Friday, December 21, 2007

There and Back Again...

Squeal with delight, fanboys and fangirls! Peter Jackson has signed up to direct the film version of The Hobbit:

December 18, 2007

ACADEMY AWARD-WINNER PETER JACKSON AND NEW LINE CINEMA JOIN WITH MGM TO PRODUCE “THE HOBBIT,” EAGERLY-ANTICIPATED FANTASY ADVENTURE EPIC

NEW LINE AND MGM TO CO-PRODUCE AND SHARE WORLDWIDE DISTRIBUTION RIGHTS

PETER JACKSON AND FRAN WALSH TO EXECUTIVE PRODUCE TWO FILMS BASED ON “THE HOBBIT”


Looks like Jackson and New Line sorted out their legal differences.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Thriller--Bollywood style!

This was quite amusing:

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sorry about that, old chums...

The British government has gone and done something absolutely dreadful:


British PM Brown 'profoundly' regrets data security breach

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 21, 2007 | 11:44 AM ET
CBC News

Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized Wednesday for the "inconvenience and worries" caused by the British government's accidental loss of computer discs containing detailed personal information of 25 million citizens.

During a heated question period in the House of Commons, Brown tried to reassure the country that people's personal details gathered by Britain's tax and customs service were safe following one of the biggest security breaches in the country's history.

Two computer discs that went missing while being sent from one government department to another contained names, addresses, birth dates, national insurance numbers and — in some cases — banking details for nearly half the country's population.

"I profoundly regret and apologize for the inconvenience and worries that have been caused to millions of families that receive child benefits," Brown said. "We have a duty to do everything that we can to protect the public."

Treasury chief Alistair Darling said the discs contained details of the 7.25 million families in Britain claiming the child benefit — a tax-free monthly payment available to everyone with children.

He said the delivery was not being tracked and was missing for three weeks before any alarm was raised.

The discs were password protected but the information on them was not encrypted, officials said.



I always find it interesting that our governments collect ever-increasing amounts of personal information on their citizens--on us. It's all for our own good, for our safety and protection, they tell us. When they demonstrate they aren't even capable of keeping this supposedly critical information safe, what sort of confidence are we supposed to have in their ability to protect us from more concrete and salient threats?

Which brings us to my next book review, Watch Yourself: Why Safer Isn't Always Better by Matt Hern. Hern runs an independent school in East Vancouver and is a scholar of Urban Studies. With Watch Yourself, he discusses our society's increasing obsession with safety and protection before openly wondering if we're actually safer as a result. Not to mention, as the subtitle indicates, if safety is always the preferred option.

Hern notes the obsession with safety in all aspects, often accompanied by the mantra "for the sake of the children". He shares an anecdote about two girls who died during a high school skiing trip. They slipped under a safety fence that had been clearly plastered with warning signs, and fell to their deaths. Despite these precautions, their families still felt that "more could have been done" to prevent the deaths of their daughters.

Fear is among the most potent of marketing tools, and this does not escape Hern's notice. His discussion on SUVs, summarized in this interview states that SUVs were originally a ploy by automobile manufacturers to sell cars as trucks, skirting around certain emission and safety requirements. Owners became convinced that the size of an SUV compared to other passenger vehicles made them safer, when in fact the opposite is true: top-heavy SUVs are more likely to roll over during a quick manouevre, say when trying to avoid a crash.

Hern does not speak from some cloistered, upper-middle class bubble or ivory tower of academe. He runs an alternative school, the Purple Thistle Centre, in Vancouver's infamous East Side. He and his family have been the victims of property crime, and he knows that drug dealers operate in his neighbourhood. This gives his narrative an authenticity other books of this type often lack. For example, he notes that a park in his neighbourhood known for the presence of drug dealers and their clients, was granted a beefed-up police presence. All this did was move the drug dealers to another park several blocks away, whereupon the residents of that neighbourhood began to demand more police. Hern notes that calls to deal with crime and safety typically mean spending more money on policing, and not on the root causes of crime. This is treating the symptoms while letting the disease fester.

Heresy is Hern's agenda: to spread the idea that safety is not always the most desirable goal. And he has a point: how much progress has been achieved in our society because some people were willing to take risks? I would say damn near all of it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

More on the Writers' Strike

A Daily Show writer covers the strike in Daily Show style:

Monday, November 12, 2007

Future Sound of London

Radiohead releases their latest album for download on a "pay what you want" model.

The Eagles decide to cut major recording labels out of the distribution of their newest album.

Trent Reznor, the man behind Nine Inch Nails, happily confesses to downloading music from peer-to-peer and torrent sites (would that Lars Ulrich, Metallica drummer and notorious foe of internet downloaders be as candid about his tape copying past).

Are we seeing the decline and fall of the recording companies?

Ask not for whom the modem tolls...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

J'accuse!

So, law enforcement in Canada has more important priorities than hunting people who download music from the internet.

I wish the recording industry would stop looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Caught in a web

MadJenny posted this video from the Writers Guild of America explaining the reasons for the Hollywood writers' strike. It succinctly explains their side of the issue:



Go to her site for more.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Suddenly Seeking Search Engine

Cross-posted at Map of the Informatique.

At work, I've been asked to train one of the library board members on "advanced Google searching". I'm not entirely sure what he means by that (the training session has yet to materialize), but I suspect he wants to go somewhat beyond typing one or two words into Google's search field.

In the hopes of providing a full exploration of the topic, and to show exactly why I'm worth the (not so) big bucks they're paying, I've been doing a bit of research on the Google phenomenon. Two books on the search engine king were released in 2005, probably to capitalize on Google's initial public offering and some of the fallout in the year following that seemed to tarnish the seemingly-untouchable lustre of the Internet's fasting-rising company and its likeable founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page (as of October 2007, both men are tied for 26th richest person in the world, worth about $16.6 billion US each). I read one at the time, that being The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, by John Battelle. Like many non-fiction authors these days, Battelle maintained a website detailing some of his research and writing, and continues to use the site to promote his book as well as blog on internet search more generally.

The other book, which I just finished, was The Google Story: Inside the Hottest Business, Media, and Technology Success of Our Time, by David A. Vise and Mark Malseed, whose authors also maintain a website.

Both books are valuable for anyone who wants to learn more about the current master of internet search, and complement each other very well. Both books focus on Google and how it used internet search, a feature the rest of the internet industry had dismissed as useless and unprofitable, to rise above the bursting of the dot-com bubble and become the fastest-rising technology company in history. But I would call The Google Story more of a business biography, while Battelle's book is more of technological history.

Vise and Malseed focus on Brin and Page and the business they built, from their fated meeting in the computer science graduate program at Stanford, to the humble beginnings of Google on campus, tracing the company's development to its IPO and some of its legal and public image troubles following that, ending with some of Brin and Page's hopes for the future of search. While the account is thorough, there is a mood of triumphalism that permeates the text, a narrative of two smart kids with a new idea done good. The focus is more on how Google transformed business culture with its very different approach. Brin and Page, academics and the children of academics, run Google more like a college campus than a business (the PageRank system at the core of Google's search technology is based on the citing practices and impact factors of academic journal articles). One of their more revolutionary practices is the 20% rule. In the academic world, professors are given 20% of their time (generally, one day a week) away from lecturing and administrative work to work on their own research and projects. Employees at Google are also given 20% of their time to work on their own projects. Sometimes these go nowhere, but other times they result in new applications like Froogle and Google News. Vise and Malseed even devote a chapter to Google's former head chef, Employee #53, Charlie Ayers, as part of their description of Google's corporate culture. Google is also known for its humour, evidenced by its regular April Fools Day jokes and the Google Labs Aptitude Test, or GLAT, a spoof of the battery of standard tests used by other firms.

Meanwhile, Battelle begins with the history of internet search, tracing the development of some of Google's more noteworthy forefathers, from Archie at McGill University, to the web's "first truly good search engine", AltaVista, to those other two Stanford PhDs at Yahoo!, Jerry Yang and David Filo. While the spotlight of his text then shifts to Google, his overall focus is on internet search and search engines. In the mid and late-90s, other dot-coms were trying to build "portals", which were actually destinations. The idea was to draw in users and keep them on the site, which was awash in visual and pop-up ads. Anyone who remembers Yahoo!, Excite and Altavista back then remembers the slew of ads, internal links and flashy banner ads splashed over every square inch of the site. Search was seen as just another service provided by the portal, along with email, personal ads, weather reports, and so on.

Along comes Google with its bare bones white screen and a single search field, but that simple field offered the keys to the World Wide Web. While others were adding to the clutter of the internet's closet, Google provided the sense of organization to all that clutter, while making billions from advertising that was so unobtrusive, few people recognized the ads when they saw them. In just a few short years, the search engine named for the impossibly large number garnered the greatest brand recognition in the online world, even becoming a verb related to internet searching in the process (e.g., "I Googled him last night").

Both books offer a very comprehensive coverage of Google's rise and dominance of the market, while focusing on different aspects of the company. The Google Story, true to its title, is a biographical narrative of the company's "life", largely holding to a tone of triumphalism throughout. Only in a handful of later chapters, when discussing threats to Google's public image and through the courts, is the clarion call muted. The Search is more illustrative of the search technologies involved, without getting overly technical, and is probably more interesting to my fellow library and information science professionals.

Google continues to maintain a high profile in the public eye, as even the company's former masseuse is ready to tell her story:

Bonnie Brown was fresh from a nasty divorce in 1999, living with her sister and uncertain of her future. On a lark, she answered an ad for an in-house masseuse at Google, then a Silicon Valley start-up with 40 employees. She was offered the part-time job, which started out at $450 a week but included a pile of Google stock options that she figured might never be worth a penny.

After five years of kneading engineers’ backs, Ms. Brown retired, cashing in most of her stock options, which were worth millions of dollars. To her delight, the shares she held onto have continued to balloon in value.

“I’m happy I saved enough stock for a rainy day, and lately it’s been pouring,” said Ms. Brown, 52, who now lives in a 3,000-square-foot house in Nevada, gets her own massages at least once a week and has a private Pilates instructor. She has traveled the world to oversee a charitable foundation she started with her Google wealth and has written a book, still unpublished,
Giigle: How I Got Lucky Massaging Google.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Book Review: Red Moon Rising by Matthew Brzezinski

October 4, 2007 marked an important historical anniversary. The 50th anniversary of humanity's exploration of outer space. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial object launched by human beings to escape the Earth's gravity (for six months, but a milestone).

In Red Moon Rising, Matthew Brzezinski covers the intense rivalries that served as the catalyst to the great space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, which would eventually culminate in landing men on the moon, and laid the foundations for today's space program, including the International Space Station.

Although the obvious rivalry between the Americans and the Soviets plays out over the course of Brzezinski's account, many other more personal conflicts come to the front of the stage. For the USSR's head of missile development, Sergei Korolev, his childhood obsession to touch space drove him relentlessly. Even years spent in Stalin's gulag did not dash the dream from him. His drive to put a satellite in orbit allowed him to navigate the treacherous waters of the Soviet military community.

Rivalries were, if anything, were more pronounced on the American side of the missile race. The army, navy, and nascent air force all had ballistic missile programs in the works, though it was the Army's that would place the first American satellite in orbit, thanks largely to the stubbornness of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency's commander, Major General John B. Medaris, and ABMA's chief engineer, Wernher von Braun, the man behind the German V-2 rockets.

Brzezinski's book is a fast-paced, enjoyable read giving a lot of insight into the scientific and political environments of the USA and USSR of the late 1950s. The personalities involved leap off the page and come alive, shaping the course of the historical narrative. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

You can't kill The Metal

OK, this news nearly made me squeal with glee like an anime fangirl:

Swedish metallers OPETH will support DREAM THEATER on the prog-metal giants' next North American tour in April/May 2008. More details will be announced soon.


Two of my favourite prog-metal acts on the same bill!

SQUEEEE!

Monday, November 05, 2007

In his house at R'lyeh Cthulhu pwns n00bs



For more fun, read The Tales of Plush Cthulhu.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The areas of book-writing expertise

I've been listening to the audiobook version of The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman. Hodgman is best known as the "Resident Expert" on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, or as the PC in the Apple "Mac vs. PC" commercials.









Resident Expert of The Daily Show

PC vs. Mac



He is also a professional writer, and a former literary agent for the likes of actor Bruce Campbell, and in honour of National Novel Writing Month, I thought I'd share some of Hodgman's advice from The Areas of My Expertise:

What is the best kind of book to write?

I was asked this many times when I a professional literary agent, and the answer at the time was obvious: the most marketable kind of book to write, was one in which vampires fight serial killers, but the best kind of book to write, was one in which the vampires fight large weather systems and perfect storms. Of course, that answer is not correct in today's publishing environment, as neither of those old examples includes a worldwide conspiracy, overseen by a centuries-old religious secret society. While my initial response dates me hopelessly, I realize literature, blessed, ever grows and matures.



And one more:

Throughout history, all effective stories are based in some sort of conflict, and most critics agree, that in literature, there are five primal conflicts:

These are:

Man vs. Man
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Society
Man vs. Himself
and Man vs. Cyborgs

If you think of a story, any story, I trust you will find it fits neatly into one of these rubrics.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A tale of murder most fowl...

Since this is both National Blog Posting Month and National Novel Writing Month, I thought I'd share a story of mine. This is a scenario I wrote to resolve a plot in one of the live-action roleplaying (LARP) games I'm a member of. It might be hard to follow the plot, not knowing the context. If that's the case, let me know!

A Murder of Ravens

The night rain beat a steady rhythm on the corrugated aluminum roof, like a thousand desperate heartbeats sounding in cacophony. To the fugitive, they were a dull roar overwhelmed by his own desperate heartbeats.

He was chilled, but not from the dampness on his skin. In fact, the warm blood on his arms offset much of the climate. The source of that blood was what froze his own solid.

I didn't…it wasn't…I could never … The gears of his reason attempted to rationalize the actions of the past few hours, but could not gain purchase. He remembered one of his former patients. The man had let his friend drive after a night of hard drinking. What's a couple of beers? He's only going a couple of blocks.

That night, Mr. and Mrs. Patel missed their son's high school graduation, just like they would miss his acceptance into his grad program, his wedding, and the births of their grandchildren.

It was a night like this, too, the fugitive recalled. He quickly glanced over both shoulders as lightning lit up the path between buildings, followed by the loud crash of thunder. It sounded like judgment.

**********************************************************************************

The man looked around the living room, or what was left of it. Scarlet paths cut their way through the white carpeting. Most traced a mandala in the centre of the room, where the man of the house hung suspended from the ceiling fan by his own entrails, like some grisly piñata.

While the onlooker could still be inwardly horrified by such carnage, it troubled him that his body betrayed no physiological reactions. I'm getting used to these things, he thought, and that's frightening.

Two men walked down the stairs in a grim-faced procession. The one in the trenchcoat would have been handsome, if his features were not perpetually set in stone-faced determination. Behind him, the man in the suit was even more impassive.

"It's even worse upstairs," he told the onlooker. "You really don't want to know."

"It was definitely him, though," said the Councillor, slowly pulling a rifle from beneath the folds of his trenchcoat. "And it wasn't long ago."

Two older men joined the three from outside.

"We have a trail," said one.

The Herald stood straighter, taking some weight off his cane. "My associates have been quite forthcoming on the subject," he said in his impeccable Received Pronunciation. "They despise the Intruder and its medium even more than we do."

The first man looked around the room one more time. "Why are we wasting anymore time then?" the Sentinel demanded.

**********************************************************************************

Cold and wet, the fugitive reflected on how things had gone wrong. His order often required someone to pull a trigger so others wouldn't have to. It was a form of self-sacrifice that was never to be undertaken lightly, and always for the greater good, the self be damned.

As time went on, however, he found himself pulling the trigger more and more often, and less for the greater good, and more because he liked it. He wasn't going to let an affliction slow him down, and if it meant giving over control of his body for an hour or so, what was the harm?

Why won't the blood wash off? He held his hands out to the falling rain. His companion offered no explanations.

**********************************************************************************

"This way!" His companions followed the interjection between the buildings. The rain was harder now, battering the docks with its staccato beats. The five ran hard, bearing arms conventional and otherwise.

**********************************************************************************

Seeking shelter in a warehouse, the fugitive tried to rest. Rain and sweat turned to vapour on his face, and only made him hotter. He tried to relax while his heart continued to pound a desperate pattern.

The Voice came to him then.

-LET ME TAKE CARE OF YOU

No! You got me into this!

-I TOOK YOU DOWN NO ROAD YOU WEREN'T ALREADY WALKING

Liar!

-THE DESTINATION IS THE SAME / ONLY FASTER

That's not true!

-YOU KNOW IT IS

I am not a murderer! I kill only for the greater good!

-HOW CONVENIENT / WHAT YOU DO IS FOR THE GREATER GOOD / AND THE GREATER GOOD IS WHAT YOU DO

-CIRCULAR REASONING

-DO ALL OF YOUR KIND JUSTIFY THEMSELVES SO

No, that's not how it works—

-TELL ME

I…I…
he stumbled with his thoughts. He turned to his companion, but could no longer find the solace that was once there. Its once noble and proud features seemed twisted into the feral visage of the most cowardly and savage of predators.

**********************************************************************************

"You're sure he's in this building?" the Sentinel asked.

"Positive," said the Herald.

"I can confirm that as well," the Councillor agreed.

"OK, then." The Sentinel quietly stalked his way around the warehouse, stopping every few steps to inscribe a mark with his pocketknife.

The Herald and the other older man bent their heads together in discussion, before seeming to address the empty air.

The Councillor readied his rifle with a practiced hand, while the man in the suit closed his eyes and breathed deeply.

The Sentinel returned.

"It's done," he said.

The man in the suit opened his eyes. "Everyone remember the plan?" asked the Councillor. Four heads nodded their assent.

"Let's do this."

**********************************************************************************

-THEY'RE HERE

-SHOULD HAVE LET ME DRIVE

No wait, come back! I…

-RUN AND I'LL TAKE CARE OF YOU

I will! I'll just…

The fugitive gesticulated wildly in the air and drew upon his power, power which never came.

Fuckers!

In his mind's eye, he could see the golden lines of primal energy surround the building.

This is my cage.


**********************************************************************************

The door blew off its hinges as the axe-wielding Sentinel crashed through.

"Raven, Walker of the Path of Pandemonium! The Council of the Mens Ferrum finds you guilty of Hubris and conspiring with the enemies of Ascension! Submit to their judgement!"

"You won't take me! I'll…" He called upon his power again, and again failed. The Herald stood with a look of intense concentration.

"Get them!" the fugitive beckoned his companion, only to notice the companion had problems of its own.

"You can't stop me! You don't have the…AARRGGGHH!!!" Blood trickled from his nose and eyes as spears of intense pain shot through his head. The man in the suit stared at him, sweat beading along his brow.

"I'll kill you all! You don't have the stomach for this! That's why you need me! You need…" His last sentence was clipped short by the rifle round piercing his chest.

The Councillor stalked forward, ejecting the spent casing from his weapon. "No," he said impassively. "We don't."

**********************************************************************************

The fugitive knelt on the floor before the Sentinel, the Herald and the other man. The man in the suit and the Councillor stood behind him.

"You three can leave," the Councillor said. "We'll finish up here."

"Indeed," intoned the man in the suit. "Your services have been exemplary, but this is our matter now."

"No way," protested the Sentinel. "We did this together, we finish it together. It's my job."

The Councillor shook his head slightly. "No, your job is to fight the battles. Slitting the throats of whoever's left on the battlefield is our task. Now go."

"I won't."

"Witness if you like," said the man in the suit, cutting off further discussion, "but the task is ours."

Unholstering his pistol, the Councillor placed it at the back of the fugitive's neck.

"Farewell, brother," the man in the suit whispered in the fugitive's ear. "We now return you to the Diamond Wheel. May you choose a better journey next time around."

The only response was a gunshot.

Friday, November 02, 2007

An image is worth a thousand blurbs

Found this internet meme: do a Google Image search for your name and post the first picture that comes up.



With my first name, I get a picture of Joe Jack Talcum of early 80s punk band, The Dead Milkmen.

Not sure what that means, since I'm not a huge punk fan (except for The Clash) and have probably never heard a Dead Milkmen song in my life. We're both Italian and play guitar, I guess.

With my full name, I get someone's old family photo (not my family).

Thursday, November 01, 2007

New Golden Compass Trailer!

Right here.

I can't wait!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What happens...After Forever?

Me & Floor Jansen

Me & Floor Jansen



Well, my new favourite band of the moment, After Forever (MySpace), came to the Funhaus in Toronto for an intimate but exciting show.

The opening act was Montreal's Unexpect (MySpace), whom I can only describe as the Dillinger Escape Plan kidnapping Arcade Fire and forcing them to perform Phantom of the Opera or be ground up by a chainsaw. A very twisted and interesting sound, to be sure.

After Forever themselves performed majestically, rocking the hell out a cozy venue like Funhaus. Actually, it was nice to be in a club like Funhaus again: exposing ductwork and rafters in the ceiling; single, small bar with few taps; one pool table. I missed the ambience of low-rent goth-industrial clubs like Vatikan and Necropolis.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Faith of Reason?

OK, I found this kind of creepy:

A few miles south of Lynchburg in Campbell County sits a large and attractive octagonal building which is home to one of most unique churches in the world. Founded in 1977, “The Spock,” as the church is called, is the world’s only church of Star Trek, a religion centered on the popular 1960’s television series featuring the adventures of a crew of interstellar explorers. “The Spock” promotes beliefs associated with one of the popular characters in the TV series, Mr. Spock, who was from a peace-loving race of aliens known as “Vulcans.”

The ideology of the church is centered on so-called Vulcan philosophy which includes the belief in pure “logic” and which emphasizes a lifestyle devoid of emotion. A huge stained-glass likeness of the church’s namesake is featured in the sanctuary, where churchgoers recite sequences of dialogue from the series and participate in what they call a “Holy Mind Meld.” Many church members wear stick-on pointed ears (mimicking those of the TV character) during services and at other church functions (in one case of excessive dedication to the “faith,” one member attempted to have his ears surgically altered but with disastrous results, requiring extensive corrective surgery).


Now, normally, I find myself of the same mind as Professor Steven Dutch on this subject:

Contrary to popular psychology, this is not a society where people are out of touch with their feelings. This society wallows in feelings. If anything, what most people in this society need is precisely to get out of touch with their feelings for a while. Beirut, Belfast and Belgrade were all creations of people who were entirely too much in touch with their feelings.

When film does show rational people, it is often as a caricature. The Vulcans in Star Trek are the type examples. They are regularly portrayed as secretly longing to have human emotions but unable to do so because of their conditioning. (The Vulcans nearly destroyed themselves before they learned to control their emotions. See Beirut, Belfast and Belgrade above.) Or when the characters simply proceed rationally (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) critics lambaste them as stiff and wooden. Considering the number of people in the arts who have destroyed themselves through suicide, substance abuse or self-destructive lifestyles, I conclude that many media critics are simply unable to relate to characters who solve their problems rationally without going into depression or hysteria, that unless a character has some defect requiring deep therapy, they simply aren't interesting to the critics.


Clearly, though, these "Spockians" are not acting rationally at all, since a rational person would be the first to admit that one cannot be rational all the time. In fact, the effort to do so is extremely irrational.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Just in time for Halloween!

I wrote up this phony press release for work as a joke last Halloween, and many of my co-workers seemed to find it funny, so I thought I'd post it for all to see.

A bit of backstory: some of my coworkers noticed some teenagers using a ouija board in the library, and another one joked we should adopt a ouija reference service.


Anytown Public Libraries is pleased to offer another information service for our customers. We already offer our top-notch public service, our 24-hour email reference service, and our one number for all your information needs: (555) 555-BOOK, as well as our website located at www.anytownlibrary.com. This year, in the wake of Ontario Public Libraries Week, Anytown Public Libraries is pleased to add our newest information service, InfoGhost.

Using proven necromantic principles of ouija and seance, Anytown PL is now able to ask questions of the dead and departed on your behalf. Genealogical research has never been easier--why not ask you late grandfather exactly where
his grandfather came from? And if great-aunt Winnie is haunting your attic, maybe she knows where your missing library book is!

InfoGhost will launch on October 31, 2007, as our psychic consultants have informed us that the etheric energies released by Ontario Public Libraries Week will form a sympathetic resonance with the Gate to the Underworld while Scorpio is in the House of Jupiter at the end of the tenth month. Assuming these auspicious portents hold true, InfoGhost will go dead--er, live on Halloween!

InfoGhost is available only to registered members of Anytown Public Libraries. We regret that because of a deeply-held cultural belief in metempsychosis, InfoGhost may not be able to contact deceased relations of the Hindu or Sikh faiths.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

You can have my action figure when you pry it from my cold dead hands

Figures that the event that would end my dry spell on this blog would be the profaning of one of my childhood icons:


Paramount has confirmed that in the movie, the name G.I. Joe will become an acronym for "Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity" — an international, coed task force charged with defeating bad guys. It will no longer stand for government issued, as in issued by the American government.

The studio won't elaborate, saying filming hasn't begun and details are still in the works, but the behind-the-scenes rumblings are that the producers have decided to change the nature of G.I. Joe in order to appeal to a wider, more international audience.


At first I thought this was typical Fox News propaganda, but there seems to be independent confirmation.

I'm reminded of this Penny Arcade strip for some reason.

I'm hardly a big fan of American imperialism, but the essential fantasy of GI Joe was the "Real American Hero" who recalled the morally upright American soldier of the post-Second World War era, and stood in contrast to the sins of Vietnam. Obviously, this involves a lot of mythology: the Korean War US soldier was no angel, nor were most serving in Vietnam baby-killing devils.

It should be noted, however, that while G.I. Joe was an anti-terrorist unit, their arch-foe, COBRA, was a domestic terrorist group. COBRA was a bunch of malcontented Americans sick of the system that had "screwed" them (Cobra Commander himself being a failed used-car salesman who became a millionaire through pyramid schemes), living secret lives alongside their fellow citizens. In the comics, COBRA had tanks hiding in auto shops all over the USA, and had even taken over a small Midwestern town, Springfield, and turned it into a fully-indoctrinated home for COBRA personnel, complete with their version of the Boy Scouts (but more like the Hitler Youth). The upper ranks were bolstered with some Eurotrash mercenaries like Destro, the Baroness, and Major Bludd, but COBRA was largely a domestic terrorist group. That's why G.I. Joe was a secret unit in the comics--the U.S. military is not supposed to operate on American soil without an emergency declaration.

G.I. Joe was never really a propaganda tool for the U.S. armed forces, given that their enemies were completely over-the-top James Bond villains (in the cartoon, COBRA destroyed the Golden Gate bridge like 5 times). There's no need to change the basic concept of the show and comic out of some sort of marketing agenda: foreigners will watch any American action-film that isn't too oppressive with the flag-waving.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pun fun

Thought I'd take a break from all the tributes to dead people with some amusement. Via MadJenny, I got this amusing picture:



Librarians are groaning right now.



On a somewhat related note, the youth services librarians at work are gearing up for the Summer Reading Club, and to celebrate this year's theme of "Lost Worlds", have transformed Arthur the Aardvark into...



...Arthotep, the Ever-Living!!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Day The Science Died

Another icon has passed away.

Don Herbert, AKA Mr. Wizard, has passed away at the age of 89.

Mr. Wizard, through both his show in the 50s and the 80s, introduced two generations of children (including this blogger) to scientific principles illustrated with common household items.

It's almost ironic that a science icon passes on while public understanding of science is in such a tailspin.

Via Pharyngula.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Eulogy

Well, this weekend, something I've feared for weeks happened. My favourite blogger passed away.

Regular readers of Steve Gilliard's The News Blog have known for the past few months that the site's primary author, editor and manager was seriously ill and in the hospital, suffering from heart problems and related complications. Many fans and readers, led by Steve's usually silent partner Jen, kept the site going with donations, and most importantly, truckloads of new content. While he was still conscious, Steve was appreciative and embarrassed at all the support.

Steve Gilliard began as the first "front-pager" on Dailykos, an American Democratic partisan blog that was one of the first avenues of progressive thought in the blogosphere, and is now the most popular political blog on the internet. (Dailykos frontpagers are appointed by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the site founder, to contribute content to the blog's "front page", although any member of the Kos community can write "diaries" on the site.) Gilliard's contributions to political writings on the World Wide Web go back to at least 1999, however, and unlike many political bloggers he was never anonymous.

After a couple of years at Dailykos, Gilliard left to start his own blog, The News Blog, and it became very popular and influential in its own right. Ostensibly a political blog, it was so much more. Politics was certainly at the forefront, and although Gilliard clearly leaned in a left-wing/Democratic direction, he wouldn't hesitate to call bullshit on Dems and liberals who were out to left field. But Steve was a voracious reader with myriad interests. He would blog about sports (hating the Yankees and cheering the Mets was a constant pasttime), and predicted that soccer would soon become the third largest sport in the US. He had several relatives in the US military and was greatly informed on military history, and his posts on the Iraq War showed a depth of knowledge and understanding that most pundits and bloggers could only hope to aspire to. Through it all, he supported the boys and girls in uniform, while he knew before it began that the war was doomed to fail.

As an African-American from a journalist background, Steve pounded home a perspective that I as a member of the privileged white straight middle-class male had never really thought of before. Through his posts, he explained to me and his other readers the significance of the New York transit strike, "macaca" and Katrina to the black community.

But Steve was also a man who enjoyed living, and he would also blog about food, drink, relationships, education, and videogames. My tribute pales in comparison to the numerous ones all over the internet, but nothing speaks like the man's words himself. The main site is black in deference to Steve's passing, but the original site is still up and running.

RIP, Steve Gilliard.

UPDATE (June 6, 2007): Gilliard's obituary in the New York Times:

Steven Gilliard Jr., 42, Dies; Founder of Liberal Political Blog
By NOAM COHEN
Published: June 6, 2007

Steven Gilliard Jr., a political journalist who found his calling as a combative and influential blogger on the left, died on Saturday in Manhattan. He was 42.

He died after having been hospitalized at Lenox Hill Hospital since February because of heart and kidney failure, said his cousin Francine Smith, a spokeswoman for the family.

From his perch at The News Blog, whose advertisements and donations paid for his modest living expenses, Mr. Gilliard offered his powerful readership a blunt and passionate take on the events of the day. He was one of fewer than a dozen liberal political bloggers to make a living from his blog, said Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the founder of the Daily Kos Web site, to which Mr. Gilliard had been an early contributor.

Mr. Gilliard was born in Harlem and attended Hunter College Elementary School and Hunter College High School before graduating with a degree in journalism from New York University.

After working in print journalism, Mr. Gilliard migrated online, working for a Web site, Net Slaves, that chronicled the lot of the tech worker during the dot-com boom. His involvement in online political writing received a critical boost when Mr. Moulitsas chose Mr. Gilliard to help create material for the Daily Kos site at a time when it had 4,000 visitors a day; it now has 500,000 a day.

Mr. Gilliard eventually left Daily Kos to create The News Blog.

Mr. Gilliard’s survivors include his parents, Steven Gilliard Sr. and Evelyn Lillian Gilliard of Manhattan, and two sisters, Valerie Gilliard and Roberta Smalls, both of Massachusetts.

In what is a now-familiar story among Internet collaborators, many of the thousands who posted online reactions to Mr. Gilliard’s death wrote that they had known little about him, even the fact that he was black. Others, though, mourned the loss of an African-American voice in the liberal blogging world. Those closest to him offline similarly knew next to nothing about his life as blogger.

“Most of the family didn’t know what he was doing on the Web site,” said his cousin, Ms. Smith, who said his parents did not own computers.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Hometown History

So this weekend I finally went to the annual reenactment of the Battle of Stoney Creek, a significant event in the War of 1812. I lived about 25 years of my life in Stoney Creek, but had never been to this event, so I took a day off work to finally catch it.

There was a number of vendors in period costume selling period items, but the real draw was the reenactment itself. There were two battles, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. These videos capture parts of the evening battle:

Friday, June 01, 2007

Bill Hicks Friday

One of my favourite bits from the legendary Bill Hicks:



Bill, you died far too early.

From Science After Sunclipse.
Not so funny bunny

So according to Mad Jenny, today is Rabbit Day.

Oh sure, they look all cute and helpless and twitchy, but what evil lurks beneath that cottontail of evil?



Peter Cottontail is coming to eat your children.



Anya tried to warn us all, didn't she?

Time for a Nintervention

The trials and tribulations of Mario as he tries to adjust to the real world. Hilarious!



Thanks to DeC for the link.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

When he has a fire sale, he means it

This used bookseller has found a way to sell his merchandise and make a social statement too:

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (AP) -- Tom Wayne has amassed thousands of books in a warehouse during the 10 years he has run his used book store, Prospero's Books.

His collection ranges from best sellers, such as Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October" and Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities," to obscure titles, like a bound report from the Fourth Pan-American Conference held in Buenos Aires in 1910. But when he wanted to thin out the collection, he found he couldn't even give away books to libraries or thrift shops; they said they were full.

So on Sunday, Wayne began burning his books in protest of what he sees as society's diminishing support for the printed word.

"This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today," Wayne told spectators outside his bookstore as he lit the first batch of books


Via LIS News.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Book Review: The Sorrows of Empire, by Chalmers Johnson

A few months ago, I reviewed Blowback, Chalmers Johnson's take on American military and economic imperialism. The economist and East Asia expert explained how both trigger consequences that the American people are often required to bear, but because military and covert actions are kept secret or hidden, most citizens haven't the slightest clue why these "terrorists" or "rogue states" are targeting them.

Some might say Johnson's book was uncannily prophetic, since it was written in 2000 and one year later the ultimate form of "blowback", the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, occurred. Others--like myself--might have been surprised at the scope and effectiveness of the attack, but few active observers of international politics were surprised that 9/11 happened in the first place.

In Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic, Johnson takes on American imperialism directly. Tracing its history from the Spanish-American War to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Johnson details the string of bases the US military has erected in something like 3/4 of the nations of the world. He also details the personal arrangements American military officers cultivate with the military elite of other nations. These relationships bypass and undermine the usual channels of civilian diplomacy, as these military relationships are not subject to oversight or control by the elected civilian authorities.

Truth be told, the earlier chapters are not as strong as Blowback's thesis. Johnson's expertise in economics and East Asia were evident in the earlier book, but here he delves into somewhat unfamiliar territory, and thus it comes across more as a popular history than a scholarly analysis. Still, the facts he compiles are shocking.

Much like Gwynne Dyer, Johnson failed to predict just how disastrous the occupation of Iraq would become. In fact, few of the major commentators heard before the war and during the initial invasion, whether supporters of the action or its opponents, were able to predict just how badly the Bush administration would bungle the occupation. In this Johnson is not unique. It seems many commentators and analysts believed the Bush administration could be idealistic, or corrupt, or evil, but no one predicted they could be incompetent. Sadly, the last three years have made that abundantly evident.

Johnson saves the best for last, as it is the book's penultimate chapter that features his strongest argument. "Globalization", that capitalist buzzword of the 1990s, is nothing but Western (ie, American) economic imperialism. This rebirth of eighteenth-century liberalism, often dubbed "neoliberalism", brings with it the racism and exploitation that accompanied classical liberalism in the heydays of the British Empire. Johnson feels that Bill Clinton was a far more successful imperialist than George W. Bush:

In accordance with the logic of Sun Tzu, Bill Clinton was actually a much more effective imperialist than George W. Bush. During the Clinton administration, the United States employed an indirect approach in imposing its will on other nations. The government of George W. Bush, by contrast, dropped all legitimating principles and adopted the view that might makes right. History tells us that an expansive nation must at least attempt to disguise what it is doing if it wants to consolidate its gains. It must pretend that its exploitation of the weak is in their own best interest, or their own fault, or the result of ineluctable processes beyond human control, or a consequence of the spread of civilization, or in accordance with scientific laws--anything but deliberate aggression by a hyperpower.

Clinton camouflagued his policies by carrying them out under the banner of "globalization". This proved quite effective in maneuvering rich but gullible nations to do America's bidding--for example, Argentina--or in destabilizing potential rivals--for example, South Korea and Indonesia in the 1997 economic crisis--or in protecting domestic economic interests--for example, in maintaining the exorbitant prices of American pharmaceutical companies under cover of defending "intellectual property rights". During the 1990s, the rationales of free trade and capitalist economics were used to disguise America's hegemonic power and make it seem benign or, at least, natural and unavoidable. The main agents of this imperialism were Clinton's secretary of the Treasury, Robert Rubin, and his deputy (today, president of Harvard University). Lawrence Summers. The United States ruled the world but did so in a carefully masked way that produced high degrees of acquiescence among the dominated nations.

George W. Bush, by contrast, turned to a frontal assault based on the use of America's unequaled military power.


Ironically, "in its spurious scientificity, globalism has proved similar to Marxism, whose roots lie in the same intellectual soil," in that the modern globalists are convinced their path is inevitable and irresistible. Clearly this notion of historical determinism mirrors the dialectical process of Marxist thought.

The notion of the American military-industrial complex as a socialist entity is not a new one: see for example William Greider's Fortress America: The American Military and the Consequences of Peace. Greider, Johnson and others have noted that American defence spending shows little regard for market forces or other considerations of a capitalist economy--indeed, periods of economic downturn seem to be accompanied by increases in American defence spending. Generally speaking, the same arms manufacturers are granted defence contracts over and over again, which brings into question how competitive the awarding of contracts is. The US military has many of the earmarks of a planned economy.

Johnson takes this idea to the next level, quoting Peru's ambassador to the World Trade Organization, Oswaldo de Rivero:

The ideological war between capitalism and communism during the second half of the twentieth century was not a conflict between totally different ideologies. It was, rather, a civil war between two extreme viewpoints of the same Western ideology: the search for happiness through the material progress disseminated by the Industrial Revolution...the cost of the Soviet version of development was shortages and lack of freedom; today, that of the neoliberal, capitalist variant is unemployment and social exclusion.


The book's conclusion summarizes four likely negative results to the American Republic from increasing American imperialism, the last (and most dangerous in his eyes) being bankruptcy. Imperialism is an expensive business and American defense spending is more out of control than ever before. Although Johnson suggests that the American people could still use their civil institutions to reclaim their nation from the imperialists, he isn't very hopeful.

I conclude this review with a recent example of blowback from American interventionism: the Fort Dix Six, Kosovars so pleased with American involvement in their war against Serbia, they decided to show their gratitude by attempting to break into a US military base on American soil and kill as many US soldiers as they could.

And this is why those who favour American imperialism, even for beneficial reasons (there is something positive to be said about the type of society American imperialists give lip service to, even if they don't practice it). The globalization project of the imperialists has empowered the dissident and disgruntled around the world. The Romans, British, Russians, Turks--they didn't have to worry about oppressed subject peoples in the colonies causing major damage in the homeland. At least not until their empires were well on their way to complete collapse. Whereas today, the openness of frontiers and borders and the free flow of information, technology and finance (a direct consequence of globalization) has placed immense destructive power into the hands of dissidents--and we've seen they're quite prepared to use it--and given them the ability to project that force directly into the political, military and economic capitals of the American empire. The American people should fear their rising empire as much as those worldwide. For much like the British empire that preceded it, the American empire benefits the wealthy and powerful, but it is the rest of society that suffers the consequences.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The metal chick wet t-shirt contest continues...

Some time ago, I compared the music videos for Nightwish's "Nemo" and Evanescence's "Lithium". Among the many points of similarity between them, both lead singers (Tarja and Amy) end up submerged in water.

I need to add another video to the list: After Forever's "Energize". Watch lead singer Floor Jansen end up in the water during the chorus:



I don't think otherwise Floor matches up with Tarja and Amy. This video alternates between a forest during an autumnal windstorm, and a burning soundstage. No snow-covered field to be seen. Also, while Floor is wearing pseudo-Victorian goth attire in this video, it's not her usual style of dress. A straight-ahead rocker chick, Floor usually wears sleeveless T-shirts with jeans or PVC pants.

All kidding aside, After Forever rules!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Read two books and call me in the morning

Last night, Dr. Vincent Lam, winner of the 2006 Giller Prize, did a special author visit at work. This was part of our Asian Heritage Month celebrations (which I mentioned briefly last month).






Dr. Vincent Lam, Toronto emergency room physician and Giller Prize-winning author.

The Giller Prize-winning Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures.



Although running a bit late (thanks to the notorious traffic situation of the Greater Toronto Area), no one seemed to notice or make a fuss about it. Dr. Lam began with a brief introduction about himself, then read sections from "Winston", one of the stories in Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. To be honest this is one of my least favourite stories from the book, but it is one with several conflicting emotions (concern, paranoia, suspense, humour) and probably best illustrates the various aspects of the working lives of medical professionals that Lam endeavours to communicate throughout the book.



Afterwards, I read some audience-submitted questions to Dr. Lam, which he answered with candor and good humour, after which he signed books, including a couple for me. Deranged Squirrel (who brought her sister K along), MadJenny and The Blogless One also came out on their night off to see Dr. Lam.








Dr. Vincent Lam signs my copies of his book.

The signed title page.



I found Dr. Lam to be an incredibly nice and approachable person, and wish him every success with his next book.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Two-fisted science stings like a bee! Or an ant, or a wasp...

As kind of an update to my previous post on Two-Fisted Science, here's another entry.

Justin O. Schmidt is an entomologist best known as the author of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, a listing of various insect bites and stings and the relative amount of pain caused.

How did he acquire his data? He let himself get stung by all these insects. On purpose.

Via Retrospectacle.
The mirror has two faces

So I just got back from seeing two bands that are ostensibly from the same scene, but with vastly different approaches. Italy's Lacuna Coil and the Netherlands' The Gathering. Both are female-fronted European goth-metal bands, but couldn't be more different.

We got there too late to see the first opener, Stolen Babies, and only caught the last two songs of In This Moment's set (again, both female-fronted metal bands, but not goth-metal).

This was The Gathering's first night on the tour, replacing their countrymen Within Temptation--whom I would have preferred to see, but The Gathering were quite good. They have more of a slow-paced, somber alternative sound than a true metal sound (though their earlier stuff is heavier). Here's an example; one of their more popular songs, "Saturnine":



Also interesting is how, well, normal The Gathering are. They dress quite casually--jeans and shirts, no weird hairstyles. Like my sister (who was with me) said of lead singer Anneke's outfit, "That's something I would wear". They were very humble in appearance and mannerisms. The guitarist, René, looked like a shy geek (complete with glasses) and the bassist, Marjolein, gave these cute little golf claps to the audience. At one point, Anneke mentioned how their last stop had been New York City: "It was nice, but also, not so nice," she stammered. "But tonight is like bliss for us."

Lacuna Coil was the complete opposite. They were very theatrical with very showy PVC outfits and a fairly impressive light show. The two lead singers, Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro, were incredibly dramatic in their stage presence and rapport with the audience. During one duet, Andrea was on his knees while Cristina towered over him. Of course, being Italian they were gesticulating wildly all the time. Here are some pics from my phone:




Lacuna Coil in blue Doppler Shift.Lacuna Coil in red Doppler Shift


Here's Lacuna Coil playing Jimmy Kimmel Live:



So, it was a pretty cool night, even if both bands stuck pretty close to the recorded versions of their songs and didn't really mix things up much.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Designer guys

Intelligent design:



Unintelligent design:



Just plain stupid:

Friday, May 11, 2007

Star gazing

This evening, the Deranged Squirrel, Mad Jenny, and The Blogless One (AKA JL), went to an author visit (at our library) from the Dean of Canadian science fiction, Robert J. Sawyer.



Alas, poor Hominid--I knew him!



Sawyer read from his latest release, Rollback (which is highly recommended), and fielded questions from the audience. He is a talented public speaker and storyteller, and very well-informed and practiced, nimbly parrying and riposting a question of mine concerning the first novel of his I read, Calculating God, and the Anthropic Principle. Afterward, he autographed two books for me:






The Hugo Award-winning Hominids.Its immediate sequel, Humans.


Click on the photos to enlarge them. As you can see, Robert J. Sawyer is a keen observer of humanity.




Friday, April 27, 2007

Six of one; a 101 of another

Or, the False Prophet in Hell

To celebrate my 101st post here at False Prophecy, why not see just where in Hell I'll end up?

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Sixth Level of Hell - The City of Dis!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
LevelScore
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Low
Level 2 (Lustful)Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Very High
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very High
Level 7 (Violent)High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Moderate
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Moderate

Take the Dante's Inferno Test
For the Republic of Heaven!

OK, so from a Facebook note from IM, I was directed to the website for the upcoming Golden Compass movie. I took the "Find your Daemon" test and got this result:

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

More monsters from China



China Miéville, "the sexiest man in politics"



China Miéville, known for his innovative "grunge fantasy" books for adults (and lesser known for his Marxist politics), has written his first children's book:

Miéville has turned his hand to children's fantasy fiction with a fast-paced firecracker of a book, Un Lun Dun. Set in a kind of upside-down London, an "ab-city" filled with all of London's lost and broken things, it tells the story of two girls who stumble upon the strange, alternate metropolis and must save it from a destructive enemy - a sinister smog. While the tale itself may have a familiar ring to it, everything about the world of Un Lun Dun and the characters that populate it is wildly, almost breathlessly, inventive. The imagery is surreal - characters have birdcages for heads, buildings shift around, words turn rebellious - and the wordplay adroit. It also strikes a rich vein of humour and fun. The Binjas are dustbins that sprout limbs and strike karate poses, the Black Windows are fantastic - in every sense - monsters at Webminster Abbey.


This sounds a lot like a Neil Gaiman premise, but I have faith in Miéville's writing to bring this across in his own unique voice.

Via Bookninja.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Don't you know your Dewey Decimal System?



Thanks to Queen Azura for the pic.
Bring back those golden oldies...

Senator Vivienne Poy will be visiting our library system for Asian Heritage Month, the annual observance of the history and cultural contributions of Asian-Canadians to our country. Poy, as Senator, introduced the Senate motion for the federal government to recognize this event.

One of Senator Poy's goals is to amend the words to the national anthem, changing the line "True patriot love in all thy sons command" to the more gender-inclusive "True patriot love in all of us command". She produced as support for this measure, a recently-unearthed copy of Robert Stanley Weir's original 1908 English lyrics, where the line is question was rendered as "True patriot love thou dost in us command". (Weir revised the lyrics three times after writing these--one of the later versions is the official anthem.)

Reading over the original lyrics, I'd actually be in favour of instituting them as the official English language lyrics, since they are actually fully inclusive. Poy's change would leave the reference to God in the anthem (incidently, this never appeared in any incarnation of Weir's lyrics, but was added by the National Anthem Act of 1980), excluding the 16%+ of Canadians who are non-religious, not to mention polytheists, some Buddhists, and the like. The one potential stumbing block would be the line "May stalwart sons and gentle maidens rise", but that's in the third verse, so we could just omit it from the official anthem (the rest of that verse doesn't add anything not already said in the second).

As an aside, the French lyrics (which were written earlier) have never changed since their authoring. The French lyrics make explicit references to Christianity and militarism ("Car ton bras sait porter l'épée, Il sait porter la croix!"), though most contemporary Quebecois have little passion for either.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Wingardium Leviosa!

OK, I usually don't read the reviews on Penny Arcade, but this one caught my eye. It's for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the Nintendo Wii:

The Wii-specific controls for the game seem remarkably well put together. Once Harry's wand is drawn, the Wiimote can be used to directly control the spells you cast. Everything is handled through accelerometers; there is no pointing in the game whatsoever. Any of the game's spells can be cast quickly and easily, merely by a flick of the wrist. Thrust the Wiimote forward, and Harry will propel an object away from himself. Motion upward with both the Wiimote and nunchuk, and Harry will cause an object to levitate in the air.


How cool is that?! (he interrobanged) Now you can work on your leet wand skillz in the comfort of your living room!

I also liked the reviews discussion of the similarities between HP:OotP and the Grand Theft Auto franchise:

For this latest entry in the Harry Potter series, EA UK took a cue from Grand Theft Auto, astonishingly enough. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix actually has a whole lot in common with that beloved franchise. That's not to say that Harry is going to be beating down hookers with a baseball bat or anything. Rather, for this adventure, EA UK opted to implement the sandbox-style mission structure of the latest GTA games. Littered throughout the game are "discovery points," which function as milestone markers. These discovery points can be activated by completing various challenges, and reward the player with spell and level advancements.


Almost makes me want to buy a Wii. Almost.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt is up in heaven now



Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007



Kurt Vonnegut, great American novelist, passed away yesterday. Bookninja links to a slew of obituaries. My friend GS sent me a link to this article, one of Vonnegut's last rants against the current Bush administration. Read the whole thing, but I'll point out the section wherein he praises my vocation:

While on the subject of burning books, I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and destroyed records rather than have to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

And still on the subject of books: our daily news sources, newspapers and TV, are now so craven, so unvigilant on behalf of the American people, so uninformative, that only in books do we learn what's really going on.

I will cite an example: House of Bush, House of Saud by Craig Unger, published in early 2004, that humiliating, shameful, blood-soaked year...

...So I am a man without a country, except for the librarians and a Chicago paper called In These Times.


As for the title of this post, it is at Kurt's request:

I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, "Isaac is up in heaven now." It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, "Kurt is up in heaven now." That's my favorite joke.


Keep 'em laughing, Kurt.

UPDATE (May 24, 2007): Almost forget I had a previous connection to Vonnegut.
"Here we go!"

Vostok I

Today is the 46th anniversary of the flight of Vostok I. Its sole passenger was Yuri Gagarin, and Vostok I, a "tin can sitting on top of a bomb", would make him famous. On April 12, 1961, Gagarin became the first person in space.


























Yuri Gagarin
































Yuri Gagarin

In my youth, I was fascinated by outer space, and voraciously devoured books on space flight and astronomy. I read pretty advanced and detailed non-fiction on the subject. In fact, I remember when I was nine, I participated in my local public library's summer reading club, and that year's theme was outer space (timed for the arrival of Haley's Comet). I read several thick non-fiction books on the subjects of astronomy and space travel (one I recall was a detailed chronological narrative of the American space program up to that point), but the librarian would only accept fiction. Then the fiction I chose apparently wasn't advanced enough for her tastes, but I suppose my prepubescent self couldn't make her understand that I cared very little for "stories" back then and preferred history and science (I wouldn't start reading fiction with any sort of devotion until I was twelve). With all the stifling conditions she placed on me I still wonder to this day why I joined her profession.

Although my childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut, or astronomer, or aeronautical engineer have long since faded, I still have a soft spot for space travel and the men and women who have struggled and continue to struggle to increase the range of humanity's grasp just a little bit more. I continue to mourn the death of manned space exploration and become upset when governments disrespect the memories of our space-faring brothers and sisters.

Here we go, Comrade Cosmonaut.