August 27, 2011

Superman Saturday: Science! goes crash

Oh yes. It's Saturday, and that means it's time to sit back and appreciate all things old, cheesy, and low-budget. Real life took priority last weekend, but to make up for it, this week we have a Superman Saturday Triple Feature, comprising an entire story from the radio's Adventures of Superman.

In our last episode, Superman had just saved the Silver Clipper train from certain doom at the hands of the Wolfe and his henchman, Keno Carter. Now, back in Metropolis, Clark Kent has earned himself a permanent job with the Daily Planet thanks to his breaking the railroad sabotage story in his first week on the job - indeed, his first week on Earth!

However, instead of a shiny Employee of the Month plaque on the wall, Clark has earned himself an enemy and a bomb threat, from none other than the shadowy figure behind Keno and the Wolfe—the Yellow Mask! Since his plot was foiled by a reporter, he plans on taking his revenge in true super-villain style: blowing up the entire newspaper. By 6 o'clock the next evening, the Daily Planet building will be rubble . . .

August 20, 2011

Saturday in the wild: August 20, 2011

I must say, it has been an interesting week in the blogosphere - more than usual, even.

Timothy George wrote a piece about William Carey, whose 250th birthday was August 16 this year:

In those days, missions was a naughty word, something obsolescent, restricted to the days of the apostles long ago. But Carey read the Great Commission differently. "Go ye," he said, "means you and me, here and now." He challenged his fellow Baptists to respond to this call, to "expect great things from God, and attempt great things for God." The result was the first missionary society organized by evangelical Christians with the aim of carrying the Good News of Christ to all parts of the world.

[Read William Carey at 250]

It's sad (and a little ironic) that Carey's "Deathless Sermon" has not survived. Wouldn't you love to read the homily that touched off the modern foreign missionary movement? Carey is significant to me, for two reasons: the first adult Sunday school class I taught was on his life. (I also wrote the first iteration of Carey's entry on Wikipedia).

August 14, 2011

A milestone I missed

So it turns out this Friday was the 30th anniversary of the IBM Personal Computer, the prototype of the modern desktop PC that we all know and love.

Back then, an IBM 5150 computer came with an Intel 8088 CPU running at a whopping 4 MHz, two 5-1/4" floppy disk drives, no hard drive, and a 12" monochrome, 80x25-character monitor. Its base RAM was 16 KB. Yes . . . kilobytes. Graphics? Well, the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet made pie charts.

I actually used one of these in my first summer job, between high school and university. I was compiling survey results at my local public library, and had to switch between WordPerfect and Lotus. With two floppy disk drives, you had to boot the computer into DOS with one drive, then swap the PC-DOS disk for the WP or Lotus one. The other drive held the data floppy. It was a pain, but it was still a superior system to the Commodore 64 I used at home. Thirty years later, of course, the C64 still has nostalgia value. The IBM PC? Not so much - probably because we are still using the same machine today, though it has evolved subtly over the years, and is obviously orders of magnitude more powerful.

But, still - I do like to play a round or two of Sopwith every now and then . . .

Still not too late for some good summer reading

NPR has posted a reader-selected list of the 100 top science-fiction and fantasy books. Since a) it's been a long time since I posted a book list, and b) SF is my thing, here it is. What I've read, I've bolded, and added a few comments here and there.

  1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
  3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card (most of 'em)
  4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert (most of 'em)
  5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
  6. 1984, by George Orwell
  7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov (and also the posthumous prequel series written by the "Killer B's": Benford, Brin, and Bear)
  9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (Required high-school reading, of course)
  10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
  11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
  12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
  13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
  15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore (Does a comic book really belong on this list?)
  16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
  17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
  18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
  19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
  22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King (Not yet, anyway. What kind of horrible Stephen King fan am I?)
  24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
  25. The Stand, by Stephen King (My favourite book by King.)
  26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
  27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
  28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
  29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
  30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
  31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
  32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
  33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
  34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
  35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
  36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
  37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
  38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
  39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
  40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
  41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
  42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
  44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven (and the sequels)
  45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien (Half of it, at least.)
  47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
  48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
  49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
  50. Contact, by Carl Sagan (A rare case of a movie being better than its novel.)
  51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
  52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
  53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
  54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
  55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
  56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
  57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
  58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
  59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Falling Free, at least.)
  60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett (I've read most of the Discworld series, but not this one in particular.)
  61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle (And its sequel, The Gripping Hand.)
  62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
  63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
  64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
  65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
  66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
  67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
  68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
  69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
  70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
  71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
  72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne (I may, someday, take an old co-worker's advice and do a Web page or blog series on Jules Verne's many bad endings to his novels.)
  73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
  74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
  75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
  76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
  77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
  78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
  80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
  81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
  82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
  83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
  84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
  85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
  86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
  87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
  88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn (Interesting to see a tie-in to a movie franchise make the list - these three Star Wars novels really are that good.)
  89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
  90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
  91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
  92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
  93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
  94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov (as well as its numerous sequels)
  95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson (the first one)
  96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
  97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
  98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
  99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony (Well, I tried, once.)
  100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis (Of course!)

Out of 100, I've read 46. Interestingly, though science fiction is my preferred genre, I still haven't read a majority of books on the list. On the other hand, this is still the largest number of any top-100 list that I have read - part of the reason I impose a moratorium on SF every September, to broaden my horizons a bit.

Some notable omissions from the list, in my opinion: Frederik Pohl's Heechee Saga (Gateway and its sequels); Philip K. Dick novels other than Androids (for example, Valis or A Scanner Darkly); or Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy.

(H/T: Siris.)

August 13, 2011

Superman Saturday: Playing with the train set

This week on Serial Saturday, Superman wraps up his first radio adventure! So tie a red towel around your neck, grab a bowl of your favourite brand of whole-wheat cereal flakes, and tune in . . .

FridaySaturday in the wild: August 13, 2011

Haven't done this in a while. (Hey, any excuse to keep blogging.)

R. C. Sproul Jr. had an interesting take on the question of Norwegian mass-murder Anders Breivik's religion:

Do Christians commit murder? Of course they do Is there some magic number, somewhere between one and a hundred where we can draw a line? I think not. Christians do not, however, murder freely, continuously, without repentance. They do not give themselves over to their sins. If they do, they no longer commit such sins, but practice them, showing their profession to be less than credible. Remember that, quite apart from the reality that we are all guilty of unjustified anger against our brothers, it is likely that your church has a number of saints who have murdered - some aborting their babies, others encouraging their wives, daughters, girlfireds [sic] to abort their babies.

[Read Says Who?]

I might quibble with this or that in Sproul's details, but in the main I agree with him, and cringe a bit every time some murderer or radical is automatically disavowed by Christians. We are all, as Sproul says, sinners. If a regenerate person could commit, say, software piracy, assault, even adultery in a moment of weakness, then why couldn't he commit murder?

So, do I believe Breivik is actually a Christian? Nope. From what religious statements I've seen excerpted from the 1,500-page rant he called a "manifesto," he has cultural ties to the church and a vaguely deistic view of God. This isn't the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, where I pronounce Breivik an apostate based on my opinion of his performance evaluation. (And yes, I do agree with Sproul on the distinction between committing and practicing sins.) Breivik is not a Christian, because the religion he claims to hold is not Christianity.

August 11, 2011

Signs of the times

A hair-thin electronic patch that adheres to the skin like a temporary tattoo could transform medical sensing, computer gaming and even spy operations, according to a US study published Thursday.

The micro-electronics technology, called an epidermal electronic system (EES), was developed by an international team of researchers from the United States, China and Singapore, and is described in the journal Science. . . .

The wireless device is nearly weightless and requires so little power it can fuel itself with miniature solar collectors or by picking up stray or transmitted electromagnetic radiation, the study said.

Less than 50-microns thick - slightly thinner than a human hair - the devices are able to adhere to the skin without glue or sticky material.

[Full Story]

It's in Revelation, people!!

Finally, Science! has given us the ability to make a mark on the hand or forehead. The One World Government and cashless society so clearly spelled out in the book of Revelation is surely almost upon us. Indeed, prophecy is being fulfilled, in the very pages of our newspapers.

August 07, 2011

A pet peeve


[dons Grammar Nazi jackboots and Schirmmütze]

I must draw to your attention a new threat to the purity of our mother tongue: the unrestrained use of the term deconstruct, as seen, for example, in this review by Kevin DeYoung (which is pretty good, and you should read it anyway):

Evangelicals can make the mistake of thinking the Bible says everything about everything. They can also be guilty of majoring on the minors or forcing the Bible to address matters it never meant to address. Smith is right to deconstruct these tendencies.

Deconstruction is a form of literary theory, founded in the 1960s by Jacques Derrida, who famously wrote, "il n'y a pas de hors-texte" ("there is nothing outside the text"). He challenged the assumption that words have a stable reference point outside of other words (there is no objective link between a word and the object it symbolize). Words can only be defined with other words, which can only be defined with other words, and so on and so forth. Nor is there any such thing as authorial intent; that, too, lies outside the text. To deconstruct a text, then, is to abandon all assumptions about meaning, and construct new meanings through new coinages, wordplay, and so forth: finding conflicting meanings for the text and unraveling the points it purports to make.

When DeYoung points out a few inconsistencies in Christian Smith's arguments (e.g. that "biblicism" doesn't work because evangelicals can't agree on essentials, yet Christians ought to get together and agree on essentials), he is in fact deconstructing Smith's argument by exposing areas in which it is incoherent. However, when he concedes that "Smith is right to deconstruct" wacky Evangelical Bible-reading tendencies, it appears that he is using the term deconstruct in a different way. I haven't read the book, but from reading DeYoung's post, it doesn't appear to me that Smith is saying it's impossible to find the Evangelicals' meaning. It's implied that he does understand their meaning. He just finds it foolish.

When you are tempted to use deconstruct when you mean something like analyze, rebut, or criticize, please use another word: for example, analyze, rebut, or criticize.

That is all.

August 06, 2011

Superman Saturday: Superman's first challenge!

Where we last left our hero, he had just arrived on Earth after an unexpectedly long rocket ride from the doomed planet of Krypton. Despite being crammed into a toy rocket as an infant and adrift in space for 20-plus years, having no outside knowledge of Krypton or Earth, Superman arrives with fluency in English and a superhero costume in his size. Even with no money, no experience, no Social Security number and a suit he probably stole off a guy in an alley, he scores a job as a cub reporter for the Daily Planet.

Now, Superman-as-Clark-Kent is off on his first assignment: to cover the threats made against trains in the West, and specifically, the Silver Clipper, "crack train of the West Coast Railroad," which a shady figure named the Wolfe has warned will never reach Salt Lake City after departing Denver.

So put on your Superman Underoos and listen to . . .

Episode 3: Keno's Landslide (1940/02/16)

Listen! [MP3]

The airport being closed due to fog, and with only 24 hours before the Silver Clipper meets its doom, Clark Kent decides to skip the TSA groping and fly out West under his own power as Superman.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Colorado wilderness, our villains are languishing in a cabin: Keno Carter, "gunman, gambler, bad man of the Southwest," and the "shadowy" Wolfe, Maker of Ominous Phone Calls. Keno has just planted explosives on the railway tracks in anticipation of another train, the Western Limited. While Keno is apparently OK with sabotaging the rail system, he balks at the deaths that blowing a train 300 feet down a cliff will cause. The Wolfe, however, is not so scrupulous, and he reminds Keno (in an effete Eastern accent) that his job is to obey orders. Aha - so the Wolfe gets his orders from even higher up.

Superman, who is also following the Western Limited from the air, spots Keno by the tracks. Somehow, he recognizes the gear in his hands as a charging battery for dynamite blasting - such gear apparently being rather common in Kryptonian rockets. Realizing he has to act quickly to save the train, he swoops down and boards as Clark Kent, intending to stall the train by being thrown off when the conductor finds out he has no ticket. Unfortunately, he overplays his hand: the conductor decides to give Clark the benefit of the doubt for the time being, lest he write a hit piece for the paper.

So Clark goes for plan B: he pulls the emergency brake cord. This is, of course, not legal. So far, in his short time on Earth, Superman has destroyed a trolley car, mugged a guy for his clothes, and now illegally stopped a train. Obviously, it's going to take some time for the Man of Steel to evolve into the big blue Boy Scout we all know and love.

Clark suggests that he deserves to be thrown off the train for his bad behaviour. The furious conductor threatens him with jail time. But then the dynamite goes off and drops 20 tons of rock onto the tracks, but thanks to Clark, the train is unharmed. In the general confusion, Clark slips away, changes to Superman, and clears away the rock.

In the meantime, Keno slips into the crowd and discovers that Clark Kent, reporter, is responsible for saving the train. Nonetheless, the Wolfe assures him, with 20 tons of rock on the tracks, the Western Limited isn't going anywhere soon. Of course, it leaves immediately. The Wolfe and Keno quickly run for their plane to get to Denver, continue with their nefarious plot, and take care of Kent.

All in all, this isn't a bad start for Superman's first real adventure. There's a credible challenge - saving trains is one of those things Superman does a lot of. And there's a decent antagonist, in the duo of the thuggish Keno and the ruthless Wolfe.

Mind you, I'm still going to have a bit of fun for the next little while wondering where Superman got a working knowledge of Earth culture.

How is the Wolfe going to deal with Clark Kent in Denver?

Who is the Wolfe getting his instructions from?

Will Superman straighten himself out, or continue his life of petty crime?

Don't miss . . .

Episode 4: Kent Captured by the Wolfe (1940/02/19)

Listen! [MP3]

Having arrived in Denver without further incident, Clark Kent files a story about the rockslide with the paper and pays a visit to the railroad's division superintendent. Meanwhile, the henchman Keno is down because he doesn't understand how the rockslide completely failed to stop the train. The Wolfe admonishes him for failing. When Keno insists he didn't fail, the Wolfe suggests that he should be committed along with the conductor of the Western Limited who insists that a man in a blue outfit had singlehandedly cleared away the rockslide and repaired the tracks. (Ha! Irony!)

The Wolfe has done some checking into Clark Kent, and is surprised that he got out West so quickly. "He musta flown," suggests Keno. (Irony!) Nonetheless, they want to know what the railroad is planning, so Keno is sent to the superintendent's office disguised as a messenger, to deliver a telegram and overhear as much of the conversation as he can.

In the district office, the railroad superintendent and Clark ruminate some about the rumours of a "Superman" that have circulated after the rockslide. Clark dismisses the rumours as fantasy (irony!). It's easy to forget that in Superman's earlier years, he was very much a "mystery man": a costumed vigilante who operated outside the law and in secret. (Remember in Episode 2 how he warned Jimmy and the Professor not to tell anyone about their rescue.) In 1940, Superman was treated as a sort of urban legend, and it would actually be several years before he "went public" and became such a visible symbol of Metropolis.

In his news story, Clark had hinted that he knew more of the story than he had reported. He knows that the bad guys are following him around Denver, and he intends to use himself as bait by making himself conspicuous. "Mild-mannered reporter." Riiiight. His friends, at least the ones who don't know his real identity, must think he wrestles grizzly bears made of piranhas, for fun. As we'll see in future episodes, it must be tough for Superman to pretend he's not Superman.

Now Keno arrives in his messenger outfit and leaves the Wolfe's telegram: a cryptic message, again threatening the Silver Clipper. Kent thinks that the telegram and messenger are faked, and it will also lead right back to the perpetrators. Just then, a phone call arrives: the Superintendent is shocked to learn that a locomotive and tender have vanished without a trace. The message is clear: the same fate will befall the Clipper.

Clark goes out to "hunt wolves," hops out a nearby window and, as Superman, follows Keno back to his hideout. Keno spots him outside the house (again dressed as Clark), and he and the Wolfe plot to capture Kent and drag him into the basement, where they have a steel vault to lock him in and plenty of "aids to conversation."

This episode was mainly filler, and the title pretty much gave away the ending.

What has happened to the missing engine?

How will Clark Kent face the Wolfe's torture?

Could I write that last question with a straight face?

Find out next week!