November 30, 2015

Charles Stross cover reveal for The Nightmare Stacks

Filed under: Books, Britain, Humour — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Nightmare Stacks (UK edition)

The Nightmare Stacks (UK edition)

The Nightmare Stacks (North American edition)

The Nightmare Stacks (North American edition)

The next book in the Charles Stross “Laundry Files” series will be The Nightmare Stacks, to be released in June, 2016. There are two versions of the cover because Charles has different publishers for the UK and North American markets. This novel will not feature either Bob Howard or Mo (who featured in the most recent book The Annihilation Score), as Charles explains in the interview linked below. If you haven’t discovered the “Laundry” series, you’re missing a treat. Start with The Atrocity Archives and discover what happens when you mix secret agents and espionage with mind-numbing horrors from the Cthulhu mythos. Highly recommended.

Charlie Jane Anders talked to Charles about the book and the series:

How has the Laundry Files series changed and evolved in the dozen years or so that you’ve been writing it? Are there elements that you’re still surprised became so prominent?

I’ve been writing the Laundry Files series for 16 years at this point. When I began, I intended the short novel “The Atrocity Archive” (published with “The Concrete Jungle” in the book The Atrocity Archives — note the plural!) as a one-shot. It was only a few years later, when people began asking for more, that I had any idea of writing a sequel, and only with the third book, 8 years in, that I realized I needed a Plan. And because the book’s narrator, Bob, had been aging in line with the real world as I wrote the first three books, the most obvious plan was: track Bob’s career as he grows older, more senior, and more cynical.

This turned out to be a really fortuitous choice. It allowed me to fix some minor inconsistencies in the earlier books; because they’re Bob’s workplace memoir, he often gets the wrong end of the stick at first then learns better about some aspect of the job over time. It also allowed me to deepen him as a character, adding complexity to the narrative as he ages and possibly becomes more self-aware (although he doesn’t really have to grow up until books 8 or 9).

What I really wasn’t expecting was that Bob’s life would take over — and that the most important events in it would end up taking place off-screen, so far off-screen that I needed to pick new narrative voices! His wife Mo, for example, exhibits a very unvarnished perspective on Bob’s seemingly bottomless reserves of self-delusion in The Annihilation Score, and demonstrates that the series is very much about the Laundry as an organization, rather than just being Tales of Bob. And in The Nightmare Stacks I had to leave Bob behind entirely in order to give a worm’s eye view of the start of events that will give rise (eventually) to the climax of the series.

This book features a new character, Alex, instead of Bob. What’s the reason for switching focus?

In The Atrocity Archives Bob starts out as a twenty-something tech support guy who has blundered into a Len Deighton spy thriller (with added tentacles). By the start of The Rhesus Chart, Bob has leveled up so far that he can wade into a nest of vampires — admittedly rather inexperienced vampires — and escape with mildly damaged dignity and a stack of paperwork. Power-ups are a constant problem for any multi-book series that riffs off the Hero’s Journey: how do you engage with the underdog when your protagonist has risen from Midshipman to Admiral of the Fleet?

Alex is in some ways not dissimilar to Bob in his early incarnation. There are drastic differences: Alex has powers of his own — although they come at a drastic price. But Alex takes us back to the guy who gets sent to fix the cabling rather than spending all his time in policy meetings. And he’s got a young guy’s problems and social anxieties, unlike Bob (who by this point is in his early forties).

November 29, 2015

President Nero

Filed under: History, Humour, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last month, David Warren wrote about the Emperor Nero as if he were a modern American president:

While Rome burned, it is said, the Emperor Nero golfed, partied, and selfied. This, anyway, is my updated account. In an earlier version, he played his fiddle. The fire, which broke out in the evening of 18th July, 64 anno Domini (or 817, ab urbe condita), continued for a week, levelling ten of pagan Rome’s fourteen districts, and leaving at least half a million homeless. I gather it started in the merchant quarter, where fires usually started, back then. There were lots of merchants; there were lots of warehouse fires. And this despite numerous municipal regulations.

Read your Tacitus, however, and you will see that this rumour has been corrected. In fact, Nero rushed back to Rome from his palace at Antium (just outside the Beltway), took charge of the fire-fighting operation from the first night, opened public buildings and his own gardens to shelter the dispossessed, and made immediate arrangements to import huge quantities of grain into the city, for distribution free or at nominal cost. Criticisms of his Department of Homeland Security were feverish and unfair.

There is another problem with this rumour. The violin was not invented for another fifteen hundred years. Those still circulating the story should say he was playing on his cythera, instead. Nero was an enthusiastic and accomplished amateur musician; perhaps some people resented it. He was a man of culture; an Ivy League guy. But he was also an accomplished politician, and nobody’s fool.

Rumours that he set this fire himself are about as likely as rumours that George Bush started Hurricane Katrina. It would not have been in the chief executive’s interest to do so, in either case. For Nero was already sinking in the polls — curiously not because he’d ascended to office by having his mother kill his uncle, then killing his mother in turn; or many similar instances of hardball. Politics was politics then as now; success is to the ruthless. No, Nero was unpopular thanks to his growing reputation for ineffectuality. His failure to stop the fire hurt him in the same way as Bush’s failure to stop the hurricane.

After consulting with a few focus groups, Nero decided upon a scapegoat. He chose the Christians. He accused them of complicity in setting the fire, and his subsequent persecution of them — which included the martyrdoms of Saint Peter and Saint Paul — probably improved his popularity rating, at least slightly. From what I can make out, the early Christians were not well liked. People thought they were spooky and weird.

QotD: German women

Filed under: Europe, History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If anything change the German character, it will be the German woman. She herself is changing rapidly — advancing, as we call it. Ten years ago no German woman caring for her reputation, hoping for a husband, would have dared to ride a bicycle: to-day they spin about the country in their thousands. The old folks shake their heads at them; but the young men, I notice, overtake them and ride beside them. Not long ago it was considered unwomanly in Germany for a lady to be able to do the outside edge. Her proper skating attitude was thought to be that of clinging limpness to some male relative. Now she practises eights in a corner by herself, until some young man comes along to help her. She plays tennis, and, from a point of safety, I have even noticed her driving a dog-cart.

Brilliantly educated she always has been. At eighteen she speaks two or three languages, and has forgotten more than the average Englishwoman has ever read. Hitherto, this education has been utterly useless to her. On marriage she has retired into the kitchen, and made haste to clear her brain of everything else, in order to leave room for bad cooking. But suppose it begins to dawn upon her that a woman need not sacrifice her whole existence to household drudgery any more than a man need make himself nothing else than a business machine. Suppose she develop an ambition to take part in the social and national life. Then the influence of such a partner, healthy in body and therefore vigorous in mind, is bound to be both lasting and far-reaching.

For it must be borne in mind that the German man is exceptionally sentimental, and most easily influenced by his women folk. It is said of him, he is the best of lovers, the worst of husbands. This has been the woman’s fault. Once married, the German woman has done more than put romance behind her; she has taken a carpet-beater and driven it out of the house. As a girl, she never understood dressing; as a wife, she takes off such clothes even as she had, and proceeds to wrap herself up in any odd articles she may happen to find about the house; at all events, this is the impression she produces. The figure that might often be that of a Juno, the complexion that would sometimes do credit to a healthy angel, she proceeds of malice and intent to spoil. She sells her birth-right of admiration and devotion for a mess of sweets. Every afternoon you may see her at the café, loading herself with rich cream-covered cakes, washed down by copious draughts of chocolate. In a short time she becomes fat, pasty, placid, and utterly uninteresting.

When the German woman gives up her afternoon coffee and her evening beer, takes sufficient exercise to retain her shape, and continues to read after marriage something else than the cookery-book, the German Government will find it has a new and unknown force to deal with. And everywhere throughout Germany one is confronted by unmistakable signs that the old German Frauen are giving place to the newer Damen.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

November 28, 2015

Time interviews Randall Munroe of xkcd

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

It’s an unusual interview, as Munroe responded to each question with a one-panel comic:

Click to see full interview at Time.com

Click to see full interview at Time.com

November 22, 2015

The Problem with Time & Timezones – Computerphile

Filed under: Humour, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 30 Dec 2013

A web app that works out how many seconds ago something happened. How hard can coding that be? Tom Scott explains how time twists and turns like a twisty-turny thing. It’s not to be trifled with!

H/T to Jeremy for the link.

QotD: Bargaining in Germany

Filed under: Business, Europe, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

On another occasion I listened in the smoke-room of a German hotel to a small Englishman telling a tale which, had I been in his place, I should have kept to myself.

“It doesn’t do,” said the little Englishman, “to try and beat a German down. They don’t seem to understand it. I saw a first edition of The Robbers in a shop in the Georg Platz. I went in and asked the price. It was a rum old chap behind the counter. He said: ‘Twenty-five marks,’ and went on reading. I told him I had seen a better copy only a few days before for twenty — one talks like that when one is bargaining; it is understood. He asked me ‘Where?’ I told him in a shop at Leipsig. He suggested my returning there and getting it; he did not seem to care whether I bought the book or whether I didn’t. I said:

“‘What’s the least you will take for it?’

“‘I have told you once,’ he answered; ‘twenty-five marks.’ He was an irritable old chap.

“I said: ‘It’s not worth it.’

“‘I never said it was, did I?’ he snapped.

“I said: ‘I’ll give you ten marks for it.’ I thought, maybe, he would end by taking twenty.

“He rose. I took it he was coming round the counter to get the book out. Instead, he came straight up to me. He was a biggish sort of man. He took me by the two shoulders, walked me out into the street, and closed the door behind me with a bang. I was never more surprised in all my life.

“Maybe the book was worth twenty-five marks,” I suggested.

“Of course it was,” he replied; “well worth it. But what a notion of business!”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

November 20, 2015

QotD: Rolling Stone

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Rolling Stone morphed into AARP Magazine so slowly, I hardly even noticed.

Ed Driscoll, “Plutocrat Millionaires Insult Military Veterans”, PJ Media, 2014-11-14.

November 15, 2015

QotD: Shopping in Germany

Filed under: Business, Europe, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The shopkeeper in Germany does not fawn upon his customers. I accompanied an English lady once on a shopping excursion in Munich. She had been accustomed to shopping in London and New York, and she grumbled at everything the man showed her. It was not that she was really dissatisfied; this was her method. She explained that she could get most things cheaper and better elsewhere; not that she really thought she could, merely she held it good for the shopkeeper to say this. She told him that his stock lacked taste — she did not mean to be offensive; as I have explained, it was her method; — that there was no variety about it; that it was not up to date; that it was commonplace; that it looked as if it would not wear. He did not argue with her; he did not contradict her. He put the things back into their respective boxes, replaced the boxes on their respective shelves, walked into the little parlour behind the shop, and closed the door.

“Isn’t he ever coming back?” asked the lady, after a couple of minutes had elapsed.

Her tone did not imply a question, so much as an exclamation of mere impatience.

“I doubt it,” I replied.

“Why not?” she asked, much astonished.

“I expect,” I answered, “you have bored him. In all probability he is at this moment behind that door smoking a pipe and reading the paper.”

“What an extraordinary shopkeeper!” said my friend, as she gathered her parcels together and indignantly walked out.

“It is their way,” I explained. “There are the goods; if you want them, you can have them. If you do not want them, they would almost rather that you did not come and talk about them.”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

November 14, 2015

QotD: Which religious group should organize your hypothetical rescue from terrorists?

Filed under: Humour, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Suppose you were kidnapped by terrorists, and you needed someone to organize a rescue. Would you prefer the task be delegated to the Unitarians, or the Mormons?

This question isn’t about whether you think an individual Unitarian or Mormon would make a better person to rush in Rambo-style and get you out of there. It’s about whether you would prefer the Unitarian Church or the Mormon Church to coordinate your rescue.

I would go with the Mormons. The Mormons seem effective in all sorts of ways. They’re effective evangelists. They’re effect[ive] fundraisers. They’re effective at keeping the average believer following their commandments. They would figure out a plan, implement it, and come in guns-blazing.

The Unitarians would be a disaster. First someone would interrupt the discussion to ask whether it’s fair to use the word “terrorists”, or whether we should use the less judgmental “militant”. Several people would note that until investigating the situation more clearly, they can’t even be sure the terrorists aren’t in the right in this case. In fact, what is “right” anyway? An attempt to shut down this discussion to focus more on the object-level problem would be met with cries of “censorship!”.

If anyone did come up with a plan, a hundred different pedants would try to display their intelligence by nitpicking meaningless details. Eventually some people would say that it’s an outrage that no one’s even considering whether the bullets being used are recyclable, and decide to split off and mount their own, ecologically-friendly rescue attempt. In the end, four different schismatic rescue attempts would run into each other, mistake each other for the enemy, and annhilate themselves while the actual terrorists never even hear about it.

(if it were Reform Jews, the story would be broadly similar, but with twenty different rescue attempts, and I say this fondly, as someone who attended a liberal synagogue for ten years)

One relevant difference between Mormons and Unitarians seems to be a cultural one. It’s not quite that the Mormons value conformity and the Unitarians value indivduality – that’s not exactly wrong, but it’s letting progressives bend language to their will, the same way as calling the two sides of the abortion debate “pro-freedom” and “anti-woman” or whatever they do nowadays. It’s more like a Mormon norm that the proper goal of a discussion is agreement, and a Unitarian norm that the proper goal of a discussion is disagreement.

There’s a saying I’ve heard in a lot of groups, which is something along the lines of “diversity is what unites us”. This is nice and memorable, but there are other groups where unity is what unites them, and they seem to be more, well, united.

Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.

November 10, 2015

A graphic novelization of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Filed under: Books, Humour, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Hunter S. Thompson’s iconic book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has been re-imagined in Troy Little’s graphic novel:



November 9, 2015

Shocking cheese-related crime in France

Filed under: Europe, Humour, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Ace of Spades H.Q. has the details:

Sacre Vache! Thieves Steal 4 Tonnes of Comte Cheese, In What Police Are Calling “A Crime That Happened This Century”

Four tonnes of comte. Street value: almost one half of one million dollars, maybe more if you step on it and cut it with brie.

Police describe themselves as “vaguely interested” in this case.

Interpol has been called, but didn’t pick up a phone. So an email was sent. The email was marked, “When you get to it.”

    Some thieves in France have made off with a rather odd prize recently — four tonnes of cheese.

    Police were called to a break-in on Monday in which the owner of the Napier dairy in the town of Goux-les-Usiers discovered some crooks had stolen roughly 100 wheels of comte, a luxury cheese which can only be made in the Franche-Comte region using unpasteurised cow’s milk.

Unpasteurized — that’s the good shit. That’s what hooks you, that’s what makes you a junkie. Once you’re hooked on cheese made of unpasteurized milk, you’ll spend the rest of your life “Chasing the Cow,” walking down lonely streets and breaking into seedy fromageries looking to score your next “wheel.”

    It might seem like a crime by someone with a fairly extreme dairy fetish, but police believe the cheese was stolen by a gang who will sell it on the black market.

    Comte can sell for 40 [Euros] a pound, making it just as valuable to thieves as jewellery or electrical goods.

You can tell how “pure” cheese is by sticking your pinky into it and then rubbing the cream on your gums. If your gums feel like they’re on fire — that’s pure, baby.

November 8, 2015

The Legend of the Desk & the Far Ends of the Trenches I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, Humour, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 7 Nov 2015

Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions. And this time, we’re talking about the legend behind our desk and how the far ends of the trenches looked like. Don’t forget to ask us more questions.

Nobody wants to get on the Vikings bandwagon

Filed under: Football, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Draw Play Dave finally came up with an idea for a comic about the Minnesota Vikings:

Click to see the full comic at The Draw Play

Click to see the full comic at The Draw Play

For a few months now I’ve been playfully jawing with a Vikings sportswriter on twitter (Arif Hasan, he’s good, you should read his stuff if you care about the Vikings) about making or not making a Vikings comic. He kept bugging me to make one. I actually wanted to, to be honest. The Vikings are one of the teams I’ve neglected over the past few years, and when there is no obvious comic material out there I usually try to pick a team I ignore and give it some love so people on reddit can call me an unfunny jerk because I mocked their team. So for months now I’ve been trying to come up with a Vikings comic, if only to give them some love and get Arif (who is the viking pictured here) to shut up. And I couldn’t do it, because the Vikings are the blandest, least interesting team I can possibly think of. How else can you explain the fact that they are currently 5-2 and are getting less media attention than basically every other team?

Every other team has interesting things about them that make them fun to follow. Some more than others obviously, but frankly every team seems to have something interesting going on. The Vikings don’t. Obviously Vikings fans are likely to disagree with me on that front because they are following the tiny minutiae more closely but from an outside fan perspective, even trying to find the Vikings interesting seems futile to the point where the only idea I can feasibly come up with is about how nobody cares. Teddy Bridgewater is progressing nicely, but he’s a boring QB. He’s got no personality, he’s got no quirks, no flair, and he’s not doing good enough or bad enough to really matter yet. The Defense is good, but not Denver good, or Seattle flashy, or Giants non-existent. Mike Zimmer was all sorts of hilariously blunt as a coordinator, but he never gives great soundbites anymore, or if he does nobody quotes him. About the only exciting thing going on right now is Stefon Diggs, who made the only interesting play of the season when he turned a Teddy overthrow into a beautiful lunging TD two weeks ago.

QotD: Small bits of French revenge

Filed under: Europe, Humour, Quotations, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

But [the German] is no gourmet. French cooks and French prices are not the rule at his restaurant. His beer or his inexpensive native white wine he prefers to the most costly clarets or champagnes. And, indeed, it is well for him he does; for one is inclined to think that every time a French grower sells a bottle of wine to a German hotel- or shop-keeper, Sedan is rankling in his mind. It is a foolish revenge, seeing that it is not the German who as a rule drinks it; the punishment falls upon some innocent travelling Englishman. Maybe, however, the French dealer remembers also Waterloo, and feels that in any event he scores.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

November 5, 2015

The koans of Zim Tzu – Bears edition

Filed under: Football, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

It’s a great philosophical treat to get the words of Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, as re-interpreted by the Daily Norseman‘s Ted Glover. Glover has made a life-long mission to understand the true meanings of the sometimes occult and difficult phrasing of Minnesota’s own warrior-poet, despite all the difficulties and problems of reducing the essence to the point that mere mortal sports fans can understand. Here’s Ted’s report after the Vikings barely managed to beat the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field last weekend:


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