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NEWS ROUNDUP | NASA FAIL, Community Mocks Politics, Cheap eBooks, D&D, History of SF Thumbnail
  1. NASA wasted over $400 million taxpayer dollars last week as its new global warming research satellite (I thought the science was settled?) failed to make it onto orbit. The cause? A rocket “glitch.” That’s the second time in two years. Just abolish the agency and myriad regulations already to make way for private space endeavors.
  2. A recent episode (S2Ep17) of the tv series Community mocks politics and student government elections, that training ground for our future rulers. You might want to watch it on Hulu.com, while it’s still available, before reading the rest of this entry as I picked out my favorite parts to highlight and they might spoil it for you.

    Britta, the same character concerned with orc/goblin (I forget) property rights in the AD&D episode, declares that democracy (rule by the people ) is a sham and that human beings should not be governed. But she’s not well-received by the masses. Pierce (Chevy Chase) enters the race simply to harass a fellow candidate for not loaning him her pencil earlier. Jeff enters simply to demonstrate to the lone serious candidate, Annie, who comes off as a typical hyper-competitive douchebag, that he can beat her simply by uttering empty feel-good slogans, prompting her to turn to dirty politics in order to embarrass him into pulling out of the race. There are several other joke candidates as well. Good stuff.
  3. [Keep reading…]

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Lots of news to catch up on with this post.

  1. Over a decade ago, a Russian paleontologist wrote an alternative take on the War of the Ring from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Recently translated into English, Kirill Yeskov’s The Last Ringbearer tells the tale from the point of view of Mordor, the bad guys in Tolkien’s epic.

    History is usually written by the victors, but now the truth of the War of the Ring has finally come out. Gandalf is portrayed as a warmonger bent on destroying a bastion of civilization dedicated to reason, science, technology, and industrialization because science “destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!” The elves are bent on world domination and Aragorn is a Machiavellian schemer whose strings are pulled by his wife, Arwen.

    If you’re intrigued, you can learn more about The Last Ringbearer from the Salon.com article “Middle-Earth according to Mordor” and, also on Salon.com, the author’s own account of why he wrote the novel. You can download The Last Ringbearer for free and give it a read. Here’s to hoping Christopher Tolkien doesn’t aggress against Yeskov by launching a copyright or trademark infringement lawsuit.
  2. Finally, the print magazine, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, is entering the digital age and switching from snail mail to an electronic submissions system.
  3. In my previous news roundup, I posted the trailer of the upcoming movie adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as well as some reports from people who had seen an advance preview and an interview with the producer. Here’s more footage, the scene in which Henry Rearden returns home and gives his wife a bracelet made from the first pouring of Rearden Metal:
    [Keep reading…]

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BOOK REVIEW | Makers by Cory Doctorow Thumbnail

I didn’t like Makers. I wanted to like it. Cory Doctorow, the author, is a cool geek and something of an ally in the struggle against intellectual property, i.e., government grants of monopoly privilege. But overall I just did not enjoy the book for a number of reasons.

To be sure, there are things to like about Makers. If you’re an avid reader of Boing Boing, you might like it. I only dip my toes in occasionally. Reading Makers is a lot like reading Boing Boing in novel form. Cory excels at imagining interesting gadgets and cool new uses for current and upcoming technology — the kind of geeky tech and pop culture things he and his fellow bloggers share on Boing Boing all the time, only some unspecified number of years into the near near future. The book will probably date quickly, but this aspect of it was fun…for a while. When it comes to things, Cory has an expansive imagination and a deep understanding. When it comes to people and plotting, on the other hand, his imagination and understanding seem to me to be more limited.

Makers started out as a novella titled Themepunks, serialized on Salon.com, though it appears Cory envisioned it from the beginning as merely the first part of a novel. I wish he hadn’t. Makers consists of three parts and an epilogue, with Themepunks being part one, the first 100 or so pages. Like Luke Burrage, I enjoyed part one, for the most part, but thought the novel went downhill from there.

As the novel opens we are introduced to the first main viewpoint character, a tech reporter by the name of Suzanne Church (Andrea Fleeks in Themepunks1). Suzanne attends a press conference held by the new CEO of Kodak/Duracell (or Kodacell), Landon Kettlewell. Kodak and Duracell are struggling companies in the near future. There’s no longer a need or market for their products. I guess they failed to innovate and remain competitive in a changing technological landscape. Kodak I can see. But Duracell? People won’t need batteries in the future? Duracell will fail to develop new power cells for new products? Really? In any case, Kettlewell and his financial backers decide to buy and merge Kodak and Duracell and then essentially gut them. The idea is apparently to trade on the old companies’ good brand names and use their capital to back a creative new business model.

Under Kettlewell, Kodacell becomes a kind of Grameen Bank of venture capital, engaging in micro-financing of garage-next-door would-be inventors and entrepreneurs. The business plan is for Kodacell to find untapped creative geniuses throughout the country, provide them with funding and a business manager, and act as the central coordinator in a distributed network of small, independent teams. A pretty nifty idea. This relatively non-hierarchical business model, the focus on 3-D printers, and a number of other aspects of the novel will be appealing to many left-libertarians, I think.

Suzanne then takes on the role of embedded journalist and later blogger when she travels to Florida to follow Kettlewell’s star makers, two young guys named Perry and Lester. She befriends them and reports on what they’re doing and on their relationship with a resourceful local squatter community (another thing left-libertarians and off-the-grid survivalists will probably like). Thanks in large part to her reporting a new worldwide movement is spawned and later dubbed the New Work (too New Deal-esque, for my taste, but at least it was a voluntary private initiative). Kodacell quickly attracts imitators and the new venture micro-capital market is soon unsustainably flooded with an excess of money, credit, and competitors. Irrational exuberance, I suppose.

[Keep reading…]


  1. I’m not sure what else might have changed from novella to novel other than this character’s name. 

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