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Gatebox Waifu, and More of the Lotus Machine

Somebody I follow on Twitter (don’t recall who) posted a link to a video about a new product out of Japan called Gatebox. It’s a little round 3-D video display roughly the size and shape of a coffee machine. An anime character lives in the display and has what seem like reasonable conversations with the user. It’s like Siri or Cortana on video, and it stirred some very old memories.

I’ve been thinking about AI since I was in college forty-odd years ago, and many of my earliest SF stories were about strong AI and what might come of it. Given how many stories I’ve written about it, some of you may be surprised that I put strong, human-class AI in the same class as aliens: not impossible, but extremely unlikely. The problems I have with aliens cook down to the Fermi paradox and the Drake equation. Basically, there may well be a single intelligent species (us) or there may be hundreds of millions. There are unlikely to be four, nine, seventeen, or eight hundred fifty four. If there were hundreds of millions, we’d likely have met them by now.

With AI, the problem is insufficient humility to admit that we have no idea how human intelligence works at the neuronal level, and hence can’t model it. If we can’t model it we can’t emulate it. Lots of people are doing good work in the field, especially IBM (with Watson) and IPSoft, which has an impressive AI called Amelia. (Watch the videos, and look past her so-so animation. Animation isn’t the issue here.) Scratchbuilt AIs like Amelia can do some impressive things. What I don’t think they can do is be considered even remotely human.

Why not? Human intelligence is scary. AI as we know it today isn’t nearly scary enough. You want scary? Let me show you another chunkette of The Lotus Machine, from later in the novel of AI that I began in 1983 and abandoned a few years later. Corum finds the Lotus Machine, and learns pretty quickly that pissing off virtual redheads is not a good idea, especially redheads whose hive minds ran at four gigahertz inside a quarter billion jiminies.


From The Lotus Machine by Jeff Duntemann (November 1983)

Corum tapped the silver samovar on his window credenza into a demitasse, and stared at the wall beyond the empty tridiac stage. So here’s where the interesting stuff starts. The crystal had been in the slot for several minutes, and the creature within had full control of the stage. Pouting? Frightened?

“Go in there and take a look around, Rags.”

“Roger,” Ragpicker replied, and a long pulse of infrared tickled the stage’s transducer.

At once, the air over the stage pulsed white and cleared. Life-size, the image of a woman floated over the stage, feet slack and toes pointed downward like the ascending Virgin. She was wrapped in pale blue gauze that hung from her hips and elbows in folds that billowed in a nonexistent wind. Her hair hung waist-long, fiery red in loose curls. One hand rested on one full hip. The other hand gripped the neck of a pitiful manikin the size of a child’s doll. The manikin, dressed in rags, was squirming and beating on the very white hand that was obviously tightening about its neck.

“He bit me, Corum. I don’t care for that.” The woman-image brought up her other hand and wrung the manikin’s neck. “We don’t need a go-between.” That said, she flung the limp figure violently in Corum’s direction. The manikin-image vanished as soon as it passed over the edge of the stage, but Corum ducked nonetheless. Corum stood, marveling. He took a sip from his demitasse, then hurled it through the image above the stage. The little cup shattered against the wall and fell in shards to the carpeting. A brown stain trickled toward the floor. The woman smiled. Not a twitch. “No thanks, Corum my love. Coffee darkens the skin.”

“I never gave the Lotus Machine a persona.”

The woman shrugged. “So I had to invent one. Call me Cassandra. Shall I predict your future?”

“Sure.”

“You will become one with me, and we will re-make the world in our image.”

Corum shivered. “No thanks.”

She laughed. “It wasn’t an invitation. It was a prophecy.”

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

SP4 Mug 500 Wide.jpg

Using GWX Control Panel to Lock Out Pesky Windows 10 Upgrade Stuff

A few days ago, a countdown timer appeared on Carol’s Win7 PC when she booted up. It told her that Windows 10 would be installed in two hours.

WTUBF?

I turned off the machine and started digging around online. A lot of people have this problem, apparently. All of us who aren’t already running Win10, of course, have been nagged mercilessly about upgrading since last summer. I don’t care if it’s free. I don’t want it now. If I want it later I’ll pay for it. But just so you know, I don’t plan to leave Win7 land before 2020. I dislike the nags, but nags are just nags. This time MS told me they were going to give me something I didn’t want and hadn’t asked for.

Uh-uh.

So. I quickly learned that the upgrade software is contained in a Windows update module called KB3035583. I turned Carol’s machine on and as soon as I could I uninstalled KB3035583. That ended the spy-movie countdown timer. Alas, the next morning the damned thing was back. The countdown timer now said Thursday, (it was Tuesday morning) which was some comfort. I still had some time to work.

I hid KB3035583. The next morning, someone (guess!) had un-hid it. Ok. This means war. I dug around a lot deeper, and found an enormous amount of cussing and bitching and suggested fixes. I tried a couple of things with mixed success. Then I stumbled upon the GWX Control Panel, by Josh Mayfield of the Ultimate Outsider site. Josh initially released it late last summer, and has been updating it periodically ever since. Josh’s instructions are pretty good, but for something a little clearer, take a look at Mauro Huculak’s article on Windows Central. He did a good job, which I know because I followed his instructions when installing GWX Control Panel on my lab machine. I had no issues, and understanding that MS was about to start messing with my wife’s PC, I installed it on her machine as well.

Like Philip Phillips says, Gone Gone Gone. We’ve not even seen the nag window since Thursday, much less the countdown timer. I quickly added GWX Control Panel to all of our other Win7 machines. Worked every time.

Now, why did Carol’s machine say it was about to install Win10, while our several others just kept nagging? We don’t know how, but Carol’s PC thought that somebody had reserved a copy of Win10. The download manager in KB3035583 had already downloaded well over a gigabyte of stuff, which I assume was all the install machinery and the OS itself. Carol doesn’t remember clicking on anything, nor do I. It’s possible that one or us selected something by mistake. MS seems to be increasingly desperate to get as many people as possible to upgrade, and its popups offer no clean way out.

Ironically, I vaguely remember reserving a copy from my lab machine way back when this business first came up. The lab machine did not have the install files and was not giving me a countdown timer. My only theory is that Carol’s PC may now be using the local IP address that my lab machine was using way back when I (may have) reserved a copy, even though that was in Colorado. It’s kind of crazy, but I have no better ideas.

I don’t have anything strong against Windows 10. I know a lot of people who like it just fine. I will probably use it eventually–once it has several years of history behind it. However, as most of you know, I do not like to be pushed. That’s the heart and soul of being a contrarian. The harder you push me, the more likely I am to go in the opposite direction.

All the usual cautions apply to GWX Control Panel. Do a full backup and a restore point before you install it, just as you would with any new software. Follow the directions closely, and do your best to understand what you’re doing. We’ve had no adverse issues with it, granted that I installed it yesterday. If anything changes tomorrow morning, well, you’ll read about it here.

Odd Lots

  • Lazarus 1.6 has been released. It was built with FreePascal 3.0.0, a first for Lazarus. Mostly incremental changes, but there’s a new rev of the docked form editor that looks promising, even though it’s not quite stable yet. Wish I had more time to play with it!
  • Older versions of Lazarus have run well on the Raspberry Pi for me. However, installation on the newer Raspberry Pi 2 is much trickier. This installation tutorial is almost a year old, and I haven’t yet installed Lazarus 1.4 or 1.6 on my Pi 2, but it’s the best how-to I’ve yet seen.
  • From Glenn Reynolds: Indie author Chris Nuttall lays out his journey as an indie, emphasizing that all but the biggest names are being driven to indie by publishers who simply don’t understand which way the wind is blowing. Read The Whole Thing, as Glenn says.
  • Back when I reviewed the Baofeng handhelds, there was some discussion in the comments about the RDA-1846S SDR chip. Gary Frerking pointed me to the HamShield project on Kickstarter, which is an Arduino add-on board (a shield, in their jargon) that uses the RDA-1846S to transceive on 2M, 220 MHz, and 450 MHz. Like the Baofeng radios, HamShield will also operate on FRS, MURS, and GMRS, though the group doesn’t say that explicitly. (This is an SDR, after all.) It’s not shipping yet, but they’ve raised a fair amount of money (well over $100,000) and appear to be making progress. Definitely one to watch.
  • Cool radio stuff is in the wind these days. One of Esther Schindler’s Facebook posts led me to Beartooth, which is an SDR roughly similar to HamShield built into a smartphone battery case that snaps onto the back of your phone. Unlike HamShield, beartooth is going for FCC type acceptance and will operate on MURS. However, there’s been no activity on their Web site since mid-December and I wonder if they’re still in business. It’s not an easy hack; see this discussion from midlate 2014.
  • Oh, and I remembered GoTenna, which is similar to Beartooth except that it’s limited to texts and geolocation data. (That is, no voice.) It’s a Bluetooth-powered stick that hangs on your belt and uses your smartphone as a UI, basically, and allows you to text your hiking buddies while you’re out beyond the range of cell networks. I guess that makes it a sort of HT…a Hikey-Textie. Unlike HamShield and Beartooth, GoTenna is shipping and you can get two for $300.
  • Twitter continues to kill itself slowly by shadowbanning users for political reasons. What the hell is in it for them? When they collapse, something else will appear to take their place. They’re a tool. (Take it any or every way you want.) When a tool breaks, I get another tool, and generally a better one.
  • In case you’ve never heard of shadowbanning
  • I stumbled on something called Roblox, which is evidently a high(er) res take on the Minecraft concept. It’s looking more and more like what I was thinking about when I wrote my “RAD Mars” piece for the last issue of Visual Developer Magazine in late 1999. Anybody here use it? Any reactions?
  • Slowly but steadily, reviews are coming in on my Kindle ebooks. Here’s one that I particularly liked.
  • The Obamacare exchange in Colorado “smelled wrong,” so Carol and I avoided it. We were right. (Thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the link.)
  • I don’t care how many tablets and smartphones you have. Paper is not dead.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • It’s Back to the Future Day, and apart from antigravity, well, Marty McFly’s 2015 looks more or less like the one we live in, only with better food and inifinitely worse partisan tribalism. If predicting 19 Jaws sequels is the second-worst worst flub the series made, well, I’m good with that.
  • October 21 is also the day that the Northrop YB-49 flying wing bomber made its debut flight, in 1947. (Thanks to Charlie Martin for the reminder.) The YB-49 is my second-favorite undeployed bomber prototype, after the stunning XB-70 Valkyrie.
  • Here’s a (very) long and detailed essay by a liberal Democrat explaining why he went from being a climate alarmist to a global warming skeptic. Loads of charts and links. I don’t agree with him 100%, but he makes a very sane and mostly politics-free case for caution in pushing “decarbonization.” (Thanks to Charlie Martin for the link.)
  • Far from melting, Greenland is breaking all records for ice growth, having gained 150 billion tons of snow and ice in the last six weeks.
  • Here are 18 useful resources for journalistic fact-checking. Pity that MSM journalists are unwilling to do that sort of thing anymore. (Thanks to Esther Schindler for the link.)
  • The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that scanning books is legal. The court ruled against the Authors Guild in their 2005 class-action suit against Google. The Guild intends to appeal to the Supreme Court. If the Supremes take the case, interesting things could happen. If they don’t, the case is over.
  • The secret history of the Myers-Briggs personality test. I am of three minds about Myers-Briggs. No make that nine. Oh, hell: seventeen.
  • This is probably the best discussion I’ve seen (and certainly the longest) on how and why SFF fandom is actively destroying itself at the same time it’s dying of old age. Read The Whole Thing. Part I. Part II. Part III. (And thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the link.)
  • Also from Sarah: Backyard atomic gardens of the 1950s and very early 1960s. I love the word “atomic.”
  • I love it so much that, having recently bought a midcentury home, I may subscribe to Atomic Ranch Magazine. I’ve begun looking for a Bohr atom model to put on our mantelpiece.
  • From the Elementary Trivia Department: The only way to make pink-tinted glass is to add erbium oxide to it.
  • Thunderbird is getting on my bad side. It regularly pops up a box claiming that it doesn’t have enough disk space to download new messages. My SSD on C: has 83 GB free. My conventional hard drive on D: has 536 GB free. Online reports suggest that Thurderbird has a 2 GB size limit on mail folders. Still researching the issue, but I smell a long integer overflow somewhere.
  • From Rory Modena: A talented writer explains the history of the Star Wars movies, and rewrites some of the clumsier plot elements right before our eyes. A lot of what bothered him blew right past me; I knew it was a pulp film and was in it for the starships and the robots.
  • From Esther Schindler: A Mexican church long sunk at the bottom of a reservoir is emerging from the water due to drought. (This isn’t a rare occurrance; it happened last in 2002.) I kept hearing Debussy’s spooky tone-poem “The Engulfed Cathedral” while reading the article.
  • McDonald’s recently went to a breakfast-all-day menu, to my delight. I’m very fond of their Sausage McMuffin with Egg, which is of modest size and makes a great snack anytime. Alas, adding all the new line items to the menu has caused chaos in some smaller restaurants, and franchise owners are having second thoughts. I doubt McD is facing “imminent collapse” but I’m now wondering how long the new menu will last.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

All the Myriad Waze

Several weeks ago, Carol and I got stuck in traffic on I-25 on the south end of Denver. We were trying to get home to Colorado Springs, and traffic was at a standstill. We didn’t know where the problem was, nor how to get around it. So we took most of an hour to get a couple of miles. The next day I tracked down a fuzzy memory of a mobile app that maps traffic congestion using crowdsourced reports from app users. It only took a minute to find Waze. I installed it on my phone, and Carol and I have been playing with it ever since.

We don’t punch a clock anymore and have no commute, but whenever we have to go across town (which for Colorado Springs is about fifteen miles tops) we fire up Waze and look at the prospective route. It’s definitely saved us some stop-and-go time, especially on I-25, which is the only freeway we have here.

Waze is basically an interactive map on which reports from users are plotted in something very close to realtime. These include speed traps, wrecks, potholes, construction, and other miscellaneous hazards. The reports are generally accurate, right down to the potholes. When traffic is slow, Waze knows it, because GPS can calculate your speed. When two or more Waze users are going slow on a particular route, Waze paints the road in red and indicates what the speed currently is.

This is cleverness but not genius. Back in the wardriving era when GPS was first commonly available (back in 2000-2003 or so) I had this notion that a system could gather information about speed traps, if only there were a way to get reports to the central server from user cars. Then, wham! Smartphones happened. The rest is history.

No, the genius part of Waze is that its creators turned it into a sort of combination video game and social network. Waze users are plotted on Waze maps right along with the speed traps and potholes. It integrates with things like Foursquare. You get points by submitting reports and spotting errors on Waze maps. (You actually get points just by driving around with Waze running on your phone, which allows them to gauge speeds on the roads.) People with the most points get swords, shields, or crowns to wear on their little ghost-like Waze icons. Intriguingly, you can send messages to other Waze users, create teams of drivers, and other things that I haven’t quite figured out yet, including searches for cheap gas. Even doing as little driving as we do, in three weeks we managed to rack up over 900 points. There’s a stack rank of users for each state. (We’re down in the 100,000 range for Colorado.) Carol got some points for making roadkill out of a piece of hard candy that mysteriously appeared on the Waze map in front of us. If that sort of thing appealed to us, I suspect we would be addicts, like the people with over half a million points obviously are.

There are two fairly obvious downsides to the Waze system:

  • To be useful, Waze requires that a certain critical mass of users be prowling around your town, reporting things. Here in the Springs, this rarely happens outside rush hours. I’m guessing that in smaller towns, Waze never really gets out of first gear. Like so much these days, it’s a YUH (young urban hipster) phenomenon.
  • As if I even had to mention, it’s yet another driver distraction, probably in the same league with texting. That’s why we only use it when we’re both in the car, and Carol typically does the reporting and the sniffing ahead for congestion.

I’m starting to see articles about how cops hate it because of speed trap reporting, which suggests that, at least in large urban areas, it’s working as designed. I like it for the sake of the traffic reports, which I suspect will be even more useful the next time we’re in Denver, or lord knows Chicago. Problematic for one, useful (and sometimes fun) for two.

Cautiously recommended.