Thursday, August 23, 2007

Secret Agent Man

There's a man who leads a life of danger
To everyone he meets he stays a stranger
With every move he makes another chance he takes
Odds are he won't live to see tomorrow

Secret agent man, secret agent man
They've given you a number and taken away your name

Beware of pretty faces that you find
A pretty face can hide an evil mind
Ah, be careful what you say
Or you'll give yourself away
Odds are you won't live to see tomorrow

Secret agent man, secret agent man
They've given you a number and taken away your name

------ lead guitar ------

Secret agent man, secret agent man
They've given you a number and taken away your name

Swingin' on the Riviera one day
And then layin' in the Bombay alley next day
Oh no, you let the wrong word slip
While kissing persuasive lips
The odds are you won't live to see tomorrow

Secret agent man, secret agent man
They've given you a number and taken away your name

Secret agent man

(Johnny Rivers)

Addendum (September 18, 2007): Thrills! Chills! Downloadable tunes! Matt's Danger Man page has background, episodes, and even downloadable themes!
Old Man, Look At Me Now

So I have managed to climb a bit higher up Mount Toberead and knocked off in fairly quick succession several tales by a hot "new" writer, John Scalzi. The next Philip K. Dick? The next Robert A. Heinlein? Let's see...

Old Man's War (Tor Books, 2005, ISBN 0-765-30940-8. Cover by Donato Giancola).

The Ghost Brigades (Tor Books, 2006, ISBN 0-765-31502-5. Cover by John Harris).

The Sagan Diary (Subterranean Press, 2007, ISBN 978-1-59606-117-0. Cover by Bob Eggleton).

The Last Colony (Tor Books, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7653-1697-4. Cover by John Harris).

I put quotes around "new" as while Scalzi is relatively new to the science fiction genre, he has been active in various media for a number of years and has one of the more popular websites around, Whatever. In reading these books, it is obvious that he is well practiced at the craft of writing, and I look forward to reading the final book in this sequence (I'll modify this review when I do) as well as the other two books I have by him: a novel named The Android's Dream and the essay collection You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing.

Old Man's War opens the sequence. John Perry is at the end of his life...on Earth. Several years earlier he had signed up with the Colonial Defense Forces, when he reached 75, it was time to start his enlistment. Using advanced technology, he is "born" again in a modified body and helps to protect Earth's colonies from a wide-ranging group of aliens who either want our real estate or want to harvest us for dinner.

Sounds like a remake of such classics as Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers (hence the comparison between Scalzi and Heinlein that I often hear), or Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, or even lesser-known classics as the works of David Drake or John Steakley's Armor. There's plenty of combat action, nifty technology (nanotechnology, space elevators and FTL spaceships), and tight plotting.

However the strength of the book lies in its characters. John Perry, for one, and the love of his deceased wife, Kathy, for another. Then there's Jane Sagan, a member of the CDF's Special Forces, who is the genetic image of Perry's deceased wife. The relationship between these is wonderfully drawn and is the power of the book.

(In an amusing aside...either I missed it completely or Scalzi does not describe what the CDF wears until the second book. The BrainPal is described—a brain enhancement that allows soldiers to talk with each other and other abilities, the modified bodies are described—but, I swear for most of the book I was imagining these soldiers fighting...nude!)

The Ghost Brigades moves the action to the CDF's Special Forces. Part of the focus is on Jane Sagan, but most of the book revolves around Jared Dirac. Dirac is a special SF soldier. He had the memories and personality of a colonial traitor dumped into him in the hopes that the traitor's whereabouts could be learned. That did not (appear) to work, so the worry is that the personality might manifest itself (and at an inopportune moment). Dirac joins a SF team and participates in a number of actions that eventually leads to his confrontation with the source of his hidden memories, Charles Boutin. Boutin helped to design the BrainPal that all the CDF's soldiers use and Boutin is working against the Colonial Union.

As with Old Man's War, the book has some nice technology (and we finally learn that the soldiers are clothed!), more detail on the aliens and the Colonial Union, etc. The real strength, again, are the characters, especially those of Jared Dirac and an alien who helps (at first, reluctantly), Cainen. An excellent read, even better than the first jaunt.

The jacket flap for The Sagan Diary describes it as "long novelette". At what point does a long novelette become a short novel? I'm tagging this one both as en entry for the Year in Books, but also as an entry in the Year in Shorts (hey, if you don't like it, get your own blog!)

Scalzi took a completely different approach with this story than the two earlier tales. Set around the end of The Ghost Brigades and before the end of the trilogy, The Last Colony, each chapter revolves around one subject (Fear, Age, Sex) and is an internal dialog/memory of Jane Sagan, a character from the three books of the trilogy. As I read it, I was struck by a memory of another book I had read long ago. Was John Scalzi influenced or inspired by Khalil Gibran's short work The Prophet?

It's a short work, and a very intensely personal work. You may find it difficult to find, but hunt it down. A lot of what is said there can apply to all of us, beyond characters on a page.

(More to come, when I get to The Last Colony.)
Beyond Mindstorms

Via BoingBoing, Lego projects that will bring back memories of the oft-repeated phrase...You'll put your eye out!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

FuBAR Flowcharts

Via BoingBoing, not quite worksafe flowcharts. But ones that probably best describe your day-to-day crisis management...
Swanwick on Cabell

Michael Swanwick has written a book on James Branch Cabell? I'm off to the bookstore to order this puppy right away!

Direct link to the book here.

Addendum (January 11, 2008): Swanwick follows up on some questions generated by the book.
A Bad Lunch

You can build anything with Lego! Feeling some pain in your chest?
Master and Bear

A medly of Pooh-ish whimsy in multiple literary genres. My favorite?

Pooh paced the deck, hands clasped behind his back. "Rabbit! Where's that blasted honey?"

Rabbit's whiskered face appeared in an instant, delivered the unwelcome verdict "Which it's already gone!" and disappeared again, leaving behind only muttering concerning something of a very little brain—fortunately at a low enough volume that Pooh could pretend to not have heard. Indeed, Pooh looked down and saw the honey pot was indeed there and empty. "Bother."

A sudden decision, and he swung his rather round and soft body into the shrouds and climbed to the crow's nest. There, he took out his glass and surveyed the horizon. Was that a sail? A sail that might be attached to a French merchant vessel, its hold stuffed full of honey? The crew hadn't had a real prize in months and Pooh's fortune at home could desperately use such a stroke of good fortune.

"Tigger!" he bellowed to the deck far below. "Fetch me Dr. Robin!" For he instinctively knew that he would need his friend's advice before proceeding.
Library in a Nutshell

When you look at something like this (a 1965 miniature library), you get a sense of how far technology has gone (and might still go). I routinely carry around several hundred books and stories with me on a storage card the fraction of the size of this gadet.

Why stop at some books? Why not the universe in a library?

Addendum (September 10, 2007): Via BoingBoing, a paper that examines the information policy for the universe-sized library.
One Solution to "Climate Change"

Change the planet! However, I would suggest an even better solution would be to re-engineer our entire Solar System. If that's no good, what about a disk, or a ring, or even cosmic spaghetti?

Don't go backwards. Leap forwards.
Free Reads!

The Ultimate Guide to Free eBooks. Get downloading! Read! Expand your mind!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

How Cool Is That?

You can build anything with Lego! Even interstellar probes! Presenting a Lego version of the British Interplanetary Society's Daedalus probe to Barnard's Star.

Barnard's Runaway Star? You know the Medusae would never have stood for us poking around in their neighborhood!
The Door Dilated

Robert A Heinlein: Beyond This Horizon (Baen Books, 2001; ISBN 0-671-31836-5)

I'm in the process of re-reading this book for the first time in quite a while, so a review (retro-review?) will come in a bit. A few impressions and thoughts in the meantime.

First, my impression several years ago that the recently-discovered For Us, The Living was, in large part, the genesis novel for this book is confirmed. There are several parallels in terms of character, plot and more. Beyond This Horizon is a much better novel though. If you need a multi-page footnote to explain something in a fiction novel, you are in trouble even if your name is Heinlein!

Second, I noticed a interesting parallel with Isaac Asimov. It is a talky book. Very talky. Not so much action, lots of talk. One complaint I've heard over and over about Asimov, especially The Foundation Trilogy (we'll restrict ourselves to the original for this) is that it is too dang talky. You never hear the same complaints applied to Heinlein, but read the book. Lots of dialog, lots of talking, lots of "preaching" disguised as introspection or dialog. I wonder how many other Golden Age authors suffered from the same affliction?

Third, it's a book that inspired an essay. Read it here.

More to come!

O.K., the review in a nutshell. The book has a couple of story threads that play out over the course of the tale. First, we have the overall story of Felix Hamilton (or Hamilton Felix, as all the characters are named in reverse) and his genetics. He has several desirable traits, and his genetic counselor would like to see his line, and others, brought to fruition. Felix does not, and cites his personal privacy when pressed (this is something that Heinlein first used in For Us, The Living and in other stories such as Methuselah's Children). He runs into his intended and they eventually do fall in love, get married (or the futuristic equivalent) and have children. End of story.

Well, not quite. Another thread concerns a rebellion by a group of technocrats who want all the power for themselves and wish to start the Third Genetic War. Another thread concerns Felix's friend Monroe Alpha and his quest to find satisfaction, both in terms of what he does and in love (the odd thing about this thread is that it kind of vanishes about two-thirds into the book, leaving us wondering what ever happened to Monroe Alpha!). Another thread concerns a man from the past (preserved by a sort of suspension of time and an obvious nod to the character of Perry Nelson in For Us, The Living—but allowing him to travel through time in a much saner fashion!) who allows us to experience some of the customs of the future (and who influences the future by re-introducing sports such as "feetball", but with some interesting twists).

Finally, there are introduced other themes that Heinlein will touch on in many other works. A armed society is a polite society. Odd economics. General Semantics. Race. Sexuality. Equality. Individualism and self-determination.

There are even a couple of brushes with the paranormal. One thread deals with telepathy. Another deals with life after death and reincarnation.

Much, much, much more readable than its ancestor, For Us, The Living. Not much action, lots of talking, but...luckily, rather painless lecturing.

The lecturing made me realize something about Heinlein's style, though. He was a master at tossing in tidbits about the future. The door dilated. The waterbed. "Ray" guns. You would read a sentence, and as Harlan Ellison pointed out (in the Samuel R. Delany essay that I linked to, above)...bam! You realize you are in the future. You are in a science fiction story!

Less successful is the lecturing. Heinlein obviously believed passionately about some things—economic alternatives, General Semantics. But, in trying to teach about some of this, he was less successful than the casual toss-offs.

Look at it another way: Heinlein's treatment of race. Oftentimes he would drop in a hint that a main or secondary character was, what we term, a minority. Bam! It hits you later that this person is just as competent as you, that average white guy. This was more successful than when he hammers you with it (such as Sixth Column and Farnham's Freehold).

A good re-read. It gave me a new perspective on the real first novel, as well as seeing things in other novels differently. A nice way to celebrate the Heinlein Centennial. I think I'll continue to celebrate, concentrating on short works. Maybe next year I'll work my way through some of the young adult works again. Who knows? Maybe I'll get my daughter hooked.
More Than Honor

David Weber: In Enemy Hands (Baen Books, 1997; ISBN 0-671-87793-3). Echoes of Honor (Baen Books, 1998; ISBN 0-671-87892-1). Ashes of Victory (Baen Books, 2000; ISBN 0-671-57854-5).

After a bit of a respite, I returned to this series this year. My previous comments still hold, fun reads (with the exceptions noted), but nothing lasting.

I will say that In Enemy Hands nearly sunk me. Weber feels the need to inject massive amounts of backstory into the books. Usually I can take this, but at some points during that book (and to a lesser extent in the other two), we'd have an opening bit of dialog by one character, followed by a pause that would last for several paragraphs to pages of introspection (the backstory), followed by a bit of dialog from the second character (followed by another injection of backstory), etc. It really started getting to me, but I gritted my teeth and pushed on.

With Echoes of Honor, Weber restrained himself and it was a much better book for it. A good (if highly improbable!) story, lots of drama, some last-minute escapes and more. In Ashes of Victory, he starts to lose it again, but manages to save the series (and extend it) with a nice surprise.

I think I'll wait for next year before the next installment, though. So many books, so little time...

Free copies of all three of these books can be found here and here, but I would encourage you to purchase them from here.
Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition; William Gibson (Putnam, 2003. ISBN 0-399-14986-4).

Written after and influenced by the events of 9/11, Pattern Recognition is more a work of mainstream fiction than science fiction. In fact, despite what folks like John Clute might say, I can find nothing really "science-fictional" in it. Gibson seems to be trying to break out of label, but the label keeps putting him back. You'll find Pattern Recognition on the SF shelves, not the general fiction shelves; the latest, Spook Country, is there and Gibson (as of when I heard him this morning) is still being called a "science fiction author".

So how is the book? This was my second time through. When it first came out, it was billed (by Gibson) as a standalone novel, now it is the first part of a trilogy. So, I felt compelled to read it again before tackling Spook Country.

For plot, I'll refer you here. It's not science fiction...but a mainstream novel with a science fiction eye. And that's why I enjoyed it.

Look at some of the elements. It's about a "cool hunter", a person who tries to spot early trends so that her clients, mostly in the advertising field, can exploit those trends. It's about a group of people who obsess over "The Footage", a series of film clips that get posted and discussed on the internet. It's about power struggles within an advertising firm.

O.K. So?

Luckily, thanks to that science fiction eye, Gibson can make this stuff interesting. As with the sub-culture of bike messengers in Virtual Light, Gibson uses a combination of writing, interesting secondary characters and odd bits of information to weave a good tale. In Pattern Recognition, you have retired spies, dealers in odd things like the Sinclair ZX80 and the Curta Calculator (good luck buying one of those since the book came out!) and Russian capitalists and The Footage.

The first time through, I found this bit among the oddest bits of the book. Would people really spend endless hours online discussing something like this? Since the book, we've seen MyTube and Flickr and endless other communities where people do such a thing. Score one for Gibson.

Faults? The whole bit about the main character's father being lost on 9/11 could have been jettisoned easily. The book is set not long after 9/11, but the sense of loss from the event just wasn't there for me. I think Gibson tried, but failed here. Some of the secondary characters were more interesting than the main character. Maybe they'll show up in Spook Country or the third book. Heck, maybe Cayce Pollard's father will show up.

As with the so-called Bridge Trilogy, it may take another reading or so of the books for it to jell in me. When I first read Virtual Light, I was not at all impressed. By the time the third book in that sequence came out, I was hooked. The first time through Pattern Recognition, I wasn't all that impressed. This time through I saw more and enjoyed more. We shall see if it rates "classic" in my list in a few years time.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Cargo Cult of Science

But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school—we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

(Richard Feynman, Ph.D.)
Blows Against the Empire

Via Moleskinerie, an interesting article on journaling. This is something that I sporadically take up on paper and I'm determined to do it more going forward. Of course, since I've been blogging (on several platforms) since 2001 (9,000+ bits and pieces posted, good gravy!), you could say that I've been doing this all along. However, the internet, for all its wonders, is somewhat more temporary than paper.
On Reading (An Ongoing Series)

"To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, to hold conversations with men of unseen generations; such is a pleasure beyond compare."

(Yoshido Kenko, Essays in Idleness, 1340 A. D.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

If you all kick in a buck or three, I'm sure I could afford this $100,000 watch in no time. That way I'll be able to keep track of when I should be posting here!

Addendum: Alternative watches sent in by friends. Winchell Chung suggests the Ulysses Nardin Astrolabium G. Galilei Watch. Chris Weuve temporarily lusted after the Stargate Watch.
Sinking to New Lows

Have you had enough of network TV yet? I sure have. Is this the best they can do for creativity? A television show based on a series of commercials?

What's sad is that this appears to be a better effort than what all the forces of network TV can muster.

Even sadder, a amateur (?) effort trumps them all.

I just want to run right out and get an HDTV just so I can watch this quality programming!
Starman Jones

Tell me this image doesn't remind you of the classic illustrations by Clifford Geary from the original hardcover of Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein!

(With thanks to Winchell Chung for sending me the link. Great illustrations!)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

There's Always Room for Beer

At the end of the day, there's always room for a can or two of beer.
Idea Generator

Via Ian's Messy Desk, an idea generator. As I watch the current market bubble deflate, I'm reminded of the heady days before the last bubble burst when this was probably all the business plan some dot coms actually had!
"Reason for Hope"

Good new story from Michael Totten posting from Iraq. The other Michael, Michael Yon, has a new one as well, Three Marks on the Horizon (if you haven't read Michael Yon yet, can I recommend Gates of Fire?).

And am I seeing things? A positive story out of Iraq from somebody other than these two? From Der Spiegel? Clearly something strange is going on here!

Addendum: Sometimes a picture is worth a few words.
No More Books

The host of the CBC's Vinyl Cafe swears he is never going to buy another book. Never. Never, never, never, as long as he lives!

Let's see how long that lasts!
A Planet Story

"At his feet I noticed,...a girl in a loose coral pink gown, who was his very antipode. Princess Heru, for so she was called, was resting one arm upon his knee at our approach and pulling a blue convolvulus bud to pieces—a charming picture of dainty idleness. Anything so soft, so silky as that little lady was never seen before.Who am I, a poor, quarter-deck loafer, that I should attempt to describe what poet and painter alike would have failed to realise? I know, of course, your stock descriptives: the melting eye, the coral lip, the peachy cheek, the raven tresses; but these were coined for mortal woman—and this was not one of them. I will not attempt to describe the glorious tenderness of those eyes she turned upon me presently; the glowing radiance of her skin; the infinite grace of every action; the incredible soul-seaching harmony of her voice, when later on I heard it—you must gather something of these things as I go- suffice it to say that when I saw her there for the first time in the plenitude of her beauty, I fell desperately, wildly in love with her."

—Edwin Lester Arnold, Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (a.k.a., Gullivar of Mars).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Reality Disconnect

Spook Country by William Gibson for $25.95 (sale price) or $23.36 (newsletter price)? Sounds pretty good...until you realize that this is an eBook you're buying and you can find a copy of the hardcover for significantly less than either of those prices in your local store (and save even more if you are a member of one of the big box chain clubs).

Reality check, please!

Addendum (November 28, 2008): I've found dozens of more examples of examples of books that have gone from hardcover to paperback, with their eBooks never dropping in price. Almost as bad are cases where one or two of the books in a series are available as an eBook, but not the other books in the series. William Gibson is (again) an example of this, with books in both the Sprawl and Bridge series' missing volumes.

Monday, August 13, 2007

New Record

Via BoingBoing, a supercomputer has figured out how to unscramble a Rubik's Cube in 26 moves or less (one better than the previous record). How about those of us without supercomputers? Is there a SETI@Home equivalent for Rubik's Cubes?

The best thing in a bad movie. Not sure of the mileage, but the rockets on the roof would sure be a good thing in morning traffic around here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


If you have been lucky enough to have clear, dark skies last night (and tonight), you might see this. It's raining Perseids!

One of the smartest guys I know is coming out with a new book! this essay...he has some interesting things to say about "climate change".

My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models.

Addendum: The debate rages. Is the data correct? Flawed? Is politics overshadowing real science? Stay tuned...

Addendum (August 17, 2007): Wired has a note up. Alun Anderson (writing at The Edge) answers Dyson's comments.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Watching the rendezvous between the space shuttle and the ISS right now. Usual inane, boring chatter on NASA TV. Trust NASA's public-relations machine to continue to make space travel...dull. You would think they would overlay some music like the Blue Danube Suite here!
Hand-Cranked MP3's

I've got a hand-cranked emergency radio. Now for our brave new century, a hand-cranked gadget that can play music files, videos and more! UK-only, though? What about us poor colonials?

(Via BoingBoing.)
Two More on Heinlein

Two articles on the Heinlein Centenary. The first reads like it came from a series of cribbed notes scribbled from various dustjacket comments. The second is a more in-depth look at how many of Heinlein's "fingerprints" can be found on today's world.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Little Things We're Losing

Like this. Once upon a time (when I was in college), I could go to a back road around the campus and see the Milky Way. When we got our house, I could still see the Milky Way. Then it was only during the dead of winter, or after the air had been cleared out, etc. Now it is a rare occasion when our increasingly urbanized skies allow me to see sights like this with one of my telescopes, let alone my naked eyes.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Countdown to Dooooooommmmm!!!!

A site dedicated to various events in science fiction. How long before the Nostromo finds that xenomorph? We have less time than you think!!!

(With a click of the analog clock to BoingBoing.)

Hot in from the e-waves and the inter-tubes. Issue #241 of Dave Langford's Ansible!

David A. Hardy is wary of political spin: 'I've just been watching Al Gore on TV kicking off Live Earth in the USA. All very stirring and worthy stuff, and I fully approve of the sentiments; so it's probably churlish of me to mention that that lovely Earth on the big screen behind him was spinning clockwise. What would that do to the climate?!'

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Information Wants to be Free

Will The New York Times once again allow me to laugh at the ramblings of Thomas Friedman and others? For free? Time (maybe very short) will tell.
Collection Gaps

Furthermore! Why bring out a new DVD standard (or two) when not every film is available on DVD yet? There's still more gold in them hills! I'd buy DVD's of Moonbase 3 or Star Cops or Moon Zero Two.

Heck, a DVD of this might even spark my interest!

(I realize that some of these have been available on DVD...but not in the US. Let's hear it for "country codes" and other artificial barriers to commerce!)
The New Betamax

2001: A Space Odyssey is coming to Blu-Ray and HD DVD. Hear my lack of enthusiasm? I have no interest in Blu-Ray, HD DVD (or HD TV) until these folks sort out their standards issues. Not only do I not see the need for turning over my collection (and making the landfills swell), but I see no real need for these new standards. See me rushing to convert my TV to HD even with the oncoming deadline when the airwaves will go dark? Yawn. Time to read another book.

Strange, huh? You'd think I'd be interested in the nifty stuff. But the entire industry (music, film, television) has turned me off with its persecution of grandmother's and children, their cries to "close the analog hole", DRM, spyware, malware (Sony, anyone), crappy hardware, clueless movies and shows.

Yawn. Time to read anohter book.
A Disturbance in the Force

While perusing the website dedicated to Brian Daley (following up on news that his first novel had been republished), I came across this note by James Luceno, the other half of the writing team known as "Jack McKinney":

I recall one we had in my Chevy van just before the premiere matinee of some movie called Star Wars, which neither of us knew much about...So we sat in the parking lot of some cineplex on Route 4 in Northern New Jersey, priming ourselves for outer space, and when we left the theater two hours later we felt as if we'd been there. I mean, 2001 was solid intellectual stuff, but Star Wars—here, at last, was rousing sci-fi adventure.

Good God in Heaven. I was at that theatre. At that showing. In that parking lot, on that day.

No wonder I felt a disturbance in the Force.

The mirror-world version of another famous online encyclopedia.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

For Your Listening Pleasure

Tonight's post-powerwashing listening is a couple of selections by Luigi Boccherini. Not as well known as Bach, Vivaldi and the other Baroque powerhouses, he's got a couple of pieces that continue to blow me away. In particular Quintettto No. 4 In Re Maggiore, "Fandango", Per Corda E Chitarra and Quintettino In Do Maggiore La Musica Notturna Delle Strade Di Madrid, Op. 30, No. 6 (G. 324). The first has some wondrous work between guitar and violin. The second is based on the night music of Madrid and would be familiar to any fan of the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, as the music that helped to close out that film.

Great stuff.

Friday, August 03, 2007

No One Receiving

(So what do you do after powerwashing the deck for 10 hours and developing one heck of a crick in the neck? Listen to Brian Eno, of course. Very loudly.)

It will shine and it will shudder
As I guide it with my rudder
On its metalled ways
It will cut the night before it
As it leaves the day that saw it
On its metalled ways
Nobody passes us in the deep quiet of the dark sky
Nobody sees us alone out here among the stars
In these metal ways
In these metal days.

Through a fault of our designing
We are lost among the windings
Of these metal ways
Back to silence back to minus
With the purple sky behind us
In these metal ways
Nobody hears us when we're alone in the blue future
No one receiving the radio's splintered waves
In these metal ways
In these metal days.


We're sailing at the edges of time
We're drifting at the waterline
Oh we're floating in the coastal waters
You and me and the porter's daughters
Ooh what you do not a sausage can do
And the shorter of the porter's daughters
Dips her hand in the deadly waters
Ooh what to do in a tiny canoe

Black water
There were six of us but now we are five
We're all talking
To keep the conversation alive
There was a senator from Ecuador
Who talked about a meteor
That crashed on a hill in the South of Peru
And was found by a conquistador
Who took it to the Emperor
And he passed it on to a Turkish Guru.

His daughter
Was slated for becoming divine
He taught her
He taught her how to split and define
But if you study the logistics
And heuristics of the mystics
You will find that their minds rarely groove in a line
So it's much more realistic
To abandon such ballistics
And resign to be trapped on a leaf in a vine.
A Hot Cup o' Joe

Just finishing the second cup of coffee of the day. Despite what one John Scalzi might think, it doesn't taste like a##. Hot or cold. Ah well, he's got a thing about cats. Go figure.

I should get outside and start powerwashing the deck. I've been powerwashing the fence for what seems like the whole summer, taking Friday's off in order to get three days in at a stretch. We have a lot of fence. Why? Well, it is a big yard and it is six foot high. Why six foot high you ask? Well, our one dog, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, will jump over a five foot fence.

The deck will take roughly as long. We have a lot of deck. It is probably bigger than most dance floors. We wanted a big deck. I suffer the consequences.

I should be at work today, but the young lady is sick for the second time this week. So rather than having her go to camp and get more sick, it was decided (by me) to keep her home and give her three days to recover. So I'll take the day, and (at some point) get outside and powerwash the deck.

I'm almost done posting my old literary postings from Ye Olde Blog. When that gets wrapped up, I'll start writing new postings for 2007's books and stories read. And post more old stuff, but that's another story.

You may notice that the comments sections of older postings are getting closed off. We keep getting hit with spam. Now, I could keep the comments sections open, and keep swatting spam, but some weekends (it always seems to cycle up on Friday) there's so many spam comments posted that I end up swatting them instead of writing new stuff or posting old stuff.

Ah well, enough rambling. Time to get off the posterior and powerwash the deck. See me moving?

Friends keep recommending the site of one James Lileks. I'll read it, go "huh" and move on. Just doesn't do anything for me. Go figure!

On the other hand...this is funny...too funny...

Other funny stuff here.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Compleat Star Trek Fanboi

The Complete Starfleet Library. Come on, admit how many of these items you once owned...

I'm amazed at the number of titles I owned and read or just read. For example, I read this one in a local drugstore (once the main source, along with soda shops, of books for me). Our school used to have a twice-yearly visit from some sort of bookseller who would set up a trailer, I recall buying this, this, this and others. After I started reading Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth novels from Ballantine, they started publishing his novelizations of the short-lived animated series.

I am such a geek.

My favorites? Blish and Foster rank up there, as that is where I started. Authors have come and gone, and I've pretty much ignored the entire field for years. However, when I purged my collection, this is one of the few that I kept, as it is one damn fine novel.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Back to Mars!

This weekend (if weather and other conditions permit) we will see a new probe being dispatched on its way to Mars. The Phoenix Mars Lander is a "reborn" version of the ill-fated Mars Polar Lander, lost, along with a pair of impact probes, during its landing on Mars in 1999. The Phoenix is continuing the Martian mantra of "follow the water". It is intended to land in the high northern latitudes of Mars, clawing into the icy surface, to see if frozen water melts on a periodic basis...which might sustain a livable environment for microbes. The probe will employ landing thrusters instead of airbags (due to the fact that it is too heavy for current designs of airbags) and come down in what is hoped to be a smooth enough area allowing a touchdown and not a wrecked vehicle! The vehicle is the subject of some controversy, due to a problematic camera that is slated to be used during descent. Well, at least you can buy official licensed gear! And if we land humans on Mars, they can spend their free time going through the DVD that the Planetary Society crammed with Mars-related fiction and greetings from Earthlings.

Important mission? A potential problem-plagued mission? I'm keeping my fingers crossed that all goes well.