Quotulatiousness

August 31, 2017

“… as if millions of future lit-crit students suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced”

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

The late Sir Terry Pratchett hatched a cunning plan to thwart the inchoate plans of uncounted would-be literary ghouls:

A hard drive containing the unfinished books of Terry Pratchett has been destroyed by a steamroller, in fulfilment of the late author’s last wishes.

The works were crushed by a vintage John Fowler & Co steamroller at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, ahead of the opening of a new exhibition about the author’s life and work. It is thought up to 10 incomplete novels were flattened.

Friend Neil Gaiman, with whom Pratchett cowrote Good Omens, had revealed in 2015 that Pratchett had instructed that he wanted “whatever he was working on at the time of his death to be taken out along with his computers, to be put in the middle of a road and for a steamroller to steamroll over them all”.

Pratchett’s former assistant Rob Wilkins tweeted that he was “about to fulfil [his] obligation to Terry”.

The hard drive will go on display as part of a major exhibition about the author’s life and work, Terry Pratchett: HisWorld, which opens at the Salisbury Museum in September.

February 20, 2017

Terry Pratchett Back in Black

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

No embedding allowed, so you’ll have to click here.

H/T to Jerrie Adkins for the link.

November 22, 2016

QotD: Balloons

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

“AAaargwannawannaaaagongongonaargggaaaaBLOON!” which is the traditional sound of a very small child learning that with balloons, as with life itself, it is important to know when not to let go of the string. The whole point of balloons is to teach small children this.

Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky, 2004.

November 19, 2016

QotD: Dealing with people

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

A witch didn’t do things because they seemed a good idea at the time! That was practically cackling. You had to deal every day with people who were foolish and lazy and untruthful and downright unpleasant, and you could certainly end up thinking that the world would be considerably improved if you gave them a slap. But you didn’t because, as Miss Tick had once explained:

a) it would make the world a better place for only a very short time;
b) it would then make the world a slightly worse place; and
c) you’re not supposed to be as stupid as they are.

Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith, 2006.

November 4, 2016

QotD: Fairy tales

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

The stories never said why she was wicked. It was enough to be an old woman, enough to be all alone, enough to look strange because you have no teeth. It was enough to be called a witch. If it came to that, the book never gave you the evidence of anything. It talked about “a handsome prince” … was he really, or was it just because he was a prince that people called handsome? As for “a girl who was as beautiful as the day was long” … well, which day? In midwinter it hardly ever got light! The stories don’t want you to think, they just wanted you to believe what you were told…

Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men, 2003.

October 22, 2016

QotD: Snobbery

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

“Zoology, eh? That’s a big word, isn’t it.”

“No, actually it isn’t,” said Tiffany. “Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short.”

Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men, 2003.

October 19, 2016

QotD: Presence

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

She sat silently in her rocking chair. Some people are good at talking, but Granny Weatherwax was good at silence. She could sit so quiet and still that she faded. You forgot she was there. The room became empty. Tiffany thought of it as the I’m-not-here spell, if it was a spell. She reasoned that everyone had something inside them that told the world they were there. That was why you could often sense when someone was behind you, even if they were making no sound at all. You were receiving their I-am-here signal.

Some people had a very strong one. They were the people who got served first in shops. Granny Weatherwax had an I-am-here signal that bounced off the mountains when she wanted it to; when she walked into a forest, all the wolves and bears ran out the other side. She could turn it off, too. She was doing that now. Tiffany was having to concentrate to see her. Most of her mind was telling her that there was no one there at all.

Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith, 2006.

September 28, 2016

QotD: Realistic career advice

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

If you trust in yourself … and believe in your dreams … and follow your star … you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.

Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men, 2003.

August 22, 2016

QotD: Terry Pratchett and the hacker mentality

Filed under: Books, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I learned something this weekend about the high cost of the subtle delusion that creative technical problem-solving is the preserve of a priesthood of experts, using powers and perceptions beyond the ken of ordinary human beings.

Terry Pratchett is the author of the Discworld series of satirical fantasies. He is — and I don’t say this lightly, or without having given the matter thought and study — quite probably the most consistently excellent writer of intelligent humor in the last century in English. One has to go back as far as P.G. Wodehouse or Mark Twain to find an obvious equal in consistent quality, volume, and sly wisdom.

I’ve been a fan of Terry’s since before his first Discworld novel; I’m one of the few people who remembers Strata, his 1981 first experiment with the disc-world concept. The man has been something like a long-term acquaintance of mine for ten years — one of those people you’d like to call a friend, and who you think would like to call you a friend, if the two of you ever arranged enough concentrated hang time to get that close. But we’re both damn busy people, and live five thousand miles apart.

This weekend, Terry and I were both guests of honor at a hybrid SF convention and Linux conference called Penguicon held in Warren, Michigan. We finally got our hang time. Among other things, I taught Terry how to shoot pistols. He loves shooter games, but as a British resident his opportunities to play with real firearms are strictly limited. (I can report that Terry handled my .45 semi with remarkable competence and steadiness for a first-timer. I can also report that this surprised me not at all.)

During Terry’s Guest-of-Honor speech, he revealed his past as (he thought) a failed hacker. It turns out that back in the 1970s Terry used to wire up elaborate computerized gadgets from Timex Sinclair computers. One of his projects used a primitive memory chip that had light-sensitive gates to build a sort of perceptron that could actually see the difference between a circle and a cross. His magnum opus was a weather station that would log readings of temperature and barometric pressure overnight and deliver weather reports through a voice synthesizer.

But the most astonishing part of the speech was the followup in which Terry told us that despite his keen interest and elaborate homebrewing, he didn’t become a programmer or a hardware tech because he thought techies had to know mathematics, which he thought he had no talent for. He then revealed that he thought of his projects as a sort of bad imitation of programming, because his hardware and software designs were total lash-ups and he never really knew what he was doing.

I couldn’t stand it. “And you think it was any different for us?” I called out. The audience laughed and Terry passed off the remark with a quip. But I was just boggled. Because I know that almost all really bright techies start out that way, as compulsive tinkerers who blundered around learning by experience before they acquired systematic knowledge. “Oh ye gods and little fishes”, I thought to myself, “Terry is a hacker!”

Yes, I thought ‘is’ — even if Terry hasn’t actually tinkered any computer software or hardware in a quarter-century. Being a hacker is expressed through skills and projects, but it’s really a kind of attitude or mental stance that, once acquired, is never really lost. It’s a kind of intense, omnivorous playfulness that tends to color everything a person does.

So it burst upon me that Terry Pratchett has the hacker nature. Which, actually, explains something that has mildly puzzled me for years. Terry has a huge following in the hacker community — knowing his books is something close to basic cultural literacy for Internet geeks. One is actually hard-put to think of any other writer for whom this is as true. The question this has always raised for me is: why Terry, rather than some hard-SF writer whose work explicitly celebrates the technologies we play with?

Eric S. Raymond, “The Delusion of Expertise”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-05-05.

August 15, 2016

QotD: Tragic sweet deprivation

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

Tiffany knew what the problem was immediately. She’d seen it before, at birthday parties. Her brother was suffering from tragic sweet deprivation. Yes, he was surrounded by sweets. But the moment he took any sweet at all, said his sugar-addled brain, that meant he was not taking all the rest. And there were so many sweets he’d never be able to eat them all. It was too much to cope with. The only solution was to burst into tears.

Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men, 2003.

July 25, 2016

QotD: The Nac Mac Feegle

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

“They think written words are even more powerful,” whispered the toad. “They think all writing is magic. Words worry them. See their swords? They glow blue in the presence of lawyers.”

Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men, 2003.

February 9, 2016

QotD: Aristocrats

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

“So Sybil’s ancestors used to come along and talk to the hermit whenever they were faced with a philosophical conundrum, yes?”

Willikins looked puzzled. “Good heavens, no, sir, I can’t imagine that any of them would ever dream of doing that. They never had any truck with philosophical conundra.* They were aristocrats, you see? Aristocrats don’t notice philosophical conundra. They just ignore them. Philosophy includes contemplating the possibility that you might be wrong, sir, and a real aristocrat knows that he is always right. It’s not vanity, you understand, it’s built-in absolute certainty. They may sometimes be as mad as a hatful of spoons, but they are always definitely and certainly mad.

Vimes stared at him in admiration. “How in the hell do you know all this, Willikins?”

“Watched them, sir. In the good old days when her ladyship’s granddad was alive he made certain that the whole staff of Scoone Avenue came down here with the family in the summer. As you know, I’m not much of a scholar and, truth to tell, neither are you, but when you grow up on the street you learn fast because if you don’t learn fast you’re dead!”

They were now walking across an ornamental bridge, over what was probably the trout stream and, Vimes assumed, a tributary of Old Treachery, a name whose origin he had yet to comprehend. Two men and one little boy, walking over a bridge that might be carrying crowds, and carts and horses. The world seemed unbalanced.

“You see, sir,” said Willikins, “being definite is what gave them all this money and land. Sometimes it lost it for them as well, of course. One of Lady Sybil’s great-uncles once lost a villa and two thousand acres of prime farmland by being definite in believing that a cloakroom ticket could beat three aces. He was killed in the duel that followed, but at least he was definitely dead.

* Later on Vimes pondered Willikins’ accurate grasp of the plural noun in the circumstances, but there you were; if someone hung around in houses with lots of books in them, some of it rubbed off just as, come to think of it, it had on Vimes.

Terry Pratchett, Raising Steam, 2013.

January 3, 2016

QotD: Another ten selected Terry Pratchett quotes

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

41 Most gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don’t find out til too late that he’s been playing with two queens all along.

42 Pets are always a help in times of stress. And in times of starvation, too, of course.

43 Captain Quirke was not actually a bad man; he didn’t have the imagination; but he dealt more in the generalised low-grade unpleasantness which slightly tarnishes the soul of all who come into contact with it – rather like British Rail.

44 Goodness is about what you do. Not what you pray to.

45 The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.

46 They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it’s not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance.

47 Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you.

48 It occurred to me that at one point it was like I had two diseases – one was Alzheimer’s, and the other was knowing I had Alzheimer’s.

49 I commend my soul to any God that can find it.

50 So much universe, and so little time.

Selected by Martin Chilton for The Telegraph, 2015-08-27.

December 27, 2015

QotD: Ten more selected Terry Pratchett quotes

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

31 Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can.

32 The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.

33 It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.

34 There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this.

35 The entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks.

36 Here’s some advice boy. Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That’s why they’re called revolutions.

37 If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.

38 Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.

39 Inside every sane person there’s a madman struggling to get out.

40 I’m not writing ‘The A-Team’ – if there’s a fight going on, people will get hurt. Not letting this happen would be a betrayal.

Selected by Martin Chilton for The Telegraph, 2015-08-27.

December 26, 2015

QotD: Progress

Filed under: Books, Quotations, Railways, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Yes, Moist thought, there would be changes. You’d still find horses in town and Iron Girder couldn’t plough, although for a certainty Mr Simnel could make her do so. “Some people will lose out and others will benefit, but hasn’t that been happening since the dawn of time?” he said out loud. “After all, at the beginning there was the man who could make stone tools, and then along came the man who made bronze and so the first man had to either learn to make bronze too, or get into a different line of work completely. And the man who could work bronze would be put out of work by the man who could work iron. And just as that man was congratulating himself for being a smarty-pants, along came the man who made steel. Its like a sort of dance, where no one dares stop because if you did stop you’d be left behind. But isn’t that just the world in a nutshell?”

Terry Pratchett, Raising Steam, 2013.

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