Category Archives: Cool things

Hipsters of the world unite!

Did any of you ever flick through the awesome book of Japanese street fashion called Fruits? (Incidentally, there’s a sequel, UK link, US link) A chap is doing a similar thing for the western world, focussed mainly on London, over on his blog. Face Hunter is a chap looking for ‘eye candy for the style hungry’, and it makes a very nice collection of street styles and pretty people to browse.

LOLcats go large

If you don’t already check by the LOLcats website then I advise you to do so very regularly – it updates every few hours and provides smiles and sometimes laughs on a daily basis.

One fan of the site decided to take things a bit further, reproducing the classic ‘invisible bike’ LOLcat as a mural on the side of his building in San Francisco. If you fancy going an seeing it for real it’s on a tiny street called Quincy, between Grant and Kearny.

Astonishing BASE jumping video

BASE – Bridge Aerial Span and… Emountain. Or something.

Anyway, base jumping (parachuting off of objects already on the ground, such as sky scrapers or the Eiffel Tower) had become too boring and the challenge was constantly to get far away enough from the launch object before you scraped your body along it. Suits with little wings built into them were devised to make the movement easier… And of course that means that it’s now the challenge to see how close you can fly to the ground/moutain, etc. without splattering yourself all over it at 100mph.

How close can you get to the walls? It turns out that it’s about a foot or two.

Really, there is some amazing footage in this video:

We’re eight years late for ‘rocketbelts’ and still waiting.

The Usbourne Book of The Future, published in 1979, promised us rocket belts by the year 2000. I demand to know where they are!

More interestingly, most of the predictions made for the period 1980-1990 all seem to be happening now, 20-30 years too late.

I loved the quaint prediction of how email might work (predicted for 1991-2000, despite having already existed for a couple of years back in 1979):

Hand-written letters are electronically copied, sent via a satellite link to their destination, where the incoming message is printed out.

Aww, bless! That sort-of did happen, but that was fax-machines and they weren’t really used for letters, only for business documents.

Read more wonderful predictions about the future here!

Who would win in a fight between Neil Gaiman and William Gibson (with extra credit for Neal Stephenson)

A few months ago I had the honour of meeting William Gibson who signed my thesis during a book tour.

William Gibson signing Mata's thesis
(Many thanks to Chris, AKA Head First Only for the superb photo capturing the moment.)

During a talk he was giving in London, one of the questions asked was about who would win in a fight between himself and Neil Gaiman. Gibson replied that because Gaiman wears a lot of leather jackets he was probably the tougher of the two, so Gaiman would probably win.

Fortunately, Gaiman was giving a talk in the same location a few months later, and the same group of people attended and asked the same question. Gaiman reports his answer in his blog:

I was asked tonight who’d win in a fight — probably a no holds barred cage match, I suspect — between me and Bill Gibson. I said me, but my daughter Holly, who was there, just laughed at me afterwards and said she couldn’t imagine me fighting anyone. Holly says that Me vs Bill Gibson would be like a fight between a baby bunny and a duckling, and she is probably right.

So there you have it. Gaiman thinks he could take down the Gibson. Searching around, I found that Neal Stephenson has also been asked who would win in a fight against William Gibson, but his answer was considerably more wordy:

You don’t have to settle for mere idle speculation. Let me tell you how it came out on the three occasions when we did fight.

The first time was a year or two after SNOW CRASH came out. I was doing a reading/signing at White Dwarf Books in Vancouver. Gibson stopped by to say hello and extended his hand as if to shake. But I remembered something Bruce Sterling had told me. For, at the time, Sterling and I had formed a pact to fight Gibson. Gibson had been regrown in a vat from scraps of DNA after Sterling had crashed an LNG tanker into Gibson’s Stealth pleasure barge in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. During the regeneration process, telescoping Carbonite stilettos had been incorporated into Gibson’s arms. Remembering this in the nick of time, I grabbed the signing table and flipped it up between us. Of course the Carbonite stilettos pierced it as if it were cork board, but this spoiled his aim long enough for me to whip my wakizashi out from between my shoulder blades and swing at his head. He deflected the blow with a force blast that sprained my wrist. The falling table knocked over a space heater and set fire to the store. Everyone else fled. Gibson and I dueled among blazing stacks of books for a while. Slowly I gained the upper hand, for, on defense, his Praying Mantis style was no match for my Flying Cloud technique. But I lost him behind a cloud of smoke. Then I had to get out of the place. The streets were crowded with his black-suited minions and I had to turn into a swarm of locusts and fly back to Seattle.

The second time was a few years later when Gibson came through Seattle on his IDORU tour. Between doing some drive-by signings at local bookstores, he came and devastated my quarter of the city. I had been in a trance for seven days and seven nights and was unaware of these goings-on, but he came to me in a vision and taunted me, and left a message on my cellphone. That evening he was doing a reading at Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus. Swathed in black, I climbed to the top of the hall, mesmerized his snipers, sliced a hole in the roof using a plasma cutter, let myself into the catwalks above the stage, and then leapt down upon him from forty feet above. But I had forgotten that he had once studied in the same monastery as I, and knew all of my techniques. He rolled away at the last moment. I struck only the lectern, smashing it to kindling. Snatching up one jagged shard of oak I adopted the Mountain Tiger position just as you would expect. He pulled off his wireless mike and began to whirl it around his head. From there, the fight proceeded along predictable lines. As a stalemate developed we began to resort more and more to the use of pure energy, modulated by Red Lotus incantations of the third Sung group, which eventually to the collapse of the building’s roof and the loss of eight hundred lives. But as they were only peasants, we did not care.

Our third fight occurred at the Peace Arch on the U.S./Canadian border between Seattle and Vancouver. Gibson wished to retire from that sort of lifestyle that required ceaseless training in the martial arts and sleeping outdoors under the rain. He only wished to sit in his garden brushing out novels on rice paper. But honor dictated that he must fight me for a third time first. Of course the Peace Arch did not remain standing for long. Before long my sword arm hung useless at my side. One of my psi blasts kicked up a large divot of earth and rubble, uncovering a silver metallic object, hitherto buried, that seemed to have been crafted by an industrial designer. It was a nitro-veridian device that had been buried there by Sterling. We were able to fly clear before it detonated. The blast caused a seismic rupture that split off a sizable part of Canada and created what we now know as Vancouver Island. This was the last fight between me and Gibson. For both of us, by studying certain ancient prophecies, had independently arrived at the same conclusion, namely that Sterling’s professed interest in industrial design was a mere cover for work in superweapons. Gibson and I formed a pact to fight Sterling. So far we have made little headway in seeking out his lair of brushed steel and white LEDs, because I had a dentist appointment and Gibson had to attend a writers’ conference, but keep an eye on Slashdot for any further developments.

(Source: Slashdot interview with Neal Stephenson.)

I think that really only leaves one question: who would win in a fight between William Gibson and Richard Morgan? (I think we’d probably allow Gibson to tag team with Gaiman if they wanted to.)

Tight-roping between the Twin Towers

Back in 1974, a chap and his friends hid for the night in the World Trade Center and set up a tight rope. The next day he put on a show up there for an hour before being arrested. News footage here.

You may have already seen this (link source here), so the reason I’ve linked to it is that I completely adore the punishment handed to him by a judge. It’s heartwarming to know that justice officials could be so lovely, and it makes me wonder whether that could possibly happen today – somehow I doubt it. The judgement given is in the last ten seconds of footage. Lovely.

Cars, booze, and Japan

Ever wondered what it would look like if you combined the movement of 1000 through a racing game into one movie? Wonder no more! The result is really very beautiful, although perhaps a bit longer than needed.

Ever thought that a beer or two a day makes you smarter? Apparently it does! (If you’re a rat, tests haven’t been performed on humans yet.) Sadly, several alcoholic drinks per day does appear to make you less intelligent, but moderate daily alcohol intake makes you smarter than a teetotaller. Huzzah!

Ever wanted to see roads in Japan in the virtual window thingy that you can see all around from while moving along the road? … Err… What? Just click one of the little ‘VM’ icons on the junctions, then click one of the arrows, then move your mouse around over the pop up window and enjoy!

Spook Country by William Gibson coming very soon!

Buy it in the US
Buy it in the UK

Video interview with Gibson about Spook Country.

As a person who spent seven years of their life studying the novels of William Gibson, I think it’s fair to say that I’m very excited about experiencing a new novel by him. Will I be able to switch off my academic brain for long enough to enjoy it as a ‘normal’ reader? I guess that asks whether normal readers like William Gibson novels. I hope I can.

I’m expecting that there will be some mysterious object, place, or moment around which the novel revolves. This thing will symbolise a new modality for humanity, something that speaks of loss, time, and desire. It will be representative of the excitement of the future, and the fear of losing everything that we are now to become something else. Dreams will replace cyberspace as an area in which mystical experiences occur and technology blends with personality. The bodies of the characters will always be central to their experience of the events – the way that textures look and feel will define their daily lives. Information will somehow be God, but not a god that you can talk to, or one that listens, just a god that is so utterly beyond you that you can only hope that you can predict what it might make happen next.

Will I be right? We’ll find out next month!

I miss writing my thesis.

Interesting things round-up – today’s theme is ‘weird’

Let’s start with something smart…

What is ‘freedom’ in a society? How should we judge what this is, and whether a society is achieving it? What are the contradictions that freedom produces? Well, Daren Epstein, writing for The Foreigner – Japan does a very good job of answering those questions in a short essay about Harajuku called An Idea of Freedom. The whole site is very interesting and well-worth a browse, but that article did a better job of saying what’s worth fighting to preserve than anything I’ve seen so far. Amusingly, it’s the parts of society that are considered weird by the majority that Epstein thinks truly represent the idea of freedom.

Continuing on the thoughtful theme, here’s a great article looking back at the works of Philip K. Dick. You’ll have to sign up for a free NYTimes account to read it, but they have some interesting pieces in there so it’s definitely worth the small effort. Their daily news email is very good too. Anyway, Philip K. Dick was definitely a bit weird.

Onto something silly…

Microsoft are now saying that they might support the Blu-Ray drive in the Xbox 360. I joked about this at work a few months ago and was told by someone to not be so silly – for those who don’t know, Blu-Ray is Sony’s idea for getting high definition DVD-style media into the home. Microsoft and Sony are arch enemies because of the Playstation and Xbox brands, so this news was highly amusing to me. Maybe not weird, but pretty odd.

You have twenty seconds to comply! Samsung (of all companies) along with a Korean university have fitted up a pattern recognition rig with a 5.5 millimeter machine gun and a set of speakers… The result is just as disturbing as those images in your head right now. As if this wasn’t weird enough, halfway through the promotional video they use the music from the Pirates of the Carribean! What was going on in their heads? Surely they should have used the theme from Robocop? (UK link US link)

Probably quite a lot of you have heard of smart drugs – chemicals that make you smarter. This idea has been around for many years, but it seems that we’ve actually cracked it (crack… drugs… suit yourself…). The implications of this are really quite odd, so this could be the start of a very interesting time for humanity.

And finally… It’s not weird, but American SWAT teams really need to learn how much explosives they need to blow a door without taking out most of the hallway too.

Random names

I’m in the planning stages of a novel at the moment. Whether it’ll ever become a reality is another question, but I’m putting a lot of groundwork in to make sure that I feel confident later down the line. Anyway…

I was looking to character names and found a good site for explaining the meaning of names, but I was really tickled by the random name generator. Almost every suggestion sounds incredibly cool and interesting. I bet that people could overcome writer’s block just by picking a random name then working out what kind of person would have it. Fantastic fun, and a great mental agility game to play when you’ve got a spare moment.

Who is Nicostratus Terrius? Or Wakefield Layton?

Cool art I can’t wait to see

Coming to the Burning Man 2007: OrbSwarm (also known as SWARM).

SWARM is a funded large scale kinetic art project for Burning Man 2007. It consists of a number of rolling spherical vehicles, actuated by a non-rolling interior with a counterweight. With GPS guidance and computer control, the spheres can execute motions evocative of animals and dancers.

Huge ball things dancing in patterns across the desert, guided by GPS? Damn, I hope I can afford to go, just to see that!

Also sounding very fun is Burninator X:

The Burninator X is a very large scale fire installation currently under construction, for installation at Burning Man 2007. It will be a 2-dimensional set of flame towers arranged in a cross, in an area of approx. 1/2 million square feet. It will produce 2-D patterns and sequences of flame, visible for miles.

On a slightly more environmentally friendly note, Apocalypse Stagecoach is ‘bicycle powered stagecoach theatre’ who will be performing ‘Puppet Shows For The End Of The World’. That’s my kind of entertainment… And it’s nice that it’s not completely destroying the environment while it’s doing it.

A proper way to steal

Years ago I heard about a gang that broke into a jewellers and stole a lot on things. They didn’t use guns, or go in and threaten people, they came in at night, abseiled through a sky-light, cleaned out the display cabinets and left in a black cab (a slightly posh taxi to US readers). That’s style. If you’re going to be a theif, you should always try to include abseiling in your criminal plans.

This guy has gone one step further: he’s stolen £15 million (around US$35 million) in diamonds using charm and a box of chocolates. He got an original set of keys, the location of the diamonds, and took the lot. He’s obviously put a lot of work into the plan, it would almost be a shame if he got caught.

Oh, and I bet there’s a film version coming soon!