A heavily sourced essay about the origins of Chewbacca? Yes, please.
Chewbacca didn't spring fully formed from George Lucas' head, writes Michael Heilemann. Instead, Chewie's essential Chewiness is built up from a mish-mash of ideas and references, apparently starting with one, Ralph Wookie, a Texan friend of Terry McGovern, a voice actor who worked on Lucas' 1970 film THX 1138.
Chewie went through several visual iterations, and the final inspiration for what we know today as the Chewbacca Look seems to have been copied from an illustration of a George R.R. Martin story. The key change: Ralph McQuarrie removed the breasts.
Ralph McQuarrie: "George also gave me a drawing he liked from a 1930s illustrator of science fiction that showed a big, apelike, furry beast with a row of female breasts down its chest. So I took the breasts off and added a bandolier and ammunition and weapons, and changed its face so it looked somewhat more like the final character, and I left it at that."
As is obvious from the following side-by-side comparison, the illustration McQuarrie is referring to wasn't decades old, but months, being none other than this one by Dune legend John Schoenherr, from the July 1975 issue of Analog.
The point of this essay, though, is not an expose, but rather an in-depth look at how creation works. Bits and pieces come together to form a whole. New ideas have always had inspiration in other people's ideas, which had inspiration in others'. It looks like Chewbacca wouldn't have existed as we know him without John Schoenherr's unintentional contribution to the process, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Read the rest
Zack sez ,"Jeremy Bastian -- who did that huge Little Nemo piece I sent you a few weeks ago -- is doing a fundraiser through Kickstarter to help put out a collected edition of his comic CURSED PIRATE GIRL using environmentally-conscious materials in the US. Different pledges are good for everything from an exclusive set of CURSED PIRATE GIRL buttons to a full signing event with 100 copies of the book. They have already raised nearly three times the initial amount they were looking for, but still need more to pull this off."
Cursed Pirate Girl: "Our Generation's Alice in Wonderland" Jeremy Bastian comic book
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Here's a Christian manifesto on combating the siren song of transhumanism; it isn't for nothing that Ken MacLeod calls the Singularity the "rapture of the nerds," it really represents a kind of secular, techno-transcendentalism. It's not just reactionary hand-wringing, either; there's some meaty questions about bioethics, a transhuman divide between the rich and the poor; gene patents, and the rights of uplifted organisms:
Where biotechnology is ultimately headed includes not only redefining what it means to be human, but redefining subsequent human rights as well. For instance, Dr. James Hughes, whom I have debated on his syndicated Changesurfer Radio show, wants transgenic chimps and great apes uplifted genetically so that they achieve "personhood." The underlying goal behind this theory would be to establish that basic cognitive aptitude should equal "personhood" and that this "cognitive standard" and not "human-ness" should be the key to constitutional protections and privileges. Among other things, this would lead to nonhuman "persons" and "nonperson" humans, unhinging the existing argument behind intrinsic sanctity of human life and paving the way for such things as harvesting organs from people like Terry Schiavo whenever the loss of cognitive ability equals the dispossession of "personhood." These would be the first victims of transhumanism, according to Prof. Francis Fukuyama, concerning who does or does not qualify as fully human and is thus represented by the founding concept that "all men are created equal." Most would argue that any human fits this bill, but women and blacks were not included in these rights in 1776 when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Read the rest
In London, the short-hire bikes that recently appeared on corners around the city are sponsored by Barclay's Bank, which, like most giant banks, is riddled with pure evil in the form of arms, oil, and other sleazy investments. London's merry pranksters are at pains to point this out, using the time-honored medium of funny stickers.
Invasion of the Boris Bikes
Warning stickers for the Daily Mail
US Gov't torture playlist stickers
City fights illegal gig posters with CANCELLED stickers
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Spotted in the toilets of a restaurant next to the Burgerhaus Sonne Eduard-Schmidt-Saal in Alsbach, Germany on last night's tour stop: these urinals spoof the ubiquitous German recycling-bins with labels reading BEER, WINE, NON-ALCOHOLIC, and OTHER, under the heading PLEASE HELP US SEPARATE.
I'm on tour here in Germany until Wednesday, then it's off to Amsterdam for PICNIC and the Bits Of Freedom event.
Urinals that sort wee by alcohol content, Darmstadt, Germany
It's not a urinal, is it?
Overflowing urinal cascade
Gentleman mistakes urinal and urinal cake for sink and soap ...
Urinal targets and other helpful nudges
Cute elephant urinal cleaning robot
That's not a mouth-shaped urinal, it's a *travesty*
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The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
has up a story about "Something to be Desired
," which was one of the longest-running web-video shows on the net. Creator and director Justin Kownacki moved to Baltimore last year, bringing the show to an end after seven years. He now plans to relaunch the show under a new name, "Baristas,"
according to the Gazette. The modest Kickstarter project
set up to fund it shows just how inexpensive it is, these days, to make moving pictures. Read the rest
Mitch Wagner sez, "I talked with legendary science fiction author Joe Haldeman for the Copper Robot Podcast about why he writes with a fountain pen in bound books in a room lit by oil lamps, to create stories that explore advanced, future technology. Joe is a Hugo- and Nebula-award winner, author of 'The Forever War' and the recent 'Marsbound' and 'Starbound.'"
"There's something special about writing by hand, writing with a fountain pen, and there's something special about writing into a book, to take a blank book and turn it into an actual book. I guess there's a sort of superstitious or mystical aspect to it," Haldeman said. "I like the physical action of writing down by hand, and I don't just use it for writing my fiction. I carry a notebook and write down things to do, and I write out thoughts and stuff like that."
Science fiction writer Joe Haldeman discusses unplugging to create
Ridley Scott to adapt Haldeman's Forever War
Joe Haldeman's excellent online diary
Photos of science fiction writers' nests Read the rest
He added, "I think it goes way back to when I was a teenager, and I guess it's just a habit of thought that you either have or don't have. If I had had a thing like an iPad when I was a kid, then I never would have gotten into the habit of writing things down by hand."
Taping for the Blind is a Texas non-profit that does exactly what it says—turning printed material that isn't available in audio book format into custom-made tapes and CDs. They also do audio descriptions of live events, like the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and various theater performances. Volunteers read and describe publications by request, and one of the publications requested turns out to be Playboy. NPR interviewed Suzi Hanks, a radio DJ who took over Playboy duty after the guy who used to read it got married, and his wife asked him to stop.
Hanks reads the articles ... and describes the pictures. But that latter task is more than just titillatingly talking about tits.
"Basically I'm their eyes. All I'm doing is providing accessibility to what's there on the page," she says. "I don't have to try to be sexy when I'm describing the pictures. I'm just a woman reading it, and it comes out sexy whether I want it to or not."
It's more than just body parts, she says. "That would get boring. You're painting a picture. She's conveying something through her eyes, through her facial expressions."
Hanks will look for details in the photos like nautical sheets on the bed, or make observations like, "interestingly enough, in the centerfold, it looks as if the tattoos have been airbrushed out. The tattoos are gone."
Almost as interesting to me is the fact that Taping for the Blind has its own radio station that you can pick up in the greater Houston area. Read the rest
I'm delighted to announce that I'll be interviewing William Gibson, live and on stage for London's Intelligence^2 event on Oct 4. Bill and I always have great conversations, and this one should be a lot of fun, since I've been bugging his old friends for interesting conversational veins that go beyond the usual. Plus there's the fact that his latest novel, Zero History
, kicked eleven kinds of ass (I hope that we will be able to enumerate all eleven of them, but I'll settle for one or two). Hope to see you there!
William Gibson on 'Zero History'
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Having been knighted by the Queen, Sir Terry Pratchett decided he needed a sword, so he made one. He mined the ore from a field near his house, chucked in a bunch of meteoric ore ("thunderbolt iron, you see -- highly magical, you've got to chuck that stuff in whether you believe in it or not") and then got a local blacksmith to help him fashion a silver-chased blade out of it. Then he hid it away, because he was worried that England's knife-crime-maddened coppers would come over to his house and confiscate it.
With help from his friend Jake Keen -- an expert on ancient metal-making techniques -- the author dug up 81kg of ore and smelted it in the grounds of his house, using a makeshift kiln built from clay and hay and fuelled with damp sheep manure...
Terry Pratchett creates a sword with meteorites
He said: "It annoys me that knights aren't allowed to carry their swords. That would be knife crime."
(Image: Terry Pratchett, Powell's, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from firepile's photostream)
Pratchett's Discworld: a reading-order guide
Match it For Pratchett! Raising £500000 for Alzheimer's research ...
Terry Pratchett: Doctor Who isn't science fiction
Terry Pratchett has rare, early-onset Alzheimer's
Terry Pratchett's "Making Money" -- economic comedy
Terry Pratchett gets a knighthood
Terry Pratchett fan-afghan -- the Pratchgan
Pratchett donates $1 million to Alzheimer's research
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LiveJournal Vintage Ads group member valaamov_osel scanned this 1961 Rootes automotive booklet that is inexplicably in both some Cyrillic language (I'm assuming Russian) and English. It's dozens of pages of pure vintage auto-ad gold, especially the heavy goods/passenger vehicles with names like "Gamecock" and "Avenger."
Rootes ad. 1961.
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Al Jazeera will be broadcasting "The Colony,"
a documentary about "the onslaught of Chinese economic might and its impact on long-standing African traditions." Filmmakers Brent Huffman and Xiaoli Zhou traveled to the West African nation of Senegal to explore these themes. I am familiar with the subject, having witnessed it in other West African countries I've spent time in—as the promo says, the massive influx of Chinese citizens and China-owned businesses and capital has sparked tensions, and even violence. I haven't seen the film yet, but it sounds interesting. (shared with Boing Boing by the filmmaker himself, Brent Huffman, via BB Submitterator)
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San Francisco's Tachyon Books (publisher of my book of essays, Content
, and conveners of the excellent SF in SF
reading series) is celebrating its 15th birthday
this Sunday at Borderlands Books in the Mission, with writer guests including Peter Beagle, Michael Blumlein, James Patrick Kelly, Jim Kessel, and Madeline Robins. Read the rest
Sara Corbett's long NYT
feature on the experimental Quest to Learn
school in NYC, founded by game designer Katie Salen with some MacArthur and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation dough, is awfully exciting. Q2L uses custom-designed video games and game-like activities to teach and focus attention. Instead of getting grades, you level up ("pre-novice," "novice," "apprentice," "senior" and "master."), and subjects are interdisciplinary -- there's a "Math and English" class. Students design and build their own games, starting with physical prototypes made from cardboard and the like.
In Smallab sessions, students hold wands and Sputnik-like orbs whose movements are picked up by 12 scaffold-mounted motion-capture cameras and have an immediate effect inside the game space, which is beamed from a nearby computer onto the floor via overhead projector. It is a little bit like playing a multiplayer Wii game while standing inside the game instead of in front of it. Students can thus learn chemical titration by pushing king-size molecules around the virtual space. They can study geology by building and shifting digital layers of sediment and fossils on the classroom floor or explore complementary and supplementary angles by racing the clock to move a giant virtual protractor around the floor.
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As new as the Smallab concept is, it is already showing promise when it comes to improving learning results: Birchfield and his colleagues say that in a small 2009 study, they found that at-risk ninth graders in earth sciences scored consistently and significantly higher on content-area tests when they had also done Smallab exercises.
A new book called The Englishman who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects
tells the amazing story of W. Reginald Bray, a stamp collector who experimented with mailing odd objects (including himself) through the Royal Mail. Whoever said philately will get you nowhere?
The New Yorker has a small and edifying gallery of his postal experiments.
Perhaps most remarkably, he posted himself, becoming the first man to send a human through the mail in 1900, and then, through registered mail, in 1903. Tingey's book includes a picture of Bray being delivered to his own doorstep--presumably the sort of package likely to please the lady of the house.
The Eccentric Englishman
And Bray did not stop there. He sent postcards crocheted by his mother. He made out address fields in cryptic verse, or to the inhabitants of empty caves, or describing only the latitude and longitude of the destination, or with a picture of the location to which the article was meant to be delivered (see, in the slideshow below, the postcard made out to "The Resident Nearest This Rock," for example). He threw messages into bottles and solicited the world's largest collection of autographs, including ones from Gary Cooper and Laurence Olivier, Charlie Chaplain and Maurice Chevalier. The image that emerges from this antic and visually arresting volume is of a blithe English rogue, testing the system, stretching its limits--an experimenter, playing the most relentless, and amusing, of pranks.
(Thanks, Fonsecalloyd, via Submitterator
UK government wants to secretly read your postal mail
Britain's postal-code database online at Wikileaks: produced at ... Read the rest