February 9, 2014

Blurred books


I find it surprisingly difficult to browse second-hand books on market stalls. Too often the serried ranks look like this — I can discern book-like shapes, but as I try to make out the authors or titles the world starts drawing in around the periphery. Even when I can read the words I don’t recognise any of them.

The first time I built my own PC I found myself sitting in the car park, terrified the list of components I’d agonised over would elicit knowing grimaces from the testosterone-laden atmosphere inside. I even had an uncomfortable time in a bicycle shop some years ago as I struggled to work out how much of my intimate knowledge of late-80s velotech was still relevant.

It seems obvious to promote and advocate for bookshops against the encroachment of Amazon, but we shouldn’t forget that to the uninitiated — and even to the unpracticed — they’re alien, vaguely threatening environments. There are reasons other than convenience for the steady rise of online shopping.

The main thing physical shops have going for them is human contact. Very, very few shops capitalise on that advantage. But then, dealing with humans is hard.

January 2, 2014

Observations on cows' moos...

with Sir Patrick Stewart.

He sounds like he’s had a few drinks, if you ask me. Or possibly he’s just trying not to laugh.

December 3, 2013

Point-of-view tourism

December 2, 2013

Domestic drones

Back in university, twenty years ago, I wrote a not-very-good sketch about a company who repurposed surplus cruise missiles. We’d all seen video footage from the (first) Gulf War showing Tomahawks diving through the windows of buildings, and it made some warped sort of mildly-satirical sense to think of them being used for… er… pizza delivery.

And now this:

Rrrright.

The punchline of the sketch was ‘minimum cholesterol damage.’

I said it wasn’t a very good sketch.

November 13, 2013

Reasons to have children #236

Every year, my wife and I devote the month of November to convincing our children their plastic dinosaur figures come to life while they sleep.

(Source)

Genius. Read the whole post.

November 11, 2013

Grey, layering to the horizon

San Francisco by David Yu on 500px.com
San Francisco by David Yu

Click through to see the full image. It’s worth it.

Not one of mine, obviously. I wish it was. This is immediately one of my favourite photographs — I’ve been a sucker for layered greys heading out to the horizon for at least thirty years, so this makes me go a bit weak at the knees, frankly.

October 14, 2013

Implausible hovering

Even if you aren’t of the steampunk persuasion, airships are plain cool. Here’s a bunch of them care of The Atlantic.

Airship

We’re used to seeing photographs of aircraft, and we imagine their speed and air flowing over their wings and all that; familiarity with the concept has led us to forget how mysterious they are. The A380 is big enough to offer a glimpse of sufficiently advanced technology, but only barely.

Photographs of airships do not, I suspect, do them justice. They didn’t fly, they hung. They were weightless, but far from massless: Hindenburg was as big as an aircraft carrier and it operated at a gross weight of more than 200 tonnes, roughly half the maximum take-off weight of an A380.

And it hovered. Silently.

Look at The Atlantic’s photos and tell me that wouldn’t have been just a little eerie.

July 26, 2013

Speed

This is glorious. Great story, well told.

Experiments in Speed from SpindleProductions on Vimeo.

July 5, 2013

Gernsback Discontinuum

It’s a terrible shame and a real disservice for the years to come when the people we count on to dream are content with IKEA and iPads.

Star Trek and the shiny, boring future — Adventures in Consumer Technology — Medium

Great – and in an age of ever-longer blog posts, commendably short – essay on the lack of futurism in ‘futuristic’ cinema. The IKEA conformity of popular TV was something in which I cheerfully participated, mostly because it made my budget go further. But we were horribly aware that as a result, essentially all shows had the exact same look.

The other day I saw, lurking in the back of shot on Defiance, a giant caster wheel bolted to one of those kick-steps you use so kids can reach the sink. The whole thing was sprayed silver, presumably so it looked like some weird abstract future artwork. No, it was a wheel bolted to a kickstep, and painted silver.

June 12, 2013

Netbooks were the Red Wedding

Pretty much all stories are about the human condition; they explore the decisions people make, the forces and ideas which drive them, and the impact of those actions on those who follow and fall before them. Epic stories tend towards epic settings, which is why Game of Thrones is set in a quasi-mediaeval land of knights and horses and archers and castles.

Fast-forward 1500 years, and the equivalent setting for future dramatists will be the corporate battlegrounds of the early digital age. There’s no doubt that the story of Apple, for example, is epic in structure: the rise, fall and rise again (following the return of the founding King) is straight out of the Greek playbook.

Not that I expect the stories to be as simplistic and literal as ‘Jobs vs. Gates’. I merely note that we live in epic times.

We saw the hand of destiny, the reassertion of martial and political primacy, in Apple’s newfound confidence at WWDC this week. Pressured by the traditional ruler to the North, harried by the reivers of Wall Street, the supposedly-cowed company growled and bayed its defiance.

Can’t innovate any more, my ass.
Phil Schiller

The sabre-rattling and troop-rousing was framed, however, within bookends of statements of pious faith, a re-expression and return to the qualities enshrined in the Kingdom’s founding:

Designed by Apple in California

We live in epic times.

June 9, 2013

Privacy

Re: Google Glass, PRISM, and all that — I forget when I first said it, maybe a decade ago, but:

In the future, we will all have our fifteen minutes of privacy.

It’s an obvious corruption, but that hasn’t stopped us walking straight into the trap. For all of Google’s assertions that they won’t allow facial recognition for Glass, isn’t that exactly what we’ve all wanted ever since somebody first came up with the idea of earrings that whisper the name of the person who’s just started talking to you?

…and of course, your personal electronics will run the search by querying the cloud, and once you’ve uploaded your social connections to make that work you’ve abrogated privacy.

We’ve been preparing for this for more than twenty years. We’ve known about Echelon for almost as long. And more than a billion of us pour our lives into Facebook anyway. We want this future personally and individually, and the collective risk is someone else’ problem.

What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light years away, you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs, that’s your own lookout. Energize the demolition beam. I don’t know, apathetic bloody planet, I’ve no sympathy at all.

If I were to write a science fiction novel right now, I’d probably set it against the background of a US-like state which had gone through the right-wing equivalent of China’s Cultural Revolution. It’d be like the McCarthy era, only with actual evidence.

I may not think that’s going to happen, but I’ll make a spread bet and rejoin ORG anyway. In the meantime I find it hard to get in a lather about PRISM precisely because I’d pretty much assumed any halfway competent intelligence agency would be trying to pull that off anyway.

The failure is ours for electing policy-makers who make the same mistakes with countries as we do as individuals. And I’m not sure how we get around that, short of evolving as a species. Fast.

Weird corners of YouTube #37

Screw television. I mean, really: why do we need self-appointed ‘opinion leaders’ deciding what we the proletariat should see when we can cater to every last niche via our own labours?

Take, for example, the corner of YouTube I’m going to label “Amateur choral arrangements of Bear McCreary’s version of Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower.”

Example #1, Sac State Jazz singers:


Awesome. Example #2, Fife High School Jazz Choir:


Shame the audio recording is ropey, it’s a spectacular rendition.

Example #3, Vocal Velocity AKA Folsom High School Jazz Choir:


A bit heavy on the beatboxing and emoting for me, but there is room in this brave new world for all perspectives.

If you wonder what all this is referencing… well, you’d pretty much have to watch three seasons of Battlestar Galactica to experience the complete hairs-on-back-of-neck nature of its use at the end of season 3. Then you’d have to watch season 4 to find out how the song isn’t just in the frakkin’ ship, it’s woven through the whole damn series.

But for a taste, here’s actor Katee Sackhoff trying to remember how to play it with McCreary. That she almost can’t is pretty much what the story was about:


May 31, 2013

Yes, but who is number 1.5?


I’m a bit of a fan of four-line kites, but flying one like this is disconcertingly reminiscent of Rover from The Prisoner.

No? Just me?

May 23, 2013

Holmes

Great post by Genevieve Valentine over at io9, on the Jonny Lee Miller/Lucy Liu Sherlock Holmes update ‘Elementary’ for CBS. It’s very different to the BBC’s Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman update, and it would be wrong to regard it as a cheap knock-off. While I still don’t warm to Liu, Miller is outstanding and the show’s scripts, while patchy, had moments of brilliance. Long moments. Even entire shows.

I particularly liked the late-series episodes which were allowed to find their own languid pace. This isn’t an action-procedural show where everything has to happen quickly to squeeze in the next plot reversal before the ad break: it’s (mostly) more thoughtful.

Also check io9’s previous piece lamenting recent portrayals of Irene Adler. It predates Elementary’s unorthodox take on the character, but is worth a read for those of us who liked, you know, the book version.

May 20, 2013

Tumblr, blogging, and all that jazz

Where Tumblr Came From - Anil Dash

many of us who were familiar with blogs already saw tumblelogs as “just a simple blogging template”, similar to what we were already doing on Movable Type or WordPress at the time, rather than a fundamentally different medium.

Despite that myopia, there was a lot of momentum around simplified, media-rich blogging at that moment in history.

Just read the whole thing. Blogging: it’s not as simple as it seems, and history is littered with the corpses not just of dead blogs, but of dead blogging systems.

(— via everyone)

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