Monday, September 24, 2007

What we need more of is science

Chernobyl fungus feeds on radiation:
Casadevall and his co-researchers then set about performing a variety of tests using several different fungi. Two types - one that was induced to make melanin (Crytococcus neoformans) and another that naturally contains it (Wangiella dermatitidis) - were exposed to levels of ionizing radiation approximately 500 times higher than background levels. Both of these melanin-containing species grew significantly faster than when exposed to standard background radiation.

"Just as the pigment chlorophyll converts sunlight into chemical energy that allows green plants to live and grow, our research suggests that melanin can use a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum - ionizing radiation - to benefit the fungi containing it," said co-researcher Ekaterina Dadachova.

Oh my god! Stan Lee was right!

US Army develops pain rays:

When turned on, it emits an invisible, focused beam of radiation - similar to the microwaves in a domestic cooker - that are tuned to a precise frequency to stimulate human nerve endings.

It can throw a wave of agony nearly half a mile.

Because the beam penetrates skin only to a depth of 1/64th of an inch, it cannot, says Raytheon, cause visible, permanent injury.

But anyone in the beam's path will feel, over their entire body, the agonising sensation I've just felt on my fingertip. The prospect doesn't bear thinking about.

"I have been in front of the full-sized system and, believe me, you just run. You don't have time to think about it - you just run," says George Svitak, a Raytheon executive.

Silent Guardian is supposed to be the 21st century equivalent of tear gas or water cannon - a way of getting crowds to disperse quickly and with minimum harm. Its potential is obvious.

Diana Mail though, so grains of salt, etc.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Come on Bennet, let's paaahty

Commando is the greatest gay movie of the eighties. I just watched it again and could go over it all the way to the ludicrous steam-spurting finale, but there's nothing I could say that ruthless reviews hasn't already put better:
For no apparent reason, Bennett exclaims, “John, I'm not going to shoot you between the eyes. I'm going to shoot you between the balls.” Money shoot him between the balls... But what really sent my gaydar off the chart was the following exchange between Arnold and Mr. Wells:

Matrix: "You can beat me... You want to put a knife in me. Look me in the eyes. See what's going on in there while you turn it. That's what you want to do to me, right? Come on, let the girl go. You and me. Don't deprive yourself of some pleasure. Come on Bennett; let's party."

Bennett: "I don't need the girl -- I don't need the girl!!"

Short of Arnold actually licking Vernon's ass, you simply could not come up with a gayer scene. Seriously, men fucking is straighter. And of course, you can’t spell Commando without “man,” “do” or “personal lubricant.”

Of course, there's no way words can do justice to the hopeless, conflicted longing in Bennett's face when Arnie goads him into going at him toe to toe.

Commando is fantastic beyond words.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On Finnish-Swedishness and alienation

So I went out to dinner with my classmates today, and amongst all the beer and talk about the virtues of Perl, C#, Python and unit testing and whatnot (I dunno if I've been spoilt by a year abroad filled with wider conversation topics or what, but *one* hour of shop-talk should be more than enough, surely? Or maybe I'm a just a horrible failure of a computer scientist.), there was one bit of genuine insight that struck a nerve.

One of the guys observed about his summer working in Germany, where he was the lone Finnish-Swede amongst a bunch of Finns, that what growing up in the mostly swedish parts of Finland (there's a bunch of them along the west coast, fact fans, especially in the middle part) uniquely prepares you for is being in a place where you don't understand what the hell anyone's saying. Everyone else was freaking out, but for him, it was business as usual.

And it's true, you know. I grew up in a shitty little village where something like ninety percent of the peopulation speaks Swedish. You simply don't need or hear Finnish in your day-to-day life, but unless you're some inbred navel-gazing yokel whose greatest ambition in life is to take over his father's pigsty, you're very much aware of the huge swathes of country where they don't speak like you at all. Point is: you're not 100% at ease in a lot of places in your country, so going abroad is not that big of a deal.

Which I believe accounts for how easily I got by in Japan at the start, despite the dire warnings from various exchange studies booklets. Sure, the customs are different, but the whole bit about only understanding the odd word here and there was just like being ten years old again and going somewhere Finnish, with their strange and terrible language that defies mortal comprehension. You just roll with it.

Or maybe not. I am after all a bit DUNK! after all that beer.

Function Creep an album by one of my internet chums, and a quite a pleasant listen, if you like atmospheric electronic noise in the vein of Boards of Canada and the like, with an added dose of nuclear paranoia. He recommends Target City as a one-song overview of the album if you're precious about your time and bandwidth, and I won't much argue with that, although I'm very partial to DMB myself.

You can get it all for free here, and if you like this you might want to check out the Not A Gun EP as well, especially Early Morning Weatherview.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Spook Country

William Gibson's a tricky writer for me. I love his books and the atmosphere he creates in them, but I'm rarely sure if he's *actually* any good.

Gibson, for the non-nerds out there, was one of the creators of the cyberpunk sub-genre of science fiction. Nowadays he's writing writing about the here and now, but still using most of the tools of he used in his sci-fi days.

Spook Country gives us three protagonists: former singer Hollis Henry turned magazine writer trying to find something to do with her life, the Cuban intelligence trained cultural and ethnic mash-up Tito, who makes his living as and "illegal facilitator", and the perpetually sedated translator Milgram who's been hijacked by someone who may or may not be a government agent. All of them connected to a mysterious container that's been at sea for a very long time, and is about to make landfall soon.

His take on the here and now naturally includes the current fucked up state of affairs in the US. While his corporate dystopias were very much informed by Reagan and his policies, this is by far the most overt political commentary Gibson's done in any of his books, so you get bits like:

"The old man was as American as it got, but in what she thought of as some very recently archaic way. Someone who would've been in charge of something, in America, when grown-ups still ran things."

and casual references to getting shot in the face by the vice-president.

I enjoyed Spook Country, but not to the same extent as say, Pattern Recognition. The mystery of the container pulled me along for quite a while, but the thing that usually holds Gibson's novels together for me is the atmosphere and vision instead of plot and characters, and I suspect the problem here is that I'm a bit too much on the same page. So I'm nodding along instead of going "cool" when he brings up levitating beds and the like, because I remember the story he cribbed it from.

Monday, September 3, 2007


So these last couple of days have been less than excellent. I was going to go on a longwinded account of every sniffle, quivering lip and stoic stare into the middle distance from the moment I looked down on the train to the airport and saw "Vicki" on the side of a plastic bag, causing my brain to go into an endless repeat of the list people I might never see again, to the final kick in the teeth of waking up in my dead-end hometown with not a living soul about.

But bollocks to that.

I've done more than enough such rubbish already, and whining and moping doeth not a dashing gentleman make.

Besides, I'm all better now. Through judicious application of music magic, mainly consisting of Kenickie's Robot Song on endless repeat and assorted dehumanizing industrial music, especially Front Line Assembly's Tactical Neural Implant, as well as a momentarily crippling addiction to Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, I am now returned to my normal detached, cynical persona with none of those moist fleshy bits interfering with my reasoning. Huzzah!

So: onwards! Towards...the future! And whatever happens, there will be no fucking crying.

But first, an illustrated guide one-picture summary of why the last year was pretty damn glorious: