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March 16, 2007

'The Machine Stops' — by E.M. Forster


Who knew that the great British author wrote sci-fi?

Not me until yesterday, when I happened on a mention of his 1909 story, "The Machine Stops."

I went to Amazon and was about the drop $12.44 for the slim (48 pages) volume when I had a thought (I average about one a day).

Instead of clicking the "Two-Day 1-Click — Free" button, I told my crack research team to see what they could come up with.

After all, being 98 years old and all, the story might well in the public domain, beyond copyright restrictions and therefore free to one and all online.

Darned if that didn't prove to be the case.

I clicked here, then printed out the story and read it.

It's superb.

And as a seer of the future, Forster puts George Gilder and his ilk to shame.

    From the story:

    Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk — that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh — a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.

    But it was fully fifteen seconds before the round plate that she held in her hands began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it, darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her.

    "In the air-ship..." He broke off, and she fancied that he looked sad. She could not be sure, for the Machine did not transmit nuances of expression. It only gave a general idea of people — an idea that was good enough for all practical purposes, Vashti thought. The imponderable bloom, declared by a discredited philosophy to be the actual essence of intercourse, was rightly ignored by the Machine, just as the imponderable bloom of the grape was ignored by the manufacturers of artificial fruit. Something "good enough" had long since been accepted by our race.

    Vashanti"s next move was to turn off the isolation switch, and all the accumulations of the last three minutes burst upon her. The room was filled with the noise of bells, and speaking-tubes. What was the new food like? Could she recommend it? Has she had any ideas lately? Might one tell her one"s own ideas? Would she make an engagement to visit the public nurseries at an early date? — say this day month.

    To most of these questions she replied with irritation — a growing quality in that accelerated age. She said that the new food was horrible. That she could not visit the public nurseries through press of engagements. That she had no ideas of her own but had just been told one-that four stars and three in the middle were like a man: she doubted there was much in it. Then she switched off her correspondents, for it was time to deliver her lecture on Australian music.

    The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms. Seated in her armchair she spoke, while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well. She opened with a humorous account of music in the pre Mongolian epoch, and went on to describe the great outburst of song that followed the Chinese conquest. Remote and primæval as were the methods of I-San-So and the Brisbane school, she yet felt (she said) that study of them might repay the musicians of today: they had freshness; they had, above all, ideas. Her lecture, which lasted ten minutes, was well received, and at its conclusion she and many of her audience listened to a lecture on the sea; there were ideas to be got from the sea; the speaker had donned a respirator and visited it lately. Then she fed, talked to many friends, had a bath, talked again, and summoned her bed.

    The bed was not to her liking. It was too large, and she had a feeling for a small bed. Complaint was useless, for beds were of the same dimension all over the world, and to have had an alternative size would have involved vast alterations in the Machine. Vashti isolated herself-it was necessary, for neither day nor night existed under the ground — and reviewed all that had happened since she had summoned the bed last. Ideas? Scarcely any. Events — was Kuno's invitation an event?

    By her side, on the little reading-desk, was a survival from the ages of litter — one book. This was the Book of the Machine. In it were instructions against every possible contingency. If she was hot or cold or dyspeptic or at a loss for a word, she went to the book, and it told her which button to press. The Central Committee published it. In accordance with a growing habit, it was richly bound.

March 16, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Glow-in-the-Dark Doorknob


What took them so long?

What a great, great idea.

Just named the Official Doorknob of bookofjoe.

From the website:

    Great Grips Glow-in-the-Dark Doorknobs

    Opening doors just got easier.

    Stop struggling with slippery door knobs!

    Great Grips go over round door knobs, creating a secure, slip-free grip.

    Grips glow for up to 8 hours so you’ll never fumble for a knob in the dark again!

    No-tool installation — simply moisten with water and stretch to fit.



Two for $11.95.

March 16, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

infosthetics.com — 'Form follows data'

I like it — tell us more.

Infosthetics is short for information aesthetics.

This striking website is devoted to "data visualization & visual communication."

The video up top is "'3D World Blogosphere Visualization,' a real-time rendering of blog posts on an animated 3D representation of the Earth. Blog posts are represented as bars standing on top of continents. The height of a bar represents the number of posts written at that location. The ring around the globe shows statistics over the countries blog posts come from."

March 16, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

QuickSeals — Make any bag resealable


A Washington Post Food section item called QuickSeals a chip clip alternative.

You use the built-in adhesive strips to attach them to a bag, which then opens and closes with a ziplock-type top.

Supposedly keeps food fresher longer.

Why all bags don't have those easy open/close press-to-seal strips like Obierto beef jerky is way beyond me.

A "Try Me" pack of six QuickSeals costs $1.29.

March 16, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Rope Dancer — by Victor Marchetti


A unique book, in the strictest, most literal sense of the word.

Victor Marchetti had a highly successful 14-year career at the CIA.

He rose to the position of executive assistant to the deputy director of the agency and attended regular planning and intelligence meetings which included CIA director Richard Helms.

He was also a courier for the agency group that approved covert operations, and as such had access to the most carefully guarded CIA information, called Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI).

Such material was distributed strictly on a need-to-know basis.

His positions as executive assistant to the deputy director and secure courier allowed Marchetti an overview of the agency purposely denied to most CIA officers.

Over time, Marchetti became troubled by the agency's role in the overthrow of various governments and by CIA involvement in other nations' internal policies.

He decided to quit the agency age 39, and soon thereafter wrote a novel entitled "The Rope Dancer."

Prior to its 1971 publication by Grosset and Dunlap, a CIA officer read the manuscript at Marchetti's home, in keeping with the rules set out in the CIA secrecy contract Marchetti had signed.

The CIA officer found no security breaches and publication went forward.

Then word got out that Marchetti was preparing a non-fiction book highly critical of the CIA.

Concerned, CIA director Richard Helms himself ordered Marchetti placed under surveillance beginning on March 23, 1972.

Within days, an article written by Marchetti appeared in the April 3 issue of The Nation, under the headline, "CIA: The President's Loyal Tool."

In 1974 the book the CIA feared, by rogue former officer Marchetti, was published, with much of its content deleted by the CIA for reasons of "National Security."

Co-authored with John D. Marks, its title was "The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence."

Along with "The Rope Dancer," it remains surprisingly hard-to-find, though with the Internet it's no longer next-to-impossible, as was the case in the 80s.

I first read "The Rope Dancer" a long time ago, and I return to it, as I just have, every decade or so because of the uncanny sense of verisimilitude it offers the reader.

Now, it's not a well-written book: Marchetti has a clunky style, and the narrative is anything but smooth.

But that's small potatoes compared to the scope and depth of the author's knowledge, and the sense you get reading the novel of what it must be like to work in the CIA, called the NIA (National Intelligence Agency) in the book.

The protagonist is executive assistant to the deputy director of the NIA; he's married, with two sons, just like Marchetti was at the time in real life; and he's put under surveillance — or thinks he is — just as Marchetti was to be several months after the novel's publication.

I can't help but believe this is the best look into the hearts and minds of the movers and shakers of the CIA in the 60s and early 70s that will ever exist.

Very worth reading.

As of late 2004 Marchetti was 72 years old and living quietly in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., according to an email I received at the time from one of his grandsons.

Perhaps he'll read this and update me.

Used copies of "The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence" are available at Amazon for $1.91 and up.


Used copies of "The Rope Dancer" start there at $2.26.

March 16, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Top 10 Signs That You Might Be A Biker T-Shirt


Sign #1 cracked me up: "Your best friends are named after animals."



Above, the back.



the front.


March 16, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

tourfilter.com — 'Searches club websites and sends you email when your favorite bands come to town'



March 16, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Giant Ben LED Clock — Because size matters


Doesn't it?

I mean, if you're trying to tell the time from a quarter-mile away, it would.

From the website:

    Giant Ben Blue LED Wall Clock

    Place our Giant Ben LED Clock in any large room or even a stadium and you'll easily be able to see the correct time from any distance.

    And when we say big, we mean it.

    At over 3 feet wide, the Giant Ben Clock certainly lives up to its name.

    Its energy-efficient large blue LED lights (only few dollars a year in energy consumption) can easily be seen from any angle so you'll always know the proper time.

    It's perfect for any home, business, school or church, or in corporate with a large number of employees who need to all be on the same time schedule.

    No more excuses for showing up late or leaving early.

    And it makes the perfect conversation piece.

    With the Giant Ben LED Wall Clock, time is on your side.

    Clock measurements: 42"W x 27.25"H x 6"D.

    Weight: 45 lbs.


I don't know who wrote the ad copy above, but whoever you are, an offer is hereby extended to join my crack writing team, about which more some other time.


Also available in red —



I just had this wonderful vision of myself in years to come, letting my beard grow down to the ground and walking around with these clocks on front and back like signboards and crying out, "It's later than you think!"


March 16, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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