Pixel Scroll 4/30/18 A Pixel Can Produce A Few Notes Though The Scrolls Are Very Flat

(1) CAMERON’S SF OVERVIEW. It’s remarkable how many people think I haven’t covered this before. But as my motto says, “It’s always news to somebody.” At AV Club: “James Cameron’s Story Of Science Fiction is a solid, albeit navel-gazing, primer”.

Cameron has made some truly great sci-fi movies (Avatar notwithstanding), and if anyone else were heading up a discussion of the genre, they’d undoubtedly devote a segment or several to the creator of the Terminator franchise. As he notes during a chat with Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Skynet” is synonymous with “robot revolution.” There’s no denying what Cameron’s contributed to the genre, and there’s a certain joy in seeing him geek out with Lucas, who had to be cajoled into participating, and Spielberg.

(2) LEFT COAST. Detailed options for watching the launch in person are given at the link: “Where to Watch NASA’s InSight Mars Lander Launch from the California Coast”.

NASA’s next Mars mission will be the first Red Planet spacecraft to lift off from the West Coast. The InSight Mars lander is scheduled to launch on Saturday (May 5) at no earlier than 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT/1105 GMT). Here’s how you can watch it in person, or online at Space.com or other locations.

InSight will provide an interior snapshot of Mars to learn more about how rocky planets are formed. A heat probe will dig under the surface to look at the temperature of the interior. A seismometer will measure marsquakes and meteorite hits. In addition, a radio science instrument will transmit InSight’s position to Earth as the planet wobbles in its orbit around the sun. The wobble provides information about the composition and size of the Martian core.

(3) BONESTELL. The Newport Beach Film Festival screens “Chesley Bonestell: A Brush With The Future” on May 1.

Behind every architect and builder is an artist who takes designs and ideas, morphing them into beautiful images for everyone to understand. Chesley Bonestell was this artist, yet very few know his name. He worked on the Golden Gate Bridge and the Chrysler Building, as a matte artist on famous movies like Citizen Kane, and his mesmerizing paintings of planets and star systems helped jumpstart America’s space program. His iconic “Saturn As Seen From Titan”, became known as “the painting that launched a thousand careers.” Discover the power of the forgotten man whose art inspired Americans to conquer “The Final Frontier”.

Watch the trailer – Ray Bradbury shows up at 2:08.

(4) ONE IS THE ONLIEST NUMBER. Ars Technica’s Chris Lee says that in her new book, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder argues that the search for Beauty and Naturalness may be leading theoretical physics in a wrong direction. Well established physics whose math looks beautiful now were often regarded at ugly kludges when they were proposed: “Lost in Math: Beauty != truth”

…Hossenfelder is sounding that alarm by suggesting that perhaps theoretical physicists need to spend a little more time on introspection and examining some of their working assumptions. Theoretical physics has been starved of new data for more than an entire generation. How can a theoretician choose a good model in the absence of data? And how do you choose which experimental options to pursue based on competing theoretical models?

…In Lost in Math, Hossenfelder delves briefly into the history of particle physics in order to explain the success of the Standard Model of particles and forces. She touches on why we’ve not had any unexplainable data from experimental particle physics for the last 50 years. She then takes us on a tour of the data that make us think we should be looking for physics that is not explained by the Standard Model—dark matter, dark energy, and cosmic inflation.

…But what makes a “good” theory in the absence of data? You and I might think that this would be predictions for new data and, yes, that plays a role. But Hossenfelder takes us into a realm where theories are decades from being tested. Unfortunately, we need to evaluate their quality now so we can determine how much effort we put into preparing for those tests. What is the criteria for that?

The answer is… ugly. Theoreticians make the following sorts of arguments: the Standard Model is described by math that physicists find beautiful; therefore, we insist that new physics be described by mathematical beauty. That’s paired with another argument, termed naturalness. What is naturalness? It turns out that everything should be about equal to one. If a theory produces a very large number, that is OK, as long as it also produces another very large number so that the difference or ratio of the two is, you guessed it, roughly unity. One is the most natural and only acceptable answer. Any other answer is unnatural because it is unlikely to occur by chance.

(5) PAROLINI OBIT. Gianfranco Parolini (1930-2018): Italian director / screenwriter, often billed as “Frank Kramer”, reportedly died April 26 at the age of 88. Genre entries include The Fury of Hercules (1962), The Three Fantastic Supermen (1967), Giant of the 20th Century (1977). He also introduced one of the iconic spaghetti western anti-heroes in Sabata (1969).


  • Born April 30, 1938 — Larry Niven
  • Born April 30, 1985 – Gal Gadot


  • Beware “friends” bearing harpoons – Speed Bump.
  • Daniel Dern sent along his explication of today’s Sally Forth, because a lot of us will need one —

Hilary is their teen-age daughter. Here’s the speech being referenced:

The guy (Michael Keaton) driving Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and his date to the school dance isn’t just the date’s dad, he’s also the Big Bad for this movie (The Vulture). Peter didn’t know that until he showed up at their house, dad didn’t know Peter was S-M until this conversation.

(8) BOARD GAME ACCUSATION. Eric Franklin synopsized a “Communiqué from the French Game Designers Union about the Alien / Nostromo game”

“The brief: A few years ago,  François Bachelart showed an Alien-themed game off to a publisher (Wonder Dice).  It’s not uncommon for designers to create prototypes and the like for dream licenses – re-theming a game is often part of the development process.  They negotiated with the designer for a while, but the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement.

“Wonder Dice recently announced that pre-orders are opening soon for a game called Nostromo, which bears striking similarities to the design that Bachelart showed them – only it doesn’t have his name on the product and the publisher is claiming it’s an in-house design. It looks like they actually managed to land a license to use Alien, too, which is impressive.”

The publisher has made several public statements, none of them good. One of their statements is quoted on Kotaku (originally in French, and the text shows signs of being a product of Google Translate): Alien Board Game Accused Of Plagiarism, Publisher Threatens To Sue Critics.

Franklin adds: “Copyright on board games is … interesting.  Because you can’t copyright game rules. Sorta. You can copyright specific expressions – that is, you can copyright specific wordings and the rules as a whole, but if someone else clones your game using different art and phrases their rules differently, it’s (oddly) completely legal. If you start to dig into this, it’s a real rabbit hole that will eat hours of your time.

“But that also means that game designers have no legal protections when something like this happens, and it needs to be fought out in the court of public opinion.”

(9) MYTHCON NEWS. The Mythcon 49 Progress Report is now available to read online or download and print. Our own Dr. Robin Anne Reid is a Guest of Honor. The con is in Atlanta, July 20-23. The theme is “On the Shoulders of Giants.”

The extended deadline for Paper Proposals is MAY 15.

(10) DEAD CHANNEL. Now available: “Dead Channel: Music Inspired by William Gibson’s Neuromancer”.

Six Colors’ Jason Snell is enthusiastic:

My friend Antony Johnston doesn’t just write comics, novels, and graphic novels that get turned into “Atomic Blonde”. He also writes electronic music as Silencaeon. This week he released a new album. I got a preview a few months ago when he sent me a track called “Wintermute”, and I started laughing… because I realized that the entire album, titled Dead Channel, is an homage to one of my all-time favorite books, William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, which begins with the line:

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

The album, which is great to have in the background while you’re focused on your computer screen, whether you’re writing, coding, or hacking into cyberspace while avoiding some nasty black-ice countermeasures, is officially “Music Inspired by William Gibson’s Neuromancer”, and even features an excerpt from the book at a key moment. The whole album, as well as the rest of Antony’s music stuff, is available at Bandcamp.

(For more on “Neuromancer”, check out this episode of the Hugos There podcast featuring my friend Lisa Schmeiser.)

(11) SHORE THING. The BBC indulges in some lit tourism: “The Scottish island where George Orwell created 1984”.

George Orwell escaped to a remote Scottish island to create his final masterpiece – the dystopian classic 1984.

Going into the Corryvreckan whirlpool is a heart-stopping experience even when conditions are relatively benign.

It hits quite suddenly as you are passing through the narrow stretch of sea between the islands of Jura and Scarba.

One side of the boat drops away and you find yourself sitting on the deck.

Then the other side goes and you are grabbing on to the guard rail to stop yourself sliding in the opposite direction.

It must have felt something like this when George Orwell found himself in the throws of the Corry on the way back from a picnic on the west side of Jura.

But for him, it was so much worse than being knocked about a bit.

The outboard motor was wrenched off and his young nephew, Henry, attempted to row them towards a rocky islet of Eilean Mor.

(12) CHEATERS WHO PROSPERED. For awhile — “China shuts down Player Unknown cheat code gang”.

Chinese police have arrested 15 people suspected of creating cheat programs for the popular Player Unknown Battleground (PUBG) game.

The cheats helped people survive longer, aim more accurately and spot foes in the competitive shooting game.

The 15 suspects have also been fined about 30m yuan (£3.45m) for profiting from the cheats.

Chinese police are expected to make more arrests as they break up the gang that made and sold the programs.

…PUBG is hugely popular in China and almost half of its players live there.

(13) SPEAKEASY. Jason Fagone, in “The Quest To Save Stephen Hawking’s Voice” in the San Francisco Chronicle, discusses engineer Eric Dorsey’s efforts to preserve Stephen Hawking’s synthesized voice after in 2016 Hawking and his staff found that the CallText 5010 speech synthesizer which has served Hawking faithfully since 1986 was collapsing, and the company no longer existed and its source code might be permanently lost.

Wood explained something so improbable that Dorsey had trouble understanding at first: Hawking was still using the CallText 5010 speech synthesizer, a version last upgraded in 1986. In nearly 30 years, he had never switched to newer technology. Hawking liked the voice just the way it was, and had stubbornly refused other options. But now the hardware was showing wear and tear. If it failed entirely, his distinctive voice would be lost to the ages.

The solution, Wood believed, was to replicate the decaying hardware in new software, to somehow transplant a 30-year-old voice synthesizer into a modern laptop — without changing the sound of the voice. For years, he and several colleagues in Cambridge had been exploring different approaches. What did Dorsey think?

(14) CELEBRITY BUS. James Corden takes the Avengers: Infinity War cast on a tour of Los Angeles. It’s really entertaining.

(15) LATE TO THE PARTY. Marvel itself is asking, after Infinity War, “Where Were Ant-Man and the Wasp?”

[Thanks to Gregory Benford, Daniel Dern, John King Tarpinian, Steve Green, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, Mike Kennedy, Carl Slaughter, Lynn Maudlin, Gerry Williams, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Matt Y.]

61 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 4/30/18 A Pixel Can Produce A Few Notes Though The Scrolls Are Very Flat

  1. More BBC radio adaptations of favorite books at Archive.org. The most recent include The Name of the Rose, The Hobbit (in eight half-hour chapters, slightly changed in the adaptation), and Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog).

  2. Mike: Thanks for posting that James Corden clip. I think everyone in it actually enjoyed themselves. It was the best Corden clip since “Thor 4D.”

  3. Mister Dalliard: Hm, so that would explain why people have been wishing him a happy 80th birthday all day. Appertain yourself a slice of birthday cake!

  4. Anyway, more on topic:

    Has everyone seen Janelle Monae’s new “emotion picture” about her new album “Dirty Computer”? I saw it all and some parts repeatedly this weekend.

    It is, as you would expect, very SFnal, feminist, Afro-futurist (and presentist, if that’s a word), LGBT-friendly, and catchy.

  5. I readily recognize that I’m not prominent enough to make the scroll itself, but let me just note:
    Born April 30, 1968 — David Goldfarb

    Hit the half century mark.

  6. It’s after midnight so I’m going to say Happy Belated Birthday, David!

    (And a happy Beltaine to all, and to all Walpurgis Night.)

  7. Happy birthday David Goldfarb.

    And speaking of, May 1 is the birthday of Outlander character James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser (b 1721)

  8. @Lurkertype —

    (11) Egads, even the Beeb can’t spell “throes”. We are doomed.

    And here I thought “throws” must be some peculiarly British term!

  9. Hmph — no “edit” option on my post again, gotta make a new post —

    @David —

    Happy late birthday! 🙂

  10. @13 is a wonderful story in several senses. I can’t remember anyone in SF talking about someone being so self-identified with a prosthesis that they decline ~upgrades — ISTM that prostheses are commonly seen by non-users as “other”, such that an automatic win comes from upgrading (or even being able to swap, as in Manny’s assortment of arms in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress) — but it seems obvious now that there’s an example. This is something that will probably bedevil developers of limb prosthetics — they’re steadily improving, but how many users will have gotten accustomed to a given version and want it supported for decades? Will developers be able to make upgrade paths so gradualized that users will accept transitions? (This is partly personal experience. My last job was for a company whose software was so large-scale that getting users to accept a new version (rather than demanding bugfixes to an old version) was non-trivial; there was one customer so huge that their desire to keep an old version had to be accommodated, so I had to commit a bizarre hack to make this work.)

  11. Happy birthday, David.

    4) I was in a debate recently over whether pi is a beautiful number (due to its unusualness) or an ugly number (due to its irrationality.) I tend towards ugly myself and would be thrilled with a way to calculate the area of a circle that didn’t involve pi. Alas, its not likely that one will come up.

  12. Meredith Moments: Alastair Reynolds’ Elysium Fire and Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorn & Roses are both $2.99.

  13. So what color is the sky now? I thought it was white and grey static back when I first read Neuromancer, but it may be solid blue or black now….

    Little ironic that this particular opening line suffers from context rot. Or maybe it makes it more iconic?

  14. So what color is the sky now? I thought it was white and grey static back when I first read Neuromancer, but it may be solid blue or black now….

    Little ironic that this particular opening line suffers from context rot. Or maybe it makes it more sfnal?

  15. I thought it was white and grey static back when I first read Neuromancer, but it may be solid blue or black now….

    At some point, the question might become “what does TV have to do with channels?”

  16. The changes in what the opening of Neuromancer seems to mean reminds me of a sequence in Swanwick’s “Legions in Time” in which two characters are quizzed by someone in the future to determine their time of origin:

    “Gas–for lights or for cars?”
    “Apples–for eating or computing?”
    “Scopes–for dreaming or for resurrecting?”

    (the person from 1930 or so answers “Both” to the first question, “Eating” to the second question and says nothing to the third, while the person from the early 21st century answers “Cars,” “Both” and nothing).

  17. @James Moar

    That might translate, in today’s lingo, to:

    “The sky above the port was the color of an old Roku, tuned to a dead stream…”

    Happy birthday, David!

  18. Multi-Meredith:

    Several fantasy authors, including Michael J. Sullivan, Phil Tucker, Davis Ashura, and multiple others, have gotten together to put their books on sale for the next several days. Some of the books, not all, are marked down to $0.99 US.

    Multi-sale here

  19. Also, happy birthday, David! I hit that magic number recently myself and am already enjoying my slide into senescence.

  20. (13) I saw similar phenomena when we tried to convince screen reader users to try new voices. Many of them were really wedded to their 1980s style synthesis. Ultimately, most switched, but I can understand why for somebody using synthesis as their voice, the synthesis is much more closely tied to their identity.
    One advantage of the Klatt synthesizer is that you can find quite a bit of documentation on it; there are papers, books, and open source implementations.
    The article is wrong, BTW, that “Siri-type systems rely on the vast computer power of Internet clouds”; the synthesis can and does run perfectly well on a modern cell phone.

  21. Its 2019 now and I watched Infinity wars 2 and Batman was just killed by Judge Dredd.

  22. Peer on May 1, 2018 at 10:34 am said:

    Its 2019 now and I watched Infinity wars 2 and Batman was just killed by Judge Dredd.

    Oh no! I guess that means only Halo Jones and Tin-Tin can stop Judge Death now.

  23. Oh no! I guess that means only Halo Jones and Tin-Tin can stop Judge Death now.

    Since Marvel is owned by Disney I can only hope for an appearance of Micky and Elsa now.

  24. Hold the scroll firmly. Open with the pixel end pointing away from you.

  25. Alastair Reynolds’ Elysium Fire

    Oh, Joe H., YES!

    I haven’t read a book from that universe in a long while. I tend to like the stand-alones better than the series.

  26. Happy (slightly late) Birthday, David.
    (from another David who will be 50 in a couple of weeks time.)

    #8 – this is a very significant case. Until recently, the board game market has been small enough that cases like this, whilst they did happen, were largely insignificant, and there was a thriving market in slightly unscrupulous “agents” who advised on the (nonsensical) necessity of getting patents etc.
    As a board game designer myself, I have never worried about someone “stealing” my idea – and I test games by other designers a fair amount too, many of which I wish I’d thought of!
    And whilst it has grown significantly, the board game market is still pretty small, which is why a case like this will make waves; there hasn’t really been a lot of knock-off work in the past, simply because the word gets around very quickly and the reactions will tend to be uniformly negative (alas sometimes without due dilligence.) So it will be interesting to see what happens. I suspect it won’t work out well for the publisher…

  27. Happy belated Birthday David!

    Also, “The Scroll above the Pixel was the color of an old File, tuned to a dead DNS.”

  28. @Chip:

    @13 is a wonderful story in several senses. I can’t remember anyone in SF talking about someone being so self-identified with a prosthesis that they decline ~upgrades —

    In Greg Egan’s “TAP” (http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/tap.htm) a character with an implanted brain prosthesis refuses a firmware upgrade for fear that data would be lost.

  29. My reactions to the Tonys:

    Annoyance that all the new musicals are based on movies, except the one based on a cartoon.

    Captain America’s in a Best Revival Play?

    I’d like to see “Farinelli and the King”.

    Chita Rivera, si; Webber, no.

    @Andrew: that story still holds up — except for the pay phones. Who knew?

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