Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Sunshine Bores the Daylights Out of Me

"The sunshine bores the daylights out of me.
Chasing shadows, moonlight mystery.
Headed for the overload,
Splattered on the dirty road,
Kick me like you've kicked before,
I can't even feel the pain no more."

- Jagger/Richards, from "Rocks Off" off Exile on Main Street

I'm listning to the classic Exile album again as I read Bill Janovitz's ode to the LP, an entry in the 33 1/3 series.  It's a fun book, filled with antidotes about the making of the great album, and it's been fun to listen again after learning some of the album's history. Plus the music just kicks ass! It's easy to let our image of the Stones today overwhelm how great the band was in its heyday, but this  the atmosphere of 3:00 AM jamming in this song in particular is infectious. And as Janovitz points out, doesn't "The sunshine bores the daylights out of me" just personify so much of what the Stones were about?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Drought is the New Normal?

The evidence continues to pile up about how climate change is affecting weather patterns across the United States. It's been affecting temperatures, and now it's manifesting itself as the severe weather incidents and droughts facing large sections of the country. For proof, check out these pictures of how low the Mississippi River is this year. It's a dramatic depiction of how much this year's weather is affecting things. And the uncertainty about what's the new normal continues.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What's Wrong with a Little Destruction?

"Some say you're trouble, boy
Just because you like to destroy
All the things that bring the idiots joy
Well, what's wrong with a little destruction?"

- Franz Ferdinand, "The Fallen," from You Could Have It So Much Better

Friday, August 24, 2012

Old SciFi Book Covers

Check out this compilation of classic Penguin's Science Fiction covers. This are the type of covers that I grew up with. Some of these are historically bad, but most of them are either fun and campy, interesting but executed poorly, or just plain awesome. I particularly like the ones from 1973-4.

The Timpanist of the Berlin Philharmonic, 1942

The Starship Sofa's August podcast featured "The Timpanist of the Berlin Philharmonic, 1942" a Kim Stanley Robinson story about a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. It's a great story, filled with very nuanced (and dramatic) observations about the music. KSR incorporated a lot of interesting observations about music into 2312 so he obviously spends a lot of time thinking about music. And while I can't say that I understood everything that he wrote about, it was a lot of fun to listen to. And the reader was excellent as well. Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Watching "Sight"

This short video has really stuck with me in the few days since I've seen it. Really did a great job depicting what life might be like with embedded technology bringing virtual information into every moment of your life. Also: killer ending!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Whoever Just Sat Down has Decided to Die

Be sure to read this excerpt from Francis Slakey's "To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes." It's described as a description of "...the myriad physical and mental challenges in summiting the world's highest peak." The scene described in this small portion contains a confrontation between Buddhism and science in the dire conditions at the top of the world. To wit:
As he sits in the snow, reflecting back on his days, he is reassured by one simple fact: he is a good man. That, to him, can mean only one thing. He will be reincarnated into a life no worse than what he has had. His conclusion, then, is that he can be calm amid the chaos. Buddhism is his universal health coverage. ...
Reincarnation is a wonderfully serene worldview. But I don’t buy it.
Riveting stuff!

When the Machines Fail

"When the machines fail . . . when the technologies fail, when the conventional religious systems fail, people have got to have something. Even a zombie lurching into the night can seem pretty cheerful compares to the existential comedy/horror of the ozone layer dissolving under the combined assault of a million fluorocarbon spray cans of deodorant."

- Stephen King, "The Mist" from 1985's Skeleton Crew

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Governance of the Imagination

"It is imagination that has taught man the moral sense of color, of contour, of sound and scent. It created, in the beginning of the world, analogy and metaphor. It disassembles creation, and with materials gathered and arranged by rules whose origin is only to be found in the very depths of the soul, it creates a new world, it produces the sensation of the new. As it has created the world (this can be said, I believe, even in the religious sense), it is just that it should govern it."

- Charles Baudelaire, Lettres à M. le Directeur de 'La revue française,' III: 'La reine des facultés' (1859)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: "Pushing Ice"

Alastair ReynoldsPushing Ice starts off with a scene that smacks of Space Opera - the SciFi subgenre that he’s always accused of writing - when Chromis Pasqueflower Bowerbird (the name alone almost made me close the book) makes a political gambit in the Interstellar Congress. Thankfully, the book quickly moves to a more traditional – and interesting – plot: when Saturn’s moon Janus turns out to be a an alien spaceship jetting out of the galaxy, a ship of ice miners is recruited to track the ship back to its destination.  Along the way, unexpected events occur and the miners are cut off from the rest of humanity, forcing them to land on Janus. 

Reynolds skillfully paints a picture of the pervasive paranoia that overtakes the crew as they attempt to figure out a way to survive. He convincingly portrays the mysteries of alien technologies – the lava canals are a nice touch! – and has some really interesting alien interactions, especially with the race called the Fountainheads. Towards the end of the book, more revelations come to light that dramatically expand the scope of the novel – all I’ll say is that the “structure” the crew discovers introduces the true epic nature of the book. All in all, it was a compelling read for my beach vacation. In fact, the only real problem I had with the book was that the characters were a bit too stubborn or noble: there’s a mutiny that occurs and the absolute rigor with which it’s pursued over the years, even in the face of the crew’s overwhelming predicament, is hard to believe. In addition, the nobility of Perry – a well-respected man in the crew – is difficult to swallow, as is his honesty in dealing with the crisis that overcomes him. Some of these melodramatic interactions bordered on soap opera, but didn't prevent me from enjoying Pushing Ice, which was much better than I anticipated - especially after that name!

Cross Posted on Reading, Running and Red Sox

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Belief is Both Prize & Battlefield

"Belief is both prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind's mirror, the world. If we believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation & bestiality, such a humanity is surly brought into being, & history's Horroxes, Boerhaaves & Gooses shall prevail. You & I, the moneyed, the privileged, the foutuniate, shall not fare so badly in this world, provided our luck holds. What of it if our consciences itch? Why undermine the dominance of our race, our gunships, our heritage & our legacy? Why fight the "natural" (oh, weaselly word!) order of things?

Why? Because of this:--one fine day, a surely predatory world shall consume itself. ...

Is this the doom written within our nature?"
- David Mitchell, from Cloud Atlas. If you haven't read this book, run to you closest book outlet right now. I've been rereading it after watching the movie trailer and it's been confirming what I thought: it's one of the 10 best books I've ever read. Pure entertainment.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Vangelis Bringing It Home

Check out this early electronic music jam of Vangelis performing live for a Spanish television station and tell me that he basically isn't the equivalent of a gothic vampire, pounding away dramatic tunes on his pipe organ in a 75 room mansion in Transylvania. Really intense and fun stuff!
Back in the 80s, Vangelis (along with Tangerine Dream) was about all I knew about electronic music. This shit was hot back in the day!
h/t Dangerous Minds

Cloud Security Fail

Mat Honan was hacked recently, and notes a huge problem in some of the cloud based security systems: the systems offered by separate vendors don't always work nicely together:
What happened to me exposes vital security flaws in several customer service systems, most notably Apple’s and Amazon’s. Apple tech support gave the hackers access to my iCloud account. Amazon tech support gave them the ability to see a piece of information — a partial credit card number — that Apple used to release information. In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification.
Scary stuff. h/t Boing Boing.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Viva Roxy Music!

I didn't see Roxy Music looked like until I was already a fan. Hard to believe in this day and age, but when I started listening to the group's incredible ahead-of-its-time music a while back, all I had was a series of ripped CDs and static pictures from the internet. Of course, their visual look was always a large part of the band's appeal, and you can see them in all their glory in this sweet Roxy Music documentary (hat tip: Dangerous Minds). I got a kick out of seeing Brian Eno with long hair, and really just can't hear enough of their first four albums.

Friday, August 3, 2012

First Lines of "The Wind Through the Keyhole"

"During the days after they left the Green Palace that wasn't Oz after all--but which was now the tomb of the unpleasant fellow Roland's ka-tet had known as the Tock-Tock Man--the boy Jake began to range farther and farther ahead of Roland, Eddie, and Susannah."

- Stephen King, from The Wind Through the Keyhole, in his return to the world of the Dark Tower. Reading the book is, so far, like crawling back into your own bed after a long vacation.

Sunday's Touchdown on Mars

This Sunday, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's rover Curiosity will attempt to land on Mars. There's an extremely complicated delivery mechanism designed to get the rover to the surface, with a lot of interacting parts. The video above describes the hot mess. Keep your fingers crossed that the rover will survive the 7 minutes of terror!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Everything is Broken

People sleeping in broken beds
Ain't no use jiving
Ain't no use joking
Everything is broken.

Broken bottles broken plates
Broken switches broken gates
Broken dishes broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken.

Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground
Broken cutters broken saws
Broken buckles broken laws
Broken bodies broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath feel like you're chokin'
Everything is broken.

Everytime you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face
Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties broken vows
Broken pipes broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken.

- Bob Dylan, off the Oh Mercy album

It's a Long Way from Momento

Christopher Nolan has develped a reputation for writing and directing the thinking man's summer blockbusters. Ever since his incredible debut Memento (still worth watching today), he's delivered solidly entertaining movies with food for thought. However, I caught The Dark Knight Rises last night and after having pondered it all day, I think that Nolan has lost his way.

This is not to say that TDKR was a bad movie. Far from it - the movie had more than its fair share of SFX thrills, great acting (Anne Hathaway was a relevation), creepy bad guys (for 3/4s of the movie, Bain is about as good as a villain as you can ask for) and dramatic scenes. And like Nolan's previous Batman movies, he poses pleanty of interesting questions about justice and society. What's been bothering me is how he's either refrained from answering those questions or has answered them in a way that seems logically incoherant. For instance, (and SPOILER ALERT for anyone who hasn't seen the film,) when Bain takes over Gotham in a strange mix of populist and anarchist leadership, I think we're supposed to believe that the people of the city are all participating in the mahem of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor - we just don't actually see any of this happening. Instead, we see either people we're led to believe are hardened criminals or Bain's League of Shadows trained army doing the looting. Where are the common people in the movie? Are they blindly accepting Bane or is there resistance? Is anyone ambiguous about what's occurring? It's never really clear, partly because the movie moves so fast, lurching from one dramatic moment to the next, resulting in another superhero movie where the elete (leaders or superhumans) debate and control the lives of millions of people without us actually seeing or hearing from any of these people - a contradiction of one of the main themes of the movie!

I write the above as just one example of the messiness of the film. There's pleanty more where that comes from, but i'm not enough of a geek to list them all - I honestly don't care that much about it. But for a movie that so obviously strives to be so much more that strict popcorn entertainment, I get the sense that Nolan has started settling for simply posing deep questions without attempting to deal with them in any serious manner, leading to my suspicion that his recent films are morally hollow. And there's nothing wrong with that! I like empty entertainment as much as the next guy. It's just not where I suspected such a promising director to end up.