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Leaving the building. [Mar. 5th, 2013|08:02 am]
Aging means losing things, and not just eyesight and flexibility. It means watching the accomplishments of your youth be diminished, maybe in your own eyes through perspective, maybe in the eyes of others through cultural amnesia. Most people live anonymous lives, and when they grow old and die, any record of their existence is blown away. They're forgotten, some more slowly than others, but eventually it happens to virtually everyone.

-- Wright Thompson, Michael Jordan has not left the building, ESPN Magazine, 22 February 2012.
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Dead man talking. [Apr. 1st, 2012|12:18 pm]

Harry Crews has some memorable lines:

I've never enjoyed myself. I'm incapable of enjoying myself. There's just some people who don't enjoy themselves very much.
-- Everything is Optimism, Beautiful and Painless, Damon Suave, Getting Naked with Harry Crews: Interviews (1999) from a conversation in November 1996.
You have to go to considerable trouble to live differently from the way the world wants you to live. That’s what I’ve discovered about writing. The world doesn’t want you to do a damn thing. If you wait until you got time to write a novel, or time to write a story, or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read - if you wait for the time, you will never do it. ‘Cause there ain’t no time; world don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.
-- Getting Naked with Harry Crews.
Everybody in the system is scared to death. Professors are scared of department heads. They're just scared little people hiding out. And these other scared little people come and sit in a scared little class and tremble. I didn't want to do that. Let’s do something memorable, and if we can't do something memorable, then let's go home. Or we'll go across the street and get a drink.
-- Harry Crews, Aging Wild Man, Publishes Again, Quietly, David Shaftel, New York Times, 22 August 2006.
I never wanted to be well-rounded, and I do not admire well-rounded people nor their work. So far as I can see, nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people. The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a design.
-- Getting Naked with Harry Crews.
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Beats Twitter. [Jan. 14th, 2011|04:53 pm]

Update: an exhaustive list of similar sites.

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Gothic horror [Jan. 14th, 2011|11:27 am]

When Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was published, I immediately thought of Brontë's Wuthering Heights. The gravedigging, the nights on stormy moors...

  • "The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, 'Let me in - let me in!'"
  • "Last night, I was on the threshold of hell. To-day, I am within sight of my heaven. I have my eyes on it: hardly three feet to sever me!"
  • "Kiss me again, but don't let me see your eyes! I forgive what you have done to me. I love my murderer--but yours! How can I?"

So The Vampyrs of Wuthering Heights had a nice ring to it. Worth adapting Brontë's out-of-copyright prose to create a bestselling vampire novel?

Well, no. It turns out Brontë deliberately wrote vampiric elements, as Clifton Snider's The "Imp of Satan": The Vampire Archetype in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre demonstrates. And the mentions of and parallels to Wuthering Heights in the bestselling vampire novel Twilight: Eclipse show that this is widely recognised.

There's no shock of juxtaposition or knowing winks to the reader to be had in embellishing what is already there.

Update: But literary sensibility hasn't prevented this from having already been done:

The horror.

Update 2: Ursula K. Le Guin's Emily Brontë and the Vampires of Lustbaden.

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The art of not-projecting. [Aug. 2nd, 2010|11:18 pm]

Projecting your presence is a very teenage thing - the clothes, the noise, the attitude, the desire for attention. With age comes the onset of the desire to not project; to drift effortlessly through public spaces without drawing undue attention to yourself, because you're busy enough thinking about your responsibilities, you're on a schedule, and you don't need more things to deal with. Unexpected things mean delay and distraction. Conformity offers convenience, if you like.

In not projecting, you wear plain clothes without ephemeral brand names. Your phone is just a phone. The car is just a car, not a teenage tricked-out sportscar. You do not project.

And yet, modern phones and gadgets project for you. Bright glaring screens that tell the world what you're doing (which incidentally, now make cinemas unbearable. All those kids checking their glowing screens, brighter than the film you paid to see!). I've been sat next to iPhone and iPad users on planes and trains, and been exposed to their virtual worlds, in a way that's somehow more intimate that sitting next to someone with a laptop. (What is it with Angry Birds? Why is that game so popular?) How very... teenage.

I doubt I'll ever own an iPhone or iPad, as I'm reluctant to project so much in public. My phone display is as dark as possible. My work screensaver is a black screen; again, because I choose not to project or to draw attention unnecessarily. (I see the new Kindle has a passive screen that doesn't glow. That's more my style.)

I'm still projecting presence on the web and in this blog, but the audience, if any, is voluntary.

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Death of an industry. [Aug. 2nd, 2010|10:58 pm]

A century ago, 30% of the US workforce was involved agriculture and the production of food. Today, less than 2% of the US population works in agriculture (source: United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture). That's a big shift, but now we take it for granted.

How much of the developed world's workforce works in newspapers? It's obviously going to be less in future, but, given the very nature of journalism, that's not going to stop them continuing to write and talk about it in overwhelming navel-gazing detail.

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That was then, and this is now. [Jun. 23rd, 2010|12:08 pm]

These figures are doing the rounds today, so I attempted to ascertain their provenance. This is as far as I got.

It is estimated that 200,000 academic journals are published in the English language, and that the average number of readers per article is five.
-- Noel Malcolm, Sinking in a sea of words, The Independent (reprinted from Prospect), 21 July 1996.

What's the source of the original estimate? What are the numbers fourteen years later? Why am I even asking this on a blog with no readers?

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It's all about the numbers. [Jun. 11th, 2010|04:32 pm]
As many as 40,000 barrels (1.7 million gallons) of oil a day may have been gushing out from a blown-out Gulf of Mexico well, doubling many estimates.
-- Experts double estimate of BP oil spill size, BBC News, 11 June 2010.
Oil is flowing from a blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico almost twice as fast - at minimum - as has been estimated, although some of it is now being captured, federal officials said Thursday.
-- Feds double estimate of oil gushing into gulf, Jennifer Latson and Jennifer A. Dlouhy, San Francisco Chronicle, 11 June 2010.
And I hadn't even told him the truth. Actually, the shit coming out of Basco's pipes was a hundred thousand times more concentrated than was legally allowed. ... That kind of thing goes on all the time. But no matter how many diplomas are tacked to your wall, give people a figure like that and they'll pass you off as a flake. You can't get most people to believe how wildly the eco-laws get broken, but if I say "More than twice the legal limit," they get comfortably outraged.
-- Sangamon Taylor, pollution expert, Zodiac: the Eco-Thriller, Neal Stephenson, 1988.
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Forwards. [Jun. 6th, 2010|09:54 pm]


Start running.

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Amassing money [Feb. 21st, 2010|06:08 pm]
Money breeds more money and develops a quality akin to matter – the larger the agglomerations, the greater their gravitational pull or, as the Bible puts it: “unto he that hath shall be rendered and from he that hath not shall be taken away, even that which he hath.”

-- Darius Guppy, Our world balances on a sea of debt,
Daily Telegraph, 21 February 2010.

As a practising Muslim following Islamic banking rules, Guppy would object to money earning interest. But equating money with matter as the virtual is treated as the real goes beyond that.

Here's a short piece of science fiction I wrote for New Scientist's Flash fiction contest last year, relying on the same thought:

Black-Scholes black holes
Lloyd Wood

The President of The United States of North America Con Estados Unidos Mexicanos frowned. "You claim the financial system is stable..."
 "Too stable," said the Chief Economist, rapidly. "Converged interaction and globalisation over the last fifty years has decreased the opportunity for arbitrage. No arbitrage means no large profits to cover new ventures..."
 "So no-one can afford to go to Mars."
 "Exactly. Exploring Mars can't provide the kind of short-term revenue from exploitation that fuelled expansion efforts like the British Empire.The payback horizon is effectively infinite. Colonisation is financially impossible."
 "Impossible? Forgive me, but that's very definite."
 The economist cleared his throat. "Yes. Fiscal science has been on solid ground since 2070. Physics underpins our Universal Meta-Economics. The economy is approaching its maximum entropy. Small transactions sustain the infrastructure, but actors cannot accumulate the financial capital that assembles the mass needed for extremely large projects. The stability that our colleagues have worked hard to achieve means stasis... but stasis with dwindling resources means eventual heat death within our economic system. It's increasingly difficult to finance anything. Everything is winding down. The outlook is dismal."
 The president steepled her hands. "If the Chinese skirmishes escalate - that's destabilising."
 The Secretary of State grimaced. "AMex can't afford all-out war."
 "We've had a war economy for decades. There's not much slack."
 The president leaned forward. "What if we ignore costs entirely, and just mandate the Mars project?"
 "It collapses without industry support. We can't be seen to increase taxes."
 "But a heavily-capitalised project assembles mass, and if the project is sufficiently large..."
 " becomes an attractor for transactions. Business gravitates towards it."
 "Can we change our system to funnel enough capital to make populating Mars start too big to fail? So settlement becomes the transactional centre of our economy, and pulls everything into its orbit?"
 She smiled at the open-mouthed economist.
 "Mars isn't the only goal. The resulting bubble can bankroll the next Big Bang and bootstrap a new boom-and-bust economy. It's dicey, but... haven't you ever wanted to play God with your universe?"

Update: see also the applying-physics-to-economics work of Nobel Laureate Fred Soddy and this New York Times article on Soddy's views. It's difficult to remain in favour of fractional-reserve banking.

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