AP Photos: A half century of Mike Wallace’s career

His prosecutorial style was admired, imitated, condemned and lampooned. His weapons were many: thorough research, a cocked eyebrow, a skeptical “Come on” and a question so direct sometimes it took your breath away.

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Mike Wallace, ’60 Minutes’ interrogator, dies

“Mike Wallace is here to see you.”

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‘Hunger Games’ scores Easter feast with $33.5M

Film fans are still forking over for “The Hunger Games,” which took in $33.5 million to lead the box office for a third-straight weekend.

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The proper way to eat Easter eggs

This is how it’s done. A ring-tailed coati mauls and slurps Easter eggs in Zagreb Zoo April 8, 2012. (REUTERS/Antonio Bronic)


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Fan video for Jonathan Coulton’s "Down Today" made from public domain ballooning footage

Craig sez, “This is a music video I’ve edited for the song ‘Down Today’ by Jonathan Coulton (from his 2011 album, ‘Artificial Heart,’ produced by John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants) using footage from public domain films mostly found on Archive.org. ‘No! No! A Thousand Times No!! – a 1935 Fleischer Studio animated short film, starring Betty Boop, ‘Voyage à Travers l’Impossible’ (The Impossible Voyage) (1904) directed by Georges Méliès, ‘Le Voyage Dans la Lune’ (A Trip to the Moon) (1902) directed by Georges Méliès, ‘Le Dirigeable Fantastique ou le Cauchemar d’un Inventeur’ (The Inventor Crazybrains and his Wonderful Airship) (1905) directed by Georges Méliès, L.T.A. History of Balloons (1944). More music videos I’ve edited for songs from Jonathan Coulton’s excellent ‘Artificial Heart’ album. Stream or buy the album ‘Artificial Heart’ at Jonathan Coulton’s website.

Jonathan Coulton – “Down Today” unofficial music video (Thanks, Craig!)


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When human beings are asked to monitor computers, disaster ensues

Ashwin Parameswaran’s “People Make Poor Monitors for Computers” is a fascinating look at (and indictment of) the way we design automation systems with human fallbacks. Our highly automated, highly reliable systems — the avionics in planes, for example — are designed with to respond well to all the circumstances the designers can imagine, and use human beings as a last line of defense, there to take control when all else fails. But human beings are neurologically wired to stop noticing things that stay the same for a long time. We suck at vigilance. So when complex, stable systems catastrophically fail, so do we. Parameswaran quotes several sources with examples from air-wrecks, the financial meltdown, and other circumstances where human beings and computers accidentally conspired together to do something stupider than either would have done on their own.

Although both Airbus and Boeing have adopted the fly-by-wire technology, there are fundamental differences in their respective approaches. Whereas Boeing’s system enforces soft limits that can be overridden at the discretion of the pilot, Airbus’ fly-by-wire system has built-in hard limits that cannot be overridden completely at the pilot’s discretion.

As Simon Calder notes, pilots have raised concerns in the past about Airbus‘ systems being “overly sophisticated” as opposed to Boeing’s “rudimentary but robust” system. But this does not imply that the Airbus approach is inferior. It is instructive to analyse Airbus’ response to pilot demands for a manual override switch that allows the pilot to take complete control:

“If we have a button, then the pilot has to be trained on how to use the button, and there are no supporting data on which to base procedures or training…..The hard control limits in the Airbus design provide a consistent “feel” for the aircraft, from the 120-passenger A319 to the 350-passenger A340. That consistency itself builds proficiency and confidence……You don’t need engineering test pilot skills to fly this airplane.”

David Evans captures the essence of this philosophy as aimed at minimising the “potential for human error, to keep average pilots within the limits of their average training and skills”.

It is easy to criticise Airbus‘ approach but the hard constraints clearly demand less from the pilot. In the hands of an expert pilot, Boeing’s system may outperform. But if the pilot is a novice, Airbus’ system almost certainly delivers superior results. Moreover, as I discussed earlier in the post, the transition to an almost fully automated system by itself reduces the probability that the human operator can achieve intuitive expertise. In other words, the transition to near-autonomous systems creates a pool of human operators that appear to frequently commit “irrational” errors and is therefore almost impossible to reverse.

People Make Poor Monitors for Computers (Thanks, Patrick!)


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Steampunk Lego dino, with a backstory


Mark Stafford’s “Steam-Dinos” is a Lego fantasy with its own backstory:

“A spiffing way to go to war I decided as we powered through the veldt. Mr. Roberson’s patented Triterrortops steam powered terrible lizard replica was performing above the expectations it has been set by His Majesties Royal Calvalry Corp. My report to the Generals will be that the vehicle has proved more then adequate to combat the clone-vat monstrosities of the Zimbab bio-shamens.(sic)

Also: it really walks!

Steam-Dinos-Rule (via Super Punch)


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Australian actor Matthew Newton arrested in Miami

FILE - In this May 19, 2008, file photo, Australian actor Matthew Newton attends a Sydney Film Festival news conference during the 61st International film festival in Cannes, southern France. A Miami-Dade County jail official says Newton was arrested Friday, April 6, 2012, on charges of resisting police and trespassing on property after a warning. He was released Saturday evening on $2,000 bond. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)Authorities say Australian actor Matthew Newton has been released from a Miami jail following a weekend arrest.

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Weird but true

Officials in Webster, Mass., have made it legal for kids as young as 14 to get tattooed — as long as they go to licensed shops and get their parents’ OK.The local board of health wanted to steer teens away from unlicensed and possibly unsafe tattoo parlors, but even the…

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2012 Hugo Award nominees announced

Last night saw the announcement of the 2012 nominees for science fiction’s prestigious Hugo Award. It’s a particularly fine ballot, reflecting a record number of nominating ballots (wisdom of the crowds and all that). Included on the ballot are our own moderator Avram (as part of the team that publishes The New York Review of Science Fiction) and one of my all-time favorite books, Among Others. Also noteworthy: the much-deserved John W Campbell Award nomination (for best new writer) for the fabulous Mur Lafferty, a nomination for the indispensable Science Fiction Encyclopedia, Third Edition, a nomination for IO9′s Charlie Jane Anders’s story Six Months, Three Days, and a fourth nomination for much-favored Fables graphic novels.

Best Novel (932 ballots)
Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor)
A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra)
Deadline by Mira Grant (Orbit)
Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey)
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (Orbit)

Best Novella (473 ballots)
Countdown by Mira Grant (Orbit)
“The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction November/December 2011)
“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s June 2011)
“The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s September/October 2011)
“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu (Panverse 3)
Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)

Best Novelette (499 ballots)
“The Copenhagen Interpretation” by Paul Cornell (Asimov’s July 2011)
“Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)
“Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen (Analog December 2011)
“Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com)
“What We Found” by Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction March/April 2011)

Best Short Story (593 ballots)
“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld April 2011)
“The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s April/May 2011)
“Movement” by Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s March 2011)
“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction March/April 2011)
“Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi (Tor.com)

Hugo Nominees 2012


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