Friday, December 30, 2016

Bookworming: 2016 Summary

Bolstered by some shorter reads, my total for the year stands at twenty. No fives or ones this year, but the only non-fiction title I read managed a four. What I didn't list are a bunch of game books which I don't rate because I don't currently have a group to try them out with. So it has been the best reading year since the start of the bookworming category.

My rating scale:
* I didn't care for it.
** Meh
*** Good for those who like that sort of thing.
**** Just plain good, likely to be read again some time.
***** Destined to be a personal favorite, likely to be read over and over again.

*****
none

****
Locke & Key Vol. 4: Keys to the Kingdom, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez
Locke & Key Vol. 5: Clockworks, Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez
Locke & Key Vol. 6: Alpha & Omega, Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain
The Time Machine, H. G. Wells
Virtual Light, William Gibson
The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1), Brandon Sanderson

***
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
Dark Force Rising, Timothy Zahn
An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir
Envy of Angels, Matt Wallace
The Island of Dr. Moreau, H. G. Wells
Farwell My Lovely, Raymond Chandler
The Last Command, Timothy Zahn
Wytches Vol. 1, Scott Snyder, Jock, Matt Hollingsworth, Clem Robbins

**
The Aeronaut's Windlass, Jim Butcher
East of West Vol. 1 The Promise, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, and Frank Martin
East of West Vol. 2: We Are All One, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, and Frank Martin
Specter of the Past, Timothy Zahn
Spook Country, William Gibson

*
none

Bookworming: Specter of the Past

Specter of the Past, Timothy Zahn, **
The first in a two-book follow up to the Thrawn trilogy, Specter of the Past makes many of the same mistakes the Lucas prequels did when compared to its parent trilogy. It has relatively uninteresting villains, and the primary movers are politics and some deus ex Force. It is steeped in the continuity of the Expanded Universe, which is jarring for someone not familiar with it. Also unlike the Thrawn trilogy, this book does not have a self-contained conclusion. It is entirely setup for the next book. While the writing itself is as good as you would expect from Zahn, the book commits the cardinal sin of not resolving anything it sets up.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Renewables Rising

Solar and wind power together surpassed all other forms of power generation for new installations last year, according to the International Energy Agency.

Google announces they will be powered solely by renewable sources by the end of next year.

Over 50% of Sweden's energy comes from renewable sources, and Costa Rica is up to 99%.

Solar City promotes glass roofing shingles with embedded solar cells saying, "Would you like a roof that looks better than a normal roof, lasts twice as long, costs less and  by the way  generates electricity?" If those promises hold, they have the potential to make a real impact.

So while the energy politics of this country are regressing to the previous century, the world at large and technology at home are relatively quietly seeing some real movement on the power generation front.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Saturday, November 26, 2016

State of the 'Blog 2016

Another year's end comes rushing toward us. My blog output continues to shrink year-over-year, and the content itself would make it appear to have turned into a book review site. The demands of work and life continue to constrict my output for several reasons. The state of the news has made it either uninteresting or depressing to try and pluck out things of interest. It's not that they aren't still there, it's just that I spend less and less active attention on it. The same is true of programming and amateur art, in spite of my best intentions. The relative ease of social media, and the corresponding lack of interoperability, absorbs many of the quick-link posts that I used to store here. Even the book reviews are more accessible over on Goodreads. And yet, I remain as unwilling to give up this spot as I am to put more work into it. And without me paying much attention I have surpassed the 1000 post mark. I do not really see things changing much next year, but you never see the big changes coming, so who knows. Safe journeys until we meet again.

Bookworming: Virtual Light

Virtual Light, William Gibson, ****
The usual caveat that Gibson is probably my favorite author applies. Virtual Light is a relatively straightforward thriller set in one of Gibson's fantastically extrapolated worlds. The highlights, as usual, are in the background details rather than the action itself. The Bridge trilogy, of which this is the first book, sits between the Sprawl and Blue Ant trilogies both in their publication dates and in tone and focus. The Sprawl is sci-fi cyberpunk, while the Blue Ant leans much less on technology and uses a more contemporary setting. The Bridge lands in between. There is still the air of supertech in the background, but the focus is much more on the ephemera of society, large and small.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Bookworming: The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau, H. G. Wells, ***
A hundred years before Jurassic Park's Ilsa Nublar, there was another tale set on an island that also warned of the dangers of being too confident in the use of our science to control nature. And surprisingly, the formula hasn't really evolved much (no pun intended). Readers or viewers of Michael Crichton's suspense novels and the movies derived from them will find themselves at home with the rising tension and exponential unraveling of The Island of Dr. Moreau. For those who like those sorts of novels or for those who might want to be familiar with the source from which they spawned, I can heartily recommend this little literary history lesson.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

On the 2016 Presidential Election

I've thought quite a bit about how to express my feelings regarding the election. I've thought about not expressing them too. Given the dynamics, and me being a straight, white, middle class, desk-job-holding man, both choices are liable to offend. So I'll just do what I do and make a couple of observations.

First, there is a phrase often cited in stories about hiring practices for programming jobs: "the candidate is qualified but not a cultural fit for us." It seems to me there are some interesting parallels in those examinations of the tech industry and the way the election played out.

Second, we have all endured a protracted campaign of lies, propaganda, opportunism, and heavy-handed political machinations on clear display. There are no more smoke filled back rooms, the smoke is all out in the open, and we are choking on it.

Third, the consequences of using fear and hatred as tools are both lessons from history and a common way to identify a bad guy in popular culture. But that doesn't mean they aren't tempting. And it certainly doesn't mean they aren't effective.

Finally, there have been many illusions shattered over the past couple of days, and many illusions reinforced. Trying to figure out which one is which can tell you much about yourself.

For those that read this far, thank you for your time. I wish you well in all things. I wish I had some better answers. Instead I'm going to go back to stressing about work deadlines that always seem too close, wishing I was playing games instead of adulting, and daydreaming about spaceships.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Bookworming: Envy of Angels

Envy of Angels, Matt Wallace, ***
If you have ever wondered what you might get when you cross urban fantasy and "reality TV" cooking shows, then this is the novella for you. While the characters are playing it straight, the author is not, bringing a healthy dose of absurdist humor to the story. (The general tone reminds me of Pratchett's The Color of Magic.) If you like your characters deep and arcs complex, this may not be for you, as the short work doesn't bother with anything more than the barest of sketches. That said, the writing is excellent and the story moves along nicely. While not entirely in my wheel house, I suspect I will be checking out more of the series.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Bookworming: Quiet

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain, ****
I will say up front that I am an extremely introverted person, and that informs/influences my interpretation of this book. It would have been handy to have had twenty years ago, and perhaps even better had my parents been able to read it. I'm not in a position to evaluate the rigor of the scientific research presented through the book's many anecdotes, but it does ring true to my experiences. Quiet is an easy read, with some interesting things to say to all sorts of people. If the subject sounds interesting to you, give it a go. Plus I would especially recommend it to anyone raising a shy or sensitive child.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Our Modern Cyber-Dystopia

I tend to see cyberpunk as an early-computer-age sci-fi remix of noir's genre tropes. Futurism of the fringes, fascinated with futility. Over on the Monsters and Manuals blog, noisms casts some thought toward what cyberpunk would look like if derived from now rather than the 1980s.
Modern cyberpunk is grass verges that are overgrown because the council can't afford to have them cut. Modern cyberpunk is abandoned industrial estates with trees growing up through the car parks. Modern cyberpunk is white-elephant airports that never had passengers or planes and have now gone to seed. Modern cyberpunk is entire towns overgrown with weeds because nobody walks anywhere anymore and only the roads need to be clear. Modern cyberpunk is waste ground full of long grass, wild flowers, nettles and bees' nests, strung out between shuttered factories. It is former farms half-reclaimed by nature because GM crops take so much less space. It is banks of solar panels and wind farms with greenery flourishing in between. It is school playing fields re-wilded through disuse. Modern cyberpunk is green.
Whether this is cyberpunk I think may be debatable, but I don't believe the observation and the sentiment behind it can be denied. As the automation age has moved out of the confines of the purely mechanical and into the realm of mathematics, its pace accelerates. At least some parts of society have not been able to adapt fast enough, or, for the more Darwinian-inclined, are being selected against. Our modern dystopia. The world as a whole is better off than ever before. And yet...

We (in America) seem to stand poised in a place where the work force is shrinking, the social safety nets are tenuous, 'The Media' is holding on by a thread, governments loudly doing nothing has given better reelection results than actually fixing anything, and no matter how much productivity improves the Corporations just want more. So yeah, maybe this is the new aesthetic of the fringe.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Bookworming: Wytches, Vol. 1

Wytches Vol. 1, Scott Snyder, Jock, Matt Hollingsworth, Clem Robbins, ***
I can get into a good, creepy, psychological horror story. This is one of those. The art style, with its abstract painting overlay, gives it a dream-like quality for me. I do wish Snyder had come up with another name for his monsters as they have nothing to do with what anyone thinks of when evoking witches. If I were to criticize, I would have to say that horror fans have seen this type of story before, often. However it is a tale well told, so it gets a solid if-you-like-that-sort-of-thing recommendation.

Bookworming: East of West, Vol. 2

East of West, Volume 2: We Are All One, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, and Frank Martin, **
Sometimes I am pulled along in a story because I find the setting or premise of it more compelling than actual the execution. East of West looks to be one of these cases. Everything I said in my review for volume one remains true here. Volume 2 in my opinion is somewhat better than the first because the plotting, such as it is, tightens up. Slightly. The artwork remains wonderful. And I'm still not sure I would actually recommend it.

Bookworming: Locke and Key, Vol. 6

Locke & Key, Vol. 6: Alpha & Omega, Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez, ****
Alpha & Omega continues the series's excellent artwork and imaginative writing and brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Bookworming: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir, ***
While the tropes of YA are on full display here, this is a fast-paced, dark, low fantasy tale that is well worth your time if you like the genre. The world is unique enough and the main characters drawn well enough to make it compelling. And crucially, it has an excellent villain. It tells a complete story, but very much in the style of the first in a series.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Bookworming: Locke & Key, Vol. 5

Locke & Key, Vol. 5: Clockworks, Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez, ****
As the end approaches, some of the secrets of the history of the keys are revealed. I do not have much to say on this one save the excellent art and interesting writing remain in full force, aided by something of a change in setting. If you liked the previous volumes, you will likely enjoy this as well.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

For Future Reference

"'No Way To Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens"
—Recurring story in "The Onion"

Self-focusing Eyeglasses

A tech startup in Israel is using technology from smart-phone cameras to develop eyeglasses that can auto focus on whatever you are looking at. It is several years out in development, but as someone who recently went to progressive lenses, I believe the proper meme in this case is shut up and take my money. Of course that does mean that some years down the road, I will have to recharge my glasses every night...

Saturday, June 11, 2016

An Unusual Narrative: The Interface Series

For those that follow high weirdness on the Internet, a new thing has appeared. A series of posts on reddit in a variety of different forums weaves a disturbing narrative. Like Fringe, the writings take the CIA LSD experiments of MKUltra and use it as a jumping off point, but these vignettes are of a significantly darker tone. They touch on geopolitical events, from WWII through the Vietnam War and the Korean War and into a future, and cultural events from Charlie Manson to Michael Jackson to, of course, the Internet itself. All have a heavy conspiracy theory flavor. Altogether, a good horror mythology. It is known as The Interface Series, referring to recurring "flesh interface" objects.

Horror is often a metaphor for something else. My interpretation of the obvious through-line here would be addiction, but there is likely enough that other things may suggest themselves. Perhaps some social commentary, or mental illness. And I suppose it would be best to say that this is not for children or those sensitive to disturbing imagery. It remains to be seen whether the tales will end like Fringe (directionless and far past its point of natural resolution), like Lost (bogged down by its own unanswerable questions until it became exactly what it was promised not to be), or Battlestar Galactica (the 2004 version, adrift without internal consistency, undermining its own prior material), or simply peter out as the Internet's attention moves on. And no, I do not think it will come to a satisfying conclusion. Such things don't, it is part of the pattern, part of the metaphor. Perhaps the metaphor self-actualizing.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Quote of the Moment

"'Where must we go… we who wander this Wasteland in search of our better selves?' The First History Man"
–George Miller, Mad Max Fury Road

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bookworming: The Aeronaut's Windlass

The Aeronaut's Windlass, Jim Butcher, **
As the kick off of a new series from Butcher in the loose genre of steampunk, I went in with high expectations. Too high as it turned out. I have two complaints: one-note characters and general lack of motivations. The bones are all there, the world building with its ancient constructs and crystal-magic technology provides a good backdrop. Unfortunately there just isn't much meat on them. The team of rag-tag heroes come together for the thinnest of reasons, and none of them have even a hint of character arc.  Worse, the bad guys come off as jealous jerks or simply crazy. Butcher's kinetic storytelling remains in full force, and the book is a quick and moderately enjoyable read. But that's about all. If you want me to embark on another long-running series, I'm not sure that is enough. I struggled with whether to give this one a two or three rating, but since I am generally a fan of Butcher's work and the setting is at least adjacent to my wheelhouse, I have to go with my gut and give this one a "meh".

Friday, April 29, 2016

Quote of the Moment Regarding Game of Thrones

"What sets it apart is not the monsters, the nudity, or the festering gallons of gratuitous gore, but the overwhelming sense that the plot got run off the rails three books ago and is being steered towards a terrible precipice by a bunch of bickering, power-mad maniacs. This, coincidentally, happens to be the plot of the entire 21st century so far." —Laurie Penny, in New Republic

In which I realize I like Game of Thrones so much not because it's swords and sorcery fantasy, but because it's actually existential horror.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bookworming: East of West, Vol. 1

East of West, Volume 1: The Promise, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, and Frank Martin, **
I'm conflicted on this one. When I spotted this sci-fi western with mythological influences, I immediately grabbed the first trade. The art is beautiful, the pacing is fast, and the plot is... the plot is... well, that's were the conflict comes in. On one hand, this is a simple revenge story painted in broad strokes along the lines of, say, Kill Bill. Death and his companions are supremely effective and the tropes of the Western anti-hero are well used. On the other hand it is a mess of unexplained nonsense. Why would anyone in a position of power also be in an apocalypse cult? Why are three of the Horsemen being reborn and why are they so cranky about what Death is up to? It is so close to being something I would love, but it just does not provide enough meat to cover the interesting bones. Which takes me to an aside about comics.

I have never been a comics person. I like the art, I like many of the premises, but the format of the monthly comic is just too constraining. Thirty-ish pages just isn't enough to create the depth I want the stories to have. And this one is a case where it really detracts for me. In the end I am undecided whether to continue on in the series in spite of my interests in similar subject matters. Thus, based on the first five issues, I don't really recommend it.

Bookworming: The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1), Brandon Sanderson, ***
Oh my, I've gone and started in on another giant unfinished fantasy series... The Way of Kings sets the stage in a world where massive storms charge crystals with energy which is used to power magic, alchemy, and magic-tech artifacts. Most powerful and coveted of these artifacts are the shardblades and shardplate, respectively lightsaber and power armor analogs. On the good side, Sanderson does a wonderful job creating a world that is not another dark ages Europe riff. In this case, the massive, recurring storms produce a landscape that seems inspired by both desert and aquatic boundary lands. The magical elements both fit into and inform the society on display. And the characters have fairly well done motivations. Unfortunately, not everything is as well put together as the worldbuilding and magic.

As you might expect with the first of an intended ten book series, it has a serious case of not-finished-here plotting. To the point that one of the three primary threads seems to exist only to set up for the next book. The introductory chapter should have been excised for use way down the road when it will presumably have more context as it was never referred to again in the story. One glaring issue for me constitutes a spoiler so I can't go into it too much. I will just say that there are a couple moments where personal codes result in decisions that really, really don't make sense in the framework of the novel's world. One of them in particular is completely pivotal to a character's arc, and while it didn't completely kill my enjoyment, it sure did pull me out enough to see the plot gears grinding underneath.

So what we have here is an extremely well done world with some fairly well put together characters in a story that doesn't completely conclude itself within the pages. My verdict? If you enjoy swords and sorcery epics, and can tolerate the multi-year waits inherent to the multi-volume series, you will find much to like here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

School Closed Due to Spirits

A school in Malaysia was closed for several days due to what some call a "textbook" example mass hysteria.
"But the place is a bit old, and these children can be disobedient and sometimes throw their rubbish around the school grounds. Perhaps they hit some 'djinns' and offended the spirits," she added, using a local reference to ghosts.
Due to the Islamic nature of the school and spirit references, I'm going to go ahead and call this not an attempt at viral marketing for the new Ghostbusters movie.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Watching the Watchers: Unbalanced Reciprocity

I read a thread on either proggit or Hacker News, which I naturally can't find again, wherein recruiters and hiring managers espoused about how a programmer needs to change jobs at least every five years, and really every two is better. I find this rather appalling, and the reasons for it more so. Why would one change jobs so quickly? Well, if you want more money, you have to, because raises are in the low single digit percentages, but you can negotiate 8-10% or better raises if you change. If you want to be perceived as "current" you must change jobs to get exposure to new ways of doing things. Because obviously technology moves so quickly that depth of experience means you have become comfortable and lazy. Think about that for a minute.

Then there is this from the New York Times:

"Treating workers as if they are widgets to be used up and discarded is a central part of the revised relationship between employers and employees that techies proclaim is an innovation as important as chips and software."

"Tech workers have no job security. You’re serving a “tour of duty” that might last a year or two, according to the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman..."

"Netflix views itself as a sports team, always looking to have “stars in every position.” In this new model of work, employees are expected to feel complete devotion and loyalty to their companies, even while the boss feels no such obligation in return."
Loyalty, it seems, has no place in business anymore (save as a pretty term for tracking, analyzing, and manipulating customers). The company isn't loyal to their employees, for obvious monetary reasons. If the employees are loyal to their company, that is seen as a sign of weakness. There are no more pensions, and your 401k depends on some set of companies doing well. The company owes you nothing save the salary you have already been paid. "Right to work" actually means you can be fired for any reason or no reason at all, but at least you can walk away too.

I have some hope that this poisonous nonsense is merely a result of the uber-capitalist, investor-class echo chamber centered around San Francisco. Hacker News in particular is a great place to go to find people implying that working for someone else to make money makes you a chump. Then again, maybe nowadays it does.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bookworming: Spook Country

Spook Country, William Gibson, **
Gibson's second book set in the just-beyond-contemporary Blue Ant world fails to live up to the high quality of the first. Where Pattern Recognition was somewhat a mystery in structure, Spook Country tries on the hat of a post-cold-war espionage thriller. Unfortunately, the viewpoint characters have nearly zero agency in the story.  They are driven (often literally) by other more powerful, more in-the-know characters. That, combined with Gibson's usual brilliant and effusive descriptions, make this thriller far more languid than anything else I have read from him, and far too languid to be engaging. As much as it pains me to say it, I would not recommend this one even to Gibson fans.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Brief Diversion into Chaos

For future reference, I will store this link to a brief history of the Principia Discordia. I did have a chaotic week, and the through-line from ancient legend to modern counter-culture appeals to me.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Upon A Trip to the Mailbox

Did you know how much more you could have with our other services...?
Do you know how much you could save by switching...?
If you want to sell your house...?
Twenty percent off, this weekend only!

Junkmail seems endemic to life now. I wonder sometimes, in more wistful moods, whether anyone has actually figured out whether it is worth it. You assume it must be, because it keeps coming. I get solicitations from the same two realtors every month, both under the same company banner, both with the same form letter. Often they arrive on the same day. That sort of precision brings to mind automation. Is there a program or robot out there endlessly spewing out form letters to the same mailing lists, or is some human responsible. Or is it two humans following the same procedure, perhaps at the behest of another human. I suppose I'll never know, because I'll never bother to find out. They send me mail I don't want about goods and/or services I don't need that can be purchased with money I shouldn't be spending. And I put it into the recycle bin. One circle of modern life.

When we went online, it came with us. In this there is definitely automation. The sending of it is automated. The disposal of it is automated. And it morphs over time as one side of the automation fights the other to get it to or keep it from your eyeballs. Web technologies brought tracking capabilities to give us "targeted" ads that were supposed to eliminate the junk. But it seems they haven't learned to lead the target. I see you have bought some pants. Can I interest you in some pants? No. No you can not.

I don't really get mail from humans anymore. Except at Christmas. And then it's often a copied mini-newsletter, automation rearing its head again. Take a picture, upload the list, you don't even have to touch your own cards anymore. Efficiency. Email killed off letters. Texting cut down on phone calls. Messaging cuts into both texting and email. Social media allows content to be broadcast; a view into the everyday thoughts, large and small. One they have managed somehow to get us all to opt in for. Inefficient words are usurped by emoji and pictures. Pictures expanded to gifs and video. And yet, there is more text and writing than ever before. Communication abounds, expands, becomes manifold, becomes noise, becomes junk.

Contentment is such an elusive thing. Happiness remains the art of picking the wheat from the chaff, focusing on the positive rather than the horrible or the terrifying. Seeking solace in the everyday banal miracles, the inching forward movements. Convincing yourself that the question "what do I want to do next?" is a source of hope and empowerment rather than a acknowledgement of fear. And this is what we do, each and every one of us with our own personal struggles. Trapped in our own heads, looking out at the world, and hoping not to misinterpret too badly. And yet we all remain inextricably tied together. Not just by words and pictures, but through action (and sometimes inaction). Together we move everything forward. Together we sift through the junk.

One trip to our various mailboxes at a time.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Watching the Watchers: Trump is a Bully

I'm a stereotypical nerd who grew up in the 80s, and I was at times bullied. One particular kid stands out in my memory because he was at it for years. At one point he gathered a literal mob lead by a football player who was two years ahead of us by telling the player I had insulted him. Until the day I die, I will never forget the glee I saw on his face in that moment, standing behind the mob and leaning to his left to get a good view of my discomfort.

Trump, to me, reads exactly the same as that boy, and similar to others of his ilk I have encountered. That is why I am not going to be neutral or indifferent about his run for President. While there is still a slim chance that the Republican party can pull some parliamentary tricks to prevent it, right now Trump is their presumptive nominee. Many people can't understand that, but once you see the middle school bully, the pattern holds pretty well.

The abuse of reporters and protesters (and the follow-on denials). The petty and puerile attacks on his opponents. The central importance of ego ("I've never lost a lawsuit."). It's all there. And other folks see it too, though they may cast it into a different light.

According to Politifact, fully half of Trump's statements are flat false. He's lying at a shocking rate even by politician standards. But it doesn't matter. As Nicole Hemmer points out for USNews, "They brought facts to an ego fight, and found them to be worthless weapons." She invokes Gaslighting, which is a type of psychological abuse. The pattern really does seem to fit. And later this fall we will see whether an entire nation will fall for it.

I would love to speculate on why. Did the Republican hate-rhetoric against Obama cause their party's downfall because they were seen as failures? Is it pent-up Racism (again, "thanks Obama"). Is Trump just that much of a "master persuader" as Dilbert creator Scott Adams refers to him? (Adams also refers to him as a con-man in that post, lest I be accused of picking and choosing quotes.) But in the end it doesn't really matter. There are only two ways to deal with a bully. You remove yourself from anywhere you might come in contact with them, or you beat them soundly enough that you no longer seem like an easy target.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Rambling Thoughts on a Post that I'm Not Going to Make

I want to post a thought I just had:
"Not enough time. Not enough sleep. Feedback loop."

Feels perfectly formulated for Twitter. But Twitter is where I go to put more disengaged things. I try at write things there that could, at least theoretically be of interest to others. It's my squeaking-into-the-void social media outlet. And that thought is a very on-the-nose personal one right now. That's why I had it in the first place.

I could put it on Facebook, but that's seen by my parents, pastors, and random-[donkey] people I knew in high school. It feels a little glib for that venue, but at the same time a little too accurate. I don't want to look like I'm fishing for sympathy, I just want that thought out of my head so I can move on. I suppose this is why some people keep a journal. I've tried that, and I'm bad at it. (Though I do it reasonably well for work.) It points out the sameness of my day-to-day life, which is boring to write about. A sameness I would point out, that I have worked very hard to provide myself.

No doubt sleep is on my mind because earlier this afternoon I set some clocks ahead for tonight's time change. Also because of a study that reported six hours of sleep being, in the long run, almost like not sleeping at all. I'm a person that needs a good amount of sleep, but it's hard to know just how much anymore. I haven't been left to my own devices to set a sleep schedule since I started working. And I haven't consistently gotten more than six hours of sleep a night in the better part of two decades. I'm old enough now to feel it. There are good and bad things about that.

It looks like I won't be posting that little thought to my more widely seen outlets. Instead, it wound up here. Hidden in a public place. With far more justification than it probably deserves.

Now you must excuse me. I have a few more things to do today, and I'm running short on time.

Watching the Watchers: Political Crassness

Some people are concerned with the crassness on display in recent Presidential debates. On the grand scale, America remains pretty tame. For a little bit of global perspective, I present for your consideration the Kosovo Parliament wherein the opposition party attempts to obstruct the majority party by setting off teargas. In every session for the past six months. This quote, I think, sums up the situation nicely:
"In their latest protest against a 2015 EU-brokered deal with Serbia, opposition members of parliament on Thursday released two canisters, threw a glass of water at Prime Minister Isa Mustafa and aimed red lasers at the interior minister's face." —Fatos Bytyci for Reuters

Monday, February 29, 2016

They Live, Always

I have mentioned the cult classic John Carpenter movie "They Live" before. Its imagery skewering the excess and subtly undermining control of the capitalist ideal has gained new life on the Internet, as so many such things have. Right now, in a magnificent example of if-the-shoe-fits, artwork casting current Republican front-runner-for-President Donald Trump as one of the iconic aliens is making the rounds. But that's not the most terrifying reference to the movie this week.

Workmen guarded by police entered a camp of migrants moved in to remove empty shelters. At least that's the government side of the story. Others contend there is not enough housing. In either case, as many as a thousand people will be relocated as a result. Matt Novak of Gawker superimposed screen captures of "They Live" with real-life shots from the camp. (There's also the obligatory reference to "Children of Men".), producing a rather chilling angle on the society we have become. Or, perhaps, the society we always have been. As Carpenter himself said, "The eighties never ended. They are still here, making more money than ever, they are still among us."

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Bookworming: Farewell My Lovely

Farewell My Lovely, Raymond Chandler, ***
Starting with the obvious caveats: this is a pulp novel from 1940, there is racism, sexism, homophobia, smoking, and whatever else you might expect from a novel of the time. If you find that a distraction or can't view it in that context, then keep moving.

Chandler's second Philip Marlowe novel somehow manages to be both better written and less interesting than The Big Sleep. The plot doesn't cohere until the very last moments of the novel, and barely even then. Marlowe is the only character with more than one dimension, and even his motivation is pretty thin. However, the story is buoyed by the iconic noir flavor and some truly excellent descriptive writing. I am calling it three stars, but just barely. If you are a fan of the writer, the character, or the genre, there is meat on this bone, but if you aren't, you might be better off elsewhere.

Bookworming: Locke & Key Vol. 4 Keys to the Kingdom

Locke & Key Vol. 4 Keys to the Kingdom, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez, ****
Another very good installment in the series. The tone jumps around a bit, bringing some interesting juxtapositions and a variety of uses of horror, before landing on a pretty great cliffhanger. If you liked the previous volumes, I am confident you will enjoy this as well.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

On the Occasion of Valentine's Day

Roses are red,
violets are purple.
Poetry is innacurate
because nothing rhymes with purple.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Myths Born in Dark Places

The tales say God is missing, driven from Heaven by an onslaught of demons. The angels fight a desperate holding action against the armies of Satan and an even more powerful evil. An evil, who's name you probably already know, stalking children in the darkness. Spirits provide guidance, the mysterious Blue Lady provides aid, and both sides are fed by your own thoughts and actions.

This isn't another Supernatural-like genre TV show (though there certainly several cropping up right now, aren't there). It isn't another urban-fantasy novel series. These are the secret stories of young homeless children in Miami, circa 1997. The story gained new life on the Internet via reddit (of course) a few years ago, and I must admit it's a pretty compelling framework. Culturally apropos, interesting folklore, and a narrative that binds disparate people together. That's what myths are, and this is clearly an example of what they provide. Once again we see the power of verbal storytelling and personal connections.

Perhaps this can also help illuminate the strain the current world puts on the narrative of mainstream Christianity. But that's another subject for another time.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Bookworming: The Time Machine

The Time Machine, H. G. Wells, ****
It seems a bit silly to write a review of one of the foundational works of science fiction that has been highly acclaimed for years, but I'll do it anyway. The Time Machine is a quick read. Much like Psycho, I'd recommend it even if you already know the main story beats. Wells was a great writer, and aside from the rather sudden introduction of the names of the two mysterious species, the story flows extremely well. If there is any criticism to be found, it is in the lack of depth. But that's judging it by the standards of today's multi-book epics. In truth, it's a very focused story with a single premise, and there's nothing wrong with that. There's just not much more to say. if you like science fiction, you have probably already read this, but treat yourself if you haven't. You won't regret it.

Title Apropos

I woke up at 3 this morning from a dream. I won't go into detail (you're welcome), but the phrase my unconscious brain left me with was, "Why do you dream of flowers and sand? -a prophecy" My just woken semi-conscious brain responded to this with "that better be the title of a book or essay, because a question is literally the opposite of a prophecy."

This has been you weekly glimpse into Brian's brain, and a reminder that there are no lifeguards on duty and swimming in my stream of consciousness is done at your own risk.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Diablo UI as a Metaphor for Life

It can be funny where one finds inspiration sometimes. I have been trying to clear out my podcast backlog for some time now, dropping a couple and spending more time listening to the episodes of those that remain so that I will eventually be caught up. One of the things I do while listening is play Diablo 3. I'm rather ashamed to admit it, but as simple a Skinner box as the Diablo series is, I have probably put in more total time playing those games than any other series. Or maybe it's because they are such simple things.

Lately, I have been fighting a very strong malaise. Part of it is the relentless frustration that a computer programming job brings. Part of it is working what for me were atypically long hours over a much longer sustained period than I had ever done before (and the resulting uptick in back pain). Part of it is being in a new place where I know almost nobody. And I'll admit, part of it is turning 40 as the guy that never got married. Now none of this is to say "oh woe is me"; I well know that my life is downright cushy on the grand scale of things. Instead it's a simple striving for self-awareness. Knowing where I am now, and knowing that it isn't where I want to be, is the first step toward changing directions. But the how... the how is always hard. And maybe that's where a little Diablo metaphor comes in.



The primary visual element of the Diablo series' user interface are the health and mana globes. One keeps you alive, and the other lets you do magic stuff. You want to keep track of those at all times, but sometimes in the heat of the moment it's hard to remember to do. Without keeping your health up, you aren't going to last long against the terrors of the world. (It's also worth remembering that different characters can have wildly varying base health.) But health alone won't win the day. It takes the skills you have trained up through experience, and the mana/spirit/will to employ them. Constantly running against the big monsters will get you a bunch of experience, but it will also deplete your reserves and make the fights last longer than they need to. Or you might just fail outright when a better-paced tack might have lead to success. Maybe knock off some easier critters for a while and take the slow and steady path in between the big struggles.

The secondary UI elements are the active abilities on hand. In the most recent incarnation, Diablo 3, with enough experience you can learn all the skills the game has to offer, but you can't use them all at the same time. You have to choose what is most effective for the goal you are facing in the moment. Focus on wielding a few things well. And you have to know how they interact with one another, when spamming one will leave you too depleted.

And sometimes you just have to portal out and find somewhere quiet to recharge.

Maybe not the deepest life philosophy out there, but maybe you can find some interesting reflections of a greater truth. I mean, as metaphors for life go it could be worse, I could have picked Dark Souls...

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bookworming: Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie, ***
This is a science fiction novel examining individuality and identity. That's not actually the plot, but that's what drives the book, at least for me. Our point of view is provided by the titular Ancillary, a human altered to be a tool for and extension of a starship's artificial intelligence. The first thing that jumps out at you is the use (or lack thereof) of gender. The society that created the ship, the Imperial Radch, de-emphasizes gender, and all the various cultures the ship encountered over its existence expressed it in a variety of ways, leading the AI to be bad at telling the difference between men and women. In addition, many parts of the story involve the ship seeing and acting through multiple ancillaries at a time. Both of these factors could be considered confusing. I think Leckie did an amazing job of keeping the multi-viewpoint clear through the narrative. And having a mostly gender-less cast leads to some interesting questions about gender assumptions for the various characters as the story unfolds. The world building is deft, slowly building from tight focus to the situation in the wider galaxy. In all, there is much here to commend. The book is a slow burn, structured somewhere between quest and unfolding mystery with a great deal of philosophizing mixed in. While it is a space opera of sorts, it falls much more on the Star Trek examination of philosophy and identity side of the spectrum than the Star Wars action and adventure side. For science fiction fans, I think trying this one out should be an easy decision. (If all the awards didn't already give that away.) For a wider audience, I expect mileage may vary by taste and expectations.

Monday, January 4, 2016

State of the 'Blog 2015

In my 2014 state-of, I said I really didn't consider 2014 to be a good year for the 'blog. And here I sit, just past the end of 2015, with my blog posts (such as they are) down by nearly half. Once again, this was a reflection of goings on in my life, mostly due to demands of work. While things didn't get quite down to the level of the long-commuting times, I did have a pretty brain-melting year, and it showed in my output of things creative.

And so I enter 2016 with all the projects on my to-do list still to-be-done. Only time will tell if something moves along that front. As usual, I make no promises. And I'm always open to suggestions.

Bookworming: Dark Force Rising, The Last Command

Dark Force Rising, Timothy Zahn, ***
The Last Command, Timothy Zahn, ***

The second and third books of the Heir to the Empire trilogy review pretty much the same as the first. With most of the secondary characters introduced, they do pick the pace up a bit. My only real criticism is for the somewhat abrupt ending to the trilogy. There's not much more to say other than if you liked the first one, you will like these as well.