Friday, July 31, 2015

Staff Picks: Stephen Hawking, San Miguel de Allende, procastination, '70s yacht rock and more

Posted By , , , , and on Fri, Jul 31, 2015 at 2:49 PM

click to enlarge Richard McGuire's "Here"
  • Richard McGuire's "Here"

Arkansas Times Recommends is a weekly series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we've been enjoying this week.

If you should happen to find yourself in the lovely colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, the guidebooks will advise on all sorts of fun stuff to do and sights to see but really the most important thing in San Miguel, and arguably the most important thing on the planet, is the taco stand on Insurgentes, which opens around dusk and goes until 3 or 4 in the morning. The pastor tacos with pineapple (I prefer flour tortillas but the corn tortillas are good too; oh, and with Oaxaca cheese if you like) — I mean, you really can't hardly eat other regular tacos after you eat these. I mean it's like trying to read a contemporary novel after reading the King James Bible. You can eat them right there at the stand, where they have fresh limes, peppers, five kinds of hot sauces, etc. It's very confusing how to pay, but things work out, and they cost about 75 cents a taco. I'm coming back to the States on Sunday so I may need to reconsider this, but right now my position is that I do not want to eat ANYTHING but the tacos on Insurgentes. I'd rather starve.

Also, down the road a bit ... perhaps as a paired evening with the tacos: La Cucaracha, the dive bar that serves as the Midtown of San Miguel. Charles Portis fans may remember that it's featured in "The Dog of the South." It still has a great juke box and it is still gross. Chances are high that you will see a cucaracha. — David Ramsey

"Here" is a graphic-novel by Richard McGuire I grabbed as the kids and I were being final-intercommed out of the library earlier this week. It is thick and smells great. Inside is page after page of hundreds of moments that took place on one spot of land, the "here" in the story, over billions of years. Panels within panels glimpse into time, many families, many arguments, a few deaths, jokes, native americans hunting in the woods, natural disasters (at one point we are entirely underwater,) future tour guides explaining things that no longer exist ("It was called a watch because it was looked at so often"), Benjamin Franklin consoling his grandson, the place in the room people tend to always put their bookshelf. It is a scattered bumpy ride through the past and future and it gets intense at times. And then calms down. And finally circles back around to come to a good stop.

It is an enthralling book that had it's origin 26 years ago when McGuire published a 6 page black and white version of the same thing. It was pretty radical for a comic then, and the idea has seen it's full potential materialized this year in "Here." — Bryan Moats 

This song is what a good mood sounded like in the summer of 1976. It's the soundtrack to a dinner party hosted by Steely Dan, Leon Ware and a young James Caan. Featuring a water-slide oiled up with tequila and lime juice and patchouli oil and sweat. Imagine what it would feel like to pry open a time capsule filled with Atari ads, old Playboys, a "Logan's Run" t-shirt and three or four grams of coke: That's this song. Ned Doheny was infamously un-famous, despite being close friends with guys like Jackson Browne and David Geffen, and despite Rolling Stone calling his first record "a Southern California 'Astral Weeks.'” It makes no sense. There's no justice to any of this, that's the message of Ned Doheny's commercial failure. I hope this song plays at my funeral, basically, that they fire my ashes out of a cannon amidst a fireworks show on a beach — they'll sprinkle down into the ocean as Ned Doheny's voice rings out over the roaring surf. You did it, Ned. As far as I'm concerned, you did it. — Will Stephenson

Hello, my name is Kaya and I am a procrastinator. "Hello, Kaya, welcome." I'm not sure if they have a Procrastinators Anonymous group but i'm pretty sure I'm a prime candidate. I can spend days being very busy while doing absolutely nothing productive. Hours on YouTube, chasing posts on Tumblr that disappeared when I refreshed my feed, checking my email even though I haven't gotten any notifications — these are some of my favorite ways to procrastinate. In my recent procrastination adventures I came across a master list of time wasting websites — yes, more procrastination — and stumbled upon an article about procrastination that I think everyone needs to read. It described my life and brain so accurately it hurt. Hopefully it can help someone else. — Kaya Herron

I recommend taking a look at the AMA (Ask Me Anything) session with Stephen Hawking happening at /r/science, his first ever.

Hawking focuses on his rising concern over potential dangers lurking within future advances in machine intelligence, a sci-fi threat that he’s warned might become reality. (He declared to the BBC last fall that, “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.") Because the professor's physical limitations mean he’s unable to respond rapidly, the moderators are collecting questions in advance for him to answer.

People are pitching him hypotheticals about aliens and black holes that range from the silly to the deeply technical. A 16 year old girl scout named Zoe from Los Angeles asks a thoughtful series of questions on “Alternative Augmented Communication” devices (i.e., technology that helps the severely disabled communicate). And this is the top query right now:

Professor Hawking-
Whenever I teach AI, Machine Learning, or Intelligent Robotics, my class and I end up having what I call "The Terminator Conversation." My point in this conversation is that the dangers from AI are overblown by media and non-understanding news, and the real danger is the same danger in any complex, less-than-fully-understood code: edge case unpredictability. In my opinion, this is different from "dangerous AI" as most people perceive it, in that the software has no motives, no sentience, and no evil morality, and is merely (ruthlessly) trying to optimize a function that we ourselves wrote and designed. Your viewpoints (and Elon Musk's) are often presented by the media as a belief in "evil AI," though of course that's not what your signed letter says. Students that are aware of these reports challenge my view, and we always end up having a pretty enjoyable conversation.
How would you represent your own beliefs to my class? Are our viewpoints reconcilable? Do you think my habit of discounting the layperson Terminator-style "evil AI" is naive? And finally, what morals do you think I should be reinforcing to my students interested in AI?

I don’t frequent Reddit on a regular basis and frankly find its culture baffling, especially the episodes of obscure internecine warfare over things like the inalienable right to shame fat people. But the endless hall of wonders that is /r/science makes for a pretty good argument that information technology still retains the possibility of contributing to the healing of humanity rather than, you know, its ultimate annihilation. — Benji Hardy

click to enlarge Medusa, Lockjaw & Ms. Marvel
  • Medusa, Lockjaw & Ms. Marvel

G. Willow Wilson has written a memoir about converting to Islam during the height of the War on Terror and living in Egypt, where she taught at an English-language school and met and married an Egyptian man; essays on Egypt and Islam for the likes of The Atlantic and the New York Times; and a fantasy novel that mixes Arabian myth and techno-politics that's been favorably compared to the work of Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman. These days she's perhaps the most acclaimed writer working in mainstream comics.

I exclusively read comics through Marvel's Netflix-style Unlimited iPad app, which only makes contemporary titles available six months or so after they debut at comic bookstores, so I'm not up on A-Force, the all-female Avengers title she's doing now. But I highly recommend her work on the new Ms. Marvel, about a Pakistani American, shape-shifting teenager named Kamala Khan. It's a total delight. Kamala's endearingly geeky. She struggles with her faith and family. She has trouble figuring out how to use her new polymorphing powers. Plus, the art, by Adrian Alphona, is whimsical in a way that mainstream comics usually aren't.

Still unconvinced? The first villain Kamala faces off against is a clone of Thomas Edison, created by a mad scientist from a DNA sample that was contaminated by the mad scientist's pet cockatiel. So the reanimated Thomas Edison looks like a bird, and he's very sensitive about it. ALSO: When Kamala gets in over her head with bird-Thomas Edison, her sort of fairy godmother, Medusa, queen of the Inhumas, sends in backup: a giant, teleporting bulldog who once led the Pet Avengers. — Lindsey Millar

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