Pixel Scroll 7/16/18 Now With Bolded Typos

(1) GONE WITH THE YUAN. The most expensive film ever made in China bombed and is already out of theaters. The Hollywood Reporter has the story — “China’s First $100M Film Pulled From Cinemas After Disastrous Opening Weekend”.

In the long lead-up to its release, Chinese fantasy epic Asura was promoted as China’s most expensive film ever made, with a production budget of over $110 million (750 million yuan). So perhaps it’s unsurprising that the film’s producers, which include Jack Ma’s Alibaba Pictures, decided to take desperate action after the movie opened to just $7.1 million over the weekend.

Late Sunday evening in Beijing, Asura‘s official social media accounts posted a simple statement saying that the film would be pulled from cinemas as of 10 p.m. local time. After landing in theaters with limited fanfare, China’s priciest picture ever would vanish from the scene entirely.

Asura is co-produced by Zhenjian Film Studio and Ningxia Film Group — two of the investors behind the successful Painted Skin fantasy franchise — along with Alibaba Pictures Group and other minority investors.

The statement announcing Asura‘s retreat from cinemas supplied no explanation for the unprecedented move. But a representative from Zhenjian Film, which is credited as lead producer, later told Chinese news site Sina: “This decision was made not only because of the bad box office. We plan to make some changes to the film and release it again.”

Chinese site Sixth Tone tells it this way: “Epic Budget, Epic Fail: Chinese Blockbuster ‘Asura’ Tanks”.

China’s latest fantasy epic, “Asura,” claimed to be the most expensive domestic production to date — but it didn’t even last three days in cinemas.

Six years in the making, the film was planned as the first of a trilogy based on ancient Tibetan mythology. The Alibaba Pictures production promised lush CGI from an award-winning, international team in its depiction of war between two heavenly realms. Marketing campaigns for the film emphasized its budget of $100 million.

But after opening on Friday, the film made a mere $7.1 million over its first weekend. By contrast, “Hidden Man,” a highly anticipated action-thriller by actor and director Jiang Wen, brought in $46.5 million. Meanwhile “Dying to Survive,” a dark comedy about cancer drug smuggling operations, defended its box office lead, racking up $68.5 million on its second weekend and even prompting a spike in online insurance sales.

Aggregate user ratings of “Asura” varied wildly across China’s two biggest ticketing platforms, Tencent-funded Maoyan and Alibaba-owned Tao Piaopiao, earning 4.9 and 8.4 out of 10, respectively. Users of review platform Douban rated the film a miserable 3.1 out of 10.

(2) EFFECTS OF COMIC CON PROLIFERATION. Heidi MacDonald tells Publishers Weekly readers why “In a World of Too Many Cons, San Diego Is Still King”.

An ever-increasing number of comics and pop culture conventions are taxing publishers’ exhibition budgets and turning artists into nomads, on the road signing autographs in a different city or country every weekend….

Indeed, the expanding comics convention schedule is beginning to tax publisher budgets while turning comics creators into a hardened (and often exhausted) group of road warriors who must trek to a different city every weekend.

As more and more events flood the schedule, publishers and creators alike are developing new strategies for dealing with the demands for their time. And the conventions are beginning to evolve, some developing business models to stay above the pack of newly launched shows, while others, including many poorly planned and financed events, are becoming synonymous with disaster, poor attendance, canceled events, and disappointed fans.

“The number of cons has really exploded over the last five years,” says Martha Donato, president of MAD Events Management, which puts on the Long Beach Comic Con every September, along with other shows. “It’s [become] every city, every weekend, all year, globally.”

Even for a location such as Long Beach, Calif., close to many West Coast comics publishers, the competition for guest artists and publisher-exhibitors has become fierce, she says. “A much bigger percentage of our time, energy, and resources are now devoted to getting exhibitors to attend,” she adds. “Talent and their publishers have many more offers than they could ever accept, even if they wanted to.”

Donato’s show gets support from publishers in Los Angeles, including Top Cow and Aspen, but even loyal exhibitors have to pick and choose. “Publishers are facing a deluge of opportunities and they can afford to be choosy,” says Donato. “There’s a lot of saying no.”

(3) RECASTING MUPPETS MOVIES. The most selfless answer is….

(4) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • July 16, 1955 Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe premiered on the small screen
  • July 16, 1958The Fly creeped the heck out of everybody…”Help Me…Help Me.”
  • July 16, 2005 — The 6th book in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series sold 6.9 million copies in its first 24 hours.

(5) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS

  • Born July 16, 1928 – Robert Sheckley
  • Born July 16 – Will Ferrell, 51. Holmes in the forthcoming comedy Holmes and Watson film,  HerculesHappily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every ChildCurious George and The Last Man on Earth series.
  • Born July 16 – Corey Feldman, 47. Genre roles in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film series, the animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,Tales from the Crypt and The Crow: Stairway to Heaven series to name but a few of his files.
  • Born July 16 – Rose Salazar, 33. Genre work includes American Horror StoryMaze Runner: The Death Cure, and Batman: Arkham Origins video game.

(6) COMICS SECTION.

  • Updating a Kafka classic at Bizarro.

(7) THE TIDE IS IN. Camestros Felapton continues scoping out the Hugo nominees: “Review: The Black Tides of Heaven (Novella) J.Y.Yang”.

As I said above, I found the second half easier to engage with than the first. It focuses more on Akeha, the surpising “spare” half of the twins, who in post-adolesence decides to be confirmed as a male (gender is assigned post-childhood in this world). Fate, prophercy, control and inevitability (whether magical or political) play out as important themes but, again, I think their impact as ideas get lost amid the scale of the story.

(8) IN ORDER. Mark Kaedrin gives his rankings and his reasons — “Hugo Awards: Short Stories”.

In the past five years of reading Hugo nominated short stories, I think I’ve enjoyed about 2-3 of the stories quite a bit. That’s… not a very good batting average. For whatever reason, I always find that this category just fills up with stories that don’t work for me. True, several puppy trolling nominations made the cut, which didn’t help (for example: they nominated SF-themed erotica two years in a row, and then another that was a bad parody of a bad story, etc…), but even the stories I liked weren’t that great. I’ve always chalked that up to this category having the lowest barrier to entry. It doesn’t take a whole lot of time or effort to seek out a bunch of short stories (mostly available for free online too), so the nominations are spread far and wide. There used to be a requirement that a finalist had to have at least 5% of the nominations in order to be considered, which often resulted in a small category because most stories couldn’t clear that bar. So basically, the stories that do make it here rarely have wide appeal. That being said, this year’s nominees are actually a pretty congenial bunch. I don’t actually hate any of the stories, even if a few don’t quite tweak me the way I’d like (even those are pretty good though). I do still find it hard to believe that these are the actual best short fiction of the year, but I’ll take this over the past 4 years’ worth of nominations. However, I do think it’s telling that at least one story on the 1942 Retro Hugos ballot, Proof by Hal Clement, is far better than any of these nominees, which I think says something (I’d have to read/reread a couple of the other 1942 finalists to be sure, but I suspect that ballot is more my speed). Anyway, let’s get to it….

(9) CURRENT EVENTS. And don’t forget this year’s fiction. Rocket Stack Rank hasn’t — “July 2018 Ratings”. Greg Hullender summarizes:

We posted our monthly ratings last night. It was a typical month, with 11 stories recommended (with 4 or 5 stars) out of 72 (expected would be 11 to 13).

We recommended 4 stories from F&SF, 3 from Asimov’s,  2 from Analog had 2. The other two were in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Lightspeed. Over time, the three print and seven online magazines we follow split the recommendations 50/50 (not counting stand-alone novellas or original anthologies), and the print magazines only come out 6 times a year, so this isn’t quite as lopsided as it looks, but it was definitely a good month for the traditional three magazines.

(10) START YOUR COCKY CAREER. This article on “Cocky-gate” also seems to be a great blueprint for how to use Kindle Unlimited to give you a 6-figure salary. Let The Verge tell you about it: “Bad Romance”.

…The fight over #Cockygate, as it was branded online, emerged from the strange universe of Amazon Kindle Unlimited, where authors collaborate and compete to game Amazon’s algorithm. Trademark trolling is just the beginning: There are private chat groups, ebook exploits, conspiracies to seed hyperspecific trends like “Navy SEALs” and “mountain men,” and even a controversial sweepstakes in which a popular self-published author offered his readers a chance to win diamonds from Tiffany’s if they reviewed his new book.

Much of what’s alleged is perfectly legal, and even technically within Amazon’s terms of service. But for authors and fans, the genre is also a community, and the idea that unethical marketing and algorithmic tricks are running rampant has embroiled their world in controversy. Some authors even believe that the financial incentives set up by Kindle Unlimited are reshaping the romance genre — possibly even making it more misogynistic.

A genre that mostly features shiny, shirtless men on its covers and sells ebooks for 99 cents a pop might seem unserious. But at stake are revenues sometimes amounting to a million dollars a year, with some authors easily netting six figures a month. The top authors can drop $50,000 on a single ad campaign that will keep them in the charts — and see a worthwhile return on that investment….

(11) THEY’VE GOT ‘RITHIM. Or you can try this route–sell your old pb’s for hundreds or thousands of dollars each on Amazon. The New York Times has the story: “Amazon’s Curious Case of the $2,630.52 Used Paperback”.

Even a casual browse through the virtual corridors of Amazon reveals an increasingly bizarre bazaar where the quaint policies of physical bookstores — the stuff no one wants is piled on a cart outside for a buck a volume — are upended. John Sladek, who wrote perceptive science fiction about robotics and artificial intelligence, predicted in a 1975 story that computers might start making compelling but false connections:

If you’re trying to reserve a seat on the plane to Seville, you’d get a seat at the opera instead. While the person who wants the opera seat is really just making an appointment with a barber, whose customer is just then talking to the box-office of “Hair,” or maybe making a hairline reservation …

Mr. Sladek, who died in 2000, is little read now, which naturally means his books are often marketed for inordinate sums on Amazon. One of his mystery novels, “Invisible Green,” has a Red Rhino “buy box” — Amazon’s preferred deal — offering it for $664.

That is a real bargain compared with what a bookseller with the improbable name Supersonic Truck is asking: $1,942. (Copies from other booksellers are as little as $30.) Supersonic Truck, which Amazon says has 100 percent positive ratings, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Ms. Macgillivray, who has published eight novels, said she had been poking around Amazon’s bookstore and was more perplexed than ever by the pricing.

“There’s nothing illegal about someone listing an item for sale at whatever the market will bear, even if they don’t have the book but plan to buy it when someone orders it,” she said. “At the same time, I would think Amazon wouldn’t want their platform used for less than honorable practices.”

(12) READERCON PORTRAITS. Paul Di Filippo shares photos of “Some Members of Fictionmags Attending Readercon 2018 “ at The Inferior 4.

In order of appearance: Ellen Datlow, Fred Lerner, Gary Wolfe, George Morgan, Gordon van Gelder, Henry Wessells, Jess Nevins, Michael Dirda, Peter Halasz, Scott Andrews, Scott Edelman, Sheila Williams, Steve Dooner, Mark Walsh.

(13) ONCE MORE WITH FEELING. And Daniel Dern covered the non-human population at ReaderCon, photographing this “alternative SJW credential.”

An ‘edge-‘og (hedgehog). (Not mine.)

Yeah, the SF context isn’t visible, would you take my word for it?

(14) ICE DELIVERY. NPR tells what it’s like for locals: “Massive Iceberg Looms Over A Village In Greenland”.

The photographs are stunning: a giant mountain of ice towers over a tiny village, with colorful homes reminiscent of little doll houses against the stark, blue-gray landscape.

But for the people living in those houses – that beauty could be life-threatening.

“It’s kind of like, if you lived in the suburbs, and you woke up one morning and looked out, and there was a skyscraper next to your house,” says David Holland, an oceanographer at New York University who does research in Greenland during the summer months. “I’d be the first to get out of there.”

He says that’s why authorities have taken action to evacuate those living closest to the water from the village of Innaarsuit, where the iceberg has parked itself just off the coast. According to the BBC, the village has just 169 residents.

(15) THE IMPORTANCE OF POORFEADING. “Harry, it s***s” — just not quite so badly: “Aliens killed by spelling mistake in 2013 Colonial Marines game”.

An infamously dreadful 2013 Aliens video game is now believed to have fallen victim to the most chilling of threats in the universe: a typo.

Aliens: Colonial Marines was released on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 to terrible reviews.

Many of them mentioned how badly the artificial intelligence (AI) behaved.

But it has now emerged that a single stray “a” in the game’s code may have been to blame.

Videos on YouTube show the game’s AI characters – the aliens and human teammates the player doesn’t control – ignoring threats, shooting wildly at nothing or standing in the line of fire.

(16) EARLY BRADBURY. David Doering has been digging through ancient fanzines and found a curiosity: “Here’s a little gift for you: a verse by Ray Bradbury himself–likely never before reprinted in the history of, well, like poetry or something. And maybe for some reason…”

VERSE OF THE IMAGI-NATION

“TIs a Sinema”
by Ray Bradbury

I think that I shall never see
Flash Gordon as he ought to be.
Midst growls of pain & awful lafter
each Saturday I see a chapter.
I cannot bear to see him more
for he Is really such a bore.

& Tarzan! too, is all so poor:
A shrinking violet demure
who beats upon his frazzled chest
& turns his puss into the west
to roar defiance with…”Fresh fish!
–I think that he’s a lousy dish…

From: Imagination, v. 1, issue 11, whole no. 11, August 1938

[Thanks to David Doering, Chip Hitchcock, JJ, Mike Kennedy, StephenfromOttawa, Brian Z., Martin Morse Wooster, Andrew Porter, Cat Eldridge, Greg Hullender, Bill Burns, John King Tarpinian, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Mix Mat.]

Pixel Scroll 4/8/18 Do Not Go Pixel Out Of That Good Hive, Buzz, Buzz, Against The Flying Of The Five

(1) WALK / DON’T WALK. This not-quite-infinite series of variations on Le Guin’s famous story: “Once upon a time there was a city called Omelas, where everyone lived good and happy and fulfilling lives” is a hoot!

“…the best predictions of our scientists suggest that there will be a slight average decrease in various hard-to-measure kinds of happiness, which nevertheless in total adds up to more suffering than this child experiences.”
And Outis said to the elder, “I will have no part in this evil thing.” And he took the child and bathed him and cared for his wounds. And the average happiness increased in some ways and decreased in others, and the net effect might have been negative, but the best results on the matter had p > 0.05, so the scientists of Omelas could not rule out the null hypothesis.

(2) SUE ‘EM, DANNO. Dorothy Grant gives the rundown on a scam to inflate payments from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program in “Book stuffing, KU reads, and Amazon’s Doing Something” at Mad Genius Club.

While I would hope that everyone who reads this is interested in being a real author making up real stories that are your own, writing them down, and publishing them, we are all aware that there are scammers out there, and people who care more about the money, than acting ethically or the readers. We also know that Amazon has a habit of taking a wide swath of potential wrongdoers, then filtering out and restoring the innocent.

Yep, they’re doing it again.

  1. David Gaughran gave us the first heads-up on twitter that Amazon has filed suit against an author for book-stuffing.

Forbes article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamrowe1/2018/04/07/amazon-has-filed-suit-to-stop-the-six-figure-book-stuffing-kindle-scam/#2af7a11b7344

Book stuffing is when authors take all their works and stuff them into the back of every other book to artificially inflate their page count. Some authors even stuff in newsletters: the goal is to inflate the page count as much as possible, and thus the payout on KU page reads.

(3) ATOMIC PILES OF LAUGHS. Scott Tobias profiles “artificial intelligence-assisted comedy” in “Can algorithms be funny? Veterans of Clickhole and the New Yorker team up to find out” at the Washington Post. What they do is put giant amounts of text into a computer and produce “interactive text collages.”  For example, they put all the Harry Potter novels into a computer and came up with a pastiche that said, “Ron’s ron shirt was just as bad as Ron itself.”  A lot of the weird pastiches they produce are sf.

Onstage at the Hideout, a small Chicago music club, two performers read passages from Civil War love letters. “Oh darling wife of the war,” one begins, “I shall always be a husband to you and the children and all the folks in our neighborhood.” He goes on to complain that “the boys from the army have taken my breakfast.” The news is worse back home. “Our horses are sadly on fire,” his wife laments. But they’re ever reunited, she promises, “I would kiss you as many times as there are stitches in the children.”

Rest assured, every word from these letters is authentic. It’s just that the words have been scrambled up by a computer algorithm and pieced back together, one by one, by writers with an ear for the absurd.

(4) WESTERCON BID NEWS. Seattle (SeaTac, using the same hotel as Norwescon) has formally filed what Kevin Standlee says is likely to be the only bid for the 2020 Westercon.

(5) REINCARNANIMATION. MovieWeb has learned that “Lucasfilm Has Digital Clones of Every Star Wars Actor”.

The digitally recreated Grand Moff Tarkin and Young Princess Leia in Rogue One were unsettling and creepy for some Star Wars fans. But that technology is almost two years old and only improving at an expedient rate. The next time an actor gets digitally inserted into a Star Wars movie, it’s gong to be a lot harder to tell the difference. And before long, the line will be completely burred. Soon, Lucasfilm and Disney could have the potential to create a whole Star Wars movie featuring an authentic young Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, which practical effects built around them. And this will be entirely possible, even for Carrie Fisher, as Lucasfilm has confirmed they have digital clones of all Star Wars actors both young and old.

Incredible, right? As of now, these digital clones are being used sparingly and are often mixed with live-action footage of the actor to create scenes that would be impossible to shoot or are deemed far to expensive to do practically. We’ve seen this with Tarkin and Leia in Rogue One, and we’ve also seen it in The Last Jedi, even if you didn’t know that’s what you were looking at.

(6) MCCANN OBIT. Chuck McCann died April 8 reports Mark Evanier. Much of his career revolved around children’s television, however, the Wikipedia recalls that he was in vogue as a TV/movie actor back in the Seventies —

In the 1970s, McCann’s life and career shifted west, and he relocated to Los Angeles. He made frequent guest appearances on network television shows including Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza, Columbo, The Rockford Files and The Bob Newhart Show. He appeared in the 1973 made-for-TV movie The Girl Most Likely to… and was a regular on Norman Lear’s All That Glitters.

In addition, he co-starred with Bob Denver in CBS’s Saturday-morning sitcom Far Out Space Nuts, which he co-created. The 1970s also brought him fame in a long-running series of commercials for Right Guard antiperspirant: he was the enthusiastic neighbor with the catch phrase “Hi, guy!” who appeared on the other side of a shared medicine cabinet, opposite actor Bill Fiore.

McCann impersonated Oliver Hardy in commercials for various products (teaming with Jim MacGeorge as Stan Laurel),

John King Tarpinian sent along a photo of McCann meeting Ray Bradbury.

Ray Bradbury and Chuck McCann

If you want to see his act, watch “Chuck McCann & Dick Van Dyke as Laurel & Hardy & The Honeymooners.”

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY

  • Born April 8, 1974 – Nnedi Okorafor

(8) CANDLES ON THE CAKE. Steven H Silver celebrates Okorafor’s natal day at Black Gate in “Birthday Reviews: Nnedi Okorafor’s ‘Bakasi Man’”.

Nnedi Okorafor was born on April 8, 1974.

Okorafor won her first Carl Brandon Award for the novel The Shadow Speaker and she won the Carl Brandon Award and the World Fantasy Award for her novel Who Fears Death, which was also nominated for the Nebula Award. She won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award for her novella Binti in 2016. Her fiction has also been nominated for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, the British Science Fiction Association Award, the British Fantasy Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Andre Norton Award. Okorafor has collaborated with Alan Dean Foster and Wanuri Kahiu on short diction. She co-edited the anthology Without a Map with Mary Anne Mohanraj.

(9) COMICS SECTION.

  • Daniel Dern is right – Curtis knows how to throw a party.

(10) POISONING PIXELS IN THE SCROLL. Nature celebrates an April birthday boy: “Tom Lehrer at 90: a life of scientific satire”.

Much of Lehrer’s oeuvre — some 50 songs (or 37, by his own ruthless reckoning) composed over nearly three decades — played with tensions at the nexus of science and society. His biggest hit, That Was The Year That Was, covered a gamut of them. This 1965 album gathered together songs Lehrer had written for That Was The Week That Was, the US satirical television show spawned by the BBC original. ‘Who’s Next?’ exposes the dangers of nuclear proliferation. ‘Pollution’ highlights environmental crises building at the time, such as undrinkable water and unbreathable air.

The rousing ballad ‘Wernher von Braun’ undermines the former Nazi — who designed the V-2 ballistic missile in the Second World War and later became a key engineer in the US Apollo space programme. In Lehrer’s view, it was acceptable for NASA to hire von Braun, but making him into an American hero was grotesque. “‘Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?’/‘That’s not my department,’ says Wernher von Braun” — lines that still resonate in today’s big-tech ethical jungle.

(11) FINDING THE RETRO NOMINEES. Nicholas Whyte, with an assist from Carla, presents “How to get the 1943 Retro Hugo finalists” —

(12) CAST OF FAVORITES. And for your collecting pleasure, here is where you can get a copy of the Fifth Annual Science Fiction Film Awards (1978).

The 5th Annual (first televised) Science Fiction Film Awards. Hosted by Karen Black & William Shatner (who performs an absolutely jaw dropping rendition of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Rocket Man”) Starring Buzz Aldrin, Richard Benjamin, Ray Bradbury, Mark Hamill, Charlton Heston, Wolfman Jack, Quincy Jones, Piper Laurie, Christopher Lee, Paula Prentiss, Ralph the Robot, Lord Darth Vader, and many more. Included are the original broadcast TV commercials from 1978!

(13) GOOD IS NOT BAD. Rich Horton is working his way through the Hugo nominees. Here are his comments on Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty.

…But even before the award nominations, Six Wakes was getting some good notice, and I bought it and read it after the Nebula nod. And, you know what – I liked it. It’s a good fun fast-moving read. I’m glad I read it.

But – well – you saw that coming, right? There had to be a but. The thing is, there are lots of enjoyable novels published any year, and I’m glad when I encounter those. But I can enjoy a novel and not think it worthy of an award. And, really, that’s the case with Six Wakes. It’s fun, it’s pretty darn pure hard SF (with the understanding that “hard SF” absolutely does NOT mean “SF that gets all the science right”), it’s exciting. But, it also has some annoying logic holes, and it doesn’t really engage with the central (and very worthwhile) moral issues it raises as rigorously as I wish it had, and the prose is just OK….

(14) ARISTOTLE. Nitsuh Abebe explores the question “Why Have We Soured on the ‘Devil’s Advocate’?” at the New York Times Magazine.

…That name dates back to the 17th century, when the Roman Catholic Church created an office popularly known as the advocatus diaboli — a person tasked with making the case against the canonization of new saints, scrutinizing every report of their miracles and virtue. How could a claim be trusted, the thinking went, if it hadn’t been rigorously tested? Plenty of educators will still tell you that devil’s advocacy isn’t just useful as a practical matter but also as an intellectual exercise: Imagining other perspectives and plumbing their workings is essential to critical thinking.

But on today’s internet, the devil’s advocate is less admired than ever, and it’s often the advocate’s own fault. The problem isn’t just debate-club tedium. Last year, on Slate, the writer Maya Rupert neatly outlined just how toxic devil’s advocates could be on a topic like race. She noted that they often seemed to be adopting the stance of a disinterested logician in order to air beliefs they knew were socially unacceptable to hold in earnest; the phrase “just to play devil’s advocate,” she wrote, had come to occupy the same role in her life as “not to sound racist, but. … ” A black person continually asked to consider — just hypothetically, just for a moment — whether she was possibly inferior to other humans would have to be masochistically broad-minded to entertain this challenge more than a few times before dismissing it, and the sort of people who presented it, forever.

A little more than a decade ago, around the same time online sentiment began to turn against the devil’s advocate, it also seized on a close cousin: the “concern troll.” If the devil’s advocate playacts disagreement with you for the sake of strengthening your argument, the concern troll is his mirror image, a person who pretends to agree with you in order to undermine you. The concern troll airs disingenuous worries, sows doubt, saps energy, has reservations, worries that things are going too far. At first, the term described purposeful double agents — people like the congressional staffer suspected, back in 2006, of posing as a Democrat to leave comments on liberal blogs suggesting everyone abandon the candidate vying for a Republican incumbent’s seat. But the term has evolved in such a way that, at this point, a person can very easily qualify as a concern troll without even knowing it.

A tidy summary on the “Geek Feminism” Wiki site explains why this is the case: Even earnest concern-airing can be pernicious, turning every discussion into a battle over basic premises. …

(15) UNEVENLY DISTRIBUTED. The BBC reports “The Swedes rebelling against a cashless society” where the elderly are especially likely to be left out.

However, while Sweden’s rush to embrace digital payments has received plenty of global hype, and is frequently flagged as an example of the Nordic nation’s innovation, there are growing concerns about the pace of change.

Some worry about the challenges it poses for vulnerable groups, especially the elderly.

“As long as there is the right to use cash in Sweden, we think people should have the option to use it and be able to put money in the bank,” says Ola Nilsson, a spokesperson for the Swedish National Pensioners’ Organisation, which is lobbying the government on behalf of its 350,000 members.

“We’re not against the cashless society, we just want to stop it from going too fast.”

(16) THE LIGHTS IN THE SKY ARE… What we can see from the ground is only part of what happens: “Hunting mystery giant lightning from space”.

The electrifying effects of storms are frequently observed from the space station.

Yet when lightning strikes downward, something very different is happening above the cloud tops.

Known as Transient Luminous Events (TLEs), these unusual features were first spotted by accident in 1989.

Minnesota professor John R Winckler was testing a television camera in advance of an upcoming rocket launch, when he realised that two frames showed bright columns of light above a distant storm cloud.

(17) SOLVING FOR 2001. The BBC Culture post “Why 2001 remains a mystery” actually dwells less on mystery, and more on interesting parallels with Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

It’s been 50 years since the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and we’re still trying to make sense of it. Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction masterpiece is regularly voted as one of the greatest films ever made: BBC Culture’s own critics’ poll of the best US cinema ranked it at number four. But 2001 is one of the most puzzling films ever made, too. What, for instance, is a shiny rectangular monolith doing in prehistoric Africa? Why does an astronaut hurtle through a psychedelic lightshow to another universe, before turning into a cosmic foetus? And considering that the opening section is set millions of years in the past, and the two central sections are set 18 months apart, how much of it actually takes place in 2001?

(18) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Chadwick Boseman hosted Saturday Night Live last night, and appeared in a Black Jeopardy! sketch:

[Thanks to Chip Hitchcock, JJ, Kevin Standlee, John King Tarpinian, Daniel Dern, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, Nicholas Whyte, ULTRAGOTHA, Carl Slaughter, Danny Sichel, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Ky.]