So I wanted to use the button on my Android headset to control the audio of the application I was currently using: a book reader or a music player or something similar like that. And instead an annoying assistant was blinging annoyingly and impotently in my headphones, while my music was still on. It is not at all obvious what does that and how to stop it. And there are two assistants on my phone: Google Assistant and Bixby. Turns out you only need to care about one.

Here is what I tried and didn't work:

  • disable assistants
    • Bixby can't even be disabled
    • Google Assistant can be disabled, but by that it means it doesn't listen to your voice commands anymore, buttons are fair game
  • apps to change the action for the headset button
    • they either don't work right or can't work when the screen is locked
    • the "many apps" recommended by some articles are not even in the store anymore
    • they need full control permissions on your phone

So, here is what you need to do:

  1. have your headphones connected to your phone
  2. open Google application
     
  3. tap the three dot More button
     
  4. go to Settings
     
  5. select Google Assistant
     
  6. go to Devices (it's a section in blue on my phone)
  7. you should see Wired headphones (or maybe something else depending on your headset type) - tap it
  8. uncheck the option Get help from Google


That's it! You don't have to disable the assistant on your headphones, but your headphones in your assistant. And this is regardless of whether the assistant is "off" or "on". Now you can listen to your music and books in peace.

"But, what about Bixby?" you will ask. As far as I can see, Bixby is something that comes over Google Assistant. I did disable some stuff in it, but I doubt it was a problem to begin with.

  I have been working on this adventure computer game that is a tribute to the history of adventure stories. One important part of that history is what we call a gamebook, a printed work that allows the reader to choose one of several paths to complete the story. Because of very aggressive marketing and copyright tactics, this is now almost absorbed by the Choose Your Own Adventure brand and for sure Bantam Books (now Random House) would like us to think that they invented the concept. In fact, the man who sold the idea to them, Edward Packard, was not even born when two American women collaborated on what is now credited as the first book in the genre: Consider the Consequences! from 1930.

  Now, imagine that you would know what is the first book in a literary genre, like the first horror book, or the first romance. You would expect to find pages and pages written about it, you would think others have mentioned it in their works in the field and you would certainly trust to be able to find it somewhere to read. Well, Consider the Consequences! has almost disappeared. A book that probably has a dozen copies left in the world and is carefully (yet greedily) hoarded by a few libraries and collectors.

  Go on, search for it on the web, the place where everybody talks about everything. You will probably find it on Amazon, where it is unavailable, and on Goodreads, where you have one rating and one review. Perhaps you would find mentions of it on a site called Gamebooks, which only seems fair, on a blog called Renga in Blue and a long tweet from a James Ryan. Then there are some context mentions and that is it! The first ever instance of a book in an entire genre is about to go extinct!

  Now, I don't know if it was any good or not. That's kind of the point, I can't judge this work because I can't find it anywhere. If I had lived in the US or the UK maybe I could have read it in the library of some university, although that is just a possibility and not something that I would expect to be able to do. I don't even know if it is in the public domain or not. The U.S. legislation says conflicting things and something written in 1930 may perhaps become free of copyright in 2026.

  And the authors were the real deal: activists, suffragettes and all that. Perhaps I should complain that the patriarchy is trying to stifle the roots of feminine literature and then something would happen. It's astounding, really.

  The Mother Code is not a terrible book, but it is certainly not a good one. It has problems of structure, story and characters. But worst of all, it is really not about motherhood.

  Imagine a world where Uncle Sam "tests" a biological weapon somewhere in Afghanistan, only later realising that they have doomed the whole of humanity. Their solution is not to create self sustained habitats that eschew the issue, going to another planet, moving to Antarctica. Instead they focus on two avenues: finding a cure and creating a fleet of robots that can incubate, raise and protect children that have been genetically manipulated to resist the disease. Yes, because that is doable if you put (just) a team of people to work. It gets worse. The only mention of other countries is in about three or four paragraphs. They don't exist in the American mind, other than an afterthought, and indeed that's the political response of the government in the book, working in secret even knowing they are the cause and that other countries might help. And of course, all the children are American, as are the personalities of the "mothers".

  And really, you might accuse me for nitpicking here, I mean, I've read a lot of bad or naive stories over the years, why be so upset with this? But Carole Stivers decided to also show what happens in the future in parallel to the epidemic story, thus eliminating any thrill of what might happen. The core of any sci-fi story, the what-if, was halved in the moment she presented the end at the same time with the beginning. And later on, when there was another serious question about the future of humanity, the author again chooses to show her cards early and resolve the tension before it even started building.

  So what's left? A deep and interesting analysis of what it means to be a mother, explored through the eyes of the children raised by machines? No. That's just an afterthought, instead the focus being on a group of people that just... exist, with no real consequences to the story until the very end. I understand the dilemma of the editor: should they remove the superfluous writing, thus ending up with a short story, or should they leave it in in hope people would buy "a book" and thus pay for their salary.

  And the whole "mother code" thing is barely touched upon, which is so very sad, because the concept of a software developer trying to understand and code a nurturing mother is amazing! Yet that part takes just a few chapters and it doesn't really feel like what would happen to a software person.

  Bottom line: a really good idea, wasted on a subpar book that buries it under a lot of unnecessary story and forgettable characters.

  I always appreciate autobiographies for the glimpse they offer into another person's life. Double points for something that is well written and, if anything, A Promised Land is well written. Barack Obama's voice makes everything feel present and personal, which is the hallmark of a good biography. Yet one has to wonder how much of the story has been left out, how many personal failures have been explained away by a personality affected by the hubris of being the president, particularly given the several sections of the book where political figures were criticized for speaking out of turn or saying too much to the wrong people. So am I conflicted about this. I liked reading the book and I am glad to have had a taste of the experience of being a president, but I cannot take anything else at factual value.

  The book only covers the first four years of the presidential term, starting before the Democrat candidate elections and ending with bin Laden's death. It portrays Obama as an idealist, a reasonable man, one of those few people that need the world to make sense. He tells the story of him becoming a candidate almost like he got caught up in a current.

  He then tells stories about his Democrat colleagues and Republican adversaries, taking great care to talk as nice of them as possible. Notable exceptions are Sarah Palin, which Obama sees as the prototype Trump: an uneducated know-nothing who gained political capital not despite, but because of her ignorance, and Mitch McConnell, who is for all intents and purposes the Palpatine of the story. Trump is also mentioned at the end, deliberately almost like a footnote and depicted as a mindless buffoon.

  Reading the book from start, when the hero is a young idealist who believes in America and its political system, to end, when the hero is a battered soldier fighting economic collapse, terrorism, Republican lies and suicidal policies meant to counter him personally, felt painful. A good kind of pain, like the one (I assume :) ) one would get after a good workout, but pain nonetheless. It also started as a manifesto of hope and kind of ended in a bunch of apologetic explanations on why the good things that he did were not noticed by people and why the good things he did not do had good reasons for not getting done.

  I liked that Obama is a politician who hates the way politics work. I loved that he is a principled man as it is my personal belief that only well thought and agreed principles should guide important decisions, not personal feelings. I liked that the book did not focus on racism or social justice and the few passages about that were well argumented and put in context.

  I don't think being president helped him a lot, it sounded like it was one of those soul sucking jobs that people get into for money and prestige and the hope of achieving something, but that get them exhausted and lifeless at the end. Even for a positive and hopeful person, his book leaves a bitter taste of disappointment in how the world works.

My conclusion: it is a long book, 1700 ebook pages, and it only covers the first term of his presidency and a few years before as a politician. It is well written and I imagine the audio book, which is narrated by Obama himself, has an even stronger impact. I liked that he tried to present himself accurately, with strengths and weaknesses, qualities and flaws. I do believe, though, that the narrative of the book and especially they way he sees himself is a bit fantastic. Some of the chapters felt like rationalizations of past failures. There were valid reasons for that, but they were failures nonetheless and it felt like he refused to own responsibility for some of them. I recommend the book, but for someone not interested in politics, it may feel a bit boring.

Just saying.

  Rhythm of War feels like a setup for something, like an interlude. Also, while it largely expands the scope of the story, it relies a lot of existing characters and their stories in previous books, without doing that smart thing Brandon Sanderson usually does to remind people what they were. I don't even know if it's possible with this large of a story. And remember, this is just the fourth in a ten book series!

  And so my reading of this book suffered from two things: I didn't quite remember what everything was about and the story just got too large! Meaning that I have to choose whether I care about individual characters and the sides they take or if I see everything as a big saga where people don't really matter. At this point, though, the choice is very difficult to make.

  To summarize, I loved the book, but not as much as I remember liking the previous three. The pace was slower, the implications grander, but also not reaching closure. A lot more characters, types of spren, gods, realms and bindings were revealed, but now I have to wait another two years to see what they were actually about. And Kaladin's pain now went into some weird directions, like battle schock and psychological help and accepting limitations in order to go forward. Was everyone depressed in 2020?! I thought Sanderson was immune to depression.

  Anyway, it seems to me that I will have to plan well the arrival of the fifth book in the series, probably by rereading the first four. Only then will the story click as it should and not make me feel like a stupid Taravangian.

  Winter Tide, the first book of the series, was a refreshing blend of Lovecraftian Mythos and a perspective focused on balance and peace, rather than power problem solving. So, a year and a half ago, while I said I enjoyed reading it, I was also saying that it was a bit slow in the beginning.

  Deep Roots has a few things going against it. The novelty wore off, for once. Then the characters are not reintroduced to the reader, there are no flashbacks or summaries, so I had no idea who everyone was anymore. Finally, it had almost the same structure as the first book, but without introducing new lore elements and instead just popping up new characters, as if keeping track of existing ones wasn't enough work. It starts slow and the pace only picks up towards the end. This made it hard for me to finish the book and maintain interest in the story.

 This time, Aphra and her motley crew need to stop the Outer Ones, ancient creatures with immense power, from saving humanity from extinction. Yes, it is a worthy goal, but they want to do it by enslaving and controlling Earth, treating us like the impetuous children that we are. With such a cosmic threat I would have expected cosmic scenes, powerful emotions, explosive outcomes, but it was all very civilized and ultimately boring.

  Bottom line: Ruthanna Emrys' fresh perspective persists in this second installment of the Innsmouth Legacy series, but it isn't fresh anymore. I am sure the experience is much better if you read Winter Tide just before it. As it stands, Deep Roots reads like a slightly boring detective story with some mystical elements sprayed in. I don't regret reading it, but I don't feel the need for more.

  Just wanted to give you a heads up that Siderite's blog now has a Discord server and you can easily talk to me and other blog viewers that connected there by clicking on the Discord icon on top of the search box. I just heard of this Discord app and it seems to permit this free chat server and invite link. Let me know if anything goes wrong with it.

  Try it! 

  One can take a container in which there is water and keep pouring oil in and after a time there will be more oil than water. That's because oil is hydrophobic, it "fears water" in a direct translation of the word. You can then say that the percentage of oil is higher than the percentage of water, that there is more oil in the container. Skin color in a population doesn't work like that, no matter how phobic some people are. Instead of water and oil, it's more like paint. One can take a container in which there is white paint and keep pouring black, red, yellow and brown paint in, but from a very early stage, that paint is no longer white.

  I keep finding these statistics about which part of the world is going to have Whites in a minority after a while. Any statistic counting people by color of skin is purist in nature and, as we should know by now, the quest for purity begets violence. The numbers are irrelevant if the basis of these statistics is conceptually wrong. In a true openly diverse population, white skin color should disappear really quick. The only chance for it to exist is if people with white skin would not mingle with people of any other color.

  What is a White person? Someone who has white skin? Someone who has European ancestry? Someone who has no ancestry that is not European? Are Jews white? How about coptic Egyptians? Some Asians are really white, too. There is no argument that uses the concept of White which is not directly dependant on the idea of racial purity. And then there is Non-White. A few days ago someone was noting that it feels weird to use the term Latino, considering how many different countries and interests are represented by the people labeled as such. So how can anyone meaningfully use a term like Non-White, which groups together Black people, Mexicans, Chinese, Indians, Eskimos and Native-Americans, among many others? Two "African-American" people of identical skin color may be as different as someone can imagine: one a many generations American with slave ancestors, the other a middle-class African recently arrived in the US.

  What I am saying is that the most politically correct terms, used (and imposed) by proponents (and arbiters) of racial justice and equality, are as purist as they could be. The only argument that one can possibly bring here is that purism is somehow different and distinct from racism. This is absurd. One can be a purist and not be racist, but not the other way around. In fact, when people are trying to limit your freedom of expression because some of your words or concepts may be offensive, they are in fact fighting for the purity of ideas, one that is not marred by a specific idea of purity that they are against. These are similar patterns, so similar in fact that I can barely see a difference. No wonder this kind of thinking has taken root most in a country where a part of its founders were called Puritans!

  So how about we change the rhetoric to something that does not imply segregation or a quest for purity or a war on something or cancelling other people or creating safe spaces or hating something that is other? And the phrase above is not ironic, since I am not proposing we fight against this kind of ideas, only that we acknowledge their roots and that we come up with new ones. Let us just grow in different directions, rather than apart.

   This is one of those books that when summarized sounds a lot better than the actual story. In The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, we discover a brutal medieval and magical world, where magic is related to people from the stars who are considered gods, but may just be very technologically advanced humans. Yet this is just a vague backdrop for a two hundred and something pages novel. The main focus is on a guy who alternates between a very rough vernacular Black English and technobabble which one else seems to understand, who has magical powers and is part of a gang of fighters that work as security for caravans. He is a demigod, the blood of the star people courses through his veins, but he hides that part of him from the world. He is also in love with another guy who has the blood and much of the text concerns this gay relationship, which he also hides from the world. There are also some brutal fight scenes, but they don't bring anything to the story other than to make it a fantasy.

  I saw other people just as confused as I am. Maybe there was some subtlety that I missed and that is why so many people praise this first novel of Kai Ashante Wilson, a guy who started writing in 2013. Why are the reviews so wonderful? To me it felt like an above average pulp story, akin to those about cowboys riding dinosaurs. The writing style is also difficult enough to make the book less entertaining that it could have been. It's like Wilson rubs our noses into some intellectual shit that I can't even smell. Or is it that is it just another mediocre book that gets positive political reviews because it promotes Black culture and features gay people?

  So my conclusion is that I did not enjoy the book. It took me ages to finish it and I couldn't relate to any of the characters. I thought the world was very interesting though, which makes this even more frustrating, since it was barely explored.

  It has been a long time since I've finished a book. I just didn't feel like it, instead focusing on stupid things like the news. It's like global neurosis: people glued to their TV screens listening to what is essentially the same thing: "we have no control, we don't know enough and we feel better bitching about it instead of doing anything to change it". I hope that I will be able to change my behavior and instead focus on what really matters: complete fiction! :)

  Anyway, Unfettered is a very nice concept thought up by Shawn Speakman: a contribution based anthology book. Writers provide short stories, complete with a short introduction, as charity. The original Unfettered book was a way by which writers helped Speakman cover some of his medical expenses after a cancer diagnosis and the idea continued, helping others with the same problem. This way of doing things, I believe, promotes a more liberating way of writing. There is no publisher pressure, no common theme, writers are just exploring their own worlds, trying things out.

  Unfettered III contains 28 shorts stories from authors like Brandon Sanderson, Lev Grossman, Mark Lawrence, Terry Brooks, Brian Herbert, Scott Sigler and more. Funny enough, it was Sanderson's own addition to the Wheel of Time literature that I found most tedious to finish, mostly because I couldn't remember what the books were about anymore and who all the characters were. But the stories were good and, even if the book is twice as large as I think it should have been, it was entertaining. Try it out, you might enjoy this format.

  There is this feeling in the online community that no matter what governments and corporations do, we will find ways of avoiding restrictions and remain free. Nowhere is this feeling stronger than in the media and software piracy circles. Yet year after year people get more and more complacent, moving from having to find and download the content they enjoy to streaming services that end up asking for more money than TV and cinema combined, moving from desktop games to mobiles, switching from software you own to software you subscribe to and lease. And every year more and more "hydra heads" get cut and none grow back.

  Today we say goodbye to HorribleSubs.info, a web site that provided a free archive of hundreds of anime show torrent/magnet links which were subtitled in English. "You could technically say COVID killed HorribleSubs.", the notice on the web site now says. If you think about it, it was difficult to understand how the site survived for so long, when my blog was closed for showing a manga image taken from Google and a YouTube video after a copyright request from Japan. How could these guys maintain a directory of almost every popular anime and get away with it? But they will be missed, regardless of the real reason for their disappearance.

  It's hard to say how this will affect people. TorrentFreak hasn't even written something about it yet. Will this mean that less translated anime will be available? Or maybe even make it harder to find anime at all? It's a shocking development... Hail Hydra!

  I've read today this CNN article: 'Star Trek: Discovery' to introduce history-making non-binary and transgender characters. And it got me thinking on what this means for the Star Trek universe. It means absolutely nothing. Star Trek has had people turned into other species, duplicated, merged, their genetic code altered and fixed, made young and old. It has had species with no gender, multiple genders and various philosophies. It has interspecies relationships, including sexual.

  Star Trek has tackled intolerance many times, usually by showing the Federation crew having contact with an alien species that does the same things we do today, in caricature. It tackled race intolerance, from Kirk's kiss with Uhura to the episode with the species with black on one side and white on the other discriminating the people who had their colors the other way around. It tackled gender discrimination in multiple situations. It tackled sex change and identity change with the Trill. It featured multi sex civilisations. The happy tolerance train seems to stop with anything related to using inorganic technology with the human body, but no one is perfect and Janeway was awful with everybody.

  A person who is biologically a man yet desires to be treated as a woman would be normal for Star Trek. It would be inconsequential. If they go the way of the oppressed member of another culture that they meet, they will not solve anything, they will just have another weird alien around, which defeats the purpose. If they go with a non-binary crewmember they should not acknowledge the fact except in passing. Yes, habituate the public with the concept, let them see it in a series and get used to it, but the people in Star Trek should already have passed that point. Hell, they could go with a person who changes their sex every one in a while, to spice things up.

  What I would do is have a character who is clearly of a different sex than the gender they identify with and someone badgering them to have a proper sex change while they refuse. Now that would be a Star Trek worthy dilemma. You want to make it spicy? Have them go to the doctor and change their race instead, behave like a black person while wearing the high tech equivalent of blackface. What? Are you refusing someone the ownership of their identity?

  I really doubt they will go that way, though. Instead they will find some way of bringing the subject up again and again and again and throw it in our faces like a conflict that has to be resolved. In the bright and hopeful future, there should be no conflict about it! This CBS announcement should not have existed. You want to put some transgender people in, OK, put them in. It's not a boasting point, is it? The announcement basically does the opposite of what they claim to do: "Oh, look, we put non binary people in our series! How quaint! Hurrah! Only we do it, come watch the freak show!".

  Please, writers, please please please, don't just write stories then change the gender or race of characters because it's en vogue. Stop it with the gender swapping, which is the creative equivalent of copy and paste. Write with the story in mind, with the context, with the characters as they would normally behave. Don't add characters after you've thought of the story just to make them diverse either. Just write stories with characters that make sense! You don't know people from that demographic? Find one, spend time with them, then adjust your characters accordingly. I am so tired of tiny female action heroes, flamboyant and loud gays and the wise old lesbian. How come no one finds those offensive? It's like someone said "OK, we will have shitty black and female and non-cis characters for now. When people get used to them, we will actually have them do something and be realistic and perhaps in 2245 we'll even have them be sympathetic".

  They tried the woke way from the very beginning in Discovery, with the Stamets/Culber gay couple. They kept showing them kissing and washing their teeth together and other stuff like that, when it made little difference to the story. Most people on Star Trek are written as single, for some weird reason that makes no sense, unless their relationship furthers the story. Riker and Troi could be the exception, though, yet even they were not kissy kissy on the bridge all the time. I never understood that couple. Dax and Worf made more sense, for crying out loud! And remember Starfleet is a military organization. You may put women and men and trans and aliens and robots together in a crew, but their role is to do their job. Their sex, their gender even less, makes no difference.

  Gene Roddenberry was a dreamer of better futures, where all of our idiotic problems have been left behind and reason prevailed, but even he imagined a third World War leading to humanity changing its ways as a start. Star Trek has always analysed the present from the viewpoint of an idyllic future, a way of looking back that is inherently rational: "Imagine the future you want, then wonder what would people from that time think of you". It's brilliant! Don't break that to bring stupid into the future. To tackle present social issues you have to first be a Trekkie, already there in the exalted future, before you consider the dark ages of the 21st century with a fresh perspective.

  I've just read a medical article that seems to be what we have been looking for since this whole Covid thing started: an detailed explanation of what it does in the body. And no, it didn't come from doctors in lab coats, it came from a supercomputer analysing statistical data. Take that, humans! Anyway... First of all, read the article: A Supercomputer Analyzed Covid-19 — and an Interesting New Theory Has Emerged. And before you go all "Oh, it's on Medium! I don't go to that crap, they use a paywall!", know that this is a free article. (also you can read anything on Medium if it seems to be coming from Twitter)

  Long story short (you should really read the article, though) is that the virus binds to the ACE2 receptors - and degrades them, then tricks the body to make even more ACE2 receptors (even in organs that normally don't express them as much) to get even more virus in. The virus also tweaks the renin–angiotensin system  which leads to a Bradykinin storm which causes multiple symptoms consistent with what is seen in hospitals and leaves many a doctor stumped: dry cough, blood pressure changes, leaky blood vessels, a gel filling one's lungs (making ventilators ineffective), tiredness, dizziness and even loss of smell and taste. Also, because of a genetic quirk of the X chromosome, women are less affected, which also is shown in statistical data on severe cases.

  Quoting from the article: several drugs target aspects of the RAS and are already FDA approved to treat other conditions. They could arguably be applied to treating Covid-19 as well. Several, like danazol, stanozolol, and ecallantide, reduce bradykinin production and could potentially stop a deadly bradykinin storm. Others, like icatibant, reduce bradykinin signaling and could blunt its effects once it’s already in the body.

  Good stuff, people! Good stuff! The person responsible for this is Daniel A Jacobson and his research assistants should take all the credit! Just kidding.

  But how new is this? Bradykinin is not an unknown peptide and we have known from the very beginning what ACE does and that Covid binds to it. My limited googling shows doctors noticing this as soon as the middle of March. In fact, the original article that the Medium article is based on is from July 7! Here is a TheScientist take on it: Is a Bradykinin Storm Brewing in COVID-19?

  For more info, here is a long video talking about the paper: Bradykinin Storm Instead of Cytokine Storm?

[youtube:tDbRfur36sE]

  If you really are into medicine, check this very short but very technical video about Bradykinin, from where I also stole the image for this post: Bradykinin | Let the Drama begin!

[youtube:d39-IcoWHkY]

  I hope this provided you with some hope and a starting point for more research of your own.

  There are a lot of fascinating ideas and anecdotes in this book, especially in the areas which I wouldn't have considered interesting before reading it. Rabid is the type of book that I love, both because the subject is fascinating but also because of the effort the author made to research and write the content in a digestible format.

  In this book Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy describe the history of the rabies virus, how it affected humankind culturally, historically and, of course, medically. We learn in this book that there is a strong possibility that the myths of vampire and werewolf stem from the behaviour of people affected by rabies, the theme of beast biting person and turning them into one of their own proven irresistible even in times where no one understood how diseases work. Was Hector rabid when fighting Achilles? Were berserkers affected by rabies? Then we go into the actual zoonotic origin of the virus, a staggering 60% of infectious diseases affecting humans being of animal original initially. An idea I found extremely interesting is that farmers took over from hunter gatherers in so little time and so thoroughly because raising animals made them get new diseases to which they developed immunity, any contact with non farming populations thus fatally destroying them. Finally, a very nice perspective on Louis Pasteur, who is more popularly renowned for developing pasteurization and thus providing us with better tasting drinks than his final triumph which was a vaccine for rabies and an institute dedicated to studying infectious diseases.

  Bottom line: it might sound like a weird subject to read about or at least one hard to digest. The authors' writing is very good, the research splendid, and the book short enough to not take too much of the reader's time. I recommend it!