Future Diary, vol 1

Future Diary
Future Diary

by Sakae Esuno

I don’t read very much manga (which Google informs me is correctly pronounced mon – guh ), but every now and again I’ll pick up something that looks interesting.  This means that I’ve read: Akira, Vol 1, several volumes of The Blade of the Immortal, and volume 1 of Full Metal Alchemist.  It turns out that our public library has a pretty good manga selection, so I’ll probably pick up a few more as they won’t cost me anything to read.  This time it was Future Diary, vol 1.

Future Diary tells the story of Yuki, a young boy with a strong imagination but no friends.  He’s got an imaginary friend named Deus (as in deus ex machina) who turns out not to be imaginary.  Instead, he’s a trickster who has created a killing game in which various people in the Tokyo (?) area are given special cell phones with magical txt feeds.  And then they have to kill one another.  Boy, it didn’t seem so convoluted when I was reading it.  Some thoughts:

  • I can’t help but think of Highlander,* of course.  Only instead of swords and beheading, each contestant has a cell phone and just their wits.  Just like in Highlander, Yuki must seek out the other competitors and battle to the death, which occurs if their phone is destroyed.  At one point, one girl sacrifices her eye to save her phone, a tactic that works.
  • I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the big saucer eyes of manga characters.  Ugh.
  • This is the first book I’ve read that makes a solid argument for the value of constant tweeting.  Of course, it all hinges on being given access to your future tweet stream.  Interestingly enough, once Yuki has access to his future diary, he doesn’t actually have to tweet any more — it’s automagic now.

I think I will check out the rest of these, slowly, from the library.  It looks like Volume 2 is missing though.  Ugh.

*How come no-one in Highlander ever uses a gun?  They establish that beheading is the only way to kill an eternal, but they also establish that you can seriously wound them.  It seems like incapacitating someone with a clip from an Uzi might make the beheading part a bit easier.

Talking to the world

This is a scary movie!
This is a scary movie!
  1. We went to the zoo last weekend and Avery decided our route, regularly consulting the zoo map and leading us on a much longer walk than we usually go.  At one point, we went into the Lizard/Bird house to look at, well, lizards and birds.  Avery and Finn found a lizard from the American southwest that was scampering about its enclosure.  At one point, it came right up to the glass, put its fore-legs on the glass, and weaved its head back and forth.  Avery held up the map, facing the lizard, and, pointing to the lizard house on it, said “Here’s where you are, Lizard.”
  2. On our way into the house after our trip to the zoo, Finn stumbled over a stray vine from one of our aggressive tomato plants.  He straightened up and tugged his shirt down with dignity.  He then pointed at the tomato plant and said, in stern solemnity, “Stop it!”

I Am Legend

I Am Legend
I Am Legend

by Richard Matheson; Adapted for comics by Steve Niles and Elman Brown

I’ve read Matheson’s novel, of course, and seen the strange and unaccountably different Will Smith movie, but I’d been eyeing this comic for a while anyhow.  So when it was suddenly available on the shelf at my library, I figured it was kismet.

I Am Legend tells the story of a LAMoE, to use Max Brooks’ term.  The Last Man on Earth is holed up in suburban Los Angeles, hiding out from hordes of hungry vampires who gather outside his house each night to shout, slather, and sashay at him.   He oscillates between despair and madness, finally investing himself in the search for a “cure” to the disease.

Some thoughts about the comic:

  • Niles does a great job excerpting the book.  While it’s been a while since I’ve read it, I don’t see any glaring omissions or errors.  The original story holds together very well, to my taste.
  • Brown’s art accompanies the very-text-heavy story nicely. It’s a scratchy, gritty kind of art reminiscent of scratchy eighties art.  While I feel like there are moments where it becomes a little overdone, it’s generally satisfying and thorough.
  • I thought Neville’s struggle with abstinence (and his lust for the lady vampires) comes through very well in the comic, even better than it did in the novel.  Of course, I’d forgotten about this aspect of the comics, so it’s hard for me to attest to its quality in the book.
  • One other thing the comic does in a way that a novel usually fails to do, for me, is to make clear and ever-present the changing shape of the narrator.  The shocking and disturbing beard he sports at the end of the comic stands out in a way I never would have been able to maintain in my internal image of Neville.

Overall, not bad.  Not much surprising if you’ve read the novel, but maybe worth a read regardless.

2010-09-26 Tweets

  • There are a lot of cool things in this world, but "print directly to the xerox machine" is pretty damn awesome. #
  • The correct pronunciation is "mahn-guh". #
  • Goddamn anti-vaxxers. 9 babies dead from whooping cough this year. http://is.gd/fmUvs #
  • An important video for our time @boingboing http://is.gd/fnjcq #

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Quick bullets on a lovely wedding

There's lettuce on your shoe
There's lettuce on your shoe

I attended the wedding of an old friend this weekend and it was just lovely.  Some quick thoughts:

  • On the way to the wedding, my mother and I gave one of the two officiating ministers (this one a priest) a ride.  As we approached the church, he pulled out his collar, which was mounted to a sort-of dickey that made it look like he was wearing a black shirt with a white collar.  The collar ensemble had straps that went around his shoulders, which I commented looked a little bit like a holster.  He replied, deadpan and without blinking, “It’s bullet proof.”
  • When I was going through the food line, a piece of decorative lettuce fell off the table and landed on my shoe.  A friend noticed it immediately, and I said I was keeping it there on purpose.  I managed to keep my shoe lettuced all the way back to the table.  It’s unbelievable how many people noticed and said “There’s a piece of lettuce on your shoe.”
  • There’s often a moment toward the end of a reception where people start to tire of dancing and conversation, so they begin to drift out.  This wedding had a refueling station with sandwiches and chips and coffee that was set out around 9.30pm.  Genius.
  • After you’re married, each wedding you attend becomes  a chance for reminiscing and comparison.  I’ll admit that a few weddings have been better than mine in some aspects.  It could be the food or the music or something.  No wedding comes close on all fronts, but most have some aspect that’s objectively better.  That said, no wedding I will ever attend will have a musician with a better name than ours did: Attila Farcas.  That’s right.  Our organist was named Attila Farcas.  Attila.  Farcas.

Congrats, Jared and LeAnna.

The Mao Case

The Mao Case
The Mao Case

by Qiu Xiaolong

The Mao Case relates another adventure of Chief Inspector Chen, an inspector in the modern Shanghai police force.  It does a great job of helping explain the complex dynamics of a society trying to be both capitalist and communist at the same time.  The mystery involves a young woman whose grandmother had an illicit affair with Mao.   The young woman may have inherited some damaging “Mao material” that the party wants investigated, confiscated, and suppressed.  Inspector Chen has to navigate a complex political minefield.  And then people start dying.

Some thoughts:

  • The mystery itself works okay, but being a police procedural, it isn’t structured like a puzzle game.  It’s more about the investigation than about the mystery; it’s more about the political shenanigans than about the murder(s) itself.  The conflict between the different levels of nuance throughout the society works really well.
  • I read this book for my mystery book club, and we often end up reading mysteries from foreign cultures.  We’ve read two others that took place in distinctly communist cultures–Child 44 and The Coroner’s Lunch.  Both were pretty good, and both turned on the challenge of trying to be an honest man in a corrupt and dishonest system.  This book involves the same.  I haven’t read the other Inspector Chen novels, but I suspect the ones that turn on politically sensitive topics are more interesting for this very formula.  Structurally, it’s not much different than American noir novels that take place in the corrupt landscape of depression-era Los Angeles or San Francisco, where cops and shady businessmen are likely to have the detective tossed in jail or roughed up.
  • As always, the most interesting part about detective stories that take place in other cultures is the other culture.  Modern China is an interesting mix, in this book, of modern-era striving and old-Communist attitudes.  Xiaolong explores the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor, and the (seemingly to western eyes) more and more antiquated communism struggling to hold on to the power structure sitting on top of the market economy.  The little details about how the trains work or how nice restaurants serve people make the story really shine.
  • There are clear moments when the novel makes use of characters from previous novels, sometimes referring to people who owed Chen something from a previous investigation.  Unlike some authors, who make you feel really left out when that happens, Xiaolong does a good job of introducing these characters without spending too much time rehashing the old mysteries or focusing on them.  The downside, of course, is that it feels a little bit like a convenient set of tools for Chen to use.  He needs a fancy car so he can look like a wealthy lothario?  Just call his gangster buddy who loves him and will do anything for him.  He needs someone to pose as a maid?  Just call his assistant investigator and ask his plucky wife to step in.  In an established series, this is fine.  For a newcomer, it feels a little convenient.  I don’t think I would even notice this if I had read the series, though.
  • A few fun facts about China I just learned from the book: Mao slept on a hard-wood mattress; big spending wealthy dudes who keep mistresses are called Big Bucks; there are ‘hot-water houses’ that sell, um, hot water for tea and bathing.  A few things I realize I know almost nothing about: Mao’s whole reign, the Cultural Revolution (and backlash against Mao? or were those separate?), the Gang of Four, the petty tyranny of Mrs. Mao.

Not a bad police procedural, and probably especially good if you like books that explore other cultures.

In which a horror icon notices me

Svengoolie
Svengoolie

I’ve really made it now.   I got not one, but two mentions on Svengoolie’s blog:
Zombies Got a Class
Support your local Zombie education!!!

Urban Camping

Last weekend we went camping on a softball field as part of Forest Park’s village campout.  It was a fun little excursion.  We set up our smaller tent (a “four person” Coleman) along with fifteen or so other families in the softball fields of our village’s park district.  The gray sky and cool air weren’t really much of a deterrent.

By the time we got the tent set up, it was dinner time.  We lined up for our hot dogs, beans, and chips.  Then we sat in camp chairs and munched away.  Around 7pm, Jenny and Finn left to go home for the evening, while Avery and I decided to rough it on the nicely groomed outfield.  We did some arts and crafts, watched a movie-in-the-park screening of Horton Hears a Who!, and made some s’mores over a fire blazing from a giant metal cauldron whose star and circle holes gave it a vaguely alchemical air.  Two different people made jokes about lifting the cauldron with their forearms ala Kung-Fu.

Going to sleep in the soft orange city barf glow to the racket of other peoples’ kids running around (because my four-year-old couldn’t last much past ten) wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

I don’t know precisely what I think small-town life is like, but this felt a lot like it.  Forest Park is really good at holding these intimate events where we see fellow villagers.  There’s an ice-cream social each summer, along with several fun events in the Park District.  We even saw Avery’s Jr. Kindergarten teacher (whom Avery didn’t recognize because we weren’t at school).

The continental breakfast in the morning was nice, and it felt downright Norman Rockwelly to walk home from the campout towing our tent, chairs, and sleeping bags piled precariously in our wagon.

The Unincorporated Man

The Unincorporated Man
The Unincorporated Man

by Dani & Eytan Kollin

The Unincorporated Man is a Sleeper Wakes kind of tale about a cryogenically frozen man who is awakened 300 years later by a new sort of world society that has oodles of nanotech and where everyone is incorporated.  I mean to say each person is incorporated, and they buy and sell shares in one another.  When you’re born, your parents get 20%, the government gets 5, you get 25%, and the rest, um… we’re not sure.  But over the course of your life it gets sold for things like University and training etc, etc.

It’s an interesting premise that’s well-thought out (if not all that thoroughly explained), which gets wrapped up in the same kind of story as the H.G. Wells original, namely the man with the old values messes up the world with the new ones.  Some thoughts:

  • The characters, both heroes and villains, are well-drawn and sympathetic.  Even the biggest “villain” has a clearly defined and rational motive that you can understand.
  • The book won a prestigious Libertarian award and can be read in that light as a description of the dangers of debt society and corporate life, but the authors do a pretty good job explaining the benefits of the system they describe and the dangers of our old system.
  • That said, my biggest problem with the book is that the Great Collapse (an economic apocalypse of the past) is attributed to our current model of Post-industrial Global capitalism and the prosperity of the “present” era in the story is attributed to the incorporation model of capitalism.  But in both cases, the novel presents other things that seem to be better explanations–the VR plague on one hand and the invention/propagation of nanotech on the other.    In other words, the novel’s ideas about why the society works don’t seem to function, for me.
  • The idea of the VR plague is fascinating.  Essentially the notion is that as VR tech gets to the point where it can make us not only experience other things, but not be able to tell the difference, we lose much of our motivation to do things outside the VR.  This continues, of course, the standard  science-fictional warnings against video entertainment, continued from the video plays in Fahrenheit 451 and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  Of course, with the modern era where marriages are broken up by World of Warcraft and babies starve to death while their parents play online, this doesn’t seem as far fetched as it used to.
  • The Kollin brothers have imagined a really interesting world, with thoughtful discussions of nanotech, artificial intelligence, travel, and other social, political, and historical developments.  It’s believable and entertaining the whole way along.

One other thing I like about the book is that I think it’s possible to disagree with the main character’s perspective, without feeling like you’re fighting upstream.  It will be interesting to see what the Unincorporated War will be like.

I emailed the authors to ask a couple questions about how the world of the book works.  Their answers are below (with my questions in italics:

Mr. Riley,

It is our pleasure to answer your question.

(1. How does the initial incorporation break down?  We understand that:

The gv’t gets 5%
The parents get 20%
The individual gets 25%

But what happens to the other 50%?)

The answer to this is relatively simple. When the person is born they get 75% of their initial offering. But their parents have the right and cultural obligation to use that seventy five percent to pay for education and training of their children. This is why children of wealthy parents who can pay cash for enormous expense of effective education automatically give their children such a huge advantage. They reach adulthood with the full seventy five percent. This, in essence answers the second question…

(We understand that by the time people hit adulthood, they’re usually below 50%, but we don’t really get how that happens.)

…because the vast majority of people come from non-wealthy parents and each level of schooling is paid for not with their parents money but from that pool of seventy-five percent of their own stock. By the time they are done with k-12 with all the specialty training and other ‘GREAT OFFERS’ that are marketed to nervous parents most children leave high school at about fifty percent. The truth is most parents pay too much, but that is the beauty of the system. The parents are caught between two reinforcing realities. First they want what is best for their children, (you didn’t give little Neela the educo summer program? But it only cost two percentage points for three whole summers and look at the results. Don’t you love your children?) Who couldn’t write that marketing campaign? And of course the other insidious factor is that the parents aren’t spending their own stock. They are spending their children’s stock and the better educated the children the better the parents twenty-percent will be. The system is truly rigged. That is why k-12 tends to cost 25% of a persons stock value and college/technical school only cost 10-15% of a persons stock value. Even though the the later portion should be the most expensive it’s not because by the time they are in college the children are paying for it themselves. And the real genius of the system is that the children who complain about this system become parents and fall into the exact same trap. After all, the better educated ‘their’ kids are the more their parental twenty percent will be worth. And the system reinforces itself generation after generation. Look at the social security scam for a real life example of how an entire culture can be conned generation after generation as long as you pass the ticking bomb to the next group of unborn suckers down the line.

2. It seemed to some of us like the Grand Collapse was more about the VR catastrophe than about the model of capitalism at work.  How did the market contribute to the collapse?

The VR plague was the final push. When we wrote this in 2001-2002 we postulated that a US administration would screw with the value of the dollar for political gains and that would eventually distort and destroy the economy’s ability to function at a level acceptable for sustained growth or even maintenance of living standards. It was supposed to be fiction. Usually what happens is that things get really bad, people get pissed at the morons in charge and we have an election or a revolution depending on the culture involved and the severity of the economic crises. But VR proved catastrophic because it gave people a way out. No need to vote or revolt if you can just escape to a perfect world for the price of pasta and two bucks of electricity a day. Since hardly anyone cared about the problems around them, the problems got worse. Say what you will about revolutions, they do bring solutions. Almost always those are solutions you really don’t want, but at least they do something. Throw VR into the mix and the vast bulk of humanity is willing to starve to death in perfect contentment as the world crumbles around them. Remember in VR you can be Spider-Man, Captain Kirk, Electra or God all in an afternoon. You can fight the Justice League or be on the Justice League. You can cure cancer, build pyramids, command legions in battle or whatever your imagination and a programmer can contrive. I doubt I would be able to resist. I’m kind of addicted to Hulu. VR would most likely kill me. But in a really, really cool way. Sigh.

I hope this helps and if you or your group have any follow ups please feel free to let us know.

Best regards,

Dani Kollin
Eytan Kollin

Authors
The Unincorporated Man, The Unincorporated War
www.theunincorporated.com

2010-09-19 Tweets

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Scanning

So I’m using a new scanner now and boy is it slick.  My old one was attached to a Dell all-in-one printer and it worked okay except that it was pretty slow, it was huge (since it was a printer too), and the supporting software was junk.  Allright, not junk, but what you get when you buy a Dell all-in-one printer.

Well, about a month ago it started leaving these long yellow streaks down the middle of the scan page which the Internets told me was because the mirrors or scanning bits inside were dirty.  I found a help site that showed how to open up and clean a scanner, so I tried that.  And broke some bits of the casing and stuff and still couldn’t get it open.  Hence, the new scanner.

HP scanning: aligned to AWESOME
HP scanning: aligned to AWESOME

The new one is an HP Scanjet G4050, and boy oh boy is it slick.

First off, it looks like  a scanner.  Its footprint is about the same size as the old one, but psychically, it feels smaller because it’s about half the height.  It doesn’t feel like a wall of printer next to me.

Second, it’s quick.  I’ve been doing scans at 300 dpi and it zips along merrily.  Whee.

Third, it’s smart.  The two things the software does that just blow my mind are alignment and multiple images. When you do a scan like the one above, the selection software recognizes the edges of the page and aligns at a slant.  Wicked cool.  You also have the option of making multiple selections, which the software will process as separate scans.  So if you want to, you can scan four or five images on the bed at once, and it will export them as four or five different images rather than one that you have to split up in Photoshop.

Fun, fun, fun.

Push

Push
Push

This movie was nothing like the novel by Sapphire.  Very disappointed.

Okay, I’ve got that out of the way.

I remember when Push came out, I thought it looked like the movie Heroes wished it had been.  It’s grittier and meaner than Heroes, but also has a narrower plot arc as one could expect from a film like this.  I’d heard some grim things about the movie beforehand, which I believe let me enjoy it more than I might have otherwise.  I’ll discuss those in the Spoiler section below, but first a couple other thoughts:

  • The powers at work in the world are interesting and a bit confusing.  There are “watchers” who can see the future and “pushers” who have telekinesis, and then there are various other people who can erase memories, hide other people, sniff like bloodhounds, and all other manner of skills.  It’s a cool conceit, as is the underground complex of secret groups aimed at capturing those people with psychic talents.
  • The watchers who can tell the future are particularly interesting, as they draw what they see and then ruminate on it later.  One clever bit is to make one of the watchers a shitty artist.  There’s a long running gag in which her drawing of a “shiny bead” is repeatedly mistaken for an olive with a pimento in it.
  • The effects and action sequences are pretty great, particularly the fights between the telekinetics.  It’s not clear from the movie how exactly the telekinesis works, though, so it’s a little hard to say whether the fighters were using their skills to the best of their abilities or not
  • The actual plot wasn’t really the point, but it was a pretty enjoyable vehicle for all the other stuff above.

Spoiler Section:

When you watch the movie, you will need to disengage the skeptical part of your brain, as the powers some of the people manifest are strange and confusing.  For instance, one guy has the power to make things appear slightly different — like making blank paper appear to be money.  But it only lasts a little while.  This doesn’t make any sense.  If he’s affecting the perception of the person receiving the goods, okay, I can buy that it would be limited.  But he’s actually affecting the physical object — people can pass it from one person to the next.  Yet his power wears off.  Also, there are these guys who can shatter glass and kill people by screaming at them, a power that makes fish burst like balloons.  But a girl wearing earplugs is spared.  When you burst like a balloon, that’s the physical power of the sound waves, not the perceptual power of them.  Thus, earplugs shouldn’t do anything to stop those powers.

Then you have the irrational behavior of some of the characters.  For instance, the sniffers who first find the main macguffin (a girl with the power to ‘push’ a thought into your mind and make it seem to be the truth) are pretty cavalier about dealing with her.  I would have thought a sensory-deprivation helmet  and/or knockout drugs would be essential to transporting someone who can mess with your head psychically.

But the most interesting part, for me, was watching for the moment Rolfe and Sarah warned me about.  They’d mentioned, in our discussion of the movie, that there’s a point where suddenly everything we’ve established goes out the window and things change significantly.  I can’t be 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure the moment comes during the gunfight in the chinese restaurant. A note about the telekinetic powers that the “movers” have.  They have to be trained and practiced, but they also seem to work on instinct.

Throughout the film, we’ve watched the main character struggle to use his powers with nuance.  He spends a lot of time trying and failing in simple small tasks like turning over dice or levitating.  He has a few moments of power, but these are moments of extreme stress.  Thus, in a fight I’m happy to grant him the occasional lashing out or instinctive shield, but at the beginning of this scene, he’s suddenly able to hover two pistols in the air, chamber a round in each, cock the hammer, move the pistols across the room, and bring them to the heads of two different people simultaneously, and then hold a conversation with those people. I can completely see how this would be an illusion-shattering moment if you hadn’t been warned about it.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable movie, but there are some problems in the nuance of the skills that derail it as a unified, careful conceit.