Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Wow what a servicd

Watching an old, rather interesting scifi movie called the 27th day. It speaks to the end of the world by aliens but with a twist.

Posted via email from mclasen's posterous

Reader Request Week 2009 #1: SF YA These Days

i read ALL ho juvie scifi books til I got access to adult scifi

Reader Request Week 2009 #1: SF YA These Days: "

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Reader Request Week 2009, in which you suggest the topics, and I write about them. Yes, I am your dancing monkey for the entire week! Please do not throw peanuts at me, however. They hurt my little head. As with last year, this I’m going to try to answer more requests, in a shorter form. Since last year I didn’t manage the ‘shorter’ part very well, don’t be surprised if I blather. Hey, that’s why you’re here.

Our first reader request this year comes from Keith, who says:

I have to preface my question with a story. Recently, I met and spent some time talking to a middle school librarian from Des Moines, IA. Naturally, conversation turned to what books we read when we were that age, as opposed to what ‘tweens are reading now.

I mentioned that I cut my teeth on the juveniles (now called Young Adult!) of Robert Heinlein, and asked if many kids still ask for those. I got a blank look in response. She didn’t know who I was talking about, and was sure that her library contained no books by said author. Asimov, Clarke, Pohl- same thing. She thought she might have heard of Asimov… I thought I might cry.

So, John, my question for you is, WTF?

Do middle school kids not read science fiction any more? Does (this) science fiction have an expiration date? Is it because they’re in a middle school in Des Moines (no offense intended to Midwesterners in general…)? Am I hopelessly out of touch with the youth of today, and should just start yelling at them to get off my lawn?

The answer: Yes, Keith, you are in fact hopelessly out of touch with the youth of today. Here’s your cane; remember to shake it vigorously (or at least as vigorously as you can manage) as those Youth of Today™ scramble off your Kentucky Bluegrass. And be thankful, because think about it: Do you really want to have the same tastes as a bunch of 13 and 14 year olds? Wouldn’t that be weird? Wouldn’t that be, well, creepy? Like, restraining order creepy? You know it would be. So be proud of your old man crankiness.

But more to the point, one has to ask why one should be so surprised that the Youth of Today™ have not necessarily read the juveniles of Heinlein, or Asimov (the ‘Lucky Starr’ series, writing as Paul French) or whomever. Dude, those books are all more than 50 years old. You might as well be shocked, shocked that the YoT™ aren’t listening to the Flamingos or the Drifters or the Isley Brothers, each of whom had one of the top ten songs of 1959, or are torrenting videos of Darby O’Gill and the Little People or The Hound of the Baskervilles, to name but two of the top ten movies of that same year.

But, you say, The Star Beast is excellent in ways that Darby O’Gill is not. And maybe you’re correct about that, but it doesn’t really matter, for reasons both social and practical. On the social front, if you spend any amount of time with kids (it helps to have one in the house, as I do, if you don’t want that wacky restraining order action going on), you know that they have a strange allergic reaction to anything that’s not explicitly created for them, and specifically a reaction to anything you, as an adult/parent, might like. This reaction starts as soon as they’re able to be judged by other kids on their aesthetic choices and continues until they realize (usually around 30) that a whole other generation of kids think they are now completely out of touch, so they can relax and just enjoy what they like. When my then ten-year-old niece commented a few years ago that No Doubt sounded like something her mother might like, I realized that no amount of pushing and prodding would ever get her to listen to Gwen Stefani and pals thrash about, even if sonically it was right in line with what she was listening to otherwise. I have no doubt (no pun intended) that it works the same way if an adult drops Star Beast on a kid these days.

On the practical front, the future of 50 years ago is not the future of today, both for social and technological reasons, and kids today know it. Hell, when I read The Star Beast as a kid in the early 80s, it already felt a bit quaint, and that was more than a quarter century ago. Writers are writing for their day and age, and their day and age passes. That Heinlein’s juvies kept selling for so many years is a testament to his readability (and to the relative dearth of passible new SF for younger readers for a number of years as well), but sooner or later readability alone isn’t going to compensate for a world that doesn’t feel right anymore to contemporary readers, and science fiction doesn’t have the ability that some other books have in being a snapshot of their current time. It’s supposed to be the future. The only way you get to the future of Star Beast or Red Planet or Citizen of the Galaxy is by going backwards first.

But just because kids aren’t reading what we read when we were kids doesn’t mean they’re not reading science fiction. My daughter is currently sucking down Margaret Peterson Haddix’s ‘Shadow Children’ sequence of books like there’s no tomorrow, the latest of which was written only three years back. One might roll one’s eyes at James Patterson’s ‘Maximum Ride’ series of YA SF novels, but they are seriously popular; each of them hit #1 on the NYT Young Adult bestseller list. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games has been making quite a stir recently, and of course let’s not forget Scott Westerfeld, whose Uglies series is legitimately a watermark in modern YA science fiction. Finally, let’s not forget that on the Hugo ballot this year there’s also Little Brother, which has done very well both in sales and in critical acclaim. These are the YA SF books I can reel off of the top of my head; there are quite a few more I can’t.

Which is to say: Don’t panic. The kids are reading science fiction just fine, even if they’re not reading what you did, back in the day. And here’s the good news: If they get hooked on science fiction, eventually they probably will read the Heinlein juvies. Probably in college, as part of a survey course, to be sure. But, hey. That’s something. This is your cue, incidentally, to start shaking your cane again.

(You can still get in requests for Reader Request Week! Put them in the comment thread at this link. Please note: I have all the writing questions I want to deal with already. Ask me something else!)


(Via Whatever.)

Malthus: vampire slayer

vampires AND statistics kewl

Malthus: vampire slayer: "Vampires can't be real or they'd be everywhere -- Laura McLay's ground-breaking research into vampire population dynamics demonstrate a dismal Mathusian character in vamp-growth that put the lie to the sucker:

This argument becomes even more overwhelming if you model a vampire population as a branching process or birth-death process and assume that each vampire in the population has probability Pj of producing j offspring (with j=0,1,2,… ). The vampire population would either explode or die out, depending on the expected number of offspring per vampire. But if you take into account the fact that vampires live many, many generations (they’re virtually immortal) and may create thousands of offspring, the population explodes (if you assume that each vampire creates at least one vampire, on average, before it dies). With those numbers, vampires would not be living under the radar–they would be everywhere!

on vampires and stochastic processes

(via Futurismic)

(Image: Vampires are real, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike image from Eyelash_divided's Flickr stream)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Mark Ryden's first toy, photographed by Brian McCarty


Mark Ryden's first toy, photographed by Brian McCarty: "Yhwh

Seen here is a Brian McCarty's splendid photograph of Mark Ryden's first ever toy, titled YHWH, on its way this summer from Long Gone John's Necessaries Toy Foundation. The figure stands 16' tall and keeps a constant vigil with its acrylic eyes. Brian's photo will grace the back cover of the forthcoming eleventh issue of Hi-Fructose magazine. Click the image to see it larger.


(Via Boing Boing.)

Rumor: Text Messages Can Kill

Rumor: Text Messages Can Kill: "The Egyptian Gazette reported on Wednesday that a Mallawi man died 'vomiting blood' after receiving a mysterious text message from 'unknown foreign quarters.'

The report appeared to confirm rumors claiming..."

(Via Urban Legends and Folklore.)

America's bankers are oligarchs

America's bankers are oligarchs: "Writing in the Atlantic, Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the IMF, takes a hard look at the econopocalypse and decides that the root of America's (and Europe's) economic woes is the cozy relationship between super-powerful bankers and government -- oligarchy. So, he says, we cannot fix the economy until we break up the banks, curb executive compensation in the finance sector, and turn it into 'just another industry.'

Typically, these countries are in a desperate economic situation for one simple reason—the powerful elites within them overreached in good times and took too many risks. Emerging-market governments and their private-sector allies commonly form a tight-knit—and, most of the time, genteel—oligarchy, running the country rather like a profit-seeking company in which they are the controlling shareholders. When a country like Indonesia or South Korea or Russia grows, so do the ambitions of its captains of industry. As masters of their mini-universe, these people make some investments that clearly benefit the broader economy, but they also start making bigger and riskier bets. They reckon—correctly, in most cases—that their political connections will allow them to push onto the government any substantial problems that arise...

The government needs to inspect the balance sheets and identify the banks that cannot survive a severe recession. These banks should face a choice: write down your assets to their true value and raise private capital within 30 days, or be taken over by the government. The government would write down the toxic assets of banks taken into receivership—recognizing reality—and transfer those assets to a separate government entity, which would attempt to salvage whatever value is possible for the taxpayer (as the Resolution Trust Corporation did after the savings-and-loan debacle of the 1980s). The rump banks—cleansed and able to lend safely, and hence trusted again by other lenders and investors—could then be sold off.

Cleaning up the megabanks will be complex. And it will be expensive for the taxpayer; according to the latest IMF numbers, the cleanup of the banking system would probably cost close to $1.5trillion (or 10percent of our GDP) in the long term. But only decisive government action—exposing the full extent of the financial rot and restoring some set of banks to publicly verifiable health—can cure the financial sector as a whole.

This may seem like strong medicine. But in fact, while necessary, it is insufficient. The second problem the U.S. faces—the power of the oligarchy—is just as important as the immediate crisis of lending. And the advice from the IMF on this front would again be simple: break the oligarchy.

The Quiet Coup

(via Making Light)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

'Mythbusters' Bust More than Myths in Small Town Visit

heh heh

'Mythbusters' Bust More than Myths in Small Town Visit: "The crew of the Discovery Channel's Mythbusters show detonated 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate in a quarry just outside Esparto, California last week, sending a shock wave through the small..."

(Via Urban Legends and Folklore.)

When Stars Twitter, a Ghost May Be Lurking

fake fake

When Stars Twitter, a Ghost May Be Lurking: "A need for constant updates has created a cottage industry that fans may not be aware of: Twitter ghostwriters."

(Via NYT > Movie Reviews.)

Amazing art made with old audio cassette tapes

Amazing art made with old audio cassette tapes: "Richard Metzger is the current Boing Boing guest blogger

Wow, this sure is a fun new use for an old media relic.



Amazing art made with old audio cassette tapes

Thanks Adam Wade!


(Via Boing Boing.)

British local governments deploy anti-teenager pink lights designed to make kids ashamed of their appearance


British local governments deploy anti-teenager pink lights designed to make kids ashamed of their appearance: "

British local councils have a new weapon in their arsenal of devices that collectively and indiscriminately punish teenagers simply for being young. The new tool is a pink overhead light designed to exaggerate acne, with the intention of making children so unhappy and insecure about their appearances that they go somewhere else (mind you, these councils are almost certainly also allocating funds to helping teenagers cope with low self-esteem and avoid the problems associated with it, such as depression and vulnerability of recruitment into violent activity).

Other weapons in the arsenal against youth include the 'Mosquito' -- an annoying high-pitched tone that adults can't hear, that shopkeepers and councils have deployed against teens and kids (and, of course, any babies that happen to be in the area), and 'anti-kid steps' that are supposed to prevent the menace of kids staying in one place, talking to one another.

Anti-teenager ‘pink lights to show up acne’

(Thanks, Dan!)

(Image: BBC)


(Via Boing Boing.)

The Big Takeover: A Must-Read from Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi

The Big Takeover: A Must-Read from Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi: "Richard Metzger is the current Boing Boing guest blogger


I've always admired Matt Taibbi's writing and I've followed his byline from his hilarious early efforts at The eXile, a Moscow-based free paper for ex-pat Americans to his stint at The NY Press, and now at Rolling Stone, where he's been published for some time. Jann Wenner's smart patronage of a fine writer like Taibbi is ample proof of Rolling Stone's continuing relevance in a world of 24/7 news cycles and instant internet publishing.

This article is Taibbi at his best. It takes no prisoners!

It's over — we're officially, royally fucked. No empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock, which is what happened as of a few weeks ago, when the buffoons who have been running things in this country finally went one step too far. It happened when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was forced to admit that he was once again going to have to stuff billions of taxpayer dollars into a dying insurance giant called AIG, itself a profound symbol of our national decline — a corporation that got rich insuring the concrete and steel of American industry in the country's heyday, only to destroy itself chasing phantom fortunes at the Wall Street card tables, like a dissolute nobleman gambling away the family estate in the waning days of the British Empire.

The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history — some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year, the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That's $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second. And all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya (whose entire GDP last year was smaller than AIG's 2008 losses).

So it's time to admit it: We're fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we're still in denial — we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream.'

The Big Takeover: How Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution.

Thanks, Mike Backes!


(Via Boing Boing.)

Komodo dragons kill man


Komodo dragons kill man: "
 Wikipedia Commons 3 3F Varanus Komodoensis

A man picking fruit on an island in eastern Indonesia fell out of a tree where he was then mauled to death by two Komodo dragons. From The Guardian (photo by Dezidor/Wikimedia Commmons):

The man, Muhamad Anwar, 31, was found bleeding from bites to his hands, body, legs and neck within minutes of falling out of a sugar-apple tree on the island of Komodo and died later at a clinic on neighbouring Flores. The giant lizards had been waiting for him under the tree, according to a neighbour, Theresia Tawa...

The carnivorous Komodos, which live for up to 50 years, can grow to 10ft in length and weigh up to 200lbs. Though they rarely attack humans – and had not previously killed an adult for more than 30 years – an eight-year-old boy died after being mauled in 2007 and attacks are said to be increasing as their habitat becomes restricted. Their diet usually consists of smaller animals, including other members of their own species.

'Komodo dragons maul man to death'


(Via Boing Boing.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Perfectly Good Names The SciFi Channel Could Have Chosen Instead of The Utterly Stupid "SyFy"


Perfectly Good Names The SciFi Channel Could Have Chosen Instead of The Utterly Stupid "SyFy": "From io9:

# Networkico Fantastico

# The Sci-Fi, But That's Not A Bad Thing Channel

# Being A Broadcast Network That Specializes In Pictorial Representations Of A Technical and Supernatural Nature

# All Grace Park All The Time Channel

# Joss Whedon's Natural Home If He'd Only Realize It

# We're Worried That You're Still In Your Mom's Basement Because That's Not Really The Demographic We're Looking For Channel
25 Other Names The Sci Fi Channel Could Rebrand With (thanks, @bonnie)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Deadly spider at grocery store

now we have this to worry

Deadly spider at grocery store: "A Brazilian wandering spider, the most venemous spider in the world, was scurrying around a Whole Foods Market in Tulsa, Oklahoma. An employee caught the spider in the produce section and the store called the University of Tulsa. From News On 6:

 Images 10025233 Bg1

'Within minutes you will have breathing problems, you'll start to lose control of your muscles, you'll start to drool and within 20 to 25 minutes you'll probably collapse on the floor and die of asphyxiation,' said Terry Childs (director of the university's animal facilities)...

Apparently the spider, also known as a banana spider, hitched a ride on some bunches of bananas all the way from Honduras. It turns out it is the kind of thing that happens all the time, but this particular spider is more threatening than most.

'This particular one happens to be one of the most aggressive ones I've actually come across. This thing will actually jump at you,' said Terry Childs.

'Deadly Spider Found At Tulsa Store' (Thanks, Jill Miller!)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Fox's Glenn Beck says Obama is building concentration camps for Republicans

the total paranoiod is all aware - not

Fox's Glenn Beck says Obama is building concentration camps for Republicans: "

Swiping material from the X-Files, Fox's Glenn Beck warns that Obama is setting up FEMA concentration camps to warehouse the nation's neocons, fundies, wingnuts, and dittoheads.

From Daily Kos:

In a recent spot on FOX and friends, Beck claimed that he had conducted 'research on' the so-called concentration camps being built by the Obama White House as part of a conspiracy to establish totalitarian rule in America and the he could not 'debunk them.' According to Beck, 'If you have any fear that we might be heading toward a totalitarian state, look out. There is something happening in our country and it ain't good.'


(Via Boing Boing.)

STATION: graphic novel locked-room mystery on the Int'l Space Station

STATION: graphic novel locked-room mystery on the Int'l Space Station: "

STATION, a taut locked-room murder mystery set about the International Space Station meets and exceeds Boom! comics' normal high standard for graphic novels. Writer Johanna Stokes and illustrator Leno Carvalho turn the screws on the dramatic tension on every page, leaving you to figure out who killed the Russian scientist on EVA -- the American space-tourist? The visiting Italian and Japanese astronauts? Or was it one of the Russians or Americans on-board? And who keeps sabotaging the life-support?

Stokes is a writer on the Sci-Fi Channel's show EUREKA, and she plots like a TV drama writer -- lots of twists and turns, snappy dialog and quick, deft characterization. Carvalho's art complements the writing nicely, skipping from an expressive, impressionistic to a highly detailed hyperrealism that captures both the claustrophobia of the ISS and the terrifying vastness of space.



(Via Boing Boing.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ewoks, Ewoks, Ewoks

Ewoks, Ewoks, Ewoks: "

From Dan Vebber’s outstanding ‘50 Reasons Why Return of the Jedi Sucked’, written in 1996:

But aside from what we see onscreen, the Ewoks are miserable little creatures for a completely different reason: they are the single clearest example of Lucas’ willingness to compromise the integrity of his Trilogy in favor of merchandising dollars. How intensely were the Ewoks marketed? Consider this: ‘Ewok’ is a household word, despite the fact that it’s never once spoken in the film.

I’ve seen this movie dozens of times over the past 25 years, but when I read this claim — that the word ‘Ewok’ is never even mentioned in the film — I immediately thought no, that couldn’t be. That’s really rather amazing. (Via Kottke.)

Update: DF reader Aditya Sood blew my mind with this nugget: Boba Fett is never mentioned by name in The Empire Strikes Back.


(Via Daring Fireball.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Maroons Vs Morons

Maroons Vs Morons: "

Here’s a story to warm my heart: The odious members of the equally odious Westboro Baptist Church went to the University of Chicago (my alma mater), apparently to protest the existence of Barack Obama, and found themselves pwned by 100+ students, who among other things created signs that both mocked WBC’s own hateful screedings, and were naturally far more clever. Good on ya, Maroons. Good on ya.

(more pictures here)


(Via Whatever.)

Cyborg bugs

Cyborg bugs: "

Cyborg Bugs: a series of concept illos for a race of super-violent, high-tech insects from Dean Christ of Ubyka Studio in Sydney.

CYBORG BUGS : Enter the new evolution of warfare

(via Geisha Asobi)


(Via Boing Boing.)