Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Don't Fear Automation

I've seen a lot of blogs and news reports recently discussing the impending job apocalypse that robots and automation are going to create. No more truck drivers! No more fast food workers! No more warehouse workers! A massive, consumption based underclass surviving on a Basic Living Subsidy produced by a small technical elite! Call me an optimist, but I'm not buying it.

Now part of this too is that I write automation code for a living. Here are the three most frequently asked questions when working with automation: "What did it just do?", "How did it do that?", and "What do you think it's going to do next?". The day may come when AI drivers can deal with the vagaries of road construction, distracted drivers, and unpredictable weather, but I suspect it's a lot farther away than the proponents would like everyone to believe.

But if automation does put a swath of people out of work, what then? Are they doomed to a life of watching bad TV and eating government cheese? Only if they want to. I think the automation wave is going to inspire an explosion in handcrafted, traditionally produced goods of which we've as yet only scratched the surface.

Just look at the explosion of craft beers for an example. Big, automated macro brewing companies produce more than enough beer to sate the world, but that doesn't stop small creative breweries from experimenting, creating better products, and bringing them to market.

Or what of home furnishing? A desk from Walmart or IKEA performs just as well as a beautiful, hand-crafted piece, but the work of a skilled craftsman demands a much higher value than a mere assemblage of pressed particle boards and screws. Most people may never approach the artistry of a master, but with time and practice good results are absolutely obtainable. The time just has to be there.

Other current examples can be found all over Etsy and in the Maker spaces. Go to a Civil War Reenactment and check out the care that the blacksmiths have taken to master an almost lost art. A knife bought from Amazon may be functional, but one hand forged by a local smith is functional art with a story.

The real question, is if a majority of people return to hand-crafting unique items for each other, will the government get out of the way, or regulate this new market underground? Selling goods is easy, but make the paperwork and regulation too onerous, and more people will go back to quietly trading services with each other to get around the bureaucrats.

The lazy will always be with us. But for the diligent, automation isn't something to be feared. It's freeing from repetitive, monotonous work, and the opportunity to pursue new skills and opportunities.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Let's Play Minecraft: Story Mode - Season One, Episode One - Blocked Out

Taking a break from the Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance vids for a bit, due to life complications. Houses and packing are work, y'all.

So here we are with Telltale Games' Minecraft: Story Mode series. I'm not a big Minecraft fan, but this series surprised me with how much I generally liked it. The characters are fun, the voice acting is solid, and the plot is good enough to draw me in, despite knowing next to nothing about Minecraft (other than that my kids are always yelling at each other about it). Here's Episode One.



Monday, August 14, 2017

Road to 10K - Week 4, Failure and Redemption

Week Four of 10K training didn't go according to plan. What was supposed to happen was that after Week Three's distance run, I'd kick off the next week with a short high intensity run, follow that up with two interval sessions later in the week, and wrap up with a 4.5 mile distance run.

I got through the first two days just fine, but then I bought a house. That may have been a little distracting. Add in a full day family gathering on Saturday, and I failed my training plan for the week.



Thing is, failure is okay. Life happens. The important thing is in not letting a single bad day become a bad week, or a bad week become a bad month, etc. I got back on the trail on Sunday with my Little Running Buddy. It wasn't the 4.5 mile distance run I originally planned, and I only managed an 11:15 per mile pace (while pushing forty-five pounds of kid and stroller), but it was important to get out, run, and not make excuses for another day.

I'm planning on getting back on track this week. My 10k race timetable may slip a bit, but I'll get one in by the end of the season!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle #3, Mission #1 - Slave Rescue!

Apparently all of the Liberty's B-Wings are down for maintenance again, because all they can scramble to interdict an Imperial convoy is a handful of battered Y-Wings. This isn't an especially difficult mission, but you need to be sure to inspect and disable the transports carrying slaves before they get too close to the defense platform. The Assault Transports won't last long while docked if they're within gun range.

The Y-Wing's a lousy dogfighter, but at least it has good weapon spacing. Leave most of the TIEs for the X-Wing escort group, but if something gets close go ahead and break off for a kill.

The real trick is going to be the bonus objectives, which require taking out both the Golan platform and the Imp Star Deuce. Good luck with that.



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Putting Down Some Roots

Today is one of those milestone days in life. For the first time in five years, we're homeowners again!

I never expected I'd be putting down roots in South Dakota, but there it is. A good state with reasonable taxes, good government, that mostly stays out of its citizens' lives. More importantly, it's time my kids have some stability in their lives, and we stop moving around all the time.


Coming soon, Hydra Home Tales, wherein I start fixing all of the things that are inexplicably messed up in this forty-four year-old house.

Book Review: The Captive Bride

Second novel in the House of Winslow saga, The Captive Bride picks up roughly eighteen years after the close of The Honorable Imposter, with Gilbert and Humility Winslow's only son Matthew. A strong-willed young man who takes heavily after his father, Matthew dreams of adventure far greater than what he can find in the New World. With the help of his Uncle Edward, now a successful trader and businessman, Matthew finds his way to England to make his fortune.


Almost from the start I had problems with this book. While I realize that the focus of the stories is on Gilbert Winslow and his descendants, what happened to his brother Edward in the intervening years? At the end of The Honorable Imposter, Edward was happily married to a widow with four children of her own - what happened there to make Matthew the last of the Winslow line, and transform Edward into a seagoing bachelor merchant? We have no idea. The whole family just vanished into an inconvenient plot hole.

A more serious issue is the book's pacing. Where The Honorable Imposter took a couple of years, The Captive Bride powers through a span of around thirty-five years. The disconnected nature of the time skips makes it feel as though the novel is really just a collection of three short novellas, each connected only by a few familiar characters.

The first story takes place primarily in Restoration England as Charles II returns from exile. It is there that Matthew meets and marries his bride, Lydia, though the story is far more interested in portraying a young John Bunyan in the years before he writes Pilgrim's Progress. But by the end of the story, Matthew is gone and presumed dead, and a heart-broken Lydia is on a boat bound for Plymouth, accompanied by her father-in-law Gilbert.

The next story takes place fifteen years later, during the first year of King Philip's War. Here we meet Rachel, Matthew and Lydia's daughter, now a young woman of fifteen. This story has the most action, as Rachel goes through a trial that shapes the direction of her life. Finally, the third story takes place during the Salem Witch Trials, some seventeen years after Book Two.

The biggest problem this book runs into is that the main characters just aren't that interesting, and they don't actually do much. Outside of the denouement in Book Two where Rachel makes Major Life Decisions while a captive of King Philip's band of marauding Indians, the Winslows largely serve as bystanders. They witness the actions of historical figures, but they don't really have any impact by themselves.

It's also interesting that for a book largely read by conservative evangelicals, the depictions of faith are remarkably charismatic and literal. Lydia almost literally hears the Voice of God. Rachel anoints the sick with oil and heals by faith. They portray a remarkable, vibrant Christian faith that's alive in every aspect of their life (which is historically consistent with a log of writings by early American Christians). It's a faith that's far different than the tired, cold Christianity that's displayed in too many churches today.

I can't give this book an enthusiastic recommendation. It's interesting for the historical aspects, although it plays fast and loose with the Salem Witch Trials, but it's really bland. It's not a bad read, just kind of mediocre.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle #2, Mission #6 - Research Facility Attack!

It's time to put an end to the experimental TIE threat in this sector. You're in a B-Wing for this mission, which means your focus is on heavy attack. Most of the enemy TIEs will be launching from the Hanger containers, so if you don't enjoy dogfighting, make those your priority targets. Two torpedoes a piece should do the trick. Or play it my way and fight all the enemies out in the open!

Once the fighters are gone, knock out the platform and research vessel. Use your remaining proton torpedoes, plus linked weapon fire. Hitting with three lasers and three ion cannons at once tends to have a good effect on knocking down enemy shields.

Once the area is cleared, it's time to head back to the Liberty. It looks like you're in line for a medal. Those experimental TIEs definitely won't be showing up again. Or will they?