Lost Infrastructure of the 20th Century

Horrific picture from Larry on ADDN:

Now I'm wondering what other kinds of infrastructure of my yout' no longer exist. Growing up there were always old-timer stories of "oh we used to have horses and play hoop-and-stick! A live theatre show cost a penny!", but they never had useful tech and then lost it.

Mentioned earlier today: Party lines. Rotary phones. Phones only owned by Ma Bell. Landlines. Telephone girls.

Newspaper vending boxes, probably all owl nests now. Newspapers; I used to get a weekly big city paper, alt press paper, and sometimes a daily trash paper (USA Today & the like, for mediocre perspective, and I could do the crossword in <30 minutes). Print magazines, used to be the monthly delivery of all information. Books. I say I'd miss books, but honestly I buy only ebooks now, I have thousands of books in my iBooks & Dropbox, a much smaller physical bookshelf now.

Card catalogs are gone. I spent so much time with a little golf pencil, index cards, and flipping thru the catalog looking for a book, writing down Dewey numbers, then go hunting the shelves. Microfiche. Reference/research librarians. Libraries are under attack from the usual suspects aka the GOP, maybe they won't make it.

Vinyl and cassette tapes have made a temporary, improbable, and really stupid comeback, but once the fad ends they'll vanish forever. SONY MiniDisc. 8-Tracks. Reel to reel (had a brief fad again after Pulp Fiction). VHS (a few online art projects like FORGOTTEN_VCR and RedLetterMedia's "Best of the Worst" aside). I have to check if my VCR still works.
Do you even know how to be kind? R E W I N D
DVDs. There's just streaming you can't even keep, and Blu-Ray with parasitic Java programming, you can't just watch a movie without it spying on you online.

Television. Apparently there's still non-streaming, "cable" and "over the air" (but digital, not analog signal), constantly NCIS and "reality TV" with ads every 10 minutes selling laxatives, painkillers, and Gold Bond Medicated Powder. But that can't last long, all the Boomers will be dead soon and nobody else cares. Projected movies. Plays in theatres. Vaudeville. Nickelodeons (not the kids series).

Videogame arcades. Pinball machines. Computers that boot up instantly and are useful when you turn them on.

Radio. It's just right-wing hate speech radio, and a few oldies stations. And "oldies" now means "greatest hits of the '70s, '80s, '90s, and today" as one near me says; but don't worry, they don't really play anything past 2000. That's a biz model headed for death. Radio dramas have been dead for 70 years. Rock & Roll has been dead a while, there's still old bands playing it, but not many new.

Malls. If you can order everything online, why go "shop" and maybe hook up with a cute person?

Schools are obviously a bad idea. Chalkboards are gone; nobody's beaten erasers or choked down chalk dust in years. One-room schoolhouses died out when schools became about training industrial workers to sit down and take it, and now we obviously can't cluster up kids. Individual education, or none at all, just like in the dark ages.

Work offices are going to be gone soon. It's easier to deliver to customers (using underpaid gig workers, or soon drones), and work from home with chat and videoconferencing.

Trains and trolleys are long gone, except as tourist attractions. Once the schools and offices remove the need to drive around a city every day, it's gonna get awful quiet. No more cars, highways, streets, street lights, skyscrapers, planes. Ships are probably still needed to deliver from factories to target continent. Zeppelins could make a comeback, they use less fuel.

The Earth will go dark again. Little campfires as we all live out in the boonies with a single glowing rectangle or a cable into our skulls. Global economy reduced to swarms of drones delivering goods from robotic factories, until the owners, now on Mars, shut them down and all the lights go off.

What I'm Watching: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds S1E04

I'm not gonna post every ep. S1E03 was a nice normal medical disaster ep, TOS had a bunch of those, every planet's full of plagues. Backstory for Number One and a bit for Dr M'Benga.

S1E04 is a little more involved.

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Why are they waiting to the final weeks to deliver AIR FILTERING to a shake-and-bake colony? How about you plan ahead a year and then there's no JIT emergency?

"I'm not going to let some doctor inside my head to try and fix me. I'm not broken, I'm fine." —Someone who is the opposite of "fine"

Oh, it really is Acheron LV-426 down there. Including Fig "Newt"-on. "The monsters come out and click at night. Mostly." Kid is never seen again. I really wanted the Gorn to get on board, have a crew hunt in lower decks, Fig escapes and Number One comes in with an exoskeleton and BFG "get away from her, you BITCH!" Anyway. We still haven't seen a Gorn.

What we do get is a submarine battle against a destroyer group.

Singh: "I will make that adjustment. But I will not lie to them." Ash: "…about their chances. But, they have my sympathy."

"Ortegas, full stop": You can't full stop in an orbit, inside a gas giant. Newton's physics still apply here.

It's the Galileo Two (the same shuttle survives 10 years?!) Never send all your good officers on a suicide mission. And don't do therapy when you're supposed to be scouting! The Gorn apparently still use signal lanterns and morse code on their FTL starships; keep banging the rocks together, lizards, you'll invent encrypted radio someday.

"Suit up, strap in", says a man on a bridge with no seatbelts. I wouldn't even want them to develop seatbelt or non-exploding control panel technology now, they never had it on TOS, but don't lampshade it, maybe?

The actual ship battles are pretty good; they've learned a little bit to fight in 3D space, to think about the ships as spaceships and not wet navy battlecruisers. It's not perfect, their physics is total nonsense, but it's so much better than almost any Star Trek's ship fights.

★★★★☆ Either lean a little more into the Alien ripoff, or more into Das Boot.

What I'm Watching: Love+Death+Robots S3

Previously, S1 part 1, S1 part 2, S2.

Short season this time. No spoilers?

  • Very Pulse of the Machine: Beautiful, adapted from a fine story by Michael Swanwick, which you should read everything he writes, especially Vacuum Flowers. ★★★★★
  • Mini-Dead: Horrific subject run at high speed and tilt-shift makes it adorable. ★★★★½
  • Mason's Rats: Mercilessly bloody, esp if you have any sympathy for rats. I do not, but some kind of accommodation with the enemy must be made. Neal Asher story. ★★★★½
  • Kill Piss Kill: Call of Duty garbage that starts with an asshole pissing at the camera and gets worse. Didn't finish, hate it, everyone involved should be composted. ☆☆☆☆☆
  • In Vaulted Halls Entombed: Call of Duty vs bugs & Cthulhu. Writing's a little better than the shit medium deserves. Alan Baxter, who no shit calls himself "Warrior Scribe", "The Lord of Weird Australia". Wanker, but not the worst modern Mythos story. ★★★☆☆
  • Jibaro: Mount & Blade battle between a jewelled Siren and a bunch of knights… but one is deaf. And you want what you can't control. Excellent illustration of D&D encumbrance penalties. Very pretty. Written/directed by Alberto Mielgo. ★★★★☆
  • Swarm: The Bruce Sterling story! Kind of overly gross, dark, uncanny valley graphics, but the aliens look great, the Nest is nearly complex enough to be the Swarm. Doesn't flinch from the story ending. ★★★★½
  • Bad Travelling: Neal Asher again. Sailors deal with a bad case of crabs. Good story, CGI looks potato-y like the old videogame Summoner, characters except the navigator are moral & personality voids. It's the 3rd of 3 short stories in the Jable Sharks world, but only one adapted. ★★★★☆
  • Three Robots: Exit Strategies: Scalzi tries to be politically correct. He will be first to be killed and eaten after the apocalypse, as we all hate smug jerkoffs. I almost appreciate this one for letting my contempt for Scalzi reach a new low. ☆☆☆☆☆

This season there's not a single female writer, 2 directors are women, but one is of that CoD shit, earns a demerit to the female side.

What I'm Watching: Star Trek SNW S1E2

Second episode greatly improved on the first. I guess I'm subscribed and watching this. Nobody is more surprised that Mark liked a modern Star Trek than Mark.

SPOILER TIMES

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Mostly liked.

The Captain's dinner was bad. A) I really really dislike their "casual" being mostly 20th C stuff, obvs Pike's old-fashioned, but it's too retro. TOS set a clear standard that the fashion & music & entertainments of the future are NOT just rehashed pre-apocalypse stuff. B) Ortega's gutter trash look is completely inappropriate for Starfleet, even casual. James T. Kirk wouldn't put up with that kind of disrespect to the service. C) The grilling/hazing of Uhura is poor team-building, but also everyone goes on at length with bad writing nobody would ever say. Very cringey first act.

The comet/alien artifact is fantastic, though. Great design for it. Alien thing that is actually alien and inscrutable. A seemingly simple problem, in TOS it would probably be a Prime Directive violation, but they just set up the PD last episode, so here they can just fix it. Except it's not that fixable.

Uhura gets to use linguistics (kind of a useless skill when you have a Universal Translator) and singing, tho she mostly hums. But she can carry a tune. Sam Kirk gets to be "the guy we zap or knock around because he can't die until TOS" for this series. Spock and Singh just stand around and be useless, but Spock & Uhura (and a bit with Nurse Bleach-Blonde Chapel) actually are funny, there's good writing here. Did they borrow writers from Lower Decks?

The alien menace is kind of ridiculous, bad face on the screen, weird shapeship that doesn't make a lot of engineering sense. For "advanced" aliens they have incredibly bad aim and weak, standard-issue plasma torpedo weapons. In Star Fleet Battles terms, they're like one of the minor races, no new tech but a bigger ship, any good pilot can beat them with a stock Heavy Cruiser.

The natives on the planet are barely seen, little fake camp pounding grit, hard to believe there's millions of them. If they're the reason you're doing this, at least show something sympathetic.

I really hope this doesn't turn into "every alien thing has TIME POWERS", because I'm annoyed by that already.

★★★½☆ but keep in mind I'd rate all of TNG, DS9, VGR, ENT, PIC, & STD ★☆☆☆☆ to ★★☆☆☆ with only rare ep exceptions, so this is some high praise from me.

What I'm Watching: Star Trek Strange New Worlds

So I haven't watched much of Star Trek: Discovery (STD, how unfortunate), the incompetent captain should've been fired… out a photon torpedo tube. There's apparently backstory to this series in it? But I'm gonna go ahead anyway. Better dead than Disco. And really I disdain all official Star Trek past TOS, TAS, movies I-VI (weird they never made V), and Star Trek: Lower Decks. So a new series is pushing a big stone uphill to even get me to watch it.

Theme song is far too mellow, but at least it's not ENT. The scenes with tightly packed walls of "asteroids" make me annoyed, but you know, dumbass visual designers gonna dumbass, may have nothing to do with the show.

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"Pike" is ominously brooding, call to adventure rejected, manly man gonna ride his horse in the snow, gotta go save the girl, yada yada. In reality, Anson Mount is a Confederate sympathizer inbred hillbilly "men's rights" garbage person, who I honestly don't expect to survive a season without some horrible racist/sexist/homophobic scandal. There's just no way. But let's pretend this jackass can keep his shit together for a while.

Security is a girl named La'an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong). That's literally like naming your kid Adele Hitler. Khan was a mass-murdering genocidal tyrant just 100-ish years before this, nobody's going to have his name. And in previous (later) Star Trek continuity, genetically engineered people like Bashir are hated freaks because of the Eugenics Wars. In the continuing saga of never casting Indians as an Indian tyrant and his cloned descendants, they found a Chinese-English actress. At least it's not honkie Benzedrine Crumpledpants this time.

Doctor M'Benga at least knows what Singh is, and the young and horribly bleached-blonde Nurse Chapel. M'Benga might actually not be bad; the character was in a couple TOS episodes.

Spock & T'Pring are horny young people, formal but not flipping between emotionless/raging hormonal maniacs as they ought to be, but nothing past TOS has ever done Vulcans well. Meh. Spock is played passably but uncertainly by Gregory Peck's grandson, but the kid really doesn't seem to know what he's doing.

Young Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) is… this is petty, but I don't like her look, buzzed-off hair, doesn't fit with Nichelle Nichols in any way. The actress does sing (but IC hasn't had a chance yet), but AFAICT from Youstubes only covers of alt/pop songs ("Isn't it Ironic?") We'll see. Actually a lot of the crew have really shitty Zoomer hairstyles, mullets and fake cornrows and such. Also very modern jumpsuit outfits on most, instead of the mini-skirts & overly tight slacks of the era. This is visually going to age very very badly.

Transporters are used for some tricky stuff that shouldn't be possible for at least a century or two later, they are super unreliable death machines at this time. Maaagic transporter medicine delivery, no.

Nobody has ever actually read their mission briefing, they just showed up in a rush and are waiting for the boss man to tell them what to do. This is not reasonable para-military procedure. I compare it very unfavorably with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where the unfinished refit of the Enterprise and new crew are handled perfectly.

The actual mission, all 15-20 minutes of it, is pretty good TOS-style shenanigans. First contact with asshole planet, ridiculous genetic hacking disguises that wear off when it's inconvenient, sneaking/fighting thru an alien building which is just some brutalist design community college or business center. A preachy speech fixes everything (but blaming America for WW3 instead of, say, Russia? Silly but consistent with the worst eps of TNG).

The aliens have no personalities, no motivations. The leader woman with no name has a brief self-justification, stiffly read. Back in the day, aliens got names, personalities, and plots of their own. I understand actually giving a shit about your job is hard now.

The scout ship that starts this thing is weird. It's a Hermes-class scout ship, which is just an undergunned Saladin-class destroyer; anyone who's played Star Fleet Battles will have destroyed entire fleets of these things, they're cheap but very low on warp power. There should be a crew of dozens to run that, but there's 3 people, and only one of them can even talk when they're rescued? Who ships a main character and two line-less redshirt extras on first contact?

Later, preposterously grimdark backstory for Noonien-Singh, partly told earlier in the most awkward and inappropriate way possible, possibly because the script didn't get edited at all, so much as thrown at a wall. Why not cannibalism and beating her father to death with his own shoes, too? The Gorn don't lay eggs and especially not in "breeding sack" animals, they give live birth, and also hadn't been contacted in this time, Kirk's fight in "Arena" was first contact. Oops all around. Maybe she just had a bad weekend in Manchester and thought they were Gorn.

Pike has his own grimdark backstory and foreknowledge of the wheelchair but not The Cage, his dialogue is often pretentious and slow, but every captain's got their own style. Maybe he'll loosen up.

Not as terrible as Star Trek Discopants or Picknose, I didn't hate anything just disappointed with a lot of the casting, set & costume design, inattention to continuity. In 7 days, I can watch E2, and will decide if I'll keep Paramount+++ for another month or shut it off immediately.

Alastair Reynolds Notes on Revenger

And now Reynolds has some photos of his journals developing Revenger, especially interesting for the speeds of the ships & worldlets, layouts of baubles, illustrations of Clackers and Skulls (I had pictured more of a dragon skull, this is more whale-like). The illustrations of the ships as fish is bizarre; I had pictured more like sailing ships but rounded, no top deck.

What I'm Reading: Rudy Rucker's Million Mile Road Trip, Juicy Ghosts

I read MMRT late last year, just finished JG.

  • Million Mile Road Trip: Teen slackers behave more like '60s-80s teens than Millennials or Zoomers; they're actually independent, run around doing their own thing with only minimal parental influence. Zoe's a jazz trumpeter, boyfriend Villy wants to be a rock star and has a big ugly purple car (I bet he does). Weird subtly non-Human cousin Maisie, and UFO cult are introduced. Aliens come out of nowhere, as they so often do in Rudy's books. There's another, bigger Universe, "Mappyworld", and the aliens want the slackers, and Villy's little brother Scud as tagalong, to do a "million mile road trip" (title ref 30-ish pages in).

It gets weirder from there, as usual. The cosmology and physics are bizarre, more like one of Greg Egan's math-Universe books without the math. Strange aliens are everywhere, UFOs aren't at all what we normally think, and a super difficult quest. Lot of "teen romance", sex without understanding the consequences (not judgmental, just literally they don't understand what happens!)

Entirely normal interaction:

"Via my teep slug, I wit your brother was laid low by a Freeth." says Filkar. "And you took a coward's way out. Here's solace: oft a Freeth seeks only to stun, and not to slay. Let us therefore suppose that Villy is hale. How do you regain face? Return bearing the benison of a teep slug."
Scud goes for it. The slug is an add-on. A power-up. He extracts the dusty spice jar from his jeans and drops a caraway seed onto flat Filkar. The gingerbread man bucks and shudders, absorbing the seed's fragrant biochemical essence and, very clearly, feeling the better for it.
—Rudy Rucker, "Million Mile Road Trip"

But then eventually it falls apart, you can't actually narrate a million miles of driving (or flying), it's just too much. The book could be 1000 pages instead of 400-ish and it wouldn't be enough. You can see the exact paragraph where Rudy went "uuuuuuhhhhh… wtf now" and basically skips to the ending. The final Boss Fight is hard to follow, in spaces without space, time that doesn't pass, and everything's resolved too fast.

It's so rushed in parts, and so overly ambitious it can't be complete. The characters would be better a little older, On the Road was about Jack Kerouac's adventures in his 20s (and written in his '30s), making the sex, drugs, jazz, and murders less skeevy.

The book web page has notes with a lot more background material that didn't make it in.

So, I like this, I want to love it, but it falls short of that. ★★★★☆

  • Juicy Ghosts: Go read his speculative-science-newage-philosophy book The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul and the short story Juicy Ghost on his Complete Stories page. You've now read 90% of the novel. There's a few new characters introduced after the assassination of "Treadle" (Trump), and the biotech world kritters are interesting (but sort of recycled from Freeware). The biotech houses are neat, but never explained in much detail. There's a bit of a war scene, and some infiltration/hacking, and everyone wins yay. The Notes on Juicy Ghosts are better than the book; and Rudy's paintings help a lot, I wish he'd put more of those in the e-books, instead of just the line sketches that also work in print. ★★☆☆☆ can't really recommend reading the novel.

What I'm Watching: Tenet

A bit of Robert Heinlein's All You Zombies, a bit of Doctor Who, a lot of every buddy caper flick. Not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. Or I've just read too many competent time travel stories to tolerate most of what ends up on film.

The first half does its best to never tell you what's going on, and at the point where you'd get an infodump, the scene just switches away. Obnoxious writing trick to avoid having to think some of it out.

I don't much like the brown-on-brown film coloring for much of the footage, but it's not constantly cyan-and-orange, so I guess I'll let it pass.

Denzel's kid John David Washington is OK, he's slightly snarky or unserious when he should be serious, but competent enough. Robert Pattinson is a mess, his fake accent is weird, and he has zero affect, either a robot or a sociopath, as has previously been noted: He was perfect as the vapid lead in Cosmopolis but anything else is asking too much of him. My Cocaine Michael Caine has a somewhat pointless but fun little cameo. Kenneth Brannagh's beard looks super weird and artificial, I'm distracted from his generally superb scenery chewing by that weird growth on his face. Elizabeth Debicki is leggy and sleek, but totally extraneous.

SPOILER

















So, the trick is you can reverse time flow on an object or person, by just walking through a big iron turnstile; zero special effects budget, literally all they ever use is running some film backwards.

If you reverse bullets, a forward-time observer sees them pulled out of the target. All the Protagonist can think to do with that is a few parlor tricks, go "whoa" like Keanu, and does occasionally avoid standing in front of bullet holes. There's a lot of interesting things you could do with this, the film never does. Shoot a bullet now, pull it out "later" (by one perspective or another), it's the best sniper kill. Nobody else pays attention to bullet holes, damaged cars, etc. until it's too late, which is probably supposed to be suspenseful but it leaves me in contempt of these idiots.

There's a point where they clearly just brain-farted: A reversed driver car chases the Protagonist… driving backwards, in front of them. No. The car isn't reversed, the driver just sees the world going the wrong way around. The entire bomb caper is weird, often confused, but that was the weirdest.

And while it's not a major plot point, suppressed pistols are not silent. It's not "thwip", dead, it's more like a gunshot down the block instead of in your ears. The locked doors all over are weirdly inadequate, they have both keypad and tumbler lock; most such are very low-grade security, where you want fast access but a key in case you lose power. The good keypad locks are keyless, or a high-security tumbler that can't be bumped like Protagonist is shown doing. This is kind of a major plot point, and I don't believe the villain would use such shitty locks to protect his doomsday machine.

Very quickly they jump to spending long periods of time reversed, mostly hiding in cargo containers or ships with sealed air, so they can go back and fix their previous screwups. Their "temporal pincer attacks" don't make any sense, the people in reverse just end up fighting people in reverse because they're moving back before go-time. Protagonist does eventually figure out how to do things right: See the aftermath of something, wait for the event, follow it back to the cause. But he does it very badly, continuously gets beaten up and rescued.

The entire plot of the arms dealer's wife is extraneous to the 2.5 hour film, and adds about half an hour to it; it should've been the first thing cut. The only thing I liked in that entire bit was the diving woman.

And turning the entire thing into "oh, there's nine Horcruxes and we have to stop Voldemort from assembling them" is just silly.

The finale is just a big messy gunfight in a California gravel quarry, no better than classic Doctor Who but wasting millions of times more money. I'd rather watch Jon Pertwee spinning out his jalopy than this.

And of course the All You Zombies twist: There's never been any other mastermind. But where do all you zombies come from?

This movie makes me greatly miss the Netflix series Travelers[sic], which made intelligent use of knowledge from the future.

★★★½☆ — there's a better movie buried somewhere under the flab and stupid characters, but this ain't it.