Thursday, April 30, 2009
Some rare photographs by Russian blogger and photographer Ilya Varlamov from inside of Russia's "most modern" nuclear power plant, built between 1982 and 1990 near Smolensk. Nice repetitive patterns here.
English Russia » At the Nuclear Power Plant
On those rare occasions I have to leave the GBNC lair, I'm always carrying the current book with me to catch a quick paragraph on the subway, waiting room, lunch break or whenever I find the time. You might have noticed that we are running a Great Fiction column here on the blog which we're always looking to add to.
One thing I have noticed with myself is that the books with the cheap and cheesy science fiction covers I carry quite covertly, while the ones with the slick and smart covers I like to place strategically in places so people can pick them up and admire. And really, a good cover (plus a good title) makes all the difference. Intriguing title, set in a cool font at the right place, plus a fitting artwork or photo can go a long way. A bad cover and title makes it hard to love a book. The same handsomely executed, gives so much more value to the book and also raises much more interest in the reading matter at hand. Just like with your mobile phone, camera, mp3 player and whatever gadget you carry around.
Anyway. The Penguin Science Fiction series has brought forward a great deal of great covers and they have a great site which shows some example covers with extensive annotations about the cover designs and their creators.
The Art of Penguin Science Fiction
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Monolithic stones set in place with instructions for the civilization that comes after ours:
The strangest monument in America looms over a barren knoll in northeastern Georgia. Five massive slabs of polished granite rise out of the earth in a star pattern. The rocks are each 16 feet tall, with four of them weighing more than 20 tons apiece. Together they support a 25,000-pound capstone. Approaching the edifice, it's hard not to think immediately of England's Stonehenge or possibly the ominous monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Built in 1980, these pale gray rocks are quietly awaiting the end of the world as we know it.
Called the Georgia Guidestones, the monument is a mystery—nobody knows exactly who commissioned it or why. The only clues to its origin are on a nearby plaque on the ground—which gives the dimensions and explains a series of intricate notches and holes that correspond to the movements of the sun and stars—and the "guides" themselves, directives carved into the rocks. These instructions appear in eight languages ranging from English to Swahili and reflect a peculiar New Age ideology. Some are vaguely eugenic (guide reproduction wisely—improving fitness and diversity); others prescribe standard-issue hippie mysticism (prize truth—beauty—love—seeking harmony with the infinite).
I'm fascinated by the idea that someone actually went ahead and took the massive effort to build this monument. Instead of some general messages, I would have preferred some actual advice however. How to build a hut or a spear or how to make fire or something--skills without which some higher guidelines to rebuild Earth are not much use anyway, when the local mutant animals start wiping out you and the other survivors.
American Stonehenge: Monumental Instructions for the Post-Apocalypse
An interesting and detailed report how users of 4chan hacked the TIME 100 poll (which polls the "World's most influential person", on the Internet, of all places). They managed to both vote moot (creator of 4chan.org) to the top position and also to spell out the message "Marblecake, also the game" with the letters of the top 21 finalists.
[The] loose collective known as ‘Anonymous’ took to hack the poll. This group (that gathered on an IRC channel at anonnet.org) probed for weaknesses in the poll protocols and wrote autovoters to stuff the ballot box with votes that would put the candidates in the proper order to spell out the Message, adapting as necessary whenever Time adjusted its protocol in a meager attempt to keep the hackers out. But two weeks ago, Time got serious about poll security. They modified the poll so that you needed to prove that you were human (via a captcha) in order to vote.
This instantly shut down all of the autovoters. Anonymous was offline - no longer able to submit thousands of votes per minute. And what’s worse, when the autovoters were shutdown, the Message ‘Marblecake, also the game’ soon decayed into a meaningless “mablre caelakosteghamm”. It seemed that Time.com had won - the Message would not survive the next two weeks of voting. But Anonymous didn’t give up, they considered it a challenge to restore the Message. Here’s how they did it.
moot wins, Time Inc. loses « Music Machinery
Stilt-like leg extensions made out of steel, complete with clip-on hooves--these look like great fun. However, it doesn't say in the text how fast these exoleg augmentations can make you run.
These are Digigrade leg extensions. They are made of steel and add 14 inches of height to the wearer. But these are not ordinary stilts; they give a person the uncanny and graceful appearance of an animal. It is really cool! The movement of the legs is genuinely graceful and naturalistic.
Kim Graham's Gallery
Sunday, April 26, 2009
These pictures were taken on my trip to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia about 10 years ago. This Russian SAM (surface-to-air missile) is a leftover from the Vietnam War and can be found in the small village of Pa-Am in Southern Laos, close to where the Ho Chi Minh trail used to run past. It's fenced in with some makeshift wooden poles and located close to the village proper (just a few houses really) inhabitated by an ethnic tribe, the Alak. As can be seen on the second photograph, the fully intact missile is stenciled in Russian and Vietnamese.
Getting to the site was half the fun, as we rented a minivan and rode the 30km from the closest town, Attapeu. For those not familiar with Laotian geography, this is all taking place in the deep south of Laos, going inland from the Mekong and the border with Thailand, towards the sparsely populated jungle areas towards the Vietnamese and Cambodian border. Consequently, the town's population (and especially the children) were having a great time watching and examining the funny white strangers, nearly dropping in the river while crossing it to get to the SAM, taking a bunch of pictures and then taking off after 15 minutes in the direction they came from.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
After posting the "I Can Read Movies" series a while back here on the blog, here's more greatness from the "classic/re-imagined" front.
This series of illustrations come from Olly Moss and is called "Eight Films In Black and Red", most noteworthy including The Deer Hunter, Die Hard, The Black Knight and Taxi Driver. While on his site make sure to check out the "Video Game Classics" too.
Flickr.com: Olly Moss: Collection: Illustration/Design
Michael Quinion, British etymologist and writer, rounds up some of the problems in the (hypothetical) communication between humans and aliens and shows some science fiction writer's concepts to cope with it:
First Contact : OUPblog
In real life, so to speak, the alien and the human would be facing much intensive co-operative work to get a basic understanding of each other’s methods of communication, language and culture. Ask any field linguist who has encountered a previously unknown tribe just how difficult this can be, even when both parties are human. SF writers struggle with this problem every time they write a first-contact story. (...)
Naomi Mitchison suggested in Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962) that trying to communicate with a five-armed starfish would show the extent to which our bilateral symmetry constrains us to a binary view of the world — true versus false, right versus wrong, black versus white. In The Mote in God’s Eye (1974), Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle imagine three-armed aliens, who argue not just “on the one hand” and “on the other hand”, but also “on the gripping hand”, a trilateral logic. C J Cherryh’s Hunter of Worlds (1977) presents the language of the Iduve, in which there’s “no clear distinction between noun and verb, between solid and action”, so that translation cannot be literal if it is to be meaningful. Jean-Luc Picard comes across something similar in Star Trek: The Next Generation when he encounters a race that speaks only in metaphor.
First Contact : OUPblog
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons by Cordwainer Smith, 1950. Taken from the short story collection The Rediscovery of Man. I'm currently re-reading his novel Nostrilia and the short story collection has a lot more gems in it, such as The Crime And The Glory Of Commander Suzdal and Golden The Ship Was - Oh! Oh! Oh!. (Yes, I love just the titles by themselves, too.)
The moon spun. The woman watched. Twenty-one facets had been polished at the moon's equator. Her function was to arm it. She was Mother Hitton, the weapons mistress of Old North Australia.
She was a ruddy-faced, cheerful blonde of indeterminate age. Her eyes were blue, her bosom heavy, her arms strong. She looked like a mother, but the only child she had ever had died many generations ago. Now she acted as mother to a planet, not to a person; the Norstrilians slept well because they knew she was watching. The weapons slept their long, sick sleep.
This night she glanced for the two-hundredth time at the warning bank. The bank was quiet. No danger lights shone. Yet she felt an enemy out somewhere in the universe—an enemy waiting to strike at her and her world, to snatch at the immeasurable wealth of the Norstrilians—and she snorted with impatience. Come along, little man, she thought. Come along, little man, and die. Don't keep me waiting.
Read Cordwainer Smith's Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
A new book by Jens Ebert and Thomas Jander collects letters written by German Wehrmacht deserter Hans Stock between 1943 and 1944. Most letters are surprisingly frank and critical, even though punishment for anyone suspected of eroding troop morale was severe.
Recently, when I last wrote, there was a five-hour ceasefire to pick up the wounded on both sides. After the Americans traversed the river Rapido our Do-Werfers [smoke throwers] opened fired. They made a good job of it and [the Americans] had more than 100 casualties. Afterwards you could see medics of both sides strolling the river peacefully and upright, traversing the river while swinging the flag of the Red Cross, carrying stretchers with wounded and dead.
They shook hands, swapped cigarettes, 10 Germans and 50 Americans. They left us their nice rations and chocolate. "Just take it", one of them who spoke German said, "now we are friends and in one hour enemies again", and so was it. They came to fetch their dead and crippled, just to send healthy people into the mill soon after, which they came as friends to pick up. Madness!
"Endlich wieder Mensch sein" - einestages
Monday, April 20, 2009
Cassini looks toward Rhea's cratered, icy landscape with the dark line of Saturn's ringplane and the planet's murky atmosphere as a background. Rhea is Saturn's second-largest moon, at 1,528 km (949 mi) across. Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural color view. The images were acquired on July 17, 2007 at a distance of approximately 1.2 million km (770,000 mi) from Rhea.
Cassini's continued mission - The Big Picture - Boston.com
The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista by J. G. Ballard.
"No one ever comes to Vermilion Sands now, and I suppose there are few people who have ever heard of it, but ten years ago, when Fay and I first went to live at 99 Stellavista, just before our marriage broke up, the colony was still remembered as the as the one-time playground of movie czars, delinquent heiresses and eccentric cosmopolites in those fabulous years before the Recess. Admittedly most of the abstract villas and fake palazzos were empty, their huge gardens overgrown, two-level swimming pools long drained, and the whole place was degenerating like an abandoned amusement park, but there was enough bizarre extravagance in the air to make one realize that the giants had only just departed."
Thursday, April 16, 2009
If you need to find a secure and defendable retreat, you have to look no further than this survivor's realty web site. Here's an opening:
Enjoy 'the good life' in year round sunshine on this easily defensible 38 acre Survival Retreat 28 miles east of the quiet little ranching town of St Johns, Arizona (population 3,300).Great southern exposure to make the most of the Southwest's sunshine to power your retreat. The 38 acres is very easy to defend, located high on a bluff with a panoramic view overlooking the valley below. You can see a vehicle approaching your location 30 minutes before they reach you! (This would allow plenty of time to be get in on 'on guard' position, if desired) Yet, due to the gently rolling lay of the land and trees, your home would not be visible from the road. (These are two of the most important things that Jim Rawles recommends for retreat criteria) The bluff is protected by sheer cliffs on three sides making access next to impossible by all but foot traffic and even then very difficult for foot traffic on two sides. Most of land is wooded with scattered open grassy meadows of 5-10 acres each. Property has a lifetime supply of firewood, both living and well seasoned. Bordered on one side by one full section (640 acres) of BLM land to provide ample privacy and hunting opportunity.
**Asking Price $48,000**
Danger Room is giving a rundown of some weapon systems of the future for snipers, among them homing bullets, computer-aided super-precise laser scopes, and another technology straight out of a science fiction story:
A companion project, Super-Resolution Vision System (SRVS), wouldn't just make snipers more accurate. It would make them functionally invisible, as well. The system is trying to use "heat haze" -- that shimmer you see on summer days, out in the distance -- for helping snipers, instead of inhibiting them. In any given instant, the heated air acts as a series of lenses; you may be able to look right through them and see a magnified view of the scene beyond. The trick is to use digital technology to identify the "lucky regions" or "lucky frames" when a clear view appears and assemble them into a complete picture. SRVS researchers are aiming to do just that.
If scope works out, it'll be a particular spooky tool. Even if the target is looking right at you, they won’t see a thing because of the heat haze. A sniper using one of these will be a truly invisible assassin, with the ideal technology for picking off high-value targets.
Pirates Beware: Next-Gen Snipers Could Get Guided Bullets, Super Scopes | Danger Room from Wired.com
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Northrop Grumman technical group's promotional trailer.
Northrop Marketing Vid: We're Evil, Omnipresent | Danger Room from Wired.com
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
The Fifth Head Of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe, published 1972.
When I was a boy my brother David and I had to go to bed early whether we were sleepy or not. In summer particularly, bedtime often came before sunset; and because our dormitory was in the east wing of the house, with a broad window facing the central courtyard and thus looking west, the hard, pinkish light sometimes streamed in for hours while we lay staring out at my father's crippled monkey perched on a flaking parapet, or telling stories, one bed to another, with soundless gestures.
Our dormitory was on the uppermost floor of the house, and our window had a shutter of twisted iron which we were forbidden to open. I suppose the theory was that a burglar might, on some rainy morning (this being the only time he could hope to find the roof, which was fitted out as a sort of pleasure garden, deserted) let down a rope and so enter our room unless the shutter was closed.
The object of this hypothetical and very courageous thief would not, of course, be merely to steal us. Children, whether boys or girls, were extraordinarily cheap in Port-Mimizon; and indeed I was once told that my father who had formerly traded in them no longer did so because of the poor market. Whether or not this was true, everyone-or nearly everyone-knew of some professional who would furnish what was wanted, within reason, at a low price. These men made the children of the poor and the careless their study, and should you want, say, a brown-skinned, red-haired little girl or one who was plump or who lisped, a blond boy like David or a pale, brown-haired, brown-eyed boy such as I, they could provide one in a few hours.
Neither, in all probability, would the imaginary burglar seek to hold us for ransom, though my father was thought in some quarters to be immensely rich. There were several reasons for this. Those few people who knew that my brother and I existed knew also, or at least had been led to believe, that my father cared nothing at all for us. Whether this was true or not, I cannot say; certainly I believed it, and my father never gave me the least reason to doubt it, though at the time the thought of killing him had never occurred to me.
And if these reasons were not sufficiently convincing, anyone with an understanding of the stratum in which he had become perhaps the most permanent feature would realize that for him, who was already forced to give large bribes to the secret police, to once disgorge money in that way would leave him open to a thousand ruinous attacks; and this may have been-this and the fear in which he was held-the real reason we were never stolen.