Recently in Humour Category

(With contributors Raq, Charlie, & Malka - see below)

With Verizon's purchase of Yahoo!, young developers' thoughts turn to Flickr -- one of the long-lived and popular core acquisitions -- and we think longingly of the early days, back when photo apps were fleet and well-supported. When everyone knew the value of good code. When we felt fairly confident that our stuff would stay our stuff.

Yeah. Okay. Done laughing?

We're so resigned to not truly owning the digital property we've paid for that iTunes' arrogance deleting personal music files is barely registering, except with musicians who are losing their personal work and a number of voices crying out on Twitter, especially during updates. We're used to tech companies redesigning interfaces in the middle of the night, taking away much-loved tools, and replacing them with advertising and easier ways to share more faster. The interface is where the profit is, and who cares about the content?

Worse, when looking at the Yahoo! buyout in particular, we worry that Verizonhoo! has no clue how Flickr works, much less how to support it. We loved the tech that Ludicorp built and sold to Yahoo in the early days. But you'll remember that Yahoo!, after "losing" both original leaders -- Caterina Fake and Stuart Butterfield -- also proceeded to lose its grip on how Flickr functioned, and what client needs it served. We fear for what remains of Flickr, once again, and are busy downloading years of images before saying the word "flickr" becomes a paid premium service.

In the bigger (ahem) picture, we're rapidly approaching that point in tech where historical knowledge of base code is long gone and corporate ability to pivot based on user needs is lost due to mergers, firings, and general MBA-nization of tech innovation. Yes, that's been going on since the 1980s and earlier with IBM and friends, but nearly every tech startup founded since then to take on the big corps has either been eaten or become a big corp in its own right. Tech doesn't want to be free (with apologies to Stuart Brand). It wants to be bought out.

With more mergers inevitable as the large corporations hunger for more and more user data, we worry that any suitably evolved tech will seem more like magic to its holding company -- and that will impact not only how we use that technology going forward but also how technology continues to evolve in its use of us. Our data is already a value point, our time already part of the business plan. What's next?

Our intrepid correspondents have amused themselves by ginning up predictions* for future mergers and their outcomes. Feel free to play along / roll your own.
*no actual predictions were harmed in this game.

  1. Facebook/Oracle : they pretty much already owned the mySQL dbase, actually Trading as: FACILE.

  2. Uber/CNN : Advertised as "Uber for News" and facing questions like "how is this different than Periscope?" This merger results in bystander reporting for micropayments, the end of the traditional tv studio, and on-call hair & makeup vans. Trading as: NEWSR

  3. Kaspersky/Tindr : Giving up on pretending to be anything but Russian cyberwar. Trading as: N/A privately held

  4. Amazon/BAe Systems : Amazon needs delivery drones; BAe Systems needs someone to buy their drones. Trading as: AMZN

  5. Pfizer/Blue Apron : For faster distribution of agribusiness output. Trading as: PFOD

  6. Monsanto/Plated : Competition is healthy; you may be less so. Trading as: MOPL

  7. Microsoft/Reddit : Sorry but you know it's true. Trading as: MSFT

  8. Google/Slack : And a hundred thousand voices cried out before their data became part of the hive. Trading as: GAAK

  9. T-Mobile/StubHub : T-Mobile Thursdays via bot army. Trading as: TUBHUB

  10. AOL/4chan : Trading as: your worst nightmare

  11. Flickr/iTunes : Which means Verizon/iTunes...but it's OK because while you have to pay to upload, pay to create playlists, and pay to tag music, the UI is much better. Trading as: iTUNSR

  12. Disney/WOTC : So yes, Nyssa Revane and Chandra Nalaar are now Disney Princesses. Trading as: WSNY

  13. Evernote/PayPal
  14. : Because monthly subscriptions are not enough. Trading as: EVERPAL
  15. Google/Monsanto : Verily. Trading as: MOOGLE

  16. Tesla/Spotify : The next stage in the rolling computer, app launcher, and vehicle. Trading as: TSTIFY

  17. IBM/BuzzFeed : They just bought it to feed to Watson. Trading as: LOLWTF

  18. Apple/SpaceX : Having conquered the terrestrial computer market Cupertino turns its vast, cool intellect towards the Red Planet. Or maybe they just want to download their backup of Steve Jobs into Elon Musk's brain and regain some visionary leadership. Trading as: SKYNT

  19. 7-11/Bitcoin : How many slushies can you mine today? International calling cards and remittance terminals. Trading as: HOTDOG

  20. Spotify/Youtube : video killed the radio star). Trading as: YOUSPOT

  21. Microsoft/Alibaba : mutually assured expansion). Trading as: ALOFT

  22. Contributor Bios:

    Fran Wilde writes science fiction and fantasy and occasionally consults on tech. She used to program games, websites, and maintain youthfully naive buy-in for companies like Macromedia and Flickr before Adobe and Yahoo! ate those and many others. Her next book, Cloudbound, comes out 9/27/2016 from Tor.

    Raq Winchester is a futurist and startup mentor who has been employed by one or more of the organizations mentioned in this article. She is using those experiences to fuel her first book, on being an innovator in a bureaucracy, how a government job is like a LARP, and unicorns.

    Charles Stross escaped from a dot com, wrote for computer magazines for a bit, then dived full-time into writing SF novels for a living -- honest work, unlike the other aforementioned jobs. His next book, Empire Games, comes out 17/1/2017 from Tor.

    Malka Older is a writer, humanitarian worker, and PhD candidate studying the sociology of disasters. Her science fiction political thriller Infomocracy is out now, and the sequel Null States will be published in 2017.

A. M. Dellamonica

Hi, everyone! My name is Alyx and I'll be posting the occasional note here over the next few weeks, because Charlie was kind enough to hand me the mic. I thought I'd start with a long, musing whimsical thing about mincing subgenres and the nature of ecofantasy, because my upcoming book A Daughter of No Nation lies within that particular subgenre--when it's not passing for portal fantasy or a pirate story or crime fiction with magic.

Sadly, the opening of that essay is wayyyy too stuffy, at present, and needs to be beaten with a sack of oranges. Don't worry, I'll fix it before you see it. Anyway, I should introduce myself first, right?

So--official details: I'm in Toronto, I have gobs of stories out along with the four ecofantasy novels, the first two of which, Indigo Springs and Blue Magic, are chock fulla magically mutated animals, magical objects and queer folk. Seriously. I mention this last because a) I have the exceptional good fortune to be incredibly gay married to author Kelly Robson; b) my most recent book, Child of a Hidden Sea, was to my utter delight and astonishment nominated for a Lambda Award this year. The above-mentioned A Daughter of No Nation is its sequel. There will be a third; its current title is The Nature of a Pirate.

Charlie blindsided me by promising I'd talk about German Longsword. That's like saying, "He'll talk about his Blues band." 

It's just too big a topic!

So let me turn the tables and tell you about how swords led to me meeting Charlie, and how both Charlie and swords led to me becoming a professional author. The story is not what you'd think.

Back when the world was young, a large Goth (long hair and black clothes, rather than long hair, pointy helmet and lamellar as per Shieldwall: Barbarians!) threw me through a pile of chairs.

As he helped me up, I realised he'd cured the nagging shoulder pain I'd been suffering.

That miracle cure was the least of the many good things that stemmed from that moment. (Though if we'd turned it into an alternative therapy, perhaps we'd both be rich! Stand here madam. Try to relax while Igor lovingly hurls you through our stack of handcrafted homeopathic crystal chairs arranged on a bed of natural herbs according to a traditional feng shui pattern...)

This can only be construed as an April Fool jape in the broadest sense, but I am reliably informed that Release 1.-94.-3 of the CLC-INTERCAL compiler (for the INTERCAL programming language) has escaped from captivity and can be downloaded here. If you want to get a flavour of the language without trying it, all you need to know is that INTERCAL is an acronym for "Computer Programming Language with No Readily Pronounceable Acronym".

If you want to know more, here's the Necronomicon reference manual.

The Strategic Defense Initiative (aka "Star Wars" program) has, since Ronald Reagan announced it more than 20 years ago, cost the US government more than US $100Bn. (That's a lot of M&Ms.)

To be fair, they've got some bang for their hundred thousand Big Ones — the Missile Defense Agency now operates a Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System whereby they can (in bright light, with a tail-wind, and on days with a "T" in their name) shoot down a crude incoming ballistic missile. There are about ten interceptor missiles available, and the current goal of the project is to pop a cap in the ass of any rogue state that tries to destroy the United States by launching a single 1950s-vintage ICBM with a single warhead and no countermeasure capability. (Presumably before the response turns the attacker's country into a glowing hole in the map.) There's also a slightly more advanced naval system that can track and intercept intermediate and theatre ballistic missiles (assuming the rogue state in question is shooting across a sea patrolled by the US Navy).

However, there is one leetle weakness in the BMD program. To hit a missile with a missle requires fairly accurate radar — it entails accurately tracking a target the size of a dustbin at a range of several thousand kilometres — and so they've also developed an appropriate radar system. The sea-based X-band radar system (pictured above) is a thing of technological beauty that looks as if it sailed in out of a Bond movie: a $900M fifty thousand tonne offshore platform with a 1800 ton radar installation on top of it, it's designed to sit in the ocean near the Aleutian islands and spot incoming sub-orbital trash cans and guide the rocket interceptors into the target.

Unfortunately, there's a problem with it. And the problem isn't just the fact that it doesn't have a lifeboat and can't be evacuated in event of a storm.

No, the problem is quite simple: any budding Doctor Evil can ensure the success of his orbital mind control lasers or terrorist ICBMs by the simple expedient of sending something like a 1950s vintage Whisky class diesel-electric submarine to poke a pointy stick through the eyes of the ballistic missile defense system. Which is, you will notice, not exactly mounted on a vessel that's capable of fighting off a bunch of Malacca Straits pirates in a speed-boat, never mind a third world navy.

I don't know about you, but I'm coming to the conclusion that the Pentagon subcontracted this job to the same guys that James Bond's enemies always hired to design their headquarters — you know, the one with the prominently labelled SELF DESTRUCT button. (That would be Halliburton and Brown & Root, right?) I mean, what other explanation is there for spending $100Bn on a mind-numbingly sophisticated ballistic missile defense system ... only to leave it vulnerable to a single good old-fashioned torpedo?

1. In astrophysics, the elements consist of: Hydrogen, Helium, and Metals. (The relative abundance of elements in the cosmos being something like: Hydrogen 95%, Helium 4%, and Everything Else, 1% — thus, the "everything else" category is lumped under a single name.)

2. "The most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity" — Harlan Ellison.

It therefore follows that stupidity is either Helium, or Metal. We can test the former option by saying saying "Helium is stupid" — which, on the face of it, is pretty damn stupid. Which leads me to conclude that the other possibility is the only reasonable one. Stupidity is clearly Metallic.

(Unless it's dark matter.)

In next week's thrilling episode we examine: how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and on the basis of this observation, whether divine beings are Bosons or Fermions.

I have an occasional low-key multitool habit; at least two Swiss army knives, a couple of Leatherman tools, and a credit-card-sized multitool in my pocket whenever I'm not going through airline security checkpoints.

But this has to take the ... well, first I'd need to get a bigger pocket to carry it in: it weighs over a kilo, has 85 tools, and Wenger will allegedly sell you one for US $1200. I wonder if they'll let you check it as a piece of hold luggage?

(warning: annoying ads on website )

An acquantance of mine mentioned in his blog: "just once, I'd like to see a zombie movie with competent soldiers".

He's right, you know. In zombie flicks, the soldiers always act like undisciplined idiots until their brains are eaten. (Except in Shaun of the Dead, which Doesn't Count.)

I suddenly had a vision of a zombie movie with competent, properly trained, well-disciplined soldiers. Say, a platoon of Territorial SAS. (Not a bunch of guys you'd want to mess with.) How would you sustain the dramatic tension when the soldiers in question are experts in taking apart anything that moves? Obviously, you'd need lots more zombies than usual. Lots more zombies. Like, more zombies than the soldiers have bullets. In fact, you'd need the same CGI battle simulation tech they developed for Lord of the Rings just to survey the seething army of undead. It doesn't hurt to make the zombies soldiers, too. And then, you need to steal a skeleton to hang it off (sorry) from another runaway success of days gone by. There's one obvious historical incident — and the big-budget war film based upon it — that's a must for a zombie flick: I think it's just incomprehensible that it's never been done before. And so, I proudly present to you (as a random idea I'm too damn lazy to write the script for):

An SAS unit on a covert mission in central Asia (probably hunting down a Taliban force somewhere in the border between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan) runs across an ancient battleground. One of the Taliban leaders utters a foul curse as he's dying. A long lost army, probably owned by Alexander the Great — who passed through Afghanistan in a bloody hurry 2300 years ago, he was too smart to stop and pick a fight there — begins clawing its way out of the dust. Meanwhile, a serious dust-storm has grounded their air support and is hampering communications. Cut off, they go to ground in a farmstead at the bottom of a valley, hastily dig in, and await the helicopters. Meanwhile, the skeletal remains of an ancient Macedonian general sends wave after wave of zombies shambling towards them, testing the mettle of their strange weapons, probing for a weak spot as the greek fire arcs towards the kraal farmstead ...

Yep, it's Zulu, with Zombies! Phalanxes of zombies carrying 20-foot-long spears! Zombies in war chariots! And a finale involving Harriers, helicopter gunships, and blowing shit up!

Sometimes, just once in a while, I wish I was in Hollywood.

It is remarkable that the purchase of a single mobile air conditioning unit can cause a heat wave to break.

If I could figure out how to do this consistently, I'd patent the business practice and make myself a billionaire ...

(Meanwhile, I'm back home and recovering from the long drive. Must start working and blogging again, in that order.)

Judge caught using penis pump on himself while sitting in judgement.

You couldn't make this stuff up (unless you're Tom Sharpe, maybe).

You've boggled at Realdoll (yes, who would pay US $15,000 for what is basically a masturbation aid?) but the internet, that wonderful tool for bringing us into contact with things that make us wish we could scrub our brains out with dental floss, isn't through yet: these people will happily sell you an artificial corpse:

Each corpse is Hand-Made to your specifications. The Corpses For Sale page contains the variations that you can choose to make your corpse unique from all others. You can choose the Hair Color, Skin Color and the approximate Degree Of Decay. If you have any special request please E-mail me or note them on the order form and I will see that they are incorporated in the construction or notify you if it is not possible.
(I notice that the options on the "order your corpse" page do not include "orifices — firm or squishy" so we're safe from necrophiliacs for the time being.)

Meanwhile, on a more serious note, The Observer says that up to 55% of death certificates filed in the UK are inaccurate or incomplete.

Yes, I know the layout looks hinky right now. Bear with us, please ...


Why is Frank Zappa dead and Donald Rumsfeld in the Pentagon? Feel free to discuss.



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