Friday, June 29, 2012

The latest ridiculous thing...

Somebody sued Netflix for not providing closed captioning of all streamed movies...

...and won.

First of all, Netflix can only provide closed captioning if the rights holders agree to it. Are they supposed to violate copyright in order to abide by the ADA?

Now, I do think that streamed movies should be captioned. Of course they should. But it is not Netflix's fault if the producer of the movie didn't provide the data needed to do so. It's the producer's fault.

AND this is a horrible precedence. Will somebody now, for example, sue Zynga because their games can't be played by blind people? There's content on the web that simply can't be made friendly to everyone with every disability. If everything has to be, then we'll be right back to the 1980s and early 1990s when everything had to be text only because so many people were still using Lynx...

Do I have sympathy for disabled people? Heck yes. It's a 'there but for the grace of god'. But not all content can be made suitable for everyone. Internet music radio is never going to be much use to somebody who is totally deaf...

Balance in all things.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Got a new project I'm keeping under my hat until it's closer to completion (contract signed this morning).

This is likely to keep me somewhat busy for a little while, although it certainly won't stop the blog postings. Or the general craziness.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Awesome little things...

I'm always on the watch out for technological developments that might just improve our lives and the world.

How about a toilet that generates electricity and fertilizer? - handy in Singapore, where resources are scare. Or Japan. Or in certain parts of the US...there are millions of people in this country who have toilets that open into septic tanks. This could be a major step forward.

And...I was going to hunt for more, but half the internet just went down for me. Sigh. Time to go work on something that doesn't need it until it comes back.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Airport 'Security'

I just read an article in the September Analog (Yes, Analog time travels) by Arlan Andrews, Sr., founder of SIGMA. A throwaway at the end was 'imagine an airport without visible security'. The plans are there.

Guess who won't cooperate.

Yeah, that's right...the TSA. Maybe because they have people working for them who act like this:

It's a coincidence that I saw these two things within five minutes of each other, says a lot, doesn't it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Truth in advertising...

How come the Falling Skies 'two hour season premiere' was nothing more than two not very related episodes shown back to back?

Come on, people. That's not a two hour show. Both were pretty good, but...honesty is important.

End of mini-rant.

Friday, June 22, 2012


For some reason, this topic is chasing me around the net today, so I thought I'd say a few words.

I was bullied as a child. I was bullied for needing to wear glasses (contacts were not even an option for me until very recently). I was bullied for being shy and socially awkward, for being smart and bookish. On top of that I didn't always follow gender norms.

I even remember being teased for refusing to perm my hair.

I was bullied from nursery school (kindergarten) until I got to college (where I was able to pick and choose who I associated with and finally escape it).

On top of that, I experienced what I call 'coach bullying' from a riding instructor. As so often happens with coach bullying, her behavior was enabled by parents - my father to this DAY believes it's okay to beat horses because their 'skins are so thick they don't really feel it' because she told him that to get him to encourage me to join in with the animal abuse. Coach bullying occurs in all sports and can be very serious - there's a fine line between a tough coach and a bully that is crossed too often.

Right now, we have an epidemic of bullying of GLBT youth, many of whom are driven to suicide. Bullying is serious. It can literally make children sick - bullied kids get migraines, upset stomachs and may even, in extreme cases, develop permanent mental problems.

Adults can also be bullied - by supervisors, by coworkers, and one could argue that domestic violence is only a step away from bullying. (In fact, the school bully when I was in elementary school, who's ass I handed to him one day, was a victim of domestic violence and likely ended up a perpetrator of it).

And sometimes adults are bullied by kids, such as the now high profile case of the bus monitor who was verbally abused by students.

So. What can we do about it?

What made me think about this today is the American Junior Paint Horse Association forcing children to sign an anti-bullying agreement to get their show numbers. This is not likely to be an effective approach, although escorting bullies out of the show ring for 'unsportsmanlike behavior' very publicly might have an impact.

What can we do about it?

We can stop punishing the victims of bullying. We can stop sending the message of 'If you fight back, they walk away and you get suspended'.

We can stop, as parents, enabling the 'tough coach' who is doing nothing but scream at and belittle the young athletes.

We can work towards, as a society, making it not okay to be bigoted against anyone, regardless of the reasons.

None of that will stop bullying altogether, but...

We can help those kids. But passing out meaningless contracts isn't going to do it. Zero tolerance isn't going to do it, because it makes kids afraid to seek help.

And we have to stop thinking of bullying as just a normal thing, or just 'they said some mean things to you'. It's far more painful than that, and both victims and perpetrators are damaged by it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Song of Ice and Gender

I just, finally, finished A Dance With Dragons. (Dang you, Martin).

Before doing so, I re-read the entire series. I got to thinking about something. Sex and gender is a stronger theme in the books than I at first realized. (And no, I don't just mean the fact that people in that world have sex and talk about sex a lot).

The role of women, their place in the world, is expressed in all kinds of ways. The female characters range from Sansa, who only wants to be a lady, to the assassin-in-training Arya, to the Maid of Tarth (a personal favorite). And, of course, there is the dragon queen herself.

At the same time, we also have Cersei Lannister to prove that women are in no way immune to the corruptions and temptations of power (and, of course, of sex).

The truth is that there's actually a surprisingly strong feminist undertone to the books that it took several readings to uncover. The women of this world are finding their strength and stretching their wings, and both facing the darkness and becoming it.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Life Expectancy

A little bit of a mini rant here.

When people here about the lower life expectancies in the past, they tend to think that everyone died off by fifty. I have even heard women say that menopause is not natural and only occurs because we are 'living too long'.

Here's the truth...and this is important for fantasy writers to consider.

IF you survived early childhood, IF there was not a plague and IF you did not fall off a horse or experience some similar fatal accident, then you had a good chance of living to at least seventy. Most advances in geriatric medicine improve the quality of life for the elderly and somewhat increase the chances of somebody who reaches seventy making it to ninety or even a hundred.

It's not unrealistic to have a guy who's a hundred in your fantasy novel. It would be rare and it would be remarked upon, but it would happen.

Here's another thing to consider. In ancient Egypt the life expectancy of peasants was actually longer than that of the upper classes. Why? Because the upper classes were too well fed. The pharoah Hatshepsut most likely died of complications of diabetes. Something else to consider when world-building. Do your priests get too much rich food making them all fat? It's an odd reversal of today's society, where obesity is more common amongst poor people, caused by poor quality food and lack of free time to exercise.

Obviously, you also need to consider the medical technology available...and with magic, you can do all kinds of weird things.

But no. Everyone was not dead by fifty in any human society we know of. That simply did not happen. The statistics tell very little of the story.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Muddying The Waters

I've been thinking about this quite a bit.

I interact with everyone. I enjoy interacting with people who don't agree with me...that's how you learn and grow. In the process, I've been exposed to all kinds of different debate styles. Some people's idea of a debate style is not something I appreciate...I once left an online forum because the lead moderator tried to tell me death threats were a legitimate debate style!

One thing I see far too often, and also don't appreciate, is what I call 'muddying the waters'. An example of this would be comparing an abortion performed after a pregnancy goes drastically wrong to forced abortions in China. Or taking something too far, like the classic 'same sex marriage will lead to people wanting to marry their dogs'.

Muddying the water means taking something not truly relevant to the debate at hand and tying it to your opponent's argument in a way that makes them look bad. (Or, more rarely, yourself look good, but this often goes along with people who want to 'win'). By tying these things together, you associate somebody with something that is, if not evil, at least a lot worse than what they're actually saying.

Civilized people should really try to keep the water clean...but then they might have to agree to disagree, and not everyone is willing to do that.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Prometheus and expectations

I saw Prometheus yesterday. Ridley Scott's return to the Alien universe was very well done and had some amazing special effects.

It was also oddly disappointing. It did not take much analysis to work out why. We've developed expectations from the Alien franchise. Some of them have even become memes...even people who never watched Alien 'know' that certain things will happen.

The movie followed all of the memes. Combined with Scott's tendency to put far too many guns on far too many mantlepieces, it was far too predictable to be frightening.

Part of it is that anything ever done in that universe has to follow Alien. Alien had never been done before, and nobody knew what to expect. Now? It's stale.

Also, Rapace was not Weaver. She did not do a bad job, but she lacked Weaver's peculiar sensuality, her ability to be hot despite not being all *that* physically attractive. She lacked Weaver's willingness to dance with the monsters and make them part of her even as she defeated them...she tried, and I liked her, but she just didn't have 'it'.

It's a shame. I honestly feel that Scott should have left well enough alone. It was an okay movie, even a good movie, but it suffered from audience expectations. Which is often the case. We have certain expectations of fantasy - and part of the amazing success of A Song of Ice And Fire is that Martin completely shattered many of them when he created a world in which there are no true heroes, and those who trie to be heroes end...badly.

Having the courage to shatter expectations is part of entertainment. Prometheus did not even was clearly meant to be a nostalgic return to a familiar world. Sadly, that does not work as well in horror as it does in other genres.

Older viewers should pay particular attention during the opening scene for a reference (conscious or otherwise) to 2001.

Worth watching, but not up to the hype.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Thoughts on Immortality

Somebody asked me a classic question yesterday: What would you do if you were immortal?

My answer came very quickly, 'Learn everything I can, learn to do things I feel as if I can't. Really, immortality is infinite time'.

It was only after I said it that I started thinking about it. Immortality is the removal of a limit...the time limit. True, you would still only have so many hours in the day, but putting things off until tomorrow would not be such a big deal.

Would that mean that an immortal would be inclined to procrastinate more than a normal person?

For that matter, would some people appreciate 'infinite time'. In Kate Wilhelm's book 'Welcome, Chaos' (which I heartily recommend), an immortality treatment is tested on a janitor. The protagonist later muses about whether the person will be a janitor forever.

Would immortality be worth it if you had to spend most of every day flipping burgers? How would people deal with having to set aside the idea of retirement as part of the American dream...oh wait, many of us are already having to do that.

How, in the end, would you fill 'infinite time'? I already know my answer...but what's yours?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Some tech news:

1. The genome of the bonobo (sometimes called the pygmy chimpanzee) has been fully mapped. This means we now have all of the great apes mapped and can start working on doing some decent comparisons between them and humans.

2. Titan has large lakes of methane near its equator. Could there be something living in them?

3. How about the 'vampire' skeleton? Check out this video. This is where the 'stake through the heart' thing comes from.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What do we most need to change?

Okay. I'm tossing this out there.

What would our society most benefit from seeing change? What changes do we most need to make to build a better future?

I can think of quite a lot of possibilities...but which ones do people think are the most important to either change or get rid of:

1. The low value society places on teachers.
2. Increasing health care costs.
3. The tendency of society as a whole to be risk averse and attempt to reduce the risks taken by competent adults.
4. Partisan politics and 'culture wars'.
5. Excessive consumption/consumerism.
6. Anything else?

(I'm sure I missed a ton.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Slightly Amusing

So, the big argument...will China beat the US to Mars?

It might be moot. Guess who is actually in the lead right now.

The Dutch.


To be more precise, a Dutch company, Mars One, plans on landing its first colonists as soon as 2023...using the very model I've proposed on this blog more than once: A one-way trip.

They're fairly modest, and plan for the colony to grow at a rate of four new immigrants every two years...

I'm going to give them a shout out. Even if they don't manage it, they're thinking the way we must think if we're going to become a multi-planet species - no politicians, no crying about 'risk', just going out there and doing it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Insanity... going to the store at 9am to avoid heat exhaustion...and dang near keeling over anyway. I want to move somewhere cooler.

I still did manage to edit one short-short and draft up another today. Progress is being made.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Robotics and stuff...

Some scientists have created robots that act like cockroaches. That is to say, they skitter off faster than you can stomp them.

The military is, of course, particularly interested in this technology (small robots to send ahead of soldiers into an urban combat area, for example).

Another group are trying to duplicate the incredible power of the Peacock Mantis Shrimp's claws...which have the same force as a .22.

We need to keep learning from nature, people. Or at least our engineers do.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Another one gone...

Ray Bradbury died yesterday at the grand old age of 91.

Are any of the old masters still left with us? I admit, I was never the hugest fan of Bradbury's work. (Art being such a subjective thing), but he still left his mark on the genre. A very strong and unforgettable mark at that.

He will definitely be missed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Release Announcement

Captain's Logs from the Sandbox 03: The Mining Colony of Elkos IV, an RPG scenario, is now available through Occult Moon. It's mostly written by me, with some tweaks from Occult Moon's wonderful Michael Garcia.

It can be downloaded through RPGNow here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


I'm probably going to miss it. Too much light pollution, no equipment and too many clouds. But those who do get to see it?

I hate you.

Well, no, not really. I've gotten to see some cool things in my time. (Ever checked out Saturn, or another planet, through a big scope? They don't look real. But I missed the solar eclipse, too.

Ah well. Plenty of cool things yet to see and who knows what might happen in the future. I'm feeling good about it right now.

Monday, June 4, 2012


...from Origins. And completely exhausted, so I'm not going to try and do a detailed post today. Too much else I need my limited energy for right now.