Tweets from 2013-09-22 to 2013-09-28

Everything’s grim in Broadchurch

Broadchurch (image credit: Patrick Redmond / BBC America)

Jenny and I finished watching the moving, incredibly dark BBC murder drama Broadchurch last night.  Like AMC’s The Killing, Broadchurch provides an in-depth investigation of a single murder, one that draws together people throughout a small town and cracks open the secrets buried beneath the surface.  With amazing acting from everyone, but particularly good work from David Tennant and Olivia Coleman, the show dives deep into the tragedy that is murder in a small town.  A few thoughts:

  • I thought the mystery was nicely paced, with a good shifting around of suspects and motives.  The changing sands of suspicion and evidence kept the story interesting and made it hard to guess who the killer would be.  Unlike many such shows, the writers did a great job keeping the side suspects “in the frame” throughout the show.
  • One of the overall lessons of the story is how difficult it is to be a good person, and how easily evil can hide among us.  Jenny and I had a long chat afterward about the darkness at the show’s core — it’s hard not to think ill of everyone when the show wraps up.  There’s a particularly good karmic turn-around toward the end that really brings the hammer down.
  • The show also really challenges the way we talk about crime in the modern era.  The press comes off particularly badly throughout, as do the slavering public who want to know everything all the time.

Overall, it’s a great show and well worth watching.  I don’t know how they’re going to do a second series, but I’ll watch it for sure.



I know where I’ll be October 17th…

At the Simon Winchester reading at Unity Temple. Viz:

The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible

Please join us for an evening with Simon Winchester discussing his new book, The Men Who United the State: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible.

For more than two centuries, E pluribus unum–Out of many, one–has been featured on America’s official government seals and stamped on its currency. But how did America become “one nation, indivisible”? What unified a growing number of disparate states into the modern country we recognize today? In this monumental history, Simon Winchester addresses these questions, bringing together the breathtaking achievements that helped forge and unify America and the pioneers who have toiled fearlessly to discover, connect, and bond the citizens and geography of the U.S.A. from its beginnings.

Winchester follows in the footsteps of America’s most essential explorers, thinkers, and innovators, including Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery Expedition to the Pacific Coast, the builders of the first transcontinental telegraph, and the powerful civil engineer behind the Interstate Highway System. He treks vast swaths of territory, from Pittsburgh to Portland; Rochester to San Francisco; Truckee to Laramie; Seattle to Anchorage, introducing these fascinating men and others-some familiar, some forgotten, some hardly known-who played a pivotal role in creating today’s United States. Throughout, he ponders whether the historic work of uniting the States has succeeded, and to what degree. (link)

Will you be there?

See Also: Krakatoa, The Crack at the Edge of the World, The Man Who Loved China, The Atlantic

Steampunk Snail Men and their Blood Gods

A Red Sun Also Rises
A Red Sun Also Rises

A Red Sun Also Rises
by Mark Hodder

Aidan is a settled churchman in Victorian England who finds himself running away to be a missionary, encouraged in part by his outcast companion Clarissa.  They arrive in the Southern Pacific only to be whisked away to another world filled with grotesque snail-men and horrible squid-people (whom the snail-men call “Blood Gods”).  The snail people turn out to by psychic mimics.  Within short order they adopt social structures and language patterns of Victorian England, thus propelling the book from fantasy into steampunk.  A few thoughts:

  • Hodder’s imagination and descriptive writing are great.  The early period on the alien world are particularly compelling, and the image of the world that changes when the Red Sun rises positively chills the bones.
  • The pacing of the novel, though, is a bit uneven for my taste.  Somewhere around the 2/3 mark, it seems like he decided he needed to finish the book and suddenly shifted into action and excitement.  The result is that the civilizations and characters revealed in this last section get short shrift, narratively.
  • I appreciated the moral and ethical courage our protagonist grows into, but I was less pleased with the war part that made up the last bit of the book.  It felt tacked on.
  • At its heart, A Red Sun Also Rises develops an environmental argument about the relationship of people to the world around them and challenges us to re-think how we understand what we’ve done to nature.  The civilizations in the book don’t know what they’re doing, but the crucial failings they’ve created spring from their misunderstanding of the world around them.  Let’s hope we gain a bit more perspective than do the aliens here.
  • This book reminded me of two older works. First, Edgar Wright Burrows’ A Princess of Mars also includes a regular (if superlative) man being transported to a famous and strange other world where they show themselves to be capable and useful leaders whom the inhabitants of the world would be wise to follow.  Second, the wraparound story recalls stories like Poe’s “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall,” which purport to depict real–if unbelievable–events through journals or papers found mysteriously.

Overall, A Red Sun Also Rises brings a hint of Steampunk to the otherworldly adventures of a Victorian vicar and his sextant.  It’s a good tale, well worth reading, if a bit uneven.


The Podcast Summer

I love my music ! by Shiv Shankar Melan Palat

I have a recurring and growing struggle with myself over how to use my “listening time.”  When I’m walking to and from work, or washing dishes, or doing home-improvement projects, I like to listen to things on my iPod. I used to listen to podcasts and audio books in roughly equal numbers.  But lately, I’ve pulled a few extra podcasts into my feed, and while I’m enjoying them immensely, I now have no time to listen to audio books.

I know, “The Horror…,” right?

Anyway, this was a particularly podcast-y August and September since I had to catch up on all the episodes from July that I missed while we were traveling.  Anyhow, here’s my current podcast loadout, in the order that I listen to them:

  • Judge John Hodgman
  • Wham Bam Pow
  • Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me
  • International Waters
  • Jordan, Jesse, GO!
  • Ask Me Another
  • Planet Money
  • On the Media
  • Throwing Shade
  • WTF
  • This American Life
  • Radiolab
  • the memory palace
  • The Moth Podcast

To keep from eating bandwidth from podcasts I don’t have time to listen to anymore, I’ve stopped downloading

  • Escape Pod
  • Starship Sofa
  • The Drabblecast
  • Cory Doctorow’s Craphound

So I ask you, my loyal readers, to what do you listen, and how do you balance those competing demands on your time?

Tweets from 2013-09-15 to 2013-09-21

Understanding the sun and how it’s trying to kill us

In a recent XKCD What If article, Randall Monroe mentioned the Carrington Event.  He wrote:

In 1859, a massive solar flare and geomagnetic storm hit the Earth. Magnetic storms induce electric currents in wires. Unfortunately for us, by 1859 we had wrapped the Earth in telegraph wires. The storm caused powerful currents in those wires, knocking out communications and in some cases causing telegraph equipment to catch fire.

Since 1859, we’ve wrapped the Earth in a lot more wires. If the 1859 storm hit us today, the Department of Homeland Security estimates the economic damage to the US alone would be several trillion dollars—more than every hurricane which has ever hit the US combined.(“Sunless Earth”)

I found the idea of a monstrous and terrifying solar flare pretty interesting (and far more likely as a danger than an asteroid), so I sought out a bit of history on the event.  I found The Sun Kings.

The Sun Kings
The Sun Kings

The Sun Kings: the Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began
by Stuart Clark

Clark explores the history of modern astronomy and its study of the sun, building his tale around Richard Carrington, whose name has been applied to the event he documented, a solar flare sending its plasma directly at the Earth.  Carrington happened to be lucky, documenting a sun spot just when it erupted, and thus making the intuitive leap to understand the relationship between the flare and the magnetic storm that disrupted worldwide communications and set fire to telegraph offices  over the next couple days.

Clark does a great job telling us about the lives of these early astronomers, who often struggled for financial and institutional support.  Science in this era was often a gentleman’s hobby, something only the wealthy could do because it literally did not pay.  He tells dramatic stories of astronomers who traveled around the world to observe solar eclipses, of the arguments over the nature of the sun and its surface, and the means by which the field narrowed its ideas and honed in on the truth.

The Sun Kings is a great piece of science writing, well worth reading.  Alas, it is somewhat like The Great Influenza, which also explained the disastrous effect its subject had on the world.  Both books note, almost as an horrific afterthought, that if these events were to happen again, we would find ourselves in a world of hurt.  In the case of a Carrington event, we would likely see massive infrastructure failures, with electric surges knocking out information systems and power grids and causing trillions in damages.

So now I have four things to worry about how nature might kill us like mosquitoes on its ass: the Yellowstone Supervolcano, another Great Influenza, world-killing asteroids, and now Carrington events.  (I’m not including, of course, the various ways our species might commit suicide through war, environmental degradation, or technological apocalypse.)

Quick miscellany

"Smoking bicyclist" by Charcoal Heather
“Smoking bicyclist” by Hoainam Tran
  • Excited to finish stringing the ethernet in my house.  After years of having spotty reception for Skype from my office, I shelled out for 100′ ethernet cables to run from the cable box (by the tee vee), down into the basement, through the drop ceiling there, up the walls of the stairwell, and to my office and Jenny’s.  I opted for finished cables rather than unfinished wire that I would have to mount to a jack because, well, I’m lazy. A couple hours this weekend should do it and I’ll have a wicked fast connection from my main office computer.
  • It’s been a good week, writing-wise.  I’m 4 for 4 meeting my word count quota, seeing the end of this darn book in sight.
  • The PCA/ACA conference is starting to heat up, so that cycle (email, web, pay bills, etc) is ramping up.  Whoo hoo here we go again.
  • I’ve selected my book for Ada Lovelace day — a book by Elizabeth Blackwell about paving the way for women in medicine.
  • This month I’m also working on my MPCA paper, “Columbo Loves Technology,” about the relationship of everyone’s favorite detective to technology and technological advances.
  • This weekend, I’m scheduled to take my USA Swimming Official Level 1 class to start qualifying as a turn and stroke judge for swim meets.  Soon I’ll don the white and navy.

Just a geek

Just a GeekJust a Geek: Unflinchingly honest tales of the search for life, love, and fulfillment beyond the Starship Enterprise
by Wil Wheaton

I don’t read Wil Wheaton’s blog, and I’ve only recently come back into orbit with his work.  It started when I went to w00tstock 2.0 in Chicago a couple years ago.  Then I started watching TableTop, a show I enjoy a lot and which emerged just as I was really getting back into board games. Then humblebundle, one of my favorite media sources for games, introduced their indie book bundle, which included Wheaton’s book.  So I picked it up for a song.

Wheaton’s book balances nicely the needs of an eager readership who already know his website with an introduction that allows for people like me who hardly remember him at all.  The book presents a roughly chronological series of essays about trying to find work as an actor trying to recover from his image as a Star Trek actor.

A few thoughts:

  • Wheaton’s strength is his honesty.  He does a great job explaining what makes him happy and sad, of really documenting the difficulties he’s faced trying to gain legitimacy as an adult actor, and of the continuing struggle he has had with the past.
  • Star Trek looms large over the book, and it presumes you know who he is–at least–from that world.  The journey of the book could really be called “Running from Wesley Crusher,” as Wheaton tries to deal with this ever-present aspect of his work.
  • The inside baseball about auditions and acting works well throughout the book, though sometimes it strays a bit too much into dwelling on his frustration with the vagaries of the acting world.  I could have done with one or two fewer essays about how he almost got a part, again.
  • I particularly liked his discussion of the rising popularity of his blog and the concomitant boost it gave to his other efforts to make a living.  By the end of the book, you feel like you really get to know Wheaton and you come to enjoy his voice quite a bit.
  • In style, Wheaton does better when he doesn’t get too over-blown in description.  He has a solid storytelling style, including good details and finding the occasional bon mot.  I suspect his later writing contains even more of this.

All in all, a good read.  It’s well worth picking up from the library or buying a copy if your own interest intersect with the WilW world at all.  It probably won’t be that rewarding for people who wouldn’t mark themselves with the Geek that Wheaton proudly wears here.



When nothing goes out of print, old and new lose much of their meaning (Lessons from The Long Tail)

Two lessons springing from the long tail (the idea that the digital age makes permanent publication of everything more possible).

ONE: Shame, public consequences, satire

Particularly interesting last week was the flameout of Pax Dickinson, the Chief Technology Officer of Business Insider.  For those who missed the brouhaha I point you to the summary at Popehat, which includes two excellent pieces approaching the scandal from opposite perspectives.

In some ways, I do not need to add to this discussion.  Ken and Clark do a great job covering both angles.  But I also want to highlight something John Scalzi wrote on Twitter (which I saw when John Walter RT’d it):

The failure mode of clever is asshole; the failure mode of Twitter satire is fired.

As Clark pointed out at Popehat, Dickinson’s Twitter feed was quote mined in the article that started the whole brouhaha.  His most infamous tweet was a direct satire of Mel Gibson’s drunken ravings to a police officer.  But out of context it just looked shockingly rude.  Ken points out the more important issue, that some of Dickinson’s tweets weren’t just bad taste, but legally troubling (such as one about hiring practices in IT departments).

For me, the whole thing reiterates two key traits for New Media users:

  1. It’s worthwhile to do research and reserve judgment until you know what the facts are.  While I find Dickinson’s satire quite troubling and obnoxious, the clear evidence of the satirical attempt ameliorates many of the more disturbing posts he’s made.  By reserving public scorn for a few days, I don’t find myself in the position to apologize or retract my writing.
  2. The long tail remains a tripping hazard.  Dickinson’s entire Twitter history establishes his intent, but it also becomes a rich vein from which quote miners can dig all sorts of terrible gold.

TWO: The strange landscape of this summer’s music

NPR’s Planet Money did a great episode (#472, “Top of the Charts“) back in July about how two of the three “songs of the summer” were old songs.  Both Macklemore and Lewis’ “Can’t Hold Us” and Iconopop’s “I Love It” were released more than a year ago, but they wound their way to the charts via rising YouTube fame and a key television spot, respectively.

Another popular song that has a similarly strange route to the top is Anna Kendrick’s “Cups,” which was originally performed by the Carter Family in the 1930s and updated by Lulu and the Lampshades in 2009.  Kendrick’s star power (and the song’s role in Pitch Perfect) drove the song into the spotlight and pushed it steadily up the charts.

I suspect this phenomenon, in which an old song finds a slow route to popularity and/or a regular return to prominence will only accelerate as the line between new and re-new continues to blur, and the availability of everything published continues to expand.

When nothing goes out of print, old and new lose much of their meaning.

Tweets from 2013-09-08 to 2013-09-14

Pardon the Intrusion: one more test

Pardon My Intrusion
“Pardon My Intrusion” posted by noirnoirnoir

So my last test failed, in that my posts are still showing up twice on my Facebook feed.  But I figured out why.

Before Jetpack was installed, I had used TwitterTools to post my blog posts on Twitter.  At some point Twitter Tools updated so that it used “Social” to post to Twitter.

Of course, when Jetpack came along, I started using that to post to Twitter and to Facebook, and so suddenly I was posting to Facebook twice each time I posted a blog post.

I disconnected Social and thought I’d solved the problem.  But when I tested it, I discovered I still had a problem.

Double Post

Here’s what was happening:

1. New Blog post.

2. Jetpack posts an announcement about the post to Twitter and Facebook.

3. TwitterTools makes a blog post with a URL reflecting the new Twitter post.  This new URL is NOT added to my main blog feed.

4. But TwitterTools then ALSO posts the link about the new Twitter post to Facebook.

Of course, I may be wrong, in which case this post will also double post.  We shall see.

Update: So the problem is that I have a setup where all my Tweets ALSO go to my timeline.  Thus, when my WordPress posts appear on Twitter, they’re sent to Facebook a second time.  So I could disable the WordPress -> Twitter feed, but I get a fair amount of traffic from Twitter, so I want my blog posts to appear there.  I’ll have to ponder this problem more.

Too many updates

Jenny mentioned, the other day, that all of my posts appear twice in my Facebook timeline.  Blast!  The only thing worse than not publicizing yourself across media is WAY OVERDOING IT.  Looks like I’m guilty of the latter.

I discovered that I had two social plugins operating on my blog, and was double-posting to all platforms.  I hope that I’ve fixed this now.  If this appears only once on the social media platform you’re reading, I’ve done a good job.

You may now return to reading cat memes.