Tables I Have Known

It’s somewhat incredible to discover that the “Revenge From Mars” pinball table, which is one of the four machines that I’ve ever played to the point of intimate knowledge and quasi-expertise, now is the subject of a full-length documentary film. I knew the game was noteworthy for its hybrid nature — part traditional pinball, part videogame — but I had no idea it represented a revolutionary (and controversial) attempt to save the doomed pinball industry.

I played on this table over a multi-year period in college at the Gatekeeper, a dive bar in Middletown, Conn., also notable for its steamed cheeseburgers and homemade beef jerky. I was decent at “Mars,” but a woman in the class ahead of me was far superior. I eventually owned the top score on “Theater of Magic,” which was installed at Wesleyan’s campus center and became an obsession over  the course of my senior year.  The other two pinball tables that have figured  prominently in my life are, above all, the “Comet” table by Williams, which my uncle owned and left at my family’s house for a few years when I was 7, and “Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure,” which the local hotdog resturant had in residence for many years when I was in middle school and high school.

I’m sure there are pinball obsessives who know about the personalities and achievements of the legendary pinball designers. This documentary, “Tilt,” looks like it’ll give me a taste of that world.

I’m Off to China

The plan is to suspend the usual stuff-I-saw-on-the-Internet blogging for the next two weeks in order to do as much stuff-I-saw-in-China blogging as time and Web access allow. If all goes well, it should be more photos and less links.

I’m getting on flight to Beijing (via a Tokyo pit stop) in four hours. More when my brother and I reach the other side of the world.

Dino Run Coulda Been a Contender

Had Dino Run been released during the actual 8-bit Atari age, I do believe it would’ve been a hit. The gameplay is silky smooth, the constant running pace is excellent, and the balance of priorities (outrunning the black smoking fallout of dinosaur extinction vs. finding eggs to preserve your species and earn continuations) is a great stress enhancer. Plus, the music! Why don’t do they do music like that any more?

My favorite details: the running dino visibly craps himself as the wave of doom approaches, and surviving a close brush with death is considered an achievement (“doom surfing,” my best time was seven seconds).

Here’s the review from Play This Thing. And here’s the game itself.

For Althea

via FFFFound

Feed You

New feature here at OSP. Over on the right-side hyperlinkalley, you’ll notice a new entry that takes you to my shared items on Google Reader. I guess you’d have to term that feed a blog of all blogs I read, with a notability threshold that keeps out the riff raff. A meta-blog, in other words. In a way, however, its more honest than my prime blog because it shows even better than a “via” link where I do my reading. Although far from transparent, I think the online world would be a better place if eveyone offered an RSS consumption digest like this.

Thank you, Google Reader, for continuing to be the best application ever. (If you use Google Reader yourself, which you really ought to, then by all means add me as shared item-friend and let me know in the comments so I can add your items to my feed.)

Full-Throated Approval

1. “Lie Down in the Light,” Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

Will Oldham is freakishly prolific, and this is very possibly his best album since 1999’s “I See a Darkness.” (Side note: it’s been freaking nine years since “Darkness” came out?) Couldn’t find a playable link for “So Everyone,” my favorite track at present and a song described by a half-sleeping Claire as “very romantic.” Here’s a download link.

2. “Arm’s Way,” Islands (listen)

The previous Islands album, “Return to the Sea,” flew completely under my radar until fairly recently. This one is better all around. Much to like on “Sea,” but many of the songs suffer from quasi-annoying interludes sandwiched between killer fragments. A lot of the stuff didn’t quite gel. The new album is much more cohesively poppy and, although somewhat slipshod at times, also more slickly produced. Here’s a winning upbeat track:


As long as we’re on the subject, I find this Islands performance video transfixing (in part, I admit, due to the very attractive female singer in the band). That link is from La Blogotheque, which is fantastic and something worth exploring thoroughly.

Look at the Hands

A robot conducting an orchestra, with life-like hand gestures that will terrify and astonish.

Getting Strossed

Almost through Charles Stross’ “Accelerando,” a fantastic singularity sci-fi novel. I’m really enjoying this book, to the point where I’ll likely start writing a slew of half-baked posts about the singularity. I guess I’ll hold back until I’m done. If you want to read along at home, which is totally in your interest, since the book is so good, find the entire thing here for free. (Open your heart to the free e-books, people.)

On Mr. Stross’s blog this week, he’s got some incredible material on the current thinking into the Fermi Paradox (i.e. we’re intelligent, and that means intelligence is possible, so how come can’t we observe evidence of alien intelligences?). Here’s one of the ideas he brings up:

But the Great Filter argument isn’t the only answer to the Fermi Paradox. More recently, Milan M. Ćirković has written a paper, Against the Empire, in which he criticizes the empire-state model of posthuman civilization that is implicit in many Fermi Paradox treatments. As he points out, for a civilization to be visible at interstellar distances it needs to be expanding and utilizing resources in certain ways. There is a widespread implicit belief among people who look at the topic [] in manifest destiny, expansion to fill all possible evolutionary niches, and the inevitability of any species that develops the technology to explore deep space using that technology to colonize it. As Ćirković points out, this model is based on a naive extrapolation of historical human models which may be utterly inapplicable to posthuman or postbiological societies.

In other words, the answer to Fermi is we don’t see evidence of other intelligences because advanced minds aren’t raw-material consumers like us primitives. When we project an idea of an advanced civilization, we make it look just like us but on space steroids. If getting advanced means using resources differently, which seems likely enough, all these projections based on human evolutionary history up to now may not be quite accurate.

10 Dimensions in 12 Minutes

I’ve not been much into string theory, outside of a stray episode of NOVA or something, so I can’t tell you if this video is good on the merits. But I confirm that this 12-minute animation, which takes you step by step through visualizations of all ten known dimensions, is a kick. My mind, after watching, is pleasingly boggled.

Has anyone else ever seen this video before or know much about how it jibes/doesn’t jibe with mainstream ideas about string theory?


Here’s the trailer for the new Joss Whedon show. Eliza Dushku stars as a programmable hottie-for-hire, but we also get Helo, cranky Zion military commander guy from the shitty Matrix films, and sexy British love-interest lady from Rushmore. I liked most of Buffy and loved Firefly, so I’ll give this show a spin, but I’m not convinced ahead of time that it’s going to be great.