Friday, May 29, 2009

Day Four: Hattushas

Part of this was typed on a Turkish keyboard when I was actually in Turkey, so you may find some of the typeface unusual.

On our first full day in Ankara we decided to leave town, sınce Obama was vısıtıng and the entıre central cıty would be shut down. (Lıttle dıd we know that he would be arrıvıng late at nıght and the next day was the day when we couldn´t get around. The danged fellow just kept followıng us! London, Ankara, Istanbul . . . We were being stalked!)

The excellent Mr Kemal at our lıttle hotel arranged for a drıver to take us to Hattuşa--- he even ınspected the car the prevıous day, and ordered the drıver to wash the car and to shave. Which he did.

Hattuşa was the later capıtal of the Hıttıte Empıre, one of the fırst states establıshed by northern barbarıans, equıpped wıth superıor mılıtary technology (ın thıs case the war charıot), swoopıng down on more cıvılızed regıons and then takıng over. Most such empıres faıled to last, as the skılls necessary to lead a plunderıng horde are not precısely the same as those requıred to govern a cıvılızed country, but the Hıttıtes dıd rather well, and thrıved from 1800 BCE to theır complete collapse ın 1180.

Our drıve to Hattuşa took a couple hours. Once we got out of the glıtzy capıtal, we entered a stony regıon of hılls overlooked by snow-capped mountaıns. The area was green, but I had the sense that the green was tentatıve, and would vanısh wıth the advancıng summer. Every farmer was out workıng hıs fıeld. Women were scroungıng the ground for herbs and plants used ın dye manufacture. Cattle and Angora goats were vısıble ın the fıelds.

Thıs steppe country ısn´t the most fertıle part of Anatolıa, so you have to wonder why the Hıttıtes put theır capıtal here. Maybe they were on the watch for new waves of northern barbarıans.

When we checked ın at the Hattuşa gate, we met Abdullah, one of the guardıans of the monument. I would lıke to thınk that he at once perceıved our ıntellıgence and hıgh level of ınterest--- the fact that we had taken a taxi from Ankara might have been a clue--- but maybe he was just bored. At any rate he offered to take us around--- so we saw the sıte wıth our very own guıde.

At ıts heıght Hattuşa was surrounded by a seven-kılometer wall, from eıght to twelve meters tall and studded wıth towers. The ınhabıtants were the royal famıly, the court, the parlıament (the Hıttıtes had somethıng lıke a constıtutıonal monarchy), the nobles, and about 10,000 soldıers and theır famılıes. Ordınary people wouldn´t come ınsıde except on busıness.

The place was buılt of stone, presumably because stone was what they had. Buıldıngs were constructed on an epıc scope. There were dozens of temples to the 'thousand gods of the Hıttıtes,' most of whom they had plundered from theır neıghbors.

Fırst on the tour was what Abdullah saıd was the world´s fırst bazaar, an ıntrıcate collectıon of small shops much lıke the bazaars of Turkey today. Above them was an enormous stone temple, the entering of which involved crossing water three times. (Perhaps they wanted keep out vampires.) There were little channels cut into the door and gate lintels. There were also scrape marks on the lintel where the door had swung, very worn lion statues covered with lichen, and some very large pottery jars, some still intact.

Near the temple entrance was a green cube of a rock maybe 0.8 meters on a side. The green stone is not local, and geologists think it may have been imported from Egypt. It's lucky to touch this rock with your left hand, and 3300 years of left hands have left a permanent hand-shaped imprint on the side of the stone.

Above the bazaar was Hattusha proper, behind its girdling walls, many of which are still rather impressive. The entrance wound up alongside the walls to the Lion Gate, which meant anyone trying to attack the gate would have been hammered from above for a long part of the advance.

The two original lions at the gate have been moved to a museum in Istanbul, where we saw them, and the ones there now are reproductions.

Other gates featured sphynxes, gods, and warriors.

On the "back end" of Hattusha, overlooking a ravine, is an enormous angled stone rampart with another wall on top of it. Abdullah suggested that the Hittites were strongly influenced by the Egyptians, with whom they were in (sometimes unfriendly) contact, and that this was meant to resemble the sloping sides of a pyramid.

The rampart has a steep stair running up one side of it to the Sphynx Gate at the top. There is also a corbel-arched tunnel that goes straight through to what may have been a secret exit.

Perhaps attackers were meant to run up the stair to attack the gate, while Hittites left through the secret tunnel to attack them from the rear. We fantasized about what the attacking soldiers might have thought of that.

"General, why do you think the enemy put this staircase here!"

"Never mind! Climb! Charge!"

"General, do you think they meant for us to attack this way?"

"Shut up and attack!"

"But general--- "

"Aagh! Ack!" (thwack, thud)

The remains of the palace--- on a separate hill--- feature a moat, along with another possibly-secret passage, large enough for just one person at a time to leave the palace and exit via the moat. A small person at that--- Melinda fit in the passage, but I wouldn't have. Maybe the Hittites had a small king.

Most of the spectacular structures date from the very end of the Empire--- the Hittite kings went into a frenzy of building just as the barbarians were rolling over the frontiers.

There was one wall full of hieroglyphs, which Abdullah said hadn't been translated. The hieroglyphs were "Luvian," not Egyptian, a script used by the Hittites along with cuneiform. They tended to shift to the hieroglyphs in the later stages of their civilization--- another argument for strong Egyptian influence. (Ramses II, following the Battle of Kadesh, married one of his daughters to the Hittite king, which is maybe where the cultural shift began.)

The big wall of glyphs hasn't been translated, but another group--- in what seems to be a tomb--- has been translated as giving the end of the city of Hattushas. A plague hit the city, and so devastated the 10,000-man garrison that the king, Supilluliuma II, ordered his capital abandoned. Shortly thereafter it was burned. No one knows what happened to the king, but he was the last emperor of the Hittites.

Supilluliuma might have done just fine if it hadn't been for the plague. He had conquered Cyprus and held off the barbarians to that point, and had enough surplus left over for grandiose building projects.

Smaller "Neo-Hittite" kingdoms survived on the fringes of the old empire. Most were absorbed by the Assyrians or Persians.

Abdullah then led us to a nearby Kurdish Ko-operative, where carpets and kilims are made by local Kurds. ("If you see that gleam in my eye," I told the ladies, "you will have to drag me out of here by force.") I managed to resist temptation, though Melinda bought a set of saddlebags woven out of camel hair.

The Kurds are numerous in the region (Abdullah was one). Most of them are poor, as the Turks own all the land, which doesn't seem to be very fertile anyway, and the Kurds have to find some other way to subsist. Some are tenant farmers, some itinerant agricultural laborers, some nomadic herders. The weavers' cooperative is a self-help organization dedicated to steering a little money their way. Their prices were much, much lower than we would have encountered in the cities. If you're after a kilim, this is a good place to go.

Abdullah then led us to the nearby Hittite holy site of Yizilikaya, two open-air gorges in the side of a mountain filled with carvings of Hittite gods and kings, so many that at times they're packed together like a line of chorines. There are niches for offerings.

Reading this, I seem to have completely failed in any attempt to describe the sheer wonder of this place. All of these colossal piles of stone, all worn and weathered but still shining with an ancient glamor . . . The Thousand Gods are still there somehow, still weaving their magic.

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Quack As Loud As You Like, Mister Duck! No One Can Hear You!

The recent California Supreme Court ruling recognizes all the gay marriages that took place in California during the period in which they were legal, and also legalizes any other damn thing that gay people want to do except call it "marriage."

This has set me to fantasizing about Pat Robertson.

(Hey, it was illegal before, okay?)

Pat once said that if gay marriage were legalized, then people would soon be having legal sex with ducks.

I considered fantasizing about this, too, but it turns out that Garfunkel and Oates have already fantasized about it more than I ever could ever. So enjoy the video.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pleasing Surprise of the Week

Hey! Jo Walton, author of the excellent Small Change alternate histories, who had previously said some nice things about me, now says some nice things about Dread Empire's Fall.
When a writer with Walton's talent says I'm good, I just get all squishy inside.

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Baad Movie Digest, Volume One

Oh my. It's a plot summary of the Turkish Star Wars.

. . . My next best guess is that they’re hit by lasers since they both fall down when a man in armor shows up. Turkish special effects are not what you’d call an exact art, and here the picture is severely scratched up, which I think indicates a failed attempt at scratching a laser-like beam onto the film itself. They’re captured and taken to a cruel gladiator arena where Darth Vader’s water cooler robot proves its evilness by swinging a screaming child around by its neck. Luke and Han watch for what seriously has to be three solid minutes of noisy kid dangling before they start another karate fight. Darth Vader comes out of a cave, and as soon as he does, most of the rest of the scene is viewed through the eyeholes of his helmet, including shots of Darth Vader himself. This could have been another massively insane mistake by the Turkish production crew, but I like to think it was a profound metaphor about how karate fights make Darth Vader take a careful look at himself, through the evil-shaped helmet eyeholes in his mind.

They’re cut up and captured by Darth Vader, and immediately escape to a cave with Princess Leia and 40 or 50 children. Now, judging by the romantic dialogue in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, it’s clear that George Lucas has never even heard of anyone who knows a woman. The makers of Star Wars: Dunyayi Kurturan Adam avoid that kind of embarrassment by eliminating all dialogue from their romance. Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia’s relationship is reduced to 40 awkward seconds of the two of them giving each other shy smiles three feet away.

Their romance is cut short by an army of toilet-papered cave mummies and giant multi-colored cookie monsters. Luke, Han, and Leia fight for a little bit then grab one child and run away, leaving the rest of the kids at the mercy of Turkish Chewbacca, a huge armored gorilla with paper clips dangling on tinsel from its fingertips. And while I was waiting for Luke and Han to come back and karate it from behind, it kills the hell out of every last kid. Emphasizing the horrors of space gorillas, the movie pauses on a slow panning shot of the pile of child corpses, which is only slightly ruined by Turkish child actors’ inability to sit still when they’re pretending to be dead. Soon their bodies are transformed by Darth Vader into toilet paper mummies through a ritual so dark and mysterious they don’t bother to show it.

This and much, much more!


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Portrait of the Youngster as an Artist

I was looking through some old photos the other day and found this picture of me, circa 1984. Looking at the image, I recognized the Student Union building at Texas A&M before I noticed the AggieCon badge on my lapel.
I was smack in the middle of writing Hardwired when this photo was taken.
The picture was taken by Leigh Kennedy and developed and printed in an improvised darkroom in her bathroom.
This may be the only picture of me from the period: I was usually the one behind the lens.

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The Terror. The Terror.

I was visiting yesterday with some friends, and one of them put on the first ten minutes of Team America: World Police. (For those who haven't seen it, the first ten minutes are the brilliant part of the movie, and after that it's just so-so, except for Kim Jong Il's plaintive little song halfway through.)

Imagine my terror when I saw, parodied in the film, some dialog I had just written for my characters a couple days earlier. Parker and Stone had parodied one of my scenes years before I'd even written it!

What they had parodied, of course, was some dreadfully cliche'd dialog, dialog which I hadn't realized was so completely dreadfully cliche when I wrote it.

Rewrites are now under way. I am trying not to panic.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Reviews Too Late: Twilight

Urban romantic fantasy isn't really my metier, but I thought I'd catch Twilight on pay per view and check what the zeitgeist has been up to while I wasn't looking.

Filmed in Pale-O-Vision, Twilight was actually a pretty good movie, as far as that goes. (I mean, it is what it is, you're not going to learn any profound truths in this film.) The plotline was very straightforward and simple, with no real twists or surprises because you know Edward's a vampire going in. It's all like, I'm going to totally stalk this guy until he agrees to bite me, and that's more or less it. There's a subplot involving some evil vampires but they exist only as a device to put Bella in jeopardy, because Edward's too much of a gentleman to do it himself.

The acting was excellent, particularly that of Kristen Stewart as Bella, who gave the proper desperate intensity to her I-don't-care-if-I-die-or-not-I-want-this-and-I'm-going-to-have-it soulful yearning. Robert Pattinson does a very good James Dean impersonation, down to the bushy hair. Production values were high.

I didn't swoon, but then it wasn't aimed at me.

The film excels brilliantly in its use of cliches. Edward's dialog was beautifully designed to lure young Bella while pretending to keep her at arm's length. Consider the following lines:

I only said it would be better if we weren't friends, not that I didn't want to be.

It means if you're smart... you'll stay away from me.

I hate you for making me want you so much.

I don't have the strength to stay away from you anymore.

You don't know how long I've waited for you.

I wanted to kill you at first. I've never wanted a human's blood so much, before.

You don't know what you're saying. You don't want this.

What if I'm not the hero? What if I'm the bad guy?

I still don't know if I can control myself.

I'm the world's most dangerous predator. Everything about me invites you in. My voice, my face, even my smell. As if I would need any of that. As if you could outrun me. As if you could fight me off. I'm designed to kill.

Do you trust me?

Wow. What red-blooded adolescent girl wouldn't totally fall for any broody James Dean-like character who said actually things like that?

(Note to any adolescents or others lacking in worldly experience: When a guy says, "I'm mad, I'm bad, I'm dangerous to know," guess what? He's telling the truth! He's doing you the courtesy of giving you fair warning! Thank him and then run the hell away!

(You're not going to be The One who's going to change him. Sticking around means giving him permission to beat you or kill you or pimp you out or whatever else he does to his victims. Run the hell away!

(This has been a public service announcement from the Dating Safety Commission. Thank you.)

But where was I? Oh yeah, Twilight.

It was well done. It was more of a mood than a movie. You could study this film for ways to keep the suspense high when things aren't actually happening.

And of course if you like moody, swoony romance, particularly involving James Dean, this is absolutely the film for you.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Galtic Paradise

USA getting too socialist? Tea-baggers too wimpy? Here's a place for you to go galt in style!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dinosaurs of War

Cracked magazine presents:
I'd post some sarcastic comments here . . . but really, they'd be superfluous.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Not Girly In Singapore!

This Is Not a Game has garnered a great review from the Straits Times, Singapore's foremost newspaper!
While all of this is interesting, without strong characters and an engaging plot, This is Not a Game would be nothing but another bit of 'fan fiction' about the joys of living online.
Instead, Williams' novel is punchy, tightly plotted – very tightly with a strong twist or two – and entertaining. There's a enough action and global drama to keep any thriller lover happy.
While it's not a particularly 'girly' book, the character of Dagmar ensures a strong female focus which mean readers of both sexes with enjoy This is Not a Game.
Like other speculative fiction authors before him, most notably William Gibson, Williams has managed to take what is happening now, wrap it in imagination and offer us a look at the future.
There you have it--- not only is it a great book, now it's officially Not Girly!
Meanwhile--- or perhaps even simultaneously--- Paul Stotts over at Blood of the Muse has even more to say!
This Is Not a Game is a compelling mystery, one that threateningly demands—like a militant nun, ruler in hand, your knuckles spread before her—for you to continue, to finish. Stopping, it’s not an option. It’s not even a thought. You turn the pages of the book not just to get answers, but to get the questions, also. And neither disappoint. There is no letdown, no clumsy resolution, no descent into lameness. Everything works, the story coming together beautifully like a well-played game of chess, Williams maneuvering the reader, skillfully. Like a pawn. A very happy pawn.

The novel feels fresh, new, totally unique. Something completely different from the tired, recycled space opera found in most sci-fi novels today. You’ll remember This Is Not A Game afterwards, for its distinct storyline, for being unlike anything else you’ve read. For being special. A rabbit hole, both deep and dark, leading to a dazzling wonderland, where a game imitates life. And life imitates a game.
I may be a militant nun, but at least I'm not a girly militant nun!
And, to cap off a lovely day, over at, we find the following:
So Walter Jon Williams’ This Is Not A Game lies. It is a game. A hell of a game, a fascinating mystery, and intriguing social commentary. Where every reader is a winner, no matter what alternate reality you choose to call home.
It's probably time for you all to buy new copies, so you can track down the truth behind this lying militant non-girly nun rumor!

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Cell Tower . . . Tree . . . Thing

Kathy and I were driving through Albuquerque the other day and we saw this . . . object . . . on the horizon.

"What is that?" Kathy asked in bewilderment. "Is that a Norway spruce?"

No, it wasn't. It was a cell phone tower cleverly disguised as a Norway spruce.

Kudos to whoever thought to make the cell tower look like something more pleasant and natural.

But next time, could you disguise your cell tower as a piece of vegetation native to New Mexico? A ponderosa? An aspen? Something that doesn't look even more alien than a cell phone tower?


Monday, May 18, 2009

Clarkson v Honda

Some say that Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson is a swaggering sexist lout. Some say that he's a smug, anti-environmentalist, gas-guzzling enemy of the ozone layer. All we know is that he's done a wonderfully savage review of the new Honda hybrid Insight . . .

It’s terrible. Biblically terrible. Possibly the worst new car money can buy. It’s the first car I’ve ever considered crashing into a tree, on purpose, so I didn’t have to drive it any more . . .

For reasons known only to itself, Honda has fitted the Insight with something called constantly variable transmission (CVT).

It doesn’t work. Put your foot down in a normal car and the revs climb in tandem with the speed. In a CVT car, the revs spool up quickly and then the speed rises to match them. It feels like the clutch is slipping. It feels horrid.

And the sound is worse. The Honda’s petrol engine is a much-shaved, built-for-economy, low-friction 1.3 that, at full chat, makes a noise worse than someone else’s crying baby on an airliner. It’s worse than the sound of your parachute failing to open. Really, to get an idea of how awful it is, you’d have to sit a dog on a ham slicer.

So you’re sitting there with the engine screaming its head off, and your ears bleeding, and you’re doing only 23mph because that’s about the top speed, and you’re thinking things can’t get any worse, and then they do because you run over a small piece of grit.

Because the Honda has two motors, one that runs on petrol and one that runs on batteries, it is more expensive to make than a car that has one. But since the whole point of this car is that it could be sold for less than Toyota’s Smugmobile, the engineers have plainly peeled the suspension components to the bone. The result is a ride that beggars belief . . .

In a Prius the electric motor can, though almost never does, power the car on its own. In the Honda the electric motor is designed to “assist” the petrol engine, providing more get-up-and-go when the need arises. The net result is this: in a Prius the transformation from electricity to petrol is subtle. In the Honda there are all sorts of jerks and clunks.

And for what? For sure, you could get 60 or more mpg if you were careful. And that’s not bad for a spacious five-door hatchback. But for the same money you could have a Golf diesel, which will be even more economical. And hasn’t been built out of rice paper to keep costs down . . .

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Real Science

The National Institute of Health, following the instructions of President O, have released their new guidelines for stem cell research.

We are now nearing the end of the two-week comment period. Despite the new guidelines being rather on the timid side of the political spectrum, various conservative religious organizations have organized a mass protest, resulting in the NIH being flooded with negative comments from brainwashed God-wallopers.

Since I'm never in the mood for kowtowing to people who demand that superstition have a veto over actual science, I suggest a bit of balancing is in order.

Go to this site, and do what the nice folks say. You have till May 26, but you might as well do it right now.

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According to Posner

Distinguished appellate judge, law lecturer, and public intellectual Richard Posner has taken on the current economic crisis in his new book.

Surprisingly for someone appointed by Ronald Reagan, Posner blames not speculators, or regulators, or greed for the current problem, but capitalism itself.

This from the NYT review:

The current crisis, Posner maintains, is a depression. True, it is not (we hope) a great depression. But the typical postwar recession is a partly self-correcting disinflationary contraction that soon subsides, often leaving the economy healthier. The present downturn is a self-sustaining deflationary contraction whose costly aftereffects will linger for years. The Great Depression led to World War II. Today’s depression presumably won’t be that bad, but it may cause a huge loss of output, an immense increase in the national debt, a swing to excessive regulation, a nasty bout of inflation, a decline in America’s economic and geopolitical power, and increased political instability abroad.

A typical recession is a market correction, usually of inflation or other economic imbalances; a depression is a market failure. And it is a failure (here is grenade No. 2) that the market is powerless to prevent. “An interrelated system of financial intermediaries” — a banking system, broadly defined — “is inherently unstable,” Posner writes. Think of it as “a kind of epileptic, subject to unpredictable, strange seizures.”

Populists and libertarians will hate this book, though I wouldn’t want to predict which group will hate it more. A perfect storm of irresponsibility? Hardly. The crisis came about precisely because intelligent businesses and consumers followed market signals. “The mistakes were systemic — the product of the nature of the banking business in an environment shaped by low interest rates and deregulation rather than the antics of crooks and fools.”

Were a lot of people reckless and stupid? Of course! But that cannot explain why the whole system crashed, since a lot of people are always reckless and stupid. The problem, fundamentally, is that markets cannot, and rationally should not, anticipate their own collapse. “A depression is too remote an event to influence business behavior.” Any single business can rationally guard against its own bankruptcy, but not the simultaneous bankruptcy of everybody else. “The ­profit-maximizing businessman rationally ignores small probabilities that his conduct in conjunction with that of his competitors may bring down the entire economy.”

. . . And so — here is the part libertarians will hate — markets, entirely of their own accord, will sometimes capsize and be unable to right themselves completely for years at a stretch. (See: Japan, “lost decade” of.) Nor can monetary policy be counted on to counteract markets’ tippy tendencies, as so many economists had come to believe . . .

. . . By the last page, not a single lazy generalization has survived Posner’s merciless scrutiny, not one populist cliché remains standing. “A Failure of Capitalism” clears away whole forests of cant but leaves readers at a loss as to where to go from here. In other words, it is only a starting point — but an indispensable one.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Golden Horn

Would this work as a jacket photo, do you think?
(Photo by Patricia)

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Friday, May 15, 2009


Pictures of the famous travertines of Pamukkale.
These small ponds are natural mineral formations. They're only a couple inches deep, which made me wonder why they're so darned blue, as well as why the shade of blue is a distinctive turquoise.

I remember that last year in Canada we saw a number of glacier lakes that were turned turquoise by "stone flour" finely ground by glaciers, and I wonder if the mineral springs that bubble out here have a similar quality.

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Sacred Pool

You might think I'm smiling in this picture because I'm looking at Melinda's chest. This wouldn't be true. While I'm sure Melinda's chest is worth smiling at, I really couldn't see it from this angle.
I'm smiling because, Dude, I'm diving the ancient ruins of Hierapolis!
Hierapolis was an ancient spa town built on a plateau behind the white calcium cliffs of Pamukkale ("Cotton Castle"), which is the modern name for the area. "Hierapolis" either means "Sacred City," or "We named this town after a possibly mythic woman named Hiera." After a bad earthquake and invasions by Persians and others, the town was abandoned in the 14th Century.
Among the many hot springs in the area was this large one, which was very possibly the sacred healing spring associated with the nearby temple of Apollo, who was of course a healer himself. The pool was once surrounded by tall ornamental columns that fell in an earthquake. The columns and other structures are still there. You can pay a fee and swim among them.
This was, for me, pretty much the highlight of the trip. The spring bubbles out at maybe 95 degrees F, is heavily mineralized (which makes you buoyant), and is full of tiny bubbles which tickle and get attached to your person. I could have spent all day there, though in fact we subsequently left this little oasis and hiked up to look at the ancient Roman theater.
We were staying at a little family-run hotel in the modern town, which is built at the foot of the travertine. I wish I could remember the name of the place, because I'd recommend the hell out of it. They cooked us a lovely dinner, and afterwards we retired to our room, which had, according to the hostess, "boy linens."
Which meant the quilts had Harrier jump jets on them! Cool!
Photo by Patricia, whose cool little digital camera was also waterproof.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Trek: A Military Analysis

You've probably already read a hundred reviews of the new Trek movie, and you don't need mine. (Short form: liked the characters, winced at the baaaad science and coincidence-heavy plot.)

But over at Danger Room, we find the take of a genuine military analyst.

* The villainous Romulan ship pulverizes Federation vessels with volleys of torpedoes. Yet no Federation warship employs electronic jammers, decoys or point defense phasers. Very depressing. Two hundred years later, missile defense still doesn’t work.

* But why does the Romulan ship need torpedoes? If its energy drill can bore holes through planets, then it can slice a starship like a phaser through butter. Future humans must still learn to master dual-use technology.

* Speaking of phasers: The ones in the movie fire bolts of energy, like in Star Wars. What happened to the Marvin-the-Martian-style disintegrator beams from the original Star Trek? Perhaps someone realized that disintegrating bulkheads in a pressurized starship in deep space isn’t the safest way to fight.

* There is only one scene in the movie where phasers are ordered to be set on stun. Otherwise, everyone cheerfully uses lethal force. The classic Star Trek rules of engagement are out the window.

* Kirk and his team are dropped from the Enterprise orbiting above Vulcan, and then deploy parachutes once they’re in the atmosphere. I can see not swatting Kirk with torpedoes or the energy drill. But again, some point defense phasers on the Romulan ship might have swatted them. At least Heinlein’s Starship Troopers had self-contained, individual jump capsules for its troops.

* No one loves the Department of Homeland Security. But just look what happens when DHS isn’t around! Poor Vulcan had no evacuation plans or Code Orange threat warnings.

* BTW, where the heck are Vulcan’s orbital defenses? Wouldn’t logic demand some planetary protection? The Federation receives a report that an alien vessel destroyed 47 Klingon warships. That vessel next appears at Vulcan, and Starfleet only sends seven ships against it? Kirk isn’t the only one with an inflated ego.

* Vulcan must have relied on the Federation, whose main fleet happened to be cruising in a different part of the galaxy. Seems like the Federation is a little big to be covered by one fleet. Want to bet that the head of Federation strategic planning is named Rumsfeld?

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Future of Streaming Video

Comic/TV/RPG writer John Rogers has an interesting post about the future of TV over on Kung Fu Monkey.

Now what's kind of interesting here is that everybody in TV looks at the music industry collapse as the Bad Story and iTunes as the plausible premise for digital entertainment distribution. iTunes makes money. QED, there is money to be made in digital distribution.

But drawing this conclusion ignores one of the fundamental facts about iTunes -- it is a de facto monopoly. As Clay Shirky writes quite shinily here, a series of lawsuits and circumstances cut off pretty much all other music distribution channels online. Tying the system in to great hardware was the clincher, of course, accelerating the process. But end of day, if you're buying a song quickly, easily and legally in the US, you're buying it from iTunes.

The TV humans are missing the point of this plausible premise -- you can make money off digital distribution as long as you have a monopoly. It's a little shocking that they're missing this, as the massive financial success of the entire television industry up until recently was based on them having a monopoly. A taxpayer-funded monopoly, no less . . .

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Street Scenes

This is a street scene, sort of. It's a view from the breakfast room of the Hotel Spectra, looking across the old Roman hippodrome to the Mosque of Sultanahmet, better known over here as the Blue Mosque. Beyond is the Sea of Marmara.
I highly recommend the Spectra. It's a small hotel with nice rooms, reasonable rates, an excellent, considerate staff, and you can't beat the location with a stick. Or rather, you could, but why would you want to?
Diverse memories and street encounters:
The Procession. We were in Bodrum, having a fantastic meal of mezzes followed by freshly-grilled seafood, when we looked up to see a procession. Three musicians in native garb went by, playing at full volume, leading a horse on which rode a boy of nine or ten, dressed more or less like the Sultan.
"Is it a wedding?" Melinda asked.
"The groom seems a little young," I said. "I bet the boy's going off to his circumcision."
For some reason the ladies were skeptical of this and asked the waiter. He was embarrassed to offer an explanation to people of the female persuasion.
"I cannot say the word," he said, but he made a snipping gesture with his fingers.
If I lived in this culture, I'd run for it every time I saw a marching band.
Q: Why do the Turks make such excellent warriors?
A: Because someone clipped their willies when they were ten, and they're still pissed off !
Old Men. Were were in Selcuk, walking toward the hotel after having dinner. The last call for prayer had just gone out from the mosque, which we walked past in order to get to Jimmy's Place. (Another hotel I strongly recommend, BTW)
As we crossed the street toward the mosque, a wild-haired local rushed up to us.
"It's only old men who go to mosque!" he shouted. "Only old men! Ramadan, everyone comes, but the rest of the time it's old men only!"
We nodded, a little stunned, and he charged on his way.
We had to admit that he was accurate. The only people hanging around the mosque were elderly men, waiting for the call so they could put on their skullcaps and go inside. I don't recall any women hanging out at the mosques at all, though I suppose if you're devout and female, "hanging out" is one of those things you just don't do.
In Turkey, you see a lot of old men hanging out. There are cafes, for example, that serve only old men. The men drink coffee or tea, fiddle with their worry beads, play backgammon and wait for the call to prayer. If women or young men sat down, I don't know whether they'd ever get served.
The Cow-Watchers. Driving through the countryside, we'd often encounter a cow or two grazing by the roadside, usually while being watched by one or more persons. Sometimes the whole family would be sitting there, watching their cow. More rarely, the cow was staked out next to the highway, with no one watching.
Sometimes they would also watch goats.
There always seemed to be pasture nearby, so there was no obvious reason why the cow had to grace on the roadside.
I suppose we could have asked someone what was going on, but it seemed more fun to invent reasons why the Cow-Watchers were doing what they do. Some of our guesses:
(1) This is what people do who can't afford TV.
(2) The government can't afford to keep the right of way clear of growth, so they pay the locals a few pence to do it for them.
The most plausible thing we could come up with is (3), These are peasants who don't actually own land. They can't graze their cow on the pasture because it's owned by the landlord, so the only place to graze their animal is on the public right-of-way. But they have to make sure the cow doesn't stray onto the roadway and get killed, so they have to stand by and watch.
If any of you have any more speculations, feel free to state them here.
Cats. There are feral cats everywhere in Turkey. In cities it's only good sense, because in old cities you also get lots of rats.
Some of the cats make a practice of begging from tourists, particularly those enjoying a meal at a restaurant. Melinda and Patricia were complete suckers, and sometimes they were surrounded by a little half-circle of furry friends, each pouncing on little bits of kofte flying their way.
Some of the cats have advanced from begging from tourists to mugging them. Some jump on the diner to remind them they haven't yet paid their tariff. Some will jump on the table in hopes of finding something to run off with.
I found the cats endearing but was a little more cautious, being someone lacking a love for fleas and lice.
On the previous trip I'd noticed that all the feral cats were young. They don't live long in the wild.
There are beggar dogs as well, but they're a lot less attractive.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Brief Commercial Message

I hope you appreciate my restraint in not telling you in a while that you should go out and buy This Is Not a Game.

Because it's a really good book and, y'know, you should.



On the tenth of April we came down from the Anatolian highlands to Bodrum, where we met the Aegean for the first time--- we had seen blue water here and there, but we were never on the shore, and always en route to one place or another.
Bodrum was the place where we ended up taking a vacation from our vacation.
Bodrum is on a long peninsula, with striking views all around. A hotel had been recommended to us, but the streets in the old part of town were little better than alleys, driving was insanely complex verging on dangerous, and we never found the hotel we were looking for. (Patricia, who was driving, should be complimented on keeping her cool under very trying circumstances.)
While driving past a hotel, I noticed that it had its own parking lot!, and I pointed and yelled, "Pull in there!" If the place turned out to be too expensive, we could at least ask directions to the place we wanted to go. But I'd also noticed that there were no cars in the parking lot, and I suspected we would be welcome.
We were. We got very reasonably-priced rooms for a beachside resort, and though the rooms were nothing to write home about, they served our needs perfectly well. And while we had no views of the Aegean, we were about half a block from the water. (I wish I could remember the name of the hotel.)
Within a few short minutes we were checked in and shambling down to the plage. A wide bay opened up in front of us, filled with divinely blue water sparkling with the golden light of the late-afternoon sun. Sailboats were anchored just offshore, with the Greek island of Kos visible just on the horizon. The Crusader castle of St. Peter was silhouetted off to the west, as in the photo above. I took one look at the water and immediately a phantom steel drum band begin to play in my head. I looked left and right, at the curve of bars and restaurants that lined the bay, and about twenty years of weight dropped off my shoulders. I turned into Beach Puppy on the spot.
So that night there was wandering along the shore, drinks and seafood under an umbrella next to the water, and that darned steel drum band that kept using my skull as an echo chamber.
By next morning we'd decided that Bodrum was worth a second night's stay.
Bodrum is built on the site of ancient Halicarnassus, home of (1) Herodotus, Father of History, and (2) the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Mausolus was ostensibly a Persian satrap, but he pretty much ran his own show, and conquered those parts of Caria he didn't already own, along with a big chunk of Lycia. When he died, his wife (and sister) Artemisia, who ruled after him, built the Mausoleum to house his ashes. (She also used to sprinkle his ashes in her wine, as a show of mourning.)
The Mausoleum was seven storeys of white marble crowned by a quadriga (four-horse chariot), and my guess is that it would have been visible to ships for at least twenty nautical miles. It was capped with a pyramid, which--- along with the brother-sister marriage thing, and the whole elaborate-tomb business, suggests to this mind a strong Egyptian influence.
The structure of the Mausoleum remained more or less intact until the 15th Century AD, when the Knights Hospitaller moved in and built their Castle of St Peter, using the stone blocks that Artemisia had so conveniently stacked for them.
Strangely enough, the Knights of St. John had the permission of the current Ottoman sultan to build the castle, as they were both trying to hold off Tamerlane at the time. Bits of ancient ornamentation are still visible in the walls of the castle, though the best of these now reside in the British Museum.
When the Knights surrendered the island of Rhodes a hundred or so years later, the Bodrum castle was evacuated, and the Ottomans moved in. Bodrum became a sleepy little sponge-diving town until the late twentieth century, when it proved defenseless against the Tourist Horde.
We crawled all over the castle the next morning, before it got too hot. It's an enormous place, situated on the peninsula that separates the town's two harbors, and the stonework is in remarkably good shape. The coats of arms of the various Grand Masters, and other knights, are carved over many of the lintels.
What makes Bodrum Castle special is the underwater museum. Local sponge divers have been turning up wrecks for decades, and whenever stuff was brought up from the sea bed, it was dumped in the castle, because there was noplace else for it. Eventually the decision was made to organize the collection and turn it in the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, probably the best of its kind in the world.
The underwater museum is scattered all over the castle, so you can walk into one or another of the towers and see amphorae, jewelry, glassware, Mycenaen pots, metal ingots, seals, weapons, anchors, elephant ivory, ostrich eggs, and the eerie carved eyes that were fastened to the stemposts of ancient ships.
The oldest of the wrecks dates from the 14th Century BC, and carried goods from Mycenean Greece, Egypt, Assyria, and most of the places in between. It demonstrated that commerce was much more widespread in the Bronze Age than had been heretofore believed. (And what were the ostrich eggs for, one has to ask.)
We also checked out the Mausoleum, which now consists of a large hole in the ground, though the hole does in fact contain the actual carved rock tomb where Mausolus' ashes (minus those consumed by his consort) were eventually laid to rest. The tomb was uncovered by the Hospitallers, but it was late in the day and a decision was made to postpone opening the crypt till the next morning. When the knights arrived that morning, they found the tomb had already been broken into and looted. Sic transit, etc.
The afternoon was devoted to wandering around town and shopping. I napped and consumed raki. Lunch and dinner were spectacular meals of fresh seafood eaten on the waterfront. The steel drum band didn't vacate its place in my skull for days.
Altogether, a place of delight. But after two nights, we were on the road again, on our way to Pergamum.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Mutant Powers

In honor of the new Wolverine movie, we present: Why Having Wolverine's Claws Would Suck.


Little Caps

Because I was in the mood to do something tasty and elaborate, last night I cooked a meal for our friends, Peggy and Kevin.

For primi I made capelletti, "little caps," in this case pasta stuffed with chicken, parmesan, parsley, a little nutmeg, and some cream to hold it together.

You start with a 2x2-inch square of pasta--- all of which I made myself, the first use of the pasta machine I've got in two years or so--- and then you put a dab of filling in the middle. Then you fold one corner over to make a triangle and press down on the sides to seal. After this, you bring the two corners of the triangle together and seal them, which allows the capelletto to stand on its own, with the last corner of the triangle drooping down like a little cap, hence the name.

(Whose cap are we imitating, exactly? The Pope's? A Turkish Janissary in full dress? I'm not sure.)

Making the pasta took hours. And hours. By the end of the task I had cramps and a backache.

The capelletti were served with an asparagus and cream sauce. They were worth the effort, though maybe next time I'll take it easy on myself and make tortellini, which are a little less time-consuming. Besides, they're supposed to look like Aphrodite's navel, which should be a good thing.

Secondo was tossed salad and leg of lamb roasted in a mustard sauce. It was one of the tenderest lambs I've had the privilege of devouring, though I have to admit that I wasn't responsible for the tenderness one way or another.

Dolce was strawberry shortcake, because I was running out of time and imagination.

The meal was served on the Noritake china I inherited when my mom passed away last year.

I don't ever actually remember eating off this china when I was at home. Apparently I wasn't good enough for the good china. I wonder if anyone ate off it, ever.

Since I don't have kids, or anyone to preserve the stuff for, I'll eat off the good plates whenever I want.

Especially if I make a meal as good as this one.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Gummi Bear Surprise

Why TSA will soon be banning gummi bears from aircraft.


Mystery Writing Contest

Always wanted to try writing a mystery?

New Mexico Tech is offering cash prizes in a mystery writing contest.