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Cory Doctorow

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An editorial in the 200th anniversary issue of the New England Journal of Medicine looks at mortality and health through the centuries, and includes this chart of causes of death from the turn of the last century, which makes for quite a comparison. We're doing great on kidneys, but hearts not so much.

During the 20th century, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic conditions assumed more dominant roles (see bar graphTop 10 Causes of Death: 1900 vs. 2010.), although outbreaks of infectious disease — from eastern equine encephalitis (1938) and kuru (1957) to legionnaires' disease (1977), AIDS (1981), and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (1993) — necessitated ongoing vigilance against microbes. New concerns also came to medical attention, from the terrifying consequences of thermonuclear war (1962) to the indolent but devastating effects of environmental pollution (1966) and climate change (1989). Optimism about prospects for the health of future populations persisted but remained tempered by concern about the pathologies of civilization. An obesity epidemic, feared in 1912, has come to pass. Our previously steady increase in life expectancy has stalled and may even be reversed (2005).

The Burden of Disease and the Changing Task of Medicine
(via Beth Pratt)

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King City collects Brandon Graham's magnificent Tokyo Pop comic serial in one mammoth, $11 (cheap!) trade paperback edition, and man, is that a deal.

Take the sprawling, weird, perverse cityscape of Transmetropolitan, mix in the goofy, punny humor of Tank Girl, add ultraviolent gang warfare, the impending resurrection of a death-god, and a secret society of cat-masters whose feline familiars can serve as super-weapons and tactical material, and you're getting in the neighbourhood of King City.

Graham's black-and-white line drawings have the detail of a two-page spread in MAD Magazine and a little bit of Sergio Argones in their style, if Argones was more interested in drawing the battle-scarred veterans of a Korean xombie war who consume each others' powdered bones to drive away the madness.

Despite the fact that this is a very, very funny story, it manages to be more than a comedy. Joe the cat-master's lost love, Pete the bagman's moral crisis, and Max the veteran's trauma are all real enough to tug at your heart-strings, even as you read the goofy puns off the fine-print labels on the fetishistically detailed illustrations showing King City and its weird and wonderful inhabitants.

JWZ wrote "It's the best comic-book-type thing I've read in quite some time. The trade is a huge phonebook-sized thing and it's awesome." He's right.

King City

(via JWZ)

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St Colin and the Dragon is a perfectly great 27-page kids' comic about a dragon that hatches in a faraway kingdom and the dumb things that the residents of the kingdom try to get rid of it. They give it an endless parade of sheep to eat, in the hopes that it will mature, grow wings and fly away. But no such thing happens. So Colin, the king's disgraced ex-squire, decides to join the knights who ride out to challenge it. All the big, tough guys are defeated, but Colin figures out what the dragon really wants and saves the kingdom. And then things get weird. In a good way.

St Colin was created by Philippa Rice, whose long-running My Cardboard Life comic (more aimed at grownups) uses the same torn-paper style that makes St Colin such a treat.

I read St Colin to my four-and-a-half-year-old at bedtime earlier this week, and it's had two re-reruns since, because she loves it. There's also plenty of grown up fun in the humorous and sometimes wry dialogue.

You can buy St Colin on its own for £6.50, or together with the massive, perfect-bound My Cardboard Life book for £15.00, should you want one book for the kid(s) and another for the grownup(s). I certainly recommend both to you.

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In early celebration of the Turing centenary this week, Ars Technica's Matthew Lasar has a lovely list of seven of Alan Turing's habits of thought, including this one: Be Playful.

There was something about Turing that made his friends and family want to compose rhymes. His proud father openly admitted that he hadn't the vaguest idea what his son's mathematical inquiries were about, but it was all good anyway. "I don't know what the 'ell 'e meant / But that is what 'e said 'e meant," John wrote to Alan, who took delight in reading the couplet to friends.

His fellow students sang songs about him at the dinner table: "The maths brain lies often awake in his bed / Doing logs to ten places and trig in his head."

His gym class colleagues even sang his praises as a linesman: "Turing's fond of the football field / For geometric problems the touch-lines yield."

Turing's favorite physical activity, however, was running, especially the long-distance variety. "He would amaze his colleagues by running to scientific meetings," Hodges writes, "beating the travelers by public transport." He even came close to a shot at the 1948 Olympic Games, a bid cut short by an injury.

The highly productive habits of Alan Turing

(Image: Alan Turing in 1927, Sherborne school archives)

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Here's a trailer for "Line of Sight," a documentary on underground bike-messenger racing that uses helmetcams to capture some pretty insane (and often terrifying) examples of cycling skill:

Line Of Sight is a rare view into underground bicycle messenger racing which has become a global phenomenon. For over a decade Lucas Brunelle has been riding with the fastest, most skilled urban cyclists around the world while capturing all the action with his customized helmet cameras to bring you along for the ride.

This is bike riding like you've never seen before, in gripping first-person perspective through the most hectic city streets, on expressways in Mexico City, over the frozen Charles River, under the Mediterranean Sea, across the Great Wall of China and deep into the jungles of Guatemala.

LINE OF SIGHT - Official Trailer

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From the Twitter feed of Pixar story artist Emma Coats, a series of "Pixar story rules." Some of these strike me as specific to the Pixar business and/or filmmaking, but others are perfect storytelling koans that I plan on stealing for my future writing workshops. Here are a few of my favorites:


#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Pixar story rules (one version)

(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

(Image: Pixar Animation Studio, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from superstrikertwo's photostream)

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Henry Rothwell has an epically long, epically snarky review of Prometheus, entertainingly and engagingly written. Its fundamental point is that science fiction films are visually consistent, not logically consistent (the opposite of science fiction novels, which is why I'm a pain in the ass to take to sf movies). Rothwell gets there by pretty humorous means.

The first duty of the captain is, naturally, to decorate the Christmas tree. Because it’s Christmas apparently. Charlize Theron reminds him that there is a mission briefing. He informs her that he has yet to have breakfast. He’s been asleep for two years, and decides to decorate a Christmas tree (while smoking a cigar in a closed environment) before he has breakfast. We realise that the crew selection procedure was yet another casualty of the cuts required to ensure that they had a sodding big spaceship (SBS from here on in).

At the breakfast table a rather nice biologist (played by Raef Spall, son of Timothy) introduces himself to a grumpy geologist, who is very rude. Later on, he confirms he’s the geologist, by shouting “I’m a geologist, I fucking love rocks!” as if that was the most pressing point that needed explaining. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The current point that needs explaining is the implication that these two crew members have managed to make it this far without actually meeting each other, and are plainly incompatible. It seems that at least one part of the crew selection procedure took the form of a raffle at an arsehole convention.

Prometheus: an archaeological perspective (sort of).

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CMGW Photography snapped this beautiful shot, "First Contact," in which a young girl and a manatee share a moment through a pane of glass.

First Contact

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The Cussing Channel has produced a Dark Knight Joker supercut, featuring all the on-camera Heath Ledger scenes. It rather stopped me in my tracks -- Ledger really put in an astounding performance, something that is underlined three times in red by ten straight minutes of Ledger doing his thing.

Rules: Just The Joker, just the on-camera dialogue. Now, there are many shots in this film over the Joker's shoulder, with the focus on the character he's talking to... those lines didn't make it... only the clips where the Joker is the focus of the shot (otherwise this becomes a 30-minute affair).

The Dark Knight - Just The Joker

(Thanks, Phillip!)

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Here's Neil Gaiman's commencement address to Philadelphia's University of the Arts, who awarded him an honorary doctorate. It's a wonderful talk on being an artists and pursuing a career in the arts.

I'm getting an honorary doctorate in Computer Science from the Open University next month, and I've been boiling my brain to come up with my own speech -- this has really raised the bar.

Gaiman addresses the graduating class

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