Review: Mainstays $9 portable electric burner

Mainstays Single Burner is a portable electric coil hotplate you can buy for $9 at Walmart (and Amazon). It has a 1m two-prong cord, an adjustable power control (temperatures are not marked) and rubber feet.

I tested it with a steel stock pot with 8 quarts of water.

After turning up the heat I watched it for a while. It got the water to about 160 degrees but it was only slowly rising and I doubt it would have gotten to a boil. Touching the steel to observe the element, I felt a strange tingling, rippling sensation in my arm.

“That’s odd,” I thought, lifting the pot up to look at the element. The sensation left me. Part of the element glowed red but mostly it remained dark. I placed the pot back on the element and the moment it touched it that weird tingle shot up my arm again.

“Oh, I’m being electrified,” I said, “because I bought a $9 electric burner from fucking Walmart.” Read the rest

Review: Logitech MK270, the cheapest-ass wireless keyboard and mouse combo

The Logitech MK270 Wireless Keyboard and Mouse set was just twelve dollars and fifty cents!

It's sometimes $16.99 or even a bit more, but that's still pretty damned cheap.

I expected it to be about as bad as the Amazon Basics Keyboard, which is the same price, but wired, and you don't get a mouse. You know those nasty squidgy roll-up rubber portable keyboards? Imagine one of those in a rigid plastic case, and you have the Amazon Basics Keyboard.

This, though, is a perfectly decent full-size rubber-dome keyboard, as good as most of the tat in, say, a Best Buy or Staples. The special keys worked, including a calculator key that actually brings up the system calculator. Fucking witchcraft! Read the rest

Lekue Cooking Mesh makes boiling veggies fun again

It's pricier than the five-buck alternative, but my Lekue silicone cooking mesh bag [Amazon] has survived dozens of boils.

Soupy Leaves Home: a masterpiece of YA graphic storytelling, about hobos on the open road

In Soupy Leaves Home, writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Jose Pimienta expand the borders of young adult graphic novels, telling a moving, inspiring tale of Depression-era hobos, identity, gender, suspicion, solidarity, and the complicated business of being true to yourself while living up to your obligations to others.

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy 2

This was a Fun movie, and a very funny one, too. Until the end, I wasn't sure if it was a good one. Hell, it is good. The first was well-made and profoundly clever in its use of nostalgia as part of its storytelling soul rather than just appearances, but the sequel has a more perfect magic: emotional honesty.

It's about a team of famous yet bickering mercenaries and their unseemly associates, all outmaneuvering enemies and gravitating toward epic destinies that turn out to be mirages obscuring the smaller truths of family. I suspect this will make older viewers like it more, but younger ones like it less, because they don't sleep with the sort of well-settled emotional tangles that the movie vicariously unravels.

I don't really feel like more should be said, frankly, than that. It's a light show, lacking any suggestion of physical threat or danger, yet it wields its human weaponry so well. Read the rest

Spill Zone: fast-paced, spooky YA comic about the haunted ruins of Poughkeepsie

In Spill Zone, YA superstar Scott "Uglies" Westerfeld and artist Alex Puvilland tell the spooky, action-packed tale of Addison, one of the few survivors of the mysterious events that destroyed Poughkeepsie, New York, turning it into a spooky, Night-Vale-ish place where mutant animals, floating living corpses, and people trapped in two-dimensional planes live amid strange permanent winds that create funnels of old electronics and medical waste.

Review: High-Rise (2016)

High-Rise, directed by Ben Wheatley, brings J.G. Ballard's classic novel to the screen after a long wait.

It's set almost entirely in a residential tower, a massive brutalist edifice inhabited by thousands of early-1970s Britons eager for a new life. The ultimate product of mid-century urban planning, the concrete building is designed to take care of all its occupants' needs: there's a supermarket, a swimming pool, even a primary school, all tucked away deep within its forty stories.

Robert Laing, an introverted young doctor, moves in hoping to become an anonymous nobody amid this monument to the bland excellence of modern life. But he commits the critical error of making friends, and is slowly consumed by the building's odd psychic character, its microcosmic reflection of the divisions in society at large.

He notices that the lower levels are first to suffer when the power fails; then that the higher echelons enjoy special amenities of their own. And then, when the lights go out, everything goes to hell.

A little awareness of British life in the 1970s helps contextualise details that might otherwise baffle—in particular, skyscraper-happy Americans should know that residential towers there were always a controversial novelty, that garbage collecters were perpetually on strike, and that in British engineering, corners are always cut. But Ballard's sinister geometry of modernity, hiding an emotional suppression ready to explode into violence, is a language universal to all employed westerners.

It's an intriguing, sophisticated and handsome movie made excellent by Wheatley's skill and its cast: Tom Hiddleston as the skeptical middle-class everyman driven to madness by his environment's awful sanity, Jeremy Irons as the tower's vicious yet uncannily humanist architect, Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, The Handmaid's Tale) as society's hope, and Luke Evans (Bard from The Hobbit) as the agent of chaos. Read the rest

John Scalzi's Collapsing Empire: an epic new space opera with snark, politics and action to burn

Regular Boing Boing readers need no introduction to John Scalzi, whose smartass, snappy, funny, action-packed science fiction novels are a treat to read; but new fans and old hands alike will find much to love in The Collapsing Empire, the first volume in a new, epic space-opera series.

If you're not reading Saga yet, Book 7 proves you should get caught up RIGHT NOW

Saga is Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples' magnificent, visually stunning, adventurous, funny, raunchy, complex and provocative graphic novel; the first six volumes of collected comics moved from strength to strength, fleshing out a universe that was simultaneously surreal and deadly serious, where cute characters could have deadly-serious lives: now, with volume 7, Staples and Vaughan continue their unbroken streak of brilliance.

Seedship is an absorbing text game of stellar colonization

Seedship is a text-only game of interstellar exploration and settlement. You're the sentient AI of a generation ship containing 1000 humans fleeing a doomed Earth, and you must deal with threats in deep space and evaluate target worlds for suitability. There are always tradeoffs: a world with breathable air and charming wildlife may guarantee comfort, but without resources will end in a genteel return to the stone age. A barren world rich in minerals and alien ruins means advancing human technology and culture, but at the cost of being enslaved to whoever owns the water generation plants.

If the aim is to find the best world for mankind, the fun is found subjecting it to the most punishing hell planets the cosmos offers. When I came across this total nightmare, I knew we had found home:

Things didn't work out. Most colonists died and the rest descended to savagery.

I haven't found a perfect world, but the following one got me to 10,000 civilization points, which feels like the threshold for success:

Every compromise matters. Even with such a lush world, its ecological exhaustion (presumably thanks to whatever left the monumental ruins) resulted in a technological collapse described as "bronze-age cosmic enlightenment." If it were an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, we would most certainly be wearing textured earth tones.

Each combination is worth exploring, to find what sort of environments get you to theocracies or into endless war with natives. When I spotted the following world, I immediately thought "cyberpunk corporate dystopia!" and was not disappointed by the results:

Created by SF writer John Ayliff (Twitter, Patreon), it's incredibly addictive, and a great example of Twine's potential for offbeat games where generative elements combine with handwritten storytelling. Read the rest

New York 2140: Kim Stanley Robinson dreams vivid about weathering climate crisis

In 2012, Kim Stanley Robinson published 2312, imagining how the world and its neighbors might look in 300 years, loosely coupled with the seminal Red Mars books, a futuristically pastoral novel about the way that technology can celebrate the glories of nature; in 2015, Robinson followed it up with Aurora, the best book I read that year, which used 2312's futures to demolish the idea that we can treat space colonization (and other muscular technological projects) as Plan B for climate change -- a belief that is very comforting to those who don't or can't imagine transforming capitalism into a political system that doesn't demolish the planet. Now, with New York 2140, Robinson starts to connect the dots between these different futures with a bold, exhilarating story of life in a permanent climate crisis, where most people come together in adversity, but where a small rump of greedy, powerful people get in their way.

Bunnie Huang's tour-de-force "Hardware Hacker" book is finally in print!

Last December, I published my review of Andrew "bunnie" Huang's astoundingly great book The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware -- without realizing that the book's release had been delayed because the published decided to do some very fancy and cool stuff with the printing process. Read the rest

Queen Bees and Wannabes: a parents' up-to-date guide to the perils of "girl-world"

It's been fifteen years since the first edition of educator Rosalind Wiseman's Queen Bees and Wannabes was published; now in its third edition -- updated with current, timely material about social media and other fast-moving subjects, as well as reflections from girls who were raised on the techniques in the previous editions -- the book is a compassionate, aware, and intensely practical guide to navigating the toxic, gendered lives of young girls in a diverse, politicized world.

Terms and Conditions: the bloviating cruft of the iTunes EULA combined with extraordinary comic book mashups

Back in 2015, cartoonist Robert Sikoryak started publishing single pages from his upcoming graphic novel Terms and Conditions, in which he would recount every word of the current Apple iTunes Terms and Conditions as a series of mashup pages from various comics old and new, in which Steve Jobsean characters stalked across the panels, declaiming the weird, stilted legalese that "everyone agrees to and no one reads."

The 'Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillian' series

"Your first doomsday machine is a malevolent, inscrutable wristwatch.”

The Please Don't Tell My Parents series, by Richard Roberts, is a wonderful young adult series of novels about Penelope Akk and her two friends Claire and Ray. They are normal middle school kids just hoping their superpowers will kick in soon. Read the rest

The Free: unflinching YA novel about juvie, desperation and empathy

Lauren McLaughlin is no stranger to hard-hitting, unflinching young adult novels: her debut, Cycler (and its sequel, Re-Cycler) was about a teenaged girl who turned into a boy for four days every month; Scored was a class-conscious surveillance dystopia; now, in The Free, McLaughlin sheds any fantastic or futuristic elements and mainlines a pure, angry, relentless and stripped-down story about a kid whose desperate circumstances become almost unbearable when he takes a fall for a car-theft and goes to juvenile prison.

THEFT: A History of Music

It's been seven years since we previewed Theft: A History of Music, a comic book that explains the complicated history of music, borrowing, control and copyright, created by a dynamic duo of witty copyright law professors from Duke University as a followup to the greatest law-comic ever published: the book was due out years ago, but the untimely and tragic death of illustrator Keith Aoki delayed it -- until today.

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