The Future

Our Science Fiction Movies Hate Science Fiction

Ripping off the heads of robots like a sweaty space-age cyberpunk Robin Hood, Matt Damon is delivering future-social-justice this week in Elysium. It's directed by Neill Blomkamp, who brought us the politically charged alien flick District 9. Elysium as well has been positioned to be this summer's antidote to stupid run-of-the-mill blockbuster science fiction films.

Like the alien apartheid in District 9, the division between “serious” science fiction films and “mainstream” SF flicks certainly exists. But the actual boundaries between these kinds of movies might be fairly blurred. What's more, it's not clear any more if these science fiction movies even like science fiction.

When I was nine years old, [...]


Goodbye Glassing! London's New Permanent Olympics Police State

Not only is London overspending for this coming summer's Olympics—the Guardian now estimates that the initial budget of £2.37 billion may be ten times that—but also the city will be turned into a locked-down police state! Sort of permanently, in fact. Neat! During the Games an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames. Surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies. Unmanned drones, thankfully without lethal missiles, will loiter above the gleaming stadiums and opening and closing ceremonies. RAF Typhoon Eurofighters will fly from RAF Northolt. A thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city [...]


Mr. Swift's Moronic Proposal: Ebooks Will Keep Writers From Writing!

It's a generally accepted rule that you shouldn't take too seriously anything an author says while promoting his book on the radio. Or at least I thought it was a generally accepted rule. Certainly, Christopher Buckley tells a great anecdote about the time he was asked by a radio host whether, per the author bio on his novel Little Green Men, he really had acted as policy advisor to William Howard Taft. Not only did Buckley happily confirm that he had advised President Taft, but he spent the remainder of the interview discussing the specific advice he'd imparted to the (very) late statesman. Of course Buckley said something ridiculous [...]


The Wonderful, Evil Print-On-Demand Book Machine Arrives in Manhattan

Are there organizations we love more than local bookstore McNally Jackson? Maybe NARAL, or the SLA. So when we question the introduction of a Espresso Book Machine there, we do it with love. The EBM, the brainchild of Jason Epstein (AKA Mr. Judith Miller, among many other achievements), carries, in its current incarnation, about 3 million titles—trade books and out-of-copyright books. That's not bad! The New York City Public Library systems has more than 20 million books, but, you know, with them, you don't get to keep the books forever. Google Books, a main supplier to the EBM, has about 15 million titles; those are not all [...]


Now We Have So Many Bike Racks And No Bikes

There’s a strange, wonderful short story by Donald Barthelme about a balloon that appears one day on Fourteenth Street and grows, like a low-hanging blimp, until it covers a good deal of Manhattan. It becomes an object of widespread puzzlement and fascination. Children leap across its surface. Art critics analyze its colors. City officers conduct secret nighttime tests to better understand it.

For the past couple of weeks, Fort Greene has been living out its own strange version of "The Balloon." On a handful of corners, seemingly overnight, bike racks have appeared. And not just any bike racks, but city bike racks. Or is it citibike racks? These, in [...]


The User Agreement Trust Economy

How many user agreements have you digitally signed? With Apple, with insurance companies, with Google, with Twitter, Facebook, and a thousand random web startups? How about with Paypal—a Delaware corporation whose user agreement "authorizes PayPal to place holds and reserves at its sole discretion and does not require it to inform users of its reasons for doing so"?

The only reason you're not getting hosed a thousand ways to Sunday by all these companies is reputation management. Hordes of unhappy customers means loss of business and an eventual sinking of the ship. Millions of us have given all our data, private information and even banking duties to companies based [...]


The New Google Maps Camera Cars: Still Not So Subtle!

What a chic Subaru that is. Other Google Maps cars in the series have red camera-balls up top; the blue on this one is nice. Far more soothing, less intimidating. (Spotted this morning by the Awl Secret Squirrel Correspondent for Big Brother Issues.)


If Everyone Wants Micropayment So Bad, Why Doesn't It Exist?

"The well-staffed offices, the air of self-conscious seriousness shading into pomposity, the tendency to file what from a British point of view always seemed several hundred words too much—all these features of American papers were underpinned by the easy money of monopoly-based classified advertising." Here is a fascinating lengthy analysis of the financial matters of British and English newspapers which ends in… a call for a universal micropayment system for news consumers. This is my problem with journalists basically? In the time it took to research and edit this story, everyone involved could have partnered with two good engineers and BUILT AND LAUNCHED A UNIVERSAL MICROPAYMENT SYSTEM. (And then [...]


Just Give Reddit A Few More Decades, They'll Crack This Boston Thing Yet

Entrepreneur Jason Calacanis made the call yesterday to speculate and crowdsource about the Boston bombings—"'Shut up and let the cops do their job’ in the case of a terrorist attack is EXACTLY wrong"—but he needn't worry, Reddit is all over it. They have a spreadsheet even! So let's find out how the nice folks at /findbostonbombers are doing.

• "I hate to even bring up this point, but when I have seen videos of radical Islamists yelling 'allahu akbar' in the past, I seem to recall seeing them make something like the pinched thumb and forefingers gesture he is making in the second picture."

• "also could it [...]


Amazon Auto-Wires New E-Books of Neal Stephenson's "Reamde"

After pulling Neal Stephenson's ebook of Reamde off Amazon on Tuesday, early this morning, Amazon emailed to tell readers they could replace their copy. "The version you received had Missing Content that have been corrected," they wrote. (Or, apparently, their machines wrote. So glad the "Missing Content" "have been corrected.") And here's how it works: "If you wish to receive the updated version, please reply to this email with the word 'Yes' in the first line of your response. Within 2 hours of receiving the e-mail any device that has the title currently downloaded will be updated automatically if the wireless is on." It's a strange kind of [...]


Local Office Manager Stuck in Elevator

This is relevant not just for the highly-entertaining string of profanities being released on Twitter but because his office discovered he was trapped in the elevator because of said Twitter account.