Since I haven’t posted in forever, here’s some of the stuff I’ve been doing instead:
Today I saw Stardust, a very enjoyable fairy-tale movie adapted from a Neil Gaiman book. Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer are both terrific in it. It’s in the vein of the classic The Princess Bride, and almost as good.
A week or so ago I finished off the second Robin Hobb fantasy trilogy, The Liveship Traders; I actually really liked this one despite my initial misgivings about the characters. (Indeed, few of the characters are likable at the beginning, but Hobb gives them interesting character arcs in which they become better people through suffering. Lots of suffering.) It’s piratey as hell, with peglegs and hidden treasure and wonderful epic battle scenes on the high seas.
So naturally I started the next trilogy, which begins with Fool’s Errand. By now I’ve learned that Robin Hobb takes her time to get the story going, but here she aims to break all the records, with so little happening that it takes until page 224 until the main character even leaves his house. (I’m being a little unfair here since there’s a bunch of backstory that’s related through flashback, but still. Get on with it!)
Guitar Hero Rocks the ’80s has been fun, but always leaves me with some stupid hair-metal song stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
Via Mortaine I learn of DM of the Rings, a webcomic that retells Lord of the Rings as if it is being played out in a D&D game. This may sound like the nerdiest thing ever, and it is, which probably means many of you have seen it already. Still, it’s brilliant. I especially like it when events make more sense told this way, such as in this strip (probably my favorite).
Even the filler strips at Dresden Codak are wonderful. The latest (for which a permalink doesn’t seem to exist yet, but it’s on the main page) is a bit xkcd-esque, but with a healthy dose of surrealism.
“Don’t Make Me a Target” is my favorite song off the new Spoon album. The rest of the CD is really good too; other favorites are “Rhthm and Soul”, and “The Underdog”, for which there’s a video:
This post at 3 Quarks Daily is equal parts geeky, silly, and poetic: “Among the inert gases lowest on the Periodic Table of Elements is love”
I’ll confess: I’m kind of a webcomics snob. I frequently prune my reading list, look down my nose at comics that don’t meet my standards, and generally struggle with the temptation to just quit reading everything except Dinosaur Comics and Scary Go Round. (And Gunnerkrigg Court, which I think of as less a webcomic than a graphic novel released a page at a time.)
Truly offensive are lame ads for unfunny webcomics. These are hard to avoid since they tend to buy space on the sites of actual talented artists. There was one that I used to see a lot called Least I Could Do whose ads made it look really, painfully bad. I don’t know if it was actually funny because the ads made me actively avoid it. Another ad I noticed a lot appeared on Dinosaur Comics and other sites using Project Wonderful for ads; there wasn’t much (because Project Wonderful uses little postage stamp-sized images) but it was basically just a cheesecake-looking drawing of some girl sleeping, with her chest displayed prominently. If that’s the best it had to offer I wasn’t going to bother clicking.
Somewhat more reliable is the links section of a comic I already like. It’ll be a mixture of strips the artist artistically admires and those drawn by his friends in the webcomics community, but there’s a fair bit of overlap between those two sets and most will be worthwhile. Today I noticed John Allison had added a few links to the list at Scary Go Round, including Gunnerkrigg Court, so I figured the others were probably worth checking out too. I clicked on Dresden Codak and, indeed, it’s awesome. The gorgeous, surrealistic art is reminiscent of A Lesson is Learned, and the references to physics may invite comparisons to xkcd. It’s not geek humor though, but rather it invokes quantum mechanics in service of its dreamlike ambience. Oh, and it’s funny. I particularly like this one.
It’s a weekly comic, and hasn’t been around very long, so its archive is depressingly small and I read through it quickly… only to discover that it’s the very comic that advertised with the image of the sleeping woman. Clearly I need to reevaluate my policy relating to webcomics ads. UPDATE: Just saw the actual dates in the archive listing: turns out Dresden Codak doesn’t update weekly, but only every once in a while. The archive is actually two years worth of material.
During a bout of bored web-surfing, I followed a guest-artist link from Dr. McNinja to Gunnerkrigg Court, where my boredom rapidly evaporated. By somewhere in Chapter 2 I had already decided to blog a recommendation for this webcomic. By the time I finished reading the archives, in one enthralled sitting, it was pretty much my favorite thing on the internet.
The genre is British boarding-school fantasy, but Neil Gaiman is a better point of comparison than J.K. Rowling. (In fact, Gaiman himself has also recommendedGunnerkrigg on his blog.) It’s a wonderful exploration of the interface between myths/magic and science/technology. Start at the beginning—it’s not a joke-a-day webcomic but an online graphic novel with an ongoing story.
This post by Mason inspired me to make a Dinosaur Comic: Noninertial theology (Image is behind the link because it’s too wide for the blog template.)
The thesis in question was by Richard Packard, who is a Berkeley physics professor. I can only hope decades from now somebody will be writing Dinosaur Comics about my thesis.
First: Today’s Dinosaur Comics strip is excellent.
I have several books to review but I’ll do one per week to spread them out a bit. John Burdett: Bangkok 8: I don’t read a lot of mystery novels, so I’m trying to remember what led me to pick this one up. I think it was an Amazon recommendation. The novel is set in Bangkok’s 8th precinct and revolves around a U.S. Marine who is killed by snakes that were planted in his car. (Snakes In A Car!) Ultimately I found the mystery aspect less compelling than the novel as a cultural study; the city of Bangkok is a rich and interesting setting, and the protagonist, a devout Buddhist working in a thoroughly corrupt police force, was a nice twist on the usual detective hero. This was a detective who saw everything in terms of Buddhist mysticism, detecting the past incarnations of the souls he encountered, and for much of the novel it’s an open question whether he really has some supernatural insight or if this is just the way he sees the world. In the end this question is settled somewhat more definitively than some of the central plot points. Rating: 3.5/5 Ellen Allien & Apparat: Orchestra of Bubbles: This is some very good German techno, taut and ominous, evocative of alien landscapes or city lights viewed from far off. It’s a fairly coherent album, good for playing all the way through late at night. “Metric” is one of the standout tracks. Rating: 4/5
In the requests thread, Kyle asks: If you had to research in a different area than you are now, what would it be? It can be as different as you want, but can’t be too similar. At the least you have to be publishing in entirely different journals.
This is an easy one: philosophy of science. I took several great philosophy courses at Caltech (which you might imagine had a scientific focus in its philosophy department) and got really interested in issues of what science is and why it works. I still think about these topics in idle moments and I could definitely see myself doing research in this field if I hadn’t gone for something more practical and experimental. Indeed, many of you have had to sit through my digressions on problems like the grue paradox (sometimes presented in Dinosaur Comics form). Imagine if I could get paid to do this—although I’d have to write serious papers, unless there’s a Journal of Philosophical Letters as Presented by T-Rex. The downside is that I wouldn’t get to play with expensive high-frequency electronics with lots of buttons, and having qubits to experiment on is pretty cool.
The above was the title of a slide in Jorge Cham’s talk yesterday (discussed below). The slide cited four films: The Seniors (1978), Real Genius (1985) [this one prompted cheering from the audience], A Beautiful Mind (2001), and Hulk (2003). This is a pretty good list already, but I suspect there are more, and it seems like a good topic for a Friday thread. Make suggestions in the comments. No need to stick to film, either: it was at least implied that Fred was previously a physics grad student in Angel, and there are probably plenty of novels with grad student characters (some of them not written by Neal Stephenson).
For that matter, there are lots of mad scientists but rarely do you see their grad students. It’s hard to imagine they’re doing all that mad science themselves. Sure, Dr. Frankenstein had Igor, but Igor seems like more of a postdoc. And Frankenstein operates the apparatus himself—what kind of PI does that? A more realistic portrayal would be something like:
[Dr. Frankenstein’s group meeting. Igor, exhausted from taking data all night, presents a graph.]
Igor: So the data clearly indicate increased mobility of the subject.
Frankenstein: IT’S ALIVE! [pause] Start writing it up, I want to submit this to Physical Reanimation Letters by next week.