Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sweet, bland and uplifting

Andrew Orlowski writes that Malcolm Gladwell is a guru for the brain dead.
Gladwell is a walking Readers Digest 2.0: a compendium of pop science anecdotes which boil down very simply to homespun homilies. Like the Digest, it promises more than it delivers, and like the Digest too, it's reassuringly predictable.


"...In embracing the diversity of human beings we will find the true way to human happiness."

So there you've got Gladwell in essence: he always ends with a Hallmark style greeting telling you something sweet, bland and uplifting - that you already knew.
Gladwell isn't the worst offender, but the anecdotal approach to popular science often results in a kind of pretend learning. It's something you read so you can feel on top of current research, without doing any hard work. It doesn't teach you facts, and it doesn't teach you how to think about the subject. It's like Guitar Hero. It doesn't make you a better guitar player, it just reduces guitar playing to your level.

There are a lot of good popular science books. There are two signs to look for: The first is that the book doesn't rely on anecdotes. The second is that it doesn't make you think you actually understand the subject. Science is really really hard. If you close a book thinking you understand the subject, but the part that sticks in your mind is a story about some wacky scientist, then you've read bad pop-sci. Stop doing that. It's making you dumber.


And here we all are together, here we are

Shikasta by Doris Lessing is the refined version of her earlier Briefing for a Descent Into Hell. She has stripped away the visionary excesses, and improved on the core idea: Cosmic forces look with frustration on the state of the Earth, and send emissaries to be born onto it to make it better. But they often get distracted and lose their way, trapped by human corruption and confusion.

The Earth was once psychically linked with Canopus, our cosmic superiors, and everything was bliss. But the link broke, and all went bad. Canopus creates religions to guide us, but they always deteriorate. As the 20th century ends, Earth's diseased materialist culture collapses in a nuclear holocaust.

Shikasta is humanity seen through the glasses of the worst of 60's/70's theory and spirituality. Western culture is explicitly inferior. Science is just a religion. Material well-being is pointless. Canopus often comes across as arrogant, ignorant and, through association with all religious founders, evil. Unintentionally, I think.

But I don't care. This is brilliant. I can't mock it, I would feel small. It's as if Lessing deliberately plays the part of a New Age mystic, saying "you've seen what others have done with this role, now look what I can do with it". And she uses this premise to explore the missed potential in all of us. To dissect, reprimand and inspire.

Shikasta is not a novel. It is prophecy, in the Old Testament sense. Doris Lessing is Jeremiah. And Jesus. And the Buddha. I'm in awe.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

30's movies marathon - part 3

Paul Muni as ScarfaceMurders in the Rue Morgue (1932, USA) - This is really bad, but gets WTF-points for turning Poe's crime story into a damsel & man-in-monster-suit movie. Takes place in Paris, 1845, where people are so well-read that they're already discussing Darwin's theory of evolution. Watched: 30 minutes.

Scarface (1932, USA) - Say hello to my little .. oh, never mind the pun. This is actually really good, apart from the comic relief and some attempts at being respectable. Paul Muni is a crazier and better Tony than Al Pacino. Notice the glee in his eyes as he gets his first machinegun.

Hell's Angels (1930, USA) - Bits and pieces of everything stitched together. Some parts are shot as a silent movie, others in a sort of "color". It's the Frankenstein monster of movies: slow, dull, and with a sickly green hue (*ba-dum-bum ching*). Academy Award nomination for strangest German acting in a movie. Watched: 30 minutes, then fast-forwarded through the stuntman-killing action scenes. Not worth it.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932, USA) - I am an important made-for-Oscar social drama. Watched: 9 minutes.

The Beast of the City
(1932, USA) - The Shield: The Previous Generation. Watched it all.

Limite (1931, Brazil) - It's not that I hate art films on principle. I just think they attract bad filmmakers. Watched: 10 minutes.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fra Gyldendals Konversasjonsleksikon 1935 - P

Pacemaker, eng., person som ved trening e. konkurranse holder sig foran en løper, syklist o.s.v. for å lette hans arbeide e. opmuntre ham.

Paraply (fr. parapluie, mot regn), regnskjerm.

Parykk (fr. perruque), en tettsittende lue utvendig forsynt med hår (tagl, ull, e.l.)

Pedagogikk, den videnskaplige behandling av opdragelseskunsten.

Pedofili, se Perversjon

Perversjon [..] Den viktigste p. er homoseksualiteten.

Piken fra Norge, navn på Margrete, skotsk dronning

Plattenslager; i da. har ordet fått bet. "bedrager", likesom uttrykket "slå en plade" i da. betyr "narre, bedra".

Pollusjoner, ufrivillige sæduttømmelser, i alm. under søvnen. [..] Ved seksuell overirritabilitet kan p. bli meget hyppige og være ledsaget av nevrasteniske forstyrrelser; den eneste rasjonelle behandlingsmåte er da et regelmessig og hygienisk liv, særlig i seksuell henseende.

Positi´v. 1) Mindre orgel som bare er forsynt med labialstemmer, - 2. Lirekasse.

Pote´ter, urt fra Andesfjellene i Chile, Peru og Ecuador.

Promiskuitet, kjønnslig samliv i fleng.

Prylestraff, legemlig revselse, kan nu bare anv. i opdragelsesøiemed overfor barn av deres foreldre e. andre som står i foreldres sted, samt av skolen (dog ikke på piker over 10 år), hvis de av skolestyret fastsatte regler for skolens orden og tukt gir adgang dertil.

Pumpernikkel, en slags grovt, kliholdig rugbrød som opr. brev brukt i Westfalen, Preussen.

Pyøng-yang, by i det n.v. Korea, ved jernbanen Søul-Mukden.

Med inspirasjon fra Kjetil Johansen.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Vulcan rubber ears in our pockets

Neal Stephenson, this blog's patron saint, talks about SF culture and mundane culture, and what it means for a book to be genre:

Via Wet Asphalt, who adds that it's pointless to try to define SF as a certain kind of story. SF is a set of shared cultural traditions.

As Neal Stephenson says, the people who read science fiction overlap with the people who read fantasy, despite these being different kinds of stories. Asking what exactly makes a novel SF is to miss the point - it's the culture of the readers that matters. Geek culture.

Stephenson says that in a way we're all geeks now, but that is to water out the word. SF is influential, but geek is still a separate culture. It's not a narrowly defined culture. There's no uniform or canon. Anyone who calls themselves a geek is one, and also many who don't. But there's still a difference.

There are also geek snobs, people so fed up with being looked down on by cultural snobs that they look down in return. I'm more relaxed. But I still think you're the poorer for not knowing who Neal Stephenson is.

That reminds me, I should read his newer novels soon. Some day. (Neal Stephenson fans can be recognized by their ambivalence towards him. Anyone who says they love everything he's ever written is an impostor.)

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Monday, November 24, 2008

All that remained was a future, now even that is denied me

In the Pyat quartet, Michael Moorcock gives a voice to the fascist Europe we left behind. The voice is a Russian engineer, a conceited techno-utopist who escapes the Russian civil war with a hatred of Bolsheviks and Jews. To make Pyat merely a fascist follower would be too simple. He's rather a sibling of the fascists, like the Italian futurists, an independent thinker whose emotions find resonance with the fascist movements when they arrive, without falling in line behind any particular leader.

Byzantium Endures took Pyat through the Russian revolution and civil war. In The Laughter of Carthage he wanders through Europe a rootless emigrant, eventually landing in the US, where he makes friends with the Ku Klux Klan. With all Pyat's faults, it may be excessive of Moorcock to also give him a cocaine addiction and a 13-year old lover, but what's impressive about these novels is how reasonable Pyat appears in his own voice. And his voice is all we hear, apart from Moorcock's introduction. The real story is a puzzle for observant readers to solve.

The novels are narrated by Pyat as an old man, a shopkeeper in London. This gives his story a melancholic slant. Pyat's life has been a failure in every way. The stories he tells of his glorious youth are merely the rants of a bitter old man. The reader pities him. But it's a cautious pity. Moorcock's achievement is to show that the Europe Pyat personifies is neither remote nor fully dead.


Har du ti klikk til en kopp kaffe?

Alle som skriver på nett er klikkhorer. Her er noen av dagens overskrifter fra norske nettaviser:

- Russiske soldater skjøt mot to presidenter (Hvilke presidenter? Klikk for å finne ut!)

28 minutter som forandret metallverdenen. I kveld spilles de i Spektrum. (Hvem? Hva? Vær så snill å klikk meg!)

PASSOPP! Denne saken bør du lese hvis du har barn (Jawohl!)

Alle linkene har blitt endret for å forhindre inntjening.

En god overskrift oppsummerer saken slik at du kan vurdere om du har lyst til å lese videre. Nettavisoverskrifter kommer pakket inn i neonfarger, vedlagt et tårevått brev fra journalisten som ber deg om å klikke slik at de får bonus i år og slipper å feire jula på fattighuset, (ja det finnes fattighus i Norge og journalisten må dra dit med hele sin familie hvis du ikke klikker her nå med en eneste gang, klikk da for faen, neimen så klikk da, klikk, kom igjen! klikk klikk klikk!)

Klikkfangstkunsten er fremdeles ung i Norge. Resten av webben viser vei. har foredlet den klikkvennlige listesjangeren. På plukker leserne selv ut de linkene som gir dem størst klikketrang. Jeg ønsker å fremskynde denne forklikkelsesprosessen, slik at nettavisene dør og folk heller leser bloggen min. Eventuelle nettavisskribenter blant leserne står derfor fritt til å låne følgende overskrifter:

9 ting Støre sa på pressekonferansen i dag som vil SJOKKERE DEG

De 5 mest sexy statsministrene i norsk historie

Klikk her hvis du synes FrP ikke bør vinne valget i 2009



Saturday, November 22, 2008

30's movies marathon - part 2

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932, USA) - It is good that the world has a group of clumsy British archeologists to protect us from hundreds of millions of obedient and ruthless Chinamen. Watched: 18 minutes. IMDB reviewers call it "politically incorrect", by which they mean racist.

Mata Hari (1931, USA) - Greta Garbo is a tease, for which she is shot by the French government. Good and weepy, and not true to history.

The Blood of a Poet
(1933, France) - French surrealism again. Okay, I get it, it's clever. But - why?! Watched: 10 minutes.

Smart Money
(1931, USA) - Small-town gambler learns swindling and street smarts in the big city, (inoffensively named "The Big City"). Charming.

The Mummy (1932, USA) - A reawakened mummy bores archeologists to death. Watched: 14 minutes.

The Old Dark House (1932, USA) - It was a dark and stormy night, in every conceivable way. Makes up for being bad by being peculiar, which is the definition of cult. Watched all of it, and so should you.

Morocco (1930, USA) - Marlene Dietrich's too sexy for this crappy movie. Watched: 30 minutes.

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Ain't it fun when you know that you're gonna die young

Dead Boys - Ain't it fun

Stiff Little Fingers - Suspect Device

Corporate Avenger - Fault the Police (I Don't)

Frank Black - Bullet


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jeg, en demokrat?

Så var det på tide med den store demokratidebatten igjen. Er du en demokrat? Mange vil i dag nøle med å svare ja. Det var enklere før. Da var du en demokrat hvis du trodde på allmenn stemmerett og maktdeling. Så fikk vi politikerskandaler, demokratiske folkerepublikker og Kleppe-demokrater. Ordet tynger. Jeg føler at jeg forplikter meg til noe jeg ikke helt vet hva er. Kan jeg være demokrat, og samtidig være uenig med regjeringen?

I dag vet vi at det rene demokratiet ikke alltid er løsningen. Demokrati kan trekkes for langt, noe ekstremdemokrater aldri har villet innrømme. I blant blir det bare kaos når alle skal være med å bestemme. Og det er ikke alltid folket har rett. Visste du f.eks. at Hitler ble demokratisk valgt? Grunn til ettertanke!

Jeg vil nok heller kalle meg selv en post-demokrat. Jeg tror på stemmerett og sånn, men jeg går ikke i tog av den grunn. Og om noen velger å bo i et land som styres av en tyrann, så respekterer jeg faktisk det. Så vidsynte bør vi være. Mange demokratiforkjempere er så intolerante. Bittelitt politivold, så er de på barrikadene. Er det rart folk nøler med å kalle seg selv demokrater?

Gi meg heller en ny og åpen demokratibevegelse. Som anerkjenner det verdifulle arbeidet tidligere generasjoners demokrater har gjort, men samtidig ser at verden nå er annerledes. Alt er ikke svart-hvitt. En sånn demokrat vil jeg være, (men det er greit hvis du er uenig).

Monday, November 17, 2008

You will do your part, and I mine

The only self-help book I need: The Discourses of Epictetus. Stoicism has been out of favor for a while. It's seen as emotionless and puritanical, which is true, but avoidable. You're allowed to pick the parts you like. The Stoics wouldn't approve, but they're dead. The parts I like in Stoicism deal with the power of choice, the one thing nobody can take away from you. Place your happiness and self-worth in things that are within your sphere of choice, and you will never be anxious or bitter. Doing your best is up to you, being rewarded for it isn't. It's not up to you to avoid illness, but it is up to you how you deal with it. It's an ideal: Not possible, but something to aim for.

The greatest flaw of the Stoics was fatalism. Changing the world was not an option to them, so they turned inward. They would have mocked the last 200 years of political and social progress. Again you can pick the parts you like.

Epictetus imagines himself before the emperor and says: "Chain me if you like, but my will is free!" This is a posture, but an inspiring one. Epictetus is not for everyone. Some may find him cold, others depressing. For me he's a safety net. I'm an Epicurean when things go well, a Stoic when things go wrong. The Stoics wouldn't approve, but again, they're dead. All that is left of them is a handful of fine ideas that lie forgotten in a ditch.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tainted matter unfit to eat

Those who have learned precepts as mere theory want to vomit them up immediately, just as people with weak stomachs do with their food. Digest your precepts first, and you will not vomit them up in this way; otherwise they really do turn to vomit, tainted matter unfit to eat. Then show us some change that results from those precepts in your own ruling faculty, just as athletes can show their shoulders as the results of their training and diet, or those who have learned various arts can show the result of their learning.

A builder does not come up and say, "Listen to me lecturing on the builder's art", but acquires a contract to build a house and shows by building it that he knows the art. And you should do likewise; eat as a man, drink as a man, adorn yourself, marry, sire children, play your part as a citizen; put up with abuse, bear with an inconsiderate brother, bear with a father, bear with a son, neighbour, fellow-traveller.

Show us these things so we can see that you have in truth learnt something from the philosophers. No; but "Come and listen to me reading out my commentaries." Away with you! Look for someone else to vomit over.
- Epictetus, The Discourses

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Blacker than the blackest black times infinity

Metalocalypse is a cartoon tribute to metal, and should be played at high volume.

Dethklok is the world's most brutal band. They live the metal dream in Mordhaus, a mountain fortress built like a viking ship:

Dethklok does everything every metal band ever sang about, times infinity. They're that brutal. Their anti-piracy scheme is to visit your house at night, kill your family, and take you away to Mordhaus to be tortured. Dethklok's concerts frequently lead to the death or mutilation of their fans, but that's okay, because the fans don't mind:

Dethklok gets away with this because they're immensely rich and powerful. And because a secret society of leaders believe they'll play a role in a prophecy. Satan is also involved somehow.

Befitting the world's greatest metal band, Dethklok has two Scandinavian members, Skwisgaar Skwigelf and Toki Wartooth. (Yes, Skwisgaar and Toki are common Scandinavian names.) Some of the show's Scandinavian metal references are mean:

I do not approve. Well actually I do. That's hilarious. So is Burzum's, the diner, and Finntroll's, the supermarket.

Dethklok is good for a fake cartoon band, and have released a real-life album called The Dethalbum. Series creator Brendon Small sings the lead vocals. They actually go on tours. This is This is Spinal Tap for metal fans.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

30's movie marathon - part 1 ("I bid you .. welcome" edition)

My new movie marathon is movies made in the 1930's. Where on earth do I get them all?! Have I found some kind of buccaneers den of movies? It's a mystery! But however it happens, I always buy the good ones. I don't rip off artists, even when they've been dead (undead undead undead) for half a century.

Dracula (1931, USA) - Creaky, (meaning bad), but every overacted word out of Bela's mouth is gold. Mad Renfield's good too.

The Bat Whispers (1930, USA) - It's a remake of The Bat! NOOO[dramatic fade-out]ooooo[almost gone now]ooo... Watched: 5 minutes.

The Black Camel (1931, USA) - Bela Lugosi (again?) is a psychic charlatan who gets involved with a murder investigation in Hawaii. This sounds more exciting than it is. Oh, Bela. Watched: 17 minutes.

Platinum Blonde (1931, USA) - Romantic comedy with the quips of a Groucho Marx and the satire of a P. G. Wodehouse, only much less so. Watched: 30 minutes.

Chandu the Magician (1932, USA) - Boy, those mysterious Indians sure are mysterious! Watched: 8 minutes.

Enthusiasm (1931, Soviet Union) - Confused documentary about the Soviet Union's struggle against religion, coal shortages and good filmmaking. Workers in the Ukraine fulfill their five-year plan in four years, and then they all live happily ever after.

The Golden Age (1930, France) - Scorpions .. sick islanders attacked by battle bishops .. what? Looks good, sounds bad. Making talkies is hard, especially without a narrative. Watched: 20 minutes.

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A spectator of himself and of his works

But god has introduced man into the world as a spectator of himself and of his works; and not only as a spectator, but an interpreter of them. It is therefore shameful that man should begin and end where the irrational creatures do. He ought rather to begin there, but to end where nature itself has fixed our end; and that is in contemplation and understanding and a way of life in harmony with nature. Take care, then, not to die without ever being spectators of these things.
- Epictetus, The Discourses
But you are wretched and discontented, and if you are alone, you call it desolation, but if you are with men, you call them cheats and robbers and you find fault with even your parents and children and brothers and neighbours. Whereas you ought, when you live alone, to call that peace and freedom, and compare yourself to the gods; and when you are in company, not to call it a crowd and a tumult and a vexation, but a feast and a festival, and thus accept all things with contentment. What, then, is the punishment of those who do not? To be just as they are. Is a person discontented at being alone? Let him be in desolation. Discontented with his parents? Let him be a bad son, and let him grieve. Discontented with his children? Let him be a bad father. 'Throw him into prison.' What kind of prison? Where he already is.
- Epictetus, The Discourses

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Friday, November 14, 2008

One giant airport security area

Security after September 11 seems to be modelled on the court of the Red Queen. Absurd rules, and no sense of humor. Bruce Schneier is one of the sane voices, and Schneier on Security collects his essays on terrorism, privacy and identity theft. It is the book to read on your next plane trip.

Schneier says the choice between security and privacy is false: Some anti-terror measures give you both, others neither. Most security is just security theater, intended to make you feel safe, and to help officials cover their own asses. They're not defending us against the next terrorist attack, but themselves against the next post-attack investigation.

Security is always a trade-off. There's a cost in money, time, or civil rights, and perfect security is never worth it, (otherwise you'd never leave your house for fear of a car accident). Massive surveillance of streets and internet traffic may make us slightly safer, but not much, and at great cost to personal freedom. All state power is abused, and if we give our state the power of East Germany, it will behave like East Germany.

Schneier on Security is so sensible that it hardly seems an achievement. But on this side of the looking glass, sanity is radical. Fear and blame and stupidity works against us with a devilish logic. Schneier's message to people who are worried about their online privacy may thus be extended to all security issues: You're screwed.


Monday, November 10, 2008

DRM-free audiobooks at LibriVox

At LibriVox, volunteers record their own audiobooks out of texts in the public domain, and give them away for free. Isn't that amazing?

Today I listened to Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly, written in 1887. Bly was a journalist who infiltrated a mental institution in New York to see what it was like. It was pretty bad. The nurses were sadists, and nobody bothered to find out if she really belonged there. The book caused an embarassment, (much like the 'thud' experiment a hundred years later.)

The recording is not up to commercial standards, but who cares? I don't. I'm just glad to find another source of DRM-free audiobooks. It's easier to use than eMusic, and it doesn't straitjacket you like Audible.

I picked this book at random. That's what I love about public domain book projects, like LibriVox and Project Gutenberg: The chance to find a strange old book that few people remember. When people pick an old book to read, it's usually a Classic, because all book readers feel guilty about not having read enough Classics. But classics are often just old bestsellers. John Grisham, but with more flowery language. No - give me a book that didn't define literature as we know it, but displays a memorable point of view.

What every book at LibriVox has in common is that somebody loved it enough to take the time to record it for you. What better recommendation is there?

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Silent movie marathon - Part 4

Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (1927, Germany) - Oh .. my .. God. People, machines, buildings. Yes!

The Lost World (1925, USA) - Stop motion dinosaurs and a man in a monkey suit. Not bad, but typical. However groundbreaking, special effects really do work better with sound, color and CGI. Watched: 15 minutes, then fast forwarded to the dinosaurs.

The Unknown (1927, USA) - Circus artist Joan Crawford is sick of men groping her, and develops a phobia about hands. She finds comfort with a man who pretends to have no arms, but is secretly a thief and a strangler. Deliciously macabre symbolism. Sometimes a cigar really is a penis.

Anthology of Surreal Cinema, Vol 1: Entr'acte (1924, France), La Coquille et le Clergyman (1928, France), Ballet Mecanique (1924, France), Anemic Cinema (1926, France) - Huh. Funny! Brain massage. Watched all of it, but the nice thing about surrealism is that you can take a bathroom break without missing anything.

La Chute de la Maison Usher (1928, France) - Not bad, but I like Roger Corman's Poe movies better. Watched: 10 minutes.

The Battleship Potemkin (1925, Soviet Union) - Fine film. Made in that very very short period when Bolshevik doctrine held that the state shouldn't massacre citizens for no good reason.

That's all the silent movies for now. I have learned that I hate silent comedies, and that all silent movies should be set to Shostakovich.

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Google Depression (beta)

This one made the rounds today:

Here are many more, for every group stupid people have stupid questions about. Men, women, jews, muslims.

I thought this was pretty funny. So I did this:
And now I'm just sad.

Update: Still happy? Here are more:
And now I am never going to do that ever again.

Some damned little arrows on a piece of paper

Richard Feynman warns in QED that he cannot help the reader understand the theory of quantum electrodynamics. This is because he doesn't understand it himself. All he can do is draw arrows on a paper and ask us to accept that this is how nature works.

How is this different from religion and pseudo-science? Religion and pseudo-science makes intuitive sense, but is uncomfirmed by experiments. It makes sense that like should affect like, and that we're surrounded by spirits and gods, but there's no evidence for it. Quantum electrodynamics is well supported by evidence, but makes no intuitive sense. And there is no reason why it should.

The point of reading about things you can't understand is to feel the shape of it. What is the theory like? How do scientists think? How do they argue? Then when you read a theory you actually can understand you may recognize that it has the wrong shape. Knowing quantum electrodynamics is pointless. Knowing the shape of real science is not.

Also, science is fun, and even more so when it is Richard Feynman that explains it.


Friday, November 7, 2008

Have fun in Funny Town

Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti is an anthology of existential dread. Horror should disturb you, but all I feel from reading these short stories is mild fascination. Even the best of them are fashionably nonsensical, ending before the reader realizes how stupid the premise is. There's this boy who has a strange father and a strange mother and sister, and he goes out to a strange neighbour and does strange things, and then it's over. What?

Other stories combine Lovecraft with Kafka, proving that this is a bad idea. A factory gets as a temporary supervisor a shapeless, evil presence who hides in his unlit office. Suddenly the workers become more and more efficient, so efficient that they hardly ever leave the factory at all, and you can't quit, because dark evil forces controls everything, and you can't retire, you can only work and work and work until death frees you from this horrible burden that is life. Okay, okay, I get it. Jeez.

Ligotti is praised as an unjustly ignored master of horror, and he writes well, but I gave up half-way.

Btw, here's how to do Lovecraft fan fiction: A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The end of the world, as we know it

The world just ended again. Twice. First with the new mini-series Dead Set, where the survivors of the zombie apocalypse are participants in Big Brother, unaware throughout the first episode that zombies are eating their audience. Nice spin.

Second with Fallout 3, a post-apocalyptic RPG. I'm an impatient gamer. If a game doesn't constantly reward me with points, happy sounds and shiny colors, I lose interest, and go back to something more exciting, like reading a book. But for now I'm having fun exploring the nuclear wasteland of the D.C. area. Based on the game engine from Oblivion, Fallout 3's lush and detailed graphics cover the full range of colors from brown to gray. Broken buildings and roads litter the landscape. Mutants and hopeless people roam about, waiting for you to save, exploit and/or eat them.

I always play the hero in these type of games, even when they give you a choice. "Why, of course I'll save your village from the mutant army without asking anything in return, even though I'm sick, starving, and short on ammo. Don't mention it!" I don't want to explore my inner sociopath. I just don't. Well, maybe I should try it just once. Just for a little while. To see what it's like. Surely that won't make me a .. BAD PERSON?!!

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Silent movie marathon - part 3

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926, Germany) - Arabian Nights-based fairy tale. Animated with silhouettes, which looks amazing. Look! Watched it all.

The Bat (1926, USA) - Jewel thief dressed as a bat (if a bat looked like a mouse) baffles the police. Reminds me of a kid telling a story with action figures. Watched: 10 minutes.

Ménilmontant (1926, France) - Drama from the bleak and menacing school of film-making. Life in Paris really, really sucks. Watched it all, not because I liked it, but because it's compelling and doesn't feel old.

The Blue Bird (1918, USA) - Probably a morality tale. There's a bird of happiness which only some people can see, and then there's a rich family and a poor family and one that is normal. They all live on the same street, just waiting to bump into each other for valuable life lesson purposes. Watched: 11 minutes. (Having checked IMDB, I see there's also a fairy involved.)

Oktyabr (1928, Soviet Union) - Mm .. Soviet propaganda, where hysterical mobs of rich ladies beat up workers in the streets. Fairly truthful account, in the sense that, yes, the October revolution took place in October. (Well, it was actually November). The version I saw was with sound effects, which is silly, but it was set to music by Shostakovich, whose '1917' symphony is my favourite of the few positive outcomes of communism. Watched it all, but it lacks focus.

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Så fann han ej mer än en blodiger arm

Weekend music selection: Walk-on music; off-key and off-rhythm; Germans singing Swedish; Germans singing German.

Lords of the New Church - New Church

Collide - Violet's Dance

Saltatio Mortis - Varulfen

Saltatio Mortis - Prometheus


Bringing the light of consciousness

The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld could be one of Iain M. Banks's Culture novels. One of the better ones. In Banks's socialist utopia, computer minds and humans live in happy symbiosis. AI runs society, people play. Here, AI is more ambigous: The Rix cult believes that humans must create their own gods, by bringing consciousness to entire planets. They seed computer networks with AI, then worship them as gods. Humans are to these compound minds as bacteria are to a human: Necessary for the whole to function, but valueless as individuals. Against the Rix stands an ossified empire ruled by a class of living dead. They don't value individuals much either. The Risen Empire is concept-heavy space opera, but it still has a soul - a nerdy soul. There's a touching love story based on relativistic time dilation (yes!) One side character is a self-built house that has rebelled against its own architects. Much of the fighting takes place among microscopic military crafts controlled by remote. You get the idea. Not great, but strange and likeable, and tightly focused. I'll continue with the second book in the series, and I've heard people rave about the Young Adult novels Westerfeld turned to writing when he discovered that it pays better and that teenagers send more fan mail.