Saturday, February 23, 2008

SF and fantasy

Orson Scott Card disusses (video) the difference between fantasy and science fiction.

It is a highly interesting debate, what is SF and what is F. Because it just can't be solidly defined. For example, if a Christian writer (and this has happened) writes stories in which Satan is real, then that's not fantasy to him and his co-believers. If an atheist writes it, then it's fantasy.

The same is true with a big number of other subjects you might mention. A big part of the population believe in telepathy, and another big don't believe it exists. The same is true for ghosts, reincarnation, etc etc etc. So that makes it hard to put hard limits on "what is fantasy".

And Scott Card says that faster than light travel is impossible, thuse SF which involves it is really fantasy. But many scientists are not convinced about the Einsteinian hard limit on speed of space travel, so...

Update: by the way, L. Ron Hubbard, in the introduction to Battlefield Earth, makes a big show about how one should not mix genres, and announces with not inconsiderable pride (to use phraseology he might have used himself) that the kilopage BE is full of all kinds of science fiction, but no trace of fantasy.

He defines SF as fiction dealing with technology which does not yet exist, buy may in the future, with a heavy slant towards imagining technology before engineers do, so engineers get a clue what to aim for. And he defines fantasy as "stories about spirits and magic and such" or words to that effect.

Himself, he wrote both kinds, sometimes really well, like BE, and sometimes really badly, like The Ultimate Adventure, in which the hero defeats a spirit by bobbing it over the head! A good fantasy story of his, though, is Fear, which is a classic.

Pisa and perfection

Isn't it funny how the Leaning Tower of Pisa would surely not be world famous at all if it had started leaning during construction due to insufficient foundation work?

I guess this tells us that when it comes to being noticed, originality is more important than perfection.

Of course if you'd asked the original architect and church leaders, they may not have been so pleased, at the time. :)

Bert chimed in:
Funny coincidence, just yesterday I was listening to an interview of Frank Gehry, the father of many modern architectural works guaranteed to be noticed.

I gotta say, that's a f***ing cool building. It has been very, very difficult and expensive to build, but I'd definitely pay a premium to live in it.

Interestingly, though, how some of the comments on the video's page claim that he is more of a sculptor than an architect. That he sacrifices function to form, that the buildings don't work well for those working in them.
Of course making excellent form or function, takes great skill. Making excellent form and function is exceedingly rare.

The Danes

Another word on "why are the Danes so happy"...

I think, upon consideration, that one of the main factors is that the Danes are a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to learning to be relaxed.

It is something I'm only starting to learn myself, and I think it's an essential ingredient of happiness.

And even of success too. One of the very few sports matches I have watched was when the Danish women's handball team beat the Korean one in the Olympic gold match. You don't find harder-working, more intense, and more disciplined sportsmen/women than the Koreans, and yet the Danes beat them.
A similar example is when the Danish soccer team won the European championship. They were not even supposed to be in the finals, but another team dropped out, and they were put in. Some of the players had even started their vacation!

It's clear that the Danes are quite relaxed comparatively. You are much less likely to get your nose or your windows broken for silly reasons in Denmark than in most of the world. They are just laid back.

Becoming relaxed is easier said than done, of course. But it can be done. I think the main process is one of giving up the "battle" attitudes one may have. Because fear is what creates tension, and a fighting attitude is what creates fear. (Even though it may seem to relieve it temporarily.) And, well, fear is what creates a fighting attitude, sorry. One can also work with the fear directly. In any case, it's probably a long process, but worth it.

Texas obscenity law repealed

Texas obscenity law repealed.

The Free Speech Coalition says:
"NEW ORLEANS, LA - A three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a Texas statute making it illegal to promote or sell sexual devices last week.
"The ruling relied upon the landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision, which overturned Texas' anti-sodomy statute on the grounds of substantive due process rights, a complex legal argument that holds that government must have a compelling reason to interfere with the rights of an individual; morality not being an acceptable reason."

One might say that the right to buy dildoes is not something on which the future of humanity rests. But there are bigger principles at stake, and it's a victory every time they defeat a law which takes away individual liberty on spurious reasons such as "obscenity". The enforcement by force of one person's values and morals on another has never been right, and never will be.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Tip for audio books on iPod

I'd love to have an iPod designed for audio books. I use the iPod every day for audio books, it's wonderful.

I'm sure there'd be lots of improvements Apple could make for such a specialized model, but the biggest wish for me would be: an easy way to scroll back a few seconds to hear a difficult sentence once more. On the iPod it is very difficult to control scrolling precisely, and you're as likely to go back two minutes as ten seconds.

I have most of the iPod models which have been brought out. I recently bought an iPod Touch, and one of the things I hoped was that the big screen would make the above problem less. It does not, it makes it worse, since the screen is shorter than the potential scroll on a wheel.

Once partial solution which I just found is for use when not walking about: get a dock and a remote control. Funny enough, the remote control allows for much more precise scrolling than the iPod's wheel or screen!

It's a lot better, but it's not perfect. For one thing, it makes the iPod bound to the dock, and for another, the scroll action is a bit weirdly geared: it is really slow for the first few seconds, and then accelerates rather fast. So it's still not too easy to hit the five or ten seconds I often need. Though much easier.

One thing I'd like would be a button on the "iPod AudioBook", like on many DVD remotes, which jumps back the playback ten seconds with one press. Preferably the time delay should be controllable. For example, if you set it to five seconds, you could easily go back ten or fifteen seconds by pressing twice or thrice rapidly.

The button does not even have to be on the iPod itself, compromising the clean design, it could be on a remote or a control pad on the earphones lead.

Apple, how about it?
Kronostar intoned:
While we're making wish lists for Apple I'd love to be able to book mark. Some of my audiobook/podcast mp3s are extremely long (40 minutes or longer) with no clean chapter breaks. I'd love to be able to book mark it for those times I'd like to take a break from a particular long track to listen to something else.

That is a good wish.
There is a decent solution already available: select the tracks in iTunes, right-click and select Get Info. Then select the Properties tab, and check "remember playback position". You can do this for many tracks at once.

Bill sez:
To get the audio MP3 file to chapterize, run it through Audiobook Builder and voila! Perfect ipod audiobook.

... I'm not sure how big the advantage of this app is. As described above, you can actually make the iPod remember where you are on a track. And it seems that it only adds chapter marks where a new file began, which does not solve the problem of very long files.

Bert said:
Wouldn't have to be a new iPod flavor. I would picture this as an attachment for the accessory port, with a few specialized keys, and built-in firmware enhancements. Pretty much the same approach as the iTrip, etc.

By the way, I have emailed Amazon about the Kindle. I really like to read on the Kindle. (Though I'd like a whiter background and perhaps a slightly bigger screen.) But even though it can play music files, it is no good for audio books. You can't even see or control which file you're listening to! I hope they are working on this, I'm guessing the basics could be handled with a software update.

Movie formats

Pogue on movie formats.

Is Denmark paradise?

Anonymous has left a new comment on the post Why are Danes so happy:
How about the riots Eolake? To me that's a sure sign that all isn't well there.

To be sure. We live in a sick world, and Denmark is not paradise. It is merely one of the less sick spots in the world.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Iain M. Banks

Ooooh, there's a new Iain M. Banks "Culture" novel out! It's called "Matter".

And it's already available as audio book, unabridged, on iTunes. Wonderful.

Bert asked:
I don't know Banks. How would you describe his style? Anybody you would think of comparing him to?

It's hard to say, because he's more cameleon than most writers. He's written quite "mainstream", and yet very good books, like The Crow Road for instance. And he has written bizarre surrealistic fantasies like The Bridge. And He has written sweeping Space Opera like most of his "Culture" books.

"The Culture" is a galactic civilization, unusually advanced and peaceful, though the stories usually takes place on the edges, where the action is. I love those books, particularly.... mmmm, Use Of Weapons and The Player. I love the intelligent machines (with quirky personalities) and the huge spaceships, also intelligent, and citizens in their own right.

The Bridge and Espedair Street are other favorites. I don't like all his books, there's a few I never got through.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Simple inventions

Bert pointed to the Hippo Roller. A simple method for transporting water in low tech areas.

It is interesting how effective inventions are often really simple. Recently I bought a new shower, and it has little rubber spouts where the water rays come out, which means that any accumulation of lime scale can just be rubbed off. Genius.
Where I live now it's less important, but back in flat Denmark it would be a blessing. Here, I used an electric kettle for years, and there was barely any lime scale to speak of (a see-through layer). In Denmark, use one for a few months, and there's a pencil-thick layer! I've seen kettles where the bottom with the coil was practically one big block of lime scale. (Which is dumb, since obviously it insulates.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mind over matter

"Be who you are and say what you feel because the people who mind don't matter and the people who matter don't mind." - Dr. Seuss

Book: "Scared to Death"

Book: "Scared to Death".
An interesting book about the needless and grossly counter-productive scare-mongering from media and politicians.

Until a few years ago, I still engaged in Blame Casting. I would see a book like this and say: "Yes! It's the media and the politicians! They are the ones ruining our lives."

But more and more I've come to realize that two things are what's ruining our lives:
1: Fear itself.
2: Blame casting.

So I point to this book not to cast more blame, but because it's one of the rare publications pointing out that we have much less to fear than we think.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Why are Danes so happy

Why are Danes so happy? They are much less industrious than Americans or the Japanese, and their taxes are higher, so why are they happier? This short TV segment is more interesting than I'd have thought. It brings up some important points.
[The video works for me in Firefox, but not in Safari.] Thanks to Greg.

Power never takes a back step

"Power never takes a back step - only in the face of more power."
-- Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks, 1965

This clearly has a lot of truth to it. But is it totally true? I wonder. For example, how did women get the right to vote? How did it become immoral/illegal to beat children? Women and children never had the power to force these things through, and yet the changes happened.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

HD wars over

Timo reported:
"TOKYO (Reuters) - Toshiba Corp is planning to stop production of equipment compatible with the HD DVD format for high-definition video, allowing the competing Blu-Ray camp a free run, public broadcaster NHK reported on Saturday."

Last chance to get a HD DVD player!

Or too late not to get one! I'm guessing that titles which have been released only in HD-DVD will be re-released on Blue-Ray. Studios can't afford to have any important titles available only on a dead platform.

Funny though, still last week there were big campaigns to convince us that the HD-DVD format was not dead. And suddenly, boom, the major manufacturer stops producing the players.