Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I'm gonna beat you kids with my cane

This link was gonna go on Friday Links, but I realized I had too much to say about it.

http://www.salon.com/technology/feature/2006/09/14/basic

When I was still pretty young, five or six years old, my parents got me an Atari 400 with two cartridges: PacMan and BASIC. Long hours were spent sitting on the floor in front of that thing and pushing the letters on their childproof/mess proof keyboard. One could run out to any bookstore and pick up books of BASIC programs to punch in and use - or more usually play.

At this time there were lots of different kinds of BASIC. Apple BASIC, GW-BASIC, Tiny BASIC, M BASIC, Atari BASIC, BBC Basic, Altair BASIC, BASICA, and a bunch of others. They were not all compatible with each other. Besides learning Atari BASIC I had to figure out programs written for other types of BASIC and debug them so they worked with my Atari. So I was pretty good at this when my parents got the Epson Equity II computer when I was eight.

The Epson was awesome. It had floppy drives. I could save the programs to disk instead of just leaving the machine running until you wanted to play something other than what I'd last written. No hard drive yet, but those were still kinda fancy. And it had two big ass binders that explained all the GW-BASIC commands as well as the MS-DOS commands.

I had math books like the one mentioned in the article. I never punched in the programs. By then I was good enough that I could read the program and tell you what it would do.

I credit these two machines with my current tech savvy. I may make medical textbooks for a living, but I consider myself a programmer first. I've written programs with about two dozen languages over the years.

But, as the guy in the article says, how do you introduce a kid to programming now? Not even Q-BASIC, a staple of DOS and Windows machines for-fracking-ever, remains. There's good reason for this, of course. No serious programmer would want to use any version of BASIC. It was fine when they were kids, but really now, there's much better available. However, we're no longer left with a hobbyist's language to tinker with to get started down that road.

This isn't entirely true. If you have an interest and want to go looking you can find some things.

The BASIC Stamp is a chip that you can write BASIC programs for and then stuff into some other piece of electronics; usually robots.

Macs come with PHP and MySQL and web browser software. You can easily turn it into a web server and do some website development.

But really, it's not the same. Nor does it have to be. Times change and things become obsolete. But it's much harder for a kid today to just fall into programming because it's available and the kid is bored. You do have to hunt and have an active desire to do it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Movie Review: Knight and Day

Thanks to the internet marketing a movie or TV show is as much about the impressions people get of the show before hand as it is about the show.

This is somewhat obvious. That's what marketing is for. The producers of Doctor Who are good at playing with that. Deliberate conflicting reports about whether The Doctor would live or die were released by the actors in interviews. So we watched the last episode or two constantly wondering if or when he was gonna die. They produced suspense by making it a legit question in the minds of the viewers. They've done lots of similar things over the years.

Similarly, I felt that "Knight and Day" did something similar. Tom Cruise in public is packed full of crazy. Tom Cruise on screen is packed full of ego. Jumping on couches, talking about Scientology; Tom just can't seem to stop with the crazy. So they used that.

"Knight and Day" is about a spy who seems to have gone around the bend. There's no real doubt about whether he's guilty or not. But he does a good job at being kinda nuts. That's largely what I went to see the movie for.

It's not a bad movie. The action scenes aren't on the epic level of "The A-Team", but they're alright. Mostly there there just for Cruise and Diaz to banter to and be kinda goofy.

I'm not gonna jump up and down and rave, but I can recommend this movie. I won't get it on DVD. But a matinee might be a good time to see this.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Movie Review: Toy Story 3

Quick question... what happened in "Toy Story 2"?

No, really. I haven't talked to anyone who remembers beyond "wasn't there a girl cowboy?"

I give a quick history of Pixar and Disney every time a new Pixar movie comes out. I'll try to cut it short this time.

15 years ago Pixar had "Toy Story". It was their first full length motion picture and they needed someone to handle distribution. Disney says they'll do it, but they get a 5 movie deal, not including sequels, and full ownership of the movies and characters.

Four years later they released "Toy Story 2". Probably their weakest release. Still, if that's their weakest release they should be damn proud. Disney hadn't been able to do half as well for way too long.

Time passes. Pixar and Disney release other movies. Disney wants a third Toy Story movie. That's all that Disney Animation seems to be able to do, after all. Sequels to those few successes that they had. But the guys at Pixar just aren't feeling it. Since the Pixar people aren't getting anything worthwhile Disney presents a script. They say "This is crap. Take it away." Disney is mad, but there isn't much they can do. Nothing but come up with a second Toy Story 3 script. This too is rejected as being bad. There's a simple conflict of cultures. Pixar refuses to do a bad story. More than anything, a movie relies on having a good story. Stick figures are fine if the story is good. Disney doesn't see it that way. To them a good movie is based on the marketing campaign that comes before it. It's based on the action figures and collectible cups they can make from it. It's based on the number of sequels they can make.

Eventually, Disney stopped asking for Toy Story 3. The 5 movie deal was coming to an end. Pixar was looking to take their next movie elsewhere. They didn't feel that Disney had treated them well. Mind you, nobody who has ever worked for Disney feels like they've been treated well.

The point was that Disney owned Toy Story and all associated rights. They started their own digital animation studio. They didn't need Pixar. Alas, whether hand drawn or digitally rendered, Disney still couldn't write. So Disney paid Pixar to take them over. Pixar came in to find "Toy Story 3" being developed. They looked at the script and killed the project. They did, however, finally come up with a good script. A great script really. And they got that movie made.

I suppose I should tell you something about the movie.

Randy Newman, the guy who wrote the music for the first two is still there, but there's only twice that he was obvious. They reused "You've Got a Friend in Me" early in the movie to help establish the Toy Storyness of it. And there's a salsa version near the end. So you don't want him dead by the end of the movie.

You will cry. Don't try to fight it. Just accept that and bring tissues.

It's been 15 years since the original Toy Story and almost that long in Toy Story land. The kid from the original is now going off to college. For some reason his room is being completely emptied. I went to college with whatever fit in the car, not whatever I owned. I mean, geez, let the kid come back on weekends and holidays.

Andy's remaining toys are just the core characters of the early movies and they haven't been played with in years. Skipping ahead... there's a misunderstanding that leads the toys, all but Woody, to think they were getting thrown away. So they donate themselves to a daycare center. I don't want to give too much away about this but the line "We're not age appropriate for those children." gives you the gist of it.

Woody has to make a decision whether to rescue his friends or get back to Andy before he leaves for college.

I didn't see "Shrek 3". The trailers made it look as bad as you'd expect from a second sequel. It had no appeal. I wasn't sure about "Toy Story 3" but the universally great reviews sold me. Yummy couldn't have been less interested. She hasn't seen it, but she's gonna have to. You should, too. It's an enjoyable movie.

I'll NetFlix it for Yummy, but I probably won't get it on DVD.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Links: June 25

Migration map of Americans. Pick your county and wait a few seconds. [link]

Massive model railway setup.

Picture: Spy satellites orbiting Earth broken down by country. [link]

Build your own typewriter style USB keyboard. [link]

Where the dollar symbol came from. [link]

Why does Bill Maher think this way about global warming (correctly) but not take this same view on vaccines?

John Scalzi performing "Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth".

15 minute TED talk. My primary interest is the mosquito killing laser defense system.

3D simulator.

Differential gear tutorial from the 30's.

How to deal with sexual harassment in DC. Tell your story here. Provide a picture if you thought to take one with your camera phone. [link] [main site]
Has links to other regional versions of this site.

Dog with seeing eye dog. [link]

I think the Church of Dougintology needs this for it's collection. [link]

X-Ray pinup calendar. Haven't figured out where to buy one yet. [link]

Dad's rules. [link]

GOP strategy: Keep the loons quiet. Deny that the loons represent their voting base. [link]

A Republican with a plan that doesn't seem designed to hurt people. [link]

CBS Radio production of "Brave New World". [part 1] [part 2]

And here's Arthur C Clarke reading 3 of his stories. [link]
"9 Billion Names of God" is always a favorite.
"Transit of Earth" is seriously depressing.

This is how you win a war. The people who live there have to want to win. [link]

Oily pictures from the Gulf. [link]

Octopus webcam. [link]
They have the occasional lecture and feeding, too.

"We hitched a lift," said Ford.
"Excuse me?" said Arthur. "Are you trying to tell me that we just stuck out our thumbs and some green bug-eyed monster stuck his head out and said, 'Hi fellas, hop right in. I can take you as far as the Basingstoke roundabout'?"
"Well," said Ford, "the Thumb's an electronic sub-etha signalling device, the roundabout's at Barnard's Star six light years away, but otherwise, that's more or less right."
"And the bug-eyed monster?"
"Is green, yes."
Thanks to this excerpt from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" I'm mindful of references to Barnard's Star. It's 6 light years away and is hauling ass. See how far it's moved since 1950. [link]

Was not expecting that.

Having seen "The A-Team" we started talking about the upcoming "MacGyver" movie. This bit came up.

Followup: Voyager 2 has not been reprogrammed by aliens. The data formatting system is acting up. [link]

Picture: All night star trail from the equator. [link]

Picture: Same photographer, same place, The Milky Way. [link]

Game: Crush the Castle 2 - throw stuff and figure out the value of nails. [link]

"Toys" remix.

Note to self: Don't wear cologne on my next excursion to the savannah. [link]

Sometimes I have trouble telling if an idea of mine is genius or idiotic. Somewhere there was a guy who had a similar problem. He chose poorly and nobody told him. Here's the result.

Trailer for "The Green Hornet". Notice I said "Hornet" and not "Arrow". That one comes later.

Image: A day in the life of a programmer. [link]True dat. True dat.

Whooping cough epidemic in California. Jenny McCarthy is to blame. [link]
See, it's because she tell people not to vaccinate their children. Clearly someone who looked good naked 15 years ago is a better authority than a doctor.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gandolf quotes

There's a difference between chickens and parrots. Parrots have less meat on them for one thing.

But, the difference I mean is that parrots really want their feet supported while chickens just don't care. If a parrot lets you flip it on it's back it's feet are gonna go nuts looking for something to hold. A stick, a finger, anything. Gandolf, my african grey, often ends up with the feet holding each other. If you let them get your finger it's a struggle to get it back.

Chickens, on the other hand, really don't care. Below you see a common means of carrying a chicken.Hand and arm supporting the chicken, legs just swingin' in the breeze.

So I was putting the birdies to bed when I decided to demonstrate this technique. I held Gandolf like this, turned to Yummy, and said "this is how you carry the chickens on the farm".

Gandolf's reply. "Messed up". Short for "That's messed up." which he learned from Yummy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Evil monkey

The Amazing Christopher [link] saw yesterday's post and provided me with a picture of his evil fez wearing, cymbal-crashing monkey.

Be sure to check out the photo section of The Amazing Christopher's site. [link]

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fluffmodeous

On the left is The Amazing Christopher - juggler, magician, balloon artist, and computer programmer. [link] We found ourselves in the same circles from time to time growing up and hung out a lot in college.

On the right is cartoonist Randy (R*K*) Milholland, creator of the comic "Something Positive. [link]

Randy was recently in The Amazing Christopher's area for a convention. So he went and presented Randy with a balloon version of one of Randy's stranger characters, Fluffmodeous (shown above center).

Monday, June 21, 2010

What? Huh?

Didn't even have the laptop hooked up today before I was called into action. So here's a late blog.

Saw The A-Team again. If you haven't seen it yet you want to sit through the credits.

I love Woot.com. I've got a lot of stuff from them. Including electronic book readers for Yummy, Wattson, Mom, and Dad. Mom's screen broke while I was flying to Wichita with is. Woot has another one in stock and they're replacing it. This is a shout out to Woot.
For those of you who aren't familiar with them, Woot.com sells one thing a day, usually at a significant discount. And they have a great sense of humor.

There's a yellow rubber ball on the lawn outside my window. Not normally strange, but I am on a secure military base.

Looked at my bank account Saturday morning. I'm $10.41 from being able to pay off my pending car in cash. I need to buy a suitcase for the occasion.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Links: June 18

In the grand tradition of the Wilhelm Scream [Google the video], I give you the newspaper that shows up all across the television spectrum. [link]

Game: Spot the Smile - Look at 20 faces and tell if their smiles are real or fake. [link]

Sarah Palin hired an aide that used to scrub jews from the government for Nixon. [link]

Adorable squirrel. [link]

Torchwood will get a 4th season. Russell T Davies has left Doctor Who, but is still producer for Torchwood. [link]

Dr Demento is leaving the airwaves. Shows will continue through the website. [link]
You know, I almost got Sirius Radio just to listen to him again. But they cancelled him before I signed up.

Patrick Stewart is finally a knight. This is how it should have looked. [link]
I want to see a movie where a bunch of celebrity knights have to go on a quest.

In some states it is illegal to video tape police abuse. [link]

Cartoon: Penny Arcade on the oil spill. [link]

Cartoon: The fate of Spongebob. [link]

How to fight the homosexual lifestyle - let them marry.

This video game is worth the money just for creepy Watson.

MORTAL COMBEART

Two faced kitten born and still alive.

Bookstores that are awesome. [link]

Plane getting struck by lightning.

More 3D projections.

BEGIN THE TERRAFORMING! [link]

Ohthankgawd. Space X got their rocket damn close to it's predicted orbit in their first try. This is important because they're gonna be America's only way to the ISS for a few years. [link]
Seriously. HUGE relief.

You are entering raven airspace. Turn back or be destroyed.

How deep, exactly, is that leaky pipe? [link]

How many birds do wind turbines kill? How does it compare to the oil spill? [link]

Scott Adams on the Afghanistan lithium deposits. [link]

SciFi author and editor Frederick Pohl talks about Arthur C Clarke and The Amazing Randi. [link]

Picture: Atlantis lifting off and some of it's aerial security. [link]

Responsible analysis of claims of life on Titan. [link]

Space probe Hayabusa returning to Earth. The last glowing bit contains samples of the asteroid Itokawa. It was successfully recovered.

Navy SeaLions sent to recover rogue robot submarine. [link]

Tricorders? Real ones? [link]

James Randi talking. What else do you need to know?

The life of oxygen.

Giraffe fight.

Game: Nonograms - [link]
Or you can start with some easier stuff [here] to learn what it's asking of you.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More farm pics

I finally woke up enough to realize I hadn't posted yet today. Here's pics.

Big evil looking bug

Hey, mister. Wat'cha doin' wit' dat caliper? C'ud yuh do it further frum mah nest?

The lightning bugs were super active that week.

The sand plums begin to ripen.

Old farm implement in the wind row.

Because.

One of our ant lion colonies.

One of the planters.

Corn for eating.

Not gonna be going to the field today. Or tomorrow. The day after isn't looking so hot either.

Wattson with one of the neighbor's chickens. Unrelated to the picture I used Tuesday and Wednesday.

Crazy rooster chick.

Lily pads in the horse tank.

Dad's grapes.

Getting a test sample of the wheat.

The cameraman needs to move his ass.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How to tell when to harvest the wheat

This is Wattson's wheat. As of this picture, it was not ready to harvest.1

This, too, is Wattson's wheat. It looks ready to harvest.

Do you see the difference between those two fields?
The difference is in the angle of the heads on the wheat.
Turning from green to brown is one excellent way of judging the development of the wheat. Then you need to watch the head. Straight up and down means that it's not there yet. When it bends over to better release it's seeds you know it's very close.

The final test is to check the moisture content of the seed. The proper way to do this is to cut a small test sample, take a can of grain to your local grain elevator, and let them use the machine on it. In less than a minute it'll tell you the moisture content. You want it under 15% or they dock you.

But how do you tell if you should even attempt the test sample?
Take a head from a stalk of wheat.

Jam the head into the palm of your hand and grind it in circles.

This breaks up the head to release the seed.

You can blow on the debris in your hand, pour the debris from hand to hand, or both. The point is to separate the seed from the chaff.

Ta-da! Wheat seed.

Pop that seed in your mouth and chew it up. Ideally, the seed should be hard enough to make you worry about your fillings. This stuff wasn't that hard. It was kinda chewy, really. Like oatmeal that hasn't been cooked anywhere near long enough. We guessed that it was about 22%. Definitely more than 15%. It was an educated guess. You have to chew a lot of seed and run it through the tester to figure out what chewiness equals what moisture level.

The field we checked after this one had harder, but not ideal, wheat. The machine measured it as 14.7%.

This part is optional.



1The grain elevator in the background is three and a half miles away.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pictures from the farm

Pictures from the farm

These pickles are older than I am. Do not eat.
Of all the jars full of food, I picked this jar for the simple reason that you can still tell what the stuff inside once was.

Close up of one of our drill presses. It's not our oldest one. Not by a lot.

One of the newer pulleys.

A guard on the combine broke. A new piece of metal needed to be attached to keep the guard secure. Here Dad's dad's sister's daughter's husband uses a grinder to get a piece of metal for that very purpose.

While checking a field we found out that someone's chickens got out.

That's good for today. I have to pretend to work.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Movie Review: The A-Team

If you've got a problem, and no one else can help, maybe it's all in your head.

We went to see "The A-Team" yesterday. Great movie. Really. OK, if "Sense and Sensibility" is a bit too action packed for your tastes then this may not be the movie for you.

You don't have to be a fan of the TV series. There's a few references that you'll catch if you did watch it back in the day. This movie shows how the group met, why BA hates to fly, and what happened to make them fugitives.

There's not much I can say to pitch this movie that the trailers haven't already done. I will say that it's awesome. Really. I was afraid it'd be a disaster like the movie version of "Wild Wild West". Instead we got something more like the new "Star Trek" movie.

I'm not completely sold on how they wrote B.A. I felt like he talked too much.

I will be getting this on DVD. No question about it. You need to see this movie.

Back!

I just flew in from Wichita and boy were my arms stuck at the luggage carousel for a long time.

More to come.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday jack

It's Friday and you all know what that means.

In this case it doesn't mean jack shit. I'm in Kansas this week. Monday through Wednesday were just some brain farts from last week that I'd queued up. Thursday was just what I said it was. I have a ton of potential links for today, but I should probably look at them to see if they're worth a damn first.

Instead here's a few quick things that have been a topic of conversation tonight.

We had drinks and played shuffleboard at Hank Is Wiser Brewery in Cheney, KS. [link]
Those of you from that area will be as stunned as I was to find out that such a small, nowhere town got a brewery.

Saw Stop. My dad's dad's sister's daughter's husband used to teach shop. He got one for his school and accidentally put the saw to the test two months later.

Utopia beer. Brewed every other year, you can buy a bottle for $600 or an ounce for $12. Only two bars have it available. One in Vegas and Hank's in Cheney. It's 52 proof and brewed with Sam Adams' ninja yeast. [link]

Prehistoric beer. I always understate how old this yeast is. [link]

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Review: The God Engines

It's no secret that I'm a fan of John Scalzi - Harbinger of Bacon[his blog]. In the list of science fiction books that I recommend I put "Old Man's War" up in the top 25. Maybe top 10. (I should write down the list some day.) Also, he's a Creative Consultant on "Stargate: Universe" which I think is much better than the recent "Battlestar Galactica".

I finished reading Scalzi's latest book "The God Engines" a few minutes ago. I had to rush to the laptop to write about it. Partially because it's Wednesday night and I have nothing for Thursday, but mostly because I had to tell someone about this book. The problem is that this is the kind of book that you want to tell everyone to read but you can't tell them anything about it. Think about when you tried to tell your friends to go see "The Matrix". Really. Think about it for a second. I'll wait.

Right? You went in blind. The trailers told you nothing. Your friends told you nothing. You walked out a bit stunned and a bit confused but you liked it. Then you wanted to tell someone about it without giving anything away. That's where I am. But I'll do what I can.

It's short. Only 136 pages or so. It rivals some longer short stories.

It has some sex. Not a lot. One scene.

Before you start this book I want you to imagine a world where gods existed. I mean really existed. Not this Yahweh crap where 5,000 years ago he parted a sea but now won't so much as part your hair. God exists and is active in your everyday life. What would that do to science? To travel? To healthcare? To the wine industry? What would it do to the other gods? Oh, if you believe the Bible then you know other gods exist. You just don't put them before God with a big "G".

In the heart of a starship sits a god enslaved. Beaten, defeated, and brought low by Our Lord, this god is chained in iron formed in a forge, tortured with iron pulled straight from the heart of a planet, and nearly killed by iron formed in a dying star. Here it runs the very ship that serves as it's cage. It leaps the ship across galaxies, defends the ship from attack, and curses the captain and priest who order it.

But something is happening. The god engines are becoming more lippy, more rebellious.

I've said too much. That's more than I knew when I opened the book. The story is short, but that's a pro. This story could have gotten dull at twice the length. As it is, Scalzi builds suspense while keeping it short enough that you keep reading longer than you should just because you know the answers are so close.

If you've read Scalzi and didn't like him you should try this anyway. It doesn't have the light air and joking attitude of his other books. Only his name on the cover told me it was his.

If you don't like it give it to a library. I don't think you'll want to, though.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Prince and the Land Mine

Once upon a time there was a prince. His family ruled the wealthy desert kingdom of Kargoughb├╝m. One day he was out visiting a proposed drilling site when he heard something go "click" under his foot. The prince became scared. He stopped moving. A brave Head of Security brushed away the sand around the prince's foot to see what made the "click". Sure enough, it was a land mine.

Luckily, the prince was very smart. He'd gone to school in a far away land where they teach things other than how to get sand out of your shoes. But, while he was supposed to be studying economics, he was really studying music theory. It was there that the prince learned "Love. Love will keep us together."

So the prince came up with a plan. The land mine wanted to blow the prince to pieces. The prince wanted to remain in one piece. "If I could fall in love", the prince thought, "love would keep me together and I won't die." But, while the prince had several wives he didn't love any of them. In fact there were several he hadn't met yet. So the prince demanded that all the women of Kargoughb├╝m come to where he could meet them, he could fall in love, and not die.

So all the women in the land were summoned. They came clothed all in black from the top of their heads to the tips of their toes as was tradition. For three long weeks the prince met one woman after another. At last one woman with extra pretty eyes came. The prince was instantly smitten with her. Her and heatstroke. Her husband was executed and they were immediately married.

A tent was erected around the prince and his new bride. The prince's aids immediately ran behind some sand dunes "to give the prince some privacy". The prince swept his screaming princess into his arms and proceeded to carry her to their marriage bed.

The blood stains never came out of the inside of the tent.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Not Ambrosia

The term "nectar of the gods" bothers me. Are gods hummingbirds? Or perhaps bees?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Fraggles

For some reason I was thinking about the "Fraggle Rock" theme.

Dance your cares away,
Worry's for another day.
Let the music play,
Down at Fraggle Rock.



How are these creatures still alive? If we learned anything from the fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant(s), besides the fact that ants are assholes, is that slackers starve and die when winter comes. Fraggles are an entire civilization of grasshoppers.

Or is that why the show got canceled. The cast all died off.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Friday Links: June 4

Game: Being One 4 - Figure out how to get out of the lab you just woke up in. [link]
You'll want to play 1-3 first. Links are available on the site.

You know your campaign is in trouble if Sarah Palin is endorsing you. [link]

Lesser known American civil wars. [link]

An interview with astronomer Phil Plait. They goof around for awhile before getting to some good discussions about NASA funding and the ever changing rocket programs. [link]

While one Mars rover sets new records for longevity it's sibling is declared officially dead. [link]

75 years ago Jesse Owens kicked some ass at the Olympics. This article expands upon the event without getting long and dull. [link]

I missed Towel Day. But here's 42 uses for your towel. [link]

A game between a newbie girls softball team and a team that hasn't lost in 2.5 years was forfeit so the good team could teach the new team how to play instead of getting totally embarrassed. [link]

DAMMIT! I crashed and lost some of the links.

Pictures and video of a disused nuclear reactor deliberately exploding. [link]

Adam Savage talks about something that Mythbusters did that never made it to the air.

Betelgeuse is about to explode... but only if you use the word "about" in reference to grand cosmic terms. "Soon" and "About" would mean time spans of only half a million years. [link]

Short film: Chrono Perambulator. Predictable really.

Google bans Windows. Sites security flaws as main reason. [link]

What happens when you put 3 Jesuses in a room together? [link]
Now there's a reality show I'd watch.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Book Review: This World is Taboo

Not too long ago Frederick Pohl, science fiction editor and writer, wrote on his blog about Murray Leinster, a fellow science fiction writer. I did a search for the author and found a bunch of his work available at manybooks.net. I loaded up my Kindle and started reading. Some of his stuff I'd already read. But there's one story in particular I'd like to direct you to.

In "This World is Taboo" mankind has settled hundreds of planets. There's no galactic empire as we usually see it. All planets do, however, respect the medical corps. In one sector the medical corps is severely backlogged. Planets that are supposed to be visited every 4 years haven't been visited for 12-20. To get caught up they've brought in help from other sectors. Our main character is part of that help.

The planet Weald is neurotic about Blueskins. Sure, they don't have any, haven't seen any, never dealt with any, but they're believed to be the biggest threat ever. See, a neighboring planet, Dara, had a plague that left all survivors and their children with blue splotches on their skin.

When a ship full of dead miners arrives near Weald the Blueskins are blamed. The pressure is on to wipe out Dara.

It's up to the man from the medical corps to heal the neurosis, find out where the dead miners came from, deal with the famine on Dara, and write up a respectable report about these planets. The way he sorts out the situation would appeal to people who loved the original "Foundation" book.

You can download the book for free from these sites: [manybooks.net] [Google Books] [Project Gutenberg]

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Book Review: Escape from Hell

A few months back I read "Inferno" by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. It's about a science fiction writer who dies and goes to hell. He goes through Hell with Benito Mussolini as his guide. It came out in the 70's and is credited with a renewal of interest in "Dante's Inferno".

I've just finished reading the sequel to that book, "Escape from Hell". Rather than escape at the end of the first book the main character goes back to continue Benito's quest to liberate other souls who have reformed.

The first half of the book has him telling of his travels to Sylvia Plath who, because she committed suicide, is stuck in the form of a tree. He has to set fire to her to change her to a form that can travel on it's own. Then they continue on to the bottom of Hell.

While in Hell they see Ken Lay, Carl Sagan, Hitler and Stalin locked in an eternal fight, Anna Nicole Smith, several bureaucrats from New Orleans, and a host of others.

When I've reviewed other Larry Niven books I've lamented the tendency of writers to lose a certain something in their later years. That is not true of "Escape from Hell". This is one of his better books. I'd rank it near "Ringworld". You don't need to be a science fiction reader to appreciate this book. It's a more readable version of Dante's book.

I recommend this book.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Movie Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

I never played the Prince of Persia games. I was more of a "King's Quest" type person. But I was still interested in the "Sands of Time" movie. Video games have a reputation for simply being awful. Uwe Boll deserves a lot of the credit for that, but not all. He wasn't involved in "Super Mario Bros." or "Doom". Well "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" doesn't belong in that category. There are times where you get a bit sick of the Parkour (a.k.a. freerunning). This movie has lots of running across rooftops while evading baddies or crowded hallways full of snipers. But once you get past that it's a decent movie.

Dastan was a street urchin who was adopted by the king. He was the youngest of three raised in the palace. When the king is poisoned Dastan gets the blame and has to go on the run. Of course, it wouldn't be much of a movie if he didn't already have the key to the whole affair with him - the dagger containing the sands of time. So Dastan has to find the real killer, save the kingdom and the planet, and help the princess throw the dagger into Mount Doom... or something.

I'm not convinced it's something I need for my DVD collection, but I am glad I saw it if only for the face that Yummy made during the ostrich races.