlic croutons or shredded cheese.

Generously serves four, because you will want seconds.

Book Review: Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley (Four Stars)

Book Review: Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

Four Stars out of Five.

Enchanting. Original enough to bring the reader a fresh sense of wonder and discovery. Whatever I tell you will spoil your fun.

Classic tale told in a modern manner. Admirers of fantasy and fairy tales—not to mention roses—will love it. Disney couldn’t have done it better; in fact, Disney did it worse.

Do not read blurbs, reviews, or summaries. Read this pleasant little book. Enjoy.