October 2012 Archives

Wed Oct 31 17:58:38 EST 2012

Deakin Voyage (October 2012)

I try to be pretty quiet about which schools actually use the ship for their programs, but since Deakin University has put their logo on our new lower tops'l, it's no surprise that they voyage with us.

As part of their Audacious Leadership course, students from Deakin voyage with us for eight days. They do the usual sail training stuff - learning proper rope handling, helming, navigation, keeping watch in the middle of the night, that sort of thing. In addition, they have a number of involved discussions with Deakin staff facilitators, who come on board but are not part of the watch system.

The crew in my watch lived up to the standard set by the earlier Deakin voyages, diving straight into the practical lessons and talking at length about the staff discussions. I remember waking from a between-watch nap to find my watch on deck, doing drills to make sure they knew how to set and strike all the sails. I've never seen that happen before.

This was also my first trip as a qualified coxswain, so I handled the powerboats for shore transfers under the guidance of the first mate.

I didn't get to take many photos, but it was the first time I've taken my camera up the rig:

Looking Down

I joined in some of the facilitated discussions about leadership, and realised that the way I run a watch has become almost automatic. This is fine when things are going well, but it means that if things don't work well it will be harder to reflect on what I do and why. The next voyage is a passenger trip, but I intend to be more deliberate during future training voyages.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound

Wed Oct 31 00:03:01 EST 2012

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is a book I've been meaning to read for quite some time. As I see it, it's the dual of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the other well-known constructed social dystopia. The duality is shown well by this comic, and if the original was still up I'd link to that.

Huxley's vision of the future is one where humans are not born, but grown for specific purposes. Society is divided into strict castes, and the lower casts have stunted mental development so their minds fit their assigned menial tasks. The process that produces twins is so well-understood that a factory would be designed to employ fourty-seven identical Gamma-class workers, grown to spec. Children, even before they are decanted at nine months, are conditioned to love their assigned jobs, consumer goods and to drug away any negative emotions with "soma". Even the higher classes, the ones with the most "freedom", are still conditioned from before "birth" to never question the stability of the system. The lower classes remind me of Alpha Centauri's "genejacks":

My gift to industry is the genetically engineered worker, or Genejack. Specially designed for labor, the Genejack's muscles and nerves are ideal for his task, and the cerebral cortex has been atrophied so that he can desire nothing except to perform his duties. Tyranny, you say? How can you tyrannize someone who cannot feel pain?

Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, "Essays on Mind and Matter"

This is the main problem I see with Huxley's world. There's no endgame. The system exists to sustain itself, but all it does is chew up resources. Deprived of any impulse to think or create, human life becomes meaningless. In Ender's Game, Graff tells Ender that "humans are free except when humanity needs them". In Huxley's world, nobody is free because humanity needs everyone, but there is no purpose behind this need. Society exists solely to produce, use, and finally cremate humans who do not even directly procreate. The fear of death is conditioned out of the children, so why do they even live?

The structure of this Brave New World reminds me a lot of Equilibrium. Both examine what society must sacrifice to ensure perfect stability and come to fairly similar conclusions: anything that causes passion must be medicated away, and the arts must be suppressed. In Equilibrium, this is done violently but in Huxley's world few people can even understand the old works. Equilibrium sadly avoids serious discussion of these themes, favouring ridiculous gun battles instead.

Another interesting and horrifying aspect of Huxley's world is that once the new society has been set up, there is no way to tear it down. There is no group that monitors the success or failure of the grand experiment, and all new people are conditioned to believe absolutely in the new society.

I fear that this is the future we are heading towards; a future of consumption, not creation. Long-form essays have been replaced by a stream of inanity, discretised into 140-character packets. A good picture, traditionally worth 1000 words, has been devaluated by the image macro. Unless we are careful, this is the bland horror that awaits us.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: readings

Mon Oct 15 21:33:32 EST 2012

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

As I keep working through my collection of audiobooks, I've come to identify a few criteria that make for an enjoyable audiobook:

  • The reader must have a strong voice. It needs to be clearly understood over any background noise and be loud enough that I don't have to max out the volume and strain my ears.
  • It should be short, or is parts should be short. Once I start a file on my music player, I can't switch away without losing my place.
  • It should be fairly light. Uncomplicated fiction works best, because it's easier to recover from a moment's inattention.
  • The reader shouldn't have a thick accent. Sometimes it fits, but in general it increases the amount of mental effort required to follow the text, which makes outside distractions more likely to disrupt the story.
  • There must be a single reader. Swapping readers throughout a text makes for a jarring experience.

"Chip's" reading of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow hits all these criteria. In parts, he sounds like a gentleman retelling a local myth rather than just a reader of a text. The reading runs just under 90 minutes, so it's a decent starting audiobook.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: librivox

Mon Oct 15 21:15:23 EST 2012

Scarecrow and the Army of Theives

I recently finished reading Matthew Reilly's Scarecrow and the Army of Theives. It's like every other book he writes: an action movie in book form. Small team of crack soldiers triumph over ridiculous odds while causing big explosions in bizarre set-pieces. It's reasonably fun, you'll finish it in a couple of hours, and you'll want a bucket of popcorn to accompany it.

What's that? You're still reading? Well, I have one observation: If you want to give a character intellectual godmode, a great way to give that impression is to take a surprising event from your canon and claim that your mastermind predicted it impossibly far in advance.

There are a few books that I own because I feel they're worth sharing. This is not one of them.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: readings