Pixel Scroll 12/6/18 By Grabthar’s Pixel, By The Scrolls Of Warvan, You Shall Be File’d

(1) SNAPPY JACKETS. BookRiot lists its choices for “The Best Book Covers of 2018”. Lots of genre book covers here. Two examples:

I love a cover with a flipped image, this one showing a well-dressed man and woman on one side and a bowler hat-wearing man bicycling on the other side. The colors and rainy arc of tree branches in the London mist makes me think of Mary Poppins (that scene with Mr. Banks, anyone?) and then all I want to do is put this book into my eyeballs.

—Aimee Miles

Any time someone mentions this book—which is often because it’s awesome—the cover vividly pops into my brain. It’s like a movie poster for a blockbuster that you just can’t wait to see, and then after you see it you put the poster up on your bedroom wall!

—Jamie Canaves

(2) ATMOSPHERICS. Out today, the Game of Thrones “Official Tease: Dragonstone.”

Fire and ice. The final season of Game of Thrones begins this April.


(3) AUREALIS AWARDS DEADLINE. Tehani Croft, Judging Coordinator of the Aurealis Awards, reminds everyone that entries close at midnight, Friday, December 7:

It’s important to remember that ALL eligible Australian work published for the first time between January 1 and December 31, 2018, must be entered by midnight on December 7even work intended for publication after the December 7 cut off.

When entries are made, you will receive an auto response from our system to acknowledge receipt (please check your spam folder if this does not arrive) – this is the only requirement for entries to be valid. Details regarding payment (for long form entries) and submission will follow in the coming week.

Thank you to everyone who has already submitted entries this year – the judges have appreciated a consistent flow of entries in a timely manner, which has helped avoid an end-of-year bottleneck.

(4) FOURTH ALLEGATION AGAINST TYSON. Buzzfeed News adds a new charge: “Nobody Believed Neil deGrasse Tyson’s First Accuser. Now There Are Three More.”

…Now a fourth woman has told BuzzFeed News her experience of sexual harassment from Tyson. In January 2010, she recalled, she joined her then-boyfriend at a holiday party for employees of the American Museum of Natural History. Tyson, its most famous employee, drunkenly approached her, she said, making sexual jokes and propositioning her to join him alone in his office. In a 2014 email shared with BuzzFeed News, she described the incident to her own employer in order to shoot down a proposed collaboration with Tyson….

(5) MORTAL PETER JACKSON. The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy renders his verdict: “‘Mortal Engines’: Film Review”.

A fantastical bit of steampunk sci-fi runs to a considerable extent on fumes in Mortal Engines, an action-loaded tale of adventure and combat set in a future that takes its design cues entirely from the past. Based on the initial book in a series of four by British author Philip Reeve, the first of them published in 2001, this new effort by Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films is certainly lavish and expensive looking but never thoroughly locks in to capture the imagination or sweep you off to a new world where you particularly want to spend time. It’s combat-heavy, but not in an especially enthralling way, spelling an uncertain commercial future in the U.S. at least; foreign results could be significantly better.

One thing the film does have going for it is a resilient female lead, Hester Shaw (Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar), a survivor of childhood violence compelled to take revenge on her mother’s killer. Another is a bizarre form of conquest that’s illustrated in the extensive opening action sequence, in which one mobile society — in this case, a condensed version of London — races on giant treads across a rough wasteland in pursuit of a smaller, rag-tag community in order to literally gobble it up. There’s a milder, less demented Mad Max quality to the set-piece that decidedly rivets the attention, even if the sheer physics of it seem more than a bit preposterous; it’s akin to a huge garbage truck consuming a lawn mower.

(6) APPS AND TRAPS. Etelka Lehoczky says “Surrealism Meets Sci-Fi In ‘Parallel Lives'” in a review of this collection of short comics stories by O. Schrauwen and Eric Reynolds.

Parallel Lines is loosely a work of sci-fi. Most of its characters live at some time in the future, and all make use of rarified technologies. One woman communicates with a hologrammatic friend and lives in a coffin-sized pod. A team of explorers wend their way through outer space in a shimmering cubical ship. Schrauwen’s father Armand turns up in the book: He uses something called a Bomann Kühlbox T5000 to beam his face and voice to the future. (He finds it a frustrating experience, as the futurians ignore him in favor of seeking out exotic new ways of “leisuring.”) Schrauwen himself makes an appearance, too, in a first-person story of alien abduction that toys unsettlingly with the tropes of that genre.

(7) WHAT’S WRONG WITH WOKE “WHO”? [Item by Olav Rokne.] Lucy Jones of the Independent uses Doctor Who’s more inclusive storytelling — and the resultant backlash — as a framework to examine what it means to be “politically correct.” Her conclusion is pretty close to what most people on File 770 have been saying all along: that there’s nothing incorrect about telling stories that fully represent the diversity of society. “Doctor Who backlash shows why it’s time to bin the phrase ‘politically correct’”.

Words have consequences, and, in the rise of populism, these ones certainly have had, so instead of writing it off, I wanted to delve deeper into the Doctor Who criticism and try to understand what these swathes of shocked people online were outraged by, and if it had anything valuable to say about how people feel about changing societal and cultural norms.

(8) ARMITAGE OBIT. Peter Armitage (1940 – 2018): British actor, died December 4, aged 78. Screen appearances include Jack the Ripper (both episodes, 1988), Chimera (one episode, 1991), The Indiana Jones Chronicles (one episode, 1993), The Second Coming (both episodes, 2003), Magic Grandad (four episodes, 2003).


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and JJ.]

  • Born December 6, 1911 – Ejler Jakobsson, Writer and Editor born in Finland who emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager. Several short fiction works co-written with his wife Edith were published in the horror pulps in the late 1930s, and they co-edited two one-off magazines entitled The Octopus and The Scorpion. When Super Science Stories was revived briefly in 1949, he was editor for that two year run – with Damon Knight as his assistant. In 1969, he took over Galaxy and If, succeeding Frederik Pohl. With the assistance of Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey, he worked to make the magazines more contemporary. Under his auspices, several Best of anthologies for both If and Galaxy were published, and Galaxy was a three-time finalist for the Hugo Award. (Died 1984.)
  • Born December 6, 1924 – Wally Cox, Actor and Comedian. Who can resist the voice of the Underdog series, which ran from 1964 to 1967? I certainly can’t. He also appeared in the films Babes in Toyland,  Quarantined, and Once Upon a Mattress, and had guest parts in The Twilight Zone, Mission: Impossible, Lost in Space, Get Smart, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., and Night Gallery. Interestingly, he had a lifelong close friendship from childhood with Marlon Brando (Died 1974.)
  • Born December 6, 1938 – Patrick Bachau, 80, Actor, Writer, and Producer from Belgium who had parts in French-speaking genre films before crossing the ditch where he became known to genre fans for his four-year role as Sydney on The Pretender. He also played a main role in the miniseries Kindred: The Embraced, had guest parts in episodes of Alias, The Dead Zone, and Earth 2, and had roles in Jennifer Connelly’s genre film debut Phenomena, The Cell, Serpent’s Lair, Vampires: The Turning, the execrable The Rapture, and 2012: We Were Warned.
  • Born December 6, 1948 – JoBeth Williams, 70, Oscar-nominated Actor and Producer who graduated from university intending to become a child psychologist, but instead caught the acting bug. Genre fans will remember her for her Saturn-nominated role in Poltergeist and its sequel. Other genre films include The Day After, Endangered Species, Switch, TiMER, It Came from the Sky, and The World Beyond. She also played Marge Slayton in From the Earth to the Moon.
  • Born December 6, 1953 – Tom Hulce, 65, Oscar-nominated Actor of Stage and Screen and Producer. His first genre role was in a highly-praised performance as the lead in the American Playhouse broadcast of The Rise and Rise of Daniel Rocket, about a young boy who discovers that he can fly. Although the bulk of his career has been in the theater, his most notable genre film role was as Henry Clerval in Kenneth Branagh’s Saturn-nominated Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He was nominated for an Annie Award for his voice performance of Quasimodo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and appeared in the films Stranger than Fiction and Jumper.
  • Born December 6, 1962 – Colin Salmon, 56, Actor from England who is best known for playing M’s Deputy Chief of Staff in three James Bond films, and as James “One” Shade in the Resident Evil film series. He has had roles in films including Alien vs. Predator, Tales from the Crypt, Punisher: War Zone, Annihilation: Earth, and Space Island One, and on television series including Arrow, Limitless, and the obligatory Doctor Who appearance (with David Tennant). He had a main role in the British series Hex, and currently plays General Zod in the Krypton series.
  • Born December 6, 1969 – Torri Higginson, 49, Actor and Producer who is almost certainly best known for her Saturn-nominated main role for four seasons as Dr. Elizabeth Weir on Stargate: Atlantis – but, like JJ, you may experience the lightbulb going on when you hear that her earliest genre role was as the female lead in Shatner’s TekWar series. She also had a main role in the supernatural series Inhuman Condition, and a recurring role in the deep space mystery series Dark Matter. Other appearances include Stephen King’s Storm of the Century, Stonehenge Apocalypse, The Cult, and episodes of Highlander: The Raven and The (new) Outer Limits.


  • Brevity puts a smart weapon in Captain Kirk’s hands – or is that a smartass weapon?

(11) THEY’RE IN A RABBIT STEW. BBC One has put out a trailer for its adaptation of Watership Down. It will be released on Netflix on December 23, the day after it debuts on BBC One.

(12) MORAL EQUIVALENT OF WAR. M. Harold Page expounds on internet culture in “Worldbuilding Once and Future Fake News: Not Really A Review of Singer & Brooking’s LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media at Black Gate.

I’ve been reading LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by Singer and Brooking. It describes the emerging world of Internet “news” where news passes from person-to-person on social media, no source is uncontroversially trustworthy, and where both information warriors and click-bait farmers are uninterested in the truth, except as a way of making untruths more plausible.

In this world, what determines a narrative’s success is not veracity but rather: Simplicity; Resonance; and Novelty.

Just switch the arena to “rumor” and this looks awfully like a greatly accelerated version of the pre-modern — especially Medieval and Renaissance — milieus we use as inspiration for Fantasy worldbuilding.  Keep the rumor but return the tech, and it’s also a good jumping-off point for building a Space Opera future. Stay with me and I’ll explain. But first, back to the smoking ruins of Limoges.

(13) THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON. Nature reports a Chinese spacecraft will soon make the first visit: “Journey to the far side of the Moon” [PDF file].

Early in the New Year, if all goes well, the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e-4 will arrive where no craft has been before: the far side of the Moon. The mission is scheduled to launch from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan province on 8 December. The craft, comprising a lander and a rover, will then enter the Moon’s orbit, before touching down on the surface.

If the landing is successful, the mission’s main job will be to investigate this side of the lunar surface, which is peppered with many small craters. The lander will also conduct the first radio astronomy experiments from the far side of the Moon — and the first investigations to see whether plants will grow in the low-gravity lunar environment…

(14) MORE MUPPET MUSIC. Lyndsey Parker, in the Yahoo! Entertainment story, “Paul Williams unearths lost ‘Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas’ Muppet soundtrack: ‘One of my favorite things I’ve ever done'”, says that Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, which hasn’t been seen since its broadcast on HBO in 1977, is about to be released in theaters later this month.  Paul Williams talks about his song “When The River Meets The Sea,” which was played at Jim Henson’s funeral in 1990 and which he thinks is one of his best works.

When songwriting legend Paul Williams met Muppets mastermind Jim Henson in 1976, after appearing on The Muppet Show, the fateful encounter led to a long and fruitful musical partnership, highlighted by Williams’s Oscar-nominated theme for The Muppet Movie, “Rainbow Connection.”

But it all started with the 1977 HBO cult classic Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, which will be screened in theaters nationwide for the first time ever this month, on Dec. 9 and 16. And incredibly, Williams’s twangy Emmet Otter soundtrack has finally been officially released, just in time for this holiday season, with a previously unreleased song, “Born in a Trunk,” that didn’t make it to air.

(15) FRUIT FLIES LIKE A… MARULA? NPR reveals “When And Where Fruit Flies First Bugged Humans”.

A study published Thursday suggests Drosophila melanogaster first shacked up with humans when the insects flew into the elaborately painted caves of ancient people living in southern Africa.

That’s according to a report published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

Scientists say the flies would have been following the alluring smell of stored marula fruit, which were collected and stored by cave-dwelling people in Africa. This tasty yellow fruit was a staple in the region in those days — and was also the fruit that wild flies apparently evolved to depend on in nearby forests.

The humble fruit fly now lives with humans all over the planet and is one of the world’s most studied creatures. For more than a century, biology and medical laboratories have depended on this fly — one scientist notes that at least nine times, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded for research on Drosophila….

(16) STONE FAT: Harder to lose than cellulite! “Fossil preserves ‘sea monster’ blubber and skin”.

Scientists have identified fossilised blubber from an ancient marine reptile that lived 180 million years ago.

Blubber is a thick layer of fat found under the skin of modern marine mammals such as whales.

Its discovery in this ancient “sea monster” – an ichthyosaur – appears to confirm the animal was warm-blooded, a rarity in reptiles.

The preserved skin is smooth, like that of whales or dolphins. It had lost the scales characteristic of its ancestors.

The ichthyosaur’s outer layer is still somewhat flexible and retains evidence of the animal’s camouflage pattern.

The reptile was counter-shaded – darker on the upper side and light on the underside. This counter-balances the shading effects of natural light, making the animal more difficult to see.

(17) NO LONGER SF. Remember to tip your avatar: “Japanese cafe uses robots controlled by paralysed people”.

A cafe staffed by robot waiters controlled remotely by paralysed people has opened in Tokyo, Japan.

A total of 10 people with a variety of conditions that restrict their movement have helped control robots in the Dawn Ver cafe.

The robot’s controllers earned 1,000 yen (£7) per hour – the standard rate of pay for waiting staff in Japan.

It is hoped the project will give more independence to people with disabilities.

(18) A WORD FROM SOMEBODY’S SPONSOR. We’ve come a long way from the one-room schoolhouse. I suppose in another generation they’ll be saying we’ve come a long way from the one-robot schoolroom.

The Belgian company Zora Bots is currently conquering the world with its unique solution especially designed for humanoid robots. Now, Zora Bots is about to change the way education system prepares the future generations to the ongoing technology revolution. In Belgium, a new step has just been made in that field with the support of Zora solutions. Comitted in an ambitious digitilization program, the town of Ostend (West Flanders) becomes today the first smart city in Europe to equip all its secondary schools with a humanoid robot. That means no student in secondary cycle will be deprived of having his first coding experience with a robot.

(19) MAKING A POINT: BBC tells about “The Indian restaurants that serve only half a glass of water”.

At the pure vegetarian Kalinga restaurant, a couple have just been seated when a waiter approaches their table and asks if they want water.

“I said yes and he gave me half a glass of water,” says Gauripuja Mangeshkar. “I was wondering if I was being singled out, but then I saw that he had only poured half a glass for my husband too.”

For a moment, Ms Mangeshkar did wonder whether her glass was half full or half empty, but the reason why she was served less water was not really existential.

Nearly 400 restaurants in Pune have adopted this measure to reduce water use, ever since the civic authorities announced cuts in supply a month ago.

[Thanks to Mark Hepworth, JJ, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, Carl Slaughter, Steve Green, Daniel Dern, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Soon Lee.]

69 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 12/6/18 By Grabthar’s Pixel, By The Scrolls Of Warvan, You Shall Be File’d

  1. JJ on December 7, 2018 at 9:59 pm said:

    I have known a lot of software developers who were competent coders but absolute shyte at expressing themselves in spoken and written English

    As the old joke says: make it possible for programmers to write their programs in plain English, and you’ll discover that programmers can’t write plain English! 🙂

  2. I’ve been programming in C++ since the 90s. I still have to google to find out about some of the lesser-used corners of the language. *And* they keep adding new syntax to the spec, curse them!

    I think I agree with the article that teaching kids syntax is pretty pointless. I did a few years ago try to teach my daughter how to program because I think it’s a wonderful way of being creative, of making things. She wasn’t particularly interested, but she does have a very strong interest in and aptitude for human languages. She says she wants to be a translator, but I do worry that by the time she grows up there may be very few jobs available in that area. It seems to me that, other than for things that require a great deal of nuance, such as literature and diplomacy, translation is likely soon to be something completely automated.

  3. @Darren – quite. Unless you’re careful, computing hair-hair interactions is an N-haired problem. Back in the day only a subset of strands would be simulated and the motion of the rest would be derived by interpolating the motions of their simulated neighbours. I haven’t been in the sim world for a few years, but I expect now every fibre is simulated.

  4. The point of teaching “coding” is to provide job-specific skills. It’s for the benefit of the employer, not the worker; it’s a poor substitute for education.

    Computing is so much more than “coding”, yet so few of us who work in IT do much more. Every time I look up, more of my co-workers are business analysts and project managers. Fairly often I find myself teaching them just enough of what I know so that they can do what they need to do, at which point their curiosity generally ends.

    I wouldn’t want my kid to do what I do for a living.

  5. @PJ:

    I learned good ol’ Applesoft BASIC in seventh grade, then went on to teach myself 65C02 assembly about three years later. The latter is noteworthy (IMO) because my available tools were two reference books, a pencil or two, and a couple of legal pads. Notice what is not in that list of assets…

    Around that same time, I learned Apple’s variety of Pascal, which was close enough to what I used in college that I spent most of my college assignment time adding features. For example, one assignment was a maze navigation program: read the maze from a file, find an entrance, and crawl through to find the “treasure.” I started by implementing the right-hand rule, then added a touch of simulated common sense. At each intersection, instead of blindly turning in a given direction, my bot would “look” down each path to see if the treasure was visible – and if so, override the normal rule to instead go straight for the goal. Fun times.

    I also took FORTRAN 77 in college, and I theoretically took classes in C and UNIX, but those 8am class times were murder. Later on, I studied Forth from a bargain-bin book just because it was different – which also describes my motive for learning how to write SQL queries to add some randomness to my website in the 90s. (iHTML had really good SQL connectivity features; among other things, I used that to put random fake ads on the site.) I learned Perl on the job, along with the Mason framework that’s built in Perl, and I think that covers the big stuff.

    That doesn’t count a variety of scripting languages, because that way lies madness. IptScrae was notable for using postfix syntax, which I was familiar with from Forth – a then-hot graphical chat environment called The Palace used that. JavaScript, of course, but never Java. Also never got around to C++, although as I recall it looked really similar to JavaScript. I kept meaning to tackle C++ someday, but I usually learn a language by needing to write a program in it, and that never happened with C++.


    I’m pretty good at picking up computer languages, but I’ve always been bad with human ones. I was awful at French in high school, but enough of it has stuck with me that I can recognize simple phrases and sometimes puzzle out related terms in other languages. Computer languages at least have to make sense to someone, and one of my strengths in that field has been my ability to build a mental model for a piece of software (or a language) and figure out how things I don’t know ought to work. Hard to do that with “natural” languages.

  6. @ Kip – nice! I lol’d. I mean, really laughed out loud, unlike some of those fake lols we keep hearing about.

  7. Like Rev Bob, I’ve learned quite a number of programming languages over the years, but I’ve never been great with natural languages other than my native one, for similar reasons to his.

    I actually first started learning to program in Jr. High, a couple of years before the first microprocessor was released. A local science museum had a small mainframe and offered some cheap classes, and I was quickly hooked.

    OTOH, my parents were hardcore SF fans, and my mom was an English major who worked as an editor and agent among other things, so I grew up around writers and ended up fairly fluent in English–for a programmer. 🙂

    Anyway, I think the best way to get kids interested in programming is to offer them things that are programmable. And some example code they can muck around with. I know a lot of younger folks got into it via Lua, a small language that’s frequently built into video games.

    John A Arkansawyer on December 8, 2018 at 4:40 am said:

    The point of teaching “coding” is to provide job-specific skills.

    And the big problem with that, of course, is that by the time the kid grows up, those specific skills are almost certainly obsolete. This is a fast-moving industry, and today’s “hot thing” is likely to be tomorrow’s forgotten ghetto.

  8. @JJ (re breaking down big problems into pieces): top-down is all very well until Object-Oriented programming becomes popular.

    @P J Evans: I think I’m misunderstanding “decompose”, as { {1042,1043,1045}, {1042,1044,1045}, … } can be calculated in ~20 lines of C; what answers were legal?

    @JJ, later: IME, teaching logic (leading to logical breakdowns of problems) isn’t easy. For some people the first hurdle is that there are a few answers that work and a great many that can’t be begged, bribed, threatened, flattered, cajoled, or persuaded to work, unlike the rest of their lives; others can’t even be persuaded to look behind the curtain. (I have sometimes argued that basic lab science should precede coding, as it provides a more direct example of testing an idea, but coding is a lot safer.)

    One of the best CS courses I took was essentially “Here is tool X; this is what it does, and this is what the code looks like if you ever find a place so weak on tools that it doesn’t have this coded. Now take this tool [and previous weeks’ tools as required] and solve this problem.” But that assumed the students already knew how to write the language.

  9. Chip: it would be something like 10 = 3^2 +1^2, or 12 = 2^2 +2^2 +2^2 (and there are something like 71 of those kind of sums in the specified range, one of which is a squared number). There’s a theorem (and I forget whose it is, but it’s a Big Name) that all integers can be decomposed into the sum of not more than 4 squares.

  10. @Cliff

    I think I agree with the article that teaching kids syntax is pretty pointless. I did a few years ago try to teach my daughter how to program because I think it’s a wonderful way of being creative, of making things. She wasn’t particularly interested, but she does have a very strong interest in and aptitude for human languages. She says she wants to be a translator, but I do worry that by the time she grows up there may be very few jobs available in that area. It seems to me that, other than for things that require a great deal of nuance, such as literature and diplomacy, translation is likely soon to be something completely automated.

    There have been attempts to automate translation since the 1960s and though we’re now at the point where machine translation can produce results that are at least understandable, we will need human translators for a long time yet, because languages are complex and nuanced systems. I’m a translator and I’m not at all worried that computers will take my job anytime soon.

    Coincidentally, quite a bit of my income comes from translating official documents. Now this is something that could be easily automated – driver’s licenses, birth and marriage certificates, university diplomas, etc… are not exactly complex, though the habit of some countries (UK, cough) to fill out those forms in scrawly handwriting might be a problem. But humans are still needed for this, because official documents require certified translations, i.e. a human being has to certify that the translation is correct.

  11. Chip Hitchcock: (re breaking down big problems into pieces): top-down is all very well until Object-Oriented programming becomes popular.

    I’ve never understood that stance, because once you’ve done your top-down outline breakdown with your catalog of objects in mind, you can start plugging in objects as modules, submodules, or sub-submodules.

  12. @Cora – thanks, that’s good to know! I’ll advise my daughter accordingly.

    @Chip – Object-oriented programming already is popular, isn’t it? @JJ Agreed – I don’t see any incompatibility between OO programming and top-down design.

    @PJ – Fermat’s theorem?

  13. Heck, Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) is on the edge of becoming old-hat. (And it’s utterly orthogonal to top-down/bottom-up or even middle-out, all of which work just fine with OOP.) Smalltalk, the first really successful OOP language, dates back to 1972, and C++ has been around since 1985.

    A lot of people seem to think that Functional Programming is going to be the next big thing. (Although it’s not particularly new either.) I’m not sure myself, but it does seem to have some definite advantages when working on distributed or multi-processor systems, which have always been a tough nut to crack with more traditional procedural and OO languages.

  14. @Jim Parish – Thanks!
    I didn’t think it was Fermat – that’s a much more famous theorem, and not the same – but couldn’t remember the name of the mathematician, and trying to find it with a search engine isn’t something I wanted to try. (The odds would have been on Euler or Gauss.)

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