Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Truth is a glorious but hard mistress. She never consults, bargains or compromises. — Aiden Wilson Tozer (Of God and Men)

Our Cybernetic Future 1945: As We May Blog—Wednesday, November 30th, 2022
Vannevar Bush: Logical processes

In 1945, Vannevar Bush told us our future: fast computers attached to powerful networks, enabling nearly unimaginable individual creativity and research; and even more importantly, communications both with other people and with the vast wealth of human knowledge. As We May Think is possibly the most influential essay in the history of both science fiction and computers. I’m almost surprised that we didn’t name computers “memexes” given how influential As We May Think was in science fact and fiction.

There are two aspects of this very famous and influential essay: what was happening, and what was going to happen, both the growth of knowledge and the advancement of computer science. Vannevar Bush didn’t use terminology we’re familiar with. It didn’t exist. The title of the essay was meant literally: he predicted that our thinking would change in the future. He predicted a hybrid, cyborg future, offloading repetitive thought to automated processes, and naturally integrating automated knowledge retrieval into the way we think on a daily basis.

As someone who can no longer remember anything without keeping my phone on hand, I resemble that vision.

“There is a growing mountain of research…” Bush wrote, and “we are being bogged down today as specialization extends…”. Important research had always run the risk of obscurity, and it was only getting worse.

Mendel’s concept of the laws of genetics was lost to the world for a generation because his publication did not reach the few who were capable of grasping and extending it; and this sort of catastrophe is undoubtedly being repeated all about us, as truly significant attainments become lost in the mass of the inconsequential.

He predicted that “new and powerful instrumentalities” would soon help future Mendels avoid obscurity. He described those powerful instrumentalities in terms of things he knew at the time: “photocells capable of seeing things in a physical sense”, “advanced photography which can record what is seen”, “thermionic tubes1 capable of controlling potent forces”, “cathode ray tubes rendering visible an occurrence so brief that by comparison a microsecond is a long time”, and “relay combinations which will carry out involved sequences of movements more reliably than any human operator and thousands of times as fast”.

…there are plenty of mechanical aids with which to effect a transformation in scientific records.

Baker’s Dozen Coconut Oatmeal Cookies—Wednesday, November 23rd, 2022

View application.

A PDF of The Baker’s Dozen.

I said in the first installment that I’d have more recipes later from The Baker’s Dozen (PDF File, 3.3 MB). Here’s the first. I’m a huge fan of oatmeal cookies, so I couldn’t resist trying this recipe. They’re a wonderfully chewy-crunchy oatmeal cookie that flattens naturally into even rounds. The coconut enhances the chewiness without harming the crunchiness. If you sprinkle coconut on the cookies before baking, there’s a wonderful rush of toasted coconut flavor; if you don’t, the coconut flavor is much more subtle but the coconut chewiness remains upfront.

They’re great either way.

Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

Baker’s Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

Servings: 48
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
The Baker’s Dozen (PDF File, 3.3 MB)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp Calumet Baking Powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1 cup Baker’s Angel Flake Coconut

Steps

  1. Sift flour with baking powder, salt, and soda.
  2. Cream butter.
  3. Gradually add sugars; cream until light and fluffy.
  4. Add egg and vanilla; beat well.
  5. Add flour mixture in 4 parts, beating just until smooth after each addition.
  6. Mix in rolled oats and coconut.
  7. Drop by teaspoonfuls (½ oz) onto ungreased baking sheets.
  8. Top each cookie with additional coconut if desired.
  9. Bake at 375° for 9 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown.
Our Cybernetic Future 1972: Man and Machine—Wednesday, November 16th, 2022
John Kemeny: symbiote

I’m dividing my promised sequel to Future Snark into three parts, one each for three very smart views of a future that became our present. These are the anti-snark to that installment’s snark: Vannevar Bush (1945), Norbert Wiener (1954), and John G. Kemeny (1972). I was going to title it “Snark and Anti-Snark” to extend the Toffler joke further than it ought to go. But these installments are not snark about failed predictions. These are futurists whose predictions were accompanied by important insights into the nature of man and computer, what computerization and computerized communications mean for our culture, and what responsibilities we have as consumers and citizens within a computerized and networked society.

These authors understood the relationship between man and computer, before the personal computer existed. Their predictions were sometimes strange, but their vision of how that relationship should be handled embodied important truths we must not forget. Their views of our cybernetic future focus heavily on not just the interaction between user and machine but on the relationship between computerization and humanity in general.

Surviving the ongoing computer and communications revolution requires understanding that relationship.

I’m going to handle these authors in reverse order, starting with John G. Kemeny. Kemeny published Man and the Computer in 1972. If Kemeny’s name sounds familiar, you might recognize “Kemeny and Kurtz” as the developers of the BASIC programming language. Much of this book, while it wasn’t designed as such, is an explanation of why BASIC is what it is—a unique programming language unmatched even today as an interactive dialogue between the user and the computer. Unlike most programming languages—including BASIC itself on modern computers—Kemeny’s BASIC didn’t require creating programs in order to get the computer to do stuff. The same commands that could be entered into a computer program could be typed directly to the computer with an immediate response.

Notes on publishing ebooks, including scripts—Wednesday, November 9th, 2022
Scripts for ePubs social image

Take this as analogous to the blind men describing an elephant. I’m far from a best-selling author and have used only Lulu.com, Amazon’s Kindle Direct, and Smashwords. I’m sure there are many things I didn’t run into or didn’t even think to look for. I’ll use Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing), Lulu, and Smashwords as examples because they are the services I currently use. The field is still rapidly developing—Smashwords has just been merged into Draft2Digital—and what I chose two years ago might not be what I would choose today.

For example, while it normally irks me when a service I choose gets bought up by one I didn’t choose (AT&T, I’m looking at you), I’m not feeling too badly about the Draft2Digital purchase of Smashwords. When I started writing this post, I wrote that if I were to start again, I’d be seriously looking at Draft2Digital instead of Smashwords.

In any case, one way to find such places is to search for “Smashwords competitors”, or, now, “Draft2Digital competitors”.

And also upfront: this is about the technical end of getting things online. It’s not about how to sell or how to design. You wouldn’t want to listen to me about those topics anyway. I could just as well have posted this under hacks instead of under books. This is a lot about the command-line workflows I use to get a book from Nisus (or any word processor) to ePub. There is math involved, or at least programming. I’ll also provide some of the scripts I use, but you’ll need to be comfortable with modifying them, or have friends who are comfortable modifying them, for your own special circumstances. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Smashwords, it is that every book is different in its own annoying way.

Currently, I use Lulu or Amazon for print-only books—mainly, books that I’m releasing free as ebooks, such as my fantasy roleplaying game or my computer manuals. I’ll use my web site to host the ebooks and make print copies available through Lulu or Amazon. Amazon, of course, is the default place to go for buying novels, but Lulu.com is extremely useful for niche products where the community buying those products is familiar with Lulu.com. That’s why my game books are there.

For the most part, when my plan is to sell a print book mainly online, Amazon is the place to go. If my plan were to sell a print book everywhere, I’d probably want to find somewhere else rather than use Amazon as the bottleneck. But I would not pay for the service. Payment would be for the books themselves, as needed.

Science fiction’s anti-socialist socialists—Wednesday, November 2nd, 2022

From The Time Machine to 1984 and Animal Farm to Harrison Bergeron, why are socialist societies written by actual socialists so dystopian? Why are leftist writers’ greatest successes seemingly so conservative?

In Animal Farm Orwell clearly saw that the transition from socialism to violent dictatorship was a natural one. The animals put up with tyranny until it was too late because of the socialist promises of the pigs. In 1984 Big Brother could only rewrite history because the state controlled all industry, including media. Orwell recognized the socialist state’s requirement that people believe the state’s lies, embodied best in C.S. Lewis’s suggestion in God in the Dock that tyrannies that must justify themselves are worse than tyrannies that don’t care.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. — C. S. Lewis (The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment)

A mere tyrant wouldn’t care what Winston believed. Only a socialist tyrant requires not just that people be stomped on, but that they agree with the stomping. That was a fundamental part of 1984.

Bread and butter pickles for National Sandwich Day—Wednesday, October 26th, 2022
Fruitport Pickles

If there’s one ingredient that makes almost any sandwich taste better, it is pickles. Ham sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, fish sandwiches, and chicken or tuna salad sandwiches, they all benefit from several slices of good pickles. The more the tastier!

One of my favorite bars is the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago, and that’s partly because you get to assemble your own burger. Which means I get as many pickles on the burger as I can fit.

I usually prefer dill pickles, but every once in a while I get a craving for bread & butter pickles. They’re especially good with fish sandwiches, especially the salmon burgers from Trader Joe’s. No chicken melt or tuna melt is complete without pickles, and bread & butter pickles are a special treat on any chicken or tuna salad sandwich, melt or not.

National Sandwich Day is on Thursday of next week. Normally, I’d be posting my Sandwich Day recipe on the Wednesday before, but this recipe takes three days to make. I know you’re probably focused on Hallowe’en right now, but take some time out to pick up whatever ingredients you need for pickles and start them tomorrow, or over the weekend. If you like bread and butter pickles, you won’t be disappointed.

Even if you don’t like bread and butter pickles, you might try this one. These homemade bread and butter pickles outshine anything I’ve had from a store. They are very easy to make. They do not require any canning, just a half-gallon jar. All you need to do is mix everything together and put them in the refrigerator for a few days. The original recipe made them a gallon at a time. If you have a larger family, or if the only suitable jar you have is a gallon jar, double the recipe for the original full gallon.

Billy Goat Tavern burger

Hamburger the way I make them: pickles top and bottom.

These pickles keep getting better past the three-day mark, which is probably why some recipes call for waiting up to seven days. They are, however, ready to eat and already amazing after sitting three days.

They last for a long time in the refrigerator. I don’t know how long, because I’ve never had any left over after a few weeks. And when they’re gone, mix up a new batch and you’re three days from a fresh jar! If you’ve never done any pickling before, and aren’t yet comfortable with canning, this is a great starter recipe to show what wonders are possible when you’re comfortable making preserved foods.

Pumpkin rarebit soup—Wednesday, October 19th, 2022
Comedy/tragedy pumpkins

They gave their lives for rarebit stew.

In my continuing quest to find uses for the body parts I collect in the runup to Hallowe’en, last year I made Mollie Katzen’s pumpkin rarebit soup from her Enchanted Broccoli Forest.

Since starting this annual series, I’ve taken to carving two Hallowe’en pumpkins just so I have more body parts left over. The way I cut a pumpkin, two of them provide about four cups of meat. This recipe uses it all.

You can, of course, very easily half this recipe. You’re going to be drinking some of the beer anyway, so why not drink more? And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with buying pumpkin in a can or jar, or buying fresh pumpkins just to make the soup. It’s less grisly that way.

If I have pumpkin left over, I’ll bake it within a few days of carving, then freeze it in a plastic bag in the until I’m ready to use it.

This is a very comfort-food soup. It has all the flavors of a good old-fashioned soup, simmered together: beer, cheddar cheese, and even a touch of that once-ubiquitous outdoor flavoring, Worcestershire sauce.

Katzen removed from this soup from the “new, improved” version of the Enchanted Broccoli Forest, replacing it with an Arizona Pumpkin Soup that, while superficially similar, gets rid of the beer, the cheese, and the Worcestershire sauce.

Pumpkin Rarebit Soup

In other words, all the good stuff. There are few flavors that better enhance squash than lots of butter or cheese, especially with some pepper added in.

In honor of that bowdlerization, I’m calling for Lone Star beer in the ingredients to make this a Texas Pumpkin Soup. But honestly, you can use any beer. The original recipe calls for light beer, which I can’t recommend, for the simple reason that I never have any on hand and so haven’t tried it. I use Lone Star most of the time, and if I don’t, I use Peroni. I should experiment with some darker beers—I expect a good porter would be great—but Hallowe’en only comes once a year.

We have so little time in our lives to revel in the body parts of the vanquished squash!

Try topping with croutons, corn chips, or toasted nuts if you have them. Something crunchy and salty should be perfect. But I’ve even topped it with an over-easy egg.

The Deplorable Index—Wednesday, October 12th, 2022
The Deplorable Gourmet

This is definitely not a cookbook that uses stock images from the publisher.

As I go through my library of cookbooks deciding whether I really need this particular book I haven’t used in ages, I’m also discovering which cookbooks are indispensable. Many of the indispensable cookbooks, I still don’t use as often as I’d like because they were made by people who love cooking, but who are not professional book designers. The biggest tell is that these books lack useful indices.

That was why I started my Missing Indexes section of the blog, for my hometown cookbooks. I’ve since extended it to all of the community cookbooks I own, and I plan on making the best publicly available; I haven’t decided exactly how. In some cases the interesting parts are the names and places that contributed to the cookbook—some communities are small towns, some are entire states.

But The Deplorable Gourmet is an obvious place to start. The Deplorable Gourmet is the community cookbook of the Ace of Spades HQ commenters. I bought it for the camaraderie of taking part but I keep it because of the great recipes. It’s quickly become one of my favorite community cookbooks. It has an index by author, which is great when I’m looking up my own recipes, but not so great when I want, say, an amazing biscotti con pignoli or that wonderfully spicy chili peanut brittle. Beery peanut brittle is a great hot pepper peanut brittle made with beer and chipotle powder.

Beery Peanut Brittle

Oggi’s great peanut brittle, made with Lone Star and substituting red pepper for the chipotle powder, with a little chocolate embellishment on my part.

There are also some simple but great drink mixes—the unique metropolitan in this book has become my go-to Friday night or Sunday afternoon relaxation drink.

Aiko’s noodles are a great quick lunch.

The peppermint chocolate brownies are a great way to use candy canes after the Christmas tree comes down.

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