SF: Literature, Beyond

Posted in Book reviews, Computers & Technology, On writing, Press at 9:52 am by Marion

Today, just a few words about an often neglected fiction form.

Science fiction.

Most of the time this form is relegated to the back of bookstores, the bargain bins, or dusty boxes where these humble paperbacks languish. Rejected by mainstream literature, marginalized as “fantasy” or “role playing,” these story lines are nevertheless quite rigorous when done right.

Why is this so? Maybe it’s because of our national character, which emphasizes hard work, practicality and productivity. What could be less Protestant WASP-y than fantastic characters with strange habits on far away places that don’t even have gravity?

Yet, who can deny the power of science fiction? Star Trek has been with us for more than 40 years now. Let’s not forget 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Andromeda Strain and other movies of those days, even A Clockwork Orange.

Can any writer, anywhere, top The Martian Chronicles? I place it among mankind’s greatest fiction, ever.

So for the next few posts, FD will take a look at this humble form, pluck out a few titles and open the floor for suggestions.


A Tweet about Facebook

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, On writing, Press at 8:35 am by Marion


Today, big — very big — news in the ‘Net — it’s a showdown of sorts between so many camps it’s hard to tease apart the battles. Yet it seems somehow the future of the entire human race rests on the outcomes.


First up: Twitter.

OK, I admit it. I investigated Twitter for a simple reason — I wanted to find out WHAT ALL THE FUSS WAS ABOUT.

Once signed on, I felt was much ado about nothing … then again, quite often technology appears insignificant, irrelevant and unneeded at first … then we get hooked … then WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT.

So I check my Twitter feed and even Tweet from time to time. I have a few friends I follow. I also read Stephen Fry’s frequent (and frequently funny) Tweets. He was among the first and healthiest Tweeters. Or is that Twits?


Next up: New Facebook

What is it with software developers and IT people? Sometimes they are just so … ON. Other times, it seems they’re hosting a wee fascist streak. Software and the ‘Net thrive when they’re open, lawless and flexible. Organic. People powered.

The new Facebook design is more intrusive and noisy. It pours everyone’s activity and status updates into a single feed, meaning that the interesting bits are buried under junk.

The status update — that one-line show of genius and minimalist poetry — is now reduced to so much static among too many boring items about what quiz someone took, which 80s movie they are, which rock song defines them, etc.

Just give me status updates, please! If I want to know which color defines their personality, I’ll visit their wall, thank you.

Last: Battle of the social networks.

If you haven’t noticed, here’s how the teams line up. MySpace seems to work for music and bands. Facebook has exploded among, well, us grown-ups. Twitter seems to be fashionable among movie stars and journalists.

I have integrated Twitter onto my Facebook page. You may have noticed Twitter is also on my Web site. Facebook is a major form of communication between my husband and myself during work hours. I have given more Facebook gifts than real gifts this year.

It’s interesting to wonder who will end up on top of the heap when the dust settles.

In the meantime, I’m just out here looking for a meaningful status update. One that will justify my very existence. Or at least all those hours on Facebook.


‘Sirius’ about the iPhone

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, Music, Press at 11:29 am by Marion


So many updates this week … not sure where they will lead … but here they are … first Sirius XM has announced it will release a new, FREE app for iPhone that will allow subscribers to listen through their phones.

Now this news is not as simple as it seems: Only days earlier, Apple moved to block another satellite radio app being offered by another company, NiceMac. These guys are dedicated satellite radio fans (as I have become) and their app was in development for some time. It was expected that it would be costly, however … I’ve heard close to $20.

So here is our beloved Sirius XM staring bankruptcy in the face … with a trump card, the free app for iPhone. It could help in Sirius XM get out of its financial hole, though I’m not sure how (?) (Probably some kind of ad revenue, or the hope of new subscribers.) It would appear Apple would rather deal with the big guys at Sirius than the little guys at Nicemac.

Meanwhile, the guys at NiceMac are left in the cold.

Note — I apologize for all the links and frankly can’t make sense of it, but some folks out there in Fiction Dailyland may be able to untangle it. If so, please report!

Meanwhile, Sirius will start charging addition fees each month for Internet streaming. That’s in addition to the $17 or so each month for the radio service. Yep, that takes it to $20 a month.

Now some people would say, Hold your horses, circle the wagons … why would you pay for radio?

I say, just give Sirius-XM a listen and you’ll know why. For someone who loves music as much as I do, it’s not a hard choice. I’ll give up shoes before I give up music.

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday asks the age-old question, When are words superfluous?


A Singular Future?

Posted in Computers & Technology, Life in general, Press at 9:55 am by Marion


Today, a few thoughts about a concept that’s new to most of us … the singularity. Now most of us think of the singularity as the very center of a black hole … a no-man’s land where the mass of the sun exists in an area the size of a pinhead. Theoretically, nothing … not even light … can escape the pull of this singularity.

Rolling Stone had an article last week about an altogether different singularity, proposed by Ray Kurzweil. The call him “Technoprophet,” as he’s been right on many unexpected advances. Not sure whether to curse him for this, but he created the synthesizer that creates computer sounds that sound like instruments. We can thank him for the piped-in music that’s so annoying on hold, in shops and some offices.


He is know for pattern recognition innovations such as programs that enable computers to read text, the basis of scanning.

Nevertheless, Stevie Wonder is a good friend, and credits Mr. Kurzweil with changing his life because he created a computer program that translates text to speech.

The idea that is stirring up a lot of interest (some may say doom, fear and controversy) is known as the Singularity. But this Singularity is a lot closer than the nearest black hole. No, Kurzweil’s singularity will likely occur by 2045 — that’s when my niece will barely be 49 years old, the age I am now.

He believes by that time, machines and human beings will merge, that human life will never be the same again. That nanobots will clean out our blood streams of disease and illness, that we will plug ourselves in to back up our brains by computer.

He has been honored by three presidents, received the National Medal of Technology, so this guy is vastly respected. But not everyone buys his vision, or anti-vision, for the future. Jaron Lanier, who pioneered the realm of virtual reality, says in the RS article that the Singularity theory is comparable to a kooky religious fanaticism, predicting the end of times. That Kurzweil has gone off the deep end.

I have to say, however, I feel a chill when I realize how easily (and whole-heartedly) I embraced the iPod. I’ve often joked, I’d have it implanted if I could.

Now that’s a joke — I draw the line at my skin barrier — but who’s to say that if someone said a nanobot could clear cancer from our bodies, wouldn’t I at least try … especially if I were going to die … I think so.

In that sense, it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s possible these nanobots could also clear pollution — and carbon — from our atmosphere.

A couple of thoughts about Kurzweil. He perdicted the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of the Internet, and the spread (ubiquity) of wireless networks.

If you’re interested in reading more, his book is The Singularity is Near.


Taking Stock of Satellite

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, Press at 8:24 am by Marion

So these days so much focuses on finances and the stock market, that it’s not surprising our most recent update on Sirius-XM satellite radio focuses on the market’s response to last week’s deal with Liberty Media.

In today’s SiriusBuzz, our faithful blogger Brandon Matthews takes on mainstream media for its eagerness to write the obituary for satellite. In fact, he tells us, if investors and stock holders are willing to hold on, they may be surprised at the recovery of their stock’s value.

As he tells us, Sirius-XM may become cash-flow positive next year. Now I have no idea what that means, but I think it’s good news.

Since I’m writing about technology (and it’s not even Thursday), why not mention the new iPhone app that will allow loyal listeners to stream their satellite over the Internet. Now that should silence all the naysayers who declare satellite will fall to the ‘Net.

So not true!


Satellite Safe (For Now)

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, Music at 8:40 am by Marion


Today, a wrap-up of what has been a perilous week for my beloved satellite radio. Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Sirius-XM, after receiving it as a gift from my husband at Christmas.

Yet last week, disturbing reports began appearing about a possible hostile take-over. The villain so to speak was Charles Ergen, CEO of EchoStar, which operates DirectTV.

Rumor had it Ergen wanted to buy and cannibalize satellites for his own ends. Can’t you just hear the Hollywood version of this story? HISS … BOO.

Enter satellite’s White Knight: Liberty Media. Of course everything’s relative, and these guys want to make money. But somehow, Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin persuaded John Malone of Liberty to step in with a cash infusion just before a large debt payment was due (to Mr. Ergen, it should be noted).

So for now, satellite radio is safe, sort of.

And so are our stations — Sirius-XMU, AltNation, First Wave, Lithium.

Some people will say why do we need satellite when there is streaming Internet?

I say, who wants to download podcasts, or listen to stale, computer generated playlists on some streaming servers.

With satellite, the music choices are impeccable, the program categories surprising and dynamic.

And of course, satellite is the only place you can hear Howard Stern in the mornings. I know, Cringe.

But he’s just side-splittingly funny. And he represents, like it or not, what it means to have freedom of speech. Real freedom of speech. That allows you from time to time to make jokes about body parts and functions without someone else’s values determining what you can and can’t say. Yep, sometimes the show is out of bounds (prank calls) and I just turn down the volume. Other times, I just sit there and say, thank goodness, someone can make me laugh today.

So a hopeful week after all, despite the bad news everywhere.

DUST UP OVER FACEBOOK’S PRIVACY TERMS CHANGE. Never quite understood it, but protested it anyway.

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday.


Whither Satellite Radio?

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events at 10:25 am by Marion

Monday Special Tech Edition

Not since my previous blog disappeared from the Yahoo server have I been in such a flutter about technology. (The blog returned after several panic-stricken days and you can find it here.)

For the past several days, talk has swirled about Sirius Satellite Radio’s financial problems. There are good guys — Mel Karmazin, CEO of Sirius XM who has nurtured the project — and bad guys — Charlie Ergen, CEO of EchoStar. He wants to scoop up our beloved satellite radio and use the satellites to widen his TV broadcasting abilities.

The nerve!

Anyone with satellite radio knows it’s invaluable. For me, it was like walking into heaven … and St. Peter said, Now that you’re here, we’ve got this awesome heavenly radio system that plays great music of all types with no commercials. (Of course there are heavenly devils like Howard Stern, but you have to admit, he’s clever, intelligent and well, funny.)

The news this morning is a mix. First, Howard Stern was not broadcasting his show live. Not sure if that was planned (it is, after all, a bank holiday and Mr. Stern has a sweet contract).

Then there is this fairly gloomy editorial on Philly.com that appeared today.

On the other hand, this article in the New York Post, the city where satellite mostly originates, sounds pretty hopeful … it’s the one I’m hoping is true.

Meanwhile, Sirius Buzz has several articles that are probably the surest for information.

So as this week of uncertainties opens, we are holding our breath that our dear, delicious, satellite radio will survive.


Digital TV Delay, part 2

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, Life in general at 8:54 am by Marion


It looks like the transition to digital TV will be delayed after all.

With so much immorality prevailing in the previous administration (torture, wiretapping Americans, unjust wars) it was hard for such a trifling issue to appear on anyone’s radar. But the switch to digital TV was ill-conceived, poorly publicized and contemptuous of the public at large. Little information was made available and the shift was ramrodded through the administration with little consideration for its effects on ordinary, especially non-cable buying (read: poor) people.

In spite of the tremendous economic crisis, Mr. Obama and his administration turned immediately to this issue in his first week in office. At first, I admit, I worried he would become bogged down in trivia. Yet now I see that this issue illustrates plainly the new wind of our government. This issue became important because it speaks to the core of our national situation: by delaying the switch to digital, the administration and our leaders are saying, Guess what, the little people matter, after all.

Among the many problems with the switch is the shortage of the coupons, that work like store gift-cards. You take your card to the electronics store and it gives you a $40 credit on a converter box. (Never mind that the box is $60 … someone is making a fortune on this and you know it’s not the Chinese workers who made them.)

Once you get the box set up it’s nice having a digital signal. But let’s face it: electronic gadgets are complicated, even if you can figure out what to purchase. My husband set ours up … I refused to read the instructions out of fear they would scramble my brain like something from Star Trek.

So the government has run out of coupons … and we’re so busy giving money to idiot bankers and investment firms who frittered away our hard-earned house payments for the past 10 years on trips to Vegas and investments with Bernie Madoff that it doesn’t have enough for coupons.

In addition to that snag, there are problems with the signal itself. If you live outside the area of strong signal, you may not be able to receive any signal at all. That’s because it’s not possible to receive a partial digital signal … it’s all or nothing. This is called “the cliff.”

Previously, you could receive an analogue (or wave) signal even weakly and have some picture. With digital, once you fall off the cliff, you have nothing.

So now we have until June 12 to figure it out. To publicize the shift, to make the American public part of the change. That’s good news. It will cost broadcasters, including Public Broadcasting System, or PBS, thousands they don’t have right now. That’s not. But the times require it.

IN OTHER NEWS, Google is rethinking its partnership with AOL and selling its investment. Hard times online.

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday


Watching for ‘Watchmen’

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, On writing, Writers at 9:49 am by Marion

Yesterday I saw a New York Times article about the new film of Watchmen.

So a few words about Alan Moore and artists David Lloyd and David Gibbons are certainly in order today.

If you’ve not read Alan Moore, you’re in for a treat. Mr. Moore is a singular writer, whose commitment to his values are such that he refuses to take Hollywood money for the filmed versions of his works. He creates what are called graphic novels … we called them comic books, but Mr. Moore’s works helped define the genre.

What are those works?


Alan Moore, 2006, in England, where he lives

The best known are certainly V for Vendetta and Watchmen. I first became introduced to Mr. Moore’s works when I saw the film version of V. The film version was a great introduction … though purists would object. Indeed, Mr. Moore himself was so irritated he refused to have his name associated with it.

Yet it’s important to remember that many of us need simple elements to introduce us to greater ideas. For me, the gentle love story between V and Evey drew me into the larger idea of the tortured antihero protagonist, V. Otherwise, he may have seemed an antisocial creep.

His caring for Evey allows us to identify with him and trust him, even as he reveals his darker side and the depth of his dedication to free principles and ideals.

The larger context for their relationship is the bleak totalitarian society around them. These kinds of ideas can be too much to stomach without a simple, emotional, thread. (Same with Julia and Winston in Orwell’s 1984.)

V offers so much. Its main idea is that we allow ourselves to become trapped and imprisoned by authorities. We never question their hold on us; we never assert our full selves. These ideas apply not only to futuristic fiction worlds; they apply here and now.

Here’s a passage from the diary of an imprisoned woman named Valerie, written on a toilet paper roll

The other gay women here, Rita, died two weeks ago. I imagine I’ll die quite soon. It’s strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody.

I shall die here. Every last inch of me shall perish. Except one.

An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

(from V for Vendetta by Alan Moore with art by David Lloyd)

So now there’s a film of Watchmen, and many of us are skeptical. Still, though I haven’t been to a movie theater in nearly five years, I may consider a big screen for this one. To see Dr. Manhattan full sized would be a treat.


Digital TV Delay?

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, Life in general, Press at 8:38 am by Marion


Two big tech issues today … unless you also include my new foray onto Facebook, which is a chapter in itself for another day … and the Jeopardy online contestant quiz I took last night, and missed the final question about Radiohead … Radiohead! In Rainbows! I know that!

No, today just a brief update about our nation’s switch to digital TV … and the struggle in Washington over whether it should be delayed.

Being the worrier that I am, I ordered and received a U.S. Government coupon sometime last summer. It was a plastic magnetic-stripped card worth $40.

Now if you haven’t heard, the government is requiring all broadcasters to air their programs with digital signals, which uses a different area of the electromagnetic spectrum somehow and frees those waves for other vital technology, say iPhones.

So for lugs like us without cable (hey, we can view House on Fox! And Lost on ABC! And Seinfeld reruns! What more do we need?), there’s a need to use a converter box to translate the digital signal to your TV. (My TV … 20 years old … is still working, though the sound is going out, I believe.)

We use our $40 coupon to purchase a digital TV converter priced at $60. Don’t tell me there’s not some relationship there.

We get the converter box home …. and see it was manufactured entirely in China. The box has words to the effect of, This product fulfills the requirements of the U.S. Government coupon program, or something like that … just above the words, Made in China.

Now folks, how is it that a country which has embargoed Cuba for 45 years because it is a so-called evil Communist nation … can partner with this oppressive government to provide digital TV boxes, in one of the largest technology shifts ever? (let’s not forget beaten and jailed Buddhist monks, Tienanmen Square.)

I digress … what I meant to get at for today’s post was the sudden struggle between our new president and the U.S. House, which has blocked his effort to postpone the digital TV switch.

While I received my coupon in plenty of time, they ran out late last year … leaving millions of people without.

Mr. Obama believes it’s unfair to pull the plug on these folks without a box … many of them elderly, poor and possibly without the education they need to understand what’s going on. Without TV access, during these winter storms, they will lose their sole source of news, information and emergency contact.

So he has proposed a delay.

The broadcasters have mounted powerful opposition … and with good reason … many of them are already supporting analog and digital signals, which is terribly expensive. Enough, they say. Let’s be done with it, before it bankrupts us.

With the shroud of economic depression hanging over the broadcast industry, as everywhere, it’s certainly understandable that providing two signal formats is a burden.

Yet it’s also important to remember the millions of folks without cable, whose broadcast TV is their only source of contact with the outside world. We’ll see how this one plays out.

A note on the Jeopardy quiz: It was fast! Fifty questions in 10 minutes!! With 15 seconds for each question … it is a blur. I missed a few … some were ridiculously difficult … one I think I answered correctly asked, Which English monarch outlived her husband by 39 years … I answered Queen Victoria … I think I was right.

By the time the quiz asked which band offered its recording In Rainbows over the Internet, I blanked. Blanked!! I have this recording!! I was among the first wave to download it!! I just couldn’t come up with the name!

I have a feeling the Jeopardy producers would tell me, Honey don’t worry. But don’t call us … we’ll call you ….

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