Tag Archives: Bio-tech

Review: Daybreak Zero

Daybreak Zero
Daybreak Zero by John Barnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the sequel to Directive 51, and I think it was even better than the first. It built on the foundation of what happened in the first book, and the people that were the main characters, and delves into why and how it might have happened, adding some twists and turns in that area, and brought the two factions to the brink of war, with other influences and dangers creeping in, such as the castles, and the outsiders. Pueblo remained the center of action, and this one was scarier, a little torture, a little spookier, and a real study into how people might work, function, and use their strengths, ad to what ends some will go to get or continue in power, and others will withstand the pull, and stand by their principles, even if they have different results. It’s grittier, larger, and I still want more. You don’t ned zombies to make it a scary world. You just need a bunch of people who are ingrained and indoctrinated with a meme. This one is still like the first, full of details on governments, how they function, and on strategies, and how large scale problems may be solved, like the mysterious EMP pulses that attack whenever a strong radio signal is sent out. Who is ending them and from where? The characters are the strong part, real people, with real ideals, and real weak points. But yet is uplifting, in a Postman sort of way, with the idea that hope, or the belief that the world is working again, albeit differently is all that is needed to jump start regular people into doing things, and that from such small starts, come bigger results.

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Review: The Drowned Cities

The Drowned Cities
The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a companion novel to Shipbreakers, and is set in the same “world” but on a different continent. While the first was in the Gulf area, this one takes place in D.C., in what is now known as the “Drowned Cities.” The waters rose, the city flooded during climate change, and gradually enough political infighting tore the place apart, and various war lords and their militias sprung up and took over, lost and retook parts of the city. The Chinese came in for a decade, as peacekeepers, trying to get them to stop fighting, and cracking down on insurgents, but eventually they gave up and left, and the mixed race kids and the sympathizers were rounded up and either forced into slave labour, had body parts cut off, or were killed outright. One of them, a child named Mahlia, whose father had been a peacekeeper, and her mother an American, was left behind when the peacekeeper ships left. A lot of technology in this dystopian environment has been lost, although some has been retained by China, and a couple of the bigger cities, like Boston and New York. But much of the southern areas have been turned into swampland, and scavenging is the way of life. Mahlia fights her way out of the Drowned Cities after her mother is taken away, but then is caught by one of the militias, the Army of God, who hate all things Chinese, and they chop off her right hand. About to chop off her left, something draws their attention away, and she is is able to escape. It is Mouse, a farm boy coming in to one of the towns to try and find shelter after his farm was overrun. They hide from the soldiers and eventually are found by a doctor from a nearby village who bandages her stump, and takes them in, much to the villagers dismay, who believe that she is cursed. But she learns valuable medical training from the doctor, and finds a place there. He tries to teach her to be passive and to turn the other cheek to the insults hurled her way, but she is pure “Drowned Cities” and it’s in her blood to not take things lying down but to fight back. It’s what the Chinese gave up on and found so distasteful – the idea that every insult must be answered with a bigger one; every hurt with a larger hurt, until everything is gone. Many of the militia would rather see their ex-nation’s capitol be destroyed than allow anyone else to occupy it, even though they were all just Americans once. The stroy is of Mahlia, Mouse and a half-man,an augment named Tool, as they try and find a new place in this crazy world. Very bleak, grim, it’s different from his other books in that this one is more violent, and the people are all less easy to like. Mahlia has a chip on her shoulder as big as a house, and Mouse is stupid – conflicted beyond reason. The soldiers are mostly children, as Mouse is, and they are taught from a young age to kill, maim, rape, etc. Sort of a parable on our political infighting, and the child armies of the terrorists, it is a frightening glimpse at anarchy. But hope is at the end. A good book, but the bleakness made me keep it at four stars. That and Mahlia’s pig-headedness and contradictory ways. If you are going to do something, and damn the consequences, then stick with it, or all those people were hurt in vain. Don’t become lost in guilt and remorse.

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Review: Mount Dragon

Mount Dragon
Mount Dragon by Douglas Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read all of Preston/Childs works, but this one I don’t recall. That could be my very faulty memory, or, since it was one of he earlier books they wrote, I simply never read it. So it was a new book for me. Frabjous day! The book starts out with the usual opening – a crazy man is placed in a psych ward, and while he seems sane now, he quickly reverts. Turns out he was a famous scientist, working at the secretive and remote Mount Dragon facility of GeneDyne, located inside the White Sands Missile Testing Grounds. Next up is our hero, Carson, who is hired by GeneDyne to be a scientist in their Boston facility, but is quickly recruited to work on a secret project that could benefit mankind at the New Mexico location. He arrives at the complex, and is given the tour. Hee will be working in a Level-5 zone, a highly controlled environment where they have to wear a type of haz mat suit at all times, since the most lethal pathogens in the world are worked on here. But the bulk of the work is on the new product – a gene therapy that could eradicate the flu by creating a change to the gene that creates an antibody, making it able to carry on to successive generations. But there are currently lethal side effects. Tested on monkeys, they always die shortly after symptons appear which can be up to 21 days. It is a horrible death. Carson was brought on to figure out what is wrong with the viral transport they are using. But slowly he begins to see that things are not quite what they seem, and after a co-worker is exposed and dies a horrific death in front of him, suddenly he and his assistant are locked in a battle for their lives, and that of the world. Exciting, scientific, and well-paced, my only complain is the lack of much in-depth characterization of Carson. But that is sort of the P/C signature -action and thrills, and even horror over characterization. A fun book. It only took me so long to read because I was going through a rough patch with my CFS, and kept falling asleep shortly after my reading hour began for several days (I read from 11:pm to about 2:30am or so).

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Desktops need not be boring

I collected a few items for desktops/cubicle living to while away the hours. Most of these came from ThinkGeek.com. Most were in stock when I put this together, but I’m sure if it’s out of stock, a little googling can find one, if you REALLY have to have it. So have fun, lighten up your life, and think happy….


Bel Occhio by Pablo
by Pablo

The Bel Occhio by Pablo is an outstanding multi-positional and dimmable Halogen spotlight that looks like it’s from another galaxy, particularly when illuminated in a darkened room. The direction of the beam of light from the cylinder is adjusted by repositioning the outer globe on the base. Pablo, founded in 1993 by Venezuelan – born Pablo Pardo, designs and manufactures innovative lighting and home accessories characterized by uncompromising devotion to simplicity and utility.

Compare at $450.00 Our Price: $360.00

Item# as Selected: 20683, Price as Selected: $360.00

http://www.lumens.com/lumens/product.asp?s_id=0&pf_id=PAAAIAGANNNFBKCP

Stonehenge on your desk

August 11th, 2007 Posted by Brown Baron

Published in Misc. Gadgets

Do you have a plain looking desk? Want to dress it up? How about putting Stonehenge on your desk? This do it yourself Stonehenge kit is guaranteed to make your desktop the envy of your officemates. The largest stone is 1.5″ tall, which means the whole set will fit in nicely with all the other junk on your desk. The set comes with 16 stone replicas, a puzzle map/base, and 1 Mini Book.

Desktop Stonehenge

You know you want one.

http://www.gadgetchamp.com/2007/08/11/desktop-stonehenge/

Mini Megaliths

In the year 10,000 BC, aliens from Uranus landed on Earth. They didn’t find anyone cool to talk to, so they just added graffiti to the countryside and left. That graffiti is Stonehenge. Since that time, druids and scientists have tried to provide meaning to the awe inspiring stones, but have never riddled out the true message. We have. How? We can’t tell you. What does Stonehenge really say? That, we can tell you. It says… “WTF?” in Uranean.

This kit will help you spread the joys of an extraterrestrial WTF? to your home or office. The largest stone is about 1.5″ tall, so that the entire structure can neatly surround your coffee mug. But how will I know which stones go where?, you ask. Simple, we reply with a smile, there is a puzzle/map/Stonehenge base which is included. All the stones are numbered, so it’s real easy to assemble properly. You also get a little book with tons of information on what scientists think Stonehenge was all about – but know you’ll know the truth.

The Set includes: 16 stone replicas, puzzle map/base, and 1 Mini Book. Perfect for Spinal Tap dioramas, too.

http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/cubegoodies/8eed/

In This Office, You’re The Boss

Two new sets: Corporate Zombies and IT Department!

Finally, the drudgery of corporate life has been captured in a play set for adults! Bob, Joe, Ted, and Ann spend eight hours a day, five days a week, at tiny desks in tiny cubicles in a giant room packed with countless similar cubicles in a giant building filled with countless similar rooms.

Bob, Ted, Ann, and Joe each come with one 2-3/4″ posable plastic figure and all the necessary plastic parts to build a classic corporate cube: four walls, desk, chair, file cabinet, in/out box, phone, and computer. Comes with a sticker sheet of decor for your cube, complete with graphs, charts, screens for the computer and pithy office posters. Also includes a job title sticker sheet so you can create a convoluted and meaningless position for your employee (how about Level C Systems Associate? Or Senior Accounting Coordinator?). Each additional set comes with the figures noted, plus character specific accessories.

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Choose Between 10 Different Sets! (see additional images for visuals). Build your own corporate labryinth one cube at a time!

The Cubes

  • Bob – Comes with Bob (employee #021871138), generic cubicle playset and accessories, and stickers.

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  • Ted – Comes with Ted (employee #000272319), generic cubicle playset and accessories, and stickers.

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  • Ann – Comes with Ann (employee #004967751), generic cubicle playset and accessories, and stickers.

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  • Joe – Comes with Joe (employee #003992461), generic cubicle playset and accessories, and stickers.

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  • IT Department – Comes with Tim, cubicle, server, captain’s chair, stickers, and more IT accessories.

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  • Corporate Zombies – Comes with four zombies and accessories. Glow in the dark!

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  • Expansion Set – Comes with four additional figures (Jim, Jan, Sue, & Dan) each with unique accessories.

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  • Copy Center – Comes with Art, the copy center playset, and playset specific accessories.

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  • Delivery Man – Comes with Sam, a hand truck, and a special delivery package.

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  • Sensitivity Trainer – Comes with Eve, easel, and “sensitive” visual aids.

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http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/cubegoodies/722a/

USB Webcam Rocket Launcher

Price: $59.99

Awesome-osity:

Shoot while you Chat

Where would we be without Instant Messaging? It lets us stay in contact and chat with friends all over the world (especially delightful during work hours). But sometimes the urge to reach out a shoot someone is unbearable. And that’s where the USB MSN Missile Launcher comes in. Don’t be content with sharing images, jokes, and assorted links with your friends – it’s time to share missiles!

You’ll have your USB MSN Missile Launcher set up within minutes and that’s when the fun begins. For you see, as you chat you and your buddies can control each other’s launcher. And since each USB MSN Missile Launcher has an integrated webcam (which can be used as just a webcam if you haven’t any buddies), you’ll know exactly when you are aimed at your buddy’s head. Then fire away! The only downside is that your buddy can do the same to you! The upside is, you can always retaliate by turning your buddy’s USM MSN Missile Launcher to face the door of his office and peg his boss in the gut when he/she comes to lecture your buddy about using IM for non-work-related matters. Ah the joys of progress . . . and revenge.

USB MSN Missile Launcher

  • Includes: USB MSN Missile Launcher, 3 Foam Darts, Target, Software, Instructions
  • Features:
    • Aim and fire at targets using the built-in webcam and MSN Messenger.
    • Take control over your buddy’s missile launcher and shoot them!
    • Missile Launcher can pan left and right and tilt up and down.
    • Sound effects (from your computer) when you launch your buddy’s missiles.
    • Can also be used as just a webcam.
  • USB Cord Length: 3 feet
  • Range: 15 feet
  • Software Compatibility: Windows XP/2000/Vista

http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/cubegoodies/a1c2/

Rollerscape – Roller Coaster Construction

Price: $29.99

Customer Action Shot!

The Cubicoaster

A Finely Engineered Desktop Rollercoaster Construction Set!

If at some point in your life you never dreamt of designing roller coasters, then you must be an acrophobe. If you are an acrophobe, then we have the perfect toy for you. If you aren’t an acrophobe, and don’t currently design roller coasters for cash, then we also have the perfect toy for you. Rollerscape – The Marble Rollercoaster! Simply design and build your desktop roller coaster using the included construction pieces, snap on the tracks wherever you like, and then begin the testing phase by taking one of the included marbles for a joy ride. Did the marble make it through without the Fall Of Death (FOD)? If so, you need to make your design more challenging. Try and include some loops and steep drops for impact. The sky is the limit! And so long as your marbles aren’t acrophobes you can safely enjoy their ride.

Your choice of advanced or advanced sets (that is, you have no choice). The advanced set has 194 pieces and is compatible with any other Rollerscape set you might have laying around. The image on this page features a piece that is approximately 22 inches tall.

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http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/cubegoodies/6a7c/

Japanese Star Wars Lightsaber Desk Lamp

Price: $19.99

Please Select… Luke Skywalker $19.99 Darth Vader $19.99

May the Force be… with your Stapler

At the ThinkGeek office we mainly prefer to practice the dark side of the force. Hey… don’t judge. The dark side has a lot of advantages. It’s easy to pull-off since you just have to get angry and give-in to your base instincts like revenge and jealousy. We find it handy for offensive attacks during overly-long office meetings. Plus the costumes are just way cooler. However there are some amongst us who prefer the light side of course. Those weak individuals are hard to spot… except Yoda does seem to hang out in those lower employee’s offices quite a bit.

Fortunately we’ve devised a genius way to determine office force alliances for sure. Each employee places one of these nifty glowing Lightsaber Desk Lamps next to their red stapler… those paying allegiance to the powerful dark side can choose the red Vader lamp. While weaklings on their moral high-horses can sport the green Luke lamp. Of course they’re always some employees who have to be obnoxious and swing both ways by placing one of each lightsaber lamp color on their desk. But those nameless employees often find that their mouse has been replaced with Wookie dung while they were busy hitting on Princess Leia.

Product Features

  • Mini Glowing Desk Lamps look like Star Wars Lightsabers
  • Choose from the Red Darth Vader saber, or the Green Luke Skywalker saber
  • Imported from Japan
  • Officially Licensed Star Wars Collectable
  • Requires 2 AAA batteries (not included)
  • Each Lightsaber Stands 16″ High

http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/cubegoodies/97b9/

Hydrodynamic Building Set

Price: $89.99

Awesome-osity:

Let the Water Flow!

Water is everywhere. It covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and composes about 112% of the human body. Gaining control over water would be an awesome super power, but for now we are stuck with using science to master water. Good thing someone invented this Hydrodynamic Building Set. It makes science fun again. But this kit isn’t a simple connect the dots – you have to do some thinking! Why? Read on!

The instruction manual shows you how the girders connect, how to build the various tanks, and some rendered images of completed projects – but not step-by-step. Your entire model gets built up from the bottom of the carrying case, which acts as the water reservoir and also has a special footing to be the structure’s foundation. Level by level, you build your support frame and add your tanks. Then connect all the tubes, add in the valves, and turn on the electric pump. If you’ve done it right, you’ll have an awesome construction everyone will marvel at (a little food coloring helps). Fail and you’re all wet – quite probably literally.

And Kids: Build something with this kit for a Science Fair Project and you are guaranteed to win (this guarantee not guaranteed)!

http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/cubegoodies/91e4/

Screaming Monkey Slingshot

Price: $6.99

Customer Action Shot!

Deadly from this distance.

Super Simian to the Rescue!

Legend tells of a hero not born unto this world, but destined to change forever the course of human existence. A hero so grand that all past legends will turn to dust in the wake of his greatness. This is not that hero. This is, however, the next best thing: a monkey with a cape and a mask. Because nothing says power like a cape and a mask.

This monkey has a secret – there are pockets in the monkey’s hands. Slip your fingers in, pull back his hind legs, and his arms will stretch to a crazy length with the magic of rubber! You can just feel the potential energy coursing through the monkey’s imaginary veins. Let fly and you will be treated to a wondrous sight. The monkey will scream with delight when jolted. So, if the launch is hard enough, you’ll get a scream of power in mid air; or if the landing is hard, you’ll get a scream of protest as gravity does its work. Or, you fling like a master, you’ll get a double-dose of monkey justice (i.e. noise).

http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/warfare/8f00/

Marshmallow Assault Rifle

List Price: $39.99

You Save: 62.5%

Our Price: $14.99

Mallow in the Hull!!!

Listen up, maggots. There’s a war going on out there, and it’s a war we plan to win. That’s why we’re outfitting our soldiers (i.e. you) with the confectionery weapon to end all confectionery weapons. This is some serious sugary firepower, so you better listen and listen good. Now, get your Marshmallow Assault Rifle in your hands, you gum-chewing cow patties, and check out the features with us.

First, you’ll notice two different barrels. The bottom barrel shoots mini marshmallows and should be used for cover and strafing fire. It is your main weapon – learn to love it. The magazine holds up to 12 mini marshmallows and is very easy to reload quickly. The top barrel will hold one regular sized marshmallow at a time. It is your grenade launcher, and you’ll know when you need it. With the Marshmallow Assault Rifle, a lotta luck, and some good soldiering you might just survive to fight another day. Oh, and if you get hungry out there in the field, you can just eat your extra ammo.

Dimensions: approx. 18.75″ long. Power blast the big marshmallow 20 feet away while rapid firing the mini marshmallows at closer targets.

http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/warfare/9bcb/

LED Jellyfish Mood Lamp

Price: $49.99

Customer Action Shot!

Pimp my Jellyfish Tank, coming to MTV this fall.

Dancing Desktop Jellies

Blackbeard was just about the most ruthless pirate ever. His management style was unique, to say the least. If one of his crew misbehaved, he would drop them in a large tank full of jellyfish and delight as the jewels he kept at the bottom of the tank reflected different colors into the ballet of agony that played out before him. According to the infamous pirate’s diaries, it really calmed his nerves, too. Wow. Well, while we don’t recommend all that for your office, there is something we can take from this story: colorful jellyfish are relaxing.

This desktop tank holds three jellyfish which “swim” around the tank (thanks to a gently contrived current). In the top of the tank are 6 bright LEDs, which let you set the mood. You can either have them blend softly from one color to the next, or stop on your favorite color. Either way, the jellies are happy to frolic in their kaleidoscopic, quiet menace. And if one of your subordinates ever acts up, just remind him or her about the Blackbeard story…and let them know there’s room in your jellyfish tank for a hand or two. Sometimes threats are all you need. Arrrgh.

Note: If you are having any troubles getting your jellies to swim about properly, remember to add just a few drops of liquid dish soap to the water as per the instructions. It’s the part that makes the magic happen. Thanks!

LED Jellyfish Mood Lamp

  • Lifelike jellyfish movement
  • 6 bright LEDs – cycle through colors or select your favorite one
  • Includes: Tank, 3 Jellyfish, Power cord (110V), and Instructions
  • Dimensions: 7″ x 10″ x 4.5″ (with 3″ long jellyfish)

http://www.thinkgeek.com/homeoffice/lights/9a8c/

Desktop Carnivorous Plant Set

Price: $22.99

Customer Action Shot!

The office is now gnat free!

Little Desktop Of Horrors…

Here at ThinkGeek, we truly understand you have needs. Especially at work where minutes often last hours and hours become days. You need to be entertained, you don’t want your neurons to prematurely atrophy. You crave stimulation. You crave a Carnivorous desktop plant set. Perfect for the casual office worker who delights in watching insects slowly meet their makers as they are painfully digested by an engaging variety of meat-sucking flora. Nothing quite like it.

So what’s our recommendation? Grab a set and grow your own collection of feared and famous carnivorous plants. This deluxe set has seeds from over ten varieties of carnivorous plants! Watch these fascinating plants grow into bug-eating monsters and delight in creating your own authentic bog with the included peat planting mix, blue Swamp Rocks, three Bog Buddies and full color decals. This rare and unusual collection of carnivorous plants will flourish for years in this specially designed terrarium with proper care…

    Each Complete Kit Includes:

  • Growing Dome
  • Planting Mixture
  • Carnivorous Seed Pack:
    • Venus Fly Trap
    • Yellow Trumpet
    • Hooded Pitcher Plant
    • Purple Pitcher Plant
    • Pale Trumpet
    • Temperate Sundew Plants
    • Cobra Lilies
  • 3 Photo Decals
  • 3 Bog Buddies
  • Swamp Rocks
  • Instructions and Information Manual

NOTE: Unlike Insta-Pets(TM)like Sea Monkeys or Triops, your carnivorous plant set will take several weeks to get started. But have patience friends, the blood-curdling plant-on-insect action will be worth the wait! We guarantee it or pay us double!

http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/science/76c9/

USB R/C Mini Car w/Garage

Price: $29.99

Make a left at the stapler…

Every morning you do the same thing. You get up, brush your teeth (hopefully), get dressed, and drive to work. You sit looking at the same cars and the same tired faces also participating in the great morning commute. You get to work and sit at your desk, a new day of the same old sh…stuff. Wouldn’t you just love, for once, to drive during the week and not hit traffic? Well, now you can – right on your own desk – with the USB R/C Mini Car w/Garage.

Just plug the garage into your USB port, load up the software, and give the car about 10 minutes to charge (inside its garage). Once it’s done, open the garage door and drive the car out using your keyboard’s arrow keys. And if that pesky coffee mug gets in the way again, hit the space bar to honk your horn. But really, there isn’t any traffic on your desk, so you should enjoy a wonderfully relaxing drive. Take a right at the coffee mug, then a left at the stapler, and cruise on to Funsville (population: you).

USB R/C Mini Car w/Garage

  • Garage Dimensions: 5″ x 3″ x 3″
  • Car Dimensions: 3.5″ x 1.75″ x 1.5″
  • Includes: Car, Garage/Charger, Software (Windows only), Instructions, and Sticker Sheet

http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/rc/966d/

Palmsize R/C Helicopter

Price: $29.99 – $49.99

Save $9.99 on Two Copters
Choose “Red/Silver 2-Pack” from the drop-down to buy two Copters (one of each channel) and fly with a friend.

Choice: Please Select… Silver (Chan 2) $29.99 Red (Chan 1) $29.99 Red/Silver 2-Pack $49.99

Customer Action Shot!

Its a lifestyle thing

Tiny Copter Attack!

We just can’t seem to get enough of tiny R/C helicopters. They’re taking the ThinkGeek office by storm… swarming and amusing the office dogs. Buzzing delightfully as we procrastinate on our TPS reports. Even the robotic monkeys are impressed at the tiny size and amazing technology. These mini copters can take off from your hand and circle your desk as your co-workers gape in amazement. Full control allows you to hover and turn left or right as your copter moves slowly forward. Two different channels let you to fly with a friend. But practice-up on your aviation skills if you hope to challenge the expert pilots at ThinkGeek.

Important Note
You will have to practice your flying before you can do as well as we do in the video. Keep the following in mind: You can adjust the forward speed of the copter by twisting the tail slightly right or left before flight (see the instructions). Right turns are wider than left turns due to the dynamics of the rotor. Luckily for you the Palmsize R/C Helicopter is forgiving on crashes.

http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/rc/934c/

Smart Mass Thinking Putty

Price: $9.99

Choice: Please Select… Solar Blue $9.99 Atomic Bronze $9.99 Oil Slick $9.99 Dark Matter $9.99 Atmosphere $9.99 Alien Ooze $9.99 Martian Sea $9.99 Twilight $9.99 Sunburst $9.99

Customer Action Shot!

not exactly the smartest idea.

The Thinking Persons Putty

The Ultimate Stress Reduction office toy is here. Of course you remember playing with putty as a kid. Welp, this ain’t your kids putty. Adult sized, and as feature-rich as your favorite Operating System, the Smart Mass putty from ThinkGeek makes living life fun all over again. Like to fidget while sitting in front of the monitor? Enjoy being the envy of all those who surround you? Trying to make an impression on that new coder down the hall? Smart Mass putty will help…

But ThinkGeek, What Will My Smart Mass Really Do ??

  • It Bounces!
  • It Stretches, Contorts & Squishes !
  • It lifts comics! (as any self-respecting putty would)
  • It Shears & Tears ! (learn how!)
  • It Even Shatters !!! (learn why!)
  • It Drips From Ceilings (learn how!)

But ThinkGeek, Can I Achieve World Domination With My Smart Mass?

  • Yes. Of course. All ThinkGeek products may be used to help you achieve World Domination.

Our Smart Mass putty is just too much fun. Find out for yourselves how magically enticing and addictive playing with putty really is. As you find more and more ways to get creative with your putty, you’ll, well, find more ways to get creative with everything! It’s simply that stimulating!

Your choice of either:

  • Sunburst (new!) – A Hypercolor! Heat sensitive putty. Jumpstart your day with some sunshine! Vibrant orange shifts into an awakening yellow with the touch of your hands or warmth from your coffee mug. Starts out Orange.
  • Twilight (new!) – A Hypercolor! Heat sensitive putty. Just as an evening sky melts into the dark of night, this putty’s deep purple color disappears with a touch to reveal a fluorescent blue complexion.
  • Martian Sea – A color shifter that swirls deep clay reds and orange with a yellow to green sheen depending on the light.
  • Dark Matter – A swirling mass of matte black. Your very own personal, warpable, black hole. Has magnetic properties: pull out a thin strand of dark matter and hold it near a magnet!
  • Solar Blue – A very soothing and energetic, vibrant blue. Intoxicating. Cosmically rapturous…
  • Oil Slick – A color shifter, Oil slick will look different in different lighting. From golds and yellow to pinks and emerald greens all swirling intelligently…
  • Atomic Bronze – Lustrous comes to mind. Atomic bronze sparkles and commands attention. Your very own precious metal. Looks similar to Martian Sea, but has a much more metallic sheen to it.
  • Atmosphere – Another color shifter. Atmosphere will morph into Cerulean highlights and features rich deep purples. A veritable alien, breathing, living atmosphere…
  • Alien Ooze (glows!) – Military grade phosphors power this extremely powerful glowing mass. Charges in light or through UV sources. Amazingly bright when glowing. Ghost like when not performing…

Each tin arrives with an adult sized one fifth of a pound of Smart Mass putty. Wow. The putty is non-toxic and doesn’t leave any gooey residue! Get tins for everybody in the office and at home lest you may find yours missing…

Note: – Your Smart Mass may seem like it has a mind of its own occasionally. That’s because it does. And when not being used, your Smart Mass putty prefers to live in its comfortable tin where it can best plot World Domination Schemes.

http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/cubegoodies/5ac8/

Nabaztag Wifi Smart Rabbit

Price: $179.99

Customer Action Shot!

Sultry

This bunny likes to nibble on WiFi

Nabaztag/tag with built-in microphone now available…

So you are probably wondering if a rabbit can really be “smart”? Well this bunny can teach you tai chi, read your e-mail, report the weather or stock market, pull RSS feeds and tell you the time. We’d say that’s pretty smart – but he’s also got personality. Nabaztag can move his ears, play music, talk and whistle, and his body can show off hundreds of colors and special patterns of light. Sometimes he will even have his own random things to say, as long as you can put up with his moods!

Okay, so Nabaztag is smart and has personality – but what about interpersonal skills? Can he relate well to you and other rabbits? Well, Nabaztag can marry another rabbit – that’s right – copying the other rabbit’s movements, sounds and lights. Move your Nabaztag’s ears and its spouse’s will too. And as far as friendship, Nabaztag can let you know when you have a new e-mail, read you today’s headlines or give you his opinion of the previous week. But be careful because he is uncompromising – if he thinks that he didn’t receive enough messages he might be unhappy.

And that’s just the beginning, because the world of Nabaztag is expanding all the time. Before long this brainy bunny will be able to receive traffic updates, alert you when you have SMS messages, tell you if your train is running late and broadcast ‘Nabcasts’ from fellow subscribers. The possibilities are truly endless.

  • Nabaztag is easily configured and customized through a Web browser
  • Free and subscription services available [see list]
  • Receives messages sent from the web or via e-mail
  • Can optionally receive delayed messages (use as a reminder)
  • Ears move, body lights up, talks, plays music and more
  • Works with Wi-fi (802.11 b or g)
  • Dimensions: 9″ x 5.3″ x 5.3″ (23cm x 13.5cm x 13.5cm) with ears
  • Includes: Nabaztag, power adapter, quickstart manual
  • Now available! Nabaztag/tag – featuring a built-in microphone so you can talk to Nabaztag [details]

http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/japanfan/8301/

Mini Pet Cactus

Price: $1.99 – $8.99

Customer Action Shot!

They love me.

Pocket Plant

Virtual pets are fun, but sometimes they can be a virtual pain in the virtual backside. You have to virtually feed them and virtually play with them. And yes, they virtually love you, but it’s just not the same as real love. But one has to admit, most virtual pets are easy to carry around, whereas most real pets either won’t fit in your pocket (like a dog) or wouldn’t survive in your pocket (like a trout). We have the solution: the Mini Pet Cactus.

The Mini Pet Cactus will love you unconditionally. All you have to do it is water it once a month for about a minute (instructions on packaging). Each cactus comes with a strap to attach to your jacket, cell phone, etc., so you can take it with you everywhere. Nothing says fun like talking to your cactus in a public place – until security asks you to leave, that is. Want to display your new pet at home or in the office? Try the Mini Pet Cactus Stand (sold separately). It has an adhesive back to attach to a wall, your monitor, your forehead, etc. The Mini Pet Cactus is waiting to be adopted…by you!

Dimensions: Pet Cactus: 1.75″ tall; Stand Height: 4.5″

http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/japanfan/84b2/

AntWorks – Space Age Ant Habitat

Price: $29.99

Choice: Please Select… Blue Gel w/LEDs $29.99 Red Gel w/LED $29.99

Customer Action Shot!

clawing out of the earth from mile-deep catacombs!

A Space-Age Habitat For Antkind

Fascinating creatures ants. Sure you hate to see them in your socks or making a B-line for that pizza crust crumb you forgot to sweep up at the local LAN party. But let’s give credit where credit is due. Ants are amazing. Ants can lift up to 20x their body weight! They have two stomachs and three eyes! They also have uncanny communication skills and amazing abilities to work together to achieve a common goal.

This miraculous gel, derived from a NASA Space experiment, serves as both habitat and nutrition for your ants – allowing you to watch in awe as they turn a brick of aqua-blue gel into a fascinating colony of tunnels. Never before have you been so capable of watching these awesome creatures at work.

Consider Ants a pest? Think again. As Sun Tzu stated, ‘Know Thy Enemy’. And what better way to know them then in this totally enclosed space age aquarium. Ants are perhaps the most populous creatures on the face of planet earth, with at least ten thousand species and countless trillions of individual ants. Bring them indoors today with Antworks!

  • AntWorks is based on a 2003 NASA Space Shuttle experiment to study animal life in space and test how ants successfully tunnel in microgravity.
  • The AntWorks Gel (Non Toxic) is complete with nutrients to promote healthy growth in the new colony.
  • Watch ants live, work and tunnel in the nutritious and non-toxic gel as they create series upon series of intricate tunnels.
  • The included LED illuminator acts as your Antworks base and when plugged in will shine four bright blue LEDs up through your turquoise gel. The ultimate nightlight is upon us! (120v).
  • Easy to care for – Ants need NO food or water.
  • Case is 6.5″x 5.5″x 1.25″
  • Choose between Red (for evil minion ants) and blue (for space marine ants) gels.

Each ‘Antworks’ Includes:

  • Case and gel
  • Magnifying glass
  • Four blue LEDs embedded in base.
  • Ant catching/tunnel starting tool
  • Instruction booklet with interesting facts about ants.
  • ANTS ARE NOT INCLUDED! However, there is a form included where you can order some ants for delivery via mail. But why bother? Just set out some potato chips in the kitchen and voila! Instant ant colony!

Sanity not included when you choose to knowingly bring Ants into your home. However, observing them in a natural habitat should bring you closer to nature than playing Doom 3.

http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/science/6fd6/

The Amazing Desktop Dinosaur Plant

Price: $7.99

Customer Action Shot!

continuing the eternal struggle of robot vs dinosaur (plant)

A Pre-historic Evergreen That Just Won’t Die

This one-of-a-kind plant has lived on the Earth for over 290 million years and has the ability to “come back to life” (much like the undead) over and over again for hundreds of years! Simply place this seemingly dead ball of foliage in water and within hours it transforms into a vibrant green blood-sucking evergreen. Ok, we are kidding about the blood-sucking part. It’s still amazing though! It’s also great for lazy folks since you can forget to water your Dinosaur plant whenever you want! It will simply dry up and hibernate for up to fifty years and will spring to life every time it is given water.

Some Interesting Tidbits about your Dinosaur Plant:

  • During the Carboniferous period these plants used to grow over 120 feet tall (bigger than a T-rex)
  • When dry it curls up into a tight ball so that the wind can easily roll it to a new location or cubicle, hopefully closer to moisture.
  • Retains 3% of its water when it is dehydrated.
  • Grows to be about 4″
  • Enjoys life so much it survived the Ice AgeKit includes:
  • Live Dinosaur Plant
  • Bag of genuine Volcanic Lava Rock
  • Display Bowl
  • http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/science/8039/

    Atomic Food Containers

    Price: $8.99

    Eat and Glow

    Do people bully you in the workplace and steal your lunch? Are you tired of losing your food in the communal fridge? Do you forget often how long stuff has been in said fridge? Are you a cool dude(tte)? If your answer to all these questions is 17, have we got a set of food containers for you! Each one is as special as you are (and possibly as radioactive!)

    You’ll get three containers of different size (400ml, 600ml, and 1000ml) which each nestle into each other for easy storage. Also, each top has a dial so you can set the date you put the container into the cold wasteland of your office fridge. That way, you will know how old the hairy pasta is, and won’t have to guess. Each dial also has a special setting called “vent” which opens up a little vent to vent ventable gasses (just like our underpants, but that’s a story for another time). Buy them now and safeguard your lunch for years to come.

    Each container is microwave and dishwasher safe.

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/science/9468/

    Rock Climbing Light

    Cool Wall Climbing Light

    Designed to resemble a rock climbing man (apparently) the design of this light appeals to us as we can imagine a host of them placed in random patterns on a wall with great effect.

    Constructed from polished zinc and coming complete with two meters of cable (but without a bulb (!)), this rather funky and somewhat geeky light is sure to add a great ‘designer’ ambience to any room and at diminutive cost.

    The Wall Climbing Light retails at £19.99 /$40

    http://nexus404.com/Blog/2007/04/27/cool-wall-climbing-light/

    1.3 Megapixel USB Digital Microscope

    Price: $349.99

    Zoom in on stuff – up to 200X

    Higher resolution microscope produces fantastic images!

    This 1.3 Megapixel Digital Microscope allows you to capture some higher resolution images and video and display them on your PC using a simple USB connection. View specimens collected around the house, backyard, your desk, or the fridge. Look at the micro-printing on a dollar bill or examine the traces on your motherboard. This microscope provides you an easy way to zoom in on a wide variety of objects to satisfy your curiosity of the world around you. Ever wondered what lint looks like or the mold growing on your week-old bagels? Now you can find out.

    Simple plug and play operation with included software that allows you to magnify objects and view them on your PC up to 200X and take snapshots and time-lapse movies. You can also manipulate images with drawing and painting tools. The microscope is detachable from the stand to allow you to get closer to large objects.

    • Handheld digital microscope with stand
    • Great for industrial inspection, science education, forensics, printing, textile, printed circuit board (PCB) inspection, jewelers, hobbyists, tinkerers, crime scene investigation, medical, serial number identification, quality control, parts assembly
    • Resolution: 1280 x 1024 (1.3M)
    • Magnification: 10 ~ 50X, 200X Continuous Optical zoom
    • Built-in LEDs for illumination (8 LEDs)
    • LED on/off controlled by software
    • Interface: USB 2.0
    • Frame rate: up to 30fps
    • Dimension: 10cm (h) x 3.2cm (dia)
    • Weight: 0.2 lb (90g)
    • Includes: Microscope, Microscope stand, DinoCapture Software (Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP, Vista, Mac OS9, OSX)
    • One year warranty
    • Model AM-411T
    • If you encounter a software error during install, please download the latest software here

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/electronic/9955/

    Mandylion Password Manager

    Price: $49.99

    Single w/ Cradle $49.99

    Military-grade password protection!

    Unfortunately, we all have to deal with modern life’s little cyber-burden, the password. Some of us do so by simply re-using an old password when the system asks you to change it. Other times we use the same password but just add the month at the end. Some people even resort to keeping their passwords written on yellow stickey notes or in their wallet. None of these options, however, is very effective for protecting your valuable data. Instead, we would like to present a superior solution brought to you compliments of the US Military.

    The Mandylion Password Manager is a secure, convenient and cost-effective device built specifically for generating and protecting your passwords. Tested and matured for 3 years in real warfare environments, it is now available for commercial use. Built as a small keyring device, it can securely manage up to 50 logins, safe combinations, security codes, etc. that can be individually generated to meet the composition requirements of any login policy. Passwords can be any length up to 14 characters or namespaces. It can create passwords based on your settings for various criteria (such as length, alpha-numeric, special characters, etc.) and prompt you to change your passwords at preset time intervals (90 days, 1 year, etc.) Also, all data is stored in permanent memory, so it is unaffected by battery life or loss of power. Tamper-resistant features have been employed both inside and out, making the device a superior choice to storing passwords on your PDA, PC or worse, writing them down.

    Using the device is very easy. There are 5 buttons used for navigation and data entry. The device is activated by entering a unique button sequence that is user-defined. Totally self-contained and air-gapped from any system, passwords are viewed on the token’s LCD display which has a limited viewing angle to prevent shoulder surfing. There are also user-defined lockout settings, including a self-destruct feature for high risk scenarios. The device will also indicate failed activation attempts (with a “Tampered” message displayed upon successful activation.) Included Policy Master software makes describing the login policy (length, expiration, composition) for each login record and configuring the token a snap. The token does the rest.

    This little unit has been designed to meet U.S. Military standards for secure creation and management of passwords (use authorized under Army Regulation 25-2 IA.) This device helps creates a strong security policy for your work environment (so naturally you can brag to the boss about it) and provides cost savings in the form of reduced help desk support and password changing downtime. When used for personal password management the personal password manager eliminates having to remember all those annoying passwords and usernames.

    Has these great features.

    • Manages up to 50 login records simultaneously
    • Generates cryptographically strong passwords
    • Complies with all DoD, Govt. & Industry Password Security Policies
    • Multiple tamper-resistant features and lockout alarms
    • Manages Root and Group passwords
    • Cradle connection via USB
    • Kit containing: token, a configuration cradle, Policy Master Configuration Software (Windows only)
    • Device and software not Mac compatible (sorry)
    • Dimensions: Approx. 2.5″ x 1.5″ x .375″ (65mm x 45mm x 10mm)
    • Takes a CR2032 battery (replaceable)
    • One-year warranty

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/security/91a2/

    Glow Brick

    Price: $29.99

    Please Select… Blue $29.99 Green $29.99

    A light bulb with a special glow!

    Yep – it’s a glow-in-the-dark light bulb trapped inside a solid acrylic brick. The Glow Brick recharges from energy in natural sunlight during the day and glows at night. Not only that, it is actually made with a real light bulb! That’s right.

    The glow-in-the-dark* pigment is trapped inside a real light bulb (just like the ones you have at home). Then the light bulb is encased in a solid block of Acrylic resin. The mysterious optical effect is caused by light diffracting in the tiny space between the glass of the light bulb and the resin – this space forms when the resin shrinks by a tiny amount during the production process. The polished surface gives a jewel like quality to the object. In a darkened room, or at night, the Glow Brick comes to life with a tranquil and subtle glow emanating from the pigment inside the light bulb. Size is 3.3″ x 3.3″ x 5″

    *The technical term for the glow-in-the-dark is “photoluminescence” this is a process in which energy absorbed by a substance is released relatively slowly in the form of light.

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/lights/9b60/

    And not necessarily in any way a desktop device, but simply a must-have one:

    MySky GPS Star Tracker

    Price: $399.99

    Twinkle, twinkle, little star. I finally figured out what you are.

    Only once in a blue moon* throughout the history of consumer tech comes a product so nifty you are convinced it cannot be real. Then you quickly glance over to your calendar and realize it’s not April 1st. “Damn!” you think to yourself, while reaching for your wallet and mumbling under your breath “Curse you ThinkGeek, curse you!” Packed with the latest in gadgetry including built-in GPS, LCD screen, magnetic north sensors, electronic accelerometers, & complex circuitry,the MySky is far from vaporwear. It’s a hi-tech virtual tour guide to your starry skies. Point, shoot, get smarter.

    But ThinkGeek, What Does the MySky Really Do?
    Glad you asked. Take the MySky out of its package, plug in some batteries, go outside, preferably at night although even when you can’t see them, the stars are still there during the day. Now let the MySky figure out its location and time via GPS. There are three different basic modes to using the night sky – Identify, Find, & Guided Tour. In ‘Identify’ Mode, the default, you will be presented with a real time LCD view of the night sky, complete with constellations. Simply point it to the object of choice in the real sky, and shoot. It will identify! You can also take a ‘Guided Tour’ of the best objects available to you at the moment based on your location, date & time. Finally, if you want to locate a specific object (planet, comet, galaxy, etc.) – you can navigate through the menus, select the item and your MySky will point out its location in the real sky.

      Specifications:

    • Sights – Illuminated red sights to easily point to objects
    • Object Database – Database of over 30,000 celestial objects (planets, stars, nebulae, galaxies & more)
    • LCD – 480 x 234 pixel full color display
    • Audio – 500+ Audio/Multi-media presentations by NPR Stardate personality, Sandy Wood. Including interesting science facts, mythology, folklore, and astrophotography.
    • Earphones – Comfortable high-fidelity ear buds included for audio
    • Storage – 256 Megabyte SD card (included)
    • GPS – 12 channel GPS receiver
    • Orientation – Magnetic north sensors
    • Positioning – Electronic accelerometers to determine tilt/pointing
    • Night Vision – Optional mode to display screen entirely in red to protect your night vision.
    • Compatibility – Can optionally control any Meade computerized telescope.
    • Upgradeable – Software upgradeable from meade.com
    • Power save features – Advanced power saving features to extend battery life
    • Batteries – 4 AA batteries required (not included)
    • Battery Life – Up to 6 hours (normal use)
    • Instructions – Includes onboard video instructions that are optional for first time use. Also includes a printed instruction manual and quickstart guide along with a CDROM that includes Planetarium software (Windows 98/XP).
    • Dimensions – Approximately 9″ x 2.5″ x 7″
    • Death Ray Mode – Unlock this mode and you may optionally target planets for annihilation..**

    * We probably should have said ‘Blue Giant’ here. Oh well.
    ** Sorry, this feature is being re-constructed. Don’t blame us, blame the rebel alliance.

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/electronic/956a/

    Sun and Moon Jars

    Price: $34.99

    Choice: Please Select… Sun Jar $34.99 Moon Jar $34.99

    Customer Action Shot!

    Much easier to move around than the real sun

    Jam jars store jam, these jars store sunshine!

    Captured inside the Sun and Moon Jars are a highly efficient solar cell, a rechargeable battery and low energy LED lamps. When the jar is placed in direct sunlight the solar cell creates an electrical current that charges the battery over a few hours. This energy is then used at night to power the three LED lamps inside the jar.

    The light is diffused by the frosted jar and give the appearance of sunlight emitting from the sun or a cool moon glow (warm colored LED lights are used to give a more natural and warm light). You may have noticed that there is no switch on the Sun Jar – in fact there are no visible controls at all – but there is a clever light sensor inside that automatically activates the LEDs when it gets dark or the lights are turned out! (There is an override switch inside the lid to turn off the light at night and conserve battery life.)

    Mason jars are not only beautiful but by their very nature they are water tight – so the Sun Jar can happily be left outside in any weather conditions. A perfect garden light or night light for a child’s bedroom. The Sun Jar needs DIRECT sunshine to work! Leave the Sun Jar outside or in a sunny window in direct sunlight for several hours to charge, (electric light indoors is not bright enough!). The Sun and Moon Jars use a standard AA rechargeable battery, which is replaceable.

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/homeoffice/lights/994a/

    So, happy desktop/cubicle living, as well as a few fun things for the home (office!)

    Greg Egan’s Distress – a SciFi book review

    Here are two “jokes” from my Cracker Jack “prize” (when did they stop with the toys?) that are not half-way bad – they made my daughter laugh?

    1. What did the alien say to the plant?

    2. What do planets read?

    Answers below!

    Distress

    Now for a critique/commentary on Greg Egan’s Distress. I warn you, the book is full of existentialist introspection; bio-technology and it’s impact on people; Utopian ideals set in motion/reality; and most of all, the field of TOEs, ATMs, and SUFTs, all described with lots of math, physics, and incomprehensible stuff for the layperson. I don’t know if you can summarize those concepts for someone with no math background, but if you can, he didn’t do it. I have only a rudimentary understanding of it all, so if this review is a bit crazy, then so am I on this subject. Still, the book worked, until the end. I started writing this piece when I had about 100 pages to go, and I was still puzzled about the disease that is the title of the book – so far it was merely a bit-player. I loved the existential feel and discussions in the book, and the way it made you stop, put down the book and actually think! about your life, and how you view it. Good read, at that time. How 100 pages can change your perspective 180°!

    Don’t forget the answers to the jokes are below.

    First of all the plot: a journalist, who has trouble with relationships, is finishing up a piece for the netzine he works for, SeeNet, called Junk DNA. It consists of four parts – one on VAs, voluntary autists – a cult group of people with mild autism who want to surgically remove part of their brain in order to make them fully autistic and free of society’s falsehoods and relationships. The same operation can cure autism, but they want to be made more autistic.

    The second part is on a revival process. If a victim of a violent crime is clinically dead, past all hope of resuscitation, and might have witnessed the crime that killed him/her, then that person can be biologically/chemically reanimated for a short time, in order to be able to tell the detectives who “done it.” Revolting in some ways, but the piece is all about what the protagonist, Andrew, calls frankenscience – or science gone wrong.

    The third is about a man who is a walking biosphere – a man who’s body was “swarming with engineered algae and alien genes.” In short, he is a walking recycling machine. His body can convert sunlight to glucose, and the “symbionts” living in his blood can turn carbon dioxide to oxygen in any amount – thus assuring him of clean air even in the worst cases of pollution. His 37 symbionts can “eat” just about any matter, from paper to old tires, and convert it to the needed energy. He’s immune to famine, mass extinctions, and he has engineered himself total viral immunity (more on him later).

    The last piece is on the HealthGuard implant – an assay chip embedded in the subject’s body, sending back information on the owner’s state of health at any given time for actuarial (insurance) purposes. That part of the piece has some relevance to another “project” I’m working on – Clarke’s 3rd Law about when technology becomes sufficiently advanced so as to be indistinguishable from magic. This has been a subject of some controversy on my HardSF book group, and I hope to do a post on it later on. But for now here’s what Egan says:

    “It was a technical advance worth communicating, worth explaining, worth demystifying. Whatever the social implications of the HealthGuard implant, they could no more be presented in a vacuum, divorced from the technology which made the device possible, than vice versa. Once people ceased to understand how the machines around them actually functioned, the world they inhabited began to dissolve into an incomprehensible dreamscape. technology moved beyond control, beyond discussion, evoking only worship or loathing, dependence or alienation. Arthur C. Clarke had suggested that any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic – referring to a possible encounter with an alien civilization – but if a science journalist had one responsibility above all else, it was to keep Clarke’s Law from applying to human technology in human eyes.”

    This is a powerful idea and one that I will explore at a later date – for now, just think of how some people today can’t even program a VCR or use add someone to their MyFaves. To them, some of the technology on the drawing boards is an incomprehensible as a light-bulb would be to one of the founding fathers. Using magic in it’s broadest sense.

    In Andrew Worth’s world, he is surrounded by technology – notepads that function as a wireless computer, with a built in dataminer, called Sisyphus. He has an implant in his eye, that he can “invoke,” called Witness, and it will date/time stamp and record any event for future use. It is then later simply downloaded, through an umbilical implant attachment, to his notepad, or other device. The cities are deserted as nearly everyone works at home on-line. The cities are figurative”ruins” that can be full of gangs and criminals, but a few have tried to revive parts and brought in theatres and restaurants, many featuring “experimental cuisine,” a bio-engineered food substitute, made from various things that are made to taste like regular food, although they look completely different.

    The book is full of existential themes and angst. In one crucial scene, while he is going over the demise of his latest relationship, his friend, who had long ago declared he would never marry, but now has a wife and kids, said: “‘I meant it, though. At the time. The whole idea of a family–‘ He shuddered. ‘It sounded like being buried alive. I couldn’t imagine anything worse.’ Andrew replies: ‘So you grew up. Congratulations.’ His friend replied ‘No one grows up. That’s one of the sickest lies they ever tell you. People change. people compromise. People get stranded in situations they don’t want to be in … and they make the best of … glorious preordained ascent into emotional maturity. It’s not.’ Andrew asked him if everything was okay with his wife and kids. he replied: ‘No. Everything’s fine. Life is wonderful. I love them all. But … only because I’d go insane if I didn’t. Only because I have to make it work.

    ‘But you do make it work.’ ‘Yes!’…’and it’s not even that hard, anymore. It’s pure habit. But…I used to think there’d be more. I used to think that if you changed from … valuing one thing to valuing another, it was because you’d learned something new, understood something better. And it’s not like that at all. I just value what I’m stuck with. That’s it, that’s the whole story. People make a virtue out of necessity. They sanctify what they can’t escape.’

    ‘But I do love Lisa, and I do love the girls … but there’s no deeper reason than the fact that that’s the best I can make of my life, now. I can’t argue with a single thing I said when I was nineteen years old – because I don’t know better now. I’m not wiser. That’s what I resent: all the f&*^ing pretentious lies we were fed about growth and maturity. No one ever came clean and admitted that ‘love’ and ‘sacrifice’ were just what you did to stay sane, when you found yourself backed into a different kind of corner.'”

    This passage made me really think – to put down the book and examine my own life. Did I truly love my family, or was it only because that’s the path I followed, the “right” thing to do, given the situation I wandered into, letting life sort of pull me along. I never made any conscious decisions to marry or have children – I was brought along for the ride, so to speak, by my ex-husband, who at around age 45 had a mid-life crisis, and decided there had to be more; dumping me faster than a hot potato and leaving me with the girls and no future. So what could I do? I couldn’t be selfish and say no thanks! I did what was right, what was expected of me. And I realized that there was no one else to do it – to love and cherish these girls. I love my children to death, but I also was “trapped” into it. I didn’t have “free will” and was backed, like many, into this corner of family life. I think that this is one of the reasons the divorce rate is so high. It’s not because of a decline in social morals, but rather a realization that there are/were other choices that could have been or still be made, and often people discard those old corners they were backed into, and break out on their own, for better or worse. So, an existential question – does “life’ have meaning by itself, or is just a series of compromises we make with what we have?

    The title of the book comes from a disease called “Distress,” a disease that is growing, and has nightmarish consequences – the victims live in a perpetual state of distress – sort of a PTSD taken to the limits, and are filled with dread, fear, and anxiety, which manifests itself in thrashing about, muttering and moaning, etc. The importance of the disease seems to be irrelevant for most of the book – which makes the title puzzling, even after the book is done.

    Andrew is asked to do a piece on Distress, but is seemly afraid (the reason he chooses not to do this prestigious piece is not fully realized in the book) and instead “steals” a different piece from a junior reporter on a major conference on TOEs (Theory of Everything), ATMs (All Topology Models), and SUTFs (Standard Unified Field Theory), and Egan does a fine job (although maybe not from a lay perspective) on describing these mathematical and physics models, and the reason for their importance in both physics/math, but in life as well. The heart of the conference is that one of the speakers might present a true, complete TOE, and that might be the “end” of physics as we know it. Of course that’s not true – it is just the starting point, but all sorts of “ignorance” cults have come to the island nation of “Stateless.”

    Stateless is a “rogue” nation, boycotted by most countries because of it’s origins. A group of scientists stole some bio-specimens and bio-tech, and “grew” their own island in the South Pacific. The island is full of artists, musicians, and scientists, etc. There is no government, and people have formed into various knots of cultural ties/religions, but there is no government – it’s an “anarchy” in the basest sense. What Andrew can’t figure out is why it stays that way, and why the residents feel it always will – why they don’t worry about the next generation dissolving into absolute anarchy. Part of it is in the fact that the people who emigrate there do so voluntarily – they have a vested interest in the “state,” and in part, of the nature of the island itself, something you’ll have to discover yourself. But the island works, which is apparently in the best interest of the group the bio-tech was originally stolen from – that their “product” can be so used, and be so useful, can only enhance their stature (which brings us to a point in the last 100 pages that I will explain later).

    Andrew is assigned to interview and tape one of the TOE presenters, Violet Masala, from South Africa. What starts out as being an easy “vacation” piece becomes fraught with information overload, bizarre fringe cults that impact the conference and himself, and various other things that bring the focus away from the “easy” interview and into the realm of a major assignment. He was not prepared for what he found, and the reporter who did all the background work won’t return his calls.

    What he makes of it all, you’ll have to read. But, except for a lack of information on the titular disease (later explained in the book in some part), and a few other missing details, Egan does a marvellous job of world-building in the near-future. The ubiquitous cults, the island, the existential crises his friend, and later himself, go through, are all intricately detailed and held out for our inspection, and it passes mine. It’s the ending that left be feeling that I’d been robbed.

    And the characters were flat to me (mentioned by someone years ago in a discussion of this book in my HardSF group), and I agreed with their assessment – to me, I have to have someone I can root for, and I just couldn’t get anywhere with Andrew – although his personal life, and existential crises are detailed out, it never rings quite true, and indeed, his one rant (when he was ill) was rather odd. And Violet Masala – she started out as a witchy sort – later became “cool,” and at the end finally, seemed to thaw. But she never was more than a buzz in his ear, and his ostensible reason for going to the conference, as well as a vehicle to truly describe the TOE that is the heart of the book.

    I’d give it a 6 (originally an 8, and that was because it’s premise is slight, but it’s treatment was first class, until those last 100 pages).

    So, SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Read at your own risk, because in order to do justice to my opinion of the book, I have to give some stuff away. I’ll try and limit it, but if you plan to read the book and love surprises, don’t read further, but scroll to the bottom for the joke answers.

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    SPOILERS AHEAD:

    There is much discussion of some of the cults that exist, throughout the book, and in particular, a few which attend the conference to protest the TOEs. One of these Mystical renaissance, is a front-runner, but in the last 100 pages, sort of disappears, and you’re left wondering why they were given so much space.

    Another important cult are the Anthrocosmologists, one of the cults embracing “technolibération, which means the “empowerment of people through technology, and the ‘liberation’ of the technology itself from restrictive hands” – in other words, supporting technology in all it’s bizarre applications (like in Junk DNA), but also taking it away from the White Male West, and into the hands of the people, especially science starved Africa. The term started there, with a distinguished scientist.

    ACs, as they are called, believe (at least the moderate wing) in merging information theory, an old science, with the TOE, to achieve what they believe is the “end” result. As the books explains “Imagine this cosmology. Forget about starting the universe with just the right finely-tuned Big Bang needed to create stars, planets, intelligent life, and a culture capable of making sense of it all. Instead, take as your ‘starting point’ the fact that there’s a living human being who can explain an entire universe, in terms of a single theory. Turn everything around, and take it as the only thing given that this one person exists.”

    “From this person, the universe ‘grows out’ of the power to explain it: out in all directions, and forward and backward in time. Instead of being blasted out of pre-space – instead of being ’caused’ inexplicably at the beginning of time – it crystallizes quietly around a single human being.”

    “That’s why the universe obeys a single law– a Theory of Everything. It’s all explained by a single person. We call this person the Keystone. Everyone, and everything, exists because the Keystone exists.”

    “We can’t watch the universe emerge; we’re part of it, we’re trapped inside the space-time created by the act of explanation. All we can hope to witness, in the progression of time, is one person become the first to hold the TOE in vis [an asex term for him/her asexual humans] mind, and grasp its consequences, and – invisibly, imperceptibly – understand us all into being.

    So this group of moderates wishes to “protect” the TOE presenters, in particular, Mosala, who has had threats against her for many things, in order that she might be the Keystone that unlocks the universe, and “understands it into being.” Without it, we’re locked into the same dead space we still occupy.

    Then there are extremist ACs, who believe that only ONE person is designed to be the Keystone and that person is predetermined. So, no matter what they, or who they kill, the real Keystone will still exist, because they can’t get it wrong. But other extremists believe that having NO TOE is the more desirable state, as it leaves no end to the possibility of transcendence. Some of the TOE theories leave open (to them) the possibility of other universes, other cosmologies. But these people want more – transcendence.

    They believe that “information space,” at the time the Keystone comes the Keystone, in it’s initial configuration, is called the “Aleph.” The Aleph is the pure information preceding all physical things. “The Keystone’s ‘knowledge’ and ‘memory’ come first. The brain which encodes them follows.” The Keystone doesn’t have to think everything into being – it follows by logical implication.

    In Violet Masala’s TOE, she uses the concept of forgetting the fine-tuning of the Big Bang theory. Taking our own existence as given, which in some ways parallels the AC’s views, she uses various experiments in which she knows the variables, etc., and assigns them a probability of existing as 100%, something the other TOE theorists won’t do – they want to start with a clean empty slate of physical constraints, and bring it down to pure mathematics. She takes these established facts (the results and conditions of known experiments) as a kind of anchor, and then she “reach[es] down into the level of the TOE, down to the level of infinite sums over all topologies. I calculate what the consequences of my assumptions are, and then I follow them all the way back up again to the macroscopic level, to predict the ultimate results of the experiment.”

    And here’s where it starts to get a little mystical, cosmic energy sort of thing, to me – Masala explains to Andrew that (and she reaches out to hold his hand) “without pre-space to mediate between us – without an infinite mixture of topologies able to represent us all with a single flicker of asymmetry – nobody could even touch. That’s what the TOE is. And even if I’m wrong in every detail… I still know it’s down there, waiting to be found. Because there has to be something which lets us touch.”

    The extremist AC’s believe that physics, without information, and vice versa, is meaningless, and so the TOE needs to take both into account, and Violet’s TOE does that – she is the only one that does. But once the TOE is completed by the Keystone, the universe will unravel, as complete understanding goes back onto to itself into the beginnings of the universe, effectively obliterating our universe. So they try and stop her – by a bio-weapon.

    The last 100 pages differed dramatically from the first 400+. At the place of Egan’s “departure” from normalcy, the island is being closed in on by mercenaries, backed by the company that the bio-tech was stolen from. Now why this is has suddenly become an issue for the company, after about 10 years of lawsuits and small petty attempts of harassment, is unclear; either he glossed over it, or Egan changed his view completely that the island was a living testament to the bio-tech, and as such, it did no harm for the company. The only thing I can think of is that there has been a boycott of the island by most major countries, due to it’s questionable origins and the desire of the nations to stay on the good side of the bio-tech companies, and now Violet Masala, a leading South African scientist, is contemplating a permanent move there – to become a citizen of Stateless. This is supposedly a move on her part, because of her stature in the world’s eye, to try and add credibility to the island and help force the hand of those who boycott the island. But how and why this will hurt the company that owned the stolen bio-tech, I must have missed, when I turned a page. Actually, I just found it – it’s a short paragraph where our hero theorizes that the company, although not wanting to turn Violet into a martyr by killing her (see radical ACs later), wants to reduce the island to panic and “anarchy,” thus proving to the world “that the naive experiment had been doomed from the start.” But how this helps the company is still murky for me. And why Violet’s move is so controversial, must be a small footnote, somewhere.

    It turns out this self-same company (En-Gen-Uity) is behind a group of mercenaries who have seized the airport in a bloodless coup (to start a panic and reduce the island to complete anarchy, and later takes to shelling the city; driving the people, in orderly fashion, and by their own volition, to the edges of the island – for the islanders know something the mercenaries don’t; but you, the reader, will find out. Not that it has anything to do with the plot, except that we/I seem to have a vested interest in the success of this tiny island. When our hero Andrew keeps asking them if they are afraid, they say, don’t worry – it’s all been taken care of and planned for.

    But then Violet turns sick – from the same kind of bio-warfare that hit our hero earlier – his goes off too early- the bio-weapons seem to be “timed, – and they are able to get an antidote onto the island, which has primitive medical capabilities, by the rest of the world’s standards, and he is saved from a horrendous case of cholera, which gave rise to many of his existentialist musings, as he lay dying. But now Violet is brought down with the same type of bio-weapon, although a different strain/disease, as did one of the Japanese TOE presenters, who never even made it to the island and eventually died from it, and no antidote can be flown in, due to the boycott, plus she is sicker. Just where and how they contracted these disease is a mystery until the end (you find out a part, but not all). Violet is flown back to South Africa, after much wheeling and dealing by our hero with the mercenaries, for safe passage and her government for transportation (a private jet) to the boycotted island (no direct flights there from almost anywhere – you just can’t get there from here). On the way to the airport, in the ambulance, she records for posterity her visions of the TOE, and what she has done with it – she has made a “clonelet”, some type of computer software, and has given it the instructions needed to complete her TOE, once the calculations that will confirm her theory are shortly finished, and to publish it simultaneously to every scientist and university on the planet, in an attempt to bypass the “killing” orders of a radical branch of the group of “Anthrocosmologists.”

    What happens next, in the crazy environment that is Stateless during the “siege” and Violet’s extreme illness, and the clonelet’s work on finishing the TOE by a specified time, becomes, in those last few pages, an exercise in self-indulgence, even “self-stimulation” if you get my drift. It’s as if the author is experiencing an orgasmic religious fervour – a mystical look into the cosmos. He describes it in lyrical prose, and while it may feel right to him, it simply doesn’t fit the tone of the earlier 3/4 of the novel, which relied heavily on science and physics/mathematics in particular. It’s as if “The Little Prince,” “What the Bleep! Do We Know,” and “The Secret” have all melted into one small section of a SciFi novel to become an author’s over-indulgent rapturous look at the cosmos, the universe, ourselves,and the interconnectedness of it all. For when the Toe is eventually “read,” what happens is pure New Age. and the epilogue is bizarre.

    Some earlier parts from the book just sort of “pop” back up, with no real excuse, except perhaps as red herrings – but this isn’t a mystery novel, it’s Hard SciFi. Take his Junk DNA piece – the human genome experiment guy turns out to be manufacturing viruses for which he of course has total immunity. His “species self-knowledge” had allowed him to make himself the definition of what Egan calls the “H-word” or humanity. So what? There are several instances of this “mystery” theme. The journalist who was supposed to be doing the piece, and from who he stole it, and had collected so much information, seems to be missing, etc. The book is replete with little “mysteries” and lots of red herrings that have no real part of the story – they are interesting in their own right, but end up just “floating” in the story line – not a part of it at all.

    It was an extreme disappointment, in a novel that held much promise, from an author that has been widely touted. It was just too touchy-feely, too mystical, too New Age for my tastes. It spoiled the book for me, and I doubt I would ever re-read it. Indeed, it’s going back to be traded in, something I rarely do.

    And now for the answers to the Cracker Jack jokes of the week:

    1. What did the alien say to the plant?
    a. Take me to your weeder!

    2. What do planets read?
    a. Comet books!

    LOL! A somewhat enjoyable book, and you can skim across the more detailed math and physics (if you are a lay person – I couldn’t even begin to know if he was writing it in a manner that most could understand – I’m that lacking in basic math and physics – it’s the big picture stuff, or should I say the quantum level, that I am interested in) and focus on the interactions, the sociological implication of the ubiquitous cults, and the notion of a “stateless” state. The book is a study in near-future – what SciFi SHOULD be, when done right (at least the first part). This is the first book of his I have read, and it definitely will NOT be my last, as I’m curious if this is a fluke, since others have thoroughly enjoyed his books, and even gone so far as to say “since when is there a BAD Egan book.”? Well, I might quibble with that, but later reflection might find that the ideas presented outweigh the negative ending, and move it up a notch.