Sunday, April 30, 2006


Colbert is my Hero

Just finished watching the 2006 White House Press Correspondents dinner, which ran last night on CSPAN, and as much respect as I had for Stephen Colbert before, I now hold him in complete awe. A remarkable performance, and one of the ballsiest things I think I've ever seen. I downloaded the torrent, but his whole speech is apparently up on YouTube in three sections.

Suffice it to say, the President and First Lady didn't seem too pleased at what Colbert had to say, and left fast.


Time Flies

Just how the hell is one third of 2006 already gone?! Where was I when this happened?

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Out of the Night, When the Full Moon is Bright

As readers of my small press novel Voices of Thunder know (well, all six of them, at any rate) I've got a real weakness for the masked hero subgenre of adventure fiction: Zorro, the Lone Ranger, the Shadow, et cetera, et al. So the news that comic publisher Speakeasy was going belly up last month particularly stung because the premier issue of The Black Coat was scheduled for that very week. I'd first discovered the character--a sort of Zorro/Batman/Shadow for colonial America--through artist Francesco Francavilla's posts on Sketchbook Sessions, and had been looking forward to the publication of the comic for some time.

Well, here comes Ape Entertainment to the rescue (and with a name like that, how could they be bad?), getting the issue in print and into stores only weeks after its original release date. Available in finer comic shops everywhere, The Black Coat #1 is the first of a four issue miniseries.

Who is the Black Coat? Here's the description of the character, from the creators' website:
Nathaniel Finch is a budding scientist, a successful business man, and the editor of a weekly newspaper in New York City. An exceptionally intelligent and hard working man, Nathaniel could easily have found himself to be one of the most influential men in the Colonies, knee deep in politics, along side men like Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Benjamin Franklin. But as much as Nathaniel might be tempted to lead what some would call an 'ordinary life', he has a different set of priorities. Perhaps better than anyone, he knows that there are things in this world – mysterious, unexplainable, deadly things - that represent more of a threat to life and liberty than taxation without representation.

To combat these threats and to keep those around him safe, Nathaniel Finch has become the masked spy known as The Black Coat. Even as a revolutionary war is burgeoning around him, The Black Coat, assisted by a network of agents, fights another kind of war - a war unseen by most men. His determination, skill, and wits are his only defenses against ancient curses, mythical creatures, and enchanted science.

From the outset, the idea was vintage pulp, with a nice historical twist, and the art was superb, so the only question that remained was whether the execution would hold up. Well, it does, in spades. The hero's quips in battle are occasionally a bit much, and I seriously doubt that 18C colonial strumpets walked around in strapless evening gowns, but those are minor quibbles. Where the story really needed to come through, it absolutely did. A fast-paced, rollicking pulp adventure, and well worth the price of admission.

Reading it, I was reminded that Michael Stewart and Bret Blevins have been doing a great series of "Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" shorts in the pages of Disney Adventures. Whether that suggests that Disney plans to revive the Dr. Syn character in some other medium, I'm not sure, but the little four page stories of Stewart and Blevins make for nice little bite-sized snacks.

Friday, April 28, 2006


The Man from Krypton

The other day I received my contributor copies of BenBella Books' new "Smart Pop" essay anthology, The Man from Krypton, edited by Glenn Yeffeth. For handy reference, the list of contributors includes Lou Anders, Bob Batchelor, Adam-Troy Castro, Keith R.A. Candido, Larry Dixon, Steven Harper, John G. Hemry, David Hopkins, Paul Levinson, Peter B. Lloyd, Paul Lytle, Joseph McCabe, Larry Niven, Gustav Peebles, Evelyn Vaughn, Lawrence Watt-Evans, and Sarah Zettel. Oh, and me, of course.

My own contribution is titled "Jewel Mountains and Fire Falls: The Lost World of Krypton," and is a paean to the Krypton of the Silver Age and Bronze Age comics. In particular, I praise E. Nelson Bridwell, who picked up the torch after uber-editor Mort Weisinger resigned, and under whose guiding hand Krypton really came into full flower in the 1970s. Naturally, I heap praise on Alan Moore's and Dave Gibbons's "For the Man Who Has Everything," which I think owes its narrative weight to the constant evocation of the minutia of Krypton’s invented history and culture. And, finally, I blame John Byrne for lousing up the whole thing, by choosing to make Krypton a place which would repel and revulse Superman, rather than a lost home for which he'd wax nostalgaic.

Basically, these sorts of projects are opportunities to read huge stacks of favorite old comics as "research," and to get paid for typing up the same sorts of rants with which I bore the clerks at the comic shop on a weekly basis. What could be better than that? This weekend I'm working on my contribution for BenBella's forthcoming book on Battlestar Galactica (having finished the introduction to PJF and Danny Adam's "The City Beyond Play" yesterday). I'm dirt poor, but I've got the best job in the world.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Advice to a Young Writer

John Scalzi, who is one smart cookie, offers 10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing, which I very much wish I'd had shoved under my nose when I was a cocky and callow youth.

A few weeks ago, a friend wrote to ask if I had any advice for his daughter, who'd decided to become a writer. I think he was specifically asking about university programs and the like, but I took the opportunity to, as John puts it, bloviate. I touched on a lot of the same points as he does, though with considerably less panache, I'll admit.

Here's what I told him to tell her, and I'd tell any other aspiring writer the same:

As far as universities go, I don't think any one in particular would be better than the others. So long as it has a strong liberal arts program, she should be fine.

In my experience, the best things for a writer to study are history and literature. Studying "creative writing" itself comes a distant third. A knowledge of history is invaluable for any writer, whether of fantasy, or sf, or any other genre; not because it's useful to know names and dates of ancient wars (it's not!), but because knowing how the real world has developed is invaluable when it comes to "world building", whether that means building a fantasy world like Middle Earth, or devising a plausible future history, or even making up a small town as the setting for a murder mystery. And the more a writer knows about people in general, in as many cultures and historical epochs as possible, the better they'll be able to make-up convincing fictional people.

Studying literature, the next big skill, provides insight into how other writers have tackled these questions, in different eras, cultures, and movements. Creative writing, as a class or major, can be useful, but there's the real danger that the only thing the professor or department will teach is how *they* think a story should be written. Creative writing programs very often turn out "cookie cutter" literary writers, unnecessarily limited to one particular mode or style.

As for breaking in, yes, it's extremely difficult. Virtually every writer I know worked for years before they sold a single story. In my case, I finished my first novel when I was twenty-two, but didn't sell a story until I was thirty-three. In those eleven years, I wrote dozens of stories and seven novels. That said, in my experience if someone is talented, develops their craft, and sticks with it, eventually they'll succeed. It may take a *long* time, and even then they might never be able to "quit their day job," but they'll start selling books and stories, eventually.

Your daughter already has a bit of a leg up, having been to conventions. The thing that I didn't know as a young writer was the importance of networking. Once a writer has learned how to write, and is ready to start trying to sell their stuff, going to professional conventions and meeting editors and other writers is *invaluable*. I didn't learn that until I was thirty-one, but once I did I started placing stories and novels almost immediately. For anyone writing science fiction and fantasy, the two invaluable conventions are the World Fantasy Convention and WorldCon (the World Science Fiction Convention). I never miss them, and I tell every aspiring writer I meet that they shouldn't, either. There are always editors looking for new writers to publish in attendance, and other writers who know what markets are buying, and which editors to stay away from, and so on.

I think I mentioned to your daughter at Comic Con last year the importance of always keeping a notebook handy, and as I recall she already does. Which is another advantage she's already got going for her. It's an old cliche, but it's true, that every writer has hundreds of thousands of bad words in them before they start to write anything good, and the sooner an aspiring writer can get the crap written and move on to the good stuff, the better.

Sorry to ramble so long, but I think I can sum writing up in three steps: Read a lot, write a lot, and learn how the business works.

That's my two cents, so take it for what it's worth. I hope some of it is helpful.


Paragaea Found

Today's UPS delivery brought with it my comp copies of Paragaea: A Planetary Romance, which goes on sale any day now. I'm pleased to say that, with the addition of one copy each of the hardcover and softcover versions, the books I've written, edited, or published now threaten to spill over onto a third shelf in my library. Paragaea is either my eighth published novel, or my second, depending on where one starts counting, but it's the one of which I'm the proudest so far. Of everything I've written to date, this one comes closest to being the kind of book that, as a reader, I'd like to find on the shelf. I've got Lou Anders to thank for taking a chance on it, and I hope readers will enjoy it.

Details about the book, along with sample chapters, character bios, and maps, can be found at To whet your appetite before reading the book, or as a bit of dessert once you're finished with it, download the FREE prequel novel, Set the Seas on Fire, which recounts an earlier adventure of the novel's male lead, Hieronymus Bonaventure. It's a nautical adventure/romance with Polynesian zombies. Who could ask for more?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006



A Battlestar Galactica spinoff?

"Set more than 50 years before the events of Battlestar Galactica, Caprica takes place on the capital world of the Twelve Colonies. There humankind thrives, living in a peaceful society with the benefits of high technology. But the development of an advanced, robotic, artificial life form is about to change everything."

I'm not sure what I think about this. My love for BSG knows no bounds, and I've got nothing but faith in executive producer Ron Moore, so I should be optimistic. But television has not necessarily been kind to SF spinoffs (and vice versa). For every Deep Space Nine, there's a Voyager, if you know what I mean. So my primary reaction is just, well, hmmm...



(via Futurismic) This is fascinating. "Self-awareness, regarded as a key element of being human, is switched off when the brain needs to concentrate hard on a tricky task, found the neurobiologists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel... It is possible that research into how the brain switches self-awareness on and off will help neurologists gain a deeper understanding of autism, schizophrenia and other mental disorders where this functionality may be impaired."

I've been thinking about these sorts of issues since I read John Scalzi's The Ghost Brigades last week, which raises some interesting questions about the intersection between intelligence and consciousness. The fact that the brain seems to shut down the latter when the former is overtaxed is, well, just plain weird.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Tiger Boy

Okay, I've seen a lot of strange things before, but Tiger Boy may well be one of the strangest. Written by Otto Binder, sf writer and comic scripter responsible for the first "I, Robot," with art by Jonny Quest co-creator Doug Wildey and comic art legend Gil Kane, Tiger Boy seems to have appeared in only two adventures. I just can't imagine why a magic tiger with a human face wasn't a huge success...

For a character with the ability to do anything, turning into a strange half-boy/half-tiger seems an odd choice, but at least Paul Canfield isn't a one trick pony, as evidenced by my favorite line of all: "Steel Man EATS bullets!" Well, naturally.


New Adventure Vol 1 Review

The Spring 06 issue of Some Fantastic is now online, featuring a review of Adventure Vol 1 by Danny Adams, who has all sorts of nice things to say about the anthology. I didn't recognize Danny's name at first, but when I got to his bio at the end the penny dropped; he's the co-author of The City Beyond Play with Philip José Farmer, a novella due out later this year from PS Publishing, and which I spent yesterday afternoon reading because PS has commissioned me to write the introduction. There's no way Danny knew I'd be writing the intro when he did his review, and I had no idea he'd be reviewing Adventure when I agreed to do the intro; that said, the novella, which I'm halfway through, is so far splendid.

The other books reviewed in this issue are Orson Scott Card's Ultimate Iron Man, Vol. 1; Stephen Jones's The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror #16; Lucius Shepard's A Handbook of American Prayer; Lou Anders's Futureshocks; Justina Robson's Silver Screen; Octavia Butler's Fledgling; John Scalzi's The Ghost Brigades; and Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job. That's a whole lot of people I like and books I like even better (I just read Scalzi's TGB last week, and may like it better than I liked Old Man's War, which I loved). This is the first I've heard of Some Fantastic, but I'm really impressed with what I've seen of it so far.

Monday, April 24, 2006


Lost Star

Our solar system may have misplaced a companion star, or so the Binary Research Institute thinks. They're always in the last place you look, aren't they?


K9 Adventures

Clearly, an idea whose time had come.

But will they use the themesong from "K9 & Company?" We can only hope...

Sunday, April 23, 2006


New Paragaea Review

In the latest issue of Emerald City, Cheryl Morgan reviews Paragaea: A Planetary Romance, which isn't really her cup of tea, and Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio, which very much is. This issue also features an essay by the inimitable Hal Duncan on the role of style in genre fiction, a subject he may be uniquely qualified to address.


Friday, April 21, 2006


X-Men: The Return

Last month I mentioned that I'd been commissioned to write a franchise novel, but couldn't yet say what the project or property was. Well, this week the signed contracts went off in the mail, so I suppose it's official. Due out in May '07 from Pocket Books, X-Men: The Return features the classic lineup of mutants circa 1986, and involves one of my favorite dangling plot threads, Bermuda Island. There's loads of the 'splode, an invading alien armada, Lee Forrester, Alysande Stuart, and lots and lots of Sentinels.

This week I got word that the book's cover will be illustrated by the incomparable John Picacio. The X-Men will never have looked so good.


New Trek

Offered (almost) without comment: JJ Abrams tackles Trek
"J.J. Abrams is becoming the next Gene Roddenberry.

"Paramount is breathing life into its "Star Trek" franchise by setting"Mission: Impossible III" helmer J.J. Abrams to produce and direct the 11th"Trek" feature, aiming for a 2008 release. Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burk, Abrams' producing team from "Lost," also will produce the yet-to-be-titled feature. Project, to be penned by Abrams and "MI3" scribes Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, will center on the early days of seminal "Trek" characters James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock, including their first meeting at Starfleet Academy and first outer space mission."
I'm cautiously optimistic. Alias got a few good seasons before it went horribly wrong, and I'm a huge fan of Lost. That said, if I ran the world I'd have left Trek a-moldering in the grave a mite longer yet. I think ten years would have been a good amount of time to let the franchise recharge a bit. But the fact that this appears to be an entirely new creative team is encouraging. And a new continuity, as well? That's the only way I can see Spock and Kirk at the Academy at the same time working, unless Spock is sent back for remedial training after serving a decade on the Enterprise under Captain Pike.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


A Sesame Street History of the Movies

Apropos of nothing, here is a Sesame Street history of the movies, that originally ran as a promo in Loew's theaters a few years ago. It's far better than it has any right to be.

Lots of great Sesame Street and Muppet stuff on YouTube, if you've time to kill.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


An Anniversary of Sorts

Nine years ago today, at a Ben Folds Five concert at the late, lamented Liberty Lunch, I met my now-wife Allison Baker. I thought she was a knockout, and she suspected I was gay. Two days later we met for drinks, and five days after that we went out for a proper date. She stayed the night, and never left.

Somewhere in there, we were sitting on my crummy couch, smoking Camel Lights, drinking Pepsi (my two passions, for most of my adult life, both sadly now relegated to special occasions), and watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which she'd never seen. It was probably "The Visitor," the series' best episode, but I can't say for certain. When the credits rolled, I got up to eject the tape, sure that she'd be ready to move onto something else, and glad that she'd been patient enough to sit through one episode. I was halfway across the floor when she said, "Do you have any more?" I knew, right then, that I would marry her. We ended up watching nothing but DS9 for days, which only served to seal the deal.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Geodesica: Ascent wins Ditmar

It's been announced at Conjure in Brisbane that Sean Williams & Shane Dix's very excellent Geodesica: Ascent has won the 2006 Ditmar Award for Best Novel. It's a great book, a smart space opera with loads of clever new ideas, and is well worth checking out.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Bosnian Pyramids?

If true, this would be pretty cool. More about the notion is here.

Friday, April 14, 2006


Our Mutant Overlords?

I'll be damned. In 1953, Mechanix Illustrated ran an article entitled "How Nuclear Radiation Can Change Our Race", with illustrations by Kurt Schaffengeger.

Take a look at the opening spread:

I couldn't help but find that familiar. Now, check this out, and see if you don't, too:

That's a page from Uncanny X-Men #14, published in November 1965. The story, scripted by Stan Lee with art by Jack Kirby, introduced the Sentinels, designed by scientist Boliver Trask as an answer to the mounting "Mutant Menace."

I'm guessing that Kirby, at least, and likely Lee as well, had a copy of the December 1953 Mechanix Illustrated pretty close at hand while working on that story. Our mutant overlords in both pieces appear to have used the same tailor, wouldn't you say?


Secret Wars Re-Enactment Society

Secret Wars Re-Enactment Society. It is what it says. Consider it a kind of geek litmus test, as you'll either get it, or you won't.


Yesterday, una novela pop

The Spanish edition of Here, There & Everywhere, published by Solaris Ficcion under the title Yesterday, is due out in May 06. I think.

What appears the publisher's press release can be found on here, but as my Spanish fu extends little farther than "Two more beers, please," "I would like twenty-four doughnuts," and "Where is the restroom?" I'm having to accept Google's translation on the matter.

The book appears to be available from an online seller, who has this to say about me: "Chris Roberson ha irrumpido con fuerza en el panorama literario anglosajon," which according to Google means that I have "burst in with force into the Anglo-Saxon literary panorama." How about that? I've been working for years to burst in with force into a literary panorama, and it takes a Spanish bookseller to tell me I've succeeded.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Venture Bros

I've just today discovered, via Cartoon Brew, that Jackson Publick, creator of the sublime Venture Bros, has a LiveJournal, complete with all sorts of sneak-peaky goodness from the season season. If you missed the first season, you seriously need to pick up the DVD set, due out any day now. On a bumpersticker, it's Jonny Quest gone horribly, horribly wrong, but much more genius than such a simple description could ever capture. When I first saw the episode in which the bionic man and the Sasquatch are on the run, scorned because of their forbidden love, I knew I'd come home.


Data Mining

An interesting article from the Guardian about data on the internet in general, and Google and Wikipedia in particular. I don't quite accept all of the article's conclusions, but there's quite a bit here worth considering.

For my part, I find Google and Wikipedia invaluable tools. I know that much of the information found on both is unreliable, and always look for independent verification, but the sheer breadth of data on both is just staggering. When I was in college, I practically lived at the Perry-Castañeda Library at the University of Texas (it helped that I lived literally across the street, and could walk from my dorm room to the front door of the library in a matter of minutes), and at any given time would have dozens of books checked out, all research for whatever novel or story I was writing at the time. I kept handwritten notes, though I had a Mac Classic II I used for writing, and looking back at those notebooks now it's clear that I was lucky to wring more than a few individual facts from each of those books. Dozens of books would boil down to just a few pages worth of notes at best; not terrifically efficient, but it was the best solution at the time.

Now, I can look up a topic with which I'm unfamiliar on Google and Wikipedia and, in a matter of moments, have a fairly good overview. Granted, some of the information in that overview might be a bit off, and some of it might be outright incorrect, but it's taken me only a few minutes, and not a week of reading. I'm then able to use that overview to locate the most useful source materials, whether a well-sourced website or a book or what-have-you. And thanks to Alibris and Abebooks I can usually find any books available for sale, and usually for just a few bucks. So with a few minutes on Wikipedia, a quick search on Abebooks, and media mail transit times, I can get more research done than I used to be able to do in weeks, even though I had access to one of the best university libraries in the country.

People can decry the inaccuracies and "banality" of Wikipedia and Google all they like, but for me the use of these tools is a one-way street. I'm not going back; I just don't have that kind of time anymore. I welcome whatever follow-on information tools will success "Web 2.0," but in the meantime I'm quite happy with the banality, thanks very much.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006



(via Futurismic) Alright, this is cool. Hunt Aviation, a Nevada-based aviation company, is working on an aircraft that could carry passengers and cargo arbitrarily long distances, all without fuel. They're calling it the GravityPlane.

Getting lift from helium, and using compressed air to add a bit of propulsion, once the GravityPlane tops out at ten miles or so, it deploys wings and uses the pull of gravity to drive turbines that refill the compressed air tanks. It can glide at high speeds, in a slow descent, for 400 to 600 miles. When it gets too low, it shoots out the compressed air again, rising back up to 10 miles, and starts the process over again.

I lack the math and engineering fu to say whether this is feasible or not, but it seems workable to me. The GravityPlane is still on the drawing board, so it remains to be seen whether they can build a working prototype, but wouldn't it be cool if they did?

Monday, April 10, 2006



The BBC website has a great overview of Cassini's recent findings about Saturn's moon Enceladus, including the "water volcano" that was the big news a few weeks ago. Hot core, liquid water, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen make for one tasty cocktail. And how sexy is it that life there might reside in the "tiger stripes"?

Friday, April 07, 2006


Visited States

Because I would jump off a bridge if everyone else was doing it, I did the whole "visited states" thing that's been bouncing around the blogosphere the last couple of days. I think this is the full list, but I may have driven through/caught connecting flights in a few more than this. But even so, I'm visited 60% of the states in 35 years and change, which isn't a bad start. Now, if someone would just host a WorldCon or World Fantasy in one of the other 40%, I could work on completing the set.

create your own visited states map


Da Vinci ruling

I'm no fan of the Da Vinci Code, based only on the couple of paragraphs I've read and what little I've picked up about the book through societal osmosis, but I'm glad that the recent copyright infringement case has gone in Dan Brown's direction. Why? For the reasons the judge in the case has cited, found here:
"'It would be quite wrong if fictional writers were to have their writings pored over in the way The Da Vinci Code has been pored over in this case by authors of pretend historical books to make an allegation of infringement of copyright,' Smith said in his 71-page ruling, the trade paper reported. "

Fiction draws from fact endlessly, and if a successful novel brings the nonfiction writers whose work might have served as its source material out of the woodwork looking for a cut, it could have a chilling effect. I hope that Baigent and Leigh have seen increased royalties from boosted sales, spillover from Da Vinci Code readers hungry for more of the same, but I don't think they're entitled to any of Brown's profits. (I leave it to wiser heads than mine to determine whether their book is "pretend historical," as much as I like the turn of phrase.)


Global Dimming

Ready to be really terrified? That whole human-caused climate change, handily termed "global warming" and accepted as scientific fact by everyone except the current president, oil companies and the scientists they carry in their hip-pockets? Well, it turns out it's much, much worse than we thought.

Allison and I caught the episode of BBC's Horizon on "Global Dimming" the other week, which was the first we'd heard of it. So far as I know, it isn't being widely reported, if at all, in the States, though the science behind it has been percolating for decades. The short version is that pollution levels, specifically ash and particulate pollutants in the atmosphere, have had the effect of reducing the amount of sunlight hitting the surface of the Earth for decades. In recent years, we've been doing a much better job of curbing these sorts of pollutants (while still doing nothing about carbon dioxide emissions), and as a result the temperature has been climbing much, much faster than even climatologists' direst models had predicted. The theory is that the dimming effect has skewed the predictions about how bad we've really borked the environment with CO2, which still isn't classified as a pollutant in the US. The most optimistic predictions say that we've got just a few years at most to curb CO2 emissions, or within a generation England's going to look like North Africa and the rainforests are going to catch fire and burn. Oh, and if you thought post-Katrina New Orleans was bad, wait until Florida and the Netherlands are floating under a few meters of saltwater. And that's assuming that the sudden rise in temperature doesn't destabilize the methane hydrate concentrations beneath the oceans, because if those things hit the surface, then we're really screwed.

Isn't it great to live in a country where the environment policy is written by oil companies, though?

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Deep Ancestry on a Budget

(via Futurismic) After watching the segment in BBC's recent Time in which Michio Kaku had his mitochondrial DNA traced, I've wondered whether it was a commercially available service. Not that I've just a burning need to know what my mitochondria says about my ancestry, but if it was a cheap enough service it might be interesting to know. Well, here comes National Geographic to the rescue. For a C-note, you can trace your deep ancestry.

There's not room in the family budget for it just yet, but if we get a bit of breathing room, I might just see what a cheek swab can tell me about myself.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Orbiting a Dead Star

This is fascinating. A planet orbiting a pulsar would make a terrific setting for a story. Hmm...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


The Simpsons Movie, a bit too late?

Ten years ago I would have thought this was a great idea. Now? Maybe not so much. A notion a bit past its sell-by date, I'm thinking.


TV is your Friend

New Scientist has just published an article with the headline Childhood TV and gaming is 'major public health issue', about a special issue of the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. The basic idea is a very, very old one, and essentially boils down to "TV and games are bad, m'kay?"

I've got a few significant objections to the methodology of the cited studies. I'm reminded of a study I read about last week, that said that children who wore clothing with beer advertising on them were more likely to go on to drink, which I think has more to do with the effects of being the child of a parent who purchases clothing with beer advertising on it for their kid, than it does the efficacy of the advertising itself. The casually mentioned links here between violent media and "young men from violent communities," for instance, suggests to me very strongly that anything to do with the media and not the community as a primary cause is rather missing the point.

But the thing about these sorts of studies that I find so offensive is that there appears to be no distinction made in the methodoly among the different types of TV viewing a child can engage in (at least they distinguish between "violent" and "benign" video games, which is a start). Does an extra hour of Sesame Street a day really make a kid more likely to be overweight at age 3? Does watching two or more hours a day of shows like O'Grady and Avatar: The Last Airbender really make a teen more likely to have sex? While I have no doubt that there can be detrimental effects of kids watching inappropriate media, seeing things they lack the sophistication or development to process, there are loads of programs that are entirely appropriate for kids, and extremely beneficial for them.

As with so many things, I'm afraid this really boils down to the parents. What sort of shows are parents allowing their kids to watch? Do the parents talk to their kids about what they watch? Do they talk to their kids at all, for that matter? Yes, if TV is used as a cheap babysitter in a house, and toddlers are left to their own devices with a remote control and a bag of Cheetos, they're likely to turn out a bit pudgy. But if used appropriately, TV can be an invaluable part of educating a child.

TV is a medium, just like books, and there's good and bad examples of both. I'm tempted to say that anyone who suggested that reading more than one book a week can lead to fat, violent, sex-obsessed teens would be laughed out of their profession, but for all I know the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine is set to run that study in their next issue.

If you'll excuse me, I'm off to watch Sesame Street with my daughter. I guess the fact that she can recite the alphabet at the age of twenty-five months will come as cold comfort when she's obese next year, right?

Monday, April 03, 2006


Orbital Camp-out

Surely, surely, I'm not the only one to read this--which includes the line "There will be no bonfires or early morning fishing trips, but two astronauts aboard the International Space Station will attempt an orbital camp-out on Monday night"--who immediately thought, Brokeback Space Station. Right?

"Orbital camp-out"? Is that what we're calling it now?


Time Scale

I've been studying Indian history and culture the last few weeks (including stocking up on Bollywood flicks from Netflix), and I'm constantly amazed by the sheer scale of Hindu cosmology. I mean, dig this:

(from Ramesh Menon's The Ramayana)
"A chaturyuga, a cycle of four ages [the kritayuga - 4,800 divine years long; the treta - 3,6000 divine years; the dwapara - 2,400 divine years; and the kali - 1,200 divine years], is twelve thousand divine years, or 365 times 12,000 human years long. Seventy-one chaturyugas makes a manvantara; fourteen manvantaras, a kalpa. A kalpa of a thousand chaturyugas, twelve million divine years, is one day of Brahma, the Creator.

"Eight thousand Brahma years makes one Brahma yuga; a thousand Brahma yugas makes a savana; and Brahma's life is 3,003 savanas long.

"One day of Mahavishnu is the lifetime of Brahma."

So if I've done my math right, and there's no reason to think I have, then the lifetime of Brahma is equivalent to 4x10^22 human years. That's a pretty damned big number. Not as big as the 10^10000 it's currently theorized that the universe will take to reach its low energy state (assuming there's no Big Crunch), but quite a bit bigger than the 6x10^3 years at which James Ussher placed the age of the universe (with the clock starting on October 23, 4004 BC, to be precise). That there are still people in the US who think Ussher was right on the money is just flat embarrassing.

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