Ubik in Time's Top 100 All-time Best Novels

Philip K. Dick's Ubik has been listed as Time Magazine's best 100 novels since 1923!

Only natural, I suppose, given the Ubik credo:

"I am Ubik. Before the universe was, I am. I made the suns. I made the worlds. I created the lives and the places they inhabit; I move them here, I put them there. They go as I say, then do as I tell them. I am the word and my name is never spoken, the name which no one knows. I am called Ubik, but that is not my name. I am. I shall always be."

All praise to Ubik!


$100 laptop arrives

The $100 laptop is finally here. It's green, hand-cranked and has wifi. It was unveiled by MIT Chairman Nicholas Negroponte in Tunis earlier this week. It's positioned as a kids' laptop, especially for developing countries. It runs at about 500MHz.

Most of the software is going to be open-source, so the question is, what would you put on the laptop in order to do interesting mapping or GIS?

Update: The flurry of negative comments on ESRI support over in Spatially Adjusted has resulted in some interesting suggestions, namely that proprietry software should yield to open-source. Has ESRI atrophied due to lack of competition, and will open-source change that?


Google is the new Ubik

Following form my previous post, one of the most amusing aspects of the novel Ubik is that Dick uses it as an ever-present but ever-changing product (like "ACME" in the old roadrunner cartoons). Ubik toothpaste, household cleaner, underwear etc.

Well, isn't Google the new Ubik? Let's review: Google email, Google maps, Google Earth. Google print library, and Google shopping (Froogle). Google is hiring! They have GIS jobs, and at quite senior levels too.

Finally, guess who owns blogger.com, this blogging company.


What is Ubik?

Why is this blog called Ubik?

Well in the first place it's named after the Philip K. Dick's 1969 novel. This is a book with the characteristic dark humor and the reality twisting for which PKD is known (he wrote the original stories for Total Recall and Bladerunner, as well as the forthcoming Scanner Darkly, with Keanu Reeves.). The book is about a company specializing in people with "psionic" skills who can nullify other psis, such as telepaths and precogs (think Minority Report, yes, another PKD story).

This "prudence" organization as it's called (they provide privacy in a future world where other people can read your mind) is lead by Gene Runciter. All the psi talent has been "dropping off the map" as we learn at the start of the book. Runciter is awakened at 3:30AM and is not pleased:

Runciter said, "I'll consult my dead wife."
"It's the middle of the night. The moratoriums are closed now."
"Not in Switzerland," Runciter said, with a grimacing smile.
Runciter's wife is kept in cold-pac, a half-life or cryogenic storage. So they all go off to Mars where they're promptly blown up by a bomb. What happens after that is not all that it seems...Runciter is apparently the only one killed and they rush him off to cold-pac. But then reality around them starts regressing back to 1939 and cans of Ubik spray, which may or may not restore reality, are needed to survive. Ubik may or may not be salvation, reality, truth or life.

"Ubik" means ubiquitous, or everywhere. Today we speak of "ubicomp" or ubiquitous computing (a term PKD might have invented). A logical extension is "ubimap," mapping and geospatial information spatially on demand.

Finally, Ubik (the novel) undermines any clear sense of reality vs. not-reality. Already we speak of "augmented reality" or information that has been spatially tagged that appears to us on devices as we navigate around. This is a serious research effort (Ambient Findability has some examples).



Findability is the biggest story on the Web today, and its reach will only grow as the tidal waves of channel convergence and ubiquitous computing wash over our shores. We will use the Web to navigate a physical world that sparkles with embedded sensors and geospatial metadata, even as we diminish the need to move our bodies through space. Mobile devices will unite our data streams in an evolving dance of informed consumers seeking collective intelligence and inspiration. And in this ambient economy, findability will be a key source of competitive advantage.
Ambient Findability, p. 13

I can't decide if this is a great new development or a horror story.

Narnia vs. Philip Pullman

Mapheads, this post isn't about maps or GIS so you can safely skip it. I'll post something about "finadability" in a minute.

The movie of C.S. Lewis' the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is coming out soon. I read these books avidly when I was young, only to find out later on that they were a Christian allegory. I remember it was a tremendous shock to me to learn this--I naively read them as a simple fantasy story. I kinda went off them after that. But I am looking forward to the movie.

Anyway, so this fight has broken out between Narnia advocates and Philip Pullman, the author of the His Dark Materials series, a kind of competing children's story that features alternative universes and child protagonists. I don't know if you've read the Dark Materials, but, well, they're dark, and pretty down on established religion. Again I must have read them quite naively because they seemed to me to be pro-faith, if interpreted outside the strictures of the old church teachings. Come to find out though that Pullman is an atheist, who has attacked the Narnia series as quoted in this Chronicle of Higher Ed piece:

In articles, interviews, and speeches, Pullman has described The Chronicles not just as "propaganda in the cause of the religion [Lewis] believed in," but also as guilty of advancing views such as, "Death is better than life; boys are better than girls; light-colored people are better than dark-colored people; and so on." And those are just Pullman's G-rated charges. He also has blasted The Chronicles in public forums as "one of the most ugly and poisonous things I've ever read," "propaganda in the service of a life-hating ideology," "blatantly racist," "monumentally disparaging of girls and women," and marked by a "sadomasochistic relish for violence."
(No source was given for this quote, but I believe it's from this 1998 interview here; see more recently here, and letters here.)

The Chronicle rushes to Narnia's defence, but it's a trash-job on Pullman (the story doesn't allow comments -- old-style MSM or what! -- so I'm replying here instead). Basically I think it's missed the point, The Chronicles of Narnia IS pretty sexist and racist and just by pointing out that it has some strong female characters doesn't change that. These strong characters exist in a world where evil is symbolized by a powerful temptress (remember how she plies Edmund with Turkish Delight?). And then there's the structural sexism throughout the society, with roles defined by sex.

And like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings with its swarthy Ottoman/Turk-like baddies, the baddies in Narnia have dark skin, are cruel, and pray to another god, mocking the Christ figure by dressing up a donkey in a lion skin in order to maintain their hegemony.

So in Narnia, knowledge is bad and heavily fenced (a la Adam and Eve/Eden) and in Pullman knowledge is not sin, but consciousness.

Sounds interesting. Why is the Bible based on the problematic of knowledge? But The Chronicle of Higher Ed. doesn't allow the possibility of appreciating both stories. In order to like Narnia we have to reject Pullman. Well I don't buy that, and I don't buy that Pullman's stories are anti-religious. They're anti-church in the sense that in these other universes the church has ossified and outlawed dissent. But the established church is not = faith, as many Catholics struggling with the new Pope's doctrines show.

Anyway, the story will surely be used by those now co-opting the Narnia stories for their own religious purposes.

And sure enough: this religious website takes delight in trashing Pullman in order to promote Lewis. And they cite the Chronicle of Higher Ed piece as a wonderful defense of Lewis!