One of the BEST Magic Books Of All Time – Now Online

I’m happy to say that the Library of Congress is doing wonderful amazing things by putting their books online.

About 16 years ago, I came across a book in Altrincham Public Library called “MAGIC: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions, Including Trick Photography”.

It’s one of the best magic books I’ve ever read. Sure, there’s no much card manipulation in it, but it covers lots of grand stage illusions, side-show geekery (in the dancing on broken glass, eating lightbulbs sense) and even some old Greek & Roman tricks from their temples.

I never found the book again. Which isn’t surprising, because it went out of print some time in 1897A.D.

But yesterday, I found it. If you’re at all interested in magic, history, ancient greek temples, or anything along that spectrum, check it out. You can find it here.


Writing Strong Female Characters – the trick

Hey you.

Yes you, over there! The guy with the pen.

I see you there, sitting, poring over your script. Trying to figure out how to write a strong female character. And all you’re ending up with is … well… a weak female character.

Want to know the trick?

The secret…? How to get into a woman’s head, and turn her into Sarah Connor in Terminator 2? Or Ripley in Aliens? Or Uma Thurman’s character in Kill Bill? Or heck, we could go for less overt strong female roles.

It’s easier than you might think.

Just write them as if you’re writing a guy. Stop thinking about it so hard.

It’s really just that simple. Most guys (and a few female writers) will write their characters in over stereotypes. Just drop your concept of gender, and write them as you. Don’t color them in such gaudy strokes – remember, your actress will have all kinds of wonderful tricks to remind the audience that they’re female. And heck, you can have sexual banter in your script even. But don’t make the mistake of writing the girl as a girl, or even a guy as a guy. Because the reality is that we’re actually a lot more similar than you might think.

For example, the stereotype of the rational, clear-thinking man, and the irrational, illogical woman? Complete balderdash. Every woman I’ve ever met has been way more clinically logical and ruthless than every man I’ve ever met – especially when it comes to relationships and love. Women seem to have this ability to boil everything down into a set of logical rules that they apply without actually letting their emotions get in the way, and no matter how in love they are. They have to – this is an evolutionary thing; they’re looking for the best chance at their (potential) child’s survival – and this requires ruthless choices.

Men, on the other hand? If we fall in love, our critical reasoning skills fall to pieces. Ruthless logical, rational thinking? Forget about it. Our hearts drive us more than our brains in these situations. That pint of Haagen-Dasz stereotype where the girl is unhappy, and watches romantic comedies while crying into tissues? Sure it happens. It happens to guys too. Just typically without the ice cream. Or the romantic comedies. We’re just not officially allowed to show it in modern society, because we’re supposed to be manly men, all chest hair and permanently erect, looking for the next vagina to be inside of.

(And frankly, women don’t want to see that soft stuff anyway… there’s nothing less sexy than a guy having a pity party… although oddly it worked in Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

About the only valid stereotype is that when discussing something that’s annoying them, men want to attack the immediate problem and fix it, whereas women want sympathy for the problem. And even then, that’s not always true. It really doesn’t cross gender barriers either – most men will get annoyed if you try the fixing it role when they have a dilemma which is causing them emotional pain. They really just want sympathy too.

In short, don’t rely on stereotypes when you’re dealing with gender roles and characters. It’s a way too broad brush unless you’re writing slapstick comedy.


Friday the 13th!

Today is the 2nd Friday 13th of 2009. There’s actually three. (Spooky eh? Well… spooky if you’re paraskevadecatriaphobic maybe).

Just so you don’t need to worry any more, here’s a C# program, so you can figure out when it’s going to happen again.

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Text;

namespace Friday13th
    class Program
        static void Main(string[] args)
            for (int i = 1601; i < 2500; ++i)
                int fricount = 0;
                for (int j = 1; j < 12; ++j)
                    DateTime dt = new DateTime(i, j, 13);
                    if (dt.DayOfWeek == DayOfWeek.Friday)

                if (fricount > 2)
                    Console.Out.WriteLine("{0} has {1} Friday 13ths...", i, fricount);

Now, of course, this program only dumps out the years which have three of them, which is actually not all that many. In fact those poor souls who are tri-paraskevadecatriaphobic have had a relatively free ride since 1998 – this being the first year since then that we’ve had three in a year.

Unfortunately, the next few years are going to be rough for those poor souls, because it happens again and again – next time is 2012, then 2015, then a period of respite until 2026.

Good thing I’m not superstitious. (Touch wood). Here’s the output of the program for the next few centuries.

2009 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2012 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2015 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2026 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2037 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2040 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2043 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2054 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2065 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2068 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2071 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2082 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2093 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2096 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2099 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2105 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2108 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2111 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2122 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2133 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2136 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2139 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2150 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2161 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2164 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2167 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2178 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2189 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2192 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2195 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2201 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2204 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2207 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2218 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2229 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2232 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2235 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2246 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2257 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2260 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2263 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2274 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2285 has 3 Friday 13ths... 2288 has 3 Friday 13ths...
2291 has 3 Friday 13ths...

#programming, #horror
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Comcast: Some of Our Channels Are Missing!

Darci and I were really looking forward to seeing Breaking Bad on AMCHD tonight (channel 697).

Breaking Bad,as we expected to see it

Unfortunately, for some reason, all we were getting is a blank screen. A huge block of channels from 679-695 and 697 and higher are all gone. Missing. No idea what has happened.

Artist's rendition of Breaking Bad,as we actually saw it

We rebooted the Tivo. The Comcast support tech we called did some magic trickery on his end, and he has no idea what happened with the channels either.

So I did a quick check on the website. The channels are missing from the lineup there too!

Apparently, several areas are experiencing missing channels; the Comcast support tech we talked to said that the channels are not appearing in the line up, and are completely missing. They have no idea what’s happening. No idea at all.

They’re going to check into it. They think it could be hardware changeovers, or any other number of weird things, but it is weird. They’re gone, baby, gone.


The Pyramids, Skyscrapers and Evolution

(Why Evolution Just Makes Sense: Part 2)

One common argument of the Intelligent Design crowd is that things like the eye, the brain, even the cell are too complex to have arisen by chance.

They say there’s too many moving parts. Too many things to go wrong. Too much infrastructure.

And you know, they’re absolutely right! There is absolutely no way a cell could arise randomly out of nowhere. (Well, ok, there is a finite probability that it could happen, but it’s probably much less than the previous article’s number of die-rolls we arrived at of about 1 in 8x1063).

Allow me to introduce a Pyramid, and a Skyscraper.

pyramid Skyscraper_Lovely

What do these have anything to do with evolution?

Well, the argument that it requires a lot of infrastructure misses one very important point.


In case you’ve forgotten what scaffolding is, here’s a picture:

scaffolding It’s that stuff that lets you build buildings. You put it up, along with all of the other machinery and structure that you need to make the thing. You know, thing like cranes. Diggers. Pile drivers.

And what do you do when you don’t need it any more?

You get rid of it.

Here’s the trick with randomness. I already gave you a pretty straightforward argument as to why things get more complex – and more efficient – in their environments as they exhaust resources. (Namely, because if they don’t, they die off, and it’s the end of the line… so it’s do or die).

Randomness doesn’t care which direction it goes. The only thing is, in a competitive environment, only the efficient solutions will survive.

Nature doesn’t care how long it takes to arrive at a solution though, as long as it doesn’t radically hamper the efficiency/survivability of a random change. And don’t forget, we’re still dealing with a huge number of possible random changes. Most of which, by the way, we’ll never see – again, there’s that efficiency criterion coming into play here. The bad solutions are fleeting – they only last one generation. The good ones? They persist.

But once Nature finds a solution, that solution will stick. It can take as wandering a route as it likes, and the moment it builds that better mousetrap, that solution will take over rapidly. It’ll grow exponentially, killing other things in its niche.

What happens then?

Well, we have an interesting situation. We’ve already got the best of breed. But it has all that nasty scaffolding. It doesn’t need it any more.

But carrying around all that dead weight has a cost – it’s not as efficient as it could be.

You can probably guess where this is going.

What we have here is a gradient. If the random changes get rid of the advantage, then it won’t survive – it’ll get eaten by the other entities. But it’s going to change anyway – it’s not as efficient as it can be. So…

The scaffolding comes down. It has no choice but to. The only changes which make the entity more efficient are those that get rid of it. So slowly, over time, randomly, the scaffolding is taken away. What you’re left with is the building.

Pyramids have a lot in common with evolution. There are those out there – crackpots – who believe that aliens built them. Because there’s no way any human could have done it.

But that’s wrong.

And so is Intelligent Design, for exactly the same reason. The scaffolding has been taken away. All you’re left with now is the end result.

#religion, #evolution
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