Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: Forever Peace

I finished "Forever Peace" really quickly. Partially because it kept my attention well enough that I found myself up reading until three or four o'clock in the morning. Keep in mind that my current schedule has me going to bed around one or two in the morning. But even so, usually I pick up my book and my eyes are exhausted after a couple of pages.

"Forever Peace" is a sequel to Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War". Only, not really. It has none of the same people. Doesn't refer to things that happened in the first book. It's kind of a stretch to say it even takes place in the same universe. What they have in common is a specific technology and an author. And a tendency to recruit smart people for soldiers.

They have two significant technologies that we don't have. The first is a sort of replicator technology. You feed it the raw materials and it breaks it down and reassembles it to make whatever you asked for. The rich countries have plenty of these. The poor countries do not. Although those that are friendly with the rich countries have get a whole bunch of hours of replicator time each week. You can't just ask for a meal or a drink like you do on Star Trek. They're not that speedy. But a restaurant can order their supplies and make food from it.

One of the things being done with the replicators is going on around Jupiter. One replicator is getting energy from Jupiter using warm fusion and beaming it to the other in orbit. That one takes apart a moon and makes more of itself. Once there's enough they can apparently double as the biggest damn super collider you've ever seen.

The second major technology is the ability to plug yourself in and operate machines a few thousand miles away. The US gets to fight wars in Central America and northern South America while the soldiers are in a base in Mexico. They stay connected for ten days at a time and then have twenty days off. While connected, they're not only driving the soldier machine but they're connected to each other. They're connected deep. Any skills one person has they all have, as long as they're plugged in. What you did that weekend and with who... they all know. And if one of the female soldiers is having her time of the month then everyone, men included, is having the same issue. The platoon of soldier machines is really a ten headed creature with one mind.

The first third of the book just sort of tells about the life of our main character. He goes to work in one of the Soldier Boys for 10 days at a time then goes back to the university to teach, hang with friends, and be with his secret girlfriend the rest of the time. It also mixes in parts where the various technologies and social groups are explained.

In the next part of the book things become more interesting when our lead character and his girlfriend are asked to help confirm what a colleague has discovered. That when the super collider around Jupiter is fired up it will successfully create the conditions at the beginning of the universe. And having done so it will create a new universe that will destroy our own. Oops.

They try to publish, but get rejected. Then the guy who asked them to help vanishes. And someone comes to get all the notes from the girlfriend because they're classified. Only, he's not actually from the Pentagon. He's really from a religious group called the Enders who want to help with God's plan to bring about the apocalypse. They want the super collider to destroy everything and have assassins and people positioned in key places to make sure that they can help it along.

So the second part of the book is this discovery, running from assassins, and figure out how to fix things.

The third part still has running from assassins, but it largely focussed around the plan to use the mind joining technology to turn everyone in the world into a pacifist who won't want to kill people or destroy universes. Not a Borg-like hive mind, just... you have to read the book.

This third part is a little awkward. I wasn't exactly rooting for our heroes, but pretty much everyone else are scum. Kinda like voting for President. These are ALL of our choices? Fine, we'll take that guy.

It's a good book. I read it in about a week and didn't really want to put it down. In another time in my life it'd have taken two days. And you don't have to have read "The Forever War" (an awesome book that I also highly recommend) to get it. Honestly, the only thing holding those books together is that Haldeman wrote this book because of something about the first book that bothered him.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Links: May 27

The TV show "Shit My Dad Says" was cancelled. This exchange is what happened when the Twitterer behind the show told his dad about the cancellation. [link]

Zombie lawn gnome. [link]

Don't get between a cat and it's nicotine fix.

The geek answer to the Chinese Zodiac. [link]

How much damage can your camera lens take before it becomes a problem? [link]

More prophecies of doom that didn't pan out. [link]

A scan of a spider trapped in amber. A friend of mine operates this same model of scanner.

How to tie your shoes.

The robotic skeleton sidekick makes Craig Ferguson crack up.

SpaceShipTwo (a.k.a. the V.S.S. Enterprise) demonstrating the first use of the "feather" for slowing it's descent.

Turns out lots of people in Mississippi were building their own levees. Some with more success than others. [link]

Video of the final test of a human powered helicopter called Gamera. It's a possible height and time record for human powered helicopters. [link]

Prat from Kansas state Senate compares getting raped to a flat tire. [link]

End of the world postponed for 5 months. [link]
They will not be advertising the next end-of-the-world.

Sorry, scratch that. We were judged last weekend. In 5 months the world ends. [link]

Who does work in the still toxic Fukushima nuclear power plant? People with fewer years remaining have started volunteering to do the work. [link]

Storm clouds over Kansas City. [link]
Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say "YES"!

What book review phrases really mean. [link]

A better look at the buried city of Tanis and some lost pyramids. [link]

Robots developing their own language. [link]

In the game Just Cause 2 you have to parachute in to kill baddies. I think. Never played it. But here's a model of everywhere that people have gone splat.

Goddamn bacteria. That's MY coffee. [link]

Video compilation of Maru the strange looking Japanese cat done for it's birthday.

Marvel/DC Pirates of the Caribbean parody.

Oooh! New road trip car! [link]

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Critter pics

Seamus (cat) and Oliver Queen (bird) sharing a food bowl.
Seamus (cat) tolerating affection from Dangerous Beans (also cat).
Gandolf the Grey hiding in the plants and wanting nothing to do with the other three.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sod Off Wednesday: May 25 (2 am edition)

Why are there so damn many birds singing at two o'fucking'clock in the morning? Do the city lights make them think it's been dawn for the last six hours? Are they the bird equivalent of rebellious teenagers? Is this their version of standing outside a strip joint yelling "live nude girls" and handing out leaflets? Did Keanu Reeves tell them that if they chirp less than 10 times a minute their nest will explode? And how did he sell that to so many birds at once? Are the birds really asleep and this is that car alarm that sounds like bird songs? Maybe it's a bird city council meeting that's running late because everyone is complaining about the birds singing all night.

Well they can all just bloody well sod off.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean 4

This is a rather pointless movie to review. Either you've already made up your mind to go see Pirates 4 months ago OR you have zero desire to see it. This review is for that narrow segment of the population still on the fence. You saw and loved the first movie, but the second and third movies you found lacking.

The story is pretty evident from the trailer so I'm gonna talk about the craftsmanship. The first movie was inspired. They had a great idea for a movie and tied it to a major studio. They didn't try to force it to have anything to do with the Disney ride. In fact the ride was redone to match the movie.

The second and third movies were forced. Disney said "holy crap! We made a movie that was well received. We've heard of such a thing, but it's been so long since we've done it ourselves! Writers! Get us two more of the same thing!" And as tends to happen when a movie is forced from profit motive instead of inspiration, it wasn't that hot.

For this fourth movie they've done something unique. They've used someone else's inspiration. We've all seen movies based on books. In this case they took a pirate novel that predates the movies, "On Stranger Tides" by Tim Powers, and adapted it for their series. And they didn't try to force characters into the movie that just wouldn't fit. Kiera and Orlando and most of the military folk just would have been too awkward to cram in there. Some studios would try. Disney would normally try. But they don't. Not this time.

So I'd put this movie between the original and the two-part sequel. More toward the original.

Will I get it on DVD? I dunno. I got the original, but not the sequels. I liked this movie, but don't feel the need to watch it over and over.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mass book signing

First of all, congratulations on the world not ending. I'm sure we're all very proud of that.

Second, the Nebula Awards were this past weekend. Science fiction and fantasy writers from all over the country came to Washington, D.C. to be told they were good enough to be allowed to buy a plane ticket, but not good enough to get up on stage.

Late Friday afternoon, before things really got underway, all the writers that were interested in signing (and selling) some books gathered in a large room in the Washington Hilton and greeted their adoring public. The adoring public wasn't exactly huge. Most of the people I saw had name tags because they were there for the ceremony. Their number was slightly larger than the number of authors. The number of bums off the street (i.e. me) increased the crowd by that number again. This is a rough estimate. I'm sure there were others coming and going. But what this allowed was a more relaxed air than at most book signings I've been to. The authors were arranged around the room in alphabetical order, but some took their name cards and went to sit by their friends. More friends stood around chatting with the authors. And we bums got to have a better chat than we would have in a bookstore with a crowd behind us.

I went for three names: John Scalzi, Joe Haldeman, and Mary Robinette Kowal. I recognized other names, but these were the three that got me to show up. And, true to form, I walked away with a stack. I got my picture taken by the Washington Post, but they found someone with a similar stack who better looked the part of sci-fi geek.

I picked up "Vixen" by Bud Sparhawk. Bud does most of his writing for sci-fi magazines. Short stories. And he's been writing them for years. He's appeared in some anthologies, but "Vixen" is his first novel. I asked him to "Make it out to Doug, please" so he did. "To Doug-(Please)"

Eric James Stone was there celebrating the release of "Rejiggering the Thingamajig and other stories". Truth be told, it's not supposed to be out until September. Even the author had only seen the proofs before then. I got the honor of being the 10th person to have a copy of his book autographed. I also got his business card with a short story on the back.

John Scalzi's new book, "Fuzzy Nation", is on sale. "Fuzzy Nation" is a reboot of the H. Beam Piper series that started with "Little Fuzzy". You can read the original for free here. I plan on reading both.
I also got him to sign my copy of "The Android's Dream".

"Impact Parameter and Other Quantum Realities" by Geoffrey A Landis is apparently hard to find. But he was good enough to bring copies to be placed on the table with all the rest of the books for sale.

I couldn't find my copy of "The Forever War" for Joe Haldeman to sign, but there were copies for sale. I think I got the last two. If my old copy shows up I'll pass it on to someone else. He also signed "The Accidental Time Machine" for me.

Stanley Schmidt, PhD signed "The Coming Convergence". He almost signed the book to Doug Please as well.

James Morrow's "Shambling Toward Hiroshima" came with a fake monster movie booklet called "Filmland of Famous Monsters (special Syms Thorley issue)"

And Mary Robinette Kowal was signing her first novel "Shade of Milk and Honey". It's sort of a "Sense and Sensibility" era book, but with magic. I got a lovely thick paper bookmark that strongly resembled a slat from the wooden fan that she also gave me.

I did take pictures, but between the indoor lighting and the zoom I was using they all came out shaky.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Links: May 20

Preview of the second half of High Line Park. [link]

How the population center of the United States has shifted over the years. [link]

Clip on wheels for dragging home stuff you find on the sidewalk. [link]

New York Times final edition. [link]

Robot that can climb any surface.

A picture Peter Jackson just had to take. [link]

Mad Portal 2 cube tricks.

Mr Potato Battery. [link]

Harry Potter books summarized in a comic page. [link]

Iron Sky: trailer the third.

Video of electrical transformers exploding in Fort Worth.

How to explain a Kindle to Charles Dickens. [link]

Game: Blow Things Up 2 - there are creatures that need blowing up. [link]

This cat really is convinced that the people are it's slaves.

The latest Doctor Who episode was written by Neil Gaiman. Here are three clips talking about what got cut and how to write Doctor Who.

Flood defense: just add backhoe.

A cat in a tank.

Steampunked mobile phones. [link]


Game: Amigo Pancho - remove the sharp things so the cartoony Mexican stereotype can float away with his balloons. [link]

Game: Vampire Skills - help the vampire learn all his skills. [link]

The Onion says about Mitt Romney what I see every time I read an article about him. [link]

A string of pendulums of increasing length and the patterns they make when they swing together.

Pictures of nuclear tests, some of which I haven't seen before. [link]

A comparison of scenes from the game "Fallout: New Vegas" to their real world equivalents. [link]

Extreme closeups of snowflakes. [link]

Turbine for the arteries. [link]

Class M planet found... probably. [link]

From George Takai's Twitter feed: Schwarzenegger confesses to fathering baby with house staff member, but explains that child is destined to bring down SkyNet in 2031. [link]

Muppets as X-Men. [link]
I'd see that movie.

Dr Who spoof of the poster for "The Adventures of Tin Tin". [link]

I might need one of these for the next kite festival.

Flatworm regenerates from a single cell... kinda. [link]

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A quest!

People of the internet, I have for you a quest.

A damn close approximation
of our pump.
The Ibid family lives on a farm in Kansas. Some time back my grandpa managed to get his hands on a used Skelly gas pump and some metal signs. Skelly was an oil company in the midwest for a long time. They were taken over by by Getty Oil in 1977. For decades that pump has been used to fill our tractors and combines and wheat trucks from a couple of diesel tanks. Apparently that pump has now been retired.

Twenty years ago it could have been retired with dignity. But that last little bit of sunshine broke down the plastic so it bleached and broke and is mostly just ugly now. And, presumably, non-functional. Don't stress too much about it. It wasn't one of those really nice ones with the globe on top and a glass chamber. No, it was much closer to what we see now. No credit card reader, but blocky with an odometer type counter and plates along the top that said Skelly. Still, as a kid I thought it was kinda cool. I probably still would if it hadn't taken so much weather damage.

But now there is no pump. Now they're relying on gravity. OK, there is a tank that is mounted on wheels so we can take emergency gas to the field if necessary. That thing has a pump. But, really, that's not a permanent solution. A replacement is needed. And I'm hoping that you good people can help. My searches have been pretty worthless. (Until just now. Seriously? Where was this site yesterday? Or last month when I was looking for fun? Well I've already started writing this so I'm pushing ahead.) Do you or someone you know have a gas station? Where do they get their pumps? Do you have a secret stash of strange junk somewhere? Do you know of a gas station that closed and forgot to take their pumps with them? Are roving gangs of gas pumps terrorizing your town? Let me know. Dad and The Punk need one to go with that brand new 1987 combine they just bought.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sod Off Wednesday: May 18

The Dougintology Department of Acquisitions is pleased to announce an addition to it's Museum of Technological Antiquities. This is a Philco Predicta TV from 1957-1958. I'm told it doesn't work,but to be honest I haven't actually tried. I found a guy who fixes these, but he has to hand make the parts. I should expect it to cost $500 to make it work. Of course, since the TV signals have changed since then it would be for playing the Pong system.
Yes, the museum has one of those, too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: The House That Stood Still

I picked up this book because of the author. He's not one I've fallen for, but so many classic sci-fi authors that I do respect talk about A.E. Van Vogt. So far I'm still trying to figure out if there's any reason for that other than them being friends.

This book has a promising idea. It has some interesting ways that it could have developed but didn't. I can see enjoying it if it were rewritten or adapted for TV. Instead I read this.

Many thousands of years ago a space ship crashed into what is now southern California. The ship had a telepathic interface that it used to influence the primitive natives to dig it out and tried to get them to fix it. Of course, they couldn't. It got them to build a big Incan... or possibly Mayan temple around it. But it treated the stones in such a way that they made those who lived in the building effectively immortal. In this way it could continue to guide the development of those under it's influence until they had the technical savvy to fix the ship.

Centuries passed. A lost ship of explorers crashed on the California coast. They were welcomed into the house/temple by the master of the house who was never seen again. He welcomed them because he knew he couldn't hold them off.

Realizing the ship was exerting some control the telepathic interface was smashed. I forget by who.

The house is under the control of a man named Tannahill. He was captain of the ship that crashed. He and his crew and some native women whose husbands were killed so his men could marry them still live in the house or at least spend enough time in it to keep getting made young again. They have all gotten educations and taken jobs that gives the group effective control of the area. There are also some people who were once kicked out of the house/temple who still live in the area and want back in. I'm not clear how that worked. But at this point they seem to be happy to do janitorial work in the house.

The story starts around 1950. At least I assume it does. That's when the original book came out. A man by the name of Stevens, an outsider to the group, has been hired to oversee legal matters attached to the property. He's taken over from another outsider. The group does this every time Mr Tannenhill fakes his death and starts pretending to be his own nephew or something. But this time he's been poisoned to cause amnesia. He thinks he really is his own nephew. It's a play for control of the property triggered partially because they're convinced an atomic war is coming. Some want to take the ship to Mars and wait it out. Some want to try to stop the war. It's not clear why they think atomic war is coming. Maybe they're gonna start it. It's one of those things about the book that is terribly vague and is stated as fact with no apparent cause. Who is likely to make the decision is based partially on who controls Tannenhill and thus the house.

The most interesting parts of the book were the ones that told about the house's history. It seems well thought out. The rest... meh. Stevens has too much knowledge that apparently jumps into his head fully formed. A strange woman shows up at his house. He knows her full name. And he knows the names of the thugs that are chasing her. The fact of the impending nuclear crisis is touched on but largely ignored. Oh, and they have a ship that they can use to take into space or to Mars without disturb anyone in the surrounding countryside. No big deal. They prevent the war by buzzing some country I've never heard of in their shuttles. The country blames the Americans for attacking them. HOW DOES THIS PREVENT WAR!?!

All the problems I have with this book are in the telling. A different author could do much better. I could also see this working as a struggle between the people in control of the house now and the people who were booted 500-600 years ago trying to get it back.

Don't bother with this book.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Movie Review: Priest

Imagine if vampires really existed. I don't mean they exist but lurk in the shadows and live in remote castles. Vampires exist and it's common knowledge. Wars have been fought against them. They've been an ongoing threat throughout history. How would we react? Know about them but have severe prejudice against them like in "True Blood"? Go about our lives with the threat hanging over us like Ireland with the IRA or Israel with the Palestinians? Or would we find religion? "30 Days of Night" and the 3rd Dresden Files book mention how the vampires try to remain secret just so humans don't get all religious and try to slaughter them.

When we get attacked by terrorists or are threatened by foreign super powers we rally behind the people with an army and surrender our rights and freedoms to the government. If we are threatened by supernatural beings we'd be likely to rally behind those with the cross and surrender our rights and freedoms to the church. If vampires exist then presumably so does heaven, hell, God, and Satan. Historically, churches haven't been good with power. They tend to abuse it and their followers.

This is where our movie starts. After a series of wars that span centuries we find ourselves living in massive walled cities under a very authoritarian church run government. Beyond the walls is a desolate, radioactive wasteland that an occasional farmer tries to recover as the radiation slowly fades. And in the wasteland the vampires are supposed to be confined to concentration camps.

One of these farm families is attacked by a large gang of vampires. The parents were killed and the teenaged daughter taken. Word reaches our hero. That was his family. He asks the ruling council for permission to make the warrior priests, or at least him, active again. Let him recover the girl and find out why the vampires are running free. Permission is denied. Voldemort can't come back... er, the vampires are all locked up. Besides the church's power relies on the people thinking that the church can keep them save. If the vampires are even rumored to be free and active then the people will doubt the church.

So our hero goes rogue. So the church sends more priests out to retrieve him. So goes our movie.

It was a good movie. I recommend seeing it. I'll probably get it on DVD. I'll have to see how the sequel goes. There has to be a sequel. The movie ends like the end of "Empire Strikes Back". They're splitting up and plan to reunite at the rendezvous point.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Links: May 13

Blogger is FINALLY back up. Here's Friday Links.

Creepy gopher sculptures. [link]

Dancing spiders.

Another version of the translation telephone game. [link]

Best sports correction ever. [link]

That prop ages well. [link]

DC retracts Superman giving up his American citizenship. [link]

Dogs in war. [link]
Some of you know that I make military medical textbooks for a living. We've started a military veterinary medicine book I'm kinda psyched about.

Kinda old news. The origins of the word "robot" [link] and, because I actually thought about it while in front of a computer, an English translation of the play. [link]

An older video, but it popped up again. Earth if it had rings like Saturn's. 

10 years on and we've proved that torture is counterproductive and old fashioned interrogation is the way to find terrorists. [link]

Image search by color. [link]

Doctor Who fan service: The Angels vs The Silence. [link]

Unusual ways to die. [link]

How accurate are pundits? [link]

Super high resolution photo of the sky. [link]

Hasidic newspaper edited Hillary Clinton out of pictures of Obama and cabinet being briefed about Osama's death. [link]

Animated miniature airport.

Feather art. [link]

Ikea guide to sci-fi tech. [link]

10,500 lbs of used aluminum street signs for auction. I hope whoever buys them uses them for craft projects instead of just recycling them. [link]

Portal turret egg cup. [link]

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Towel Day

me and my towel
May 25, 2006
Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Douglas Adams. I thought this would be a good opportunity to promote Towel Day on May 25. Celebrations will be held world wide. Find your local celebration at http://www.towelday.org/.

For the uninitiated I should explain.
Douglas Adams died 11 May 2001. A date was chosen exactly two weeks later to commemorate his life and work. Time was needed for word of this memorial to get around the internet. Some people have tried to move the date to the actual date of his death or the date of his birth or some other date more appropriate. But by popular consensus it has remained May 25.

Douglas Adams was a writer. He wrote for the original Dr Who series making Tom Baker the one original Doctor that most people recognize. He did some work for Monty Python's Flying Circus. He's best known for the radio and book series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Anytime you see the number 42 on TV, cartoons, or software it's almost certainly a reference to that series. He also did a great but little known book called "Last Chance to See" where he and a proper biologist traveled to remote parts of the world looking for
rare animals.
Within a week of his passing there was an asteroid named Arthur Dent. Early in 2005 asteroid 2001 DA42 was named Douglasadams.

Why a towel?
This next bit is from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

This is what The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has to say on the subject of towels.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy
river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the
hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Towel Day is celebrated by carrying your towel with you all day. If that's too embarassing the Dougintologists also use the occasion to plant a tree or contributing to an enrironmental charity.
Favorites include:
* Dian Fossey Gorilla Foundation (http://www.dianfossey.org/home/)
* Save the Rhino (http://www.savetherhino.org/)
* Solar Electric Light Fund (http://self.org)
* Trees for the Future (http://treesftf.org/)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sod off Wednesday: May 11

My contracting agency is making me attend some seminar for making sure I behave according to their standards. See, their contract with the Army expires soon. It's a safe bet it won't be renewed. Not because of anything they've done. Just in 10 years I've never seen the same contractor used twice in a row. I'm betting that they're making us do this so they can say they lost the contract due to poor contractor/contractee relations due to misbehaving staff and that they were doing everything they can to improve relations. Of course, the staff stays the same no matter what the contractor does. I'm on my sixth contractor. Every instance of poor relations were due to how the contractor treats the staff.

Soon I'll be a government employee and leave all this bureaucracy and crap behind for a whole new kind of bureaucracy and crap.

They can both sod off.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Game Review: Portal 2

I tend not to review games. Largely because I play them so long after they've come out that any review is meaningless. But I picked up "Portal 2" when it was still reasonably fresh so I get to try to tell you about it without giving away spoilers.

First of all this game is awesome. It has a sense of humor but still manages to make what seem to be jokes relevant to the story. The puzzles are pretty good. And there's a lot of them. But what you're playing for is the writing.

It actually feels like several games. The original Portal wasn't that long and the first 3/4 of the game were training levels. In "Portal 2" the game changes significantly as the story progresses. Each section of the story is about the same length as the whole of the original.

I wasn't far though the game when I decided this was one to play with Yummy. Just start over from the beginning and let her experience the whole thing. Really, the story and sense of humor is that good.

Alright, this review sucks. Everything I write feels like a spoiler.

Here. This is the beginning of the game. By now there are enough videos online that you can watch the whole game and not spend a dime. I'm posting the first part of the game just to get you hooked. It doesn't even get into the really good stuff like Cave Johnson, but shows you what you can expect.

We just got started on the two player mode. Yummy plays one robot. I'm the other. We have to work together to get through a whole new collection of tests.

I'm not sure how much replay value there is to this game, but I still think it was worth buying.

And here's the proper Cave Johnson quote collection that I thought I was posting on Friday Links.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Movie Review: Thor

This movie was fantastic. It's gonna win awards.

Don't think about Norse mythology when you go see this movie. The names were originally taken from the mythology, but they were made into Marvel Comics characters.

"Thor" is a rather Shakespearean tale of intrigue and trickery in the royal court of the gods. Two brothers competing for the approval of their aging father and, to a lesser extent, the throne of Asgard itself. But an incident at the coronation ceremony leads to rash actions by a young and impetuous god that leads to a war with an ancient enemy. This leads to banishment and the discovery of the kidnapping of a infant from the enemy eons ago. Who else to direct something like this than Kenneth Branagh?

The story was written by J. Michael Straczynski who is best known for the five year epic called "Babylon 5".  These days he writes for Marvel Comics. So he's had plenty of experience writing these kinds of epics.

Thor, stripped of his powers and banished to Midgard (i.e. Earth) until he can become worthy of his powers, befriends a group of scientists who are trying to understand the wormhole that the Asgard use to travel to different realms. He tries to help them recover their research from SHIELD. SHIELD has established a camp around Thor's hammer that was sent to Earth with him. Nobody can lift the hammer who is not worthy, and for much of the movie that includes Thor.

The sweeping vistas of Asgard are awe inspiring. The battles are unlike those you've ever seen. And you don't need the 3D glasses or theater to appreciate it. We did without and were blown away. I think the 3D would be a distraction.

There are some acting roles that are destined for certain people. Patrick Stewart always had to play Professor X. JK Simmons was the only choice for J Jonah Jameson. Robert Downey Jr was an obvious pick for Tony Stark once I heard it. Then there are those roles that seem right with one actor until you see how they're written. Patrick Stewart would have made a great Mr Freeze, but the way the character was written wrote him out and Arnold Schwarzenegger seemed a better choice. And as much as I want to see Brian Blessed play Odin, this particular take on Odin wasn't a good fit. They did well in picking Anthony Hopkins.

I will get this on DVD without hesitation. I may see it again in theaters. It's that good.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Friday Links: May 6

Not many links this week. Partially because I spent so much of the week playing Portal 2. For part of the game you get an occasional recording from founder, owner, and CEO of Aperture Science, Cave Johnson. This is EVERY Cave Johnson recording. Keep in mind that they span a couple of decades.
I blame the crap links I've been getting this week, too.
p.s. Portal 2 is constructed from 100% pure awesometonium.

Photo from inside the Situation Room when the director of the CIA told the story of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. [link]

Two misattributed quotes have been floating around after the death of Bin Laden. Here's the real quotes and sources. [link]

Nooks and crannies of the Frick mansion. [link]

Watch this spider video all the way through.

Spider attack from Ahmet Ozkan on Vimeo.

Palin, Bachmann, Trump, Santorum, Paul, Romney, Huckabee... Iowa Republicans want another choice. [link]

The remaining original cast of the BBC Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series is going on tour. [squee!]

95 movie sequels in some stage of development. [link]

A couple of teasers for "Frankenstein's Army". [link]

Falling gelatin at 6200 fps.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Movie Review: Hoodwinked Too - Hood vs Evil

I saw the original Hoodwinked movie and loved it. Yummy hated it. For some reason the original movie was like that - you either loved it or hated it. "Hoodwinked 2" is different. I don't think anyone is gonna come away thrilled with the experience.

At the end of the first movie several characters were recruited into a spy organization. Since then Red has gone off for special training at the temple where her granny trained. While away the Happily Ever After organization gets trashed by enemy operatives. Their ultimate goal is to steal the ultimate recipe from the temple of the sisterhood and become unstoppable. Along the way the movie is pretty weak.

Take the characters from the first movie and force them into a weak spy movie spoof. Anyone that they couldn't find roles for got forced into awkward places in the movie anyway. One of the more entertaining characters in the original was the squirrel who was so hyped up that you could rarely understand a word he said. He's pretty intelligible in this one. He worked for a wolf that was a knockoff of Fletch from the old Chevy Chase movies of the same name. He keeps one costume and loses most of the Fletchiness. Red now worships her Grannie and wants to be just like her. They're trying for a lesson about being your own person, but it doesn't really take until the very end of the movie when it takes place very suddenly.

It was very disappointing. Don't bother.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Sod off Wednesday: May 4

Have you read any of Sir Terry Pratchett's stuff? Any Discworld at all? No? You should. Screw reading them in order. For the most part the books don't rely on earlier books. That and the first two books were weak. He was just getting started. If you want to read in order you should watch "The Color of Magic" and then start reading the third book. I started with "Mort". There's other good places to start, but that's generally considered a good one.

I bring all this up because there's this film company that was started with the express purpose of adapting a Discworld fable called "Troll Bridge". They've done other work to keep the main project going, but the heart of the company is dedicated to finishing a film they've been working on for eight years.

In the Discworld there's a barbarian. Cohen the Barbarian is a legend and has been for decades. He's a rescuer and defiler of maidens, looter of ruins, destroyer of mad cults, and on like that. But one can't be a legend forever. Pile on enough decades and you have elderly barbarians. Or dead ones. Cohen is the former.

"Troll Bridge" is the story of 90+ year old Cohen the Barbarian going to battle a bridge troll, only... well, nobody really remembers how the Discworld used to be except for he and the troll.

The film needs a last push to finish. $45,000. They have half and they need a bit more. $10. That's all they ask.

Watch this and decide if you think their project is worth a bit of couch change.

Donate here. Troll Bridge

No? Then think about the movie Iron Sky. They're going bigger. They want theaters. Heck I want to see it in a theater.

Trailer 1

Trailer 2

Donate here. Iron Sky

No? Then you can just sod off.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Book Review: WWW: Watch

This review is about the second book in a trilogy. The review of the first book is here.

I read pretty much everything Robert J Sawyer puts out. His book "Calculating God" got me hooked and the TV series "FlashForward" is based on another of his novels. All of his books are near future science fiction. That is, he takes the world we know, changes one thing, and examines how that change will effect the individuals closest to it and society as a whole.

In this trilogy he's having an artificial intelligence develop on the internet. No programmer or home servers. It is made up of rogue packets on the internet (to put it painfully simply).

There is also a girl who was blind, but now has a device that allows her to see. It also allows the AI to see.

And there's a chimp/bonobo hybrid that is learning to talk via sign language. He makes a friend at another research institution via webcam.

That pretty well covers the first book. See the link at the top for this post for more.

In the second book, "WWW: Watch", we find out about a US government organization called WATCH that monitors the internet for threats. And just like how we have a plan for what to do if intelligent life in outer space is discovered they have also thought about what to do in the case of a digital intelligence. They want to make sure there's no SkyNet or Matrix. The plan basically says "kill it", but they still want to talk to the President first.

The eye technology improves so that the WebMind can hear as well as see through the girl's eyes. It can even send text messages right into her line of vision. It can also start to view videos online instead of just text. After WebMind witnesses a suicide broadcast via webcam she and her family start trying to teach it right from wrong.

The people at WATCH can't figure out how to kill WebMind. They can't question the blind girl's family directly so they get the Canadian FBI to do it for them. Same with the Japanese and the researcher there.

It's decided that the best way to keep WebMind safe is to make it publicly known. Maybe the government would think twice if they couldn't just kill it in secret. Sure, some people would be scared, but many would oppose killing it. So he announces himself by eliminating all spam for a day and sending out an e-mail to everyone whose spam he's removed. He says he hopes he can benefit mankind in many more ways. He quickly becomes a Dear Abby sort.

Then there's the primate. Having hit puberty, his violent chimp side has started to come out. But WebMind gets onto his webcam feed and explains who he is and the decisions he has to make in life.

The book is an engaging read. Some books drag and you wonder why so little has passed after what feels like so much reading. This is the opposite. I find myself amazed at how much book has blown by.

The third book in the trilogy, "WWW: Wonder", recently came out. I wasn't able to find a copy of "WWW: Watch" in book stores until just a few weeks ago. Now I have to keep my eye out for a third. I recommend these and pretty much everything that Sawyer has done.

Monday, May 02, 2011

A new age of conspiracy theories dawns

By now you've heard the news. Bin Laden's plans to change careers to become a stage magician came to an abrupt end when he screwed up the bullet catching trick. Perhaps his choice of magician's assistant, US Navy Seals, wasn't the most prudent.

They found the compound by following a courier that brought news in and out of the compound. There were no electronic communications systems in the compound: no telephones, no internet. I have to wonder if this was because they were worried about their communications being intercepted or if this was because they were being true to their faith. The Taliban had banned TV's in Afghanistan because they thought that the radio waves would interfere with the passage of prayers to Allah. The same could be said about telephone and internet.

The compound was well inside Pakistan, not in the area just inside the border. It was in the middle of the city Abbottabad, not in a remote mountain compound. Typical religious leader. Everyone has to live in poverty and squalor except for me.

The SEALs came in by helicopter. It stalled, but they did manage to land it inside the walls of the compound. It wasn't going to lift off without repairs so they planted bombs on it and blew it up to make sure nobody else could use it either. The last thing anyone wants is AlQaeda to become an air power. Another helicopter came to get the SEALs back out.

Bin Laden had given his people orders to kill him if they were ever raided. He didn't want to be captured or killed by "the west". This didn't happen. "The west" shot him in the face.

Bin Laden was buried at sea 12 hours later. This is significantly kinder than how the Russians deal with terrorists who self-identify as Muslim. The Russians smash their balls between bricks, wrap them in pig skin, and bury them face down. This ensures that, according to their own beliefs, they're not getting into heaven. But one could argue that by showing kindness and treating prisoners and the dead respectfully we're showing that surrender doesn't mean torture and abuse. At least, not anymore. Not for those who aren't already at Guantanamo.

I'm not sure I like the burial at sea bit. It may have been a quick burial to honor Muslim burial practices. It may have been to ensure that there'd be no "heroic" raids on the place where the body was put to rest in an attempt to recover it. Many will claim it's because something is being hidden. Maybe we're only claiming to have him. Maybe he's alive and captive and we're only claiming he's dead. Maybe we had to kill him because he knew something.

It might have been nice to put him on trial. It'd be a way to publicly list the charges against him and for him to be loud and arrogant in front of the cameras. It could have humiliated him and make the leader of his corrupt little Muslim sub-sect appear human to his followers. But there would have been rescue attempts. Our best security would be a prison aircraft that never landed.

On the other hand, like with Hitler, no trial means there's never any serious public debate about the facts. Being dead with no trial means pretty much everything said about him will stick. All except with the inevitable Bin Laden deniers.

Once the inevitable revenge killings are over my hope is that AlQaeda will go the way of the megachurches in the United States. For all that the megachurches have they're really a cult of personality. Once the preacher retires or dies the whole thing falls apart. The congregation leaves. They're usually filing for bankruptcy after a year or two. I'm thinking that Bin Laden was that kind of leader. He WAS AlQaeda. Some will leave. Some will split into other, smaller terrorist groups. A new terrorist organization may expand to be the new great threat. But AlQaeda will survive as a small, neighborhood, mom and pop terrorist organization.

So long Osama. The SEALs didn't miss you and neither will we.