Criminal gang connections mapped via phone metadata - tech - 16 April 2014 - New Scientist
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Criminal gang connections mapped via phone metadata - tech - 16 April 2014 - New Scientist

Particularly interesting if you caught the excellent panel on police use of ISP metadata at Swancon 39...

I mostly enjoyed Swancon 39, and any lack of enjoyment is not attributable to the concom or any of the participants, but on my own personal problems and the absence of many of the people I look forward to seeing at cons - some local, some living in inconceivably distant lands (Melbourne, Adelaide, Mandurah, Joondalup, etc.) For this reason, the highlight of the con (for me) was the very well-attended launch of Satima Flavell's novel The Dagger of Dresnia, where I caught up with old friends and fellow writers including Lee and Lyn Battersby, Keira McKenzie, Adrian Bedford and others.

The guests, particularly Jim Butcher, were entertaining and likeable; some of the costumes at the masquerade were magnificent; and many of the panels and presentations were fascinating. I'm sorry to have missed several items because of scheduling clashes (mostly with my need to sleep), but personal favourites included an expert talk on 'Conlangs: The Languages of Fictional Worlds', examining the grammar and phonetics of Klingon, Dothraki, and other invented languages; games of Ugg-Tect, thanks to well-deserved Mikey Award winner Rob Masters; a panel on Sexuality, Politics and Religion which mostly looked at asexuality and different degrees of atheism; a spirited defense of libraries by Gina Goddard, Susan Ackerman, Satima and myself; and an amazingly well-informed and extremely informative panel on 'The Internet Future'. The prize for memorable quote of the con goes to Dave Luckett for "The relationship between a writer and a publisher is like that of a suicide to the sidewalk. It's nothing personal."

The most depressing aspect of the con, however, was not Dave's and Cat Sparks' reflection on life as a professional writer, nor the fact that no-one bid to run a Swancon in 2016 (briefly giving rise to speculation that Swancon 40 would be a glorious swansong, though I'm assured there will indeed be a Swancon 41), but conversations with friends from other WA universities who have not survived the culling of academic and support staff or who are anticipating having to face a firing squad.

Maybe skipping the Dead Dog Party (was there one?) and watching an episode of Hannibal and the stunning documentary The Act of Killing instead wasn't the best possible way of avoiding post-con blues, but that aside, I have already bought my membership for Swancon 40 and I hope to see you all there.

My schedule for Swancon
Friday, 17.30: Who Would Live There? The Reality of SF/Fantasy Worlds.

Saturday, 16.30: Shakespeare Retold: The Good, the Bad and the Unexpected.

Sunday, 22.00: Editing Erotica, Publishing Porn.

Monday, 10.30: What My Library Meant to Me.

Ars gratia artis, pecunium propter Deum *
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On a day when the federal attorney-general defended bigotry as a right (though we don't actually have a Bill of Rights), hot on the heels of the far-right abominable Tony Abbott announcing that there will be no investigation of a murder committed in the Manus Island concentration camp, it would have been easy to fail to notice this story from the New York Times about auction houses fighting a bill that would give visual artists royalties from the resale of their work.

However, this intrigued me in the light of the information that Glenn Brown, the Turner Prize nominee who ripped off a Chris Foss cover (reportedly after Foss, exhausted while working on A.I., gave permission), did not receive a share of the $5.7M paid when the picture was resold... but unfortunately (and, I would argue, much more unfairly), neither (AFAIK) did Foss.

Let me make it clear that I don't pretend to be an expert on the visual arts (not including film, a subject on which I have occasionally pretended to be something of an expert), and that when I call myself a museum junkie, I'm mainly talking about science and natural history museums. I admit that I was stunned when I learned that Oscar-winner Steve McQueen had previously won the Turner Prize, which I've long regarded as art's equivalent of the Ig Nobel (not that I always agree with the Oscars - and as I haven't yet seen Twelve Years a Slave, I can't comment on that particular award). And I admit that I have no proof that the exorbitant prices sometimes paid for modern art (the $5.7M for the Glenn Brown 'homage' is a pittance compared to the $58.4M paid for a Jeff Koons sculpture of a balloon animal) are primarily a form of money-laundering or tax evasion seasoned with potlatch. And if the buyers are spending their own money, they have as much right to do so as anti-Turner protestors had to burn a million pounds, though I have to wonder which of them made the worst investment. (I'm fairly sure that whoever bought the Glenn Brown could, for a comparable sum, have bought an entire building in Perth that has been more than competently decorated with a homage to, among others, Vaughn Bode or Brian Froud). And while I'm not entirely convinced by Glendon Mellow's argument about appropriation as fine art, I agree that all artists "borrow" from other artists as well as from nature.

All that aside, I'm very much in favour of the move to give visual artists royalties from the resale of their work - if the sale is over a certain amount, and if the artist is still alive (my views on extending copyright for decades after an artist's death, mainly for the benefit of the Disney corporation, are another matter, maybe for another post).

On a not unrelated note, [personal profile] lilysea and I went to Sculpture by the Sea last week. It does feature some fine pieces, some of which comment on the way we're polluting the ocean, and only one or two of which look as though the ocean threw them back. It even has some where you can see a link between the blurb in the catalogue and the piece of artwork, sometimes to the degree that you can tell what it's trying to say before you read said blurb. Admittedly, there are other quite impressive objets d'art where the blurb was either very poorly translated from the Japanese or written by the Postmodernism Generator.

And, of course, there is the giant inflated goon bag, an enormous piece of flotsam which I fear will win the people's choice award. After all, last year, 53.49% of Australians voted for another worthless giant gasbag to represent this country, and some of them still haven't realized the joke is on all of us.

* Google Translate wouldn't provide the Latin for "for fuck's sake". Sorry.

Zombies and robots and cats, oh my!
by chaosmanor, Bathrobe
2013 wasn't quite as bad as its portrayal in The Postman - although, incredibly, it did seem to drag on for even longer. I wrote quite a lot, including finishing my novel What Rough Beast?, but sadly, I had very little new work published apart from a short story in Shadowrun Returns.

Fortunately, the drought will soon be broken: my novella 'Farewell to the Master' will be appearing in Zombies vs Robots: No Man's Land in April, and there will be more new stories coming out in 2014.

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We now return you to your regular internet programming: pictures of cats. This is Pepper, aka Rescue, the latest addition to our household...

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... and the latest addition to my bedroom (a Christmas present from Emily). It's great having enough space for all my books, but every time I go to sleep, I half-expect to wake up as an enormous starchild in a Clarke orbit.

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Keep watching the skies this space!

Not a NaNoWriMo update
I've decided not to do NaNoWriMo this year. Too much of the first half of the month was taking up with marking assignments, though I did manage to: finish revising What Rough Beast? and send it to my beta readers; start, finish and submit finish my story for Cthulhu: Deep Down Under; start playing Batman: Arkham City; and trek down to Mandurah twice, once to see Spare Parts Puppet Theatre's production of Tales from Outer Suburbia, and once to catch up with Lee and Lyn Battersby.

I've also watched a few movies, including Robot and Frank, a hot contender for the title of "most depressing movie not made by either Ken Loach or Darren Aronofsky". It stars Frank Langella as Frank, a former burglar now suffering from Alzheimer's and reduced to shoplifting bath bombs, and Peter Sarsgaard as the voice of Robot, the robot nurse Frank's son (James Marsden) buys to look after the old man. It's a remarkably plausible treatment of near-future robotics, and often extremely funny, but make sure you have a box of tissues ready to hand.

Spoiler Alert and possible depression triggerCollapse )

Helium-filled airplane could help in disaster zones - tech - 12 November 2013 - New Scientist
Godot by coffeem
Helium-filled airplane could help in disaster zones - tech - 12 November 2013 - New Scientist

Hurry! Last Day!
groove, by martinlivings
Last night, I went to see The Last Days of Judas Iscariot in an encore season by Upstart Theatre at the Pakenham Street Art Space.

The performances are absolutely stunning, and tonight is the final show, so if there are still tickets available and you're willing to venture into Fremantle this evening, I strongly recommend it.

Travels: there and back again
groove, by martinlivings
Tokyo is amazing. When I arrived, though, it was also hot and humid enough that there were no cosplayers in evidence in Akihabara on Saturday (maybe they were all at San Diego Comic Con) and very few in Harajuku on Sunday. I did a lot of browsing, but my suitcase and daypack were already quite full, so I turned down the chance to buy any ninja gear, Harley Quinn figurines, or models of Godzilla destroying Tokyo (I did buy some Moomin stationery for [personal profile] lilysea: judging by the size of the respective displays in toy stores, Moomins are even more popular in Japan than Totoro). I came dangerously close to buying a packet of dog food that was labelled 'Venison' and looked like jerky, until I realized I was in the pet food section: one of these days, I'm going to have to learn to read Japanese. I tried buying a ticket to the Ghibli Museum, but despite their making this extremely difficult (you can only buy tickets from vending machines in certain randomly located convenience stores, and the website with a map of these stores doesn't translate into English), the place was fully booked on the days I was there.

Ueno Park is gorgeous, and there is something pleasantly surreal about hearing a band doing Beatles' covers while wandering around Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. I didn't find much of interest in the Ginza, just the same status symbol shops I see on Hay Street, and the hustlers trying to lure me into clipjoints in Shinjuku and Roppongi were just irritating. I considered going to Yokohama to see Yuka, the frozen mammoth, but that exhibition was closed on Mondays (thank you, Google's translation function); instead, I circumnavigated the Imperial Palace and went to Sengakuji, site of the graves of the 47 Ronin (described there as "the 47 loyal samurai") and the well in which they washed the head of Lord Kira after decapitating him. The museum also contains the letter the 47 wrote explaining their actions, and the receipt for Lord Kira's head. Granted, I saw better displays of samurai armour and weapons in museums in Dallas and Toronto, but how often do you get to see original documents like those?

I was reluctant to leave the wonderful hostel I was staying in, but on my last day there, I received an email asking if I could teach five creative writing tutorials at UWA, so I was in a great mood when I returned to Perth. This happiness lasted slightly less than 24 hours, unfortunately, because the next morning we received a letter telling us that the people who'd bought our house wanted to move in and wouldn't renew our lease. So we have one month to find new digs and move.

On a brighter note, once I was home, I was able to download the photos I took on the trip. Here are the highlights.

PhotosCollapse )

Travels: the penultimate leg
groove, by martinlivings
When last we left the Swinetrek Before heading to Readercon, I visited Boston's Museum of Science to see their exhibit on The Dead Sea Scrolls. I took a wrong turn en route and found myself at Edgar Allan Poe Square, conveniently across the street from a large map that sent me in the right direction. This didn't leave me much time to see the rest of the museum, but the exhibit was worth the visit: the actual scraps of parchment weren't overly impressive, and while it included the James Ossuary, that came with a rather emphatic disclaimer - but I was intrigued by the collection of Asherah figurines collected from ancient Israelite homes.

Readercon was an excellent convention, literary without being academic (though I did become embroiled in a few conversations about great film soundtracks and enjoyably bad B-movies, mostly in the con suite), and I can see why some of the writers I spoke to describe it as their favourite annual con. Panelists included Ellen Datlow, Margo Lanagan, Sheila Williams, John Shirley, Scott Edelman, David G. Hartwell, Howard Waldrop, Cecilia Tan, Scott Lynch, Elizabeth Bear, Peter Straub, Nicholas Kaufmann, Paula Guran and Maureen McHugh. The latest idiocy from Texan lawmakers provoked an understandable level of ire (Howard Waldrop expostulated at one panel that he'd never imagined a future that included the Republican Party), and Peter Straub's expression when he was informed of the existence of zombie romances would have been hilarious but for the fear that he was about to go into shock. I attended the Shirley Jackson Awards ceremony as Margo's proxy, but never had the opportunity to read her acceptance speech; however, I was delighted that Kaaron Warren's 'Sky' and Exotic Gothic 4 won in their respective categories. I resisted the temptations of the dealers' room as best I could (Margo tapped me on the shoulder one time, and pointed out that I'd have to transport the books back home), but was unable to resist a chance to get books signed by James Morrow and Elizabeth Bear or to complete my collection of The Year's Best Horror and Fantasy. The con was capped off with a delightful late lunch or early dinner with Jack Haringa, Brett Savory, Nicholas and Alexa Kaufmann and others before I caught a bus down to New York.

I had less than 48 hours to spend in NYC, and I was determined to see the AMNH again: other museums I've seen in my travels have better collections of dinosaurs and Cambrian fossils, but the AMNH beats them all when it comes to prehistoric mammals, including the type specimen of Andrewsarchus. After a dinner of New York pizza, my host Alexandra Honigsberg suggested we catch the Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty at sunset, then catch a bus back uptown to see at least some of the sights by night.

My flight to Japan on SwissAir included an overnight stop-over in Zurich, a city which didn't particularly impress me - though that was partly because I was too tired and jet-lagged for much sightseeing. Even taking that into account, though, I don't think Zurich and I are a good match. Alain de Botton once described the city as bourgeois, but insisted he meant this as a compliment; I agree with the label (though 'mercenary' and 'hideously overpriced' might be more accurate), but not the sentiment. I much preferred Lausanne, which I visited about eight years ago; the main impression I had of Zurich, apart from a few attractive old buildings, was of billboards for private banks and presumably expensive "gentlemen's clubs", plus dealerships for Bentleys, Lamborghinis and McLarens. If I ever fly from the east coast of the US to Japan again and have to stop overnight in a European city, I'll hold out for Amsterdam.

I was more impressed by SwissAir, who combined politely efficient service with a sense of humour as dark as my own: their map of our Atlantic crossing included the sites of famous shipwrecks, and when I told the woman at check-in counter that the ticket machine wouldn't confirm my booking, she joked, "Then you'll have to stay here." For a long horrible moment, it seemed as though this wasn't just a grim joke: my travel agent had inexplicably cancelled my ticket to Tokyo. Fortunately, the plane wasn't full and I was able to pay for the ticket to be reinstated and arrived safely in Japan this morning.

Tomorrow, Akihabara.

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