February 2008 Archives

Learning the World

Thanks to Tom for another great loaner. This time, Ken MacLeod’s Learning the World.

One of my favorite bits (and one of many references to title):

Yesterday we were in a universe that included us and lots of cool stuff: stars, galaxies, plasmas, cometary bodies, planets, and cows and giraffes and AIs and blue-green algae and lichen and microorganisms.

Today we are in a universe that contains us and lots of cool stuff and alien space bats.

That’s a different universe.

A universe with a different history, different potentialities, different future from the universe we thought we lived in. We are not living in the universe we thought we lived in yesterday.

We have to start learning the world all over again.

He’s absolutely right that this book bears more than a passing resemblance to Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky. The stories follow similar lines of slower-than-light trade and colonization making first contact with unexpected aliens. And there are similarities in the ideomatic translation we see. Vinge’s book is more explicitly an adventure story, while MacLeod’s seems more a novel of ideas.

The conclusion seemed a little rushed to me, and smacked a little as either setting up for sequels, or just telling the whole story to make the point made in the last couple of paragraphs. But, overall, well worth the read.

First Time for Everything

It’s strange to be reminded that there was, once, a time when you had no real conception of what it was to throw up. (Frankly, I wouldn’t be so sad if that were still true….)

I know that BA has some theoretical context—he’s seen the damn dog puke up so many pairs of socks in his three years, how could he not?—but the look of sheer horror on his face yesterday when that became practical experience was so utterly pathetic. He just sort of sat there, looking at me like, “are you kidding me?” Oh, man.

In other news, he seems to be feeling better now.

Two Observations on American Idol

This is probably a familiar line: I don’t really like American Idol. I watch it, a little, because I’m around when the wife is watching. And now that casting is done for this season, I have two things to say.

One: Thanks to NPR, I now have the word for one of the things that has always irritated me endlessly about people auditioning for that show: melisma. I wish I had some idea why it is that people that can’t even stay on the right tune feel that warbling all over the place like they’re at some Bizarro World gospel music championships is gonna get them a spot in Hollywood.

Two: I would be very curious to how Simon’s voting in casting correlates to how long someone lasts in the competition. It seems like a lot of people make it through on two yeses from Randy and Paula. As much as everyone makes a show of hating Simon, I’d be willing to bet that his instinct is pretty good. (Not interested enough to actually re-watch the episodes, compile the list, and track the stats through the season, mind you. But if anyone feels so inclined, let me know!)