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K Tempest Bradford

Tech News for Nerds: Life Without Wires

Welcome back to Tech News for Nerds. This week’s installment is for all the phone-loving nerds out there. That’s because the wireless industry’s major trade show happened last week: CTIA 2010. All the journalists who’d just gotten over the last trip to Vegas (for CES back in January) had to trudge out that way again for more cell phones, smartbooks, apps and more. Trust me, the lack of 3D TVs didn’t make it any less exciting.

We covered a ton of things over on Laptop Magazine’s blog and if you’re curious about what those things were, you can check it out here. For those of you just interested in the highlights, read on.

Let’s put phones aside for a second and talk about Smartbooks. What is a Smartbook, you ask? It’s like a netbook married a phone but genetically modified the baby in utero so it wouldn’t come out a tablet. Maybe that’s not helpful.

How about this: smartbooks are the size of netbooks (7 – 10 inches) but often thinner and lighter because they have solid state drives and run on chips that don’t require a fan. These are similar to the chips found in smart phones, and smartbooks will operate somewhat like smart phones in that they will turn on instantly, use little power, and run Linux-based operating systems. They also have built-in mobile broadband, so you can access the internet from anywhere, just like a smartphone.

Pretty cool, right? We saw a ton of smartbooks at CES (my favorite is the Lenovo Skylight. It’s soooo thin and beautiful), and an update on another favorite at CTIA.

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Tech News for Nerds: Living in the Future with Smart Phones and eReaders

Welcome to the first installment of Tech News for Nerds, a weekly peek into the crazy world of gadget and tech geekery from someone who knows, man. I’ll attempt to cull some of the more interesting signal from the vast sea of noise you’ll encounter in the typical Gizmodo feed.

So, a couple of weeks ago I asked a few SF writers to tell us about the tech, gadgets, and software that makes them feel like they’re Living In the Future. It’s fast becoming a cliché to say this, I know, but it was fun to see what John Scalzi, Tobias Buckell, Nisi Shawl, Jeffery Carver, Eileen Gunn, Charles Stross and David Levine had to say on the matter.

Several of them cited the iPhone as a future-tastic device, and in a poll on Laptop Magazine’s blog most users said that smart phones make this The Future, moreso than eReaders or credit cards. I would agree with that except I’ve seen more pretty snazzy eReaders lately (more on that in a sec). Here are the top 5 things that made me feel like I’m living the Star Trek lifestyle this week:

  1. Motorola Devour [Smart Phone] – Android-powered, flip out keyboard, awesome interface, cute.
  2. Windows Phone 7 [Operating System] – Because any improvement over previous Windows Mobile versions feels like a brand new day.
  3. Dell Adamo XPS [Laptop] – Thin. Thin, thin, thin. Thinnest notebook ever made. Yes, MacBook Air people, thinner than your laptop, too.
  4. ASUS Eee PC 1005PE-P [Netbook] – 10 hour battery. That is all
  5. ChatRoulette [Time wasting web game] – Nothing says “The Future” like being able to see random strangers doing random things from the comfort of my own home.

Despite the results of the aforementioned poll, I also think eReaders are future-tastic and I don’t mind saying so. It helps when the eReader in question does more than just read eBooks. We’ve had those old things around forever. I know some of you will say “But I have my iPhone,” or even wave some ancient Palm Pilot around. You have fun with that. But the future belongs to better devices.

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Dear FOX: Don’t Worry, You Did Good

Dear FOX Networks,

When I discovered that you’d canceled the Joss Whedon show Dollhouse on Wednesday I did what I believe the kids call a Happy Snoopy Dance. Finally! I thought. It took you long enough. While my reaction was typical amongst many of my friends, I see that the Internets at large have not been so kind. Twitter and Facebook and LiveJournal and other disparate corners of the web are filled with angry viewers shaking their fists in your direction. “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” I’ve seen more than once.

Well, FOX, I’m here to say: don’t listen to those people. You did the right thing in canceling Dollhouse. My only gripe is that you didn’t do it soon enough. However, I’m going to put that particular issue aside and focus on what’s good. Dollhouse will die the death it deserves and you can get back to doing whatever it is you do over there, FOX. Maybe we’ll get another reality show or something. Or maybe you’ll bring The Sarah Connor Chronicles back.

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Making Lists: Mindblowing SF by Women and People of Color

By now most people are familiar with the objections raised to Mike Ashley’s Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF and its all male (and most likely all white) contributors. There’s no need to rehash all of that again, but the debate and discussion surrounding the issue prompted me to write two blog posts soliciting science fiction genre readers considered mindblowing written by women or people of color. The response was about what I expected: commenters had no trouble naming both authors and specific works of fiction they felt were mindblowing or otherwise amazing.

As you’ll see, the lists are long. Very long. Some fantasy stories/novels and fantasy-only authors may have snuck in, but this is mainly just science fiction. Had I asked for a similar list of fantasy fiction, I’m sure it would be more than twice as long.

One of the best posts I read during the Mindblowing antho discussion was by Claire Light. She laid out, in great depth, how editors should be going about putting together reprint anthologies of this nature. It’s also good advice for any short fiction editor, be it of anthologies or of a magazine. One of the first steps involves going out and reading diverse stuff. But since someone always finds a way to claim that they just don’t know where to find such or who the women and/or people of color writing in the genre are, I hope that this list will go a long way toward alleviating that problem.

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Will Digital Comics on the Sony PSP Signal the eReader’s iPod Moment?

On Tuesday at gamescom in Cologne, Germany, Sony announced that there would soon be an eReader on the PlayStation Portable. Not content to allow their users to read anything so plain as books, they also announced the launch of Digital Comics. PSP owners will be able to buy and download comics right from their handheld devices from partners IDW Publishing, iVerse Media, and Marvel Entertainment. That’s right, you’ll be able to read X-Men right on your tiny gaming screen!

As dubious as I am about the level of pleasure people will get out of reading comics on a screen roughly the size of an iPhone, I am very, very excited about Digital Comics in general. This Sony PSP deal is going to open the doors to so much more. And it might even give eReaders the consumer base they need to advance to the next level.

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How Do I Say Goodbye?

Ever since the new Star Trek movie came out the fandom has been super active. We all have a new universe to play in now—and people have been playing. I could write a whole post about the massive fights going on about Spock and Uhura (you don’t want me to, though. It’s been unpleasant), but I find myself more interested in what’s been left behind and what this means for the future of the franchise.

If you haven’t seen the movie and are still inexplicably avoiding spoilers, stop reading now. But as it’s been months, I don’t feel the need to put this under the jump.

As most everyone knows, Star Trek heavily messed with canon. The whole history of the future has been changed and spun off into an alternate timeline. This was explained—not quite plausibly, but satisfactorily enough—in the movie. But as I watched the scene where Spock expositioned his way through it all (with Uhura’s helpful cry of “an alternate universe!”), I couldn’t help but think to myself: “30+ years of canon just died in 90 seconds. What a shame.”

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Creating Better Magazines (and Anthologies)

A couple of weeks ago at Readercon I was on a panel called “The Future of Magazines.” Actually, I was on the second part of this panel focusing on online magazines since the premise aimed at pitting print and webzines against each other. Granted, when talking about new vs. old models of publishing the divide often does come in the form of print or online, but not always. In my summation I said that the real issue is not print or online, it’s that SF needs better magazines, period.

This ties into the latest iteration of “Oh My God there are no female authors in that anthology, and oh look no writers of color, either” that Arachne pointed to last week. There are more layers to what’s going on with the Mammoth book than just one editor’s massive fail. More than just his failure to find and include women (which he has already attempted to pass off as a matter of taste, the first fallback position of fail-prone editors). More than just his failure to include writers of color (which he has, as far as I know, not attempted to explain away). This anthology, like so many others, like so many magazines, is lacking several other less-obvious minorities: LGBT, non-American/Western European, differently-abled, just to name those that come to mind. Obviously I can’t say for sure that there aren’t any authors in the book that come from those groups, and the reason is that you can’t always tell by the name. But considering the lack of attention paid to the more obvious exclusions, I feel safe in betting that there’s a severe (but perhaps not total) lack of the others, too.

Before you start yelling at me about quotas and affirmative action, let me explain that I do not consider the above as some kind of checklist. Editors need not collect one of each like Pokemon or something. No one is advocating for editors to engage in tokenism. We blew past the point where tokenism was useful about 30 years ago — some genre editors must have missed that memo. What people are advocating for is a change in the way editors think, the way they make decisions, in the way they see their jobs. It is not merely a matter of taste, anymore. It’s a matter of not having a small mind or narrow vision.

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Note: This review contains spoilers, but only if you haven’t read the book.

When I saw the first trailer for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I was struck by how creepy and dark it was. It reminded me more of a horror trailer than one for a kids movie. But then, Harry Potter hasn’t been for kids for a while now, and the movies have tried to grow with the books and the audience. In some ways they’ve succeeded—Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix didn’t shy away or sugar-coat the death and darkness of the books. Thus, I was tentatively excited for Half-Blood Prince and would have been pleased with a movie that was more horror than fantasy.

The movie does deliver the creepy and nicely balances the lighter scenes with the dark. Unfortunately, Half-Blood Prince falls down where it matters most: the moments of intense emotional impact. This is nothing new—since The Prisoner of Azkaban the Harry Potter movies have struggled to capture the intensity of Rowling’s crunchier scenes (the fault may lie in the amount of exposition crammed in there—it doesn’t work all that well in book form and it takes a Kevin Smith for such things to even approach working well on film). The climaxes in particular tend to fall flat, and this was also true for Half-Blood Prince.

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The Good, The Bad, The Mary Sues

I once had a conversation with a friend and fellow writer about whether the existence of a Mary Sue character in a piece of fiction (be it literature or visual media) automatically rendered said fiction Bad. She maintained that Mary Sue always equaled a bad story, I disagreed. Certainly there are many, many Mary Sue stories that are horrendous, but some that work and work really well.

Our debate never concluded as the other people with us at the time put an end to things before they came to blows. Time has not tempered my conviction. Mary Sue doesn’t have to be a harbinger of a bad story or television episode or film. Like every other character or storytelling device, it’s all in the execution.

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