Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Eoin Colfer at the Apple Store

I was surprised there were so few people at the Apple Store on Wednesday, October 28, to see Eoin Colfer, author of the much-anticipated sixth Hitchhiker’s novel, And Another Thing.... There were fewer than a dozen people seated in the theater portion of Apple’s flagship San Francisco location at One Stockton Street. Granted, it was 1 in the afternoon and most people would be at work, but surely there are plenty of Hitchhiker’s fans who work in downtown San Francisco and could’ve strolled over on their lunch hour.

The lackluster showing seemed to confirm my suspicions that U.S. marketing for and overall public awareness of the book has trailed behind awareness in the U.K.. Or perhaps it was just that it was such a strange venue for an author talk and book signing? It’s hard to say, since And Another Thing... has surfaced on the New York Times bestseller list at number 20,, which isn’t bad, although it currently isn’t even in the top 100 on (although it’s number 48 on

Colfer was funny and engaging throughout his talk, self-effacing about the turnout (a few more people trickled in throughout the hour), and went quickly to questions from the audience. Since the audience was so small, everyone who wanted to ask something had a chance. In fact, plenty of chance. I ended up asking several questions since most of the other people had run out of questions.

My questions were more or less as follows, but I won’t try to report his answers verbatim, since he went on quite a while for each one, often rambling into some funny aside or three. You’ll have to wait until Apple posts the podcast of the event on the iTunes Music Store (likely in a month), upon which maybe I’ll transcribe his actual answers here.

How many times so far in the U.S. have you had to explain to people how to pronounce your name? It’s pronounced just like “Owen,” and he said it’s just the old Irish spelling. I asked him this in part because I pronounced it “Ewan” for a couple months before I went to his website, where it helpfully says “It’s pronounced Owen!” right in the header : )

Tell us about Hitchcon. I asked this mostly so he’d tell everyone else about it, and to give him something to talk about. I’d already read a lot about it in the Guardian’s coverage. Hitchcon was earlier this last month in London, and it’s where the new book premiered, on the 30th anniversary of the original book’s release. It was also the first time Eoin was to face the skeptical Hitchhikers fans in person, and the first time he’d do a reading from the book. He was a bit nervous, to say the least. Among other cool things at the weekend event, a huge amount of the original cast members of the radio and TV series reenacted parts of the scripts live on stage. If it hadn’t been the same weekend on which I’d planned our anniversary getaway, I might’ve flown to London for a week.

What did you do before writing? He was a school teacher.

Have your books been translated into other languages? The reason I ask is because I heard recently that some uniquely British-type things in J.K. Rowling’s books have to be changed to make sense to other cultures, and I’m wondering how you’d feel about that. I’d heard a snippet on NPR about some of the people who do the translations, and was slightly appalled to learn they sometimes edit things completely out because they’re deemed too British, and changed to something more culturally understandable to a child in, say, Ethiopia or Malaysia. I felt this was ridiculous; how else would a child in Malaysia learn about the strange quirks of British private schools if it weren’t in books like the Harry Potter series? I didn’t go into that much depth with my question, mind you. Colfer said it wasn’t usually a big problem for his books, although he recalled the Russian translator had a tough time with the fairies in his Artemis Fowl series, as in Russian folklore there’s only one sort of fairy, and in Irish there are all sorts, from dwarves to elves to trolls, and so on.

After the talk and Q&A, a couple people milled around talking with Colfer and a gentleman who must’ve been with the publisher or PR firm or something, as he’d quite clearly been Douglas Adams’ representative in the Bay Area years ago as well. Together we recalled the last two times Adams was in the Bay Area on book tours for So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless. The former was the tour on which I met Adams, which I’ve talked about before, and on the latter I only caught his appearance on the Jim Eason program on KGO AM.

I haven’t read the new book yet, as I’ve been meaning to reread the last few Hitchhiker’s books (I’ve read the first two or three many, many times, but it’s been a long time since I re-read either of the last two), plus I was in the middle of a couple other books. I’ll post a review when I’ve gotten to And Another Thing..., and I’ll also get around to posting my mini reviews of his Artemis Fowl series which I started reading early in 2009.

Photos from the event.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Thursday Top 5

Paperclip lamp
Just because it’s cool.

Minty Forest
Josh and Nina each took a photo every day in 2008, neither one knowing what the other was working on. Each morning, they posted their photos on Minty Forest side by side.

Creative dance/fight sequence (!) directed by Anthony Alba. This is the sort of creative film-making I really think sites such as YouTube are perfect for. Oh, and the pink kitty’s pretty nice too ; )

Eoin Colfer discusses writing And Another Thing...

The All-For-Nots
A funny (web-based?) show taking an all-too-real look at the life of your average band. And I mean average. Example: The self-important singer starts off their “Northeastern tour” (first gig is a club show which seems to have an attentive audience of about 4, judging by the applause) with “Thank you for letting us ROCK YOUR MONDAY!” Hah! Seems well-written. They’ve got the all the typical characters down: the frontman who thinks he’s the only creative force in the band just because he writes most of the songs; the attractive bassist who’s in it for the chicks; the jobless hanger-on who follows the band on the “big” tour; the attorney-rock-star-wannabe who’s leaving his job and fiancee behind to follow a dream; and the over-charismatic and under-competent manager who’s going to convince everyone The All-For-Nots are the next big thing, doing whatever it takes (such as turning the band into a reality show). The scripts are well-written: See if you pick up the “omnivorous presence” quip; slides by if you’re only half-listening. I used to see all these characters regularly when I was in the music industry, so I laughed heartily at several spots in this video. [Note: Player above is just an image because’s stupid embedable player auto-plays and I know people hate that.]

The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most notable, interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thursday Top 5

Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster and Vegan Rhino Cutlet recipes
Jason Henninger brings us some Hitchhiker’s-influenced science fiction cuisine.

Steampunk keyboard mod
Made by the Steampunk Workshop.

Eco-art and fashion
Amazing living fashion by artist Nicole Dextras. Many of her other interesting works can be seen on Flickr or her main site.

Walmart’s sustainability index assessed
Joel Makower’s sober assessment of Walmart’s much-talked-about new Sustainability Index indicates that it may be a good first step, but it leaves much work to be done. For example: “...they don't mention toxic materials used in manufacturing or in the products themselves. They don’t talk about the energy efficiency of products or their recyclability or other disposition at the end of their useful lives,” writes Makower. They also “don’t address most worker issues, like wages, health care, and the right to air grievances.” And while Walmart is asking all suppliers to answer the questionnaire, the Index at this point only assesses companies, not their individual products.

“Her Morning Elegance,” by Oren Lavie

The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thursday Top 5+3

Velma and I are going on a site visit to beautiful Sequioa National Park for a few days and I thought I’d be generous and post some extra distractions for those of you stuck behind desks while we’re backpacking through the redwoods. So here are three bonus links along with your normal five. Don’t say I never gave you nuthin’.

“Barney Miller” on Hulu
I loved this classic sitcom from the ’70s and ’80s, so I was pleased to see Hulu has added every episode. I’ve watched several so far, reliving my childhood with pre-adolescent glee. Plus the show had one of the all-time raddest theme songs (I can say “rad,” it was the ’80s!), and I found a free MP3 at Now I just need to find all the episodes of “Taxi” somewhere online.
Of course, I then spent half an hour looking up TV theme songs on this site. Best finds were the aforementioned Barney Miller, a semi-good quality version of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” TV theme, and the awesome “Streets of San Francisco” intro, which I’ve been wanting for years.

The Unofficial Apple Weblog’s Mac 101 series
I’ve been a Mac user for almost 25 years now (*whew*) so it’s not surprising that I’ve picked up a lot of power-user tips over the years. But even I learn something new once in a while. For PC-to-Mac switchers, novices, and even old timers, the Mac 101 series on TUAW is a great way to pick up quick and easy tips that will make you more productive and save time and effort. I perused the entire series a few nights ago and there are some great shortcuts and tips that will undoubtedly leave most Mac users thinking, “Aha! That’s how you do that!”

The Evolution of
Snapshots of Apple’s home page, from 1997 to today.

Brute force Hubble fix saves the day — again
Play-by-play description of the second time spacewalking astronauts had to resort to brute force to repair part of Hubble on this latest, and so far very successful, trip. Some other interesting play-by-play descriptions of the recent trip are available in other posts on CNET News’s Space Shot blog.

What Would Penis Do?
The artist of these shorts has a new book.

Aerial Virtual Tour of New York
Dizzyingly cool. Switch it to full-screen and be amazed.

“Space Oddity: Steve Lamacq Live’s guide to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
I recently found this broadcast from BBC Radio 1 about the history of the Hitchhiker’s phenomenon, produced to introduce the 2005 movie. Features interview snippets with Douglas Adams, Simon Jones, Stephen Fry, actors from the original BBC TV series and radio shows, fans, and a bunch of people involved with the movie. Oh, and it’s hosted by the original Marvin, in character of course. It’s actually quite a good show, regardless of the movie being rather a let-down. [31:24 min, RealPlayer stream]

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

And Another Thing book cover released

Here’s the first look at the book cover for the forthcoming And Another Thing, by Eoin Colfer, the 6th book in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, due from Hyperion in October (pre-order from Amazon).

The actual books probably won’t have Colfer’s signature on it like this picture. I think the original pictured here was an early version of the artwork, signed by Colfer himself. The covers seen on and don’t have the signature, and have slightly different typography.

Scanned from issue 112 of “Mostly Harmless,” the newsletter of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, the Douglas Adams fan club.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Farking Zarquon! Eoin Colfer is writing a sixth Hitchhikers’ book!?

The author of the popular Artemis Fowl series has been contracted by Hyperion books to write a sixth book in the evermore inaccurately named Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy trilogy.

The sixth book is reportedly titled And Another Thing... and is scheduled to be published in October 2009 by Hyperion.

The book has been sanctioned by Douglas Adams’ widow Jane Belson: “I am delighted that Eoin Colfer has agreed to continue the Hitchhiker series. I love his books and could not think of a better person to transport Arthur, Zaphod, and Marvin to pastures new. The project has my full support.”

Colfer told the BBC he feels “more pressure to perform now than I ever have with my own books,” adding that he was “determined that this will be the best thing I have ever written.”

Colfer told the BBC his first reaction was “semi-outrage that anyone should be allowed to tamper with this incredible series. But on reflection I realized that this is a wonderful opportunity to work with characters I have loved since childhood and give them something of my own voice while holding on to the spirit of Douglas Adams.”

I suspect there will be a lot of negative criticism for the eventual outcome. Fans tend to have strong opinions about the purity of their favorite writers’ oeuvre. For fans of Douglas Adams, perhaps doubly so.

Interestingly, almost this exact same thing happened just a few years ago with my other favorite writer (Adams and Heinlein are the two faves, in case you haven’t been paying attention). A partial manuscript was uncovered from the Heinlein Archives at UC Santa Cruz, and Spider Robinson was asked to complete it. The result, Variable Star, was not exactly a Heinlein book, but still an interesting read and not so disastrous as I’d imagined it could have been. I actually liked it a fair amount.

So I will adopt a cautious skepticism about the sixth Hitchhikers’ book, dust off the Artemis Fowl books I haven’t read yet, and wait for 2009.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Unearthing the story of Milliways

Twenty years after the fact, Andy Baio has uncovered the story of "Milliways: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe," the unreleased sequel to Infocom's interactive fiction computer game, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." More interestingly, his post has garnered over 200 comments, including a number by the people described in Baio's article, many of whom debate the appropriateness of releasing personal emails without prior consent. It's a fascinating, if long, read.

I always wondered about that sequel game. I met Douglas Adams as a kid, at a poorly-attended autograph session at an American chain bookstore in a shopping mall (which in and of itself should have been unbelievably absurd to me at the time, but sadly, wasn't), and I effused to him about — among other things — the Infocom Hitchhikers' game, having spent hours baffling out how to just get a damn fish out of a machine (among other baffling things).

I asked him if there would be a sequel game, and he told me that indeed there would. I probably effused some more, but my young mind quickly ran out of things to say to an adult whose books (and radio shows, and TV shows, et al) would turn out to have a lasting effect on the evolution of my young sense of humor and indeed my whole way of viewing the universe.

Much later, when the new Douglas Adams game was announced by Infocom, it was called Bureaucracy, and it didn't really seem to have anything to do with the Hichhikers' Guide, nor any of the H2G2 characters. I was confused by this until now.

By the way, the Infocom game still features prominently among my Douglas Adams collection, and I still have my Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses and Microscopic Space Fleet. And the pocket fluff too, of course — can't ever get rid of that stuff.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

An Adams fan finally speaks the truth about the Hitchhikers movie

I was uncharacteristically silent here about my opinion of the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" movie after I saw it earlier this year. Since then, when asked by friends what I thought of the movie, I have said something like "I liked it but I was somewhat disappointed."

But I've always felt a twinge when I said this, like it was a cop-out. I've finally come realize that I was probably not willing to admit to myself that I was more disappointed in the movie that I had originally thought, that I just couldn't bare to face the reality that the filmmakers had released such a phenomenal cock-up on the millions of fans of Douglas Adams' work.

MJ Simpson is a longtime Adams scholar who was privy to much inside information during the making of the film, including a pre-release screening last March. Simpson then published a scathing review on his website and subsequently suffered an onslaught of negative feedback because of it.

But I have to admit that he's essentially spot-on about each and every criticism. I applaud Simpson for putting his honest opinion out there, and for taking the shots that came from it. And I say he's right.

The filmmakers took out almost all the jokes. They removed the funny from Adams' trademark funny dialog. The movie suffers from a twisted and nonsensical plot that was made even worse from an utterly outrageous editing job. Simpson says it and I'll say it too: It's okay to mess about with the plot. Adams did it in every version of Hitchhikers. But the dialog still has to be funny.

It's a long review, it took nearly an hour to read, but it's worth it.

After all this, I still can't get past the fact that I really, really want the DVD [Update: I broke down and bought it]. I just can't help it. I'm a rabid collector of Hitchhikers stuff and I admit I simply must add the movie to my collection.

And maybe a part of me is hoping that I'll grow to like parts of the film more by watching it a few more times. I mean, it wasn't totally abysmal; there were some good bits. Just a shame it wasn't as good as it could have been.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Interactive fiction

Back in the mid-'80s, a then-famous computer game company named Infocom put out a game version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Notice that I called it a "computer game" company, not a "video game" company. This was well before video games took off. Not before they existed, just before they exploded and turned into the huge industry they are now.

Infocom made what they termed "interactive fiction" games. Perhaps you remember (or at least have heard of) Zork. Or, if you're really cool, (or just really old and were a geek like I was when I was 12), you remember the game Adventure, which started on mainframes. Yes. Mainframes. This was pre-personal computers, people. Yes, I'm that old.

I was in high school when the Hitchhiker's game came out. Infocom was huge at the time, and it was huge that they were putting out a Hitchhiker's game. I remember pilfering a copy and playing it with my friend Jim Stickney on his Apple II. Yes, this was pre-Macintosh. Yes, I'm that old.

This was a role playing game. I know some of you have heard of that. You played the role of Arthur Dent, the hapless human whose house gets knocked down at the beginning of the book. And the radio series. And the record album. And the play. And the movie (but more about that later).

Unlike the RPGs of today, there were no graphics in this game. That's right, none at all. It was all ugly green text on a black screen (you did click on the Apple II link, didn't you?), almost as enjoyable to look at as a DOS startup screen. But it didn't need to be good-looking, because it was written by Douglas Adams. And it was brilliant. It contained all of his wit, all of the absurdity of the now well-known novels, and step after step it kept you guessing and anguishing and making mistakes and ending up dead and pulling your hair out (explains a lot, doesn't it?).

You see, the plot of the game, while based on the characters and events in the books, didn't exactly follow the storyline of the books. That's right, as usual, Douglas threw his fans into a tizzy by changing things around again, as he tended to do in each and every iteration of the infamous Hitchhiker's series. So, while it helps a lot to be familiar with the books, it doesn't mean you'll actually win the game.

Jim and I played that game to death. I think we finally solved it, but we certainly had to use the Hint Book (sold separately).

I still have the game and its cool packaging, or most of it anyway (it came with a Don't Panic button, some pocket fluff, and Vogon-signed orders for the destruction of the Earth, among other things). I even have the 5-inch floppy disk it came on, although you'd have a hard time finding anyone who still has a computer that can play it.

But the great thing is, now I don't have to.

The BBC has brought back the game, put it online, and even added a graphical interface so it's actually interesting to look at as well as frustrating as hell and completely and utterly enjoyable to play.

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