All posts by JPMcDonald

A.C. Clarke’s 3 Laws, Part Deux #tech #amwriting

In part 1, I took a look at Arthur C. Clarke’s first two laws. Here, I’m hitting on the oft quoted, used, abused, and has a number of derivatives and variations.

#3 – Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

When I was in college lo those many centuries ago, this used to come up pretty frequently in some of the IT courses. I’ve always been intrigued by this thought, and over the years, I’ve seen many instances of this coming true.

In my writing, I use a mixture of modern tech and old world magic. Sometimes they play well together, and sometimes they don’t. The protagonist, Grey, has had most of his power stripped from him, and through the story arc, he will regain what he lost, and more. But through it, he is using and encountering a mixture of both modern and ancient technologies in a world that otherwise ignores magic.

Most of us will have read stories that include magic not playing well with modern electrical devices, and act if it’s the arcana of two different worlds. I do some of that as well. But I also see it as an allegory for something else.

If you could bring someone from even the 1960’s to today, and stream them an episode of the Original Star Trek series on a tablet, after they got over the shock, would be to ask where the flying cars and starship port were. At least I would.

I love to go back and read speculative fiction from pulp novels, and its always funny to see what they got right, and what they got wrong, or at least hasn’t happened yet. I wonder what they thought when they projected themselves into creating a future world, and the technologies around them. This brings me to two questions. What tech is coming that if we saw it today, would we think of as magic, but also, what old school tech have we lost that would be just as much like magic if we were to rediscover it today? And would anyone but a very few notice?

This brings me to my contemplations about this law, working in technology, and my writing into one world. Technology is evolving at such a rapid pace, and I’m a part of that world, but it still surprises me even after almost thirty years working in it. Are we progressing so rapidly, that we have come to expect so much magic from our modern alchemists that its wiping out the sense of wonder and appreciation for the efforts that bring such wonderful toys to life?

I ask for one simple reason. If we don’t appreciate it, some day we will stop being imaginative. We will stop creating. And the modern alchemists will fade away, and the toys we have now will be just as much like magic because no one will remember the magic it takes to build them, or innovate on them. And if we don’t appreciate it, if it doesn’t make us dream and wonder, is it still magical?

But there is good news too. I look at what this technology manifests. Maker’s Faires feature mixes of bleeding edge technology available to anyone who wants it next to organic honey. Our future will continue to be in the hands of those who dream and build, and deliver the new wondrous generation of magic to us.

Go forth, participate and create!

Clarke’s 3 Laws, in writing and tech #amwriting #amediting #tech

I haven’t shown the blog much love in a while, but it’s been a little crazy. New editor, Book 1 has been re-edited, and will hopefully the 3rd edition will be out by the end of next week! Book 2 is at the editor, and right now the target for release is late April! Finally!

And in the next few weeks, I have a few other projects finally coming to light all about the same time.

But I digress….

Arthur C. Clarke was one of my favorite authors. Yeah, some of his style could be a little sterile, but he wrote stories I’ve reread so many times.He had an ability to look at things with such a forward viewing eye, and make fantastic stories feel… possible.

I was reading through an article on predictions for 10 years out in tech, and they quoted the oft quoted third rule. But you rarely hear about numbers one and two. Here’s your refresher:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

There are so many variations of the third rule… but I digress. I’ve been doing a lot of work in the last few months, but writing and the stuff that pays the bills. Joy. I’ve been in tech for a lot longer than I want to admit, and I’ve been working on a couple of books related to technology, and it’s a lot of fun to bounce between mythology and professional topics. I’ve been editing and providing feedback on one for professional development for Business Analysts, and a lot of the time, these same laws keep popping up in my head.

I think that if we taught kids these rules, they would start to return to a world of critical thinking and drink a little less of the pablum poured out in school today. I come from a long family line of teachers in multiple disciplines, and have a lot of friends in the profession. And none of them are happy with the state of things.

So I’m drafting this little piece in the hopes that whether you are a teacher or student, writer, developer, tester, barrista, electrician or telemarketer, I hope you take a little something away and jump start your passion.

Especially the telemarketers. Stop calling me. Really.

#1, I believe that anything is possible, and when someone tells me it’s impossible, there is almost always a way to prove them wrong. That goes for the grey hairs (of which I have more than a few) and those damn kids that won’t get off my lawn. Why does it matter? This is a glass half empty or half full kinda argument. I can be a bit of a curmudgeon, but at least a smart assed one. I’ll never say something can’t be done, and neither should you. The question is usually one of asking if they are willing to do what it takes.

In tech, we live inside of the Iron Triangle. Time, Money, and Quality. Writing is pretty much the same way. Whether you’re a reader or a writer, we usually want stuff cranked out, and we want it cheap. And guess what comes out of the end of that…

If you’re putting your work in front of the public, no matter what it is, you aren’t going to make everyone happy. So make yourself happy. Sometimes you have to kick the bird out of the nest before you think it’s ready to fly. Then suck up the good and the bad.

#2 – Push not only your limits, but those around you.

Don’t get comfortable, It makes you lazy and complacent. In the BA book, a lot of the story is a friends personal story and her career development. And I’ve pushed her to tell some rather uncomfortable truths in the process. But she is laying out her personal and professional life to help others develop their own careers, and learn how to grow and persevere. I just don’t think she necessarily understood how writing was going to help her do the same.

For some of what I write, it’s hard to tell what will work, and what won’t. I have built a good group of Alpha readers, but its still sometimes hard to wait and see what people think. Just because something sounded good in your head, doesn’t mean it makes it that way to paper. Or sometimes, it’s just not that good. Have people around you that support you, but also challenge you.

And don’t be afraid to be yourself. If they don’t like something, that’s their issue, not yours.


#3 – Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Look for this one next week…

And go out and do something new.

Just because it’s Halloween, doesn’t mean you can be a troll

I’ve seen an extraordinary number of stories, reviews, articles, Facebook posts, and even a few talks with friends recently that all center around one thing. I’m not talking about constructive criticism or critical evaluation. I mean people being nasty, negative, and non-constructively critical, i.e., TROLLS.  And more importantly, people responding to them.

As I read this article ‘Am I being catfished?’ An author confronts her number one online critic I felt a mix of what might pass as emotions. Its easy to see all of the ownership that goes into any creative effort. In this case, an author producing her first work. And is often the case, she got a bad review. Unfortunately, she became obsessed with it. Despite warnings about engaging, she did.

I get it. When someone likes and appreciate your work, you want to thank them. Maybe even engage with them as positive reinforcement and encouragement. And by human nature, when someone is negative, you want to find out why, and possibly even try to change their mind. In this case, her pursuit revealed a lot of disturbing potentials, including revealing people using something other than their own identity. Well, it’s the internet. I could as easily by a hyper intelligent trained alien marmoset. My wife will just tell you I’m a smart ass. Some days, it’s just an ass, but I digress. And only possibly from another planet.

But when I read this, here is what I saw more of. A great draining waste of time, energy and resources that could have been spent improving her skills, creating more work, or even simply enjoying life. I wondered what this personal trial meant for her, her career, and life.

Another one, this time a restaurant review where someone threw a tantrum because the establishment stuck to their business practices, was short, and to the point. The response was well crafted, and undoubtedly drawing a lot of good attention, but there will always be someone who will take the side of the customer. But at least it was a quick and direct response. The review system is a system that can be gamed.

So why am I going off on this? Some other personal family and friends have been victims of various levels of trolldom. So here is my message for anyone stressing over it. And I’m trying to keep this fairly clean. Take feedback for what it’s worth. Haters can F*** Off.

When I pushed out my first self pub story, it had been through numerous self reviews and an external editor. Since then, its had a couple more external edits and reviews. And every time I flip back to it for something, I find something else. The good news with ebooks, I fix em when I find em. And if you have refresh turned on for kindle, you’ll get the updates. The first version version let a couple of things slip through that would have sent my English teacher mother into apoplexy. But, its getting cleaner.  And for the most part, reviews have been fair. And I’m happy that most of my readers have forgiven a few sins in favor of enjoying the story.

I’ve gotten a few messages baiting contention. I deal with enough of that in the rest of my working life. I ignored them. On the other side, I’ve gotten more encouraging messages, and even questions about where my work is going. Those I’ll respond to.

I write because I enjoy it. It’s cathartic. I’ve written for most of my life, mostly to get stuff out of my head, and it lets me work through other events in my personal and professional life. I write for me. The fact that others are enjoying it is a bonus. And the idea that there are some haters out there? I have no expectation that everyone will love, or even like my work. No creative person should. Creativity is a drive to produce something of yourself. Most creative people are unwilling or unable to expose that part of themselves to the world at large. It is the few of that crowd that are willing to risk or tolerate the criticism that inevitably comes with opening yourself to the public, whether on an individual basis or in the greater electronic world.

I wrote this to give a little encouragement for everyone who is trying to bring life to their creative pursuits, whether personally, or because you are trying to make it part of your creative life. Take positive and negative commentary for what it is. Feedback. Use it to improve your skills, but don’t lose who you are, or your style. Be true to yourself.

And a message to any of you out there whose only creative outlet is being destructive to others. Make your criticism’s constructive. If you are going to take the time and effort to be critical of the work of others, do it with the nature of informing the creator, and their consumers. People are smart enough to recognize haters. And trolls.

And in the worst case, writers can kill you off in really embarrassing, creative ways. Or even worse, keep you alive.

An addendum from one of my favorites, Harlan Ellison.

Spirits of the Season is out!

Hail Eris!

The Longbow Initiative Halloween short story is on Amazon!

FBI Agent Jericho Spears long term surveillance operation is disrupted by a visiting agent looking for the location of an exclusive Halloween party. When one of the smugglers under investigation drops dead in the middle of the street right after a drop of suspect merchandise, Spears is pulled into a world he can’t believe exists.
Or that he is being invited to the Halloween party for the gods.