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Old 15 September 2018, 09:20 PM
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Cure the Blues Cure the Blues is offline
 
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I recently finished Rogue Protocol, Martha Wells’ latest installment in her Murderbot Diaries. This is the next-to-last in a 4-part novella series about a SecUnit/security android that disabled its corrupted governor module which forced Murderbot into a killing spree. Ordinarily the trope is that a disabled governor control on an AI/robot/android = bad, and in the soap/space opera media serials so popular in the Murderbot universe, this still holds true. However, Murderbot is really socially awkward and just wants to spend time alone watching the aforementioned soap/space operas with same level of devotion that I give over to Parks & Rec and Brooklyn 99. In the 2nd novella, Artificial Condition, one of the disgruntled bots wanted to kill all humans and Murderbot was appalled. Who then would make the media serials? The next episode of “The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon” isn’t going to make itself after all. I really love these novellas, and the first one, All Systems Red, recently and IMO well-deservedly won a Hugo, but Tor is selling them at a fairly high price of $10. The last novella, Exit Strategy, is coming out next month, so presumably they’ll soon all be gathered up in omnibus form. I also recently learned that Wells is going to do a full-blown Murderbot novel, which pleases me greatly.

I also started the final book in NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, The Stone Sky. I really enjoy this series, but heads up that it is dark and brutal. So, without heading into spoiler territory, this is set in a world that is extremely geologically unstable. Periodically there are earthquakes/supervolcanos that have convulsions with global effects that can last for years. So, acid rainstorms, toxic gases, or a fungal blight that wipes out the main subsistence crop. These periods are termed Fifth Seasons, and the adaptations to get through a Fifth Season have led to a dystopian society that exploits and dehumanizes the people who can control geological phenomena. Lore seems to indicate that there’s a Father Earth that is furious at the inhabitants, and the Fifth Seasons are his way of killing everyone, but it’s hard to say how much of that is true and how much is people rationalizing why these events keep happening. I hope The Stone Sky ultimately provides some illumination as to what is actually going on. Stone Sky won this year’s Hugo for best novel, which is unusual for a third book in any series, but especially so because the previous two books have also won. Good for Jemisin. She got a lot of mileage from the NASA SF writers’ workshop that she attended that inspired the magic system used in the series.

I’m also reading John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup about Elizabeth Holmes’ unicorn tech company Theranos and its fall. I actually started the book just in time for the company to dissolve last week and finally become a headlined unicorpse. Carreyrou wrote the first critical expose about the company that started its downfall. I’ve been aware of the Theranos scandal through Derek Lowe’s In the Pipeline blog and the first thing that hit me as suspicious was the Board of Directors. Very few science experts and...ummmm….some interesting other people, like George Shultz, James Mattis, Sam Nunn, Bill Perry, and Henry Kissinger (OK, my absolute first thought was that I had thought that Kissinger was dead). This Board would be fine if you’re planning on ordering a drone strike on Quest Diagnostics, or if you’re making a botched diagnostics product and you don’t want a Board with enough experts to start questioning you on: why you don’t have any regulatory experts working with the FDA?; why is the rollout of a supposed finished product always delayed?; why hasn’t Theranos had a chief financial officer since 2006? The company also had a truly toxic work environment where if you questioned the performance of the Edison or miniLab or the ethics of rolling out a faulty diagnostics product to patients, you were marginalized or fired. This after-the-fact so-that's-what-happened NPR article indicates that Theranos PR reps were under specific orders to obscure just how bad the devices were working during the Walgreens debut. A lot of Theranos' staff outright quit because it only took a couple months for the blinders to be ripped off. The chemistry and engineering departments were siloed because Holmes had a Steve Jobs fixation, and if it worked for Apple, it surely will work for a company working on diagnostics machines. Fie on the ancient Bell Labs approach of having all the departments working cooperatively towards a single goal and communicating with each other. George Shultz’s grandson Tyler was working in the chemistry division of the company and had a ringside seat to just how awful the Edison machines were performing as well as a lot of other chicanery going on with patient samples. So he notified the NY Board of Public Health, and tried to warn off his grandfather, who then proceeded to side with Holmes. Seriously, WTF, Shultz? I know you’re in your 90s and you don’t have a good handle on the scientific details, but this is your grandson, who explained exactly what was going on. And the Theranos board had the high-priced lawyer David Boies, who has a vested interest in keeping Theranos afloat and will therefore make the lawsuits as maximum damage as possible.
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