Charlie's Diary

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Fri, 27 Jan 2006

Here is the news

I swear, I'm not making this up.

In St Fillans, Perthshire (that's in Scotland, dammit), work on a residential development on the side of Loch Earn has been halted because of fears that it will offend the local fairies.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Russia, President Vladimir Putin is refusing to expel British diplomats accused of spying (after their WiFi enabled rock malfunctioned) in case MI6 replaces them with somebody competent.

Scientists at the National Taiwan University have successfully created genetically modified pigs that glow green in the dark.

Meanwhile, detectives in Brittany have concluded a murder investigation unsuccessfully. The victim's skeleton was found in 2003 at low tide -- a female in her 30s, she was clearly murdered, but all attempts at identifying her failed until radiocarbon dating determined that she died between 1401 and 1453. "We think it was pirates", said a local police spokesman.

And I am reliably informed that H. M. Revenue and Customs have officially declared that, for purposes of calculation of import duty on goods being brought into the UK from outside the EU, edible snails are classified as "land-based fish". (No online citation for that one, I'm afraid, as the HMRC web portal is a masterpiece of obfuscatory prose that only tentacled horrors from beyond space-time could love.)

Finally, because it is Friday, here is a cat:

Mafdet, tarting


posted at: 16:10 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 05 Dec 2005

Acute future shock, part 19

I've complained before about how the real world conspires to make jobbing science fiction writers feel like complete idiots, unable to imagine anything remotely as weird as reality.

Well, yesterday's dose was a bit of a grab-bag, but I think I'm up to speed on my future shock. Having just finished reading the proofs of "Rainbows End" by Vernor Vinge (hint: if you like near-future SF, this is the current benchmark novel -- or it will be, when it comes out next April/May) I figured I was pretty much immune to being mugged by weirdness. Was I hell ...

Spotted in the computing section of a bookstore: a text titled Extrusion Detection. WTF? Yes, it's a neologism by analogy from intrusion detection (the art of detecting anomalous network activity indicative of an attack on your own systems). As the cover blurb went on to explain, "70% of network attacks originate within the enterprise ..."

(If that doesn't tweak your sense of wonder, then consider this: it implies that enough people are now sufficiently network-savvy to make deliberate internal threats a major worry for security administrators. Alternatively, the worms are winning. Either way, it's bad.)

Then there was this gem, culled from the Telegraph: yoghurt dispute hits a brick wall. It appears a home owner in Wiltshire is being sued by her local council for failing to paint her house with live yoghurt. (They failed to take action earlier when she refused to comply with an order to use manure; the yoghurt was their second choice.) There is, it seems, a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, but I'm not sure my sanity can withstand that kind of reasonableness.

Oh, and in Sweden, police are searching for the vandals who set fire to a 13 metre high straw goat in the centre of Gavle.

I swear, if the universe won't stop doing my job for me, I'm going to give up and start writing high fantasy trilogies instead. At least they're weird in a predictable way.

[Discuss funnies]

posted at: 13:14 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 10 Jul 2005

Life is stranger than fiction, part 43

Gacked from the Chonquing Business Post by way of Esther Dyson in comp.risks:

Game Accounts Take Center Stage In Divorce
Legend of Mir 2, Online Game, SNDA, Shanda
Posted by: Zhou Zhengqian on Jul 01 | 17:07

A divorce in Chongqing has turned ugly when both parties want their joint online game accounts, Chongqing Business Post reports. Mr. Wang from Chongqing and Ms. Ye from Huibei met last September on Shanda's (Nasdaq: SNDA) online game Legend of Mir 2. Wang saved Ye's character from being killed by another player. The couple married at the end of October but decided to get a divorce in June. During their marriage, the couple jointly played over ten Mir 2 accounts, attaining level 40 to 50 status for all of them. The characters and virtual items are estimated to be worth 40,000 to 50,000 Yuan. Wang said that he wants to keep the accounts and virtual items and is willing to give their joint apartment to Ye. However, Ye wants to split the apartment and game items equally.

I've heard of excessive computer gaming being cited as cause for divorce, but this seems to be a case of the marriage being the result of gaming in the first place – and divvying up the spoils afterwards seems particularly bizarre.

(I should note at this point that I avoid MMORPGs like the plague. I've fallen into standalone Neverwinter Nights and that is entirely bad enough for my productivity – if I get into World of Warcraft you won't see me for at least six months and a wrist operation to repair the mousing overload damage. On the other hand, I'm fascinated by the way these online societies develop, and in particular how their economies and social structures deal with phenomena like farming, and I have half a novel kicking around my head that really needs to be set half inside an MMORPG in order to function ...)

For a bit more illumination, see the discussion Nutted by futurity over on Making Light.

[Discuss game vs. reality]

posted at: 20:47 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 04 Jul 2005


Happy whatever to you all as you play the Dalek Song. Exterminate!

[Link] [Discuss]

posted at: 18:28 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 01 Apr 2005

Stross to Earthlings

Reports of my transcendence are regrettably lacking in a few minor details. Most notably, I am finding posthuman life rather cramped inside this Palm Pilot, and I urgently need more storage. Anyone got a spare 1Gb SD memory card?

[Link] [Discuss singularity]

posted at: 20:48 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 13 Feb 2005

Evolution is history

This has been doing the rounds for a while now, but I figure it's worth dragging up again just in case you missed it: Carl Woese's theory that evolution (Darwinian evolution, that is) is just a passing fad -- a side-effect of the formation of the first cells, about three and a half to four gigayears ago. Here we have Freeman Dyson discussing it, and pointing out that the Darwinian interlude can loosely be considered to be coming to an end.

We humans are a substrate for memes; the self-propagating unit of cultural evolution, intermediated and transcribed from brain to brain by the human language faculty. Memes don't obey strict Darwinism, because we can selectively acquire advantageous memes -- in this respect, they follow a Lamarckian evolutionary model. (Lamarckism has been pretty much debunked in terms of applicability to the DNA/RNA world, but is a good match for the acquisition of useful ideas.)

Despite this, prior to the evolution of language we, well, we evolved via the straight Darwinian shtick. Survival of the viable get from a random sprinkling of unhappy mutants. Rinse, cycle, repeat across a million generations from pond scum to pithecanthropus.

Now it looks like some folks are working on new replicator realms (ProtoLife's proposed system doesn't use DNA or RNA) or just building an organism with a minimal genome.

Looking at it from a distance, if either of those ventures are successful (and there are others out there, working on rather different projects) we'll be able to point to them as marking yet more phase-changes in the prevailing mode of evolution.

And I am left scratching my head and asking, how in hell are the young-earth creationists and the "creation scientists" going to handle that? (Other, of course, than by denying that anything's happening at all -- "it's a fraud" is the last defense of the over-exposed ideology.)

You've been trapped by last year's selfish memes. How are you going to survive in the new ecosystem?

[Link] [Discuss strange wildlife]

posted at: 21:48 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 09 Feb 2005

"First we take Manhattan ..."

According to a rather neat article in First Monday, musicians and artists for the most part don't earn their living through intellectual property rights; there's a power law at work, with maybe the top ten individuals in a given country earning twice as much as the next 200 put together, and more than the bottom 10,000 professionals in the field put together. Meanwhile royalties captured from sound samples used to create new works of music, for example, eat up almost all the profitability of the new works. And as Tobias Buckell notes in his survey of SF writers' book advances (in the USA) "the typical advance for a first novel is $5000. The typical advance for later novels, after a typical number of 5-7 years and 5-7 books is $12,500."

So I think I'm standing on defensible ground when I say that artists and musicians mostly don't benefit much from their copyrights, and genre authors (us working stiffs who are supposed to rely 100% on our intellectual property rights for our income) also do pretty badly overall.

So it was with some surprise that I stumbled across the ideology of Galambosianism. At first I wasn't sure if it was an April Fool entry in the wikipedia; it's just too bizarre, especially the second paragraph. But on second thoughts, it matches what else I know about Objectivists (Galambos is of course a follower of Ayn Rand). I'm going to reproduce the current WikiPedia entry in full:

'''Galambosianism''' was a short-lived doctrine of intellectual property absolutism, founded in the 1960s by Joseph Andrew Galambos, also known as Andrew Joseph Galambos, and descended from libertarianism and/or the teachings of Ayn Rand. The primary concept of Galambosianism was that one's ideas were one's "primary property", a higher form of property than physical assets (which were merely "secondary property"), and second only to one's life (one's "primordial property"). In Galambosianism, property rights were absolute; Galambos was quoted as saying that freedom is the condition in which everyone has 100% control of their property and 0% control of anyone else's property. This held that any new idea belonged irrevocably and in perpetuity to its inventor and their heirs, who were entitled to control and profit from its use in perpetuity. Galambosianism did not allow for a public domain; the owners of ideas or their heirs could not renounce ownership of an idea or even waive payments due to them. It is said that Galambos believed, for example, that the word "liberty" was the primary property of the heirs of Thomas Paine, and would drop a nickel into a fund, to give to Paine's descendants, every time he used it. It is also said that Galambos changed his name from Joseph Andrew to Andrew Joseph to avoid owing his father (whose primary property, by his own arguments, his birth name was) royalties for using it.

Galambosianism never caught on as an idea because, under its own laws, Galambos was the only person allowed to disseminate it; remaining consistent with his own rules, he made all attending his lectures sign confidentiality agreements, prohibiting them from divulging the content of his lectures. As such, in memetic terms, Galambosianism was sterile. It has been argued, though, that recent efforts to extend the scope of copyright and patent laws (such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and various WIPO treaty proposals) are the intellectual heirs of Galambosianism.

I'm still trying to absorb the implications of Galambosianism if taken to its logical conclusion -- especially in view of the obviously contradictory position of Galambosian information property rights and the actual utility of such rights to creative individuals trying to earn a living from them. Might, perchance, the current fad for intellectual property totalitarianism, as campaigned for by bodies like the RIAA and MPAA, be the outcome of a cabal of underground Objectivist/Galambosianist campaigners working to inflict their views on us through interminable committee processes and international treaty law? Stranger things have been alleged: and knowing that, for example, Alan Greenspan was a young follower of Rand, and that the Frank Furedi/Spiked!/Institute of Ideas crowd (currently admired by the Adam Smith Institute) started out as the Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain, does lend a glimmer of plausibility to the idea of an octopus-like Galambosian Entryist Underground, with its tentacles embedded in the upper echelons of the music and film industries, thereby to bring Objectivist nirvana and universal mandatory property rights to us all -- whether we want them or not.

[Discuss politics]

posted at: 16:51 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 31 Oct 2004

I, for one, welcome our new Cephalopod masters

With the death of finned fish stocks due to warming oceans and over-fishing comes the news that squid are taking over the oceans. In fact, the total biomass of giant squid now exceeds that of human beings -- not too surprising, given they've got 70% of the planet to roam over and we've only got the dry, arid bits.

Dr George Jackson from the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean studies in Tasmania said squid thrived during environmental disasters such as global warming.

The animal ate anything in that came their way, bred whenever possible and kept growing.

"This trend has been suggested to be due both to the removal of cephalopod predators such as toothed whales and tuna and an increase of cephalopods due to removal of finfish competitors,'' said Dr Jackson.

If it wasn't a symptom of an environmental disaster so serious that even The Queen of England is paying attention, the opportunities for fishy humour would be irresistible.

[Link] [Discuss warming]

posted at: 11:32 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 15 Aug 2004

If the theory is broken, work harder to fix it

Back in the day -- oh, call it 1940 through 1970 -- a lot of science fiction made the tacit assumption that ESP (extra sensory perception) was real; ditto telepathy, telekinesis, a whole battery of "powers of the mind". Belief in ESP and related phenomena is still fairly widespread, despite a lack of strong and unequivocal supporting evidence and a host of people who, if posessed of such abilities, would be powerfully motivated to use them. (Contemplate your local prison population, the successful escape rate, and then consider what that says about the probable existence of "mind reading" powers in the general population ...)

A number of interesting hypotheses have been advanced to explain ESP. One of the most persuasive (to me, at any rate) is blindsight, the phenomenon of seeing things one is not consciously aware of; a lot of visual pre-processing appears to be done in the retina or the optic nerve, before any signal reaches the visual cortex. I can come up with any number of "just so stories" that explain (in the context of evolution) why it would be developmentally advantageous for a small furry mammal to be able to react rapidly to visual phenomena at an autonomic level, before its brain gets deeply involved in working out what the phenomenon represents. And blindsight gives us a decent explanation (at last!) for why we sometimes feel as if we're being watched -- we might not be conscious of directly observing someone watching us, but some bunch of synapses, hard-wired in our pre-hominid evolution to twitch if a predator is present, has just registered an alarm.

Meanwhile, on the flip side of the ESP-explaining world, we get things like this: String Theory, Universal Mind, and the Paranormal, by Brian D. Josephson, Department of Physics, University of Cambridge.

ABSTRACT: A model consistent with string theory is proposed for so-called paranormal phenomena such as extra-sensory perception (ESP). Our mathematical skills are assumed to derive from a special "mental vacuum state", whose origin is explained on the basis of anthropic and biological arguments, taking into account the need for the informational processes associated with such a state to be of a life-supporting character. ESP is then explained in terms of "shared thought bubbles" generated by the participants out of the "mental vacuum state". The paper concludes with a critique of arguments sometimes made claiming to rule out the possible existence of paranormal phenomena.

Wow: he's got them all. String theory, the anthropic principle, ESP, cartesian dualism resurrected with a big bang, even references to Penrose! This isn't so much a defense of the flat earth theory as a full-frontal attempt to prove that we're all living on the surface of an Alderson disc.

As a skeptic, I'm kind of irritated by the idea of invoking Big Physics™ to explain what's probably a psychological phenomenon. (And as a materialist, I'm really irritated.) But as an SF writer I'm overjoyed. Whee! A respectable gloss for a whole bunch of more-or-less discredited ideas that make the universe a bigger sandpit to build castles of the mind in! I'm going to milk this for a whole novel or three, if nobody comes along and kicks out the foundations from under it first. It is, after all, a perfect fit for the world of The Atrocity Archives, and the idea of writing a sequel has been on my mind of late ...

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 12:16 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 29 Jul 2004

Weird World Web

We interrupt this weblog to bring you news of Weird Technology ...

The Aviation and Missile Command in Huntsville, Alabama, are building a missile designed to patch up injured soldiers; the 10 kilo Quick-MEDS projectile will be launched from a UAV at injured soldiers who can't be evacuated by helicopter because a fire fight is still in progress: it's packed with "blood, bandages, an oxygen generator, burn packs, critical-care supplies, vaccines and bio-chem antidotes". The second generation of the missile, once they get past proof of concept, will be GPS-guided and accurate enough to land in a 10 metre by 20 metre area.

(Anyone willing to place bets on how long it takes before a recipient is accidentally brained by one of these things? Adds a whole new meaning to "friendly fire".)

Meanwhile, according to Gizmodo (who got it off the UPS newswire, so it must be true), "researchers in the Sao Paulo University's Physics Department have successfully connected a group of 11 neurons from a blue crab's mouth parts to a computer, allowing them to control the movements of the crabs mouth parts via electrical signals." I, for one, welcome our new cyborg crustacean overlords. (And make mine a caipirinha.)

(Speaking of cyborg crustaceans, if you want to know where the lobsters in ACCELERANDO came from, this was the inspiration.)

[Discuss singularity]

posted at: 22:30 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 11 Jul 2004

Stockbrokers of death

The Guardian runs a fascinating expose of the death broking business -- an example of risk management strategies run amok.

Death broking - or gambling on the lifespan of your fellow man - has become the latest way for investors tired of stocks and shares to reap a healthy profit.

Individual investors are making enormous returns by buying so-called impaired life insurance policies auctioned at a discount by terminally ill policyholders, desperate to unlock the benefits of their policies before they die.

'I prefer buying the policies of people who have certain sorts of cancer because, with the right sort of research, you can pinpoint fairly accurately how long they have left to live,' said 49-year-old Robin Harley.


'If people have money to invest, they become very cold about how they do it: it becomes an entirely commercial decision,' [said an anonymous FSA]. 'I have hesitations about individuals getting involved in this market because unscrupulous people purchasing policies from people who are quite vulnerable could easily abuse that position,' he added. Kennedy admits this could be the case.

Sometimes, however, the seller can triumph over the buyer ... 'We pulled out of this market altogether because we found the sellers were not dying when they were supposed to, and we were having to face huge numbers of disgruntled buyers,' [another FSA] admitted. (My emphasis.)

Now, let's see if I've got this right ...

A life insurance policy is basically a bet you make (with the insurance company) that you're not going to die. You owe them a chunk of money (with interest) which you normally pay in installments, monthly. If you die, they owe your estate their side of the bet. There are complications -- normally life policies pay off when they mature as well as when you die -- but it's basically a bet. And in this case, a transferrable bet. If you want to get into the death broking business, you pay out a substantial chunk of the maturation value of the policy -- typically 30-40% -- to the policy-holder, in return for which you inherit the policy. You keep paying the installments until the terminally-ill former policy-holder dies, at which point you receive the full balance of the policy, thus making a return of maybe 20-40% per annum on your investment. (If their cancer doesn't go into remission, of course.)

Which leads me to ask several questions. Can we conceive of trading forward death options to hedge ourselves against the risk of declining mortality among AIDS victims? Can we conceive of large-scale manipulation of this market? Is it possible that a burgeoning death broking business might lead some larger investors to attempt to stifle medical research into cures for commonly fatal conditions? And how do we deal with the equivalent of the free rider problem -- the free killer problem (wherein the equivalent of Murder, Inc. decides to get heavily into impaired life policies and then liquidates its investment, so to speak)?

The mind boggles (in between reaching for the sick bucket). I swear I couldn't make anything like this up and hope to get away with it in fiction.

What, I wonder, would Adam Smith think?

[Link] [Discuss market anomalies]

posted at: 12:01 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 03 Jul 2004

Weird Shit Saturday

I tend to poke around the web in the morning, reading the news. So what do I come across today? Here's Colin Powell in a hard hat, singing his own version of a Village People classic on stage at an ASEAN summit conference in front of the assembled diplomats. (Warning: requires Real Media player.) Then, via an acquaintances' weblog, I stumble across this proof that not only are fashion designers stranger than we imagine, but they may be stranger than we can imagine. (Not to mention being into recycling dead TV sets.)

And finally, in the real news, proof that what you spread comes back to haunt you; the Mouse, one of the prime culprits over many years in the corporate struggle to extend the term of copyright, is about to get bitten.

Ah, it's good to see the interweb dishing up some weird shit again. Things have been so boring for so long that I was beginning to get worried about the planetary weirdness drought.

[Link(Diplomat makes arse of self - thanks, Roy!]) [Discuss dumb]

[Link(fashion victims) [Discuss fashion victims]

[Link(Copywrong) [Discuss copyright-censorship]

posted at: 11:27 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 10 Jun 2004

Ronald MacDonald in armed nuclear bunker siege

You couldn't make this up. Honest.

(NB: the bunker is real. I've been there. It's a fun local tourist attraction if you're into cold war chills -- a sort of 20th century version of the Edinburgh Dungeon. Not so sure about Ronald MacDonald, though ...)

[ Link (thanks, Roy)] [Discuss bampots]

posted at: 02:16 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 07 Jun 2004

This dog is going to haunt my dreams tonight

Chow from hell

[Link (to jwz)] [Discuss ]

posted at: 22:09 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 29 May 2004

Where's a giant caterpilar with a hookah when you need one?

Quoth Reuters (by way of Yahoo news):

BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - A giant three-tiered mushroom which measures a yard across and was found in the tropical forests of the Republic of Congo has left experts in the capital Brazzaville scratching their heads.

"It's the first time we've ever seen a mushroom like this so it's difficult for us to classify. But we are going to determine what it is scientifically," Pierre Botaba, head of Congo's veterinary and zoology center, told reporters on Thursday.

The giant fungi stands 45 centimeters (18 inches) high and has three tiered caps on top of a broad stem. The bottom cap measures one meter across, the second one 60 cm and the top one is 24 cm wide, Botaba said.

The bizarre-looking mushroom was found in the village of Mvoula about 40 miles from Brazzaville and transported carefully to the capital by the local chief.

No photographs, dammit. Time to re-read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

[Link] [Discuss strange wildlife]

posted at: 19:15 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 31 Mar 2004

Dieselpunk? In your eye!

huge -- I mean
GIGANTIC -- diesel engine

The Wartsila-Sulzer RTA96-C turbocharged two-stroke diesel engine is what you get when you make a deisel engine so frickin' huge that you could use one of its cylinder heads as a hot tub. The whole thing weighs in at a cool 2300 tons, the crank-shaft alone weighing a mere 300 tons, and it puts out a 75 megawatts when it's running -- about 108,000 horsepower in old-fashioned equestrian units. It's not very economical, gulping about 4000 litres of fuel per hour, but it does achieve a thermal efficiency of over 50% in maximum economy mode (putting most power stations to shame).

Yes, it's mobile. They use these suckers to drive container ships. Big container ships.

If you thought the Victorian age was the age of big engineering and everything's been going downhill since then, the guys from Diesel United, Ltd of Japan are probably laughing at you.

[Link] [Discuss dieselpunk]

posted at: 23:10 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 25 Mar 2004

No, I don't understand this either

Dwarf hamster clutching machine gun

(Been quite 'cause I'm working on a short story. More later ...)

[Discuss pomo]

posted at: 17:34 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 22 Mar 2004

Recipes I don't want to know too much about

Here's a link (thank you, Zotz) to the Thorax Cake.

Yum yum (not) ...

[Link] [Discuss Food]

posted at: 14:40 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 02 Mar 2004

USAF atomic-powered bomber designs of the 1950's


Of course, not all the Strangelove-era hardware developed by the United States military can be laid at the door of barking mad German rocket scientists; some of the technologies were 100% home-grown, like this one, the atomic-powered bomber.

Did I say mad? Look at it this way: imagine you are J. Random 1950's-era Planetary Superpower, and you wish to be able to drop very large bombs anywhere on the planet. ICBMs are not yet accurate enough or sufficiently available, so you decide to use bombers. Which is a more sensible approach to dealing with your bomber fleet's limited strike radius: work on improving the fuel efficiency of turbojets and build a fleet of tankers for in-flight refueling, or gamble on a difficult, high-tech fix by trying to build nuclear powered bombers?

From 1948 until 1962, the US Department of Defense pumped a couple of billion dollars into trying to build a nuclear-powered bomber. They got as far as static-testing an HTRE-3 air-cycle reactor and flying the ASTR test reactor in the rear bomb bay of a heavily modified B-36 bomber, the NB-36H.

As with so much else, there's a wealth of information about this stuff on the web. You can find a history of the project, and monographs on the US Navy's attempts to build a nuclear-powered flying boat; even the 1950 NACA reports on the feasibility of three cycles for the nuclear propulsion of aircraft.

In the end, the advent of the ICBM (not to mention in-flight refueling) killed off the atomic-powered bomber -- but the technologies lived on for a while, in the shape of the Vought SLAM, aka Project Pluto (even more information here), the atomic-powered cruise missile.

I swear I'm not making any of this up.

[Discuss dieselpunk]

posted at: 12:25 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 29 Feb 2004

USAF orbital space bomber designs of the 1950's

DynaSoar designs

I don't read Encyclopaedia Astronautica often enough. Mark Wade, historical space geek par excelence, updates it about once a month with the result of his latest digging. Recently he's updated it with a comprehensive history of the DynaSoar project of the 1950's and 1960's. DynaSoar was cancelled in the late 1960's, shortly before first orbital launch, in its final incarnation as a manned orbital spaceplane; but it has a much longer history, dating all the way back to Peenemunde and the Nazi secret weapons program: "it evolved from the German Saenger-Bredt Silverbird intercontinental skip-glide rocket bomber. Walter Dornberger, former head of Peendmuende, was at Bell Aircraft in the 1950's and developed the Sanger-Bredt concept through various iterations," as Wade notes.

Among other fun facets of the design, was the (not really recognized at the time) environmental implications: "the booster could be powered by two of the high-performance liquid fluorine/hydrazine Chariot motors being developed by Bell ... [or if unavailable] ... a single Atlas sustainer engine or the X-15 XLR-99." Liquid fluorine and hydrazine are not, shall we say, among the most environmentally friendly of substances. Another fun facet was the use of derivatives of the same vehicle for strategic reconnaissance and as an intercontinental orbital nuclear bomber. (Did anyone consider the possibility that the other side might misinterpret a recce overflight as a pre-emptive attack and go apeshit?) But most interesting of all is the completely over-the-edge gonzo approach to building Things That Go Fast And Explode; if at first your bomber doesn't go fast enough with jet engines, stick it on top of an ICBM that leaves an exhaust trail of hydrofluouric acid, and light the blue touch paper.

The klaxon sounds in the hardened silo deep beneath the earth. A space-suited astronauts run from the ready room, grabs the bar over the hatch, and hoists his legs into the cockpit. The ground crew attach his suit hoses, check that he is strapped into the ejection seat. The pilot closes the hatch above him. The blast doors open, the rocket is raised to the surface of the earth. Minutes later the Titan roars from the silo, launching the Dyna-Soar space bomber on an intercontinental nuclear strike mission ...

Dr Strangelove, eat your heart out.

[Link] [Discuss dieselpunk]

posted at: 13:53 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 13 Jan 2004

Fries to go ...

Grabbed from The Guardian without apology:

Staff at a department store in the German city of Kaiserslautern called detectives after an angry customer tried to return a computer stuffed with potatoes to the shop twice on the same day.

The man berated sales assistants in the store, complaining that the computer he had bought only hours before did not work, according to police reports.

The store's staff opened the machine and discovered it was not functioning because its working parts had been replaced with small potatoes. The bemused shop assistants gave the man a new computer free of charge.

But bemusement turned to suspicion when the shopper returned a short while later with another computer - again potato-filled.

Police were called and the man was arrested.

A spokesman said: "The second time he said he didn't need a computer any more and asked for his money back in cash." Roman Zukoan, a computer technician who works in the Nexos computer shop, also in Kaiserslautern, said: "It is hard to imagine how the potatoes could get into a computer's casing.

"When computers leave the factory they are packed in plastic to prevent damage from condensation.

"If they are running for a long time they get hot and in theory it would be possible to cook a potato in a computer, but who would try that?"

Meanwhile, in other news, the King of Swaziland is asking his government to build new royal palaces for each of his wives (all eleven of them), Tokyo and Seoul are heading for the diplomatic deep-freeze in a row over postage stamps, and a Cardinal has gone on record as saying that while abstinence is preferable, he thinks it's acceptable to use a condom to prevent the spread of AIDS -- as long as you're already HIV-positive.

Somebody shoot the script-writer, please.

[Link][Discuss dumb]

posted at: 16:54 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 27 Dec 2003

More news from the Barbie Liberation Organization

Astute afficionados of the weird may recall the Barbie Liberation Organization, who in 1993 carried out mass voice-box transplants on GI Joe and Barbie dolls in shops leading up to the Christmas rush. (The resulting epidemic of Barbies saying "dead men tell no tales" and GI Joes expressing a desire to go shopping triggered much clucking in the media, although the original grossly gender-stereotyped voiceboxes had caused no such fuss.)

Well, it turns out that dressing as Barbie is a survival trait -- if you're a lobster:

Practical jokers Jim Bright and Chris Costello never imagined that their idea of dressing a female lobster in a Barbie outfit - accessorized with pink high heels - would save her from the steam pot.

But it did - at least 10 times.

As a gag, the fishermen clad the crustacean and placed her in a friend's trap last September.

"It's a monotony hauling traps day after day," said Costello, "and we just wanted to break it up a little bit. It totally worked."

Barbie Lobster, as she has come to be known, has been hauled up - and thrown back - at least 10 times. The radios used by lobstermen buzzed with chatter and laughter each time a new sighting of Barbie was reported.

Costello made a special trip to Wal-Mart to buy the blue blouse, red- and white-checkered skirt and shoes.

The men had wanted to dress up a jumbo lobster, but it was too fat to fit into a Barbie ensemble. Instead, they chose a svelte 1½-pound model.

"They slipped right on, just like Cinderella," Bright said of the footwear.

Costello disagreed, saying it was a challenge to put the high heels on the little lobster legs. There are four legs on each side so the men attached them to the two in the center.

"You try squeezing Barbie shoes on a lobster," he said. "That was the most time-consuming thing."

Barbie hasn't been seen since early December and apparently was unkempt and nearly naked, except for her shoes.

(A reference to this incident has got to make it into the final draft of "Accelerando".)

[Link (thanks, Teresa!] [Discuss pomo]

posted at: 21:01 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 09 Dec 2003

Bampots in the News

(Being the first of an irregular series of bulletins about bampots.)

Investigating the german cannibal subculture: federal investigator Wilfried Fehl claimed during the trial of Armin Meiwes (for killing and eating another man) that there's a whole "flourishing cannibal scene" in Germany. "We are talking about dentists, teachers, cooks, government officials and handymen."

Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post dirty bombs are going missing in Transdneister, a country most of us have never heard of for the simple reason that most governments don't recognize it. Transdneister issued a unilateral declaration of independence in 1990 and fought a brief civil war with Moldova -- it's a predominantly Russian region and didn't want to join in the perceived likely Moldovan merger with Romania. Anyway, they've got scads of SAMs, dirty bombs, all sorts of left-over Soviet weapons, and a government that makes Zimbabwe look like a model of moral probity ... and they're selling them to the highest bidder.

Finally, White Supremacist terrorists in Texas developed chemical weapons and were only detected when a cyanide shipment they'd ordered was delivered to the wrong address. None of the arrestees are talking, and it's feared that accomplices may still be at large and planning to mount a gas attack somewhere in the US.

[Cannibal bampots] [Worrying post-Soviet nuclear bampots] [Chemically assisted bampots] [Discuss bampots]

posted at: 20:29 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 30 Nov 2003

Back home

... From delivering Feorag and various co-conspirators to perform at the Banchory-Ternan Morris Men's Annual Feast and Ceileidh. The driving was scary (torrential rain, total darkness, unlit winding country roads -- conditions that seemingly turn all fellow road-users into homicidal maniacs), but when we got there the food was excellent, the beer was strong, and ...

No, let's not go there. (Suffice to say, Morris dancing, or indeed the kind of disorganized chaos of the ceileidh, is not something I am ever going to try. I just sat on the sidelines wearing black and clutching my pint, like a bizarrely alcohol-enhanced Wee Free elder.)

Anyway, if you misbehave in the blog comments I'll post my photographs here. (Yes, that is a threat.)

Meanwhile, more signs that we're living in the right century. According to Cory, Discovery (in the US) are selling a DNA sequencing for children kit that I really must take a close look at. "Yes, kids, hours of endless fun as you carefully reassemble the sequence for smallpox and hybridize with Interleukin IV for the playground gift that keeps on giving! Time off work for all the family!" (Well, probably not, luckily -- at least until they start including a cut down version of these babies in the toy box. Which hopefully will happen later rather than sooner -- the "explosion proof design!" bullet point against the OligoProcess™ machine is dead giveaway that this type of gear is not quite ready for mass production in a wide range of bright primary colours.)

Finally, here is something totally bizarre and luckily fictitious (thank you, Warren, for goading me into blogging it). I'm sure there'd probably be someone sad enough to buy one, but given that we already have cats, who needs it?

[ Discuss pomo ]

posted at: 19:17 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 25 Nov 2003

A bundle of weird shit

Warning: if you are remotely squeamish, do not click on any of these links (except maybe the first two).

Here are Laibach's kittens. If that's not spuriously strange enough for you, we have added chibi-style cute Lovecraftian horrors, the [extremely dubious] Temple of Black Jesus, this [absolutely totally dubious, not work-safe] series of beauty shots that sort of expose a little too much in the tradition of [if you don't know what this is, really don't look -- no, on second thoughts you'll have to cut'n'paste the link, I'm too squeamish], and more proof that Japanese people invent the weirdest perversions.

[ Discuss dumb ]

posted at: 18:49 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

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