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Science, Fiction, and points in between

Monday 28 May 2001

From The New Yorker's May 28th "Digital Age" issue [not online]: an article by Ian Parker about how tools influence what we think -- specifically how Microsoft PowerPoint simplifies and bulletizes communications.

PowerPoint could lead us to believe that information is all there is. PowerPoint empowers the provider of simple content, but it risks squeezing out the provider of process — that is to say, the rhetorician, the storyteller, the poet, the person whose thoughts cannot be arranged in the shape of an AutoContent slide. "I hate to admit this," Nass said, "but I actually removed a book from my syllabus last year because I couldn't figure out how to PowerPoint it..."

§ How comics invented youth culture: long review of Bradford W. Wright's Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America (John Hopkins University Press).

Salon, May 25

§ The trouble with any kind of publishing on the Web is that, should the website go bankrupt or give up from exhaustion, the publication disappears utterly, forever... unless:

New York Times, May 24

§ Latest candidate for Planet X, out there beyond Pluto: Varuna, 900 km in diameter.

CNN, May 24

Saturday 19 May 2001


§ Mystery force: the trajectories of four deep space probes are off in unpredicted but consistent degrees... "[S]cientists warn it could also be the first hint that modifications need to be made to our understanding of the force of gravity".

BBC News | Sci/Tech, 15 May

§ Archaeologists have discovered a new ancient civilization in an area of Turkmenistan where investigation was long stifled by Soviet rule.

New York Times, 13 May

§ Can science "explain" anything? Long feature article by Steven Weinberg.

§ Heinous, atrocious, cruel, outrageous, wanton, vile or inhuman? Doctors seek ways to measure evil.

Yahoo News/ AP, 11 May


§ Why was the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf, previously the bane of high school English class, such a hit? Why, Harry Potter, of course. (A reader responds about her son's enthusiasm: "He didn't know it was a classic.")

Slate, 16 May

§ No one reads anymore, bemoans this article about aliterates. Yes, maybe Harry Potter is turning on a few young readers, but

But there is plenty of bad news, too. Lots of aliterates, according to Trelease, say they just don't have time to read anymore. "The time argument is the biggest hoax of all," he says. According to time studies, we have more leisure time than ever. "If people didn't have time, the malls would be empty, cable companies would be broke, video stores would go out of business. It's not a time problem, it's a value problem. You have 50 percent in the country who don't value reading."
Washington Post, 14 May

In Between

§ What is the appeal of Deepak Chopra -- who says things like "Some people vibrate at a frequency of consciousness such that that they can see an angel; far more can vibrate at a frequency to perceive an automobile" -- anyway? It's a new version of the two cultures...

[Theodore] Roszak sees a great cultural divide. At the top stands "a secular humanist establishment devoted to the skeptical, the empirical, the scientifically demonstrable" which is out of touch with "a vast popular culture that is still deeply entangled with piety, mystery, miracle, the search for personal salvation."
Salon, 10 May

§ Proust Comix? They're a big hit in France.

§ And perhaps the salvation of Romania's tourist industry is... a Dracula theme park., 12 May

Saturday 12 May 2001

Random Vibrations

§ Warp speed underwater? According to this article by Steven Ashley, evidence surrounding the Kursk accident last year suggests it

revolved around an amazing and little-reported technology that allows naval weapons and vessels to travel submerged at hundreds of miles per hour - in some cases, faster than the speed of sound in water.
Scientific American, May 2001

And here's a piece about British scientists building a superluminal transmitter...

New Scientist, 28 April

§ Here's an review of an art show at the New-York Historical Society (through June 10), "Out of Time: Designs for the 20th-Century Future". Show organizer Norman Brosterman's book of the same title includes all the artwork discussed in the review.

New York Times, 12 May

§ Information on the web is free, but how much does anyone really pay for content anywhere else?

Most leading print magazines would happily send you their product for free if they had any way of knowing (and proving to advertisers) that you read it. Advertisers figure, reasonably, that folks who pay for a magazine are more likely to read it, and maybe see their ad, than those who don't. So magazines make you pay, even if it costs them more than they get from you.
— Michael Kinsley in Slate, 10 May

§ An answer for authors who dread bookstore appearances, "no matter how many people don't turn up": concerts.

Novelist Daniel Handler (The Basic Eight, the "Lemony Snicket" series) has also read (and played accordion) at Magnetic Fields gigs, and when they play on June 17 at the Bottom Line in New York City, Neil "Sandman" Gaiman will be the warm-up.
Slate, 10 May

§ Harry Potter is good for you, psychiatrists have decided.

One thing is consistent, Benedek said. None of her young patients -- not even those who idolize the rapper Eminem and quote his violent lyrics -- identifies with the character of Harry's archenemy Voldemort, a dark wizard driven by his lust for power into a life of evil.
New York Times, 8 May

And at a medievalists' convention, professors compare Hogwarts to the court of King Arthur.

New York Times, 12 May

§ Has Roget's Thesaurus caused more harm than good? Long article by Simon Winchester:

The Atlantic, May 2001

§ All about novelizations.

Written and published at lightning speed - they're typically written in four to eight weeks - novelizations can make a John Grisham novel - itself the larval stage in the book-screenplay-movie metamorphosis - seem like high art...

Some novelizations have even become classics: the novelist William Kotzwinkle wrote a charming book for Steven Spielberg's "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," and fans of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" tried to unravel some of the film's mysteries by reading Arthur C. Clarke's novelization of the screenplay that he wrote with Kubrick. Both books have gone on to long lives on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. In fact, the genres that sell best as novelizations are young adult books, horror and science fiction. Isaac Asimov's novelization of the 1966 film "Fantastic Voyage" is still in print, and all of the "Star Wars" novelizations have done quite well (then again, everything having to do with "Star Wars" is in a universe of its own).
New York Times, 1 April

§ David Shields: a writer who reads his reviews.

I read all my reviews, though not necessarily every word of every one. The really positive ones are boring after a while, but I must admit I find bad reviews fascinating.
New York Times, 9 April

§ Charles Taylor on bookflap copy.

Authors have little or no control over their jacket copy. That doesn't stop me from wondering how good a novel can be when its description is so carelessly written. "In memories that rise like wisps of ghosts" suggests that the narrative is going to be even wispier. I mean, a ghost is already vaporous -- how the hell hard is the wisp of ghost to detect? Does the book come with special glasses, like the ones handed out at the William Castle movie "13 Ghosts," which enabled you to see the spooks?
Salon, 30 April

§ Are you afraid of cookies?

Because cookies are simple text files and not active code, they can't contain viruses or wreak malicious damage to your system. And whatever a cookie is doing, you are its master: You can always delete it, destroy it, blast it out of existence and return your relationship with any Web site to square one. You don't have to beg the company to "take me off your list"; you own the list.
— Scott Rosenberg in Salon, 7 May

March Aether Vibrations

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