RIP, science fiction author MK Wren


MK Wren was the pen-name of Martha Kay Renfroe, whose novels we featured in 2014. Martha died at age 78 last August, but I've only just found out. She was 78. Read the rest

Computer-mining poetry from the New York Times's obituary headlines


The standard format for a New York Times lead obit headline goes NAME, AGE, Dies; STATEMENT OF ACCOMPLISHMENT (e.g. "Suzanne Mitchell, 73, Dies; Made Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders a Global Brand. Read the rest

How haunters remember their own among 2016's deaths


Dan Howland from the dearly departed Journal of Ride Theory snapped these all-the-feels tombstones at this year's Davis Graveyard (previously) haunt. Read the rest

RIP, MAD Magazines's Jack Davis


Davis had been with MAD since its first run in 1952, and his illustrations helped define the look of satirical art for generations. Read the rest

Where Muhammad Ali's public persona came from

When Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) first witnessed a Gorgeous George match, he saw the path to stardom. The provocative professional wrestler walked down the aisle to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” while dressed in a formfitting red velvet gown and a lush white satin robe. With his nose held high, George surveyed his domain and addressed the crowd: “Peasants!” He relished the insults, screams, and foot stomping. “Oh, everybody just booed him,” Clay recalled. “I looked around and I saw everybody was mad. I was mad! I saw 15,000 people coming to see this man get beat, and his talking did it. And I said, ‘This is a gooood idea.’”

UPDATED RIP Ray Tomlinson, email inventor and at-sign popularizer


UPDATE This is a couple months old -- I read "Mar 5" as "May 5." My apologies.

Ray Tomlinson created the first networked email system in 1971 while working on his MIT doctorate and collaborating on the early ARPAnet at BBN; he used @ -- the at symbol -- to separate the username from the machinename because "it did not appear in user names and did not have any meaning in the TENEX paging program." Read the rest

On the death of Rob Ford


My condolences to his family, who deserved a better person in their lives. Read the rest

Sir George Martin, 1926-2016

Photo: Reuters

Beatles producer George Martin, who famously signed the band after other major labels had rejected them, is dead at 90, says Ringo Starr. Read the rest

Umberto Eco, 1932-2016


Umberto Eco, the Italian philosopher, writer and semiotics professor, is dead at 84, reports the BBC.

Eco is most famous as the author of elaborate historical novels such as The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, but my favorite is his book of shorts, Misreadings.

From it, here is his summary of the Bible, presented as an internal memo at a publishing house written by an editor rejecting the manuscript.

The Bible:

I must say that the first few hundred pages of this manuscript really hooked me. Action-packed, they have everything today's reader wants in a good story. Sex (lots of it, including adultery, sodomy, incest), also murder, war, massacres, and so on.

The Sodom and Gomorrah chapter, with the tranvestites putting the make on the angels, is worthy of Rabelais; the Noah stories are pure Jules Verne; the escape from Egypt cries out to be turned into a major motion picture . . . In other words, a real blockbuster, very well structured, with plenty of twists, full of invention, with just the right amount of piety, and never lapsing into tragedy.

But as I kept on reading, I realized that this is actually an anthology, involving several writers, with many--too many--stretches of poetry, and passages that are downright mawkish and boring, and jeremiads that make no sense.

The end result is a monster omnibus. It seems to have something for everybody, but ends up appealing to nobody. And acquiring the rights from all these different authors will mean big headaches, unless the editor takes care of that himself.

Read the rest

Antonin Scalia, 1936-2016


Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is dead at 79. The longest-serving judge on the court, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and became its most outspoken conservative, joining textualist and originalist interpretations of the U.S. Constitution with a scathing attitude that made his dissents and opinions enjoyable to laymen.

The New York Times describes him as having led a conservative renaissance on the Supreme Court—one likely to end sharpish having died during a liberal presidency.

He was, Judge Richard A. Posner wrote in The New Republic in 2011, “the most influential justice of the last quarter century.” Justice Scalia was a champion of originalism, the theory of constitutional interpretation that seeks to apply the understanding of those who drafted and ratified the Constitution. In Justice Scalia’s hands, originalism generally led to outcomes that pleased political conservatives, but not always. His approach was helpful to criminal defendants in cases involving sentencing and the cross-examination of witnesses. …

He was an exceptional stylist who labored over his opinions and took pleasure in finding precisely the right word or phrase. In dissent, he took no prisoners. The author of a majority opinion could be confident that a Scalia dissent would not overlook any shortcomings.

Read the rest

FBI thought Pete Seeger was a commie


Legendary folk singer, activist and countercultural icon Pete Seeger died in 2014 at the age of 94, but we're only now learning that the FBI thought he was a communist as a young man because of the artist's "subversive" connections.

In a security investigation triggered by a wartime letter he wrote denouncing a proposal to deport all Japanese-Americans, the Army intercepted Seeger's mail to his fiancee, scoured his school records, talked to his father, interviewed an ex-landlord and questioned his pal Woody Guthrie, according to FBI files obtained by The Associated Press.

Investigators concluded that Seeger's association with known communists and his Japanese-American fiancee pointed to a risk of divided loyalty.

Seeger's "Communistic sympathies, his unsatisfactory relations with landlords and his numerous Communist and otherwise undesirable friends, make him unfit for a position of trust or responsibility," according to a military intelligence report.

Famously, Seeger was later blacklisted during the Red Scare as a member of The Weavers, his band…

Seeger and Lee Hays were identified as Communist Party members by FBI informant Harvey Matusow (who later recanted) and ended up being called up to testify to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1955. Hays took the Fifth Amendment. Seeger refused to answer, however, claiming First Amendment grounds, the first to do so after the conviction of the Hollywood Ten in 1950. Seeger was found guilty of contempt and placed under restrictions by the court pending appeal, but in 1961 his conviction was overturned on technical grounds. Because Seeger was among those listed in the entertainment industry blacklist publication, Red Channels, all of the Weavers were placed under FBI surveillance and not allowed to perform on television or radio during the McCarthy era.

Read the rest

Marvin Minsky's "Society of Mind," a free course on AI from MIT


Artificial Intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky died yesterday. He was one of computer science's great pioneers, a brilliant researcher who could translate his insights into material accessible even to laypeople. Read the rest

Kathryn Cramer remembers her late husband, David Hartwell, a giant of science fiction


Kathryn Cramer was married to David Hartwell for decades, and though they'd been in the midst of "a collaborative divorce" for four years, they were still close friends and still married. Read the rest

Very sad news about science fiction titan David G Hartwell


David Hartwell, a senior editor at Tor Books, cofounder of the New York Review of Science Fiction, legendary collector, raconteur, critic, anthologist, and fixture in so many fo science fiction's scenes and fandom, is in the hospital with a "massive brain bleed" and is not expected to live. Read the rest

Brewster Kahle remembers Aaron Swartz: "an open source life"


Today is the third anniversary of Aaron Swartz's death. Lisa Rein writes, "In memory of Aaron, I transcribed Brewster Kahle's amazing talk from the San Francisco Memorial in 2013. He explains the simple qualities and goals of Aaron's 'Open Source Life,' how those goals were so greatly misunderstood by the powers that be, and how we can all work together to make positive changes in these areas in the future, for the benefit of the greater good." Read the rest

Ian "Debian" Murdock dies after threatening suicide


Ian Murdock is half of the founding team of Debian, a popular and foundational flavor of GNU/Linux from which Ubuntu and Mint are descended. Earlier this week, he posted a series of bizarre, racialized tweets in which he threatened to commit suicide to call attention to the police brutality he was experiencing. He is now dead, though the cause of his death has not been disclosed. Read the rest

Rhianna Pratchett remembers her father, Terry


The long-dreaded death of Terry Pratchett finally arrived in 2015, years after his inital prognosis predicted it would come. Pratchett spent his last years on Earth working his guts out, leaving behind a literary legacy of enormous breadth and depth. Read the rest

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