Oxytocin and Zombies

October 24th, 2012

Oxytocin and the Zombie Apocalypse:

If you've been watching AMC's riveting series about zombie apocalypse, The Walking Dead, then you're probably into blood and guts like me. You might also be watching because you're interested in the moral dilemmas that the characters face during each twist and turn of fate. As the misfortune adds up and the body count rises, some of the most honest and trustworthy people must do some pretty terrible things all in the name of survival! […]

When I was watching the opening to season 3 this week, I couldn't help but think about how much the zombie apocalypse genre of television and cinema can teach us about oxytocin. That's right, we can learn more about the mislabeled "cuddle hormone" by thinking about both the benevolent and terrible things that people do in the name of survival. […]

[Via The Morning News]

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133 to 1

October 21st, 2012

Michael Frayn, writing in 1995, on the problem of titles:

This year, for various reasons, four different works of mine will have reached the point where they need titles, and I've reached the point where I need hospitalisation. It's not that I can't write titles. I've written far more titles than anything else in my life. For one of these four projects I have 107 titles. For another – 74. For the third – 134. 134 titles! For one short book! 134 pretty good titles, though I say so myself. The trouble is, you don't want 134 pretty good titles. You want one perfect title.

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October 21st, 2012

Everything you need to know about the RunPee app:

The RunPee app is primarily here to help you enjoy your movie going experience by telling you the best times to Run and Pee without missing anything important. The RunPee family – Dan, Mom and Sis – see each wide release movie that comes out on opening day. We watch for 3-5 minute spans in the movie where nothing really exciting, or funny, or important happens. (Obviously this can be next to impossible for really good movies but we do our best.)


Each peetime has a synopses (sic) of what happens. So if you do need to run and pee then you'll be able to come back to the theater knowing exactly what happened while you were taking care of business.

One more thing you need to know: yes, this appears to be for real.

[Via A Cup of Jo, via swissmiss]

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H+, C+

October 21st, 2012

I bookmarked H+ The Digital Series a few weeks ago, but only got round to watching it yesterday evening:

A groundbreaking new series by acclaimed producer Bryan Singer, H+: The Digital Series takes viewers on a journey into an apocalyptic future where technology has begun to spiral out of control… a future where the world's population has retired its cell phones and laptops in favor of a stunning new device by Hplus Nano Teoranta, an innovative technology company that has found a way to connect the Internet to the human mind 24 hours a day.

The production values are reasonably high and as the series has been running for three months now there are enough 5 minute episodes up that you can dive in and watch a run of them to get an idea of the scope and style of the story. Which brings me to the problems: one story-related, and one structural.

First the story: simply put, I've watched the first dozen episodes and the story they're telling us has the stink of FlashForward/The Event all over it. A big world-changing event arriving out of the blue, nobody letting us in on how it happened or why, but with hints being dropped that at least one recurring character knows more than they're letting on. Stories happening in different parts of the world, and involving (apparently) unrelated groups of characters. None of those things precludes this turning into an interesting story, but after so many shows tried and failed to replicate the Lost effect it's only natural to be a little gun-shy.

The structural issue is trickier. Strip out the title sequence and the credits and there's only some 3:30 of story per episode. Essentially, you find yourself getting a couple of scenes with a character/group and then there's an enforced switch to a different person, place and point in the timeline. Even if I disregard the fact that once I've caught up I'm going to have to wait a week between these tiny chunks of story, breaking your story up into such small chunks does the rhythm of the storytelling no favours. Little cryptic snippets of story are fine for seeding the initial mystery, but it doesn't leave characters much room to breathe as the situation gets more complicated.

I suppose that there's a bright side to this – if you find one particular story thread dull then you can rest assured another one will be along within 5 minutes1 but I do wonder how well they'll be able to tell their story as it gets more involved.

They've done enough in the first dozen episodes that I'm willing to stick around and find out, though, which is a start.

[Via fuck yeah, science fiction!]

  1. Or within a week, if you've caught up.

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October 17th, 2012

"Take away your Batsuit and what are you?"

[Via LinkMachineGo!]

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Quantified Self 1 – 2 Paris (aet)

October 17th, 2012

Craig Mod versus a Fitbit:

I bought a Fitbit on a whim. It was spring 2012. I bought it to understand how devices like this worked. If they worked. What it meant, precisely, for them to work. Between JawBone's Up, Nike's FuelBand, and now Fitbit, the entrepreneur in me wanted to understand this emergent product space and know how these devices affected awareness.

I assumed our relationship would proceed like this: I'd use the Fitbit for a few weeks, think it was neat, and then forget to wear it. One forgotten day would turn into a week would turn into a month. It would start off as a novelty, devolving quickly into another well-intentioned, dust-covered tech product.

Boy, was I wrong.

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Shut up and deal …

October 16th, 2012

Jenny Diski has posted a fine essay she had published in Harper's Magazine in January 2012 contrasting Mad Men's Don Draper with a couple of his fictional contemporaries:

The televison show Mad Men's central emptiness is heard in its echoes. The series derives directly from the movies of the time it is portraying. It doesn't just hint or casually nod at North by Northwest, or that film's near contemporaries The Apartment (Billy Wilder, with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine) and Lover Come Back (Delbert Mann, with Doris Day and Rock Hudson), it rolls them as credits. The crucial difference between these movies and the modern series that nods at them is that each of the movies was made about their time in their time. They offer, as thriller, drama, romance, and high comedy, their contemporary view of social relations and notions of self-worth in the period that concerns Mad Men's makers and viewers only retrospectively.

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Marie Curie. Rachel Carson. Sally Ride. Grace Hopper. Rosalind Franklin. Jane Goodall.

October 16th, 2012

Posters of Six Women Who Changed Science. And The World.

Grace Hopper poster

For Ada Lovelace Day.

[Via kottke.org]

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The Magazine

October 16th, 2012

Marco Arment1 has been teasing us on his last few podcasts about his new iOS app, which was revealed last week as The Magazine.

Basically, it's an iOS-only magazine that asks for US$1.99 a month and promises in return to give you four articles every fortnight written by geeks, for geeks, but not necessarily about technology.

The app looks good and reads nicely even on a small screen like that of my iPod Touch, as you'd expect from the man who created Instapaper.2 Navigating between articles is slick and speedy, a huge contrast to a heavier, more blatantly commercial product like the iPhone/iPod Touch edition of the New Yorker. Limitations on tweaking the way the content looks notwithstanding, The Magazine is clearly a child of the web, and all the better for it.

As to the content, essentially it's longish, self-contained pieces from people who've been publishing similar material on their blogs over the years, but who now have a chance to stretch out a bit and get paid along the way.

It probably didn't help that the jumping-off point for the first article in the free trial issue was about one of my least favourite notions to have gone the rounds of the Mac blogosphere in the last few months: the proposition that John Gruber invented the Linked List style of blogging about six years ago. Getting over that hump, I enjoyed what I read, but there's a problem.

[Where's the quote? Where's the link?]

Because for now Marco isn't posting the content on the app's web site as it's published in The Magazine, I can't link to a piece I liked to persuade you to read it, let alone to get you to subscribe to The Magazine to read more like this.3

Obviously I understand that the idea is for people to subscribe to The Magazine rather than read the authors' work for free online, but I have a nasty feeling that'll work about as well as it did for The Times of London. If you publish behind a paywall, aren't you cutting yourself off from the conversation taking place across any number of blogs? If the content isn't trying to be particularly timely then this may not be a major issue, but it still makes it harder for customers to persuade others by word of blockquote. At the very least, I hope that work published through The Magazine is displayed in full on the magazine's web site a month after publishing, so that we don't have to go haring off to the various authors' personal sites to track all that content down again.

For all that, I'm still going to let the automatic In-App purchase go through and follow The Magazine for a few issues.

  1. Who I hope will forgive me, a total stranger, from calling him by his first name throughout this piece. I've been reading his blog, using his software and listening to his podcast for long enough now that it seems weirdly appropriate to be on first name terms with someone who has no idea that I exist.
  2. I find the lack of flexibility in setting up display preferences like choice of font, line spacing and so on to be a bit odd given how good Instapaper is at letting users adjust their reading to suit their taste. I can only imagine that Marco is trying to establish a brand here so he wants the app to look recognisable.
  3. Authors retain the right to publish their work from The Magazine one month later on their own web sites, but that's not much help when I've just read the article and want to tell you about it now.

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Fat and ill

October 15th, 2012

Jarvis Cocker, reviewing The John Lennon Letters, gets to the crux of the matter:

I am so the target-audience for this book that it hurts – but something feels wrong.

Britpop (I can scarcely believe that I typed that word of my own free will) perhaps comes in useful for once at this point. People of my generation felt this obscure pang – this feeling that we'd somehow missed out on something amazing. So we tried to make it happen again – but exactly the same. You cannot do a karaoke version of a social revolution (good fun trying though). What changed in the interim? Why was Br**pop doomed to failure? Too many factors to go into here, but one was: too much information. Too much reverence. Wearing the same clothes and taking the same drugs will not make us into Beatles. It will make us fat and ill. And books like this (along with many others, I admit) are what make that mistake possible. The Beatles didn't know they were the Beatles. The Beatles didn't have a plan or a blueprint to follow.

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October 13th, 2012

Doctor Who: P.S. is an unfilmed scene, depicted in storyboards with some voice work from Arthur Darvill, and written by Chris Chibnall, that acts as a neat coda to the story of the Ponds' departure from the show and their life in the 21st century. Filmed, it'd have made a lovely post-end title sequence for the latest episode. To my mind this latest mini-season was a bit lacklustre1 so they shouldn't have squandered the chance to give us this one.

[Via feeling listless]

  1. The first season since the show's return with not one episode I'd class as quite good, let alone excellent. All the leads were as good as the script allowed them to be, and obviously Mr Brian Williams was just outstanding, but it's no good having a season-long story arc about how the Doctor shouldn't travel alone when all that travelling alone happens off-screen. I know it's not fair to compare five episodes with a 12 or 13 episode season, but it all seemed to be a bit flat and uninspired and overwhelmed by the need to give Rory and Amy a big send-off. They'd have been better off just leaving the Ponds where they were when the Doctor caught a glimpse of them in the department store towards the end of the previous season, happy and healthy and living their lives. I just hope that the arrival of a new companion and the approach of the show's 50th anniversary season re-energises the show.


Space, the tiny frontier

October 10th, 2012

CubeSats and Earth

For thousands of years the Borg cubes tore across the empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the first planet they came across – which happened to be the Earth – where due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire Borg battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.

Misquoted from Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

CubeSats and ISS solar panels

The real story is a tad less dramatic, and nobody needs to get assimilated. The cubes are actually amateur radio satellites deployed from the ISS:

NASA have released photographs of the amateur radio CubeSats TechEdSat, F-1 and FITSAT-1 taken by an Expedition 33 crew member on the International Space Station (ISS).


The small satellites were transported to the ISS in the HTV-3 (Kounotori 3) cargo vessel that blasted off on an H-IIB rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center on Saturday, July 21 at 0206 UT.

The cargo vessel arrived at the ISS on July 27 and the ISS Canadarm2 robotic arm was used to install the HTV-3 to its docking port on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony module at 1434 UT. The CubeSats were then unloaded by the Expedition 32 crew.

[Via Bad Astronomy]

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Book Mountain

October 10th, 2012

How can I resist posting a picture of a five storey Book Mountain?1

Book Mountain

[Via The Morning News]

  1. Actually, it's a new public library in Spijkenissse, near Rotterdam. But 'Book Mountain' is a more evocative term.

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The Rights to Silence

October 9th, 2012

Former BBC Senior Broadcast Journalist Alan Connor, on making a radio programme about John Cage's 4'33" and encountering problems clearing the broadcast rights for the performances he wanted to include:

A lesser journalist might have bypassed some rights or recorded his or her own performance on a smartphone and used that to provide the wordless, note-less soundtrack for the slideshow. Nobody would know. Actually, that may not be true in the case of Frank Zappa's 4'33". I'm sure there are hardcore Zappa fans who would detect in a moment that the room tone was unlike that of any studio Zappa had ever used. But it wasn't the zappaphile's conscience that made me do the right thing. It was my own.

It wasn't even my training: there had been nothing on the Safeguarding Trust course that covered the appropriate attribution of recordings of nothing happening. But in order to demonstrate that each version of 4'33" is unique, the package had to be exactly what it said. So out went the version chosen by Radio 3 regular Ian McMillan for his Desert Island Discs in which Hungarian percussion instruments were not being played, sadly unclearable in the time available.

[Via currybet dot net]

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Furlough time forfeit

October 8th, 2012

From the Desk of Director Nick Fury:

The agents responsible for taking Captain Rogers to a screening of Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds', and convincing him that was how the war ended, have been identified, and have forfeited their furlough time until they provide him with a proper History textbook and debrief him.

[Via jwz]

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Aristotle in a Transit van

October 8th, 2012

The Wellcome Library's Chris Hilton on an austere realm of great beauty:

Being an archivist is sometimes a strange profession, spanning a range of worlds. Your training can include instruction in Tudor handwriting or medieval Latin, but will also cover nuts and bolts information about reading room layouts, order slips and avoiding damp in your strongroom; whilst the working day can take you to discuss one of our medieval treasures with a scholar planning a critical edition, or into a dark garage or basement to survey papers covered with decades' worth of cobwebs. It is surprising how often the ability to drive a Transit van through a narrow gap comes in handy, too: and an archivist in their first job soon learns that perhaps the most crucial people in their entire building are the people who run the loading-bay. […]

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Two Presidents

October 8th, 2012

Courtesy of Maureen Dowd: President Obama seeks post-debate tips from a master

The lights from the presidential motorcade illuminate a New Hampshire farmhouse at night in the sprawling New England landscape. JED BARTLET steps out onto his porch as the motorcade slows to a stop.


BARTLET They told you to make sure you didn't seem condescending, right? They told you, "First, do no harm," and in your case that means don't appear condescending, and you bought it. 'Cause for the American right, condescension is the worst crime you can commit.

OBAMA What's your suggestion?

BARTLET Appear condescending. Now it comes naturally to me -

OBAMA I know.

BARTLET It's a gift, but I'm likable and you're likable enough. Thirty straight months of job growth – blown off. G.M. showing record profits – unmentioned. "Governor, would you still let Detroit go bankrupt as you urged us to do four years ago?" – unasked. […]

BARTLET [… That] was quite a display of hard-nosed, fiscal conservatism when he slashed one one-hundredth of 1 percent from the federal budget by canceling "Sesame Street" and "Downton Abbey." I think we're halfway home. Mr. President, your prep for the next debate need not consist of anything more than learning to pronounce three words: "Governor, you're lying." Let's replay some of Wednesday night's more jaw-dropping visits to the Land Where Facts Go to Die. "I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don't have a tax cut of a scale you're talking about."

OBAMA The Tax Policy Center analysis of your proposal for a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut in all federal income tax rates, eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, the estate tax and other reductions, says it would be a $5 trillion tax cut.

BARTLET In other words …

OBAMA You're lying, Governor. […]

[Via The Morning News]

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October 7th, 2012

Paul Owen looks forward to a couple of the events at this week's Conservative party conference:

Probably the most blue in tooth and claw is tomorrow at 9am, and is baldly called: "Why the public should want hospitals to close." For sheer mad brio "We can't afford roads!" (Tuesday, 5.30pm, their exclamation mark) runs it close.


Pretty pictures

October 7th, 2012

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The operative word is 'Catching', sheeple!

October 2nd, 2012

Cooperative Quadrocopter Ball Throwing and Catching:

OK, so now it's cute and amusing and quietly impressive. A decade from now, when the AI-driven quadrocopter is employing those same subroutines to hunt down the remnants of the human resistance … not so much.

[Via jwz]

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