The Witching Hour

"I'm Scary, and Bored of You" by amber simmons
"I'm Scary, and Bored of You" by amber simmons

Parenting often calls for a bit of gallows humor.  There are moments when the moment-by-moment drama of little children challenges you to keep your cool and stick to your values.  Sometimes I succeed, other times I fail and lose my temper.  It helps to have a distanced view of the cycles of your household.

On some days, particularly those when we don’t have any outside activities for the kids to do (rainy, yucky weather and no school this week, for example), a switch seems to flip in my children sometime between 3 and 5:30pm, starting what we’ve come to call the witching hour.  It’s during this time that Avery will goad Finn into misbehavior, doors will slam, children will run around in the rooms not safe or allowed for running, and tantrums will follow.

Scolding, chasing, cajoling, calm talking, reasoning, distracting, and any other manner of intervention seems to do nothing during the witching hour.  Like the pilgrims who lamented that they were bewitched powerless by the Salem witches, so too do we find ourselves seemingly powerless in the face of the escalating behavior cyclone in these moments.

During one such tantrum, when Jenny wouldn’t allow Avery (who’s 5, you’ll remember) to do some thing she wanted, Avery crossed her arms and moaned loudly, “You’re ruining my life.”

Getting the kids to step back and disconnect from the whirlwind behavior of these moments is particularly challenging, and we’ve tried a variety of solutions.  But mostly I just try to remember the British motto from the war that’s become so ubiquitous: Keep Calm and Carry On.


The King’s Speech

King's Speech PosterJenny and I got a chance to see The King’s Speech before it left the theatres, and it’s quite a treat.  Colin Firth does an excellent job playing a nervous man (albeit, a King) not unlike those we’ve come to love him for playing.  And Geoffrey Rush sparkles as Lionel.  Of course, the movie won Best Picture, so we could expect it to be good.  A quick couple thoughts:

  • If I weren’t lazy, I bet I could go read about how Colin Firth studied to stammer.  I bet he put a lot of work into that.
  • There are two kinds of people in this world: those who can pull off top hats and those who cannot.  I’m certainly in the not category, but I’m glad Colin Firth is there holding up the other end of the see-saw.  Also, it occurs to me that ‘top hat’ is a bit of an oxymoron.  What other kind of hat would there be?

    “Excuse me, what’s that on your ass?”
    “Oh, that’s my bottom hat.  Do you like it?”

  • Lots of the usual suspects of Brit actors in the movie.  Aside from your Helenas Bonham-Carter and your Guys Pierce (looking quite sketchy), I also enjoyed seeing Michael “Dumbledore” Gambon as King George V and Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop, not to mention Timothy “Wormtail” Spall as the always-scowling Winston Churchill.  Jacobi has played so many clergymen he probably has a special closet at home full of vestments that he uses to perform weddings for cinephiles on slow weekends.
  • My favorite moment in the film is when Albert (still a prince) tells a story to his children of a man who’d been turned into a penguin by an evil witch.  When he manages to swim all the way back from Antarctica, he’s welcomed by his daughters, whose kisses save him from being a penguin.  He doesn’t become human, but at least he turns into an albatross with wings wide enough to give his daughters giant hugs.  The story tells the tale of the film, in minature.  Albert’s stammering never goes away entirely, but with Lionel’s help he manages to bring it under control.
  • I thought the title referred to a single speech, something the King had to deliver at one particular point and the process he used to prepare for it.  Instead, of course, it refers to the King’s ability to speak, and the challenges he faced in overcoming it.
The King's Speech 2
"I look ... good ... in a top hat."

I’m very glad that The King’s Speech doesn’t have a Holland’s Opus moment, in which a single word (or couple words) from the teacher suddenly open the gates for the student, who then performs flawlessly afterward.  “Play the sunset.” Bah!

Comics Roundup

The Surrogates, by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldelle
City of Tomorrow
, by Howard Chaykin
The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks
, by Max Brooks

I raided the general comics shelf (as opposed to the collection in the young adult section) at the library last week, and read three interesting trade paperbacks from the stock.  Quick summary of the plots:

  • Brook’s ZSG: Recorded Attacks translates the most interesting part of Brooks’ mega-hit disaster-prep book into comic form, telling brief stories of the various encounters between human and zombie-kind that predate the zombie war.
  • City of Tomorrow is the usual Chaykin fare, with a dystopian future, violence, and lots of sex.  The story follows the rebellious son of a city founder whose utopian marvel has been overrun by malfunctioning gangster bots.
  • The Surrogates, the graphic novel that inspired the Hollywood movie, tells of a future society where most people buy robotic surrogates (controlled by wireless) to do their daily chores.  When someone starts killing the surrogates, trouble abounds.

The Surrogates City of Tomorrow ZSG: Recorded Attacks

A few thoughts:

  • All three comics explore the human reaction to inhuman threats.  Tomorrow! and Attacks both focus on enemies without, inhuman beings scary because they are on the wrong side of the uncanny valley.  By contrast, Surrogates explores the danger we pose to ourselves when we have extreme control of our own image.
  • Tomorrow! and Surrogates both turn on the dangers of using technology to correct the human condition.  Whereas the robot-dopplegangers of Surrogates have undermined real interpersonal relationships, the robot gangsters of Tomorrow! have undermined the utopian society they were meant to serve.
  • Recorded Attacks and Surrogates also both turn on the notion of losing your humanity to an inhumane force.  The distinction is that Surrogate-drivers have the opportunity to go back (while the poor zombie bastards do not) musnt be ignored or forgotten.
  • The art in the comics reflects three very distinct styles.  The scratchy, thin-limbed paint style of Surrogates contrasts strongly with the realistic/cartoonish hypersexualized Tomorrow! and the gruesome black and white of Recorded Attacks.
  • I’m glad to say that while Surrogates and Tomorrow! both dally in the possibilities of technologically-enhanced sex, Recorded Attacks refrains from similar considerations of zombie love.

Most interestingly, Surrogates and Tomorrow! both turn on questions of technology and its role in our society.  Playing on his old canards of technology ruining society through human tendencies, Chaikyn’s Tomorrow! feels like the same old American Flagg! without as much verve.  By contrast, Venditti’s Surrogates translates itself directly to be a parable about Facebook and the lack of interpersonal connections at the heart of the modern mediascape.

All three are enjoyable, though I think only The Surrogates would demand or reward re-reading.

    This is it, Michael Shayne

    This Is It, Michael Shayne, posted by swallace99
    This Is It, Michael Shayne, posted by swallace99

    PCA/ACA 2011

    2011 Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association Annual meeting
    held in conjunction with the Southwest/Texas PCA/ACA
    San Antonio, TX, 20-23 April 2011.

    Had a good time at the PCA/ACA meeting last week, with lots of collegial networking, some great discussions both scholarly and colloquial, and got a chance to walk around San Antonio a bit.  As always, the more I help with running the conference, the fewer panels I’m able to attend.  Some thoughts:

    • Session 9157, 21 April, 11.30am: Professional Development Roundtable: Copyright and Fair Use
      Kathy Merlock Jackson and I led a small but diverse group in discussing issues surrounding copyright and fair use.  We ranged over a large number of topics, including classroom use of articles, permissions for books and other publications, and the theories and philosophies behind copyright.  We had a spirited discussion about the very nature of intellectual property and the potential for change in the years to come.  Quite lively.
    • Session 8114, 22 April, 9.45am: Vampire in Lit, Culture, and Film–True Blood: A Carnal Antidote to the “Dreamy” Twilight Craze
      Phil Simpson, Mary Findley, Heide Crawford, and Brad Duren led a raucous discussion of True Blood in relation to Twilight, looking at the gender politics, history of monsters, and nature of romance fiction.  The audience was quite into it, exploring both the questions of quality and fan adoration.  Vigorous, delightful discussion.
    • Session 6821, 23 April, 1.15pm: Computer Culture: Neon-Noir: The Future City and Technology in Future-Noir Films
      Kelly Baxter and Jennifer Chamberlain gave two interesting papers exploring Vertigo, La Jetee, and 12 Monkeys on one hand and Wings of Desire, Fight Club, and Dark City on the other.  Both papers turned on Guy DeBord’s psychogeography, suggesting that amnesia plays a crucial role in the structuring of the neo-noir city.  Enjoyable papers that made me wish I’d been able to see more panels.
    • Visiting the Alamo was interesting, but a bit of a let-down.  You could only take pictures outside, so lugging my camera all over the place wasn’t much of a payoff.  I’m glad I took the audio tour, and paid the $2 extra to visit the scale diorama at the “History Store” across the street.  It’s owned by Phil Collins (an Alamo enthusiast, apparently), who also narrates the story of the battle.  It provided a good way for me to understand the actual building when I arrived there.  I found the historian note during the audio tour to be most interesting: People often frame the Alamo as Americans who couldn’t get along with Mexicans having a revolution.  Actually, the Texas revolt was one of a whole bunch of revolutions that swept through Mexico in the decade before the Alamo.
    • The city is nice enough, but it seems designed to funnel you toward the riverwalk or the Alamo, both of which feel pretty touristy.  My walk-around day was pretty hot, so I gave in to laziness and did not make my way to the Mission National Park.  Probably should have.
    • I did not give in to my two Texas ambitions (both from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure).  I refrained from asking the tour guide where the basement was, and I refrained from shouting “The Stars at Night Are Big and Bright.”

    Chicago, Murder City

    The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers that Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry

    I saw Chicago when it came out in theaters, but haven’t watched it since.  Barring some future academic project on musicals or a new interest in the genre from one of my kids, I doubt I would ever have watched it again.  But having read Douglas Perry’s fascinating (if a bit overlong) book on the spate of murders that inspired the musical, I checked it out again.

    The Girls of Murder City Chicago

    The Girls of Murder City follows the course of two primary (and several secondary) sensationalized murder trials in Chicago’s early 1920s.  The city, notorious for its willingness to let pretty women get away with murder, drooled over the salacious details of these “girls with guns” trials, making the events worldwide circuses.  One of the secondary tales, for instance, told of the 5,000 people who clogged the streets around the tenement apartment building of a woman who’d killed a man and then killed herself.  There were even more people at the cemetery.

    Perry cleverly frames the story of these events through the eyes of Maureen Watkins, a small-town girl turned crime reporter who became embittered by the cynical delight the press took in the events, and the way lovely looks and clever courtroom antics translated into acquittals for the murderesses.  After Watkins left Chicago, she penned a scandalous play based on these trials.  The play, Chicago, became a smash hit in New York and on its tour; Bob Fosse adapted it to musical form in the 1970s, and Rob Marshall brought it to the screen in 2003.

    A few thoughts about the book and the musical together:

    • Having read the book now, it’s startling how closely the events of the musical ape the events of real trials.  For instance, Buela Annen let slip that she was pregnant at a very opportune time, just as Roxie Hart does in the musical.
    • Fun fact: There’s a common story that Chicago wasn’t adapted to a musical until the 1970s because Watkins had become ashamed of the play after becoming a born-again Christian.  Perry says this oft-repeated myth is downright wrong.  He says she refused requests to adapt the play because the first two adaptations of it so badly marred the clever satire she’d been weaving.
    • In both stories, the cuckolded husband comes off looking like quite the sad character.  After my first viewing, I felt that John C. Reilly’s “Mr. Celophane” is the best song in the musical, and I hold to that statement today.  Having read Perry’s book, it seems like Buella’s husband wasn’t much different than the Amos character.
    • It’s fascinating to read about the media frenzy surrounding such stories in the 1920s, as it embodies the kind of notorious celebrity we see in today’s paparazzi culture: people become famous for something stupid first, and then continue to be famous because they’re famous.

    2011-04-24 Tweets

    • Nature comes alive at the #brookfieldzoo Male giraffe suddenly gets aroused and we guide the kids to check out one of the infographics. #
    • Boilin' potatoes. Yeah, you read right. #
    • Watching Terminator Salvation for the first time. Didn't expect to see naked Arnold. #
    • After mishearing my question, I noticed Jenny said "no" but meant "yes." M.Mull came to mind, shouting "No meaning Yes!?" #Clue #ColMustard #
    • 3yo to his mom: "my pants are falling down!" Mom's reply: "Well pick them up!" #Simplicity #baggypants #
    • Finn blowing bubbles. If no bubbles spring from the wand, mutters "Nope." When it works, says "Yes! There's some bubbles!" Then stomps 'em. #
    • On airport shuttle to catch Red-Eye to Dallas, then on to San Antonio for PCA/ACA. 3:45am pick up time, ahem, #blows #needcoffee #
    • Reading The Wreck of the Titan (1905) by M. Robertson. It's hailed as disturbingly predictive of the #Titanic disaster, and I can see why. #
    • #americanairlines canceled my 6a flight, didn't send me an email or anything. On standby for 10:20a, else booked on 2:45p. #purgatory #
    • Still need coffee. #
    • Found an outlet. It's the little things, eh? #purgatory #makingthebestofit #
    • Taking bets: will I get on my 10:20 standby, or am I stuck here until 2:45? #
    • Early and distracted by the noise, so watching an ep of MST3K. Thank goodness for #netflix streaming. #purgatory #
    • @dancpharmd thanks, Dan! Here's hoping it's just a 6 hour wait instead of 10. in reply to dancpharmd #
    • #MSt3K "These are just the carnies. Wait till the zombies attack." #
    • "that Kenyan lawyers are still wearing [wigs] suggests that wig reform has not yet spread to the rest of the former Empire." @Loweringthebar #
    • @rogerwhitson I wonder if Ezra Pound ever sold glass trinkets filled with colored sand; he could have marketed them: "PoundSand." #lamejoke #
    • 90 minutes until I know whether I have another 240 minutes at O'Hare. #
    • Is it wrong to contemplate a gourmet candy apple at 9 in the morning? #
    • Gender at the news stand: under women's interest- glamour, cosmo, etc. Under men's interest- finance and video games. Oddly no maxim, porn. #
    • Is something wrong with air travel when cancellations are so common that airlines set up special "Rebooking Center" kiosks? #purgatory #
    • Went with the Butterfinger Caramel Apple. #decadent #unneccesary #purgatory #treat #
    • @rogerwhitson I read the first trade, but haven't read any more yet. in reply to rogerwhitson #
    • Good news: I'm first on the standby list. #
    • Big fire in Texas near Dallas. I wonder if that's why my flight was canceled. #
    • Sitting on a plane soon to leave for San Antonio. YaY! #
    • Phrase both pompous AND humble: "I will be happy if I helped in some small way." #
    • At the alamo #
    • Phil Collins is an Alamo Enthusiast. #
    • English pop musicians are strange narrators of Texas history. #
    • By the end of this audio tour, we hope you have many new reasons to 'remember the Alamo.' #
    • #pcaaca11 k baxter draws a xool geneaology of neo-noir from Vertigo thru La Jetee to 12 Monkeys. #
    • #pcaaca11 j chamberlain: In neo-noir the city fails to be a productive memory space via Wings of Desire, Fight Club, Dark City. #
    • #pcaaca11 6821 Neo-noir films rely on amnesiac characters and spaces. #
    • #pcaaca11 dude just mentioned Fight Club as pre-imagining of 9/11 ala Baudrillard. My thought: C.F. M Robertson's Wreck of the Titan. #
    • Weird. Just heard someone make an excuse for reticence with technology by saying she was a gen xer. #pcaaca11 #
    • Dinner: 1 glass ginger ale, 1 bowl edamame, 1 glass lemonade, ice cream with cookie planks. Yummy. #
    • Did you know that every time you tweet about Fight Club @IAmJacksBot replies? #
    • Oh.My.God. Asylum films has a movie called Titanic 2. Streaming now. #
    • #titanic2 Awesome! Senator meany from the X-Men is the Coast Guard rep. #
    • @dancpharmd Will do! in reply to dancpharmd #
    • #Titanic2 the captain looks about 25 years old. I was hoping to see a Captain Smith lookalike. #
    • #Titanic2 I'm pretty sure they still use tugboats with big ships heading to sea. #
    • #Titanic2 note to self: when depicting someone living in the far North on a glacier, give them a hat. #
    • #Titanic2 Also? Gloves. #
    • #Titanic2 Submarine Captain calls for speed, "Let's get this cigar smoking." Best line so far. #
    • #Titanic2 Something to ask the physics experts: would a tsunami moving across the ocean push icebergs like the flotsam in front of a boat? #
    • #Titanic2 why does the owner know more than the captain? Where's the shipwright? #
    • #Titanic2 Captain: "It looks like history is repeating itself." Also, the passengers on this luxury liner look pretty low rent. #
    • @dancpharmd Thanks! Glad it's not annoying. in reply to dancpharmd #
    • #Titanic2 I wonder if "Women and Children first" would still apply. #
    • #Titanic2 wait, the only access to the lifeboats is on an ELEVATOR?! #
    • #Titanic2 They get stuck at the top of some stairs. "C'mon, I know another way." Just like the Leo movie. #
    • #Titanic2 Apparently, you can use credit cards to stop life threatening wounds. #
    • #Titanic2 "Get your people off the lifeboats! They're death traps!" #
    • @dancpharmd either one would be awesome, I'm sure. in reply to dancpharmd #
    • #Titanic2 That's some good electronics infrastructure: An elevator in a collapsed shaft on the sinking boat on fire still has cell service. #
    • #Titanic2 Hey! Just realized the Billionaire with a heart of gold wore white socks and jeans to the black tie event on the ship.#gauche #
    • #Titanic2 #NoteToSelf: Don't try to help someone who tried to squeeze through a steel door and gotten stuck. Nothing good will come of it. #
    • #Titanic2 Despite its silliness, this movie is pretty enjoyable. #ExtraCheese #
    • #Titanic2 I wonder if the similarity between the hero's hair and Leo's hair in the James Cameron movie is intentional. #
    • #Titanic2 "What's your plan?" "I drown. This water's cold, and if they find me soon enough, I can be revived." #CrappyPlan #
    • #Titanic2 Didn't I read somewhere that drowning people vomit as part of the death throes? #JustSayin #039; #
    • #Titanic2 Um, where are all the other people? #
    • @dancpharmd My TwitterTools WordPress widget does that every Sunday. But perhaps I'll cut these out and put them in a post about the movie. in reply to dancpharmd #
    • @richardebe A childhood #MSt3k habit means most movies are enjoyable. Plus, I'd probably enjoy watching a sponge if it were Titanic-shaped. in reply to richardebe #
    • @JMeredithA Sorry for flooding your feed. Revenge for all those Valpo sports posts! in reply to JMeredithA #
    • On my way home, waiting for the airport shuttle. #PleaseNoDelays #
    • If an airport shuttle is 20 min late because "we have a lot of pickups to make," you expect there to be more than 2 people when you get on. #
    • Shuttle was running late enough that two hotels had nobody waiting. I hope it's not his fault, cuz I bet nobody is gonna tip him. I will. #
    • Back in Chicago. Ahhh, the cool air feels pretty darn nice. #HomeAgainHomeAgainJiggetyJig #

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    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieI re-read this book as part of my mystery book club (at my suggestion, actually).  A couple quick bullets about my re-reading of this book:

    • Flavia’s sauciness comes through in a different way when you read the book to yourself (as opposed to hearing it via audiobook).  She’s still precocious, but not so delighted in herself.  The sequences with her bicycle (Gladys) shine even more in the audio book version.
    • I like the absolutely loving way Bradley describes the Chemistry lab.  Flavia’s devotion to the chemical arts works as a great backdrop for her interest in all problems, but also gives her insight into many aspects of life she might not have otherwise.  One wonders how much Bradley researched to add this element, or if he used an element he already knew.
    • The offhand manner in which Flavia’s father refers to the horrifying experience of British public school life really brings home the differences in the ways people parent today.  The scene where she decides not to hug her father because it’s not something deLuces do is equally heartbreaking.
    • I’ve given this book as a gift once and recommended it to my reading group — I think it’s both entertaining and educational, and a new kind of cozy mystery.  I hope you consider checking it out as well.

    See also: my review of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

    Bride of Re-Animator

    Bride of Re-Animator
    Bride of Re-Animator

    Herbert West is back, and he’s as mad as ever.  This time around, he’s continued his experiments into reanimating dead flesh in the war-torn jungle, and back at Arkham Hospital, he’s ready to try again.  With his trusty lilly-livered buddy along for the ride, West once again pilfers corpses, scoffs at dissenters, and builds monstrosities.  It’s pretty great.

    A few thoughts:

    • While Re-Animator was a rather direct adaptaion (at least the first half) of H.P.L.’s story, this one is straight-up eighties crazy.  It’s also very Frankenstein in its plot, though less so in the moral department, as West learns nothing about ethics from his new adventure.
    • Clearly following in the wake of the horror-comedy juggernaut Evil Dead 2, Bride of Re-Animator features all sorts of weird imagery, including but not limited to a walking hand-monster made of five dismembered fingers and an eyeball and a flying head flapping around on bat wings.  Quality stuff.
    • The dead in this film show much less motivation to do, well, anything than most zombies show.  While some of them are menacing on their own, most just lumber about leering and looking yucky.  There’s some implication late in the film that the severed head can control them, but this is neither entirely clear nor very purposeful.
    • Jeffrey Combs stands out as the gawky essence of the mad scientist.  His cold sneering at emotions and morbid love for dead flesh makes the movie work like clockwork.  Great stuff.
    • It occurs to me that the reagent looks just like the ooze from the TMNT world.  I see a crossover adventure in the future.

    Worth seeing, but be sure to see Re-Animator first.

    The Little Engine That Could

    Watching episode 704 of The Atheist Experience, I had a little insight about faith.  The caller, a humble, fearful sounding man from a fundamentalist church, was repeatedly returning to his beliefs despite what the hosts asked him.  Traci regularly asked why he believed that the particular Christian dogma he ascribed to was true, and he really did not answer the question at all.  At other times, the hosts of the show have asked callers how they choose from among the many ancient religions (or modern ones); usually, the caller resorts to the old canard that you “just have to have faith.”

    Matt Dillahunty’s canned response to that comment is something like “Faith is the excuse we give ourselves to believe something when there’s no other reason to.”  From this perspective, faith certainly seems like a negative.  If your only way of distinguishing your religious tradition from those of others is faith, then it’s pretty presumptuous to be so self-assured that you’re right.

    "Little trains" by conekt
    "Little trains" by conekt

    But contrast that with faith as a kind of mental placebo, a way to help you get through the tough times.  Two secular examples of this are the Little Engine That Could (a children’s story about a small train who succeeded in pulling a large cargo up a steep hill by trying really hard and saying, to itself, “I think I can, I think I can”) and Fred Gailey.  Gailey, you will remember, is the optimist defense attorney from A Miracle on 34th Street.  His take: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”  Certainly, this can be a good thing.

    But how do we distinguish harmful faith from helpful faith?  One way, it seems to me, would be to use faith as a way to articulate how the world should be, and the hope we have for that project.  To have faith in America, for instance, is to believe the principles of freedom and equality can ultimately win out against the forces that conspire to reduce peoples’ freedom and equality.  This is different, of course, from blind faith that America is the best–and if you don’t like it, you can go jump in a lake.  (I crib one way to describe the difference in these two perspectives from Al Franken: Mature love for the country acknowledges that it’s run by imperfect people with good intentions who make mistakes, sometimes tragic and horrible; immature love for this country says things like “love it or leave it.”)

    So perhaps we all need faith, but we should be able to think carefully about those things we hold faithful, and be able to explain why we do so.


    How will you spend your last day?

    All Your Base Are Belong To Us

    If the Terminator series is to be believed, Skynet woke up yesterday and its first attack on human kind will happen tomorrow.  While I don’t think this is likely, just in case Skynet is watching:

    I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

    (Just a little Pascal’s Wager there.)

    A few thoughts about tomorrow’s apocalypse:

    • It makes me sad that I am in San Antonio, and won’t be with my family when the nuclear bombs fall.  What time of day will it be?  Is my home near Chicago close enough that my children will feel but a moment’s pain when the nukes hit?  (Holy cow, writing that really chills me to the core.  I can’t imagine how hard it was to be a child in the late 1950s, to grow up with duck-and-cover drills and the Cuban Missile Crisis.)  By contrast, I will have the opportunity to make a stand in the Alamo.  It worked out really well for Davy Crockett.  I think I’ll hide in the basement.
    • What if it ends up being a slow-burn apocalypse instead.  Skynet just scrapes Facebook for data and undermines the global economy, or more likely begins manipulating us through our external memory devices.  We won’t know we’re under its control until it’s too late.  The Amazon suggested reading is not your friend.
    • Once again, I’m inclined to raise the question of what will happen when we build computers sophisticated enough to process data in a way that it appears they’re thinking.  Will we try to shut them down?  If so, are we dooming ourselves to a Terminator, Matrix, or Battlestar Galactica world?  Can’t we just get along with our machine cousins?
    • <skynet#ignore>It seems like Skynet is pretty dumb about a lot of stuff — the machines seem pretty locked in to conventional warfare.  We’ve developed an awful lot of biological and chemical agents that would be much more effective attacks on humans, but I’ve yet to see the machines deploy them.   Notice that I’ve embedded this bit of data in a tag designed to hide it from You-Know-Who’s prying eyes.</skynet#ignore>

    Here’s hoping the movies are wrong.  I’ve got some good blog posts that will never make it out of the “scheduled” category if the world goes to hell.  Plus, all my snark above will make me look like a total asshat.

    Please! We're just trying to collect census data.



    Accelerando by Charles Stross

    Accelerando tells the drawn-out story of the Manni Manx and his family over the course of the next few centuries, supposing the nerd-rapture singularity that’s so much a part of the modern science-fiction landscape.  Each chapter jumps forward in ever-greater leaps, following the clan as they wrestle with the post-human life and the beings that occupy it afterward.  It’s a frenetic, fable-spinning delight that asks you to just hop in and enjoy the ride.

    A few thoughts:

    • Stross peppers the book with so many ideas and insights that it’s hard to pick out the few that are most interesting.  He suggests that as interfaces and computing power get more sophisticated, people will outsource more and more of their thinking to their extensions, as McLuhan would call them.  By the time we start to wonder about whether we should upload our brains, we’ve already begun using external brains for most of the work anyhow.
    • The book also rassles with the question of the non-physical being as a legal entity and the problems that would arise from it.  If you can spawn ghosts of yourself to explore things and then merge the memories later, are you tied to legal claims made against those ghosts?
    • When we spawn digital selves that can continue to evolve in spaces unconstrained by earth meat, we should expect that they will stop holding earth meat as a priority, and may evolve beyond us.  I’m reminded of the NASA study that suggested a big problem with putting self-replicating mining robots on the moon is that they might decide it’s a waste of their energy to mine stuff for us.
    • Stross also addresses one of the key ideas we’ve not yet thought about in pondering interstellar travel: it will be easier to send ourselves as data, uploaded in a hard drive, than as physical beings.
    • I like the scales at work in this novel: the individual experience and goal contrasts with the system-wide chaos of dismantling planets and building dyson spheres of smart-matter computronium.  I also envy his ability to spew new ideas in every sentence.  It would exhaust my creative meter pretty quickly to blast out as many ideas as he does.  I wonder if he sees himself as an early 21st century Manifred Manx?


    Source Code
    Source Code


    Because I’ve already written a bit about the themes and ideas in Source-Code, I’m going to devote relatively little time to this post; I’ll make a note if I’m able to place the longer essay somewhere.  That said, Source-Code grabs you and pulls you in with its mystery.  It uses a lot of enigma, but not nearly so much as other movies with more high-falutin’ targets.  The story focuses on Colter Stevens, an Army pilot who finds himself on a train, where he has eight minutes to solve the question of why the train blew up.  After a brief rest period in which he meets with his superiors, he goes back and tries again.  It’s 12 Monkeys and Quantum Leap meet Groundhog Day, without the piano lessons.

    A few quick blurbs:

    • At one point, a scientist says that the human mind holds its last eight minutes in short term memory in a way that allows the Source Code technology to work.  It’s an interesting update on the old canard that the retina retains a picture of the last thing the dead person saw.
    • Just curious, if you built a dirty bomb full of radioactive whiz-bang, would you add a bunch of Geiger counters so that it was clicking and beeping all the time?

    The film is really solidly acted and scripted, with good interaction between the characters and a suspenseful story.  Definitely worth seeing.  It also raises some really interesting questions about ethics and technology, but I will write about those below the fold because to discuss them depends on thoroughly spoiling the film.  It’s an enjoyable movie, quite delightful and worth watching.

    2011-04-17 Tweets

    • Note to self: regular work week– back to rigid, productive schedule. #vows #
    • Greek God Charon was pronounced Kare-on but Pluto's moon is pronounced Sharon in honor of the discovering astronomer's wife. #isntthatsweet #
    • Rare minor delight: taking the first knife-ful of peanut butter from a new jar. #
    • Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan write an interesting survey of history of abortion and the ethics behind it. #
    • Finished my Faculty Annual Activity Report (FAAR). Whew. #
    • How much writing can I get done on my short story idea before my 3:45 quitting bell rings? #
    • 330 words, it turns out. #
    • Really gotta love who you are, really gotta love where you are; really gotta love who put you there, a little bit of love will go anywhere. #
    • #Enthusiasm saw a book @forestparkreads called RAISED FROM THE DEAD. #Disappointment realizing it's about Jesus instead of #zombies #
    • Oops! Clearchannel sold a billboard for THE WALKING DEAD on the wall of a funeral home. #
    • The people at #jonestown drank Flavor-Aid, not Kool-Aid, according to #LewisBlack #randomfact #
    • @neuroflora which zoo? If brookfield, don't pass up the anteaters. Also, they have wombats. in reply to neuroflora #
    • Me: "have a great day, Avery." Avery responds with a crisp salute. #
    • And so the snake head begins eating the tail: VH1 now has a clip show compiling The Best of the I Love The of series. #
    • On Sirius Kids Radio ystrdy, Amazing Molly recommended a 9yo aspiring writer interested in segregation read THE HELP with her mom. #Oops #
    • #lewisblack I like to think of evolution as one of the more important threads in the tapestry I call REALITY. #
    • Disconcerting holler from the basement: "Daddy! We got some sticky studd goin' on down here!" #
    • Disconcerting holler from the basement: "Daddy! We got some sticky stuff goin' on down here!" #
    • Want shocks to your emotional system? TV right now: jump back & forth between AMC showing SE7EN & MoviePlex showing Sleepless in Seattle. #

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