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The Mongoliad, by Neal Stephenson, et. al. February 27, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.
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The Mongoliad, by Neal Stephenson is a really long book, like all his others, but this one is broken up into three books that appeared episodically.  The stories of Mongol invasions of Europe in the thirteenth century, it is told from the perspectives of an order of knights, their witch guide, their political rivals, a mad priest, his native guide and another witch, a Mongol warrior tasked with keeping Ogedai Khan from drinking himself to death, his Chinese mistress, a Japanese giant samurai and a Slavic street urchin.  Not quite a cast of thousands, but even Stephenson has his limits (although I may have left several characters out. My limits are much smaller than his, after all).

I very much enjoyed the corrupt Catholic church officials electing the mad priest as pontiff just to mess with each other, the crafty Mongol warrior’s learning to conquer by wit and not might (and how he gets schooled in this by the Chinese slave who becomes his mistress), the strange camaraderie of the knights and their stranger infighting in the face of the Mongol conquest of Europe with their political rivals…and their audacious plan to stop the Mongol conquest by assassinating Ogedai Khan, surrounded by his army in his native land six thousand miles away.

Good luck with that, fellas.

I do love Stephenson’s digressions into detail, but I’m a shade OCD; your mileage may vary.  The story moves along as well as can be expected for as many parts as it has;  I’m not sure anyone could tell it any better; certainly nobody has tried anything as long as this lately with such good effect.

More Magical Gestures February 27, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Science, Star Trek Technology, Video.
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Not long ago, a clever assistant professor from the University of Washington produced a little hack call WiSee, which allowed a user to control his devices using the signals in his home…and also allowed people outside his home to creepily monitor him inside.  The hack was an elegant interpretation of the amplitude of signals generated by the local WiFi signal(s).

Now the clever assistant professor Shyam Gollakota has produced an even more clever hack called AllSee, which uses ambient TV signals to do much the same thing, with less creepiness.  Check the video above, in which “We build AllSee prototypes that can recognize gestures on RFID tags and power-harvesting sensors. We also integrate our hardware with an off-the-shelf Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone”.  Better still, there’s a nice paper which describes in detail how to make one for yourself (if you have serious math programming chops and an affinity for do-it-yourself electronics).

Despite the slightly high barrier to entry for normal folks, a factory could implement this for much less than a buck in quantity for tablets and phones and computers, and lots of other less intelligent gizmos.  It consumes very little power (unlike my phone’s screen) and so can make a serous improvement in the life of such devices’ batteries.

I urge Dr.Gollakota to create an Instructable for this project, mostly because I want one.

Language of the Future February 27, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Brilliant words, Science, Star Trek Technology.
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Between this and IBM’s Watson, we are in for an accelerated future.  Wolfram has been working on this language for thirty years (and the effort shows).  I suspect this will be closer to natural language queries than Google (parts are currently used in Apple’s Siri), but maybe not Watson.

Of course, there’s an app, for 2.99USD.

Quote of the (Made My) Day February 26, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Brilliant words, Video.
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“You can’t apply logic to a Quentin Tarantino film. “

Then One Day She Ran Out of Food February 24, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Japan, Mutants.
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Gif Bunny swarm

ObamaCare Turned Me Into a Newt February 15, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Mutants.
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I got better.

Brain Scans Show Striking Similarities Between Dogs and Humans

Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec February 8, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brilliant words, Mutants, Uncategorizable, Video.
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The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec is an exceptionally charming cinema piece featuring mystery, adventure, advanced physics, ancient wisdom, Jurassic nostalgia and breezy dialogue…especially if you speak French. Fear not, mes amis, there are subtitles.

Adele is a writer specializing in the bizarre and outré, such as Peruvian Yetis and sundry other mysteries, and has made some remarkable friends, one of whom is going to help her save her ailing sister by reviving a dead physician by extraordinary means (wait a minute.  That implies there are ordinary means for raising the dead).  Make that “advanced physics”.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Anyway, this is one damned charming film, helmed capably by the light touch of Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) and based upon the comic books of Jaques Tardi.  It is very, very French, and I just adored it.

Here’s the trailer:

Exciting update:

Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu February 7, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books.
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Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu , by Laurence Bergreen, is a nice little dissection of Marco Polo’s Travels (1, 2) with a lot of historical verification added (to sort out the frequent prevarications).  Polo was the son and nephew of Venetian traders who had visited the court of Kublai Khan and were the only Europeans who spoke Mongol.  The Khan deputized them to have the Pope send him a hundred holy men to teach Catholicism in his empire, but due to, well, let’s see a war, bandits, the death of a Pope and the longest (thirty-eight months) wait to elect a new one, appointment of TWO holy men to accompany them (who chickened out early on in the game), Niccolo Polo presented to the Khan instead only Marco.

Lucky boy; the Khan made him a tax collector and had him running around the Mongol empire at its absolute zenith.

Laurence Bergreen tells the story with a fondness for Marco and understanding of the natural tendency towards self-aggrandizement he must have had after living as a noble for most of his life, despite ordinary birth.  And Bergreen sorts out a lot of the thornier questions about what is fact and what is fancy that have been much debated over the years in Marco’s accounts, using contemporary Chinese sources, tales of traveling monks and various other good guesses based on historical context.

I cannot recommend this book too much; it’s one of the best history books I have come across recently, and each CD is nearly the length of my commute, which is nice.

Available at Amazon.com and sfpl.org.

The Iron Duke, by Meljean Brook February 6, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Mutants.
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The Iron Duke is the strangest mutant I have come across since the unholy alliance between our corrupt capitalist masters and the religious folk who should be guarding us from their perfidy.  I am referring (since this is a happy, apolitical blog, dammit) to the alliance between steampunk fantasy and, um, er, um, sex.  There, I said it.  Happy?

This book is equal parts mystery, Victorian adventure, Hammer horror film and 1980’s ladies porn (not that I would know anything about that), with alternative (very) history thrown in to hold it together like alchemical glue.  It succeeds marvelously, although it would work just as well without the bodice-ripper elements, honestly.  I suspect Meljean Brook just likes smut (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  The London of the time has been in the grip of Mongol invaders for two hundred years wherein they enslaved populations with nanotechnology (Englanders are called “buggers” since the bugs are in them and passed down to children.  People who ran away from the Mongols and returned later are called “bounders”).  Is that history alternative enough for you?  The Iron Duke is the fellow who destroyed the Mongols control, and the center of the story and object of the unbridled lust of our heroine (naturally).

I quite liked it, despite the um, er, um, sex scenes.  Like all such devices, the romance is somewhat improbable, but it is a steampunk, gaslight, Hammer-horror Victorian adventure, so that one improbability is kind of swallowed up in the whole.  Anyway, the adventure rips along like a bodice under the lusty fingers of…uh, never mind.  The pacing is quite brisk, matching the beating of her…uh, forget it.

Just buy the damned book.

The Cassini Division, by Ken MacLeod February 6, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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The Cassini Division is a very cool and possibility-opening look at a universe in which socialism wins the day in a positive way.  People do work that they like because it needs doing and they are there, and why not?  Nobody is doing without much of anything needful and people seem fairly content with it.  There are dissenters, but for the most part they are harmless cranks, for all that they seem to love guns (why is it that in all right-wing people are pictured as loving guns, even when the author is one of them?).

The Cassini Division is a group within the leaderless organization that defends humanity from various threats, such as the “fast folk”, post-humans who occupy Jupiter and are the reason that computers aren’t used for radio communication: the fast folk take over all radio and then the computers.  They learn and grow exponentially fast and are very, very dangerous. 

The Cassini Division has weapons poised all over Jupiter to keep them there.  Naturally, this book is about something that may upset that little balance, and the socialist order, too.

I enjoyed the story-telling pace, the characters weren’t just cut-outs (especially the evil capitalist—you knew there would be at least one, didn’t your?) and the fast folk were frightening.  Also, SPACE OPERA!  never a bad thing.

Australian Giant Monster February 6, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Mutants, Science.
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A 1.5-m new species of giant jellyfish that washed up on a beach near Hobart in Tasmania, pictured on February 6, 2014

One may well argue that Australia is a dangerous place what with crocodiles, 17 of the world’s most deadly snakes, poisonous plants too numerous to mention, insects that frighten Chuck Norris and really dreadful beer.  Still, the unholy terrors that lurk in the water are just as unsettling, like this little charmer, a five-foot-across jellyfish.

Oh, gods.  Just look at that thing.  Found on a beach south of the Tasmanian capital Hobart, this behemoth is being scrutinized by the local scientificos like Lisa Gershwin, a scientist with the government’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, who is trying to classify the beast.  She’s a twenty-year veteran jellyfish-watcher: "It is so big it took our breath away".

Be afraid.

Wrong Vowel February 4, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Uncategorizable.
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Wrong Vowel2

I never read Moby Dick in school (or elsewhere).  Like Jane Austen novels and Quentin Tarantino films, people have been told they are great so often the lie has a life of its own.

Mogworld, by Yahtzee Croshaw February 3, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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Mogworld, by Yahtzee Croshaw is a delicious confection of, well, horrible things, starting from the sudden consciousness of an unwilling zombie yanked from the sleep of the dead to be the unholy servant of a mad sorcerer.

Well, that sucks.  It gets worse; people in the land he has come back to are acting very, very strangely, as if their motives are all badly scripted for them.

Ah, forget it.  I’m not going to do justice to this funny, irreverent parody of sword and sorcery cum adventure game mystery; read it yourself and be delighted.  Better yet, listen to the audiobook and enjoy that even more.

Especially Reverend Barry.  Oh, yes.