Military Exoskeleton!?

From BBC News (via Slashdot) comes this awesome-filled article on the development of exoskeletons for military use.  Current hopes are for initial use on the logistics (i.e. heavy lifting) side but hopes are for a combat applicable version somewhere down the line.

I also recommend checking out the Slashdot comments, if only for the argument of manned exoskeletons vs. full fledged autonomous robots.

When I see things like this it just all feels so surreal.  When aspects of Aliens and Starship Troopers (the book not the movie) start forcing their way into reality, even if only in early development I really have to just take a step back and goggle in wonder.  Between ship mounted lasers, large hadron colliders, and quantum communication things are looking mighty interesting for the future.

Steel Remains, Richard K. Morgan

I noticed posts from Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review and The Wertzone with (very) early reviews of Richard K. Morgan’s The Steel Remains.  I love the Takeshi Kovacs novels and will eventually check out Thirteen (Black Man in the U.K. if I’m not mistaken) and will pick up Morgan’s take on fantasy the minute it comes out.  Regardless of that fact I’ve been deliberately avoiding reading these early impressions.  But, having now finally bitten that bullet, color me fucking excited.  Check out the links above for these early takes.

2nd Person….the D&D Perspective

I was talking to a co-worker at the store the other day when somehow or another the 2nd person perspective came up.  During said conversation I mentioned, in half-seriousness, that it should just be called the D&D perspective since it used so often there (You step into the room and…., As you open the door….; You set foot into the obviously untrapped hallway….).  Little did I know the current Hugo nominated novel Halting State by Charlie Stross is written in the 2nd Person.  I’m interested in giving it a shot, but I can’t say I’d like it.  The idea just so seems so counter intuitive to how I usually approach fiction that I’m not sure I could stomach it for long.

Regardless you can check out this post from Adventures In Reading for a little more info and on the blogger’s (Joe Sherry) difficulty with the novel; oddly enough the 2nd Person thing only played a part in his difficulty.  Read on for his take.

Metal Review: Zimmer’s Hole, When You Were Shouting at the Devil…

Zimmer's Hole

Artist: Zimmer’s Hole
Album: When You Were Shouting at the Devil
Release: March 11, 2008

I’ve been trying to get this review out for days now but kept getting side-tracked by actual work. Let me say that as of today, April 15, this is Album of the Year stuff right here. Is this serious metal? Yes and no. Yes because it is hard-hitting ferocious sounding musical thunder that borrows from almost every sub-genre of the metal and roars at you with the amps turned up to 11. No, because while at the same time as paying homage to the metal genre, and doing it well, it does so with a satirical tongue-in-check air.

Songs like We Rule the F*cking Land and Hair Doesn’t Grow on Steel make fun of the opulence and grandiosity of power metal while at the same time reveling in those self same traits. Vocalist “the Heathen” manages death metal growls, hardcore screams, and 80s style howls with equal applomb and tracks like the titular When You Were Shouting at the Devil….We Were in League with Satan and Alright combine the heavy crunch of modern metal with old-school 80s style vocals/effects and boils everything down to a delicious reduction. Indeed, a satirical metal romp would be nigh incomplete without the special guest on The Vowel Song who I won’t name but will say that he is THE figure in the satirical metal world.

For a musical genre that often takes itself far too seriously for its own good an album that makes you headbang while grinning like a madman (if not outright laughing) is a rare and treasured thing indeed. If you even dare to call yourself a fan of metal you should buy this album. A solid A album, recommended with absolutely no reservations what-so-ever.

Lousy natural selection

Great article from Cracked.com about some cool post-dinosaur creatures that went the way of the dodo…leaving us with their lesser relatives. (And no, the dodo is not included. It was anything but cool by any definition of the word.) If the name Megatherium doesn’t ring a bell, you should definitely be reading this article. There are few things as badass as a sloth the size of an elephant with eight inch claws.

Well maybe Doedicurus (shown at the bottom because text refuses to wrap around pictures for me), who happens to be a glaring omission from the article. Apparently being a 12-foot long armadillo weighing multiple tons and sporting an enormous spiked tail doesn’t qualify you. Even when your closest surviving relative’s claims to fame are always giving birth to identical quadruplets and being considered a delicacy in Mexico.  We’re talking about something that combined the best parts of Stegosaurus (spiked tail), Ankylosaurus (body armor) and mammals (warm blooded, doesn’t become extinct every time there’s a minor ice age).  That lead to this, which lead to this. That’s the definition of being screwed.

Review: Small Favor (Dresden Files, Book 10) by Jim Butcher

Small Favor by Jim Butcher (Roc, 2008), is the latest volume in the long running Dresden Files about Chicago based, perennially unlucky, Wizard/Supernatural Investigator Harry Dresden.  As such I can’t really recommend this as a great jumping on point for new readers.  While the early novels (say maybe the first three: Storm Front, Full Moon, and Grave Peril) are likely easy enough jumping on points (duh!) as the series continues Butcher builds upon the Dresden world with admirable subtly.  Finally, in Book 10, I think we’re at a point where new readers are at a significant disadavantage.  Not to the point that they can’t enjoy the book, but enough so that they will certainly miss out on many of the details (in particular Harry’s deal with Mab, and his ‘partnership’ with Lasciel in the previous novels).  This isn’t to knock the book, there gets to a certain point in any series where you can’t really cater to the newbies any more, only to serve as fair warning for those who have yet read any Dresden at all.

Those that have been with Harry from that start are in for a treat.  This is, in many ways, the first time we’ve seen the ‘real’ Harry in a long time (Minor spoiler: there was a certain edge to Harry in the previous two novels that was the result of outside influence) and the whole book feels a bit lighter, despite the dire circumstances, as a result.  The back and forther banter between Harry and Thomas is quick-witted and enjoyable and, while a few quips fall a bit flat to my ears, in on the whole enjoyable.  As with many of the Dresden books featuring recurring character Michael (a sword wielding modern knight tasked with capturing the demons imprisoned in the silver coins given to Judas) a certain tension between the mostly faithless Harry and over abuntantly faithful Michael adds an interesting moral element to the story that has a surprise, and very interesting, twist in the end.

While the book lacks in reaninamted dinosaur skeletons it does feature an amusing incident between the eldest Billy Goat Gruff and Harry at the worst time ever.  One of the most enjoyable aspects of the series is how the seemingly always under-powered Harry has to out think his often ridiculously over-powered opponents.  This book had no shortage of that from a rather clever, and ultimatley hilarious, use of Mister (Dresden’s cat) to a certain incident involving a doughnut.  Harry still gets his ass-kicked, it would hardly be a Dresden novel if Harry came out unscathed, but it without the ‘woe-is-me’ Harry vs. the world mentality of previous entries.  Indeed, if this novel proves anything, its the number of friends and allies (and, unfortunatley, enemies) Harry has made over the course of 10 books.

All in all another solid outing for both Harry and Mr. Butcher.  Unfortunatley, if pattern holds true, Butcher will likely release another Codex Alera book before antoher Dresden book and, while I do enjoy Tavi and the world of Alera, am always left hungry for a new Dresden book when all is said and done.  Given the layered world-building, solid characterization (a main character that actually changes!?), and breakneck action I bestow upon Small Favor a solid A.

Chapter 1 Preview from Jim Butcher’s webpage.

Bender’s Big Score

Fox has a lengthy record of ditching quality entertainment in favor of, as Fry put it, “programs of the genre World’s Blankiest Blank”. Family Guy, Firefly, Arrested Development, Dark Angel for those of us more interested in Jessica Alba’s rear than her acting ability…the list goes on. The saddest part is that frequently these shows are never given a chance to succeed. Fox’s own poor decisions on scheduling and advertising doom them from the start and the shows are sent to Friday nights (aka Fox’s equivalent of Florida) to await their inevitable demise. Fox’s worse transgression by far, however, is the cancellation of Futurama and not just because it’s one of the funniest shows the network has ever produced. The real reason is Fox’s horrible decision to shuffle Futurama to Sunday’s at 7pm EST, a time slot that frequently gets preempted by NFL games. Bad time slot + expensive production = infrequent new episodes = minimal audience = bye.

In what would be a blow to Fox’s pride if they were smart enough to realize it, Futurama returns this year with new episodes on Comedy Central. The first four are parts of a made-for-DVD movie called Bender’s Big Score and while I really want Futurama to succeed this time around, it’s not going to do it if the movie is indicative of the quality to come. There are a few laugh out loud moments (courtesy of the underused Zoidberg mostly) but overall it seems more like a fan-fic trying to cram in as many returning characters and inside jokes as possible.  The way Bender’s Big Score echoes the first new Family Guy episodes after that show’s return doesn’t inspire confidence in me. Too many attempts to get in past characters instead of  breaking new ground. Too many jokes that fall flat. Too big a push to make things “edgier” (which is a euphemism for  “cruder” here). And given that Family Guy has been spiraling into irrelevance since it’s return to Fox, I can’t help but worry about Futurama’s upcoming season. Just have to wait for June and hope the second movie, The Beast with a Billion Backs, is less fan service and more of the witty humor the show that defined the show before.

Library Anime, and Upcoming Posts

Something called Library Wars sounds totally awesome to me!

I did read and finish Butcher’s Small Favor (dammit I want to add that ‘u’ so bad!) so expect some comments on that soon.  I’ve been meaning to post on the JoCo concert from Wednesday night, but have yet been able to sift through all the awesome.  Also, since I’m more than halfway though all of David Weber’s Honor Harrington books I figure I should post a little on that and a related post on series fiction.  Marvel’s Secret Invasion started this week and I have some stuff to say on that as well (I promise I won’t bitch about Spiderman).

Also, my ‘Currents Reads’ will change soon; so that those books I’m totally not reading anymore are gone.

So folks, keep your eyes on the skies.

Mmmm…vigilante justice

This story is too ridiculous not to pass along. A guy in Philly gets his TV, Xbox 360 and laptop stolen. He goes to the cops but doesn’t get much help (probably because they are so busy not solving the crapload of murders in the city that they don’t have time to not solve a burglary case). So he puts his story up on Digg.com and, after some ill-advised taunting from one of the burglars over Xbox Live, the gaming community manages to track down the thieves and harass them into returning the stolen goods.

I’m not even sure how to read this. It will definitely be sold in online forums as a tale of the collective might of the gaming community. And certainly if you ever get gamers to stop splitting down platform lines and all move in one direction they can do great things. But the incident is certainly problematic, although not for the online vigilant angle. The methods involved underline the problems of the internet. A group of geeks were able to start with a person’s GamerTag and end up with everything about him: name, address, photos, videos. I’d be way more worried about people using that expertise maliciously than about a group of gamers harassing a petty thief.