Friday, April 20, 2007


Hi all,

After much button-mashing and hair-pulling a team of mighty elves has assembled a new website for us with a fully integrated blog.

Please update your bookmarks and rss feeds accordingly!

See you there!

Lucien Spelman, Publisher, BBT Magazine

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Deconstructionist: Death and Taxes

Helping You Choke Down Your Annual Blue Pill Since 2007
If you’re anything like me, it’s been less than 48 hours since you mailed your taxes. Maybe you like to make the IRS get all suited up in their riot gear before giving them what they want. Maybe if we’re lucky, putting that stuff on and taking it off will lead to some chafing in a few sensitive areas, and that will be our payback.

Of course being a government agency, it would be months or even years before the IRS missed the money we were supposed to pay them, if in fact like me you needed to pay them. If instead they owe you, then you just made an interest-free loan to the United States government, and I’m certain that congress appreciates it and they were extra careful to be sure your money went to sensible, responsible causes that you agree with. With me, the delay is two parts procrastination and one part stunned inaction when I realized exactly how much being self-employed cost me. Seriously, the final number rang my bell so hard I spent the weekend stumbling around in a kind of daze: First Kurt Vonnegut passes away, and now I am paying enough taxes to fund the upcoming invasion of Iran myself. It took a screening of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie to convince me that the world made sense again, and if that’s not a cry for help, I don’t know what is.

It’s the third paragraph, and it’s time I got to the point, and the point is, I don’t feel qualified to contest the government’s right to my money, even if I am often appalled by what they choose to do with it. Also, since this is a sci-fi website, I’ll toss in that taxes are mentioned twice in the original Matrix. Taxes come up because they are the ultimate reacharound in our compliance with the world pulled over our eyes. We are being fucked every day (and not in the good way), and we pay for the privilege.

One reason I put up with it, is because even if I had the stones to disengage myself from my government-issued comfort zone that I know is little more than a series of tubes jammed into my body to turn me into a microscopic cog in this catastrophic plan called America, I’d hardly know where to begin. I mean, I use America’s roads and count on America’s laws to keep me more or less safe, and by accepting the good I’m also in for the parts I don’t like: be it regime changes, ignoring Dufar, aggressively warming the planet or gun laws that may be just a touch too lax. (Side note: My MSW spell checker doesn’t recognize Dufar, and I guess that’s a bug that’s quickly becoming a feature). I’m certain that anyone, anywhere can find things that their government does that they find objectionable if not outright immoral, but they still mail their checks every spring just like I do.

In any case, none of us can pick and choose what our tax dollars support. If we learned anything from the Will Ferrell film ‘Stranger than Fiction,’ it’s that selectively paying your taxes will result in a visit from an amiable IRS representative, which will in turn lead to hot sex, Dustin Hoffman and being hit by a bus. (Side note #2- Ferrell IS in the spellchecker, as is Dustin. This means something).

More seriously, perhaps I should consider selectively paying my taxes. Look what it did for Henry David Thoreau: He was locked up for refusing to fund the Mexican-American War (see, we’ve been ‘welcomed as liberators’ before), and the one night he spent in jail for non-payment of taxes led to writing ‘Civil Disobedience.’ Later, years on the run from the feds found Henry living in a small cabin in the Walden woods, where he wrote one of the most enduring collections of societal criticism ever. His name is even in my spell checker.

And there’s the little fact that the U.S. income tax is illegal. Seriously. The 13th amendment was never fully ratified. Go ahead, google it- it’s true. When the government taxes your income now, it’s no more legal than if a cop just up and mugged you.

Here’s a few other tax facts that many people may not be aware of:

· Stay in school! Full time students aren’t required to pay taxes. This is reason # 14 in the list of why my decision to finish college was a bad one.

· Let the kids slack! As long as your kid in unemployed, under 18 or attending school full time, it’s a dependent. Let any of those change, and you lose a deduction.

· Keep track of your sales tax! You can deduct the sales tax that you pay in a year. It should be obvious- you already paid taxes on the same money- what, they are going to take you for earning AND spending the same dollar? Only if you don’t do the work! This is the first year I’ve taken this deduction, and while I still had to pay up, it helped me quite a bit.

· In June of last year, after a torrential downpour shut down the IRS offices at 1111 Constitutional Avenue, the IRS moved it’s offices to a federal building Costa Rica. This ‘temporary’ move has apparently become permanent, as 1111 is now used for other purposes.

· The native Alaskan people, the Inuit, had no word for taxation when Alaska was acquired as a U.S. Territory in 1867. When they were (in some instances, forcibly) informed of their new responsibilities to their new government, they chose a word that used to mean having a block of ice jammed up your ass to mean ‘taxes.’

· If you mail your return, don’t use that pre-printed label! The IRS schedules audits randomly, but the list of random taxpayers is drawn from the barcode scans of tax returns as they are processed by machine upon arrival. Returns processed manually are not logged into that database.

I know that much of this advice is coming too late to help you, and that’s important because it’s all bullshit that I gathered off of the internet. Except for the Alaska thing, I made that one up. I also fudged some about Henry David Thoreau.

I hope that all of this proves a point: life is often unbearably complicated and cruel. Taxes, and the government policies they fund and empower, are but one example of a thing forcibly required of us yet many times larger than our capacity to fully understand (I speak not only of the laws, but of the larger question of our role in a society- go read some term papers on The Matrix if you need to know more). This injustice is augmented by countless attempts by other humans, many ill-meaning and outright malevolent, to confound us in attempts to get our money or if that’s not possible, just to hurt or confuse us.

And that’s why I thought of Kurt Vonnegut when I mailed my taxes this year. That dour chain-smoking bastard understood more than we realize.

The Deconstructionist with Gordon Weir is pleased that MSWord recognizes ‘Vonnegut.’

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Pantheon of Super-Heroes, Part Two

One of the trickiest thing to balance in a super-hero comic book is keeping your character toeing the fine line between being mythic and being human.

Super-heroes, in many ways, are just the next evolutionary step in a long chain of mythic creations, after all. They are what our society has given us as an answer to our lives and times, just as Homer's Odysseus and his adventures were what were needed in ancient Greece.

Odysseus is a wonderful example of a super-hero from ages past, in that he carried on with many adventures, some of them rather extreme and difficult to believe. He was mythic in the same way that Hercules was, and in very much the same way that Iron Man's Tony Stark is today. (After all, Odysseus had something of a penchant for wine, women, and song; there is one piece in, if I recall properly, the Illiad when Odysseus finds his crew imprisoned by a beautiful woman. So he lives with her and drinks her wine and eats her food and has lots of sex with her for a year before he finally sets his crew free. That has Tony Stark written all over it.)

The mythic is important, one of the most important things to inspire when creating your hero. Superman always worked best when he was slightly inhuman, when he possessed an iron will and a clear sense of right and wrong. Superman was very much the sort of classic hero that we see discussed in the wonderful book Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, one of the great science fiction writers of our time. Inversely, Superman is at his poorest when mostly, he just Has Angst and is unsure of himself, and does nothing mythic.

We want to know that there is a man behind the curtain, but we just want Oz, great and terrible.
Moments of humanity are good and powerful things. Jesus was another mythic figure (I'm not saying he was a myth, I'm saying he was mythic, please put down the angry e-mail), but there were moments of weakness there. They were important because of how starkly they contrasted with the rest of his character. The moment when he drives the merchants out of the temple with a whip, or the moment when he is terrified in Gethsemane, praying that he won't have to do what he knew he did.

If, on the other hand, Jesus spent all of his time agonizing, then there's nothing special about Gethsemane. If he spends all of his time raging against merchants, then driving some out of a temple is nothing very special.

It's the same with most super-heroes. Captain America or Superman are good examples. So is Batman, so is Hal Jordan. Actually, I think most of the Silver Age and Golden Age of super heroes are good examples. Even someone like Captain America, who was human where Superman was not, still was inhuman in his beliefs and his iron will.

Spider-Man is an example where the humanity is more important than the mythic. With Captain America, this is a great and towering figure striding across a scene. With Spider-Man, he is at his best when you are very aware that there is a man behind the mask. With Spider-Man, he can be fighting Norman Osborne, and you can still know that when he's done, he may have to grab his camera and go to his job, to pay his bills. This is humanity and Spider-Man works powerfully because of it, but on completely different levels than someone like Superman works.

The X-Men are another example. They are fatally flawed individuals (who is more chronically messed up than Cyclops, after all?) And yet, in their greatest stories and most powerful moments, the X-Men too become something mythic and greater than mere humanity. When you get into the classic Chris Claremont/Steve Ditko storylines which gave us such stunning stories as The Phoenix Saga, even though the dialog is over the top (and RIFE with EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!) and even though the character motivations are clearly detailed in little bubbles, these are as mythic as Odysseus or Paris or Heracles standing on a battlefield and vaunting over their fallen enemies.

So if we treat Spider-Man as one extreme (Humanity) and we treat Captain America as another extreme (Mythic) then you can see where the importance is to not only toe the line between the two and be willing to cross over...but the most important thing is to be totally aware of it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I re-read a number of comics from the Nineties, and while they were still showing hints and signs of the mythic qualities of yesteryear, they were beginning to experience one of the fatal problems that would really hurt comics as time went on (bankrupted companies, among other reasons).

They were embarrassed of themselves.

Superman works when he stands up tall and proud with his cape flapping in the wind and the American flag waving behind him, his chest out, his hands on his hips. He shouldn't be slightly hunched, because he's embarrassed about wearing tights and a bright red cape in public. Just a metaphor, but you see what I mean.

Comics were suddenly going "yeah, but..." and it hurt them. The Phoenix Saga wouldn't have worked, for example, without the vim and vigor and passion that was thrown into it. It was something of a ridiculous storyline, but it took itself seriously, and thus you are hard-pressed not to do likewise.

Comics, thankfully, are getting better at this. It doesn't hurt that we have writers like Joe Straczynski and Peter David and Joss Whedon working on comics. They know what they're doing.

Comics need to know where they stand. They are mythic, or they are human, and then they foray into the other side for great effect. Trying to muddle around in both -- either on purpose, or without realizing at all that that's what you're doing -- results in poor comics that lack momentum, passion, and characters you can really care about.

Super-Heroes are most assuredly a pantheon, just like the Greek gods were, just like the Roman gods were (though they evolved from the Greek pantheon) and especially like the Norse pantheon of gods. Any pantheon of gods and heroes and immortals and giants and great epic stories are the ancestors of the modern super-hero story.

It's worthwhile to remember that.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Frederick The Cairn Terror by Earl B Morris

I realize the nature of this publication and it's internet webbing is primarily of the Science Fiction and unicorn nature, and I came on board in spite of that fact. I was originally hired for my expert knowledge in the field of comic book reading,
however once the editors discovered my prowess with a compumax I was relegated duties such as mashing buttons for a google, and bloggeling. Well, "Don't put your mouth on that unless you want to get sick," as my mother would say.

Today I had intended to write about my two favorite heroes,
Little Lotta & Captain Vyom, but recently I've been having very emotionally trying times with my little dog Frederick that necessitated my seeking the help of a mystic. I have taken the liberty of posting our communications via my bloggle, rather than my original subject, in the hopes that my shedding light on this most sensitive of topics may help others in the same predicament.

Dear Sirs,

I have a seven year old Cairn Terrier named Frederick who I've had since he was a puppy. He recently started showing signs of sexual aggression toward me that have gotten worse in the last few months. The aggression borders on harassment, but so far it hasn't been anything physical, just a sort of vibe he's been sending me. I am starting to enjoy his company less and less, even to the point of not letting him sleep under the covers with me anymore.
I'm writing to enlist the aid of a pet psychic in the hopes that our relationship can get back to normal. Fredricks always been a little "macho" and developed at an early age, but until recently his sexual prowess has never been directed at me. My fears of being mentally and physically harassed by him prevent me from even doing my daily routines like morning Pilates without locking him in the bathroom.
Freddy did start to act out a little after his most recent overnight trip to the vet, do you see anything here? Should I have him neutered?
I'm getting a little desperate.

Thank you so much for your time,

Earl B Morris


I did not read past the words "the seven year old terrier" because I ask people not to send me any details in advance.Part of the way I know that I have tuned in to your pet in a reading is by describing the pet whether it be a cat a dog a large animal the color of its fur or whatever. Additionally, I am not an email reader and only receive information when I am live in session with you. Trying to recollect what you have sent in an email in a reading makes it very difficult for me to stay in a channeling state and disrupts the reading. This is why I ask that you not send any information and why I did not read the rest of your email.

If you would like a reading healing for your pet, please go to the order a reading page and fill out the scheduler. Each reading is for one pet. Please take the time to read the first page of my web site as well as the pet page. Once the scheduler is sent you will receive instructions how to prepare for the reading as well as a confirmation of a time.

I look forward to reading for you.
Brightest blessings,

Dear Sir,

Since you do not read emails, there is probably no reason for me to write this, but I will use this letter as emotional release if nothing else.
Your missive was received too late. Frederick made his move last night. I decided to give him one last shot at sleeping in the same bed with me and behaving himself, and his sexuality got the better of him.
I fear the damage to our relationship is irreversible, and see no alternative to selling him for breeding to a Connecticut puppy mill. Perhaps there he can exercise his "energy."

I only regret that I could not make contact with you sooner.

Earl B Morris

If you are not going to order a reading kindly do not contact me. Again, I did not read your email beyond the first sentence. Again, I am NOT one who can psychically channel off of an email.

Take care,

"Working in unison with Angels to heal people and pets"
If you would like to make a donation please click here: Donate

Dear Sir,

Brightest blessings upon you. I will have no further need of your services. I have taken the advice of my great aunt and began allowing Frederick to sleep with her instead. They both seem very happy with this arrangement.

Earl B Morris

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Deconstructionist: America's Coffee Problem

Revealing the horrible truths behind the simplest pleasures in your life since 2007.

Why is addiction always presented as a bad, awful thing except where coffee is concerned? Why are alcohol, cigarettes, prescription meds, black tar heroin, and so many other generally harmless entertainments vilified and even considered illegal when it’s okay for They Might Be Giants to spout cheery little tunes about how if you don’t get just the right dosage of coffee in the morning, your world soon collapses into a broken-down, black-and-white traveling-carnival-world filled with leering ghosts and jagged, broken scenery?

We all know that a world without your morning joe is a place where the light hurts your eyes and the shadows hold monsters, where your bowels clench tight, inert as a fertilizer bomb missing the one catalyst that makes the explosion possible, and you blunder through your day, torpid and disorientated, like a raccoon in the final stages of rabies, turning small circles in a suburban driveway at 7:30 a.m., too muddled to retreat from the sunlight, ready to attack anything that comes too close.

And then the headache begins.

That’s the real face of coffee, folks: Billions of people need it every day to just to get to normal, and if their supplies were somehow cut off, that impairment would last for days.

So why is it okay to market coffee this way—to brag, as it were, that people are hooked and can’t do anything about it? To even celebrate this fact? What if cigarette or beer manufacturers took the same approach? “The shaking will stop if you can just have a another smoke. Then all of this won’t look so bad.” or “A few beers, and it will all seem better. You’ll be able to face your loved ones!”

I believe there would be some sort of public outcry.

Yet They Might Be Giants can croon about how America Runs on Dunkin’ till the urn percolates, revealing our nation’s greatest weakness and paving the way for a global shift of power that would rock the world in a way not seen since the first Monsters of Rock brought Rainbow, the Scorpions, and Judas Priest together for one sultry summer night of bee-swallowing majesty.

Flash forward to 2035: The United States has solved its oil dependency through a series of invasions and by making illegal for poor people to own things that use gas.

Yet while our shortsighted republican leaders have focused on the Middle East, the coffee-producing countries of South America have formed an international cabal, with control of coffee beans at the heart of their power: The South American Nation Coffee Alliance (or Sanca for short)

Juan Valdez governs from a mansion high in the Andes Mountains. His wealth and power are absolute. Finding the rigors of Christianity limiting to a man who has himself become a god, he converts to the religions of his ancestors. X'tapalapaquetl, Olmec god of war, appear on the new Peso.

This new world power flexes its might by setting coffee prices at a record high. A latte costs $150, a Box o’ Joe, $2000. A pound of coffee is out of reach of all but the most affluent Americans, but since the nation’s wealthy are doted on by the Romney administration (he finally made it!), no one of any importance raises an outcry, until a lack of caffeine slows America to a crawl.

By 2035, all industrial and manufacturing jobs have long since been shipped overseas, and the only jobs left are in the service industry. Still, the nation reels as the domestic workforce slows to a crawl: burgers go unflipped, bathrooms are left un-cleaned, limousines unwashed, assistants fail to return with the $150 lattes the powerful sent them out for earlier this morning.

America’s rulers deal with the problem in the same old ways: threats, bluster, spying on their own citizens, lying to the U.N.

Juan Valdez laughs at these efforts, and speaks those words made terrible by Master Blaster: ‘Embargo on!’

Completely cut off from coffee, the United States soon knows the pain of Bartertown: the nation plummets into a black hole of lethargy, brain-fog and constipation. Hyperactive young children easily overthrow their lethargic parents and assume control of the country. The nightmarishly ironic ending of the oscar-nominated 1968 ‘Wild in the Streets’ becomes terrible fact.

But it doesn’t last forever. After six days, the fog clears, the scales are lifted. The nation’s underclass (basically the entire population, less about a hundred thousand Friends of Mitt’s), now free of their caffeine addiction and able to go more than two hours without urinating, replace the shattered government with a new vision, one built on fairness and the will of the people, and all is well for several months until the new ruling class decides to legalize marijuana.

Gordon Weir doesn’t have a caffeine problem and thinks you should mind your own fucking business, asshole. Who do you think you are? He can quit any time he wants.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Pantheon of Super-Heroes, Part One

I've actually been stewing on this article for a good part of a month now, and I felt it made a good launching point for Boom Boom, a column that's going to come at you every Monday, for no apparent reason other than to help you speed up your countdown to the next episode of [insert favorite geeky show here.]

I don't think it's any huge spoiler if I say, at this point, that Captain America is dead. You have to be nearly living under a rock at this point to have missed out on that fact. Much like the death of Superman in the nineties (you remember the nineties, kids? Eddie Vedder? We wore plaid? Thought boy bands were the way to go) if you have missed out on the fact that Captain America is dead, then you probably didn't know who he was anyway, or are reading this blog.

I have been happily reading comics for most of my life now. Since I was a wee tot, whom nobody called wee tot, I've been reading all sorts of comics. I can still remember all sorts of storylines very vividly, because when you're young they have an effect on you, and it's an emotional one. You're not yet at that age where you're thinking Ah, smart publicity move on the part of DC to kill Superman, but of course we know he won't stay dead, I hope they don't screw up the return too badly. When you're young and you've got wide eyes and a big imagination, comic books fill you up. I still remember that Superman died, and I was a heartbroken young man, and then shortly thereafter Bane broke Batman's back (in the classic Knightfall series). I was one seriously messed up kid. These were my idols they were screwing with.

Batman recovered. Superman came back to life. It didn't lessen the emotional impact, and it didn't change how I had been made to feel. I've carried that with me a lot of years. Even now, I have the Death and Return of Superman in dusty, battered volumes on my shelves, and I can read them and still feel the emotions. They may just be old echoes, but I remember them.

It was just as big a deal when Hal Jordan stopped being the Green Lantern, when Wally West and Barry Allen (the Flashes) squared off.

Big deals, when you're young.

So, fast forward a bunch of years. I drifted away from comics during parts of the nineties. Recently, I came into a hundred and fifty comics from someone's collection, most of them comics from that weird period in the nineties when the Hulk was calm and cool and wore shirts (?), when someone thought X-Men: 2099 was a good idea (??) and when Superman had a mullet (!?). I re-read a lot of them and I remembered most of the stories, because while I'd been reading them, I hadn't been paying close attention. There was nothing to pay close attention to. The stories were outlandish and absolutely off the wall. Which I do fully expect from Super-Heroes (like Superman and Doomsday squaring off wasn't outlandish). I adore it, when done well. During the nineties, it was like the decline of hair metal. When something inflates too big, it either deflates slowly, or it pops. Either way, it goes down. Comics, and hair metal, popped.

Through all of this, I've read Captain America. Even when he really stunk (and sometimes, he really...really did). I liked Captain America. I thought he was the strongest (willed) character in the Marvel Universe. Comparable to Batman in the DC universe. In many ways, the antitheses of Batman. I followed him through his phases as U.S. Agent, and just Steve Rogers, and The Captain, all of it. I adored him. Throughout everything else that I faded reading, or stopped reading, the comics I always stuck with were simple: 1) Captain America 2) Iron Man 3) Green Lantern.

I cannot imagine what the younger me would have felt, when reaching the end of the issue of Captain America where he's lying on the steps, bloody and listless. Steve Rogers, dead. I know what the older me felt, and there was definite emotion. I joked that it bothered me, and then gradually came to realize that actually, it really did bother me. After he died, I bought Marvel: Ultimate Alliance for the PS2, and have mostly just played as Captain America in all his various costumes. It made me sad. It really did. You can make fun of me for that if you want, but you're reading the blog on a sci-fi magazine web-site, and I bet you cried during the Ewok song in Return of the Jedi, so let's just respect our geekdoms, 'kay?

(An aside: I'm now finding it impossible to read things like The Initiative comics, where we follow Iron Man's new teams, and Iron Man himself. It's like reading how the Nazis won, and then we have to root for them. Iron Man is in danger, and I realize that I absolutely don't care. I really feel like the bad guys won.)

How it affected you, I will make no effort to guess. Maybe it didn't. Maybe it did. I can only talk about how it affected me. More importantly, why.

It's not that the writing was always great on Captain America (or on any comic; it's never consistently great). Sometimes, it was downright awful. The unique thing about ongoing series like Captain America, or any comic character, is that good or bad, you follow them from issue to issue, from month to month, from year to year, onward and onward. They never grow old, they die and are reborn, they fight, they are beaten, they get back up and fight again, and through it all, you read.

The ultimate power of comics is not always in powerful writing, although powerful writing understands this connection and magnifies it to great effect. The ultimate power of comics is that even if it's a bad storyline, you read and you care, because if you've been following the character for a year, six years, twenty years, you're as invested in him as you are in your family pet, or your favorite comic strip in the newspaper.

Every few years, they try to reboot comics, because they are ever aware of the oppressive history that bears down on them. They are afraid that new readers will not come into a storyline which has forty years of history behind it, and in many ways, they're right.

But in doing so, they fail to realize that their success still depends on appealing to the readers who have followed them for so long. Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men both worked (at first, never mind now) because we looked at a young and learning Peter Parker and we were, in many ways, nostalgic. Likewise, the X-Men. Eventually, the storylines gather their own weight and mostly we drift back to just reading what we read before. Whatever Spider-Man you happen to like.

History is the second most important component to a super-hero comic book. They (the creators) worry about the oppressive weight of a comic bearing down on the reader, without always realizing that it's history which garners the appeal. Some readers, myself included, like coming into something that has 5oo back issues. For one thing, it means if I am really stunned with what Joe Straczynski is doing on Spider-Man, I can go back and read my way through piles of back comics in between new issues. I can get lost in a world of Spider-Man. Sometimes silly, sometimes horrible, always Spider-Man, always the same world I willingly chose to immerse myself in.

It's the writer's biggest tool, and as I said, the second most important component in hero comic books.

For the first, I'll tell you about it next Monday.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Brief Look at the Immediate Future of Computers

Remember that flying car, the jet pack, your meal-in-a-pill that was promised since about 1950? Look around you and you'll notice a curious lack of these things in our everyday life. What then, will our future look like? What if we went out five or ten years and took a few furtive glances around? What would we see? Who the hell writes these kind of predictions anyway?

While you should take any prediction about the future with a grain of salt and I don't have a crystal ball to peer into, I do find myself in an interesting position to take a broad look at what may be coming down the pipe. See, I work with technology, I often write about technology and I love technology. I also have the luck to be employed at a place where the technology you'll be seeing five or ten years down the road is begin developed today. Medical applications, the Big 'N' (nanotech), computer innovations. I occasionally get a glance into where this is big, messy pile of technology is going. Want to take a peek with me?

Computers, my one true love in the tech world are going to become even more pervasive than they are now. On today's commute via the train I've seen a dozen laptops, at least fifteen blackberries and god alone knows how much personal tech like music players and other cell phones. What we'll be seeing over the next five to ten years is the Personal Area Network come to life. PAN will take the form of your phone, your computer, your music player, your GPS device, your video player and your SMS capabilities. This will all be rolled into two, perhaps three devices which will live. . . on you. With the ability to connect to the rest of the world as well.

Some folks have been touting the wearable computer as the future. Well it's about 40% here right now. When these devices start to converge and when we see flash memory based computers with very small, multiple core processors, with wireless technology getting not only smaller but consuming less power – each person will have their chance to become their own super computing WiFi hotspot.

Where will this lead? I'm going to predict that in ten years, not only will people be wandering around with multiple, powerful computers on their person, but they'll be working with the first Virtual/Reality integrating devices. That's a fancy way of saying glasses that integrate computer displays overlaying the real world. Which will also be hooked into your other multiple devices. Not virtual reality, not reality itself but a combination of the two.

Imagine reading your email, which is superimposed at 25% opacity over the real world. Imaging calling up your music library and being able to look through titles, covers and play lists without using your hands or holding a device (other than perched on your nose). Imagine getting directions via your GPS device and having them displayed in real time overlaying the roads you're currently driving on. Imagine never having to buy another monitor again.

Imagine the lawsuits! Our near future is going to be a very exciting time!

When you visit a web 2.0 site today, particularly a social or bookmarking site such, you're almost always given the opportunity to tag what you're looking at. Tags are simple, single or multiple word descriptions of a thing. It doesn't matter if that thing is a link to another website, a video, some artwork or a piece of software. If that thing exists on that site, you can tag it. Tagging makes your stuff easier to find and sort by you, and opens up your stuff for the whole world to sift through and take a gander at, based on the tags that you and others have assigned. That's the social part, right?

Now imagine tagging the real world. It will be like Google Maps but in the real world, in real time. You eat at a restaurant and the food is inexpensive and fantastic! As you're leaving, you glance back at the door, and tag the restaurant with “cheap, excellent food, wonderful service, 5 stars”. You can choose whether you want to keep these tags to yourself, open them up to a select group of friends or publish them for the whole world too see. You publish them for the world and 10 minutes later a couple from out of town wanders by looking for a place to eat. They see your tags and decide that this is the place for them as well.

It's such a simple thing but it will change our world drastically. Will you rely on a Zagat's guide again if you can see 17,423 personal tags for an individual eating establishment, and sift through them quickly to immediately display a 1-5 star result based on individuals who have eaten there in the past? Tagging stationary objects via GPS is easy. It's already being done. Tagging moving objects is next to impossible unless those objects are under constant surveillance or have a GPS locater on them. I'm sure GPS locaters are going to be built into these, not for a big brother sense, but for an ease of use sense.

Great, now people can tag other people! What if you yourself were tagged. What would my life be like if seventeen other people tagged me as an asshole? Or a good mark for pickpockets? What would law enforcement and the military do with this technology? The 'what ifs' are endless. One thing I can tell you is that when something like this does come along, it's going to change the way we think about everything. It's going to change the way business is done as well, which means a lot of resistance from large corporations and lots of startups that will fail.

This little bit of technology, along with the convergence of small, powerful parts into a piece of technology that's easy to use and easy to wear is going to change the way our society functions. That's a pretty big thing to say but I think it's true. Look at the world now and how data pertains to our lives in things like the Net. Now look back 25 years ago and see how different things were. You couldn't just hop online to see what movie was playing, use the Web as a dictionary or Google a soon-to-be boyfriend to see what they've been up to. Now take a change just as big, just as available and just as sweeping and move that ten years out. That could be what we're looking at. And all of the technology to do this is available in one form or another right now. A few more years of development, a few more advances in miniaturization and we'll be swimming in this stuff.

The problem used to be how to store and access all of this data. Now we've got larger capacity hard drives growing smaller every quarter. Multiple core computers are shrinking and using less power than their less powerful predecessors. Indexed databases make data searching easy. Our next problem isn't going to be on the computing end, it's going to be on how to sort and use all of this stuff!

And that, my friends and Internet acquaintances is what will help drive Artificial Intelligence one rather large step forward. If you're thinking “Glasses to AI...what?” then let me clarify. A big problem with AI is in how a computer can interact with the outside world. How do you get a computer to sort and prioritize the millions of data points that flow across our senses every second? Colors, sounds, shapes, touch, lighting, depth, tone – the list goes on. Turns out that all of that mushy grey stuff between our ears does that on a regular basis. We learn to tune out what's not immediately important and focus on what our brains assume is. That's big. That's what keeps all of us from drooling into our laps as we try and process an entire world of perceptions and data. If we can learn to work with this, which we'll have to once the technology described above becomes more pervasive, we'll be taking a big step towards computers that learn.

At the core of my being, this makes me happy. Happy to see not only new tech coming and new ways to think coming with it but to see all of my wonder at the fiction I've been reading since I was a kid coming to play in my life as real, tangible stuff. That is exciting. That makes me want to see what's going to happen ten years after our next leap!

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Deconstructionist: Officestar Galactica

This week I’m going to talk about two successful television shows- both remakes- and what their success means for the state of television as well as our culture in general. Now, I’m catching up on these shows via the magic of DVD, so I’m only on the second season of each. This greatly decreases my ability to deliver spoilers, and I’m going to do my best to avoid specifics when I can, so even if you’re only considering watching these programs, you should be safe.

To bring everyone up to speed, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is the sci-fi channel remake of the old Glen A. Larson (in the words of Stephen King) ‘space turkey’ made brutally adult. ‘The Office’ is a remake of a British sitcom set in a small office where an (seemingly) endless documentary is being shot. So on ‘The Office’ the characters relate to a handheld camera, and all the scenes are presented as if captured by a documentary crew.

The thing that these shows have in common is that they are successful tragedies, and that speaks volumes for the condition of the American television viewer today. Galactica begins, as the original series did, with the near-complete eradication by the cylons of 12 earth-sized planets, each filled with humans. Something less than 100,000 humans escape to flee across the universe in one aging Battlestar, searching for Earth.

The thing to notice here is that both the 1978 series and the new series began exactly the same way, but in 78’, the cylon surprise attack was brutal but the resonance of the near-genocide was short-lived. The entire series may have been a race against death, a search for survival, but it was nevertheless told in gentle, prime-time manner. While the original Galactica was never Happy Days, the crew suffered little more agitation or angst about their predicament than say, the ‘A-Team’ did about the horrors of Vietnam or their wrongful persecution.

Not so the current Galactica. Each episode opens with a survivor count- a fluxtuating number that represents the total number of humans left alive. There’s no forgetting it- the cylons are dedicated to the extinction of the human race to the last child.

Why the difference? The writers of the 70’s show certainly could have been as grim, but I guess they didn’t see the need to be. This wasn’t high drama; it was a way to fill an hour on Wednesday nights while latching on to the Star Wars craze. True, that for a television show, Galactica was the very definition of high concept- it challenged evolution and creationism as a sub-plot- but they didn’t address the issue any more than Knight Rider did the concept of vigilantism. Anyone else remember the episode in the original series when the Galactica captured Baltar and he worked out some kind of trade and demanded his ship and centurions back, and Starbuck and Apollo programmed the centurions to punch the controls of the ship, stranding Baltar on the Galactica’s hangar deck? Good times.

There are absolutely no good times in the new Galactica. This show means something, is about something. In a way, Galactica is just as much a remake of the original Star Trek, as it is the old series, because the show isn’t about some other society and their issues, it’s about us.

The writers of the new series pump up the content by incorporating elements of our current political and social circumstances into the storylines. The cylons want to wipe humans out because they consider human society decedent. There are also serious religious differences. And since the cylons can now experience emotion, every death and atrocity on either side only reinforces the idea that The Universe Isn’t Big Enough For The Two Of Us.

Yet with all that the crew of the Galactica and her rag-tag fleet has gone through, they have a much better chance for happiness and fulfillment than the characters of the Office.

The Office is even more tragic than Galactica for a few reasons. The first is it follows the rules of a tragedy more closely- no hope goes uncrushed. The message of the Office is that the idiots are in charge and they don’t even care enough about you to hate you. I actually cringe whenever any character experiences the slightest bit of joy, because I know that they are being set up for some horrible occurrence. Thematically, it’s the logical progression from Sienfeld, where the central characters suffered endlessly but at least they were all jerks. There are several kind, generous, enviable people in The Office, but because they lack the will to Get Out, they are doomed. Seriously, this show plays like Dante’s Inferno, and the wonder of it is that so much tragedy exists in such unremarkable circumstances.

The Office’s use of a documentary-style format puts me in mind of some MASH episodes that used a similar trick. For these very special episodes, MASH put aside the hilarity while Hawkeye and his mates speak candidly into a camera about how they miss their families and the endless horror of patching up young kids to send them back into the meat grinder.

However, the characters The Office aren’t in a war. They aren’t being pursued through space by murderous toasters. They are living our very lives. Unlike Galactica, there is no mention of any larger world—there is no Iraq War, in the Office. There is only work, and occasionally some small measure of personal life, but only where it touches upon work. Romances are all office romances. If a character experiences a real-life tragedy, it is measured in how it affects their working relationships.

Both of these shows are exceptionally well made, well written, and well acted. Neither has an exit. The characters from Lost will be at home drinking tea and reminiscing about their strange adventures around the hatch long before anyone in Galactica lives a of cylon-free life or anyone in The Office experiences a lasting joy.

The terrible thing, the truly ominous message of these shows, is that they are rooted deeply on our own world, our own lives. They aren’t an escape, like most television is. They are a portrayal of our worst fears made worse still, and worse still, they are closed loops – their formulas preclude a happy ending, or any ending at all. They are perfect pills of misery, and they are our entertainment.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Happy Holiday!

We here at BBT Magazine wish you a safe and happy April Fool's Day.

I love you guys!

Here's a picture of Lucien working on BBT's submissions!