Month: January 2015

Start the Revolution

Even Dogs Have Had It (via Neal Asher)

Even Dogs Have Had It (via Neal Asher)

I went after Neal Asher hoping to get a blurb from him, but he’s not in the reading mood for excellent reasons. His Owner series is both really good and features a villainous EU superstate, which looks like an even worse version of Red Queen’s velvet-gloved tyranny.

It’s interesting to note that his depiction of a murderous future EU triggers an urge by some readers to downgrade the books on Amazon. The safe choice of setting your story in some far future with no resemblance to current politics lets those who are strongly partisan avoid seeing any of their own beliefs as responsible for the villainy, and likely increases the lifespan of the book’s sales since events are unlikely to date the book, but loses a lot in immediacy. Thrillers set in the present tend to rely on conspiracies to explain how evil can exist in supposedly democratic societies, but the really interesting question is how evil arises from those very democratic impulses under the influence of media and partisan propaganda.

One of the things I’m trying to do with Substrate Wars is show that even people who mean well and are acting morally within the framework of their societies end up enabling evil under the pressure of incentives and tribal loyalties. As a current example, we have the attempt to scapegoat CIA workers implementing (sometimes badly) “enhanced interrogation” techniques on a handful of jihadists, which is reason enough for partisans to call for war crimes trials. Meanwhile, the current administration is responsible for the deaths of perhaps 2,000 civilians in faraway places like Pakistan, which is apparently fine by those partisans. Jail and mistreatment for a few people, or death from the sky for thousands? Either both are war crimes, or neither is.

“Red Queen”: Science Notes


[Appendix from Red Queen: The Substrate Wars.]

If you’re a theoretical physicist, you’ll note I am taking liberties with the science. But only a little—and the plot is very much real science. Steve Duong discovers something unexpected, creates a new hypothesis which explains his anomalous results, then confirms his hypothesis by further experimentation. I don’t personally believe we live in a universe where giant quasiparticles can talk to every other particle in the universe and ask them to attach to new partners, but it could be so. We are always just one experiment away from a revolution in understanding. And it will likely be something equally unexpected that allows us to travel to the stars.

I have the Grey Tribe communicating by using encrypted messages embedded in public web site photo streams. For a similar app available now, see Crypstagram. There are several messaging apps that are encrypted currently, for example Whatsapp. But in this future State of Emergency, standard encryption of messages and email has been outlawed, and phone companies and apps are not allowed to secure user data against surveillance. There are high officials in the US government at this writing asking that all phones be searchable for law enforcement purposes, and we can expect more efforts to outlaw encryption. “When encryption is outlawed, only outlaws will have encryption!”

On the attempts to find a cellular automaton model that explains quantum physics, this is the abstract of one interesting paper: “Quantum Field as a Quantum Cellular Automaton I: The Dirac free evolution in one dimension”:

It is shown how a quantum cellular automaton can describe very precisely the Dirac evolution, without requiring Lorentz covariance. The automaton is derived with the only assumptions of minimal dimension and parity and time-reversal invariance. The automaton extends the Dirac field theory to the Planck and ultrarelativistic scales. The Dirac equation is recovered in the usual particle physics scale of inertial mass and momenta. In this first paper the simplest case of one space dimension is analyzed. We provide a technique to derive an analytical approximation of the evolution of the automaton in terms of a momentum-dependent Schrödinger equation. Such approximation works very well in all regimes, including ultrarelativistic and Planckian, for the typical smooth quantum states of field theory with limited bandwidth in momentum. Finally we discuss some thought experiments for falsifying the existence of the automaton at the Planck scale.

Real quantum computing is still in its infancy. Efforts so far have been plagued by noise and the small number of qubits available—the current state of the art is 4! Researchers—and especially outside evaluations—find it hard to tell whether current quantum computers are actually doing quantum computation. This is an area where many discoveries are likely to clarify quantum phenomenon, and perhaps, as in this story, open up completely new vistas on how the universe is organized.

If you are already familiar with the basics of quantum phenomena and want to learn more about quantum computing, the Wikipedia articles on the field are excellent places to start.

Artificial Life is a kind of computational model of the biology of life as we know it. Starting with very simple worlds, models have become more and more sophisticated to the point where significant discoveries about emergent features are being made. Larger, faster simulations feature co-evolving organisms in ecosystems and environments that have been molded by biological processes. Wikipedia is a good place to start learning about the field.

The abstract of a current paper, “Indefinitely Scalable Computing = Artificial Life Engineering,” by David H. Ackley and Trent R. Smallon, on the state of research and ideas on applying ALife concepts to general computer architecture:

The traditional CPU/RAM computer architecture is increasingly unscalable, presenting a challenge for the industry—and is too fragile to be securable even at its current scale, presenting a challenge for society as well. This paper argues that new architectures and computational models, designed around software-based artificial life, can offer radical solutions to both problems. The challenge for the soft alife research community is to harness the dynamics of life and complexity in service of robust, scalable computations—and in many ways, we can keep doing what we are doing, if we use indefinitely scalable computational models to do so. This paper reviews the argument for robustness in scalability, delivers that challenge to the soft alife community, and summarizes recent progress in architecture and program design for indefinitely scalable computing via artificial life engineering.

The Red Queen hypothesis is one of the key concepts of modern evolutionary biology.

“Red Queen”: Quotes About Government

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

[Appendix from Red Queen: The Substrate Wars.]

Some ideas are so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them. —Either George Orwell or Michael Levine

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamourous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. —H.L. Mencken

Love your country, but never trust its government. —Robert A. Heinlein

The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are. —H.L. Mencken, from “The Smart Set” (December 1919)

Of such sort are the young wizards who now sweat to save the plain people from the degradations of capitalism, which is to say, from the degradations of working hard, saving their money, and paying their way. This is what the New Deal and its Planned Economy come to in practice—a series of furious and irrational raids upon the taxpayer, planned casually by professional do-gooders lolling in smoking cars, and executed by professional politicians bent only upon building up an irresistible machine. This is the Führer’s inspired substitute for constitutional government and common sense. —H.L. Mencken, “The New Deal,” 1935

[The aim of public education is not] to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States… and that is its aim everywhere else. —H.L. Mencken, The American Mercury, April 1924

How did we evolve from a country whose founding statesmen were adamant about the dangers of armed, standing government forces—a country that enshrined the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights and revered and protected the age-old notion that the home is a place of privacy and sanctuary—to a country where it has become acceptable for armed government agents dressed in battle garb to storm private homes in the middle of the night—not to apprehend violent fugitives or thwart terrorist attacks, but to enforce laws against nonviolent, consensual activities? —Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, 2013

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain. —Frédéric Bastiat, The Law, 1850

[The socialists declare] that the State owes subsistence, well-being, and education to all its citizens; that it should be generous, charitable, involved in everything, devoted to everybody; …that it should intervene directly to relieve all suffering, satisfy and anticipate all wants, furnish capital to all enterprises, enlightenment to all minds, balm for all wounds, asylums for all the unfortunate, and even aid to the point of shedding French blood, for all oppressed people on the face of the earth.

Who would not like to see all these benefits flow forth upon the world from the law, as from an inexhaustible source? … But is it possible? … Whence does [the State] draw those resources that it is urged to dispense by way of benefits to individuals? Is it not from the individuals themselves? How, then, can these resources be increased by passing through the hands of a parasitic and voracious intermediary?

…Finally…we shall see the entire people transformed into petitioners. Landed property, agriculture, industry, commerce, shipping, industrial companies, all will bestir themselves to claim favors from the State. The public treasury will be literally pillaged. Everyone will have good reasons to prove that legal fraternity should be interpreted in this sense: "Let me have the benefits, and let others pay the costs." Everyone's effort will be directed toward snatching a scrap of fraternal privilege from the legislature. The suffering classes, although having the greatest claim, will not always have the greatest success. —Frédéric Bastiat, Justice and Fraternity, 1848

The world in which we Westerners live today has grave faults and dangers, but when compared to the countries and times in which democracy is smothered it has a tremendous advantage: everyone can know everything about everything. Information today is the “fourth estate.” In an authoritarian state it is not like this. There is only one Truth, proclaimed from above. The newspapers are all alike; they all repeat the same one truth. Propaganda is substituted for information. It is clear that under these conditions it becomes possible (though not always easy: it is never quite easy to do deep violence to human nature) to erase quite large chunks of reality. —Primo Levi

The more men know, the smaller the share of all that knowledge becomes that any one mind can absorb. The more civilized we become, the more relatively ignorant must each individual be of the facts on which the working of his civilization depends. The very division of knowledge increases the necessary ignorance of the individual of most of this knowledge. —F.A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 1960

Once definitely done with our adolescent longing for the Absolute, we would find this world valuable after all, and poignantly valuable precisely because it is not eternal. Doomed to extinction, our loves, our work, our friendships, our tastes are all painfully precious. We look about us, on the streets and in the subways, and discover that we are beautiful because we are mortal, priceless because we are so rare in the universe and so fleeting. Whatever we are, whatever we make of ourselves: that is all we will ever have—and that, in its profound simplicity, is the meaning of life. —Philip Appleman, The Labyrinth: God, Darwin, and the Meaning of Life, 2014

Notes on Politics and Bureaucracy

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

[This is from an appendix to Red Queen: The Substrate Wars.]

What is fascism?

From Wikipedia, where the definition focuses on the 1930s fascisms seen in Italy, Germany, and Spain:

Fascists sought to unify their nation through an authoritarian state that promoted the mass mobilization of the national community and were characterized by having leadership that initiated a revolutionary political movement aiming to reorganize the nation along principles according to fascist ideology.

The Wikipedia definition goes on to list other characteristics, notably that fascism of that day “replaced socialism’s focus on class conflict with a focus on conflict between nations and races.”

As Mark Twain noted, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” The fascism of Substrate Wars is built on exploiting tribal divisions, but not between states so as much as between races and the sexes, and between an anointed class of academic and government-class progressives (“the Clerisy”) and the private economy. The scapegoating of some groups and relentless attacks on them as manipulators who are harming the oppressed and stealing from the common people is aimed at different groups, but the basic mechanism remains.

We see this today in schizophrenic demonization of the wealthy “one-percenters” at the same time there is continuing support by many of the same politicians of Wall Street’s artificially high share of the economy. The Federal Reserve’s efforts to limit the stock market crash of 2000 and the 9/11 panic produced a real estate bubble and ensuing debt crisis, but instead of reforming the systemic problems that caused the crash and paying down the bad debts, the world’s central banks and politicians have tried to artificially reflate the economy with even more debt, and as of this writing the US debt has climbed to $18 trillion. When actuarially sound and realistic accounting is applied to pension and Medicare obligations of state and federal governments, future taxes to pay the debts down at more realistic interest rates would have to rise to over 50% of incomes, closing on 100% in some states, a level so high it would depress actual tax revenues collected. Meaning some sort of debt repudiation—either hyperinflating it away or default—is likely.

And in the US, the two parties are deeply entrenched in local and state politics and election supervision, and the law is written to discourage any new parties or independent candidates. The increasing partisan warfare has set people of good will who largely agree on most matters against each other, with the worst behavior of each party presented as entertainment to partisans of the other. The hatred and obsessive preoccupation with demonization of the other party disguises an important fact: if it were not for that party you hate so much, full of stupid, evil, and ignorant people you disdain, your party would become as corrupt as it is in those states where one party dominates. And the chances of governments run by one party investigating and reforming themselves are low. Some pundits admire China, where one party rules and Gets Things Done; but corruption is an enormous problem there, and will likely bring them down eventually. So, partisans, be grateful for those jerks in the other party—they keep your people honest.

I have many friends who work for government agencies—teachers, scientists, managers. They tell me they work hard and do valuable work, and I know they are conscientious and well-meaning. But when they spend much of their time in meetings and fighting other parts of the bureaucracy; when they write thousands of pages of reports and laws that no one reads; when their function is not essential to defense, law enforcement, or some other core function only government can handle, it’s a tax-funded, permanent bureaucracy that squeezes out private alternatives and ensures that competition can never improve efficiency. I salute my hard-working friends who are public servants—but most of their time is actually spent serving the interests of the state and not the people.

In the sectors of the economy that aren’t run or heavily regulated by governments, efficiencies constantly increase as competition and innovation combine. In sectors run by politicized regulation or directly by governments, innovation is very slow and relative costs of services continue to rise. Examples: education, medical services, defense, social services. Student loan debt is breaking the backs of young people; college administrators are higher-paid than ever, and there are more of them. Hospitals expand and merge and pay administrators huge salaries while charging astronomical fees for simple services. Military contracting is padded and turned into pork for Congressional districts. The space shuttle boosters blew up because they had to be made in segments to allow the contracts to be spread across districts. These are all consequences of politicized decisionmaking processes.

A notable example is universal public schooling. No one thinks education is a bad idea, and local public and private schools competed in the US until the mid-1800s. Then states began to take more control, aiming to raise standards and make the curriculum more uniform, on a Prussian model which viewed children as raw material to be molded into good workers and citizens with allegiance to the state.

The public education system evolved, and local control was reduced. Families found themselves taxed heavily to pay for the public system, which was “free” to them, and naturally chose not to pay twice to get education that was more directly tailored to their children’s needs or family desires. Thus an important link between parental concern and schools was broken—schools, like all other institutions, ultimately serve the concerns of those who fund them, not their clients. In many school districts now, parents are given lip service but opposed whenever they try to support reforms.

And schools beholden to politicians and unions of their workers can be both expensive and truly awful. The worst result of this is that children are now learning very little history, economics, or science, and rigor has suffered. The least damaging solution is vouchers—give every student the money now being spent on their education to spend on any school their parents deem fit that passes reasonable standards. Public schools would have to compete with private and charter schools, and all would benefit—except possibly overpaid public school administrators. Resistance to this idea is fierce, of course.

So that was a key mistake which allowed the population to be programmed with the idea that more government is the solution for every problem. Fixing it will take time, and the system will most likely crash before rebooting.

And as recent graduates of this political indoctrination system have taken most of the positions in government, academia, and mass media, the commitment to truth has suffered. An entire society has been dumbed down.

Golden Age Science Fiction Quotes

First edition Ringworld - by Larry Niven

First edition Ringworld – by Larry Niven

When I decided to write some hard science fiction in response to young adult novels like Pills and Starships, I went back and reviewed some of the books that had inspired me as an adolescent, since it was their sense of possibility and achievement I wanted to recapture for a younger audience. I used that research to add an appendix of quotes at the end of Red Queen: The Substrate Wars, which follows:

I learned much of what I know by reading science fiction. For my younger readers, many of the quoted titles and authors below will be unfamiliar, but they are still worth seeking out and reading from a time when anything seemed possible. The long tradition of social tolerance and advanced thinking in science fiction has been under attack by ignorant academics who want to turn all entertainment into propaganda for their idea of progressive thought. If you are still learning, read widely and route around the schools and libraries who want to program your thinking by restricting what they offer you to read.

These quotes seemed especially suited to the themes of this story:

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation
Deep space is my dwelling place
The stars my destination
—Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination, 1956

In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power, Green Lantern's light!
—Alfred Bester, writing for Green Lantern, c. 1945

Every law that was ever written opened up a new way to graft.
—Robert Heinlein, Red Planet, 1949

How anybody expects a man to stay in business with every two-bit wowser in the country claiming a veto over what we can say and can't say and what we can show and what we can't show—it's enough to make you throw up. The whole principle is wrong; it's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't eat steak.
—Robert Heinlein, The Man Who Sold the Moon, 1950

Reason is poor propaganda when opposed by the yammering, unceasing lies of shrewd and evil and self-serving men.
—Robert Heinlein, Assignment in Eternity, 1953

I also think there are prices too high to pay to save the United States. Conscription is one of them. Conscription is slavery, and I don't think that any people or nation has a right to save itself at the price of slavery for anyone, no matter what name it is called. We have had the draft for twenty years now; I think this is shameful. If a country can't save itself through the volunteer service of its own free people, then I say : Let the damned thing go down the drain!
—Robert Heinlein, speech at World Science Fiction Convention, 1961

I believe in—I am proud to belong to—the United States. Despite shortcomings, from lynchings to bad faith in high places, our nation has had the most decent and kindly internal practices and foreign policies to be found anywhere in history.

And finally, I believe in my whole race. Yellow, white, black, red, brown—in the honesty, courage, intelligence, durability … and goodness … of the overwhelming majority of my brothers and sisters everywhere on this planet. I am proud to be a human being. I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth, that we always make it just by the skin of our teeth—but that we will always make it … survive … endure. I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes, will endure—will endure longer than his home planet, will spread out to the other planets, to the stars, and beyond, carrying with him his honesty, his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage—and his noble essential decency. This I believe with all my heart.
—Robert Heinlein, “This I Believe,” 1952

The future is better than the past. Despite the crepehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands…with tools…with horse sense and science and engineering.
—Robert Heinlein, The Door Into Summer, 1957

“…They have no art and only the most primitive of science, yet such is their violent nature that even with so little knowledge they are now energetically using it to exterminate each other, tribe against tribe. Their driving will is such that they may succeed. But if by some unlucky chance they fail, they will inevitably, in time, reach other stars. It is this possibility which must be calculated: how soon they will reach us, if they live, and what their potentialities will be then."

The voice continued to us: "This is the indictment against you—your own savagery, combined with superior intelligence. What have you to say in your defense?”….

“—you say we have no art. Have you seen the Parthenon?"

"Blown up in one of your wars."

"Better see it before you rotate us—or you'll be missing something. Have you read our poetry? ‘Our revels now are ended: these our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself… Itself—yea—all which it … Inherit—shall dissolve—“

I broke down. I heard Peewee sobbing beside me. I don't know why I picked that one-but they say the subconscious mind never does things "accidentally." I guess it had to be that one.

"As it well may," commented the merciless voice.
—Robert Heinlein, Have Space Suit—Will Travel, 1958

"My mother said violence never solves anything." "So?" Mr. Dubois looked at her bleakly. "I'm sure the city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that."
—Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers, 1959

Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please. Rules, laws—always for other fellow. A murky part of us, something we had before we came down out of trees, and failed to shuck when we stood up. Because not one of those people said: Please pass this so that I won't be able to do something I know I should stop. Nyet, tovarishchee, was always something they hated to see neighbors doing. Stop them for their own good.
— Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, 1966

I began to sense faintly that secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy…censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, “This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,” the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything — you can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.
—Robert Heinlein, If This Goes On—, 1940

First they junked the concept of “justice.” Examined semantically “justice” has no referent—there is no observable phenomenon in the space-time-matter continuum to which one can point, and say, “This is justice.” Science can deal only with that which can be observed and measured. Justice is not such a matter; therefore it can never have the same meaning to one as to another; any “noises” said about it will only add to confusion.

But damage, physical or economic, can be pointed to and measured. Citizens were forbidden by the Covenant to damage another. Any act not leading to damage, physical or economic, to some particular person, they declared to be lawful.
—Robert Heinlein, Coventry, 1940

Sure, ninety percent of science fiction is crud. That's because ninety percent of everything is crud.
—Theodore Sturgeon, 1951

Here, too, was the guide, the beacon, for such times as humanity might be in danger; here was the Guardian of Whom all humans knew—not an exterior force, nor an awesome Watcher in the sky, but a laughing thing with a human heart and a reverence for its human origins, smelling of sweat and new-turned earth rather than suffused with the pale odor of sanctity.
—Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human, 1953

Earth keeps a solemn festival at the meadows of Hack and Sack, through whose blue arch came first death, and then life.
—Theodore Sturgeon, “The Incubi of Parallel X,” Planet Stories, 1951

The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity—a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.
—Isaac Asimov, Foundation, 1951

Progress Notes: “Substrate Wars,” Book 2

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

I spent the holidays visiting my mother in her memory care facility in Kansas City, and various family obligations have kept me from working on the new book until about now. I’ve finished a bare outline but it’s a long way from fleshed out; and I haven’t decided how to deal with the usual problem of recapping the first book so the second can stand on its own. It’s obvious who the villains will be for book 2, but after that my crystal ball gets hazy — I will have to sketch out the next few in the series to properly detail this one.

So it will take me about 3-4 months if all goes well. Hope you guys can wait that long!

New Reviews: “Red Queen: The Substrate Wars”


The Kindle version is available on Amazon here, at only $2.99, while the trade paperback is available here at around $13.

The next two Amazon reviews:

4.0 out of 5 stars Fast paced, well plotted read. December 28, 2014
Good, well paced story. Reminded me of Heinlein’s “juveniles” in the pacing, dialogue, etc; and I mean that in a good sense. Young people (and some not so young) faced with making choices that have far-reaching consequences. An intriguing scientific development which can affect the whole human race forces the protagonists to grow up. I am looking forward to the continuation of the series.
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but fun December 30, 2014

I really enjoyed this book, but a warning for the hard science people – you may not like some of the cavalier treatment conservation of mass and energy gets.

Another nitpick I have is the old story of 1) discover a technology on Monday 2) debug the technology on Tuesday and 3) deploy the technology on Wednesday. I exaggerate, but only slightly.

In spite of this I gave it 4 stars, because who doesn’t enjoy giving it to the man?

I would share this reviewer’s concerns if the violations of standard conservation of mass and energy weren’t explained in two ways: explicitly, by Steve Duong (who shares the unease), and implicitly by the “world as simulation” thread of the story, which should leave the reader wondering if the story is taking place in a simulation itself. It’s pointed out that just such violations of physical laws would be expected on the margins of a less-than-perfect simulation, and there’s no reason to believe the physics-as-computation-on-substrate of what we think of reality is free of such flaws.

As for the normal pace of development of a technology, I’m asking the reader to believe Steve Duong is one of those rare geniuses who can do in a week what might take a team of scientists a year. While such people are rare, they do exist; and the story must move fast and so can’t stop to do more than hint at the long process of development in normal teams.