Artificial Wombs & Virtual Childhood

About a month ago, transhumanist Zoltan Istvan – who created a bit of an unrelated bruhahaha in my Feedly – wrote about artificial wombs, saying they were inevitable and would do a lot of good for society:

Of all the transhumanist technologies coming in the near future, one stands out that both fascinates and perplexes people. It’s called ectogenesis: raising a fetus outside the human body in an artificial womb.

It has the possibility to change one of the most fundamental acts that most humans experience: the way people go about having children. It also has the possibility to change the way we view the female body and the field of reproductive rights.

Naturally, it’s a social and political minefield.

The whole article is a fascinating read. I don’t really have a stance one way or another towards it. I think many women would be happy to have their biological offspring be raised outside their body, if only because of the physical strain that takes place. Others (both women and men) probably would find that very notion offensive and decline to partake. Whatever. But I’m not here to really critique Zoltan’s particular view of transhumanism (other than I think his timetable is way too short.)

It was just, looking at this article, it made me think of another idea of transhumanism that has long bounced around inside of my brain. In a fictional form, it would go somewhat like this:

Ectogenesis was the first step towards radical reproductive liberation. The first two generations of ectogenesis children – derogatorily called the “pod people” by many – suffered social ostracism and persecution, but within fifty years roughly two thirds of all children were born in pods and the stigma disappeared.

But it wasn’t enough.

Ectogenesis was still time consuming, and you still had to raise the child after decanting. Studies in virtual brain emulation had long ago bore fruit, to the point where a identical simulation was possible. Scientists began a brave experiment where they took the genetic samples of two volunteers, combined it to form a zygote in a pod, then simultaneously created a virtual copy in a virtual environment. The virtual brain developed while the physical brain was not allowed to develop consciousness; the virtual brain was then, through nanoprobes, downloaded into the fetus after nine months of development.

That didn’t really change anything, but it did prove that virtual brain development was possible. The next generation of experiments went farther. Incorporating growth acceleration technology that had originally been perfected for orbital agriculture habitats, scientists were able to take the zygote straight to twenty years of age in only nine months. They also sped up the virtual environment, creating an entire society (complete with eidolons of the parents and relatives and real world people) that would be an effective “proving ground” for the growing mind. When all was said and done, the body and mind that emerged from the pod was chronologically only nine months old, but had twenty years of subjective physical and mental experience, and was ready to enjoy real life society immediately.

Of course, there were criticisms. More biological, “natural” humans saw this as too much of an aberration; the virtuals scoffed at the notion anyone would want to live in meatspace. Yet over time this mixed virtual-biological lifestyle took hold. Within six generations, roughly 85% of all humans had spent their first twenty subjective years in a virtual simulation before being downloaded into a specially grown body, derived from the genetic samples of two or more “parents.”

However, now the definition of human had changed dramatically. No longer were the “naturals” considered “natural,” they were merely “full-stack biologics” living mostly in segregated neighborhoods and even in some cases reservations. The virtual born – or “Virtborn” – became natural, but with it was a loss of emotion, a growing collective mindset, and a subsequent decline and fall in the arts and science. The “biologics,” in turn, began to develop increasingly eccentric cultural traits in order to “prove” they were the true humans, including bringing up ancient human practices such as zoot suits, black coffee, and a particularly brutal form of physical competition designed to identify “manly” qualities among males called “hockey.”

Okay, so I kinda let myself go at the end there. But the idea has been in my head for some time. I don’t know if it’s feasible – though it probably is. I’m also certain I didn’t come up with it and read about it elsewhere, though I can’t find anything about the topic at the moment.

I thought about it again when I attended a event on Sam Harris’ book tour. He was asked a question about computers and ethics, and he stated that (and here I must paraphrase for my memory is terrible) that, if we could replace a malfunctioning neuron in our brain with an artificial neuron that completely replicates the replaced neuron’s behavior, why not over time gradually replace all of them? And in that case, would we not have a fully artificial brain? And would not that brain be conscious?

That idea of just gradually replacing all our biology until we’re completely metal fascinates me. I mean, if that’s not “transhumanism,” I don’t know what is. Instead of an apocalyptic war between humanity and the machines, we instead have a gradual evolution from biological to synthetic life. Aside from the fascination, I’m not sure how I should feel about that. Is it a good thing? What will we give up to do that? But, since I’m a libertarian transhumanist, as long as it’s voluntary, it should be okay. I think most aspects of transhumanism are glorious and want to see them come about, to alleviate suffering and create more enjoyment. So long as we don’t have early adopters and retros blowing each other up…

Blog Maintenance

For the first time on this blog, I am now using an SEO plugin. One of the cool things it does is redirect links to media attachments to their parent post/page. I’ve actually noticed people coming to view attachments on some of my older posts, which is kinda weird.

This also means I will be putting some sort of share plugin back in as well. I’ve avoided it for some time because I was convinced that “begging” for shares wasn’t the best thing in the world. Now I realize that was stupid.

I’m also on the lookout for a new theme for this blog. I like “required” (the current setup) but the stuff coming out of the marketplace for the Ghost platform fascinates me. There’s a few themes like that for WordPress I want to at least take a look at.

Another thing I want to try is using Scrivener as a WordPress blogging client. So far, there’s no direct “post to WordPress” function, just a Markdown export which can be translated into HTML. I must admit, I’m not terribly keen on Markdown, even though I have friends who rave about it. I just don’t see the point, especially for longer form works (which, as one of said friends is a novelist, is applicable.) I just do CTRL+I or whatever to get what I want. But I’ll leave that for later. I have managed to figure out how to make Scrivener work “in the cloud” using Dropbox, which is really, really neat.

I must admit, this post is completely non-SEO, and is largely something of filler.

Not Iraq. Not Gaza. Not Ukraine. This is #Ferguson, Missouri.

Featured image from Radley Balko’s Facebook page. I didn’t see any prohibitions on sharing, but I will take it down if requested.

The above scene is not from some third world country. It is from Ferguson, Missouri, where a young black man was gunned down by police.

Here’s another picture, from another friend’s Facebook wall:

Ferguson Police 2

 

These are not Army soldiers. This is a local municipal police department in a city of 21,000 people. Why on Earth would they need cops with full body armor, gas masks, and assault vehicles? Maybe this can be some explanation (taken from Twitter):

Meanwhile, the local government has completely shut reporters out of the city:

Journalists encountered a threatening response from police as they tried to cover the protests in Ferguson, the Missouri town that has been upended by the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.

While there was a spate of looting on Sunday night, Monday’s demonstrations were peaceful. Protestors faced tear gas and rubber bullets from officers trying to break their ranks up. At the same time, police told local media to get out of the area.

This is not America. This is the purview of a third world tinpot dictatorship, not the leader of the free world and the greatest democracy in the world. Period. They do not need to be stomping people just laying on the ground, or engaging in illegal chokehold manuevers to kill a man who was only selling untaxed cigarettes. Or getting a warrant to conduct a horribly invasive anal probe eight times for “drugs” on the flimsiest of evidence. Or firing dozens of rounds through a van full of children. Or any other terrible acts by police.

Slowly, over the past several years, the police have been transformed from a law enforcement agency to a sort of Russian style “Internal Troops” division. Do we really want to import Putinism over here to the United States?

It is past time for Americans to wake up to this and demand action. Demand that police face the full consequences of their actions. Demand that “paid administrative leave” be ended. Demand the mindlessly stupid War on Drugs is declared over, and demand that out of control cops are reigned back in. Demand that cop cameras be used everywhere, and can’t be altered or lost by the cops they cover.

This madness needs to end. We are the nation that leads the free world. Time to act like it.

 

RIP, Robin Williams: Let’s Stop Suicide Being An Avenue to Peace

Like many people around the globe, Monday night I was stunned to hear that Robin Williams had died at 63. Of all the celebrity deaths that have happened in the past five years – and it sure seems like we’re killing them off at a good pace – Williams actually hit me hard. I mean, jeez. This is Robin freaking Williams we’re talking about. He’s been around as a funny man for ages. I admired the man, loved his work, thought he was one of the greatest actors of my age.

And now, he’s gone. Forever.

More than the cold hard fact that he is dead, though, was how he died. The sheriff’s initial report said it was suicide by asphyxiation. Williams didn’t die from disease, or an accident, or natural causes, or – heavens forbid – foul play. No, he died by his own hand, apparently to relieve whatever pain or discomfort he was going through in his life.

Williams is not the first person in my life who has chosen suicide as a way to alleviate pain.

When I was a kid, I had one friend who was my greatest friend of all. Out of respect to his family, I will not go into many details; for this story, let us call him Richard. Richard was kind of an odd duck, but he was funny, lively, and had a great imagination. He was also one of the closest friends in my life, and in many ways shaped who I am today. But in addition to this, Richard had…issues. For some time, doctors were putting him on mental medication, for reasons I could not discern. He always complained about the doctors, had arguments with them, and to be honest to my eyes I didn’t think there was anything wrong. The only issues I could ever see was that he would have low energy, or sometimes walk around and mutter strange things. But to be honest, that could describe anybody over the age of forty, so I didn’t really pay it any mind.

After awhile, he started to get better. During the latter part of my adolescence, we were two guys who weren’t part of the social mainstream in any way, but we functioned and we continued. We had fun, we talked about serious topics, even played D&D (once) and Halo (a lot). I really thought Richard was on the up and up, and soon he would be going off to college and becoming a nuclear engineer in the military.

I was 18 when I heard the news. I was driving home from my summer job as a contract archivist. I pulled in the driveway, up to the garage door, when my mother comes running down the stairs, the phone in her hand, crying hysterically. She told me that Richard had shot himself, that he was dead, and I should probably go see his family.

He lived down the road from me, so I walked. I was just stunned. To this day, one of the things that really stuck out in my memory was that I didn’t shed a single tear. Instead, I just walked down the road with my mouth wide open, my body shaking in a silent scream. I was just so empty. I thought something was wrong with me. But no, I realized afterwards, there was nothing wrong with me. This was just how I was dealing with it.

I didn’t see his body until the service; I just saw it taken out on a gurney, wrapped inside of a bag. He left behind a note, a rather cryptic one, and all that was left was to pick up the pieces. I remember talking with somebody – I can’t remember who – that I was really surprised. “He was doing better,” I said. “Why would he do this?”

“Sometimes,” this other person said, “It’s when they’re coming up from the depths that they decide to do this. Because when they’re really down, they can’t get up the energy to pull the trigger. It’s only when they get enough to do it, that’s when it happens.”

I’m paraphrasing, but the basic point stands. You may think they’re doing better. You may think they’re “all right.” But nobody knows what truly goes on in the hearts and minds of other people. What you get, at best, is an edited simulacrum. So take the time to talk to people. Take an hour of your time and really understand them. Listen to them. Be there for them. If you truly care, then they are more than worth an hour of your life. My friend was certainly worth an hour. Hell, he was worth an entire month. I would have gladly taken that time to talk to him about his issues.

These people are trying to find peace from all their pain and suffering. That’s all. It’s not selfish, cowardly, or anything at all like that. In the state they are in, they are suffering deeply, and they need peace – and when they get to this point, suicide is the only option that occurs to them.

So do that. If someone you know is depressed, or worse perhaps suicidal – or even if they don’t appear to be at all – take a moment. Talk with them. Maybe take an entire hour, or more. Just talk with them, let them know you’re there and you want to help. That’s all. I didn’t do that because I didn’t recognize what was happening. Don’t share the same regret I feel today.

Your Life Is Worth An Hour

Above picture from the Facebook page “Your Life Is Worth An Hour“.

Get Off The Couch: The Participation Income

This month, Cato Unbound is hosting a discussion on the libertarian case for a basic income. As readers of this blo–oh, who am I kidding. Anyone who knows me knows I am a libertarian who supports a basic income as an alternative to the current welfare state morass – both on a pragmatic “it’s better than what we got now” stand and on a principled basis. (But then, I am slowly becoming disaffected with the term libertarian anyhow.)

One point that has come up repeatedly on discussions about the lead essays is that a basic income of any form would create a nation of layabouts. After all, the argument goes, if you collect a check just for being a citizen, who would actually work? I think that’s a problematic argument for many reasons, but I just wanted to toss out there one variant that does require some effort on the part of recipients: the Participation Income.

I think it was first proposed by A.B. Atkinson in 1996 – though I don’t really know, I was just Googling things. One such Google result [PDF] gave me the following:

A ‘Participation Income’ would be paid to any individual ‘participating’ in society. The list of ‘participations’ would include employment or self-employment, retirement, absence from work because of sickness or injury, inability to work because of disability, and approved forms of voluntary activity. Students, trainees, those caring for dependents (the young, the elderly, or disabled dependents), and those unemployed but available for work, would also be counted as ‘participating’.

So basically, you have to do something in order to get the basic income, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be paying work. Studying, taking care of the elderly or children, volunteering – these all count. (Dunno about the last one in the above quote, though.) I don’t know if this would meet critics’ standards, but at the very least it would require that something be put back into society, something productive happening, in order to receive benefits.

Personally, I can see issues with this. How do we determine who is “participating”? Who will determine and how will they determine what counts as eligible participation? It’s yet another battlefield ripe for political combat, with all the terribleness, shrill partisanship, and uncomfortable silences at the dinner table that come with it. It also seems to be pretty invasive, as I am sure people will demand more accountability than simply trusting the applicant that they have participated. But then again, we have W-2 forms, so something along those lines may suffice.

To be honest, though, I’m not terribly worried about a basic income (or my preferred form, a Negative Income Tax) turning America into a nation of layabouts. We sort of have that problem already, for starters (though it isn’t as bad as some conservatives may think), and furthermore, life without work is not at all pleasant. People need work to have meaning in their lives; without it, many grow unhappy and listless. (I know, I’ve been there.) People are constantly trying to do and make new things – sure, not everybody, but look at all the various projects on Kickstarter, or volunteering activities, or new code developments made when somebody was out of work. I think if people knew there was something like a basic income to catch them if they fell, they wouldn’t just stop doing things and collect a check – they might take some risks to develop a new product or company, knowing they have something there if they fail. How many of us want to do something like that, be an entrepreneuer, but are afraid that if we screw up our families will be living on the sidewalk?

In short, I don’t think everyone will stop working. One commentator, Martin Brock (no idea if that’s his real name, as it’s only Disqus), however, does make one comment that I thought was pretty insightful:

I don’t fear a nation of layabouts. I fear a nation of actors, musicians, painters, novelists, astronomers, photographers, videographers, philosophers, talk radio hosts and political opinion bloggers all producing vastly more drama, music, art and the rest than other people actually want to consume while trying to consume the dwindling supply of goods no longer produced by all of these actors, musicians and painters.

Some of these people might be wondrously “productive”, in the sense of laboring conscientiously to produce lots of wonderful stuff, but if this stuff has little market value, because so many people produce so much of it, the people are not so “productive” in the economic sense.

The world is full of starving artists without a UBI, so I can only imagine vastly more artists producing far less than the cost of their maintenance with a UBI.

Yeah, that actually might be a problem. I know I would happily go off into my room and write science fiction all the time if I had a basic income. The question is, how many Americans would do that? Seeing the multitude of posts on social media, I would be willing to bet a lot (though many would be painters, sculptors, audio remixers, etc.) who then wouldn’t be producing other things. This would probably put a lot more strain on the rest of the economy – i.e, on all the other people producing things – and it might even threaten the very same basic income because at some point we wouldn’t be able to fund it.

But not doing anything? Sure, there are some indolent Americans. Hell, there are maybe a lot of indolent Americans. But there aren’t that many who would stop doing anything except collect a check. More likely, they would take that check and go do something with it.

I also just want to say that I’m not ignoring the public choice considerations here. It’s very likely that any variation on a basic income plan to replace welfare and the minimum wage and reform the tax system that goes before Congress will be butchered and mutiliated horribly. It’s in the nature (and interests) of legislators to craft legislation benefitting their benefactors, and I am sure that one interest group or another will try to bust it or just add it on top of the current welfare morass. But just because that’s a possibility doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to reform the system by proposing this. If such considerations were to stop policy proposals before they began, then libertarians could never work on public policy — and I find that a very silly position to take.

The Cult of Death Is Building A Temple in Canaan

I wanted to get a few things off my chest about Israel and Palestine, based on some really idiotic conversations I see going around. I want to preface these statements by making it absolutely clear that they are my opinion only, and do not represent nor reflect on anyone else (employer, sports team, country, etc.) Unfortunate we have to put those disclaimers in, but that is the society we live in.

I’ve been seeing a lot of cheering from those on the right towards Israel, which quite frankly disgusts me. It makes me want to vomit. It’s disgusting and abhorrent. No one should cheer the deaths of people, especially women and children. Nobody should applaud when missiles rain down and blow apart houses. A reasonable response to this could be “Good luck Israel,” or simple statements of support, but instead I am seeing “Yeah, go Israel! Fuck yeah!” and “Wipe out those subhuman savages!” No, really, this is typical rhetoric now being tossed about.

Just in case anyone says “Nobody actually says the Palestinians are subhuman savages” I present to you @CSunnyDaay and @secondthenfirst. Yes, these people do exist out there.


I don’t support Hamas, and I don’t support Hamas’ indiscriminate missile flinging into Israel. That’s not the solution to their problem. But here’s the thing: most Americans (and other foreigners) cheering on Israel don’t even bother thinking about the other side of the equation. They just think “Oh, these bad people are firing missiles at Israel! It’s self-defense! That’s it!” But they never bother to ask why the bad people are firing missiles, they just assume they are intrinsically evil creatures from Mordor.

Let’s examine why. Israel, over the course of decades, kicked the Palestinian Arabs out of their homes (though the initial blame lies with Britain, which decided to just mandate things.) They then forced these people into small areas, locked down running water and electricity, forced them to only get supplies from the Israeli government (which in turn could shut down the supply lines at any time), walk in and bulldoze people’s homes without warning, shoot them without warning or due process or anything even remotely like that, and then have the gall to build tons of Israeli settlements within the territory they’ve already set aside for the Palestinians! And then, when all that is said and done, the Israeli government drops bombs on hospitals, homes, shelters, just blows things up from the sky. And they have the gall to wonder why the Palestinians turn to support Hamas and their (largely ineffectual) rocket attacks?

If you corralled a bunch of red-blooded Americans into an area and shut down basic services and lobbed bombs and shells at them, after removing them from the land they used to own, do you think Americans would sit for that? Or do you think Americans would find a way to fire back?

The stupid, it burns.

Israel has been fighting this war essentially since 1948. It has taken on different forms, but the same thread of conflict has run through it all. You would think, by now, they may have wisened up and realized what they’re doing isn’t working. The US tried this before too. It’s called Vietnam. Our attacks there only galvanized the Vietnamese people to support the Viet Cong more, and they did – to the point where the VC forced us to leave and then destroyed the US-backed Republic of South Vietnam. What the heck does the Israeli government think this will accomplish? Do they really think that if they drop just another load of bombs out of the sky, that the Palestinians will finally be convinced that Hamas’ way is the wrong way and will stop?

Of course, I don’t think that’s what the Israeli government thinks at all. Like most governments, it wants votes, and like many people, a lot of Israelis want blood. Not all of them, but a fair amount, and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu represents those who do. And I think Netanyahu wants the conflict as PM because he can blame any problems in his government on the Palestinians. I’m not sure what those other problems are, I am not an expert in Israeli internal politics, but it has been a long lasting and celebrated political tactic to find an “Other” you can demonize and pin all your problems on.

Again, I’m not supporting Hamas. The Palestinians are stupid for supporting Hamas. Do they really think that more rockets raining down will fix their problems of no jobs, crushing poverty, lack of medical care, food, running water, and electricity? Do they really think the Israelis are going to soften and change their policies if their families are blown up? Yet I can understand – though not support – why they support Hamas. Most Palestinians probably feel they have no hope, that there is no alternative. (Sure, there’s Fatah in the West Bank, but Gaza and the West Bank are almost two different entities at this point.) When you have no jobs, no supplies, and there are bombs falling out of the sky, what’s left to do but die for Allah?

The point I’m trying to make here is not that Americans are supporting the “wrong side.” I wouldn’t want them to support Hamas either. The point is that many Americans are completely leaving out half of the equation here. They’re ignoring why the Palestinians in Gaza are doing what they’re doing. If you’re going to jump into a conflict, you need to understand why that conflict is going on, who the players actually are, who the players’ peoples actually are, and then what incentives are going to make each side stop fighting – both the incentives they publicly state and the incentives that we know, deep down, that will cause both sides to knock it off. But, like most foreign policy issues, Americans never bother to actually understand or learn the arguments, they just want some prewritten soundbite to utter that makes them feel all good and patriotic.

That disgusts me.

Addition

After conversing with some folks on social media, it appears to me that some clarification is in order. Two points.

First, some have said that Israel has done all it can, and now the ball is in Hamas’ court. That’s fair. While I can understand the sentiment behind a lot of antipathy towards Israelis, having the Israelis come in and basically kick the Palestinians out, the Palestinians need to accept they’re not getting it back. They are never going to destroy Israel and get their all-Palestinian state. They may be able to secure a federalist solution, at best, but they’re never going to kick Israel out. While Hamas will never come to that conclusion willingly – it would mean they would lose all their support as their raison d’etre would be violated – they need to accept that. So these folks are right, it is time that Hamas recognized Israel’s right to exist (as much as any “state” has rights; only individuals can really have rights), and stop the rocket attacks on Israel. The Israeli strikes still won’t lead to the Palestinian people moving against Hamas, but Israel has its hands effectively tied.

Second, some people have taken this post to mean that I support Hamas, that I don’t think Israel has a right to exist, and that the Israelis shouldn’t be allowed to defend themselves. Nothing can be further from the truth. I don’t support either side in this mess. What I am writing against is the frothing, mindless support from some folks on the right for the violence in Gaza. For the people labeling Palestinians as subhuman savages and calling for more death, more bombs, more killings. That is what I am writing against. That is the point of this piece. For what it’s worth, I’m not even sure I care anymore about the conflict itself. I just want it to end. I just want the violence and death and destruction to stop. Is that so bad? Is it so bad that I criticize people who want this to continue? Of course, I shouldn’t expect any reason or intelligence on this issue. Almost more than anything else, this issue runs high on tribalism, to the point where nobody will bother even understanding the argument being made, they will just arbitrarily label the person good or evil. It is the Cult of Death I am fighting against, and the Temple they are building is the ritual chanting for more ordnance to fall. The Cult of Death is not Israeli. It is not Palestinian. It is, regrettably, American.

That is not supporting Hamas. That is not being anti-Israeli. It is being anti-death and anti-war, nothing more.

Update

The spate of attacks on my piece in social media has led me to read a lot more articles about Gaza than what I normally do. This one in particular has me all kinds of confused. Just what is really going on here?

Progress Has Been Made

Finally. Finally, a honest-to-goodness non-ideological post about my writing progress. It was, after all, why I originally started this blog, although it later morphed into other things and almost took on some web programming stuff when I started doing that last year.

So far, I’ve been working on both a short story and a novel, that are completely unrelated. The short story I actually finished a couple of months ago, but I haven’t gotten around to editing it yet before I try to send it somewhere. Meanwhile, I’ve been getting in time working on my novel, and using the awesome program that is Scrivener. One thing I have noticed, however, is that I’ve been using more of it’s basic word processor functions, and haven’t been taking advantage of its project management/plotting functions. I’ve been mostly filling in things I’ve already plotted out, but as I do so, I find the original plot needs significant rework. Which is a good thing, I think, because trying to stay to the original plan is usually not a good thing. You have to adapt to new ideas and new data, and while sometimes that can be a big problem, particularly if you just randomly go off in different directions, often it really improves.

One thing I did was follow the idea behind the book Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between (although, I really haven’t read it yet, just the description, but it was enough.) Write the turning point in the middle of the novel where the hero comes to the critical realization, and then revolve the story around that. I went a step farther and also wrote the ending before I had written the rest, and focused on writing key pieces I will then later string together. It’s a very different and interesting feeling, because the text is now even more fluid and open to revision than it ever has been before. And I’ve never written the ending of a story before I had written the rest of it. I was always very chronological in my writing, seeing where things go as I trundle along. I actually do like some outlines and plotting, but a lot of plotting frustrates me. Stories aren’t history, they’re much more fluid than that. What James Scott Bell has in this book seems to be the ideal balance.

Scrivener has also been a godsend, though one thing that I am trying to figure out is just how to break between scenes. Should a scene end on this line, or the next? It matters because if I move scenes around, will lines be out of place? Well, I suppose it can’t be helped. It will be interesting to see how that will work, however. So far, I haven’t had a real need to actually move scenes around. I actively look forward to the day when I do.

Me and the Angry Atheist: I’m On a Podcast

I am so terrible at selling myself. It’s almost embarrassing.

In any case, earlier this week I had the pleasure of joining the Angry Atheist on his podcast, the Angry Atheist Podcast. You can check it out here.

Looks like I’m moving up in the world. And yes, I do apologize to those Angry Atheist podcast listeners who have come here expecting something interesting…I’m kinda not.

The Force Is Still Strong With the Star Wars Expanded Universe

A not so long time ago, in a boardroom not all that far away…

So the news is out. The Star Wars Expanded Universe – all the books, games, comics, etc beyond the movies and the Clone Wars show – is essentially being put into storage. It will still be available, printed, and even to be used by authors and creators in the “new” timeline. Already, some fans are complaining hard about this, feeling they’re being Force choked by this decision. Things like “I invested years and lots of money into this!” are getting bandied about.

These complaints are really childish, and I actually think this is a good decision for Disney to make.

First, why the decision is good. While I certainly have my favorites from the EU canon – the X-Wing series, Young Jedi Knights, anything by Timothy Zahn, and I, Jedi all stand out – we must face the fact that a great majority of the Expanded Universe is, to put it frankly, bantha poodoo. I said as much back in January, and I just want to reiterate it more now. The Courtship of Princess Leia is as schlocky as they come, and The Crystal Star is…well, perhaps the less said about it, the better. There are many horrible Star Wrongs in the EU. In no way, shape, or form should J.J Abrams and the crew working on the next trilogy be beholden to them. I’m glad they won’t be!

But then, that’s the thing, isn’t it? The EU was always secondary canon. Even though it was canon – unlike, say, Star Trek, which basically said that it’s “extended universe” was not canon, no way, no how – it was always secondary to the two film trilogies and later on Clone Wars. (Ugh.) So even they technically were not really Star Wars. And for the vast majority of people who have watched the movies, they aren’t, because they’re not the movies. How many people read Star Wars novels? I’m sure it’s a large number, but it is nowhere near as large as the many who have watched the movies and never delved into the EU.

Now, why the complaints, in most cases, are pretty childish: because this decision in no way takes away from your enjoyment of those stories. We are dealing with a fictional universe, and you know where fictional universes live? In your mind, and in your heart. And nothing that Disney can do can take them away from those places. Sure, they may not exist in the same timeline as the new movies…however, fiction loves alternate timelines, so there is nothing saying you can’t just push the old EU to a different timeline and enjoy that. People are doing it with Star Trek, why not Star Wars?

Fact is, the Star Wars universe is one you make of it. I myself have completely disavowed anything from New Jedi Order onwards and most of the stuff set between the Exar Kun saga and the earliest “Last Days of the Old Republic” type material. (KOTOR, KOTOR II, The Old Republic, etc – all that stuff doesn’t exist for me, because it is all hilariously dumb.) Does that mean that content doesn’t exist for other fans? Of course not.

I really think fans need to get over themselves. Saying “the death of the EU hurts” is almost pathetic. Having your dog die hurts. Having a friend or family member hurts. Losing a job hurts. A company making a change in what novels it will accept as a backstory to a movie series doesn’t hurt, and if does you may be overly attached. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but come on. I love fiction as much as the next guy, and I love writing it and yes I do get attached to things sometimes, but at the end of the day these are all stories that exist in your mind. (Well, until Heinlein’s pantheistic solipsism is proven correct, that is…)

It’s whiny, entitled bullshit. I see this all over the ‘Net on all sorts of topics, and when it comes to something as silly as this – yes, “silly” and Star Wars do go together in this case – it just makes me sad. Sad that people are wasting their time on this. Move on, you have more important things to do. The Expanded Universe you love will always be there for you, forever.

(And before you say “But Jeremy – shouldn’t you have more important things to do than write a blog post like this?” why yes, yes I do. Which is watch the rest of Gundam Unicorn.)

Why I’m A Little Sad For Google+ (And What These Companies Are Doing Wrong)

Report: Google to end forced G+ integration, drastically cut division resources | Ars Technica

Google+ seems to be the red-headed stepchild of social media networks – an image not helped by the fact that its branding is all, well, red. But in any case, Google+ has never received the support and attention that other networks – hell, even LinkedIn – have received over the years. It’s been “that Google thing” and while you would think because it has freaking GOOGLE in the name everyone would be using it, they haven’t. Now, Google is appearing to “pivot” away from Google+, first with G+’s leader leaving the company, and then this news that possibly over 1,000 Google employees will be shifted around. According to the linked story, TechCrunch is calling Google+ the “walking dead.”

Yikes.

There are a lot of great things about Google+ that I like. This commenter on the post says a lot of them. One of the things s/he says I will also say: I do not live on Google+. But for an occasional trip, I can read a lot of interesting people’s interesting thoughts. People like Google’s own Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the inventor of Linux Linux Torvalds, a few podcasters I follow, and some very fascinating groups on roleplaying games, Linux, computer programming, and science fiction. Google+ also has no character limit, so you can write screeds if you wish, and it does seem like a breath of fresh air to get away from the increasingly stale and stultifying Facebook atmosphere and the hectic, sweltering rapid-fire heat of Twitter.

Perhaps the greatest part of Google+ from a publisher standpoint, however, is how well it integrates with Google search. +1 a story you like, and you push that story higher in the search rankings whenever someone searches for the story’s topic. +1 really helps get stories to the top, as they’re usually recommended by your friends (or, at least, in theory they are.) Of course, you can +1 your own stories and help they grow as well. It’s a fantastic idea.

Unfortunately, Google may some serious errors. One of them was the forced integration with the YouTube comments. Look, hateful, dumb, anonymous YouTube comments are an Internet institution. They are worse than even 4chan, and that’s almost an Xbox achievement. And yet people want them to be that way, and they don’t want their real names and faces attached. Destroying that pissed off a massive Internet community, one that’s arguably larger and more entrenched than even Facebook. Not a smart move, Google. Forced integration with other services beyond search was also starting to grind on a lot of people’s nerves.

My personal pet peeve, however, is how Google has been so damn stingy with the personal profile API. Although they allowed some services, such as Buffer (which I highly recommend, by the way) to post to Google+ pages, but so far it hasn’t let anyone else post to Google+ personal profiles. There was, for some time, an Android app called “Jift” that allowed you to simultaneously post to Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, but it was pulled after awhile (and it’s style of reading posts from all three services wasn’t that great to begin with.) This forces people to get out of their main app, which usually can post to Twitter and Facebook simultaneously (like, say, Plume), and go into the Google+ app. You know who wants to take that extra step? Nobody. Why not just do it all in one go? That would make it dramatically easier to use Google+, although it would cut down on the number of people actually using the Google+ app.

Which is why Google hates it.

This brings me to what I think all of these companies are doing wrong: they are not providing choices. That’s what a consumer wants, right? A consumer, in most instances, wants a choice to make. And I don’t see why companies can’t do this. You have Google+ forcing itself on YouTube commentators and in other places; you have Facebook now forcing people to get a separate app on their phone to use Facebook messages and soon a separate app for events and possibly even groups as well. You have them changing up user interfaces all the time with no option to go to an older one that some users prefer. It’s this forcing of things that is really starting to annoy people, though I wonder if it will truly bite these companies in the behind, because while annoyed, most people still go along with the changes. Still, how can providing your users more choices ever be a bad thing?

There’s the old saw that “The user isn’t the customer, the user is the product” but I don’t know how much I buy that. Facebook runs on its users and it can’t get anywhere without them, so it can’t annoy them too much (although the line of no return seems to keep receding into the distance day by day.) Google as well, though I’ll be honest I have no freaking clue how Twitter makes money. (They can’t be selling that many promoted accounts and tweets, can they?)

I hope Google+ sticks around. (I really hopes it overcomes Facebook some day, so I can actually escape.) I hope it continues. But we’ll have to see, won’t we?