Apr. 4th, 2010 12:20 pm
prog: (Default)
No, I don't have one. But I am sold on one, where I wasn't in January, and will almost certainly buy one this year sometime. (The lowest-capacity 3G model looks most attractive to me.)

As [livejournal.com profile] xach recently noted, and many others have agreed, the iBooks app is beautiful. This alone would sell me on it. Even given the itty-bitty screen and sparse interface, the existence of Kindle for iPhone instantly made me fall head-over-heels sold on reading (and buying) books electronically. I have easily spent over $100, maybe $200 on downloaded electronic books in the past few months, and have many more freebies as well. The iPad's larger and richer interface is clearly much closer to the format that books want to be read in, and I in turn want to make my books happy.

I have read (or am still reading) all the books that I have bought this way. This is not the case with my personal library of paper books. And here is why: my library of electronic books is, in its entirely, in my pocket at all times. Wherever I am, when I want to read something, I can summon one of my books into my hand. It is real magic, friends.

But you know what really puts a fire in my heart over this? The fact that one of the first things I will do after acquiring an iPad is purchase a subscription to a daily newspaper. I am looking forward to reading a paper again, a real, smart, edited daily paper. I don't know which one yet, but any of the ones that have survived for this long (counting from when Craig's List pinched off their air supply) and which look and feel gorgeous on the iPad will do.

I last subscribed to a paper 15 years ago, when I was still a journalism student. Yes, thank you, I am well aware that nothing's been stopping me from subscribing to a newspaper since then. But a device like the iPad, to me, seems like such a more correct delivery vehicle for a daly paper than, um, paper. The reasons go from basic cleanliness and convenience to the potential for brilliant interactivity that a smart periodical with a modicum of subtlety can accomplish.

This device will help make me smarter, is what I'm saying, and that is very exciting.
prog: (Wario)
Needing a break, I opened my phone's Kindle app to see what it recommended for me. Unsurprisingly, there was more Stross: The Android's Dream. OK, it's been a couple of months since my last thing by Charlie, so noting a "Try a Sample" button, I tapped it, and settled down to enjoy the novel's first chapter.

It was entirely about butts and farts. It was clearly butts and farts as written by one of my favorite contemporary SF authors, mind you, but I couldn't help but wonder if Amazon was now in the habit of editing books' sample chapters so that they centered on topics known to be of interest to the sampling customer, perhaps based on their own blogging history or something.

Anyway: sold.

Edit: [livejournal.com profile] cnoocy correctly points out that the novel is by Scalzi, not Stross. He happens to be another one of my favorite modern SF writers, and while both mix a lot of humor into their stories, I'm now embarrassed to not be able to tell one from another after a whole chapter of text.

I bought the book while very sleepy (still am), but this is definitely an error that could only happen with online book buying. Interesting. Kinda.
prog: (Default)
What do you call the opposite of a Mary Sue character? That is, an intentional self-insertion who, rather than being the smartest girl in Starfleet Academy who will marry Draco Malfoy at the end, is instead a pathetic and unloved loser - who still manages to be the star of the show, mind you.

I want to call this class of character a "Kilgore Trout", but for the sake of symmetry, I think I prefer "Charlie Brown".

"Mary Sue" works too, but I don't think it works as well to mean any kind of character who is based on the author. To me the term strongly implies that the character is idealized and amateurishly written, as well, and that is certainly not universally the case.
prog: (Muybridge)
[livejournal.com profile] classicaljunkie and I celebrated our two-year anniversary last night by watching the first two Godfather films at the Brattle. (We watched The Departed at the Somerville on our official first date.)

I had not seen either film before, if you can believe it. (The junkie has seen both many times, and this outing was at her suggestion.) The experience reminded me of studying Romeo & Juliet for the first time in high school, and being so amazed as how much content was in it, beyond the balcony scene and everybody-dies ending that every resident of Western popular culture knows about. What a pleasure it was to discover what the first movie held, beyond the horse-head scene and the one line everyone can quote. (I'm willing to bet that most people who have not seen The Godfather think that Marlin Brando's is the main character. I certainly did, before yesterday.)

Also, the opening measures of the theme song... for my whole life, hearing this has meant "You are about to watch a parody of some bit of The Godfather, maybe with Bill Clinton instead of Don Corleone or something". So hearing that in a dark theater and trying to convince myself no really it's the real thing this time was interesting.

It also brought to mind Brust's Vlad Taltos novels. I started reading these only last year, and they may be the first book-length gangster stories I've read, odd as that seems. (Trying to think back to see if I'm wrong... I liked Robert Aspirin's "Myth" series when I was a kid, and they have gangstery themes, but they're also very silly.) Anyway, the first books, written less than ten years after The Godfather completely redefined the crime-drama subgenre, clearly borrowed liberally from the films to build the structure of its underworld, never mind that it has elves instead of Italians. (Actually, I guess it would have humans instead of Italians. But anyway.) I learned all my (movie-)gangster lingo from reading these novels, so it was fun to watch them reappear in their original context.

As for Part II, I liked it OK, but it couldn't avoid feeling like a mere epilogue to the neat, perfect story told by the first. As such, the fact that it was significantly longer than the original work just made it feel uncomfortably unbalanced. It reminded me of how I felt after reading "Dune Messiah", except that that's not a very long book.
prog: (Default)
I borrowed Charlie Stross's Halting State from [livejournal.com profile] radiotelescope a few weeks ago, but am still only halfway through it. A police procedural about the game industry, even a lightly SFnal one (set in a newly independent Scotland circa 201X), is not really what I wanna read right now. Deciding that I was more in the mood for a totally whack fantasy, and recalling that [livejournal.com profile] ahkond brought up Jack Vance's Dying Earth series in recent conversation, I sought that out. The Harvard Bookstore had a new paperback collection of all four novels for $20 - sold.

So far, I love them. The metagame hook for a modern fantasy fan is how they define a great deal of what would decades later become much of D&D's basic ruleset and milieu, particularly the notion of spells that vanish from your mind after you cast them, and sorcerors capable of holding more, and more difficult, spells in their brains as they gain wizardly experience. My enjoyment of the stories goes beyond this novelty (though I do get a kick out of it). They're smooth reading and, for half-century-old stuff, hardly dated.

So where am I with Brust? I have read through the first two Taltos collections (which cover Jhereg through Phoenix) and also picked up Dragon separately. I don't feel like reading the most recent two novels, both readily obtainable as new paperbacks, until go back to I fill in the holes.
prog: (Default)
Some young punks have apparently been freely harassing Davis Square residents for some time now. That thread begins with someone describing how he was assaulted and slapped around by them, apparently in broad daylight and with people all around. The many comments that follow form a story about how this same group has been making trouble in the square for a while now, apparently trying to intimidate people into giving them money or valuables through insults, threats, and even chasing, shoving or hitting them. It sounds like the police frequently get involved (as they did during the OP's altercation) but so far they haven't been able to proactively do much about their presence.

Their anarchic behavior reminds me of how the PCs get through life in the Grand Theft Auto games. If nothing more interesting is going on, you can just wander around thumping people for the lulz, and if your star rating gets too high and a cop nabs you, you suffer a minor inconvenience for a minute before getting back into the action. (One comment seems to confirm that the kids were back to messing with people about 30 minutes after the OP's incident.) Meanwhile, everyone else in the game just sort of mills around. This makes me sad.

The online response is more heartening. Among the "hey I saw those guys too" comments are some pretty good suggestions about what to do next. (And a few eye-rolling blusters, but at least they're on the right side.) It makes me think more of the world described in Clay Shirky's recent opus, which opens with the tale of how, a couple of years ago, a spontaneous online community formed around the fact that a woman in New York had her lost cell phone found by a kid who, after being identified by their subsequent use of it, refused to give it back. Eventually the NYC cops capitulated under the insistent weight of the community and charged the kid with theft.

It would be nice to see that power turned on something that's actually a criminal threat to an entire local population. I hope that something like this is indeed ramping up. I see that the OP, initially not wanting to file a report for fear of reprisal from the hoodlums, has changed his mind and spoken with a detective after reading some 100 sympathetic and action-seeking comments. This is good.
prog: (rotwang)
JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL was my train-riding book today because I had no other, and I found that the very next chapter addressed the continuing fates of the characters I had taken for forgotten. I stand by my earlier criticism, because there is a very real difference between a reader anticipating missing characters' return, and wondering if the author's simply misplaced them.

LOST continues to be a soup of delightful and spicy meatballs floating in a broth of stale television cliches. Usually I have no palate for it, and sometimes I just have to have five bowls of it. I slurped down a good half-dozen episodes over the last 24 hours, and have three more to go before I know what half my flist is so happy about.

PSYCHONAUTS is wonderful, and is currently a $15 download for XBox 360 users. (I understand PC users can enjoy it via Steam, as well.) I have a lengthy post about it that I may actually finish someday. Suffice to say it's certainly the best written platformer-genre game I've ever played.

RACE FOR THE GALAXY is an amazing card game and I wish to play it again right now. I will almost certainly be purchasing a copy soon.
prog: (Default)
I'm about a quarter of the way through Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but I don't think I can finish it, because I've rather lost faith in the author. When we still have over 500 pages to go through together, that's a serious issue.

I was delighted to find a trade paperback edition for sale for only a few bucks at the Harvard Bookstore last month, and delighted again to discover that the book was SF - I didn't know anything about it other than its sudden fame upon its first printing a few years ago.

Its setting, writing, and narrative voice - a chatty and highly opinionated gentlewoman who makes frequent asides - charmed me quickly, and I sailed through the first hundred pages. But as I read more, I lost the sense that things were hanging together.

Take (and there are some small spoilers here) the case of an interesting character introduced near the start, the head butler in the home of a lesser but important character. He's immediately admirable, so it's all the more gripping when, due to foolish actions on the part of a protagonist, he falls under an enchantment that (if I may simplify things a bit) keeps him from sleeping properly, rendering him dull-witted and unable to manage the house by day. The problem is that this is described over the course of three or four full chapters. First, he succumbs to the spell, and experiences his first unusual night. In the next chapter, we follow him as he suffers groggily through a day, and falls under the spell again at night. New chapter: we see him stumbling around again, and this time he complains to other characters about his terrible nights. Question: why was that middle chapter there at all?

That's not a trust issue yet, that's a where-is-the-editor issue, which is serious enough in a writer's >800-page-long debut novel. The real problem is that this whole subplot of the home falling to shambles due to a poor decision on the protagonist's part tenses the reader for the repercussions that are sure to follow - and as far as I can tell, there aren't any. The entire matter rather vanishes, and at the point of my bookmark, a couple of in-story years have passed with no indications that it had any ramifications at all. Perhaps there's a surprise twist being set up here, along the lines of the character mowing down the whole household and burying them behind the old woodshed without the reader's knowledge. But there's a way to write that without making the reader go "Hey... but what about... what?", and that's not present here.

So, yeah: debut novel, 800+ pages, charmingly written but apparently full of kitchen-sinkery with no editorial direction. If I were a faster reader I'd have more patience with it, perhaps.
prog: (Default)
Portishead has a new album, 12 years after their last. [livejournal.com profile] toddalcott has the goods. I suddenly realize there's buncha albums I gots to get. There's this, and there's new R.E.M., new Underworld, and a new Ladytron disc comin out shortly. All my entertainment dollas been going to video games lately... enough a that, sez I. (Have been saying since I got the 360, actually. Been doing a good job since then.)

INTERESTING PERSONAL TRIVIA: Portishead's signature song "Sour Times" is tightly bound in my mind with the puzzle book Maze, because I happened to hear it for the first time (via MTV!) just as I discovered the Maze website for the first time, and it instantly struck how the song's sound and the book's graphics fit together very well. Yes, this would be back in my dorm room.
prog: (Default)
When Vlad says "I went up to the door and clapped," does he mean that he stood facing the door and clapped his hands together, like applause, in order to announce his presence? I took clapped to be a synonym for used a door knocker but then it seems from other context that this isn't what people do there.

I'm up to Phoenix, by the way, and enjoying the series very much. It's more or less been getting better with each book. (Though I get the impression that Brust later regrets the precedent he sets in the first book by suggesting that bringing back the dead is easy and common. It almost never happens after that, with the author going through contortions not to contradict himself.)
prog: (Default)
I think this is everything but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that I'm leaving something out.

I am a Strange Loop: Borrowed from Zarf. Quite thought-provoking. I find myself reflecting often on the metaphors of mind that Hofstadter presents (and then tells nigh-innumerable parables about). That said, I stopped reading it after I bought...

Spook Country: Purchased at a signing event at the Brattle. I like it, but like all of Gibson's recent stuff it's not very grabby. On my recent train ride to Jersey I re-read the most recent 50 pages or so to re-contextualize since my last stopping point, and I barely remembered any of it. My reading this actually interleaves with...

Imajica: The first of two novels I bought at the Big Chicken Barn while vacationing in Maine last month. Probably I should have read this when I was 16, but some of my friends had been bringing it up in recent conversation, so what the hell. I was all right with it until about halfway through, when it starts to become clear that the only female character (who, because this is a Clive Barker novel, represents all of womanhood) is actually as much of a weak-willed twit as she seems. Seriously, I assumed that she was under a villainous enchantment, until the writing took turns that suggested otherwise. So I hang it up for a while, and that leads to...

Jhereg: The other Chicken Barn book, and another that I should have read as a teenager. I hadn't even heard of Brust until this decade, actually, and I think it was through [livejournal.com profile] tahnan or [livejournal.com profile] temvald slavering over him at a game night? Does that make sense? Anyway, started this today. Seven pages in. Hooked. We'll see. It's short, so if any other books wanna wedge into this one, they'd better act fast. (I borrowed some crazy Martin Gardner books from [livejournal.com profile] dougo the other day but they're just kinda hangin out right now.)
prog: (khan)
Whether it's Bradbury saying something cranky or Rowling saying something saucy, the author's interpretation of their own story or characters is worth no more than any other reader's take-away.

I mean, it's definitely worth talking about, and if you find yourself agreeing with the author about it, that's cool. But to then go on and say "Aha, this definitively means that Character X had Attribute Y", I say poopie upon you.

If I ever design a yuk-yuk T-shirt (besides the Volity ones) it will be themed around the slogan AUTHORIAL INTENT IS FOR SUCKERS or something.
prog: (Mr. Spook)
Yesterday's completely unexpected purchase was this edition of Lady Chatterly's Lover, entirely due to its covers and flaps being covered with delightful comics by Chet Brown, a favorite cartoonist whose distinct style bludgeoned me with its surprising presence as I walked past the "Classics" shelf.

The front cover is an illustrated excerpt from the book, the back cover is a tiny (but complete) cartoon biography of D.H. Lawrence, the front flap has a brief examination of the author's relationship with his wife and the rear flap lists his own possible extramarital affairs. Awesome! I had to buy it, both to own and to encourage more cool crap like this to exist.

A day

Sep. 20th, 2007 12:52 am
prog: (Default)
I had two very good meetings, in two very different roles - in one I was like arr I am a good leader and in the other I was like arr I am worth what I'm paid.

Bought two books. One is "How to Start a Business in Massachusetts" by O'Neill and Warda. Ha ha, horse before the cart, yes, but it's a smartly written summary and I've already learned a lot. I got it mostly to learn more about how the state recognizes a proprietorship - self-employment, basically - and get advice on customizing and maybe growing it.

The other is a collection of 365 NYT crosswords. Yes, it is September and it's time to start seriously training for the mystery hunt. Crosswords and recognizably crossword-like things are only a small part of the hunt, but word puzzles in general make up the majority of its busywork, and being able to chop quickly through crossword-style clues is a crucial skill.

I'm sure to enjoy these with [livejournal.com profile] classicaljunkie, who is at least as much a crossword lover as I, and who will join our team in January. To me, this is another reason to look forward to the hunt, what with yet another awesomely smart and creative hunt-mastering team, and IIF more pumped to win than ever. Hmm. I don't like phrases like "I can't wait" because holy crap there's a lot I need to get done by January, but... next year's hunt is going to rock.

Hay, teammates: whatever became of our "Gluttony" bracelets from last time? Did they get received and distributed? I never saw one!

Oh, what else. [livejournal.com profile] dangerforce called from his new pad in LA with a tech support question, and we yakked about TV stuff. He gave me a nice location lead I may use later. And I wrote a Gameshelf script! I will say nothing else about that yet.

Been descending into illness. Played a lot of RE4. These are not connected. Probably I caught a cold from one of the hands I shook at the breakfast yesterday. Blecch. Wasn't I just telling someone in person that a freelancer in the information sector doesn't necessarily need to physically network much to get job lead? There you go, then. It actually makes you sick when you even try. Hackers beware!
prog: (Default)
My friend and colleague Zarf ([livejournal.com profile] radiotelescope) released his exhaustively researched concordance for John M. Ford's The Dragon Waiting, an epic and extremely twisty novel set in alternate-history Renaissance Europe. Z's effort is a sprawling, link-n-anchor-intensive website, just the kind an information geek like me likes to see. It took him months.

Not that I've read the book, so I can't speak for that angle of it. I hadn't directly heard of John M. Ford until his untimely death last year, which shocked and saddened the greater SF community. I have been exposed to some of his more lightweight work since - he was quite prolific on certain skiffy blogs - but have yet to read any of his heavier stuff. My chance of picking up this novel sometime has increased, anyway.

Then again

Aug. 21st, 2007 09:20 pm
prog: (Default)
After I wrote that last subject line I thought I bet that isn't actually true, and lo.
prog: (Default)
A background process I didn't realize I had going returned a value yesterday and told me the point at which the last Harry Potter novel soured a little on me, preventing it from being really great. It was when Crusher said 'Their DNA is devolving into amino acids!' and then Riker turned into a spider or something. )

Blue Ant

Aug. 20th, 2007 11:08 am
prog: (Default)
Went to a William Gibson reading and signing of his new novel Spook Country at the Brattle yesterday. I often attend readings at SF cons, but it's been a long time since I stood in line for a signing, since I usually don't go for that sort of thing. But what the heck. I bought a book and thanked him for his work, and he thanked me for thanking him.

[livejournal.com profile] dougo warned me that he's not the best reader and it's true; his reading-voice is oddly monotonous and I found myself overlaying an imaginary soundtrack of how I'd read it, though I'm sure he pronounced all the long Eastern European names and words better than I would. The Q&A was fun, and he ended on the anecdote (to back up his claim that prescience isn't his strong suit) that he's seen a 12-year-old read through the first 15 pages of 1981's Neuromancer and declare "Oh, I know what's happening; there's something wrong with the cell phones!"

To me, the main delight of observing Gibson's career in SF is that he started out by writing about a fantastic-scary digital age that was 20 or so years away, and subsequent novels tended to stay at that absolute position in the future, with their depicted technology gradually coming into synch with real life's developments. In his current series - whose settings are now the year before each book's publication year - the characters have adventures with Web forums and Final Cut software. It's nonetheless as much a Gibson novel as ever, because the characters' relationship with the online world is as important to them and to the story as it was to any goggle-wearing "decker" in his first books.

Not going to start the novel until I finish I am a Strange Loop, though.

Have heard nuthin from my one client for two weeks now, which is a little strange, even given my mail to them halfway through that I didn't mind the break because of a period of intense Volity work. Just mailed em to say that I was RW&A for more tasks, and to please tell me how they foresee deploying me as we move into autumn. If they're going to put me on hold, I'm going to have to look for another income source.
prog: (Default)
Zarf lent me Hofstadter's new I am a Strange Loop yesterday. Between him and the reviews I've read the consensus seems to be "Eh... it's worth reading." It covers the same ground as Gödel, Escher, Bach, examining how consciousness can emerge from unconscious material, but is both shorter and much more explicit about it - GEB is often seen and even loved by its readers as an almanac-style funhouse of art and logic not arranged around any particular topic, and though the book helped set him for life Hofstadter has always regretted its unintended ambiguousness. I read two chapters of the new book in bed last night and am already convinced that if nothing else it contains enough new angles to stay interesting throughout, so I'm cool with it.

The review I read suggests that I can expect him to spend a lot of ink alternately and mourning his dead wife and thrashing John Searle's anti-AI arguments, which I've already seen him do years ago in Le Ton Beau de Marot (highly recommended reading, by the way, if you haven't heard of that one). But this time he's doing it in a GEBby context and not a linguistic one (though these are certainly related to begin with) so we'll see. If I trust any author, I trust this one.

I touched base with my client on Sunday evening, reminding them that they gave me zero hours of work last week but adding that this was OK given my webclient push, and I wouldn't complain if they chose to withhold for another week. The response has been uncharacteristic silence, such that I've been peeking in on their ticketing system just to make sure that I hadn't missed anything. Well, I'm getting what I asked for.

I don't think that I've overtly noted here yet that doing paid web work on the side of Volity has been good for my own project. Facing and overcoming challenges that don't originate from my own needs forces me to learn new web programming and styling techniques, broadening the arsenal I bring to Volity webwork. In June, for example, paid work encouraged me to get up to speed with CSS - all the books I own on the subject are from 2003 and therefore nearly useless - and for this reason the web client has a beautiful layout without a single <table> involved (except for the actual tables).

Yes, I still have to see how badly it fails on MSIE6. If it is full of fail I will be tempted to just lock that damn thing out and require MSIE7, or the non-shitty alternative browser of your choice. We'll burn that bridge when we come to it.

Speaking of 2003, I've been thinking lately that as of this summer I've been working on Volity for the length of a typical American undergraduate education. All that time on a single project! It makes me feel a little panicky until I look at it sideways and figure: yeah, that's about right, actually.

I can't wait to show y'all the webclient prototype. I can't until [livejournal.com profile] daerr builds a proxying solution that will let the webserver freely make AJAX calls to my Jabber connection broker daemon. For the time being, I have been having the daemon itself serve all the static HTML bits as well as the Jabber stuff, and just hit itself with the AJAX. This... does not scale. Heh, it might scale actually but it would be utterly unmaintainable and I don't even want to feint in that direction, not even for the sake of a demo.

My voice of experience speaks here. This is how paranoid I am of a "oh, we'll just do it this way for the time being" hack becoming the permanent solution. No, I'm not giving that an inch.

I have been threatening to just shoot a video of the alpha running, and I just might resort to this if I can't do anything else this week.

Heh, the Diesel finally put up polite-but-firm little placards in its booths asking that they be used only by parties of three or more during "busier hours". It's 10am now and I see only couples and singles-with-laptops. Wonder how well this works when it's time. Oh, here comes a guy now... and he reads the card... and he keeps walking! Wow.

I used to stretch out in the booths by myself all the time, but at some point I lost the ability. The last time I did, earlier this year, I thought I could feel waves of resentment beating down on me from everyone else. I might have even picked up and moved to a table before I left!

Twice, attractive young women I do not know have asked to share the booth with me, and this always gives my day a little lift but it's probably a weak reason to seek to sit in the giant booths alone. I wonder whether mutual strangers might now recognize the look of argh-I-can't-sit-anywhere in each other as they wander around the cafe, and propose to become one-time Booth Buddies.
prog: (Default)
It neither exceeded nor fell short of my expectations, he said limply.

I enjoyed it, but not as much as the penultimate volume, which I found to be my favorite of the series. I found myself pushing through to the end largely just to be done with it, and get along with reading all my friends' commentary before it got too stale.

Bullet list of thoughts, before I read anyone else's (except for a lot of the relevant Making Light thread) )

June 2014

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