Category Archives


Explaining a paradox

Kurz Gesagt (don’t feel bad – first I’ve heard of, too) has published a truly adorable look at the Fermi Paradox, something I find myself pondering more than is healthy. It’s really clear and informative and terribly cute, as well but it mostly caught my attention because of how much it reminded me of these animations from 2005’s take on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

Anything that can remind me of this gem amongst novels and its film adaptation…well, its creators must be “good people”.


The generated book

It’s National Novel Writing Month, but for those of you less interested in human-generated works, the National Novel Generation Month might be of more interest. As The Verge shares, NaNoGenMo, a creation of Darius Kazemi, is about celebrating the best in creative narrative writing code, and there are some really compelling (if not entirely readable) works to be found in the GitHub repository. Below are a few of my favorites.

From Generated Detective #1:

a noir comic with Project Gutenberg text and magna-fied Flickr pics by Greg Borenstein

From Threnody for Abraxas:

Pro-tip from the author: The enjoyment of reading this work may possibly be enhanced if one imagines it narrated in the voice of, say, David Attenborough or James Earl Jones.

Elsewhere nearby, the amusingly European sculpture, whose perfect key is cynically surveying the transparent stick and an incredible junkie and the heart behind the classical image, is approaching the mouse-cheesecake and a homunculus under the taxicab. A partly rare escutcheon is leaping on top of an axiomatically salty disease. The tedious oyster is lauding the clementine, while a brain-flavoured après-ski is an extraneous easel.

The breeze is chasing the meaningless entrepreneur and the florid shin-bone, whose shoe is decaying smoothly on top of the spring and a rainy jug of baubles, while the fire extinguisher is curtly caressing a shaman. An iceberg is the robust servant. The shoe is surveying a gooey statue, which is forgiving an irascible ladle on top of a mannequin, inside the sword-swallower. A supersonically cynical quote is the comic book.

“a phantasmagoric Surrealist word/concept-painting” by Chris Pressey 

From Seraphs:

an automatically generated Voynich Manuscript style text by Liza Daly

From The Last Appetite:

Sun Dried Corn Grit Fettucine

  • 310 milligrams of corn grit
  • 660 grams of clam
  • 20 grams of mango
  • 270 grams of mustard
  • 20 milligrams of mozzarella cheese
  • 240 grams of french toast

Stare at the corn grit and clam for 10 minutes. Broil the mango and mustard until a thick layer of mould forms. Marinate the mozzarella cheese and french toast until mushy. Contrive a fettucine. Chill overnight.

modernist cuisine recipes inspired by Nathan Myhrvold, created by Phil Lees

Well, if your kids can draw like this…

The Battle of the Fruit and Vegetable Soldiers

The Battle of the Fruit and Vegetable Soldiers

In celebration of Darwin’s 205th birthday yesterday, The Appendix urges visitors to check out the original manuscript of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.  Why?  Well, aside from some interesting notes in the margins and amazing drawings from the birthday boy himself, there are also these amazing drawings, like above, from his children (all ten of them).  Honestly, I’d hang most of them on my walls without thinking twice.

Collect all 112M titles

Looking for a way to jazz up your used book sales?  Try the Biblio-Mat, which promises to convert $2 into a randomly selected title from its inventory.  Genius.

Where stuff gets done

Really big stuff, in fact.  Like 20 km high towers into space big.  At least that’s what Neal Stephenson is up to with his amazing Hieroglyph project.  io9‘s article on the potential impact of a massive stairway to the stars led me to “Innovation Starvation“, an essay by Mr. Stephenson in which he derides science fiction – his own chosen genre – as being dreadfully lazy for a generation. Some choice quotes that sum up the gist of his argument:

The imperative to develop new technologies and implement them on a heroic scale no longer seems like the childish preoccupation of a few nerds with slide rules. It’s the only way for the human race to escape from its current predicaments. Too bad we’ve forgotten how to do it.

In a world where decision-makers are so close to being omniscient, it’s easy to see risk as a quaint artifact of a primitive and dangerous past.

Today’s belief in ineluctable certainty is the true innovation-killer of our age.

io9 further quotes Stephenson from another interview as saying “Everything got put on hold for a generation,” while civilization busied itself with figuring out the Internet.  While this point is certainly likely to be true, it does provide some hope.  Not only does the Internet enable us to access all of the optimism of innovative science fiction thinking of the past (plug: and even take a class about it online), it also immediately connects visionaries like Stephenson with the young engineers in Israel, Finland and Japan who are itching to build something really big.  (There was no Kickstarter when Clarke pitched the space elevator, after all…)

And that’s not such a small thing, is it?

Text-based horror

Having played my fair share of text-based adventure games as a kid, I can tell you the joy that was getting to the occasional point when a crazy-awful illustration would pop onto the screen after multiple pages of story whizzed past.  And when we progressed to mostly picture based games, the illustrations were an ever-present fact of storytelling, even if they didn’t really look all that fantastic.

Fast forward to now and we have io9 presenting us with haunting animated gifs in the style of vintage computer games by Uno Moralez.  It’s like Zen & The Art of The Macintosh gone spooky.

Musical accompaniment: 1Q84

Fuka-EriI have always loved listening to music while I read.  Every once in awhile I find an album that perfectly matches up with a book when I do this, like Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson and El Oso by Soul Coughing (especially “St. Louise is Listening“).  And sometimes a novel is designed to be a complement to a record from the very start (much to my delight).  Poe’s Haunted and her brother, Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is the most notable and creepiest of these matches.  So I’m always listening with a keen ear for synchronicities between the words I’m reading and the sounds with which I’m filling in the background.

While reading Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, I kept longing for a soundtrack to accompany the weirdly stilted world of Aomame, Tengo, Ushikawa, the Dowager, Fuka-Eri and Tamaru.  As it would happen, Purity Ring’s “Fineshrine” popped onto my iTunes and perfectly captured the mood – and exploding ribs – of Murakami’s crazy book.  “I bet I could dig up enough ethereal, oddball music to do a soundtrack justice,” I thought – and then quickly forgot.  It’s Tumblr that should be credited with making the idea re-emerge and stick, though.  The image above made its way into my infinite scroll and reminded me so much of Eriko Fukado that I recalled my playlist plan as I recognized how perfect it would be as artwork.

So here we are, 1Q84‘s musical accompaniment:

  1. Sinfonietta “I. Allegretto” – Leoš Janáček
  2. “This is Where the Road Belongs” – Fol Chen
  3. “Everything is Wrong” – Blonde Redhead
  4. “Night Sight” – Air
  5. “Fineshrine” – Purity Ring
  6. “Carry” – Zambri
  7. “Kill Me” – The Golden Filter
  8. “Iron” – Woodkid
  9. “The Modern Things” – High Places
  10. “Moonlight” – Ruby Frost
  11. “When I Grow Up” – First Aid Kit
  12. “10,000 Claps” – Phantogram
  13. “I’m In Here” – Sia
  14. “Gleypa okkur” – Ólafur Arnalds
  15. “0078h” – M83
  16. “Inch of Dust” – Future Islands
  17. “Noise on the Line” – Darkness Falls
  18. “Perfection” – Oh Land
  19. “Realize It’s Not the Sun” – Hooray for Earth
  20. “Ekki múkk” – Sigur Rós
  21. “know the way (outro)” – Grimes
  22. “It’s Only a Paper Moon” – Lester Young

Download the entire playlist for your very own listen right now.

Cyberpunk Saves the Day

Just as when we were on the cusp of cyberpunk and didn’t know it, I’m hoping now for another new breed of writers, people who can craft drive-by speculations that leave us gasping with surprise.

My love of all things 80s and 90s artsy/techie of course has bred in me a fascination with the ethos of the cyberpunk.  It doesn’t help that I’m also a Stephenson junkie and a Gibson supporter…  Paolo Bacigalupi’s “How Cyberpunk Saved Sci-Fi” was a delightful find in the latest issue of Wired magazine.  (And it’s available to read for free online now, too.)

Perhaps not too surprising since the staff at Wired’s always been on the cyberpunk bandwagon, though.  Probably actually helping turn its tenets into our reality.

Missing the Point?

I know, I know:  some people love the feel of a real, printed book in their hands and prefer the act of reading words on a printed page.  I completely understand that they are out there.  Many of my good friends (and family members) are librarians!

But this just seems like a massive waste of resources.  This being the Espresso Book Machine, that is.  Basically, it’s the exact opposite of the future that I had hoped for when the iPad (not the new one or the former new one, but the original) was announced.  That future being a world where only the most masterful, artistic books would make it to print.  The books that celebrate the art of bookmaking or truly take advantage of the affordances of paper.  Books as only a vehicle for knowledge delivery would be absorbed into the digital publishing realm and many a forest would rejoice!

Instead, this machine seems poised to make very physical digitally stored versions of books for potentially single-purpose use and on demand at that.  Perhaps it’s cheaper than a fleet of iPads or other e-readers, but it sure does seem silly, doesn’t it?