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Train Verdict: A long train ride going away from home is totally fine. A long train ride back home gets a little tiring because I really want to get back home. Still a pretty relaxing way to do reading, work on novel, make WarioWare DIY minigames, etc.

Apartment Hunting Stories: Went to see an apartment. The super took me upstairs. Taped to the door was a summons for the management company. Not gonna take that apartment. (It was too small, anyway.)

[Comments] (1) : When reading about Angevine, the woman horribly Remade with a steam engine and wheels instead of legs in China Miéville's The Scar, all I could think of was Anjean, the crotchety human-locomotive grandma figure from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks.

I should have read the book first.

[Comments] (5) Coming Soon: Hey, things are happening. We finally found an apartment and signed a lease; we move soonish. Novel work is going amazingly well: I'm going to Utah tomorrow to see my niece and nephew, and depending on how I spent my time on the plane I might be done with the first draft by the time I come back. Then it'll just be a matter of making the first half of the book as awesome as the second half. I've also got audio of my WWW2010 talk and my TriZPUG talks to put up--don't think I've forgotten.

Regular readers of NYCB will know my longstanding interest in World's Fairs. There's a World's Fair going on right now, in Shanghai, but it's called "Shanghai World Expo 2010" so people don't realize it's the freaking World's Fair. Tell your friends!

If you're in New York anytime soon, check out the Japan Society's exhibition of Utagawa Kuniyoshi surreal prints from the mid-1800s that filled the same cultural niche as comic books do today. It's great stuff--if there's not a giant monster in a given print, someone's got a tattoo of a giant monster or is wearing a fabric pattern with a giant monster on it. We went there last week with Camille. And then yesterday we went to Camille's wedding--way to go, Camille! (Camille was one of the three guests at my and Sumana's wedding. Andy and Nandini are still single, but once they get married, we'll have wedding transitive closure! (pedantic note: not really))

Utah Update, and Tourist Kitsch: Maggie and Dalton: still cute. Maggie now recognizes me, and refers to me as "Uncle Leonard", which is nice. (I hope she doesn't think that's my legal name.)

I found out that Maggie like postcards, like her grandfather, so on Sunday after brunch, Evan and I wandered around Manhattan looking for a tourist shop. In retrospect I probably could have bought a Statue of Liberty postcard at the airport, but the last time I decided "I'll just buy this stereotypical souvenir at the airport" (I ♥ NY T-shirt) I got ripped off. And this way I got to see the largest collection of tiny New York-themed snow globes ever. I think they must now be making snow globes that contain less than 3 ounces of liquid.

Also seen at the tourist shop: postcards for other cities like Chicago. Barack Obama kitsch, including a postcard that mashes up the presidential portrait with a picture of the New York skyline. "Barack Obama ♥ NY." I'm sure he does--he went to college here--but... that's kitschy. And for disgruntled right-wingers, the ever-popular politically-themed fake dollar bills.

Stick to (non-mashup) postcards, folks. The classy souvenir. And if you want Barack Obama kitsch, head to Union Square. They're still selling it, and it's more creative than the stuff in the tourist shop.

[Comments] (1) Maggie Melodrama:

Leonard: Here, let me help you out of your car seat.
Maggie: No! Want Mommy!
Susanna: Maggie, Mommy's busy. Let Uncle Leonard help you.
Maggie: Never!

Reviews of Old Science Fiction Magazines: Analog 1989/01: The best thing here is Marc Stiegler's essay "Hypermedia and the Singularity". I've put off reviewing this issue for a long time because I wanted to do this essay justice, but I give up. I'll discuss it later. It's a prediction-filled essay from a dude who would shortly go on to take over development of Xanadu, and it's got lots of Mac Classic illustrations. It's like reading some contemporaneous Analog science article about how space colonies will work, in a future where there are actual space colonies all over the place.

What else we got? Rick Shelley's "To Give Them The Moon" is really fun, action-packed, and fulfills every nerd's fantasy of advancing a primitive society without having to know everything on Ryan's time travel poster. Just general "uh, somehow light is both a particle and a wave" type knowledge is good enough. It's a sequel to January 1988's "The Worlds I Used To Know", so keep a look out for that. Bonus: story includes an ominous alternate-world "Department of Security", the "equivalent of the Defense and Justice departments combined."

What is it with the 1980s and dull medical SF? After reading Timothy Zahn's "I Pray The Lord My Soul To Keep", I'm convinced that Zahn should stick to space opera. A.J. Austin's "The Promise" is another "inequitable social access to advanced medical technology" story--that makes at least four just in this random sampling of magazines I picked up way back when. They're all the same story!

L.A. Taylor's "Testing, 1, 2, 3..." is so 1980s I have no idea what the point of the story is. I've read it three times and it's got something to do with typewriters, but I don't get the joke. I've used a typewriter, folks. (Though, admittedly, only the display typewriter at Office Max back when I was a kid.)

J. Brian Clarke's "The Last Defender" reads disturbingly like a boring story written by me. I won't mention the rest of the fiction, except to express my amazement that Analog published a story (Arlan Andrews's "Indian Summa") in which the final revelation is literally "oh, yes, we did that with magic."

Stan Schmidt has a good editorial casting a Mars mission as a proving ground for techniques of international cooperation. Book reviewer Tom Easton points out that strict scientific accuracy is not Rudy Rucker's strong suit (Wetware). Letters column has some fun nitpicking-rebuttal involving big-O notation.

This is the issue where the unhelpful Analog story blurbs descend into nonsense: "What do you do when you know achieved something you could have that you haven't?" ([sic] throughout) I dunno, maybe Miss Manners would know what to do? If you're curious, here's the blurb for "Testing, 1, 2, 3...": "An important part of research and development is testing--and when the systems being tested get sophisticated enough, the methods may become a bit strange!" No kidding!!

Here's the photo gallery, featuring many crazy ads and one awesome piece of spot art. I could commission an entire anthology themed around that drawing and every piece would be awesome.

I just had brunch with Evan and his dad; the elder Baer has somehow acquired a double subscription to Analog, and gave me some of his extras. I've now got the June 2010 and the July/August 2010 issues to review. Yes, that's how cutting-edge is the science fiction in Analog. They're publishing two months into the future, not just one month like other magazines.

BTW, here's a story blurb from the July/August issue: "The ways a tool was designed to be used are not the only ways it can be used...." This sort of thing has been going on for over twenty years! (I'm apparently determined to reduce the already infinitesimal probability that I'll ever be published in Analog.)

[Comments] (1) Ghostbusters:

"Hey, I'm from the EPA. We heard you were running a nuclear reactor in this building."
"Yes, that's right, an experimental breeder reactor."
"Are you nuts? You can't operate a nuclear reactor in Manhattan! What if it melts down? We're here to force you to shut it down right now!"
"You can't just shut down a nuclear reactor! You'll cause a meltdown!"
"Too bad! Shuttin' it down!"

Every time I see Ghostbusters I think, this is the most idiot-y Idiot Plot scene ever.

[Update for those who haven't seen Ghostbusters: this is not a direct quote from one of the scenes, but an analogous scene I wrote to throw the idiocy into relief by removing the paranormal element.]

[Comments] (1) No Fish On Mars: Cool planet, Mars. But does it harbor life? Maybe! Early in its history, Mars had lots of liquid water, and you know what happened when Earth had lots of liquid water--complex multicellular life!

Obviously it's unlikely that complex life is still hanging around Mars, what with the UV and the thin atmosphere and lack of water and everything. But when I put some numbers together in a back-of-the-envelope way, I discovered it's also very unlikely that Mars ever supported multicellular life of any kind, even if you stipulate life on Mars and spot the planet some serious handicaps.

I'm going to show you one of those compressed timelines from the formation of the solar system to the present day. I tried to do a graphic representation, but I screwed it up, and graphs tend to give an impression that your numbers are precise, so here's a textual representation. Below is the text of five items from my Twitter feed. The five tweets and spaces between them add up to 454 characters. As it happens, Earth and Mars are both about 4,540 million years old. So consider each character of this text as representing 10 million years.

One extra wave of sinking nausea per news medium, but I suppose "physical newspaper front page" must be the last of it now.|I didn't get where I am today by having Irish labourers promoted over my head.|beautiful scrambled neologisms from spam today: trfiedy, hdunddrend, asbthma, mevdicinxes, onex, effzective, preventinon, jof|@danielsolis I salute your hair, sir.|Happy birthday @jong, with Milo Murgia and Amy Pond among my alltime favourite gingers!

It is only a matter of time before Twitter-based textual representations are used to bring all cosmic time scales into perspective. "If the history of life were represented as a tweet, all of mankind's achivements would be cut off when it was retweeted."

OK, check it out. Here's the same text, with formatting added to point out important points in the history of life.

One extra wave of sinking nausea per news medium, but I suppose "physical newspaper front page" must be the last of it now.|I didn't get where I am today by having Irish labourers promoted over my head.|beautiful scrambled neologisms from spam today: trfiedy, hdunddrend, asbthma, mevdicinxes, onex, effzective, preventinon, jof|@danielsolis I salute your hair, sir.|Happy birthday @jong, with Milo Murgia and Amy Pond among my alltime favourite gingers!

Planet formation takes about ten characters, up to the space after "One extra". After that point, both Earth and Mars have liquid water. Earth still has water today, but Mars loses its water somewhere around the word "be". Mars has liquid water for about a billion years, the duration of the underlined text from "wave" to "be".

What happened on Earth from "wave" to "be"? Not much! If you really want to suppose an early origin of life on Earth, you could say it started between "physical" and "newspaper" (italicized), but a more conservative estimate is that it started around "must be the"--right around the time Mars stopped supporting life. And if you demand fossils of the organisms themselves, life on Earth didn't begin until somewhere around "today by having".

How about complex life? Eukaryotes show up around "trfiedy". Multicellular life shows up around "asbthma". If you want some cool complex life like the Ediacaran fauna, you need to wait until "Milo". And even those aren't vertebrates.

Mars may have had enough time to evolve life before its oceans disappeared. And once you have life, it's tough to kill it off. But there wasn't enough time for multicellular life to evolve. Multicellular life is really difficult. And although the discovery of single-celled Martian life unrelated to Earth life would probably be the biggest discovery in human history, alien bacteria are not as cool as alien fish.

Obviously this is really imprecise. But no amount of fudging will put multicellular life in the Martian oceans, unless you can explain why Mars got multicellular life in less than 1 billion years when Earth took three times as long. In a work of fiction (such as the one for which I did this research) you might flex your artistic license and give Mars some tube worms or something, but I don't think fish are realistic.

Here's one complication I didn't mention: around "I suppose" there seems to have been an period called the Late Heavy Bombardment, during which there were a lot of impacts on the inner planets. The interesting thing is that the LHB immediately precedes "physical newspaper", which you'll recall contains the first tenative evidence of life on Earth. So, maybe life comes into being immediately (in geologic terms) whenever conditions are right. Maybe the LHB hit the reset button on Earth life, but spared Mars for some reason. Or maybe the LHB brought life to Earth from Mars! Either scenario would give Mars a 50-character head start. That's a lot, but still not enough for fish.

Another possibility is that the evolution of multicellular life is a freak accident which can happen at any time. It took a really long time to happen on Earth, but it happened right away on Mars. I think this is really unlikely. First, Earth has a much bigger surface area than Mars, so the freak accident should have happend on Earth first. Second, I doubt the whole "freak accident" idea. Prokaryotic life didn't spend billions of years sitting around doing nothing. It was evolving really rapidly through brief generations and horizontal gene transfer, creating the machinery that would eventually be co-opted to combine organisms into multicellular colonies.

: If you for whatever reason passed over Susan McCarthy's animal behavior weblog the last time I mentioned it, maybe this cartoon from a recent entry will convince you to subscribe.

[Comments] (3) Better Broadband?: Is there an ISP in New York that gives any advantage (price, performance, service, privacy) over the big oligopolists? I hear Speakeasy used to be good, but then they were acquired by Best Buy, which seems like the single most efficient way to ruin something. Is it still good? Any other options? Astroturfers welcome!

[Comments] (1) : I am Gell-Man! The only superhero with the awesome power of Murray Gell-Mann!

The Power of Autosuggestion: Tonight's episode: why aren't

A surprisingly varied list.

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