Pixel Scroll 12/19/22 Pixels Gleaming Bright As They Scroll Off Into The Twilight, Never To Be Seen Again

(1) SOMTOW’S PLAN. It’s nothing like Selden’s. Somtow Sucharitkul will be the composer when “Ed Wood’s cult film ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ Gets Opera Adaptation”. He gave The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Roxborough the exclusive story.

Flying saucers over Bayreuth! Unspeakable horrors descend on the Philharmonic! Ten words I never thought I’d write. But Plan 9 From Outer Space is being turned into an opera. 

The legendary, and legendarily bad, cult film from 1957 — which Tim Burton paid tribute to in his Oscar-winning 1994 feature Ed Wood starring Johnny Depp as the Plan 9 director — will get the classical music treatment courtesy of Thai composer, and B-movie fanatic, Somtow Sucharitkul

Plan 9 From Outer Space: A Really Grand Opera by Somtow Sucharitkul is currently in the libretto stage. Rehearsals will begin in earnest next year. Sucharitkul plans to release a teaser “suite from the opera” next fall and to premiere the full opera in 2024. Torsten Neumann, director of the Oldenburg Film Festival, Germany’s leading indie film fest, is producing. 

Plan 9 is, of course, celebrated as the worst picture ever made and a cultural icon,” Somtow said. “Movie buffs have all the lines memorized. I intend to compose the score in the spirit of Ed Wood — with utter seriousness and high moral intent, as befits the exalted subject matter about aliens saving humanity from itself — so timely in these, ah, times.”

“Of course, we’re not intending to produce the ‘worst opera’ in history,” says Neumann, “quite the opposite. …”

The interview with Somtow also brought out this fact:

…Sucharitkul’s students can also be seen in this year’s awards season contender Tár. The Siam Sinfonietta is the orchestra performing in the film’s final scene. Sucharitkul was a musical consultant on the movie. …

Somtow says Roxborough’s doing a story on that now, interviewing some of the kids in his youth orchestra about what it was like being conducted by Cate Blanchett.

(2) F&SF COVER REVEAL. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction’s Jan/Feb 2023 cover art is by Kent Bash.

(3) A LOOK UNDER THE HOOD. John Scalzi’s “Process Notes on Starter Villain” at Whatever talks about the novel he just finished in a deadline-pushing whirlwind of writing. While I’m always interested in that kind of background, what I appreciated most was his discussion of post-COVID brain. I had wondered if the funk I’ve been in since I caught it on Halloween was a hangover from Covid, or mourning for Martin Morse Wooster, or if I just needed to buck up, since I was still producing material here everyday (and yet never getting around to certain things that seemed to require more “brainality”.)  Covid is a definite contender as the explanation.

(4) NYC LIBRARY BOOK STATS. The Gothamist can tell you “These were the most borrowed books from NYC’s public libraries in 2022” but it can’t tell you why so few of them are genre. However, on the systemwide list the most-borrowed book of the year is listed as a fantasy, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. The plot as described in the Wikipediabeware spoilers:

The book’s protagonist is a young woman named Nora Seed who is unhappy with her choices in life. During the night, she tries to kill herself but ends up in a library managed by her school librarian, Mrs. Elm. The library is situated between life and death with millions of books filled with stories of her life had she made some different decisions. In this library, she then tries to find the life in which she’s the most content.[3] For example, in one possible life she tries to reunite with her boyfriend and finds herself married to him, but it isn’t the way as she expected. She also sees herself as a glaciologist doing research in the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic – a very different life from the one she tries to escape, but not necessarily a better choice.

Gothamist also has separate lists for each borough. Brooklyn had three books of genre interest in the top 10 (the Haig book was one of them).

(5) PHONING A NEW HOME. The original mechanical model from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has snagged a staggering sum: “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Model from 1982 Spielberg Classic Sells for $2.5 Million at Auction”.

…The highly desirable film item (for those with very deep pockets) was part of the recent Julien’s Auctions and TCM Presents: Icons and Idols Hollywood auction, going for a final bid of $2,560,000, according to the auction house.

The no. 1 “hero” used with the actors, the aluminum alloy skeletal model of E.T. was originally estimated by the auction house to fetch between $2 million and $4 million. Bidding opened at $500,000. The winner was not identified….

(6) MEMORY LANE.

1999 [By Cat Eldridge.] Mary Poppins Statue in Maryborough, Australia

She stands but five feet tall and weighing only two hundred twenty of bronze statue , this particular Mary Poppins, the world’s most famous nanny, keeps an eye on the comings and goings in Kent Street and Richmond Lane, in Maryborough,Queensland, Australia.

So how did she come to be here, and why this street corner? Well Mary Poppins’ creator, author P.L. Travers, was born Helen Lyndon Goff, in one of the rooms on the second floor of the building adjacent to the statue, and she lived in this Australian city for the first eighteen months of her life. Not long I’ll frankly admit but a City will claim an author based on the most tenuous of connections, won’t they?

Formerly the Union Bank, Travers’ first home provided lodgings to the family of the Union Bank manager – a position that was occupied by her father, Travers Goff, and immortalised in the character, Mr Banks. Although she later went to some lengths to hide her Australian origins, the writer’s home town has gone to quite some effort to commemorate her life and work. She would, after moving to England, vist Australia.

Maryborough residents and the Proud Marys Association, the group that was founded in 1999 and was aimed at celebrating all things Maryborough and Mary Poppins,  raised more than $40,000, with an additional $5500 each from its city council and the state government for the statue.

Dr Rhyl Hinwood, who did the model in clay in part because she broke one of her wrists and could not work in harder material choose a local lass, Imogen Marnane from Atherton, as the model for Poppins. That story and the process of her working on the statue is well worth reading here.

Now do keep in mind it is not based the Disney character but on the one from Helen’s books, so it, as you’ll see in the image below, is rather different from that Poppins. 

And then there’s the Poppins traffic lights there….

(7) GABRIELLE BEAUMONT (1942-2022). Television director Gabrielle Beaumont died October 8 at the age of 80 reports the Guardian. She was best known for her work on Dynasty, however, she also had many genre credits.

…In 1989, she directed Star Trek: The Next Generation, the first live-action sequel to the 1960s sci-fi series. Later, she worked on episodes of the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine (in 1997) and Voyager (in 2000).

At the beginning of the 80s, Beaumont was among fewer than 100 professional female directors in the US, whereas by the end of the decade there were about 500….

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born December 19, 1902 Sir Ralph Richardson. God in Time Bandits but also Earl of Greystoke in Greystoke:The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes and Chief Rabbit In Watership Down. Also the Head Librarian in Rollerball. And a caterpillar in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And Satan in the Tales from the Crypt film. Oh my, he had an interesting genre film career. (Died 1983.)
  • Born December 19, 1922 Harry Warner Jr.. Fan historian and legendary letterhack. Dubbed The Hermit of Hagerstown, as he was rather reclusive, he did nearly all his fanac on paper. He’s known now for the many LOCs he wrote and his two books on fanhistory, All Our Yesterdays, (1969), and A Wealth of Fable which won a Hugo in 1993 for Best Related Book. Rich Lynch has a full essay, “Remembering Harry”, here today. (Died 2003.)
  • Born December 19, 1952 Linda Woolverton, 70. She’s the first woman to have written a Disney animated feature, Beauty and the Beast, which was the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. She also co-wrote The Lion King screenplay (along with Irene Mecchi and Jonathan Roberts).
  • Born December 19, 1960 Dave Hutchinson, 62. Best known for his absolutely fascinating Fractured Europe series which consists of Europe in AutumnEurope at MidnightEurope in Winter and Europe at Dawn. Stellar reading! He’s got a lot of other genre fiction as well but I’ve not delved into that yet.
  • Born December 19, 1961 Matthew Waterhouse, 61. He’s best known as Adric, companion to the Fourth and Fifth Doctors. He was the youngest actor in that role at the time. And yes, he too shows up in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot
  • Born December 19, 1972 Alyssa Milano50. Phoebe Halliwell in the long running original and need I say only great Charmed series. Other genre appearances include on Outer LimitsFantasy Island, Embrace of the VampireDouble Dragon, the Young Justice animated series as the voice of Poison Ivy and more voice work in DC’s The Spectre, an excellent animated short.
  • Born December 19, 1979 Robin Sloan, 43. Author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore which definitely has fantasy elements in it is a damn fine read. His second novel which he sent me for reviewing and I need to write up soon, is Sourdough or, Lois and Her Adventures in the Underground Market, and it is improbably genre but is also weirdly about food as well. Quite tasty it is. Am I rambling? So I am.  And he’s a really nice person as well. 

(9) HEARING FROM HISTORY. Another birthday is being celebrated today by the BBC World Service. Hear a tribute in “The World Service is 90” at BBC Sounds.

For 90 years the BBC World Service has been broadcasting in dozens of languages to audiences so huge they are counted in the tens of millions all over the globe. World Service began transmitting on 19 December 1932. It was called the BBC Empire Service, speaking in slow English via crackly short-wave radio to a now-vanished Empire which then ruled a fifth of the globe. The Second World War saw radio services expand massively, broadcasting in more than 40 languages to listeners hungry for truth and facts they could trust. In every crisis and conflict since, individual voices out of the air have offered news, but also drama, music, education and sometimes hope to their audiences. In a special 90th anniversary programme, the broadcaster Nick Rankin, who worked for more than 20 years at the BBC, digs into a treasure trove of sound archive and talks to journalists who made and still make the BBC World Service such a remarkable network. With Peter Pallai of Hungarian Section; Seva Novgorodsev MBE, star of BBC Russian Service; Najiba Kasraee, broadcasting to Afghanistan and Elizabeth Ohene from Focus on Africa.

(10) COMICS SECTION.

  • The Far Side has a grotesque idea about the fate of a beloved Peter Pan character.  
  • The Far Side also introduces us to three silly scientists with an insurmountable problem.
  • Popeye takes an unexpectedly Lovecraftian turn.

(11) OPPENHEIMER SECURITY DECISION REVERSED. “J. Robert Oppenheimer Cleared of ‘Black Mark’ After 68 Years” reports the New York Times.

The Secretary of Energy on Friday nullified a 1954 decision to revoke the security clearance of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a top government scientist who led the making of the atomic bomb in World War II but fell under suspicion of being a Soviet spy at the height of the McCarthy era.

In a statement, the Energy Secretary, Jennifer M. Granholm, said the decision of her predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, to bar Oppenheimer’s clearance was the result of a “flawed process” that violated its own regulations.

As time has passed, she added, “more evidence has come to light of the bias and unfairness of the process that Dr. Oppenheimer was subjected to while the evidence of his loyalty and love of country have only been further affirmed.”

Historians, who have long lobbied for the reversal of the clearance revocation, praised the vacating order as a milestone….

“I’m overwhelmed with emotion,” said Kai Bird, co-author with Martin J. Sherwin of “American Prometheus,” a 2005 biography of Oppenheimer that won the Pulitzer Prize.

“History matters and what was done to Oppenheimer in 1954 was a travesty, a black mark on the honor of the nation,” Mr. Bird said. “Students of American history will now be able to read the last chapter and see that what was done to Oppenheimer in that kangaroo court proceeding was not the last word.”…

(12) THE YEAR’S FANCIEST PHYSICS TRICKS. Scientific American’s year-end roundup lists “6 Times Quantum Physics Blew Our Minds in 2022”. “Quantum telepathy, laser-based time crystals, a glow from empty space and an “unreal” universe—these are the most awesome (and awfully hard to understand) results from the subatomic realm we encountered in 2022…”

Here’s the first example:

THE UNIVERSE IS KINDA, SORTA UNREAL

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics went to researchers who spent decades proving the universe is not locally real—a feat that, to quote humorist Douglas Adams, “has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” “Local” here means any object—an apple, for instance—can be influenced only by its immediate surroundings, not by happenings on the other side of the universe. “Real” means every object has definite properties regardless of how it is observed—no amount of squinting will change an apple from red to green. Except careful, repeated experimentation with entangled particles has conclusively shown such seemingly sensible restrictions do not always apply to the quantum realm, the most fundamental level of reality we can measure. If you’re uncertain as to what exactly the demise of local realism means for life, the universe and, well, everything, don’t worry: you’re not alone—physicists are befuddled, too.

(13) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Ryan George brings us into the meeting between “The Guys Who Wrote Frosty The Snowman”.

[Thanks to Chris Barkley, Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, Rob Thornton, Cathy Green, Somtow Sucharitkul, Gordon Van Gelder, Daniel Dern, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Cat Eldridge.]

Pixel Scroll 12/18/18 Just One Pixel Of Scrolls Is Better Than A Lifetime Alone

(1) NOT THE DOCTOR WHO CHRISTMAS SPECIAL. A nice placeholder, though. Io9 sets the frame: “Doctor Who Saves Christmas (Again) in This Adorable Holiday Short”:

Doctor Who’s Twitter account has shared a cute animated holiday short telling the story of how the Doctor (voiced by Whittaker) helped save Christmas once again this year. Narrated by Bradley Walsh (Graham), the Twas The Night Before Christmas-style tale is all about Santa getting stuck in a jam after his sleigh breaks down. Who can he possibly call to save the day? The Doctor, of course!

(2) HARD SF. James Davis Nicoll dares to tell us about “Five Works of Hard Science Fiction That Bypass the Gatekeepers” at Tor.com.

….Still, I think there’s a gap between hard SF defined so narrowly only Hal Clement could be said to have written it (if we ignore his FTL drives) and hard SF defined so broadly anything qualifies provided the author belongs to the right social circles … that this gap is large enough that examples do exist. Here are five examples of SF works  that are, to borrow Marissa Lingen’s definition:

playing with science.

and doing so with a verisimilitude that’s not just plot-enabling handwaving….

(3) MYTHCON 50. Introducing artist Sue Dawe’s logo for Mythcon 50, with the theme “Looking Back, Moving Forward.” The convention will take place August 2-5 in San Diego – register here

(4) TAFF NEWS. Avail yourself of the official Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund news – click to retrieve the PDF file: 

(5) CODE OF CONDUCT GUIDANCE. Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner have made available as a free download their book on Code of Conduct enforcement for those who put on conventions and conferences: “Free code of conduct enforcement book available now”.

You can now download a free book detailing how to enforce a code of conduct, “How to Respond to Code of Conduct Reports,” written by Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner and edited by Annalee Flower Horne. This comprehensive guide includes:

  • Basic code of conduct theory
  • How to prepare to enforce a code of conduct
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to respond to a report
  • In-depth discussion of relevant topics
  • Dozens of real-world examples of responding to reports

Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner were the lead authors of the Ada Initiative anti­-harassment policy, which is the basis of thousands of codes of conduct in use today. Valerie has more than 7 years of professional experience writing and implementing codes of conduct for software-related companies, venture capital firms, and non-profits.

(6) NOT GOING TO DUBLIN 2019? Then a clue as to what you’ll be missing from the Science GoH is contained in this 1/2 hour BBC interview with Jocelyn Bell Burnell. “Of course, if you are going to Dublin, then don’t listen to this,” warns SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, “as there are spoilers.”

Jim Al-Khalili talks to astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Jocelyn Bell Burnell forged her own path through the male-dominated world of science – in the days when it was unusual enough for women to work, let alone make a discovery in astrophysics that was worthy of a Nobel Prize. As a 24-year old PhD student, Jocelyn spotted an anomaly on a graph buried within 100 feet of printed data from a radio telescope. Her curiosity about such a tiny detail led to one of the most important discoveries in 20th century astronomy – the discovery of pulsars – those dense cores of collapsed stars. It’s a discovery which changed the way we see the universe, making the existence of black holes suddenly seem much more likely and providing further proof to Einstein’s theory of gravity.

(7) FILMS THAT BELONG ON YOUR LIST. Looper says these are “The Best Fantasy Movies Everyone Missed In 2018.”

With major blockbusters and huge franchises taking up most of our attention these days, it can be easy to lose track of all the great releases sneaking by under the radar but these 2018 fantasy movies are well worth seeking out…

(8) TV HISTORY. Echo Ishii revisits another sff TV classic, The Stone Tape:

The Stone Tape was a television play broadcast by the BBC in 1972.

The Stone Tape begins with a man named Peter who is head of a research team for an electronics company. Like many of the characters in Beasts, the protagonist is not a pleasant person. Peter Brock, though likely very skilled at his job, is arrogant, self-absorbed, sexist, and condescending. Whereas someof the sexism and the bigoted comments may be a representation of the realities of the the business world (and TV) at the time, you are clearly meant not to like Peter Brock as a person which only amps up the unease surrounding the main plot….

(9) HOW FAR IS IT? Far out. Like, literally Far Freekin’ Out. A newly announced minor planet is the most distant known object in the Solar System (Phys.org: “Outer solar system experts find ‘far out there’ dwarf planet”). The body’s official name is 2018 VG18, but it’s nicknamed “Farout” and it’s current orbital distance is about 120 AUs.

A team of astronomers has discovered the most-distant body ever observed in our Solar System. It is the first known Solar System object that has been detected at a distance that is more than 100 times farther than Earth is from the Sun.

The new object was announced on Monday, December 17, 2018, by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center and has been given the provisional designation 2018 VG18. The discovery was made by Carnegie’s Scott S. Sheppard, the University of Hawaii’s David Tholen, and Northern Arizona University’s Chad Trujillo.

2018 VG18, nicknamed “Farout” by the discovery team for its extremely distant location, is at about 120 astronomical units (AU), where 1 AU is defined as the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The second-most-distant observed Solar System object is Eris, at about 96 AU. Pluto is currently at about 34 AU, making 2018 VG18 more than three-and-a-half times more distant than the Solar System’s most-famous dwarf planet.

(10) COMING YOUR WAY. The Raven Tower, Ann Leckie’s new fantasy novel, arrives February 26, 2019. “My library’s already let me reserve it,” says Daniel Dern.

(11) THE WISDOM OF P.L. TRAVERS. The Washington Post’s Jerry Griswold profiles Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, whom he interviewed for the Paris Review, saying that Travers “was the wisest woman I’ve ever met,” a deep student of Zen, and the author of novels about Mary Poppins that are much darker than the movies. “Disney tried to erase ‘Mary Poppins’ creator P.L. Travers. She’s still more fascinating than fiction.”.

…Travers was the wisest woman I’ve ever met. She was the second Western woman to study Zen in Kyoto, part of the inner circle of the famous mystic G.I. Gurdjieff and did yoga daily (an exotic practice in the 1970s). One afternoon in her Manhattan apartment, we had a conversation that would later appear in Paris Review. She spoke about the meanings of Humpty Dumpty, how her book “Friend Monkey” had been inspired by the Hindu myth of Hanuman, the Zen expression “summoned not created,” the sacredness of names in aboriginal cultures and a spiritual understanding of the parable of the Prodigal Son. And as for linking “this store of wisdom and our modern life,” she lead me step by step through parallels between the kidnapping of Patty Hearst and the myth of Persephone. It was one of the richest afternoons of my life.

As she often did, Travers emphasized that she “never wrote for children” but remained “immensely grateful that children have included my books in their treasure trove.” She thought her books appealed to the young because she had never forgotten her own childhood: “I can, as it were, turn aside and consult it.”

(11) NASA POSTERS. Bored Panda is a bit skeptical — “Turns Out NASA Creates Posters For Every Space Mission And They’re Hilariously Awkward” – but Michael J. Walsh says, “Contrary to the headline, I think many of them are really good.”

…However, when astronauts got bored of the standard group photos they decided to spice things up a bit. And what’s a better way to do that other than throwing in some pop culture references? Fair warning the results are quite cringy, making it hard to believe that these images are actually real.

First on the list:

(12) DINJOS OBIT. Nigerian sff writer Emeka Walter Dinjos has died. Future Science Fiction Digest editor Alex Shvartsman paid tribute in “RIP Emeka Walter Dinjos”:

It is with a heavy heart that I must share the news that Emeka Walter Dinjos, a Nigerian writer of science fiction and fantasy whose novelette “SisiMumu” is featured in our first issue, passed away at the age of thirty-four on Wednesday, December 12.

Walter was admitted to the hospital a little over aweek ago, on the eve of his birthday. In his last Facebook post he shared a photo of himself in a hospital bed, writing “I once swore I would never find myself in a place like this.” He was quick to point out, “It’s just fatigue.Will probably be out in a few days.” But unfortunately he succumbed to complications related to unmanaged diabetes. Walter is survived by his siblings and extended family, to whom I extend deepest condolences on behalf of everyone at Future SF and his many friends in the SF/F community….

(13) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • December 18, 1839 — John William Draper took the first photo of theMoon. (Say “Cheese!”)
  • December 18, 1957The Monolith Monsters hit theatres.
  • December 18, 1968 — Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flew into theaters.

(14) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born December 18, 1913 Alfred Bester. He is best remembered for perhaps for The Demolished Man, which won the very first Hugo Award. I remember experiencing it as an audiobook— a very spooky affair!  The Stars My Destination is equally impressive with Foyle both likeable and unlikable at the same time. Psychoshop which Zelazny finished is in my library but has escaped reading so far. I’ve run across references to Golem100 but I’ve never seen a copy anywhere. Has anyone read It? (Died 1987.)
  • Born December 18, 1939Michael Moorcock, 79. Summing up the career of Moorcock isn’t possible so I won’t. His Elric of Melniboné series is just plain awesome and I’m quite fond of the Dorian Hawkmoon series of novels as well. Particular books that I’d like to note as enjoyable for me include The Metatemporal Detective collection, Mother London and The English Assassin: A Romance of Entropy
  • Born December 18, 1946 Steven Spielberg, 72. Are we counting Jaws as genre? I believe we are per an earlier discussion here. If so, that’s his first such followed immediately by Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Between 1981 and 1984, he put out Raiders of the Lost ArkE.T. the Extra-TerrestrialTwilight Zone: The Movie and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Ok so the quality of the last film wasn’t great… He’d repeated that feat between ‘89 and ‘93 when he put out Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Hook which I both love followed by Jurassic Park which I don’t. The Lost World: Jurassic Park followed along a string of so-so films,  A.I. Artificial IntelligenceMinority Report, War of the Worlds and one decided stinker, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullThe BFG is simply wonderful. Haven’t seen Ready Player One so I’ll leave that up to y’all to opine on. 
  • Born December 18, 1953 Jeff Kober,65. Actor who’s been in myriad genre series and films including V, The Twilight Zone, Alien Nation, the Poltergeist series,The X-Files series, Tank Girl as one of the kangaroos naturally, SupernaturalStar Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, Kindred: The Embraced and The Walking Dead. 
  • Born December 18, 1968 Casper Van Dien, 49. Yes, Johnny Rico in that Starship Troopers movie. Not learning his lesson, he’d go on to film Starship Troopers 3: Marauder and the animated Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars. Do not go read the descriptions of these films! He’d also star as Tarzan in Tarzan and the Lost City, show up as Brom Van Brunt In Sleepy Hollow, be Captain Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula 3000, James K. Polkin, and — oh really Casper — the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Sequels short, Rumpelstiltskin in Avengers Grimm and Saber Raine In Star Raiders: The Adventures of Saber Raine. That’s a lot of really bad film. 

(15) GOOD PLACE/BAD PLACE. At Vice, D. Patrick Rodgers believes, “The Best Thing on TV This Year Was: ‘The Good Place’.”

The unseen presence of one character has haunted The Good Place from the beginning, lingering like one of Bad Janet’s legendary farts since the very first moments of the very first episode: Doug Forcett.

As we all know — at three seasons and 35 episodes in — the afterlife hinges on a cumulative point system, with good deeds adding to an individual’s point total and bad or selfish deeds subtracting. People with high enough point totals enter The Good Place, while those who don’t make the cut do the whole burn-for-eternity thing down in The Bad Place. Despite all the twists, developments, reveals, and red herrings of the uniquely sharp and wacky sitcom, one constant has remained: that only one mortal has figured out the system, and he did it while on a mushroom trip back in 1972.

“Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By” opens with the song of the same name by the Mamas and the Papas’ “Mama” Cass Elliott, itself a 70s artifact that portends something darker than its sunny melody suggests —that life is short, and if we’re not careful, we’ll screw it up. We watch as some as-yet-unnamed character tends to a series of mundane tasks, his face hidden from view. But there’s something familiar about that grizzled-blond shock of hair we see only from behind. It belongs to someone we know. Turns out that’s doubly true, as the head we’re looking at is that of legendary comedic actor Michael McKean in character as the aforementioned Forcett, now several decades older and committed to obtaining the requisite number of Good Place points.

(16) MEMORIAL FOR A BOT. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Mashable brings us word that, “A delivery robot caught on fire at UC Berkeley, students then set up a vigil.” The KiwiBot was one of a fleet of over 100.

A KiwiBot, an automated food delivery robot which is present on UC Berkeley’s campus, caught fire on Friday afternoon.

In a post, the company explained the incident was due to a faulty battery which had been mistakenly installed instead of a functioning one. 

The errant battery started smoldering while the robot was idling, leading to smoke, then fire outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union.

“A member of the community acted swiftly toextinguish the flames using a nearby fire extinguisher. Within moments ofthe incident occurring, it had already been contained,” the post read.

“The Berkeley Fire Department arrived shortly thereafter to secure the scene, and doused the robot with foam ensuring there was no risk of re-ignition.”

Unsurprisingly, the fire was caught on both video and stills. Pics of the subsequent candlelight memorial also appeared online. Deliveries had been taking place by the bots since 2017 but were suspended following the fire. Since then, software has been updated to more closely monitor the battery state and the fleet is back in service.

(17) MOCKERY. This is the kind of promo I’d expect from JDA or Richard Paolinelli, except you’d have to take their books, too: “Popeyes is launching ‘Emotional Support Chicken’ for stressed travelers craving fried chicken”.

On Tuesday, the chicken chain announced that it is selling three-piece chicken-tenders meals packaged in “Emotional Support Chicken” carriers at Philadelphia International Airport. The special chicken will be available as supplies last starting Tuesday at the Popeyes location in Terminal C.

Emotional-support animals have been making headlines recently, as passengers have pushed for the ability to bring increasingly bizarre companions on flights.

The number of emotional-support animals traveling aboard commercial flights has jumped 74% from 481,000 in 2016 to 751,000 in 2017, according to trade group Airlines for America. In January, a woman tried to bring an emotional-support peacock on a United Airlines flight. And, in February, another woman said Spirit Airlines told her to flush her emotional-support hamster down the toilet.

(18) NICE TRY. Somehow the trash in the Pacific is moving faster than the catcher: “Creator Of Floating Garbage-Collector Struggling To Capture Plastic In Pacific”.

Slat’s system, a 10-foot skirt attached beneath an unmoored, 2000-foot-long plastic tube, takes advantage of the wind and waves to move through the Pacific Ocean. The system aims to collect plastic from the water’s surface, which would then be picked up every few months by a support vessel and transported back to land for recycling. The garbage trap uses solar-powered lights, cameras, sensors and satellite antennas to communicate its position to Slat’s team and passerby vessels.

(19) MAYBE TOMORROW. “SpaceX And Blue Origin Scrub Rocket Launches, Dashing Hopes Of A 4-Launch Day” – NPR has the story.

Weather and other delays marred what had been anticipated as a banner day for space launches Tuesday, as both SpaceX and Blue Origin were forced to postpone launches that had been scheduled to take place within minutes of each other. Both companies say they will look at moving their launches to Wednesday morning.

(20) BANNED ARTWORK. The New York Times reports some work by international artists has been banned from a forthcoming exhibit at the Guangdong Museum of Art: “Their Art Raised Questions About Technology. Chinese Censors Had Their Own Answer.”

Artificial intelligence bots. 3-D printed human organs. Genomic sequencing.

These might seem to be natural topics of interest in a country determined to be the world’s leader in science and technology. But in China, where censors are known to take a heavy hand, several artworks that look closely at these breakthroughs have been deemed taboo by local cultural officials.

The works, which raise questions about the social and ethical implications of artificial intelligence and biotechnology, were abruptly pulled last weekend from the coming Guangzhou Triennial on the orders of cultural authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

The artists, from Europe, Australia and the United States, were not given an official reason why their works were rejected for the show, which opens on Dec. 21 at the Guangdong Museum of Art. The pieces did not touch on the Tiananmen democracy crackdown of 1989, independence for Taiwan or Tibet or the private wealth of Chinese Communist Party leaders —topics that are widely known to be off-limits for public discussion in China.

As a result, some of the show’s curators and the affected artists havebeen left guessing as to why the works were banned. Their conclusion? The works were perhaps too timely, too relevant and therefore too discomforting for Chinese officials.

…The other banned works include “The Modular Body,” an online science fiction story about using human cells and artificial organs to create a living organism. Created by a Dutch artist, Floris Kaayk, the work is intended to raise questions about the potential for 3-D printing of human organs, about extending life with the help of technology and about the desire to design life from scratch.

(21) OUT OF THE BOT BUSINESS. Engadget reports “Sphero is done making licensed Disney bots like BB-8 and R2-D2”:

Say goodbye to Sphero’s cute BB-8 robot. In fact, say goodbye to all the company’s licensed products, including R2-D2, BB-9E and Cars’ Lighting McQueen. According to The Verge, Sphero plans to sell its remaining inventory of licensed toys, but it will no longer manufacture more once it runs out. Indeed, the products’ listings on Sphero’s website says “This is a legacy product and no longer in production.” The company isn’t just discontinuing the models, though: It’s ending its licensing partnerships completely, because it’s no longer worth dedicating resources for their production.

Sphero chief Paul Berberian explained that while the toys sold well when their tie-in movies were released, fewer and fewer people purchased them as the years went by. “When you launch a toy, your first year’s your biggest. Your second year’s way smaller, and your third year gets really tiny,” he said….

(22) ALL YOU HAD TO DO IS ASK. Rocco the parrot apparently knows how to get what he wants (BGR Media: “An intelligent parrot used Alexa to play music and order food from Amazon”).

An African grey parrot has made headlines recently for inadvertently making orders via his owner’s Amazon Echo. Originally reported via The Times of London [paywall], the parrot — whose name is Rocco — would mindlessly activate Alexa and have the virtual assistant tell jokes and play music. Rocco even tried to order a few items from Amazon, but the owner wisely had set up controls to prevent unauthorized purchases.

What makes the somewhat lighthearted story even more amusing is that Rocco previously had a stint living at the UK’s National Animal Welfare Trust (NAWT) but was kicked out — yes, kicked out — because he was swearing too much. As the old adage says, truth is stranger than fiction. Rocco was subsequently placed under the care of a NAWT employee named Marion Wischnewski whereupon he quickly started activating Alexa.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Carl Slaughter, Elusis, Brian Z., Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, Daniel Dern, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Paul Weimer.]