Musings/Träumereien/Devaneios

Beyond the Usual Alpha-Beta Search: "Deep Thinking - Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins” by Garry Kasparov, Mig Greengard

Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins - Garry Kasparov, Mig Greengard

“In 2016, nineteen years after my loss to Deep Blue, the Google-backed AI project DeepMind and its Go-playing offshoot AlphaGo defeated the world’s top Go player, Lee Sedol. More importantly, as also as predicted, the methods used to create AlphaGo were more interesting as an IA Project than anything that had produced the top chess machines. It uses machine learning and neural networks to teach itself how to play better, as well as other sophisticated techniques beyond the usual alpha-beta search. Deep Blue was the end; AlphaGo is a beginning.”

 

In “Deep Thinking - Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins” by Garry Kasparov, Mig Greengard 

 

My personal experience with Go dates back at least a decade. I remember getting slaughtered every time by the free GNUgo software, just as I had been by every human opponent for the last 20 years. Never got the hang of it, though I was school chess captain back in the day. Totally different mindset. I first came across it in a little-remembered crime series called 'The Man in Room 17', with Richard Vernon and Denholm Ellit eponymously solving crimes without leaving their office, where they were always playing go. I also remember a funny little story while I was attending the British Council. Back in the 80s, a Korean guy gave me a game. After every move I played, he stifled a laugh and started a rapid fire of, "No! Cos you purrin ['put in', I presume] there, then I purrin here, after you purrin there an' I purrin here, you lose these piece" None of which made anything clearer. At chess, the first (okay, tenth) time I got mated on the back row by a rook, I learned not to leave the king behind a wall of pawns. Never got my head round the simplest 'joseki' (corner opening) at Go. Beautifully elegant game though.

 

If you're into Chess, and Computer Science of the AI variety, read on.

Sci-Fi LX 2017 - Look Beyond: International Science Fiction Convention at IST

 

Most of my Portuguese SF friends (the Tribe) only read SF in English. I’m one of those cases. But I also read Portuguese SF written in Portuguese. What I don’t do is read Anglo-Saxon SF translated into Portuguese. With a only a few exceptions, most of the guys translating SF into Portuguese are not conversant with the genre conventions. Forget it! The question of the prevalence of English-speaking authors in Portugal is thus unavoidable (because we don’t read SF in translation). In my view (and I presume, in the case of those with good judgment and enough SF reading in the bag), the notoriety of many authors who write in English is mainly due to the fact that this is the language that dominates the literary market around the world. I believe that if many of these Anglo-Saxon SF authors were Portuguese, born in Portugal and writing in Portuguese, hardly anyone would hear of them because they wouldn’t stand a chance in hell of being published. 

 

 

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

Smart-Alecky SF: "Skullsworn" by Brian Staveley

Skullsworn - Brian Staveley

“’If I wanted you dead, you would be dead’?” He sucked some blood from between his teeth, then spat it onto the cobbles. “What is that? A line from some mid-century melodrama? You hear that onstage a few nights ago?”

 

In “Skullsworn” by Brian Staveley

 

 

Reasons to avoid some Fantasy:

 

  1. 1 - Trilogies - a story seldom needs 3 volumes, nobody wants to read the 'excluded middle' of tosh, let alone wait for the third volume when they have forgotten the contents of the first - strike George R.R. Martin;

 

  1. 2 - Sequel proliferation. Ditto objection 1 squared - strike Eddings et al;

 

  1. 3 - Formulaic - It's often better to re-read Tolkien, skipping some of his embarrassing attempts at females than read the whole thing again with different silly names - strike all sorts of piffle;

 

  1. 4 - Silly names - countries; cities; people. How about concepts; recipes; politics - invent something - move to include Iain M. Banks 'Culture' - or does invention have to belong to THE science fiction part of SF?

 

  1. 5 - Written by die cast. Surely much is the product of hashish and D&D - this you can make up for yourself;

 

  1. 6 - Poor writing - to wit the obviously much beloved Staveley - whilst his books were entertaining they are limited by his repetitive vocabulary; why can't his educated characters master the conditional subjunctive…?

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Dark Underbelly of Utopia: "Use of Weapons" by Iain M. Banks

Use of Weapons - Iain M. Banks

From the moment I picked up the Culture books eons ago they changed the way I viewed the natural world around me, adding a layer of mysticism to every tree, every rock and every hill; along with a wonderment of what untold stories each has born witness too. think it's often a combination of the book itself and the moment it comes into your life. I was one of those textbook cases - I had read just about everything by Enid Blyton in English as a child, and had never managed to make the jump (and what a jump it was!) to anything else, with a very tiny vocabulary. Then when I was 16, an older friend who I thought was super-cool (and would have done anything to impress) said that I should try Heinlein. I promptly got “Have Space – Will Travel” and read it, not really understanding what I was reading but at the same time fascinated and excited by the twisted tale. It was at that point, I realise now, that I vowed to try and find out what literature was all about. Many years and many hundreds of books later, I'm still on that wonderful journey, and I'm thankful for having come across him at just the right moment in my life. It was this fact that allowed me, many years later, to “discover” Banks. It was just happenstance; without that I wouldn’t be here writing these words.

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Multidisciplinary Show in Lisbon: "Once Upon a Time" at Maria Matos Theatre by LX Dance Group

 

Just as a cats brain appears to be tickled by certain types of movement, so the brains of many humans appears to be tickled by beauty - giving us a sense of pleasure that I tend to think once served some primordial purpose. Perhaps it still does.

 
I've also noticed that not everyone appears to share this sensation; humans divide themselves in many ways and one quite striking division is between those who think we ought to survive at any cost, however cramped and crowded, ugly and distasteful the world becomes; and those who prioritize the quality of human life and the life of all other flora and fauna. For the former, beauty appears to me to be a lesser consideration. For the latter, it is of paramount importance.
 
So if you have beauty in art, for me, you need no other excuse. If you 'deprioritize' beauty and dismiss it as 'sentimentality' you do need some other excuse.
 
 
NB: This show will be presented on the 12th of July by my friend Fátima Veloso, LX Dance's director. The "Nossa Senhora do Amparo" sacred music choir to which I belong will also make an appearance. Yours truly as male tenor will also sing his heart out...

For the Love of the Game: "Lions vs. All Blacks - 2017 Series - Third Game"

 

Series tied 1-1 (third's test score: 15-15).

 

What a game, the Lions put on a defensive effort. I don't think any other country or countries could have withstood the All Black onslaughts, so good and heavy was the defense that I have never seen the All Blacks drop so much ball. At one stage the All Blacks had 78% possession and whilst the Lions never looked like scoring a try they continually repelled the All Blacks.

 

I don't think the All Blacks tight 5 have received enough praise, they virtually dominated the scrum and negated the Lions platform over the advantage line, something they could do in the 2nd test although with a man advantage. I was slightly perplexed with some of the penalties given in the latter stages of the game by Poite to the Lions that evened up the possession somewhat. Warburton was fantastic at breakdown and stole or slowed down so much ball, with Johnathon Davis a colossus in the mid field.

 

The question asked earlier in the tour who of the Lions players would make the All Blacks team, currently I would say Davis and Warburton, whilst Itoje is the flavour of the month in the press, I still don't believe he could oust Retallic and Whitlock. I was skeptical with Hansen calling in Laumape and Barrett for their first run on debuts however they were both fantastic, I am not saying Smith and Crotty could have done better however we will never know. It was also good to see the fridge running over people as is his want, with himself and B Barrett making incredible running metres along with the Lions Williams.

 

If you're into Rugby, read on.

Fragile Cromwell: "Wolf Hall" by Peter Kosminsky

 

NB: I have not read the novels yet, but I'm afraid I'm going to be a little negative.

 

I had a “couple” of problems with this drama: firstly, I thought it felt a little 'empty' in terms of atmosphere. The camera-work, lighting and (to a lesser extent) the art-design was, for me, rather 'plain' - as if they were going for a very orthodox, no-frills adaptation of the novels. Likewise, I also thought that the soundtrack was rather dreary and 'safe' - although 'Tudor Pop' admittedly isn't my cup of tea. It would be nice - in general - if TV dramas would take more of a risk with their soundtracks: in the last week, I have re-watched Paul Thomas Anderson's “There Will be Blood” (with Jonny Greenwood's superb, experimental soundtrack) and then saw Birdman (which has a soundtrack almost solely composed of avant-garde jazz percussion) and was struck by how much these films were enhanced by a more original approach to background music.

 

If you're into period pieces, read on.

Gaming All-Nighters: "The Player of Games" by Iain M. Banks

The Player of Games - Iain M. Banks

"All reality is a game. Physics at its most fundamental, the very fabric of our universe, results directly from the interaction of certain fairly simple rules, and chance; the same description may be applied to the best, most elegant and both intellectually and aesthetically satisfying games. By being unknowable, by resulting from events which, at the sub-atomic level, cannot be fully predicted, the future remains make-able, and retains the possibility of change, the hope of coming to prevail; victory, to use an unfashionable word. In this, the future is a game; time is one of the rules. Generally, all the best mechanistic games - those which can be played in any sense "perfectly", such as a grid, Prallian scope, 'nkraytle, chess, Farnic dimensions - can be traced to civilisations lacking a realistic view of the universe (let alone the reality). They are also, I might add, invariably pre-machine-sentience societies.”

 

 

In “The Player of Games” by Iain M. Banks

 

 

 

“I… exult when I win. It’s better than love, it’s better than sex or any glanding; it’s the only instant when I feel… real.”

 

 

In “The Player of Games” by Iain M. Banks

 

 

 

Some of the imagery in Bank’s novel concerning gaming strategies closely remind me of my own: “In all the games he’d played, the fight had always come to Gurgeh, initially. He’d thought of the period before as preparing for battle, but now he saw that if he had been alone on the board he’d have done roughly the same, spreading slowly across the territories, consolidating gradually, calmly, economically … of course it had never happened; he always was attacked, and once the battle was joined he developed that conflict as assiduously and totally as before he’d tried to develop the patterns and potential of unthreatened pieces and undisputed territory.” This means you know you’ll get a biased sort of review. Just so you’re warned.

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Post-scarcity Society: "Consider Phlebas" by Iain M. Banks

Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks

When Banks died, I was in the process of starting one of my usual re-reads of the Culture novels. I decided it was not the time to start that re-read. I said to myself, “I’ll just wait another couple more years.” It’s now 2017, and I’m not sure I’ll re-read them now in one large gulp. I want to be able to savour the remaining books over time. One of my main attractions to Banks' novels lies in his version of AI. Stephen Hawking and colleagues worry about tooth and claw Darwinian features of AI, that threaten us all. Why not allow for the possibility that a truly superior intelligence would follow its own independent moral code? Banks' machine minds have values and follow courses of action that are far more admirable than what our species can manage.

 

No longer being able to look forward to a new Iain. M. Banks novel every twenty months or so is a source of great sadness. "Consider Phlebas" was such a dazzling, utterly astonishing tour-de-force, the grandest and saddest of all space operas, which nothing before or since has even come close to. And I can still remember the delight of coming across a 'hard' SF writer whose politics were, for a change, anti-authoritarian.

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Causality Violation SF: “Version Control” by Dexter Palmer

Version Control: A Novel - Dexter Palmer

“For months now, Rebecca had felt what she could only describe as a certain subtle wrongness – not within herself, but in the world. She found it impossible to place its source, for the fault in the nature of things seemed to reside both everywhere and nowhere. Countless things just felt a little off to her.”

 

In “Version Control” by Dexter Palmer

 

A lot of the debate around this book must be surely undermined by the lack of a clear definition of time.

 

The idea of time 'moving forwards or backwards' is just a metaphor that people adopt because it's easy to identify with physical objects that move and since time is a dimension- a dimension of space-time, the continuum in which everything has its being. Time itself doesn't 'move' or 'pass' any more than length can pass or move. However, everything moves, or occupies a series of different points, in space-time. I also suspect that our perception of time as a progression in one direction, with a remembered past and a future of multiple unrealized possibilities, is a 'fiction' or mental construction that allows us to make sense of cause and effect. If we could imagine a being outside of space-time, whether God, or Vonnegut's Tralfamadoreans, that being would see all those points simultaneously. As we do when we remember someone's life.

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Bloviated SF: "The Ninth Rain" by Jen Williams

The Copper Promise - Jen Williams

’I’m fine,’ she said again, her whole body shaking. She reached out a hand to the plants growing in their neat rows and saw with wonder that she had slumped next to a tomato plant. There were tomatoes growing on it, tight in their skins and perfectly red. After A moment, she reached out a trembling hand and plucked one from its stem, jerking a little as she did so. […]”

 

In “The Ninth Rain” by Jen Williams.

 

A tomato?

 

The great city of Ebora didn’t seem so alien after all…If I were reading a physical book, this would probably be the only book that I’d purposefully abandon at a train station, hoping that it would go to some "Lost Items" limbo. I'm an old-school SF fan, and I hate the way the SF shelves in the bookshops are increasingly dominated by great slabs of swords'n'sorcery, usually endless volumes of the same stuff by the same author, like they're paid by the meter. And the covers are astonishingly awful - like SF covers were in about 1968. Yech. My point is that the fantastic genre has always been with us ever since the first bard sat at the hearth and sang his songs. 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Intertextual SF: "The Grace of Kings" by Ken Liu

The Grace of Kings - Ken Liu

Lord Garu, you compare yourself to a weed?” Cogo Yelu frowned.

“Not just any weed, Cogzy. A dandelion is a strong but misunderstood flower.” Remembering his courtship with Jia, Kuni felt his eyes grow warm. “It cannot be defeated: Just when a gardener thinks he has won and eradicated it from his lawn, a rain would bring the yellow florets right back. Yet it’s never arrogant: Its color and fragrance never overwhelm those of another. Immensely practical, its leaves are delicious and medicinal, while its roots loosen hard soils, so that it acts as a pioneer for other more delicate flowers. But best of all, it’s a flower that lives in the soil but dreams of the skies. When its seeds take to the wind, it will go farther and see more than any pampered rose, tulip, or marigold.”

“An exceedingly good comparison,” Cogo said, and drained his cup. “My vision was too limited to not have understood it.”

Mata nodded in agreement and drained his cup as well, suffering silently as the burning liquor numbed his throat.

“Your turn, General Zyndu,” Than prompted.

Mata hesitated. He was not witty or quick on his feet, and he was never good at games like this. But he glanced down and saw the Zyndu coat of arms on his boots, and suddenly he knew what he should say.

He stood up. Though he had been drinking all night, he was steady as an oak. He began to clap his hands steadily to generate a beat, and sang to the tune of an old song of Tunoa:

 

The ninth day in the ninth month of the year:

 

By the time I bloom, all others have died.

 

Cold winds rise in Pan’s streets, wide and austere:

 

A tempest of gold, an aureal tide.

 

My glorious fragrance punctures the sky.

 

Bright-yellow armor surrounds every eye.

 

With disdainful pride, ten thousand swords spin

 

To secure the grace of kings, to cleanse sin.

 

A noble brotherhood, loyal and true.

 

Who would fear winter when wearing this hue?

 

“The King of Flowers,” Cogo Yelu said.

Mata nodded.

Kuni had been tapping his finger on the table to follow the beat. He stopped now, reluctantly, as if still savoring the music. “By the time I bloom, all others have died.’ Though lonely and spare, this is a grand and heroic sentiment, befitting the heir of the Marshal of Cocru. The song praises the chrysanthemum without ever mentioning the flower by name. It’s beautiful.”

“The Zyndus have always compared themselves to the chrysanthemum,” Mata said.

Kuni bowed to Mata and drained his cup. The others followed suit.

“But, Kuni,” said Mata, “you have not understood the song completely.”

Kuni looked at him, confused.

“Who says it praises only the chrysanthemum? Does the dandelion not bloom in the same hue, my brother?”

Kuni laughed and clasped arms with Mata. “Brother! Together, who knows how far we will go?”

The eyes of both men glistened in the dim light of the Splendid Urn.

Mata thanked everyone and drank himself. For the first time in his life, he didn’t feel alone in a crowd. He belonged—an unfamiliar but welcome sensation. It surprised him that he found it here, in this dark and sleazy bar, drinking cheap wine and eating bad food, among a group of people he would have considered peasants playing at being lords—like Krima and Shigin—just a few weeks ago.”

 

In “The Grace of Kings” by Ken Liu.

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Eye-Opening SF: "Saving the World Through Science Fiction - James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar” by Michael R. Page

Saving the World Through Science Fiction: James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar (Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy) - Michael R Page, Foreword by Christopher McKitterick, Donald E Palumbo, C W Sullivan III

“Thus, traditional criticism’s charge that science fiction isn’t, in general, ‘literary’ because science fiction writers don’t focus on or have the artistry to deeply delve into character misses the point that science fiction isn’t about character, it’s about ideas. And therefore, science fiction should be judged by a different set of criteria than mundane mainstream fiction is evaluated.”

 

In “Saving the World Through Science Fiction - James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar” by Michael R. Page

 

Don't critics ignore SF because there's far too much of it, and the vast majority of it - like any sector of genre fiction - is a bit safe, geared more to selling to a niche of fans than the mass market? Certainly SF fandom is obsessed with genre distinctions (steampunk, space opera, mundane, whatever) that have absolutely no currency in the mainstream world - just like crime fandom (maybe to a lesser extent) worries about distinctions between golden age, hard-boiled, procedural and so on.

In both cases the really good stuff, the stuff that transcends the formulae and has something worthwhile to say - Atwood, or Houllebecq, or Alan Moore, Ballard, or Gunn - it "does" get noticed, it's just that people don't call it SF anymore.

 

 

If you're into SF Literary Criticism, read on.

Some Old SF Stuff I Bought on eBay

 

I do like old science fiction book covers- not just Penguin, but all the more lurid publishers as well. And then there's the feverish world of the pulp magazines etc. For me the classic era is the 1960s and 70s- the move away from quasi-imperialistic and rather conservative fantasies involving spaceships and aliens towards more warped, anarchic visions of disturbing dystopias and chaotic chronicles of inner space. But still - some great art produced in the 80s - with it's characteristically airbrushed look- and more recently as well.
 
That Harry Harrison book is a superb novel of interspecies conflict in a time of climate change. The 'toothy dolphin' on the front is in fact a reptile rather than a mammal-it's, ahem, a genetically modified plesiosaur used as a marine transport vehicle by highly evolved and human-hating saurians. I'd definitely recommend getting the first book in the trilogy-this is my copy in the same series:
 
They're illustrated throughout with superb woodcuts, which bring this alternative Pleistocene world to vivid life. The best stuff on the list is fairly far from the magazine SF novels which would have been the likely contenders for a Hugo equivalent at the time -- it'd probably have been a competition between E. E. 'Doc' Smith's Galactic Patrol and Jack Williamson's The Legion of Time. 1938 is just before John W Campbell made Astounding Science Fiction a less pulpy magazine, and some years before the average quality of prose in magazine SF really rises.
 
 
If you're into Old/Vintage SF, read on.

Oobla Dee Oobla Dah SF: "The Collapsing Empire" by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire - John Scalzi

I recently bought a box of pulp SF from eBay - most dating from the 50s and 60s. Lantern-jawed, pipe-smoking men save the world while their gorgeous female assistants are prone to outbursts of come-hither hero worshiping and swooning - especially when kissed fiercely and unexpectedly by the lantern-jawed men. The latest one was about a worldwide plague where the lantern-jawed hero is a journalist trying to uncover governmental secrecy while trying to decide whether to go to his mistress - young, beautiful, free loving and rich - or whether to return to his ex-wife - a dour and buttoned-up biologist - who has an in on a secret survival bunker. (He's a selfish and cold-hearted bastard, so my bet is on him going with the ex-wife and claiming to have loved only her all along.) “The Collapsing Empire” belongs to this book category.

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Micro-Fiction, Text 009: "The Fever of Storms and Floods" by Myselfie

 

Here, if you care for this sort of thing.

 

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