The Desert of the Reals

(OR, “I was Watching the Watchmen, I swear, but then I looked away and missed them.”)

Sunday Times (UK):

Amateur crimefighters are surging in the US

There are, according to the recently launched World Superhero Registry, more than 200 men and a few women who are willing to dress up as comic book heroes and patrol the urban streets in search of, if not super-villains, then pickpockets and bullies. They may look wacky, but the superhero community was born in the embers of the 9/11 terrorist attacks when ordinary people wanted to do something short of enlisting. … In recent weeks, prompted by heady buzz words such as “active citizenry” during the Barack Obama campaign, the pace of enrolment has speeded up. Up to 20 new “Reals”, as they call themselves, have materialised in the past month.

… Mr. Invisible is cheered that at least his grey one-piece “invisibility suit” works, proven when a drunk urinated on him in an alley. [more]

Bonus link, for those of you who have kids haven’t seen it yet: what I assume are the best five minutes of Watchmen. A little found history, a little alternate history, a little Dylan. What more do you need?

Edited to add: Hat tip to my man in Tel Aviv, Dotan. And I hope it’s clear that this is part of a well-established genre of “those wacky Americans” stories which should generally be read with salt shaker at the ready.


Do You Feel Lucky, Steampunk?

Benjamin Rush's 'Tranquilizer', ca. 1810
The Kinematrix Has You.

Speaking of Victorian internets… (Raise your hand if you figure I wrote all that just to give context to this.) It should go without saying, but these are not supposed to be nice alternate histories. The second one is particularly unpleasant–it’s like the photo negative of Gernsblack. Much as I love the steampunk aesthetic, a world combining 19th century ideas and prejudices with 21st century technology could in practice be pretty dire… Read more



They got all this machinery, but that ain’t everything. We the machines inside the machines.
—Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

It’s alternative history time, kids! This is something I wrote last year as part of an alternate history writing game. Some explanation follows at the end.

Granville Woods W.C. HandyLewis Latimer
Granville Woods, W.C. Handy, Lewis Latimer


Aka: Handy, John Henry, Gernsback-B

Tesla couldn’t do it. He was never going to do it. J.P. Morgan was standing on his neck for results and it didn’t matter. Tesla couldn’t make his wireless power caster work. Not until Tesla’s assistant, W.C. Handy, figured out the problem: Tesla’s coils were too tightly wound. Isn’t that always the way?

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Madness and Civilization III

Tags: Beach Invaders, Howard Zinn’s Civilization, Canadian wise men discover the secret of blogging!

Jonathan Dresner is right: in my earlier post about history and play, I was a bit too flip in dismissing as “teacher logic” the instinct to leverage activities like computer games into historical learning. In this post, I’ll reconsider computer games—or, as the kids today call them, “games”—as teaching tools, and offer my take on two questions:

  1. Why computer games are not effective tools for teaching history.
  2. How they could be.

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