Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, April 13, 2018

Four Things

Innovations from my bookmarks...

1. Might potholes soon be a thing of the past? Yes, by the looks of an invention out of Turkey:

Their invention is a fully contained pothole-crushing powerhouse. The large truck uses artificial intelligence, Internet-enabled sensors, machine learning and advanced robotics to stamp out potholes like garden flies.

Instead of filling in the hole, this monster equipment precision-cuts out the pothole and an area around it, as if it were extracting a cancerous tumor. The machine vacuums up excess materials, leaving a clean hole of exact size. Next, its robotic arm grabs a pre-made concrete “plug” from onboard, and inserts the plug with the accuracy of a surgeon. The plug materials expand once in place, to create a form-fitting bond, as if the pothole never existed.

Besides being James Bond cool, the machine can repair potholes in less than two minutes at a cost savings of 500% versus traditional repairs...
The time savings is impressive, although I am not quite sure what to make of the money savings figure. Perhaps the repairs are at one-sixth the cost of traditional methods.

2. An idea from the automotive industry, promises superior smoked flavor, but with fewer carcinogens:
To reduce the carcinogen content of smoked foods, researchers took a lesson from the automobile industry, running the smoke through a zeolite filter to remove harmful compounds. It worked, and with a happy bonus: superior smoke flavor.
This has reminded me to check the forecast, which looks promising enough that I might finally fire up the grill for the first time this season.

3. You know a technology has matured when it starts popping up even in the most ... pedestrian ... places: "DNA testing is cracking down on doggie-doo offenders."

4. Meet "Smokin'" Ed Currie's Carolina Reaper, the world's hottest pepper:
Image via Wikipedia
Smokin' Ed's Carolina Reaper® is a super hot pepper developed by Founder, President, Mad-Scientist & Chef Smokin' Ed Currie in his Rock Hill, South Carolina greenhouse. Measuring over 1.5 million on the Scoville Heat Unit Scale, Smokin' Ed's Carolina Reaper® was awarded the Guinness World Record in November of 2013. Read more about our Guinness World Record story here.

The flavor of Smokin' Ed's Carolina Reaper® has been described as a roasted sweetness delivering an instant level of heat never before achieved continuing with an increasing tidal wave of scorching fire that grips you from head to toe. Eyes glaze. Brows perspire. Arms flail. CAUTION! CAUTION! CAUTION! CAUTION! CAUTION! [link omitted]
Indeed, this one has even made the medical literature, delivering a series of thunderclap headaches to one culinary daredevil.

-- CAV


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write: Might potholes soon be a thing of the past? Yes, by the looks of an invention out of Turkey:

Yes, that's cool and a good start, but I'm still waiting for the machine I read about in an SF novel used when settling a new planet: A multi-story high-output nuclear reactor on rollers many meters wide that simply rolls over the landscape fusing the soil as it goes. A couple of years later, you straighten out potholes by simply driving it back the way it came. I don't even care if this new technology is better, I don't even care that I'm not sure how the details of the thing would even work, I just want nuclear-fused-soil roads, please.

Gus Van Horn said...


If I did trigger warnings here, I would have used one for that.

Anonymous said...

Yo, Snedcat!

Was that Larry Niven's book "Destiny's Road"?

c andrew

Snedcat said...

C. Andrew: Was that Larry Niven's book "Destiny's Road"?

No, it was Peter Hamilton's Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained. (Good stories, long as all get-out, and a breakneck read, but at the same time something about his style just irked me greatly. However, I was too enthralled by the story to stop and figure out just what about his style got up my nose.) I haven't read that Niven, actually; I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

Anonymous said...

It was an interesting read from a world-building POV but the narrative wasn't quite what I expected from Niven.

I've read Hamilton's "Night's Dawn Trilogy" and the "Void Trilogy", although the first, like Tolkien's, is actually 6 books. And they are LOOOONNNNNGGGG.

I had the same reaction to his style as you did but couldn't leave the story
behind. What I figured was my problem was that even though his worldview is broadly
left, he's not afraid to show what happens when that worldview is enacted. In
fact, his first book, so I hear, started a firestorm amongst the Briterati for
having dared to postulate that a fascist, totalitarian society could emerge from
leftist roots. But for all that, I think that many of his more primary assumptions
remain consistent with a leftist or collectivist viewpoint and that those implicit
ideas manifest in his writing at a nearly subliminal level.

It is so subtle that even after I identified that as the source of my ill-ease, I'm
not entirely convinced I got it right.

It is telling, to me, that even though I own the books, I've never revisited them.
And I am a voracious re-reader. Might be interesting to go back and give them
another go to see if my hypothesis of 15 years ago holds up.

c andrew

Snedcat said...

Part First the Long:

C. Andrew writes, I had the same reaction to his style as you did but couldn't leave the story
behind. What I figured was my problem was that even though his worldview is broadly
left, he's not afraid to show what happens when that worldview is enacted...But for all that, I think that many of his more primary assumptions
remain consistent with a leftist or collectivist viewpoint and that those implicit
ideas manifest in his writing at a nearly subliminal level.

That could be, and I think I know why. I group Hamilton mentally with Alastair Reynolds and Neal Asher as the leading British looooong-novel broadly space-operatic SF writers. My favorite is Asher, though it was reading Reynolds' Revelation Space and its sequels that got me back into SF after a decade or so reading other things. (I worked in a used book store and indulged everything that even vaguely interested me, occasionally leading to esthetic stomachache. Man, creative writing programs should be taken out and shot.) Reynolds has his problems too--he has some excellent ideas that he often couldn't quite handle effectively, and most of his characters are really underdone--but at his best he knows how to throw in the cliffhangers to keep you reading, and he fits your point also.

In fact, I suspect that the problem with them more specifically is that they show the influence of Iain Banks, but as I've never gotten into Banks I can't say for sure. He's definitely beloved of the lefties, with a "post-scarcity" essentially communist (I gather) hedonistic space community run by AIs that has to deal in the novels with (I gather) only a bunch of other communities that hit one or another of the nasty triggers lefties hate so much, be it fascism, fundamentalism, or grotesque lefty versions of capitalism, all complete with the old bugbear of inequality of all kinds glommed together as the source of so many evils. I gather that I'd actually like his novels more than that makes it sound, but I couldn't get into the first one, Consider Phlebas, which is supposed to be far from his best entry point, and have no access to cheap copies of the others any time soon. (So, for instance, Abigail Nussbaum, whose essays I enjoy reading even when she's wrong [heh], loves Banks for his politics, because lefties do love them their lefty fairy tales since they can never get the historical record to bear them out, but she provides enough details to make it clear Banks at least wrestles with real issues worth reading about, but from a worldview I share only select elements of.)

But yes, Reynolds has numerous explicit tips of the hat to Banks, and there's a bit of a tip of the hat to him also in Pandora's Star, in a settled planet that devised a city modeled on I think Edinburgh. (Both Reynolds and Hamilton stated that these were nods to Banks in afterwords.) Asher also has some of the same elements but goes off on his own pursuing his deep interest in parasitism, which one might suggest he has just possibly read too much about...but maybe not. So it's probably that: They're responding to Banks and so they reflect his worldview as a result. My impression is that Hamilton is often dismissed by the Banks crowd as basically a neoliberal hack (a telling jibe, since "neoliberalism" is the term lefties like to use to lump together a whole bunch of stuff, including a healthy dose of economic reality, into a sour package deal), but from what I remember of his world building, his Commonwealth is more realistic than Banks' world while still sounding like a plenty darn spiffy place to live.

Snedcat said...

Part Second the Shorter:

C. Andrew writes, It is telling, to me, that even though I own the books, I've never revisited them.
And I am a voracious re-reader.

Exactly the same for me. They were one-and-done. Reynolds is about the same--I will reread Revelation Space eventually to see what I think of it now, but I doubt I'll get sucked into rereading the sequels. (Though Chasm City, which is a bit of a stand-along prequel, I might revisit as well. He hadn't spread his butter too thin over the toast in that one, and I remember the characters as well as the ideas as being pretty good.)

An amusing reflection: I read the Hamilton because of the Reynolds indirectly. When I started reading SF again, I soon discovered an ambitious SFF review site, Inchoatus, which has since gone the way of the dodo, alas, run by a Chestertonian Catholic guy and an Objectivist-influenced guy. I started with their review of Revelation Space and worked along from there. Some of their judgments were a tad odd, but they strove to be fair and to make their esthetic judgments explicit, which I admired greatly. Among other things, it was thanks to them that I discovered Ted Chiang, who is still one of my most admired contemporary SF writers. I also started reading Robin Hobb thanks to them, and enjoyed reading a number of other books they reviewed positively.

Pandora's Star was one they reviewed middlingly, and it sounded interesting enough. We had a copy at the store so I picked it up, and was saddened to discover that it didn't have nearly as much sex as they made it out to have, because they inadvertently made it sound rather enticing, actually. (Cue Tom Lehrer’s “Smut.”) That made me suspect that sexual content was one of their critical blind spots--I expected vast orgies in decadent abandon, and all I got was a charming young woman who slept around in generally non-explicit fashion a bit more than one suspects the Inchoatus guys did (miao!!!), and whose sexual exploits actually had some relevance to advancing the plot.

Then I read their review of Wicked, which despite its flaws I loved--I devoured it the day the first used copy came into the store, long before it hit Broadway, hooked from the first page when I started looking through it--and they were shocked, I tell you, SHOCKED!!! that it had "witch sex," lots and lots of witch sex. (Yes, I remember "witch sex" as the phrase they used.) Again, huh? It had one bit of somewhat explicit bedroom play that advanced the plot and also revealed character.

So, no real moral to the story apart from the usual one that worthwhile criticism isn't what you universally agree with but what you learn from thinking about.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the lengthy reply.

You mention several SF authors that I have not encountered so I may have to dip a toe into their various world pools (to abuse a metaphor!).

I understand about the reviewers and the question of sex in print. I come from a religious background myself and all but one of my siblings in a large family are still devout. Sex in literature can ruin a whole book for them regardless of the quality and necessity to the plot. In my youth, I subscribed to the same worldview and found "Time Enough for Love" by RAH to be beyond the pale. Now it seems remarkably tame, aside from the question of incest in long-lived families with genetic defects approaching zero. But given the premises that Heinlein advanced, it doesn't strike me, now, as being gratuitous.

Members of my family have read "Atlas Shrugged" and their first comment is usually about its prescience; the second is, "Why all the sex?"

Returning to the reviewers; I am curious, however, if either one of the Inchoatus writers was John C. Wright?


c andrew

PS Cuing up Tom Lehrer is always a good idea! I mean, after all, "Who needs a hobby, like tennis or philately"???

Snedcat said...

Part I again:

C. Andrew writes, Returning to the reviewers; I am curious, however, if either one of the Inchoatus writers was John C. Wright?

No; I did discover their real-life names once, and while I promptly forgot them again, I remember not recognizing them. He was one of the people they reviewed highly. I believe this was in the days before Wright had his near-death experience on the operating table, saw the Virgin Mary, and went from quasi-Objectivist to hyper-Catholic pseudo-philosopher with a leaky thesaurus oozing its contents all over the page. I was intrigued enough by what they said about The Golden Age to get a used copy through Amazon, and it was okay, but I wasn't gripped tight by it. His more recent stuff I dislike reading very much--of the ones I have read, the style irks the bejesus out of me and the stories are transparent allegories and fables for Christianity that make Jack Chick tracts seem like exercises in artistic subtlety. The essays at his blog have some good comments about leftist nihilists, but their value is completely negated (well, YMMV) by the fact that it is clear he would consider me a leftist nihilist, or at least a nihilist irremediably tainted by leftism, and he's very quick to set up putative universal statements, like what a fairy tale is in its essence and by its nature requires, that aren't supported by argument, common knowledge, or common sense and serve basically to trash anyone who likes Frozen as a man-hating, humanity-hating servant of Satan.

In case you wonder about that, he said that when a fairy tale says that a woman has to be kissed in a spirit of true love to be awakened from a magical sleep or whatever, it must mean romantic love; making it sisterly love destroys the timeless wisdom of the story. I tired of blather about the timeless wisdom of human nature projected onto fairy tales grounded in nothing but the prejudice of the projector with my encounters with the cult of Joseph Campbell in the 90s, and it's safe to say Wright is not up to Campbell's snuff. I got the strong impression that Wright was just coming up with a (to him) plausible rationalization for hating the film for whatever less universally timeless reason might have been at play.

Snedcat said...

Part II:
That's different from the issue of books like Wicked that take one author's work and reinterpret it from a different character's point of view. I seem to be a lot more forgiving of that than a lot of people, who consider the works they like sacrosanct--and I myself sure as hell would have no interest in reading a lefty rewriting of Atlas Shrugged. But that's first of all because it would be done very very badly, tendentiously, and grotesquely and with their typical smirking snideness. Second and more generally, I wonder if you could do that well with any large-scale novel with multiple viewpoints or a universal narrator, whereas with fairy tales it's a different matter entirely. I view Frozen, for example, as just doing with Hans Christian Andersen what he did to the fairy tales around him, essentially updating them for the current sensibility as fairy tales always have been, just as The Little Mermaid changed Andersen in just the same way he changed the older story of <a href="><i>Undine</i></a>.

--Though <i>Mulan</i> is a somewhat less successful effort in my view, but full of historical ironies. I read the original poem, which was written around 500 AD, in classical Chinese literature class in the original (it was a bit of a breeze after some of the other poems I had had to read), and while it's considered a canonical Chinese work, it was written about a non-Han woman of Turkic ancestry in one of the Turkic-ruled states of North China during the time of disunion after the collapse of the Han Dynasty. (She applies yellow face powder in the poem, for one thing, which was part of Turkic culture, not Han Chinese, and the very fact she saw fit to go off to fight and was trained well enough to be fit to fight was very Turkic, not Han. --No, footbinding came about five centuries later starting in the Song Dynasty, but that was just the dead end of women's restriction to the private sphere in traditional Chinese culture.) However, despite its Turkic origin, it's part of Chinese culture now, and the different ways it's been taken in Chinese culture are very interesting from a cultural point of view, with the tension between filiality--serving in the army in place of her father--and the figure of the woman warrior. Of course, Disney then took the story, set it a few centuries earlier so that she's fighting patriotically for the Han Dynasty (and so perfectly acceptable to the Chinese authorities), whereas it's possible that in the original poem she would have fought against Han Chinese states to the south (and so very much not acceptable to the Chinese authorities), and added lots of American features to it. (Hugging the emperor in public?!? No, just no.)

However, with things like <i>The Wizard of Oz</i> and <i>Wicked</i>, or H.P. Lovecraft's tales and a number of very good recent works (<i>The Ballad of Black Tom, The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe, Winter Tide</i>), it's not just rewriting fairy tales but playing around with another author’s work. In these cases, however, the former is basically a fairy tale, or a whole month of fairy tales strung together into a series of boos, and the second were set in a universe or bunch of universes Lovecraft himself wanted other authors to play with, as they did in his lifetime. But then again, what do I know? I liked <i>Maleficent</i>, despite the fact that I also liked the original cartoon a bit more.

Snedcat said...

And finally, Part III:

To make up for slagging off John Wright, I'll add that another conservative Catholic writer they praised, Michael Flynn, I like much more, in case you haven't run across him yet. There are several stories in one collection that are superb. I read his blog a bit a few years ago, and while I disagree with some of his positions, he's much more worth reading. Also, he's trained as a statistician and his posts on the subject are definitely worth reading if your interests lie that way.

I understand about the reviewers and the question of sex in print. I come from a religious background myself and all but one of my siblings in a large family are still devout.

I was raised very liberally, so I am not put off by sex scenes as such (indeed, at all). More than that, I have a much greater tolerance for novels with everything up to and including the kitchen sink than many people [*], and that extends to extraneous sex scenes to some degree. However, even an esthetic Quasimodo like myself has some sense of proportion, and in many cases sex scenes in novels are entirely gratuitous--they seem put in almost as if checking off a box of required elements to prove the author is together and with it. And really, in most cases even the scenes that don't bother me are not necessary, and I'm still bemused by the series of books I've seen on Amazon in which authors who are almost certainly not up to the task write the sex scenes omitted from literary classics. Um, no. (Though the worst bit of sexual gratuity masquerading as literature was a book I once ran across of notional erotica called Weird Sex remaindered at Half-Price Books. I made the mistake of glancing at one story and then read the whole thing in shock, for it was actually physically repulsive, and while the point of the story was not clear, I could see how the author probably meant it to be conservative ideas about bodily and sexual purity carried to the logical murderous extreme--of course, "conservative ideas" meaning whatever claptrap the culprit who perpetrated it decided offended against his own sensibilities and bundled together in a nasty little package indeed. I'm happy to say that I have looked a couple of times on Amazon and never found that book even listed. Good. I hope all the remaindered copies were pulped.)

[*] Though I have my limits. House of Leaves, for example. It's a bit of a sensation among soi-disant literati because it satirizes academic prose, among other things; it's a typographically interesting book that takes the form of the analysis of a non-existent film by a man who had been blind for decades before the supposed film was released, a film documenting the discovery of a malign vast maze adjoining a house from another dimension or something like that, that manuscript itself edited by the aptly-named Johnny Truant, a waste of space who gets increasingly haunted and insane as he pieces together the manuscript from the bits and pieces left after the blind guy died, interspersed with long tedious tales of his drug and sex intake--clinical term chosen precisely to convey the utter senselessness of the explicit sex scenes, which show nothing about the women involved except that they are subject to momentary lapses of taste or pride and probably really regretted it the next morning. And of course it has a whole passel of pretentious asses who say a failure to appreciate the book is due solely to the reader's own incapacity: "Several readers had called it gimmicky, assumed it has nothing of value to say thematically. Although I think they’re wrong, I can’t fault them for shying away from that which they can’t (or won’t) understand."