In Full Swing

Otto, Paula and I have invaded Harald and forced the staff, at axe point, to slaughter various animals, vegetables and trees for our culinary enjoyment. Sadly there was no one in anime costume in the restaurant, which would have been quite funny, though later there was a stag party with the unfortunate groom dressed up as a viking maiden. We didn’t stick around in case they ordered spam and started singing.

Besides, we had another engagement. There is a microbrewery here in Turku, in a building that used to be a school. Much of the furniture, from maps on the walls to desks to chalk boards, is still there. It is a strange and lovely place, and the beer is good.

I finally caught up with the local paper, in which Nalo and Richard have a full page spread. It is good to see the Finnish media machine still working well.

I also picked up a special English language issue of Spin, Turku’s local fanzine. It isn’t as polished as Tähtivaeltaja, but it is older, dating back to April 1977. Pasi Karppanen has an article in this issue about Finnish fandom, which is essentially an expanded and updated version of the article Jukka Halme wrote for Emerald City many years ago.

End of the World Party

Every so often I post news here of various existential threats to civilization, Earth, the universe and so on. Mainly I do this because Kendall appreciates it so much, but hopefully other people find them entertaining too.

If you are someone who likes such things, you may like to check out Charlie Stross’s blog. He has asked his readers to come up with new ideas for destroying the world. There are over 300 comments thus far. You can scare yourselves here.

Fundamentalist Particles

Sometimes creative ideas spring from very strange sources. Back on Friday Paul Graham Raven tweeted about this odd story about a spat between the religious and Libertarian varieties of Republican extremists. We traded tweets for a while, and very quickly went from two negatives making a positive to needing to contain them in a cyclotron least the resulting energy release cause a major disaster.

At this point we both realized that we needed an animated video, but neither of us have the skills to make one. However, I had just been watching a number of fine videos that people make to go with Jonathan Coulton songs. So I figured that all we needed was the song, and the video would follow. So I wrote one.

Please note that I do not claim that this is great poetry. I leave that sort of thing to Roz. But hopefully it is catchy, which is what a song needs.

Fundamentalist Particles

In the cyclotron of life
We go running in a ring,
All happy little particles
Doing our own thing.
Some are slow and steady,
Some are light and fast,
And some they burn so fiercely
You wonder how they last.

Fundamentalist particles,
Burning up with hate;
Fundamentalist particles
Love to annihilate.

You’ve heard of anti-matter,
It is exotic stuff.
If you meet up with your anti
The going can get rough.
But some are anti-everything
Despising all they meet
So be careful if you see them
Proselytizing in your street.

Fundamentalist particles,
Burning up with hate;
Fundamentalist particles
Love to annihilate.

We come in many flavors,
In yellow, white and brown,
There’s strange and top and bottom,
There’s also up and down.
So how are we to tell apart
The folks who’d do us harm?
Those fundamentalist particles,
They don’t have any charm.

Fundamentalist particles,
Burning up with hate;
Fundamentalist particles
Love to annihilate.

The trouble with an attitude
So predisposed to fight
Is that when they get together
They can’t decide who’s right.
They splinter and they squabble,
With sister hating brother.
Those fundamentalist particles
Annihilate each other.

Fundamentalist particles,
Burning up with hate;
Fundamentalist particles
Love to annihilate.

I’m making this available under a Creative Commons non-commercial license, and if anyone wants to set it to music and perform it I’d be delighted.

Creative Commons License
Fundamentalist Particles by Cheryl Morgan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Scots Can Read Your Mind

Well, a few clever people at the University of Glasgow can, though they can’t do it very well and they may not be Scots, but why should that get in the way of a good headline?

Anyway, the point is that these clever folks at the Institute of Neuroscience & Psychology are starting to decode the various brainwave patterns associated with different activities of the brain. Specifically they can now tell, from looking at your brainwaves, whether a face you are looking at is showing particular emotions such as happiness, fear and surprise. That may not be hugely useful right now, but it is an early small step on a long and interesting road. Details here.

Of course such scientific advances are of minor interest compared to the massive breakthrough of brainwave controlled cat ears.

But What If…

Today on Twitter I noticed that trans activist Juliet Jacques was speaking at a meeting of a group called The T Party. My initial reaction was one of embarrassment that a trans group should have a name so similar to that of those people. However, Juliet explained that the name was something of a joke, and I began to see the comedy potential in it. Because, you know, people could get confused.

Just suppose that Sarah Palin was addressing a Tea Party rally in Washington, when all of a sudden the Westbro Baptist mob turn up under the impression that they are picketing a group of trans rights activists. I feel that The Onion could do something with this.

I suppose I could do the fashionable thing and auction my story idea on eBay, but it is a bit late for that as I have told it to you now. Apologies if anyone loses their coffee as a result.

A Star is Dying (Sorry Zaphod)

This one’s for you, Kendall. Momentous portents are in the offing.

According to the Huffington Post, the red giant star Betelgeuse is collapsing and could go nova at any time. The claim comes from Dr. Brad Carter of the University of Southern Queensland. Betelgeuse is already one of the brightest stars in our sky, and Carter believes that if it does nova it will be so bright it will look like we have two suns for a while. Goodness only knows what craziness that would cause, especially if it happens in 2012.

Exeunt in Maya costume muttering “the end of the world is nigh!”

Update: Phil Plait is a boring party pooper.

New Year at the Hootenanny

As usual when in the UK I spent New Year’s Eve listening to Jools Holland’s “Hootenanny” show. I see it actually got to trend on Twitter this year, much to the confusion of people over the other side of the pond. Having said that though, a quick dip into the tweet stream showed that the majority of comments appears to be drunken idiots complaining because the musicians featured were old and/or ugly. It is getting to the stage where “don’t read the comments” applies to Twitter as well as blogs and online newspapers. Sturgeon’s Law, I guess.

Anyway, I enjoyed it. I don’t have much time to keep up with music during the year, and I always find someone of interest on the Hootenanny. Here are a few highlights.

Firstly we have Rumer, who numbers Burt Bacharach amongst her fans. Listen to this and you’ll see, or rather hear, why.

Next up, the dance hit of the night, a wonderful folk band called Bellowhead. Here they are on a previous Jools Holland program performing one of the songs they did last night: “New York Girls”.

And finally, the Katzenklavier or cat piano. According to Wikipedia, the original instrument dates to 1549 when it was created using live cats as an “entertainment” for the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and his son, King Filipe II of Spain. The modern version, created by Henry Dagg for Prince Charles, uses plush kittens with carefully tuned squeakers and is much more humane. Here’s Dagg performing “Over the Rainbow”.

Please excuse the hysterical giggling in the background on that. It may well be Australians who have discovered the musician’s name.

And while it may indeed be very funny, if you attempt to recreate this along the lines of the original with live cats, the Internet will find you. As you should know, it is run by cats.

A Melbourne Mystery

The Ashes resumed today in one of the world’s great sporting events: the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Tens of thousands of holidaying Aussies had packed into the famous ground to see the old enemy ground into the dust. They were sadly disappointed, and no one seemed to know why.

England won the toss and elected to field, but although there was a certain amount of help for their bowlers there did not seen to be too many terrors in the pitch. After a few minutes of play, Sir Geoffrey Boycott, commenting for the BBC, said he could see no way that England were going to win. The pitch was too friendly. The game, he confidently predicted, would be a draw.

Four hours later, Australia were all out for 98, a performance that racked up so many “lowest” and “worst” records that I have lost track of them all.

Cricket pitches do get a bit better during the day, but not by orders of magnitude. The fact that England’s openers cruised to 157 without getting out in the evening session suggested that Sir Geoffrey’s assessment of the wicket was correct. So what happened?

“Australia are batting without any care and attention,” Lord Gower noted on Sky. And he should know, as batting without a care in the world was something he was rather good at during his career. Such behavior, however, is not normally expected of the fiercely competitive Australians. Had they partaken of too much Christmas cheer, or was some other factor to blame?

“It was as if their brains had gone out of the window,” commented a bemused Sir Geoffrey at the end of the day. Missing brains? Well, that could explain a lot. And I happen to know that this person is a keen cricket fan.

Fluff Cthulhu

Presents for Geeks

Unsure what to buy your favorite science fiction fan for the holidays? Here are a few suggestions.

Top of the list has to be a railgun. The US Navy now has a working model that can accelerate a projectile up to Mach 7, hitting enemy battleships with a massive 33 MJ of energy. Take that, Klingon Warbird!

If you don’t have a military starship to outfit, how about some personal transport. Now that I have a home, a really ought to get some transport. As a former biker, I rather fancy one of these.

Cow motorbike

If you are more into flying, and have a liking for dinosaurs, you might prefer one of these.

Triceracopter

Both of those images come from the Next Nature blog. Thanks to David Roden for the links.

A Void in Space-Time

Forget invisibility cloaks, scientists at Imperial College London have come up with a way of designing a cloaking device that bends space-time around the item being cloaked so that, from our point of view, it ceases to exist. Nature has details.

Of course, this being a piece of quantum trickery, it is probably only practical on very small scales. Don’t start thinking about stealthing your warships just yet. However, the ability to hide sub-atomic goings on from prying eyes has surprising potential uses. Nature quotes Ortwin Hess, a researcher into metamaterials at the University of Surrey in Guildford:

Physicists are struggling to build quantum computers, because any accidental observation of fragile quantum properties can disrupt calculations before they have been completed. “This cloak could be used to shield quantum systems from being observed, long enough for calculations to be done,” he says.

So to get quantum computers to work we may have to hide their processors outside of space-time. Isn’t physics wonderful!

More Car Ads

Kevin tells me that Škoda don’t sell cars in the USA. That means that you folks will be missing out on some seriously cool ads. Four years ago Škoda produced a wonderful ad for their Fabia model in which they made a car entirely out of cake, jelly and the like. The background music was Julie Andrews singing “Favorite Things” (I think the Sound of Music soundtrack version). It is officially available on YouTube but not embeddable, so you will need to click here to see it.

Now Škoda has a new, sportier version of the Fabia available. And there is a new ad to go with it. Here’s what Škoda has to say:

…deep inside of the Škoda factory another incredible process has been taking place. Unbeknownst to the bakers, in an experimental wing where they fear to tread, an expert team of engineers and geniuses have been creating a new Fabia hot-hatch. And you certainly wouldn’t say it was lovely.

Welcome to the meanest car production process known to man.

Oh yes. Here it is.

Anyone know who did the cover version of the song? I’m sure I have heard it before, but my Google-fu is failing me.

Update: Messed up links fixed. Sorry, hadn’t spotted the weird stuff YouTube was doing with the URLs.

Only In Ireland

The Camden Court is a nice, modern hotel. Everything looks very smart and new. The toilets are very spacious, and have those clever sinks where you just have to wave your hands and water appears. Except it doesn’t. If you wave your hand, nothing happens. You can wave until you are blue in the face and no water appears. There is a trick to these sinks. The only way to get water is to bring your hands together from either side. Yes, only in Ireland do they have the sinks configured so that in order to get water you have to pray.

A Den Of Iniquity

My good friend Eugene Byrne is an expert on local history in Bristol. Today he has done a blog post on interesting facts about Brunel’s fabulous Clifton Suspension Bridge. This is my favorite entry:

9. A lunatic named William Comyns Beaumont was walking across the Bridge in the 1920s and had a mystic revelation. Beaumont was a British Israelist, a product of the age of social Darwinism and “scientific” racism that couldn’t abide the idea that the events described in the Bible took place in the Middle East and were acted out by Jews and the ethnic forebears of Arabs. British Israelists believed that it had all taken place in Britain, actually. It was while on the Suspension Bridge that Beaumont’s geography all fell into place. Suddenly it all made perfect sense! Jesus had in fact been born in Glastonbury, he had lived most of his life in Somerset, London was Damascus, Edinburgh was Jersalem and Bristol? … Well Bristol was Sodom. So hurrah for us.

So, when are you coming to visit, Hal Duncan?

But here’s the clincher:

FACT: William Comyns Beaumont was a Daily Mail journalist.

Sadly they haven’t got any less crazy since the 1920s.

Playing Catchup

There was no blogging yesterday because I was busy. I spent a whopping 12 hours on the day job, which was a disaster in every way except that the clients seem happy and I can bill for it. Today I need to get on with Salon Futura #2 in half the time I had hoped to spend on it. But so that you don’t have to be bored for another day, here are a few things to keep you busy.

A BBC survey finds that 18% of British people are “uncomfortable” about having LGB characters on television. That’s depressing, but a good excuse to mention that The Salon this month features Nicola Griffith, Hal Duncan and Cat Valente (and me) talking about writing LGBT characters.

That report doesn’t address portrayal of trans people at all because, as you should be aware by now, the purpose of trans people on British television is to provide the audience with someone who won’t be protected by the Press Complaints Commission that can be the butt of any cruel jokes going. However, the Liberal Democrat part of our coalition government wants to have an “action plan” on transgender equality. It remains to be seen whether the Tories will allow Ms. Featherstone to actually act on the plan.

Talking of gender issues, Kyle Cassidy had a bizarre encounter in a bar last night with someone who is obviously well on the way to becoming a Republican senator. Who would have thought that Hello Kitty could arouse such ire.

Everyone has been blogging about the potentially habitable planet that has been discovered, but in case you missed it, here’s the story.

More worryingly (and because I haven’t given Kendall a “we’re all going to die” story for ages), here are some cosmologists worrying that the amount of time in our universe may be finite. Apparently we only have about 5 billion years left. Warning: even Hannu Rajaniemi might need to work a bit to follow the argument.

And finally on the science beat, the news that dinosaurs might have been a bit taller than previously thought, because they had a lot more cartilage in their joints than we do. It would have been a great article if it wasn’t for this:

Using a “cartilage correction factor,” Holliday determined that many theropod dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurus, were only modestly taller whereas ornthischian and sauropod dinosaurs, such as Triceratops and Brachiosaurus, may have been 10 percent taller or more. For example, Brachiosaurus, previously thought to be 42 feet tall, may actually have been more than a foot taller with the additional joint cartilages.

I’m guessing what they mean is that a Brachiosaurus’s legs would have been 10% longer. Much of its height is, of course, in the neck, which perhaps doesn’t have as much cartilage. But really, someone should have raised a red flag before that article saw print.

Best Fannish Cat Nominees Announced

As you may recall, this year’s Ditmar Awards have a special category for Best Fannish Cat. I’m still a bit peeved that the rules required Australian residency, so I wasn’t eligible, but the nominees have just been announced and I think you’ll all agree that they are very fine felines indeed. The nominees are:

  • Tabby Allen
  • Felix Blackford
  • Peri Peri Canavan
  • Flicker Gillespie
  • Pazuzu Sparks

You can find photos and biographies of all the nominees at the Dudcon III website. You have to buy a Dudcon III membership in order to vote, but it is all in the good cause of supporting the Ditmars, the other categories of which are far more sane.

A Little Linkage

Yeah, I’m busy. But because I love you lots here are a couple of quick links (with apologies to Twitter followers who have already seem them).

Firstly some totally awesome Lego renditions of Escher paintings. Many thanks to MEG for pointing me at them.

And secondly the good folks at The Book Depository are running a 6th birthday special whereby if you introduce some of your friends to their services they send them 10% off vouchers. And if one of your friends uses the voucher you’ll get one too. I note that I don’t get any vouchers for plugging this, even though I have a few hundred readers, but if anyone would like me to introduce them to this rather fine book service then let me know. Otherwise just go there yourself. They are remarkably useful if you like to read books by US small presses and you are stuck somewhere remote. And they are not Amazon.

Link Catch-Up

Goodness knows how relevant these are now, but here we go:

– The UK does have loony right-wing militias;

– And real Fascists as well;

– My thanks to Arizona for giving all Americans a taste of how visitors to their country are treated;

– But at least Peter Watts has avoided any jail time;

– Of course I’m all in favor of boycotting the Diamondbacks, especially if that means that the Giants get to win all those games;

– Meanwhile Second Life appears to have opted for Socialism, allegedly confiscating lots of private property;

– I confess that when I heard that Amtrak was testing a beef-powered train I assumed it was drawn by oxen;

– Eugene Byrne asks people to hang out in a graveyard this weekend;

– Marjorie blogs last weekend’s Ninja gig in Camden;

– Mary Robinette Kowal builds an Elvis Garden Gnome;

And there may be more to come, but how can I possibly follow that?

Volcano Latest: No One Dead

The apocalyptic plume of volcanic ash is making its way slowly across the Atlantic to Britain. There’s no obvious sign of it here in Darkest Somerset, which is no more Dark than usual for this time of year (though it is still very cold). The news media people are all terribly excited, but thus far there have been no major disasters. What will happen in fandom if Amanda Palmer remains stranded in Iceland and is unable to play the EvelynEvelyn gigs in London is another matter.

Somerset Enters 19th Century

My friend Glenda Larke is in the UK at the moment. Today she had cause to drive through Somerset (very wisely not stopping along the way). During her journey she discovered evidence that Somerset is about to enter the 19th Century. Yes, we are going to get steam trains! Here’s proof.

Goodness only know how something that heavy will manage on the wooden trackways that connect the villages in the cider swamps, but doubtless the government has some cunning plan in mind.