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If Dick Cheney is the Emperor, do you know who the Congressional Democrats must be? [18 Aug 2007|12:30pm]

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My Favorite Depressing Science Fiction [17 Aug 2007|08:51pm]
Here's the list:

  • The Embedding by Ian Watson. A "near future" story about hideously unethical experiments (in linguistics, of all things), a doomed indigenous people, and violently botched first contact with aliens, everything comes together in the end in a way that makes the human race look particularly shitty. These days the author seems best known for his (distinctly less depressing) "Warhammer 40,000" fiction, but he also wrote a follow-up called The Jonah Kit that was even darker, though not quite so good.
  • Starfish by Peter Watts. In this one, the vast bulk of the grimness flows from a single conceit: what if the only people who could tolerate living on the sea floor for a long time are the victims and perpetrators of abuse? The rest of the book isn't too cheerful, but it's mostly just a contemporary spin on the sort of decaying dystopia we've been reading about for ages. It's the twisted human element that makes Watts' book special.
  • Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner. This is one of those "extrapolations" that's supposed to be a dire warning, but the main fears about overpopulation just haven't panned out (especially since Brunner was heavily focused on its effects on the First World). A lot of the rest is pretty dead-on, with racism still being a major force in American life into the third millennium, interminable overseas warfare, and rampaging spree killers. Brunner wrote the book in the late '60s, so I suppose he can be forgiven for thinking that the MTV analogue he predicted would actually show music videos.
  • Gateway by Frederick Pohl. SF that isn't so much gritty as it is grimy. It has a fair amount in common with Starfish, focusing on emotionally-damaged pioneers (this time in space, instead of the bottom of the sea) escaping from a depleted and impoverished Earth. Most people die, except for the not-noticeably-likable protagonist and narrator.
  • A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick. The backdrop isn't as harsh as some of Dick's other books---there hasn't been a nuclear holocaust, the Nazis didn't win, and people aren't watching their beloved pets die off one by one. Nonetheless, the story focuses so tightly on the devastated lives of its drug-addicted characters that it ends up being much more harrowing. It doesn't hurt that it's Dick's best-written book, either.

One thing I sort of noticed while putting this list together is that dystopian settings are not the central element of truly depressing SF. They aren't even really a necessity, since Dick's book was set in a Southern California that looks a lot like our own (OK, maybe that is pretty dystopian...), and plenty of books with settings at least as grim didn't get anywhere near my list. Even SF novels set in particularly dingy settings often have protagonists who aren't totally destroyed by the awfulness around them---Neuromancer, for instance, has a setting as dark as any of these, but many of the characters walk out of the book rather more whole than they walked in.
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I'm so lucky... [27 Jul 2007|04:25pm]
...that I've never had a trailer that someone could light on fire.
ELM MOTT, Texas - A Navy man who got mad when someone mocked him as a "nerd" over the Internet climbed into his car and drove 1,300 miles from Virginia to Texas to teach the other guy a lesson.

As he made his way toward Texas, Fire Controlman 2nd Class Petty Officer Russell Tavares posted photos online showing the welcome signs at several states' borders, as if to prove to his Internet friends that he meant business.

When he finally arrived, Tavares burned the guy's trailer down.

Oh well, PO Tavares can console himself with the knowledge that Jon Lovitz didn't beat the snot out of him.
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John Lovitz is Hardcore [18 Jul 2007|11:19am]
Who knew?

July 17, 2007 -- IT was fight night at an L.A. comedy club last week when Jon Lovitz roughed up Andy Dick over the murder of their "Saturday Night Live" colleague, Phil Hartman.

Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada, who witnessed the assault, said, "Jon picked Andy up by the head and smashed him into the bar four or five times, and blood started pouring out of his nose." Lovitz told Page Six, "All the comedians are glad I did it because this guy is a [bleep]hole."

There are a lot of things you can live down, but I have a feeling getting your ass handed to you by Jon Lovitz is not one of them.
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[29 Jun 2007|09:40am]
"Year Zero" is Nine Inch Nails' best album since "The Downward Spiral". But mainly I'm just here 'cause I haven't updated my profile in, like, forever.
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I've never been so fucking happy to press C-x C-c. [03 Jul 2006|08:44pm]
[ mood | relieved ]

For now, my dissertation is out of my life and in my referees' mailboxes. I'm home free.

Provided they don't read it, that is.

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So I was teaching geometric optics today... [08 Jun 2006|07:05pm]
...which prompted the following exchange with a student.

Me: "So, this ray comes into the lens, parallel to the axis. How's it going to go out?"
Student: "Like a bitch!"
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Unlike more mainstream media outlets... [06 Jun 2006|11:45pm]
...the Weekly World News brings you information that is crucially relevant to your day-to-day life.
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Thanks to the National Review... [01 Jun 2006|10:09am]
[ mood | impressed ]

...I now know that The Clash, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Slayer are champions of conservative values. By the end of this list, I was surprised that The Dead Kennedys weren't on it twice, once for their dislike of Pol Pot, and a second time for their dislike of Jerry Brown.

EDIT: Evidently, the good people at the National Review realized their grievous mistake in overlooking Jello Biafra's contributions to right wing thought, and made sure that "Holiday In Cambodia" got on their follow-up list. At this rate, I'm betting part 3 will feature Rage Against the Machine for their skepticism of public schooling.

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No comment is adequate or necessary. [23 Mar 2006|08:38pm]
Which is good, because after looking at this, my brain hurts to badly for me to think of anything.
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Best Teacher Evaluation Ever! [14 Mar 2006|04:34pm]
[ mood | amused ]

Q: What could the lecturer do to improve the class?

A: Add some color to his wardrobe. He wore black every day!

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The Apple is Totally Fucked Chronicles, Continued [12 Jan 2006|06:26pm]
So, fwoggychic dropped her iMac off at the TO Apple Store today for the second time. The guy there now thinks it's the hard drive that's the problem. Maybe that will fix it. Maybe not.

But anyway, we're having to lug the computer back and forth from the store. It's a freaking pain, and it's made all the more painful by the fact that we foolishly discarded the original box. Our apartment isn't that big, after all.

So, after establishing that they won't take any sort of extreme measures to improve this experience (like just replacing the thing all at once instead of piecemeal, or shipping the fixed machine back via UPS) I thought I'd take a shot at getting them to do something entirely trivial yet helpful: I asked them for a replacement box, since it would have a nice little carry handle on it. I figured that if they can afford to burn through a kilobuck worth of iMac components to fix the machine, they can afford to provide us with a box that is maybe worth a buck, tops.

The manager of the Apple Store was very friendly and sympathetic to my plight. He said that he would see what he could do, but ordinarily they can't order the boxes. He spent the better part of an hour trying to find a box somewhere, or order one from Apple, and failed.

It. Makes. No. Sense.

As an addendum, I finally received the box for my old iBook so they can replace the logic board. It took this long to receive it because they shipped it from Germany, and it will evidently have to return to England before they fix it. I can't even begin to explain this one. Maybe they think that because the last replacement happened in Europe, this one needs to as well. The only other possibility is that they don't perform these repairs in the US any more. Either would be shockingly insane. Or at least shockingly insane if it were any company other than Apple.
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On Scalito [12 Jan 2006|01:34pm]
So, at this point it's pretty evident to me that Sam Alito appointment to the Supreme Court will be confirmed by the Senate. Those of you who are familiar with my politics probably know precisely how happy this makes me. However.

In order to stop him, the Democrats had two options. They could
  1. convince a handful of Republicans to vote against him
  2. or they could filibuster him.

In order for either tactic to work, Alito needs to look really awful. Either moderate GOP Senators would have to believe they had more to lose politically by voting to approve him than they'd have to lose by opposing Bush and the conservative wing of their party, or they'd have to believe that Alito was extreme enough that the a filibuster was consistent with the "Gang of 14" agreement. No one has come close to doing this, not the activists who are appalled at the idea of Justice Alito and certainly not the Dems in the Senate.

Why did they fail so badly, when there are quite a few really egregiously bad decisions in his record? Why are they fucking around with this CAP nonsense when he's on record defending the strip search of a ten-year-old who wasn't named in the warrant?

My theory is that bad decisions simply aren't enough. They need a coherent narrative that would convince the media and the general public that Sam Alito will do craaaaazy shit once he's on the bench. They could never make one fly; they seemed unable to assemble one in the first place. Part of the problem was that Alito was so reticent and evasive about (among other things) his beliefs about whether abortion is a constitutional right. He didn't make it easy for them the way Bork did.

But they made it harder on themselves than it had to be. From day one, the conventional wisdom about the guy has been encapsulated in his nickname. He's "Scalito", mainly because the "Scalito" nickname is witty the first time you hear it. When you're trying to make the case that someone is so extreme that they shouldn't be sitting on the Supreme Court, you can't have his similarity to someone who's already on the bench take central place in your campaign and your thinking. I just hope the next time that the Democratic Party and the activists who are making common cause with it need to stop an appointment, they can assemble a better narrative than this.
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Bending Apple to my Will [11 Jan 2006|03:10pm]
So, about six months ago, I persuaded my wife that her next computer ought to be an iMac G5. She really liked it a whole bunch, until a week ago, when it basically started shutting itself down spontaneously, and after a few attempts to make it boot again, refused to boot at all.

It was still under warranty, so we hauled it down to the Apple store (which is a fair schlepp given SoCal traffic), sat around for a couple hours while the guy we were meeting with ate lunch, and then were told they'd fix it. They replaced the logic board and the power supply, eating a cost of $900 in parts and labor because of the warranty coverage.

We brought it home last night, and discovered this morning that it's still having the same fucking problem. All we could get out of the Apple Store, as well as their customer support line, was a willingness to bend the rules and allow us to make another appointment tomorrow. Yippee. They wouldn't even ship it back to us after trying to fix it again.

Now, I understand that phone reps and store managers both have a limited amount of flexibility, and they are adhering to the letter of the warranty agreement. Nonetheless, I am pretty frustrated with this, and this is the second time I've had a major problem with an Apple computer in the last five years (the other was the Dread iBook Logic Board Issue[tm]). I'd like to send a firm but polite email indicating my displeasure with the way this is being handled, phrased in terms of my rapidly vanishing willingness to spend another dime on Apple hardware.

Anyone know the best place to direct this email, and have suggestions for things that I should (not) put in it in order to get the most favorable resolution? Thanks in advance.
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Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District [20 Dec 2005|08:59am]
Unsurprisingly, the Dover, PA's "intelligent design" curriculum was struck down today. I never thought they'd be able to fool the courts, and it looks like I was right. The best part from Judge John Jones III's opinion:
Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

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"Harry Potter and the Naming of Crossovers" [22 Nov 2005|05:19pm]
One thing that I noticed after watching the latest HP movie is that the naming convention used in most of the books (2-5) is perfectly suited to generating an endless and hilarious array of really stupid ideas for fan-fiction crossovers. These books all have names like "Harry Potter and the Foo of (the) Bar", and there are any number of wonderfully inappropriate stories that have names like "The Foo of the Bar". To wit:

"Harry Potter and the Dawn of the Dead"

"Harry Potter and the Mountains of Madness"

"Harry Potter and the Claw of the Conciliator"

"Harry Potter and the Crying of Lot 49"

"Harry Potter and the Silence of the Lambs"

"Harry Potter and the Passion of the Christ"

The title of the first book, which is like "Harry Potter and the Baz's Quux", is less inspiring; the only two I was able to come up with were:

"Harry Potter and the President's Analyst"

"Harry Potter and the French Lieutenant's Woman".

Fortunately, the latest title, while diverging from both conventions, doesn't generalize in any particularly satisfying way. Sure, I can see that "Harry Potter and the Boondock Saints" is an acceptable variation on "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", but it just isn't compelling in the same way.
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Our Beloved Leader... [02 Aug 2005|12:14pm]
...strikes a blow against the decadent bourgeois doctrine of Darwin-Mendelism, so that we may step boldly into a Radiant Socialist Future!
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Home Again [28 Jul 2005|12:28pm]
So, after a very long day of travel (I was able to read all of The Scar on the flight), I am back in California with fwoggychic.

I feel compelled to post this, the ending of every '80s movie ever.
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A Great Leap Forward... [19 Jul 2005|05:12pm]

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Christmas in July [16 Jul 2005|03:28pm]
[ mood | ecstatic ]

So, for whatever reason, iChat now works through the insane proxy here at TP3 in Bochum. They changed something locally, or Apple unfucked it with the 10.4.2 released, but whatever the details are, I can now chat from the office. This rocks.

What does not rock is E.'s taste in music. The dude is this ultra-Russian, ultra-smart condensed matter theorist in his fifties, and he listens to Avril Lavigne. It's really weird.

The mad piping of the idiot gods in Azathoth's court? I'd bet five dollars that it would sound like "Skater Boy" for a few milliseconds before utterly wiping away your sanity.

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