Friday, January 19, 2018

Amanda Palmer on Asking

Amanda Palmer, The Art Of Asking. Totally brilliant talk about Asking And Receiving instead of Demanding And (not) Receiving. Thanks to Douglas S. 


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Look To Windward by Iain M. Banks

I have just finished re-re-reading Look To Windward by Iain M. Banks. If pressed, I might just designate it my favorite book from one of my favorite series, the Culture books.

Banks’ Culture books are modern space opera done right. The old-timey space opera was basically just westerns in space. A classic example are E. E. Doc Smith’s Skylark and Lensman series. They are good fun, but they are pretty much tough-guy space police fighting bigger and bigger baddies in bigger and bigger battles. The culture books are space opera for the thinking man.

Banks, now sadly passed before his time, said in an interview that he would love to live in the Culture, and so would I. He said it was an attempt at the most positive civilization he could imagine which was still recognizably human. It’s pretty much a utopia, except it’s interesting.

I guess my favorite bit is the spaceships. I’m a hopeless dork for big thingies, and I don’t know anybody who did it better than Banks. There are many types, including the General Systems Vehicles. Here you have a spaceship, held together with forcefields, which is a big city in one chunk. Think many kilometers long, several wide, and a couple tall, build in layers. They have big bays for building smaller ships, they have, well, everything a civilization needs, they have millions of inhabitants, humans, AI drones, and aliens of all kinds... they have smaller ships and aircraft and even indivicuals flying around it and over the parks. They are intelligent, run by “Minds”, hyper-AIs which work in hyperspace too... What’s not to love.

Look To Windward goes beyond even that. It has pathos and tension like most culture books. And it has outstanding inventions, one of the greatest is “air spheres”, which are collosal spheres of air which circle around the galaxy, which contain a whole world and civilization of their own, insanely old and wise, many of the citizens are intelligent, inscrutable plant-based “dirigibles” which themselves are individually millions of years old... A scholar from the Culture is trying to study these amazing beings, and he comes across a secret plot from outside, aimed at one of the Culture’s “orbital” worlds (like Ringworld, only not quite that large).

For me at least, this is just an exceptionally satisfying novel on so many levels. I wish I’d met Iain Banks.
I also wish they’d make movies from them, except I’m not optimistic they would get it right, it would be difficult, especially as everything today has to be all action.

Art by Mark J. Brady
(Inspired by the novel but not an illustration)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A lot of words...

Wow, I’ve just realised that on my blogs since 2005 I’ve posted about 10,000 posts!

 At about 150 words per post, that is 1,500,000 words, that is about twenty novels of 75,000 words... Almost two novels per year. Huh. So I’ve could have had a career as a novelist you say? Weeeell maybe, only writing a good coherent novel is way harder than writing a bunch of scatterbrain blog posts on various stuff.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Reasons to go for smaller cameras

This guy tells about why he now has gone to smaller cameras. I particularly like one point I had not heard anybody say before: even for a young person, carrying about many kilos of gear all day can simply be demoralising to the point that you get home with fewer and worse pictures. I feel the same way. I always had a fondness for compact cameras, but these days it's just not fun anymore to use a big camera. Back when the only cameras which had really good quality were big and heavy I had one, but that is years ago.

He also says that the dynamic range (shooting a subject with extreme contrast) is the only reason he held onto full frame for so long, but it's no longer enough.
Oh, he is funny too.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Binoculars reflection movie trope

I can’t find any mention of this movie trope:

In movies and TV, often westerns, the hero looks up and sees a clear glint on a mountain or a roof top: somebody is watching them with binoculars.

I don’t buy it. A glass surface (unlike a mirror which has a silver covering) reflects only 4% of the light.
And more, a binocular front lens is curved. This means that the reflection of the sun is very small and weak, and falls off with the square of the distance. It is nothing like a reflection in a hand mirror. (And if it was, it would have to be extremely carefully aimed to be visible to anybody, because the light beam is only as wide as the mirror.)

Monday, January 08, 2018

Dirk Gently

There are two Dirk Gently books, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul. They are both humorous, intelligent, complex, and highly imaginative. And very original, I’ve not seen anything quite like them.

Douglas Adams of course wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. The Dirk Gently books are also humor, but not at all as far out as HHGG. They are more ‘realistic’ as far as that can be said of books which involve time travel, ghosts, and gods.

I really appreciate them, it’s extremely rare to see such a combination of intelligence and imagination and humor. I think only Terry Pratchett is in the same league.

Adams was working on a third one when he died at 49 around the millennium. It was published with other diverse scraps, but was clearly only rough ideas.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Are ebooks failing?

There are many stories in the press about how ebooks are apparently failing. It is BS.