When I was eight, this is exactly what I believed all devices would someday resemble.
USA USA USA
A Long Time Ago, Gib Van Ert's memoir about growing up with Star Wars became news last Christmas, when it disappeared from Amazon following a bogus trademark question. It's been back for months now, and has been in my to-read pile for much longer, and I've finally had the pure pleasure of reading it.
A Long Time Ago is a thoughtful, funny, and beautifully written story of the role that Star Wars played in Van Ert's life, shaping his destiny as he was raised by a USMC-deserting draft dodger and a runaway Texas beauty queen in small town British Colombia. Like me, Van Ert saw the first movie as a small boy, and thereafter principally experienced it through toys, records and merchandising tie-ins. His critiques of the Kenner action figures are both scathingly hilarious and bang on, and that's pretty much a microcosm for the whole book.
By Van Ert's own admission, he's not the biggest Star Wars fan that ever lived. But Star Wars was a gateway into other nerdy pastimes -- comic collecting, Atari home systems, coin-op video games, Dungeons and Dragons -- and he does an excellent job of tracing the curious ways that the specific nerdiness of his (and my generation) shaped his intellectual and personal pursuits.
He explains how he fell away from Star Wars fandom after the third movie, forgot about it until the "special editions," and experienced his first rumblings of anxiety about the destiny of his nearly forgotten but warmly remembered passion. He nails the prequels -- fish in a barrel, but still -- and then ties it all into a story of personal development that's sweet, hopeful and wistful.
It's a short book and a quick read, and it rewards the reader with an echo of the excitement, disappointment, anger, delight, and, ultimately, love, that Van Ert feels for the franchise.
€60 is a lot to spend on your kid's duvet cover, but there's no denying that this astronaut bedding from Snurk is pretty wonderful.
Astronaut (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
While wandering the NYC offices of my publisher Tor, I happened upon these beautiful 2010 omnibus reissues of Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld books. These are some of my favorite books of all time, and these editions are fab. Here's the setup, courtesy of Wikipedia:
The story of Riverworld begins when almost the whole of humanity, from the time of the first homo sapiens through to the early 21st century, is simultaneously resurrected along the banks of the river. The number of people is given as "thirty-six billion, six million, nine thousand, six hundred and thirty-seven" (36,006,009,637). Of these, at least 20% are from the 20th century, due to the high levels of population in later centuries compared to earlier ones. There is also a cut-off point, as no one from the 21st century or later is resurrected. Originally the specific cut-off year was given as 1983 (which was still a speculative date when the novels were first published) but this was later updated to 2008. The ostensible reason for the cut-off was that it indicated the point at which most of the human race had been purposefully annihilated during a catastrophic first contact with aliens visiting Earth. The protagonists later find out this is a creative fiction, produced by the masterminds behind the resurrection, so the spies among the resurrectees could identify each other.
Sara from the British Humanist Association sez,
The British Humanist Association is selling the original Atheist Bus Campaign signs. The controversial campaign was launched in October 2008 and by January 2009 had been the subject of 326 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, including a complaint from Stephen Green of Christian Voice(UK) who said "It is given as a statement of fact and that means it must be capable of substantiation if it is not to break the rules." Hanne Stinson of the BHA argued that if the ASA rule on this complaint, then the ASA will be ruling on whether God exists.
Each sign is in two parts and these things are pretty large (3.96 metres x 0.5 metres) â€“ they came straight off the side of one of the original Atheist Buses in London. One has already been promised to the Museum of London, but the others are up for grabs to go on your bedroom wall (if it fits), your roof, on your bus (if you have one), or your really long car!
You can own one of these unique pieces of atheist and humanist history by bidding here now. You can bid from anywhere in the world but remember that you will have to pay for the postage and shipping on top of your bid! The money raised will all go towards the BHA's work for a secular state, promoting learning about humanism in schools, and the various other BHA campaigns which can be found on our website.
I'm proud to be a lifetime member of the BHA.
Update: in the comments, TacoChuck writes,
While we are on the subject, tangentially at least, there is a humanist children's school in Uganda that could use some support to help buy some land and build a permanent school house: Kasese Humanist Primary School. Their motto: With science, we can progress.
I have nothing to do with the school, the blog or anything else, I just support the school and its mission in a place where it is very rare and brave to see humanist values so unabashedly supported.
I just sent 'em $100.
Scott Edelman sez, "I was surprised to spot Isaac Asimov's head bouncing around this morning in an ad for Pimsleur Approach. I don't recall him ever writing anything on that subject, or hearing him pontificate on it, and a Google search only turns up a single reference that connects the two -- and that's for people who are equally as pissed off at seeing a great man misused by it as I am! A photo of Isaac Asimov is not a stock image that can be used to imply endorsement. I've written both companies to ask WTF is going on, and will let you know what I find out."
Phil Are Go! has performed another public service by doing a nice cutout of the boxy, undistinguished Toyota Corona, the perfect stock art for any dull automotive piece.
Scarecrowoven has revisited his "Skele Gore" image, and just in time for St Valentine's Day! Of the new version, Mr Scarecrowoven sez, "It's pretty insane. In person, the colors are so bright and fluorescent they actually work under a black light."
The elevators in the Seattle Sheraton are fitted with buttons that allow their riders to rain earthquakes upon the Pacific Northwest. This power is largely used for good, and that is rather affirming -- people really are quite nice.
Artist Philip J Bond created a set of illustrations depicting the women who've been to space. They're beautiful and full of personality and style, and really do justice to their subjects. I just showed these to my five year old daughter, and she was as entranced as I was.
Working for months at a time just penciling a comic book I started these portraits to get a bit of inking and colouring out of my system. I shouldn't say 'portraits', I'm not going for much of a likeness. Usually I'll glance at a couple of photographs and then go off and draw a vague impression. Margaret Seddon is blonde, Judith Resnik is a bit barmy looking, that sort of thing.
Oona Räisänen has written a thorough and engrossing article about the noises emitted by dial-up modems while they connect and handshake, and the accompanying graphic (ZOMG HUGE) is nothing short of spectacular. It would make a great full-size poster -- maybe a framed art-print.
Now the modems must address the problem of echo suppression. When humans talk, only one of them is usually talking while the other one listens. The telephone network exploits this fact and temporarily silences the return channel to suppress any confusing echoes of the talker's own voice.
Modems don't like this at all, as they can very well talk at the same time (it's called full-duplex). The answering modem now puts on a special answer tone that will disable any echo suppression circuits on the line. The tone also has periodic "snaps" (180° phase transitions) that aim to disable yet another type of circuit called echo canceller.
Now the modems will list their supported modulation modes and try to find one that both know. They also probe the line with test tones to see how it responds to tones of different frequencies, and how much it attenuates the signal. They exchange their test results and decide a speed that is suitable for the line.
After this, the modems will go to scrambled data. They put their data through a special scrambling formula before transmission to make its power distribution more even and to make sure there are no patterns that are suboptimal for transfer. They listen to each other sending a series of binary 1's and adjust their equalizers to optimally shape the incoming signal.
Heroes in Action have a line of Presidential Monster action figures, including JFK as the Phantom of the White House,
Mitt Romney Ronald Reagan as The Ronmy, GW Bush as Zombush, Bill Clinton as Wolf Bill, Richard Nixon as Monster from the Watergate Lagoon (my favorite of the bunch), Barack Obama as Baracula, and Abe Lincoln as Lincolnstein. They're $30 each or $165 for the set.
I love everything about this old Hammermill Paper ad -- it's part Richard Scarry jobs-you-can-do collage, part propaganda for the wonder of paper, and all awesome.
From Backdrops R Us, a grid of Fox News talking heads alongside classic shots of scenes from Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall (particularly members of the troupe in drag). The resemblances are uncanny.
FOX News Figures Strangely Resemble Kids In The Hall Characters (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
I've previously reviewed Phil and Kaja Foglios' Agatha H books, these being prose adaptations of their spectacular, award-winning Girl Genius comics. Now, the UK's Titan Books has brought out the first two novels in handsome paperback editions, reasonably priced for all to enjoy.
The transition from comic to print works surprisingly well. While the action sequences sometimes feel a little like a script for a comic, they're always funny and delightful. The effect is a little like the high-speed feeling of reading a fast-paced comic, but with the depth of character that you get from a prose-novel's capacity for introspection and internal monologue.
In the Girl Genius world, the Industrial Revolution has all but destroyed the world, thanks to the Sparks, industrial wizards who are born with the mad scientist's ability to make uncanny machines and lifeforms that upend order and send villagers fleeing to the hills. Finally, Baron Klaus Wulfenbach brings some order to the chaos by conquering Europe and grinding it under his (surprisingly benign) iron heel. Agatha Crumb is a lab assistant at Transylvania Polygnostic University, ward of two "constructs" (reanimated corpses) that dote on her and care for her in her parents' absence. When her benefactor is killed by the Baron's men (and monsters), she is forced to flee, but before long, she is the Baron's prisoner aboard his flying airship castle, "the only capital city that was able to patrol its own empire."
Filled with folgian touches -- Borscht-belt comedy accents, things that go sproing, adorkable sentient machines, and laugh-a-minute slapstick -- Agatha H is a tremendously fun addition to the Girl Genius canon.
A page from 16th C German manuscript ("Das Feuer Buch") from the University of Pennsylvania's collection, depicts a cat and a bird attacking a castle with bombs strapped to them. As if that wasn't enough, the illustrator chose to depict these bombs in a way that made the poor critters look jet-propelled. The caption is "To ignite a castle with a cat."
Beyond the novel inclusion of our rocket bird and turbo cat - up top - this 1584 treatise on explosive devices appears to illustrate weaponry seen in earlier manuscripts and offers no new technologies for the Renaissance commando types.
The sketches show various types of barrel bombs, hand grenades, nasty fragmentation/shrapnel explosives, cannons, caltrops (anti-personnel ground spikes), unsophisticated spear and staff-mounted 'rockets' or bombs, catherine or pin wheel fireworks and your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine fire vessels and defensive emplacement stakes. Good to know that our modern evil ways build on the twisted imaginations of artistic forebears.
Early Explosives (Thanks, Nicholas!)
On the Vintage Ads LJ group, the awesome Man Writing Slash has rounded up a series of old ads that use mechanical methaphors for the human body.
One of my favorite ad tropes is the Body=Machine/Body=Factory idea, because the imagery is often more detailed and also more hilarious than in most ads. As a kid I used to LOVE any illustrations of the body that depicted tiny workers inside, such as The Human Body, for example. :D This link to a book about Fritz Kahn's Der Mensch als Industriepalast is also fascinating (although not advertisement). Brief video version of that book HERE (well worth 3 minutes of your time.) This series of articles and illustrations in the same vein (XD) appeared in the Berliner Morgenpost in 1931 and is simply breathtaking.
Jayson sez, "Gygax magazine is a quarterly adventure-gaming magazine, created in the spirit of such iconic '80s journals as Dragon, White Dwarf, Adventure Gaming, and Pegasus. At the helm are Gary Gygax's two eldest sons, Luke & Ernest Gary Gygax Jr., along with Jayson Elliot, and Dragon magazine founder Tim Kask. The first issue includes an article by Cory Doctorow on DMing for toddlers, as well as new comics from Phil Foglio (What's New With Phil & Dixie) and Rich Burlew (The Order of the Stick). Gygax will launch its first issue this Saturday at The Brooklyn Strategist. The event, which is open to the public, will also have lots of gaming (including a massive AD&D 1E dungeon delve with the founder of Dwarven Forge) and a video Q&A with the staff. The whole event will be live-streamed at GygaxMagazine.com."
Illustrator David Pelham produced some of Penguin UK's most iconic 1970s book-covers. Kadrey's got a small gallery of the best of 'em, works of art every one.
Just look at him.
Adafruit has announced "Gemma," a bite-sized, Arduino compatible board intended for use in wearable electronics projects. It measures 1" in diameter, and while it's not shipping yet, they're taking names for people who want to get 'em when they ship:
* Powered by the ATtiny85 with 3 available I/O pins, one of which is also an analog input and two which can do PWM output*
Progammable over the micro USB connection*
Onboard 3.3v Regulator and power LED*
Works with our Flora NeoPixels (can drive about a dozen - not much RAM!)*
Super tiny design, only 1" (25mm) diameter & 4mm thick
Adafruit Gemma - Miniature wearable electronic platform (Thanks, Matthew!)