Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Archive for the 'Meanderings' Category

Encounters with AI

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Just noting a couple of recent incidents…

On Sunday, I stayed overnight in Portland before catching an early morning flight home. While I was there I received my usual daily email from Amazon, with suggestions on books I might be interested in — but this time every book in the email was on the business or process of writing, and all were by WMG Publishing. I might not have noticed this, except that I’d spent the prior week at a workshop put on by WMG Publishing on the business and process of writing. **Ahem** How did the Amazon AI know I was at the workshop?

Then on Tuesday, I used my Android phone to look up the number of our local plumbing company and give them a call. Afterward, I sent myself an email reminder (as I do). In the subject line I typed “Al” and Google suggested “Allen’s”. I accepted that and it next suggested “Plumbing” (capitalized). So because I called a phone number, the AI guessed the likely subject line of my email.

I told all this to my husband.
He asked, “Do you like them spying on you?”
My answer: “No! It’s creepy.”

But they’re not perfect yet. On the way home from town I asked Google to tell me the weather. It gave me the weather for Portland even though I’d left Portland over a day before. Go figure.

Checking In

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

I haven’t posted in a while. What with hurricanes, earthquakes, politics, nuclear war, global warming, etc., posting about a new review can seem a bit trivial, and I haven’t been inspired to write about other topics.

I have been keeping busy, though. I’ve been working on a new novel in an existing story world. I’m 44,000 words into it, which is a big enough investment that I feel like I ought to finish it. I had/have an ambition to hammer out an extremely rough draft by the time I head to the mainland in October — four weeks from now. That would be some kind of a miracle for me, but hey, you never know.

I write best when I’m confident. I tend not to write at all when I’m feeling discouraged. Not a tough-survivor trait, I know, but it is what it is. Today I’m feeling discouraged. Tomorrow will probably be better. If I could look at writing as a hobby instead of a career, I think I’d be happier — but I still need to figure out where the money is coming from.

For many years I’ve done all my writing on a Toshiba laptop. A few years ago it started having issues, so I stopped allowing it online. It’s worked great ever since then. I’ve only been using it for writing and coding ebooks, and I back up my files multiple times a day.

Two days ago I finally ordered a new laptop.

Today — a discouraging day — I decided to start my writing session by typing out all the things that are bothering me. This is something like Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” but not in longhand. I was less than two hundred words into this exercise when my old laptop crashed. System dump something or other, scary stuff. Ugh. But at least I hadn’t just written some wonderful artistic passage! And the laptop rebooted.

Being of a paranoid nature, I decided to take a snapshot of everything on the laptop’s hard drive. (I’ve done this before and like I said, I back up files frequently. But extra insurance, right?) I copied almost all the folders onto a USB stick, leaving out only a couple of things I really don’t care about. Everything, all together, came out to slightly over a gigabyte of data. Years of work. One gigabyte.

Easy to tell I never kept photos, movies, or Photoshop files on this computer.

Within a few minutes after I finished copying files, the laptop crashed again. It rebooted again, but I can take a hint. I won’t be doing anymore writing on the dear old Toshiba. Maybe I’ll fire up the old Netbook and use that until the new laptop arrives. Or I’ll use this Mac desktop, though it’s getting on in computer-years too.



Demographics of Disdain

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Twitter can be a rough-and-tumble place. People have opinions and most do not hesitate to share them. I don’t claim innocence and I do recognize that nuance is often lost with 140 characters.

But what is it with the grand sweeping condemnations?

Grand sweeping condemnations –– that’s my term for when people choose a demographic characteristic common to a large and otherwise diverse group — and accuse all of being guilty of some shared sin. In my Twitter timeline white men and baby boomers are common targets. It will be different for you depending on who you follow — and who you unfollow. Damn right I’ve unfollowed people for excessive GSCs.

(Yes, #notAllMen is either a legitimate dissent or an ironic comment. Hard to be sure in all cases.)

I don’t understand the logic of GSCs. What do people expect to gain by using them? Shore up the perceived tribe by casting disdain on others? Maybe.

As a baby boomer, it’s hard not to notice how the baby-boomer hate routine has become increasingly common. Otherwise fine folk who would not for a moment consider themselves bigots are happy to play this game. No big deal if you want to insult me. I know how to unfollow.

In the abstract though, when baby boomers are held up as the worst generation, reprehensible in all aspects and particularly in their regard for the environment, I get offended on behalf of people like my husband.

Ron devoted his career to Haleakala National Park. He worked long hours for limited compensation because it was his goal to protect the park’s unique and fragile natural areas from the ravages of invasive species, and when he retired from the park service he left those wilderness areas in a far healthier condition than they’d been when he started. The ecological recovery has been amazing.

In essence, Ron picked one place in the wide world and poured his heart and soul into making it better. That might be a strategy to consider, for those of you who want to point fingers at his generation. Better to act, do something, than to accuse and complain and alienate those who actually have contributed to the betterment of the world.

And one more bit of motherly advice from the old lady: Don’t determine your tribe by simplistic demographic dividers. There is more diversity in any group than many of us care to admit. Yes, even those heinous baby boomers.

Here are four baby boomers, celebrating the completion of a fence to keep feral goats and pigs out of Maui’s amazing national park:

Left to right: Ross Hart, Ron Nagata, Mike Ing, Ted Rodrigues
photo credit: Dallas Nagata White

My Science Fiction Moms

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

My two children are adults now, but I’ve always loved being a mom and still do. Perhaps as a consequence, moms have often been prominent in my fiction.

My children were quite young when I wrote my first novel, The Bohr Maker. In that story, Phousita, one of two main protagonists, is not technically a mother but she’s a mother-figure for many. In Tech-Heaven the solo protagonist is a widowed mother with a close relationship to her own mother, her mother-in-law, and her daughters. Deception Well is a bit short on mothers, but Vast makes up for it, I think. Limit of Vision doesn’t directly explore motherhood, but in Memory one of the driving emotional themes is the strong relationship between the protagonist, Jubilee, and her mother. The Red trilogy is lacking in motherhood — it’s Dad who gets the focus here. But in The Last Good Man motherhood returns as a powerful emotional force behind a fast-paced plot.

True Brighton is the protagonist of The Last Good Man. As a forty-nine-year-old mother of three adult children, she’s not your usual action hero–but then she’s not your usual forty-nine-year-old mom, either. True is an army veteran, working now as a military contractor. She’s seen her share of battlefield action and she understands all too well the pain that parenthood can bring. In this opening scene, True encounters a father desperate to hire the services of Requisite Operations to rescue his kidnapped daughter:

Lincoln returns his gaze to Yusri and says in a soft rasp, the result of more scarring in his larynx, “The United States government does not pay ransoms, Mr. Atwan. Ransoms only encourage more kidnappings. As a military contractor licensed to work with the federal government, Requisite Operations is required to abide by that policy. So we cannot help you pay a ransom.”

Yusri’s voice grows plaintive. “She is not political. She only wanted to help people, to do some good in the world.”

“I understand that, sir.”

True confronts the photo of Fatima Atwan. A bright-eyed young woman, the prime years of her life still ahead.

Yusri’s reserve slips. “She doesn’t deserve this!”

True looks up to see tears shining in his eyes.

Yusri Atwan is a Seattle native. He owns a small but prosperous company that manufactures chemical sensors. His daughter, Fatima, is a young medical doctor and an idealist, dedicated to helping those less fortunate than herself. She committed to a year of overseas service with a charitable foundation. And her father is right: She doesn’t deserve what happened to her. But then, most people overrun by the firestorms of chaos and anarchy don’t deserve their fates.

It takes Yusri only seconds to recover his composure, and when he speaks again to Lincoln, it’s in a hard, determined voice. “I’ve talked to people, Mr. Han. They say you, your company, can help when no one else can. I understand it costs money. I can pay. I can get six hundred thousand dollars in cash within two business days. It’s all I have and I know it’s not enough, but she’s with El-Hashem.”

As these words pass his lips, Yusri’s face flushes dark. He looks away; he looks at the wall. True watches him intently, sure that he is contemplating what that fact means for his daughter. Is there anything worse than knowing the brutality your child endures and being helpless to affect it? No, she thinks. There is not. Breathing softly, shallowly, she schools herself to stay focused.

Read the entire first chapter of The Last Good Man here.

Best wishes for the day, whether you’re a mother or not. 🙂

Earth Day / March For Science

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

“…there is nothing for me to do as we circle the world except to admire the overwhelming beauty of this place that we have threatened and corrupted with our wars and our poisons. Lotus passes from daylight into a night lit by electric lights that outline the continents and surround the oceans, and in time it is day again, and we are bathed in the bright-blue reflected glow of the Pacific, and I can’t stop looking at it all, taking it all in. Astronomers speak of finding Earthlike worlds around other stars, but they are speaking in hyperbole, in meaningless generalities. There is only one Earthlike world. There will only ever be one and it is fragile, and if it takes the cold manipulations of a fathomless AI to bring balance and to protect this precious place from the madness of those who would set it on fire, so be it. I, for one, am proud to serve as a soldier in that war.”

–excerpt from The Trials, Book 2 of the Red trilogy


Image courtesy of NASA.
Image caption: “NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured a unique view of Earth from the spacecraft’s vantage point in orbit around the moon.”
Follow this link for more information on this image.

Worse & Worse

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

I’ve been reading a lot of election analysis over the past week and, incredibly, much of it seeks to point fingers of blame for the Republican victory at the Democratic party, or at “social justice warriors,” or at very generalized groups. Today’s guilty party was straight middle-class white women, of which I am one. Blame me if you want to, but it’s bullshit.

The Republican candidate won either because the election was hacked (and no one is talking about it), or because enough people rejected a fully qualified candidate in favor of one who lacks good judgment according to 74% of exit poll respondents.

Granted, we now know that polls are utterly worthless. But it appears that people knew what they were buying, and they bought it anyway. This is mind boggling to me. Honesty, humility, knowledge, and a propensity for public service used to be valued traits in this country. Apparently, no longer.

Book Quote Wednesday

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

Nagata-hepen_the_watcher_BVC133x205I’ve participated in “Book Quote Wednesday” on Twitter for the past several weeks. Though the activity was created as a promotional tool, my experience shows it to be ineffective in that regard. I haven’t seen any effect on sales. Nevertheless, it’s kind of fun.

The idea is that a group of writers are given the same, simple word. They find an example of the use of that word somewhere in their work, and post the snippet on Twitter.

I’ve collected all my quotes from one novel — Hepen the Watcher — book 2 of my under-read and overlooked fantasy duology, Stories of the Puzzle Lands. The two books in this set are totally unlike anything else I’ve written. They’re straight up fantasies with magic — sardonic, violent, and darkly humorous. Sword-and-sorcery maybe. Of the first book in the duology, Fantasy Review Barn said:

“…It is the amount of heart this book has that really sells it for me. It is a book that falls into the gritty fantasy label for sure, but with a certain amount of sweetness. I will be reading the second of the duo in the near future, and have no problems recommending this one.”

So, back to Book Quote Wednesday. Each participating writer is asked to include the hashtag #bookqw in their tweet, so readers can check out other participating writers. Since I couldn’t fit a decent-sized quote within Twitter’s character limit, I started by posting simple screenshots of text.


Back from Japan.
Did anyone miss me?

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

This is a post about partially disengaging from social media—primarily Twitter.

Lake Biwa, Hikone, JapanYesterday I returned home from a nine-day trip to Japan. We had Internet while there, but I didn’t post anything on Twitter or Facebook, and only briefly checked what others were posting — and it was nice to take a break.

Twitter can be fun, and it can be a fantastic source for links to cutting edge science, technology, politics, or whatever you might be interested in. For writers like me, with strong hermit tendencies, it’s also a means to interact on occasion with fellow humans…or perhaps just to lurk and observe the interactions of fellow humans.

But for me, more and more, Twitter has gotten to be about what it shouldn’t be about: measuring my own popularity — or lack thereof! 😉

Welcome to Insecure Writerland!, where the brain becomes absorbed with such critical questions as:

* Who’s following me?

* Who’s not following me and WHY? (Always the more important question!)

* Why has no one responded to my beautiful sunset picture? It’s been five minutes …. ten … thirty. Not even a like? WTF? I have over two thousand followers! Clearly I’m not on any special pay-attention-to-these-people lists! I’ve been filtered out! Maybe even muted!

* Should I take that sunset tweet down? (Yes, I have taken down sad and lonely tweets.)

Aside from social validation, the other great illusory promise of Twitter for hermit writers like me is that it offers a means of influencing the course of a career. Back in the old days, a book was published and either magic happened and sales took off or, more likely, magic didn’t happen and the book quickly went out of print. Sure, you could go to conventions and try to push the book to target readers and maybe that would get you some momentum, but from a return-on-investment perspective, money spent on conventions will never be made up in book sales, unless you are already a big-name writer. (This is especially true if you live in Hawaii, and have to fly to the mainland.)

So social media feels empowering because it’s a way to promote your work, and maybe survive as a writer, without emptying the bank account. I do think social media is helpful. For writers with skills at this social stuff I think it helps a lot. But you get what you give. (Maybe. Sort of. If you’re lucky.) In any case, growing an audience takes time and talent that might otherwise be spent writing.

So yesterday when I reappeared on Twitter and asked:

…it was something of an experiment, a means of checking my Twitter footprint — and at first it didn’t look like I had one! 😉

In the end though, I got some likes and some responses, and it’s all good.

Still, I am a hermit writer. I do better work when I’m focused on the work, rather than on whether or not I’ve managed to get a response out of Twitter.

So I’m going to try to blog a little bit more and check in on Twitter a lot less. My time away taught me that it’s at least possible to disengage from social media. We’ll see how it goes long term.

Oh, and expect a couple of brief posts on Japan!

What Your Computer Dollar Bought in 1983

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

Columbia computer price list-200pxI was cleaning out a closet and found this most awesome document. The price list for a Columbia portable computer, as offered by a computer company on Oahu, in 1983. Click the image to see it big.

I don’t remember who wrote those helpful notes that appear on the price list. But notice that 128K of additional RAM is available for only $445!

Below is the invoice of what we actually bought. You can see we got a nice discount on the $395 dot-matrix printer!

Columbia computer invoice


We must have been insane to spend that much money — but at the time I felt it was necessary since I wanted to be a writer.

By the way, I got the computer in lieu of a diamond engagement ring. To this day, I wear only a gold wedding band. No regrets! 🙂

Addendum: I just found the HANDWRITTEN original draft of the first novel I ever wrote. It was a “closet” novel, meaning unpublished. I had totally forgotten that I’d been handwriting the thing. I’m impressed with the fortitude of my younger self — and totally understanding of why I was willing to pay so much for a computer.

Launch Pad 2015 – Apply Now

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

In the summer of 2012 I was lucky enough to attend Launch Pad, a week-long, wide-ranging crash course on current astronomy put on by Mike Brotherton, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Wyoming. Launch Pad was created for writers, editors, and people in film and other media, with the goal of improving the scientific accuracy of our stories and promoting a culture of science.

The sessions are a lot of fun! And this year, with some funding from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, travel stipends have returned. The other bit of good news: Mike tells us that this year they “managed to secure the ‘Honors House’ on campus, which should be a major step up from the dorms.” The dorms where I stayed during my visit we’re pretty rugged, but mostly they were hot.

Click this link for more information about Launch Pad, along with the application form.