Eric Schlosser's book and film Command and Control look at the terrifying prospects of nuclear friendly fire, where one of America's nukes detonates on US soil. It also looks at what might happen if a false alarm gets relayed to a trigger-happy general or President. He starts this New Yorker piece with a terrifying story from June 3, 1980:
President Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asleep in Washington, D.C., when the phone rang. His military aide, General William Odom, was calling to inform him that two hundred and twenty missiles launched from Soviet submarines were heading toward the United States. Brzezinski told Odom to get confirmation of the attack. A retaliatory strike would have to be ordered quickly; Washington might be destroyed within minutes. Odom called back and offered a correction: twenty-two hundred Soviet missiles had been launched. Brzezinski decided not to wake up his wife, preferring that she die in her sleep. As he prepared to call Carter and recommend an American counterattack, the phone rang for a third time. Odom apologized—it was a false alarm. An investigation later found that a defective computer chip in a communications device at norad headquarters had generated the erroneous warning. The chip cost forty-six cents.
Lots more scary info at the Command and Control film website.
• World War Three, by mistake (New Yorker)
Published by the fine fringe culture explorers at Daily Grail, the new essay anthology Spirits of Place features stories by the likes of Alan Moore, Maria J. Pérez Cuervo, Warren Ellis, Gazelle Amber Valentine, Iain Sinclair, Mark Pesce, and many other mutant thinkers riffing on how we connect with the locations we inhabit. You can read editor John Reppion's introduction to the collection for free. Here's a description of what lies inside the book:
Stories are embedded in the world around us; in metal, in brick, in concrete, and in wood. In the very earth beneath our feet. Our history surrounds us and the tales we tell, true or otherwise, are always rooted in what has gone before. The spirits of place are the echoes of people, of events, of ideas which have become imprinted upon a location, for better or for worse. They are the genii loci of classical Roman religion, the disquieting atmosphere of a former battlefield, the comfort and familiarity of a childhood home.
Twelve authors take us on a journey; a tour of places where they themselves have encountered, and consulted with, these Spirits of Place.
Anthropologist Emma Tarlo just published a new book, Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair, investigating the weird culture and business surrounding hair, from Jewish wig parlors to its use in Hindu temples to hair loss clinics. In an excerpt at Smithsonian, Tarlo tells of the hair trade, tracing the path from the growers to the sellers to the buyers:
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An Ohio woman who goes by the pseudonym Shelly-Rapunzel sold 38 inches of her ankle-length brown hair on BuyandSellHair.com for $1,800. “All money is going to doctor appointments that have to be paid upfront,” she says. She is not alone. The website is full of women auctioning their hair to the highest bidder. Not all have tales of hardship: some simply want a change of hairstyle; others do it to raise money for specific purposes such as education or charity; others are regulars who use the hair on their heads to bring in some extra cash every few years.
As a hair seller whose identity is at least somewhat known, Shelly-Rapunzel is an anomaly in a largely anonymous world. The gathering of human hair is on the whole a backstage business about which little is known to those outside the trade. Transactions of this sort where named individuals negotiate good deals for their hair make up only a tiny fragment of the billion-dollar trade in human hair...
Much of the hair procured for wigs and extensions on the global market today is collected in bulk by intermediaries in contexts where hair sellers and buyers occupy different social and economic worlds.
In this Scientific American video, Rubik's Cube master Ian Scheffler, author of the new book Cracking the Cube, explains some of the math behind "speedcubing." Scheduler's book sounds fascinating even though the only way I could get my Rubik's Cube solved is to hand it to my 10-year-old son's friend Luc who was the first to dazzle me with the fine art of speedcubery.
From the description of Cracking the Cube:
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When Hungarian professor Ernő Rubik invented the Rubik’s Cube (or, rather, his Cube) in the 1970s out of wooden blocks, rubber bands, and paper clips, he didn’t even know if it could be solved, let alone that it would become the world’s most popular puzzle. Since its creation, the Cube has become many things to many people: one of the bestselling children’s toys of all time, a symbol of intellectual prowess, a frustrating puzzle with 43.2 quintillion possible permutations, and now a worldwide sporting phenomenon that is introducing the classic brainteaser to a new generation.
In Cracking the Cube, Ian Scheffler reveals that cubing isn’t just fun and games. Along with participating in speedcubing competitions—from the World Championship to local tournaments—and interviewing key figures from the Cube’s history, he journeys to Budapest to seek a meeting with the legendary and notoriously reclusive Rubik, who is still tinkering away with puzzles in his seventies.
Getting sucked into the competitive circuit himself, Scheffler becomes engrossed in solving Rubik’s Cube in under twenty seconds, the quasi-mystical barrier known as “sub-20,” which is to cubing what four minutes is to the mile: the difference between the best and everyone else.
Swim Through the Darkness: My Search for Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali is the much-anticipated story of one of the more esoteric, fascinating casualties of the flower power generation. As told by Ugly Things magazine creator Mike Stax, the book tracks the odyssey of Craig Smith, a musician who evolved from clean-cut singer songwriter, landing gigs on the Andy Williams show and a Monkees-esque television pilot, to a post-institutionalized street messiah, Maitreya Kali. Smith wrote songs for The Monkees (and was nearly cast in the band) and Glen Campbell, headed the much fabled psych pop band The Penny Arkade, and released two of the most acid-drenched folk records of the early 70s before fading into obscurity. After his initial songwriting success, he used the money he earned to travel the world, only to return as a permanently damaged shell of his former self, complete with a spider tattoo on his forehead.
Until now, Smith’s life has mostly been told by the music he left behind. And even so, his Penny Arkade recordings were only made readily available within the last twenty years, while his psych folk records, self-released under the moniker Maitreya Kali, have only been experienced by extremely lucky record collectors or in varying quality online. Apache and Inca, those latter releases, include an early demo of the Monkees' "Salesman" (from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd.) as well as alternative versions of songs recorded by The Penny Arkade. But what the records are really known for is their otherworldly vibe that could only be made by someone whose mind was no longer on Earth. Read the rest
While "design thinking" has become an overused catchphrase among consultants, it is also a real thing, a formal methodology for solving difficult problems. Bill Burnett, the executive director of Stanford's Design Program where they take design thinking very seriously, and his colleague David Evans, who co-founded Electronic Arts and teaches a very popular Stanford course called "Designing Your Life," have written a new book based on the class titled "Designing Your Life: How To Build A Well-Lived, Joyful Life". Above is the trailer for the book. From the New York Times:
They say the practices taught in the class and the book can help you (in designing-your-life-speak) “reframe” dysfunctional beliefs that surround life and career decisions and help you “wayfind” in a chaotic world through the adoption of such design tenets as bias-for-action, prototyping and team-building....
The book includes things that are not in the class, like what Mr. Burnett and Mr. Evans call “anchor problems” — overcommitted life choices that keep people stuck and unhappy. A common mistake that people make, they said, is to assume that there’s only one right solution or optimal version of your life, and that if you choose wrong, you’ve blown it.
That’s completely absurd, Mr. Evans said: “There are lots of you. There are lots of right answers.”
In the late 1960s and 1970s, the mind-expanding modus operandi of the counterculture spread into the realm of science, and shit got wonderfully weird. Neurophysiologist John Lilly tried to talk with dolphins. Physicist Peter Phillips launched a parapsychology lab at Washington University. Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill became an evangelist for space colonies. Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture is a new book of essays about this heady time! The book was co-edited by MIT's David Kaiser, who wrote the fantastic 2011 book How the Hippies Saved Physics, and UC Santa Barbara historian W. Patrick McCray. I can't wait to read it!
From an MIT News interview with Kaiser:
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We want to address a common stereotype that dates from the time period itself, which is that the American youth movement, the hippies or counterculture, was reacting strongly against science and technology, or even the entire Western intellectual tradition of reason, as a symbol of all that should be overturned. In fact, many of them were enamored of science and technology, some of them were working scientists, and some were patrons of science. This picture of fear and revulsion is wrong.
We also see things that have a surprisingly psychedelic past. This includes certain strains of sustainability, design, and manufacture, notions of socially responsible engineering, and artisanal food. This stuff didn’t start from scratch in 1968 and didn’t end on a dime in 1982...
These folks were rejecting not science itself but what many had come to consider a depersonalized, militarized approach to the control of nature.
I've really enjoyed this massive story. 9 novels ago Jon Hunter was a wet behind the ears kid on board his uncle's space trader. Now he's the Admiral of his own massive space flotilla, and ruler of several sections of space. The massive reveal about what the hell is going on, and what part Team Slinky Red Jumpsuits is going to play in it is near unavoidable, when our heroes set off in the exact opposite direction in this sometimes 2D universe.
The prize is tempting, but Jon can not miss the short window of time he's allowed to land on his home planet and consult the spiritual guys there who know all. How will it all work out? Gee... I'll have to start book 10.
Modern civilization has all but disappeared. It falls to a fearless, dedicated and slap-stick bunch known as Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors to help humanity recover. With help like this, you might be better off on your own!
Benjamin Wallace's first installment in the Duck and Cover series is a quick and witty read. We find America highly mutated and extremely dangerous. Small enclaves of folks are trying to rebuild society, and boy do they need help! Enter the post-apocalyptic nomadic warriors: experts in a little bit of everything, and a whole lot of nothing. Two such warriors arrive at the town of New Hope, each offering to lend his aid. New Hope sends one away and accepts the aid of the other. Did they choose wisely? Did they even need to choose? How did humanity survive at all?
This read was a good time! The characters are a lot of fun, and standout for this style of novel. The contrasting styles of the two titular characters, and the passing of focus back and forth, really makes this tale roll along. The story is predictable, but Wallace's wildly mutated landscape, and slowly emerging backstory, made it hard to put this book down.
These surreal masterpieces by Netherlandish artist Jheronimus van Aken, better known as Hieronymus Bosch, are reproduced beautifully, on lovely paper, and are thoughtfully arranged. Some pieces, such as the Garden of Earthly Delights, fold out, so you may enjoy them in much more detail.
A must have in every collection.
Hieronymus Bosch: Complete Works via Amazon
Is "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" actually about psychedelic drugs, British colonialism, or penis envy? Depends who you ask. At the BBC, Hephzibah Anderson surveys 150 years of weird readings of Lewis Carroll's classic book. From Anderson's essay:
Re-examining the text, critics found plenty of gynaecological imagery, from the rabbit hole itself to the curtain that she must push aside. Locks and keys were seen as symbolic of coitus, and the caterpillar – well, wasn’t he just a bit… phallic? Inevitably, some saw penis envy in the text, rendering Alice’s extending neck a kind of copycat erection. And then there’s the fanning that she does before she starts to shrink, and the salt water that laps her chin once she’s mere inches tall – both acquire a decidedly masturbatory glossing.
More nuanced readings have viewed Alice’s journey as being less about sex per se and more about a girl’s progress through childhood and puberty into adulthood. Our heroine feels uncomfortable in her body, which undergoes a series of extreme changes; her sense of her self becomes destabilised, leaving her uncertain of her own identity; she butts heads with authority and strives to understand seemingly arbitrary rules, the games that people around her play, and even death.
Famed literary scholar William Empson got especially carried away, declaring that Alice is "a father in getting down the hole, a foetus at the bottom, and can only be born by becoming a mother and producing her own amniotic fluid".
If you are anything like me, at all, you frequently wonder what happened next to Jack Burton and the rest of the Big Trouble in Little China gang? John Carpenter, Eric Powell, and Brian Churilla's Big Trouble in Little China graphic novels tell the tale!
I've just started reading these BTiLC graphic novels, they pick up right where the movie left off. I could not be happier! The humor, the characters and the artwork are exactly what I'd have hoped for, if I had any idea these books were being published!
You can get the first 3 volumes now, volume 4 is available for pre-order, and releases later this year.
Big Trouble in Little China Vol. 1 via Amazon
Big Trouble in Little China Vol. 2 via Amazon
Big Trouble in Little China Vol. 3 via Amazon
The Art of Atari is a new hardcover celebrating the wonderful illustrations of the iconic game company's packaging, catalogs, and other artwork that, according to the book's introduction written by Ernest "Ready Player One" Cline, was "specially commissioned to enhance the Atari experience to further entice children and adults to embrace the new era of electronic entertainment." Speaking from personal experience, it totally worked.
The Art of Atari (Amazon)
Ariel Waldman, creator of Spacehack, has just published a delightful book titled "What's It Like in Space? Stories from Astronauts Who'Ve Been There?" Illustrated by Brian Standeford, it's a fun collection of astronaut anecdotes on everything from sneezing and farting in zero gravity to weird frights and the necessity of Sriracha in space. Here's an excerpt:
While performing a spacewalk is an exciting experience, it is also a very serious operation that is meticulously scripted for astronauts. The only time astronauts might get a chance to look around at where they are is when there’s a glitch in equipment and they get a few spare minutes while someone makes a repair. Astronaut Chris Hadfield found an opportunity to look around during one of his spacewalks:
“The contrast of your body and your mind inside . . . essentially a one-person spaceship, which is your space suit, where you’re holding on for dear life to the shuttle or the station with one hand, and you are inexplicably in between what is just a pouring glory of the world roaring by, silently next to you—just the kaleidoscope of it, it takes up your whole mind. It’s like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen just screaming at you on the right side, and when you look left, it’s the whole bottomless black of the universe and it goes in all directions. It’s like a huge yawning endlessness on your left side and you’re in between those two things and trying to rationalize it to yourself and trying to get some work done.”
In this collection Ehrbahn’s camera stops time and captures the surprising and life-affirming moments when the headbangers abandon all semblance of vanity and surrender to the rhythm. Ehrbahn transports us to an intimate world disconnected from time and space—a universe where it’s possible to transcend the frenzy and enter an altered state that brings calm, joy, and relief.
Headbangers by Jacob Erhbahn (Amazon)
Boing Boing is proud to welcome Robert Jackson Bennett's The City of Blades as a sponsor!
In a world where politics have run amuck and consumers must choose from over 300 varieties of toothpaste, one seemingly simple question rises to the fore: what is my next great read? Luckily for you, ladies and gentlemen, we have the answer to that question – a book that will satisfy your cravings, turn that frown upside down, reduce wrinkles in women and stimulate hair growth in men. In short, my friends, it is a miracle book indeed.
And you don’t have to take my word for it; the bookish masses all agree that Robert Jackson Bennett’s books are a wonder. Author Jim C. Hines (Libriomancer) said: “Every once in a while I read a book that's so well done, I find myself wanting to punch the author in the face out of pure envy. Congratulations Bennett, you just made the face-punching list!" Blogger G. Brown of Nerds of a Feather, writes “Dazzling, sophisticated and thoroughly modern... Imagine China Mieville and George R. R. Martin stuck in an elevator, with only a laptop to keep them company, and you’re almost there. Robert Jackson Bennett is a name to remember and a talent to behold.” – G. BROWN, NERDS OF A FEATHER
Lean in closer, my friends, and I will whisper to you the names of these great books: Mr. Shivers, The Company Man, The Troupe, American Elsewhere, City of Stairs and the brand-new, much-anticipated, and thoroughly-magnificent (imagine a drum roll here, please) City... Read the rest