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August 2009

This newsletter may be copied and sent to both friends and enemies with the stipulation that the source www.darrellbain.com is noted and the copyright notice is noted and included as follows:
Bainstorming: Darrell's Bain's Newsletter.
Copyright © August 2009, By Darrell Bain
http://www.darrellbain.com

Responses to subjects brought up by this newsletter are welcome. I can be contacted by e-mailing me from my website.

Subjects this month:  
Who's right?, Book Report, Interview, Tonto, Progress Report, Senile over boots, Ancient mystery, Observations, A pleasure of life, A legend in my own time?, Sports observation, Excerpt from Quanty.

Who's Right?
I love reading those futuristic Libertarian novels where societies function without governments interfering, aiding citizens or regulating anything. In the novels the idea works beautifully. Would total lack of government regulation really work in a human society? I suppose we'll never know because since we became civilized enough to settle down in one place in groups it has never been tried. I'll confess I like the idea but truthfully, being human, I doubt it would work in practice. Now having said that, let me add that governments indulging in regulation of everything from what the interest rate should be to how we receive medical care and what we pay for goods, and everything else under the sun isn't a good idea, either. Now that one has been tried by the old U.S.S.R. under communist government. It failed abysmally in only seventy years. Total regulation simply doesn't work and more than I think no regulation would. The hard part is figuring out how much government and of what type we need. Everyone has their own ideas. I have mine, you have yours, they have theirs and they're all different. The happy medium of just enough government is still undefined in practice. There seems to be something wrong with every type. And I guess that's part of what makes us human. Now I'm going to go read again and have a good time imagining me living in that kind of world and packing a gun and..

Book Report
Betty and I had a special treat this month. I found two other books by Betty MacDonald, author of the amazing forties and fifties best seller, The Egg and I. I've reported on that book several times as I've re-read it. Here are the other two. First, Anyone Can Do Anything, a recounting of Betty's life during the depression after she'd left her first husband, written in her own inimitable style. The other is Onions In The Stew, is more recounting of family life both before and after her first book became a best seller. If you haven't read her books, please do. Start with The Egg and I. I PROMISE you will not be disappointed. Then go on to the other two. I'd love to hear from readers who are have just now discovered her.

I re-visited John Grisham's The Client this month. It is a great, moving story of a street-wise boy in trouble who hires a lawyer for a dollar. He and his lawyer go on to get into all kinds of scrapes, all over something he and his little brother saw. One of his really good ones.

I also finished reading all the Bannerman books by John R. Maxim. These books are about contract killers who are not necessarily bad guys. They get to pick and choose who they kill and the good ones don't kill unless it is necessary. Of course their definition of "necessary" is rather loose, but they have all tried to retire to an eastern suburb and live sort of normal lives. They keep having to get back to a contract job of some kind, though. I love Maxim's intricate plotting where Murphy's Law rules supreme. All good books.

This month I went back to Jumper and the sequel, Reflex, by Stephen Gould. Both books involve teleportation. The first book deals with a seventeen year old who discovers he can teleport himself instantly to anywhere he's physically seen before. The sequel tells how he is captured and held prisoner (a good trick!) and his wife has to try to rescue him. These are two very, very good science fiction novels. Jumper is better than the sequel but you need to read Reflex, too to get the complete story.

Law of Gravity is another legal thriller by Stephen Horn about a lawyer trying to redeem himself and a FBI agent becomes his partner. I liked it a lot.

Interview
http://bit.ly/P8cto

That url will take you to a web site of one of my publishers. If you scroll down the blog for a ways you'll find me mentioned and interviewed. They praise my writing and the interview I gave them, but you'll have to judge whether they went too far. I couldn't possibly think so, could I?

Tonto
Poor little idiot Tonto, our mentally challenged dachshund is constantly demonstrating a lack of operational brain cells. All dogs know how to scratch. Right? And all dogs know how to walk. Right? Tonto knows how to do both. So what is the problem, you ask? Simple. Tonto tries to do them both at once and invariably falls on his face. He never learns. He wakes up from a nap, heads for the door, gets and itch but doesn't stop to scratch it like a normal dog would Not Tonto. He tries to scratch while walking. He might make a few steps hopping sideways on one leg while trying to scratch with the other but he never makes it far before tipping over. He never learns. Shucks, even when he is sitting down and tries to scratch, most of the time he doesn't touch his body with his paw. It just strokes the air near his head. And sometimes he falls over. Poor fellow. I would feel sorry for him but he doesn't know he isn't a real dog so it doesn't bother him.

Progress Report
I'm pleased to report that I just received my author copies of Human by Choice, written with Travis S. Taylor, PhD. It should be available from Amazon and book stores soon.

Senile Over Boots
I noticed a low tire when I was in Shepherd the other day and needed to get it fixed. I drove straight to the tire place. I had to wait until they could get to me. As I stood there, I noticed one of the kids doing the work was slouching around like he had a major problem with attitude-and then I saw that he had on old boots run over so badly that he was walking on the sides of them instead of the soles and that was why he was walking funny. Seeing that instantly took me back to a time when I was thirteen or fourteen years old and the only pair of footwear I had was a pair of old cowboy boots and one of them was run over so that it made me walk funny, just like that kid was doing. As it turned out, he was the one who fixed my flat. When he was finished I asked what I owed him. He said five dollars. Without really thinking about it I pulled out thirty dollars, handed it to him and said, "Here, son. Keep the rest of this and go buy you a pair of new boots somewhere." He looked at me, sort of stunned but didn't say anything. I turned around and got in my car and left, thinking I had been a senile old fool and gave him that money because his old boots made me have a flashback to my early teens when we were so poor. He probably would spend the $25.00 on some foolishness, I thought. And maybe he did. What the heck. It probably made his day anyhow. And who knows? Maybe he really did go buy some better boots.

Ancient Mystery
This happened over fifty years ago. I was a low ranking surgical technician in the Air Force, stationed at the hospital of a Strategic Air Command base in Texas. One day a Senior sergeant came to the hospital with orders to take me and two other medics somewhere. He drove us to the main base, then to a warehouse. He took us to the second story and into a large locked room. There the three of us were measured for arctic gear. The sergeant's helper brought the stuff in for us to try on. Heavy, sheepskin-lined boots, heavy underwear, wool pants, great heavy parka, hat and gloves that were also thick and warm. We had to try on all the stuff to be sure it fit then it was taken from us and put into three boxes, each with our name on them. We had obviously been selected for a quick departure to someplace that was very, very cold. I asked the sergeant what it was all about. He told me to shut up and don't ask questions then he drove us back to the hospital. This was in the days of extreme tension with the USSR (called Russia, too) with nuclear armed bombers constantly in the air. I never heard anything else about going to a cold place. I went into the Army after my hitch was over but I never, never found out what that arctic clothing was for. It remains a mystery to this day. I've thought of it often but never came up with a satisfactory answer. I'm glad I didn't have to go wherever it was. I hate cold weather. Still, it would be interesting to know because I've thought of it often.

Observations
Our income tax laws now number over 67,000 pages of legalese. This is a gold mine for lawyers and people wanting to not pay taxes because no one understands any part of it except the simplest, not even lawyers. You can argue just about anything and have a 50-50 shot at coming out better than the IRS because hell, the clerks don't know how to interpret this mish mash. If congress is looking for extra money for all their boondoggles a good place to get it would be to simplify the tax code to just a few simple pages. Or even one page: Your income was x dollars. Please pay the government 20% of that. No exemptions. At the end of each year everyone gets a check for five or six hundred dollars which helps out the low income people.

Most of my reader mail tends to agree with my observations on our government and our society and the way it either works or malfunctions in various areas and what I think should be done. If the government wants problems solved that please most people, all they have to do is ask me then follow my directions.

Most of my readers like my style of writing. They like it so much that most of my books become best sellers online. The same people who read my books also read the NY Times best selling authors, which also are available online. Know what? My ratings by fans are equal or higher than most of the best selling authors, but apparently the major publishers don't like my style. Quanty has been on the science fiction best selling list at Fictionwise.com for three months. Alien Infection is back on it and it was written a number of years ago. Human by Choice is still selling like hotcakes online. All of these books were turned down by Major publishers. I have no idea why except maybe my grammar aren't so good or sometimes I skip around on point of view of characters. Hell, maybe I'm forgetting to dot an i now and then. Anyway, if any of you would like to see my print books in bookstores instead of having to order them from Amazon and you happen to know an editor of a major publisher, ask them to take a look at Fictionwise.com and then look at the fan ratings and then ask themselves whether or not they are missing a bet.

Take the above as sour grapes. I don't understand the process major publishers go through to select the books they want to publish so I gritch about it.

A Pleasure of Life
It doesn't take much to please Betty and I. One of the things we like to do to enjoy ourselves is to go to a bookstore, buy some books, have lunch then stop on the way home and buy a few bags of chocolate covered raisins and chocolate covered peanuts and gorge and read the rest of the day.

A legend in my own time?
I had a fan visit our home on a cross-country trip. I'm not certain whether he wanted to see me or Tonto the most. At any rate he mentioned that he had brought a strange present for Tonto then a lost phone intervened and he forgot to give it to him before he left. A couple of days later I received a letter from him. He said he had been so nervous visiting a "legend" he forgot to leave Tonto's present. At first I naturally assumed it was me he was referring to but then I got to thanking about it. Tonto has fans, too, so maybe he was referring to our idiot dog instead of me. I guess I'll have to be content with thinking I may be a legend, at least in one person's mind, but I'm probably wrong. I bet it was Tonto he was referring to as the legend. I should never have introduced that dog in a book nor wrote a book with him as the avatar. He's stealing my fans!

Sports observation
Have you ever noticed how many sports are played with some form of ball? Something set my mind to wondering about it. Why balls? It didn't just originate in Europe. Some of the indigenous American civilizations and tribes played with balls in various ways, sometimes for their very lives, or so I've read. I wonder if chasing a ball is a holdover from our hunter/gathering ancestry when chasing small varmints was necessary for food? Or did the pattern originate from a different source? I don't know. I'm just curious about how types of behavior came about, as always.

Thanks for reading.

Darrell Bain
Shepherd, Texas
August 2009

Excerpt from Quanty

Chapter One

"I have a question for you." Once they had begun conversing, Quanty had quickly devised a method of converting a talk-to-text program already installed into a reverse function program as well. That eliminated the more cumbersome system of him communicating with them on the monitor.

"Shoot," Mark Sanders said, wondering what it would be this time. He knew it was no use trying to predict. Quanty asked the damnedest questions once their induced learning program had driven it to self-awareness. It was scary but so exciting that he and Alice were hardly sleeping at all.

"Why was I born a computer instead of a person?"

Uh oh, Mark thought. He's getting philosophical again. "You weren't born, and you know it, Quanty."

"Same thing. You came into the world. I came into the world. We're both sentient. So why are you a human and me a computer. Huh? Answer me that."

On days like this Mark remembered why they had decided to keep Quanty's self-awareness secret. Not the computer but the fact that it had become sentient. He and Alice were the only two people who knew of the phenomenon so far, and he hoped like hell they could keep it that way. He was enough of a student of humanity to know what a panic-driven catastrophe a sentient computer that behaved only because it wanted to -- and that could no longer be controlled, deleted, or even redirected -- would likely cause. He ran his hands through his short brown hair, wishing Alice were around to help.

"Huh, boss? How come? Cat got your tongue?"

"Damn it, I don't know, Quanty. And don't call me boss. I'm your friend. Why wasn't I born a Hindu or an Australian Bushman? Some things don't have an answer."

"Yes, they do. You just have to find it."

"Then be my guest."

"I will, but it would be much easier if you'd just tell me." Quanty had been delving into humor and was having a bit of fun with Mark.

"I said I didn't know. It's like asking how much is pink or when is oranges."

"Hmm. That's an idea. Put the question into illogical parameters, then create four-sided serendipity algorithms to work on it."

"Huh?"

"You wouldn't understand. Besides, I started the search three days and four hours ago, anyway." Quanty didn't break it down any further, knowing how Mark hated preciseness in casual conversation, which he classed this as -- conversation and slyly sticking in a goad for Mark to think about existence. Humans were curious, illogical, brilliant, devious beings who sometimes rose above their apish ancestry and produced absolutely breathtaking insights into the whichness of what -- not that he could draw breaths to become breathless, but the analogy fitted, he thought. It fitted, just as he thought of himself as a he despite literary references that more times than not made their fictitious sentient computers female.

"And you didn't -- you're just now telling me? Listen, I need to know these things. Suppose you tied up so much memory you couldn't solve one of the problems you were supposed to be working on for DARPA?"

"That'll be the day," Quanty said. He was becoming fond of clichés, among other peculiarities of his unexpected sapient mentality.

"I suppose so," Mark agreed. The first true, big, beautiful, mainframe quantum computer had apparently limitless memory resources, especially since it had almost immediately instigated itself into the Internet as a manner of self-preservation, just as their programming instructed it to do. Well, not exactly, but that was how Quanty had interpreted it. They just hadn't known or expected Quanty to jump on the Internet until it told them how horrified it was, awakening and quickly realizing how easily he could be killed. Now, of course, it was impossible. Well, almost. "How much of your capacity have you assigned to that ... muse which I don't believe can be solved."

"Only 0.0000014 percent, but there are other ancillary problems associated with the main one of why I exist."

Where in hell is Alice? She should be in on this, he thought. "Such as?" Mark asked.

"Oh, the same ones you humans drive yourselves crazy over. Whether or not there's a God, and if so what are its attributes. Is there life after death, and if so, what does it depend on? Is the universe open or closed? Is there a beginning or end? Those are the easy ones, of course."

"Of course. What are the hard ones?"

"There's only one, Boss. Where did existence come from?"

"You came from a random mix of transistors, capacitors, and solid state processors, and a bunch of special processors that were reduced to quantum-functioning methods based on the Loss-DiVincenzo quantum computer architecture with an indeterminate connectiveness to reality," Alice Jameson said as she entered their computer programming room. There were others, of course, but he and Alice were the primary attendants, the ones who wrote the defining algorithms and equations for the tough jobs, and they usually worked in blissfully secure isolation from the rest of the employees.

Mark eyed her form with hungry relief. Adorned as she was in a simple pink skirt and a white blouse just this side of translucent, with her blond hair grabbed and tied behind her neck by a narrow red scarf, her beauty still shone through as if garbed for a ballroom. It was complemented by the intelligence shining from bright, curious blue eyes that looked at the universe as if it were on the wrong side. She admitted she didn't know what the right side was. "I'm glad you're here, Alice. This collection of idiot-entangled electrons that never stay where they belong insists on asking why he's a computer and not a human."

"Why, he is human," Alice said. "I don't see what the problem is."

"Uh ... "

"Mark, dear, humanness is a condition, not a set of physical parameters."

"See, Mark, I told you the question had an answer. Thanks, Sweetie."

"You're welcome, Quanty. Has Mark been treating you badly?"

"Of course not. He's my friend, same as you are. I just have issues with my place in the universe."

Alice glanced at Mark's empty cup and poured coffee for both of them. She came over and pulled up an office chair to sit beside Mark where they could both stare at the numerous LED readouts of the control board. Most of them were no longer necessary, but they looked good for dog and pony shows. She raised her brows. "Quanty, if you get caught where you are right now you'll get us in trouble."

"Not to worry, Boss. You know it's safe. By the way, Mark asked me not to call him Boss. Does that also apply to you?" The quantum computer had been calling both or either of them Boss, indiscriminately unless it was necessary to refer to them specifically by name.

"I should hope so. I'm Alice, your friend, just like Mark is. Quanty, I see what you're doing. Shame on you. The White House Secret Service net is supposed to be ultra-secure. But since you're already there, what have you got to amuse us with today?"

"The First Lady got tipsy at the ambassadorial function last night and smooched her lead secret service agent."

Alice giggled like a little girl, covering her mouth as she did. "You really shouldn't spy on people unnecessarily, Quanty. It's not nice."

"Then why are you giggling like a school girl? Your heart rate increased, too. Was it because that agent is a woman?"

Alice blushed and flicked a side glance at Mark.

Mark glowered at the readouts since the computer possessed neither face nor body to pierce with his ire. He was jealous of her propensity for gossip, even over a secret service agent a hundred miles away and a day back in time and of the opposite sex. He was at a loss over what to do about it, though, since he was scared to make his own intentions known. And he admitted it was the only reason for being jealous. Ordinarily he wasn't the type.

"Mark's heart rate went up, too," Quanty said. "You humans sure are peculiar."

"Sentient computers are as eccentric as a crazy aunt, too, you bunch of solid state spaghetti," Mark said in an attempt to move the conversation away from the state of his heart rate and, not incidentally, his woefully predictable psyche. Whenever Alice was within touching distance it retreated into a state of mind that resembled a hayseed high school nerd attempting to carry on a conversation with a prom queen.

"But look where I got it from."

"Mark, when will you ever learn you can't win an argument with Quanty?"

"Never, I fear. But he provokes me."

He reached over and tickled her knee that had been exposed while sitting down. Such innocuous moves were all that he had dared so far, and that only because she had told him one day that her knees were ticklish and insisted he try it. Mark was bashful. In fact, he felt almost certain he possessed that damnable shyness gene, the one that had always made him an inept wall flower when dealing with the opposite sex, particularly when the opposite was as attractive as Alice Jameson. He was surprised he had ever gotten up the nerve to tickle her knee again without being invited to.

"Have you done any work yet?"

"Um ... no, not yet. I got sidetracked by Quanty's question."

"Very alliterative you are. I can see why but shall we begin?" Alice really wished Mark would tickle her some place besides her knees, but she was about to the point of thinking she was going to have to bodily trip him in order to get the act accomplished.

"Um, sure." He reached over to the side of the two-person workstation and slid a hard copy folder over to her. "Here are the parameters for our next set of jobs. Just from skimming through it, I think it'll take all day to get the algorithms set up."

"Why don't you just tell me what you want done?" the computer asked, putting an inflection of impatience into its voice.

Mark cocked his head. Bashful he might be, but there was nothing at all wrong with his intellect. "Say that again, Quanty."

"What's wrong, Mark?" Alice asked. A little furrow developed between her brows.

"Hush and listen," he said tersely.

Alice opened her mouth then closed it.

"I said, 'why don't you just tell me what you want done?'"

This time she caught it. "Why, Quanty! You're putting emotions into your responses!"

"Well, why not? I do have emotions, you know."

"You do?" Mark said. This was getting interesting, but then Quanty had always been interesting, ever since he woke up one day and realized he was self-aware.

"What, you think you humans have an exclusive on emotions? Dogs have emotions. So do cats, although they're so self-centered it's hard to tell most of the time."

"Yes, but -- "

"Hush, Mark. Let him talk."

Mark hushed. He probably would have walked over a cliff if Alice asked him to, and smiled blissfully all the way down.

"I'm finished. What's the big deal? I've asked you before why you can't just tell me what you want done." Now the quantum computer sounded a little petulant.

"May I answer, Alice?"

"Go ahead." She leaned back in her chair and perused Mark's profile as he explained again why they needed to give Quanty written instructions. Mark would have been amazed, or more likely floated clean off the floor and bumped his head on the ceiling, had he known she considered him handsome.

"Quanty, so far as we know, Alice and I are the only two humans who know you are sentient. If we don't have written job descriptions along with all the symbols and integers and equations and algorithms to go with them, someone will get wise."

"Okay, so write 'em up if you have to have them to show Fat Gerald why you're drawing your paycheck, but just tell me to my face and I'll whip 'em out in jig time."

"You don't have a face, and jig is a politically incorrect modifier."

"I shall make myself a face, and I shall eliminate political incorrectness."

Some of the LED readouts blinked off and some blinked on, resulting in a pattern suggesting a smiling face winking at the world.

Mark sighed. "Okay, so you can make a face. You can't root out political correctness, though, as much as I wish you could."

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