Used to be small like a baby but grew to current size. Urban cyclist. Coffee Enthusiast. New media whore. Rabid atheist. Inventor of the sock.
139 stories
·
6 followers

Offred of Dune.

1 Share

For a writer who grew up in an age when his chosen genre was routinely derided in polite company— when even impolite company could be forgiven for thinking that SF boiled down to megablockbusters about snarky sapient raccoons and alien-punching fighter pilots— it doesn’t get much better than waking up to find that a big chunk of this year’s Emmy Awards comes down to a dust-up between two actual, non-escapist, serious and thought-provoking SF series.

Not fantasy. Not superhero adaptations. Science fiction.

It is a wet dream come true.

You ask me, this is the real Wonder Woman.

You ask me, this is the real Wonder Woman.

Both The Handmaid’s Tale (13 nominations) and Westworld (22!) are brilliant in their own utterly different ways. Westworld impressed me with its clinical dissection of SF tropes and neurophilosophy, with the erudition of its premise and the skill of its execution. Handmaid’s, on the other hand, was like a weekly hour-long kick in the gut, an ordeal you couldn’t look away from, a story from a universe not so much parallel to ours as converging on it. (Yes, I’m familiar with the claim that said convergence happened generations ago, that every one of Gilead’s horrors have already and repeatedly blighted this timeline. I don’t dispute this, but it’s not the whole story. Read on.) If Elisabeth Moss doesn’t win every fucking award on the planet— and I’m including the Nobel in Medicine, and the Golden Rhododendron for best floral arrangement, and Best North American Guppy Breeder in that lot— if she doesn’t take home every award there is, there should be rioting in the streets.

One series is cryosurgical, the other intensely visceral. Both inspired widespread, almost universal acclaim; both are undeniably science fiction.

Or are they?

You might know my opinion of Margaret Atwood’s notorious aversion to the “science fiction” label when applied to her work. (If not, here’s a refresher.) Even if you’re unfamiliar with my take, you probably know about her infamous “Beam me up, Scotty”, “chemicals and rockets”, “talking squids in outer space” definitions of the genre; her half-assed back-peddling when Ursula Le Guin sat her down and gave her a good talking to; her more recent (if still vaguely ambivalent) self-acceptance: Hi. I’m Peggy, and I’m a science-fiction writer.

What's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?

And yet, watching the virtually-flawless Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale— twice now— I found even myself plagued with moments of doubt. This is not a future world. It contains no advanced technology; if anything, it had the feel of a particularly nightmarish period piece. Maybe Atwood was right along.

Maybe this isn’t science fiction.

Nah.

*

I’m sticking to my story. I’m going all in, too. I’m not even going to take the easy way out, stick Atwood over with those Humanities soft-SF types who aren’t even interested in science or technology, who’d rather use aliens and dystopias as metaphors for Othering and Intersectionality and Heteronormative whateverthehells. Atwood herself eschewed that particular cop-out when she wrapped herself in the flag of “speculative fiction”: the thing that separated her writing from science fiction, she said then, was that her fiction was rigorously researched and based on Real Science. (I myself have always preferred William Gibson’s offhanded rejoinder that “All fiction is speculative.”)

No, I’m going to argue— after, admittedly, some serious moments of self-doubt— that The Handmaid’s Tale is science fiction in the pure sense: fiction designed to explore the societal impact of scientific and technological change. The All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again argument is true but irrelevant. The fact that Gilead is based on historical precedent does not get Handmaid a Get-Out-Of-SF-Free card.

Take, for example, the very reason Gilead was born in the first place, the catalyst that allowed the fundamentalists to seize power: a global collapse in human fertility, brought about by environmental catastrophes hinted at but never really explored. We know about “the Colonies”, places where the toxic waste is so ubiquitous your “skin falls off in sheets”. I seem to remember the novel talking about reactor meltdowns and high-rad zones. The apocalypse has already happened in that universe; Gilead smolders at the base of the same cliff that we, in this reality, still teeter on the edge of. The fact that it took place offstage, before the curtain rose, does not make it any less central; it set Handmaid‘s whole world in motion.

Environmental collapse. Imminent Human extinction due to pollution-induced sterility. A classic case of If This Goes On: the impact of technology, our birds come home to roost, sometime in the future.

Consider also the tactics used by the revolution: computer technology, used to disenfranchise half the population in an instant. Offred spells it out explicitly in the novel: “[T]hat’s how they were able to do it, in the way they did, all at once, without anyone knowing beforehand.  If there had still been portable money, it would have been more difficult.” “All they needed to do was push a few buttons,” Moira remarks a couple of pages later.

Of course, computers and ATMs aren’t what you’d call futuristic technology. (In fact, Atwood’s references to “Compubanks” and “portable money” seemed quaint even in 1985 when the book came out; the term “ATM” never even appears in the text, although such machines were ubiquitous back then.) That hardly matters. Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon didn’t stop being SF when Apollo 11 touched down on the Sea of Tranquility. Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider didn’t turn into a historical drama with the coding of the first real-world computer virus.

If you want to be pedantic I could always roll out Offred’s cryptic references to “Feels on Wheels” and “Bun-Dle Buggies”— even the (incongruously optimistic) fact that Gilead is mainly powered by renewables, in the series at least—  to plant this society clearly in a technological future. I could cite the presence of “pocket computers”, which were undeniably futuristic back in the day when amber-screened ATs with 8088 chips were the high end of personal computing. (The TV series, made in a time when the tech has surpassed that of Atwood’s original Gilead, just swaps in iPads and laptops and doesn’t sweat it.) Either way, Gilead arises via the manipulation and misuse of a particular kind of technology, inflicted on a society. It’s pretty much the textbook definition of the science-fictional thought experiment.

I admit, they had me going for a while. The lack of FX, the staid, almost Victorian setting, the overall undeniable low-key prestige of the thing had me wondering if maybe Atwood’s protestations might have more substance to them than the initially-diagnosed fear of SF cooties. This is certainly one of those shows that people who hate science fiction could watch without being any the wiser— maybe we could call it “Stealth-SF”. But SF it is: It describes a world compromised by one kind of technology, and a societal response enabled by another. I suppose, if you really wanted to, you could disqualify it on the grounds that those elements are never the thematic focus of the tale, that the real spotlight is on the way that people use religion as a means of social control.

Of course, if that’s the literary bed you want to make, you might find yourself waking up next to a guy called Atreides…

Read the whole story
onepointzero
5 days ago
reply
Brussels, Belgium
Share this story
Delete

Outsourcing Your Online Presence

2 Comments

Joe Cieplinski:

Look, I get that I’m the nut who doesn’t want to use Facebook. I’m not even saying don’t post your stuff to Facebook. But if Facebook is the only place you are posting something, know that you are shutting out people like me for no good reason. Go ahead and post to Facebook, but post it somewhere else, too. Especially if you’re running a business.

The number of restaurants, bars, and other local establishments that, thanks to crappy web sites they can’t update, post their daily specials, hours, and important announcements only via Facebook is growing. That’s maddening. Want to know if we’re open this holiday weekend? Go to Facebook.

Go to hell.

Read the whole story
onepointzero
51 days ago
reply
It would be less of an issue if Facebook didn't harass non logged-in users to login/signup via repetitive, content-covering, in-your-face modals when looking at public business pages. This agressive attitude has the opposite effect on me. It makes me not want to create an account even more.
Brussels, Belgium
Share this story
Delete
1 public comment
jkevmoses
52 days ago
reply
Similar to the quote of a criminal that when asked "Why do you rob banks? answered with "Because that's where the money is". Facebook is used because that's where the people are. It may or may not be a good service but that is where a lot of people are so it makes sense for businesses to post information on Facebook. They are obviously getting enough business to not care about if Facebook is a great user experience. It's must be a good business experience or they would do something different.
McKinney, Texas

webshit weekly

1 Comment

An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the third week of May, 2017.

Disclaimer
Nobody mentioned Rust this week. The Strike Force communications office commented, "They're not even [within] 100 miles. They are not in any place. They hold no place in TIOBE. This is an illusion ... they are trying to sell to the others an illusion."

AI Playbook
May 15, 2017 (comments)
Some bureaucrats have opinions about software. They are characteristically worthless, to the point that even Hackernews recognizes it. Not all of Hackernews, though: about half the comments are people who believe advertisements from genetics startups. Some asshole wants to know if the bureaucrats "accept pull requests." The entire thread is a battleground between people who understand mathematics and people for whom all computational analysis is magic. The mathematicians are vastly outnumbered.

My Family’s Slave
May 16, 2017 (comments)
A magazine publishes a slaveowner's memoir. Hackernews gets together to be sad about their own slaves, and defending the necessity of remaining complicit in human trafficking. Other Hackernews work hard to map the slavedriver/enslaved relationship into their understanding of family dynamics, which appears to have been entirely derived from Donna Reed television shows. As usual, someone blames capitalism, the opposite of which is apparently farming. Many Hackernews explain that housewives are not slaves because they are paid for their services, which is a truly breathtaking misunderstanding of slavery, families, and money, all at the same time.

A startup’s Firebase bill suddenly increased from $25 to $1750 per month
May 17, 2017 (comments)
An internet suddenly finds himself being charged for services by a service provider. Since the provider is in fact Google, it is not normally possible to speak to a human being about the service, but this particular person knows the secret path to customer support: throwing a huge goddamn temper tantrum all over the internet. It works, of course, and Hackernews spends several hours telling stories about when they suddenly found themselves having to pay for things. The rest of the thread is people reassuring each other that Google is not supposed to care about paying customers, and it is best to accept your place as a faceless plebian, deserving of nothing.

Let them paste passwords
May 18, 2017 (comments)
The British government would like you to store secrets in your clipboard, because of how "many" or "most" password managers behave. Hackernews spends a couple days bitching about other web developers, other security administrators, other computer users, and governments. Hackernews is fine though.

Sweden drops Julian Assange rape investigation
May 19, 2017 (comments)
Sweden has decided Ecuador is a jerk, and has given up attempting to prosecute an attention whore. Hackernews lies to each other for several hours about every possible facet of this completely uninteresting event. Whatsisname's status remains unchanged.

Kill Google AMP before it kills the web
May 20, 2017 (comments)
An internet accurately describes Google's AMP program for what it is -- a barely-disguised attempt to shove more of the internet into itself, the better to track the living shit out of every human being on earth. Hackernews has attempted to avoid this program by using it heavily. Half the comments are Hackernews insisting that it is not only impossible to compete with Google in any way but also insane to try. Some Googles show up to assure everyone that this is for the greater good, and if you'd all just stop talking and get in line the whole process will be nearly painless. A few Hackernews suggest that AMP's feature set can be replicated with a "stop shoving every fucking possible line of javascript into every single pageload" approach, but they are quickly chloroformed and edited out of past Christmas photos.

A working, transistor-scale replica of the MOS 6502 microprocessor
May 21, 2017 (comments)
An internet's hobby involves building a larger-scale, slower replica of a classic processor. Hackernews approves and whiles away a Sunday afternoon namedropping the computers they enjoyed using before they all got jobs shitting javascript into a database.

Read the whole story
onepointzero
56 days ago
reply
"shitting javascript into a database" - stealing this for future use.
Brussels, Belgium
Share this story
Delete

1Password Adds ‘Travel Mode’ Feature for Added Security While Traveling

1 Share

AgileBits has announced a new 1Password feature launching today that travelers will appreciate. Rick Fillion shares the details:

Travel Mode is a new feature we’re making available to everyone with a 1Password membership. It protects your 1Password data from unwarranted searches when you travel. When you turn on Travel Mode, every vault will be removed from your devices except for the ones marked “safe for travel.” All it takes is a single click to travel with confidence.

1Password is home to some of the most sensitive information in its users lives, so a feature like Travel Mode seems like the perfect way to better safeguard that information when traveling. AgileBits has made its implementation extremely easy as well, with a simple login to 1Password.com to enable or disable the feature.

Though the benefits for individuals are clear, Fillion highlights Travel Mode's usefulness in a business setting as well. He shares that administrators of 1Password teams have the option to mark team vaults as "safe to travel" or not, allowing companies to keep business information as secure as possible when their employees travel.

→ Source: blog.agilebits.com

Read the whole story
onepointzero
62 days ago
reply
Brussels, Belgium
Share this story
Delete

★ Dropping Tech Giants

8 Comments and 10 Shares

Great interactive feature by Farhad Manjoo for The New York Times:

Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, are not just the largest technology companies in the world. As I’ve argued repeatedly in my column, they are also becoming the most powerful companies of any kind, essentially inescapable for any consumer or business that wants to participate in the modern world. But which of the Frightful Five is most unavoidable? I ponder the question in my column this week.

But what about you? If an evil monarch forced you to choose, in what order would you give up these inescapable giants of tech?

Great question. I love thought exercises.

My order (from first dropped to last):

  1. Facebook. I love Instagram, but could live without it. I don’t use anything else Facebook offers.

  2. Microsoft. The only Microsoft product I use regularly is Skype, for podcasting, and I suspect I could find another solution. (If I couldn’t, I might have to rethink my answer here.)

  3. Amazon. I buy stuff from Amazon almost every week. I just counted — 11 orders so far in 2017. My wife buys stuff from Amazon even more frequently. But just about anything we buy at Amazon, we could buy elsewhere. It’d be painful to replace, but not irreplaceable. There are a couple of shows exclusive to Amazon Prime that I enjoy, but none that I love.

  4. Alphabet. I already use DuckDuckGo as my default search engine, so giving up Google search would be frustrating at times, but not a deal breaker. I use a few email accounts backed by Gmail, but I actually dislike Gmail, and have been procrastinating on moving all my mail to FastMail for years. I despise Google Docs. I don’t use any Android devices other than as a curiosity. I greatly prefer Safari over Chrome. YouTube, however, is irreplaceable, and so essential that it pretty much singlehandedly catapults Alphabet to #2 in my list.

  5. Apple. I mean, come on. If not for Apple I’d be stuck using computers I don’t like and a phone that I consider a distant second-best. With all the other companies on the list, what I’d miss most are certain of their services — Instagram, Skype, Amazon’s store, YouTube — but Apple is only company in the world whose hardware I consider irreplaceable. And you need the hardware to make best use of the services from any other companies.

Read the whole story
onepointzero
73 days ago
reply
I believe DuckDuckGo uses Bing behind the scenes. Microsoft may be more useful than he thinks.
Brussels, Belgium
gglockner
73 days ago
Yandex - see bottom right corner
onepointzero
73 days ago
Indeed. My bad. It used to be Bing.
evaryont
72 days ago
It's both. Lately it seems to rely on Yandex more often than not, but it uses a melding of a bunch of providers and it's own limited scraping.
Share this story
Delete
5 public comments
toddgrotenhuis
67 days ago
reply
Switch 4 and 5, and you've got me.
Indianapolis
internetionals
72 days ago
reply
My order would be: Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Aphabet, Facebook

The reason is pretty simple: you can go all Apple, all Microsoft or all OSS. Sure you might miss out on some fronts, but none of those options is unrealistic. Apple is clearly the easier to drop as lots of people I know use none of their products at all.

Amazon and Alphabet are trickier to avoid alltogether. For a large part because all the cloud offerings. But between those two Amazon is the easier to drop, because you can do everything they offer using Alphabet provided services, but not the other way around.

Interestingly, for me at least, dropping Facebook would be the hardest relatively speaking and I dont't actually use Facebook. The main reason, for me, is them owning Whatsapp. Staying in touch and sharing things with multiple persons would be a lot harder and you would have to convince them all to a specific other service.
Netherlands
wmorrell
73 days ago
reply
My ordering was identical to the NYT author: Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Alphabet, Amazon. Though my reasoning included everything that depends on AWS; if it's just buying stuff and Kindle and Prime, then it's way easier to give up Amazon. Most service alternatives to the other four will have some dependency on AWS.
rtreborb
69 days ago
Amazon has silently made AWS an indispensable product, one likely used by most of the other 4 companies
jheiss
73 days ago
reply
My ordering was Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon.

I could easily live without or find alternatives to Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. Alternatives to Apple are less pleasant, but tolerable. Amazon would be hard for me to live without.
martinbaum
73 days ago
reply
"5. Apple. I mean, come on, I'd be unemployed."
duerig
73 days ago
Hahaha. So true.
mareino
73 days ago
Sadly, that is why I'd drop Microsoft last. I tried to use non-MS products a couple years ago as a test, and it was the closest I ever came to getting fired.

Oh, good — I’m not the only one who utterly despised this ad

1 Share

Have you all seen this Heineken ad? It takes six people who don’t know anything about each other and pairs them up. On one side, a black woman feminist; a man who accepts the science of climate change; and a transgender woman. In the prelude, each makes a brief statement about their positive beliefs. On the other side, three men: one skinheadish fellow declares that feminism is about man-hating, that women are needed to have children; another rather indignant twit who announces that all those people who believe in climate change need to get off their high horse and get a job; a middle-aged guy who flatly declares that you’re either a man or a woman. Then they’re put together to assemble a bar, and afterwards drink a beer with each other.

If you must, here it is.

I’m seeing people going all goo-goo over it. Aww, isn’t that sweet? One-on-one, people can see each other’s basic humanity and get along.

Except…there’s a striking asymmetry here. Two of those people rejected the basic identity and humanity of the others. The three left-leaning people did not go into this denying the existence of the others, while two of the righties did (and the third was just an ignorant asshat). We’re supposed to feel good about it because they’re able to drink beer together, but there’s no evidence that those three men recognized their own failures, while the three on the other side just had to take it and tolerate the intolerable.

Here’s a good take on it from Mirah Curzer.

This is the danger of the feel-good “let’s just talk to each other” approach. It’s just a more cuddly version of that horrible bothsidesism that equates being called a racist with actual racism as reasons for hurt and anger. Both sides are not the same. The transphobe who agrees to have a beer with the trans woman is sacrificing nothing. She, on the other hand, is giving up a certain amount of dignity by breaking bread with someone who thinks she shouldn’t have the right to exist. She’s risking her mental and physical safety, volunteering for the hard emotional labor of arguing for her right to be a person. And with ads like this, that labor is being demanded of her with no consideration of how much it may cost. Worse, it’s heavily implied that if she were to walk away, it would make her just as intolerant as the bigot who views her with disgust.

Not all viewpoints are equal. Not all olive branches are earned. And it is not in the service of justice to demand emotional labor of marginalized people while praising bigots for doing the bare minimum to act like humans on a single occasion.

Isn’t that the way it always is? And now we’re supposed to tolerate assholes so Heineken can sell beer, too.

Read the whole story
onepointzero
85 days ago
reply
Brussels, Belgium
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories