Book Review: The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange get Engineered Away

Brave New Worlds: Dystopian StoriesBrave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories by John Joseph Adams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First I must tell you of Kwai-Chang Caine, because you do not know him. You have to be like this humble traveler, ancient and wise. Kwai-Chang you see, is from before, not just from before now, but also from far away. He was trained in Shangri-La, by Bruce Lee and Ghandi to be the world's gentlest and most badass man. He walked the earth, through California's blistering gold rush, and he carried a flute.

Now, The Man ran the railroad, and the saloon, and the ranches, and he did weigh heavy on the souls of little people, of whom gentle Kwai-Chang was one, but his (K-C's) heart was light, and he could bear any oppression, because that sadistic little monk who still reappeared in visions, called our man Caine "glashoppah" and made him lift a brazier of burning hot coals with his lily white forearms. After that, pain don't hurt.

But sometimes ye Man would oppress an innocent and Kwai-Chang Caine's spirit would be roused to soulful sadness, "good sirs, must you not unhand the lady, so that she can give her lame dog some of that tepid water?"

"Get lost, chinaman!"

"But sirs, the mountain cannot stand against the water...?"

"I kin see I'm-a gonna teach you some manners, slant-o!" (swings rifle butt, aiming to maim.)

But here gentle Kwai-Chang acts unconsciously and with fluid ease of one thousand such attacks, lifting his shin (which is harder than the rifle barrel) to snap the gun in half, whilst pivoting and gently crushing the man's nose with his palm, simultaneously buckling the whole saloon porch onto the slow-moving ruffian gang by kicking the (8" diameter spruce) supporting timber into matchsticks with his bare foot. Next he helps up poor bloody-nose and gently brushes the cowshit from his lapels.

"I am sorry, you are truly a mountain amongst men."
"Maam, allow your dog to drink my water, for I can go a few more days without."
and walks into the sunset.

So you see, this was a TV show to give heart to downtrodden nerds everywhere and we never missed an episode.

Finally, to Brave New Worlds. Around page 200 by Cory Doctorow is "The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away" wherein the story of Kwai-Chang Caine is reprised. It is exact. You have the joy of the simple nerd made hard unto invulnerability by years of training which in this case consists of extreme programming and handball. Like Caine, he transcends his training and is sent out into the big ugly world of which he has no experience, but he, and the Man who oppresseth him, will find out that a decade of monk's training goes a long way when the fisticuffs start. It's Jesus meets Hiro Protagonist and I'm cheering all the way.

Then, to fit in the dystopia theme (& you had ta' see it coming,) some reality sets in. Our guy does not win, quite, but he does not forsake the Holy Order, either. Caine would be proud. It's a great story.

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A nice autopilot commendation.

Couldn't help myself. This post was so positive, I want to save it. Forever.
Cirrus repair guy & test pilot:

"Ok... I keep my head down and try to do certification work. I do first flights on new experimental stuff. Xxx Xxx is our production test pilot and does most of our routine return to service flights. He is really good. Masters Mechanical Engineering, Rice. Former NASA engineer. Lots of flight experience.

But he is on vacation !

So . . . I get to pitch in and do some flying.

First aircraft up that needs a "return to service" flight is a Cirrus. Here at TAT for some wastegate work and some tweaks.

goes out and straps in and about half way to the runup area notices the DFC90.

Neat! I had never flown one. And, I had never read the manual. But, I don't need the AP for this trip.

So off we go.

About 1000 AGL I get bored. Decided to try the new auto pilot.

Played with it all the way to 17,500 feet and back down - - and around a few times.

Here is the deal: I get to try out lots of neat new stuff.

My reaction to a lot of it is - - "OK" . "That's nice."

But this was different. This autopilot was so obviously superior to the one it replaced - - and so obviously superior in so many ways - - that I was seriously impressed.

It was intuitive. Several of the enhancements are so transparent to the pilot that they fit like an old soft glove.

There are clear and obvious safety benefits in some of the features. Real ones. Not just talking points.

I kept having a conversation with myself. "How on earth could S-tec have failed to upgrade their hardware - - and left the door so wide open for someone like Avidyne to walk in with a vastly superior product? "

In the grand scheme of upgrades available for your Avidyne Cirrus - - this is one you need to move up your priority list.

I do not "want" much for our Cirrus. But this I do "want."

Regards, xxxx

Next guy:

I couldn't agree more. I have been absolutely thrilled with my DFC90, not only from the operational aspects you noted but also because it solved several problems that I thought were due to other stuff in the airplane. For example, when I used to de-couple my S-Tec I had to grip the controls tightly because it was often way out of (pitch) trim and would "jump" when it was disengaged. I thought it was due to the limit switches on the servo being out of adjustment, but just by installing the DFC90 this problem was GONE. I also used to get porpoising in some conditions when I had the S-TEc and it was GONE when I installed the DFC90.

You didn't mention doing an approach with it, but shortly after I got mine I tried it on a GPS approach with a T intercept where I had 50 knots of crosswind going into the turn. The S-Tec in these conditions would have put me in the next state (or not, since it was placarded as incapable of such a crosswind), but I let the DFC90 fly that 90-degree intercept and it friggin' NAILED it. I was amazed. With the S-Tec, I hand-flew 3 out of 4 approaches because I got fed up with what it was doing, but with the DFC90 it is the opposite; I let it fly 3 out of 4, and I only hand fly some because I enjoy it and I like to stay proficient, not because I have to to avoid screaming at the AP like I did with the S-Tec.

Reacting to a philosophy podcast

Foggy morning drive, and foggy thinking. Today on Philosophy Bites, "consequentialism," which is the same (to my limited powers of discernment) as utilitarianism, namely a judgement that you should do that which creates the best net outcome. Greatest good for the greatest number, ends justify the means, that sort of thing. Now at the other extreme, there's also "primum non nocere," (first, do no harm) and all the way over, "fiat justitia ruat caelum" (let justice be done though the heavens fall). So, what's right?

Illustrative thought experiments include torturing a man who's certain to know where the bomb is, scapegoating an innocent to protect the many, high value human vivisection, pushing the fat guy on the trolley tracks, and Kant's truthfulness to a murderer looking for your friend.

The basic question is truth at all costs or ends justify the means?

The darn guest Philip Pettit took the utilitarian approach, generally, but with exceptions to cover special cases which turned out to be a complete cop-out in my view.  It allows him to decide whatever he wanted. whenever "a red light goes off in my head."  That's rationale I could get behind, that everything could be a special case, except that's really just a smoke screen covering up a fundamental rule of "my (personal) judgement shall prevail." Of course, such a philosophy is no help at all: can we or can we not propose some general principles of behavior to guide us? That's the business we need to be in here as "philosophers" if we have any business being in business at all.  Some of you will stop there (ahh, my friends, I know you write off philosophy as so much mental self stimulation, and this podcast certainly skirts that territory) but I hate to just Give Up!

So, I think this: We are individuals, not ants, and the solitary difference there is that we should each have some meaning as entities. Inalienable rights, if you want.

This leads me towards the chivalrous side of the spectrum wherein you might do something glorious and stupid, like charge an overwhelming force to succor one captive knight. This sounds silly to say, but it's basic military ethos and, if unlikely to be implemented in big serious confrontations, nevertheless a powerful idea. Another example would be NOT torturing the bomber as a matter of principle, though many will die. The rationale would be "if we are unprincipled, we have saved nothing." Typing this, I feel a childish shame at how it pulls at my heart. I just want this to be true.  Ants meanwhile are pragmatic utilitarians, "true believers" who will die for their hive, but not each other.

That is my weak rebuttal to rigorous utilitarianism. If I understand Pettit correctly, all that's been thought of and bundled under the aegis "respect." Pettit would say "respect unless a red light starts flashing" which seems too big a loophole to me.

Pimpin' my radio show

This American Life needs no introduction, but every so often a reminder, in case you don't have podcasts automatically pouring into your phone... (and man what a neat feature that is, IYI. Here are droid and iToy recommendations.)

This week, it's a 9-11 retrospective, something you might be tired of, as I am, and yet they did a good job, in interviewing a few people. The first story in particular will resonate with Afghanistan policy wonks (Dad, Emilie) and is the main reason for this post. Here's a link.

In there, an altruistic Ivy League grad answers the call & returns to the homeland to set things right, but youth is lost and even a little despair begins to harden as the country unwinds. Powerful stuff.

It's the dopamine, stupid!

Lately I like this thought that my emotion is the flavor of a chemical soup in my head. All those hormones and whatnot are released by the lizard brain and glands and organs in response to what I see and eat and smell and think. A big interconnected machine. The usefulness of the metaphor is the unity of the singular soup tureen. My brain can think about different things, but all those thoughts are going to be inappropriately related because they're floating in the same sauce. It's got to be fundamentally hard to be dispassionate about an equation if I'm angry with a broken sprinkler in my yard, or hard to be angry at a frustrating coworker if I just had a great run.

Thus our perspective on all aspects of life is skewed by the singular emotive state. Real separation of thoughts is not possible. It should be no surprise that my daughter might be yelling at me about something OTHER than the dishes yet somehow it is. Revelatory I mean, to make it explicit.

How slowly I learn, to be figuring this out now!

Latest beer

Shooting for a light pilsner, I think I succeeded. This is a real home-made recipe: pretty proud of it.