(1) SOUL SURVIVOR. Peter Jones testifies: “Westboro Wannabees Picket Norwescon”
So, I’m in my hotel room at Norwescon. I don’t have a dealer table, and my panel appearances are kinda limited, so I’m making the best of it by getting a much done on Black Powder Goddess as I can. I’m deep into revisionland when all of a sudden a load, distorted voice from a megaphone starts shouting at me to repent my sins.
Now, understand something; I am on the tenth floor of the hotel. So this megaphone is putting out some serious decibels, if not clarity. I step out onto my balcony, and see that there are people with massive signs bouncing them up and down in front of the con hotel as megaphone-preacher predicts a future of eternal fire for me.
I admit, my first thoughts were of irritation. After all, I’m just trying to get some work done, here. Now I’ve got to listen to this moron shouting at me while I try to fix this little bit of dialogue, or that paragraph structure.
But other people begin to emerge onto their own balconies as well, and now we’re looking at each other. Occasionally, someone shouts something rude back at the preacher. One dude starts up a chant of “Live in sin” over and over again. There are catcalls, people fly the horns, etc. But even that starts to die down in the face of what appears to be a never-ending barrage of scripture.
And I’m thinking to myself; what the hell good can they possibly imagine this is doing?
I mean, is anyone going to say “Whelp, I was going to hit up a room party, drink like Bacchus, and compare various forms of magic and demons to one another, but now that someone I don’t know has yelled Bible verses at me through a megaphone I think I’m going to church instead?” No. That is a phrase said by nobody, ever.
Video of the protestors here.
(2) TRICORDER DESIGN WINS X-PRIZE. The Harris brothers — mentioned here a couple of weeks ago — beat nine other finalists, including some heavily-funded competition. IFL Science has the story — “Star Trek’s Tricorder Now Officially Exists Thanks To A Global Competition”.
Star Trek’s all-purpose medical device, the Tricorder, has also inspired a fair few people to recreate its near-magical ability to instantly diagnose a patient. As it happens, the non-profit X-Prize Foundation were so keen to get one invented that they started a global competition to see if any mavericks would succeed.
Rather remarkably, one team has emerged victorious in their endeavor. A family-led team from Pennsylvania, appropriately named Final Frontier Medical Devices, have bagged themselves a sum of $2.5 million, with a second-place prize of $1 million going to the Taiwan-based Dynamical Biomarkers Group.
The objective of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE competition was to create a lightweight, non-invasive, handheld device that can identify 13 health conditions (12 diseases, and the very absence of disease) in 90 minutes to 24 hours with no additional help or counsel from medical professionals. Five vital health metrics, like heartbeat and respiratory function, were also required to be constantly monitored.
Beginning in 2012, 10 teams originally made the cut from an original starting point of 312 groups from 38 countries. Two finalists were announced last December, and six total were honored at the prize-giving ceremony in Los Angeles.
The team behind the winning design was headed by brothers Dr Basil Harris, an emergency physician, and George Harris, a network engineer. They came up with “DxtER,” a device infused with artificial intelligence, entire funded by themselves and two other siblings of theirs.
Concluding that one device alone was not sufficient to accurately and quickly diagnose various medical conditions in a patient, the team realized that they needed to link it up to a wealth of medical data….
(3) MORE POTTERCABULARY ON COURSE FOR THE DICTIONARY. Priya Joshi, in an International Business Times piece called “’Quidditch’ and ‘Potterhead’ could make their way into the Oxford English Dictionary”, says that the OED is considering these terms as well as “wrock,” which is short for “wizard rock.” However, “muggle” was added to the OED years ago.
“Potterhead”, which is a term used to describe a Harry Potter super-fan, is in the running, as is “Wrock” [short for Wizard Rock] a genre of music favoured by the pupils of Hogwarts. “Bellatrix” the name of one of Rowling’s characters, may also make it into the OED.
While it is rare for made-up words to find their way into the Oxford dictionary, they have to be in circulation for 10 years to be considered for this authoritative record of the English language.
(4) TODAY’S 3000. In the opinion of The Verge’s Megan Farokhmanesh, “Mystery Science Theater 3000 perfectly dunks on Stranger Things“.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back, and the first thing on its hit list is Stranger Things. Netflix has released a short MST3K crossover teaser that features the cast of the revival version of the show taking a break from their movie-centric entertainment to riff on the opening of Netflix’s breakout science-fiction thriller. Although the actual show is focused on questionable movies rather than viral-hit TV, the clip is still a brilliant bit of marketing.
(5) CROSSED SIGNALS. But wait, another writer for The Verge, Noel Murray, says the first episode is a sendup of the movie Reptilicus. Which The Verge also likes.
But Netflix’s revival version grasps something that most of the copycats miss: Mystery Science Theater was never just about sneering. The new Jonah Ray version of the series recaptures the original version’s handmade, “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” charm. The sets and effects look fussed-over and intricately detailed, but also inexpensive enough that any diligent, gifted community-theater tech could’ve pulled them off. During the first break in Reptilicus, Ray and the ’bots launch into a Hamilton-esque rap (penned by nerdcore songwriting duo Paul Sabourin and Storm DiCostanzo) about giant monsters around the world. In that song, Ray, Yount, and Vaughn hit every tricky, rapid-fire aural cue, but also knock over props and sing like spirited amateurs. The presentation throughout the first new episode is smart and energetic, but not always slick.
The main thing the Netflix MST3K gets right is the original’s giddy media deconstruction. During Reptilicus, there are jokes about the movie’s slow pace (“Feel free to begin the scene any time, guys”), and about the stock characters and casual sexism (“Brigadier General Military Industrial Complex, this is Miss Doctor Woman”). Ray and the ’bots have some fun with the poor quality of the source material itself (“Either this print is in really bad shape, or it’s raining tar”), and the movie’s distinctly Danish setting (“Protect the parfumerie!”).
(6) THAT OTHER TURING TEST. Emilio Lizardo never met the renowned codebreaker, but somehow Turing got interested in this saurian puzzler — “Color-shifting lizard’s skin morphs just as Alan Turing predicted”.
At least, when you take John von Neumann’s math into account…
There’s a particular type of lizard that changes the color of its spots as it ages — and researchers have just discovered the mathematical rules that govern this peculiar metamorphosis.
Meet the ocellated lizard, a 30-to-35 inch reptile that lives Europe. These lizards are born with unimpressive brown and white polka dots. But as they grow, they develop this beautiful, labyrinthine green and black pattern across their bodies. We don’t know exactly why this happens, but now, we know a little more about how. The lizard scales might be changing according to a particular mathematical model, reports a study published this week in Nature. The weird thing is, this model is somewhat different from the one that scientists have long believed to determine how animals get dots and stripes.
In fact, one overarching theory of how biological patterns form comes from an unlikely place: codebreaker Alan Turing. About 65 years ago, he proposed that stripes, spots, and even appendages like fingers may emerge from a series of chemical interactions between two hypothetical substances: an activator and an inhibitor. As both substances spread across a canvas like an animal’s skin at different paces, they compete with one another to give rise to patterns….
(7) TAYLOR OBIT. Robert Taylor, a pioneer of modern computing and the internet, died April 13 at the age of 85.
In the 1960s, Taylor was a researcher at the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, where his frustration with what he saw as inefficient communication led him to envision an interconnected computer network.
At ARPA, Taylor had three separate computer terminals in his office to communicate with his colleagues across Berkeley, MIT, UCLA and Stanford. Each terminal connected to a different computer in a different part of the country, he told Raz.
“To get in touch with someone in Santa Monica through the computer, I’d sit in front of one terminal, but to do the same thing with someone in Massachusetts, I would have to get up and move over to another terminal,” Taylor said. “You don’t have to look at this very long to realize this is silly. This is stupid. So I decided, OK, I want to build a network that connects all of these.”
That shared network, ARPANET, evolved into what would become the internet. To build it, Taylor assembled a group of smart people, like Bill Duvall at Stanford, Len Kleinrock at UCLA and the 21-year-old programmer Charley Kline.
(8) EFFECTS. “Ghost in the Shell Reel” on Vimeo is a demonstration of work by Ash Thorp about work he did for the 2017 movie.
(9) COUNTING EXERCISE. Lettie Prell and a white-hot adding machine tell about “Women Writers Winning Hugo Awards: A History”.
In sum, this analysis documents the large increase in Hugos going to women writers, from zero to a sweep of all four major fiction categories in 2016. I could have selected another award, or gathered other data, and documented the same upward trajectory, because what we’re really documenting here is the achievement of the broader women’s movement, which has been just one of the groups who’ve been working for a more inclusive culture. As for me, I’ve come to expect diverse voices, and I hunger for them as another dimension of the mind-expanding fare I’ve craved since high school.
(10) RATING YOUR UBER DRIVER. Buzzfeed fears that the Uber driver rating system gets people unjustly canned.
In a San Francisco Lyft car, there’s a chart taped to the back of the front passenger seat: “The Rating System Explained.” It details — in exaggerated terms — what Lyft’s one- to five-star rating scale really means to drivers.
Beginning at five stars — “got me where I needed to go” — the explanations quickly descend into parodic paranoia. Four stars: “This driver sucks, fire him slowly … Too many of these and I may end up homeless.” Three stars: “This driver sucks so bad I never want to see him again.” Two stars: “maybe the car had something dangerously wrong with it or he was doing 120 in a 40 mile zone.”
One star? “Threats or acts of violence possibly made, perhaps a callous disregard for his own safety.”
Though tongue-in-cheek, this rating system explainer touches on an essential truth of the gig economy: When companies like Lyft, Uber, and Postmates penalize workers who have low ratings, anything less than five stars feels like a rebuke….
(11) I GET AROUND. No beach for these boys, but plenty of sand — “’Star Wars’ Exclusive Sneak Peek: Hasbro’s Deluxe Luke Skywalker-Landspeeder Set”.
Luke Skywalker is all set to head down to Tosche Station for a rendezvous with Biggs, Windy, Deak, and Fixer in this exclusive first look at the latest addition to Hasbro’s premium Black Series line. The young moisture farmer can cruise the dunes of the twin-sunned planet, from Anchorhead to Mos Eisley, in his X-34 landspeeder.
(12) POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT. Blastr brings the good word — “Story by legendary sci-fi author Robert Silverberg being made into film”.
One of sci-fi’s greatest living legends is finally getting some love from Hollywood.
According to Deadline, John Ridley is set to write and direct a film for Miramax called Needle in a Timestack, based on a short story by Robert Silverberg. The story focuses on a man who sets out to save his marriage after it is destroyed by a rival using time travel to alter the course of history.
The involvement of Ridley, whose credits include writing and directing the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, as well as creating the acclaimed TV series American Crime and a new Showtime project called Guerrilla (he’s also still attached to write a mystery Marvel TV project), means it’s more likely to move forward than get stuck in development hell.
(13) SLEEPWALKING TO THE BANK. According to Looper’s Time Karan, “Upcoming Stephen King novel Sleeping Beauties already being developed for TV”.
It’s a scary great time to be Stephen King.
According to Empire, his upcoming novel Sleeping Beauties–which he wrote with his son Owen King–is already being developed into a TV series. The book is slated to arrive in September from Scribner. The TV series will be produced by The OA’s Michael Sugar and Ashley Zalta.
The novel is reportedly set in the relatively near future at a women’s prison in an Appalachian town. Here’s the official synopsis: “Something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep, they go to another place. The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied? Or is she a demon who must be slain?”
(14) HUGH JACKMAN SINGS THE MUSIC MAN. David K.M. Klaus supplies the introduction to this 2012 Tonight Show clip:
He still had it memorized from when he was 14, doing eight voices in rapid succession, the opening scene on a train. It’s a hoot! It shows that you can’t just walk in from somewhere and do superhero films — this is part of why he could master a role like Wolverine, through training as an actor and dancer. The opposite illustration of this would be Shaquille O’Neil playing Steel, from the Superman comics, and being an awkward disaster.
[Thanks to JJ, Cat Eldridge, David K.M. Klaus, Carl Slaughter, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day JohnFromGR.]