Category Archives: Breaking News

NaNoWriMo: Point of Departure

I haven’t been posting on this blog for a few weeks because:  1) Having broken the story about NHK World’s probable infiltration by space aliens I didn’t want to confuse my message and 2) I’ve been a bit busy with Inktober.  Now, however, Inktober is done, it seems that the government has suppressed my NHK story (else it would have more hits by now) and NaNoWriMo is once again upon us.  Just as I do Inktober my own way, I  have my own take on NaNoWriMo.  Most people try to write the first draft of a single 50,000 word novel.  That’s fine, but the last thing I need right now is another first draft in my editing queue.  So what I did last year—and will again this year—is to just write 50,000 words on any combination of legitimate projects.  Last year it took me three and a half weeks to get there; maybe I’ll go faster this year.

Now some of that will be for books I’m working on currently.  But one of them is the third draft of a novel, and I’ve never figured out a good word-count conversion for rewrites, and the other is a textbook that requires creating numerous figures and examples as I go, so that word-count builds pretty slowly.

So that’s where the blog comes in:  I’m planning to do about 20,000 of those words by posting essays here, mostly based on a series of dialogues on moral philosophy that I wrote last year for NaNoWriMo which ended up being far too strange to ever be allowed to see the light of day.

So, fair warning.  Follow my blog this month if you like that sort of thing.    I dare say I’ll be bringing in some of the Great Books stuff as well, which I know has been popular here in the past.

 

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NHK’s Miki Yamamoto is an Extraterrestrial

People all over the work tune into NHK World’s Newsline every weekday to listen to the too-cute-to-be-human Miki Yamamoto read the news for “Japan and Around the World.”  But have we ever thought about just what “too cute to be human” means?

nhk-newsline_miki-yamamoto_1920x1080

Too Cute to be Human

That’s right.  She isn’t human.  She is an alien visitor, most likely sent to gather data on Earth’s culture—especially the highest expression of that culture: Japanese public TV—from the inside.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the animation below.  Even with their advanced makeup techniques, including cheek padding, the visitors can’t change the overall proportions of their skulls.

mikimorph

Artist’s Conception of Miki Yamamoto Without her Human Disguise

Ms. Yamamoto most likely relies on a high quality latex mask, human-hair wig, and special contacts applied to the lower portion of her giant black alien eyes.  Given the different size of the visitors’ eyes, she is forced to peer out though what, to her, must seem like pin-holes.  Her occasional difficulties reading the teleprompter lend credence to this interpretation.

Note also Ms. Yamamoto’s apparent lack of aging.   According to data from various internet sources, she should now be in her mid to late 40’s.  Yet she looks exactly the same as she did eleven years ago (minus the pigtails). That is to say she looks about 20 years old.  This discrepancy can easily be explained by the fact that latex masks of the quality Miki Yamamoto requires are hard to come by, so she has been using the same one for some time.

t_yamamoto

Yamamoto Doesn’t Seem to Have Aged Since Starting he TV Career

It is hard to imagine that Ms. Yamamoto’s makeup artist is not in on the secret, since at close range a professional would immediately notice her disguise.  This person is clearly either an alien themselves, or a human agent of aliens. If the former, it would explain some of the questionable lipstick and makeup choices seen on NHK announcers in recent years, since aliens perceive a different color spectrum than we do.  In fact, we should probably consider the possibility that NHK is now completely riddled with alien infiltrators.

I know that these revelations may be shocking for some.  I was shocked myself when I first realized the truth (although my fifth, sixth, and seventh beers helped with the shock).  I knew, though, that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t let all of you know.

Sci-fi Survey Preliminary Results

I have preliminary results from the science fiction readership survey. Cheers to everyone who participated!

You should be able to see Google Form’s summary by going to https://goo.gl/forms/kvzVgZ75h7ZIiUv03

For my fellow quant nerds, I started a repository with the raw data and my preliminary statistical analysis https://github.com/longhunt/sci_fi_survey

Over the next couple weeks I will be figuring out what it all means and writing a report, which I will also post. I did notice a couple of things right away, though:

1) More than half the respondents self identify as librarians. Apparently, librarians like to take surveys about libraries…

2) Series related factors are the most important to the majority of readers. People want to continue reading series they have started or start new series with lots of books available at the library.

3) The respondents cluster rather neatly into two groups, which we can call “Heavy Readers” and “Moderate Readers”. The heavy readers seem to skew female and be more educated–though probably not as much as it seems from the raw data, since we have so many librarians responding (librarians also skew female, and most of them have masters degrees). This seems to agree with the academic literature, such as this article which I found after the survey had already started.

More to come. Thanks again!

New Book out this Month

When it comes to being a King, James VI of Scotland literally wrote the book!

I didn’t just write the interpretive front matter and footnotes for this edition, I ended up directing the trailer too. I hope you’ll check it out.

The paperback is already available through Amazon. An ebook should be along by the end of the summer.

How do you choose which books to read?

Hello all, I’ve been volunteering at my local library, trying to help them improve their sci-fi collection (their acquisitions have been pretty random in recent years). As one aspect of the project we came up with a short survey, which I hope you will take, about what factors are important when people check out speculative fiction books.

The survey can be found here: https://goo.gl/forms/dFl7IiSmWgyLstQL2

It only takes about 5 minutes and all questions are optional. The survey will stay open until at least the end of May 2018.

ps. Please note that this is a non-profit project in cooperation with a public library.   I’ll release the results in a few weeks and post a link here.

 

Automatic Indexing of LaTex Documents

A couple weeks ago I mentioned in a post that I was working on a Python script to automatically generate indexes of books written in the LaTex typesetting system.  At the time I promised to post the script in “a couple of days”.  Predictably, weeks have passed, my little script has ballooned into a full on open-source software project, and the code is now too long to post (or explain) in a single blog article.  If you’re interested, however, you can now download my alpha release from sourceforge.

The package includes two Python programs.  Indexmeister is a console utility which reads a file (in several formats, not just LaTex) and suggests terms for indexing.  It uses three different methods to figure out which terms are important.  Imbrowse is a Curses program which helps you interactively browse multi-file LaTex books and quickly insert the right tags to generate an index.

I made this video tutorial to show how the system works:

In the future I am thinking of adding a plug-in for LibreOffice, and possibly a graphical interface (probably using GTK bindings). Porting it to Windoze is not a priority, however.

Handyman Kevin Series II Premier

I rarely post updates here for my YouTube show, Handyman Kevin–mainly because it has its own dedicated blog. I thought I should mention, however, that the first episode of my second season premiered a few minutes ago:

 

The first season focused mainly on general Handyman skills. This season will have more of a focus on workshop tools and techniques. As before, we are planning to release thirteen fifteen to twenty-five minute episodes, each with an accompanying blog post.

Off to Grad School Again: The Second Essay

The other day I posted the first of the essays I had to write for my application to CSUDH’s Humanities Master of Arts External (HUX) program. As promised, here is the second, longer essay. The prompt asked me to describe two to three events, works, or people which inspired my interest in the humanities. I chose to write about two professors I worked under as a teaching assistant the last time I was in graduate school who made particularly effective use of the Great Books in their courses.

Two professors, Dr. Sean Jasso and Dr. Paul Beehler, did more to inspire my interest in studying and teaching the humanities than anyone else I have met. Ironically, I met both of them not by taking humanities courses, but by being assigned as their teaching assistant in business school. Each of them, however, is serious about integrating the humanities in their undergraduate business classes and expects their assistants to do the same. While working for them I learned more about writing, criticism, and the great authors of the Western canon than I did in my entire undergraduate career.

Dr. Sean Jasso’s background is in hospitality management but his research is in public policy and corporate ethics. For several years he has been fine-tuning a class titled “Business Ethics and Law in Society”. The main text for the course is Michael Sandel’s Justice, which uses real world examples to illustrate the ideas of ethical philosophers such as Aristotle, Kant, Rawls, and Mill. All of these authors were new to me. I nearly panicked the first time a student appeared in my office saying that she “didn’t really understand Kant’s theory of categorical imperatives,” and could I explain it for her. As every teacher knows, however, teaching a subject is the best way to understand it. My own pedagogical style relies heavily on Socratic questions to encourage students to think critically and make connections, so my weekly discussion sections became a shared journey of inquiry with my students as we found new ways to apply the teachings of these philosophers to weekly case studies.

With Dr. Jasso’s help, I soon found ways to apply the philosophy we were teaching to situations in my professional life. One ethical issue that affects everyone in higher education is academic integrity. Catching a student cheating or plagiarizing creates an ethical dilemma for any teacher teacher, especially an overworked graduate assistant. To simply ignore the offense and pass the student is easy, but is a betrayal of one’s duty and, in utilitarian terms, hurts the whole society by lessening the value of a university education for all students. Failing the offender and turning them over for disciplinary action is nearly as easy and can be justified on the grounds that cheating is categorically wrong and that punishing cheaters rewards those students who do not offend. Dr. Jasso believes, however, that because a teacher’s purpose is to educate, a cheating incident needs to be used as an additional opportunity to teach the student. He expects his assistants to call a meeting the student and himself. In this meeting teaching assistant confronts the student, who is given an opportunity to confess. Students who come clean are then prompted to explain why their actions were wrong and allowed to write an essay titled “Why Cheating is Wrong and I Won’t do it Again”, supporting their points with material from the class. If the teaching assistant is satisfied with the essay then they are not referred for disciplinary action (they still have to repeat the course). These “cheater meetings” were emotionally exhausting for the teaching assistant and created extra grading work, but Dr. Jasso convinced me that they were the right thing to do.

Dr. Paul Beehler is an English professor who teaches “Business Writing and Communications” for the School of Business Administration. One of the texts for his course is Machiavelli’s The Prince. As their term project students are required to write a research paper analyzing the strategy of a real corporation in terms of Machiavellian philosophy. When grading papers and exam blue books I found that I usually knew within a few paragraphs whether I was looking at ‘B’ or ‘C’ work (there were very few ‘A’s), but a letter grade is almost useless to a student because it doesn’t tell them what they are doing right and wrong. Dr. Beehler pushed me to become not only an editor, but a critic: deconstructing a student’s work and offering comments on their style, logical reasoning, creativity, and use of semiotics. This was a painful process for me, because Dr. Beehler spot checks his assistants’ grading work and often returns papers to be regraded. I was frequently frustrated when his opinion of a paper differed widely from my own. As time went on, however, I realized that my criticism tended to be fairly shallow and he was teaching me to read at a deeper level– to go beyond mechanics and rhetorical flourishes and assess the sophistication of a student’s thoughts. I soon I realized that I was applying a deeper level of analysis to everything I read, including my own work. I was also able to give much better comments to students who brought in their work in progress to show me during office hours. This made me a better critic and editor which in turn made me a better writer.

Another benefit of teaching the class under Dr. Beehler is that it introduced me to Machiavelli’s work, which I now understand represents a watershed in Western philosophy. Machiavelli stands upon the divide between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and represents one of the first articulations of the basically humanistic path which Western thought has followed for the past five centuries. His decision to embrace republican political philosophy over the traditional divine right of kings not only influenced all of the enlightenment authors who followed him, but eventually led the way to the liberal democracies in which we now live.

Even though I never took a course of theirs, nor did research under them, Dr. Jasso and Dr. Beehler taught me more than any of the professors I knew in professional school. Dr. Jasso introduced me to the great ethical philosophers and showed me how to integrate their theories into my professional life. Dr. Beehler pushed me to a higher level of writing and textual criticism, making me a better writer. Both inspired what I suspect will be a lifelong interest in the Western canon and the humanities in general, and teaching under them was one of the most valuable aspects of my professional school experience.

Off to Grad School Again

The past year and a half of focusing entirely on my writing has been intensely rewarding, but it’s time to start thinking about my formal education again. This morning I took the first steps in applying to CSUDH’s External MA in Humanities (HUX) program. The program seems flexible yet rigorous and I expect to write a thesis which will form the first draft of a future book.

So, fingers crossed and let’s hope that they will admit a business school guy/hack sci-fi writer like me.

One section of the CSU application asks for a personal statement describing my reasons “for pursuing graduate or postbaccalaureate study.” After looking at my statement I realized that it is pertinent to this blog, particularly my ongoing Great Books project, so I decided to post it here:

    During the first half of my career I mainly saw education as a process of training in skills. I earned three business degrees, took years of engineering coursework, and completed several professional certifications–learning how to do many useful things. As time went on, however, I became aware of what I was missing. True education, as distinct from mere training, should be general and liberal. The vocational degrees and training programs I completed did little to teach me about the culture, history, and language of the society in which I live. All the knowledge I acquired was specific and targeted at getting and succeeding in specific jobs. It did not address larger more general questions of the human condition.

 
As I entered my thirties and began spending an increased portion of my time writing, the gaps in my knowledge were made obvious, especially in the areas of literature, history, and philosophy. In order to function, a writer needs to be able to draw from a broad and deep background of cultural knowledge. But my background was unbalanced and primarily technical. To address the problem, I then spent several years deliberately expanding my reading, especially of the so-called “great books” of the Western Cannon. I was aware from the beginning that this would be a poor substitute for a true liberal education. Autodidacticism, however personally rewarding, is inefficient. I know I can learn about the humanities much more effectively if I have teachers and a program with structure.

 
I am now ready, both financially and intellectually, to dedicate two years of my life to the full time study of the humanities. The external MA program at CSUDH is ideal, both because of the content and because I have always done well with distance learning in the past.

The second stage of the application, which goes to the department itself, requires a longer analytical essay which I will probably also post in a few days when I am finished writing it.

Great Books Project: End of Part I

I am now about six months into my Great Books project and this seems like a good time to stop and take stock.  I have now read and blogged about works written up to the end of the Peloponnesian War (404 BCE) in the Hellenistic tradition and up to the establishment of the Second Temple (516 BCE) in the Hebrew tradition.  Up to this point, the two have had almost no first-hand intellectual contact.  Soon, though, they will begin influencing each other to an increasing degree, beginning with Alexander’s conquest of the Persian empire and continuing until Paul and other evangelists permanently fuse them together to create the new tradition of Christianity.

I have come to think of the death of Socrates in 399 BCE as the end of Part I of the Great Books.  Socrates wrote no books himself, yet he brought together all previous Hellenic philosophy and all future Western philosophy owes something to the work of his disciple Plato, who is the next author whom I plan to cover.

Before I go on, I thought it would be useful to present a timeline of the lives of the Hellenistic authors in this first section.  I also included Plato and Xenophon because, though I think of them as belonging to the next period, their lives overlapped with the others.

Great Books Authors Timeline: Ancient Greece (Click to Enlarge)

Great Books authors timeline: Ancient Greece (click to enlarge)

I think the most striking thing about this timeline is that, other than Homer who really belongs to an earlier age, all of these men lived within such a short span of time.  Only 139 years separate Aeschylus‘ birth and Aristophanes‘ death.

I also recently drew this diagram to express how the different strands of Western thought are related in the ancient world.  It is over-simplistic and not particularly scientific, but I find it’s helpful to think about how the ideas relate to each other.

Development of thought in the Great Books: Prehistory to fall of Rome

Development of thought in the Great Books: Prehistory to fall of Rome (click to enlarge)

Finally, now that we have reached the end of Part I, I need to mention that I will be posting more erratically for the next several weeks.  Other literary commitments, including finishing my own book and doing editing work for clients, will take most of my time.  I also don’t want to rush the Plato section, since his work is so important.  I will try to post at least two or three times per month over the summer, however.