Iain Pears’ Arcadia

I recently read Arcadia, by Iain Pears. It’s a good book, a great book even, but I still have mixed feelings about it.



Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Three interlocking worlds. Four people looking for answers. But who controls the future—or the past?

In 1960s Oxford, Professor Henry Lytten is attempting to write a fantasy novel that forgoes the magic of his predecessors, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. He finds an unlikely confidante in his quick-witted, inquisitive young neighbor Rosie. One day, while chasing Lytten’s cat, Rosie encounters a doorway in his cellar. She steps through and finds herself in an idyllic, pastoral land where Storytellers are revered above all others. There she meets a young man who is about to embark on a quest of his ownand may be the one chance Rosie has of returning home. These breathtaking adventures ultimately intertwine with the story of an eccentric psychomathematician whose breakthrough discovery will affect all of these different lives and worlds.

Dazzlingly inventive and deeply satisfying, Arcadia tests the boundaries of storytelling and asks: If the past can change the future, then might the future also indelibly alter the past?

It’s got a dystopic future, a Narnia-like pastoral land, and 1960’s England – all the best things – rolled into one story. The way you are introduced to the effect of a character’s choices before you see the action occur is clever. The way the narrative coils in upon itself as you read is brilliant.

But – but – I spent the whole time thinking, “I’m not smart enough to read this book,” and wishing I could read it in one go rather than in bits and parts in between all the other things I have to do. Arcadia is a book that demands things of you. Your time, your undivided attention. And that’s not bad, in case I’m making it sound bad. But, if you’re going to read it, do it when you have a solid block of time to devote to it. It’s not a book to pick up for 15 minutes on your break, or for half an hour before bed.

Interestingly, the book was written to be read as an app for iPhone and iPad. You can read the ten strands of the narrative separately and each is a complete story. You can read bits of each – whatever you like. I think this format would have better fit my needs and made the experience more enjoyable.

Should you read it? Absolutely. At first it sounds like a weird kitchen-sink mish-mash of sci-fi and fantasy, but it absolutely works in the end.



Rick and Morty Pumpkin Stencils


It’s not Fall yet, I know, but I love me some Halloween. And my newest obsession is Rick and Morty. If you Googled your way here you don’t need me to tell you how awesome that is. If not, then feast your ocular appendages on this:

But it gets better! Adult Swim has posted Rick and Morty pumpkin stencils on their website. You can choose from Mr. Meeseeks, Rick, or Morty.

RaMJacksCheck out these examples by reddit user /u/OzmaofAK

Now go make your own. They are the best thing ever.



Gravity Falls X Rick and Morty: Callback or Coincidence?

I noticed something just now while watching Auto Erotic Assimilation. Just a throwaway piece of animation:

Rick_and_Morty_Season_2_Episode_3_Auto_Erotic_Assimilation_Full_Screen_720p_HDIt reminded me of this little bit of twin humour in Gravity Falls:

Gravity_Falls_SDCC_2015_Look_AheadCoincidence? Yeah maybe. I have no idea if the production schedules would have allowed this to happen on purpose, but it still makes me smile. And, I mean, the two shows have done this before:

So, in conclusion, I’m bored and it doesn’t take much to amuse me…



Sousveillance: We Watch the Watchmen

Everybody knows what surveillance is: it’s the closed circuit cameras in every store; it’s the security agencies archiving years’ worth of emails and web searches; it’s the Big Brother type of always-on recording of our daily lives by authorities from above. In fact, the term surveillance comes from a French term meaning “to watch from above.”


The dangers and fears about surveillance are well known, so I am only going to cover them briefly. The technology that exists today allows governments to monitor the activities and behaviors of citizens in several ways: through the collection of personal information; intercepting postal and digital transactions; and the use video cameras.

When agents of the state can access the private interactions of citizens, so the theory goes, those citizens will start to police themselves; falling into line and being more obedient. Privacy is put at risk since no one can hide: Big Brother can see us wherever we are. The totalitarian state wins by seeing all dissent and being able to stamp it out in real time, before it becomes a problem.

But the same technology that allows the state and its authorities to watch its citizens, allows citizens to watch back. Smartphones capable of recording and uploading video are everywhere. This is a fact of life in 2014. Those cameras are only going to get more numerous as wearable computer becomes more common. It seems that we are creating a society of transparency, rather than a dystopian panopticon.

Sousveillance, then, is watching from below. When regular people observe and record the events of their lives and of their interactions with the state, the power dynamic of the interaction changes radically. The beauty of sousveillance is that it offers a credible threat of exposure to those misusing power.
If it is possible to film everyone all the time, chances are you are going to get caught in your wrongdoing, whether or not you have any power. The very possibility is going to be enough to dissuade some wrongdoers. So, instead of hiding from Big Brother, everyone gets to see everything: in a society of sousveillance no one hides.

This change in the dynamic of power can be seen in a recent case of alleged police brutality in Denver. David Flores was beaten by police because they suspected him of hiding drugs in his mouth, inside a white sock. When his pregnant girlfriend screamed at them to stop she was beaten as well.
A bystander, Levi Frasier, filmed the interaction on his Samsung tablet until he was noticed by the police. One of the officers shouted, “Camera!” and came over to Frasier demanding the tablet. When he returned it, the video had been deleted. Luckily, the video was already saved to cloud storage and Frasier was able to retrieve it later.

The official police story of this interaction goes like this: Flores was assisted out of his car, but then fell. He was punched repeatedly in the face to keep him from choking on the sock, and he was later taken to hospital. His wife was tripped because she might have been about to kick the officers. The Denver police refuse to comment on the video unless Frasier files a formal complaint. If not for this footage, it would have been the police officers’ word against Frasier and Flores. Now it is easy to prove to a skeptical public when the police and any other state agents have overstepped their bounds.

People in Canada and the United States have the right to film the actions of the police. In 2013 the United States’ courts and the President of the United States each affirmed that American citizens have the right to film any interactions with the state. In Canada courts have held that citizens have the right to film police interactions. While there is no specific Canadian law enshrining this right, there is also no law prohibiting citizens from doing so.

For sousveillance to work as intended it is important for there to be some system set up to protect concerned citizens from the state and corporate interests. The American Civil Liberties Union in Oregon has recently taken a step in that direction, launching its Mobile Justice App at the beginning of November.

The Mobile Justice App is based on a similar one released by the New York Civil Liberties Union in 2012 – Stop and Frisk Watch. The new app is designed to record footage of police interactions and upload the data straight to the ACLU for review. Thus, there is no need to worry about seizure of recording devices by the police.
According to the ACLU website the app has four main features: record, witness, report, and know your rights. First, ‘Record’ allows you to record interactions with the police. ‘Witness’ alerts nearby mobile users that you have been stopped by the police and suggests they might want to record for you. ‘Report’ allows you to transmit a written account to the ACLU alongside your video. Finally, Know your Rights provides an overview of your rights when interacting with police officers.

The app is free, and an iPhone version is to be released in early 2015. As of yet there is not a Canadian equivalent to Mobile Justice, and since the app comes from the Oregon branch of the ACLU, the information is regarding rights in the state of Oregon. Yet, this type of application shows that omnipresent cameras need not lead to an Orwellian panopticon.

It is not surprising that police officers are opposed to citizens being armed with cameras. Or maybe it is: always-on recording helps the police as well. When officers are equipped with body cameras and dashboard cameras, complaints against them drop off precipitously. Police are less likely to engage in improper behaviour, but citizens are also less likely to make unfounded complaints against officers.

For the better part of a century, science fiction authors have warned us about a future where the government is always watching. But advances in video recording and wearable computing have made cameras cheap and widely available to regular people. We may not need to worry so much about Big Brother watching; if we are careful and vigilant, we can usher in an age of transparency where we watch back.


3D Pizza Printer is the Best Thing Ever

I love pizza. Sure, everyone does right? But I mean I looooove pizza. I would marry it if I could. You know, with a tiny veil and a little bouquet for my little pizza bride…um, never mind.

So here is some awesome pizza related news from NASA! When you combine NASA and pizza, you know you’re in for a good time. NASA has handed out a $125,000.00 grant to Systems and Materials Research Corporation, based in Austin Texas, to develop a 3D food printer, which would print food on demand from canisters containing powdered nutrients. Check out this schematic:

via qz.com

Senior Mechanical Engineer Anjan Contractor won the grant with his proof of concept video, which shows a 3D printer printing chocolate. Apparently chocolate printing is not as new as I thought it was, and it’s damn boring to watch considering it’s implications for the future. But watch it anyway, Okay?

Of course NASA isn’t doing this out of the goodness of its heart, but rather with an eye to feeding its astronauts on interplanetary journeys. One of the main features of the 3D food printer is that it printers from canisters of powdered nutrients which will be shelf stable for up to 30 years.

So, Mr. Contractor’s first order of business is to construct a device capable of 3D printing a pizza, a food chosen because of its distinct layers. First the crust gets printed, and cooked as it prints (I have no idea how that would work), then the tomato sauce, then a nebulous sounding “protein layer” which I guess would mimic cheese. I think they could have spun that last bit a little better, don’t you? By calling it ‘space cheese’ or something? Wait. Maybe that’s actually worse…


But I’d still eat it. And right after the pizza I am going to print me out some tea. Earl Grey. Hot. Hehehehehhehe. I’m giddy with anticipation. 3D printed food is the Best Thing Ever. Now somebody 3D print me a sandwich…





NASA’s Amazing Earth Month Videos

NASA has declared April to be Earth Month – four solid weeks dedicated to, “understanding and sustaining our home planet”. NASA has collected its best views of Earth from orbit of 2012 in one place:

You can always count on NASA for rousing good space images. Also I like how NASA writers say “our home planet” as if they needed to specify…but maybe that’s what they were going for?

Anyway, you can go here to explore all the clips in detail.


Go Support Long Hidden Anthology on Kickstarter

I’m not a huge follower of the latest kickstarter shenanigans, but I came upon this one via BoingBoing, and it sounds awesome.

It’s called Long Hidden, and the people behind the project, Daniel Older and Rose Fox,  describe it as, “[a]n anthology of speculative historical fiction revealing the voices of silenced dreamers.”  They include a long list of interesting writers who aim to chronicle the underdogs and forgotten heroes of the past, all with a speculative twist.

I swiped this image from their kickstarter page…

Intrigued? I am. But wait, there’s more. It has already reached it’s goal of $12k to get published, BUT if they make their stretch goal of 20,000 dollars, they will open submissions to the likes of you and me!

Cool, huh?

I know some of you guys/girls/others that follow me are writers and do some writering, especially of the speculative kind. So get over there and get backing this one. It’s not only a chance to help some great fiction get out there, it’s also a chance to publish some of your own stuff. Go over to kickstarter and give it a kick…

Check it out here.


Sonic the Hedgehog Fan Movie is the Best Thing Ever.

I love Sonic the Hedgehog. I really do. So this Sonic fan film from Blue Core Studios had me at the word ‘go’.


Check out the trailers. I’m not sure how I missed them when they came out last summer, but still:

Pretty neat huh? I’m not sure how I feel about Sonic being a bit fuzzy, but I love LOVE Doctor Robotnik. How did they make his little glasses stay on? I’m sure its something simple and obvious…

Here’s the film itself, which I’m assuming is a first installment:

Yay for Knuckles at the end! I love living in the wonderful future, where people can just up and make a fan film about their favourite video game. And chances are it’ll be better than the latest multi-million dollar “blockbuster” that Hollywood craps out on our heads. Watch it. It’s the best thing EVER.


First Lunar Base May be 3D Printed

The title of this Wired article incorporates just about every awesome word I know:

Giant NASA Spider Robots Could 3D Print Lunar Base Using Microwaves

It would only be more awesome if it incorporated the adjective “timey-wimey” and the phrase “Geiger-style” or possibly “fine Corinthian.”

I’m just saying.

Fig. 1: 2nd generation ATHLETE unloading cargo
ATHLETE rover Image NASA JPL website

The basic idea is to use athlete rovers fitted with microwave powered 3D printers to build a moonbase out of lunar dust, brick by brick.

Image credit NASA website

The project, apparently, would require microwave units no more powerful than you use at home, which would be used to fuse lunar dust into a sort of ceramic. How cool is that? It’s cost effective because it uses material already on the moon, so no need to transport building materials, or even human builders to set it up.

NASA has a great, accessible backgrounder on 3D printing a lunar base, where they estimate a base could be built at a rate of one building per week. That’s fast.

You can’t tell me people wouldn’t eat this up. The mission would launch and the payoff would come almost immediately. I grew up in an era when lunar settlements seemed inevitable. The moon, after all, is only a few days journey away. Why the heck not go there? Isn’t the planet feeling a little small these days?