Snapshots 39

Here are 12 developments of interest to fans.

(1) People who swipe things from the Virginia City cemetery find their lives don’t go so well afterwards. That’s why Candace Wheeler of the Comstock History Center keeps getting stuff back. (From the LA Times “Cemetery Sleuths Won’t Rest”.)

You’d expect some weird things in Candace Wheeler’s work space, since she helps manage burial grounds near the former Comstock Lode, and the 120-pound sleeping cherub on her filing cabinet certainly fit the bill.

Someone had swiped it from a Virginia City cemetery decades ago. A woman rediscovered it while cleaning her grandfather’s garage and brought it to the Comstock History Center….

A few years later, Wheeler decided to call the people who’d returned pilfered stuff. Thirty-three agreed to be interviewed, on the condition of anonymity. Back home, thieves used the plunder as garden art, firewood, patio pavers — until misfortune hit them.

“They cited examples of ‘bad luck’ that ranged from sickness and death to divorce. They sought a firm promise . . . that it would be placed in its ‘rightful location.’ This was thought to ‘reverse the curse,’ ” Wheeler wrote in her thesis.

(2) Wil Wheaton wrote a humorous account of the party he attended at the home of Seth Macfarlane (The Family Guy). Going in the door he was mobbed by paparazzi shouting his name, yet one of his oldest associates couldn’t recognize him:

“Hi, I follow you on Twitter and you never reply to me,” I said.

LeVar [Burton] laughed and said, “That’s because I’m an a**hole. What’s your Twitter name?”

I thought, “Ha! LB doesn’t recognize me!” so I said, “It’s WilW, but you can call me … Whil Wheaton!

LeVar engulfed me with a hug and told me he didn’t recognize me, on account of my luxurious beard. We talked for as long as you can reasonably talk in a room packed with people, an orchestra, and a bar made entirely from ice, before deciding that we’d just hook up in a week or so in a more quiet and normal location to catch up.

(3) Highly recommended: Michael Dirda’s review of the latest novel from Connie Willis.

“Blackout” plunges the reader right into the middle of three key happenings of 1940: the rescue of the British troops from Dunkirk, the evacuation of children to rural villages and country houses, and the life of ordinary Londoners during the Blitz. Every detail rings true, with the kind of authority that only intense research can bring. Still, all of Willis’s knowledge is subsumed in her bravura storytelling: “Blackout” is, by turns, witty, suspenseful, harrowing and occasionally comic to the point of slapstick.

(4) One more addition to the list of Things SF Writers Never Predicted. American professor Sidney Perkowitz’ proposed rule will allow each science fiction movie “only one major transgression of the laws of physics.” Did any science fiction writer ever depict a future in which “The right to dramatize bad science is the right to be free”?

(5) Newsweek’s article Educating Elite Hackers chronicles the US government’s frantic search for people talented enough to be cybersecurity experts. Unlike Star Fleet, the NSA is actively searching for people who can beat the Kobayashi Maru scenario…

It was the first Cyber Challenge, in 2009…that piqued Coppola’s interest. The cybersecurity simulation (titled “Netwars”) required the 240 contestants to hack into 12 servers. Each server was worth points and whoever had the highest tally at the end of the game would be declared the winner. But instead of going from server to server, Coppola decided to hack the scoreboard and give himself the most points. Naturally, he won. “It wasn’t part of the initial plan,” he says. “I just happened to come across the vulnerability and decided to focus my time on that.”

(6) There’s plenty to agree with this article about the impact of U.S. border security measures from the Toronto Star:

…[In] a survey commissioned by the travel industry, more than half of visitors found American border officials rude and unpleasant. By a two-to-one margin, the country’s entry process was rated the world’s worst.

This is not a problem only for whining journalists and other foreign riffraff. It is also a problem for America.

The system is geared towards keeping out a tiny number of terrorists. Fair enough – such people should indeed be kept out. But there should be a trade-off.

An immigration official lives in fear of admitting the next Mohammed Atta, but there is no penalty for excluding the next Einstein, or for humiliating tourists who subsequently summer in France.

(7) There’s now a Shibano Memory Forum dedicated to the late Japanese fan Takumi Shibano.

(8) No need to click the link to this list of “50 Top Blogs for Trekkies” at Radiology Technician Schools because I’m going to quote the silliest part right here. RTS recommends Harlan Ellison Webderland on the strength of Harlan having been “a famous Trekkie himself…”

(9) Cracked.com has applied the Theory of Evolution to the little people in a mockumentary article titled “The Ascent of Elves”:

It appears that elves began to develop a more cohesive society somewhere around the 16th century, ultimately electing a King (Oberon) and a Queen (Titania). While they were still a mixed lot of smelly, grimy little freaks, they were at least starting toward what we usually think of as an elf (prior to World of Warcraft fouling all that up…

(10) Times are tough. SciFiWire showed how tough when it caught Star Wars’ Boba Fett on video playing the accordion for spare change.

(11) Michael McKean was Lenny of Lenny & Squiggy, Perry White on Smallville, and has done a fair amount of sf comedy and drama over the course of his career, including StarTrek: Voyager, The X-FIles, and the computer game Zork Grand Inquisitor, and of course, as part of Spinal Tap. David Klaus says, “It’s clear he reads sf, too.”

(12) A New York Times blogger knows why so many superheroes come to the Big Apple:

The 20th-century big city, with its soaring spires, shadowy tunnels, huge crowds and towering suspension bridges, was a perfect incubator and backdrop for a new kind of archetypal adventurer who combined traits of the warrior, demigod, frontiersman and rationalist crime fighter. What New Yorkers might take for granted, though, is the extent to which their particular hometown has been instrumental in creating the comic book superhero.

[Thanks for these links goes to David Klaus, Andrew Porter, Ansible and Chaz Boston Baden.]