May 31, 2013

In Memory of Fallen Stars

Unu appeared to the girl as a crane. She was 7, washing her clothes. Unu asked her, "Do you know numbers, little girl?"
"What are you, to speak like a man?" the girl asked.
"I'm a man in spirit," said Unu, "and my spirit speaks so you can hear."

The Beach Comber
by Tarrby

Maybe one day in the distant future, along our path to post-humanity, we'll develop "superpowers" like reliable ESP or time travel by discovering and fully understanding certain mathematical structures. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, it all stems from this fascinating interview with cosmologist Max Tegmark on the deepest substratum of the universe. I recommended it yesterday and do so again because you don't want to miss it.

Just imagine. Equations that gave you the power to duplicate yourself in a different time and place. To occupy the consciousness of every single individual on the planet. You'd be the most dangerous person in the universe -- unless laws existed to keep you in check...

Japanese Crane
by Sandra Dieckmann

Further reading:
Cyborg America: inside the strange new world of basement body hackers
Humans with amplified intelligence could be more powerful than AI
How I rediscovered the oldest zero in History

Inspirational stuff:
35 ways to be a more creative blogger.

May 30, 2013

Dr. Gorki's Number One Life Tip

This week, challenges you to write a piece of flash-fic, under 50 words, without using the letter e. I submitted the snippet below (awaits approval at this writing):

Ian sights four land prawns at dusk. An orgy! Mating songs fill a tranquil twilight. Crouching in shadow, Ian aims his dart gun at an alpha prawn. Must hit a soft spot now. Bang! Oh. Ian's gun jams and bursts. Four hissing prawns, gigantic and furious, coming his way.


I'm publishing it here so it's governed by the general rules concerning prompts on my blog.
And why "land prawns," you ask? Well, before I googled the term, I had no idea the Doctor Who canon included land prawns. Yesterday I found this picture and it lingered in the back of my mind:

Does anyone know what this is?

Oh, but lest I forget. Dr. Gorki's Number One Life Tip: Mess with land prawns at your own risk. 

Elsewhere on the tubes:
1. How does the act of writing affect your brain? - from VisualNews, the cure for eyeball boredom.
2. Discover Magazine asks: Is the universe made of math?*
3. Gigantic land prawns are something of a biological impossibility: So are dragons.
4. If you want to protect and preserve your creativity, learn to say no.

*Imagine if you could wipe out famine forever by discovering the formula that creates churros out of thin air.

May 29, 2013

The Ancient Nevercity of Numbers and Blind Architects

Half-sleeping Florence kept her eyes closed and crept closer to Niccolò. The tiny clicks and pops in her husband's ear kept going. Like someone working through rows of beer cans.

 Florence listened. Beneath the clicking and popping a small, jaded voice intoned: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13...

Angel with Epaulet
by James Christensen

Starting points:
Man gets arrested for making over a hundred 911 calls, claims own brain controlled by satellites.
The universe may be unnatural.
Your brain can generate phantom noises.

May 24, 2013

Of Miracles and Wonders and Women Living in Trees

"You heard me," said Dejan. "I'm gonna use thin air for the walls. Thin air and nothing but."
Feist stopped laughing.
"You stayed out in the sun too long," he snapped.
"I've got a method," Dejan said.
"Dryad technology."
"Dryads don't exist!" said Feist.
"Says who?"

Mardi Gras costume design for Krewe of Proteus, New Orleans, 1889. Water nymph.

I've long believed that you don't need more than 50 words to establish a premise, introduce the main character and work in some of the setting through dialog. Nothing grabs the reader like a good opening line, but the first 50 words can do a lot of work. A hell of a lot.

If the first line of a novel provides the equivalent to opening the front door and inviting people in, then the first fifty words are the smile of your hostess, the scent of jasmines, the soft golden light that pervades the hall.

As you may have guessed, Dejan is an architect. The video below planted the germ for this prompt:

P.S.: Don't miss a chance to convey a message through your characters' names. Dejan is a South Slavic name derived from the word dejati, meaning "to act, to do."

Feist resembles Faust. I could be sneaking in the old story about selling your soul to the infernal powers -- or maybe I just wanted to pay homage to Raymond E. Feist. Who knows?

May 22, 2013

In the Land of Cannibals, Vegetarians Are Food

Today, a man who makes HD cinemagraphs in his spare time goes to jail because he stole two pixels and incorporated them into one of his living, looping pictures. PrionCorp owns said pixels.

Six modules away, his twin sister visits an outcast medic who deals in gender-flip tablets.


Cinemagraph by Jamie Beck & Kevin Burg

Twelfth Night.

The fascinating, if gruesome story of the man who took his twin brother's spot in prison. More than once.

What to wear on a 100-year starship voyage. The problem of recycling and coming up with creative technological solutions.

Juno Reactor bring you music for the ongoing science fiction movie in your head.

May 20, 2013

Does Nature Play Favorites?

Parnell woke up to the seventh day of protesting chained to the old redwood. Ants in his inner sanctum nibbled at Parnell's gentler bits.

Parnell fished around in his shorts and caught one of the buggers.
"Mother o' God," he said, "never seen a silver ant before. Never heard one buzzing."

The Next Step by John Magnet Bell
Anything you order from Society6 today will be shipped for free. Like, to your house. For no money.

Sometimes I think that the endgame for technology is to transcend a fundamental divide and become organic. Joanna Aizenberg, a leading Harvard scientist who researches biologically inspired materials, biomineralization and self-assembly, describes her team's ultimate goal --

"Our approach is to study biological systems, to think what they can do that we can't, and then to use these approaches to optimize existing technologies or create new ones. Our vision really is to build as organisms do." 

Quote from Beautiful 'Flowers' Self-assemble In a Beaker.

More signs of the technological omega point. Wildlife that is neither wild nor alive.

Intelligence craves release from the shackles of death. But, at what price?

A Visit to the Gallery in My Underwear
by John Magnet Bell

May 17, 2013

Minus Ten to Your Moral Standards

Three hours into my new job, my eyes began to operate independently from my brain. I reached a state of self-transcendent zombieness and learned to see human anatomy as a collection of wet, pliant machine parts and so grade their interactions according to an official scale.

Animated GIF by Guillaume Kurkdjian

This prompt was inspired by
Meet the Chinese 'Censors' Who Watch 700 Porn Videos a Week

We all need a new version of Office Space wherein the main character watches porn for a living. Don't we?

For the opening credits I suggest the undying classic, 'Yes, We Have no Bananas'.

May 16, 2013

The Twin Circuits of Love and Praxis

Moll Dixie, open source advocate, found herself in the arms of an aspiring dictator.
"Obie," she whispered to him in the close, sub-Saharan darkness, "come with me to Canada."
"I can't," he said, "I have to stay and improve my country."
"By killing your boss," she said.
"No other way."

Wiktionary provides the following etymology for boss:

"From Dutch baas, from Middle Dutch baes (master of a household, friend), from Old Dutch *baso (uncle, kinsman), from Proto-Germanic *baswô, masculine form of Proto-Germanic *baswǭ (father's sister, aunt, cousin)Cognate with Middle Low German bās (supervisor, foreman)Old Frisian bas (master)Old High German basa ("father's sister, cousin"; > German Base (aunt, cousin))."

But that's all Greek to me. Now, the Urban Dictionary gives me something I can relate to:

If you got more than $100 G's in the bank and stackin' paper every day, more than likely you are a Boss.

I got the name "Moll Dixie" by gender-flipping Paul Vixie, Unix software author in real life.

May 15, 2013

I Am the Angel of Payback

Most stories do not begin with a man trying to murder a fly. This one does.

Hector stalked between the desk and the door to his bathroom, with a makeshift instrument of death in his hand, nostrils flaring as if Hector could sniff out the source of that venomous buzzing.

Holy shit, they're even more horrid up close.
Photo's beautiful, though. Taken by JJ Harrison.

This one's autobiographic, kind of. I can't work with a bluebottle fly in the room, buzzing away and gnawing at my easily depleted stores of patience and bonhomie. That's right, I would hurt a fly; which must mean I'm not entirely harmless. Just look at that little monster, though. You never see anything that ghastly in a horror movie. No, not even in Mansquito.

Why are flies so damn hard to swat, anyway?

Michael Dickinson, professor at Caltech, has decided to look into that niggling question for you. reports:

Using high-resolution, high-speed digital imaging of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) faced with a looming swatter, Dickinson and graduate student Gwyneth Card have determined the secret to a fly's evasive maneuvering. Long before the fly leaps, its tiny brain calculates the location of the impending threat, comes up with an escape plan, and places its legs in an optimal position to hop out of the way in the opposite direction. All of this action takes place within about 100 milliseconds after the fly first spots the swatter.

Enough about flies and their concomitant horrors. We need a palate cleanser*, so let's look at this wonderful portrait of Helga Testorf by Andrew Wyeth, which he painted in 1979 and called Braids.

Click to enlarge. You'll see even more detail.

Andrew and Helga met in secret over a period of 15 years. Neither Andrew's wife nor Helga's husband knew of Helga's modeling. Between 1971 and 1985, Wyeth completed 247 portraits of Helga Testorf. While they never became lovers, this was a love affair -- between the artist and the muse made flesh.

*Here and there you'll find the delightful phrase, "palette cleanser." Your palate is the roof of your mouth. As for palettes, well...

A palette.

A palate.

The larch.

May 10, 2013

What, the Nose on my Elbow? I Use it to Sniff Out Isotopes

My fiancee should not develop those bony bumps on her skull -- not at her age.
"My dear," said I, putting down my mint tea, "your osseous protrusions are an offense to the scientific corpus."
"It is time, perhaps, to add to the corpus," she said. "Also, bat nipples."

And an embarrassing balding pattern.

A recent discovery thanks to BoingBoing: Spanish cartoonist Joan Cornellà. Joan's wordless comics display the kind of surreal sadism we honest, untainted folk can only conceive of in our yummiest foulest nightmares. You should guard your eyes, lest your soul be forfeit.

If I present a selection of Cornellà's painted comics here, it is for educational purposes only. Before we launch into the gallery of horrors, though, let this solitary panel serve as a prelude -- a taster, if you will --

"I don't know what I'd do without my friends. Who would give me
free bed and board and ask for ransom to let me go?"

Cornellà's work bears a stylistic resemblance to that of another degenerate, the vile, vile, VILE and wicked Daniel Clowes. Again, I don't recommend that you familiarize yourself with that pervert's work, except insofar as it may help you protect your family from the deleterious influence of modern comics.

Without further ado, I give you Joan Cornellà at a little less than his very worst --

May 8, 2013

Jungle Economics in the Age of Progress

James Pictor quivered in his sleeping bag. He shouldn't have asked that particular question.
"What are these money-wheels made of, Chief?"
"Earth, vine and blood," said the Chief of the Ant people.
"What kind of blood?" Pictor asked.
The chief made a slicing gesture across his neck.
"Man blood."

Painting by Martin Johnson Heade

I imagined an anthropologist/painter living with an Amazonian tribe which, for some mysterious reason, worships Greek gods and cultivates certain objectionable customs.

The Myrmidons ("ant-people") were a legendary Thessalian Greek tribe of formidable warriors. Led by Achilles, the Myrmidons fought for him in the Trojan Wars. Over time, "Myrmidon" came to signify one who follows orders without question.

They took their name from a fabled ancestor, Myrmidon, whose mother Zeus visited in the shape of an ant; turning the lady Eurymedousa into an insect of the same kind, Zeus proceeded to do what Zeus does best. Nine months later, Eurymedousa gave birth to Myrmidon. Hey, it's not cheating if a god turns you into a bug.

Legend claims that Thessalian witches had control over the sun and moon, and possessed uncanny powers, as Thomas Love Peacock observes. In Peacock's preface to his long poem, Rhododaphne, he quotes Apuleius:

"Considering that I was now in the middle of Thessaly, celebrated by the accordant voice of the world as the birthplace of the magic art, I examined all things with intense curiosity. 

"Nor did I believe any thing which I saw in that city (Hypata) to be what it appeared; but I imagined that every object around me had been changed by incantation from its natural shape; that the stones of the streets, and the waters of the fountains, were indurated and liquefied human bodies; 

"and that the trees which surrounded the city, and the birds which were singing in their boughs, were equally human beings, in the disguise of leaves and feathers. I expected the statues and images to walk, the walls to speak; I anticipated prophetic voices from the cattle, and oracles from the morning sky."

So... ant people? Not that wild of an image. Not in the ancient world.

I'm not sure whether embedded bandcamp songs show up on emails. To listen to "The Ant People" by Yakuza, click here.

May 6, 2013

El Serpe's Social Club for Mutes

After 12 years I find myself knocking on a familiar door, but have no idea who or what awaits me on the other side.

It isn't any cooler in the shade. I hear maybe cars a long way away, and an ichneumon wasp, and steps. Sound of one foot dragging.

by Jazzberry Blue

by Elle Moss

May 3, 2013

If You Prick Me, Do I Not Vent Sulfur Hexafluoride

Four days pressing south and the jungle is so thick that the vines and the leaves soak up all the oxygen and the agents in the trees all around me drop dead to the ground from heat exhaustion. I guess that hinders the master plan. Good.

Good? What do you mean, good?

I envisaged the agents as little furry animals resembling tarsiers. Check out some true facts about the tarsier, from the most reliable source I could find on YouTube.

Also, I'm pretty sure that Morgan Freeman created the tarsier.

May 1, 2013

Dr Loxus Finnegan's Radical Cure for World Hunger

French diving suit of the 1870s.
Via Xerposa: All Things Steampunk

Corkleigh approached the zebra turnip, clutching the circular saw as best he could. The great striped vegetable lay still and rotund on a browning mess of wilted leaves and human blood. Corkleigh pressed forward one inch at a time, dragging his iron boots and sweating.

Nobody else has come up with the notion of a zebra turnip, that I can tell.
An artist who answers to scorrosive draws a comic strip about a turnip warrior, though.

We do however know of a turnip moth. Much to my disappointment, it is not made out of turnips. 

Random turnip factoid #1
In Scotland, they'd carve turnips on Halloween. Scots Wikipedia helpfully informs that "[a]fore pumpkins wis easy gotten in Scotland (nae lang syne), swades an neeps wis howed an cairved wi faces for tae mak lantrens for Hallae e'en."

Random turnip factoid #2
The turnip-tailed gecko stores fat in its tail. French Wikipedia provides the following, ultra-sexy description of its dietary habits: "Ce reptile se nourrit d'insectes (blattes et autres) et parfois de petits scorpions, pratique aussi le cannibalisme en mangeant d'autres individus plus petits." 

Ah, the language of love.