"The temperature in Harbin reaches forty below zero, both farenheit and centigrade, and stays below freezing nearly half the year. The city is actually further north than notoriously cold Vladivostok, Russia, just 300 miles away. So what does one do here every winter? Hold an outdoor festival, of course! Rather than suffer the cold, the residents of Harbin celebrate it, with an annual festival of snow and ice sculptures and competitions. The festival officially runs from January 5 through February 15, but often opens a week early and runs into March, since it's usually still cold enough. This is the amazing sculpture made of snow greeting visitors to the snow festival in 2003." Link (Thanks, Michael-Anne!)
It wasn't that I didn't like Robinson's books. Quite the contrary, I adore them. Pacific Edge -- a gripping, rollicking utopian novel whose plot hinges on a zoning debate over the placement of a baseball diamond -- is one of my all-time favorite books. When Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom came out and the reviewers compared it to John Varley for the technology stuff, I was honoured, but the few reviews that compared it to Pacific Edge sent me over the moon: if Robinson could disrupt his utopia with a zoning fight and make it into a gripping tale, could I do the same with a fight over the politics of Disney ride fandom and design?
Like Red Mars, Pacific Edge is one volume in a trilogy that approaches utopia from three different angles. I haven't read the other two books in the trilogy, and that's a keen regret that I intend to do something about post-haste.
Because now I've finally read Red Mars, and I am agog at what may be the finest sf novel I've ever read. Red Mars has all the hard-sf window-dressing that many of us imagine when we think of sf: great and accessible tours through speculative cog sci, geology, astronomy, rocketry, physics, biology, genetics, and so on, until the head swims with the sheer scope of the research task Robinson set himself in this book.
But the hard science is just the skin, and the meat of this book -- as with Pacific Edge -- is the "soft" science: the complex play of the community of his vast cast of characters as they set out to advance their competing agendas, writing the future of Mars.
Robinson doesn't just shine here: he glows. There is this hard question at the core of every story of violent social upheaval, which is, how does collective action materialize? How is it steered? How does it go off the rails? How, in short, does stuff get done? Can a speech change the world? Can a bomb? Who gets to construct the consensus reality, and how do you disrupt it?
This is the stuff of Robinson's books: big, social questions answered through skilful point-of-view switches, fantastic characterization and fearless exposition.
In the beginning, a lot of sf was just technocrat fantasy: here's a cool new technology I've thought of, with a minimal narrative around it as a kind of turntable so that it can be rotated 360' and you, the reader, can appreciate its cleverness from all sides.
Later, sf writers took on the more ambitious challenge of predicting the social upheaval that tech could create, an approach embodied in the cliche that "the job of the sf writer is to consider the car and the movie-palace and invent the drive-in."
But Robinson goes many steps beyond this: he extrapolates the drive-in, then the sexual revolution, then the Boomers' nostalgia for the drive-in where they lost their virginity, and finally, their grown childrens' disdain for that nostalgia. There's an eerie prescience to these books that tells you that what's being written here is a deep and broad tale of social reconstruction on the micro, macro, nano and mezzoscales.
I just finished Red Mars on a BA flight from Vienna, and I was bitterly disappointed not to find Blue and Green Marses on sale at Heathrow, but I'll have them in my possession by dusk. I can't wait to read them. Link
G-Rap unit Stink Mitt will give a concert tomorrow: May 29 in Montreal at Le Swimming. StinkMitt will also participate in the Masturbate-A-Thon to encourage right-thinking Canadians everywhere to "Come for a Cause". Funds raised will be going to sex worker rights organizations Stella (Montreal) and Maggie's (Toronto). you can find a poster of his concert here.Link
Update: BoingBoing reader Casey says, "We also celebrate in the USA! Check out www.goodvibes.com for more info."
One preacher told fellow passengers as the Continental Airlines plane taxied down the runway, "Your last breath on earth is the first one in heaven as long as you are born again and have Jesus in your heart," according to FBI spokesman Paul Moskal. Passengers on the Wednesday flight to Newark, New Jersey told a flight attendant, who alerted the plane's captain, officials said. The captain turned the plane around. "They were sincere in their beliefs and were not malicious," Moskal said by telephone from Buffalo. "In the context of 9/11 it may not have been the best way to promote their religion."Link (Thanks, Mike)
Tammy Lafky has a computer at home but said she doesn't use it. "I don't know how," the 41-year-old woman said, somewhat sheepishly. But her 15-year-old daughter, Cassandra, does. And what Cassandra may have done, like millions of other teenagers and adults around the world, landed Lafky in legal hot water this week that could cost her thousands of dollars.Link
Lafky, a sugar mill worker and single mother in Bird Island, a farming community 90 miles west of St. Paul, became the first Minnesotan sued by name by the recording industry this week for allegedly downloading copyrighted music illegally. The lawsuit has stunned Lafky, who earns $12 an hour and faces penalties that top $500,000. (...)
A record company attorney from Los Angeles contacted Lafky about a week ago, telling Lafky she could owe up to $540,000, but the companies would settle for $4,000. "I told her I don't have the money," Lafky said. "She told me to go talk to a lawyer and I told her I don't have no money to talk to a lawyer." Lafky said she clears $21,000 a year from her job and gets no child support.
"Dialog windows for incoming phone calls and SMS messages for a paired Bluetooth phone now appear in the foreground."
I just tested it. You have to pair your bluetooth phone in address book, and a little pop up comes up, like bluephonemenu. The dialog choices are: add card/log call, sms reply, hang up, answer.
Log call puts the time and date of the call in the address book entry
Unfortunately, the pop up box doesn't show an image of the person calling - that would be freakin' cool
For SMS, the pop-up box has the dialog choices: log sms, reply, and ok.
It's pretty good, and stable, but doesn't sit in the system tray like bluephonemenu. Link
Peter Orosz sez: "This feature was available in 10.3.0 and may have been available as far back as in 10.2.4. What actually makes it useful this time around is the caller-window-to-the-foreground feature. Previously, calls and sms's would still come in but remain lodged behind your other windows and you would find them hours after the call (since the address book is not usually your topmost window)."
# "In most cases, asking how a company exploring item-level RFID tagging can protect their customers' privacy is like asking a fox how he can best ensure the safety of your chickens." -- Katherine Albrecht, CASPIANLink (scroll down to bottom of page for "Interviews with the Experts)
# "Businesses need to do more to educate the general public on the uses, benefits and issues about the use of RFID, fostering constructive solutions to their concerns." -- Dayna Fried, Hewlett-Packard
# "Much of the early work and publicity surrounding RFID was focused much too far into the future and on applications outside of the supply chain." -- Jack Grasso, EPCglobal US
# "[Auto-ID Center, now EPCglobal] documents detailed how such a campaign may unfold, citing the need for the development of a proactive plan that would 'neutralize opposition' and 'mitigate possible public backlash.'" -- Cedric Laurant, EPIC
"They are taking advantage of a wi-fi network set up in a remote region of the mountain kingdom where there are no phones or other means of communication.
It is the result of a campaign led by local teacher Mahabir Pun, and backed by volunteers and donations, to bring the internet to an isolated part of the world.
So far, the Nepal Wireless Networking project has hooked up five villages in the area using wireless technology."
Link, (Thanks, Mister Todd Lappin of Telstar Logistics!).
The gripper enables the ER1 to grab and carry objects, giving any ER1 project greater functionality. The IR Sensor Pack harnesses ER1's powerful obstacle avoidance capabilities, providing heightened navigation and awareness.Link