Boing Boing 

Amusement park offers surveillance footage of you as a souvenir

Ehrich sez, "Alton Towers, the UK theme park and gardens (where, fun fact, my father was stationed during WWII), has an exciting offering for the whole family. They're offering to track you via RFID and sell you (what I'm assuming is) CCTV footage of your day at the park, both on and off rides. They do say 'We delete any unclaimed footage at the end of your visit so, if you don't buy your personalised DVD before you leave, the moment will be gone forever.' The program is voluntary, but it strikes me as strange that they'd ask you to pay for tracking your movements through the park. I understand that much of the footage you pay for is prerecorded. I'm not sure how much of 'you' one actually gets to see on the DVD."

It's YourDay and you're the star (Thanks, Ehrich!)

Paul Harvey (RIP)

 O29 Network Harvey Photos Paul Paul Harvey, the famed radio broadcaster, has died. He was 90. When I was in elementary school, my brother and I loved listening to Harvey's "The Rest of the Story" news segments. I only recently realized that his deadpan delivery of quirky, surprise-ending stories were an important early influence on me and my taste for the unusual.

Good day, Paul.
Paul Harvey obit and recent profile from the Washington Post

Sean Williams's Darwinian religion novel CROOKED LETTER now free download

Sean Williams sez,
Pyr has released my novel The Crooked Letter as a PDF, free to all, without DRM. _The Crooked Letter_ is kinda urban New Weird on a massive scale. It's been compared to China Mieville, Philip Pullman, Ursula K Le Guin, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, yada yada, and it won both the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards the year it was released (the first fantasy novel in the history of the awards do so). It's also my attempt to take all the world's religions and wrap them up in a crazy Darwinian package that even a hardcore atheist like me might be tempted to buy.

I'm particularly excited about this because I've been wanting to release my novels on the web for as long as the web has existed, and this is the first time one of my publishers has agreed to do it. If it does well, maybe others will follow. Huzzah!

(This may be of interest to readers of my novelisation of _Star Wars: The Force Unleashed_, which was the first game-related novel to debut at #1 on the NYT hardback list. The two books, however, could not be more different!)

free free free THE CROOKED LETTER free free free

The Crooked Letter on Amazon (Thanks, Sean!)

Conan and copyright, by Crom!

As a followup to the recent dustup in which a group of copyright trolls who claim to control the rights to all of the Conan stories (even the out-of-copyright ones!) shut down Broken Sea Audio's distribution of free audiobooks based on the public domain stories, here's a great, exhaustively researched article on the copyright status of the Conan stories, written by a fan:
Many of the works of REH were first published during or shortly after his lifetime, from 1922 through 1939. More came out over the decades that followed, with a large amount seeing first publication after 1964. Under US law, all of the REH works first published prior to 1964 were subject to the registration, renewal and notice requirements of the 1909 Copyright Act (“the 1909 Act”). Under the 1909 Act, copyright was not automatically applied to a published work, as it is under the current Act. Instead, to obtain copyright, the work had to be first published subject to a number of rules. These included proper notice affixed to the work, and prompt registration. If works were published without meeting these formalities, such works were usually injected into the Public Domain (“the PD”). Further, 28 years after publication there was a one year window in which certain classes of people or entities could file for a renewal of the copyright for an additional 28 year term (later extended by Congress to a total term of currently 95 years). In practice, the courts have said that as long as the original registration is filed prior or simultaneously with the renewal, the registration was still valid. Further, the courts have on occasion been forgiving of flawed but still present notice under the 1909 Act. But, the courts have been quite strict about the one year window for renewals. Complete lack of notice also generally automatically injected the work into the Public Domain, though the totality of the circumstances can affect that issue.

What were arcades like, Grandpa?

In this RPGNet forum, a youngster asks, "I was reading about arcades and how you'd have to queue to play popular games as well as follow rules like no throwing in fighting game or the others wouldn't let you play. This seems rather strange. The money cost must have gotten expensive pretty quickly as well. I'm not old enough to have been to them when they were around so I'm curious about what they were like."

Well, let me tell you Billy, when I was a boy, there was an arcade at the Sheppard Centre, and we would sneak off there at lunch and after school and during spare periods and when we should have been in class. There were older teenagers, 18 or 19, who more or less lived there. One of them sold hash on the side, but mostly they just seemed to be bums. Really, really cool bums. One of them was amazingly good at Gauntlet. He'd play it all day long, spending an hour carefully honing a character to an incredibly buff state, and then he'd sell you his game for a couple bucks (the proto-goldfarmer of suburban Toronto!). We'd all crowd around and shout encouragement. The guy behind the counter, George, in his 20s, treated us like lovable scum, like you see bartenders treating the barflys in a sitcom from the era. We all knew whose initials were on the leaderboards. We were allowed to smoke in the arcade and we smoked like chimneys. All the games had volcano-crater burns from our butts. The worst offense in our universe was to pull the plug during someone's game. That always meant fights.

Downtown, on the Yonge Street sleaze strip, we had giant arcades, with pinball rooms at the back. These places moved a lot of hash, and no one seemed to know anyone else except for the hustlers, and theoretically they wouldn't let you in during school hours, but they also always had the latest games. Walking into one of those places was like attending Comdex -- a tour through the gimmicky universe of faster-than-light technological innovation, only we didn't have hucksters, we had to pay 25 cents for our demos (or lurk over someone's shoulder while they played).

There weren't many girls around the arcades -- later, a standard ironic/nostalgic boyfriend-girlfriend joke in my social circle was "Let's go to the arcade and you can hold my skateboard" -- but they were often very, very good. And tough. You had to swear like a sailor at the arcade.

In arcades, you queued up for popular or new games, usually. You set down a quarter or a button or something on the machine (quarters were the popular choice), and you watched, and when the next round came up (in fighting games, this was when someone lost, but in other games, it was when they ran out of quarters), you jumped in. This usually meant you were playing against someone else, so you got to know everyone who was a regular quick.

The 'no throwing' rule was kind of a house-rule for a lot of places. See, the older fighting games had really wonky response and collision detection, and in some of 'em (Mortal Kombat, for one), a throw did pretty decent damage and couldn't be interrupted in a lot of cases. If you wanted to, you could just drain down the other guy's health like that, and since everyone was paying to play, it was a dick move to do so. I know in our arcade, there was a little sticky on the Street Fighter machine, reading, "M.Bison is an automatic forfeit of next turn", which meant that, if someone chose Bison (who, in the older Street Fighters, was dangerous as hell in an experienced player's hands), they got to play one round with him, and, win or lose, they had to hand the controls over to the next player in line.

What were arcades like? (via Waxy!)

Re-Engineering Fundamentalism

1522 edition of Luther's 95 Theses

Guest blogger Paul Spinrad is not unacquainted with the grape. 

After our distant ancestors developed language, everyone could benefit from the experiences of others. But the bandwidth of speech is so low compared to one's own senses that it required huge compression and decompression at each end of the communication. This process of describing and interpreting was enabled by detailed world models that everyone carried in their heads.

Because these world models vary from person to person, the codec is lossy, and misunderstandings are inevitable. But the imprecision also makes words more timeless and intimate. If the impressions that some words convey to you resonate with you, it's because they are literally built out of the way you view the world.

Words can also lie, but along with interpreting words, we automatically assess the trustworthiness of their source. We can learn not to believe everything we hear, or to distrust certain people, and we can also set the Bible trust level to 100. No such counterpart exists for visual communication-- cameras, television, and Photoshop haven't been around long enough.

That's all background, and here's my point: It seems to me that every so often, the dominant political and cultural machine grows so large and incestuous that it loses its connection to people and makes them feel powerless and irrelevant. When this happens, in the West anyway, there's inevitably a revolution of words, of back-to-basics and idealism, against the image-conscious, superficial, wealth-obsessed Babylon. Because it's based on words, people can place their trust in it fully and spread it, and it will continue to make sense over time. It doesn't propagate through image, might, or personal influence. This empowers people again-- perhaps simply by making them feel empowered.

Big examples are the formation of Christianity and Islam, and the Protestant Reformation. Today we see other fundamentalisms. But the inevitable next one doesn't have to be intolerant and destructive. If we engage with the task of developing it, rather than avoiding it and leaving it to others, it can be a nice one.

Photo of 1522 edition of Martin Luther's 95 Theses, courtesy Wikimedia Commons. 


Steroids and the Lost Data of Self-Experiment

Over at the Quantified Self blog, Gary Wolf has a fascinating interview with a person calling himself "Phineus" about steroid use and performance tracking among serious athletes.
200902271506 GW: How common is this sort of self-experimentation among athletes?

Phineus: Among athletes that perform in any strength-, speed-, or endurance-dependent sport at the highest levels, at least 80 percent use "drugs" of some type. I use this term very broadly, because from a training perspective a drug is a drug is a drug. The usual distinction between a nutritional supplement and a drug is not a biological distinction, but a legal distinction.

GW: The ones who get caught using banned drugs always say "I didn't know what I was taking!"

Phineus: Pro athletes who claim ignorance are using the only defense they can. "I thought I was injecting flaxseed oil to get bigger." Right. That would be like a NASCAR driver claiming he knows nothing about fuel or tires. His job requires he know the vehicle, and being a top professional athlete requires understanding exactly what you put in your body to get performance out of your organic machine. It could make the difference between a 7-figure or 8-figure income. Carl Lewis tested positive for performance enhancers - stimulants - the same year that Ben Johnson tested positive for anabolic steroids and had his gold medal revoked. How did Carl Lewis then inherit the gold by default? Lewis had a more developed defense - herbal tea consumption - and the term "inadvertent use" was used to dismiss the charges. Athletes know exactly what's banned -- the lists are beaten over their heads ad nauseum because sports franchises and amateur federations dislike the labor costs, PR headache, and revenue loss that scandals can produce.

Steroids and the Lost Data of Self-Experiment

Viagra orgy leads to man's death

Serge Tuganov, 28, of Moscow, accepted a $4000+ bet from two women that he couldn't handle a 12-hour sex marathon with them. According to KTLA News, he won by downing a bottle of viagra. But right after the orgy, he died of a heart attack. No info on how many pills might in a "bottle." In fact, not much info in general. "Man Dies After 12 Hour Viagra Fueled Orgy" (Thanks, Derek Bledsoe!)



Death by Snoo Snoo!
Well, of course he died. What else do you do with your life after you win a $4,000 bet by having sex with two women for 12 hours? Nothing! That's it, you're done. YOU WIN.

More unsold inventory piling up: Toyota stores unsold cars aboard ship

The European union is "overflowing with unsold cars," so much so that Toyota is renting a ship in the "Swedish port of Malmo to store thousands of unsold cars the depressed EU market does not seem to want."

A Toyota press spokesperson downplayed the news, saying it's merely an "emergency."

Toyota stores unsold cars aboard ship (Thanks, George Dyson!)

Octopus removes valve, floods floor of Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

A small mischievous octopus at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium broke a valve in its tank, resulting in a flood.
The guest of honor in the aquarium's Kids' Corner octopus tank had swum to the top of the enclosure and disassembled the recycling system's valve, flooding the place with some 200 gallons of seawater.

"It had grabbed the tube that pulls out the water and caused it to spray outside the tank," said aquarium education specialist Nick Fash. Judging by the size of the flood, Fash estimated that the water flowed for about 10 hours before the first staff member, Aaron Kind, showed up for work.

Octopus floods Santa Monica Pier Aquarium (Thanks, Coop!)



Note to octopus:

I did not mean to eat your brother. I thought that sushi was squid.

Please spare my family.



Chris Spurgeon:
That octopus is now confined to a tiny corner of his aquarium where he's passing the hours bouncing a baseball against the wall.

Hillbilly Comics: America's Zaniest Hillfolk


"Jam-Packed with Mountain Humor!" and "Gumbo Galahad: Screwball o' th' Hills!"

Scans from several pages of this highly offensive 1950s comic book available at Again With the Comics.

Treasure trove of godawful comic book covers

200902271058 200902271059

The covers from this old UK comic book called Fantasy are sterling exemplars of bulldada. I like the cover lines on the issue with the flipper-armed dinosaur: "They were used to conquest but this was a strange enemy" and "Featuring! The Crusade that was different."

Lionel Fanthorpe Badger Books Cover Gallery (Via Pappy's Golden Age Comics Blogzine)

BB Video: David O'Reilly, "Please Say Something" preview (animation)

Flash video embed above, click "full" icon inside the player to view it large. You can download the MP4 here. Our YouTube channel is here, you can subscribe to our daily video podcast on iTunes here. Get Twitter updates every time there's a new ep by following @boingboingvideo, and here are the archives for Boing Boing Video.

Today's Boing Boing Video is an excerpt from a new work by the avant-garde animator David O'Reilly -- a tale of love and domestic abuse involving a digital cat and mouse, set in the near future. We have featured David's work on Boing Boing before, and his innovative style is not easily described. What you see here is a brief snip of a longer, 10 minute short due to be released later today -- the whole piece is amazing, and makes more sense as a narrative work in long form. But this clip will introduce you to the sometimes harsh, sometimes hypnotic alternate universe David has created with these characters, and this visual style. The complete version will be distributed exclusively by Future Shorts, subscribe to their youtube channel here. "Please Say Something" won the Golden Bear for best short film at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival.

Credits: Written and Directed by David OReilly, Sound design by David Kamp & Bram Meindersma.


Xeni: When we previously ran your work on Boing Boing, I called it "vectorpunk," but you've since said you feel that wasn't the best word. How do you describe it? Is there a term or an explanation for your process and aesthetic approach?

David O'Reilly: Well, it's hard to pin down, but my way of working is like a path-of-least-resistance method, like when I'm building something in 3d, I just stop as soon as it looks like what it's supposed to. One of the reasons holding 3d back is that it takes so long to get anything done, I'm trying to reduce that as much as possible. With this film for instance I cut out the entire process of rendering and used previews, which take a fraction of the time to make.

Xeni: Can you tell us a little about this animation? The story, the inspiration, what you hope your audience will experience?

David: I just wanted to make something that would connect with an audience, it's a very simple story about a relationship that's hard to resolve. Underneath that I wanted to prove you could produce emotion and authenticity with something blatantly artificial and unrealistic. You can even do it without facial expressions.

Xeni: Where are you based these days? What are you up to, other than making totally mindblowingly awesome shorts like this?

David: Berlin is currently my adopted home, I want to set up a little studio here. I'm currently finishing off the opening animation for the Pictoplasma festival next month and a few other projects on the horizon. Keep checking the site!

Update: you can now watch the entire 10 minute piece here.

Spore opens its API

Maxis has opened the Spore API that will likely lead to some highly-evolved data mashups and apps around the game. A creature aquarium and friend activity monitor are just two of the apps already available. They're also holding a contest to encourage the API fun. Brandon has the details over at Boing Boing Offworld. "Data-mashers at the ready: Maxis opens the Spore API"

Red states consume more porn?

According to a new Harvard Business School study, eight of the top ten states in terms of online porn consumption were ones where McCain won in the presidential election. Professor Benjamin Edelman analyzed anonymised credit cards receipts from a large online porn company. Based on their limited data, the largest consumer is Utah. Other interesting possible correlations emerged too that Edelman outlines in his paper, "Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?" published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. From New Scientist:
Church-goers bought less online porn on Sundays – a 1% increase in a postal code's religious attendance was associated with a 0.1% drop in subscriptions that day. However, expenditures on other days of the week brought them in line with the rest of the country, Edelman finds.

Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don't explicitly restrict gay marriage.

To get a better handle on other associations between social attitudes and pornography consumption, Edelman melded his data with a previous study on public attitudes toward religion.

States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed. A similar difference emerged for the statement "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behaviour."

"One natural hypothesis is something like repression: if you're told you can't have this, then you want it more," Edelman says.
"Porn in the USA: Conservatives are biggest consumers" (New Scientist),

Literal video version of White Wedding by Billy Idol

I love these literal versions of 80s music videos. Here's one for Billy Idol's "White Wedding."

UPDATE: I like the literal version of the Red Hot Chili Pepper's "Under the Bridge" even more. (Thanks, Antinous!)

Slow motion video of grid of magnets lining up after being disturbed

Here's a 600 frames-per-second video showing what happens when you drop a magnet onto a grid of 90 small magnets.

Magnetic self-assembly in slow motion

Researchers develop handy phrasebook for people who travel in time to the Stone Age

Picture 1-8
Historically accurate illustration of cave people and dinosaurs, both domesticated and feral, from BibliOdyssey.

Mark Henderson of the London Times reports that researchers at the University of Reading have developed a phrasebook that "could allow basic communication between modern English speakers and Stone Age cavemen."

“If a time traveller wanted to go back in time to a specific date, we could probably draw up a little phrasebook of the modern words that are likely to have sounded similar back then,” [Mark Pagel] told The Times. “You wouldn’t be able to discuss anything very complicated, but it might be enough to get you out of a tight spot.”

Dr Pagel’s research also predicts which parts of modern vocabulary are likely to survive into English as it will be spoken 1,000 years in the future, and which will die out.

By the year 3000, words such as “throw”, “stick”, “dirty”, “guts” and “squeeze” could easily be gone. These already differ greatly between related languages, such as English and German, and are good candidates to evolve into new forms.

A handy little guide to small talk in the Stone Age

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles at the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum has mounted a display of unmanned aerial vehicles, essentially model airplanes outfitted with GPS, microprocessors, and surveillance tech for battlefield reconnaissance. Seen here is a prototype of the 5 pound, 45-inch AeroVironment Dragon Eye. It was launched by hand or slingshot style with a bungee cord. From Smithsonian:
 Images Unmanned-Aerial-Vehicle-Dragon-Eye-2 Unmanned and remote-controlled aircraft have a surprisingly long history. "The technology that goes into a UAV has been around for 100 years," (museum curator Dik) Daso says, "since before World War I." Henry Ford and other top engineers helped to design both full-size and scale planes that were radio-controlled. The Great War ended before any of them could go into action. Now, Daso adds, "there are so many UAVs in the air, it's hard to keep track of them all..."

So why did (Dragon Eye co-developer Rob Colbow) decide to include this duct-taped veteran in the UAV display? "I wanted it for all the kids who, like me, have built things like this."
Under the Radar with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Merck releases gigantic hunk of expensive pharma data into public domain

John Wilbanks from Science Commons sez, "Merck just pledged a ton of high-resolution, very expensive data to the public domain, along with some software and other resources to make it work. It's going into a new non profit org (disclosure - I am a Board member) called Sage. This stuff isn't going to be open on day one - it takes a while to figure out how to give things like this away, and more time to make them *useful* - but it's on the road."
Sage resulted from the realization that the needs and potentials of clinical and molecular data to inform drug development are greater than the resources or capacity of any one company or institute. Sage is a legacy of successful proof of principle work accomplished at Rosetta Inpharmatics, a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc. in Seattle. Core human and intellectual property resources from this effort are seeding Sage’s growth. The primary output from Sage will be an open access platform available in the public domain. An incubation period of three to five years is anticipated in which new project data are generated, critical tools for building and mining disease models are developed and governing rules for sharing, accessing, and contributing to the platform are established.

Sage is a distributed research organization with nodes embedded within core academic partner facilities. Collaborating scientists from both the nonprofit and commercial sectors will contribute to projects building and using innovative new databases and tools. More detailed information will be available soon.

Sage (Thanks, John!)

Large, Luscious QTVR Panoramas of Compact Muon Solenoid (and other "big science" scenes at CERN, Switzerland)

Still from QTVR of Large Hadron Collider, photog: Pete McCready

I've featured interactive QuickTime VR panoramas from photographer Peter McCready previously on Boing Boing, and it looks like he has some lovely new work up. QTVRs aren't good for everything, but they're great for "big science" sites like the ones at CERN, featured here -- places best appreciated with all directions visible. Pete sends these links and says,

Whilst we ‘Big Science Porn’ (thank you for the term!) aficionados eagerly await the relaunch of the Large Hadron Collider this September, thought I’d share a few new Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) Experiment VR panoramas with you that were taken days before ‘first beam’ last year from numerous locations within Underground Experimental Cavern UXC55.
Here are the panoramas: (one, two, three, four, five, six) and there's another up from the CMS Centre (where data quality monitoring, detector calibration, data analysis and computing operations take place).
Previously on BB:
Excellent new CERN Hadron collider QTVR
CERN photos in Nat'l. Geo: The God Particle

Seven-bladed jaw harp

The experimental instrument played in this video is a variation on the kou xiang (a Chinese jaw harp). This one has seven blades though and is well tempered, referring to a common type of tuning in 20th century Western music. The sound reminds me a bit of Frampton on a talk box.

UPDATE: You can buy one here!

Strange new fish: H. psychedelica

 News 2009 02 Images 090226-Psychedelic-Fish-Picture Big-Ap
This trippy fish that has been confirmed as a new species and named, appropriately enough, Histiophryne psychedelica. Scuba divers discovered it off Indonesia and University of Washington researcher Ted Pietsch tested its DNA. From the Associated Press:
Like other frogfish – a subset of anglerfish – H. psychedelica has leglike fins on both sides of its body.

But it has several traits not previously known among frogfish, wrote Pietsch, of the University of Washington.

Each time the fish strike the seabed, for instance, they push off with their fins and expel water from tiny gill openings to jet themselves forward. That and an off-centered tail cause them to bounce around in a bizarre, chaotic manner.

The fish, which has a gelatinous, fist-size body covered with thick folds of skin that protect it from sharp-edged corals, also has a flat face with eyes directed forward, like humans, and a huge, yawning mouth.
"PSYCHEDELIC" FISH PICTURE: New Species Bounces on Reef

Final Nebula ballot

The Nebula Ballot for best sf/f book of 2008 is up -- and I'm on it!
Little Brother - Doctorow, Cory (Tor, Apr08)
Powers - Le Guin, Ursula K. (Harcourt, Sep07)
Cauldron - McDevitt, Jack (Ace, Nov07)
Brasyl - McDonald, Ian (Pyr, May07)
Making Money - Pratchett, Terry (Harper, Sep07)
Superpowers - Schwartz, David J. (Three Rivers Press, Jun08)
Nebula Awards® 2008 Final Ballot

I think it's time for another baby/synthesizer video.

A happy baby making some sweet synth music with stubby lil fingers on a big funky keyboard.

Midas Delight (YouTube, thanks to the person who submitted this but is too ashamed to admit they're obsessed with videos of babies playing synthesizers)

Previously on Boing Boing:
* Naked Baby Plays a Synthesizer (video)
* Yet Another Baby Playing a Synthesizer (video, this time with pants)

Groove Armada / BB Video contest - extended through March 5

GROOVE ARMADA A quick note of update on a previously-announced contest that Boing Boing Video is running with the band Groove Armada and their "record label"/digital music distributor, Bacardi: details on the contest are here in a previous BB post, the news is that we're extending the contest through March 5 with winners to be announced shortly thereafter. How it works: you sign up to download DRM-free MP3s and share with other folks, and by doing so you're entered to win an Apple iPod Touch, courtesy of Boing Boing Video. If you'd like to participate, here's the magic link, and again, all the details on how it works and some notes on privacy/rights issues are in this previous BB post. As for the music: I've signed up to participate, and I've downloaded a number of tracks from the new EP this content is intended to promote. I am digging them mightily. Enjoy.

Browser plugin detects and reports net-censorship

David sez, "On a decentralized network it's much harder to map blockages than to create them. takes a crowdsourcing approach. Install the add-on and click the button when you encounter a site that's down. Herdict aggregates this information, including your geographic location, to draw a map of the Internet's potholes, including the ones intentionally dug by frightened governments. If you have a few spare minutes, you can check sites others have reported as down, determining whether they're blocked in your part of the world as well. ( will take you to that part of the Herdict site.) Herdict is a project of Harvard's Berkman Center (sponsored by Jonathan Zittrain) and obeys all the appropriate privacy rules of the road."

Herdict (Thanks, David!)

Sita Sings the Blues in full online

Robin sez, "You can watch the animated movie 'Sita Sings the Blues', IN FULL online. It will be broadcast in the NYC area at 10:45pm on Saturday, March 7. Feel free to write your local PBS station to see if they will broadcast 'Sita'."
Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved Lord and husband Rama. Nina is an animator whose husband moves to India, then dumps her by e-mail. Three hilarious shadow puppets narrate both ancient tragedy and modern comedy in this beautifully animated interpretation of the Indian epic Ramayana. Set to the 1920’s jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw, Sita Sings the Blues earns its tagline as “The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told.”
Watch “Sita Sings the Blues” online (Thanks, Robin!)

Today at Boing Boing Gadgets


• Mat Honan finds a bedazzlingly ridiculous thread about ... well, you should just go and see it.
• Joel greeted you from outside Denver.
• In an unused ad, a BlackBerry destroys an Apple.
• There was a secret gathering of the Order of the Lamp
• We hid our spare keys in a sprinkler head.
• Big Dog, the military pack-bot, is back for more creepy robot ballet.
Electrically-heated pants prove snowboarding is the new golf.
• You can buy tiny models of classic Sega arcade games.
• Behold! The world's smallest escalator.
• The iPhone is now free in Japan.
• Some Circuit City liquidators are being nice about testing stuff you've bought before you leave the store.
• Details emerge of Sony's Playstation Portable 2. CEO Stringer got a promotion, and a free hand to restructure the company.
• Small British ISPs declined to work with the self-appointed censors who blocked Wikipedia and The Internet Archive.
• Motorola "launched" a cellphone. Into a field.
• Google banned "Netbook" ads at Psion's behest.
• Would you like a Steampunk empire? Build one out of Lego!
• Datel made a NES-style Wii controller. Cheap!
• Verizon announced the LG Versa.

Ian McDonald's "Cyberabad Days" -- short stories in 2047 India that blend technology with spirituality, love, sex, war and humanity

Ian McDonald is one of science fiction's finest working writers, and his latest short story collection Cyberabad Days, is the kind of book that showcases exactly what science fiction is for.

Cyberabad Days returns to McDonald's India of 2047, a balkanized state that we toured in his 2006 novel River of Gods, which was nominated for the best novel Hugo Award. The India of River of Gods has fractured into a handful of warring nations, wracked by water-shortage and poverty, rising on rogue technology, compassion, and the synthesis of the modern and the ancient.

In Cyberabad Days, seven stories (one a Hugo winner, another a Hugo nominee) McDonald performs the quintessential science fictional magic trick: imagining massive technological change and making it intensely personal by telling the stories of real, vividly realized people who leap off the page and into our minds. And he does this with a deft prose that is half-poetic, conjuring up the rhythms and taste and smells of his places and people, so that you are really, truly transported into these unimaginably weird worlds. McDonald's India research is prodigious, but it's nothing to the fabulous future he imagines arising from today's reality.

All seven of these stories are standouts, but if I had to pick only three to put in a time-capsule for the ages, they'd be:

1. The Djinn's Wife: this Hugo-winning novelette is a heartbreaking account of a love affair between a minor celebrity and a weakly godlike artificial intelligence. The special problems of love with an "aeai" (AI) are incredibly, thoroughly imagined here, as are the possible glories. Here, McDonald perfectly captures the stepping-off-a-cliff feeling of the new kinds of romance that technology enables, and of the wonderful, terrible sense of the wind rushing past your ears as the ground screams towards you.

2. Sanjeev and Robotwallah: a story that will be anthologized in two of this year's "Best Of" anthologies, Sanjeev and Robotwallah is the story of a young, displaced boy who finds temporary glory in acting as batsman for a squadron of amped-up teen mecha pilots. The pathos here arises when the war ends and the glamorous warriors are retired, leaving Sanjeev in limbo, his aspirations smashed with the lives of the older boys. Like all of McDonald's stories, the ending is bittersweet, rich and unexpected.

3. Vishnu at the Cat Circus: the long, concluding novella in the volume is an account of three siblings: one genetically enhanced to be a neo-Brahmin, one a rogue AI wallah who is at the center of the ascension of humanity's computers into a godlike state, and one who remains human and bails out the teeming masses who are tossed back and forth by the technological upheaval. A story of character, Vishnu blends spirituality and technology to look at how the street might find its own use for things, when that street is rooted in ancient traditions that are capable of assimilating enormous (but not infinite) change.

Cyberabad Days has it all: spirituality, technology, humanity, love, sex, war, environmentalism, politics, media -- all blended together to form a manifesto of sorts, a statement about how technology shapes and is shaped by all the wet, gooey human factors. Every story is simultaneously a cracking yarn, a thoughtful piece of technosocial criticism, and a bag of eyeball kicks that'll fire your imagination. The field is very lucky to have Ian McDonald working in it.

Cyberabad Days