A brief history of Sauron

Count me among the Rings of Power fanboys. I think the series deserves the same consideration as the movies did, in terms of being free to depart from the text and embrace the medium. The only valid canonical complaint in my opinion would be a discrepancy between the show and the movies because I want them to be the same canon, which isn’t technically necessary. All of the characters are mythic in scope and the series could be considered to be a version of events as told.

As an aside, since this series is aired at the same time as that Other Show – I find Rings of Power thematically superior to House of the Dragon. One is a grand sweep of good vs evil and the other is a dirty crawl through the sewers of human nature. At this time in my life, I find that the former is what I need.

“Hope is never mere, Elrond … even when it is meager. When all other senses sleep, the eye of hope is first to awaken, last to shut.”

Gil-Galad to Elrond, Rings of Power Episode 5

The compression of the timeline is a brilliant device in my opinion to bring the racial histories of the Second Age into alignment. This narrative decision also fuels the central question of who/where Sauron is, by raising the stakes for all the races of Middle Earth at once. Unlike the current speculation on The Stranger, Halbrand, Adar, or even Bronwen (lol), I think it is extremely unlikely we will see Sauron until after the resolution of the Mithril storyline and the completion of Celebrimbor’s forge. Understanding who Sauron is requires, I believe, a review of the textual timeline, whether or not the text is being strictly adhered to or not.

Here, in order, are the events in the text (and I am purposely omitting year) pertaining to Sauron’s whereabouts and actions. (source)

  • Sauron arises in Middle Earth after Morgoth’s defeat
  • Sauron deceives Celebrimbor into forging the rings of power, and secretly forges the One Ring to rule them all. At roughly the same time, Sauron finishes building his fortress of Barad Dur and establishes his domain in Mordor.
  • War between the Elves and Sauron. This goes badly, with Rivendell besieged and Eregion destroyed. Until…
  • The Numenorians arrive and save the day, destroying Sauron’s forces and causing him to flee to Barad Dur. Then they go back.
  • Much later, the Numenoians return under Pharazon, defeating Sauron and taking him captive back across the sea.
  • Sauron corrupts Numenor, leading to their downfall and destruction, and the breaking of the world.
  • Elendil and his sons escape and found Gondor. More warm ending in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, Sauron’s defeat, and the One Ring being cut from Sauron’s hand. Thus ends the Second Age.

So, in a nutshell, Sauron first deceives the Elves to create the Rings of Power and the One Ring, and uses that power to establish his dominion. War begins, and the Numenorians help defeat him. Sauron goes as a prisoner to Numenor and then returns with Numenor destroyed. War continues, and the Elves and Men defeat him.

From the above, I think we see that Sauron’s appearance in the narrative doesn’t make a lot of sense until after Celebrimbor’s project is finished. I predict that there won’t even be any mystery around it. The series will probably introduce him openly as Annatar in Season 2. That’s my prediction, let’s see if I’m right a year from now 🙂

Spoiler-free Review: Obiwan Kenobi Season 1

Disclosure of bias: Obi-wan is my favorite character in all of Star Wars. And possibly in all of science fiction, with the exceptions of the H2G2 Trinity and the Star Trek Trinity. But Obi Wan stands alone.

It is often said, in the mainstream of Star Wars fandom, that nothing comes close to A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, two movies that taken as one represent a sublime perfection that all Star Wars media since have failed to replicate. Indeed, I myself still subscribe to this axiom, in that they are so foundational that scenes from these movies completely define what Star Wars is, not just as plot and character, but as tone. Everything since has been a reference back to these.

And yet, the Skywalker siblings were never really that interesting in themselves, were they? They were archetypes who existed to carry the story forward, vehicles for the viewer. And they were incomplete, requiring Han Solo to be made whole. Only once we got past these two Core movies and into Jedi do we truly begin to see more dimensions to who they are. As Drax might have fairly asked during a screening of Empire aboard the Benatar, Why is Luke? The answer comes in Jedi, and is just a half-answer at best.

The Prequels did what the Original Trilogy could not do – focus on two individuals who were given three movies, not just one, to be made whole. Always two there are, and in this case, we start out knowing their fates, which brings an immense pathos to seeing tousled Jake Lloyd and padawan-braided Obi-Wan on-screen that first time. Remember how we felt when the prequels were still just teasers, not even full trailers?

Remember seeing this image for the first time? Remember how it made you feel?

We all hated the prequels at the time because our expectations were set by the Core. But given 20 years, I’ve come to realize that these are the superior films in defining what Star Wars truly is. The Core films are tonally about Darkness being defeated by perfect heroes who effortlessly rise to the occasion. The Prequels are about flawed people who fail to stop the darkness from coming, and who must rise to the occasion despite their flaws.

Obi-Wan is the archetype of the latter – the warrior whose dogma fails him, whose structured world falls apart, and worse, whose family – whose brother – betrays him. By the time we catch up to him, he has fixated on protecting Luke as his sole remaining mission, to the extent that when the Galaxy needs him, he can’t – using duty as his excuse. He needs Luke more than Luke needs him.

Watching Obi-Wan climb out of that emotional hole, scene by scene, episode by episode, is the most rewarding coda to the prequels imaginable, because we have seen what he was and what he stood for, and here when all is lost, we have seen how far he is from there. And as a bridge to the Core movies, it is perfect, because the equanimity that he shows in every scene with Luke is now seen to be hard-fought, hard-won. He got there not by being Yoda-esque and wise from the start, but instead he had to fight, fall, and climb back up, and we were there for all of it.

Without the Prequels, this story has no weight. But that’s the great thing about Star Wars – it’s not just one story or one film, but a true saga in every sense of the word. When we see Luke 30 years later in the sequel trilogy, it lacks the same depth, because it just isn’t there. We don’t get to walk on Luke’s path with him through the darkness, we were not with him as he fell. And then he only gets an hour of screen time rather than six episodes of TV to climb back up.

The Core movies were peak Star Wars, but they no longer define Star Wars for me. The Skywalkers were the destination, not the journey. Perhaps Luke’s journey was the hero’s journey, but Obi-Wan had a far harder path – the Jedi’s journey.

Be One.

Desi Dad review of Ms Marvel S1E1

Kamala Khan Lives!

I know one of the creators of Ms. Marvel personally so I admit I am biased out of loyalty and love for my friend. As an MCU fan, I’m also internally wired to just love everything about this show. Far better MCU analysts than myself can provide far more interesting commentary than I can about the lore and the canon and the easter eggs. On one level, I just watched Ms. Matrvel as a fan and geeked out and loved it.

There’s another angle however that I can’t escape, and one I can’t ignore because the Pakistani representation is being given almost equal billing to the incredible performance (see? biased) of Iman Vellani as Kamala. My angle, quite simply, is that I’m almost 50, and I have two teenage daughters. (Well, one is 20).


I am grateful for the cultural beats and the unabashed inclusion-without-spotlighting of Islamic elements. (honestly, though, Aamir is a bit stiff and Yusuf a bit too loose). The problem here is more fundamental to the very character of Kamala herself, the same struggle that the character embodies and was conceived to address. Identity, for a Muslim, and a brown kid, in a western culture automatically entails sacrifices and compromises, not to mention a genuine sense of confusion at times that we never really outgrow. I am ABCDEFG myself, from Chicago rather than HIJ, and my childhood was straight outta Stranger Things. My life had both D&D and bike rides as well as masjid and madrasah. Everyone who is brown can relate to this duality, Deen and Dunya, wearing one (sometimes literal) hat here and another hat there.

The problem I have is that the solution in media always seems to be the same. Ultimately, the culture and the faith are always portrayed as obstacles rather than empowering. Here’s where I express hope that Aamir can be a source of wisdom to Kamala for the latter. We are one episode in and we see that Kamala has a lovesick gora sidekick who surely will trigger a “you were in front of me this whole time” moment before season 1 concludes, she gets off ridiculously easy for lying to her mom (again, Yusuf is not really a factor beyond goofball and guilt trip), and apart from casual tosses of words like astaghfirullah and salaam wa aleikum here and there, the faith is largely relegated to wall hangings. Muneeba is rigid as expected (authentic in that regard) but her reasoning is devoid of any actual moral content. A convention is a party, parties are bad, we don’t trust you. (Yusuf weakly chimes in to moderate the point). Why are parties bad? She said haram things happen. True, but is that really why parties are bad? Haram things happen everywhere in Jersey and yet the Khans remain.

Yes, it’s a TV show, but ultimately having one devout side character go through the ritual motions, and having the main identity conflict be simplistically rooted in “my mom is mean and old fashioned” rather than give some airtime to the values that inform the other side of the conflict, makes Kamala’s identity crisis largely meaningless. I didn’t feel like my 16-year-old self would have related to Kamala, at least not yet. She could easily be any other Asian kid or daughter of conservative white parents and the conflict dialogue would have barely changed.

The mention of the girl Fatima who went off to Europe is instructive. On one level, of course it’s cool that she did so and Kamala is rightfully jealous and admires it. But the way that the mom and the auntie talked about it was rooted in the scene needing to show culture (and mom) as where fun goes to die. There wasn’t even a cursory attempt to understand why a European trip solo to “find yourself” would be problematic from a cultural POV, or an Islamic one. The critique is reduced to “she won’t have a ring on her finger” which is ultra generic to every immigrant culture on the planet. Those concerns have merit, but the show doesn’t allow for that at all.

What is my specific critique? Well, I don’t have one yet. I know the writing is on the wall here – Kamala is going to defy her parents, lie, and start dating Bruno (and not talk about him, no, no). But if she’s going to make these decisions, I’d like for her to feel the weight of them. Bruno speaks Urdu and is already in with the family so maybe the inevitable reveal of their relationship won’t even have plot consequences. That’s a shame because it should.

This is a TV show, not a feature film so there is time to explore what it means to literally be stuck between two worlds even before you put on the magic bracelet. I hope that the writing team is willing to explore that inside world with as much curiosity as they are the supernatural fictional one. That’s what true representation would look like.

A simple scoring scheme for Wordle

Everyone loves Wordle! The author, Josh Wardle, has created the first true meme of 2022 and it’s conquered the Internet faster than Q. (OK, that’s hyperbole. Wishful thinking on my part).

I think the appeal is partly because it’s just once a day, and because the interface does your homework for you. The real genius in my opinion was making it possible to share your results on social media, without giving away the day’s solution.

I found myself wondering if I could quantify my performance on Wordle. Right now, the emoji grid you get when you copy and paste your results is very visual and even a little confusing to interpret at first. I realized that there’s a way to condense that information into a single, descriptive score instead. Here’s the formula:

sum ( ( (BLACK* 2) + (YELLOW* 1) + (GREEN* 0) ) * row )

For example, here are my results from today’s wordle:

My score is therefore 8 from row 1, 18 from row 2, and 18 from row 3, giving me a total score of 44.

Note that a perfect score – 5 greens on your first try – is zero. The worst possible score is 210, though actually, it’s lower than that in practice. This is because 6 tries of 5 letters each equals 30 guesses, and there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, so it’s impossible in practice to get 6 rows of black squares.

With the score, you can more easily compare performance over time and with your friends. Even if you and someone else both take the same number of tries, there is a potential difference in efficiency.

I have put the formula into a google sheet here that is read-only but which you can easily copy to your own account and use. Just paste your Wordle score into cell A1. The sheet supports dark mode and light mode, too.

If you like this score idea, please share! Here’s a simple URL that redirects to this blog post that you can share when you share your Wordle score: https://tinyurl.com/wordlescore

Thank you! 🙂

UPDATE: I think I’m over posting my score to Facebook on a daily basis, but I am tracking my scores on Google Drive, because I wanted to see how my calculated score correlates with number of tries. Here’s the data as of 1/27/22:

I’ve only scored below 30 twice and both those times were with 3 guesses. However, there’s a lot of overlap in score for 4 tries and 5 tries. In other words, it’s possible to get a lower score in 5 tries than in 4 tries. I think this captures some of the strategy. For example, if there are two solutions after guess #3, then my score only penalizes you for the incorrect letters in your guess. There may be a similar overlap between 3 tries and 4 tries, but I haven’t scored well enough yet to detect any such patterns. I suppose this is easy enough to determine from the formula, but I don’t want to make the effort.

Meta is augmented reality

There’s a lot of criticism and mockery of Facebook’s rebranding to Meta. The timing, coming so soon after revelations that Facebook was profiting off of disinformation and outrage, is certainly suspect. However, there is a key idea here that is lost in the meta-discussion about Facebook itself – the idea of augmented reality, or AR for short, which if is to be brought to reality, deserves genuine admiration.

I have previously written about how I thought Google Glass was the first real effort at AR, despite many skeptics and its eventual failure. The problem with Google Glass was that it was positioned as an interface to search and take photos, i.e., content acquisition rather than an augmentation of reality:

Note that Google describes Glass as having a primarily voice-directed interface, for initiating search queries, taking a picture, or real-time language transcription. The main function of Google Glass is to record video and take pictures (not content creation, but content acquisition), to facilitate access to information, and most importantly to overlay data onto the visual field, such as maps or translations. It’s the latter that is the “augmentation” of reality part, and is very, very crude.

This was eight years ago, well before smart assistants like Alexa and Google Home were mature, and of course, suffering from Moore’s Law limitations. Natural Language Processing has come a long way since then, with graph processing tools and other incredible advancements in neural networks.

Facebook’s Meta has the advantage of building on that foundation and learning from those pioneering failures. The mistake that I think Meta is making now is that it is distracted by visions of the Metaverse from Snowcrash or The Oasis from Ready Player One (the latter probably being more accurate, as an ultimate escapist repository for all our nostalgia and cultural baggage). You can see those influences in how Mark Zuckerberg himself describes it:

The next platform will be even more immersive — an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it. We call this the metaverse, and it will touch every product we build.

The defining quality of the metaverse will be a feeling of presence — like you are right there with another person or in another place. Feeling truly present with another person is the ultimate dream of social technology. That is why we are focused on building this.

Immersive. You’re IN the experience. In ANOTHER place. This language describes an alternate reality, a virtual reality. It does not describe a meta-reality or an augmented reality.

To be fair, in the same letter, Zuckerberg does allude to augmented reality to stay present in the real world while you interact with the virtual. But the framework here is an Otherworld where you can decide on a use-case basis to what degree you are present. Think of it as an opacity, with 0% being fully in the real world and 100% being fully immersed (using, say Oculus).

The difference between this and truly augmented reality is that there is no “other” world. You are always in the present reality – but there are added layers. I’ve evangelized the truly groundbreaking anime, Dennou Coil, as a visionary example of a truly AR future. One screenshot alone is sufficient to convey what the true potential is.

Screenshot from Dennou Coil

I don’t know if Facebook/Meta will ever be able to be AR, but I do know that succeed or fail, Facebook/Meta will definitely bring us closer.

Check out my earlier posts on Dennou Coil here.

Living through digital history

I graduated from high school in 1991* in the BBS era. The Internet didn’t open up to commercial use until 1992, and didn’t really take off until 1994 when Mosaic was released.

Before email on the internet became a thing, most people used email from one of the Online Providers (mainly Compuserve, AOL, and Prodigy). Email was like an internal direct message on these systems. I don’t remember what year it was, but eventually, gateway services between the Online Providers were established so a Prodigy user could email someone at AOL, etc. Hotmail was the first real internet email that I remember (named because it was HTML-mail), and Microsoft didn’t buy that until 1997, well after I had graduated from college and was already living in Boston at my first job at MIT.

When Mosaic came out, companies started moving away from internal pages at AOL, etc., and started creating their first websites on the Internet. I assume that was a huge loss of revenue for those Online Services and contributed to their downfall. Eventually, the email standards (X400? X something…) improved to where they all upgraded and we had true interoperability, though I don’t recall what year that was, I think it was 1995 (after Mosaic).

When you watch an episode of Friends – keep in mind that historically all of this was happening in the background. Email just wasn’t a thing in the 90s that people used routinely to keep in touch. Arguably we don’t use it today for that either, since social media has supplanted it**.

The bottom line is that I was in college from 1991 to 1995 at the precise moment in time when we went from BBSes and Online Services ruling the world to the dawn of the true Internet era. I don’t think many of my age-peers remember that this history overlapped with ours in this way.

The Wikipedia entry for Online Service Provider is well worth a read, especially if you are in my age cohort. Gen-X FTFW!

*The senior class of 1990 made fun of my HS class by changing our slogan to “We’re the class of 91. We drink no beer and have no fun.” I remember this slogan better than our actual slogan, maybe because it was rather accurate in my case at the time. (actually, our unofficial slogan for ourselves was “from this prison, we will run, we’re the class of ’91” which resonated more with geeky young me). During high school, for me ’87 to ’91, I spent a lot of time dialing in at 14.4K to BBSes.

**much like social media has supplanted blogs, whose history overlaps my grad school years in exactly the same way that the history of email and the web overlaps my college years. I’m old-fashioned enough to have posted this to my blog here. But I’m modern enough to know that all my friends are here on FB and don’t read my blog, which is why I also cross-posted it to Facebook.

Ethereum as universal stock – from wall street to blockchain

I am mining on an EVGA RTX 3070 FTW obtained at MSRP via their step-up program. To date, I’ve averaged about 50 MH/sec on nanopool with essentially no overclocking of any kind.

My intention is to just accumulate ETH as a learning process. I am toying with launching a couple of coins myself to see how the process works and to better understand the ecosystem. I’ve gotten a good idea of how Uniswap works but am still struggling with Pancake.

The analogy to the stock market is the default when most people talk about crypto, and especially in the analyses of the price behavior. Some of this stuff comes from the forex world, like fibonacci retracements. There’s also a cultural influence and cross-pollination from the Reddit crowd at /r/wallstreetbets – where the rallying cry of HODL reigns. There’s an entirely new culture springing up around crypto and it has inherited toolchains from the stock market disruptor scene.

I find myself considering how far the analogy could go. Blockchain is already a public record of transactions – an early proposed use case was as a replacement for the county recorder’s office, as a way to track real estate ownership. Ethereum took that a step further with Decentralized Finance (DeFi) where “smart contracts” are executed directly on the blockchain. In essence, Ethereum added programming to the blockchain concept, creating a computational infrastructure. In all of these evolutionary steps, the stock market analogy reigns supreme, as a benchmark for competition against and innovation beyond. What if the entire idea of stocks itself could be disrupted by a smart blockchain? What if Wall Street could be entirely replaced by the Crypto Grid?

What if the entire idea of stocks itself could be disrupted by a smart blockchain? What if Wall Street could be entirely replaced by the Crypto Grid?

Consider the way a private startup works. The founder solciits money from a bunch of inventors. Those investors each receive a proportional ownership share (equity) of the company, to the amount of money they provide relative to the total investment received by the founder. The founder eventually goes public or sells the company, and in either case each investor receives a payout that is proprtional to their equity stake.

The analogy to Ethereum 2.0 staking is immediately apparent. If you hold a lot of ETH, and you stake some of it, you will receive “interest” payments as income based on that stake.

If the founder instead put out a callf or investors to donate crypto instead of fiat money, then the entire process would work identically. The only difference would be that the donated crypto could be sold to fund the startup (an extra step). However the equity stake of the investors is permanently recorded in the blockchain.

Suppose further that the founder issued their own Ethereum token at a 1:1 ratio to the donated ETH. That token could be capped so that each token represents an actual proportional share, and ownership of the company would then follow those tokens. It would be completely public.

If the founder solicited 100 ETH as investment, and issued 100 tokens to his investors, then those investors could then resell the tokens or fractions thereof as “stock”. The only thing that is unclear is how, legally, those tokens translated legally to ownership. The gap here is between the legal world where business is actually conducted and the crypto world where these constructs reside. Ultimately you need a legal entity to function as a DBA and to open a bank account, take on payroll, pay vendors, etc. However, if the nature of the business is entirely digital – for example, the gig economy on UpWork – then all of these transactions could be purely crypto. The dream of moving away from fiat is possible, and creates a way for people to pay for services and conduct transactions without any footprint in realspace. At least, until the people involved cash out.

H2G2 at Hulu begins production

Yay, I guess. No word yet on cast and crew though.

Though this is certainly an interesting tidbit:

The series is said to have a completely different plot from the 2005 movie and 1981 six-episode television series directed and produced by Alan J. W. Bell.

And yet later on we also find:

The series has reportedly renewed for season 2 as well with no official confirmation yet. It is likely to adopt all the five novels in the series which include, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,” “Life, the Universe and Everything,” “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish,” and “Mostly Harmless.” 

So honestly who knows?

Guest Post: I’m Moe Lane, and FROZEN DREAMS is my first book!

Let’s start with that, shall we? FROZEN DREAMS is my first novel (also available as an audiobook): it’s a post-apocalyptic urban high fantasy pulp detective novel, complete with wizards, fantasy races, and at least one wisecracking private eye. It’s set in the far-future and remarkably-retro Cin City, capital of the Kingdom of New California – where life may not be cheap, but it ain’t exactly solidly made, either. Now, some might say that all of this is just an excuse for me to make all sorts of pop culture references in a fantasy story – but I couldn’t possibly comment.

The hero of this story is Tom Vargas, a Shamus pledged to Clear the tough Cases, no matter what. And there’s a lot of ‘whats.’ Evil mage ambassadors. Commie demonologists. Ken barbarians. And as many flying monkeys as my editor could force me to put in.

Which was honestly not hard to do.

Continue reading “Guest Post: I’m Moe Lane, and FROZEN DREAMS is my first book!”

The 12 million body problem

Chinese authorities: “this is normal”

I’m aghast at this.

Five Republican US senators have asked Netflix to reconsider its plans to adapt the bestselling Chinese author Liu Cixin’s book The Three-Body Problem, citing Liu’s comments in support of the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.

In a letter to Netflix, the senators said they had “significant concerns with Netflix’s decision to do business with an individual who is parroting dangerous CCP propaganda”. The letter cites Liu’s interview with the New Yorker last year, in which the Chinese novelist was asked about the mass internment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.

“Would you rather that they be hacking away at bodies at train stations and schools in terrorist attacks? If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty,” Liu said, adding: “If you were to loosen up the country a bit, the consequences would be terrifying.”

The Guardian, “Netflix faces call to rethink Liu Cixin adaptation after his Uighur comments”

The question of separating the art from the artist doesn’t have an easy answer. Usually, I can – for example, Orson Scott Card’s political views are at odds with mine, but I am still able to enjoy Ender’s Game. However, Dan Simmons went completely overboard back in April 2006 to an unforgivable degree and rendering Hyperion completely unreadable to me. The above, from Liu, is equivalent in my view and arguably worse as he is glibly parroting CCP propaganda and justifying religious and cultural genocide.

I just finished saying that I try to avoid politics on this blog, but the simple fact is that science fiction is about the human condition. When writers of other genres offend me, it doesn’t sting. And at least with Card I can see where he’s coming from (I disagree profoundly, but I get it). Liu and Simmons made it personal.

I don’t begrudge him his Hugo but I sincerely hope that Netflix doesn’t reward Chinese propaganda with a TV deal. If they do, then I will not be watching.