Sunday, October 31, 2010

A fine Halloween

Sometimes things just don't work out despite you best laid plans. But sometimes the wind is right, and the star align just so and a plan comes together. 
Like this Halloween, Samhain, Day of the Dead (not the Romeroesque one) or All Souls Night whatever you want to call it.

After some of the pinheaded comments over on Birmo’s Blunt Instrument I decided to make some effort for 31 October. I picked up a decent pumpkin from the Queen Victoria Markets, and on Sunday the_weapon drew his design,  I carved and we both scooped out the innards.

The jack-o-lantern was surprisingly easy and next year will embark on a more challenging design. So Jack now displayed in pride of place in the front window next to the door. That way any trick or treaters would know they would find welcome. We had prepared toffee apples, and filled a bowl with an assortment of wrapped lollies to reward any seekers.

The seeds we kept, washed, dried added a bit of virgin olive oil and some sea salt and an hour later in a hot over and we had a bowl of Pepitas to snack on while watching a suitable Halloween movie. But which to choose. The local DVD store was of little help.

Then that confluence of good fortune came to be. The Astor is an old cinema in Melbourne east big screen, great art deco and magnificent choctops. 

When I saw what was screening tonight – the choice was obvious. I even had the right shirt  thanks to Flinthart.

The_weapon loved it, and would be happy to go to the next school book week as Herbie West


How was everyone else's Halloween? 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Most fun to be had in a Zombie novel for a while

Any book which has George Romero honored as savior of humanity and talks about his shambling re-animated corpse locked in a government research centre is ahead in my book, abiet a severed and rotting head.

FEED by Mira Grant AKA Seanan McGuire, (you'll never see them in the same room together, is the first book in the NewsFlesh trilogy to which all I can say is: Get cracking woman I want the rest of the story.

The world Ms Grant has built is set 20 years after the rising when an experimental cancer therapy combined with genetically engineered flu virus designed to give immunity to the common cold with one heck of a side effect - It raised the dead.

The amount of thought Ms Grant has given to the sort of world after 20 years of zombies giving rise to infection is impressive. The consideration of the fact that when anyone or decent sized mammal dies it re-animates shows she has spent a lot of time researching the kind of stuff I love to read about: Virus, disease control, emergency response planning and of course the best weapons/ways to take down the dead.

Sarah Palin's America has come to past with Alaska having been surrendered to the zombies, designated a zone 1.  From the book:

“They can only legally bathe you in bleach for a half a minute unless you’ve been in a Level 2 zone. At that point they can keep dunking you until they’re sure the viral blocks are clean. Travel in a Level 1 zone mean’s they are not legally obligated to do anything but shoot you” 

 The protagonists are a brother sister team of news bloggers following the presidential campaign, but its the attention to detail of the world she builds that I most enjoyed. Sure its a world where you survive the car crash only to face a bite from a passenger who died and reanimated, because everyone carries the virus- it just doesn't activate unless you die or get exposed to activated virus. It's also a world where children want to grow up to be leading virologists, the most trusted institution is the CDC and nurses stations are hardpoints.

"A good medical duty station can provide an island of safety for the uninfected, even as an outbreak rages on all sides. If you airlocks don'y fail and you have enough ammo, you can hold for days. One duty station in Atlanta did exactly that - four nurses, three doctors, and five security personnel kept themselves and eighteen patients alive for almost a week before the CDC was able to fight through the outbreak and get them safely out".

One negative point for me is that all the blood testing units that people carry are 'Apple' which conjures up brightly colored plastic equipment that is a triumph of style over substance. 

I guess for a book about bloggers no one would be suprised the book has its own website, click here it carries a nice line in pseudo advertisements.

The bond between Georgia and her brother Shaun is a dynamic I hope we get to explore in the next book Deadline due May 2011.

But what I found best about FEED? In a genre that tends towards  the bleak and sad, and don't miss-understand there is enough tragedy and despair in this tale to satisfy a teenage Emily Dikinson fan. People die in this story, good and bad, important and minor. In its willingness to kill off people it reminds me of that another great Zombie narrative The WALKING DEAD. But after 20 years of a horrific plague that has touched EVERYONE the human race is surviving and adapting. That no matter what may come or how horrible it will be humanity can make it through.

Thats why its the zombie story I have enjoyed reading the most this year. 

Oh and if the dead do walk and you run into a woman called Mira, do what she says and you might just make it through the rising.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Whats your nightmare vision of the future

I been a fan of Dr Daniel H Wilson for a while now. Does anyone know why do the news/blogs leave off his title. The man has a PhD in Robotics from the Carnegie Mellon University. Is CMU some sort of clown college or one of those one-shed divinity mills? I don’t understand why in all the links about him they don’t put on the Dr. If they are worried he might be confused for a sawbones put a Ph.D at the end.

I suspect its because he writes in an entertaining, popular way books like:

  • How to survive a robot up rising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion,
personally I am stocking up on supermagnets and thermite and reading over this wired article How to terminate a terminator.

  • Where’s my (damn) jetpack? A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future that Never Arrived Which sums up how I felt on 1 January 2001.

  • Mad Scientist Hall of Fame: Muwahahahaha! -Forget the Nobel this is the pinnacle to which all scientists should aspire, and further developed the_weapon’s interest in Science. My only request is to include Dr Horrible in any future additions.
  • How to Build a Robot Army: Tips on Defending Planet Earth Against Alien Invaders, Ninjas, Monsters, and Zombies much of this excellent advice in summarized on-line  in the wired article How to Stop a 500 foot monster

So yes I am big FAN of the good doctor's work and have been awaiting his next book, due for release June 2011 called Robopocalypse: A Novel. Which to date all I have been able to determine is

A Novel of Human Survival during an apocalyptic robot uprising, sound like a RomComRob doesn't it?  

Given that the treacherous sentient machines turning against us is my number 2 vision of the nightmare future, right after the rise of the walking dead, and just before the spread of a Captain Trips like supervirus, this book is eagerly anticipated.

Now it seems I am part of the zeitgeist as this week it was announced that Steven Spielberg has been named as a director for the film of Robopocalypse. And Jack Black will being involved in the movie version of How to Survive a robot up rising.
Seriously with World War Z movie in production I am looking forward to some serious apocalyptic filmage in the next couple of years. Any other moives I need to keep an eye on?  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Big week in Science

The big discussions in the house the week.

The Nobel Prize prize for physics was awarded to Andrew Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for their 'groundbreaking experiments regarding the two dimensional material graphene'.  
A very small, weird net

This rocks as Andrew Geim is a CHEMIST, yeah that's right A CHEMIST won a Nobel for PHYSICS. Obviously this has put some physicists noses out of joint. As reported by Bob O'Hare over on his joint blog This Scientific Life 

"Graphene is incredibly strong and light, which makes it ideal material to make hammocks for cats. Despite the merit of this work, the award has been roundly criticised by the physics community.

"I'm outraged" said Prof. Jon Nibus of the Clapham institute of Middle-Energy Physics. "This is a physics prize -we shouldn't give it to a bloody chemist. They'll only get it wet".

We've been big fans of Dr Geim ever since he won his Ig Noble back in 2001, interestingly enough that was for physics as well. His paper was 'of flying frogs and levitation', part of his everything is magnetic series. 

The_weapon in particular impressed and now wants to try and get a paper published so that he can win an Ig Nobel. Dr Geim also co-authored a paper in PhyisicaB with his cat Trisha titled 'Detection of Earth Rotation with a diamagneticly levitating gyroscope'.   
The other BIG news in science - We have exterminated another disease from the face of the world. Rinderpest has joined Smallpox as only existing in secure laboratories for scientists to walk past and taunt. "Na Na we wiped you out.." 
Rinderpest, German for 'Cattle Plague' doesn't affect humans, but kills water buffleo, yaks and other animals relied on throughout Asia and Africa. The disease is related to measles and has an 80% mortality rate. A program to eliminate Rinderpest was announced in 1994 and the last case identified in Kenya in 2001. Official celebrations will be held in 2012 but I can't wait.
But its not all champagne and fast cars for scientists this week.

"Puny HUMAN"
The ever vigilant Flinthart has alerted me to this case of species treachery.  Borut Povse at the University of Ljubljana (they even have a University was news to me) 
 has persuaded six male colleagues to let a powerful industrial robot repeatedly strike them on the arm, to assess human-robot pain thresholds. Each volunteer was struck 18 times at different impact energies, the arm fitted with either a blunt and a sharper tool. Povse claims "Even robots designed to Asimov's laws can collide with people. We are trying to make sure that when they do, the collision is not too powerful," PovÅ¡e says. "We are taking the first steps to defining the limits of the speed and acceleration of robots, and the ideal size and shape of the tools they use, so they can safely interact with humans." ...


The boys over at Topless Robot summed this up best for me

"You want to keep robots from colliding with humans? Put a fucking sensor on them that tells them when something is close so they don't run into it. It's not hard; we have them on fucking cars now so people don't back up onto children. All you're doing is making a robot designed to inflict pain on humans. I love forward to these assholes' next experiment, which is to teach a robot not to murder humans by building a robot that does nothing but murder humans all day."

So by my count that's two wins and a giant leap backwards towards the inevitable Robot uprising.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cub v Wild

I grew up in suburbia, and hence had a romantic image of camping out in the wild. When I was growing up the boy scouts were going through a bit of a decline, regarded as quasi-military organisation by mine and many parents so I never got the chance to join.

Perhaps if I had been able to play boy scout as a child I would have never ended up spending the last week of the school holidays looking after nine boys aged between eight and almost ten in middle of a forest in Gembrook Victoria under canvas tents. That's right I have been at 

The weather for the the week was as follows 
Monday  min 6.8 max 11.1
Tuesday  min 2.4  max 9.2 and 10 mm of rain
Wednesday  min 0.9  max 9.1 and 9 mm of rain
Thursday     min 2.4 max 9.5 
and friday we returned home

So 3500 cubs scouts and another 1000 leaders and support staff all up in the wilds of Gembrook Victoria, and DAMN it was cold and wet. 
A small section of the night time campfire circle

What is alarming that despite having a trial pack weekend where the cubs go away and camp,  nights where we invited all the parent to come so we could be sure they all know about what is needed for Cuboree, numerous newsletters, handouts, emails trying to make sure everyone understood what was expected, stressed that it would be cold and that the cubs needed to pack their own bags so they could find what they were looking for on camp.

Yet we still had conversations like this

Leader "its raining, get your rain coat"?
Cub " I don't think my mum packed a rain coat"

Leader "need to have a shower"
Cub " I don't have showers on Tuesday, I don't have any soap, I don't wanna"

Leader "Get ready for lights out?"
Cub "I don't have a sleeping bag"

Honestly, I don't know which is worse the cubs or the parents. Actually that's not true. It worse that an adult would send an 8 year old  to a camp with out warm clothes and a sleeping bag. So if nothing else then I've taught 9 boys that they need to pack there own gear if they are going on a camp. 

So what else can you learn as a cub scout on Cuboree, well watching Russell Crowe's Robin Hood the eponymous hero quotes

"I could teach you how to tie a knot that won't be slipped. I could teach you how to move through a forest. And I can help Marion teach you how to stay clean, so you won’t get sick." Add to that how to prepare meals for fifty, find your way around a camp, keep a tent dry and how to build a decent campsite in the middle of a forest and thats not a bad start.

I ended up as a cub scout leader because I used to stay and watch the_weapon when he went to cubs. They announced if no one volunteered  as a leader then the pack would have to breakup. The pack now numbers 26 and we only have myself and two other leaders. This is not an un-familiar problem with packs all around Victoria.  Next year I am moving up to be a scout leader now the_weapon is turning 11.  I don't know how they can continue to run the cub pack if more adults don't step up. Our number continue to grow, yet our volunteers are getting fewer and the ones we have are growing older. I worry other kids wont get these chances. 

Still we must be doing something right as almost all the cubs said they wanted to go the 23rd scout Jamboree in 2013. 

13,000 scouts for 10 days under canvas, watch out Marlborough Queensland.