Musings/Träumereien/Devaneios

Portugal and the Portuguese language are still fashionable... Who would have thought?

 

We cheated by bringing a quality song to the Eurovision Song Contest, and we didn't need any dancing bears, baking granny's, or rockers dressed as monsters. (*smile*)

Benfica's 36th championship. 200k people celebrating!

The 4th Pope in Portugal (6th visit of a Pope to Portugal): Fátima's 100 Years of the Prophecies

 

 

Some atheist friends of mine keep saying this Pope faces a daunting challenge not faced over most of the 2000 years since a hastily assembled collection of short stories made it onto the bestseller list: the march of science. There was a time when the church could just impose rules and people knew they had to live by them because heaven or hell awaited. They knew this to be true because there were no alternative narratives. Sure, there were competing sects but these said pretty much the same kinds of things: god is in charge, do what we tell you he says. In the last 100 years, science has looked at the cosmos and found no god; it has looked back to the beginning of time and found no god; it has considered the building blocks of matter and found no god; and it has considered the formation of life and found no god. It is almost as though there is no god. The harder the church makes it to be a Christian the greater the incentive to accept what science is saying: that god is how people understood the world before people understood the world.

 

But I prefer to think otherwise.

 

If you're into this kind of thing, read on.

Luminiferous Aether: "Four-Day Planet" by H. Beam Piper

Four Day Planet - H. Beam Piper

“I went through the gateway, towing my equipment in a contragravity hamper over my head. As usual, I was wondering what it would take, short of a revolution, to get the city of Port Sandor as clean and tidy and well lighted as the spaceport area. I knew Dad's editorials and my sarcastic news stories wouldn't do it. We'd been trying long enough. The two girls in bikinis in front of me pushed on, still gabbling about the fight one of them had had with her boy friend [sic], and I closed up behind the half dozen monster-hunters in long trousers, ankle boots and short boat-jackets, with big knives on their belts. They must have all been from the same crew, because they weren't arguing about whose ship was fastest, had the toughest skipper, and made the most money. They were talking about the price of tallow-wax, and they seemed to have picked up a rumor that it was going to be cut another ten centisols a pound. I eavesdropped shamelessly, but it was the same rumor I'd picked up, myself, a little earlier.”

 

In “Four-Day Planet” by H. Beam Piper

 

I used to read/watch SF and was also always careful to be scandalized at how little regard the genre got until I realized that ... well ... an awful lot of it does suck. Or at least, an awful lot of it is an awful lot like an awful lot else. The same five characters, the same one plot. There's good stuff out there, but the signal to noise ratio is lower than almost any other genre of entertainment or literature. Vast, vast, vast swathes of the stuff is bug-eyed monsters, buzz-cuts with guns, female eye-candy, and explosions: the power fantasies of 15 year old boys, in other words. Okay okay, okay, there's some good stuff -- someone will always point out the celestial Octavia Butler or Ursula Le Guin -- but the fact remains, you need to swim through an ocean of silicone and lasers to get to the good stuff.

 

 

If you're into vintage SF, read on.

Convoluted Crime Fiction: "She Died a Lady" by John Dickson Carr

She Died a Lady - Carter Dickson

Just about every book written by John Dickson Carr is a locked room mystery, and all of them try to play fair (thus also trying to drive the reader nuts), but I always feel Carr tried too hard. His books are so convoluted that they become almost unreadable. I’m a bit reluctant to continue reading books wherein the intricacies become utterly unbelievable (why do some authors bother to impinge on our consciousness crap like this?) I’m better off reading Agatha Christie. This Carr was me being back to 'easy' reading after a hard week reading hard stuff. This one is among his middle-rankers. The method of murdering two persons close to a cliff with only his own footprints on wet sand was clever - maybe a bit too clever-clever - and the characters a touch clichéd - but then you do meet the same people over and over again in a Carr novel. The fun is in trying to out-guess him, and in the wonderful, spooky atmospheres he creates. Unlike Christie, the Carr’s leave a lot to be desired. In this case the solution just doesn't hang together. The characters and motivations are there but the explanation of the murder is just too weird. Carr once again didn’t play fair.

Tor2Web Proxy: "The Dark Net - How to Stay Anonymous Online Even from the NSA" by Peter Johansen

The Dark Net: How to Stay Anonymous Online – Even from the NSA - Peter Johansen

Tor2Web Proxy: https://zqktlwi4fecvo6ri.onion.to/wiki/Main_Page

 

 

The darkness exists in the human mind not the technology.

Victorian Portugal was full of dark secrets that have had a negative effect on

this society ever since, far more than the internet has.

 

 

There's the "dark web" - i.e. the web you need to use Freenet or Tor or something like access (and those two are just examples, and they form distinct non-interconnected webs). And then there's the "deep web" - this is websites whose content is not indexed by search engines, because you need to register or pay to access the contents, or has Flash front ends, or is otherwise unavailable to a search engine. This is the thing that is likely much larger than the freely available web, and it's usually because there's money to be made by gate-keeping access to it. There's very little illegal, immoral or otherwise dodgy about the deep web; most of it is for-pay services, which are usually easy to clamp down on if they're illegal - just follow the money. 

 

Am I missing something here?

 

 

If you're into Computer Science and the "Dark Web", read on

Dated Crime Fiction: "Sunset Express" by Robert Crais

Sunset Express - Robert Crais

Gosh, Robert Crais! I really want to like you, but after lots of books in and it still feels like gawky blind dating rather than true love.  I should be really digging these Crais novels, but I’m not. A smart-aleck gauntleting detective with a mean-as-hell friend is something that I can’t get enough of in other books. But something just isn’t coalescing here. From Crais first novel, I thought that Crais was doing a west coast version of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels and that feeling continues here. It isn’t Crais’ fault that I’m reading these over many years after he wrote them and that they seem dated in a lot of ways to me; having said this, there are still just too many clichés for me to overlook in this. Plus, Elvis is just such a dogged know-it-all that he tends to get on my nerves. Characters like Marlowe, Spenser or Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie can be wise asses and tough guys, but it feels like Cole can’t let the mildest thing go by without trying to act like a comic at karaoke night. What saves this book Cole’s quick jokes. So quick, he had me laughing like crazy a few pages in. That's pretty darn quick.

NB: According to BL/GR/LT this is my 400th/396th/394th book review. I believe BL is correct.

 

Nuanced SF: "Crackpot Palace - Stories" by Jeffrey Ford

Crackpot Palace: Stories - Jeffrey Ford

There are two kinds of "favourite books," I always say. There are the ones that you recognize as original in concept, extremely well written, and strong in theme. Then there are the ones that say something personal to you so that you identify with the protagonist, live in that society, laugh at the jokes and thrill at the adventure, but also realize that the style may not be so good or the theme so strong. I ain't half the SF geek I was when I was younger - you know, before I discovered characterisation and inner life - but I still appreciate a good novel of ideas. So often, it comes down to a tug-of-war of definitions and false differences of opinion. The mundane literary establishment tends to demean SF. Yet, the works of Cormac McCarthy, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut are just as much SF, using the same devices to advance the same thought experiments and commentary on society as many other SF writers can do.

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Micro-Fiction, Text 006: "Everyone's Short on Talent" by Myselfie

 

Ant McPartlin has his hand on my shoulder and things are happening to me. For example, I’m sweating in a strange place: my buttocks. And I’m unexpectedly aroused by Ant McPartlin’s hand on my shoulder. I love Dec (always have done), but I think I’m developing feelings for Ant. He’s tender, and his sense of humour is subtle. I can’t believe I never noticed this until now, of all bloody times, of all bloody places. I look round and Dec is picking at a dried ketchup stain on his tie. I look at Ant’s hand on my shoulder. He has beautiful fingers. My buttocks sweat some more.

I’m worrying that my perspiring arse will create dark patches on my dress. Oh well. I’ll try to keep facing the audience, but my natural tendency is to turn round and sing with my back to them. Concentrate Jodie. You can do this.

The audience is cheering and Ant McPartlin says ‘break a leg’ or ‘good luck’ or ‘go get ‘em babes’ or something. I’m walking onto the stage and the audience quietens down. My stomach shrinks and I think I’m near the middle of the stage but I’m not sure.

 

If you're into Simon Cowell's stuff, read on.

This is How the World Will End: "The Art of Invisibility" by Kevin Mitnick, Robert Vamosi

The Art of Invisibility: The World's Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data - Kevin D. Mitnick, Robert Vamosi, Mikko Hypponen

This book calls for a limerick of "me" own:

 

This is how the world will end.

This is how the world will end.

Not with the roar of a lion

But with the click of a mouse.

 

Mitnick's and Vamosi's book is for the layman. You won't find here buffer overflows (NOP sled,  or overwriting the stack return pointer), network scans/DoS attacks, integer overflow exploitation, details about recent techniques to bypass ASLR, shell-code injection, network sniffing, no kernel hacking/rootkit exploits, i.e., it does not break ground as a book to explain how hacking and software exploits work and how readers could develop and implement their own. It's a breezy read with lots of information, but the deep dives aren't there.

 

Reading this, it got me thinking once again on IT security aspects. I've done this recently when I read my last security book. Every time I read something like this, I always get in the mood "Oooh spooky, 'cyber security', how hip, how now." Cyber security is what used to be called 'spying' and that goes back to erm...Caesar Augustus as emperor lived in a modest two story home in central Rome. Two floors around an open central area and thin columns sparsely placed to form colonnaded mezzanine ground and top floor and no drapes or hangings - he lived in a modest house with open mezzanines so that NO ONE COULD HIDE BEHIND columns and listen to his conversations. Spying is as old as ancient governments.

 

If you're into Computer Science and CyberSecurity in particular, read on

Unreliability of Fiction: “The Devil You Know” by K. J. Parker

The Devil You Know - K.J. Parker

“I don't do evil when I'm not on duty, just as prostitutes tend not to have sex on their days off. My ideal off-shift day starts with a hot bath and the scent of black tea, followed by an hour on my balcony with a good book; then a stroll through the busy streets to view an art exhibition, hear a sermon or philosophical debate, or simply admire the mosaics in the Blue Temple.”

 

In “The Devil You Know” by K. J. Parker

 

The underpass is vacant apart from a solitary figure headed directly toward her. A woman around Romany's own age, and not too dissimilar from how she looks.

'I see you're not taking the advice,' the police officer says nodding to the wall. 'The poster. We're advising young women to be careful not to walk alone when they don't have to. He's killed three.'

'I'm sorry, I didn't see it. I'm only headed around the corner,' Romeny replies.

'I'll walk you along. I hope you've been watching the news.'

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Unreliability in Fiction: "Blue and Gold" by K. J. Parker

Blue and Gold - K.J. Parker

"The two predominant factors that make me up, philosophy and criminality, when combined, when combined together on the block of ice hat serves me for a personality go to make up alchemy.”

 

In “Blue and Gold” by K. J. Parker

 

 

 

Beep.

 

Beep… -cking answering machines! Kevin… Kevin… Kevin, I know you’re there. With her probably, whoever she is – stupid cow. Listen Kevin, you actually love me really. You’re jus’ confuuuused, and I don’t blame you. But you better not do anything you’ll regret – and if you’re doing it now I will hunt you down and… and cut your goolies off… You see the thing is… the thing is… God, iss really ridiculous communicating like this. We’re human beings. Why don'sh you just pick up the phone and we’ll talk like grown-up adults. Hmm? Hmm KEVIN, PICK UP THE BLOODY PHO… Beep.

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Coruscating Beams of Force: "Exploring Science Through Science Fiction" by Barry B. Luokkala

Exploring Science Through Science Fiction - Barry B. Luokkala

Ah, E.E. "Doc" Smith's coruscating beams of force ... he introduced these early on, and then every couple of chapters would want to up the ante, so would have to try and outdo his earlier description, and they would become ravening beams of unimaginable pure power…

 

But "science-fiction" is just a catch-all phrase for speculative fiction, not an enforceable limitation. I used to read tons of SF, all the way from junk/pulp through to the serious hard-science stuff and the only complaint I ever have about any individual book is if it's badly written. Some of the more glaring errors and redundant theories raise an eye-brow (I love H. P. Lovecraft despite plate tectonics being fifty years in his future and all his mentions of aluminiferous ether...) but what the hell, if it's a good book it's a good book.

 

 

If you're into SF and Science in particular, read on.

 

 

Cardamom Pod to Chew: "How to Write Short Stories And Use Them to Further Your Writing Career" by James Scott Bell

How to Write Short Stories And Use Them to Further Your Writing Career - James Scott Bell

Sushi is flipping delicious regardless of whether or not it's fashionable. It is tasty, tasty, tasty goodness, just the same as Toad in the Hole or a bowl of tomato soup with white plastic bread and butter. That is, when it’s not shit, but I guess it depends what we mean by shit. I've always found the real enemy of literature to be "good writing" - stuff that's OK and technically competent but utterly lacking any spark. Of course that covers a massive ability spectrum, but I think it accounts for the great majority of what finds its way to a lot of slush. Absolutely agree about the paucity of really good writing Bell writes about. I used to read short fiction slush back in the day (Analog, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Omni, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Amazing Stories (the revamped version)), and a few others). I read several hundred thousand stories and only found a few authors who really had the goods.

 

If you're into self-publishing and “verbless” sentences, read on.

My Inner Vision of Italy: "The Brewer of Preston" by Andrea Camilleri

The Brewer of Preston: A Novel - Andrea Camilleri, Stephen Sartarelli

As with cinema, when I’m reading something like a Camilleri novel, it’s always possible to discuss its heightened reality. You concentrate life, as one does in theater. The proscenium arch for film is its syntax. Some thoughts arise, like when discussing reality. Imagine you ask someone who is talking about another person, "What are you doing?" They answer, "Well, I'm trying to tell you this and that, etc.” But you look at them and say, "No...What are you doing?" They get somewhat thrown, or agitated, or confused. Eventually lines are drawn. It's such a simple question. But it is really asking for you to really meditate or think about what this whole process of communication is really up to. What rules are being followed...what political system of exchange is really going on? What part of this is really a card shuffling act? What shifts of power are taking place in this exchange? What are you keeping me from noticing? What is being depended on? The question is simple, but the reality of the exchange is buried. There may not be words to describe the real chemistry of the exchange, and there may be issues about the decimation of personality inherent in the query.

 

If you're into Italian Literature, read on.

Anything Goes: "The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodern Fiction" by Bran Nicol

The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodern Fiction - Bran Nicol

Postmodernism scrutinizes the accepted ways of producing art and finds new ways to portray interesting things. Without this approach everyone would still be scratching stick men onto cave walls. In a world in which change happens so fast, it's useful and important to think in terms of what changes, why it changes, and how the change helps or hinders us. Having said that, and in the long run, post modernism is as irrelevant as any other “ism”, all of which had their own junk philosophies to contend with, what matters at the end of the day is the content of art and how society or an individual responds to it that matters. Sadly post modernism could have provoked a radical and revolutionary response to society but its adherents proved conservative, more interested in money and their careers to make any meaningful art. So unlike so many “isms” whose adherents created great works in spite of a particular ism´s junk philosophy, post modernism hasn´t produced many works of literature worth remembering. Postmodernism is not throwing a whole lot of weird stuff together and seeing what craziness happens. This, however, is what a lot of people, including artists, curators, critics, and journalists who all should know better, think it is, This "anything goes" postmodernism is what winds people up and makes them say 'That's not art!' as if there's something which art ought to be.

 

 

If you're into literary criticism, read on.

 

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