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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: 40 years of parody and predictions (nature.com)
208 points by sohkamyung on Oct 2, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 110 comments

Adams' thoughts on computers and technology are gold. He was also the first person in the UK to buy an Apple Mac, Stephen Fry being a close second.

"I didn't really didn't foresee the Internet. But then, neither did the computer industry. Not that that tells us very much of course – the computer industry didn't even foresee that the century was going to end."

"First we thought the PC was a calculator. Then we found out how to turn numbers into letters with ASCII — and we thought it was a typewriter. Then we discovered graphics, and we thought it was a television. With the World Wide Web, we've realised it's a brochure."

"A computer terminal is not some clunky old television with a typewriter in front of it. It is an interface where the mind and body can connect with the universe and move bits of it about."

"I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies: 1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. 2. Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. 3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things."

"I am rarely happier than when spending entire day programming my computer to perform automatically a task that it would otherwise take me a good ten seconds to do by hand."

From Dirk Gently:

“What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your own mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that’s really the essence of programming. By the time you’ve sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you’ve certainly learned something about it yourself. The teacher usually learns more than the pupil. Isn’t that true?”

I keep waiting for someone to implement Anthem as an Excel plugin.

> "I didn't really didn't foresee the Internet. But then, neither did the computer industry. Not that that tells us very much of course – the computer industry didn't even foresee that the century was going to end."

LOOOOOOL! My high school CS teacher, in 1982, was warning the class about the Year 2000 problem even then. The school had a PDP-11/34 running RSTS/E 7.0, quite the setup for its day.

Back about 2005, when I discovered SIMH, I set up a RSTS/E 7.0 system to revisit old times. I broke out laughing when I found out that 7.0 was not at all Y2K-compliant! It wouldn't even boot if I tried to set the year to 05.

Not sure we need the "LOOOOL"

>2. Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

What's scary is my mind continues to change the word "career" to "cancer" here, and it seems equally true

"Technology," Adams once said, "is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet."

This could not be more true. When was the last time you referred to a teapot or a bicycle as "technology"? Even Google wouldn't be called "technology" anymore by most people who use it -- it's just Google, and it just works.

I've seen this misattribution a few times today.

Adams didn't say that. He was quoting computer scientist Bran Ferren in his (Adams's) article in The Sunday Times "How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet". It's reproduced on his personal website here: http://www.douglasadams.com/dna/19990901-00-a.html

The actual quote is slightly different: "Technology [...] is stuff that doesn't work yet."

Also “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Salmon of Doubt

Adams was extreme procrastinator.

He could not self-manage his work once he had wealth and had no need to write for living. Once his editor rented cheap hotel room, removed all distractions and hovered over him until the book was done. Adams worked with Salmon of Doubt 10 years and didn't even manage the first draft.

My favorite Douglas Adams' procrastination story is when he was offered £50,000 to write Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy calendar. He then procrastinate it until the deal fallen through and got paid £25,000 for doing nothing.[1]

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huntsham_Court#Notable_guests

I hear people talk about bicycle technology all the time. E-bikes are very popular these days.

And I heard someone talking about teapot technology just last week, but he was (a) British and (b) a master electrician, so he had especially strong feelings on the matter. :-)

I don't often hear technology used as a noun (except in sci-fi stories, where it's a MacGuffin). It's an adjective: the level of technology of an item. This e-bike has improved technology compared to last year's model.

This is the same way we used it when I was studying archaeology in school. What's the level of pottery technology of this civilization? The pots clearly worked, just like a rotary-dial phone worked. They just weren't as advanced as others.

> It's an adjective: the level of technology of an item. This e-bike has improved technology compared to last year's model.

'Technology' is used as a noun in both of those sentences.

One of my favorite quotes ever:

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars, and so on -- while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man -- for precisely the same reasons.

Unpopular opinion: I haven't been able to get into the whole hype about this book.

This quote is perfect example of my frustration actually. Maybe I am OCD or something, I dont know. I do not see the humor or anything profound with it. Except it sounds a bit quirky.

Is it suppose to profoundly compare pure happiness versus struggle for progress?

...or take the whole babel fish thing; Why a fish for translation?

ps: I dont mean to target your favorite quote. It was just perfect example :D Sorry to take out my frustration on your comment.

> I do not see the humor or anything profound with it.

A common feature of humor is to reverse something against expectations. Here he sets up a list of grand accomplishments and compares them with leisure and you expect the former to be superior. Then, right at the end of the paragraph, he inverts the expectation and causes you to suddenly reinterpret the whole thing. You think of the downsides of the accomplishments, and that really having a good time is important and maybe human values are messed up, etc. All in a flash at the reversal.

It’s a well known and effective literary effect. The poem ‘Ozymandias’ uses this for dramatic rather than humorous effect, for example.

"Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process." -- EB White


> Is it suppose to profoundly compare pure happiness versus struggle for progress?

The idea is something like that, I suppose. Just because one wants to muck about in the water having a good time doesn't make one unintelligent. With the added humor of summing up the collected achievements of mankind as "the wheel, New York, wars, and so on". Exaggerated understatement is funny (and particularly common in British humor, though I am not British myself).

I did not get much out of frog dissection. There were lot of squishy bits in there, but I could have just taken someone's word for that.

I guess as a dadaist I just find metaphorically dead frogs hilarious. Or metaphorical dissection hilarious? The point is, sometimes the joke is that the joke isn't the joke.

>This quote is perfect example of my frustration actually.

This about sums it up...you, the human, spend your limited life frustrated by quotes in books you don't even enjoy. Whereas the dolphin doesn't seem to spend any part of its life frustrated, at least over meaningless quotes...rather they just enjoy life.

I hear you; Douglas Adams (like Monty Python) isn't for everyone. But, before you give up on his works forever, I highly recommend listening to* just the first chapter of his last book -- The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. It's possibly the funniest thing I've ever listened to, and I say that as someone who read but never went bonkers over his paperbacks as a young reader.

*"listen" vs read, bc he narrates the audiobook himself, and it's pitch-perfect. Also, Audible lets me give away one free audiobook to any non-subscriber, so if you're willing to provide a non-audible-associated email address I'd be happy to send it to you gratis.

I find this whole scenario kinda interesting - I don't expect to be able to explain why anything from Douglas Adams should appeal to someone... they can only read it and see if it clicks for them. It definitely clicks for me.

On the other hand, I feel that Terry Pratchet has a similar sense of humor. However, I got all the way through The Colour Of Magic, giving it an honest shot, and deciding that it just wasn't for me. I find his humor to miss the mark, and be more obnoxious than funny. I can't quite put my finger on why I have such a polar reaction to two authors with a seemingly similar sense of humor. I guess maybe I find Pratchett to be more self-indulgent (not that Adams isn't!) while Adams adds a lot of witty perspective and his observations within his sci-fi universe are always actually observations about our universe.

The Colour of Magic is probably not the best place to start. He hadn't yet hit whatever it is that makes Discworld click for people.

There is considerable debate about the best order in which to read Discworld[1]. I know a lot of people who recommend Guards! Guards! as a good place to start, as being good in itself and the beginning of a very popular story arc. (Discworld has a number of running plots, which sometimes interact but can be read independently.)

So if you didn't care for Colour of Magic, it might be worth the effort to pick up one of the later books, after he'd worked out his style and worldbuilding. There's still no guarantee it'll work for you, but you won't really know if you start at the chronological beginning.

I'll note that I myself am agnostic on where to start. I like Pratchett (enough to have read all of Discworld) but do not love his work the way many people do.

[1] https://www.discworldemporium.com/content/6-discworld-readin...

I had the same problem with CoM (many do!) but "Guards! Guards!" opened it up for me, and "Small Gods" really opened the flodogates for me. Later I've obsessively listened to the audiobooks, particularly those narrated by Nigel Planer. His Cheerfulness Fairy ("Hogfather") has become a staple in our family to "chase those blues away.."

The Colour of Magic is an early parody of the fantasy genre and isn't really all that representative of his later work. Pterry got better as he wrote more. Try some of the other books.

In the same way, I'd also recommend Last Chance To See for a slightly different flavour of Douglas Adams. His whimsical style is remarkably well-suited to a non-fiction nature and travel book. I can't say I completely get his science fiction books, but I felt the constraints of a non-fiction book gave me a new appreciation for his sense of humour and his way of balancing that with thoughtful, meaningful exposition. It's one of my favourite books :)

He gave a great talk about it, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZG8HBuDjgc

I actually love Monty Python. It may be that I expect a different story-telling in a SciFi setting.

I will give that a try thank you for genuine suggestions!

I've always thought the original radio series worked the best. The books were a radio series rendered to paper (and different, but that's a whole other Douglas Adams story), and lost something significant in the process. Though I've read and re-read all six of the trilogy.

Maybe it's just not your thing - there's always some comedy that falls flat for one, and is funniest thing ever for another. Personally I find his take on modern life, tech, and human interaction pitch perfect.

Why not a fish for translation? :)

Personally, I felt the novels worked better than the series, at least for the original series. A lot of great jokes were invented after the series. Sometimes a joke on the radio seems unfinished, as if he didn't really know how his own joke worked until afterwards. (Or maybe he had it right all along but it didn't get into the script. He was famously late with his assignments.)

The second series in particular didn't seem to work very well. He never translated the Lintilla plotline into the novels, and I feel that's for the best.

The actors, of course, were brilliant, and the Radiophonic Workshop production was amazing. I've really enjoyed the way they resumed the series, and you'd hardly know there was a two decade gap between series 2 and 3. I can definitely understand being in love with it. But as a matter of taste, I feel like the book versions of the first two series (the ones where the show preceded the novel) were actually better.

I totally agree. I remember hearing HHGTTG on PBS radio the same way I remember seeing Star Wars for the first time. Completely mind blowing for a 12 year old. Both HHGTTG and Monty Python were like secret knowledge in my school and if you met anyone who had even heard of either, you knew you had found a kindred spirit.

Incidentally, did you ever listen to the NPR Star Wars radio drama? https://www.npr.org/2015/12/18/460269884/that-time-npr-turne...

Maybe wrong here but is it possible this genre might not just be your thing? Are there other examples of this style you enjoy (maybe Vonnegut or some of Scalzi)? Or if it is maybe it's his particular style of humor (definitely in the classic British/Monty Python mold) you don't respond to.

Anyways it's certainly not hard scifi and not meant to be. Basically any scifi-ish element in the book(s) is meant to be funny/surreal/absurd and won't hold up to any sortof actual scrutiny. Often not even just technical scrutiny but basic "would this ever actually happen" scrutiny.

In one of the books mean he introduces an alien that spends it's entire existence traveling throughout the Universe insulting every sentient being in alphabetical order. Obviously that's not something that would ever actually happen but the idea itself has value if you find it funny (which I did but maybe you would not).

I actually love Monty Python. It may be that I expect a different story-telling in a SciFi setting.

Monty Python is more of a literary comedy for me. I think we are onto something here. I might need to relax my rules and expectations in SciFi genre :D

I think for many aficionados (disclaimer: I'm one) the appeal comes from the overall ambience / tone of the series, and any single quote pulls through the memory of the whole experience. I can see that if someone never got into the series, the individual quotes might not be weighted as much.

@mclightning: “I haven't been able to get into the whole hype about this book”

Then try and get hold of the original radio series, which the books are based on. “Why a fish for translation”: because it is ridiculous, which most fifties sci/fi is/was. Adams did write scripts for Doctor Who.

So, the babelfish takes the piss out of Sci-Fi and the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation takes the piss out of consumerism. And this quote takes the piss out of Politics:

‘The President .. His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it’. Take a look at that whole quote, does it remind you of anyone.



>Then try and get hold of the original radio series, which the books are based on. “Why a fish for translation”: because it is ridiculous, which most fifties sci/fi is/was. Adams did write scripts for Doctor Who.

Yeah, I don't think that's the parent's issue... that he doesn't particularly like the book format, and that the changed lines and extra audio jokes will make it better. If anything from his description, he'd be even more puzzled...

It’s a bit of the British absurdism à la Monty Python. Their humor is really similar.

It’s a fish because, well, why wouldn’t a fish that eats brainwaves want to live in your ear? It could have been a spider, or a small bug, or a hermit crab... but who would want one of those in there? A fish though... it is such a random concept that somehow it can be accepted, simply because we didn’t see it coming.

I actually love Monty Python. It may be that I expect a different story-telling in a SciFi setting.

It may not be for you but I found the Hitchhiker's guide to be a fantastic blend of escapism and humour.

The humour has a surreal, divergent type of quality. Not everyone is going to be a fan.

To speak to the particular quote. It's often funny when someone trying to be clever is brought down a notch.

You could argue that humans are inherently humorous¹ because, in trying to solidify our positions and make ourselves more secure, (building cities, starting wars, ...) we often end up worse off than we began.

1: And tragic.

Without context, I started reading the OPs quote out loud, and my girlfriend started laughing at "For instance, on the planet Earth..."

It might be that you have to discover this at a certain age. My son devoured the series and read quote upon quote out loud. I read it in my teens... I've re-read it a few times and still love it.

It's an absurd response to a crazy world. Babel fish? He needed a device, so he made one, and it's funny.

Travel on...

you would probably enjoy watching the Round Planet series on Netflix, particularly the episode on the Galapagos Islands and Charles Darwin

> Why a fish

I find this confusing. It’s an alien species from a humorous book, why not a fish? I’m sure it’s intended to be a little bizarre.

Explaining humor always ruins it, but I think you do get the joke, he’s listing human accomplishments and then turning them around to appear silly. It’s also a little dark that he would include war as some kind of achievement.

Edit: wow lots of people responded while I was. You’ve triggered the fan base, haha.

The joke is, that many people find New York amazing .. while it is a insane, loud nonstop rush hour for others, like the author. Or wars.

In other words when progress means war and places like new york, some think not achieving progress and just enjoy life in old ways would have been better.

But Douglas Adams himself did not move into the wilderness ... and in a later book Arthur Dent is indeed stranded in the stoneage living simple, but hating it!

So ... it is Satire. Not to be taken literal. It can make you laugh about some absurde things of the everyday life, but does not mean to burn it all, because it is not perfect. (maybe burn only some things in a funny way)

And if you do not enjoy it ... no worries, just read something else.

I've always taken it as the power of your point of view to color how you perceive your own reality. We're caught up in what we see as the "modern world" to the degree that we cannot understand the fact that the dolphins, who, to us, seemingly waste all their time frolicking in the oceans and eating our free fish offerings, are in fact a deeply evolved and space-faring race, sitting there right in front of our eyes (and, not coincidentally, similarly judging us for how we go about our lives).

Adams was friends with and wrote for Monty Python (he cameos in a few episodes) and was also script editor for Dr Who. In fact the more story-led elements of HHGTG are actually bits of unused stuff he wrote for the show.

Once you think of Hitch Hiker's as a series of Monty Python sketches hung around a few Dr Who episodes, rather than a traditional story with a beginning, middle and end, the whole thing makes more sense. Well, as much as it can.

imagine that you're so smart that next time you have a great idea for a new technology you simulate in your mind how the world would be affected by that technology and, seeing that overall it would add to the misery of the world, you decide instead to say "fuck it" and continue playing around in the sea

You're about there.

We use all of our progress as a means to differentiate ourselves from other animals. We're smarter, better, etc. We have houses to live in and food to eat on demand. We want for little and don't have to worry about dying from a shark attack.

But animals do seem to be generally happier. I think Adams succeeds on the sensible chuckle level rather than anything uproariously funny. He's just really good at sustaining it. You read it and go "Heh. Totally. Wars suck."

So which is really more intelligent? Making an iPhone or just being satisfied with your life?

The fish is a fish. It's a funny visual of seeing someone cram a fish into their ear and that's about as far as the joke goes. It could have been anything really.

Read him as a comedian not a philosopher. Adams was a man of perspectives not truthseeking. His writing is more accidentally philosphical. He isn't some profound thinker that should be deciphered and understood, he wasnt trying to say something specific about society rather he should be enjoyed as comedy and then some of the concepts will make you appreciate his perspectives.

At least thats how think of him. He was a great writer with a very unique perspective on life.

Do you have a hard time seeing humor in a lot of things others do? Or is this just one that doesn’t strike?

I’m curious because I found that quote pretty funny and even profound.

I can relate with feeling like everyone else gets something that just seems frustrating to myself. My example is living on Mars. I don’t get it, seems like a terrible idea and I can’t understand why people want to do it. I’m okay with them wanting to go but I would never want to go myself.

Humor can't really be taught, expect by life experiences. So, you either have it or don't. And the same goes for specific kinds of humor. Some people can't get irony, or black humor, or the fun in puns, or other kinds. That doesn't mean they can't find the humor in other genres.

From your comment, it seems like you overanalyze it. You talk about whether:

"[it's] supposed to profoundly compare pure happiness versus struggle for progress"

-- as if you expected some profound philosophical revelation/insight from it.

No, it's not supposed to "profoundly compare pure happiness versus struggle for progress". It's supposed to make a tongue in cheek comment about "pure happiness versus struggle for progress". And about how "progress" is not the be all end all.

It's not supposed to say something so profound that people haven't thought of before, or which is deeply philosophical and goes to the core of our being.

Just to say things that a lot of us have felt/thought, about the futility of certain pursuits or how some achievements turn out not to be that great after all, in a funny/casual manner.

As for the mechanics of the joke, it's the classic (found in countless jokes) reversal of premise and conclusion:

Men think they're smarter because they do X and dolphins do Y, dolphins think they're smarter for the same reasons.

Immediately this brings up the relativity of view points, and how interchangeable they can be.

Then it makes you consider the particular example, and how what we think achievements could just be BS busy work (or even actively harmful to us enjoying our short lives). Not in a "what a deep insight / discovery", but in a "yeah, it might be silly, but I sure felt like that some times too".

Then there's the listing of the achievements (mere well crafted listings can be a source of humor in themselves, e.g.: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celestial_Emporium_of_Benevole... ). It goes from something most would agree as good (the wheel), to something subjective (New York), to something inherently bad (wars) but nonetheless a mark of our "progress" as species (animals might fight, but they don't do wars).

>...or take the whole babel fish thing; Why a fish for translation?

Now that's more the ocd you talked about. Why not a fish? It can be small (consider something like a goldfish), and has a shape not that bad for fitting into one's ear. And it's a living organism (so not inorganic rock which wouldn't do the translation as good). What Adams primarily wanted to have there in his story was something organic (not a technical babel-gizmo), and that could fit an ear.

It could just as well have been a babel-worm, or babel-ant or something just as well, but fish was one good option, sounded friendly enough (better than a worm), a little out of place too (doesn't it need water?) and Adams took it.

I don't remember specifically what I was doing, but it was just a few days ago that something prompted me to recall these passages, describing the products of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation:

"It is very easy to be blinded to the essential uselessness of them by the sense of achievement you get from getting them to work at all."

"In other words - and this is the rock solid principle on which the whole of the Corporation's Galaxy-wide success is founded - their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws."

The internet is a kind of Babel fish, letting people from different cultures easily interact. Douglas' comment on the outcome seems sadly prescient:

"Meanwhile the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different cultures and races, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation."

That's absurd. There have been fewer wars and conflicts and violence in the age of the internet than at any other time. It's possible the internet makes information of such tragedies more readily accessible which is why the world may seem more dangerous, but this couldn't be further from the truth. The interconnected world has made us less bloody, not more.[1]


WhatsApp being used to orchestrate ethnic cleansing in Mynanmar [0], or inciting lynchings in India [1] would be two recent examples of tools that remove barriers to communication having unexpected and tragic side effects.

[0] https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8xbbqg/facebook-hired-an-...

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/20/whatsapp-...

> absurd

Yes. His humour has a great deal of funny absurdist stuff in it. It becomes funny when it touches some truth.

> There have been fewer wars and conflicts and violence in the age of the internet than at any other time.

This is certainly more caused by the advent of destructive weapons like nukes, subs, and carriers, than the internet.

its harder to keep secrets like war crimes, atrocities, and genocides, but probably has comparatively little effect on all out war.

“The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question 'How can we eat?' the second by the question 'Why do we eat?' and the third by the question 'Where shall we have lunch?”

“The history of warfare is similarly subdivided, although here the phases are Retribution, Anticipation, and Diplomacy. Thus:

Retribution: I'm going to kill you because you killed my brother.

Anticipation: I'm going to kill you because I killed your brother.

Diplomacy: I'm going to kill my brother and then kill you on the pretext that your brother did it.”

As Adams noted: “There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”

I find this theory compelling.

Bob the Hacker was running artificial life simulation where the physics was classical Newtonian, space Euclidean and only the surface of the Earth was accurately simulated. When humanity developed better instruments and theories, Bob had to limit the maximum achievable speed so he invented general and special relativity. The she invented quantum mechanics to smooth over aliasing, jitter and other simulation artifacts that humans would eventually recognize.

Unless he keeps tweaking the simulation humanity will eventually realize that the Universe is a kludge.

Quantum mechanics and waveforms collapsing when they're "observed" still sounds like a rendering trick in a videogame to me, like having objects that aren't in your field of view not be drawn.

I've always thought the expanding universe was simply the draw distance being increased as the players instruments got better.

> Bob the Hacker

> she

So Bob is a girl?

Bob belongs to a race that turns masculine when called with a name as it sounds when you read it left to right and feminine when you read it from right to left.

Bob seems to be using pronouns that are associated with both genders. Seems to be their thing. In any case, Bob seems like a fairly competent hacker and that's all that really matters here.

It's either a) a typo or b) this guy is following the American trend of pretending that your sex is just made up

Bob isn't into pronouns, but our limited human understanding demands them.

In "Dirk Gentlys Holistic Detective Agency", Douglas Adam describes a camcorder as a device for watching all the television that humans don't have time to watch.

It also had electric monks:

>The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.

I've always preferred Dirk Gently to Hitchhiker's, likely because it speaks to me more personally as a programmer.

    > "What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is
    > to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your own
    > mind ... By the time you've sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that
    > even a stupid machine can deal with, you've certainly learned something about
    > it yourself. The teacher usually learns more than the pupil. Isn't that true?"
    > "It would be hard to learn much less than my pupils," came a low growl from somewhere
    > on the table, "without undergoing a prefrontal lobotomy."
Adams was clearly inspired by his time working on the computer game. All of his books have an autobiographical sense to them. Hitchhiker's and Restaurant had a lot of lying in muddy fields. The books written after he was published include more eating in fancy Greek bistros.

I think in the forward to my copy of the series he tells a story about lying in a muddy field stargazing when he comes up with the idea for the hitchhiker's guide and promptly dozing off and forgetting about it for the next 10 years.

And now we don't even need to record anything. Just putting an important documentary in my Netflix watch list immediately makes me a more accomplished person ;)

Surely a VCR, not a camcorder.

Perhaps he meant DVR. My MythTV DVR setup records stuff I think I want to watch, then a few weeks later, it deletes most of the shows to make space for more stuff I may never watch.

Yes, I always wanted the spreadsheet called Anthem, that could make pretty charts sing. It seems charting is spreadsheets is getting worse and worse instead.

I first read these books in high school and loved the zany humor. The deeper satire took a bit longer for me to appreciate - especially the "Restaurant at the End of the Universe" where all the rich and famous would gather to watch the Universe implode as a form of entertainment. DA was a secular prophet.

Let me just leave one of my favourite talks given by Douglas adams here:


Elon Musk is also a huge fan of Douglas Adams, as he mentioned again in his latest interview with Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIQ36Kt7UVg

I'm a little late to this thread, but given Adams is my favorite author and one who I've thought quite a lot about over the past 40 years, here's some observations:

The core theme to all his books is infinity. Adams instinctively understood what an infinite universe would mean, and used it liberally as a plot device that incorporated deus-ex-machina into the story itself. The original H2G2 story explored the fact that probabilities mean nothing when infinity comes into play, and his last examined an infinite multiverse in which "luck" is taken to its logical extreme, where changing the future means manipulating the various divergent paths of the past so that just the right thing happens at the right time and place in the present.

His talent was in following ideas to their absurd conclusions. The original series was supposed to be a bunch of different vignettes in which the Earth was destroyed at the end of each. But after writing the first, he thought, "What comes next?", and continued to flesh out the rest of story. This is a fundamental Adams hallmark, and the part of his writing I love most.

Douglas was incredibly prescient, but not in an Arthur C. Clarke sort of way. He was a gadget freak without doubt, but he didn't really understand technology at a deep level. What he did was to take what was already common knowledge - from quantum mechanics to evolution to computers - and extrapolated their concepts to their logical conclusions. If you were to have a computerized "book", then it would need to be such and such a size, and look and sound like so, and get regular updates over an pervasive wireless network, etc. It just made sense, and history has born him out. What's amazing is that he did this with a variety topics including Artificial Intelligence, and it looks like his thoughts are still incredibly applicable almost 20 years after his death.

It's sad that as times goes by, Adams work will eventually be shelved and as irrelevant as Jules Verne. Even today, the Guide is so like a modern smartphone, it doesn't feel to new readers as if there's anything novel or futuristic about it (like it was in 1978), which is too bad. But I guess that's the fate of anyone who writes stories incorporating technology.

For those like me who miss Adams - any other writings that blend the same level of intelligence, wordplay, and whimsy?

“Good Omens” is the closest I’ve found.

Italo Calvino isn't an exact match, but you might want to try out The Nonexistent Knight or The Cloven Viscount to see if it's close enough.

Obligatory mention of one of his most wonderful talks [0]: "Parrots, the Universe, and everything"

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZG8HBuDjgc

I went to a play the other day that was directed by Mark Wing-Davy and I spent the entire time wondering if Zaphod was in the house.


101010 in binary... (I owe, I owe, I owe)

Apparently DA didn't think anything of the value of the number and just determined "42 will do"...

I believe it was ”pick a number, any number” which was disclosed by Marvin quite early on, apparently as an easter egg. I read something explaining this somewhere ... don’t have the link to hand ...

the answer is easy, its asking the right question thats the hard part

I believe in one part it's somewhat implied the question is "What is 6 times 9?", which is silly considering the answer is wrong.

The programming joke goes something like this:

  #define SIX 1+5
  #define NINE 8+1
  return SIX*NINE;

That's on IIRC the Earth 2 in its very early existence and Arthur and Ford start pulling scrabble letters from the bag...

I guess it has a few million years to run to resolve to the correct question. :)

Presumably the mice would then require a third supercomputer to tell them why this is the most important question of life, the universe, and - you know - everything.

Isn't it also implied that the question was wrong because humans weren't supposed to land on the earth in the first place and serve as a bug in the calculations?

The reason the question came out wrong is because Arthur is descended from the Golgafrinchans, not the native ape-men, i.e. the program was corrupted early on.

The miniseries ends with that reveal, and Arthur quips “I always knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the universe.”

Yes it is; in base 13. :-) [1]

[1] http://www.6times9.com/

So, there may be a real, meaningful question which result is 42, when using a different "base" to view the question at?

I think it's more poetic to view it as the question for the meaning of everything has a wrong answer to it.

It doesn't make sense, the universe isn't specifically obligated to make any sense, so why should the ultimate question and answer?

'I may be a sorry case, but I don't write jokes in base 13.' - Douglas Adams

By coincidence mostly.

Are you saying the improbability of that approaches infinity?

Well, on yet another level, isn't the universe - at least, as far as it's limited to our own human condition - all about wrong answers?

In the TV show, near the end you can just about hear the strains of Bob Dylan singing "How many roads must a man walk down....".

The whole character of Zaphod Beeblebrox must have been inspired by historical populists. He is Trump, he is Johnson, he is Berlusconi.

Reagan was president. This was treated with far more incredulity at the time than the election of Trump outside the US. It was widely believed at the time across the political spectrum that Regan was a teleprompt reading puppet. Was he? Different question. Tory voters and labour-ites in the uk basically believed it with complete astonishment.

The galactic president is just a decoy, the real man is elsewhere worried about his cats. This is part of the story and characterisation that needs to be put into that context. Zaphod had no policies at all. Hardly a populist bogeyman.

I think part of it is that us Brits have a hard time getting our head round the idea of a president, or elected head of state, on the basis that over here the role of head of state gets all the pomp and ceremony but behind all that is really a nothing job of only ceremonial importance. The actual work is done by a lowly commoner MP that makes all the real decisions.

The president of the US is roughly a 1770s British monarch, with broadly similar powers to George III, except with election and limits on length of service.

Since when, we've neutered the powers of our head of state, the US has strengthened theirs.

I think that the main inspiration for the political part of Beeblebrox's story was probably 1976 Doctor Who episode "The Deadly Assassin" because Adams was heavy Doctor Who fan who made other borrowings from the show (for example using towels as tools was inspired by Forth Doctor's scarf usage) and soon later wrote a few episodes for it and became a showrunner.

There's also some political commentary in "Young Zaphod Plays it Safe": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Zaphod_Plays_It_Safe

He's just this guy, you know?

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