Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bride of Tab Dump

Who has time to write up thoughtful reactions to all of the cool things out on the internet? Isn't it easier just to throw you some links and let you read what you want? Enjoy!
  • A collection of excellent old SciFi Illustrations by Shusei Nagoka. Although it's incongrous to see cool spaceship art side-by-side with cheezy 70s band cover art. 
  • Los Bros Hernandez are continually singing the praises of Bob Bolling's Little Archie comic books as the inspiration for their work on Love and Rockets - in particular the awesome "Lil Kids" segments. Big Blog Comics shows us an example of his work, and it's as fun as you expect.
  • Thinking of working in some fartlek work into my running, but haven't actually done so yet.
  • Cool footage from Pavel Klushantsev's The Road to the Stars film, an inspiration for 2001
  • Miles Davis: Genius, Hustler, and Superstar.
  • David Byrne recently published what sounds like a fascinating book: How Music Works. Brain Pickings has a synopsis, while Smithsonian published an excerpt that includes his interesting thoughts on silence:
    In 1969, Unesco passed a resolution outlining a human right that doesn’t get talked about much—the right to silence. I think they’re referring to what happens if a noisy factory gets built beside your house, or a shooting range, or if a disco opens downstairs. They don’t mean you can demand that a restaurant turn off the classic rock tunes it’s playing, or that you can muzzle the guy next to you on the train yelling into his cellphone. It’s a nice thought though—despite our innate dread of absolute silence, we should have the right to take an occasional aural break, to experience, however briefly, a moment or two of sonic fresh air. To have a meditative moment, a head-clearing space, is a nice idea for a human right.
    John Cage wrote a book called, somewhat ironically, Silence. Ironic because he was increasingly becoming notorious for noise and chaos in his compositions. He once claimed that silence doesn’t exist for us. In a quest to experience it, he went into an anechoic chamber, a room isolated from all outside sounds, with walls designed to inhibit the reflection of sounds. A dead space, acoustically. After a few moments he heard a thumping and whooshing, and was informed those sounds were his own heartbeat and the sound of his blood rushing through his veins and arteries. They were louder than he might have expected, but okay. After a while, he heard another sound, a high whine, and was informed that this was his nervous system. He realized then that for human beings there was no such thing as true silence, and this anecdote became a way of explaining that he decided that rather than fighting to shut out the sounds of the world, to compartmentalize music as something outside of the noisy, uncontrollable world of sounds, he’d let them in: “Let sounds be themselves rather than vehicles for manmade theories or expressions of human sentiments.” Conceptually at least, the entire world now became music.
  • What successful people do with the first hour of their work day
  • Warren Ellis awesome talk on on "How to see the Future" A must read, filled with interesting stories and facts. My favorite is this:
    The Olympus Mons mountain on Mars is so tall and yet so gently sloped that, were you suited and supplied correctly, ascending it would allow you to walk most of the way to space. Mars has a big, puffy atmosphere, taller than ours, but there’s barely anything to it at that level. 30 Pascals of pressure, which is what we get in an industrial vacuum furnace here on Earth. You may as well be in space. Imagine that. Imagine a world where you could quite literally walk to space.
    That’s actually got a bit more going for it, as an idea, than exotic red deserts and canals. Imagine living in a Martian culture for a moment, where this thing is a presence in the existence of an entire sentient species. A mountain that you cannot see the top of, because it’s a small world and the summit wraps behind the horizon. Imagine settlements creeping up the side of Olympus Mons. Imagine battles fought over sections of slope. Generations upon generations of explorers dying further and further up its height, technologies iterated and expended upon being able to walk to within leaping distance of orbital space. Manufactured normalcy would suggest that, if we were the Martians, we would find this completely dull within ten years and bitch about not being able to simply fart our way into space.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Black Hole: A Dam

Never thought of it in this way, but in Tess Taylor's review of Caleb Scharf's Gravity's Engines, the case is made that a Black a dam:
On earth, in a dam, there is pressure on one side and a lack of pressure on the other. Water forced through spillways, driven by gravity, generates enormous energy that we harvest as electricity. In a black hole, there is the universe on one side and a void on the other. And as stars and particles rush towards black holes, they pick up speed, sloshing in much the same way water does heading towards a dam or drain. Just as sloshing water represents lost energy we hear converted to gurgling sound waves, stars and gasses rushing towards the brink of a cosmic drain lose particles that can be "seen" translated into other forms of energy. The edges of black holes are thus always spewing matter, a kind of cosmic splatter paint. Although things pulled towards black holes are mostly swallowed, over time the sloshing of nearly swallowed stars spews the universe with a mess of Jackson Pollock-like cosmic goo.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Warp Speed, Mr. Sulu gives nerds everywhere hope: perhaps warp speed isn't impossible after all:
An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind.
Meanwhile, the starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time that wasn't being warped at all. 
I love reading about developments like this - it makes me happy to know that there are still irrational dreamers out there. My understanding is that travel in this way is impossible, but i'm glad someone is trying nonetheless. Although I had to laugh at the vague “exotic matter” reference: I'd like to know what kind of exotic matter could protect someone from a distortion in space/time!

The Most Terrifying Fact About the Universe is not that it is Hostile but that it is Indifferent

“The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism – and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he’s reasonably strong – and lucky – he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death – however mutable man may be able to make them – our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

- Stanley Kubrick, from a Playboy interview, 1968

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

First Lines of "The Stand"

A mutter.
"Wake up now, Sally."
A louder mutter: leeme lone.
He shook her harder.
"Wake up. You got to wake up!"
Charlie's voice. Calling her. For how long?
Sally swum up out of sleep.
"Sally, honey, don't ask questions. We have to get away. Far away. You just go get Baby LaVon and get her dressed."

-Stephen King, The Stand.

I'm hoping to burn out my current Stephen King obsession by finally tackling the last major novel of his I haven't read: his famous  plague novel from 1978 (although i'm reading the Complete and Uncut version published in 1990 since that's the copy my wife has). I'm about 416 pages in and so far it's really, really good, if a bit too long winded at times. The guy really knows how to get your blood moving!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Last-minute Desperate Solutions to Impossible Problems

This is how I feel at work sometimes:
Casey Ryback: What made you flip like this?
William Strannix: I got tired of coming up with last-minute desperate solutions to impossible problems created by other fucking people.
Casey Ryback: All of your ridiculous pitiful antics aren't gonna change a thing. You and me, we're *puppets* in the same sick game. We serve the same master, and he's a lunatic and he's ungrateful. But there's nothing we can do about it. You and me, we're the same.
William Strannix: Oh, no. No. No. No. There's a difference, my man. You have faith. I don't!
[a knife fight erupts between them]
From the classic Stephen Segal flick Under Seige

Graphic Novel of "A Wrinkle in Time"

Hope Larson has created a graphical version of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. It's a fantastic book, and the example pages not only look great but appear to be a very honest adaptation.

I recently re-read A Wrinkle in Time and came away very impressed yet again. Part of that is that I have such fond memories of the book from my youth, but most of it is just that it's very well written. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bequeathing eBooks

Something I've never thought about before: when you die, what happens to your eBooks? Turns out, they might not be able to be passed onto your next-of-kin like the physical objects:
...with digital content, one doesn’t have the same rights as with print books and CDs. Customers own a license to use the digital files — but they don’t actually own them. Apple and grant “nontransferable” rights to use content, so if you buy the complete works of the Beatles on iTunes, you cannot give the “White Album” to your son and “Abbey Road” to your daughter.
According to Amazon’s terms of use, “You do not acquire any ownership rights in the software or music content.” Apple limits the use of digital files to Apple devices used by the account holder.
I knew something was fishy with eBooks because of the tight restrictions in loaning them out that obviously don't exist on physical objects, but this is even more disturbing. Part of the fun of building up a library is knowing that it's yours and that you can do with it what you will. Or is this just scaremongering? I have a hard time believing that someone who has a collection of 1000 eBooks won't be able to pass some of those along to his kids. After all, couldn't they just use the original account to access the content?

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: "The Wind Through the Keyhole"

Stephen King, never one to let a good story lie, returns to the world of the Dark Tower with his latest book, The Wind Through The Keyhole. The novel is really three short stories, each embedded within each other. We start off watching Roland the gunslinger and his ka-tet seeking shelter from a powerful storm called a starkblat, and, while the storm rages, he tells a story about a (disgusting) encounter he had with a shape shifting animal when he was a boy. During that encounter, young Roland tells the "The Wind Through the Keyhole" story, and this engaging fantasy takes up the majority of the book, a sprawling combination of quest, revenge myth, and make-a-deal-with-the-devil story. The book hits all of Stephen King's strengths and weaknesses - it's propulsively entertaining, imaginative, and yet sentimental and somewhat predicable.

For those of us that have read all seven of the original Dark Tower novels, jumping back into Mid-World feels like coming home and slipping on an old comfortable flannel shirt. SK has created a special world here, a slippery mixture of fantasy, horror, scifi, and meta-fiction. Having said that, I'd be lying if I didn't think that the framing added anything to the story. Other than placing the story in the Dark Tower universe, the old Roland story didn't do anything to me - it didn't tell me anything new about the characters or shed any light upon the stories that followed--it merely felt like a repeat of the second half of Wizard and Glass. The other two stories can stand-alone by themselves, although readers not familiar with SK's world may find themselves somewhat confused by the way the characters speak as well as the particulars of the "fallen world" of the Dark Tower. Regardless, those who sit back and let a master storyteller drive for a while won't be disappointed.

I enjoyed this book immensely, ripping though it all 307 pages in five days. I've greatly enjoyed his "mature" writing style ever since Bag of Bones (the bloated Under the Dome aside), and this book's no exception. Check out this writing:
"At some point he slipped down their covering enough to see a trillion stars sprawled across the dome of the sky, more than he had ever seen in his life. It was as if the storm had blown tiny holes in the world above the world, and turned it into a sieve. ... He felt awe as he looked up at those stars, but also a deep and abiding commitment, such as he had felt as a child, awakening in the night, safe and warm beneath his quilt, drowsing half in and half out of sleep, listening to the wind sing its lonely song of other places and other lives."

Monday, September 10, 2012

First Lines of "Wizard and Glass"

"The town of Candleton was a poisoned and irradiated ruin, but not dead; after all of the centuries, it still twitched with tenebrous life--trundling beetles the size of turtles, birds that looked like small, misshapen dragonlets, a few stumbling robots that passed in and out of the rotten buildings like stainless steel zombies, their joints squalling, their nuclear eyes flickering. "

- Stephen King, from Wizard and Glass

SK ends The Wastelands with a cliffhanger, with our heros about to confront Blane the Mono, and so of course you have to read what'll happen, even if - like me - you're reading it for the second time. That's what SK does to you. He makes you read past your bedtime, caught up in the world he creates, desperate to find out what happens. I'm not sure I'll read the flashback portion of Wizard and Glass - a huge percentage of the book is a retelling of Roland's first adventure - but I'll read about Blane and the last formative story of the ka-tet, the last step of the first part of the Dark Tower series. After this book, the last three books conclude the saga in a feverish rush (if you can describe over 1500 pages of text in that way). Damned good stuff - had forgotten how fun it was!

The Who's "Amazing Journey"

As many of you know, i'm a Who obsessive. As such, when Dangerous Minds posted links to the Amazing Journey video, I dove right in. I haven't watched the entire thing yet, but what I have seen is another reminder that this group of talented individuals created glorious noise - something larger than the sum of their parts.

Really looking forward to seeing Pete n' Roger play Quadrophenia at the Garden this November.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sublimity From the Silence of the Night

“At the dead hour of the night, when the world is hushed in sleep and all is still; when there is not a sound to be heard save the dead beat escapement of the clock, counting with hollow voice the footsteps of time in ceaseless round, I turn to the Ephemeris and find there, by calculations made years ago, that when that clock tells a certain hour, a star which I never saw will be in the field of the telescope for a moment, flit through and then disappear. The instrument is set; the moment approaches and is intently awaited—I look—the star mute with eloquence that gathers sublimity from the silence of the night, comes smiling and dancing into the field, and at the instant predicted even to the fraction of a second, it makes its transit and is gone. With emotions too deep for the organs of speech, the heart swells out with unutterable anthems; we then see that there is harmony in the heavens above; and though we cannot hear, we feel the ‘music of the spheres.’”

— Matthew Fontaine Maury, in an 1849 presentation to the Virginia Historical Society. Maury was superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory.

H/t Boing Boing

Friday, September 7, 2012

One of Those Divine Fools

"At this point, Si roused himself, and his voice captured the travelers at once. He spoke in the hoarse, cadenced tones of a lifelong teller of tales--one of those divine fools born to merge memory and mendacity into dreams as airily gorgeous as cobwebs strung with drips of dew."

- Stephen King, The Wastelands, page 242

Book Review: Brian Greene's "Hidden Reality"

The sub-title of Brian Greene's Hidden Reality is "Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos."  It's advertised as an accessible examination of the physics behind parallel universes (both the multiverse and the many-worlds theory of Quantum physics). The subject it covers is fascinating, if complex: Greene details nine actual theories that detail the existence of other universes in addition to the one we know and love. The most basic of these theories claims that if the universe is infinate, since there's only a finate number of ways that you can arrange matter, then logically patterns of matter would repeat, leading - somewhere out there - to duplication of our universe. The more complex of the theories rely on very abstract theoritical frameworks like the probability of Quantum Mechanics and String Theory. For another taste of this, get it straight from the man himself:

Greene is a good writer, and does his best to simplify the science behind these complicated theories However, it's a daunting task: string theory in particular is so abstract and antithetical to our everyday life that it's very hard to follow - particularly if you're reading the book in segments. For example, here's an interview where he attempts to explain the brane multiverse:
...the brane multiverse, in which our universe is envisioned to reside on a giant membrane, an ingredient that comes out of string theory. It’s actually a three-dimensional membrane, but thinking in two-dimensional terms is easier. Think of our universe as if it were a huge slice of bread, with all the stars and all the galaxies sprinkled across its surface. The math of string theory suggests this picture, along with the possibility that there are other universes, other slices of bread, all constituting a big cosmic loaf.  
In the book, he expands upon the three-dimensional idea by stating that "...few of us can picture two coexisting but separate three-dimensional entities, each of which could fully fill three-dimensional space." (page 130) His loaf analogy is a nice attempt, but he has to keep revisiting it whenever new details arise, until the whole thing gets incredibly complicated - just like the theory. For that reason, I can't recommend this book to the layman; it's just not an easy-to-grasp, high-level explanation of the concepts behind parallel worlds. It is an interesting book on a fascinating subject, but in my opinion it couldn't get over the hump that simply grasping the meaning of theoretical physics can be difficult, much less following them to their logical conclusion.

Note for the Kindle edition: I found the footnotes and graphics to be problematic, mainly because you can't jump back to where you were without making note of the page number and manually entering it in. Would it really be that hard to make the footnote a two-way street? Also: there was obviously no color in the graphics. These two factors combined made me wish I had purchased the dead-tree edition of this book.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Unadulterated Genius

Well, maybe a little bit adulterated:

John was the rock (or the Ox) on which the Who's music lay. His bass swoops in the context of the song are incredible.

The Shadows of Vesta

Check out this spooky picture of the giant asteroid Vesta, as taken by the Dawn spacecraft. Pictures like this send shivers down my spine, not only because it shows the deep shadows of a lifeless eerie rock but also   accurately captures the static silence of space.

Dawn is in the process of leaving Vesta - a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter - to travel to another huge asteroid called Ceres. What's interesting bout Dawn is that it uses xenon ion propulsion, which I didn't even realize was a live technology. You hear a lot about them in SciFi, but now they're in use in everyday life. Amazing.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

First Lines of "The Wastelands"

"It was her third time with live ammunition, and her first time on the draw from the holster Roland had rigged for her."
- Stephen King, The Wastelands

Reading The Wind Through the Keyhole showed me how much I had forgotten about the Dark Tower universe in the 10-something years since I read the original seven novels. I remember the first one pretty well and remember not liking The Drawing of the Three very much (I wasn't much of a fan of his work in the 10-year period of time between the incredible It to Bag of Bones), so I'm rereading the third volume. Mixed bag so far, but the ideas in the overall series are a lot of fun to fall back into.