George Dyson: look to analog systems for autonomy and intelligence

Over at, the must-read hub of intellectual inquiry and head-spinning science, Boing Boing pal and legendary book agent John Brockman is launching a new series of essays "from important third culture thinkers to address the empirically-driven and science related hot-button cultural issues of our time." First up is author George Dyson's "Childhood's End," a provocative riff on how the digital revolution has stripped much of our individual agency and that "to those seeking true intelligence, autonomy, and control among machines, the domain of analog computing, not digital computing, is the place to look." From EDGE:

The spectacular success of digital computers in modeling real-world phenomena, encoded as algorithms with the results used as output to control something in the real world, has outshadowed very different ways that digital computers, and networks of digital computers, can be used. Algorithms and digital simulations have become so embedded in our culture and world view that we find it almost impossible to recognize that other forms of computation, without algorithms or digital models, effectively control much of the world.

We assume that a search engine company builds a model of human knowledge and allows us to query that model, or that some other company (or maybe it’s the same company) builds a model of road traffic and allows us to access that model, or that yet another company builds a model of the social graph and allows us to join that model — for a price we are not quite told.

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Video essay on how video essays deceive you

YouTube BluShades creates video essays, and that experience has prompted him to examine how video essays deceive you. Read the rest

Bitch Doctrine: sympathy, empathy and rage from the Laurie Penny's red pen of justice

Before Laurie Penny was a brilliant young feminist novelist, she was a brilliant young essayist, blazing through the British (and then the world's) media with column after column that skewered social ills on what Warren Ellis aptly dubbed her "red pen of justice."

Far-out new essay anthology by Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Iain Sinclair, Gazelle Amber Valentine, and more

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.

Spirits of Place, edited by John Reppion Read the rest

Notable people write about the breakthrough moment that changed their lives

NY Magazine has a great collection of essays from a bunch of writers, performers, athletes, directors, and photographers about the incident or realization that made them answer their calling.

I wore that [cardboard Howdy Doody] magic set out. We had a dusty storage room in our little house, and I would sit in the dusty storage room in the afternoon and just work the things over and over again, for my own edification. I wasn’t really performing for anybody. I was just obsessed with it. And incidentally, on my 60th birthday, my closest friend in the world found a copy of the Howdy Doody magic set on eBay, and it was advertised as “the same kind of magic set that got Teller started in his career.” My friend gave it to me, and I just sort of collapsed and couldn’t stop crying, because it was so thrilling. - Teller

I had worked on the melody in my bedroom in my parents’ house, but I only knew about five guitar chords at the time. I think another realization I had was that even with rudimentary tools, I could enhance my world. Like suddenly I had a language to communicate my feelings, and that was also very powerful. I just remember hearing the guitar chords with the vocal melodies and having it sound like a semblance of something I’d heard, so it felt like I was joining a realm. – Carrie Brownstein

What I found out — what I discovered at City Paper — was that journalism is a done thing.

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Lost and Found: Why Novelists Are Always Searching

In addition to being quirky, depressed, and bottomless vessels for alcohol, writers are also especially attuned to loss, says writer Rory Flynn. To prove his theory, Flynn conducted some high-level research – paying Facebook $6.99 to promote a query about loss to his Facebook friends, most of whom are card-carrying members of the scribbling classes.

Author Kim Newman on his new Anno Dracula novel, Johnny Alucard (plus excerpt)

Johnny Alucard is the fourth book in the Anno Dracula series; the earlier novels are Anno Dracula,The Bloody Red Baron and Dracula Cha Cha Cha -- and the definitive Titan editions include the long novellas ‘Vampire Romance’ and ‘Aquarius’.

The premise is that in 1885 Count Dracula came to Britain, as Bram Stoker describes in his novel … but rather than being defeated by Van Helsing, he rose to power, becoming Queen Victoria’s second husband and popularising vampirism as a lifestyle choice at the heart of the British Empire. He also imported all the other surviving vampires of fiction as his retinue of hangers-on and toadies.

All this is in the first book -- which revolves around Stoker’s Dr. Seward, who has become a vampire-slaying Jack the Ripper. The subsequent volumes cover the next hundred years and have a global reach, with Dracula moving from country to country and era to era … and manifesting the ills of the century even when seemingly dead again. In Johnny Alucard, the story moves from Europe to America, and we follow the rise of a Romanian orphan who becomes Dracula’s heir apparent as he conquers such American fields of endeavour as drug-dealing, movie production, serial murder, and covert military intervention in other countries. Read the rest

How pregnancy is like climate change denialism

Hillary Rosner is a fantastic environmental reporter — the sort that digs facts and stories more than outrage-bait and blind activism. She's currently pregnant and, like all pregnant ladies, is finding herself subject to a deluge of warnings and "helpful" advice. When you're pregnant, there is always somebody who wants to let you know what you're doing wrong, why you're being irresponsible, and how you've totally ruined your kid's life already.

But in the midst of this, Rosner noticed something really fascinating: When it feels like the world is conspiring to make you terrified and guilty, it's sometimes easier to just tune out the world rather than investigate which claims are true and which aren't. Read the rest

Growing up in the future

When Veronique Greenwood went to college in 2004, she took a laptop with her ... and a videophone. In an engaging essay at Aeon Magazine, Greenwood writes about what it was like to grow up with a Futurist for a mom, particularly a futurist who, in retrospect, seemed to be more interested in premature technologies than in the sleek, widely adopted versions that eventually succeeded in the marketplace. Greenwood's mother loved the videophone. When Skype came along, free of dedicated hardware, she lost interest. Read the rest

The Mongoliad: Book Three: Sword fighting, gallows humor, and the binge drinking of the Mongolian khan

Cooper Moo and Erik Bear, two of the authors of the final book of the Mongoliad trilogy from Neal Stephenson and company, The Mongoliad: Book Three, wrote this exclusive essay for Boing Boing.

About The Mongoliad: Book Three:

The shadow of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II hangs over the shattered Holy Roman Church as the cardinals remain deadlocked, unable to choose a new pope. Only the Binders and a mad priest have a hope of uniting the Church against the invading Mongols. An untested band of young warriors stands against the dissolute Khan, Onghwe, fighting for glory and freedom in the Khan's sadistic circus of swords, and the brave band of Shield-Brethren who set out to stop the Mongol threat single-handedly race against their nemesis before he can raise the entire empire against them. Veteran knight Feronantus, haunted by his life in exile, leads the dwindling company of Shield-Brethren to their final battle, molding them into a team that will outlast him. No good hero lives forever...or fights alone.

In this third and final book of the Mongoliad trilogy from Neal Stephenson and company, the gripping personal stories of medieval freedom fighters form an epic, imaginative recounting of a moment in history when a world in peril relied solely on the courage of its people.

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Tales from Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? essay and exclusive excerpt

Destination: Development Hell

David Hughes, longtime Empire contributor and author of the new book Tales from Development Hell, reveals the secrets of the darkest place in Hollywood

These days, Hollywood studios don’t waste much time exploiting their intellectual properties: it seemed that no sooner had Sony finished counting the box office receipts from the last of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, a "re-boot" was announced, taking its most valuable film franchise in a new direction, bringing it too a new generation, or – who knows? – perhaps simply making the suit, and perhaps the story, a shade darker. What Sony hasn’t done is wasted years in "development hell," figuring that a bird in the hand (a Spider-Man movie in cinemas) is better than two in the bush (another round of draft screenplays).

This wasn't always the case, however. Six years passed between Aliens and Alien³, eight between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins -- and an unthinkable eighteen fallow years between Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Superman Returns. So what was going on for all that time? My first book, The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, set out what was taking Hollywood so long to bring popular properties such as The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Thunderbirds, Silver Surfer etc. to the big screen -- as well as exploring the various approaches to famous franchises (William Gibson’s Alien III, Tim Burton’s Superman, Philip Kaufman’s Star Trek, etc.) which were abandoned en route to the films we know. Read the rest

The only good abortion is my abortion

As I write this, it is 1:17 am on Wednesday, June 20th, 2012.

I am lying awake in bed, trying to decide whether or not to have an abortion.

Of course, we don’t call it an abortion. We call it “a procedure” or a D&C. See, my potential abortion is one of the good abortions. I’m 31 years old. I’m married. These days, I’m pretty well off. I would very much like to stay pregnant right now. In fact, I have just spent the last year—following an earlier miscarriage—trying rather desperately to get pregnant.

Unfortunately, the doctors tell me that what I am now pregnant with is not going to survive. Last week, I had an ultrasound, I was almost 6 weeks along and looked okay. The only thing was that the heartbeat was slow. It wasn’t a huge deal. Heartbeats start slow, usually around the 6th week, and then they speed up. But my doctor asked me to come back in this week for a follow up, just to be sure. That was Tuesday, yesterday. Still my today. The heart hasn’t sped up. The fetus hasn’t grown. The egg yolk is now bigger than the fetus, which usually indicates a chromosomal abnormality. Basically, this fetus is going to die. I am going to have a miscarriage. It’s just a matter of when.

Because of these facts—all these facts—I get special privileges, compared to other women seeking abortion in the state of Minnesota. Read the rest

Distrust That Particular Flavor, the audio edition

Having enjoyed the hell out of Distrust That Particular Flavor, William Gibson's long-overdue essay collection, I thought I'd try it on audiobook for a second pass (I really like to do this when I finish a book feeling like there's more there than I could absorb in a single reading). I was happy to see that Tantor Media had produced an unabridged, DRM-free MP3CD of the book, and they were kind enough to send me a review copy. I dragged the files off the CD and onto my phone and listened to the book for the next few days as I made my way from daycare to office to lunch to office to daycare (home to daycare/daycare to home were spent conversing with the kid, of course). At 5.3 hours, this is a pretty quick audiobook, and the narrator, Robertson Dean does a very good job on the essays, which are a treat to have as spoken word (especially the couple that are actually transcripts of speeches).

The MP3CD is advertised as "iPod-ready" and indeed, the single disc (shipped in a DVD-style bookshelf case) has an orderly, well-named set of MP3 files on it. This was awfully nice, though a little more care could have been taken with the filenames and metadata. Some files had curly-quotes in them that rendered in my OS as ’ and such; the reader's name had been put in the "artist" field of the ID3 tags, which meant that the files were misfiled; there was no cover-art in the ID3 tags. Read the rest