Elegant and Fine

September 16th, 2012

Ursula Vernon's take on The problem of Susan:

"Elegant and Fine"

The real problem with Susan, in the end, was not that she was no longer Narnia's friend. It was that she had already been its lover. […]

[Via Making Light (Particles)]

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Rdio On

September 16th, 2012

Rob Weychert was hoping to use the Rdio streaming music service to broaden his musical horizons. The result wasn't what he'd expected:

[Last fall…] I was convinced to give Rdio a chance after a friend showed me how he used it as a try-before-you-buy service. As a discovery mechanism to augment my personal collection, the prospect of a subscription service was suddenly intriguing. At any given time, there is a ton of music, new and old, that I'd like to properly investigate before committing to a purchase. For ten bucks a month, Rdio would give me unlimited access to a lot of that music, all in one place. I decided to give it a whirl.

Moments after signing up, I dove in head first, and in the months that followed, I wolfed down music at an unprecedented rate, dutifully working my way through a mental checklist of veteran bands who had long needed my attention as well an avalanche of new releases. […]

At one level, what Weychert found wasn't a surprise: he listened to a lot more music, but with so much to explore he listened to a lot of material just once and didn't ever return to albums to get to know them well enough to decide to buy them. It'd be the same if he'd inherited umpteen boxes of CDs from a friend with good musical taste. Presented with so much material to listen to, you'd always be tempted to find out how great the next thing might be instead of stopping and concentrating on the contents of the first pile you grabbed. With a finite amount of waking hours to devote to listening to music, something has to give.1

It'll be interesting to read a further report a year on to see whether Weychert can find a strategy for avoiding the temptation to keep on pressing the Next Track button on his infinite jukebox.

[Via swissmiss]

  1. These days I primarily use Spotify – more or less the equivalent to Rdio for users in Europe – in order to sate my desire for just one listen to a track or album I've just been reminded of but which isn't in my iTunes library rather than as a preview-before-purchase service. To be fair I only have the free Spotify service, so the constraints on my streaming music are a bit different to those Weychert encountered.

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Phobos eclipse

September 15th, 2012

A partial eclipse of the Sun by Phobos, as seen by the Mars Curiosity rover.

Not the most spectacular astronomical image you'll ever see, and not even all that rare an event,1 but even so it's pretty cool that we have a one ton, nuclear powered robot present on the Martian surface to beam the picture back to Earth.

  1. Phobos orbits Mars every 7 hours and 39 minutes, so there are frequent opportunities for it to get between the Sun and some point on the Martian surface.

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September 14th, 2012

I've never seen a shell quite like Xiki:

Everything is editable text. Type commands anywhere. Edit the output. (Vs. typing commands at the bottom, and read-only output.) Intermix menus, headings, bullet points, wherever you want. Xiki == executable wiki.

[Via The Tao of Mac]

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Dude, Where's my…Emperor?

September 14th, 2012

Prompted by the disappearance from public view in recent weeks of China's president-to-be Xi Jinping, Jeremiah Jenne takes the opportunity to remind us that China has a long history of absentee leaders:

Before China watchers get their tweed in a twist, it's worth noting that Xi's only been MIA for a little over a week. Mao took naps that lasted longer than that.

Sure it's a different era with Weibo and an active foreign press corps speculating wildly about everything from an infected hang nail to alien abduction, but in the pantheon of Chinese leaders going AWOL, Xi blowing off the Prime Minister of Denmark isn't even top ten. In the early 1990s Premier Li Peng went missing for months on account of the sniffles (Read: "heart attack") and it barely registered. Of course, that may have been because Li Peng is a douche. […]

Nor are missing leaders a purely 20th century phenomenon. Zhu Qizhen (1427-1464) was a young monarch who came under the influence of the eunuch Wang Zhen. When a group of Mongols threatened Beijing, Wang Zhen convinced Zhu Qizhen to personally lead his troops against the enemy. Despite outnumbering the Mongols by something like 50-1, the Ming armies were completely routed after a series of strategic blunders so impossibly stupid they make General Custer look like Sun Bin. When the survivors finally bled their way back to Beijing, they looked around and noticed they were short an emperor.

The Mongols kept him around for fourteen years until they finally got sick of him and booted him back to China. Meanwhile the Ming court had gone ahead and enthroned Zhu Qizhen's cousin as the new emperor which made his homecoming … a little awkward. […]

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Ancient history

September 12th, 2012

An oldie but a goodie:


[Via The Medium is Not Enough TV blog]

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September 11th, 2012

I've watched the demo videos for GRID™ multiple times now, and I'm puzzled. Perhaps it's just a sign that I'm getting on a bit, but whatever the subhead on their web site says I'm not seeing how that's a spreadsheet in any meaningful sense of the word.

Don't get me wrong, GRID™ looks to be slick, and flexible and make it easy to embed all sorts of different types of information in one document1 but it's more of a free-form mind-mapping tool than anything resembling a spreadsheet.

Which, of course, may just end up proving that what most people need isn't a spreadsheet at all. It's entirely possible that five years from now the founders of GRID™ will be deciding whether they'd rather use some small fraction of their immense pile of cash to buy up Apple or Google or Facebook, while I'll still be writing Excel spreadsheets and wishing I'd downloaded that demo back in 2012.

[Via The Tao of Mac]

  1. And would probably be horrible to use on an iPhone-sized screen, just because of the way that a grid sprawls across the infinite page and relies on the ability to be able to see a fair number of cells at once to orient yourself.

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Support Ada Lovelace Day

September 11th, 2012

Suw Charman-Anderson wants to put Ada Lovelace Day on a firmer footing:

This year, it has become really clear to me that there's a lot more that I could do with Ada Lovelace Day, if only we had a bit of cash to pay for it. Since its inception, Ada Lovelace Day has been run entirely by volunteers and by partnering with organisations like the Women's Engineering Society, Association for UK Interactive Entertainment, London Games Festival and BCS Women. We have managed a huge amount through the kindness and generosity of our volunteers and partners, but there is more we could do.

I now want to create a formal charitable organisation to support women in STEM, not just on one day of the year, but all year round. Some of our goals include creating educational materials about iconic women, providing media training, and building a directory of expert speakers.

There's an Indiegogo appeal up and running if you'd like to help make this happen.

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93 million miles from here

September 10th, 2012


On August 31, 2012 a long filament of solar material that had been hovering in the sun's atmosphere, the corona, erupted out into space at 4:36 p.m. EDT. The coronal mass ejection, or CME, traveled at over 900 miles per second. The CME did not travel directly toward Earth, but did connect with Earth's magnetic environment, or magnetosphere, causing aurora to appear on the night of Monday, September 3.

Magnificent CME Erupts on the Sun - August 31

[Via Bad Astronomy]

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Signing Tour

September 9th, 2012

I think Charlie Stross may have been lightly traumatised by his latest book signing tour:

I am going to have this recurring nightmare for the next few years … I'm trapped in a reality TV show after the model of "The Apprentice", in which the marketing folks at a publisher responsible a bunch of aspiring authors are gifted with the marketing and promotion budget of a best-seller to spend on their pool of newbies, in a gruesome elimination match to see who can survive the signing tour. Sort of like "The Hunger Games" for authors.


How can we make a reality TV show out of this?

Here's my idea: first, we need a Publisher. Preferably a charismatic, intense, skinny English guy with a posh accent. (Hello, Tim!) We also need a Production Company, a TV content maker, with a budget. As TV programming costs on the order of a megabuck per hour, and signing tours cost maybe a kilobuck per author per day (including travel, hotels, guides, and so on), they can afford to front the cost of about a dozen signing tours for first-time authors. No publisher in their right mind will turn down that sort of free marketing money (in exchange for allowing a camera crew to shadow the authors), and the hapless midlist grunts are of course not going to turn down a marketing budget a bazillion times bigger than their book advances (plus, the chance to look good on TV). […]

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Purple Exegetics

September 9th, 2012

First Avenue, August 3rd, 1983:

Wendy Melvoin is fresh from high school. She is a wearing a V-necked sleeveless top, and patterned shorts. She is playing the first chords of a new song on her purple guitar, opening chords that she wrote, a circular motif with a chorus effect. Wendy is eighteen-nineteen and she has the high cheekbones and diffident confidence of a Hollywood upbringing. She half-smiles at the faces that crowd close to the low club stage. This is Wendy's first gig with the new band, and the song she is playing is "Purple Rain," and nobody in the audience has ever heard "Purple Rain" before because this is the night that Prince and the Revolution record the song. […]

I haven't bought an album of Prince's in a good decade or so now, but there's just no denying that if you put him on a stage and hand him a guitar he's still got it. The MetaFilter thread where I got those link kept me happily entertained for a couple of hours following links to as much proof as you like of that fact:

On Saturday Night Live:

Watch Fury in Rock  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

At the half-time show for the 2007 Superbowl:

In memory of George Harrison:1

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. Wait a couple of minutes and Prince suddenly pops up and blows everyone else off the stage. Or, as one MeFi commenter put it, "And then Prince materializes 3/4 of the way through, blows the top of your head off with the solo, throws his guitar in the air, and disappears. It is a testament to the professionalism of Petty, Lynne, and Winwood that they don't just say 'fuck it' and drop dead, right there at the Hall of Fame."

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A default setting

September 7th, 2012

From a 1999 interview with Alan Moore about the influence of Jack Kirby on his work:

Well, I'll have to go all the way back to my very early childhood for that. I first discovered comics when I was about seven; this would have been around 1959 or 1960. When I said "comics" I meant American comics; I had read the homegrown British fare before that, but when I first came across the Superman and Batman comics of the time, the first couple of appearances of the Flash, things like that, these were a revelation. I became completely addicted to American comics, or specifically to the DC Comics that were available at the time. I can remember that I'd seen this peculiar-looking comic that I knew wasn't DC hanging around on the newsstand and it looked too alien. I didn't want to risk spending money upon it when it wasn't stuff that I was already familiar with. And then I can recall on one day, I think I was ill in bed – I'd been seven or eight at the time – and my mother said that'd she get me a comic to cheer me up while I was confined to the bed. I knew that the only comic that I could think of that I hadn't actually bought was a Blackhawk comic that I'd seen around. So I was trying to convince her to sort of pick up this Blackhawk comic, kind of explaining to her what it was and that it was a bunch of people in blue uniforms. Much to my initial disappointment she brought back Fantastic Four #3, which I read. It did something to me. It was the artwork mainly. It was a kind of texture and style that I've just never seen before. The DC artists at the time, I didn't really know their names, but their style was the one I was accustomed to: Very clean, very wholesome looking, and here was something with craggy shadows with almost a kind of rundown look to a lot of it. It was immediate; literally, from that moment I became a devoted fan of the Fantastic Four and the other Marvel books when they came out – particularly those by Kirby. I mean, it was Kirby's work that I followed more than anybody else as I was growing up. Just the work in Thor and "Tales of Asgard," the Fantastic Four during that long classic stretch in the middle, and then when Kirby went over to DC and the Fourth World books. This was around the time that I was approaching my psychedelic teenage years and the subject matter of these books seems to be changing along with me. I absorbed actively every line he drew in those years, or at least the ones that I was able to lay my hands on. There's something about the dynamism of Kirby's storytelling. You never even think of it as an influence. It's something that you grew up with, kind of understanding that this is just the way that comics were done. So I'd say yeah, that I would account for the influence of Jack Kirby upon my own work. It's almost like a default setting for my own storytelling. It's sort of like if you can tell a story the way Kirby would have, then at least that's proper comics; you're doing your job okay.

[Via LinkMachineGo!]

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Stop opt-out 'Adult' filtering

September 5th, 2012

(I meant to post about this days ago, but because I'm an idiot I've kept putting off writing about it.)

The UK government is running a consultation on the introduction of a system of requiring Internet Service Providers to block 'Adult' content by default. This is a horrible idea for all sorts of reasons:

  1. As anyone who was ever used a network with a content filtering system in place knows, they're hopelessly unreliable. They either block far too much, or they block so selectively that they're ineffective. So, in short, they don't achieve their stated aim, and they cause all sorts of collateral damage along the way.
  2. If parents want to block their kids' internet access, there's been software available for years to let them do this. It tends not to work very well (see 1 above), or to be hard to install without the help of their tech-savvy kids – hence the request that governments force ISPs to do the job for them. None of which implies that the standards of the most censorious of parents should be applied to everyone: any such system should be offered on an opt-in basis, not as the default.
  3. Even if you completely trust the intentions of the current government and of the people who like this idea, putting a system like this in place gives a future government the tools to block whatever content they like. This is a (small) step towards our one day having the Great Firewall of the United Kingdom.

The consultation can be found here. There's a response form you can download and complete, or you could use the online response system produced by the Open Rights Group which copies your response to your MP.1

The consultation closes on 6 September 2012 (yes, tomorrow), so if you're in the UK and you care about this get thee to one of the links above and let the Department for Education know what you think.

  1. As this is a consultation by a government department individual MPs aren't involved in the process yet – their time will come if this all ends in legislation being put forward to implement whatever proposals follow this consultation exercise – but it does no harm for them to know that some of their constituents have views on this topic.

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September 5th, 2012

Crazy hamsters playing!

[Via MetaFilter]

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Immaterial Weightlifting

September 5th, 2012

Dan Hill has posted an essay he wrote as an introduction to Curious Rituals, a project about "gestures, postures and digital rituals that typically emerged with the use of digital technologies".

For some years I've been collating a list in a text file, which has the banal filename "21st_century_gestures.txt". These are a set of gestures, spatial patterns and physical, often bodily, interactions that seemed to me to be entirely novel. They all concern our interactions with The Network, and reflect how a particular Networked development, and its affordances, actually results in intriguing physical interactions. The intriguing aspect is that most of the gestures and movements here are undesigned, inadvertent, unintended, the accidental offcuts of design processes and technological development that are either forced upon the body, or adopted by bodies.


Walking around "eating the world with your eyes", as the fictional design tutor in Chip Kidd's novel The Cheese Monkeys puts it, you can't help but observe the influence of The Network on our world. Yet The Network is often still spoken about as if it were somehow something separate to Us, as if it were an ethereal plane hovering above us, or perhaps something we might be increasingly immersed in but still separate to our bodies, to our selves. This doesn't feel accurate now. There is no separate world, and this list indicates how we are even changing what our bodies do in entirely emergent, or at least unplanned, everyday fashion, in response to The Network's demands. […]

The Curious Rituals team have created a video to illustrate how A Digital Tomorrow might work:

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Oy Vey, Baby!

September 5th, 2012

David Hepworth would like to see a proper David Bowie exhibition:

I'd like to see his childhood bedroom recreated, displays of Bromley town centre through the years, old school books, cheap guitars, bassdrum pedals, a chronology of his haircuts, marked-up tape boxes, old contracts, personal letters, sketches, false starts, crossings-out, studio logs, mixing consoles, bits of kit, clipping from FAB 208, preposterous film scripts, storyboards for videos, things thrown on stage by fans and, most of all, a royalty statement for Tin Machine.

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September 5th, 2012

I wonder how many science fiction writers have drafted stories where this phenomenon is a deeply meaningful, possibly even elegiac, symbol of … something or other…

While the $5.50 nylon flags are still waving on the windless orb, they are not flags of the United States of America anymore. All Moon and material experts have no doubt about it: the flags are now completely white. If you leave a flag on Earth for 43 years, it would be almost completely faded. On the Moon, with no atmospheric protection whatsoever, that process happens a lot faster. The stars and stripes disappeared from our Moon flags quite some time ago.

Alternatively, this is just another attempt by NASA to drum up support for another series of moonshots:

Mr President, we can't let the next passing alien invasion fleet think we've surrendered. We must go back and plant a pristine flag at Tranquility, oh, every decade or so.

[Via LinkMachineGo!]

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Pretty pictures

September 2nd, 2012

It's been a while…

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September 2nd, 2012

One of Ken MacLeod's story stories is being adapted as a student graduation film, Scattered:

When there is no history, it's hard to face the truth about the past

Scattered is the graduation project of MetFilm School students Joshua Bregman (writer-director) and Victoria Naumova (producer). We are both big fans of science-fiction genre and it's been our on-going dream to shoot a sci-fi film.

The Story

After a 15 year wait, Conal is going to meet his father for the first time. His father Keith is the world's most notorious criminal, convicted of a crime which changed history itself. Convinced of his father's innocence, Conal needs Keith's help to set the record straight. But his quest for justice takes an unexpected turn and Conal soon finds himself confronted with the unimaginable.

This atmospheric film is the first ever screen-adaptation of the work of award-winning sci-fi author Ken MacLeod. Scattered examines society's relationship with its past through a son's relationship with his father, and challenges our established ideas of destruction and terrorism through a crime that is as surprising as it is all-consuming. As all great sci-fi should, Scattered offers a vision of the future that illuminates the present. […]

It's a crowdfunded project, so I've thrown a few quid their way. Who knows, a decade from now these folks might be gearing up to shoot the Fall Revolution series, and it all started here.

[Via The Early Days of a Better Nation]

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Twenty things about 'Fire Walk With Me'

September 1st, 2012

Alex Pappademas lists Twenty things about David Lynch's 'Fire Walk With Me' on its 20th anniversary:

Does it work if you haven't seen the TV show? As Lynch might put it, gosh, no. (It's a prequel, but it bends time and space to wrap up a few stray plot threads from the series – if you're working your way through the show on DVD, treat the movie like a coda or you'll be lost.) But that's what's fascinating about it – in some ways, Lynch's most uncompromising and unrelenting movie is the one he made while beating the dead ghost-horse of a canceled soap opera. Let us now appreciate the most underappreciated David Lynch movie that doesn't involve sandworms and Sting in metal bikini briefs. […]

For all that I loved the TV series1 I've not seen Fire Walk With Me since watching it in the cinema 20 years ago. I didn't much like it, but I can't remember why. If nothing else, Alex Pappademas has persuaded me that when I eventually get round to a re-watch of the TV show I'm going to have to cap it with the prequel.

  1. Yes, both seasons. The second season may have taken some strange detours, but I was already hooked by then.

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