Five Things #40

Once More Unto the Breach (But Don’t Worry, the Inflatable Swords Are Latex-Free) by Tina Connolly is a genuinely funny story about the endless challenge of parenting.

“Sometimes, when we all act on our preferences, we end up collectively worse off. Wearing masks is the flipside of this: by acting against our preference and wearing them, we might end up collectively better off by having fewer infections and escaping lockdowns.” Chris Dillow considers maskphobia.

“Some critics want you to think Ed Wood’s film is the worst ever made. But there are actually plenty of things to admire about the schlock classic.” Kieran Fisher considers the everlasting power of Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Alan Parker died last week. Tom Jolliffe celebrates the career of one of Britain’s greatest directors.

Dan Nosowitz asked leading entomologists: “What’s The Smartest Bug In The World?

Five Things #39

68:Hazard:Cold by Janelle C. Shane is a first encounter story, set on a cryogenic exoplanet and starring an escaped housekeeping robot. There’s also beeping.

“If a tie-in between an Anglo-Australian mining conglomerate with a history of scandals and a secretive Nestlé-owned coffee company doesn’t calm the doubters, what will?” Ed Cumming looks into how Nespresso’s coffee revolution got ground down.

Will Koehrsen has some lessons on How to Lie with Statistics and the importance of data (and statistical) literacy.

Scarfolk Council looks back at the infamous Class 3 school illustration.

Denzil visits the Erps-Kwerps Vijvers.

Five Things #38

Single Malt Spacecraft by Marie Vibbert is a superb tale of time dilation and the economic opportunities and social effects of near-light-speed travel. It even comes with a recommended whisky pairing. What more could you want?

It’s often been noted that it is pretty much impossible for a Hollywood blockbuster to make a loss. It’s also almost impossible for any of these films to make a profit. Karl Smallwood explores the dark art of how Hollywood studios manage to officially lose money on movies that make a billion dollars.

“Being able to speculate on possible future outcomes is part of what makes us human… While engagement with the present is integral, so too is our ability to imagine different futures—both the kind to strive toward, and cautionary tales we hope to avoid.” Lindsay Ellis on how science fiction makes sense of the present.

Kira Allmann visits the remote British village that built one of the fastest internet networks in the UK.

Itsabrewtifulworld explores Dionysian Aarschot.

Five Things #37

Dog Years by Ace Tilton Ratcliff is a remarkably powerful tale of how far we will go for the ones we love.

“In the safety of the group, it becomes possible to have one’s cake and eat it, to be simultaneously radical and orthodox, hyper-sceptical and yet unreflective.” William Davies on what’s wrong with WhatsApp.

“For Conservative politicians, the culture war is also an incredibly cheap way of getting votes.” Flip Chart Rick on why Conservatives love the culture war.

With UK pubs now having re-opened, Scarfolk Council have released a selection of 1970s beer mats from their archives. Collect them all.

Denzil takes a walk around Grimbergen

Five Things #36

Benjamin 2073 by Rjurik Davidson, looks towards a future in which humanity is making progress toward restoring the environment and fixing the mistakes of the past. Ellie has spent the last ten years going even further by working to resurrect the thylacine, extinct since 1936. But with no results and increasingly impatient bureaucrats threatening to pull her funding, the thylacine’s future -— and Ellie’s -— is in danger of reaching the point of no return.

Ricky Church writes in defence of the Star Wars prequels: Are they really that bad?

And staying with films, if you are still looking for a way to pass the seemingly endless days, Paul Bramhall of City on Fire presents The Scott Adkins Starter Pack.

For the first time in 150 years, wild wolves have been born in Belgium.

Xan Brooks talks to Werner Herzog.

Five Things #35

Sand Castles by Adam-Troy Castro takes a little bit of time to really get going, but once it does this story of a failed drunk finding a place for herself in a mythic world is really rather moving.

J.K. Rowling has found herself subjected to some appalling abuse and vitriol over the past week or so, much of it based on second- and third-hand reinterpretations of what she may or may not have said or meant. On her own site, J.K. Rowling writes about her reasons for speaking out on sex and gender issues.

Going without sleep for too long is fatal but scientists haven’t known why. Veronique Greenwood looks at newly published research which suggests that the answer lies in an unexpected part of the body.

Remember Brexit? It’s still not done and Chris Grey points out that Brexit Britain risks heading to international pariahdom.

Esther Addley explores the madcap world of marble racing.

Five Things #34

In his bestselling 2005 Collapse, Jared Diamond argued that the destruction of the Easter Island’s ecological environment triggered a downward spiral of internal warfare, population decline, and cannibalism, resulting in an eventual breakdown of social and political structures. Jennifer Ouellette reports on new research that challenges this hypothesis and points to a resilient, cooperative society well beyond 1600.

“The self-interest in shifting the blame is easy to understand, as is the self-interest of a British far-left anxious to shuffle off responsibility for shattering the Labour Party.” Nick Cohen looks back at Labour’s abysmal election performance last year and takes issue with the stab-in-the-back myth.

In times of crisis, we should cherish our journalists. Steve Royston looks at the importance of both journalism and journalists.

Richard Speed looks back at Pascal, the spawn of ALGOL, which turns 50 this year.

Denzil visits Wespelaar Arboretum.

Five Things #33

The Skinned by Jarla Tangh is a powerful tale of the evil that people do, and the redemption that they seek.

Joe Darlington explores the paradox of reduced choice and the popularity of animation on Netflix.

Simon Brew looks at low quality streaming, unavailable films and movie edits by stealth and argues that physical media matters more than ever in the streaming age.

Tom Hayes of the BEERG Brexit Blog takes a look at the current state of UK/EU negotiations and points out that sometimes, you just can’t compromise.

David Graeber, author of “Bullshit Jobs: A Theory” looks at the lessons from coronavirus. Not all jobs are bullshit, but many are.

Five Things #32

How do you deal with a sentient hologram that thinks it’s Napoleon? Find out with Charles Payseur’s amusingly silly Foie Gras.

“Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?” Someone asked this question on Quora and Nate White replied in spectacular fashion. The original question has been deleted but nothing is ever gone for good, and a grumpy old man on LiveJournal has reproduced the answer in full. (Thanks to Denzil for the link)

2020 marks 60 years since ALGOL 60 laid the groundwork for a multitude of computer languages. Richard Speed looks looks back at the greatest computer language you’ve never used and grandaddy of the programming family tree.

More history, this time from Meilan Solly who uncovers the best board games of the ancient world. I’ve played six of them.

In an unassuming Brussels street, not far from Midi station, you’ll find Europe’s most productive independent animation studio. Ian Mundell visits Brussels animation studio, nWave.

Five Things #31

The Time Traveler’s Advice to the Lovelorn by Adam-Troy Castro is a gentle, sf inflected reworking of the three wishes trope.

“There is a small but very influential group of politicians and commentators who approach a nexus of issues in the same way be it Brexit, coronavirus, climate change, immigration, sexual harassment or any number of other things. It’s always the same people, and always the same blokey, angry, resentful, constantly triggered but can’t-you-take-a-joke-snowflake, sneeringly superior yet self-pitying victimhood schtick.” Chris Grey examines the connections between Brexit and responses to the coronavirus crisis.

I was slightly surprised to learn that Charles Band is still releasing films. I was a lot less surprised to discover that his latest film is Corona Zombies. Chris Coffel at Film School Rejects takes the opportunity to provide a brief history of exploitation films.

Robbert Dijkgraaf remembers the Unstoppable Freeman Dyson. Physicist, mathematician, writer and idea factory, he died on February 28th at the age of 96, but his influence lives on.

In The Real Lord of the Flies, Rutger Bregman discovers what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months.