Thursday, December 10, 2009

Monday, November 02, 2009

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Things I have done instead of starting NaNoWriMo

I've made a list of things I need before I can start writing properly:
* a coffee
* a nicer chair
* a nicer desk
* a laptop, so that I can work at a different desk
* a different word processor
* different music to listen to, music that's more "writer-y"
* another coffee
* a biscuit
* a plot
* some talent
* command of the English language

I've suddenly found all manner of interesting things that need investigating on the internet:
* ABC's iView, never needed to look at it before, but now...
* what my Flickr contacts have been up to
* their favourite photos
* their favourite's favourites...
* places one can buy obscure British sci-fi in Australia
* a review (with spoilers) of the next Dr Who episode
* articles about vaccination and dodgy science
* the NaNoWriMo website (http://www.nanowrimo.org)
* articles about strategies for avoiding procrastination
* people twittering about Hallowe'en costumes
* other people twittering about NaNoWriMo and how they haven't started yet

So, I'm writing this as a warm-up exercise. To get the fingers moving and the words coming out of the big blob of custard that masquerades as my brain, down my arms and into the keyboard. I need to get past the big white page that is sitting in front of me. I just need to start, to nail down just one of the flailing threads of plot that are waving at me just out of reach. But what if I choose the wrong one? It could throw off the whole endeavour. Maybe I'll just have a biscuit.

Posted via email from Gareth's posterous

Things I have done instead of starting NaNoWriMo

I've made a list of things I need before I can start writing properly:
* a coffee
* a nicer chair
* a nicer desk
* a laptop, so that I can work at a different desk
* a different word processor
* different music to listen to, music that's more "writer-y"
* another coffee
* a biscuit
* a plot
* some talent
* command of the English language

I've suddenly found all manner of interesting things that need investigating on the internet:
* ABC's iView, never needed to look at it before, but now...
* what my Flickr contacts have been up to
* their favourite photos
* their favourite's favourites...
* places one can buy obscure British sci-fi in Australia
* a review (with spoilers) of the next Dr Who episode
* articles about vaccination and dodgy science
* the NaNoWriMo website (http://www.nanowrimo.org)
* articles about strategies for avoiding procrastination
* people twittering about Hallowe'en costumes
* other people twittering about NaNoWriMo and how they haven't started yet

So, I'm writing this as a warm-up exercise. To get the fingers moving and the words coming out of the big blob of custard that masquerades as my brain, down my arms and into the keyboard. I need to get past the big white page that is sitting in front of me. I just need to start, to nail down just one of the flailing threads of plot that are waving at me just out of reach. But what if I choose the wrong one? It could throw off the whole endeavour. Maybe I'll just have a biscuit.

Posted via email from Gareth's posterous

Friday, October 30, 2009

Let me bore you about time travellers and zombies

The Internet made me buy "Boneshaker", by Cherie Priest. Much lauded by electric curmudgeon Warren Ellis, geeky actor Wil Wheaton, amongst others, this steampunk/zombie adventure proved to be a good read. Exciting, different, fun.

I'd steered clear of "The Time Traveller's Wife" for no particularly good reason other than that stupid form of snobbery that dictates that the popular isn't cool. I'd read reviews that essentially said this was science fiction that's ok to like even if you're not a sad geek. I'd also read reviews from the other side that said it wasn't SF enough, and merely recycled old tropes. Usually, people who use the word "trope" are wankers. It happened to be on prominent display, thanks to the film I suppose, when I wandered into Borders so I gave it a go.

It is good. Really good. Funny, likeable characters. A simple love story complicated and enlivened by the main character's temporal disability.

Posted via email from Gareth's posterous

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review: Pirx the Pilot and other stories

I've just realised that I've got on the train still carrying the book I finished yesterday. Nothing to read, so I'll write a review.

I picked up "Tales of Pirx the Pilot", by Stanislaw Lem, in the same stack of secondhand books from Woodend that I got the classic Fritz Leiber Lankhmar book and Chalker's Well of Souls. This one I picked up because I'd loved "The Cyberiad" by Lem. It's a compendium of three of Lem's books from the Sixties: the Pirx the Pilot stories, "Return from the Stars", and "The Invincible".

The Pirx the Pilot stories are closest in tone to the Cyberiad, and have a hint of the same gentle mockery of human silliness. They're a set of short tales about the career of Pirx, a spaceship pilot. Similar to some of Asimov's early works ("ingenuity and applied science save the day"), they differ in that Pirx is no super-competent science hero - he's more of an everyman. Most are funny, but the last is quite moving, about the only survivor of a spaceship accident.

"Return from the Stars" is an altogether more bleak novella. Hal Bregg comes back from a hundred-year mission to the stars, which to him lasted only ten years thanks to time dilation, to find the Earth completely changed. He struggles to find a place in the new society that has no need for heroes and explorers. It's a different take on the same story that Haldeman's Forever War gave us: that you can never return to the same place you started from. In Haldeman's story, the protagonists could escape their changed homes by returning to the dangerous familiarity of their war. Bregg has no such option, his new society having cancelled all the space exploration missions long before he returned. I must confess to being a little bored in parts of this, and other parts were hard to follow - although some of the fault for this may be in the translation from Polish which certainly did not seem as fluid and deft as the Cyberiad's.

In "The Invincible", a ship lands on an uninhabited planet searching for survivors of a previous mission. They quickly encounter a swarm of mechanical flies, and are soon fighting for their lives. This is a nanotechnology story written before electronics, when people were still marvelling at transistors and radios had valves and vacuum tubes. People rode penny farthings and it was still legal to shoot Welshmen on sight. Too far? Anyway, this has machine evolution, man's relentless acquisition of territory, the belief that we will always be superior to machines all in here, being challenged. Great stuff.

All these stories contain a future that will never be. One with big chunky dials, knobs that need twisting, levers to pull, electronic brains fed by instruction tapes. Rockets piloted by men who are men, and never even mention women at all, unless it's to show a picture to a comrade of a gal back home while sharing a smoke. If you're going to read one Lem book, pick Cyberiad - it hasn't aged at all. "Tales of Pirx the Pilot" is vintage stuff, and comes with a lot of baggage. If you can get past the sometimes strange translation, the sixties technology and the almost complete lack of female characters, then there's fun to be had here.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 4 of bringing civilization to the kiwis

Day four began with the breakfast of champions, coffee and a pork pie:

Thing2 thoughtfully sent us a text to let us know that the clocks had gone forward. Which was handy, otherwise he'd have been waiting an hour for us to turn up for Yum Cha at Big Thumb on Allen Street.

Tasty treats were had by all, apart from Owen who seemed a bit scared by the squid tentacles and rubbery looking dumplings. We bade our friends goodbye, and headed for Te Papa again.

Outside the museum the Wellington Porsche owners club had decided to congregate. We had a quick look, then nipped inside, where a band was playing:

Which was nice. We wandered, pondered, examined, until we'd all had enough and went for some pudding at Strawberry Fare (a place that specialises in desserts):

Feeling stuffed and slightly sick, we waddled home.

Tomorrow we get up early and catch the ferry to Picton. There may not be any internet on the South Island, so you might not get to find out what happens next for a while.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

NZ will be mine: day 3

We arranged to meet up with the confusingly named Gareth (henceforth Thing2) this morning. Last night's attempt to get hold of him having been thwarted by his having an actual life and going out of an evening. Weirdo.

We drove through Wellington's hilly streets, only getting lost once. Not bad considering we were running on cached maps on my iPhone (it's a work phone, so no international roaming for me). Thing2 and his lovely lady friend Dorrit took us around the corner to the beach:

Lunch was had at the Bach cafe: greasy fry-up for me, eggs on toast for the missus, pancakes and noodles for the kids, along with several litres of milkshake. Then we spent some time throwing stones around the rockpools, while Owen built up a collection of rocks:

We drove along the coast, a kind of mini Great Ocean Road - only without the busloads of tourists, then scaled a small hill with the Ataturk Gallipoli memorial on top. More driving, until we got to the top of Mount Victoria, for a view of the city:

We let Thing2 and Dorrit escape back to their carefree, child-free, fun existence and headed home.

Everyone was too tired to bother doing anything else today, so an early night will be had ready for tomorrow's second assault on Te Papa museum, followed by Yum Cha.

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Day two of our NZ campaign

We started with a walk along the sea front:

We found a play park, a restaurant that used to be a boat, and a swimming pool. We wandered further into the city.

Lunchtime, so we selected a cafe based solely on what was on all the tables:

Turned out to be yummy.

We accidentally found the cable car and so took a ride to the top:

Great views, botanical gardens, bit of a stroll, cup of tea, job done. Back down, bit more of a wander. Found the civic centre where Wendy squeezed some giant kiwi balls:

We wandered around the museum for a bit, but by then everyone was knackered so we headed home. Up the cable car:

Had a cup of tea while Wendy slipped into a coma and the kids watched Cartoon Network. Then a trip back to town for a curry at Massala on Allen St (very tasty), where they also serve this:

Very light, refreshing, almost a sweet taste.

Returned home, failed miserably at getting in touch with a friend, although we did find out that text messages sent from Australian phones can take a couple of hours to get anywhere here.

Plan for today: meet friend.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Day one of NZ subjugation

We got up at 4am, a time which is in fact illegal, and rightly so. Sleepy kids, suitcases and sleepy parents were crammed into the car and off we went to the airport.

The flight was on time, mostly uneventful, apart from the landing which turned the rest of the family grey. I am made of sterner stuff, and have selfishly not passed on those genes to my kids.

We flew with Air New Zealand, so we got to watch some telly. I watched Slumdog Millionaire, which turned out to be awesome, and two episodes of Big Bang Theory, which also turned out to be awesome. My lovely wife could be seen singing along to High School Musical 3, indulging her pervy Zac Efron fetish.

We picked up the hire car from Apex, the only hire firm which will let you take a car on the interisland ferry - the others all make you swap cars and heft your luggage onto the ferry. The guys there were quite friendly, and operated out of a little house just next to the airport - it felt a little like we were borrowing somebody's brother's second car. In a good way.

Ten minutes of driving on the mean streets of Wellington, through the pouring rain, got us to our house. It's up on a hill overlooking Wellington, and has its own cable car for access. A great place to stay, and the kids love the cable car, but this is my favourite part:

Lego Batman fridge magnets! FT, and indeed, W!

This is the view from the living room, now that the rain has stopped:

We didn't do much after settling in. Bought some food, ate, had a spa bath (no water restrictions!), drank some wine, went to bed.

Today's plan is to explore Wellington, maybe visit the museum. We'll also buy some more jumpers, this place is freezing.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Let me bore you about my headphones

Previously on my meaningless meanderings: my headphones broke.

 A friend recommended Bang & Olufsen's A8 headphones, saying they were a bit pricey, but really good quality. I'm always happy to have other people make decisions for me, and clutching my end-of-year bonus letter in hand (if not the actual money, then surely the next best thing), I toddled off to the posh end of Collins Street.

 The B&O shop was everything I had imagined whenever I'd walked past one in the past. Well, hurried past, just in case I got charged for looking at their high-end displays. Inside there were large televisions, hooked up to to matt black boxes with only a single LED and one switch (labelled "mmmmm"). Speakers dotted the landscape, shaped like the robots that should have been bringing me my martini after a hard day's work, if only those 1950s scientists had worked harder.

 The sales lady was explaining the function of what looked like a silvery wall tile to another customer. I padded softly across the deep carpet to the small headphones section, trying not to think about the twinges of pain in my wallet. "We'll be with you in a minute, sir", said the sales lady, turning back to her customer to reassure her that when the silvery tile analyses your brainwaves to determine the kind of music you'd want to hear, it would only tickle slightly.

 A tall man appeared at my elbow, seemingly extruded from one of the matt black boxes behind me, and helped me try the headphones out. I betrayed my humble origins by being so rude as to bring up the subject of price early in the conversation. $220. Or $350 if you want the iPhone ones with a microphone and button thing on the cord. I had to ask him to make me a cup of tea, just so I could take a mouthful and sputter it out all over him in shock.

 I stuck with the non-microphone version. It's not as if anyone evr phones me anyway. We filled in the warranty details together. He gave me a matt black, subtle, understated, little bag marked only with a feint B&O logo and the words "More money than sense" and I went on my way, feeling much lighter having been relieved of that burdensome money.

 This was the end of my brief, but enjoyable, relationship with Blake, the sales person. Or so I assumed. Yesterday, the handwritten card below arrived in the post.

Blake had written me a card, congratulating me on my sensible purchase of such a wonderful piece of technology, and bidding me good fortune in any future technology purchasing endeavours. If any of those purchases could be fulfilled by a B&O product, he would be overjoyed to help.
 
So moved was I by his beautiful penmanship and sentiments, that I was tempted to write back. I imagined a lengthy correspondance, spanning many years, initially on the subject of audio equipment but branching out into illuminating discussions on art, philosophy, the scientific theories of the day. Eventually, perhaps upon my death, these wonderful conversations would be collected into sumptuous, leather- bound, volumes and become bestsellers, pored over by academics for the insights contained therein. Some would devoutly follow the Blakeian school, others the Jonesian, and fierce debates would rage. Schoolboys would memorise the witty banter and erudite exchanges, collapsing in giggles whenever a line was quoted.
 
Sadly, it was not to be. My wife took a pin to the bubble of my imagined future and gently translated the message for me: "please give us more of your money". Heatbroken by Blake's deceitful marketing tactic, I cast the sumptuous, yet subtle, card into the recycling.
 
What's that? Are the headphones any good? Yes, they're fucking awesome. I recommend them to anyone that has a shitload of money.

Posted via email from Gareth's posterous

Monday, September 07, 2009

Let me bore you with news of ribs, headphones and blisters

This morning was the first time I'd been brave enough to go running since breaking my rib at karate. It's still sore, but I can move around and breathe normally now, unlike the first few days of last week. Sneezing and coughing still hold the prospect of an accidental sucking chest wound.

 This was also the first time I've used the headphones that came with my iPhone. My trusty apple in-ear ones finally gave up after over three years of being stuffed in my waxy canals and have been given a decent burial in the bin. Rather than shell out for a new set (they seem to have doubled in price since I bought mine), I gave the free ones a try. I was a little wary; the headphones that came with my iPod nano were useless and uncomfortable, and prompted the in-ear purchase.

 Apple seems to have improved their headphones since then. These are no longer uncomfortable, and stayed in for the whole of my run. The sound is ok, but doesn't cope very well when there's a lot of background noise (on the bus, the train, all the places I listen to music) which is where the in-ear ones really shone. They'll do until I can afford something a bit fancier, and I do quite like the little microphone button thing for switching tracks.

 Running is slowly getting rid of my muffin top, and my post-exercise old man cough is a thing of the past, but I didn't expect to lose weight off my feet. For the last few runs I've ended up with a blister on the instep of my right foot, and today I got one to match on my left. I'm hoping I just need to adjust the lacing, rather than have to buy a new pair of trainers. Unless I really did have fat feet when I bought them.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Great presentation on architecture of the guardian website

The evolving Guardian.co.uk architecture

Presented by Mathew Wall on Aug 28, 2009 10:33 AM

Summary
This presentation covers how to rapidly evolve a web site that receives over 25 million unique users and 218 million page impressions a month using a "just in time" approach to architecture. The site was guardian.uk with a long history of innovation that has enabled it to lead the market. The "just in time" approach to architecture introduced complexity into the architecture only as needed.

Posted via web from Gareth's posterous

PHD Comics: A PhD. student needs not such things.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

A portrait of the Grey Mouser as a young man

Three quick book reviews, and a test of http://posterous.com thrown in for free.
 
A couple of weeks ago we visited some friends on the other side of the city. On the Sunday we had lunch in a little village called Woodend, strolled around and visited a little secondhand bookshop. I spent a lot of money on some old SF classics, as well as a few other books. Then we went to the Holgate Brewhouse for a couple of pints of rather delicious chocolate porter.
 
So, the first of the classics of pulp fantasy I read from the pile was the awkwardly titled "Swords and Deviltry". Try saying deviltry out loud. See? Awkward. This is the first outing in a long series for Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, two rogues with hearts of gold that thieve and charm their way around their world. This is low fantasy, filled with muck, grime, seediness and populated by prostitutes, beggars and thieves. The dynamic duo provide plenty of witty banter, quaff ale and fight bad guys. It is easy to see why this series is remembered fondly by a lot of readers. Great stuff, and I'll be looking for the others in the series.
 
Next was Vernor Vinge's "A Fire Upon The Deep". I never did work out the meaning of the title, but this is a cracking space opera. Children trapped on a primitive world, with a spaceship that contains a defence against a superintelligent force that is enslaving the rest of the galaxy. Cue rescue team, while kids make friends with doglike aliens that can only think as packs. The packs are the most interesting characters in the story, and I found the rescue team plot a bit distracting. Overall this is a good read, with some awesome SF ideas.
 
Next was a bit of culture: "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man". This is James Joyce's semi-autobiographical story of a catholic boy growing up in Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century. I picked it up because I'd heard writers refer to him as one of their influences. I just didn't get into it at all. It started off pretty dull, started to pick up when he goes off the rails and starts visiting prostitutes but then quickly reverted to lengthy tracts discussing the nature of hell and damnation that were mostly incomprehensible to me. The final third of the book covers his time as a poncey art student, discussing the nature of beauty and pining over some girl he never appears to talk to and pretends to hate. It's like a really well written version of Adrian Mole, without the jokes. I must confess to having nodded off a couple of times trying to finish this on the train.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Bookshelves

Last night I helped my lovely wife finish off setting up our new bookshelves. We were running out of space on the old ones, and so decided to cover a wall and a bit of the study with Ikea's finest. Wendy bought them, got them delivered, assembled them. I was used mainly for heavy lifting and for swearing practice (she's getting really good). We now have a lovely expanse of shelving, acres of wide open, bookless, tracts of self-assembled glory.

Now, clearly, I have to go shopping for books to fill the space. Book shopping! About the only kind of shopping I'm good at. I've just finished the last of the three books I bought a few weeks ago, so I've got nothing right now.

"The Cyberiad", by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, reminded me of all the asides in Hitch Hikers - mainly the Deep Thought parts. Cyberiad is all about a universe populated mainly by robots, and two in particular: Trurl and Klapacius, constructors of marvellous machines. Their adventures are told with humour and fun, and cover some remarkable philosophical territory. Very clever stuff, and the fact that a lot of the jokes are puns and yet still work is a fantastic achievement by the translator.

Before I started on "Ink", by Hal Duncan, I dithered about re-reading the first volume of this story, "Vellum". Then I realised that I hadn't got a clue what was going on the first time, so I might as well just stay confused. Which I did, at least for the first half of Ink. The story got slightly less confusing in the final half, and sometimes I can even convince myself I know what happened. Despite that, it's a great read, very impressive and ambitious, and a lot of fun. I won't bother with a synopsis, because I'd get it wrong.

Russell T Davies' book about writing Doctor Who was fascinating, especially for me - a Doctor Who fan and writing geek. I love reading about writing, mainly because I'm too lazy to do any writing myself. RTD comes across as just as much of a procrastinator as me, except he has the talent to pull off an awesome episode like "Midnight" in a day or two. I remember being really excited that RTD was writing the new Who, even more so when I saw Casanova and found out that David Tennant was going to be the next doctor. He's made some great decisions for the show, as well as some dodgy ones, and without him it would still be languishing in the BBCs dungeons. Cheers, Mr Davies. Here's hoping the Moff can carry on the good work.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mother of all backlogs

I think I may give up on writing book reviews on here, and just stick them straight onto goodreads instead. I'm reasonably diligent about keeping that up to date with what I'm reading, but I just can't be bothered to write anything here. I suspect that is because I don't think my reviews are particularly useful ("it was good, read it. it was not good, don't read it"). That does mean I'll have to come up with something to put on this blog, otherwise it will fester and rot. In the meantime, here is a a set of one-line reviews for the 8 books I've read in the last 8 weeks or so.

The Fantasy Writer's Assistant: Collection of Jeffrey Ford's older stories (up to about 2003), one of my favourite authors, mixture of unsettling, weird stories and uplifting fables. Great stuff, but if you've not read anything by him before, try him out here: Empire of Ice Cream.

McSweeney's Issue 18: short stories for hipsters and poncey fans of "literature". Some great ones, some strange ones I didn't understand, and a couple of crap ones. Still worth reading (especially because McSweeney's were having a sale when I bought this for $2).

The Better of McSweeney's: best of collection, another sale purchase. Some great, some odd, not so much crap.

Everyone in Silico, by Jim Munroe: ebook read on my phone about near future transition period between Rapture of the Nerds, we all live in a yellow substrate of the global hive computing environment, and the economic collapse of the rest of the world. Kind of good, some interesting things in there. Definitely worth a read if you pick up the freebook.

Maps and Legends, by Michael Chabon: Essays on childhood and storytelling from the Pullitzer-prize winning author, wrapped up in an awesome three-layer dust jacket. Another McSweeney's sale item.

Poets Picking Poets: McSweeney's sale item, ten poets choose one of their poems and one of someone else's, to make ten chains of ten. A couple of these I understood and liked, the rest made me feel stupid because I didn't get them at all. Stupid poetry.

The Gone-Away World, Nick Harkaway. Despite working out the plot after the first chapter, this was still awesomeness and chips, with a side order of hot awesome sauce.

The Public Domain, by James Boyle. All about copyright, and how the laws being proposed and enacted today, if we'd had them in the past, would mean no World Wide Web, no Jazz, no Disney classics. Grr, big incumbent media companies, grr. I'm shaking my internet fist at you, can you see?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

You should read this.

Evil Robot Monkey, by Mary Robinette Kowal. It'll take you about 5 minutes, don't worry.

Thirteen, Behemoth, Strange Country

Review backlog again.

"Thirteen" (or "Black Man" outside the US), is another Richard Morgan techno-noir thriller, with all the kick-ups, shagfests and beatings you expect from his previous work. Takeshi Kovacs Carl Marsalis is a chiseled killing machine, a hit with the ladies, and a genetic experiment. Complicated plot involving lots of violence, shagging, more violence ensues. Keeps ensuing. Never seems to stop. Eventually does, pointlessly. If you've read "Altered Carbon", stop there. The rest of his books are pretty much the same. His prose style hasn't improved much, there are still viewpoint changes mid-paragraph which dump you out of the action and make you re-read to work out who's thinking what about whom and whose leg just got splintered by someone's obscure martial art technique. At 600 pages, this book could have done with a hell of a lot of trimming and a lot less plot.

"Behemoth", the last of Peter Watts' Rifters trilogy, is a decent conclusion to the series. If you've read the other two, you're going to read this one, no point in a review. Nasty people save a world full of nasty people from a nasty person. Weirdness ensues.

"Strange Country" is a collection of Mark Dapin's articles about the less well-known aspects of Australian culture. The bogans, the camel jockeys, the tent boxers. An interesting, occasionally quite funny, read. It took me a little while to get into his style, but the effort paid off.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Too much information

As of this morning, Google Reader tells me I have 947 unread articles to view. Of these, a third are from the BBC news website telling me things about politicians I no longer recognise, celebrities I've never heard of, and sporting events in which I have no interest. Over a hundred each are from TechCrunch (companies I've never heard of going bust while trying to do things I don't understand), Wired (ditto), io9 (providing me with spoilers for programmes I'll never watch and the plots of films I'll never get around to watching), and SciFi Wire (ditto).

My twitter feed tells me all about the mundane lives of Graham Linehan, Stephen Fry, Jonathan Ross, Lily Allen and other people I don't know, doing things I'm not really that interested in.

Let's not get started on Facebook.

Time for a cull. Blogs down to a minimum, twitter down to people I have communicated with in some form.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A haiku about Big Bounce

can we still say that,

it went straight to video,

in DVD age?



a raft of big stars,

a fantastic location,

no sign of a plot.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Clean code, modern life, maelstrom, mainspring and steampunk

Review backlog to clear. Let's keep it short.

"Clean Code", by "Uncle" Bob Martin, is a manual for programmers that
care about their craft. I went to one of his tutorials at JAOO last
year in Sydney
, where he successfully explained the Liskov
Substitution Principle to us. Lots of good advice in this one, and
I'll be recommending it to all my minions.

"This Modern Life" is the third in Steph Swainston's series of books
that started with "The Year of Our War". As always, interesting,
different and exciting fantasy, with a little sneaking in of SF via
the backdoor.

"Maelstrom", by Peter Watts, is the second of his three (maybe four)
Rifters books. Lenie Clarke rampages across America, spreading a
deadly microbe in her wake. Good stuff, with plenty to think about
like all good SF.

"Mainspring", by Jay Lake, a master of short fiction. I was hoping for
great things from this story, and while the world he has built is
original and interesting, the main character is just a tool for the
plot to happen to. His decisions were dictated by what the author
wanted to happen next instead of feeling like natural choices. Second
half of the book contains altogether far too much hot monkey sex
action for my liking (which is saying something).

"Steampunk", another anthology from Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, is like
most collections of short stories a bit hit-and-miss. The great
stories (a newt masquerades as Queen Victoria; a golem-maker staving
off the end of the human race; the fall of the Russian Empire
witnessed by its omniscient computer) are well worth the price of
admission.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Vegetable recognition


Vegetable recognition
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

Turnips on the left. Swedes on the right.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I'll spend my golden years in Adelaide, Australia

Adelaide's old town, north of the CBD, is beautiful. Quirky architecture, nice restaurants, bars, walking distance to the botanic park and the CBD, warm weather all year. Only a tram ride away from the beach, so that I may disgust the pretty young things with displays of my wrinkly, saggy body.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Badges? We don' need no steenkin' badges


Badges? We don' need no steenkin' badges
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

Tim at work got to see the Watchmen, and interview the stars, and all
I got were these badges. He says the film is awesome, but isn't
allowed to say any more. I have to wait until March 6th.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Free culture

I have just finished reading "Free Culture" by law professor and Internet hero, Lawrence Lessig. It is, of course, available as a creative commons licenced download from his website. I read it on my iPhone, using Stanza, one of the technologies that didn't exist when he wrote the book but whose existence he was trying to foster.

Stanza's great feature is the ability to download copyright-free books to read on your phone. This feature uses the public domain to give access to thousands of books that otherwise would be out of print. It also gives you an easy way to buy books, but I haven't used that because I don't want my books encumbered with nasty DRM.

Lessig describes the problems with current copyright law, how by extending copyright terms indefinitely at the request of big corporations we are destroying the public domain, losing the 98% of works that make no money and are out of print so that the 2% left can be milked. All art borrows from the past, but we are moving towards a future where no art can be made without the permission of the big media companies who will own most of it.

He also provides some ideas on how to avoid this future. Limiting copyright terms, and requiring renewal for extensions, coupled with mandatory registration of copyright owners for a work would get rid of the problem we have now where nothing written since 1923 will fall into the public domain. Registration means that creators that wish to use a prior work would be able to work out who to ask permission of, something that currently requires lots of expensive lawyers. He also promotes the creative commons licences, which allow creators to specify which permissions they grant, rather than the blanket "all rights reserved".

The book was written five years ago, and things have changed a little. The big media companies are slowly dropping the DRM, and I haven't heard much about people being sued for downloading songs for a while. iTunes has shown that people are willing to pay for content on the Internet, and that you can sell it without DRM and the world will not collapse. The laws are still the same, copyright is still pretty much perpetual, but Lessig's work had made people think about change and that's a start.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Brasyl

"Brasyl", by Ian McDonald, is the second of my bargain 50% off purchases from Reader's Feast. I wasn't sure about it, having given up on "River of Gods" after a couple of chapters. I'd heard good things though, and it was half price.


I'm glad I did. It is three narratives, all taking place in Brasil, but separated by time. There's a modern day tv producer, a wide boy in 2030 wheeling and dealing, and a Jesuit missionary in the 18th century. You know these stories are related, the fun is working out how.


While River of Gods annoyed me with far too many characters rolled out at the start, making it hard to remember who was who, Brasyl is a lot more focussed, the characters and settings more distinct. The culture of Brasil is made to sound exciting, different, and dangerous. The heavy use of Portugese words in the text deftly immerses you, although I've read reviews where this turned people off. If you read SF a lot, you're used to imputing meaning from context for made-up words.


Definitely worth reading, even if you haven't liked his stuff in the past.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Yiddish tattoos

Oy, have we got a bargain for you: two reviews for the price of one! First up is "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon. (My apologies to my large(ly imaginary) Jewish readers for my first line. I've never met anyone that talks like that, but I've seen them on tv and tv would never lie to me)

Meyer Landsman is a detective in an alternative future where the Jewish homeland is in Alaska. He's investigating the murder of a heroin-addicted, chess-playing, deadbeat who may have been the Messiah. Or just a very naughty boy.

Excellent writing, as always from Mr Chabon, that perfectly immerses you in Sitka, Alaska. A good plot, twisty and turny just like a good detective story should be. Loved it, great book.

Next, Bradbury's classic collection of short stories, "The Illustrated Man". I found this in the 50% off pile at Reader's Feast in Melbourne (thanks Tessa). I don't think I'd have picked it up if it wasn't a bargain - sf short stories don't always age well. Written between 1947 and 1951, these do describe a 1980 where every man still smokes like a chimney, takes the rocket to New York to work, after having had their wives programme the robot butler to dispense their coffee and bacon. Mars is a green and pleasant land, Venus is just a bit rainy.

Once you get past the superficial, jarring weirdness of having your own past described as the future, the stories themselves are outstanding. My favourite was the last in the collection, about a scrap dealer that can only afford for one member of his family to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip into space on a rocket, and how they decide who it should be. There's also Edgar Allan Poe on Mars; a gruesome tale of a city out for revenge; children helping invaders from another dimension. And lots of smoking.

If I had read this in its time, I would have been floored. Now, the 50s future detracts slightly, making it harder to get into, but it still compares very well with the best short sf today.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Snailzilla Attacks


Surfr
Originally uploaded by zenera

[Ficlets is being turned off by AOL on January 15. Here's one of my ficlets that never got posted here.]

Leaving gooey destruction in its wake, Snailzilla oozed back into the turquoise depths from whence it came.

Who knows why it chose to erupt (slowly) from its watery slumbers? Who can tell what provoked it into the (rather sedate, and quite beautiful) mating frenzy with New York? Perhaps only Professor Limpopo Flatnat, international playboy and mollusc expert.

Even now, the National Guard are combing the sticky ruins, searching desperately for a trace of the gallant Professor. Last seen leaping onto the writhing gastropod from the top of the Empire State building, a rusty letter-opener in one hand and a salt shaker in the other, his last words screamed over his shoulder to his faithful assistant, Juan: “I’ve always loved you, you know!”

He gave his life for the city, and the assistant, he loved. Perhaps his rapid application of salt caused the great beast to retreat, or perhaps, its fearsome lust slaked (and slathered) on the back of Liberty herself, the creature lost interest. We shall never know.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Yarr

"Fast Ships, Black Sails" be a treasure trove of tales from the high seas. Oh, and the high skies, some ice, and a noggin of vacuum. They's all yarns of a piratical bent, as generous with adventure as the first mate is dispensin' licks o'the cat.

Standout examples of swashbucklin' are from Howard Waldrop (pirates of penzance meet captain hook), Garth Nix and Conrad Williams. Fine seamen all, and I'd be proud to sail with 'em.