Farewell, Professor

January 22nd, 2014

When asked to cite characters whom I admired and emulated, the usual list was Spock, Sherlock Holmes, Benton Quest, and so on: dispassionate, deep thinkers who solved the problem so that the ‘man of action’ heroes could then act.

But then I realized there was one who came before all the others, one who made me first think, “That’s who I want to be when I grow up!” (I also liked him because he and Mary Ann were the only two sane people on that damn island…)

Now, he is no longer with us:

The actor who played the Professor in “Gilligan’s Island” has died … TMZ has learned.

Russell Johnson, who played Professor Roy Hinkley, died of natural causes at his home in Washington.

Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann, just posted on Facebook, “My 2 favorite people are now gone.  The professor past (sic) away this morning.  My heart is broken.”


(Or as Tom Servo of MST3K said when Johnson appeared in ‘This Island Earth’: “What’s all this ‘…and the rest’ crap?”)

Recommended Reading

September 15th, 2013

Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram is always good reading, but this month’s entry especially so. Highly recommended.

I think that Assange, WikiLeaks, Manning, Snowden, and Greenwald are all, in their own way, flawed and ethically dubious to a greater or lesser degree; but if these are the only means we have of holding our government accountable for its actions, I’ll take them.

What Really Matters

August 2nd, 2013

Link arrived via a marketing email, because I created an account on Fitocracy a while back:

Others aren’t so malicious.  Clean eating or Paleo worked well for them, so they adamantly preach it like the gospel.  And while their intentions are pure, this is harmful to the industry nonetheless.

via Calories Matter – Stop Bashing The First Law | Fitocracy Knowledge Center.

“Harmful to the industry.”

Well, at least he has the decency to let us know what he really cares about: whether something is good or bad for the weight loss industry. As opposed to being good or bad for those trying to lose weight.

Personally, I am of the ‘lipids okay, carbs bad, sugar especially bad’ school of thought; but I am willing to listen to substantive arguments to the contrary. This isn’t such an argument.

Pacific Rim

July 21st, 2013

I just got home from a late-late showing of Pacific Rim. Giant robots fighting giant monsters. Just like Transformers, right?

Except for the part about being well-written, well-acted, and well-directed.

Otherwise, yeah, just like Transformers.

For more, see Jeremy Jahns’ review.

Before the Darkness

June 19th, 2013

[Warning: Mild spoilers for a certain recent movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch. You've been warned.]

“… lost six more people today Governor. And twenty-seven new cases reported. Both infirmaries are full, so we’re clearing out the dormitory to find space. And I still don’t think we’ve locked down the contagion, so there’s probably worse news to come.”

“Do what you can, Alex. The Kelvin should be here tomorrow, with at least three thousand doses of spectrum antivirals, plus a fully-stocked sickbay.”

“What’s the latest word from them? Are they still on schedule?”

“I talked to their first officer — Lieutenant Commander Kirk, if I remember right — and he said all was well. Though he got called away before we were done talking. That was about six hours ago.”

“Hope it wasn’t an emergency or anything. We can’t afford any delays, we’ve lost too many people already.”

“They know that, Alex. They’ll get here or die trying.” Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook and the Online Economy

June 2nd, 2012

I’m not a fan of Facebook. But I can see what they’re doing, and why their current advertising revenue is irrelevant to their long-term profitability. And it seems someone else (at TechCrunch of all places) seems to get it:

Facebook has won the identity wars. So their advertising income is relatively speaking peanuts. Who cares? They don’t need to invent a new form of monetization. They have one already: Facebook Credits. Right now their income from it is a rounding error. But as years go by, and people slowly get accustomed to buying and using and transferring them, and as Facebook grows more and more intertwined with every online action we take–which is to say, nearly every action we take–it could well become the first global virtual currency … and then ultimately lose that “virtual” disclaimer.

via Bashing Facebook For All The Wrong Reasons | TechCrunch.

What Linden Lab did with their virtual currency within Second Life, Facebook is doing on the broader internet (and so, essentially, to the developed world as a whole): they are solving the micro-transaction problem. And they intend to take a little slice of the action — a tiny, tiny slice, percentage wise — and it will make them a mint. They will in fact become a mint, literally making the new currency for the online world.

Given how cavalier they have been with privacy, this frankly scares the pee out of me. If it had to be someone in that position, I’d prefer it was Google; not that Google is all that saintly, “Don’t be evil” notwithstanding, but they do seem to be the least-bad of the major powers on the ‘net.

An even better solution would be competing currencies: Facebucks, Amazon Credits, iDollars, Googold, and of course Microsoft Live Currency Units for Mobile Windows. (I kid.) (A little.) (No seriously, whatever the official name was, we’d have to call it Microsoft X-Bucks. I insist.)

Stross on DRM

April 30th, 2012

Charlie Stross makes a strong practical case for eliminating DRM from ebooks:

Finally, if going DRM-free is a trend, it may be to Macmillan’s advantage to be seen to be a front-runner. Removing the requirement for DRM from specialist imprints marketing primarily to the voracious genre readers would be a useful experimental step: I will confess to a personal bias here, but I’d love it if Tor was allowed to sell my novels unencumbered by DRM — I could personally use that as a strong marketing angle.

via More on DRM and ebooks – Charlie's Diary.

The Revenge of the Angry Nerds

January 29th, 2012

I got into a Twitter-fight with @paulcarr earlier today. (Yes, someone was wrong on the Internet!) The topic developed into an editorial piece on Pando Daily.

I’ll admit I did a poor job of defending my point on Twitter, within the 140-character limit. I started a less-constrained reply on the PandoDaily article, but decided it would work better as a blog post; and frankly, my blog could use some love.

So. Read the original article first; it won’t make sense otherwise. I apologize for the length of my response, as I did not have time to write a shorter one.

On the one hand, the entertainment industry, citing a grossly overstated estimate of piracy damages, brazenly tried to buy a law that would cripple another industry (one that they are to some degree in competition with), throwing due process out the window as they did, and they came scandalously close to succeeding.

On the other hand, the tech community responded to an act of plagiarism with a public naming-and-shaming. No cops, no lawyers, no bribing of Congresscritters, no subversion of the Constitution.

Obviously, these two are exactly morally equivalent.

And of course, everyone who opposed SOPA/PIPA, or who wants to prevent future SOPA-ish nonsense by making Hollywood’s current business model obsolete, is also a hypocritical advocate or apologist for piracy of Hollywood content. Obviously.

You are so full of it.

Piracy is wrong. It’s also inevitable, a cost of doing business. And saying so is not a pro-piracy sentiment, any more than saying “Some politicians will always be corrupt” is a pro-corruption statement.

Believe me, the software industry already knows about piracy. It also learned, the hard way, that there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to anti-piracy measures. It sucks up resources, depletes customer goodwill, and produces negligible results. It distracts you from making a better product and better serving your paying customers.

Again, pointing this out is not a pro-piracy position. It’s hard-won wisdom from fellow content-owners.

The tech industry has also proven that it’s possible to build a profitable business in the face of piracy. Apple proved that it’s possible in music too. If they can do it, why can’t Hollywood? And if they can’t or won’t, and insist on trying to throw the Bill of Rights under the bus again, maybe it’s worth trying to invent their replacement.

Insanely Meh

October 25th, 2011

Okay, so a few months back, I got tired of waiting for the Android world to get their tablet act together, and bought a refurbished Mark I iPad from the Apple store.

This is the part where I’m supposed to wax eloquent about how this magical device changed my life, right?


I use it occasionally. Not nearly as much as I use my Kindle (smaller, lighter, optimized for reading). Safari is my next-to-least-favorite browser (bottom honors go to the big blue ‘E’ of course) and I miss all my Firefox and Chrome extensions. It would be a great platform for little Flash games but, well. And critically, the keyboard, like every other virtual keyboard I’ve ever tried, sucks.

Kindle is a well-crafted specialty device. A laptop is a well-conceived general-purpose device (though in practice, often badly executed). In principle, iPad is also a general-purpose device; but for my purposes, if it doesn’t allow fast and easy note-taking, it’s just not general-purpose enough.

So, there apparently is huge market for tablets out there; but it doesn’t include me.

I would love to have a general-purpose machine about that size, though a physical keyboard is a must-have. Windows is almost a must-not-have, especially not the emasculated version they allow for netbook use. I may be in the market for an ASUS Transformer or a MacBook Air.

Paul Cherry

August 30th, 2011

In early 1984, I was working in a comic store on the south side of Oklahoma City. A couple of guys came in the shop, talking to each other, and I realized they were discussing a Dungeons and Dragons game. I had been reading some of the gaming books we sold, and asked them about it; and before long, they invitied me to come along to a game that night. Thus began my lifetime of corruption; as did the longest-standing friendship of my life, with one of those two guys: Paul Cherry.

Aside from gaming, we also spent Friday nights watching Doctor Who (Doctor number Four, Tom Baker) and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and making fun of “Jack Horkheimer, Star Hustler!” before OETA went off the air for the night. Paul and his friends were also involved in the Oklahoma City and Norman fan communities, centering around STAR-OKC and NOSFA, the Norman Oklahoma Science Fiction Alliance. We went to OKON in Tulsa, the big regional convention at the time. Later, after OKON died out in a blaze of drama, Paul and the rest of the OKC fan community built SoonerCon into its spiritual successor.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I gamed with Paul and his friends for only a year and a half or so, until I moved down to Houston in July 1985. In my mind it seems much longer, at least a decade. But the friendship with Paul, as well as Leonard Bishop and other friends that would come and go, lasted longer still. I made it up to Oklahoma City to visit my parents three times a year, and more often than not, spent the evenings on each trip hanging out with Paul (and Leonard or Ted or Gary), eating Chinese take-out, watching MST3K and monster movies, and playing grandmaster-level Trivial Pursuit.

Paul started to have health problems more recently: first type 2 diabetes, then a melanoma that required surgery and chemotherapy. Earlier this year, it became evident to people who knew him that something more was wrong: he seemed to be sliding into depression, losing the desire or even the ability to care for himself. He was admitted to the hospital with foot-sores aggravated by diabetic damage, and started physical therapy, but instead of improving, his mobility diminished further. An examination discovered nodules in his lungs; a subsequent MRI found the root of the problem: a one-inch diameter tumor in his brain.

He declined quickly — and rallied, and then declined again. His mobility diminished further, to the point it was painful for him even to sit upright. He moved from one medical facility to another, each move draining his energy a little more, as his brother battled heroically against the medical bureaucracy to arrange for his care. Eventually, last week, Paul was moved to Hillcrest Living Center, a nursing home in Moore, attended by hospice professionals from Valir. Organizing, arranging shifts, and passing on news through Facebook, his friends gathered, to stay by his side, to comfort him and each other as they waited for the end. Paul’s bother Tom, and Tom’s wife Charlotte, stayed by his side constantly for the last two days.

Earlier today — the day after his 53rd birthday — Paul left us; taking part of us with him, leaving part of himself with each of us.



Back in the ’80s, in addition to introducing me to D&D, and a lot of good SF and bad movies, Paul turned me on to The Alan Parsons Project — still one of my favorite bands. And that’s why, when driving back to Houston, listening to an old mix CD for a distraction, I almost drove off the road when this song came up in the mix.

Goodbye, my friend.