August 18th, 2017
posted by [syndicated profile] twentysidedtale_feed at 09:08am on 18/08/2017

Posted by Rutskarn

Last week I made the argument that Fallout 3 could have had much more interesting and effective writing while still appealing to its desired audience. One criticism I received was that New Vegas received a lukewarm reception from some of the most ardent F3 fans—and what was New Vegas, if not Fallout 3 written more interestingly and effectively?

Well, quite a lot. Let me be as explicit as possible: in this exercise, I am not trying to write New Vegas. That was a game that didn’t appeal to F3‘s broader audience simply because it had no interest in pursuing Bethesda’s design sensibilities. Obsidian wanted a morally-ambiguous political meditation explored through a basically linear zigzag through its curated gameworld. Bethesda wanted a tightly-linear main storyline with a baroque good-versus-evil narrative that serves as a tour guide to an otherwise totally open gameworld full of little disconnected vignettes to explore. There was no reason either game had to be written well or poorly based solely on development goals. You can argue that Obsidian’s priorities attract a better class of writer, or that Bethesda settled on the approach it did for want of strong narrative designers, but I’d argue success or failure in either case is hardly baked in at the conceptual stage.

If we’re taking one Obsidian-y action item on board, it’s the idea that a story’s conflicts should all reflect its theme. Last week we settled on a major theme to explore: it is good for the powerful to give strength to the weak. This week we’re going to mix in a theme to accompany, complicate, and inform this idea: there’s no free lunch. Whenever we feel tempted to boil a conflict down to “Should you give bread to the hungry because you want to be a good guy or just jack up the prices for evil karma points,” we can complicate the choice to a greater or lesser extent by asking something like: “If you give that bread away, how will you get everyone more bread?” In an Obsidian kind of game, we’d be asking that question constantly; the intense dilemmas would be half the point. In this Bethesda-style game there’s no reason to put that much pressure on the player, who’d probably rather make a straightforward choice and get on with the story and exploration, but being able to at least point to that tension and acknowledge the existence of scarcity will go a long way towards making characters and factions more interesting.

Speaking of “making characters more interesting,” I think it’s time we had a serious talk about the main character of Fallout 3. That would be James, aka Liam Neeson.

James (“Dad”)

It’s hard to deny that James is the central character of at minimum the first half of the game. James makes a choice that sets the story’s events in motion. James has identified the main problem in the Wasteland and made a machine that can solve it. The player is frequently called on to learn more about him and his motivations, to the point where a major story reveal is where you learn a detail of either.

Since I constantly bang on about player agency, you might be bracing for me to dress this down as a terrible idea. Actually, I think it’s pretty shrewd. This is a really good way to start the player down a linear narrative in an open world; calling on the player to respond to their father’s choices lets them learn about the world and gather context for grander moralizing while keeping things neatly on rails. I also really like it when games let you shadow a character and unravel their inner mysteries by studying their actions. Which brings me neatly to what I do need to dress down.

James is an extremely weak character. He withstands no study whatsoever. There’s no “mystery” to his choices, in the sense of a tantalizing lack of connective details; for a long time the player is totally clueless as to why James vanished, then the answer is provided and overlaps perfectly with his one character trait, “being a good and selfless person.” All of the answers to James’ nebulous mysteries are either dully straightforward (“I left the Vault because I thought you were old enough to take care of yourself”) or predicated on convoluted twists the player couldn’t have begun to predict (“I’m actually a genius engineer as well as a medical doctor, and I was building a water purifier before your mother died having you and I decided to take you to the Vault”). When you rebuke the mild flaws you are allowed to discover, he offers no passionate defense—that might make him unsympathetic—but squelches the drama instantly by apologizing. He rarely modulates his tone from meek but earnest concern. He is boring, boring, boring.

And there really should be more to him here. He leaves rashly and unexpectedly, abandons his only remaining family member to the wrath of a dangerous unhinged madman Overseer without leaving so much as a warning, and carelessly fills the Vault with murderous radroaches in the balance. You’re allowed to bring this up, sort of, but it feels like even the writer’s trying to say that all of that wasn’t his fault. James isn’t allowed to actually be a reckless idealist who doesn’t weigh the consequences of his actions; that wouldn’t suit Liam’s soothing tones, and so it must be papered over with excuses and omissions.

The problem with Fallout 3 is that they wrote a game about the idea of a father—an icon whose principles and passion and stubbornness are virtues beyond reproach. That’s how you see your father when you’re a child. Eventually, you have to learn to see these things as the imperfect human qualities they are.

The other missed opportunity in the first half is how uninteresting the actual features of James’ trail are. Considering his prominence in the story, it’d be nice if he left a little more impact on the gameworld. This is chiefly because letting your father make decisions and lead the narrative for the first half of the game could have allowed the developers to model some of the moral dilemmas of the world through the lens of his actions. This isn’t to say players wouldn’t get their own choices—quite the opposite—but it would allow the story’s themes to be presented and put in context fully by the second half, when the player will be the primary driving force.[3] Plus, it’d be a way to characterize him further and thicken the mystery of “why did James leave.”

I won’t get into more detail about “my” James yet. For now, let’s just keep on following the main storyline.

Morning in the Vault

The alarm awakens you the next morning. The overseer’s bland morning speech plays over the intercom, transparent yet chilling propaganda that references an “incident” the following evening and asks eyewitnesses to debrief with the security office. A quest appears: get your work assignment from labor office.

You come out to find your father’s room empty. The tables are cleared of experiments. In the living area is a table with an empty bottle of whiskey and drinking glass that weren’t there the night before. One of the medical lockers is unlocked and empty. A note on the exit door says simply, “I love you.”

All of this is probably weird enough that the player will probably notice it, and may even figure out something’s amiss. But there’s nothing to do about it yet.

Security bots and vault dwellers pass by windows as the player proceeds to the labor office. The atmosphere is subdued. It’s clear, from overheard dialogue, that resources are a little scarce; people pine for “luxuries” like bottled whiskey from when synthgrain “wasn’t so rationed.”

Amata, the overseer’s daughter, asks the player if something seems unusual. The player may confront her with the knowledge that a man injured by security bots arrived for treatment at your father’s office last night. Amata will not take kindly to these insinuations and will counter defensively that the resources he stole were not his to take, nor were the medical supplies your father provided; everything in the vault is necessarily the Overseer’s to distribute. Otherwise, reasonably comfortable life inside the vault would fall apart.

You arrive at the labor office. Apparently your file in the system was scrambled that morning, as was your father’s: you need to re-fill out your form and “give this one to your father to fill out when he gets the chance.” You get to assign “priority” checks to various duties, like “try to fix all the broken heating coils to make the furnace room bearable” or “help blast rocks out of the collapsed tunnel with high explosives” or “help break into the supply closet that the key got lost to.” These, naturally, fill out your tag skills.

You’re on your way out of the job office when the scanner shrieks. Laser turrets hone in on you. A voice declares:

Present yourself at the Overseer’s office immediately.

The Overseer’s Office

The Overseer is vanilla Fallout 3‘s first villain, and the bad news is, he sets the tone perfectly. He’s typical of the game’s antagonists in that he has no redeeming qualities and no interesting bad ones. For most of the intro he’s a comically vain, officious, joyless tyrant. Then a switch flips off-camera and with extremely little foreshadowing he and his security team go from “irritating bullies” to “berserk, murderous, family-torturing thugs.” There’s no sense of proportion, limits, motivation; the Overseer is bad because he’s a snide buzzkill, so when the drama switch gets flipped he’ll be a butcher too. Let’s see if we can’t do better.

The Overseer should contrast your father, providing a thematic counterpoint…but just because our father is a man who will selflessly give his strength to aid others, doesn’t mean the Overseer should be a merciless petty autocrat by way of balancing him out. As long as we’re presenting our themes, this is the perfect chance to explore why someone might not believe in giving up power.

The Overseer’s office is calm, if not friendly. He has a picture of his daughter on his desk; behind him are a row of plaques commemorating all of the Overseers who came before him. Some of their reigns were conspicuously short. He’s surrounded by security robots, but they’re not flashing red lights right now. He asks you to sit down.

Then he says:

Do you know what it takes to keep men alive in a tin can?

I know how many drops of water a man must drink to live, and how few we produce. I know how many injuries our dwellers suffer every year and I know how little medicine our synthesizers produce. If I could give my people one luxury, it would be waste. Two luxuries, it would be choice.

Where is your father?

The player is allowed to express ignorance, agree that their father seems to be missing, or provide a refusal to help. The Overseer continues:

What I know is that my doctor seems to have stolen precious supplies and left my Vault. He left me a letter full of excuses he seems to think I’d want to read. He told me you wouldn’t know anything about where he’s going or what he’s going to do.

So let me ask you again, politely. Where is your father?

Once again, the player’s response doesn’t particularly change the flow of the conversation. The Overseer is a stern man. Since the player can’t actually offer him what he wants, he’ll move forward to his preplanned next move.

 Maybe you know where he’s going, maybe you don’t. Maybe he was reckless enough not to tell his own flesh and blood the where and why of it. Doesn’t matter; I can’t spare him. And I can damn well spare you.

You’re going to go out there into that wasteland, you’re going to find your dumbass father, and you’re going to bring him back to my nice safe tin can. Do I make myself clear?

The player’s choice of options don’t include an outright refusal, but they do make it clear that cooperation isn’t the only possibility–that the player can be motivated to find the father, but not necessarily to return to the repressive Vault. The Overseer replies to this:

Tell yourself whatever you want. One night out there in that Hell and you’ll curse your father almost as much as you curse me. There’s a reason no-one ever leave the Vault.

On the player’s way to the Vault entrance, they may talk to as many vault dwellers as they’d like about the missing father. Some details are filled in here: why the father is so important (“Not only was he the best doctor, he was one of only three people in this Vault who knows his way around the water system and the food synthesizers. He was such a caring man. What could possibly be out there that he’d abandon us like this?”), where they think he may have gone, or why the wasteland is so rough (“There’s no Vault-Tec food generators, no cozy radiation shields. Even the water is poison. I don’t know how people are still alive out there.”). A few seem to want to say more, but don’t. The security robots follow the player closely wherever they go.

In the final chamber the player’s given some bobby pins, bottled water, food, a baseball bat, and a pistol by the security officer.

Listen, I liked your father. I think we both know that if he left this place, it’s because he knew there were people out there who needed him more. If I were you, I’d look for the first sign of trouble.

Good luck, kid.

Then the vault door is opened, and the player is allowed out into the winding tunnel.

Tutorial Tunnel

If I had my druthers, this is about where the bright light would blind the player and the world would open up in glorious pea-soup and sepia. But I did say I’d try to make this an acceptable treatment based on Bethesda’s vision of the game, and we all know perfectly well that the Bethesda version needs to have some controlled tutorial combat right about now. So let’s extend the intro just a little bit longer.

Wouldn’t you know it—the tunnels outside Vault 101 are crawling with crappy-ass enemies. At first they’re infested with radroaches, providing simple tutorial-combat adversaries for the player to chew through. When the player reaches the upper level, however, they hear a conversation around the corner. The tutorial prompt for stealth appears, just as the player sees a mobile of bones dangling from the ceiling.

Well, what if they’re ALL leaving? Could be another nice soft fat vaultie coming down here any minute…

Another voice snarls:

Tooth-Tooth’s right. Let’s not let the next one get by, eh? Eyes open!

Around the corner is a camp. There’s tin cans and bones and ratty old tents everywhere.[4] Three raiders sit by a fire, armed to the teeth. They’ve got a tripwire set up away from them, toward the exit that leads to the wasteland. The player can either sneak by, sneak into battle, or approach openly; doing so will prompt Tooth-Tooth to declare that she’s going to kill the player, which gives the player the option of Speech-checking a billy-goats-gruff situation where the player insists that a noisy firefight will alert the dozen vault-dwellers who will be arriving shortly with picnic baskets.

Once the blockage is cleared, the player finds themselves in the Wasteland. They don’t know quite know it yet, but they’re Megaton bound.

NEXT WEEK: MEGATON, MR. BURKE, AND SUPER MUTANTS

Posted by cks

Yesterday I covered how on Illumos and Solaris, disks in ZFS pools have three names; the filesystem path, the 'physical path' (a PCI device name, similar to the information that lspci gives), and a 'devid', with the vendor, model name, and serial number of the disk. While these are Solaris concepts, Linux has similar things and you could at least mock up equivalents of them in the kernel.

ZFS on Linux doesn't try to do this. Instead of having three names, it has only one:

# zdb -C vmware2
MOS Configuration:
[...]
  children[0]:
    type: 'disk'
    id: 0
    guid: 8206543908042244108
    path: '/dev/disk/by-id/ata-ST500DM002-1BC142_Z2AA6A4E-part1'
    whole_disk: 0
[...]

ZoL stores only the filesystem path to the device, using whatever path that you told it to use. To get the equivalent of Solaris devids and physical paths, you need to use the right sort of filesystem path. Solaris devids roughly map to /dev/disk/by-id and physical paths map to /dev/disk/by-path (and there isn't really an equivalent to Solaris /dev/dsk names, which are more stable than Linux /dev/sd* names).

The comment about this in vdev_disk_open in vdev_disk.c discusses this in some detail, and it's worth repeating it in full:

Devices are always opened by the path provided at configuration time. This means that if the provided path is a udev by-id path then drives may be recabled without an issue. If the provided path is a udev by-path path, then the physical location information will be preserved. This can be critical for more complicated configurations where drives are located in specific physical locations to maximize the systems tolerance to component failure. Alternatively, you can provide your own udev rule to flexibly map the drives as you see fit. It is not advised that you use the /dev/[hd]d devices which may be reordered due to probing order. Devices in the wrong locations will be detected by the higher level vdev validation.

(It's a shame that this information exists only as a comment in a source file that most people will never look at. It should probably be in large type in the ZFS on Linux zpool manpage.)

This means that with ZFS on Linux, you get only one try for the disk to be there; there's no fallback the way there is on Illumos for ordinary disks. If you've pulled an old disk and put in a new one and you use by-id names, ZoL will see the old disk as completely missing. If you use by-path names and you move a disk around, ZoL will not wind up finding the disk in its new location the way ZFS on Illumos probably would.

(The net effect of this is that with ZFS on Linux you should normally see a lot more 'missing device' errors and a lot fewer 'corrupt or missing disk label' errors than you would in the same circumstances on Illumos or Solaris.)

At this point, you might wonder how you change what sort of of name ZFS on Linux is using for disks in your pool(s). Although I haven't done this myself, my understanding is that you export the pool then import it again using the -d option to zpool import. With -d, the import process will end up finding the disks for the pool using the type of names that you want, and then actually importing the pool will rewrite the saved path data in the pool's configuration (and /etc/zfs/zpool.cache) to use these new names as a side effect.

(I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this with ZFS on Linux. I think I can see some relatively obscure failure modes where no form of disk naming works as well as things do in Illumos. On the other hand, in practice using /dev/disk/by-id names is probably at least as good an experience as Illumos provides, and the disk names are always clear and explicit. What you see is what you get, somewhat unlike Illumos.)

posted by [syndicated profile] dg_weblog_feed at 07:00am on 18/08/2017

Posted by diamond geezer

4 Croydon
The County Borough of Croydon came into existence in 1889, with the parish of Addington added in 1925. Local burghers have long been keen to grant the borough city status, but proximity to London, and then being amalgamated into it, seem to have quashed that dream. For today's post I've chosen to visit the tongue of farmland which became New Addington and to walk around the edge of the infamous estate. In news which may surprise you, I had a lovely time and it was very pretty.

A walk around New Addington

It's unexpectedly difficult to leave New Addington. Despite the estate's boundary being over five miles long, only two roads lead out of the built-up area and connect to their surroundings - one to the north and one to the south. Both exits follow the line of the sole country lane which once wound across open fields, and inexplicably no other roads (only a tramline) have been added since. What's more, if you check on an Ordnance Survey map, only one public footpath leads out of New Addington to the east, and none at all to the west. Can somewhere with a five-figure population really be so insular, I wondered.

The obvious place to start a circumnavigation of New Addington is the bus station opposite 'old' Addington at the foot of Lodge Lane. Most residents drive or bike or bus or tram or walk up the hill from here to get home. Instead I headed along the dual carriageway towards Selsdon to follow another survivor from agricultural days, Featherbed Lane, which runs parallel to the west. Initially it's very suburban, with a crescent and cul-de-sacs off to one side and the woody ascent into Forestdale on the other. A large meadow opens up on the eastern flank, seemingly somewhere for local hounds to run and defecate, then a Jehovah's Witness hall with a Sunday-sized car park. But all further access to the east is blocked off by the largest landowner hereabouts, Addington Court Golf Club, and they're not letting any New Addingtonians through.



Its 18 holes are split, unseen, on either side of the lane, which proceeds serenely screened through the centre. A long strip of unmown meadow runs along half a mile of footpath, alive with yellow flowers, in complete contrast to the housing estate out of sight atop the ridge. And aha, there is one track straight down from there, it's just not been designated an official public right of way so tends not to appear on maps. It's also a very steep path, so steep that the council have added barriers to prevent two-wheelers speeding down... and this being New Addington each barrier also has a motorbike-width diversion pressed into the surrounding undergrowth.

The upper entrance to this path is poorly signed, and runs down the side of Fishers Farm, a council tip, where cars queue to chuck away recyclables and crushables. It's no alluring exit. But there is a marvellous scenic treasure to be discovered beyond, namely Hutchinsons Bank, a steep chalk escarpment blessed with long grass, woodland and scrub. A labyrinth of gated paths runs along its length, at various heights, ripe for exploration, and with fine views out towards thick leafy canopy on the opposite bank. The shrieks you can hear over there are from a Scout camp, fractionally into Surrey, the capital coming to an abrupt end just across Featherbed Lane.



So quiet were the paths in Threecorner Grove that I startled a deer, right up close, which attempted escape through a concealed fence before realising its mistake and hopping off Bambi-style down the path. I don't think I've ever been closer in the wild, and felt like I was having my own proper wildlife adventure. I'd have expected this doorstep wilderness to be well used for rest and play, especially in the school summer holidays, but the only other people I met across its many acres were white-suited contractors here to spray the grass. Instead this half-mile-long natural resource is barely accessible from the estate above, linked via overgrown footpaths most modern offspring are kept well away from.

'Twas not always thus. At the top of a particularly brambly footpath I reached Fairchildes Avenue, once the home of author John Grindrod, whose latest book Outskirts explores the influence of the edge of the Green Belt. In this case the Green Belt begins immediately across the street, a fringe of trees and undergrowth above a sharp dip, tumbling down towards the amusingly-named hamlet of Fickleshole. John lived in one of these houses facing the outer edge of the estate, occasionally venturing out down the track I'd just panted up... and now I've visited, Chapter Three makes a lot more sense.



At the end of Fairchildes Avenue is a cluster of schools, the secondary named after the Greenwich Meridian which cuts directly across its site. Here too is the only other road out of New Addington, King Henry's Drive, winding briefly towards fields, narrow lanes and Biggin Hill. Even here the public rights of way are non-existent, the only footpath down the side of the playing field unsigned until it crosses into a neighbouring borough. The path also follows a former Roman road, which once linked London to Lewes, and later marked the boundary between Surrey and Kent. As such it defined New Addington's entire eastern boundary, the line beyond which development could not take place, and my next task was to attempt to follow it north.

Initially that was impossible and I had to walk through the estate instead. This meant passing postwar semis nestled round communal greens, with occasional modern infill where the council later realised they could squeeze in more. If you've never visited, it's nicer than you probably imagine. An outlier shopping parade has local needs perfectly sewn up... two supermarkets, two takeaways and a hairdressers... while opposite is New Addington's low key industrial estate, home to welders, car repair centres and evangelical churches. From the pavement at the top of the hill a fine view of distant City skyscrapers can be enjoyed, briefly, before the road dips. And somewhere round here is the entrance to the woods, and another way out...



Croydon council's contempt for New Addington's peripheral space is summed up by the unwelcoming gates and faded warnings across the only entrance to Rowdown Wood. Nothing suggests it might be enjoyable to wander past, deeper into the trees, to meet a forest track along the (approximate) alignment of that Roman road. Five minutes to the right the path stops abruptly at the wall of the industrial estate, with no way of nipping through, before doglegging into the adjacent agricultural nowhere. Even though you could walk out of New Addington this way, it's hard to see why anyone would want to.

But in the opposite direction the track weaves down through the woods, rubbing up against a golden harvested field, before briefly breaking out beside an open space. Alsatians are sometimes exercised here, I noted. I also noted a rough road which I thought might be the elusive 'other way to drive out of New Addington', but it stopped abruptly at the gate of a large electricity substation a few metres beyond the boundary. And then I dived back into the woods, another verdant linear treat, again with the dappled paths entirely to myself. Does nobody ever venture out here, I wondered... and then I got my answer.



Five burnt-out mopeds had been abandoned beside a footpath junction near the top end of Birch Wood. It didn't take long to discover an access point close by, and the boxy closes of Fieldway just beyond, whose youth clearly enjoy having a scrambling track on tap. Logs have been placed strategically along the main path to make driving through the woods more cathartic, and burning your steed at the end of a circuit is presumably sometimes par for the course. When the riders aren't here, however, a mile's hike through the woods is highly enjoyable... all the way down to the main road, one stop from the bus station where I started.

Having been to New Addington several times before, it was a surprise to break out to explore its perimeter, having previously been hemmed in by miserably limited road and footpath access. I don't expect you'll ever follow in my green and pleasant footsteps (although you might give Hutchinsons Bank a try). But I do now understand why John Grindrod describes his home estate as "not just on the edge of the green belt but encircled by it", "an atoll of concrete and red brick surrounded by a sea of green". Unless you know where to find its minimal exits, New Addington really is an isolated residential island.
posted by [syndicated profile] no_award_feed at 03:59am on 18/08/2017

Posted by Stephanie

I super loved George, okay? Katie Noonan ❤

(Liz: I once saw Katie Noonan doing her groceries in the Brisbane CBD, and I wanted to tell her how much I love her music, but I didn’t want to interrupt her while she looked at frozen peas, so I just flailed silently at my companion. GOOD TIMES.)

Speaking of Katie Noonan, here’s a recent interview which discusses her current projects, including a mentorship program for women in regional Queensland. (Note that it does contain the word “g*psy”.)

Nakuya Gorrie: Hope is like a key card I perpetually lose and find

Katherine Cross: When ‘Free Speech’ Kills. This article is very US-focused but, especially in the wake of Elijah Doughty’s death, I think the theory can be applied to us.

White Supremacy Isn’t Just The Nazis, It’s Part Of Everyday Australia

Shakira Hussein: Pauline Hanson: the insult that shocked a nation

Hey so Stephanie accidentally got her mum hooked on this Singaporean crime series and it turns out the author is a queer feminist? So now she’s smug, is what we’re saying; and also if you like cosy crime lit you should read the series: Ovidia Yu, gay feminist author from Singapore, takes a cosy-but-candid approach to addressing the Lion City’s ills

Actually bear with me for a moment: My mum loves this series, and I love it to. It’s cosy, an Auntie who runs a cafe wandering around solving murders in Singapore. And it’s so familiar. Every time I talk to my mum about whichever book she’s reading she tells me something familiar and comforting that made her happy, the way a character spoke or a street they walked down. And it got my mum back into reading, after several years of stress and anxiety and not finding joy in reading. Anyway highly recommended in general already, and now even more so with this article.

Except who translated kiasu as competitive and ambitious? That’s the most hilarious thing I’ve ever read.

Artist Paints ’90s Pop Culture Into Classical Chinese Landscapes

Cars, bicycles and the fatal myth of equal reciprocity

Did you hear about the woman in NSW who has been convicted of abortion? A Woman’s Abortion Conviction Is An Unexpected Wake-Up Call, Experts Say

Yarra council stripped of citizenship ceremony powers after Australia Day changes. Stephanie lives in the City of Yarra and is totally okay with what the council has done, and our government is fucked.

If you, like all members of No Award, didn’t go to Worldcon in Helsinki, we highly recommend Rivqa’s storify of Worldcon. Flippers and tentacles are crossed for New Zealand in 2020.

Sally Rugg: We are angry and heartbroken at the prospect of a plebiscite campaign. But we are more powerful than ever

This was interesting science business: The idea of monogamy as a relationship ideal is based on flawed science

I don’t want to give away the twist in this Reddit post, but it’s relevant to one of Liz’s agendas: One of the locals is trying to break into the house I’m looking after and I need advice.

Grassroots Business

Check your enrolment/enrol to vote.

 


August 17th, 2017
posted by [syndicated profile] clivethompson_feed at 04:35pm on 17/08/2017

Posted by Clive

Screenshot of "Ten Bullets", an online browser game. “10 Bullets”, an addictively simple one-button browser game. First-person stories from religious protestors in Charlottesville. How the Internet has changed the work of being a private detective. Blockchain considered as foundational technology, like TCP/IP. (The analogy: TCP/IP -> blockchain as Early email -> bitcoin.) Typely, an online-proofreading tool, is very good at catching my consistent overuse of clichés in first drafts. (Man, if I had a nickel for every time I used a cliché!) What is technology? “How My Instagram Hacker Changed My Life.” Here’s some nifty browser-fu for sorting Chrome tabs. “Fuck”: That’s the title of this academic paper, on the legal implications of the word. So, Amazon’s new “2 minute” delivery system is basically just … an Automat?Turn old ASCII art into nicely-formatted HTML with Retrotext. Dataviz infoporn of Chicago’s tree canopy.

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Posted by Laura Staugaitis

Fluid rock 26 — 2017 glass, fine gold, 25 × 25 × 20 cm

London-based French-Lebanese artist Flavie Audi upends ideas of both geology and glass with her sculptural series, Fluid Rocks. Audi renders blown glass not into rigid, delicate vessels but instead turns the material into colorful translucent blobs with quivering surfaces.

Although she keeps her exact techniques a secret, the artist’s incorporation of fine gold and silver into the glass helps to create the color-shifting translucence. This method, which results in the glass simultaneously displaying completely different transmitted and reflected colors, goes back at least to the 4th century as documented in found Roman glass pieces.

“Works translate the mechanism of life and light and resemble fragments of an ethereal landscape or geology,” Audi writes on her website. “The forms and gestures found in it capture a fleeting, living energy and suggest a certain ambiguity, hovering between digital screen and celestial body.”

You can next see Audi’s work in a group show this October as part of the Arte Sano Biennale at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City. More of her glass work can be found on her website. (via Artsy)

Posted by Kate Sierzputowski

Artist Robert Benavidez focuses on the art of piñata making in much of his sculptural practice, producing birds, sugar skulls, and paintings out of the same technique used to create the iconic candy-filled party object. His latest series of piñatas focuses on the work of the 15th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, reimagining Bosch’s 2D figures as life-size sculptures.

Although most of the pieces focus on the various bird figures in Bosch’s work, Benavidez has also sculpted a blue, armless frog and a winged boy from his famous work, The Garden of Earthly Delights. You can see more of his sculptural piñatas on his Instagram and website. (via Hi-Fructose)

posted by [syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed at 12:00pm on 17/08/2017

Posted by John Scalzi

The world we live in is not always peaceful… and maybe sometimes we kind of like it that way, whether we like to admit that or not. Author Anna Smith Spark has thoughts on the act of violence, and how it animates the story of her novel The Broken Knives.

ANNA SMITH SPARK:

The Court of Broken Knives is a novel about violence.

When I started writing the book, I didn’t have a plot or a world or a cast of characters in mind. What I had was a scene.

A desert.

A group of men.

Violence.

I’ve always been fascinated by violence: How one might respond to the opportunity for violence. What doing violence might feel like.  And that’s what The Court of Broken Knives ultimately became about.

I was brought up reading the great myths and legends, the old stories of heroes. The Iliad. The Eddas. Beowulf. Gilgamesh. The Tain. I loved these stories. Read and reread them, immersed myself in them, told myself stories set in their worlds. But what I came back to, as I got older, was the realisation that for so many of these stories we are not reading about good versus evil. We are not reading high fantasy, the last desperate stand where evil is vanquished and the Dark Lord is overthrown. We are reading about violence for its own sake. The act of winning, of killing one’s opponent and glorying in one’s triumph, is the victory. The hero is ‘good’ because he wins.

And yes, ‘he’. These are acts of masculine violence. More women have perhaps fought in battle than we realise, yes, granted. But, historically, organised violence has been the domain of men. Armies and battle hosts have been male places. Places from which women have been excluded. And that in itself is worth thinking on.

Let’s look for a moment on the Iliad. The Iliad was written down over two and a half thousand years ago. It was composed perhaps three thousand years ago. It is the first and greatest masterpiece of European literature, the foundation stone of western culture. It is a book entirely and totally about war. A very large number of people die in the Iliad. Graphically, horribly, and without even the consolation of heaven awaiting them. The whole reason for the war is shown to be futile.

But war is also the whole basis of the Iliad’s society. The leader of the Trojans is called Hector. He’s spent ten years killing Greeks for the sake of a woman who ran off with his little brother. He’s seen most of his brothers die, and his wife’s entire family die, and he knows, deep down inside, that he’s going to die himself. In one of the most moving scenes in the poem, he says farewell to his wife and child before going out to battle, and he knows and we know and they know that he’s not going to come back from it. And this is what he says:

When [their child is grown and] comes home from battle wearing the bloody gear

Of the mortal enemy he has killed in war-

A joy to his mother’s heart.

(Homer, Iliad, trans. Robert Fagles, Penguin, 1990, book 6, lines 568-574)

Coming home from battle still bloody with his enemies’ innards. That’s the greatest joy a woman can want for her children. That’s what makes you absolutely the top chap.

The Iliad is not a celebration of war. But is not a rejection of war, either. It makes one terrible, horrifying, entirely obvious point:

Winning at war feels great. And that’s a strange and exhilarating experience to write about—particularly someone who has not ever fought.

Reading about war is enjoyable. Writing about war is immensely enjoyable. And I strongly suspect, from everything I’ve ever studied about history, that actually doing war is even more enjoyable than reading or writing or watching it. Warfare has been pretty much a constant of human history, and those who are good at it have generally occupied the top social and sexual desirability spot. Some war is morally justified.  Most war is not. We’ve always known that. Right back to the Iliad. And yet we do it. We have always done it. We probably always will.

We do it because winning at war feels great. I wanted my characters to have the same feelings as Hector: to understand simultaneously that war is bloody and horrible, but also glorious and exciting and fun.

I do not say this because I think war is a good thing. It is a terrible thing. A horrifying thing. A thing of utter shame and grief.

But I say it because it is a true thing, and a thing that I wanted people to remember in The Court of Broken Knives.

—-

The Broken Knives: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.


posted by [syndicated profile] the_angriest_feed at 10:09pm on 17/08/2017

Posted by Grant

Mister Miracle of the New Gods returns to the DC Universe in a new 12-issue maxiseries. That is always cause for celebration, since Scott Free and his wife Big Barda have always been two great and underrated characters for DC. Every few years they pop up, delight me with their adventures, and then drop back into second-string obscurity again.

What makes this particular relaunch so exciting is the creative team: writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads, whose DC Vertigo book The Sheriff of Babylon was my favourite comic series of 2016. Seeing them reunited is a promise of great things to come.

Based on this first issue they seem pretty likely to satisfy their readers. This is an inventive and slightly off-kilter premiere, using a deliberately limited colour palette, deliberately mis-aligned artwork and many visual artefacts to create a genuine sense that the world has gone wrong. The same thing appears to be going on in King's script, in which Scott appears to be slowly going unhinged - or the universe around him is. Actually, I suspect the latter. It's a brilliant hook, beautifully packaged, and pretty much the number one must-read superhero book this month. (5/5)

Mister Miracle #1. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Mitch Gerads.

Under the cut: reviews of Detective Comics, Doctor Aphra, Freeway Fighter, Rogue One: Cassian and K-2SO Special, and Sacred Creatures.

Detective Comics #962
DC Comics. Written by James Tynion IV. Art by Alvaro Martínez and Raul Fernandez. Colours by Brad Anderson.
Azrael, Batman, Zatanna, Batwoman and Batwing versus an Order of St Dumas artificial intelligence, with surprising entertainment value, a satisfying conclusion and a plot development to shake Bruce Wayne to his core. This latest story arc has improved as its gone. While I am not a particular fan of Azrael, Tynion writes him well and knows how to openly exploit and name-check his history without ever making it seem like mockery or stupidity. (4/5)

Doctor Aphra #11
Marvel. Written by Kieron Gillen. Art by Kev Walker and Marc Deering. Colours by Antonio Fabela.
Aphra's attempt to sell a lost Jedi crystal with an ancient AI inside has gone particularly badly, with the AI hijacking the robot body of one of the bidders, her robot sidekicks using a logical loophole to betray her, and a long-expected cliffhanger ending that does not spell good for anything that happens next issue. I really do adore Aphra's untrustworthy little murder-bots. They regularly make this the best of Marvel's Star Wars titles. A special note is also worth making regarding Kev Walker's very dynamic, action-oriented panel layout and angle choices. (4/5)

Freeway Fighter #4
Titan Comics. Written by Andi Ewington. Art by Simon Coleby. Colours by Len O'Grady.
En route to the safety of New Hope, Rosa investigates the wrong derelict vehicle and gets bitten by a snake for her troubles. With her health failing fast, it is down to a last-minute race against the raiders to get to New Hope in time. The story for this entire four-issue miniseries has been pretty slight, but Simon Coleby's old-fashioned artwork has been fantastic to read: dramatic angles, tense car chases - never an easy thing to express on a static page - and a well-developed and affectionate tribute to Ian Livingstone's original Fighting Fantasy gamebook. I like the idea, and the execution has been a lot of fun. Fingers crossed another gamebook gets adapted soon. Deathtrap Dungeon, anyone? (3/5)

Rogue One: Cassian and K-2SO Special #1
Marvel. Written by Duane Swierczynski. Art by Fernando Blanco.
Some tie-in comics are great little expansions of their source material, allowing readers to see beloved characters in different lights or change circumstances. They can expand the fictional universe a little, and be very rewarding for fans. Other tie-ins are just slightly crass cash-ins: the license holders know some fans will rush to buy it, and there really is not great need to put in a huge amount of effort or to provide top-notch work. Sadly this Rogue One prequel one-shot is the latter kind of book. The first meeting of Cassian and K-2SO did not need to be revealed, and adds nothing to their relationship. Fernando Blanco's artwork is not particularly interesting. It's an expensive book, comparatively speaking, and I really got not sense that I was getting value for money. This book is both redundant and unnecessary, and more than a little bill dull. (2/5)

Sacred Creatures #2
Image. Written by Pablo Raimondo and Klaus Janson. Art by Pablo Raimondo. Colours by Chris Chuckry.
Josh is on the run from giant demon cats with a man dressed like a priest who isn't making a lot of sense. He soon learns that he has been ensnared in a murderous plot by the literal Seven Sins to free themselves from their earthly bonds. Sacred Creatures is a beautifully illustrated comic book, and both of the first two issues have come packed with a lot of content. At the same time, the storyline feels unavoidably derivative: it's well told, but it's a well told copy of a lot of other stories. Individual elements may vary, but it still all feels a bit too overheated and familiar. (3/5)

Posted by Shamus

In copying the Diablo II style gameplay, it seems pretty clear the Borderlands team wanted to use the idea of the player moving from one town to the next on their journey. This idea didn’t really come together, and most of the towns feel empty.

Dr. Zed and Claptrap are the only inhabitants of Fyrestone, although Shep Sanders and T.K. Baha are stationed nearby. I guess you could argue that they’re still part of this “town”, even though they’re pretty far outside the walls. There are several buildings in here and I think it’s pretty clear that this was supposed to be a village with some NPCs hanging around. There’s a gun shop where Marcus could conceivably hang out, but he never shows up. Some of the homes have places where NPC types could sit on their porch.

The town of Fyrestone. Visible population: 1

The town of Fyrestone. Visible population: 1

I have no idea why the Shep Sanders character is so far out of town. Having him in Fyrestone would make more sense, and it would make the place feel a little more alive. At any rate, this feels like a town that was supposed to be much more populated, but they just ran out of time.

The next “town” is Lucky’s Last Chance Watering Hole. Lucky is the only person who lives there. I’m not sure if this is a town they never finished or if it was just supposed to be a pitstop along the way.

After that is New Haven, the only real town in the game. Marcus the arms dealer is here. Scooter is here. A couple of Claptraps are here. Helena Pierce – the disfigured woman from the original grim-n-gritty trailer – is apparently the mayor or whatever. There are a bunch of silent NPCs hanging around town to make the place feel lived-in.

Later on you get to a bounty board out in the wilderness. It’s got some vending machines and a Catch-A-Ride nearby. It serves as a town in terms of taking quests, getting vehicles, and selling items, but there aren’t any people at all.

So Borderlands only had one “real” town, but they kind of tried to give us a series of them.

Comic Relief Antagonist

A trash fire in front of a crescent moon over the town of New Haven.

A trash fire in front of a crescent moon over the town of New Haven.

The only moments where the story shines – or indeed, works at all – is when it’s operating in comedy mode, and it’s an interesting illustration of just how much a writer can get away with if they can make you smile.

Imagine a Dragon Age game where you’re trying to find the key to control some demon gate thing. The mages explain that a peasant borrowed the key and they send you to talk to him. When you get there the peasant makes all kinds of unreasonable demands and forces you to do a bunch of menial yet dangerous tasks. He sends you out to kill N bandits. When you’re done with that he announces he wants some booze. But rather than allowing you to just buy him some, he has you march halfway across the kingdom and murder a bunch of bandits and steal their booze. Meanwhile, every word out of his mouth is bristling with insults and hostility. He seems to be aware you’re incapable of attacking him.

He keeps giving you jobs like this. Just when you’re at the end of your patience and starting to ask yourself, “Why can’t I just murder this little shit and take the demon key?” the peasant announces that he doesn’t actually have the key. The bad guy showed up and stole it ages ago, and the peasant has just been jerking you around in the meantime. And then he asks you to do more jobs for him. He asks you to go fight a hundred or so bandits because he wants you to find his dog.

The BioWare forums would melt with the white-hot rage as a thousand players demanded to know why their character had to behave like a dumbass. Why can’t I get revenge on this peasant? Why can’t I even call him out on his villainy, or even threaten him? Why am I forced to roleplay as a clueless doormat?

But Borderlands does exactly this, and it works because it’s an amusing questline in a quasi-comedy game and the peasant in question is a vibrant character. Not only is it fine, it’s actually one of the best sections of the game. (Monotonous environment design notwithstanding.) Tannis sends you to get a piece of the vault key from Crazy Earl, and he has you do stupid nonsense jobs like killing bandits for booze.

Crazy Earl

WHATCHU WANT?

WHATCHU WANT?

I strongly suspect this character was added very late in development, which is why he’s voiced by Gearbox founder and CEO Randy Pitchford and not a professional voice actor. (To be fair, Pitchford’s performance is brilliant. Earl is actually one of the most endearing characters in the series.) Crazy Earl is probably is most explicitly comedic character in the game, and his questline works because it’s absurd and amusing. We’re here to murder dudes and find cool loot, and having someone say something funny every 20 minutes or so is a nice bonus.

We only see him through a slot in the door, which means he doesn’t need a body. (And if he has one, it doesn’t need to be animated.) These are exactly the kinds of shortcuts you’d expect for a character made at the last minute. Also, he’s the more stylized than a lot of the other characters. Scooter the mechanic, Zed the ex-Doctor, Patricia Tannis, and Administrator Pierce are all much more realistically proportioned. It’s possible their character models are leftover from the early stages of Borderlands development. Meanwhile guys like Crazy Earl, Marcus the merchant, and T.K. Baha have far more exaggerated proportions and feel like they were added or redesigned after the big art change.

Earl is also the right kind of “crazy” for this series. Tannis is crazy, but her problems seem to stem from PTSD. Earl is just wacky. He’s not crazy in the sense of mental health, but more in the sense of outlandish behavior. He’s less Travis Bickle and more Cosmo Kramer.

We can compare how well Earl works to how much our main villain doesn’t…

The Bad Guy

The villain introduces herself by literally phoning it in. We won`t hear from her again until the third act.

The villain introduces herself by literally phoning it in. We won`t hear from her again until the third act.

When the player accidentally acquires the first fragment of the vault key from bandit boss Sledge, they’re randomly called up by the closest thing we have to a villain. Commandant Steele represents the Atlas corporation, and she announces that Atlas owns all of the artifacts on this planet. She tells you to hand it over and get out.

As the game goes on, you continue to gather up vault keys. Patricia Tannis tells you where to look for them, and then you go fetch them. At the end of the quest, you hand these pieces over. This never made any sense to me, since why would my vault hunter hand their supposed vault key to someone else? It’s a vault key. I’m trying to open a vault. I did all the work to obtain it. So why don’t I keep it?

You could make the excuse that Tannis needs to study the pieces, but the game doesn’t really sell this idea.

But the reason you give the keys to Tannis is so that Commandant Steele can steal them while you’re off killing more bandit bosses. Then Steele shuts down the ECHOnet, which is the planet’s global internet / telephone service. Angel is dismayed by this and I think you’re supposed to be worried that you’re cut off from your “friend”, but Angel was so repetitive and her information was so frustratingly vapid that I was kind of relieved she was going to stop calling me up and wasting my time.

This is the closest the game comes to having a story. Crazy Tannis sort of betrays you by giving the vault key to Steele. But then later it acts like she did this under duress. But if you go back and read the earlier quests it’s clear she had been lying to you all along[2]. But then the story makes it sound like she betrayed you by accident because she didn’t realize what Steele was up to, and she didn’t think you’d mind. She has a very plot-driven form of insanity and I’d turn to authorial intent to figure out if she actually betrayed you or not, but I don’t think the text agrees with itself on this matter.

At last, our big confrontation with our semi-adversary! Spoiler: She will be dead before the cutscene is over.

At last, our big confrontation with our semi-adversary! Spoiler: She will be dead before the cutscene is over.

Regardless of whether she’s crazy or cunning, it sort of drove home the idea that the player character was a dumbass for entrusting her with the vault key.

But whatever. What follows is several hours of face-blasting combat. You rescue Tannis, get the ECHOnet back on line, reconnect with Angel, and then descend into an endless corridor filled with alien creatures and soldiers. It’s a huge slog.

When you get to the vault entrance, Steele is waiting for you. This kind of surprised me, since I’d forgotten all about her. Sure, she’s the closest thing the game has to an ongoing antagonist. But this is only the third time we’ve heard from her. She’s had maybe three minutes of screen time in the last 20 hours of leveling and looting, so it was kind of hard for her to leave much of an impression. She has fewer lines of dialog than Crazy Earl, and they’re far less memorable.

By this point in the game you’ve plowed through a dozen or so bandit kings and fantastic monsters on the way to the vault, and Steele’s cranky phone calls just don’t register as a serious problem amidst the chaos. As she gave her big speech I found myself thinking, “Oh. I guess this is supposed to be the main bad guy? Okay. I guess we’ll fight now?”

And just about the time I’d adjusted to the idea that Steele was supposed to be the target of my long-exhausted wrath, the vault opened and she was killed by the tentacle monster that lives inside.

So you fight the monster. You win. It drops a little pile of loot. Roll credits.

Wait. Is That It?

I`m level 69 here because the game was turning into a huge slog at the end and I didn`t want to burn four hours just to get these screenshots. I`m not incompetent. I`m just lazy.

I`m level 69 here because the game was turning into a huge slog at the end and I didn`t want to burn four hours just to get these screenshots. I`m not incompetent. I`m just lazy.

It’s not that the writer was bad. I honestly can’t appraise the writer’s skill at all. This story must have been hacked to pieces and re-written as the game took shape, and the result is that the story feels like it’s missing most of the time, and when it does show up it’s barebones and wildly inconsistent in terms of tone.

I know I left out a lot of details. The journey from Fyrestone to the Vault is long and meandering. There are a few good bits on the way and a lot of forgettable sections, but I don’t think it’s worth spending three months dissecting the game quest by quest, picking apart characters, motivations, and player action. It’s a story that spins its wheels for the majority of its running time, then tries to establish a villain near the end, then just gives up and has you fight a tentacle monster.

So that was the first Borderlands game. It was a bit of a mess around the edges, but it was also a breath of fresh air in terms of art style and gameplay. It was fun, it was new, and it was occasionally funny.

Next time we’ll move on to the sequel.

posted by [syndicated profile] dg_weblog_feed at 08:00am on 17/08/2017

Posted by diamond geezer

Open House is returning to London in a month's time, specifically Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th September. It's also the project's 25th year! Only 20 buildings took part back in 1992, but this year there are more than 800. What's more, this is the first year all 33 London boroughs are taking part. Harrow has stopped going its own way, Bromley and Bexley have chipped in, and even Kingston has finally stopped pretending it's still in Surrey and is joining for the very first time.

Obviously if you're interested you should get hold of the official printed Guide (now £7 plus p&p, I remember when you could pick up a free copy at your local library, etc etc). There's also an app, which I understand is free, and arrives on your favourite electromagnetic store today. Today's also the day the website goes live, glitches permitting, so you can try to search through the mountain of stuff and see what there is to visit this year. I've searched the print version, and here's a selection of good stuff which requires prompt action in advance.

n.b. 8am: Links may be incorrect or blank because booking's not supposed to be live yet
n.b. I'll try to add some more links and information after the website updates (which is usually 10am-ish)
n.b. Some of the stuff appears to have 'sold out' already, because booking went live before today (grumble grumble)

n.b. 3pm: The website is now starting to go live, but so far only the homepage and none of the events
n.b. 4pm: The website now appears to be live, but is struggling and keeps falling over
n.b. I'd quite like to meet the designer who gave the website non-scrollable dropdown menus and shout at them, very loudly

n.b. Fewer venues seem to require pre-booking this year, which is good
n.b. Here's Ian Visits' list of bookable choices
n.b. Don't be greedy now...


28 Open House treats to be pre-booked online

Tall stuff
• Tower 42 (Sat 10.00-17.00) [sold out yesterday]
• One Blackfriars (Sat/Sun 10.00-17.00) [sold out yesterday]
• South Bank Tower (Sat 10.00-16.00) [sold out yesterday]
• The Leadenhall Building (Sat 10.00-16.00) [open]
• St Paul's Cathedral - Triforium Tour (Sat 11.00-18.00) [sold out]

Station stuff
• St Pancras Chambers and Clock Tower (Sat/Sun 10.00-16.00) [sold out]
• 55 Broadway (London Underground HQ) (Sat/Sun 11.30-15.30) [sold out]
• Tottenham Court Road Station (Sat/Sun 11.00-15.00) [sold out]
• Piccadilly Circus Station (Sat/Sun 11.00-15.30) [sold out]
• Jubilee Line Night Tour (Fri 23:59) [sold out]

Old stuff
• The Queen's Chapel, St James' Palace (Sat 10.00-14.00, Sun 10.00-17.00) [open]
• Lambeth Palace (Sat 09.00-14.00) [sold out]
• Royal Automobile Club (Sat/Sun 10.00, 11.30, 15.00) [open]
• Islington Town Hall (Sun 12.00, 14.00) [sold out yesterday]
• Fishmongers Hall (Sat/Sun 10.30, 12.00) [sold out]
• Lancaster House (Sat/Sun 09.30-15.30) [open]

Cultural stuff
• Alexandra Palace (basement) (Sat 10.00-16.00) [open]
• The Old Vic (Sat 09.00, 10.45) [sold out]
• Government Art Collection (Sat 10.00-16.00) [broken]
• The National Archives (Sat 10.00-17.00) [sold out]
• Lakeside Centre, Thamesmead (Sat/Sun 14.00) [open]

Utility stuff
• Abbey Mills Pumping Station (Sat/Sun 10.00-17.00) [sold out]
• Oak Room, New River Head (Sat/Sun 10.00-17.00) [open]

Housing stuff
• Central Hill Estate (Sun 11.00-18.00) [sold out yesterday]
• Dawsons Heights (Sat 10.00-16.00) [open]
• Cranbrook Estate (Sun 12.00-17.00) [open]

Other stuff
• The Francis Crick Institute (Sat 11.00-15.00) [sold out]
• New Scotland Yard (Sat/Sun 11.00-16.30) [booking starts 30th Aug]

6 Open House treats to be pre-booked by email

• One Canada Square (Sat 10.00-16.00) [open]
• Silvertown (inc Millennium Mills) (Sat 10.30, 12.30) [open]
• Underground Bunker, Neasden (Sat 08.30-17.30) [open]
• Deephams Sewage Treatment Works (Sat 10.00-16.00) [open]
• Battle of Britain Bunker & Visitor Centre (Sat/Sun 10.00-17.00) [open]
• The Building of a New Town: An Architecture Tour of Thamesmead (Sat 11.00) [open]

5 Open House treats to be pre-booked by telephone

• Yeoman Warders Club, Tower of London [open]
• Phoenix Cinema, Finchley [open]
• Wrotham Park, Barnet [open]
• Fuller's Griffin Brewery [open]
• 155 Holland Park Avenue [open]

3 Open House specials with tickets available by ballot

• 10 Downing Street (expect MI5 to check you out if you win this one) [open]
• BT Tower (includes access to the iconic revolving floor) [open]
• The View from The Shard (OK, it's not so special this one, just a great way to get up top for nothing) [open]
posted by [syndicated profile] newelementary_feed at 06:47am on 17/08/2017

Posted by caperberry

Respect to Sven Franic. He received New Elementary's review copy of the LEGO® Ideas set, 21310 Old Fishing Store, on Friday and by Monday he had delivered me a spectacular and thorough review of the parts, minifigures and colours in this huge and gorgeous new set. As if that wasn't enough, he had to leave for Slovenia that day... so, just in case the review needed more work, he took the set with him! Well, no more work was required but Sven has nevertheless sent us some "fishing holiday" pics.


Continue reading »

Posted by Lenore Edman

Evil Mad Scientist Shop Exterior

We’re in the process of moving into a nicer, bigger space, still in Sunnyvale, California. Our new shop location is 1285 Forgewood Avenue, and we’ll be closed on Monday, August 21 as part of the move.

We will be inviting you to our shopwarming party, which will be on October 7th, so please save the date!

Posted by CRPG Addict

My sequel-deprived characters remain trapped eternally in a foreign landscape.
       
The Eternal Dagger
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released in 1987 for Apple II and Atari 8-bit; 1988 for Commodore 64
Date Started:  2 August 2017
Date Ended: 13 August 2017
Total Hours: 35
Difficulty: Hard (4/5), although adjustable on the main screen.
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
    
My commenters offered good advice for the "impossible" combat I described in my last entry. It centered around prioritizing dexterity in my attribute upgrades, searching for armor that protects against life draining (the high demons' primary attacks), and making better use of spells in combat. Thanks to everyone who commented.

But when I returned to play the game, I couldn't bring myself to engage in yet more grinding. So I sighed, lowered the difficulty, and tried the battle against Sri again. I defeated him with 4 characters killed. It was a hollow victory, yes, but by this time I was just trying to get to the end.
      
The objective of the dungeon. Acquired but not really "achieved."
       
Sri's chambers held the 8 "aqua-helms" I needed to visit the sunken city of Enolho. I retrieved them, made my way back to the Dwarven city, and left the Dwarven Island for the Elven Island.

I returned to Gray Eagle, and his minions flew me to the underwater city, leaving me on top of a tower sticking out of the surf. I strapped on the helmets and entered.
      
You probably want to back up your save before this point.
      
Enolho was a large single level featuring a lot of battles with demons, mermen, and sharks. By the time I found the portal to the demon world, my health was quite low and my karma about half used-up, so I somewhat shamefully reloaded from my position outside the city and simply made directly for the portal. There wasn't much reason to explore the city since all the nice weapon and armor upgrades that it offered had to be discarded before entering the portal.
      
"Wish" isn't the word I'd use, no.
      
My characters went through the portal with nothing but the Eternal Dagger (immune because it had once been living or something). We immediately faced battle with "undead warriors" whom my priests turned quickly. On their bodies, we found some basic equipment to replenish what we'd just discarded. A couple other battles on the same level also helped restore the characters' preferred weapon types, but the quality of the items was nowhere near what we'd just abandoned.
       
A fairly nice magic axe among a bunch of non-magic gear.
      
The demon world was two levels. The first had a maze in which the walls shifted every time I stepped on piles of rubble. The goal was to get to a set of stairs in the lower-right corner, but I had to use trial and error to get the walls to shift into the right position to allow me to make it down there. It was time-consuming but not hard, as there were no combats in the area.
       
Navigating a small, shifting maze.
      
There was a further maze of diagonally-situated squares that was no trouble at all, then a couple secret doors, then a final battle with some normal demons. The game really took it easy in this last section owing to the loss of equipment, I guess.
      
We are the sworn foes of colorful light!
      
In the room following the final battle, I looked at a table with a "pulsing colorful light." I had the option to destroy it with the Eternal Dagger, and of course I took it. This produced the endgame text:
         
As the Eternal Dagger strikes the light, it bursts in a polychromatic explosion. Huge energies tear at the fiber of your very souls. The Eternal Dagger shatters in your hand. You feel torn into a myriad of pieces. You have destroyed the heart of the gate and your world is safe. But still you are buffeted by the forces released. Suddenly, with an awful twist, you find yourselves in a normal landscape.

You are in a clearing in a wood. It is beautiful, but it is not home. That you must still find . . . but that is another adventure . . .
             
But the screen froze and there was no final save, and of course we know now that there was no "other adventure."

It wasn't until I was compiling this entry that I took a look at the walkthrough by the always-reliable Andrew Schultz and saw that if I'd dithered around the room with the pulsing light, I would have been attacked by the "big bad"--the guy sending all the demons in the first place--whose name is Anawt. The name was referenced in a couple of earlier encounters.
     
What I would have experienced if I'd messed around instead of doing the obvious thing.
      
He attacks with a dozen or so high demons. I'm tempted to call the battle unwinnable, but I know from experience that if I do that, it will be 20 minutes before someone links a video of someone winning it on the hardest difficulty with a single unarmed character. So I'll just say that I couldn't see a way to win it. Not with my characters half-equipped with inferior stuff. I'm grateful the fight is optional.
      
The likely-impossible final battle.
      
In a GIMLET, I expect it to do slightly better than Wizard's Crown owing mostly to some interface improvements. I otherwise don't see many strengths or weaknesses that either game had that the other didn't have. Let's see.
   
  • 3 points for the game world. Storytelling was never SSI's strong suit. They improve in the Gold Box titles, but they never get great. Here, the world and backstory are mostly a set of allusions to generic fantasy tropes.
         
None of the business with the turtle, the eagle, the sunken city, and most other plot elements was well-fleshed out.
     
  • 6 points for character creation and development. By far, this is the strongest part of this little series. Even in the sequel, starting with skills and attributes already high, there remained a palpable sense of progress after every few combats. But while development was strong, there were still no good role-playing options by race or class.
  • 1 point for NPC interaction. The "NPCs" in the game are more like "encounters." That one point is generous. Dagger doesn't even have the old man spinning tales.
  • 5 points for encounters and foes. The game has a decent menagerie of monsters with their own strengths and weaknesses and a strong sense of contextual encounters (alas, not offering much in the way of role-playing options). The puzzles of Mad Avlis's dungeon were a particular bonus.
  • 5 points for magic and combat. My opinion hasn't changed. The tactical options are great--a huge step on the way to the Gold Box--but the game errs on the side of too much complexity, which in turn makes it too easy to rely on quick combat.
             
I was too ashamed to mention above that I used quick combat for the last battle. Keep in mind that at the time, I didn't know it was the last battle.
           
  • 6 points for equipment, the best part of the game other than character development. Given 8 characters with numerous slots, almost every battle produces an upgrade. The ability to pay to add enchantments to items is also fantastic, but I rather prefer the way the first game did it, where you could pay for substantial enchantments (e.g., storm damage) instead of just higher "+" levels. That's balanced here by more potions, scrolls, and wands that give magic ability to non-magic characters.
              
Having to drop everything, on the other hand, was painful.
      
  • 5 points for the economy. It's strong, with that one major "money sink" in the way of enchantments, although lacking in complexity since that's the only thing you spend money on.
  • 3 points for the main quest, but unlike the first game, there are no side quests or side areas. There remain no choices on the main quest path, except perhaps to stick around and try to kill Anawt.
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. Graphics and sound are barely adequate, though improving slightly on the first game with a title graphic (and having any sound at all). Although the game makes good use of the keyboard, too many of the commands are cumbersome to access, and the movement system still sucks, but at least dungeon movement isn't the nightmare it was in the last game.
  • 3 points for gameplay. While larger than Wizard's Crown, it's still pretty linear and thus non-replayable. At the default difficult level, it's a smidgen too hard, requires too much grinding, and lasts a bit too long.
          
That gives us a final score of 41, or 3 points higher than Wizard's Crown, which I guess it earns primarily for having sound (the Apple II version of Crown didn't), the slightly more interesting dungeon encounters, and easier dungeon travel.
     
Why does the box show them stepping through the portal with equipment?! This would have been the one time that nudity was justified.
     
Dragon magazine, which famously awarded 5 stars to anything that blinked and beeped, gave this one 1.5 stars--literally the worst rating I've ever seen in their pages. It seems astonishing, since the game so faithfully replicates--as well as could have been done in 1987--a tabletop RPG module with tactical combat. I couldn't imagine what they thought was missing, especially where they gave 4 stars to Wizard's Crown.

Well, it turns out the low rating has little to do with the core game and everything to do with the character creation and import process. The review doesn't mention which version of the game they tried, but either it wasn't the Apple II or they suffered issues that I didn't. "The translation program does away with all but one wizard, and the remaining characters are really knocked down in abilities," it says, which simply doesn't make any sense. At least in the Apple II version, the characters came over completely intact. Anyway, because of this problem, the reviewers recommend creating new characters in Dagger, but they had trouble there, too. "One mistake or accidental slip of the finger could cause you to exit the creation module. If that occurs, you can't return to complete your adventuring party . . . you must start the party creation sequence from scratch again." Again, I have no idea what they're talking about. Each individual character is created and saved independently on the main screen (there's no separate "module") and even a power outage preserves that character on disk. I verified this with all three platforms.

The reviewers claim they lost their self-created parties, mid-creation, three times in a row, so resigned themselves to playing with the pre-created characters. Here, they ran into problems with the difficulty. "We got no further than a few miles with these adventurers, coming at last to a temple in the south. The party turned out to be entirely inadequate in holding its own against the hostiles that abound in nearly every hex." They finally gave up after 9 hours. I guess I agree that the beginning stages are hard, but certainly no harder than Wizard's Crown. Did they notice the difficulty slider?

Scorpia offered a more accurate (though still largely negative review) in the October 1987 Computer Gaming World, noting the interface improvements but also encountering the same difficulties in tactical combat when you start right outside a door and "your whole party is stuck until some room frees up." She noted that missile weapons can help, but "too often the angles are too severe, and bows or thrown weapons can't be used, making for a great deal of frustration during dungeon combat." I couldn't have said it better. She objected to the game's treatment of dwarves as money-grubbing and arrogant. Most of all, she disliked how the balance of tactical combat was tipped towards spells, making the battles more difficult and lengthier. "Not up to the previous game," she concluded, and "for patient players only."

The bottom line is that SSI did a pretty cool thing with Wizard's Crown but didn't learn enough lessons about what did and didn't work before crafting the sequel. Those lessons would be well-applied, however, when many of the same developers went on to Pool of Radiance the following year.

Paul Murray co-designed Wizard's Crown with Keith Brors, but Brors didn't seem to have a role in the sequel; instead, SSI had him on Realms of Darkness, which we'll see later this year. For his partner on Dagger, Murray was teamed with Victor Penman, who went on to manage several of the Gold Box titles. Murray himself had created several games for SSI, but after Dagger his resume switches to programming credits on titles designed by others (including, again, many Gold Box titles). He disappeared from the scene right about the time that Ubisoft retired the SSI brand in 2001, only to resurface in 2014 with the announcement that he and fellow SSI veteran David Shelley were founding Tactical Simulations Interactive (TSI). TSI is currently working on a Gold Box-inspired title called Seven Dragon Saga, which got off to a rocky start with a failed Kickstarter campaign in 2015. I really hope they're able to finish it.

Next up for 1987 is an Ultima clone called, for reasons that I hope turn out to be interesting, Gates of Delirium.

****

Further reading: Don't forget to check out my coverage of this game's predecessor, Wizard's Crown (1985). You can also read about the titles directly influenced by this engine, including Shard of Spring (1986), Roadwar 2000 (1986), Pool of Radiance (1988; the first Gold Box game), and Disciples of Steel (1991).

Posted by cks

I sort of mentioned yesterday that ZFS keeps information on several different ways of identifying disks in pools. To be specific, it keeps three different names or ways of identifying each disk. You can see this with 'zdb -C' on a pool, so here's a representative sample:

# zdb -C rpool
MOS Configuration:
[...]
  children[0]:
    type: 'disk'
    id: 0
    guid: 15557853432972548123
    path: '/dev/dsk/c3t0d0s0'
    devid: 'id1,sd@SATA_____INTEL_SSDSC2BB08__BTWL4114016X080KGN/a'
    phys_path: '/pci@0,0/pci15d9,714@1f,2/disk@0,0:a'
    [...]

The guid is ZFS's internal identifier for the disk, and is stored on the disk itself as part of the disk label. Since you have to find the disk to read it, it's not something that ZFS uses to find disks, although it is part of verifying that ZFS has found the right one. The three actual names for the disk are reported here as path, devid aka 'device id', and phys_path aka 'physical path'.

The path is straightforward; it's the filesystem path to the device, which here is a conventional OmniOS (Illumos, Solaris) cNtNdNsN name typical of a plain, non-multipathed disk. As this is a directly attached SATA disk, the phys_path shows us the PCI information about the controller for the disk in the form of a PCI device name. If we pulled this disk and replaced it with a new one, both of those would stay the same, since with a directly attached disk they're based on physical topology and neither has changed. However, the devid is clearly based on the disks's identity information; it has the vendor name, the 'product id', and the serial number (as returned by the disk itself in response to SATA inquiry commands). This will be the same more or less regardless of where the disk is connected to the system, so ZFS (and anything else) can find the disk wherever it is.

(I believe that the 'id1,sd@' portion of the devid is simply giving us a namespace for the rest of it. See 'prtconf -v' for another representation of all of this information and much more.)

Multipathed disks (such as the iSCSI disks on our fileservers) look somewhat different. For them, the filesystem device name (and thus path) looks like c5t<long identifier>d0s0, the physical path is /scsivhci/disk@g<long identifier>, and the devid_ is not particularly useful in finding the specific physical disk because our iSCSI targets generate synthetic disk 'serial numbers' based on their slot position (and the target's hostname, which at least lets me see which target a particular OmniOS-level multipathed disk is supposed to be coming from). As it happens, I already know that OmniOS multipathing identifies disks only by their device ids, so all three names are functionally the same thing, just expressed in different forms.

If you remove a disk entirely, all three of these names go away for both plain directly attached disks and multipath disks. If you replace a plain disk with a new or different one, the filesystem path and physical path will normally still work but the devid of the old disk is gone; ZFS can open the disk but will report that it has a missing or corrupt label. If you replace a multipathed disk with a new one and the true disk serial number is visible to OmniOS, all of the old names go away since they're all (partly) based on the disk's serial number, and ZFS will report the disk as missing entirely (often simply reporting it by GUID).

Sidebar: Which disk name ZFS uses when bringing up a pool

Which name or form of device identification ZFS uses is a bit complicated. To simplify a complicated situation (see vdev_disk_open in vdev_disk.c) as best I can, the normal sequence is that ZFS starts out by trying the filesystem path but verifying the devid. If this fails, it tries the devid, the physical path, and finally the filesystem path again (but without verifying the devid this time).

Since ZFS verifies the disk label's GUID and other details after opening the disk, there is no risk that finding a random disk this way (for example by the physical path) will confuse ZFS. It'll just cause ZFS to report things like 'missing or corrupt disk label' instead of 'missing device'.

August 16th, 2017

Posted by John Klapheke

It has been a while since I have posted here...  First off, big congratulations to the Brick Bucket team and especially to Tate for his constancy here on this wonderful blog.  This marks 500 posts of high-quality MOCs delivered by the Brick Bucket to you, in hopes of inspiring creativity and a love for LEGO.  Now, onto the featured build!


One of the things I admire most about LEGO is when a builder is able to exceed the sometimes seemingly impossible limitations of the LEGO building system and construct a simply magnificent model.  Such is the case with detail-oriented builder Brian Williams.  Posted several years ago, his rendition of the first scene from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is indeed mind-blowing.  Aside from the usual characteristics of his MOCs: good photography, excellent building, accurate minfigures, etc., Williams has included a mirror so as to create the illusion of a warehouse.  Ingeniously named crates can be seen throughout the diorama, in addition to some brilliantly lit ceiling assemblies.
posted by [syndicated profile] clivethompson_feed at 07:15pm on 16/08/2017

Posted by Clive

After encountering this wonderful factoid, my twitter followers began offering some other fun translations for “computer”: In Chinese it’s “electric brain”, in Spanish it translates as “sorter”, and another way to render the Icelandic version? “Prophetess of numbers.” Oh, and consider “ikiaqqivik”, the Inuit word for “Internet”, which translates as “traveling through layers.” In other linkstuff: A supernova so huge it takes out a nearby giant star. Using smilies at work “may decrease perceptions of competence”. “Icebox” is a Chrome extension that fights impulse-purchasing by replacing the “buy” button on e-commerce sites, and imposing a purchase delay. A paper computer from 1958.

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Posted by John Scalzi

I have a piece in the Los Angeles Times today about the difficulty of writing science fiction in today’s world, and no, it’s not just because one has to wonder if the world is going to be here tomorrow. Here’s the link. Enjoy!


Posted by Christopher Jobson

The word “cute” is woefully insufficient in describing the squee-inducing impression of these needled felted wool sculptures by Ukraine-based designer Hanna Dovhan (previously here and here). Her latest pairs of hand-made mustachioed donuts, mushrooms, croissants, and veggies are all designed to rest in a tender embrace or to simply hold hands. You can see more by following her on Instagram or in her Etsy shop Woolsculpture.

posted by [syndicated profile] torque_control_feed at 04:29pm on 16/08/2017

Posted by Jo Lindsay Walton

By Jo Lindsay Walton

Vectors tweaked 2.png

It is Wednesday. I am in Helsinki. So is everybody else.

There are a few issues of Vector and FOCUS on the freebies table, courtesy of Dave Lally; but, of course, not for long.

I put in time in Messukeskus 209, the academic track. On Wednesday, Merja Polvinin introduces the Finnish Society for SFF Research (Finfar), its journal Fafnir, and the theme of the next five days. The theme is ‘estrangement.’

Elysium
Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 Elysium

Speculative fiction isn’t about other worlds, it’s about this world! In speculative fiction, we encounter real, familiar things, only made strange! There is a political value to such encounters. In the movie Elysium, we encounter something real and familiar (unjust access to healthcare), only that thing is made strange.

By making the world strange, we can unsettle the distinction between what is possible and what is not. By making the world strange, we can see the world for what it really is, including all its promise and possibility.

At least, that’s the idea. Over the five days, I am struck by how accommodating and flexible and familiar the concept of estrangement has become.

When Darko Suvin first floated estrangement, way back before science fiction studies was really A Thing, he made a distinction between ‘cognitive’ and ‘non-cognitive’ estrangement. Or (to really boil it down), between ‘good’ estrangement and ‘bad’ estrangement.

Suvin’s ingenious distinction has never really caught on, and never really gone away. I think we need to get back to the root of Suvin’s project, which is about selecting and elaborating aspects of speculative fiction texts that can contribute practically to radical political struggle.

Scruffian
Hal Duncan captured at the very moment of Scruffianisation

The 75th World Science Fiction Convention, aka WorldCon 75, is the third-and-a-half con I’ve attended. And I finally understand the ribbons thing! It all starts innocently enough. Each stripe attaches to the previous, or to the name-badge. Some have some practical ID-like function: Programme Participant, Staff, Operations, Access …

szal cropped

… and then maybe you collect another stripe or two to show your support for future WorldCon bids or something like that …

Site Selection Voter

… but then (and this was my epiphany) there are those ribbons created by anyone, for any reason, and just added to your rainbow for any reason, or even for no real reason, just for the sheer brio of bricolage …

Rose Phin 2

emma-maree-urquhart.jpg

… and before you know it, you’re wafting a Fourth Doctor scarf to and fro, and there is a complex pattern of traces, traces of chance and not-so-chance encounters, spreading across the convention. Fans secrete ribbons on each other like semiochemicals. By Sunday, a swarm intelligence is stirring. Olaf Stapledon writes in Star Maker:

In time it became clear that we, individual inhabitants of a host of other worlds, were playing a small part in one of the great movements by which the cosmos was seeking to know itself, and even to see beyond itself.

Badge ribbons are how WorldCon seeks know itself, and even to see beyond itself.

salmiakkikossu-2-e1502911178393.jpg

I put in time at BarCon. The theme is of the drinking track at WorldCon 75 is salmiakkikossu, a salty liquorice liqueur. There is political value to such encounters. They unsettle our sense of what is possible and what is not. No, salmiakkikossu is not ‘nice.’ But I am not convinced the eldritch intelligence we are randomly building out of bright ribbons is ‘nice’ either.

I am accustomed to transporting my sense, with a bottle of Homeric Malbec, down into the wine-dark sea. But salmia drowns its tourists in forests of dark pine.

I seem to have come unstuck in time. It is Monday. On the plane home, I read from two things people have given me. Some poems by Ivaylo “Evil Ivo” Shmilev. Some some draft novel chapters by Mike “Nice Mike” Krawec. “I am lying in the dark before the dawn / and waiting for you to be reborn,” says Ivo. “I’m sure you’re aware,” says Mike, “a Hellish visa may negatively impact your chances of entering the Kingdom of Heaven, should you ever want to visit or reside there.”

It is is Friday and Jeff VanderMeer is removing his bear mask. Underneath he’s wearing a bear mask.

Wednesday. Opening ceremonies.

It is Sunday. I am at the Strange Horizons tea party. We have drunk all the tea. Moving the chairs is especially a blast. I can’t explain but it was. Niall Harrison, once of Vector, now standing down as editor-in-chief of Strange Horizons, is getting semi-ambushed by people saying embarrassingly nice things about him. “The cuddly kind of ambitious.”

It is Friday. An academic paper at a convention can be tricky, obviously. Who’s going to be in the audience? What will they know and what won’t they know? Where do you pitch it? I admire Tiffani Angus‘s paper. It is full spectrum. It is about some of the things that are often missing from post-apocalyptic fiction: tampons, pads, contraception, period pain, menstrual diarrhoea, childbirth, menopause. They go missing from other kinds of fiction too, but they go missing from post-apocalyptic fiction in a special way. The phrase “Chekov’s tampon” is both funny and kinda the crux: what gets suppressed on the basis that it isn’t necessary to the story? Who defines ‘necessary’ and ‘story’?

Saturday. NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren and his Public Affairs Officer Norma J Knotts are talking.

I tweet a lot.

One of the many beautiful, fitful, tangled conversations threaded across the week is about breaking the fourth wall. Can you break the fourth wall during a fourth wall break? That kind of thing: apparently Deadpool can. Can you intercept somebody else’s fourth wall break? Am I a fourth wallflower? Is the fourth wall a supporting wall? Can you break the wrong fourth wall, like you can talk into the wrong camera? If we broke the fourth wall now, what would we see? Even more Jo Waltons, Malkovich Malkovich style?

Nazis and nukes?

My panels go OK! When I make a joke, some people laugh. When I make a serious political point, everyone laughs.

I have moderated a panel on Systems of Healing Magic. I find out, too late, about the healing magic used by Väinämöinen, the hero of the epic Finnish poem The Kalevala. If you take an axe to the knee, the recommended course of action is to relate the origin story of the iron the axe is made of:

She who squeezed black milk
from her was born soft iron;
she who squeezed white milk
from her were made things of steel,
she who showered red milk
from her was got pig iron.

In order to impose your mastery upon the iron and its effects you must, I guess, say some shit about the iron’s mommas. When that is done, Väinämöinen can boss around his own blood like Sebastian tries to boss Ariel:

Blood, stand like a wall;
stay, gore, like a fence;
like an iris in a lake
stand, like sedge among moss, like
a boulder at a field edge,
a rock in a steep rapid!
But if you should have a mind
to move more swiftly
then move in the flesh
and in the bones glide!
Inside is better for you,
beneath the skin is fairer [...]

Magical healing is surely a theme of everything in the con.

Apparently the trade hall is a bit small by US standards. Maybe it is for the best.

Trade Hall.png

I feel childishly at ease with practically anybody who is a bit Scottish.

As Kalle might say, “We have Clipping!”

It is Sunday before I realise why the fourth wall conversation is so captivating. WorldCon is when Twitter denizens step through the screen and become flesh. Paul Weimer. Adrian Tchaikovsky. Ian McDonald. Berit Ellingsen. Effie Seiberg. Erin Roberts. Remote Voices. Galoot. Crystal.

Otherie

Crystal Huff and I have found each other. We are at the China party. We take an otherie. Crystal knows how to do this. It is like a selfie, made strange.

I’m not sure who the hunter creeping up on us is. I think it might be Dalibor Perković. Falling in with the Croatians is a delight. They organise SferaKon, and they are organising large chunks of WorldCon. I want to go to Croatia next year. SferaKon is mostly in English, so I might.

WorldCon feels huge and brilliantly organised. There are thoughtful touches everywhere. On the first day, attendance is much higher than expected.

From Cheryl Morgan’s con diary:

[…] Someone, I think Kevin, said that Helsinki had scored a Critical Hit, but that doing so was not always good. No, I said. You have scored a Critical Hit. You are now covered in the intestines of the huge monster that you have slain with a single blow […]

The intestines Cheryl mentions are mostly queues. It is Wednesday and the rooms are rammed. The queues are shaped like Dave Lally’s badge ribbon tally at the Dead Dog.* The queues are shaped like Shai-Huluds made of shy hellos. But I’m impressed by how quickly and smartly the convention adapts to the numbers. By Thursday, new larger rooms have been secured, and the programme has been re-jiggled, conservatively but effectively, with the changes well-advertised. Vast new seating vistas open. There are still queues, but no more crushes.

Weird Prophet
A crowd queuing for utopia behind some kind of weird prophet

Thank you, WorldCon. You have been lucent and crystalline. You have been an omen whose every atom is a minuscule Moomin. And WorldCon 77 is coming to Dublin.

* I learned a little Fanspeak. ‘Concrud’ is what you call the pathology that develops in the individual neuron-humans as the gestalt convention grows perilously close to sentience. ‘Dead Dog’ is what you call the party at the end of the con. Sort of a cross between a GP waiting area and paradise.  


This week I wanted a toon-style non-photorealistic render, which is something I’ve done before but not for a while, and never in Unity. I’d been playing with the Standard Shader, the physically based pipeline which has support for quite a lot of good stuff like normal / specular / occlusion maps, and kinda just wanted that plus a toon ramp. I figured I’d check out what Unity already had first.

Turns out Unity do have a toon rendering example, but it’s a custom vertex/fragment shader which doesn’t include normal mapping or any other nice features of the standard shader; I’d have to add that back.

So I started looking at how you can customise the Standard Shader to add a toon mapping lighting ramp. The first thing I checked was custom lighting in surface shaders. That was pretty useful, but again it loses all of the standard shader lighting features if you use it; you have to implement all that again.

All I really wanted was to be able to post-process the specific lighting intensity calculation and make it quantised. So I rolled my sleeves up and read the Standard Shader code end-to-end to see what I could do.

Unity don’t really provide many entry points unfortunately. However, they do make reasonably frequent use of macros in their shaders, which are ripe for replacement through the shader preprocessor. The closest point I could find to the code I needed to alter was the definition of UNITY_BRDF_PBS:

half4 c = UNITY_BRDF_PBS (s.diffColor, s.specColor, s.oneMinusReflectivity, s.smoothness, s.normalWorld, -s.eyeVec, gi.light, gi.indirect);

At this point most of the required components have been extracted, and we just need to compute the lighting from it. We do still need to duplicate the internal implementations of UNITY_BRDF_PBS but at least we don’t have to write the whole thing from scratch or copy the entire shader code, with all of its alternate paths for various options. It’s not perfect, but it will do.

Unfortunately AFAICT in order to cover all the same cases as the standard shader, the actual Shaderlab definitions need to be replicated to insert my replacement, because there is no way to “extend” a material definition; you can copy a Pass verbatim, but you can’t copy it and prefix it with a new #define, I don’t think. So again, more duplication than I’d like, but less than the worst case.

I’ve put together the shader code and an example using the Ethan model from the Unity standard assets. Here’s a screenshot:

I’ve also published the code on GitHub. You’ll find all the shader code in Assets/Shaders, the files don’t rely on anything but Unity’s built in shaders, the other resources are just there to demonstrate it on a real model. The key files are:

  • SinbadToonSurface.shader: the Shaderlab definition of the shaders, which is a copy of Unity’s StandardSpecular.shader with some key added lines (see below)
  • SinbadPBSToonLighting.cginc: redefines UNITY_BRDF_PBS and has modified copies of the 3 BRDF functions Unity uses in its standard shaders
  • SinbadToon.cginc: the actual toon function

Although I had to copy the Shaderlab code (ugh), the only additions I needed to make were in the lit passes, to add these 2 lines before any use of UnityStandardCore[Forward].cginc:

    #define SINBAD_TOON_BANDS 3
    #include "SinbadPBSToonLighting.cginc"

The toon bands are procedural rather than based on a ramp texture (as I previously would have done it), so you can tweak the number of bands to suit. If you look inside SinbadToon.cginc you can also see there’s a tolerance argument you can use to change how sharply each band transitions to the next.

Hopefully it helps someone else!

posted by [syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed at 02:18pm on 16/08/2017

Posted by John Scalzi

I’ve eaten Stella Parks‘ desserts, and, oh, man, they are so good. So I’m delighted to give her space today to let her tell you about her debut cookbook BraveTart, which examines and celebrates a branch of America’s culinary tradition Parks thinks is overlooked and underappreciated. Is she right? Read on.

STELLA PARKS:

When people hear that I’m a classically trained pastry chef or that I work at a place called Serious Eats, most everyone will ask how I got my start. I can’t help but imagine they want to hear about a magical summer in France or else how I learned to bake at my mother’s side. Maybe they want me to say that I always loved Julia Child, or that I saved up my allowance to buy my first croissant. Trouble is, it didn’t happen that way at all.

I grew up in suburban Kentucky, my summers spent with Puddin’ Pops on the porch, my winters passed one mug of Swiss Miss at a time. I loved the tongue-scorching sweetness of a McDonald’s apple pie from the drive-thru window and the muffled scrape of a plastic spoon against the bottom of a chocolate pudding cup (the tinfoil lid curled back and licked clean, natch). At the supermarket, I learned the heft to a tube of cookie dough, the lightness in a bag of marshmallows, and the rattle of rainbow sprinkles in a plastic jar. That’s how I got my start—somewhere between the milk-logged squish of an Oreo and the snap of a Crunch bar.

Sure, it sounds a little trashy compared to that whole Proust thing with madeleines and tea, but I find those bites are just as transportive, little triggers that send me flying back through time. Chances are, if you grew up in America, you’ve got some memories like that as well. Maybe it’s the a dollop of Cool Whip on pumpkin pie, the sticky fingered bliss of an ice cream sandwich, or that familiar slab of birthday cake on the conference room table. Those shared experiences, however mundane, connect us across most every demographic.

It’s a common phenomenon, but a culinary tradition we pay little respect—we call it junk food. Truth is, mass produced snacks have a lineage as respectable as any other. Animal crackers, vanilla wafers, and Fig Newtons all date back to the 1800s, and even newcomers like Rice Krispies Treats, Reese’s Cups, and Milky Way bars are nearly a hundred years old. For anyone raised in America and alive today, these sweets have always been a familiar part of life. Yet they’re not really ours; industrial formulas are subject to change or even cancellation outright (RIP, Coke Zero; adios, Magic Middles).

So when I set out to write a cookbook about American desserts, I knew I couldn’t leave the “junk food” behind. It had damn well earned a place at the table—right alongside “proper” American desserts like devil’s food cake, chocolate chip cookies, and apple pie. With that mandate in mind, I spent nearly six years writing, researching, and developing recipes for everything from Snickers to snickerdoodles. In the end, I don’t think of it as a cookbook so much as a culinary time capsule, stuffed full of recipes, vintage images, history, and photography to tell the story of American desserts as a whole.

—-

BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author on Serious Eats, Twitter, and Instagram, or on tour.


Posted by Kate Sierzputowski

Australian artist Cj Hendry (previously) tricks the eye with her hyper-realistic drawings, works that recreate the appearance of thick swabs of brightly colored paint. To achieve the dimensionality and sheen of fresh oil paint she layers dry pigment atop colored pencil, accurately portraying the liquid medium’s viscosity.

The series, Complimentary Colors, is far different than the artist’s previous style, which for several years had been exclusively black and white. You can view pieces from her past and present, as well as a series of billboard-sized works, on the artist’s Instagram. (via My Modern Met)

Posted by John

The previous post gave an example of manipulating the seed of a random number generator to produce a desired result. This post will do something similar for a different generator.

A couple times I’ve used the following LCG (linear congruential random number generator) in examples. An LCG starts with an initial value of z and updates z at each step by multiplying by a constant a and taking the remainder by m. The particular LCG I’ve used has a = 742938285 and m = 231 – 1 = 2147483647.

(I used these parameters because they have maximum range, i.e. every positive integer less than m appears eventually, and because it was one of the LCGs recommended in an article years ago. That is, it’s very good as far as 32-bit LCGs go, which isn’t very far. An earlier post shows how it quickly fails the PractRand test suite.)

Let’s pick the seed so that the 100th output of the generator is today’s date in ISO form: 20170816.

We need to solve

a100z = 20170816 mod 2147483647.

By reducing  a100 mod 2147483647 we  find we need to solve

160159497 z = 20170816 mod 2147483647

and the solution is z = 1898888478. (See How to solve linear congruences.)

The following Python code verifies that the solution works.

    a = 742938285
    z = 1898888478
    m = 2**31 - 1

    for _ in range(100):
        z = a*z % m
    print(z)
posted by [syndicated profile] johndcook_feed at 12:00pm on 16/08/2017

Posted by John

With some random number generators, it’s possible to select the seed carefully to manipulate the output. Sometimes this is easy to do. Sometimes it’s hard but doable. Sometimes it’s theoretically possible but practically impossible.

In my recent correspondence with Melissa O’Neill, she gave me an example that seeds a random number generator so that the 9th and 10th outputs produce the ASCII code for my name.

Here’s the code. The function next is the xoroshiro128+ (XOR/rotate/shift/rotate) random number generator. The global array s contains the state of the random number generator. Its initial values are the seeds of the generator.

#include <cstdio>
#include <cstdint>

// xoroshiro generator taken from
// http://vigna.di.unimi.it/xorshift/xoroshiro128plus.c

uint64_t s[2];

static inline uint64_t rotl(const uint64_t x, int k) {
	return (x << k) | (x >> (64 - k));
}

uint64_t next(void) {
	const uint64_t s0 = s[0];
	uint64_t s1 = s[1];
	const uint64_t result = s0 + s1;

	s1 ^= s0;
	s[0] = rotl(s0, 55) ^ s1 ^ (s1 << 14); // a, b
	s[1] = rotl(s1, 36); // c

	return result;
}

int main() {
    freopen(NULL, "wb", stdout); 

    s[0] = 0x084f31240ed2ec3f;
    s[1] = 0x0aa0d69470975eb8;

    while (1) {
        uint64_t value = next();
        fwrite((void*) &value, sizeof(value), 1, stdout);
    }
}

Compile this code then look at a hex dump of the first few outputs. Here’s what you get:

cook@mac> gcc xoroshiro.cpp
cook@mac> ./a.out | hexdump -C | head
f7 4a 6a 7f b8 07 f0 12  f8 96 e1 af 29 08 e3 c8  |.Jj.........)...|
15 0e b0 38 01 ef b2 a7  bb e9 6f 4d 77 55 d7 a0  |...8......oMwU..|
49 08 f2 fc 0c b2 ea e8  48 c2 89 1b 31 3f d7 3d  |I.......H...1?.=|
11 eb bc 5e ee 98 b6 3b  d9 d1 cc 15 ae 00 fc 2f  |...^...;......./|
3e 20 4a 6f 68 6e 20 44  2e 20 43 6f 6f 6b 20 3c  |> John D. Cook <| 
d1 80 49 27 3e 25 c2 4b  2a e3 78 71 9c 9e f7 18  |..I'>%.K*.xq....|
0b bb 1f c6 1c 71 79 29  d6 45 81 47 3b 88 4f 42  |.....qy).E.G;.OB|
7c 1c 19 c4 22 58 51 2d  d7 74 69 ac 36 6f e0 3f  ||..."XQ-.ti.6o.?|
78 7f a4 14 1c bc a8 de  17 e3 f7 d8 0c de 2c ea  |x.............,.|
a2 37 83 f9 38 e4 14 77  e3 6a c8 52 d1 0c 29 01  |.7..8..w.j.R..).|

(I cut out the line numbers on the left side to make the output fit better horizontally on the page.)

Not only did one pair of seed values put my name in the output, another pair would work too. If you change the seed values to

s[0] = 0x820e8a6c1baf5b13;
s[1] = 0x5c51f1c4e2e64253;

you’ll also see my name in the output:

66 9d 95 fe 30 7c 60 de 7c 89 0c 6f cd d6 05 1e |f...0|`.|..o....|
2b e9 9c cc cd 3d c5 ec 3f e3 88 6c a6 cd 78 84 |+....=..?..l..x.|
20 12 ac f2 2b 3c 89 73 60 09 8d c3 85 68 9e eb | ...+<.s`....h..|
15 3e c1 0b 07 68 63 e5 73 a7 a8 f2 4b 8b dd d0 |.>...hc.s...K...|
3e 20 4a 6f 68 6e 20 44 2e 20 43 6f 6f 6b 20 3c |> John D. Cook <|
3f 71 cf d7 5f a6 ab cf 9c 81 93 d1 3d 4c 9e 41 |?q.._.......=L.A|
0d b5 48 9c aa fc 84 d8 c6 64 1d c4 91 79 b4 f8 |..H......d...y..|
0c ac 35 48 fd 38 01 dd cc a4 e4 43 c6 5b e8 c7 |..5H.8.....C.[..|
e1 2e 76 30 0f 9d 41 ff b0 99 84 8d c1 72 5a 91 |..v0..A......rZ.|
06 ea f2 8e d7 87 e5 2c 53 a9 0c a0 f4 cd d1 9b |.......,S.......|

Note that there are limits to how much you can manipulate the output of an RNG. In this case the seed was selected to produce two particular output values, but the rest of the sequence behaves as if it were random. (See Random is as random does.)

posted by [syndicated profile] twentysidedtale_feed at 10:00am on 16/08/2017

Posted by Shamus

Technically this game isn’t one of the hundreds of unplayed titles in my Steam library. I picked up Space Engineers three years ago and I dabbled with it a bit before losing interest. At the time I thought it was an interesting idea, but it was too unfinished to really enjoy. It was roughly equivalent to the early alpha builds of Minecraft. It was a fun little system for creative building, but it wasn’t really a proper game yet. There was no sense of progression, no story, no end goal, or anything else to make it more than a really strange set of Legos.

It’s still being regularly updated, and so I thought it was time to give the game a second look. I’ve now spent four days with Space Engineers, and I honestly have no idea what the developers are up to. It doesn’t really feel all that much different from what I remember in 2014.

The inside of some sort of science base I built.

The inside of some sort of science base I built.

In Space Engineers, you play as an astronaut. You can mine for resources, refine the raw ore, assemble machine parts, and use the parts to build terrestrial bases, orbital stations, ground vehicles, spaceships, and various other craft for defense and resource acquisition. Building and using these constructions is really cool and is the main source of fun with the game.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’ve been assuming the developers are aiming for something like Kerbal Space Program or Factorio where the player begins with very primitive tools and gradually works their way up through some sort of tech tree. Or maybe like Minecraft, where progression is more about stepping through a dependency chain to access the end-game toys. There’s a “survival mode” in the game, and based on that description I’m expecting something like these other games.

Maybe that’s not their ultimate vision, but that’s the vibe I’m getting based on my time with the game and that’s the lens through which I’m judging it. If you want to tell me that Space Engineers is really all about ship-to-ship multiplayer combat and all the resource-gathering stuff is vestigial cruft from the early days of development, then fine. Maybe I’m playing the game wrong. Whatever. I played in the way that was most obvious to me and this is my reaction.

I tried to play in survival mode. I was kind of annoyed that every survival scenario began with you on an an already established base, since I wanted to “start from scratch” and work my way up to having a base. But instead the game always gives you a base, some ships, and all equipment. It’s like being dropped into the middle of a fully-stocked Minecraft fortress made by a stranger. What is there for me to do? Sure, I guess I can go off, find a free spot, and build my own stuff. But there’s nothing I need. If my only goal is to build creatively, then why wouldn’t I just play in creative mode where I can build freely? Right now survival mode is just an extraordinarily slow and cumbersome way to build.

If you want to play on an Earth-like environment then you start here, in this massive base built by the developers and pre-stocked with lots of ships.

If you want to play on an Earth-like environment then you start here, in this massive base built by the developers and pre-stocked with lots of ships.

The way the game is designed, you can’t have a progression from starting gear to full-fledged base. To make a simple cube – the most basic building block in the game – you need steel plates. To make steel plates you need an assembling machine. An assembling machine needs iron ingots from a refinery. Both devices need power, which requires either a reactor, or a solar panel and a battery. To build all of that stuff requires almost every resource in the game. It’s like a game of Minecraft where you can’t build yourself a shack until you’ve successfully harvested and processed iron, gold, coal, redstone, and diamond. But you can’t get that stuff unless you already have a working base! But if I already have a fully-stocked base then why am I trying to build a shack? It’s a game you can’t start playing until you’ve beaten it, so the developer starts you off in the end-game win state and then leaves it to you to figure out how to amuse yourself. Just… what?

The other problem is that in survival mode you’ve got inventory limits, and the inventory limits in this game are maddening. When you start a survival game you can choose if you want “Normal” inventory, a 3x expanded inventory, or the 10x expanded inventory. But Even with the inventory set to ten times the normal limit, I found myself making trips to the storage container several times a minute. It was like playing Minecraft with a three-slot inventory. It makes building very slow and awkward.

I anticipate someone will defend this on the basis of “realism”, but the game already has lots of compromises with realism. So why this? Why did this thing need to be realistic? With so much time schlepping materials around I feel less like a Space Engineer and more like a Space Stevedor.

I am gonna engineer the SHIT out of space.

I am gonna engineer the SHIT out of space.

Shamus, why don’t you just play in creative mode, since that’s obviously what you want?

That’s kinda my point. What is survival mode for? It’s not like there’s a lot of work required to stay alive when you’re surrounded with all these future toys. There’s no struggle to gain power or quest for stability. Survival is completely binary. You either have enough oxygen and you’re fine or you don’t and you’re dead. There’s no “barely getting by” state. Like I said, maybe the developers aren’t trying to make a Minecraft / Factorio kind of thing. I get that it’s unfinished, but you’d kind of expect the early version to hint at the intended design and give you a sense of what the gameplay loop will be. But right now I can’t tell what the game mode is all about or what it’s for.

I know it sounds like I’ve been really negative here. Sorry for ranting about an unfinished game mode for 1,000 words. To be clear, Space Engineers is NOT a terrible game. The devs are hard at work and the game has some really amazing technology behind it. I’m not whinging on about survival mode because it’s this awful thing that ruins the game or whatever. It’s just a really puzzling feature. The game has been in development for four years and is now in beta. You’d think things would be taking shape by this point. Even if Survival mode isn’t done, you’d think we’d have some kind of idea where they’re going with it. Is this it? Is this the intended experience? I don’t know, and I can’t help but wonder how this is going to evolve into a game with a sense of progression.

So let’s end by talking about…

The Good Stuff

Flying around in space ships is pretty cool. It would be even cooler if there was somewhere I needed to go.

Flying around in space ships is pretty cool. It would be even cooler if there was somewhere I needed to go.

Building ships is amazing. You can jump into a multiplayer server with friends, build gigantic battleships, and pit them against each other. The game runs simulations for physics, atmosphere, gravity, and electrical systems, so as your ship comes apart you’ve got depressurization, power loss, and debris flying around according to multiple overlapping fields of artificial gravity. Doing all of that in single-player is impressive enough, but the fact that it can also sustain these simulations over a network is amazing.

The building interface is really impressive. You can build some amazing stations and vehicles. Sure, it’s pretty complex by the standards of the genre[2] but when you compare the complexity of the controls to the robustness of the output, it’s no contest. The sheer variety possible in these designs is stunning.

The same building interface handles ground vehicles, floating structures, freestanding structures, aircraft, and whatever else you can think to make. The game doesn’t require you to tell it what kind of craft you’re building, and it doesn’t have different rules for different things. All vehicle behavior is emergent based on physics.

The modding community is active and the game looks wonderful. If you just want to build creatively then there’s no reason not to get this. If you’re looking for something with more of a “game” type structure in terms of challenges to overcome and goals to achieve, then maybe it’s best to keep waiting.

Space Engineers is only available on Steam.

posted by [syndicated profile] dg_weblog_feed at 07:00am on 16/08/2017

Posted by diamond geezer

Approximately three-quarters of London's nineteen-thousand-or-so bus stops have a letter on top. About five hundred of them have a D on top, and about four hundred have a G. But only five of them have a DG on top. I've been to all five.

n.b. Regular readers will already have realised this is not a post about bus stops.

Bus Stop DG: CHAPTER ROAD
Location: Dudden Hill Lane, Dollis Hill, NW10 1DG
London Borough of Brent
Buses: 226, 302, N98




All of London's DG bus stops are in southeast London, except this one. It's in quintessential northwest London, on the outskirts of Willesden, outside a chicken shop and a Polish delicatessen. The chicken shop has bright orange frontage and also does pizzas, plus a special "1 piece chicken, 2 lamb ribs, regular fries" deal for £3. The deli looks rather more decrepit, with a faded sepia sign and several sheets of card in the window shielding goodies from abroad. Other delights in this parade include the Supersavers off licence, Tech Dry Cleaners and the Two Wheels motorcycle shop. No branded coffee outlet has contemplated digging in anywhere nearby.

And yet. Just across the road one corner of the Sapcote Trading Estate has been knocked down and is rising again as The Verge Apartments, a discordant development of panels, balconies and glass. Without wishing to belittle the existing residents of Dudden Hill Lane, there is no way that this downbeat street "nestles in a buzzing cosmopolitan corner of North West London", neither is this in any way "the perfect area to escape from the hustle and bustle of city living". But the Jubilee line from "Dollis Hills" is indeed only just round the corner, so I wonder how long before the neighbouring tyre-fitters, MOT garage and plant hire depot go the same way.
A special message to The People Who Update Bus Stops: The timetable for route 302 is missing. An out-of-date poster for Jubilee line replacement bus service D fills the third space instead.

Bus Stop DG: UNDERHILL ROAD
Location: Barry Road, East Dulwich, SE22 0HP
London Borough of Southwark
Buses: 12, 197




I've crossed London to another Victorian district, but what a contrast. The streets of Dulwich are cosily affluent, with Barry Road fractionally one-up on its neighbours. This leafy avenue runs from Peckham Rye Park to Dulwich Library, the elusive destination often seen on the front of a central London bus but rarely visited. Sturdy villas line the street, the number of constituent flats easily approximated by dividing the number of bins out front by 3. Several, it seems, have still never been subdivided. One has been transformed into the local British Legion HQ, so has a Union Jack fluttering outside, while others have giant lanterns in their porches and/or wine bottles in their recycling.

Bus Stop DG, however, sits outside a large block of mansion flats, presenting a face of decorative brickwork towards the street. One of its tiny balconies is bedecked with hanging baskets and miniature globes of privet, another with twin satellite dishes, according to the tenants' priorities. Barry Road is one of those streets where the bus stops have been built out into the road, narrowing the carriageway, in this case merely reducing the space for parking cars. This being almost-Peckham there's a barber shop at one end of the road; this being almost-Dulwich there's a boulangerie a little further down.
A special message to The People Who Maintain Bus Stops: The lime tree beside the bus shelter is in such fine fettle that the top of the bus stop pole has been entirely smothered by the foliage, making it really difficult to read which two buses stop here, and nigh impossible to read the point letter on top.

Bus Stop DG: KINGSMAN STREET
Location: Woolwich High Street, Woolwich, SE18 5QE
Royal Borough of Greenwich
Buses: 161, 177, 180, 472, N1




A regenerative nucleus is blossoming on the Woolwich waterfront, as well known names in the world of housebuilding move in and stack up flats in lustrous towers. This bus stop lies just beyond the developmental boundary, past the triple-header at Mast Quay, on the start of the run down to Charlton. There has been no redevelopment here. Instead the council estate sweeping back around Woolwich Dockyard station holds sway, and the glory days of the pub adjacent to the bus stop are long past. Happy Hour at the Greyhound now means 50p off a pint, while the 'Weekend Entertainment' promised on a fading painted board is now merely Sky Sports.

As for Kingsman Parade, I might have explored the shops further had there not been a herd of teens holding court outside the bookies and lurking loudly by the chippie. I'm not generally put off my explorations by the local subculture, but here I decided to make a special case. Instead I took a closer look at the mural on the long ramp down into the subway, which I think depicts boatbuilders on a galleon, and waited for a bus to whisk me somewhere, anywhere else.

Bus Stop DG: BROMLEY COURT HOTEL
Location: Bromley Hill, Plaistow, BR1 4HZ
London Borough of Bromley
Buses: 208, 320, N199




That's Plaistow in Bromley, rather than Newham, as my southeast London tour continues. Bromley Hill climbs gently up from Downham, with a decent view back down from the bus shelter towards one of Lewisham's greener hilltops. This Bus Stop DG doesn't immediately look like it serves any local houses, but a drab bungalow is hidden up a driveway opposite and numerous For Sale boards confirm the existence of several dwellings behind the screen of trees. It's also the second Bus Stop DG with an advert for McDonalds emblazoned across the shelter, this drive-thru in Downham supposedly new and 'freshly prepared'.

The hotel in the bus stop's title is located off the main road up what appears to be a driveway but actually leads to a separate suburban street. The Bromley Court Hotel are keen to point out that this is a private road, which they've emphasised by draping shrubbery over both pavements forcing any pedestrians to walk in the traffic. It's quite a building, though, knocked up around the turn of the 19th century as a government minister's country estate, hence the Italianate gardens which survive (for guests only) round the back. £35 will get you a seat at their Rod Stewart tribute night in September, although step back fifty years and the real David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd once played here.

Bus Stop DG: ST PETER AND ST PAUL SCHOOL
Location: St Paul's Wood Hill, St Paul's Cray, BR5 2SR
London Borough of Bromley
Bus: R1




As is usually the case if you head on a random journey across London, one of the locations comes up trumps. What I wasn't expecting is that that location would be St Paul's Cray, the postwar overspill estate to the north of Orpington. But this particular bus stop is out on the more affluent fringe, where Arts and Crafts style detached houses rub up against the edge of Chislehurst Common, and that was much more pleasant. One one side of the road is a large patch of thistly flowery meadow, and on the other an expanse of fresh-mown grass leading down to a wall of trees. And that's where I went.

Hoblingwell Wood is a remnant of once-ancient woodland, occupying several acres around a dip where a spring feeds a stream. The name does indeed refer to 'the well of the hobgoblins', as evil spirits were once thought to live here, whereas lizards and foxes are now more common. I traced a newly-laid path round the rim of the green bowl, then a narrower, older track back, startling a cat who thought this was her private domain, and avoiding acorns falling from above. Despite being peak summer holidays no other humans were to be seen, the adjacent recreation ground generally getting all the attention, and I relished the opportunity to explore nature alone. This is the Bus Stop DG I'm most glad I made a (brief) pilgrimage to.
A special message to The People Who Pick Adverts For Bus Shelters: Nobody in outer Bromley is interested in the Santander Cycles app, it does not Unlock Their London.

Posted by cks

If you import a ZFS pool explicitly, through 'zpool import', the user-mode side of the process normally searches through all of the available disks in order to find the component devices of the pool. Because it does this explicit search, it will find pool devices even if they've been shuffled around in a way that causes them to be renamed, or even (I think) drastically transformed, for example by being dd'd to a new disk. This is pretty much what you'd expect, since ZFS can't really read what the pool thinks its configuration is until it assembles the pool. When it imports such a pool, I believe that ZFS rewrites the information kept about where to find each device so that it's correct for the current state of your system.

This is not what happens when the system boots. To the best of my knowledge, for non-root pools the ZFS kernel module directly reads /etc/zfs/zpool.cache during module initialization and converts it into a series of in-memory pool configurations for pools, which are all in an unactivated state. At some point, magic things attempt to activate some or all of these pools, which causes the kernel to attempt to open all of the devices listed as part of the pool configuration and verify that they are indeed part of the pool. The process of opening devices only uses the names and other identification of the devices that's in the pool configuration; however, one identification is a 'devid', which for many devices is basically the model and serial number of the disk. So I believe that under at least some circumstances the kernel will still be able to find disks that have been shuffled around, because it will basically seek out that model plus serial number wherever it's (now) connected to the system.

(See vdev_disk_open in vdev_disk.c for the gory details, but you also need to understand Illumos devids. The various device information available for disks in a pool can be seen with 'zdb -C <pool>'.)

To the best of my knowledge, this in-kernel activation makes no attempt to hunt around on other disks to complete the pool's configuration the way that 'zpool import' will. In theory, assuming that finding disks by their devid works, this shouldn't matter most or basically all of the time; if that disk is there at all, it should be reporting its model and serial number and I think the kernel will find it. But I don't know for sure. I also don't know how the kernel acts if some disks take a while to show up, for example iSCSI disks.

(I suspect that the kernel only makes one attempt at pool activation and doesn't retry things if more devices show up later. But this entire area is pretty opaque to me.)

These days you also have your root filesystems on a ZFS pool, the root pool. There are definitely some special code paths that seem to be invoked during boot for a ZFS root pool, but I don't have enough knowledge of the Illumos boot time environment to understand how they work and how they're different from the process of loading and starting non-root pools. I used to hear that root pools were more fragile if devices moved around and you might have to boot from alternate media in order to explicitly 'zpool import' and 'zpool export' the root pool in order to reset its device names, but that may be only folklore and superstition at this point.

August 15th, 2017

Posted by Christopher Jobson

Paradise Parrot and Guadalupe Caracara, 2013. Crocheted yarn, hand carved pigeon mannequins, walnut stands.

When first engaging with these crocheted bird suits by artist Laurel Roth Hope it’s not without a bit of whimsy and an immediately appreciation for her skill with yarn and needle. The colorful one-of-a-kind sweaters are each designed to fit a standard urban pigeon, complete with a hood retrofitted with eye and beak holes. While the project isn’t without a bit of humor, its warning is particularly dire: each suit represents an extinct bird species and highlights the futility of restoring lost biodiversity. The works are purposely displayed on hand-carved pigeon mannequins to suggest that animals we most abhor are often the ones most capable of thriving within a human-made environment.

Hope has worked as a natural-resource conservator and park ranger, both of which have deeply influenced her artwork that explores themes of environmental harm, extinction, and consumerism. You can see many more of her Biodiversity Reclamation Suits in this gallery.

Concord, 2008. Cotton, silk, bamboo, wool, and acrylic. Blended yarn mannequin: basswood, acrylic paint, gouache, glass, pewter, and walnut.

Seychelles Parakeet, 2015. Crocheted yarn, handmade pigeon mannequin, walnut stand.

Urban Pigeons: Dodo II, 2014. Crocheted yarn, handmade pigeon mannequin, walnut stand.

Passenger Pigeon II, 2014. Crocheted yarn, handmade pigeon mannequin, walnut stand.

Carolina Parakeet, 2009. Crocheted yarn, hand carved pigeon mannequin, walnut stand.

Carolina Parakeet (detail)

Bachman’s Warbler, 2015. Crocheted yarn, handmade resin pigeon mannequin, walnut stand.

posted by [syndicated profile] datagenetics_feed at 12:00am on 15/08/2017
posted by [syndicated profile] clivethompson_feed at 04:19pm on 15/08/2017

Posted by Clive

Plants in beakers, genetically altered to try and improve their rates of photosynthesis

Hacking photosynthesis to improve agriculture. A delightful and illustrated introduction to compilers. The volcanos of the Antarctic. The Internet Archive has put up a huge collection of HyperCard projects, viewable in an online emulator. Luuuuunngs … innnnnnnn … spaaaaaaaaceHow big can a planet be? Gender-enforcement #1: A kid’s entertainer reflects on why parents won’t let their boys put “girly” stuff on their face. Gender-enforcement #2: Why won’t men work as health-care aides? Not only do they think it’s unmanly, but their wives do too. Yes, we should teach our kids to code: MORSE CODE, that is. Drive over a “non-Newtonian” speed bump slowly, and it’s soft; drive fast, and it’s hard.

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Posted by Kate Sierzputowski

Czech artist Jakub Geltner (previously) has been clustering groups of technological equipment in public spaces since 2011, creating installations that address the heightened state of surveillance in our contemporary world. Arranged as ‘nests,’ the sculptures interrupt both natural landscape and urban environments, making the viewer innately aware of how closely they are being watched.

One of Geltner’s latest installations is Nest 06, is a group of cameras installed alongside a pathway leading to the beach in Sydney, Australia created for Sculpture by the Sea. Attached to a curved pole, the devices stare directly down at any passersby with over a dozen watchful eyes. Nest 7, another recent work, dots the side of an aging brick building at Chateau Třebešice, bringing surveillance to the countryside rather than a bustling urban setting.

posted by [syndicated profile] torque_control_feed at 03:39pm on 15/08/2017

Posted by Jo Lindsay Walton

You may have noticed a few changes to the Vector website. Changes may be ongoing for a while. The old Vector has woven its cocoon, but the new one has not quite emerged.

All the older content has been preserved, but some of it has been tucked away. Here is where you’ll find information about the 2010 special publication Twenty Years, Two Surveys. Here you can find still-mostly-live links list associated with a discussion, in the same year, about the under-representation of women in speculative fiction. Torque Control has become the ‘News’ tab you’re reading now. The old open thread is located here.

Smarter Every Day cocoonAnd speaking of threads: of course, even transitional arrangements can still require serious thought. Here, the long suspension thread is probably to dishearten ants, and the loosely-woven chrysalis is probably to prevent rainwater from pooling. Image credit: Smarter Every Day, still from ‘Nature’s 3D Printer.’ 


posted by [syndicated profile] torque_control_feed at 03:02pm on 15/08/2017

Posted by vectoreditors

Two new editorial elements have been detected in Vector space. As Vector says goodbye to Anna McFarlane and Glyn Morgan, we are joined by Polina Levontin (who boasts both quantity and magnitude!) and Jo Lindsay Walton (who transmits pathogens!) as the journal’s new editors. Anna will remain editor for #285, with Polina and Jo taking over from #286 in early 2018.

Polina Levontin picPolina Levontin is also an environmental scientist, whose research often explores methods of modelling and analysing  risk, and of synthesising and presenting different forms of knowledge for purposes of supporting decision-making. She has a PhD in Fishing and Fisheries Sciences and Management from Imperial College London, as well as Master’s degrees in Environmental Science, in Algebra and Number Theory, and in Comparative Literature. Polina’s recent SF criticism has focused on the representation of scientists and science in Nigerian speculative fiction.

Jo glassesJo Lindsay Walton has a Master’s in Social and Political Theory from Birkbeck and a PhD in Creative Writing from Northumbria University. His research within SF studies mostly focuses on economics, particularly the representation of money and alternatives to money in contemporary speculative fiction. He also runs the small poetry press Sad Press and is a director of the Sputnik Awards for SFF.


Posted by Christopher Jobson

In this new short film, director Alex Gorosh walks us through next week’s total solar eclipse and explains why it’s so important to see it. The mix of archival footage, scientific explanation, and a brief outdoor simulation to demonstrate scale similar to his 2015 video about the solar system, all make a compelling emotional argument that this eclipse shouldn’t be missed. Just make sure you’re prepared.

posted by [syndicated profile] torque_control_feed at 02:18pm on 15/08/2017

Posted by Jo Lindsay Walton

The great Jeff Noon will be getting grilled by Matthew de Abaitua in London on 23rd August. All welcome (even non-members). For more information on this and future BSFA meetings, see the BSFA website.

Vurt Feather


posted by [syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed at 11:42am on 15/08/2017

Posted by John Scalzi

There’s the saying that “those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it,” but in order to learn your history, sometimes you have to dig deeper — much deeper — than what is commonly known. This is a fact that has relevance for author Beth Cato and her latest novel Call of Fire.

BETH CATO:

I love that historical fiction can be entertaining and educational at the same time. When I began to research prior to writing Breath of Earth, the first novel in this series, I was genuinely excited to delve deeper into turn-of-the-20th-century California history. My books feature a 1906 America that is allied with Japan to form the Unified Pacific, a world power in the midst of conquering China as part of its goal to dominate mainland Asian. I bought a number of books on Chinese immigration and experiences in America in that era.

As my research continued for my second book, the newly-released Call of Fire, I found that I dreaded reading more on the subject. I’ve been a history geek since I was a kid and I went into this with the knowledge that Chinese immigrants had been treated poorly, but I had no real comprehension of the horrific abuses they endured.

This wasn’t just about far-off California history anymore, either. This was about my hometown, the place I was born.

Like many other San Joaquin Valley cities, my hometown of Hanford was founded by the railroad in the late 19th century. Chinese men did much of the hard labor to lay the tracks and blast their way through mountains to connect the state with the larger continent. Centrally-located Hanford had one of the largest Chinese communities in the valley. These days, the city is proud of what remains of its China Alley. There’s a lovely tea room there, as well as a preserved Taoist Temple with a gift shop. The Moon Festival each October is a big draw.

When I was a kid, though, I was puzzled that Hanford still had its China Alley but other nearby cities–even larger ones like Visalia and Fresno–did not. My mom told me something like, “They were probably torn down over the years.” That made sense to me. Hanford’s China Alley has some decrepit buildings, too, and it’s only been in recent years that other parts have been lovingly restored to become a year-round attractions.

During my research, though, I finally found the real answer to my childhood question. The other Chinatowns weren’t simply torn down. In the 1880s and 1890s, they were firebombed and the surviving Chinese were run out of town. There were even race riots in vineyards near Fresno.

Hanford still managed to retain some of its Chinese population, but that didn’t mean all was well during that period. I found mention of an editorial from my hometown paper in 1893 that admonished young white women of the county to improve their kitchen skills so that they would not hire Chinese cooks.

I called up my mom. “Did you know about all of this?” She did not. I called up my grandma. Same answer.

That’s when I became angry.

What the Chinese had endured had been erased from local history. Men were murdered. Families terrorized. Livelihoods destroyed. Then the butchery and abuses they endured were forgotten.

When I write about these kinds of racist incidents in my books, I imagine many readers will think that the stuff is pure fiction, all part of the elevated drama of my alternate history. That’s exactly why I include an author’s note in each book along with an extensive bibliography (which I also have on my website at BethCato.com). I want readers to know about the ‘Dog Tag Law’ that required Chinese immigrants to carry an identity card, America’s first internal passport, starting in 1892. I want them to know what happened in Tacoma, Washington, and Honolulu, Hawaii.

I hope people enjoy my books Breath of Earth and Call of Fire, but I also want readers to learn, as I have, that our beloved hometowns may possess dark secrets that need to see the light. We can’t undo the crimes of the past, but we can learn. We can remember.

—-

Call of Fire: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.


posted by [syndicated profile] twentysidedtale_feed at 10:00am on 15/08/2017

Posted by Shamus

Last month I mentioned that I get certain hypothetical problems or situations stuck in my mind. I’m only just getting over one now. The hypothetical that’s been chasing me around for the last couple of months is one I’ll call the 70’s Suitcase Problem. Here is how it works:

What if you could send a package (let’s say suitcase-sized) to 1977? It will arrive at today’s date, minus 40 years. You can have it sent to whomever you like, but you can’t personally hang around and make sure it gets used properly. There’s nothing about this delivery that will convince the recipient that this package is from the future. There won’t be any flashing lights or vortexes or portals for them to see. All they see is the package on their doorstep, and they have no special knowledge of this experiment or your efforts. It’s up to your packaging to motivate the people of 1977 to open it and pay attention to the contents.

You also can’t enlist any large-scale help to fill this suitcase. You can’t call on NASA, or launch a “Help Save the 70s” Kickstarter. You don’t magically have access to classified data or government funding. Filling this suitcase comes down to you, your wits, and however much you’re willing to put on your credit card. (If you’re well-off then maybe limit yourself to 10k in spending, just so you’re working on the same problem as the rest of us.) For the purpose of the exercise, imagine you have a way to send the package, but there’s no way to prove this to anyone here in 2017.

What do you put in the package? What items or information will benefit them most? How will you get that information, how will you package it, and how will you entice the recipient to take it seriously?

Now, some of you might reject the entire premise of the project. Maybe you don’t want to mess with the timeline on practical grounds. We haven’t had a nuclear war (yet) and maybe you’re afraid mucking about in the Cold War era could change that. Or maybe you dislike messing with history on moral or aesthetic grounds. Maybe you feel like you don’t have the right to change the lives of basically everyone, even with the best of intentions. Or maybe you’re afraid that people, not ignorance, is the biggest problem in the World and so you don’t think that giving the same bunch of idiots a new set of information will improve life on This Here Earth. Or maybe you just don’t want the job.

That’s fine. You’re excused.

Maybe you don’t like thinking about it because messing with the timeline would cause you to not be born. For the sake of argument, let’s say this is some sort of Nu-Trek alternate timeline deal. You’ll still be here in your familiar 2017, but somewhere out there will be a new alternate history / multiverse type thing where a new timeline will fork off from ours in 1977 and go a different way, based on your intervention.

I suppose it should go without saying, but I’m proceeding under the assumption that our goal is to somehow make the world a better place. “Better” in this case is entirely up to you. Yes, you could use this opportunity to make yourself rich or powerful, or to simply perpetrate some prank on a global scale, but those sort of efforts fall outside the parameters of this exercise. That might make for an an interesting project, but it’s not this project.

For the purposes of discussion, we’ll refer to the recipient of the suitcase as Red Forman. Maybe your chosen Red Forman is a working class type, maybe they’re a scientist, or maybe they’re a politician. It’s up to you who gets it, but I’m going to call them Red.

You can use any container you like. If it’s legal dimensions for carry-on luggage, then you’re good. If you decide you want to put all your future treasure in a picnic basket, that’s your business. For the purposes of this article I’m calling it the “suitcase”.

Assuming you can buy into this premise, let’s get to work. It turns out this is a really complicated problem…

Density vs. Accessibility

Mr. President. We finally decoded those silver discs from the future. They contain references to someone named Harambe, a thousand copies of a song by some guy named Rick Astley, and forty terrabytes of pornography.

Mr. President. We finally decoded those silver discs from the future. They contain references to someone named Harambe, a thousand copies of a song by some guy named Rick Astley, and forty terrabytes of pornography.

I anticipate the most obvious and naive course of action will be to just cram a bunch of science knowledge into our suitcase. For example, maybe you want to send them the last 20+ years of scientific papers. (Stuff more than 20 years old might not be available online, or it might just be really hard to find. It depends on the field.) Annoyingly, many of these will be stuck in stupid PDF files. You can keep it in that format and leave it to the poor folks of 1977 to reverse-engineer that mess. Or you can print the files out, leaving them as paper / images. Or you can try to convert them to some other format. I’ll warn you this is probably harder than you imagine. Most papers aren’t raw text. There’s a lot of graphs, charts, photographs, diagrams, and complex math that will need to be converted. The people of 1977 don’t have any good multimedia formats so one way or another you’ve got your work cut out for you.

In fact, even if a scientific paper does happen to be all prose, it will still be hard for them to decipher. If you send them modern text files then they will be encoded in Unicode format, and most modern programmers can barely make sense of that mess. The problem is that our computers, storage formats, and data formats are all going to be alien to the people of 40-years-ago. If they want to read our modern discs then they they will need to decipher modern file systems, modern character sets, modern image conventions, modern video formats, and tons of other little details that will trip them up and confuse them.

And here we come to our first major problem, which is the trade-off between information density and information accessibility.

You can print everything out on paper and make it nice and convenient for the people of ’77 to read, but you’re not going to fit more than a few textbooks worth of information like that[3]. That’s probably not the best use of this space. You also won’t be able to share audio or video information. On the other hand, you can burn a big stack of DVDs for our ancestors. There’s lots of room for cool stuff on those. Video files, raw scientific data, jumbo image files from NASA, and lots of other goodies. The problem is… What the heck is Red Forman supposed to do with a DVD?

Maybe you think you’re being clever by giving them a couple of working DVD drives to work from. That’s nice of you, but remember that the typical consumer-grade electronics of the day held a hilariously tiny 4k of memory. Maybe there are some government or university machines available that have 100 times that. Even so, that’s still less than a megabyte. It still leaves your recipient almost five orders of magnitude short of being able to store the contents of even one disc.

Just because they have a DVD drive doesn’t mean they have the ability to interface with one. Can their computers talk fast enough to keep up with the DVD? Can they even store a single buffer-load of data? Do they even know how to decipher the file system, much less the various audio, video, and text formats you’re using? Do they have the ability to store the information once they manage to read it?

A single DVD is 4.7 gigabytes. Back in 1980, you couldn’t buy even one gigabyte of storage. The largest commercial drives were a minuscule 26 megabytes. You’d need 180 of those suckers just to store a single DVD. At $5,000 a pop, that would run you about a million dollars. Just for the storage. Of one disc.

And we haven’t even tried to buy memory yet!

This is the <a href=`https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osborne_Computer_Corporation`>Osborne 1</a>, a cutting-edge computer of the time period. Its 64kb of RAM means it can only store 0.001% of the data from a DVD. Heck, it wouldn`t even be able to fit this picture of itself (90kb) into memory. Oh, and the Osborne 1 didn`t actually come out until 1981, so it`s still a bit beyond the reach of consumer hardware in 1977.
This is the Osborne 1, a cutting-edge computer of the time period. Its 64kb of RAM means it can only store 0.001% of the data from a DVD. Heck, it wouldn't even be able to fit this picture of itself (90kb) into memory. Oh, and the Osborne 1 didn't actually come out until 1981, so it's still a bit beyond the reach of consumer hardware in 1977.

Building a computer that could interface with a modern DVD player, read its files, and display its data in a user-readable way would be an enormous job for the people of 1977. It might not be quite as big as the Apollo program, but you’re definitely talking about something with a billion-dollar price tag. It would be a job for governments or very large corporations. It’s going to be tough for poor Red Forman to get either one to put up that kind of cash without being able to demonstrate some kind of worthwhile return on investment.

The more densely you pack the information, the more expensive it will be for them to obtain it. The more expensive it is, the harder it will be to persuade them to pay for the R&D to get to it.

Maybe you could help them out and drop a laptop in there. That’s nice of you, but we still have all the data “trapped” on a future machine. How will this information be shared? Will the entire scientific community make a pilgrimage to THE LAPTOP ROOM and take turns sitting in THE LAPTOP CHAIR, smacking Page Down over and over as they read through the papers related to their field? That’s going to create an incredible bottleneck. It will be years before they can get the information to the people that need it. At that rate you might as well leave a note for Red Forman to stick the package in the attic for a decade and wait for computers to advance enough that it won’t be so hard to extract data from these magical future disks. I guess that works, but it would be nice if we could give them a bit more help. It’s going to take bloody ages for everyone to digest these studies anyway, so the sooner they can get to the point of mass distribution, the better off they’ll be.

Alien Technology

In Independance Day (1996) the good guys upload a virus to an alien computer. It`s the most implausible moment in a movie that already has a hilariously young Bill Pullman playing the president.

In Independance Day (1996) the good guys upload a virus to an alien computer. It`s the most implausible moment in a movie that already has a hilariously young Bill Pullman playing the president.

I said before that our technology will be alien to the people of the past. So now maybe you’re thinking that we need to stop mucking about trying to print out the internet for them. Maybe what would work better is giving them a couple examples of working 2017 technology, a few specification sheets, and letting them build their own DVD players and laptops.

This is going to be harder than it sounds.

Knowing how something works doesn’t mean you know how to build it. Imagine if you dropped a 1977 car off in 1850. Sure, they could probably wrap their heads around the tech, particularly if you left an explanation on the front seat. But they don’t have the chemistry to make the fuel, the lubricant, the tires, the battery, or the plastic parts. They don’t have the metallurgy to make the specialty steel. Worst of all, they don’t have the machine technology to make parts with such precise tolerances. The people of 1850 can figure out how the 1977 car works, but they will be totally unable to build one themselves. Sure, they can substitute their own crude versions of all the tricky parts, but the resulting automobile is probably going to look an awful lot like the rudimentary cars they were already building.

The problems get to be even more extreme when you’re taking about building 2017 devices in 1977. Chip technology is greatly influenced by the size of the wafer you can grow in your lab and the size of the circuits you can make. The transistors on modern chips are only a few nanometers across. A working example of this kind of chip won’t be particularly helpful to the poor sods of 1977, who can’t make chips that big and who can’t make transistors smaller than a micron[4].

Instead of trying to imagine things in the realm of nanometers, let’s scale this problem up to the visible realm. Imagine you’re drawing circuits on a piece of notebook paper with a quality ballpoint pen. The more lines you can fit on that sheet of paper, the faster your computer chip will go. So you pack those lines as close together as you can. Now I’m going to take away your 2017 tools. Instead of a ballpoint pen, you have to use a big knobby chunk of sidewalk chalk that makes marks the size of an American quarter dollar. And instead of a standard piece of paper, you have to draw your lines on a postcard. I can show you a chip made in ballpoint pen, but it won’t help you improve the one you’re trying to draw on a postcard with sidewalk chalk.

Essentially, the key technology in your smartphone isn’t inside the smartphone itself, it’s inside the factories and fabs where the parts are made.

Sure, you can include Wikipedia articles on modern fab technology. The problem is that a lot of the really important stuff is secret, the stuff that isn’t secret is still pretty dang hard to find, and there’s a lot of it. Making better cleanrooms requires numerous improvements to air filtration, clothing materials, building construction, cleaning apparatus, HVAC and airflow control, and a bunch of other things. The Czochralski Process is similarly a complex network of interconnected tools, processes, machines, and chemistry to produce the silicon wafers we need to make computer chips. The process was around well before 1977, but we’ve made huge strides since then and those improvements are numerous and complex. Photolithography – the sorcery we use to make integrated circuits from all those silicon wafers – is similarly a web of ever-improving techniques and tools. None of this stuff is documented on Wikipedia in enough detail to enable the people of the past to make that 40-year leap.

The modern microprocessor isn’t a single invention, it’s a hundred inventions. And even once you master the technology required to produce a chip, you’ve still got to work out how the circuits should be laid out. The people of 1977 can handle the job, sure. But it will take time to design a good chip. Maybe you can send them a map of ours, but I’m betting those designs are proprietary and not something you can easily download. You can give them an example chip to study under a microscope and reverse-engineer, but that might be less efficient than just designing their own.

The Future is Expensive

The IBM 5110, which came out in 1978. Sure, that screen seems small. But what do you expect for a lousy $18,000?

The IBM 5110, which came out in 1978. Sure, that screen seems small. But what do you expect for a lousy $18,000?

No matter how we do this, it’s going to cost them a lot of money to access anything stored on a format they don’t already use. Which is a shame, since all of their storage formats are terrible. You can stick video on VCR, audio on cassettes, and print everything else on paper, but you’ll run out of room in your suitcase really fast.

More importantly, you need to get them to spend the money in the first place. If Red Forman opens up the suitcase and sees it packed wall-to-wall with DVDs, what will motivate him to undertake the expensive and time-consuming task of unlocking all of that information treasure?

Maybe you’ll trade out some of the papers for floppy discs, since Red Forman can already read those. Or maybe you’re worried about data degradation and you’d rather not entrust such important data to fragile magnetic media. Then again, can you write a floppy in 2017 that Red can read in 1977? Operating systems and file formats are not interchangeable. From the Wikipedia article on floppy disk formats:

Floppy disk format and density refer to the logical and physical layout of data stored on a floppy disk. Since their introduction, there have been many popular and rare floppy disk types, densities, and formats used in computing, leading to much confusion over their differences.

Sure, you might be able to buy a floppy drive on Ebay and download DOS Box. Maybe you’re good buddies with someone like Clint Basinger and you can use his retro MS-DOS gear to make some floppies for the nice people of 1977. That’s cool and I envy your access to cool people with cool technology, but that’s not necessarily going to close the gap between you and Red Forman. MS-Dos didn’t arrive until 1981. If you want Red to be able to read your discs, then you need a drive that can properly write 1977 floppies, an operating system (probably CP/M) that can write in a format Red’s computer can understand, and floppy discs that are physically compatible with both.

Who is Red Forman?

mumble something-something-something FOOT UP YOUR ASS! (Laugh track plays.)

mumble something-something-something FOOT UP YOUR ASS! (Laugh track plays.)

You can pick anyone you like to receive the package. Who do you choose? Will this man or woman believe what they find? Will they be responsible with it?

Maybe they’ll start filing for patents based on the stuff you send them. Maybe they’ll share all the tech with government powers that will do some kind of Area 51 deal, and the advances won’t benefit the general public. Maybe they will share the information as you desire, but they’ll also mix in their own (fake) information to further some personal, financial, or political agenda. Maybe they’ll try to pretend they have personally invented, discovered, or devised all the secrets you’re sharing with them. Maybe they’ll be careless and end up destroying some of the information or gadgets. Maybe they will object to some of the information and quietly destroy the bits they don’t agree with. Maybe personal problems will intrude and they’ll procrastinate on this box of confusing information, which means it might languish for years. Maybe they’ll get robbed soon after announcing what they’ve found.

Maybe they’ll auction off the contents to strangers who are likely to do all of the above.

You want someone who has some sort of money, power, or influence so that they can’t be easily robbed or overpowered by financial, legal, or bureaucratic pressures. You want someone trustworthy and principled. You want someone who will share the information in a way that aligns with your vision. You want someone old enough to be wise, young enough to have all their wits, and at the right point int their life that they can afford to worry about this business. (Couples with new babies or lots of young children are probably not the best people to entrust with tons of additional responsibility.)

Before You Hit “Send”…

This completely ruins my suspension of disbelief. There`s no way you could get one of those mail trucks up to 88 miles per hour.

This completely ruins my suspension of disbelief. There`s no way you could get one of those mail trucks up to 88 miles per hour.

To sum up, here are the questions we’re trying to answer:

  1. Who gets the package?
  2. How will you entice this person to examine the package, take it seriously, and distribute the information according to your wishes?
  3. How will you store information in the suitcase, and what format will you use?
  4. What information will you send them?

I know you’re probably all eager to jump down to the comments and tell us all about the awesome plan you’ve got, but the point of the exercise is to take some time and think it over. I can promise you, the plan you have a week from now will be vastly superior to the half-baked scheme you cooked up while reading this article. I say this as someone who has spent months involuntarily thinking about the problem. The more time you give it, the more complete the plan will be.

Give the idea a week. Talk it over. You can’t enlist government help and funding, but you’re not forbidden from asking around. Get advice from friends. Ask the technology and science nerds on that one forum you always frequent. Get feedback and refine the plan.

Next week I’ll do another post where we can share our plans and show our work. Meanwhile, let’s use the comments this week to talk about the exercise itself. I’m sure I overlooked some challenges, so now would be a good time to point those out.

posted by [syndicated profile] dg_weblog_feed at 07:00am on 15/08/2017

Posted by diamond geezer

The Garden Bridge will absolutely definitely not be built.

The Chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust threw in the towel yesterday.
"The Garden Bridge Trust, the charity established to build and run the proposed Garden Bridge in central London, today announced that it will be winding up the project. It has informed the Mayor of London, as well as Transport for London (TfL) and the Department for Transport, who have both allocated public funds to the project, of its decision. The Trust has had no choice but to take this decision because of lack of support for the project going forward from the Mayor."
I went down to Temple station and wept.



This lacklustre corner of the Northbank could have been transformed by groundbreaking design, but instead has nothing going for it, as can be clearly seen from the featureless roof terrace above the station.

What kind of a view is this supposed to be?



It's impossible to see the Thames because there are trees in the way. How much better it would have been to chop them down and replace them with plants on a bridge. But no, the new Mayor thought he knew better.

He's also turned his back on a direct crossing of the Thames at the precise location London needs it most. At present it's almost impossible to walk from Temple to the South Bank, not without hiking four minutes to Waterloo Bridge and crossing there, which inconveniences hundreds of people daily.



And have you seen the view from Waterloo Bridge? There's not a beautiful flower in sight, which there could have been if only the Mayor hadn't been so pettily narrow-minded.

Queueing to cross a sponsored garden would have been a proper experience, smiling at the security guards on the way through the gates, then weaving through the heavy crowds without breaking any of the bye-laws.

What's more the bridge would only have been closed to the public for twelve days a year, or every day if you were a cyclist, because the last thing central London needs is another superhighway.



It's hard to believe that this desolate stretch of the South Bank won't now be demolished. The site currently suffers from scrappy grass, litter-strewn tarmac and a bloke trying to flog smoothies, when it could contain so much more!

How much more realistic to replace it with a beautiful bridge, the space underneath artfully crammed with gift shops and cafes - tourist facilities criminally lacking in the locality at present.



London could have had another world class attraction like the cablecar or the Orbit, but instead a dazzling icon conjured up by the previous Mayor has been cruelly spurned. Fewer international visitors will now flock to our great capital, and we will all be poorer for it.

£37m of public money has been wasted on this drawn-out planning debacle, which is entirely the fault of Sadiq Khan for lacking vision, and definitely not the bridge's trustees who couldn't raise the money themselves.

Next time a privatised bridge comes along demanding public funds, pretending to be a transport link rather than a tourist attraction, we should have the nerve to embrace its folly whatever the long-term cost.



Instead these trees survive, the existing view remains, no further money will be wasted, and some quite rich people have seen their dreams of a floating paradise cruelly dashed. Weep with me.

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