Website Update

I have changed my site a lot. Here’s how I plan to use it going forward.

This blog, Infrequency, I will leave up, but it will be updated…well, infrequently. (It was never updated very regularly.)

Of course, if something occurs to me, I will post it.

I am also planning to begin distributing a newsletter. And of course, I will be updating my publications page with any new publications.

So, if you are reading this, and you would like to hear from me, consider the newsletter!

Where Will The Cities Be?

The flooding of Hurricane Harvey continues to afflict the Houston area badly. The new monster Hurricane Irma has already heavily damaged Barbuda and is moving through the Caribbean threatening everything in its path. One thing in its path: Florida.

Last week I read an article that struck me because of it’s optimistic tone, which didn’t seem to fit the circumstances. It was headlined “Harvey Won’t Hold Back Houston.” One paragraph:

So Houston’s favorable population trends, key location and concentration of smart workers and knowledge-based industries indicate that it won’t suffer New Orleans’ fate. The city will emerge from Harvey’s devastation stronger than before.

The author bases this on an idea from Paul Krugman, about how geography dictates the location of cities. Full disclosure: I tried to read the Krugman presentation, and I didn’t grasp it enough to give an opinion. (It’s here–PDF)

But these hurricanes make me think about the future. If these become more regular, and if the sea level changes, that would be a change to the underlying geography. And so that would change the locations where cities would be expected to be.

In that situation, I suspect some cities would have the clout to resist geography’s dictates (e.g., NYC). But where will the rest of them be?

More Driverless Car Thoughts

Even thought I am a driverless car skeptic, for various reasons*, I do really like thinking through potential implications. So, here are some unorganized thoughts.

With good autopilot/driverless technology, paired with remote-work technology and expanding cellular coverage, I could imagine a lifestyle of continuous transport working for some people. The infrastructure of service stations already exists. People could select destinations and then allow their vehicles to take them around the country while they worked, or reclined and watched TV, and they could be routed to points of interest for forays throughout the day.

So, what is the official residence of someone who lives like this for tax purposes? They would have no physical address, and the car could keep flawless track of where they were in case the IRS wanted the receipts. How would one tax these people?

What if a company could be headquartered in a persistently mobile vehicle?

I know current laws rely on physical addresses in key ways, like for opening bank accounts, receiving and sending physical mail, and so on. But it seems like those things are changing from requirements of reality to legal/bureaucratic requirements, which makes me think someone might just try to see where the boundaries were.

And there are businesses that exist right now to receive mail and then scan and electronically forward it.

Automated trucks toting server farms around. Who would have legal jurisdiction? How would they even find the mobile servers?

*Mainly, reliability and the last mile problem, particularly in cities.

To have the transformative impact people are looking for, driverless technology would need to be so good people could completely ignore the operations of the car and sleep, work, watch TV. Autopilot/driver assist doesn’t cut it.

And I am skeptical that a self-driving car will be able to successfully navigate a crowded, busy situation in which many (if not most) people (pedestrians, cyclists, other drivers, dogs, etc.) are not following the law regarding how they should cross streets and change lanes and so on.

Who Will Own the New Free Time?

I read this piece about driverless cars–it focuses on sprawl, pointing out:

Autonomous vehicles promise a future in which passengers are free to use their time productively (working, for example). And they can park themselves (or be part of a shared pool) which saves yet more time in the morning rush. Coupled with faster journey times, the incentives to live further out of town will increase significantly.

And the part that jumped out at me was about how commuters would suddenly have the time in the car available for other things.

Would work norms evolve so that people were expected to work during their commute? I could see this being a great thing if it meant getting in your autocar at 9:00am, and leaving work at whatever time would get you home by 5:00pm. (Or, since it’s 2017, 6:30, or 7:00, or whatever.)

But somehow I don’t see it going that way. The other option would be for in-office time norms to remain the same, and for the commute time to become an expected additional reservoir of time for meetings, emails, etc. People would probably be apologetic about scheduling an 8:15 meeting for everyone to join from their cars. For the first few months, anyway.

This is what I like about science fiction, trying to figure out the second order effects.

Like, would there evolve to be people living out of their cars who were always on the move? With a driverless car one could theoretically be moving continuously, stopping for power and food occasionally. I wonder if we won’t see a more general movement toward mobile living.

People are already using Teslas as camping equipment.

Volatile Things, Mixed Together

This will be a political post.

I have a reputation as a pessimist, among people with whom I talk politics. But this feels funny to me–I don’t feel like I’m being pessimistic. Often I feel hopeful. I feel like good futures are possible.

But on the flip side, so are bad ones. I was reading a piece by Masha Gessen at the New York Review of Books, in which she described Russian vigilantes doing evil things with the tacit blessing of the state. And she drew the parallel with Trump’s pardon of Arpaio. And it’s hard to miss the resemblance.

Republicans spent decades concentrating volatile elements, like the gun enthusiasts who I noticed parading around Charlottesville as if they were real national guardsmen, and like the white supremacists who’ve bought the idea it’s all about heritage.

I call them volatile because they have the potential to change, in an instant, into something very dangerous. Masha Gessen refers to one example, but there are others. Insurrection and civil war are real things that really can, and have, happened.

Trump and his base want to break things and burn it all down. They’ve said as much. But when you jumble up all the volatile things and light them on fire, what follows is usually an explosion.

Feels like Bad Times

I donated to a Houston food bank today, and I ordered a copy of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy.

Doing some small thing to try to help Houston out as Hurricane Harvey keeps pouring rain on that region feels better than nothing, but it doesn’t feel like enough.

I was in New York during Sandy, and this situation touches those memories for obvious reasons. One thing I remember is the term “hundred year flooding,” and now with Harvey I’ve seen “five hundred year flooding.” But the climate is changing, and these things that used to be vanishingly rare are starting to appear more frequently. In New York the impact was terrible in terms of harm to people, lost homes, and damage to property both public and private. And to me, Harvey is looking to be worse.

It isn’t a competition, of course. I only mention it because it is all making me think of a process unfolding of things getting worse, and sometimes it feels like there’s no way to turn it around.

That’s why I felt like reading Boethius again. Fortifying myself for a time when things might not turn out all right.

More Worldcon Considerations

Having been home a while now I’ve had a chance to reflect on some of my Worldcon experiences.

The most enjoyable parts were catching up with old friends and meeting new people.

Panels and presentations were hit and miss. The good ones were really good, and one even solved a problem I’ve been having with a story I’m working on. But then others just went around in circles or never defined the topic clearly.

I do also feel weird that I’ve now been to Helsinki except I only went to a convention center and a hotel. This was my first overseas Worldcon and I think the next time I will make sure to add some days to the trip so I can do some regular tourist stuff. I guess Dublin will be my next chance.

Key takeaways: Always go to barcon. Develop crystal ball/temporal viewer so I can know which panels to go to.

Fountain Pens

I’ve started exploring fountain pens. And I love them.

This is not necessarily a good development. I’m already the kind of person who walks into a bookstore “just to browse” and walk out having “bought eight books.”

And I blame some of the writers I follow on twitter who kept talking about how cool and fun fountain pens are. So I went to Goulet Pens and one thing led to another and now I have:

  • A Pilot Metropolitan, fine, filled with Noodler’s Black ink
  • A TWSBI Eco, fine, filled with Noodler’s Fox
  • A Lamy Safari, fine, filled with Noodler’s Liberty’s Elysium

The Pilot and the TWSBI are vying to be my favorite. The Lamy is fine but a little scratchy.

I think I’m under control for now, although I have been watching videos about pens a lot, and looking at different notebooks and ink colors.

But I can stop any time. I swear. I’m in control.

Stages of Working on a Writing Project, Ranked

Here is a list of the stages I go through when working on a writing project, ranked from most favorite to least:

  1. Reading the thing two (or more) months later, and thinking, “This isn’t so bad”*
  2. Having the idea in the first place, getting excited about the possibilities
  3. Finishing the last round of completely taking the thing apart, altering it fundamentally, and putting it back together, at last with a coherent idea of what it actually is
  4. Writing the first draft
  5. Revising the first draft
  6. Having, at last, the coherent idea of what the thing actually is, and at the same time realizing that the entire thing will need to be taken apart, altered fundamentally, and put back together
  7. Submitting/querying
  8. Reading the thing shortly after having submitted/queried, wincing in agony at the execrable quality

*Note: Not applicable in all cases