It was a year ago when Iain M. Banks died

Banks’ final interview

Here’s a short but sweet piece on Banks by crime writer Ian Rankin:

My fellow writer and occasional drinking companion Iain Menzies Banks died on 9 June 2013. When his cancer was diagnosed in the February of that year he emailed friends to share the news. The email was typical Iain – not at all downbeat or maudlin; almost jaunty, in fact.

He made sure that by the time word got out to the public at large, he and his partner Adele were outside the UK and away from the media glare, leaving some of us to meet at our spiritual home – the Abbotsford bar on Edinburgh’s Rose Street – to shake our heads and mutter the usual well-meant cliches. Iain wouldn’t have wanted to hear any of it, and when he eventually did join us for what turned out to be a last session together, we spoke mostly of other things, though he did joke about his jaundiced colouring, comparing himself to Grandpa Simpson.

I think there may be something about writing science fiction (or maybe just being scientifically literate) that makes you a positive person where it counts. Even though what I write isn’t what anyone would call utopian, I’m severely allergic to the strict negativity about the future I read and/or hear on a daily basis. It seems Banks was positive despite a nightmare diagnosis. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be scared of the future, to not look forward to it, but I get the feeling more people than not are scared. And voicing this fear is sad, not to mention cowardly and counterproductive to what being human is all about.
We live in a world of cancer, war, racism, politicians, lobbyists, money, famine, superstition, and proud ignorance. I’m so sick of people who want to cling to this era, like this is the paragon of human existence, like this isn’t just another historical trend that will pass. Anyone who wants humanity to become stagnate needs a swift kick to the head. Fuck the people and the politicians who oppose progress and change, and fuck the politicians who use these words as nothing more than slogans.
Yeah, I’m in an angry mood today, but I feel I’ve been assaulted (insulted) by constant cynicism and ignorance when it comes to viable solutions to the world’s problems. We need more people like Banks, damn it. There are too many kids out there in danger of being infected by their parents’ negativity. Negativity breeds inactivity.

Piers Morgan: "I can’t believe I have Penn Jillette defending my church."

When his staunch libertarianism isn’t getting in the way, Penn Jillette exudes the qualities all skeptics should admire: thoughtful of other people’s beliefs, absolutely reasonable, unimposing, and not in the least bit condescending to non-skeptics. Oh, and keeping a debate from devolving into the usual shouting matches on cable TV doesn’t hurt either. After reading some of the comments, I get the impression that’s what Piers Anthony was hoping for—either a screaming match or a joined attack on his own religion.

While Penn & Teller’s Bullshit was a great show as long as you were already part of the choir they were preaching to (and you took their more libertarian episodes with a grain of salt), Jillette’s public appearances elsewhere are becoming considerably less cringe-inducing to watch. Level-headed debate may do nothing positive for ratings, but it’s what all sides of any argument needs to make an actual point.

I don’t know. I find this video noteworthy simply because I’m so sick of negativity and arrogance in the main stream media. I think we need less people like Bill Maher (who’s far from being an actual skeptic, but seems to claim the title anyway) and Richard Dawkins (too arrogant), and more nice guys like the new and improved Penn, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye.

Video courtesy of the following tweet:

The Cabin In The Woods is the best horror film in ages

I remember when Scream came out, everyone was applauding it for turning horror cliches upside down. It was an okay movie. Personally I felt it was too self-congratulatory when it successfully flipped said cliches. I don’t know. I guess it was kind of like the Spaceballs of horror films in the fact it was too silly to be taken seriously. Then again, it was too normal and embarrassingly mainstream to fully embrace its silliness. Hard to explain, really….

Ah, here’s the word I’m looking for: mediocre. That describes the entire series, really. Horror movies aren’t supposed to have a robust cast of returning characters. They’re not supposed to be a fucking soap opera. Wes Craven’s failure to kill Sidney by part four was a major misstep.

Evil Dead. Now there’s a good horror series. Those movies were made for horror fans who were growing tired of the usual tropes. Scream, on the other hand, was seemingly made for non-horror fans who only thought horror fans were too stupid to get the jokes.

I’ll swallow your soul!

Imagine my surprise when I saw Cabin In The Woods expecting your usual Hollywood horror movie “with a twist.” It’s about your typical teens in, uh, a cabin in the woods. Only it isn’t. The poster gives away the fact there’s more going on. So does the trailer. Those who managed to miss those hints would be pretty surprised by the opening seconds of the film. Who the hell are those guys? What is that place? Did I walk into the wrong movie?

And what the hell… freakin’ mermen?

I can’t tell you anything else about the plot because knowing anything about this movie defeats the purpose of watching it in the first place. I will say I love the ending because I love crazy stuff. I was energized by the creativity and lack of restraint. I laughed, I cringed, and then I laughed some more. That’s all they wanted to do: to entertain us while wearing their horror inspirations on their sleeve.

It’s sad, really. We won’t see another American horror movie as original as this one for a very long time. Bring on Paranormal Activity part… what is it now? 4? Jesus Christ.

B&N’s NOOKcolor Does Not Suck

It’s my fifth or sixth ebook reading experience. It’s got a color display you can see in the daylight and an awesomely responsive touchscreen interface. Right out of the box you can connect to the Internet, provided you have access to WI-FI. With a little bit of tinkering, you can unlock the full potential of the Android operating system and play games like Angry Birds, no problem. (I say no problem, but hey, it is a bit of a hassle.)

I’ve long maintained that ebook readers suck, but if ever a device could change my mind, it’d be the NOOKcolor. Sure, iPad consumers reportedly love their stupidly expensive, notebook-sized monstrosities (which don’t even have micro SD slots, by the way), but the ultra-portable NOOKcolor is an easier transition for bookworms who are skeptical of digital literature. Not just because it’s only $250, either.

The screen is small, but not too small for reading comic books. It weighs a little more than you’d expect, but it’s more durable than any portable gadget I can think of, a feature I noticed the second I pulled it out of the box. I dropped mine getting out of my car a couple of weeks ago and it didn’t even scratch. The forty dollar protective covers, by the way, are worth every penny, though they do advertise to thieves that you’re carrying a Nook and they make the web browser’s landscape mode a little clumsy. So does the charge cable which plugs into the bottom. Reading in bed while you’re charging is uncomfortable because the stupid charge cable pokes your belly, the natural place for the book to rest.

Ah, the charge cable. Yes, it’s goofy and the device-side connection is unlike anything you already own. It didn’t have to be and fuck anyone who says otherwise. Nobody’s going to tell me they couldn’t have made it a standard USB connection. Why do manufacturers keep doing this to us? Because they want to force us to buy the same fucking cables we already own over and again. Because of this nonsense, I have three plugs by my bed, when it should have only been one. I think I was unfavorable in my review of the older Nook and Barnes & Noble fucked us again, though not as bad.

Another complaint is the lack of features at launch. After all, it is an Android device with quite a bit of power, but if you want to run Android market apps, you’re going to have to root. Why give us so much power and then restrict our app selection to dinky little crossword puzzles and sudoku games? Why give us the power to run Skype, but leave out a microphone?

Did a chairman or something think the device was too cool, that they needed to tame it with a generous helping of suck? What we have here is a potential hot rod with a speed regulator hidden beneath its tamper-resistant hood. If you’re not a very technical person, you’re going to have to do what all non-technical people do—spend a few hundred extra bucks and get a shitty Apple product. Otherwise, look into rooting the device.

A future software update will unlock some more of the device’s power—they’re calling it Froyo (version 2.2 of Android), but without the same marketplace available on my phone, I believe they should call it anything but. Why would they do this? Because they’re assholes, plain and simple. As is, the NOOKcolor is an awesome budget competitor to the iPad, but a watered-down marketplace means they’re going to lose sales to people who don’t have the technical confidence to root.

While I’m at it, why can’t you bookmark .pdf files? And why can’t I turn off the time display? It’s like going to a movie theater with a clock in the lower right corner of the screen.

Many of the flaws I’ve mentioned about previous ereaders remain, too, but Barnes & Noble finally made something with enough pros to help you forget the cons. The screen resolution is more than satisfactory (especially compared to cheaper ebook readers like the Pandigital Novel—good luck reading a comic on that) and the virtual keyboard is, in a word, kind of sweet. And I’m not a guy who likes virtual keyboards.

I used to carry a netbook and a paperback wherever I went, but the color Nook, for me, consolidates the two items. On the other hand, I won’t read it in the bathtub and I won’t take it to the lake, and while it won’t make paper books absolutely obsolete for me, nothing has come closer to making me a convert.

To be honest, Kindle might still be the best ebook reader out there right now, but only because the color Nook transcends the class. Think of it as a tablet that just happens to display books and comics better than anything with e-ink. Is it better than iPad? I guess it depends on what you want, how much money you’re willing to spend, and how technical you’re willing to get.