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Илья Below are 10 entries, after skipping 10 most recent ones in the "Илья" journal:

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November 17th, 2016
02:05 pm

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Reading log
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life (2015). A friend of mine is a big fan of this book, which made me try three times to read it. The protagonist is an orphan raised in a monastery where the monks molest him, and one monk runs away with him and pimps him to truckers in addition to having sex with him himself. When the police discover them, the monk hangs himself. The boy continues practicing homosexual prostitution; near his fifteenth birthday a sadistic john kidnaps, rapes and tortures him; when the boy tries to run away, the john runs over him with his truck, maiming his body. The boy's psyche is already maimed; he regularly cuts himself, which is not good either for his physical health or his mental health. Now, what would you expect the boy to be during the rest of his life? Probably to remain a prostitute on the streets of Spokane or Boise or Oklahoma City, and to die of AIDS or a drug overdose before age 30. You wouldn't expect him to become a wealthy corporate lawyer in Manhattan, would you? And if you read that in the second half of his life the boy was helped by people as altruistic as the people in the first half were sadistic, would you believe what you read?

One of my favorite stories is about how I tried to get my daughter to read Henry Kuttner. She read the sentence "We called Lemuel "Gimpy," on account of he had three legs", closed the book, and said, "A human being cannot have three legs." I asked her, "Can a wolf speak like a human being?" "No." "But in "Little Red Riding Hood" a wolf speaks like a human being." ""Little Red Riding Hood" is a classic fairy tale." "And this is classic science fiction." The thing is, different genres of fiction have different conventions about suspension of disbelief, and if a work of fiction breaks the conventions without a good reason, it is a bad work of fiction.

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November 13th, 2016
11:27 pm

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Isaac Asimov, Nightfall and Other Stories (1969). A few weeks ago my daughter told me that at school, they discussed the concept of the perfect car. I said that the perfect car carries people and things from one point to another instantly with no need for a road - i.e. it is a teleportation door. I remembered that there is a story by Isaac Asimov that features such a door. Looking through local used bookstores, I found a 75-cent old paperback with just this story, "It's Such a Beautiful Day", and 19 more. One more story is a classic, "Nightfall", about a planet in a sextuple star system at the center of a globular cluster that only knows night once in a thousand years, which makes its humanoids go insane (the orbital dynamics of it is highly suspect, and I don't think 20-year-old Asimov worked it out). Other than that... let me put it this way, Robert Sheckley was a much better writer.

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11:41 am

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Ursula K. Le Guin, The Compass Rose (1982). A collection of 20 short stories, each very different from the others, some with fantasy or soft science fiction elements, and some realistic. The best story, in my opinion, supposes that nonhuman animals (ants, penguins, weasels, frogs and more) have language, literature and art, and asks: given the great biological differences between these animals and humans, what would humans make of their literature and art? The scariest story is similar to Ken Kesey's One Flew over a Cuckoo's Nest, but instead of a rogue nurse the antagonist is a dystopian totalitarian state.

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November 8th, 2016
11:00 am

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Golem


Похвастаюсь, что я эту песню слышал в субботу в Портленде; на вопрос "What is the capital of your state?" давался ответ: "Salem".

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10:06 am

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Батяр-бенд Галичина
Вчера nagunak дал ссылку вот на какую милую песенку:



Текст.

Я был во Львове всего полтора дня четыре года назад, и видел проявления ностальгии по временам Второй Польской Республики, например, эту реставрированную вывеску (контекст). Как эта ностальгия может сочетаться с культом ОУН, которая боролась против Польши - не спрашивайте меня.

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November 2nd, 2016
06:24 pm

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John Gribbin, Alone in the Universe (2011). In 1986, Polish science fiction writer Stanisław Lem reviewed a fictional book called Das kreative Vernichtungsprinzip. The book wonders why, after several decades of search, SETI failed to find an extraterrestrial civilization capable of sending interstellar radio signals. The answer, according to the fictional author, is that there is only one civilization capable of doing it in the Milky Way, our own, which appeared and acquired this ability due to a series of improbable destructive catastrophes. This nonfiction book, published 25 years later, says the same thing.

Earth's astronomic and geologic history is unique and unlikely. Its magnetic field protects life from energetic charged particles in the solar wind. The field is generated by currents in Earth's liquid outer core. A significant source of the heat that keeps it liquid is decay of radioactive potassium, thorium and uranium. Where did these radioactive isotopes come from? From a supernova that exploded close to the Solar System as it was forming. Without the supernova, Earth would have no significant magnetic field. If, on the other hand, the supernova had exploded a few billion years later, it would have burned out life on Earth. Early in the history of the Solar System, Earth seems to have collided with a Mars-sized planet named Theia; the iron cores of the two planets merged, and the debris of the collision formed the Moon. Without the collision, Earth's core would have been smaller, and its crust too thick for plate tectonics, and there would have been no Moon, which stabilizes Earth's rotation. Whether there would have been life on Earth in this case, no one knows, but with Earth's axis of rotation wobbling around, definitely not in the present form. In the Cryogenian geologic period, all or almost all Earth was covered with ice several times; the Cambrian Explosion, when most modern phyla of animals appeared in the fossil record, followed less than 100 million years ago. If the latter is a consequence of the former, and the former was caused by cosmic events such as the tail of a gigantic comet nucleating ice crystals in the upper atmosphere of Earth and increasing Earth's albedo, then without this comet there would have been no complex animals. And so on.

The problem with this argument is that we only have one example of a planet with life, let alone a technological civilization. A few species of extremophile bacteria can withstand massive amounts of radiation. On a planet with no magnetic field, would this be true of all life, or would there be no life other than these bacteria? No one knows. The brain size of hominids has been slowly increasing since the time of the australopitecines till the present; this period is also the time of the Quaternary ice age, the first one in 200 million years. Were the climactic changes driving the increase in brain size, so if a planet with australopitecine-like animals is not in an ice age, they won't evolve into humans? No one knows.

This book tries to convince the reader that the humanity is the only technological civilization in the Milky Way. It convinced me that no one knows whether this is so.

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October 31st, 2016
03:47 pm

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Фантастический вопрос
Интересно, кто-нибудь всерьез задавался вопросом: каких минимальных размеров должен быть звездолет, способный к самовоспроизведению?

В принципе, человечество уже послало к звездам космические корабли: и "Пионеры 10/11", и "Вояджеры", и "Новые горизонты" летят к звездам, и долетят до них за несколько тысяч лет, хотя, возможно, микрометеориты их раздерибанят гораздо раньше. Их источники энергии - радиоизотопные генераторы, которые иссякают за десятилетия. Источник энергии с большей долговечностью - это ядерный или термоядерный реактор. Для ядерного реактора нужен запас обогащенного урана, который не распадется за несколько тысяч лет. Для термоядерного реактора нужен дейтерий и способ производства трития (либо тяжеловодный ядерный реактор, либо ядерный реактор, облучающий литий). Прилетев и сев на планету, вращающуюся вокруг чужой звезды, корабль должен построить то же самое для дочерних кораблей. Он должен провести геологоразведку роботами. На Земле некоторые залежи урана лежат на поверхности (например, в Намибии), а некоторые - под землей (например, в Австралии); на корабле должны быть роботы, способные извлечь уран как оттуда, так и оттуда. Для ядерного реактора также нужна нержавеющая сталь, а для нее - хром. Для термоядерного реактора нужны сверхпроводящие электромагниты; на ИТЕР их соленоиды сделаны из ниобий-олова и ниобий-титана, но, наверное, их можно сделать из оксида иттрия-бария-меди или оксида висмута-стронция-кальция-меди. Корабль должен добыть эти химические элементы, очистить их, и построить фабрику, на которой все это изготавливается. Уран и другие тяжелые элементы на Земле появились от близких взрывов сверхновых во время формирования Солнечной Системы, загрязнивших газово-пылевое облако, из которого она сформировалась. Что делать на планете, возле которой ничего не взрывалось?

Далее: дочерним кораблям нужны компьютеры. Сейчас единственная элементная база для сколь-либо быстрых компьютеров - это кремниевые интегральные схемы, на которых реализуется процессор и память. Корабль должен их изготовить для дочерних кораблей. Сейчас их уже изготавливают роботы. Но какие машины изготавливает этих роботов, и какие - те машины? И этот кремний выращивают монокристаллом в кварцевом тигле в аргоновой атмосфере. На Земле 1% атмосферы состоит из аргона, на Марсе 2%. Откуда взять аргон на планете, где его нет в атмосфере?

Может быть, в будущем будут другие реакторы и другие компьютеры? Законы физики другими не будут, и некоторые технологии подошли к ним впритык уже десятилетия назад. "Пионер-10" запустили в 1972 году на ракете "Атлас-Центавр", которая разогнала его до скорости 14,4 км/с. "Новые Горизонты" запустили в 2006 году на ракете "Атлас V", которая разогнала его до скорости 16,1 км/с.

Интуиция мне подсказывает, что звездолет, способный к самовоспроизведению, будет размером в десятки километров, и содержать на борту десятки тысяч роботов - если он вообще возможен. Если он невозможен, то это отвечает на вопрос "Если инопланетный разум есть, то где же - посланные им самовоспроизводящиеся звездолеты?". Меня окружают самовоспроизводящиеся наномашины; я сам - аггломерат из нескольких триллионов таких наномашин; просто они не предназначены для путешествий между звездами.

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October 25th, 2016
02:47 pm

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Peter Singer, Hegel: A Very Short Introduction (1983). When I was a Soviet high school student 30 years ago, I was given pretty good instruction in elementary mathematics but none whatsoever in the humanities except some simplified Marxism-Leninism, which my schoolteachers, like all Soviet students, studied in college. As an adult I read The Communist Manifesto, which is a classic of modern political theory on the order of the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and the chapter on Marx the economist in Robert Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers, among chapters on Ricardo and Schumpeter, but nothing on Marx the philosopher. Thinking about it made me wonder whether there was any substance in the things I was taught as a child beyond the glorification of the then-crumbling Soviet state. I knew that Marx elaborated on the philosophy of Georg Hegel, and also that Hegel wrote 700-page volumes unreadable to anyone who is not willing to devote years to studying them, so I picked up this 130-page paperback.

Singer gives a synopsis of several of Hegel's works and notes from his lectures written down by others. Hegel is an idealist philosopher. To him, the Mind (sometimes translated as Spirit) is the world, more so than the material world. This Mind has been alienated from its true nature, and it is the goal of philosophy to undo this alienation and restore the Mind to self-consciousness and harmony. As a was reading about it, a light bulb lit up in my small-m mind. This worldview is similar to Christianity, where Adam fell from grace, making all humanity sinful, to be redeemed by Jesus, and different from the modern scientific worldview, which deals with laws that are true always and everywhere without any need for fall and redemption. I also wondered: if the forces that alienated the Mind are foreign to it, then the Mind is not the whole world, and if they are inherent in it, then they are a part of its true nature, and not a deviation from it; I wonder if any of Hegel's contemporaries had the same objection to his philosophy. Drawing an analogy from physics, Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation is true always and everywhere (let's forget about relativity for the time being), but living as we do on the surface of a rocky planet, we do not see the gravitational attraction between objects because other forces such as friction, electromagnetic in nature, mask it, being many orders of magnitude stronger. However, a physicist won't say that electromagnetism alienates the true gravitational nature of the world. To a physicist, both forces are fundamental; nothing in physics privileges one over the other. For Hegel, however, the world is out of harmony, but harmony will be restored to the world once the Mind realizes its true nature through its small part, the mind of Georg Hegel. In Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titans, the purpose of human history is the delivery of a spare part to the spaceship of an alien stranded on Titan. In Hegel's book, the purpose of world history is Georg Hegel getting this insight and writing his book.

The significance of Hegel's philosophy is that it was adopted by his pupil Karl Marx, though he changed the labels: labor is alienated under capitalism, and it is the goal of philosophy to undo this alienation and bring about communism.

Peter Singer, Marx: A Very Short Introduction (1980). Karl Marx was to the twentieth century what Jesus was to the Middle Ages: a large part of humanity lived under governments that derived their legitimacy from his philosophy. Singer's book on Marx had few surprises for me, but as Winston Smith perceived, the best books are those that tell you what you know already. One thing that I didn't realize is how much of his philosophy Marx borrowed from his teacher Georg Hegel. Marx was not the only socialist philosopher of his era, but while others speculated of how the humanity might live after the overthrow of capitalism, Marx actively discouraged this speculation, and derided the others as utopians. Drawing an analogy from physics, when the Large Hadron Collider was built, particle physicists didn't know what particles and phenomena they would discover, but knew that whatever discoveries they make would come from the ultimate laws of nature. Marx thought that he discovered laws that govern human society, and was as sure that the post-capitalist society would obey them as 21st-century particle physicists were sure that colliding protons would obey the laws that govern elementary particles. It made no more sense for Marx to plan what post-capitalist humans would do than for the particle physicists to plan what elementary particles would do. This is similar to Hegel's Mind gaining self-consciousness and harmony; Hegel did not plan what it would do once it did.

Entomologist Edward Wilson once wrote a book called On Human Nature. He noted that humans are just one out of some 5000 mammalian species and millions of animal species. Since ethologists have no compunctions about ascribing natural behaviors to nonhuman animals, they might as well do so for humans. Karl Marx, as explicated by Singer, would have disagreed: for him, human nature was nothing more than a function of socioeconomic conditions. Wilson is of another opinion: he once said in an interview, "Karl Marx was right, socialism works, it is just that he had the wrong species" (the right species being social insects). Something I do not understand: how can alienation be a distortion of the true nature of the humanity if humans have no true nature?

Karl Marx's magnum opus Das Kapital is, as Singer puts it, "a work of art, of philosophical reflection and of social polemic" instead of a treatise on economics. As far as economics is concerned, time has not borne out the book's predictions. Marx is right that private interests can be contrary to the public interest, but he was not the first economist to state so; the tragedy of the commons was first described in 1833 (though the term was only invented in 1968). But even if Marx was wrong or unoriginal in most of his work, it should still be studied for the same reason Christianity should be studied by atheists: because millions of people have lived by it, died by it, killed by it.

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October 20th, 2016
09:14 pm

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Вопрос по лингвистике
Какое есть слово для употребления слов вне кавычек? Например, предложения "Си-Эн-Эн - неполживое и рукопожатное СМИ" и "По XYZ словам "неполживый" и "рукопожатный" можно распознать дурака" оба используют эти два слова, но одно - вне кавычек, а другое - в кавычках. Что это за XYZ?

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October 18th, 2016
08:56 pm

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Reading log
Ursula K. Le Guin, Planet of Exile (1966). I have read about a half dozen Le Guin books over the years, so I am familiar with the setting of her Hainish cycle. Like in the Noon Universe of the Strugatsky brothers, nearby stars in the Milky Way are inhabited by dozens of varieties of humans with slight anatomical and physiological differences from each other; the contact between two or more races drives the plot of the books. Last year I motorcycled through the Lassen National Forest in Northern California, the former home of the Yana tribe, and re-read Ishi in Two Worlds by Theodora Kroeber, Le Guin's mother, about the last survivor of the southernmost Yana tribelet, where Le Guin's father Alfred L. Kroeber is a prominent figure, and a modern book about Ishi. I also read a collection of California Indian legends edited by Theodora Kroeber, which gave me some idea of where Le Guin's fiction is coming from.

The setting of this novel is this. Gamma Draconis is a red giant star 154 light years from the Solar System. Because it is much brighter than the Sun, its habitable zone is much farther out than the Sun's, so a habitable planet takes much longer to go around it. One planet has a climate that is roughly Earth's, and its day is similar in length to Earth's, but there are 400 days in a month and 60 months in a year, so a year on the planet is approximately 60 Earth years. It is inhabited by a native species of humanoids with some small differences from Earth humans; for example, children are normally conceived and born either in the spring or in the fall. Their technological and cultural level is that of the Earth Neolithic: animal husbandry but not writing. Earth humans have contacted them as a part of a larger project to unite the interstellar humanity against an unnamed common enemy. After their spacecraft left and did not return, possibly because of a war with the enemy, the contact party got stranded on the planet. Members of the party settled and had children, and their children had children of their own, and so on for 600 Earth years. Earth humans and native humanoids are biologically similar enough to be able to conceive a fetus, but different enough so it is always miscarried. Because of this hybridization barrier, Earth humans did not assimilate among the native humanoids, and have retained the knowledge of their origins and book learning, but their civilization is also agricultural. Earth humans on the planet have once numbered in the tens of thousands, but fertility problems have reduced their numbers to about a thousand, which is ecologically implausible: a species introduced into a nonnative environment either dies off or breeds to large numbers, like rabbits in Australia and raccoons in Germany; it does not breed to large numbers first and die off next.

Against this background comes a love story between a native-humanoid woman (summer-born and therefore unable to find a native mate) and an Earth-human man. Her clan and his settlement reluctantly unite against an invasion by a local Genghis Khan. The love affair almost tore the two communities apart, but fighting against the common enemy made them recognize each other's humanity. At the end, a deus ex machina in the shape of a doctor declares that over the twenty-plus generations on the planet, Earth humans have evolved closer to native life biochemically, and therefore it might be possible for the couple to have children. The writing is very beautiful, and the worldbuilding is more interesting than the predictable plot.

Ursula K. Le Guin, City of Illusions (1967). An amnesiac man with the body of a 25-year-old and the mind of a one-year-old is discovered in a forest in the future Eastern North America, naked save for a ring on his finger. He is adopted by a tribelet living in the forest; like the rest of the humanity, it uses a curious mixture of low-tech and future-tech: mules and laser guns. By sequencing the man's DNA, his hosts discover that he is not human but an alien humanoid, but cannot tell where specifically he came from. They teach him a language and give him an education, and also tell him that 1200 years before, Earth has been conquered by aliens, who keep the human population low and retard the development of many technologies including spaceflight. Searching for an answer to the riddle of his origin, the man travels to the city in the Rocky Mountains where the aliens reside; after adventures, he acquires a female companion; when they reach the city, the companion is revealed to be the aliens' agent. The aliens tell him that he is a navigator who arrived from an unknown distant star in a spaceship; his memory has been erased and he dumped in a forest by rebels. They offer to restore his personality as a spaceship navigator and erase the personality he acquired in his six years on Earth. The man agrees, but uses tricks to retain both personalities, which the aliens are not aware of. He realizes that the aliens want to know his home star system, which is Gamma Draconis, the setting for Le Guin's Planet of Exile, so they might destroy or enslave it. When he inadvertently reveals it to an alien, he kidnaps him, commandeers a spaceship (can one man really commandeer a starfaring spaceship, even in the fantastic universe?), and travels home with the kidnapped alien and a teenage survivor of the expedition.

The writing is not as good as in Planet of Exile, and the story is confusing, particularly after the main character reached the city and met the aliens. I have a suspicion that Le Guin herself didn't know where the story was headed when she was writing it.

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