Earlier this summer I stopped by the office of Joel Spolsky, CEO of Stack Overflow, the mammoth forum for software developers, to talk about my new book Coders, which is all about the subculture of programmers and their impact on reality. (And which you can acquire right here folks, step right up.)
We were supposed to talk about coding but at first got totally sidetracked when I noticed Joel had a huge archive of issues of OMNI, so we spent 15 minutes excitedly babbling about the role that magazine played in our nerd youths. (They even hunted down some of the original ads for Heathkit robots.)
When we finally got around to talking about the culture of software creation, it was pretty fun, and they transcribed parts of our talk. Here's Joel talking about how he originally got into coding:
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Clive: What was your original pathway into coding?
Joel: My parents were professors at the University of New Mexico, and the University bought a mainframe and didn’t know what do with it. They gave every professor an account. And the professors gave those to their kids.
So I was part of a group of teenage kids just hanging around the computer center trying to figure stuff out.
Clive: So what was it, FORTRAN?
Joel: It had an interactive operating system because those had gotten trendy at universities. They had an interactive terminal system that had BASIC, FORTRAN, and PL1. Many, many years later I realized there was no way they had enough memory for three compilers and in fact what they had was a very simple pre-processsor that made Basic, Fortan, and PL1 all look like the same mush.
I’ve known Richard Kadrey for a number of years. We generally mouth off at each other about technology, injuries we acquired while we were young/dumb, barbecue, tiki drinks and movies. There’s not much jibba-jabba, however, about what either of us does for a living. He writes constantly. So do I. It’s nice to talk about anything but your gig, from time to time.
That said, the rent must be paid, so here we go.
On August 28th, the tenth book in Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series, Hollywood Dead, will be available in the United States. Last last week, after reading an advanced copy that was sent out to me, I got on the horn for a chat with him about the new book, his plans for Sandman Slim and what he’s got cooking beyond the massively popular urban fantasy series.
SB: I read Hollywood Dead over the weekend. I think one of the things I enjoyed the most about the new book is how the tension ramps up as Stark came to understand how screwed he really was.
RK: I really wanted him off-balance. He felt off-balanced in The Kill Society—Stark was basically hiding who he was. But I wanted him to be genuinely fucked up in this book. He thinks everything’s going to be fine now and nothing is fine. Everything is fucked up. There’s no problem he can solve by punching it. Yeah, there’s bad guys, but his overall situation can’t be solved with violence. In the book, a lot of the truth of what[Stark]is comes out of Kasabian’s mouth, the way it always has. Read the rest
Children should conduct all interviews from this point forward because they get into it. They aren't afraid to ask the real questions.
Case in point: The HiHo Kids all got 20 minutes to grill Macklemore on anything they wanted. It starts with a bang when a young girl asks, "Is it hard to be a rapper with your kind of skin tone?" Unfazed, the rap star answers with a smirk, "What are you trying to say?"
Macklemore keeps it pretty real with the kids, except for maybe a couple times, like when he said that weird thing about the "sexiest animal hunters."
Surprisingly, some of the kids didn't recognize Macklemore. But this one did and he's a big fan (as you'll see if you watch to the end):
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People want to know all kinds of things about funnyman Will Arnett. For instance, is he related to Michael Keaton? (No, but he does a great impression of him.) So, to promote his new movie Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, he sat down to answer the internet's most pressing questions in Wired's Autocomplete Interview. It's funny. Read the rest
A few weeks back, we pushed out a post about the fact that Heathens serving in the U.S. Army are now allowed to sport a beard as part of their faith. In the story, I mentioned that a group that stands for heathens serving in the military stated that the growing of a beard wasn’t a tenet of Heathenry. Given that Ásatrú, Heathenry and Paganism have been used to describe a wide number of belief systems and religions, I wasn’t sure if making a basket statement like this was factually correct. Fortunately, I know someone who does.
Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried was the first Ásatrú to earn a graduate degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School. While at the university, he was President of Interfaith Dialogue and served on the Spiritual Life Council, the advisory board for the Spiritual Life Office. He holds degrees in literature and music from University of California at San Diego, University of Wisconsin at Madison, and University of Texas at Austin. He studied literature and art history at Loyola University Chicago, Rome Center, in Italy and took Icelandic language courses through University of Iceland's distance learning program.
Dr. Seigfried currently works at the Illinois Institute of Technology as an Adjunct Professor in Humanities and as a Pagan Chaplain. He’s Goði (priest) of Thor’s Oak Kindred—a Chicago-based organization, dedicated to the practice of the Ásatrú faith and a member of the Troth Clergy Program. Previously, Dr. Seigfried taught Norse mythology and religion at Loyola University Chicago, Carthage College, and the Newberry Library Seminars Program. Read the rest
“I don’t feel any compulsion just to stand under the spotlight night after night unless I have something to say," --Leonard Cohen, December 1974
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If you're looking for a little creative inspiration, this clip from George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy has some great lines about how Carlin approached his craft. It also feels like a living link in the history of American comedy. Read the rest
"I have no faith at all. I only hold convictions." Audio from interview conducted by Mike Wallace in 1959. (Blank on Blank)
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David Kelley is the founder of IDEO and the Stanford d.school. I asked him about design, process and people—and what it takes to be good at all three.
Daniel L. Everett is Dean of Arts and Sciences at Bentley University. He is the author of Language: The Cultural Tool and the subject of the documentary A Grammar of Happiness.
Avi Solomon: Were there any formative experiences in your childhood that shaped your career?
Dan Everett: Well, by far the most important experience in my childhood was the death of my mother when I was eleven. She was twenty-nine. That changed my life, and it taught me that life is extremely fragile. And I knew from that point on that I was going to die and never feared dying. Because I felt that if my mother had died, I certainly didn't have any fear of dying. Read the rest
It's hard to explain the experience of expertise. That's why one of the first things they teach you in journalism school is to avoid questions like, "What's it like to be a mathematician?" It's hard for your interview subject to know how to respond and you seldom get a useful answer.
But not never.
On Quora, someone* asks, "What is it like to have an understanding of very advanced mathematics?" And the responses are surprisingly interesting. Especially the first, wherein an anonymous mathematician lays out a detailed account of how advanced mathematics have altered his/her view of the world and of being a mathematician.
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• You are often confident that something is true long before you have an airtight proof for it (this happens especially often in geometry). The main reason is that you have a large catalogue of connections between concepts, and you can quickly intuit that if X were to be false, that would create tensions with other things you know to be true, so you are inclined to believe X is probably true to maintain the harmony of the conceptual space. It's not so much that you can imagine the situation perfectly, but you can quickly imagine many other things that are logically connected to it.
• You are comfortable with feeling like you have no deep understanding of the problem you are studying. Indeed, when you do have a deep understanding, you have solved the problem and it is time to do something else. This makes the total time you spend in life reveling in your mastery of something quite brief.
Rex Walheim is an astronaut. He's gone to space three times, including on the last flight of the space shuttle. He has spent an accumulated 36 hours outside the ISS on spacewalks. He has tweeted from 240 miles above sea level.
Walheim reached those heights the old-fashioned way: Air Force test pilot school (plus a masters in industrial engineering). But his isn't the only path to the stars. Today, NASA has Walheim chatting with lots of different news outlets about the astronaut recruitment process and what it takes, in the modern world, to have the right stuff. I got to talk to him this morning. Walheim was kind enough to answer five questions, submitted by BoingBoing readers, about astronaut training, the astronaut selection process, and how the Earth-bound can recreate some of the astronaut experience in our daily lives. Read the rest
On Friday morning, I'll get 10 minutes to talk to astronaut Rex Walheim about the astronaut recruiting process—how candidates are chosen, who should apply, what happens to you at different levels of the process ... all that good stuff.
Ten minutes ain't much. I'm normally tearing through an interview if I can get it done in 20 minutes. I'll probably have time to get through two questions with Walheim before he's on to the next reporter. So I wanted to do something fun. I'm going to ask him your questions. What do you want to know about how astronauts are recruited and chosen? Now's your chance to find out.
Here's how this will work: You've got until Thursday at 2:00 Central to submit your questions in the comment section of this post. Thursday night, I'll pick the two best questions—via wholly subjective methods. Those will be the ones I take to Walheim, and I'll post his answers here on BoingBoing.
Chances are, there will be lots of good questions and I'll have a hard time choosing. Luckily, I've got a stockpile of awesome BoingBoing stickers and Jackhammer Jill pins. So the two winners, and four runners-up, will all receive a sticker and a pin.
Sound good? Read the rest
Jack Zylkin created the USB Typewriter. I interviewed him about his creation, the response he's received, and why people are so interested in "the muggle magic of gears and pulleys and solenoids." Read the rest
Your tax dollars build bridges. They pay the salaries of teachers and firefighters. Tax dollars help put people through college, provide a safety net for the elderly and the disabled, and pay for fighter jets and nuclear bombs.
You may not agree all those ways your tax dollars are spent, but they are all, at least, fairly tangible. When it's time for re-election, your senator can point to a roads project, a school, a saintly grandmother, or a missile silo. Through these projects, Americans are being educated, cared for, and protected.
But it's hard to make that clear cost/benefit analysis for basic scientific research. At least, not on a timetable that matches up with election cycles.
Basic research is often weird, and it's often boring. It's the years spent mapping the neurons of zebra fish, so that future scientists can have a more detailed biological model to work with. It's the chemical analysis that has to happen, so that two decades from now somebody else can discover a new cancer-fighting drug. Basic research is about curiosity, and knowledge for knowledge's sake. By it's very nature, basic research relies on public funding. But by it's very nature, it's hard to explain how the public benefits from the basic research we fund.
Attila Kovacs is one of the scientists who put your tax dollars to work. An astrophysicist at the University of Minnesota, he specializes in the study of space dust. That is, yes, dust. In space. It's the sort of thing that would be very easy to mock. Read the rest
Terry Pratchett's latest book, Snuff: A Novel of Discworld, is out now. Don't miss Cory's review. — Boing Boing
Neil Gaiman: Where did the idea for Snuff originate?
Terry Pratchett: I haven’t a clue, but I think I started out by considering the character of Sir Samuel Vimes, as he now is, and since I find his inner monologue interesting I decided to use the old and well tried plot device of sending a policeman on holiday somewhere he can relax, because we all know the way this one is supposed to go. And then I realised that moving Vimes out of his city element and away from his comfort zone was going to be a sheer treat to write. Read the rest
In 2002, The Economist writer/editor Emily Bobrow gifted me a copy of Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai and my life changed forever. It’s one of those novels that you can go back to every couple years anew, discovering and rediscovering with each re-read. Not to be confused with the Tom Cruise movie of the same name, DeWitt’s story centers on a single mother in London raising her child-prodigy son.
The genius in her latest novel, Lightning Rods, is DeWitt herself, who cooks up one of the funniest stories I’ve read in recent memory. It’s a highbrow version of the movie Office Space with a Jonathan Ames-esque plot. Read my exclusive, in-depth interview below with DeWitt about the new novel, as well as her writing habits and her tips to would-be novelists. Read the rest