March 16th, 2003
Bruce Sterling spent some time at the recent SXSW conference chatting about futurology in his usual entertaining style. Fortunately for those of us who don't migrate to Austin, Texas every March there's a transcript. Here's Chairman Bruce on ubiquitous computing:
One aspect of this that's being underplayed is ubijunk. The first wave of ubicomp isnt going to work very well. Then you end up with stuff that's just waiting to be turned off or picked up or thrown out. What happens if you walk into a room that's experienced the blue screen of death? What if there are buggy rooms? Who do you call? The difficulty of cars has always been the planned obsolescence of cars. What happens when you try to drive an obsolete smart vehicle? It still thinks it's smarter than you, and it's been in a couple of wrecks. Its GPS map is 18 months out of date and you drive right over the edge at 80 miles an hour. Bad maps cause you to blow up the Chinese embassy. What if it's in your clothes? I have an ID tag in my underwear, and I wash it one too many times. There's a whole Philip K. Dick world of hilarity here.
[Via Boing Boing]
March 15th, 2003
The Completely Useless Guide to Babylon 5 – it does exactly what it says on the tin. See, for example:
Infectious disease that all SF writers suffer from at some stage in their career. The most notable casualties on B5 are the Narn, although far too many of the lesser alien races have succumbed to the problem to a greater or lesser extent (I still feel slightly sorry for the Pak'ma'ra who obviously did something heinous in an earlier life, and, if they carry on the way they are, will soon become the P'ak'm'a'ra.)
Last Commander of Babylon 5. Well, apart from Sheridan. And Lochley. And whoever was in charge after that until it was finally decommissioned. (see: Careers).
The first point has JMS – and pretty well 80% of writers who deal in tales featuring alien species – bang to rights, but the fanboy in me feels obliged to point out that Sinclair was the "last commander" of the Babylon 5 space station because his successors in the post all held the rank of Captain, whereas he held the rank of Commander.
OK, so I too spent far too much time thinking in far too much detail about B5. But that was a few years ago now, and I'm over it. Honest.
March 15th, 2003
Inspired by a toy tank he bought for his son, this guy built his son a 1/5 scale model of a WWII Sherman tank. And being a geek, he's documented the project and put details online.
What a guy!
(I'll bet a pound to a penny that he's mulling over ideas for scaling it up a bit further so that he ride around in it himself. Wouldn't you?)
[Via User Friendly Link of the Day - see entry for 15 March 2003]
March 14th, 2003
Movie Poop Shoot presents Joss Whedon's Peanuts. Simply wonderful.
March 14th, 2003
Patti posted an astonishing story about a group of people she encountered with some very strange – no, come to think of it, make that "idiotic" – ideas about parenting.
March 14th, 2003
Some of you might have noticed that some time around half past two yesterday afternoon (GMT) this site disappeared. My web host was hacked and a lot of user files were deleted, so the site had to be restored from backup. Then my ISP's routing went up the spout (again!) so I couldn't even get online to check when the site was back up. Apart from the wonder that is
my precioussss my lovely new iMac, this has been a really bad week IT-wise.
Fortunately no posts were lost, and all but the last couple of comments posted were rescued. I do still have email copies of the comments, so I should be able to restore them somehow, but not right this minute.
March 12th, 2003
Just a quick note to explain why I may not be posting much this week.
First of all, I'm off work with some sort of 'flu bug, feeling extremely grotty. Which means that I don't feel much like spending time web-browsing, which means that I can't find lots of lovely links to post about here.
Second, I've got a new toy to play with: a brand new Apple iMac, complete with 17" LCD screen, 1GHz CPU and 80Gb of hard disk. (Of course, today would turn out to be the day my ISP suffered a massive loss of connectivity and routing during my very first Apple-powered login, one that lasted through much of the day and is still causing occasional routing losses even as I type this. I'd best post this ASAP, before Demon's connectivity goes down the toilet again.)
With any luck I'll surface again some time nearer the weekend, but in the meantime I commend the various "Weblogs Worth Watching" to the right of this post to anyone looking for an interesting read.
March 11th, 2003
Just one post tonight, to lament the passing of Farscape.
Unfortunately the show's cancellation was only announced as the last episode of what turned out to be the final season was being shot, so the writers had very little opportunity to adapt the storyline to give viewers a sense of closure. Even so, as it turns out the final episode did a pretty good job of wrapping things up in that unique Farscape style. You'd never see a Star Trek series close with the show's two major characters being killed off just after they'd decided to get married and confirmed that one of them was pregnant.
(I know, if season 5 had gone ahead as planned the writers would have had to find a way to bring them back. But it was still a fine way to undermine a dangerously feel good ending.)
Bad Timing was a strong end to a fine series. To my mind Farscape was easily the best science fiction TV series since Babylon 5, a rare mix of humour and high drama which was never less than entertaining and frequently brilliant. A lot of the credit goes to the regular cast members, most notably Ben Browder, Anthony Simcoe, Gigi Edgeley and Wayne Pygram, but most credit should go to the writers, who were never content to deliver Trek-style platitudes or neat little moral lessons where they could mix up the standard space opera formula a bit and stretch the characters a bit.
I'd like to think that the "To be continued…" sign at the end of the final episode was a promise rather than an aspiration, but if we never see Crichton & Co again I think we all got our money's-worth.
March 9th, 2003
The Zagat Survey is apparently some sort of restaurant guide, available to subscribers only. What the do make available free of charge is Unfit for Print, an (anonymous) list of some of the more … striking … comments their reviewers made. I can't quite decide which is worse: "Grandma cooked like this, Grandpa died young" or "Mashed potatoes and attitudes don't mix". Not that they're all adverse comments, mind you. I'd quite like to eat at an establishment "So romantic that wives feel like mistresses and vice versa".
March 9th, 2003
The Internet Book List could well turn into a tremendously valuable resource for book-lovers everywhere. That said, judging by the current list of the most popular books and authors, it badly needs input from non-SF fans:
1. Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the (1979)
2. Atlas Shrugged (1957)
3. American Gods (2001)
4. Ender's Game (1985)
5. Coraline (2002)
1. J.R.R. Tolkien
2. Douglas Adams
3. Neil Gaiman
4. Isaac Asimov
5. Terry Pratchett
March 9th, 2003
As is my wont on a quiet Sunday, I've been catching up with rec.arts.sf.written. A couple of posts were worth a mention here:
March 9th, 2003
If you ever doubted that librarians are fabulously resourceful people, read Stupid Research Tricks and doubt no more:
I had received a call some years back while working the Reference Desk (you always capitalize "Reference Desk" – somehow "reference desk" seems puny) I don't recall the time of day, but we'll say night, just for effect. Heck, let's throw in some thunder and lightening as well. The person started out by asking if we had any literature on poisonings after beating around several proverbial bushes.
I then got to ask the question that all my reference training had prepared me for that separates the librarian from the rest of the masses: "Could you be a little more specific?"
"Uh.." was the reply, "Well I need to know if there is anything toxic in something."
"Hum…. [incidentally, "hum" is just a more dignified way of saying "uh," more graceful and intellectual - I learned that in Library School] "what kind of 'something' would we be talking about?"
"Uh… human remains."
"I need to know if there is anything toxic about eating cremated human remains."
"Oh, well, cremated you say, well that makes a difference [nervous laughter here]."
To make a long story short (and not to give too much away in case I ever sit down to write my Reference memoirs) I called both the Atlanta Poison Center (they thought I was a nut) and a local Crematorium. The former, after tracing my call, told me that there was no inorganic material in cremated remains and so it should be safe but inadvisable. The latter brought out that there could be trace elements of lead (which only made sense if you ponder that one) which could be harmful. In short, they also advised against it and implied that I needed counseling and that they weren't buying the "Reference Librarian" act.
I called the individual back and informed him of what I had found out.
I could end the tale by saying that he invited me out to dinner and wisely declined but that would be stretching things a bit. An appropriate ending, though.
[Via Making Light]
March 8th, 2003
The Story About the Toddler, Volume 1: more refreshingly honest parenthood stories from the author of The Story About the Baby.
When Do We Have to Stop Laughing at the Baby?
In ages past, bored people would sit around and stare at a fire to help the time pass. These days, a baby can serve much the same purpose.
The other night, me, my wife, and a bunch of our friends were sitting around chatting and watching some babies bounce off each other.
(One of the best things about toddlers is watching them interact with each other. Toddlers are selfish in this utterly pure way that makes them deliciously baffled when confronted with others of their kind.)
Cordelia tried to walk, fell, and smacked herself on the head. She cried. The grown-ups made pitying noises. Mommy calmed her down. So far, so good.
Then Cordelia lied down on the floor. She carefully raised her head. Then she brought it down, face first, on the linoleum. Hard. Wham. So she started crying again. But this time, instead of pretending to be sympathetic, everyone laughed at our poor baby. I would be filled with rage at this casual disregard of my only child's suffering, if it weren't for the fact that it was pretty darn hilarious.
One of the reasons I hate parenting books is that, for all their bloviating about breast feeding and educational mobiles, they never cover the issues of real practical importance in a young parent's life. For example, at what age do we have to stop laughing at our baby? Is there, in fact, an age when we have to stop laughing at our baby? And isn't getting a whole bunch of people to stand in a circle around the baby and laugh at it a decent way to discourage negative behavior (like smashing her face against the floor unnecessarily)?
Hey, I'm just trying to be a good parent here. I'm not sure what your problem is.
I'm looking forward to The Story About the Teenager, a decade or so on. Especially the tale of what happens when Cordelia ego-surfs and discovers the things her father told the whole world about her childhood…
March 7th, 2003
Sir Patrick Moore fields questions from Independent readers:
What's your star sign? Do you read the horoscopes?
Claire Huggett, Norwich
Astrology proves one thing and one thing only – there's one born every minute. How anyone can take it seriously, I do not know. I think I'm a Pisces. I read my horoscope once – it said I would perform an outstanding athletic feat. I was playing cricket that day and took 0 for 40. A very bad day.
Go, Patrick, go!
March 7th, 2003
Oprah Winfrey is relaunching her book club, this time with the focus on various classic works which will mostly be in the public domain. Anil Dash sees an opportunity for producers of e-book readers to expand their market and provide a dramatic demonstration of the advantages of limits on copyright.
I'm not sure that Oprah's audience is ready for the e-book. After all, it's not as if techies are all that keen on e-books, and I have a sense that even those techies who are keen customers of sites like Fictionwise mostly read their downloads on PDAs rather than dedicated e-book readers.
Still, it'd be tremendous to see someone make this idea work.
March 7th, 2003
When Movie Posters Collide…
Crouching Tigger, Hidden Pooh? Grumpy Old Men In Black? Sheer genius!
March 6th, 2003
I think the title says it all.
[Via Burnt Toast]
March 6th, 2003
Now this is an episode of Friends I'd tune in for:
Ross arrives and starts to whine. Suddenly an armor-clad warrior rushes in and with a blast from a space-age weapon reduces Ross to a pile of twitching viscera. But the show must go on, so Ross pulls himself together and rises to complete his sniveling soliloquy. Just as he finishes, he is slaughtered again. Call this episode "The One Where Ross Is Repeatedly Annihilated by a Plasma Rifle."
Sadly it's not a leaked script, just a New York Times article (NB: free registration required) about an artistic "happening" which will take place this weekend in which Quake gladiators will act out a script from Friends. The catch is that other Quake players will be able to wander on set fully armed.
Apparently this isn't the first time someone has translated a scripted work to suit the demands of a virtual space:
In 1998 computer scientists performed a version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in a crudely rendered 3-D environment. It was not for the faint of heart or slow of modem. In 1997 Desktop Theater, an experimental online group, staged a reading of "Waiting for Godot" within an Internet chat room. The play's main characters were represented by lime-green circles that talked. The performance was derailed when a muscleman who claimed to be Godot arrived and declared the wait to be over.
In Quake, no doubt Godot would appear with guns a-blazing.
March 5th, 2003
The Real Live Preacher relates the tale of The Advent of Elliot.
So what did you do in the 90s?
A couple in our church, Stan and Carol, spent the 90s trying to have a baby. They blew an entire decade doing the infertility dance.
You know the infertility dance, right? First you try to relax and "let it happen". Then you pray to Jesus, who always seems to be busy doing other things. After that you give all your money to doctors and do all the weird shit they recommend. Finally, you bow to your partner and offer up your credit cards.
This dance will flat take it out of you.
Happily, there's a positive conclusion:
He runs up and down the hall in his little "Bob the Builder" shoes. He has no idea who he is. He has no idea how long we waited for him.
He's only a little boy, but he's special to us. He brought life to Stan and Carol. He brought them back from the dead. His advent brought light to people who had been walking in darkness.
It's not really a story about a baby, it's a story of a community.
March 5th, 2003
Dea Birkett rejoices in a graphic demonstration of the limits of the "you can achieve anything if you really, really want it badly enough" philosophy espoused by the likes of yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur.
I wouldn't go along with Birkett's opening line, but her general thesis is spot on. It's not that people shouldn't pursue their dreams, or that they should give up after an initial failure – who would bet that eventually MacArthur won't eventually set a new round-the-world sailing record? – but that it's simplistic to suggest that desire will always prosper regardless of circumstance, and it's a pernicious social policy which assumes that willpower conquers all. (As Jon notes, this ties in nicely with an earlier discussion on his site on the problems of meritocracy.)
[Via More a way of life....]