Saturday, December 27, 2008

December afternoon


December afternoon
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

It's good to be in the southern hemisphere.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Blindsight

Is it wise to review a book when half-pissed, on the train home typing on the crappy iPhone virtual keypad? Probably not; every lurch of the train turns my stomach, every acceleration reminds me of the Thai red curry I've just eaten.

Anyway, "Blindsight" by Peter Watts, is another discourse on the nature of consciousness, like Neal Stephenson's Anathem. Where it differs is in its conclusion: Anathem takes consciousness as a quantum phenomenon, harnessing the many worlds theory for fun and profit; Blindsight takes consciousness as an epiphenomenon, a side effect. It is all wrapped up in a decent story, a good read with thought-provoking ideas.

The most awesome toilet in Australia


The most awesome toilet in Australia
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

Old eagle comics as wallpaper. Fan-fucking-tastic.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Trailguru is teh awsum

I forgot to push the "clear" button before starting my run this morning, meaning that trailguru dutifully added it on to the end of Monday's run. A 6km run that took two days - not even I am that unfit. But here is where Trailguru brings out the awesome: it has a "split track" option. Which is cool in itself, but it also recognised where to split it (those two days where I was stationary must have been a give-away). I pushed the button, clicked the link, hit save and it was all done. Awesomeness.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dogland

An early sixties childhood in Florida. Roadside attractions, racism, a child's relationship with his father. All of these things are in Will Shetterley's "Dogland". You can read it that way and you'll get an enjoyable memoir where the point of view character, eight-year-old Chris, learns a lot about people.

A seasoned SF or fantasy reader can't help but pick up on the strange cast of supporting characters, who could possibly be Satan, Mary, Joseph, Odin, Thor, or other more obscure mythical people. It's never stated, but the clues are there. It adds a clever extra layer to what was already an interesting, moving tale. A mashup of "To Kill A Mockingbird" and Neil Gaiman's "American Gods". Good stuff.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Danger!


Danger!
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

I believe this stuff is made from nuclear waste and ground glass. It
made my eyes sweat.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Smiley Face


Smiley Face
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

The Moon, Jupiter and Venus are putting on a show right now. Say hello to the big smiley face.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Anathem

My back is rejoicing that I've finally finished Neal Stephenson's "Anathem", because I no longer have to lug it to and from work to read on the train. Typical Stephenson: 900 pages of infodump/textbook masquerading as a story. The subject of this work was the quantum theory of consciousness. Previous works have covered the history of economics, cryptography and nanotechnology. But you don't care, because they are awesome to read.

The first part of the novel reminded me of "A Canticle for Leibowitz". Scientist-monks, preserving knowledge while the rest of the world collapses. Anathem is much more than that, though. There's an action story where scientists save the world, embedded in dense discussions of heavyweight science. Which is great for a geek like me, but I think it'd probably scare off casual (=normal people) readers.

Narrated by Erasmus, one of the scientist-monks, he begins the story acting as an amanuensis (a bit like a note-keeper) to Fraa Orolo, his mentor. He also ends the story as an amanuensis, but in a different way, after making a thrilling journey through Stephenson's well-crafted world.

Awesome stuff. Wait for it to come out in paperback, even better as e-book, or make sure you have private health care that covers the extensive spine damage from carrying it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Running: GPS doesn't work when misty?

I learnt two things in my run this morning. One: iPhone GPS doesn't seem to work when it is misty/drizzly/cloudy. This sort of makes sense to me; our satellite TV reception in the UK used to go to shit when it rained. Of course, I could be wrong. More experiments are needed. Anyway, this meant I couldn't upload my run data to trailguru and get some nice graphs.

Two: running faster makes me slower. I was trying to speed up a little on this run, doing the same distance as I ran on Monday, but just a little bit faster. I must have gone a bit too fast, because I had to stop and walk after about 9 minutes, something I haven't had to do for a few weeks. To improve my speed I think I need to monitor my pace via the trailguru thing as I'm running, and make sure that I'm only increasing it slightly. Altogether this run took me about a minute longer than Monday, although without the GPS data I can't really tell how much faster I was running in the first half or how much slower it made me in the second half.

UPDATE: I don't think it was the mist. The 2.2 firmware update borked the GPS temporarily, I think. A reboot (hold down home and sleep) sorted it out.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Important educational material


Important educational material
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

The children must learn the secrets of wax on, wax off and wobbling
about on one leg with arms outstretched.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Running: Trailguru

I downloaded a great little app for my iPhone: Trailguru. It uses the GPS thingy to map your run, and you can post it to their site, where it will make a map for you:



It also generates a load of statistics: how long you ran for, average speed, pace, etc.

Very cool. The site is also a lot easier to use than MapMyRun, which I found really confusing. I tried to delete my mapmyrun account this morning, and it took ages to find the tiny little link. Clicking that link just popped up a javscript alert that said "Click on contact us page to request a removal of your account". Request a removal? Twats.

Anyway. This morning I ran for 16 minutes, a distance of 2.61km at a pace of 6mins/km. I need to work on going a bit faster, I think.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fluff trees


Fluff trees
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

Australian fluff trees produce over 70% of the world's fluff, lint,
and choss. This batch is destined for the belly buttons of Italy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In the Garden of Iden

Another Tor freebook read, this time on my iPhone using the BookshelfLT app. It is free, reads mobipocket format ebooks, and works quite well. Can't complain.

"In The Garden Of Iden", by Kage Baker, is the first volume in what looks to be an infinite series of novels about The Company - a standard, sf-style, shadowy entity whose own operatives know little about. Except these operatives are immortals, made so by time-travelling scientists, living through the past collecting rarities for sale in the future. Did I mention this is a historical romance set in Elizabethan England?

It's a good read, funny, exciting. Not bad for free.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Santa's little helpers


Santa's little helpers
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

A little bit more running

This morning I added am extra couple of hundred metres to my run. I
still managed to keep running the whole distance, which is good.

I'll have to map the run later to see how little I actually added. I
might give mapmyfitness.com's iPhone app a try next time.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Flying a kite


Flying a kite
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

An enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

iPhone WPA Wi-Fi Problem

My iPhone refused to connect to my home wireless network. It is set up to use WPA, and my Mac OS X iBook, a Windows XP laptop and even my old Windows Mobile phone could all join the network happily. Not so my shiny new iPhone. It complained. I eventually tracked this down to my WPA password either being too long (18 characters), or that it had a non-alphanumeric character in it (single quote). I changed it to a 9-letter password (all alphabetic characters), and all is well.

Pedantry


Pedantry
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

There is no such word as mentee. Mentor was an advisor of Telemachus,
Odysseus' son, in homer's epic.

Another iphone attempt


Another iphone attempt
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

Does this have location info?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Building scalable websites

Cal Henderson, chief geek at Flickr, wrote an O'Reilly book about making big websites. Big as in, serving millions of page views a day. That big. The website I work on is not that big, but we get millions a month, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to know how the big boys do it.

The first couple of chapters are aimed at the small, one-man-band, startup dev team. They cover source control, development environments, that sort of thing. The last four or five chapters are the meaty parts, covering caching, identifying bottlenecks, layering your application to improve flexibility, monitoring and defining apis. The focus is definitely on open-source tools, which is good, but he does cover some of the more common paid-for alternatives when needed. He also gives you some useful rules for working out what to choose, in terms of hardware and software.

There's some good stuff in here, that outweighs the less-relevant (to me) chapters.

New York Trilogy and Orphans Of Chaos

Paul Auster's "New York Trilogy" is three literary detective stories. This means that he takes the interesting parts of the detective genre (twisty turny plot, action, crime) and replaces them with navel-gazing, wordplay, and characters that spend the whole wondering about their own motives for doing absolutely fuck all for a few hundred pages. Yawn.

"Orphans Of Chaos", another Tor freebook, written by A. Pervert, starts off pretty well as a Famous Five find out they are Ancient Gods trapped in a boarding school. Things start getting a bit weird when the heroine (whose exact age is unknown but varies between 14 and 20, depending on how pervy the author was feeling at the time) decides she loves being dominated by men, tied up, spanked, etc. But it's all ok, because the plot reveals that she was made this way by one of the naughty mythical supporting characters.

Promising plot ruined by dodgy perviness.

Of course I read it all.

Proper running

After a break of a week or two, initially due to knee precautions, later mostly laziness, I'm back to running. Today: a full circuit of the school, roughly 2.5kms, without walking. That's roughly 8.5mins running, with 1min walking at the end. Yay! Go team me! Next stage: increase the distance a little bit, with a little walk break after 8mins.

Knee integrity: 100 per cent, sir. Mid-leg articulatory zone is at full combat readiness status. We are green for go, do you copy? Shutting up now, sir.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Running: keep on movin'

Today: 5 mins running, 1 min walking, 4.5 mins running. I was puffing along like Ivor the Engine, thanks to my new breathing rhythm thing. Seems to be working, though.

Knee integrity: 80% and falling, sir. Noticeable pain in the right mid-leg area. Recommend going to a non-running status until pain abates.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Waiting for the barbarians

Five pages into "Waiting for the Barbarians", by J.M. Coetzee, I realised that the main character was already as fully-formed and real as any other I had read. Five pages, and I knew enough about the man to like him, understand his motives and behaviour, the world he inhabited, and still want to know more. I guess they don't give out the Nobel Prize for Literature for nothing.

The novel concerns a rural village magistrate, whose easy life is disturbed by the arrival of soldiers preparing to fight the barbarian hordes that threaten the Empire. The prose is simple, direct. No flashy wordplay or obscure metaphors. It does not get in the way of the story. Number of times the word "quiddity" used: 0.

The obvious question in the story is who exactly are the barbarians - the largely unseen nomads who roam the plains and mountains, or the soldiers and villagers who grow increasingly hysterical over the non-existent threat. But there are more subtle themes in here too: what makes a man? Should you ever give up decency and honour in return for safety?

Awesome stuff.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Running: getting better

Today's run: 4 mins running, 1 min walking, 4 mins running, 1 min walking. I got into a little rhythm with my breathing, in time to my footsteps, and that seemed to help. Plus my ipod was out of batteries, so I wasn't subconsciously trying to match the rhythm of the music. Progress has been made.

Knee integrity: 95% and holding, Captain. I get the occasional twinge, but I suspect that's just instrument noise, sir.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Running: start off slow

I'm getting a bit tubby, no -really, I am. Well, thank you, this dress is slimming, but really I am getting tubby. Current weight: 13st 4lb (or 84.4kg). Which is a bit too much; love handles, spare tyres, man-boobs, etc.

So, I'm running. I can manage about 3km without needing medical assistance at the moment, in a combination of running and walking. Current combination: 3mins running, 2 mins walking and wheezing, 2 mins running, 1 min walking, 1 min running, 1 min walking, 1 min running, 1 min walking. Then I sit at home, sweating and trembling for a while until I turn a less frightening shade of purple. When I can manage to run most of the way, I'll start increasing the distance.

I'm going to do this every morning that my legs aren't hurting (looks like every other morning so far). I'll record here what I manage, mostly for my own benefit so that I don't forget and then give up.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Shadows, pianos and rivers

Book review backlog time again.

"A Piano in the Pyrenees", by Tony Hawks (not the skateboarder) is another in the peculiarly British genre of "Humourous Books In Which The Author Does Stuff For A Bet/Laugh/No Good Reason". Hawks is a past master of the form, his first book being "Round Ireland With A Fridge" in which the author makes a bet about hitchiking around Ireland with a small refigerator. Dave Gorman's books are othr examples of this blossoming area. In "Piano", the author buys a house in France. Amusing things occur, and we learn a bit about life in rural France. A funny read, good for passing the time.

(My wife was once sat on the tube in London, reading the aforementioned fridge book, and was asked by the man sat next to her if it was any good. She replied that it was ok, and took no further part in any conversation as is right and proper on the tube. It was only when the man got off that she realised that it had been the author himself sat next to her.)

"River Of Time", by David Brin, is a short story collection. Surprisingly good, considering that I picked it at random from the library. Some great ideas in here about why the universe seems empty of intelligent life.

"A Shadow In Summer", by Daniel Abraham, is another in my seemingly unending backlog of free ebooks I got from Tor's promotion ages ago. Another fantasy doorstop, first volume of an unspecified number. Not bad, the author had made quite a bit of effort to create a non-standard world for his characters. Worth a read.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

snigger


snigger
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

I might have the tool for this job.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

supergrass


supergrass
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Radio Free Albemuth

Phil K. Dick's final novel, "Radio Free Albemuth", is weird. That's like saying it is in English. Redundant information. Every Phil Dick story is weird, from his early short stories to the later novels, getting weirder as the author got older.

This one is different, though. There are two main characters: Nicholas Brady, who receives messages from aliens telling him what to do; and Phil, his science fiction writer friend he bounces theories off. Phil is the sane one, Nicholas is batshit crazy. Aliens talk to him through the radio, the soviets send him coded messages in shoe adverts. Or maybe he's not. The aliens also cure his son's birth defect and help him recover from a car accident quickly.

Nicholas and Phil could well be the same person, and read this way the novel is a glimpse into the mind of someone with mental illness. He hears voices, creates theories to explain what to him seems frighteningly real. It becomes difficult to separate the real events from those that may only exist in his mind. Phil K. Dick had a history of mental illness, and this is his attempt to convey what that is like.

Or it could just be a story of aliens and their attempts to depose a tyrannical president of the United States. In which case, the events are all real. There's also a neat parallel drawn between mental illness and religion. Is there any real difference between believing in a benevolent alien talking to us from a satellite and believing in an invisible, benevolent sky father that tells us all to be nice to each other?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

tasty grub


tasty grub
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

This is a child's sweet here in Australia. mmm... sugary wichetty grub treat, complete with smiley face.

Friday, August 29, 2008

arabesk

Jon Courtenay Grimwood's "Arabesk" trilogy, "Pashazade", "Effendi" and "Felaheen", is a flawed gem. It is brilliant, funny, exciting, an exhilirating combination of white knuckle ride, crime thriller and travel guide. Set in an alternative and future North Africa, it dazzles and beguiles, drawing you into the dusty, hot, world.

Like the Islamic notion that perfection only belongs to God, these books are not perfect. It confused me, I was never entirely sure what was going on. This may have been intentional, since Ashraf Bey, the hero, spent almost all of the story convinced he was insane. It was still one hell of a ride, though.

Executive summary: arabs, German techno-assassins, female circumcision, arse-kickery. Read it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

scary plantpots


scary plantpots
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

Take a close look. Those plant pots are studded with what I hope are only plaster replicas of children's heads. These are in someone's front garden - I guess it must keep the trick-or-treaters away.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Selected Stories of H.G. Wells

Let me recount to you a tale I was told by a Mr. Jones of the Antipodes. I have verified as much of it as I could, corresponding extensively with the eminent Dr Whately of Crouch End, the expert in the field. I digress, my apologies, I will proceed directly with this shocking tale.

Mr. Jones claimed to have picked up a collection of absurd tales from his local library, "Selected Stories of H.G. Wells". This much I can vouch for: the library exists, and does indeed contain a volume under that name. The librarian would not tell me if Mr. Jones had indeed borrowed it, and rightly so. Down that road lies anarchy. Jones told me that the volume consisted of about two dozen short stories. The majority are recounted in a journalistic style: a tale told by an otherwise sensible person, to a writer, who supplies background checks to provide an element of verisimilitude to an otherwise fantastical story.

That these stories were a little dry, repetitive, but showing occasional flashes of wry humour, I have had to take Mr. Jones' at his word. My attempts to find this collection have been fruitless. While the library lists the book on their modern calculating catalogue of electric ledgers as being on their shelves, neither myself nor Miss Withers the librarian could find it. I have enquired extensively of the booksellers of Charing Cross Road, including Mr Croxcombe the foremost dealer in rarities, but thus far my search has proved futile.

As for Mr. Jones, he has not seen the volume since, inexplicably, succumbing to a curious ennui; a listlessness that even my medicinal application of cocaine (as every gentleman carries with him) failed to improve on. He remembers the tales as strange, well-written, but empty. Perhaps, lacking life of their own, they imbibed some of Jones' own. He no longer has any interest in the work of this Mr Wells, and I would caution any gentleman that finds the volume to keep it away from children, women and servants lest they succumb to its influence.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Little Brother

Another freebook, but not from Tor, this time straight from the horse's mouth. Cory Doctorow has a long history of giving away his stuff for free, and has championed the Creative Commons licensing system to help others give stuff away without missing out on the chance to make money. As he has done for most (if not all) of his novels, he allows anyone to download "Little Brother" from his site, and remix it into different formats and media - as long as you're not trying to make any money from it. The idea is that this kind of thing boosts publicity, aids in getting word-of-mouth out, and boosts sales of the dead tree version. It all goes to combat obscurity, an artist's main problem (paraphrasing Tim O'Reilly, I think).

The book is typical Doctorow standard - packed with great ideas, a neat plot and well-drawn characters. It details a city's slide into paranoia and fear after a terrorist attack, and the ways a small group of teenagers try to keep hold of their freedoms in the face of the government's determination to keep everyone safe/scared.

There's a tremendous amount of information in here: security systems, linux, encryption, the American constitution. It's like a Neal Stephenson book, entertaining, exciting, informative, but thankfully not 12000 pages long. This will drive up the numbers of kids wanting to become security consultants - it's even got an afterword by security guru Bruce Schneier. Great stuff.

UPDATED: now with linky goodness (it's hard to put links in when writing reviews on my phone).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Coldplay / Nirvana

Compare and contrast: Nirvana - All Apologies and Coldplay - Life In Technicolour. Give them both about a minute to get going, then spot the difference.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

today's footwear


today's footwear
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

The benefits of working from home. mmm... comfy and warm.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Citysearch Movie Widget

My minions and I made this, it may even work:

Four and twenty blackbirds

Rattling through the freebooks now, another one bites the dust. This time, "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" by Cherie Priest. Tor have finally opened their group blog site, which I thought was going to be more of a social network, and you can download all the freebooks they've distributed so far if you want to catch up. There's some good ones in there, but I'm only halfway through the list. Like James said, the site is another feed to subscribe to and "mark all as read" because you don't have time to read all the other group blogs out there. My feed reader rapidly fills up with shite, and that's just from boingboing and io9. Still, I'll keep an eye on it and see what happens.

So, back to the book. It's a ghost / horror story, set in the South of the U.S. This meant I had to read it in a comedy accent, which cheered me up. I have no idea if any of the characters were supposed to talk that way, and I had to add in a couple of instances of "Lordy, lordy, chile" and "ah do declay-air" of my own.

As a ghost story it's not particularly scary, and it works better as a murder mystery, with the plucky young heroine following clues to find out about her past. No-one wants to talk about it, for no adequately explained reason other than the book would be a lot shorter than if they had.

The plot is ok, it kept me reading, and the characters (or at least the narrator) are reasonably interesting. It has a couple of horror-movie style lazy plot points: plucky heroine decides to take in the family cemetery late at night, just after hearing that her crazy cousin has escaped from police custody - guess who she bumps into; plucky heroine is close to her goal, danger is ahead, crazy cousin still at large, she's miles from anywhere with only a big, strong, man with a shotgun as a sidekick - "let's split up", she says. Bad things then ensue.

It's a flawed book, but the writing was good enough that I will keep an eye out for other things by Cherie Priest, so the freebook has done its job.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sun of Suns

My freebooks are backing up, a relentless stream from Tor. I'm now several weeks behind, only just having finished "Sun of Suns" by Karl Schroeder.

This is the first in a seven volume SF saga, which I'm glad I didn't know when I started it, as that would have put me off what was otherwise a corking read. Set in a big balloon world dotted with freefalling islands of rock, miniature fusion plants operating as tiny suns and wooden galleons sailing through the sky, this is big fuck-off display of world-building. There are some great characters, a cracking plot, pirates, sky motorbikes and sidecars, swashbuckling naval heroes, swordfights, post-human AIs and general arse-kickery. Read it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Connecticut Yankee

I picked up an old copy of Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" from the Salvos (I'm picking up the local dialect, helps me blend in before I hatch my plan to steal all their land, and enslave their women. Step one of the plan: get them all addicted to cheap booze; already done for me). The hardback claimed to be part of the collected works of Mr Twain. Sadly the Salvos had disbanded the collective, no other volumes were to be found.

I remember watching the Bing Crosby film version one long Saturday afternoon as a kid. Lying on my front, chin propped on my hands, on the rug in front of the fire, wondering when Bob Hope was going to pop up and make the film funnier.

There's a scene near the start where he fools the populace into thinking he's a great magician because he happens to know there's an eclipse on the way. He tells them he'll destroy the sun unless they stop trying to kill him. That's all I remember from the film; it inspired me to look up the dates of all the eclipses in history, where they were visible, and how long they lasted. Just in case I accidentally time travelled. Better safe than dangling, twitching and drooling from the gallows. You'd feel such a fool if you hadn't prepared.

Bob Hope never turned up, as far as I recall. I also don't remember any tirades against the Catholic church or how monarchy was an evil institution designed to crush the little man, which is what most of the book is about. That could have whooshed right over my head, I was only seven or so.

I do remember another rainy Saturday when I watched "The Spaceman and King Arthur". This was Disney's version. It substituted an astronaut for the man who just bumped his head (much more plausible), going back in time after his futuristic McGuffin drive doesn't work. This guy was more of a dweeb than Bing Crosby or Mark Twain's original. In typical Disney fashion, dweeb has the right stuff in the end and saves the princess or something. He also has an exact replica of himself as a robot, for no other reason than it is useful for him later on when he has to joust against another knight. The knight beheads his robot, but the robot carries on fighting to gasps and swoons and general proclamations of great wizardry. No cries of "he's a witch, burn him!" since this was a Disney film.

Bob Hope never turned up to make this one funnier either, but this film made such an impression on me that I spent the rest of the day making a cardboard space shuttle, held together with lots of glue and a couple of paper clips, and a fully articulated cardboard robot.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Qui custodiet


Qui custodiet
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

Watchmen biscuit. I'll be expecting my 10 per cent if the marketing droids actually come up with this when the film comes out.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Baum Plan and Stranger Things Happen

Small Beer Press, awesome publishers of much goodness, have been giving away some of their books as Creative Commons downloads. I 've reviewed Maureen McHugh's Mothers and Other Monsters before and now it's time for John Kessel's "Baum Plan For Financial Independence" and Kelly Link's "Stranger Things Happen".

Both are short story collections at the literary end of the fantasy/magical-realism/man-that's-some-weird-shit genre. Both are well written, evocative and interesting. Kelly Link's stories are usually fairy tale ish weird shit kind of; Kessel's are more mashups of other tales weird shit with a dollop of allusion. Both collections will repay careful reading and rereading with new interpretations of what the fudge is going on. Aw hell, go and read a couple of stories, see if they are your cup of tea. They're free.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

If you liked school...

I tried to read Irvine Welsh's "If You Liked School, You'll Love Work". I picked it up almost entirely because of the title. I've read a couple of his other books, and they'd put me off reading any more, but I thought I should give him another go. His writing is good, and he always manages to capture the voice of his characters. So why was I cautious?

Welsh seems to revel in creating thoroughly unlikeable characters, people you would cross the street to avoid, perhaps even move house, assume a false name and grow a beard. They do horrible things to their friends, their pets, random strangers, and themselves.

Now, I've never assumed that you need to like a protagonist in order to enjoy a book, but this book got me thinking. I was trying to come up with a story I've read where the main character is an arse, but I got nowhere. Characters are usually at least sympathetic or their motives understandable. You have to want to spend at least a few hours in their company.

Anyway, I slogged my way through the first of the six stories in the book. This is the tale of three unlikeable Americans whose car breaks down in the desert. They do horrible things to each other with the help of an unlikeable Mexican. A nasty little story from the depths of Mr Welsh's wank-bank.

I managed the first chapter of the next story, before giving up. This one is about the thoroughly unlikeable owner of an English pub in Spain. He takes advantage of his family, his staff and his patrons. I stopped before people started doing horrible things to each other, but I have to assume that they did.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Omelette

(Buckle up, Spanky. This is a long one.)

-hey, tell him about the guy who was in here the other day.
-what guy? There's lotsa guys, it's a bar.
-ha, bloody ha. The end of the world guy, you know.
-oh, him. Yeah, so on Thursday-
-Wednesday
-whatever. He comes in, sits at the end of the bar and orders-
-you're gonna love this part
-will ya let me tell the fucking story?
-sorry
-anyway, he asks for a bottle of whisky. Straight away I figure he's from the council or the cops or something, so I give him the line.
-"local licensing laws prohibit the sale of alcohol in such volumes at this establishment, patrons are encouraged to drink responsibly"
-you've memorised it?
-I hear it often enough.
-anyway, then he says "ok, give me a pint of whisky"
-that's not even the funny bit
-will you shut up and let me tell it? I say, sorry sir,-
-"local licensing"-
-yeah, he heard you the first time. Ok, says the guy, how about fifteen double whiskies. I'm expecting some friends.
-I love that line, "I'm expecting some friends", I'm going to have to try that one.
-you ain't got the charisma to carry it off.
-that hurts. I've got charisma, I just don't bother using any on ugly bastards like you.
-so the guy starts drinking. He's all tweed suit and leather elbow patches, makes a face every time he drinks a shot like he's not used to it.
-nah, it's the cheap paint thinners you mix into the booze.
-you're barred.
-again?
-so I do the bartenderly thing, like you see in the movies, ask him what's up.
-this is the scary part.
-he just looks up, like he hasn't slept in a week, and says "they won't believe me". Not "you", "they". Like it doesn't matter if we believe him.
-yeah, most drunks start their stories with "ah, you wouldn't believe me if I told ya" and then tell you about how they was abducted and anal probed.
-he doesn't want to hear about your fantasies right now. Anyway, he starts babbling about conferences and government committees and the establishment, how he told them all and now it's too late. Says the Egg is going to Hatch.
-just like that, audible capital letters and all.
-takes a while, but I eventually get the story out of him. Hey, he's paid for fifteen double whiskies, I figure I owe him a few minutes of my time.
-you're a fair man.
-thank you. You're still barred.
-bastard.
-so he's got this theory that that Earth is a giant egg, laid by some space turtle, and now it's ready to hatch. Yeah, like I said, he didn't care if we believed him or not. Kinda scary. I know what you're thinking - if it takes four billion years to hatch, how did these turtles ever evolve?
-I don't believe in evolution. It goes against God.
-hey, ain't you supposed to be in church?
-you know they won't let me back in there.
-anyway, he had a theory to support that too. You know how the universe is expanding-
-doesn't say that in the bible.
-doesn't say a man should spend his whole day sitting at a bar drinking his body weight in beer every day either.
-we each interpret the scriptures in our own way.
-so it's not just space that's expanding. It's time as well. So what we would measure as four billion years now, four billion years ago would have seemed like a lot shorter time. And the further back you go, the quicker time went. So you could get billions and billions of years of time in the space of a few hours back at the start of it all.
-still makes no sense to me. More beer might help.
-if more beer helped you understand stuff, why ain't you a genius? So, the punchline is that he's calculated from all our recent earthquakes and stuff, that the Earth is done and it's going to hatch, eat the sun and then swim off to find the other space turtles.
-this is the scary part. The other scary part.
-he reckons the Earth will hatch soon. Real soon. Tuesday.
-nutjob.
-absolutely. He was convinced though, figured there was nothing left, he'd tried telling everyone.

(inspired by Tessa's clairvoyant ipod)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Disunited States

I'm not entirely sure that "disunited" is a word. Still, Harry Turtledove is a professional author who probably owns a dictionary or two so I shall bow to his expertise. "The Disunited States Of America" is another in the seemingly unending stream of freebooks from Tor. I thought they were only doing about 10 of them as a teaser for their SF social network before they rolled it out. They must have hit a snag; never mind, more books for me to read on my phone.

Disunited is a lot shorter than the last couple of fantasy (virtual) doorstops from Tor, and that is commendable. The plot is straightforward: alternative timeline travellers get stuck in an America that never stuck together, lots of little states bickering over borders. If you know your US history this might be a lot more intriguing than it was for me. It would make a great alternative textbook for kids at school.

It is set in 2092 or thereabouts, but I can't quite work out why. There are no great leaps in technology, apart from the mcguffin for travelling to alternative timelines. People still use cellphones, PowerBooks (obsolete already), and drive cars that run on petrol. It could easily have been set now.

Less annoying than a lot of books, not as interesting as some books. A middle-of-the-road, ho-hum, nothing else is on so I'll watch this, kind of a book. The literary equivalent of watching "The Wedding Planner" on TV. Again.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Google AppEngine code completion for Komodo Mac OS X

Komodo Edit is a nice, free, IDE for Python (as well as a lot of other languages). It does syntax highlighting and code completion. To get code completion to work in Mac OS X for the Google App Engine SDK, you have to know where the appengine python libs are. They are hidden away inside /Applications/GoogleAppEngineLauncher.app, so not normally accessible via the Finder's browse boxes. What I did was to symlink to the libraries inside my user directory and point Komodo there. Like this (in Terminal):

cd <your user home directory>
ln -s /Applications/GoogleAppEngineLauncher.app/Contents/Resources/GoogleAppEngine-default.bundle/Contents/Resources/google_appengine google_appengine


Now you should be able to go to Komodo's preferences, select Languages, then Python, then Additional Python Import Directories and add your symlinked google_appengine directory. Hey presto - code completion.

UPDATE: Newer versions of the app engine launcher create a symlink to the SDK in /usr/local/google_appengine, so you can point Komodo there instead.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Thursday, June 05, 2008

JAOO - day 2

Yes, my notes for day 2 are two days late. Blame James Squire and his damnably tasty range of ales.

Day 2 started with a nice, greasy hotel fry-up, setting me up nicely for the day. First up was the keynote from Robert Martin, talking about clean code. See the slides: a very interesting and, most important for me, useful talk. A brief digest: you don't need comments, don't comment out code, and don't write code you're not proud of - do it the right way the first time. Otherwise the code just rots.

Jim Webber gave a great presentation about how essentially cool the http protocol is, how bad soap is and how rpc sucks balls as a model for web services. Again, a useful and practical talk.

Next up was Gregor Hohpe from Google, this time showing off a couple of Google projects: the mashup editor, which looked awesome; the gdata apis; and the app engine.

Lunch (butter chicken and rice, yum).

Robert Martin popped up again, this time talking about functions and how to make them easier to read and maintain. Again, a practical talk, although maybe not as widely applicable as his earlier one.

"Working with legacy code", wasn't what I was expecting (see the slides). Legacy code, for Michael Feathers' talk, was just old code you wrote before you started writing testable code. You still have the source and you're free to start modifying that code. I didn't like the way he was adding new paths throuugh the code just for testing. His presentation skills also sucked. I had been hoping that it would be about insulating your code from the problems that come up from old code that you have no control over.

Finally, Erik Doernenburg showed us ways to visualise code quality. Executive summary: plot your checkstyle numbers on graphs to make it easier to see dodgy areas, because your brain is better with pictures and patterns than numbers.

After that there was supposed to be developer networking and a chance to meet the speakers. Fuck that, who wants to spend all that time talking to geeks about optimistic locking and functional programming, even if there is free beer? I'm a very anti-social person. So I ran away to the pub on my own (see "beer" post below). Awesome.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

My minions made this



There's a search widget as well, but I can't remember the url for that right now.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

beer


beer
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

I have found the James Squires Brewhouse in Sydney. Life is good. Forward my post, I'm not leaving.

Monday, June 02, 2008

JAOO

I'm in Sydney for JAOO 2008, gettin' my geek on. Work booked and paid for it all, with the only drawback being having to get up at 3:30am to get in a taxi to the airport for a 6:15 flight. Yes, we live on the other side of Melbourne to the airport. Conesquently, I'm in my hotel room getting ready for bed when the rest of the geeks are at the social do at a nearby bar. I'm trying to stay awake long enough to phone home and say goodnight to the kids.


I attended five talks today.

The first was the keynote by Erik Meijer, about Functional Programming (slides here). At least, I think that was what he was on about. He meandered a lot, and said some strange stuff, very little of which made sense. Some of it was about Haskell though. Which he thinks is good or something.

I then skipped the next slot, there was nothing much that interested me so I went shopping for presents for the kids and my wife, so that I may be allowed back in when I get home.

I popped back for Rod Smith's presentation on OpenAjax (slides here). This looks to be a mildly interesting way of letting widgets communicate with each other on a page.

A quick buffet lunch of quiche, salad and a beef roll and I skipped off in search of our hotel, found it, couldn't check in, so went to the comics shop across the road. Odd place, no wonder comics have a nerdish reputation when shops like this exist. No rhyme or reason to their shelves, single issues of one comic sitting next to back issues of some other unrelated comic, next to trade paperbacks of some obscure seventies superhero. The upstairs section was almost entirely dc/marvel superheroes. Very offputting atmosphere too, I felt a bit uncomfortable.


Back to the convention centre, after getting a bit soggy. Time for Martin Fowler (the David Bellamy of software) to tell us about the work he did several years ago on Enterprise Patterns (slides here). Nothing new, or particularly interesting, from someone with a reputation for engaging presentations. Strained my keeping-awake abilities to the limit.

Topped up with coffee in time for "Are your services loosely coupled?" by Thilo Frotscher (slides here). I wasn't expecting much from this, but it turned out to be quite good. Thilo discussed what coupling meant for web services, and how to use messaging to avoid this problem.

More coffee and then Google's Gregor Hohpe gave a talk about the realities of computing over the internet (slides here), covering the problems (mainly reliability, no transactions) and possible solutions or rather ways of working around and avoiding the problems. Very interesting, but I was fading fast and ran away to the hotel instead of staying around for the discussion panel and the following keynote.

Now I'm going to phone my kids and say g'night and then I'm going to slip into a coma for several hours.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A shaggy dog story

"Through Wolf's Eyes", by Jane Lindskold, would have been a chunky great doorstop of a novel, had it not been another of Tor's free ebooks that I read on my phone. It's your average girl-raised-by-wolves-goes-on-to-great-things-in-fantasy-land-by-using-her-wolfish-ways-and-her-straight-talking-to-the-nobles story.

Firekeeper, the wolf-girl, is well-written, as are most of the characters. She's believable, once you accept that wolves wouldn't just eat her. The world they live in is a slightly different take on standard mediaeval fantasyland, but only slightly. It's still kings and queens and castles and nobles and commoners, but this time women get to be knights and they worship their ancestors instead of dodgy gods. That's about all the differences.

The plot is pretty good, concerning itself with aging King Tedric's choice of an heir. His own children having died in nasty ways, he is forced to select an heir from a wide variety of nobles and their children. Cue lengthy infodumps on family history and lines of succession. These were pretty tedious and I skipped them whenever I could, and it didn't affect my understanding of what was going on. The book comes with a family tree diagram and a glossary of characters, detailing their siblings and line of descendancy from Queen Thingy the First. I don't want to invest that much time in these people, they are essentially background. If the book were trimmed of these sections, which add very little except weight, it would be lot more gripping.

All in all, a diverting if not spectacular read. Ho hum.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

more work benefits


more work benefits
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

sensis is such a large company that they have a budget for marketing stuff internally. to celebrate an upgrade to the trading post site, they are giving us lamingtons today.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Leopard + Samba = Group Hug + Reacharound

Previously on File Sharing Farces, I had upgraded to Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, royally buggering my networked hard drive that used Samba for file sharing. I tried a workaround by installing MacFUSE and setting up an FTP file system. This worked ok, except it would keep dropping out and iTunes didn't play nicely with it (complaining that the original music files could not be found, and it wouldn't let me sync my ipod or add new music).

After a bit of intense googling I found this forum thread about the many different guises my LanServer NAS goes under (Hotway LanDrive, NAS900, etc). On the last page (27), there was a link to a firmware upgrade from one of the other manufacturers that use the same chipset. This claimed to support Mac OS 10.5. I gave it a go, fully expecting it to turn my NAS into an expensive shiny aluminium brick.

It seems to have worked perfectly, I can now browse the shares in Finder. My next task is to get it automounting and serving music. Hoorah!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Moffat to helm Dr Who

BBC Wales and BBC Drama has announced that Bafta and Hugo Award winning writer Steven Moffat will succeed Russell T Davies as Lead Writer and Executive Producer of the fifth series of Doctor Who, which will broadcast on BBC One in 2010.

-- BBC Dr Who News

Awesome stuff - Moffat wrote Blink, The Girl in the Fireplace, and The Empty Child.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Clearing my backlog

Ok, three books that have escaped the merciless scalpel of my reviewing are below. A paragraph for each, chronological order of reading, usual stuff, usual quality of review ("it was a gud book. I liked the peepl and the wurds").

"Signal to Noise", by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, is the story of a dying film director and his final film. It's Dave McKean so the artwork is outstanding, as much a part of the narrative as Gaiman's words. This is probably the only work by Neil Gaiman I haven't thoroughly enjoyed, although that may be due to the sombre subject rather than any fault of the work. It certainly had the power to affect me emotionally in parts. Definitely an interesting book.

"The Devil in Amber", by Mark Gatiss, is another of his Lucifer Box books. This time his gentleman/painter/spy/playboy has moved on twenty years or so, but now he's embroiled in a Dennis Wheatley style occult thriller, battling demons and shagging hotel porters and the sacrificial virgins alternately. Another fun read, very entertaining.

"Mothers and Other Monsters", by Maureen McHugh, is one of Small Beer's free ebooks. It's a collection of short stories; some are science fiction, some fantasy, some magical realism, some that could fit in any genre depending on how you interpret them. As with most collections, there are some stories I loved, some which didn't do much for me and one or two I just didn't understand. Standout story for me was "The Cost to be Wise", which has an awesome ending. Small Beer are giving it away right now, so why not try it for yourself?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Black Swan Green

I have just finished the last of my stock of real books, "Black Swan Green" by David Mitchell, it's back to the ebooks again. While I have thoroughly enjoyed everything else I have read by Mitchell (Number9Dream, Ghostwritten, and especially Cloud Atlas), I was a bit wary of picking up this one. It's about a year in the life of a stammering, bullied, sensitive 13-year-old. It didn't sound too interesting -I remember 13 being a bit crap, I did not particularly want to read about someone else's crap year of being 13.

I 'm glad I did though. I should have known that nice Mr Mitchell wouldn't steer me wrong. It starts off in a slightly Diary of Adrian Mole style, but you quickly realise there's a lot more going on in this book. He lays on the 80s ephemera thick, references to Monster Munch and puffball skirts abound, and it works well dragging us unwillingly back into the horrible style vacuum that was 1983.

The plot's a good one, not terribly surprising or original, but that's not the real point - it's the journey that's important. Great writing, great characters and even a couple of references to his other books are slipped in for smug twats like me to notice. Worth a read, and I think i'd recommend it to any 13 year old - it's a shite time of life, but there's still a lot you can control if you want to.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Leopard vs. Samba = Fight!

Previously on "Gareth's Geek Hour": our hero had battled with the NetInfo Manager in Mac OS 10.3 and succeeded in getting his ibook to automount a smb share on a networked storage device. Music streamed off the little box over the network, and there was much rejoicing. Disaster struck when subversion refused to work over a samba share. Our intrepid idiothero decided an upgrade to Leopard (Mac OS 10.5) was in order, believing it to have the solution to all life's problems...

Leopard is pretty, has some great new features, and seems a little snappier than Panther on my aging ibook. One problem: it has kicked my little automounted samba shares right in their wrinkled little happy sacks. They just don't work. They seemed to have been migrated from the NetInfo database into the local directory (/var/db/dslocal), because it would still try to automount them. Except it would lock up completely and need to be turned off with the power button whenever I connected to them. This was with the 10.5.1 version straight off the install DVD.

I upgraded to 10.5.2 via the software updater. Hoorah! No more lockups. No data though, either. smbclient could view the shares. Mounting them manually meant I could see the files in the Terminal, but Finder wouldn't have any of it. Thinking maybe I should be automounting the shares the new Leopard way, I removed the mounts from the dslocal directories and replaced them with /etc/fstab entries. Still no joy - finder would complain that an error occurred (error number -43) when browsing to the shares (although the shares themselves would appear in the Finder).

After considerable footling and much gnashing, I gave up. By the power of Greyskull, my NAS thing supports FTP access in addition to SMB, so I installed MacFUSE, and the GUI MacFusion. 15 minutes of configuring later, I was in business with an automounted ftp file system (handy hint: put "-odefer_permissions" in the advanced options field if you find you're having trouble accessing the files).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

giant james blunt


giant james blunt
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

he'll destroy us all, with his giant feet!

james blunt


james blunt
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

tiny wee man

Monday, May 05, 2008

neil gaiman


neil gaiman
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

woot! Neil Gaiman reading from The Graveyard Book at the state library, Melbourne. Very funny and interesting. Unfortunately I had to get back to work so couldn't get my book signed. boo.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

hot hungarian salami


hot hungarian salami
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

I love a mouthful of hot sausage on the weekend, especially of the eastern european variety.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Woot! Look at me!

So, the nice people / cheapskates at Schmap have used one of my Creative Commons Licensed Crappy Cameraphone Pictures (TM) for their Scienceworks Museum review. Which was nice. They're doing a mashup thing, using flickr photos and google maps. Looks good.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

axis

Tor's free ebook assault has claimed its first victory: I've just finished reading "Axis", the sequel to Robert Charles Wilson's "Spin" - the first of the ebooks I read. This wouldn't have been a book I would have picked up had I not been impressed by "Spin".

Axis is set 30 years after the end of the first book, and sheds a bit more light on the nature of the Hypotheticals, the mysterious entities that hid the Earth away from the normal passage of time. Not much more, mind you, but then the point of the books is to explore how mankind would react to direct contact with something entirely unknowable. As before, the characters have a depth and authenticity that stands out. The story is definitely about the people caught up in the events, not the events themselves.

A good read. Highly recommended if you've read "Spin".

Monday, April 28, 2008

Lord of the Isles

Another free ebook from Tor finished. This one is the first in one of those high-fantasy epic series that never seem to finish, just spawn off trilogies and trilogies of sequels. "Lord of the Isles" by David Drake reads a bit like someone wrote down their Dungeons and Dragons campaign. It is episodic, divided into Books with no discernible scheme, because fantasy epics have to be partitioned into roman-numeralled books. The characters are all highly competent, powerful people that do the Right Thing because they were all brought up as Simple Country Folk and had no inkling of their Destiny.

Despite the clichés the book is well-written, entertaining enough to keep me reading to the end. It is the novel equivalent of Torchwood: you know it's crap, but you keep watching because it's easy and there's always the chance of it having a couple of good bits in it. I don't think I'll bother looking for the rest of the series, but at least it didn't annoy the crap out of me like Mercedes Lackey's "Outstretched Shadow".

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Latvian Liverwurst


Latvian Liverwurst
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

This weekend's old-skool meat product: Latvian Liverwurst. Made from saturated fat and the broken hearts of lonely puppies. I spread it on toast with lots of melted butter. Brown bread toast, so that's healthy. It tastes a lot like a smooth, peppery paté. Lots of flavour, as is to be expected from something that is almost 50% fat. It's fat that makes things taste nice.

I can thank my mum for introducing me to all these marvellous animal by-products. She used to eat cold black pudding, and loved a bit of tongue. Erm. Cow's tongue. To eat. I haven't gone quite that far down the road yet, but it won't be long before I'm tucking in to a plate of tripe and urging the kids to suck the marrow from the bones of a koala, because that's the best bit.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A piece of history

Act now to buy a piece of history. Quick, before they put the blue plaque up advertising the fact that I spent most of my childhood in this house (apart from a brief 3-year sojourn educating the pygmies in darkest Llandwrog). Once that sign goes up, the price will skyrocket, mark my words.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Conversations with my kids

Ellen: Can we have foxtail and playstation?
Me: It's Foxtel.
Ellen: Yep, foxtail and playstation. When can we have them?
Me: I don't know, they cost a lot of money. Why do you want them?
Ellen: So I can find out if I like them. What is foxtail?
Me: It's more telly channels.
Ellen: For kids?
Me: Some of them, yes.
Ellen: Like in the hotels?
Me: Yes, that's right.
Ellen: How much is playstation?
Me: About $300.
Ellen: Hmm. We need to be rich. Are we rich?
Me: No.
Ellen: Can we have foxtail and playstation when we're rich?
Me: I promise you can have foxtel and a playstation if we ever get rich.
Ellen: How do you get to be rich?
Me: If I knew that, we'd be rich.
Ellen: What if you went to the circus and did the bestest trick ever and you had a hat and people put lots of money in it? That would work.
Me: I'll get right to work on that.

I can remember saying much the same things about our family getting a Soda Stream when we were rich, when I was little. It just seemed straightforward to me that if you kept going to work to earn money, surely at some point you'd be rich?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Small Beer's Hippy Love-In

Small Beer Press are continuing with their Creative Commons sharing, caring, hugfest by releasing Maureen McHugh's short story collection Mothers and Other Monsters as a free download (in various formats).

Here's hoping it translates into sales for them. The idea is that people will come for the free stuff, and get enticed into buying other things - or at the very least, Maureen McHugh or John Kessel will get added to the reader's mental list of "Authors I Like" and the next time they're in a bookshop wanting to launder some money they'll pick up one of their other books.

So, support Small Beer - they publish some great stuff. If you're not tempted by the free things (why not? you got a problem with "free"?), buy Howard Waldrop's short story collection, Howard Who?. It is fudging awesome.

mutt hutt


mutt hutt
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

more strange things visible from our office. this is a giant dog kennel with "Mutt Hutt" written on it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

More free(ish) stuff

Scalzi is offering a short story of his as a shareware download.

blue pallet exhibition


blue pallet exhibition
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

yet another strange display seen from our office window.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Crystal Rain

Free ebook number five from Tor, "Crystal Rain" by Tobias Buckell, is a far future SF adventure involving blimps, Aztecs and sailors with hooks for hands.

What? You need more detail? The Aztecs and hook-handed adventuring not enough? It is good fun, with sympathetic characters (even the turncoat Aztec spy is likeable), with plenty of exciting twists and turns. Just read it.

Like all the Tor freebooks it sets up a whole series of sequels (damn their clever marketing ploy! They've snared me good!), and I'll be keeping an eye out for the next one: "Ragamuffin".

Good job, Mr. Buckell. Carry on.

Baum Plan for your downloading pleasure

The nice people at Small Beer Press have made John Kessel's short story collection, "The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories", available for download (and re-mixing via creative commons). Get reading, people.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

OS X Samba server problems

I had problems setting up a networked hard drive that would talk to my Mac OS X laptop. I could copy about 50Mb of data and then the whole wireless network would crash and nothing would work at all. The fix turned out to be this obscure setting. Now everything seems to be working...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Farthing

Jo Walton's alternative history of Britain just after World War II is the third of the Tor free ebooks that I've read on my phone. Thankfully, this one is a good quality read cancelling out the hideous arse-candle of "The Outstretched Shadow".

It is part Wodehousian (shut up - like you would know how to spell that) country estate comedy of manners, part Agatha Christie murder mystery, with a dollop of the old "what if Hitler won?" sauce. Obvious comparisons are to Phillip K. Dick's "Man in the High Castle", and Roth's "The Plot Against America". There's even a nod in the book to Roth's work with references to President Lindbergh. Walton's book, like those two, manages to be convincing in its depiction of a world gone slightly wrong; a "horseshoe nail" story, as it is put in the book, referring to the children's song where a kingdom was lost due to a chain of small events.

The plot is convoluted, like all murder mysteries should be. The characters are well drawn, believable, and earned my sympathy. They are given no easy ways out of a situation, and the conclusion is jam-packed with compromise and moral greyness. The British government's slide into 1984-style fascism is handled smoothly, setting up further novels in this milieu. Orwell's classic is name-checked amusingly in the book by one of the characters who thinks a bit of science fiction will cheer up her persecuted husband.

I just wrote the word "milieu", and what's worse I couldn't think of an alternative. What a ponce.

Like all of the Tor ebooks so far, this book has a sequel "Ha'penny" (= two farthings). This free book has done it's job well, and I'll be keeping an eye out for more work by Walton.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

the presets


the presets
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

they're somewhere in that big fuzzy cloud. sound good so far.

hungry like the wolf


hungry like the wolf
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

bit old, though.

qotsa


qotsa
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

queens of the stone age rocking out.

giant pie


giant pie
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

all hail!

roisin murphy


roisin murphy
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

looking very fetching in a purple hat.

this is a bag


this is a bag
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

it looks like a cassette. you don't have one of these. I do. they're giving them away at the v festival. you wants it, precious.

cut copy


cut copy
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

local melbourne electropop tiny people at the v festival

hot hot heat


hot hot heat
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

really tiny little canadian band at the v festival melbourne.

Throne of jade

Quick review of the second of Naomi Novik's dragons and Hornblower mashups, "Temeraire: Throne of Jade". Good stuff, better than the first one, but there's still something missing for me.

Maybe it's the characters' constant worrying about manners and etiquette, or the occasional lapse in the dialogue where a British character uses an American phrase ("I must go see him now", instead of the more British "I must go and see him now", or "go to see him"). I'm nitpicking really, it was a good read but I've yet to read a tale of a long sea voyage that wasn't at least as dull as 7 months at sea. This was no exception to that rule, but worth sticking through to a cracking ending and a great set-up for the next book. If you liked the first Temeraire book, you'll enjoy this one.

Friday, April 04, 2008

no fee


no fee
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

how kind, this man will buy your house and not charge a fee.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

working from home


working from home
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

yes, his head is on upside down, due to a communication error between the two artists.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Thirty Days of Physiognomy at World's End

Another backlog of books to review in one go. Chronological order, let's get on with it.

"30 Days Of Night" by Steve Niles, with art by Ben Templesmith. Good story of vampires on a chomping holiday in Alaska, with a neat twist at the end. Templesmith's art makes this really special though. Awesome work. If you've read "Fell" or "Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse", you'll know what he's capable of.

"Worlds' End", volume 8 of Neil Gaiman's Sandman epic (only two more to go, yay!). Usual high quality of Gaiman's writing coupled with some excellently varied artwork for the stories-within-stories concept. There's a reason Sandman is still selling so nearly 15 years after these stories were written.

"The Physiognomy" by Jeffrey Ford, won the World Fantasy Award in 1996. He also wrote the synaesthesia-love-story "The Empire Of Ice Cream" which won a couple of awards too. A great writer; in this book he builds a believable, scary, dangerous world seen through the eyes of an expert in the science of Physiognomy. He's a detective, judge and jury, who bases his decisions on measurements of suspects' noses or the presence of hairy moles. It's not a whodunit though, it's a rollicking adventure, wonderfully done. Highly recommended.

cheese sardine set


cheese sardine set
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

awesome. truly awesome. found in the salvos.

King Rat

China Mieville's first novel, "King Rat", is another story of an alternative London. Like "Neverwhere", or Mieville's own "Un Lun Dun", it concerns normal people dragged into a fantastic underworld of magic and myth. I'd say it is Mieville's best; a leaner, sleeker novel than his later New Crobuzon books. It scurries along at a hell of a pace, terrifying and exciting. Excellent stuff.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

perseverance

I followed that nice Mr. Vandermeer's advice on writing: read the things you don't like, and work out why you don't like them. I bravely battled my way as far as halfway through chapter four of "The Outstretched Shadow" by Mercedes Lackey and That Other Guy. One thing I forgot to add to the list of advantages that ebooks have is that I couldn't hurl the book into the bin, mainly due to it also being my phone. Maybe that should go on the disadvantages list. Some books need a good hurling.

The embarrassing infodumps didn't stop after chapter one, nor did the book become any better. I've come up with a new rule for classifying fantasy novels: those that use the word "magicks" (with a fucking "k", because then it shows the author once saw a sample of faux-olde-englishe from way back before they invented spelling) and those that don't. The first set is a subset of bad books, the other set can also be, but that's not guaranteed.

Besides the extra "k" and the misguided belief that the word "magic" can have a plural, the things that turned me off the novel were its setting and the narration.

You never get the feeling that the city Ametholihathehathoeoh (or something) is a real one. I'm comparing it to the great fantasy cities that I've read: Ambergris, New Crobuzon, Ashamoil, even Ankh Morpork. All these places feel like real places, as if there are far more stories taking place there than the just the one you're reading. Armehthholieathotl reads like most of it was assembled from flatpacks from Ikea's new range of Crappy Fantasy Cities.

Every character is accompanied by narration that explains every single thing they do, the history behind every institution or custom, and the motivation behind their actions. There's a reason you're told to "show, don't tell", this is what happens when you ignore it. There's no scope for letting the reader experience the unfamiliar, which would give them some investment in the story and a feeling that they've been dropped somewhere strange and new. This is fantasy, don't make it feel tedious and mundane.

That's enough of that. I've spent enough time on that book, more than it deserves.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

mmm... nutty


mmm... nutty
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

that doesn't look like an egg to me. it does look like something else, though...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

(fre)ebooks

Tor are currently giving away free ebooks as part of a promotion for their new website. Just sign up for their newsletter and once a week they'll email you a link to download it in html, pdf, or mobi format. They're on their third book at the moment: "The Outstretched Shadow" by Mercedes Lackey and Someone Else Whose Name Isn't As Distinctive. The previous two were "Old Man's War" by that nice Mr. Scalzi, and "Spin" by Robert Wilson.

I have a decent-sized screen on my PDA-phone-thing, and reading "Spin" was quite comfortable. There were advantages over the paper version (reading in the dark; not as heavy; easier to read one-handed while swaying on the commuter meat wagon; I always have my phone with me so I've always got a book too), and disadvantages (could not read at the beach; or anywhere in bright light; not as high contrast as print on paper which did give me a slight headache after an hour or so; my book now depends on batteries).

I'm not sure if I would pay for an ebook; I definitely would not pay anywhere near as much as a physical book. If they were a couple of dollars, and of that money a substantial amount went straight to the author (say 50%) then I would consider it.

Anyway, enough about the medium. On to the message.

Spin won the 2006 Nebula Award, and rightly so. It's a great read, chronicling a near future where the Earth has been squirreled away out of the normal flow of time and the way the inhabitants deal with it. The idea is that outside our atmosphere time flows normally, inside everything has been slowed down. So for every minute that passes down here, hundreds of years pass in the rest of the universe. There are some great ideas in here, and some interesting characters. I'll definitely be looking for the sequel, "Axis", and in that respect giving away this book for free has worked. Robert Wilson has been added to the list of authors that I look for in bookshops.

I managed to read one chapter of this week's book: "The Outstretched Shadow" by Mercedes Lackey and Some Other Guy. It's the first of a trilogy, and I guess the idea is that by giving this away you'll want to buy the other two. That might have worked, had the first chapter not annoyed the shit out of me. A whole chapter of shockingly clumsy infodump that was embarrassing to read, with ham-fisted world building and Genuine Fantasy Setting(TM):
"look, ma, they name their days differently and they use bells instead of hours"
"wow, that really is different. What do they call strawberries?"
"strawberries."
"oh."

Urgh. Mercedes Lackey will be assigned to the list of authors to avoid when browsing. Luckily for her co-author there's no chance of me remembering his name. You've gotten away with it this time, Mr. Other Fantasy Writer Dude. I'll get you next time.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

matter

A new Culture novel. Fuck, yeah!

(Review ends here for geeks, non-geeks read on.)

Iain M. Banks writes hard SF, most of it set in his Culture universe, where humanity has evolved into a free-thinking, free-loving, do-gooding society of people, machines, aliens and anything else that wants to join in. Imagine someone took the Star Trek ideals of no money, peace, and happiness and removed all the po-faced, father-knows-best overtones. And then added in free drugs and fun for everyone. Yay! Let's move there!

The stories usually involve Special Circumstances, the section of the Culture tasked with ass-kickery and general meddling in the other galactic societies. Imagine Star Trek's starfleet but replace the uniforms, plot holes, what-is-this-earth-thing-you-call-love, we-must-not-violate-the-prime-directive with a shitload of weapons, ships that think, and plots that are thoughtful, exciting and funny.

"Matter" is no exception to this. A great read. My only complaint was that the epilogue was tucked away after the appendix-cum-glossary at the end of the book. You might miss it.

Read this book. Then read the other Culture novels. In any order, it doesn't matter - this is no fantasy epic in 27 volumes. Then read anything else by Banks with or without the M. "Complicity" is a good one if you like to pretend you don't like science fiction. But you know you do, really.