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Last month I had a conversation with Dale Grover (co-founder of Maker Works in Ann Arbor, Michigan -- read his profile at Make) about the late author Nevil Shute. Shute is best known for the novel On the Beach (about a dying Earth after a global nuclear war) but we discussed a lesser-known novel of Shute's called Trustee from the Toolroom, which I read five or six years ago and absolutely loved.
Trustee from the Toolroom is a tremendously compelling and well-plotted adventure story from 1960 about a mild-mannered English columnist for a hobbyist magazine called Miniature Mechanic who is duty bound to recover a container of valuable jewels from his dead brother's wrecked yacht in the South Pacific. (Fun fact from Wikipedia: "Trustee from the Toolroom was voted #27 on the Modern Library Readers' list of the top 100 novels. The top ten in that poll, though, included four works by Ayn Rand and three by L. Ron Hubbard -- according to David Ebershoff, Modern Library's publishing director, 'the voting population [was] skewed.'")
During our chat, Dale told me he's read a bunch of Shute's other books, and he was kind enough to email me the next day with mini-reviews of them. I asked Dale if I could run his email on Boing Boing and he said OK. Here's what he wrote:
You have started with what I think is Nevil Shute's best book, but there are some really, really good ones:
A Town Like Alice No engineering, but a wonderful story about an English woman caught up in the Japanese invasion in Malaysia, then her transformation of a village and town later. It was made into a really well done mini series. (And a so-so version later on. Go for the long one, 6 hours but worth it.)
Slide Rule Shute's autobiography. You knew he started out in aviation engineering? One of his first jobs was helping to design one of a pair of airships for the British government. (He went on to found an aviation company, and later in life he had a home machine shop and made model engines.)
No Highway Another engineering one. A "boffin" (nerd) in aviation R&D has to act in the real world on his scientific beliefs. Was made into a great movie (was available on YouTube in its entirety at one point, but I don't see it now), and soon after a great radio drama (should be available online), both starring Marlene Dietrich and Jimmie Stewart. All are highly recommended!
The Far Country A sweet story (Shute had a romantic side), plus Shute was not happy about what was happening politically in England, and saw Australia (where he eventually moved) as offering the opportunities no longer possible in England.
Round the Bend Aviation mechanic starts a religion -- Engine maintenance as soulcraft. Set in the mideast post WWII.
The Chequerboard, Pastoral, Landfall, In the Wet -- all worth reading. And On the Beach is possibly his most well-known book for the powerful image of the results of a world-wide nuclear war. (It was made into a major movie, but I have not seen it.) It is not an upbeat story, though. Movie has some differences from the book that Shute did not like.
Shute's well-known trip to Australia by small plane is captured in Flight of Fancy by James Riddell. Bali is where Riddell lost his heart. There's some advantage in reading it after reading some of the books that came out of this flight -- A Town Like Alice, Round the Bend, The Chequerboard, In the Wet. (Aha -- that's where that scene came from.) It's on the outside looking in on Shute. Widely available used for about $15.
Be sure to poke around on the website for the Nevil Shute Norway Foundation. They do loan out books and movies (I donated my copy of the mini-series of A Town Like Alice). And every few years they have an international gathering. Next one is in NZ, I think.
Redditor Ventachinkway caught a photo of a homeless man conducting a clever exercise in behavioral economics disguised as an inquiry into the levels of spontaneous generosity as determined by religious creed or lack thereof.
My glib description of Tom Gauld's cartoons would be "a science fiction Edward Gorey." It's unfair though, because there's is only a superficial stylistic resemblance between the two writer/illustrators.
To read a Tom Gauld cartoon or illustrated book (see my reviews of The Gigantic Robot and Goliath) is to be entertained, but also to be affected on a deeper level, where timeless truths about the human condition wait for talents such as Gauld to tap a line into them and provide lesser mortals like me with a chance to taste them.Gauld's new book, You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack came out yesterday, and it consists of single panels that explore the passage of time, absurdism, and most of the 7 Deadly Sins, all presented with a sense of graceful whimsy that makes his work such a delight to read. Below, a sampling of You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack.
The latest episode of Game of Thrones was, in my humble opinion, far and away the most exciting one yet. Fire, fire and more fire, fatherhood and impeccable crescendoes. Such payoff for book fans, but what do viewers think?
Let's recap and discuss. I can't wait!
We begin the episode right where the last one left off. With fire! Well, with Sandor Clegane facing trial by combat against the Brotherhood Without Banners. Thoros of Myr may be a witty, drunk sort of character, but we see the way he and his group take the religion of R'hllor quite seriously ('R'hllor' is silly and unpronounceable, so it makes sense he just gets called the 'Lord of Light' on the show). It's a particularly disadvantageous set of circumstances for the Hound, who deeply fears fire.
That we expect he should lose makes it seem divine when he wins: proof of his innocence of various crimes in service of the Lannister crown, most of which have been done by his brother Gregor. Unfortunately for Arya, the Lord of Light can't seem to be bothered to punish Clegane over the death of her little friend the butcher's boy. And he can bring back Beric Dondarrion from the dead a supposed six times, but not re-attach Ned Stark's head. Supposed heroes who claimed to love her father let their religion prevent them from delivering her justice, and plan to sell her back to her family at Riverrun. And Gendry, the only comrade she has left, has decided to stay on in the Brotherhood, as her gender and high birth form something of a ceiling for how close he feels he can get to her.
Poor Arya. All the kid has left is her "prayer" -- a list of the names of people she'd like to see dead.
The main religion of Westeros involves the "Seven", a pantheon of deity figures that represent the various faces of humanity (Father, Mother, Warrior, Maiden, Smith, Crone and Stranger). Robb Stark and Lady Talisa had a marriage that paid homage to the Seven, and that's Lady Catelyn's faith as well, although Ned Stark and much of the Northmen worship the Old Gods, as symbolized by the sap-weeping white weirwood tree we see in the season's opening. In the Brotherhood Without Banners, we see another side to the fire-centric religion of R'hllor -- we confirm it seems to conjure genuine magic, independently of Melisandre's fanaticism and apparent sorcery.
Other fanatics include Stannis Baratheon's wife Selyse, whom we meet for the first time this episode. Our introduction to Stannis' family serves to illuminate his ambivalence toward the fact he has to use the powers of the "Red Woman" to earn a crown he feels is his by fundamental rights -- his own wife is not hurt, but rather delighted by the infidelity he struggles to confess, and feels ashamed of their daughter Shireen, a sweet child deformed by a skin disease called Greyscale.
The jars of Selyse's stillborn sons, I'm fairly sure, are not in the books, and the unsettling imagery helps us empathize with Stannis' private uncertainty about having to consign his purest and most loyal friend, Davos "the Onion Knight" Seaworth, to his dungeons for the treason of speaking against Melisandre.
Speaking of fire, we see redheaded Ygritte continuing to stand up for Jon Snow among mistrustful wildlings like Orell the warg and bearded Tormund Giantsbane. She does this because she wants him, of course, and in this episode we see her get tired of waiting. Snow seems reluctant to fully sell out the defenses of his black brothers to the wildlings' oncoming assault on the Wall -- is he lying when he tells Orell which castles are manned? A thousand seems like a lot of crows relative to how badly the patchy Night's Watch has lately been struggling against the Others and one another.
It almost doesn't matter: Giving up his virginity to Ygritte is probably, to Jon, a more significant break with his old life than anything he's done so far. But what a beautiful little scene: She really, really likes and trusts him. Does he like her more than his black brothers, though?
Brienne and Jaime are delivered to Robb Stark's ally Roose Bolton, who enjoys tormenting the Lannister son by dangling details of the Blackwater battle at King's Landing. After losing everything, the idea that the woman he loves -- his sister Cersei -- might also be dead seems to render him unable to stand any longer. And there's more pain ahead, as malpracticing Maester Qyburn is engaged to try to help save Jaime's rotten stump.
Cersei is fine, of course. After her father rejected her mistrust of the Tyrells, she hasn't let the issue go, and instead engages Littlefinger to help her prove the Golden Rose is plotting against the Lion. Cersei lacks the tact of most of her rivals; threats seem to be the extent of her bargaining tactics, where her brothers seem much more skillful at dangling riches and glory.
We see terrifying Olenna Redwyne as more than a match for Tyrion, eluding his strategies to reduce the extravagant cost of the Royal Wedding, an expense the Crown certainly can't afford. Recall that being unable to pay its debts to the Royal Bank of Braavos might actually cause the powerful lenders to shift its financial loyalty to a rival war effort. Tyrion could just tell his father that, one supposes, but it's meant to be his job to deal with the situation.
We already know Olenna isn't necessarily passionate about the wedding itself -- we've seen her make fun of frippery and classism. But she'd probably prefer to bleed the Crown's cash for her granddaughter's sake: Her offer to pay for half the affair seems generous, but is probably geared at making sure the wedding remains as expensive and frivolous an event as possible.
The Northmen have gotten tired of waiting for their revenge. Robb's taken too many personal detours, and the loss of Jaime Lannister as a prisoner might have been irrelevant from a military standpoint, but devastating from a spiritual one. Mad with grief and impatience, The Karstarks, of a clan of distant Stark-cousins, kill the little boys Willem and Martyn Lannister (they're the sons of Tywin's brother Kevan, if you were wondering). These poor kids were the ill-chosen captives of Robb's uncle Edmure Tully, who for some reason decided to take a mill instead of fighting Gregor Clegane.
Robb's all but lost control of every thread of his war effort, and he can't afford to lose the military power of his longtime Northman allies. But when Rickard Karstark suggests Robb is powerless to actually punish him for his ill-advised initiative, Robb feels he he has to step up, even if doing so means he loses half his army. His family unifies to advise him against executing Karstark, but Robb is loyal to the ideal of justice to an actual fault, just like his dad. He'd rather pursue that than to win the war.
We know he's making a bad, bad choice. Then again, a certain dread has overhung all of Robb's choices so far. Now his last remaining option is to go and seek support from the Frey family, who he's recently spurned against his mother's advice so he could marry Talisa instead. An ominous thematic crescendo builds as Robb moves a wolf's head strategic piece toward the Twins, the fort of Walder Frey. Ah, surely this is going to fix everything. It's all going to work out great.
Why does Jaime Lannister have no problem entering the bath with Brienne, despite her mortification? Because he's disinterested in her sexually, sure. But mainly because he knows that if he, still unwell, passes out, she'll save him. He is absolutely safe with her, because she swore a vow, and even if he mocks her for her impressively-stubborn adherence to her oaths, he knows that in spite of her resentment, she will protect him.
Oathbreaking is the highest on the list of Brienne's list of reasons to distrust and dislike the famous Kingslayer. He's been seeing that aversion in the eyes of every foe and comrade alike since he stabbed King Aerys Targaryen quite literally in the back while the Lannister army sacked King's Landing, and never felt the urge to explain or defend himself until now. Maybe after everything he's been through, seeing that aversion in Brienne's eyes is too much to take, so he confides in her.
If Jaime had kept his oath to the hellish Mad King, had not been a Kingslayer, he would have been forced not only to kill his father, but also to watch the entire city and everyone in it burn to death. It was his father, the strategician Tywin Lannister, who gained access to King's Landing under the guise of aiding the Targaryens against Robert's rebels, and then promptly sacked it. Ruthlessly tactful, that. Then, the Lannisters apparently had the Targaryen babies killed. Next, Cersei's wedding to Robert Baratheon, cemeting the family's presence in the capital.
Then the King's Hand, Jon Arryn, died under mysterious circumstances. Then King Robert himself. Oh, except that was an accident.
We see how tortured Jaime still is by the fact he had to break that vow, and how traumatized he is by the things he had to do and see under Aerys. Most of all, the condescension of moral Ned Stark stings. The books show Ned frequently recounting his sense of apprehension at arriving at King's Landing after the Lannisters sacked it to find Jaime sitting in the throne room. On the Iron Throne, in fact. The memory of Jaime in that weaponized chair seems to have been instrumental in sowing Ned's mistrust against the Lannister family, and in bringing him to King's Landing to try to support King Robert. Yet we learn even though King Aerys' madness was poisonous to the city, Jaime still tried to warn him about his own father, even if taking his head was not something he could have done.
Honorable Ned never asked him though, simply judged. "By what right does the wolf judge the lion," he curses bitterly, a brilliant quote that illustrates the rampant Lannister pride, ruthlessness, as something of an understandable expression of a moral code that simply favors victory -- but is no less moral than a sanctimonious, slavish devotion to imperfect ideals of honor. We see that Brienne has heard him, judged him anew, when she forgets all modesty to rush to him and calls for help when he faints.
Margaery has assured Sansa that as queen, she'll have the power to make a wedding between Sansa and Loras Tyrell happen. In the books, Sansa is disappointed to find out she's intended not for Loras (who joins the Kingsguard and thus, like Jaime Lannister, avoids marriage via the station) but for his much less-appealing brother Willas. But the fact Sansa wants to become a Lady of Highgarden remains the same, and for the show's purposes involving Loras is not only simpler, but more dramatic.
Loras will fulfill his family's request even though he's not interested in women. How did his handsome young sparring partner detect his predilection? Well, Littlefinger must have told him, as the young man was a spy sent to find out what Tyrell plot might be underway. When Littlefinger invites Sansa to finally escape King's Landing with him, a friend of her mother's, and she declines, he has confirmation that the Tyrells have already gotten her to collude with the idea. Sansa seems thrilled that Littlefinger doesn't look likely to insist on upsetting her secret plans, but what she doesn't know is that when he says, "I hope you know I'm your friend," what he means is, "don't worry, you're not going anywhere, anyway."
We see a highly-satisfied Cersei at her father's side, positively glowing at finally having brought proof of the Tyrells' scheming to their dear old dad. That Tywin's plan to thwart the Tyrells by marrying Sansa to Tyrion instead absolutely mortifies her little brother only seems to please Cersei more. Tyrion knows how terrorized Sansa is already, and how disappointed she, barely older than a child nursing fantasies of courtly lords, will be in him as a husband, and protests. Tywin insists. He always insists.
Cersei hardly has long to gloat, either. Though she's proved her usefulness at court to her father and saved their family's grip on the crown, Tywin still plans to wed her to Loras Tyrell, to bring the rival family in line and to quell the "rumors" about Cersei and her brother. Her horror at being used as a "brood mare" again is palpable, gutting. Mean, aggressive Cersei is one of the show's least-likeable characters, but is nonetheless empathetic, a victim of her father's system with even less fortune than her brothers, by virtue of her gender and the mistakes her desperation tends to sow.
Some of the best dramatic moments in the entire series have come from Cersei stricken, calling tremulously for her Dad. When Tywin stages a last-minute rescue of his family at the end of the Blackwater battle of season two, we see her fling aside her suicide plan, forgotten at the first sight of Dad, rising to her feet with the soft cry of "father." In this stunning episode finish, she is begging again, her hard protest giving way to naked, broken pleading -- "don't make me do it again, please," so soft, so sorrowful.
Game of Thrones would be an entirely different narrative if rooting for the Lannisters to simply be stamped out of King's Landing like an infestation were an easy decision. Yet it is possible to respect Tywin, to feel Cersei's pain and anger, admire Tyrion or Jaime's complex, deeply-personal morality in the face of suffering.The house of the Lion is the red, beating heart of this series, and just when you find yourself wishing most fervently for the tide to turn against them, you end up feeling a little sorry that you did.
I think appreciating the Lannister family is among the most interesting choices one can make in the favorites-picking "war" that Game of Thrones encourages in readers and viewers. The narrative is not always sensible reading. It's not always brilliantly-plotted; it's neither literature nor high art. But it's most intriguing feature is the way it exposes systems within a society, and how systems handicap some and privilege others, affecting their value systems, mobility and the framework of their choices for life. It presents an idea that's obvious when you think about it, but radical in the context of a fantasy story or a hero tale -- that morality is in large part relative and dependent on context.
Here, a given faction might find no relevance in the storybook ideal of "the right thing". With an expansive and complicated system exposed, we can empathize with the idea that all most people are able to do is the right thing for them, within the limitations they're given, and that maybe that's heroic enough. Whether intentions are good or ill almost don't matter in a world where fire licks at one edge of the map and cold ice crumples the other.
What was your favorite part of this exciting episode? Yes, I did gloss over the lovely bit where Grey Worm reinforces his fealty to Daenerys, but if you couldn't tell, I was too busy feeling sorry for bad guys this week. Love your discussions in the comments each week. Please, please no spoilers related to any weddings or prospective weddings mentioned in this post. No colors, no initials, nothing. Thank you.
Michael from MuckRock sez,
The Supreme Court ruled this morning that states have the right to restrict public records access to locals, meaning one more hurdle to would-be muckrakers everywhere. Even in-state requesters are harmed: It means one more bureaucratic hurdle and another excuse for agencies to respond in paper rather than electronically.
MuckRock has helped file requests in all 50 states -- important for projects like the Drone Census -- and we're looking for more volunteers to help ensure transparency from sea to shining sea.
* New Hampshire
* New Jersey
If you live in one of the above, fill out a simple form and we can help ensure that sunshine isn't restricted depending on where you live:
Canadian artist/photographer NicoleWilliam created this cell model cake for her BIOL330 class in 2010. I hereby grant her a retrospective A+. It even comes apart!
When I was a kid, I was the class clown and a bit of a troll. When Ace of Base's The Sign was a hit, me and my mates made up this story that it was really a coded reference to the Swastika, and why are all of you listening to this shameful Nazi music? I ruined it for everyone. Looking back, it's a bit fuzzy—had there been a "legit" tabloid rumor at the time? Were we just riffing on the jaunty Aryan-ness of it all?
Either way, it turns out I wasn't far off. For founder Ulf Ekberg, life is indeed demanding, without understanding.
Joe Sandor is looking for $13k on Kickstarter to fund his Pirate Pancake griddle project. It's a beaut. (I wrote about Joe's successful cast iron crepe pan Kickstarter last year).
Earlier this month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation asked the US Patent and Trademark Office to turn down six broad, bogus patents on 3D printing that could pave the way for even more patent-trolling on the emerging field of 3D printing. They worked with the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and Ask Patents, as well as with its own supporters to gather evidence on the prior art that invalidates these applications. It's part of a larger project to systematically challenge patents in emerging fields -- next up is mesh networks -- providing a layer of vigilance and common sense atop the reckless and indifferent patent office.
Here are copies of what we submitted to the Patent Office. The good news is that so far, the Patent Office has accepted our submissions (because of that, if you're thinking of making your own preissuance submissions, you might want to use these as a model). Now we wait to see whether our input influences the examiners.
Our work doesn’t stop here. Next we’re going to investigate a number of pending applications that impact mesh networking technology—another area with an extremely active open development community and with tremendous potential. We’ll be asking you to help us again soon. Stay tuned!
Just one more way that EFF is making the future a better one.
You know how aviation is a spiralling horror-show of discomfort and bad service? Well, not if you're in Congress:
At Washington’s Reagan National Airport, they have their own special parking spaces—right up close to the terminal—that they don’t even have to pay for. As Bloomberg Television’s Hans Nichols reports, this perk costs the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority $738,760 in foregone revenue. (The best part of this clip, though, is seeing Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky haul ass to get away from Bloomberg’s cameraman.)
Being a member of Congress also means never having to rush to catch a flight. The airlines allow lawmakers the special privilege of simultaneously booking themselves on multiple flights, so that if they are late or their flight is canceled, they’re guaranteed a spot on the next one. A few years ago, a prominent senator paused in the middle of a conversation with me to bark at an aide, “Book me on the 6, 7, and 8 p.m. shuttles!”
To members of our fly-in-Tuesday-fly-home-Thursday Congress, these perks are a big deal. Most fly a lot, and many fly first class
The Pampered World of Congressional Air Travel [Businessweek/Joshua Green]
Slate's Ryan Gallagher caught wind of a new face recognition software being rolled out at the Statue of Liberty. He interviewed a rep from Total Recall, who were reported to be representing Cognitec, the German company whose product, FaceVACS was going in on Liberty Island. Halfway through the interview, Total Recall's director of business development Peter Millius terminated the call, saying that the project was on hold, or possibly cancelled, "vetoed" by the Park Police.
Then it got weird. Cognitec and its lawyers began to barrage Gallagher with emails and letters warning him that if he wrote about this, they'd sue him. When he asked Total Recall for clarification, they threatened to sue him, personally, for harassment. The National Park Service didn't have much to say about the bid, saying "I'm not going to show my hand as far as what security technologies we have." Go, security-through-obscurity! Hurrah for spending tax dollars without any transparency!
Gallagher reported the whole story, including the threats. Whatever merits or demerits Total Recall and Cognitec have as companies, turning into weird, opaque legal-threat-generating machines in the middle of an interview and harassing and intimidating journalists sounds like the kind of thing that should disqualify them from getting any of the American public's money.
“We do work with Cognitec, but right now because of what happened with Sandy it put a lot of different pilots that we are doing on hold,” Peter Millius, Total Recall’s director of business development, said in a phone call. “It’s still months away, and the facial recognition right now is not going to be part of this phase.” Then, he put me hold and came back a few minutes later with a different position—insisting that the face-recognition project had in fact been “vetoed” by the Park Police and adding that I was “not authorized” to write about it.
That was weird, but it soon got weirder. About an hour after I spoke with Total Recall, an email from Cognitec landed in my inbox. It was from the company’s marketing manager, Elke Oberg, who had just one day earlier told me in a phone interview that “yes, they are going to try out our technology there” in response to questions about a face-recognition pilot at the statue. Now, Oberg had sent a letter ordering me to “refrain from publishing any information about the use of face recognition at the Statue of Liberty.” It said that I had “false information,” that the project had been “cancelled,” and that if I wrote about it, there would be “legal action.” Total Recall then separately sent me an almost identical letter—warning me not to write “any information about Total Recall and the Statue of Liberty or the use of face recognition at the Statue of Liberty.” Both companies declined further requests for comment, and Millius at Total Recall even threatened to take legal action against me personally if I continued to “harass” him with additional questions.
Just look at it.
Mag Lev Banana (Thanks, Philip!)