Some time has passed

I turned 42 today.  Believe it or not, I’ve never been this old before. It’s a new personal best!

Being 42, you would naturally expect that I have become privy to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.  And in fact, I have:

Life, the universe and everything have no inherent meaning, because meaning can only exist in the mind of an observer and is therefore completely subjective.  The meanings that we tend to think are objective are just large-scale subjective; they’re impressed upon us as we grow by our peer groups but can vary between societies and species.

Therefore, your life means what you make it mean to you, and if you care, also what you make it mean to others.  The ancients were on the right track when they said “Life is what you make of it.”

So what does my life mean to me?  I’m not sure.  I’m probably still far too young to figure that out.  But I value enjoying it and I feel like it gains meaning when I observe the natural world, which brings me to:

What does the universe mean to me?  It’s a playground filled with beauty and wonder that needs more minds and longer-lived minds to appreciate it.  The universe is tragically finite in time, so it behooves us and any other sentient species that might exist to fill it with minds as quickly as possible, to maximize enjoyment and appreciation of its beauty, and just maybe to find a way to make it last even longer.

(The “and everything” part is pretty much covered by “universe”, by definition.)


Accomplishments for 2013

I’m a couple of months late with this.  Much has been going on.

A couple of years ago I decided to stop setting myself up for failure by making New Year’s resolutions.  Instead I decided to review each year’s accomplishments.

2013 had only one major accomplishment, but it was a really big one: I got myself out of debt.  I sold off all of my company stock, and between that and my bonus I was able to fully pay off all three of my remaining student loans, plus some lingering credit debt I had accumulated on my big road trip in 2011.

That was a great feeling!

The only other significant thing I can remember doing in 2013 is taking a week’s holiday in Calgary to attend the Pincade Expo, visit friends and tank up on the world’s most delicious hamburgers from Peter’s Drive-In, which I had been craving for a while.


What I’ve Been Reading

It has been a long time since I’ve posted one of these, and I’ve probably forgotten some things, but here goes.

I bought a Kindle last year. It’s something I’ve been interested in since they came out, but couldn’t get around to coughing up the dough until I saw a used one for sale in the classifieds at work.  Discount price = quick action!

I’ve been re-reading some old favorites plus a few new things to try out the Kindle, but also still reading some real books.  Overall I like the Kindle, though with the jacket on it’s a little too heavy for reading on my back.  I will continue using it, but it’s not going to replace paper books any time soon.


Iain Banks: Surface Detail

A pretty straight-up Culture novel.  As enjoyable as any other, and thus recommended reading.  One of the two main conflicts driving the plot was the use of virtual reality hells to torment uploaded “sinners”, where sin is defined by those who design the hell and pay for the server capacity to run it.

This is something that had never occurred to me before.  I always considered the obvious implementation of uploaded environments to be one of complete freedom – every individual should be free to orchestrate their private VR environment however they want, and design their perceptions of others and of the outside world however they want.  I hadn’t thought of how horrible it could be if we allowed others to dictate the experience inside.  We must prevent this from happening.


Kathleen Ann Goonan: Queen City Jazz

Did Not Like.  It sounded interesting because it was a journey story set in a post-apocalyptic world that had been transformed by a combination of a celestial event and a flawed transformation of cities and lifeforms via nanotechnology and genetic engineering.

It ended up feeling kind of muddy in my mind.  There are some stories where the descriptions of things are kind of murky, and the author (intentionally or not) does a good job of conveying the confusion and uncertainty of the protagonist, and this is one of them.  I generally don’t like that.


Larry Niven: The Ringworld Engineers, The Ringworld Throne, and Ringworld’s Children

I’ve read them all before, but a very long time ago and the opportunity arose.  I didn’t bother re-reading Ringworld itself because I’ve read that one often enough to remember it well.  The later three, though, I had mostly forgotten and quite enjoyed refreshing my memory of.


Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner: Betrayer of Worlds, Juggler of Worlds, Destroyer of Worlds, and Fate of Worlds

This five-book series (I read the first volume a while back) is probably the best of the many good cases of Niven letting other authors play in his sandbox.  Together they’ve done an amzing job of knitting together many of the disparate threads from earlier Known Space novels and short stories, into one contiguous and consistent tale of what happens, when humans, Puppeteers, Pak and a young but super-intelligent species butt heads.

There’s a lot going on here.  The Puppeteers, by virtue of their fundamental cowardice combined with a major technological advantage, are extremely dangerous to just about everyone.  They’ve been manipulating other species, including humans, to try to head off future dangers to themselves.  When they discovered that the core of the galaxy was exploding and a major radiation wavefront would be coming along in ten thousand years or so, they started fleeing the galaxy, taking their planets with them.

But now the highly intelligent and very warlike Pak are also fleeing the core explosion and catching up with the Puppeteers from behind.  While ahead, a young species with an amazing capacity for learning is emerging at a rate that could prove a threat, and human interference has prevented the Puppeteers from mitigating that threat as they normally would, through sabotage or extermination.

What’s a civilization of cowards to do?  Why, turn for help once again to the humans they’ve been been tweaking for luck and paranoia all this time…

I thoroughly enjoyed this series, and it’s must reading for anyone who likes the Known Space universe!


A. Merritt: The Metal Monster

A childhood favorite that I had mostly forgotten.  Upon re-reading, I’m amazed at the ideas it contains.  This story was first serialized in 1920, but it describes (using Vernian language) what today we would call minds in a computer substrate or natural machine intelligences, possibly including nanotechnology.

The antiquated and excessively flowery and voluminous descriptions combined with concepts that have relatively recently become common in science fiction create a delightfully clashing combination – old and new at once.


Unique, just like everyone else

(This is a draft I wrote over a year ago and forgot to post.)

The other day I went for a ferry ride over to the Sunshine Coast.  As is my habit, I rode at the bow, on the outside deck, enjoying the brisk sea air and watching the scenery scrolling smoothly by.

I was watching the thousands of small waves – really no more than large ripples – raised on the water by the wind.  They’re all very similar in height, general shape, speed and duration, but I’d hazard a guess they’re also each unique, when you get right down to the specific measurements.

I was thinking about how just in the stretch of water I could see, many thousands of these little waves formed and vanished while I watched, and these waters have been doing this for billions of years.

How sad that all of that uniqueness has come and gone without a witness to appreciate it like this.  I found myself wishing I could pause the universe and levitate out over the water to study some of the waves close up.

There’s an obvious analogy here with people, or beings in general.  Too many lives pass without really being differentiated from the lives around them.  They’re unique, strictly speaking, but only noticed by their immediate neighbors and ultimately remembered by nobody.  How many trillions of minds have come and gone already with only themselves, at most, aware of their uniqueness?  How can people be content to simply exist for a finite length of time, without at least doing something that is meaningful to them?

But the wave-people analogy ends here, as there is no analogue of me on the boat watching the waves.  We must observe ourselves and lend meaning to our own existence.

The second thought that came to me while watching the waves is how very much I want to simply witness all of the beauty and uniqueness in the universe.  Every little wave, every sand dune, every life on every world, even if unremarkable relative to its peers, at least deserves to be observed and remembered.

It was kind of a zen moment and I haven’t really put it into words well, but I did promise myself to write about it.