History of the Fascist Electronic State

Remember when it wasn’t possible to hook up your own telephone? This site has some sobering history.

Once upon a time I had an “illegal modem” hooked up to my computer. One fine day, while I was at school, a phone repairman came to the house to add a phone jack. He found the modem and simply took it, leaving a note saying that I was lucky he hadn’t decided to confiscate my whole computer.

Sleazy state-level legislation (pushed by our friends in the MPAA) is being passed by clueless politicians. btw, if you live in Michigan, on Monday you won’t be able to use VPNs or NAT any more. Too bad for you.

Doggerel for a short war

Oh thar’s …
  Iraqis in the bedroom
  An’ TERRISTS in the loo
Them French are gettin’ uppity
  (But they don’t know what to do)
Now Germany’s stopped talkin’ to us
  And the Brits are turnin’ green
Goddamn, Saddamn, why’d ya have ta
   Be. So. Mean?

The Persian Gulf’s a-paved with boats
  Just rarin’ to attack
Bush’ll press the button
  And Tomahawks ‘ll whack
And MAYBE this will be the shortest war we’ve ever seen
  But Goddamn, Saddamn, why’d ya have ta
    Be so mean?

So when we git ta Bhagdad
  And find, in all the mess
Saddamn’s hole, we’ll take him out
  And present him to the press
On NB-AB-CNN, it’ll be on every screen
  Goddamn, Saddamn, why’d ya make us
    Be so mean?

Fairy Trubba

The infestation has grown to enormous scope; they have made great inroads. You can’t go into a bookstore without encountering the filthy reek of them in print. They have invaded movie houses with increasing frequency. The Internet is awash with their writings, their kitschy art, and their mindless, tinsel-jewelry-wearing followers.

I am, of course, speaking about the hacks that are continually held up to Tolkien. The book jackets crow. “Compares to Lord of the Rings.” “Like Tolkien at his best.” “Fantasy that Elron would Enjoy!” “Our publisher thought that mentioning FRODO on the dust jacket would increase sales, even though the only fantasies this book contains are our hopes that it will not wind up in the remainder bin.”

I am sick to death of:

  • Elves. Any size, shape or color, creed, alignment, nation, race, sexual orientation, phylum or unprouncable relationship my human experience has left me unprepared for. I can deal with evil gay gun-toting gold-eschewing gutter elves who double-park greyhounds full of goblins. That would be an exciting twist. Another high-elven maid bestowing a crystal / phial / maglite of Light upon a Quest and I’m going to lose it, I really am.
  • Dwarves who pull precious metals and gems from the earth, and who apparently never heard of toxic mine tailings or (indeed) water tables and pumps. Sic the EPA upon them. Better yet, it’s a wonder that the fisherfolk downstream from all this waste haven’t dynamited the Dwarves in.
  • “Little people” who wind up saving the world, despite being ignorant, backwards, parochial and often just plain clumsy and stupid. Send ’em someplace that is used to handling despicable, creeping, backstabbing and sabotaging creatures … say, Washington D.C.
  • Maps covered with stupid, unprounceable place-names, like “Losa Ngeles” and “Tol Edo.” If middle-earth had GPS and accurate maps, quests would last a chapter or two.
  • Plots so full of Deus-Ex-Machina twists (“Oooooh, okay, so a Singing Sword of Evil-Guy-Killing does trump my Ring of Sketchy-But-Significant-Ancestry.”) that you might expect Nostradamus to appear from behind the curtain, pulling his beard and waving his cell phone with the answer to the latest riddle from the 1-800 customer support number (“After thirty minutes on hold, they said to reinstall Windows and reboot the dragon, didn’t we do that already?”).

Ralph Bakshi had it right, we need to enslave the elves and whip some good honest Industry on the Fair Lands of Fairy. Time to put some highways through the boles of those ancient oaks. Balrog burgers should compete across the stream from Galadriel’s Falafel Drive-In and Gandalf’s House of Pancakes. Frodo should be hawking brass copies of the One Ring for fifty bucks (“We coat the inside with oil of wormwood, to give ’em a shock after they put it on.”) And goodness knows what Strider’s doing with all those No-Doze, but I’m pretty sure it’s legal.

Things are bad enough in the land of Fairy, and it’d be hard to make them much worse without being truly blatant, so why not just pack it in. Instead of a coy 12-book series, just pave Mirkwood, run a six-lane from Mordor (“Smoking Mountains Majesty”) to the Shire, run a funicular up to the goblin caves, drain the dead marshes and stick in rows of retirement condos along Bag-End.

Oh wait, the fantasy industry already did that.

* * *

The last honest fantasy I read:

  • Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry (starts with The Summer Tree).
  • Emma Bull’s Finder, Bone Dance and the classic War for the Oaks. Maybe lump John M. Ford’s The Last Hot Time in here, too.

* * *

Wups, someone pointed out that Bone Dance isn’t fantasy.

Well, if Robert Jordan can transport half his characters from the left side of the map to the right side in one poorly written paragraph starring a thinly disguised whirlwind (“…and your little, dog, too!”), then the above gaff stays until someone pays me a couple megabucks to write a LISP-based story generator to compete with RJ.

It can’t be that hard.

More books in the queue

The pile grows ever higher, the days shorter (and the cat, louder. Long story):

  • Christopher Moore, Lamb. Hilarious fictional history of Jesus, in the “unknown” years of his youth, as told by his boyhood friend Biff. (This reads a lot like Tom Holt’s Goat Song and The Walled Orchard, which I recommend highly, though they are out of print at the moment).
  • SmallTalk-80, The Language and its Implementation. I hadn’t really appreciated the section in back on the implementation of Smalltalk until I started noodling around with an ST interpreter structure myself. Fun.
  • Christian Quennec, Lisp in Small Pieces. And the paper on Orbit. Good practice, but for what?
  • Jonathon D. Spence, The Search for Modern China. So far, a pretty darned good history of China, starting from the fall of the Ming dynasty in the mid-1600s.
  • Popcorn: Peter F. Hamilton’s Fallen Dragon (his Night’s Dawn trilogy was fun, then boring, then excruciating, but FD seems better). Wil McCarthy’s The Wellstone (it’s funny that this came out in paperback, while The Collapsium was in hardback first). John McPhee (yay!) The Founding Fish (which is slightly autobiographical — McPhee rarely writes about himself). David Brin, Kiln People (though it’s pretty predictable, it’s fun).
  • And my boss is having me read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Could be worse 🙂

No Amazon links — patronize your local independent bookseller. Since Stacey’s folded, Handee Books is the store I’m happy with for SF. I don’t think there’s a good replacement for Stacey’s selection of technical books, unless it’s the Stanford campus or off-campus bookstore.

More Nostalgia

uOfMarylandPunchCard.jpg

Actually, I never had to use one of these at Maryland. I did have to use punchcards for one semester at a community college for a course on 360 assembly language (which, by the way, was totally redundant — I’d been programming in ‘sembler for years, but I had to take the stupid course).

At Maryland, I avoided the Univac Punchcard Horror in the Basement by doing my assignments on the Vax at work. Vax/VMS had a line-oriented editor SOS (Son of Stopgap), but it was still pretty icky. I used Emacs on my ITS guest account at MIT-AI, and FTP’d the source code over to NBS-10, thence to the Vax where there was a pretty reasonable Pascal compiler. Since I was using Emacs over dial-up at 300 baud, I had to write a “SupDup” terminal emulator for my homebrew Z-80 computer (SupDup terminals supported character and line insertion and deletion) to avoid excruciating screen refreshes. I drove up to MIT and printed out my final project on the XGP laser printer. It was easier than using the damned punchcard machines and waiting half a day to find a syntax error.

I do miss punchcards … as bookmarks.