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Tue, Oct. 30th, 2012, 06:03 pm
Attention LiveJournal: I want my old Friends page

I really don't want to move to your "spanky new friends page" option.

Frankly, if you want to spend developer time on making the LJ experience better, I'd far prefer you work on these two simple tasks first:

- Proper support for MarkDown syntax in comment editing, as opposed to the limited set of HTML you offer now. Would it be uncomfortable for existing users? Perhaps. But it would be better and they'd learn to love it

- In place dynamic preview of said MarkDown comment editing.

You know what the StackExchange sites do for their input controls? That works. Do that.

Tue, Apr. 19th, 2011, 11:31 am
Why I will not be voting for Stephen Harper's party

I'm pretty sure that Nino Ricci articulates my position far better than I can, or have time to. Please read his open letter to our current PM.

I've never been a fan of Harper, his policies, his tactics, or his party. I can't honestly say I've ever had much respect for anyone leading his party, since the days of Preston Manning (while I never really can remember thinking I'd agreed with Manning, I'm not sure I had the same low opinion of his integrity or behaviour that I've had for anyone running his party's show since his retirement).

"At least he's not Stockwell 'Doris' Day" is not sufficient or compelling reason to want to support Harper.

Fri, Apr. 15th, 2011, 09:54 am
Recently read: Walking the Perfect Square and Redemption Street

My FLBSO, Dave, mentioned that if I hadn't tried Reed Farrel Coleman, I oughta. Boy, was he right.

Walking the Perfect Square. Moe Prager quits his job as an NYPD cop short of making Detective, thanks to an embarrassing office encounter with a sheet of a paper on the floor that ended in severe knee torture. This may seem a bit far-fetched, until you realize that this moment in Moe's past occurs in the late seventies, a time relatively out of reach of modern joint surgery and physiotherapy. In this forced retirement, Moe is trying to scare up the scratch to open a wine shop with his brother. Then, a cop-friend of his comes along as the proxy of a Mr ConnectionsWithMoney, and an offer Moe will find it very hard to refuse: help us out and you'll have enough cash to open your wine shop and a smooth road past the city business regulators. Refuse to help us out, and, well, no money and a harder road. Why Moe? Despite his forced retirement, Moe has that one shining moment in his career when he found the young girl that nobody else could fine (largely by chance, he continually tries to convince).

What can he do, but proceed? Coleman's love of the city as she lived is evident: this is a hell of a time to be wandering around the streets of the Big Apple, and famous spots of the punk underground figure prominently, either named directly, or barely concealed (anyone with a reasonable memory of music history of the time might enjoy playing spot-the-scene).

Coleman brackets the narrative in the with a modern-day framing story that works perfectly. Walking the Perfect Square sets up the best and worst moments of Prager's adult life: it sets the foundation for who he will be in all the forthcoming novels -- a loving, family man forced into hard choices as a result of his past, and his remarkably stubborn and dogged character. By the end of this first book, you can see the overall arc of Prager's life stretching forward into the books to come: and we expect that future tales using the same frame will be loaded with irony. We expect that each book will show him moving forward through the past towards a crisis we know is coming, and towards a resolution of that crisis we can be reasonably sure will occur.

Coleman's prose is smooth, tight, and eminently readable without being simplistic. Prager is drawn in confident, spare strokes. The dialog is not showy, but it rings pretty true. The narrative is hard-boiled, without descending into cliché: Prager both is, and is not, the typical detective. He is not a super-cop, or a super detective. He is not an isolated loner. He is not mindlessly tough, nor overly forgiving. Prager seems like a real guy, with real abilities and gifts, real limitations, and real points that the reader can like, and fault him for.

Redemption Street. Apparently, Redemption Street was a classic sophomore slump book for Coleman. He thought it was really good, but the buying public, for whatever reason, did not. I think the answer probably lies somewhere in between. The pacing in Redemption Street is not quite as smooth as in Walking the Perfect Square; it's also possible that the historical background in the first Prager novel that might have appealed to a wider (more secular?) audience is exchanged for a historical background that's more rooted in the Jewish culture of the American north east (specifically the era of the "Borscht Belt" summering hotel resorts). A tragic incident we learned about tangentially in the first Prager book is the centrepiece of this one -- Prager is drawn into an investigation into the death of a boyhood crush. Coleman does a very good job of building Redemption Street upon the character foundation he established in Walking the Perfect Square, without really demanding that you've read the first, or wasting time in useless as-you-know-Bob rehashing of material already known from the first book.

That said, the framing narrative of the first book lays irony on with a trowel in this one. The activities of this book are set after the "past" events in book one, but before the time of book one's frame, and thus we know where Prager is headed, and the character studies in Redemption Street help paint out the sketches of that journey.

The details of the plotting do have twists and turns in them, some surprises await, but are foreseeable to a certain extent. Coleman's mystery does a bit of a double-twist in the end, showing you the right and then hitting you a bit with the left, but overall the real story here is not entirely surprising. That said, I'd urge you not to read Coleman's afterwords before you read the story, unless you like to have the plot spoilered a bit for you.

Everything that's there to like in the first book is provided here, and improved upon. The pacing is a wee bit slower, but the characters are drawn out a bit more. We get a fuller picture of Prager and his nobility and his flaws.

The Prager book that Coleman apparently hit his strong stride with was the next one in the series, The James Deans (winner of Barry, Shamus, Anthony awards; nom'd for Edgar, Gumshoe, Macavity). But I'm not at all sad that my neuroses compel me to read books "in order". Redemption Street is a good book (not perhaps as strong as the opener, but still, pretty darned good). Good enough to have me fairly eagerly looking forward to getting into the next.


If you like hardboiled crime fiction, or detective stories with protagonists that are interestingly off-centre, you really ought to try Coleman's Prager books. The entire series seems readily available in reprint editions from Busted Flush Press, and I'd strongly encourage you to support Busted Flush -- they're reprinting Daniel Woodrell as well, and he's just as worth reading as Coleman evidently is.

Highly recommended.

Thu, Feb. 3rd, 2011, 05:35 pm
Hit for the Canuckistanian publishing industry

Apparently, HB Fenn has gone bankrupt. I'm not sure how bad this news is for the general book scene in Canada, but I'm sure it's not exactly good (well, reasonably sure, anyway).

Wed, Jan. 26th, 2011, 11:29 am
Good customer service report: thumbs up, DriveThru

A book I just ordered from DriveThruRPG came with a small manufacturer's defect. A bit of bindery glue splotched onto a page, and it caused the paper to tear away between that page and the facing page.

DTRPG's customer service to rectify this situation was awesome (prompt, professional, and resolved the situation to my satisfaction), and I publicly commend them for it. As a result of this service experience, I will certainly be giving them future patronage.

Fri, Jan. 21st, 2011, 03:00 pm
Recently heard: The King Is Dead

I had probably only casually heard of The Decemberists. And then a friend of mine who is a music nut (he's even in a band, which to me seems a bit of a novelty and rather special) pointed out that he was a Decemberists fan and insisted that I listen to their newest album on NPR's First Listen.

Woah. I don't know about their entire catalog, but "The King Is Dead" in particular aligns strongly with what I'm liking to listen to right now. It's nigh perfect. Shortish, very smartly crafted roots-folk-guitar-pop with tight harmonies and obliquely spiritual lyrical vibe. One might almost call it American Myth Pop. It evokes the best of REM's heady middle years, but with perhaps a bit more musicality and less edge. And it certainly helps that Gillian Welch provides harmony vocals on many of the tracks: carefully constructed to draw me in.

You might not like it, but I think it's definitely worth a listen to see if you will.

Fri, Nov. 26th, 2010, 09:45 am
Very quietly

Very quietly, while practically no-one is watching, Melissa Leo is becoming one of the bravest, strongest, most talented actresses of our generation. If someone asked me "who is the US's answer to Hellen Mirren?" I suspect that after some thought I might say "Melissa Leo."

Sun, Nov. 21st, 2010, 09:59 am
Don't be evil. Unless it costs more.

"Anything that impinges on Ireland's competitiveness is going to be a big thing for Google, including corporation tax." John Herlihy (head Google Ireland)

Perhaps the Don't Be Evil Dublin local office is just trying to figure out how it's going to pay for that 10% pay-rise they handed their 2,000 employees. Oh, and DBE (Dublin) is apparently not the only ones trying to run the local government. Intel (4,000 employees) is also getting antsy.

The Germans are, apparently, fully behind Ireland's "courageous [proposed] reform policies". Wow. Good for you, Deutschland. But, it might be a great idea if you made your press release sound a teeny bit less like "I've called you all here to tell you that I'm giving a vote of full confidence in our head coaching staff" or "We're waiting for the Dail to approve a rate increase so that more companies decide that working in the rest of Europe, including beautiful Germany, is an awesome idea".

PS -- Ms Merkel's press relations: anyone who's watched "Yes, Minister" or "Yes, Prime Minister" knows damn well what the adjective "courageous" really means in neuvo-politico...

Tue, Nov. 9th, 2010, 12:17 pm
Recently anticipated to read: Habitation Of The Blessed

I don't rightly remember how it exactly happened I discovered the writing of Cathrynne M Valente, otherwise known here as catvalente. But I do know these things:

• She was immediately identified as a good egg, and a good writer (in ways that I, as a reader, appreciate and enjoy), by several friends and acquaintances I trust (some of whom are writers themselves, or reviewers, or fans, or just plain old folk, like me, not particularly connected to the genre writing or fandom community).

• I picked up one of her "The Orphans Tales" volumes from the local library, read 50 pages in, and immediately ordered it, its companion volume, and her novel Palimpsest. I find her writing lyrical, rich, approachable but deep and mythical: it's writing that (so far) seems to resonate with what I like from the SF&F-end of the genre stuff I read.

• Her educational background is as a classicist, and I find accord with what this has done for the way that she writes. She names things well. She doesn't just sprinkle around world-building and cultural elements as if they were doritos or knick-knacks -- they have weight and seem real and substantial, even when her tone is light and flippant.

• She has a new book that's just come out, the first volume of what (as far as I know) promises to be a major new project for her. To call it the culmination of a hell of a lot of work would, I gather, not be quite accurate. Rather, it might be the first public return on declarations of a hell of a lot of work, with more to come. This new book is called "The Habitation of the Blessed", and it bills itself as a "dirge for Prester John". (Who is Prester John, you ask? Well, she is only too happy to explain.)

• I will be buying her book. I hope to be buying this book directly from her, at her book reading at Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine. I may even buy other books of hers that I don't already own, if they have 'em. As you may know, such a trip will be a bit far afield for me, and thus An Adventure™.

• Because I don't have the book yet, I cannot yet have read it. I thus have no idea what it is like, and it would be irresponsible of me to say anything more about my response to it. But I will promise to write a comment about it, after I have secured and read my copy. Whether this will motivate you to seek it out yourself... well... I don't know whether your taste is in accord with my own. Plus I do not have millionz of intarwebz followers, so my reach is rather small.

• She offers kewl prizes for the spreading of word about her work. It is partly in this endeavour that I make this post (see previous point about book unseen, unsecured, unread). I would like kewl stuff. I promise to share any kewl stuff, should it come my way by happenstance, with friends and family.

• The SF&F genre seems to me to be in an interesting place. There are really good writers in it. There are also scads and scads of formulaic and relatively mould-standard books as well. From what I've read so far, I think Valente falls into the former category: her writing reminds me of other folks I really like to read, like John Crowley, Gene Wolfe, Ursula Le Guin -- mostly because she seems really good at naming things, and because her worlds seem simple, human, but still, deeply deeply real. But, it also seems to me that the really good writers (or at least the writers I like) often don't get supported and continually published (in the same way that, often, really good TV shows that I like get cancelled).

So, if you're of a mind, try out one of her books. You might then want to buy some. I did.

Mon, Nov. 8th, 2010, 12:38 pm
Recently read: The Grifters

Very different to the movie, a quick read, and pretty unrelentingly bleak, "The Grifters" is perhaps one of Jim Thompson's best known books (because of the Frears' film from Westlake's adaptation script). This is the first of Thompson's books that I've read through (currently working on "The Killer Inside Me" as well), but it's strong and I recommend it, especially if you like the dark noir crime genre.

One of the really interesting differences between the film and the book is Westlake's excision of the Carol Roberg character. It seems to me that the book provides Roberg as a means to show the reader that people can and do rise above their circumstances, are capable of making ethical and moral choices even in the face of hideous emotional difficulty. I'm not sure that Roberg's role is needed in the film: it's certainly not central at all to the triangular struggle between Roy, Lilly, and Moira/Myra. But it lends the book a balance that the film must depend upon the viewers to supply on their own.

I very much enjoyed Thompson's book, and recommend it without reservation, but only if that sort of thing is to your taste. None of the principal characters are sympathetic, although Roy teeters on the brink of sympathy as Thompson does make some effort to portray his internal conflict. In the end, though, Roy's nature is so far gone that his glimpses of movements towards decency were pretty much groping around in the dark: knowing that he was broken, knowing that there was supposed to be something he might be able to do to fix himself, but just not having the emotional equipment to form an adequate articulation toward that regard. Whether or not Dillon is, in the end, redeemable and worthy of our sympathy is a crux of the narrative: to a certain extent I rather feel that Dillon deserves sympathy only in the way that any person deserves sympathy, and the very fact that Roy, Lily, Moira, and others like them, live in the world without this basic connection to other human beings points at the thing that distinguishes us from the single-minded predators that the Dillons and Langtrys of the world typify.

Fri, Nov. 5th, 2010, 10:04 am
Sad remembrance: I'll miss you Sparky

I honestly wasn't prepared. When I found out that Sparky Anderson had died I was struck by sadness: fond memories of my youth have moved on. It's odd to consider, but Sparky was to a certain extent key to my engagement with The Church Of Baseball over the years in a way that Cito and the Jays of 92 and 93 never were. I've never been a Tigers fan, but growing up, if the team wasn't the Jays, it was the Tigers. Have a good rest, Sparky.

Fri, Oct. 15th, 2010, 10:58 am
Startling news! It's bad to crap where you eat!

While I may be willing to believe that the incidence of cancer in humans could dramatically increase with changes to diet and environment that result from increases in population density, industrialization, pollution, and other factors that are, essentially, caused by human habitation, to me this is a far cry from trumpeting that "cancer is man-made".

Smoking, getting no exercise, and eating lots of saturated fats increases risk factors for coronary heart disease: does this mean that it also is man-made?

What the heck is not man made in this case? Presumably death caused by animal predation? (But then why are you walking around in the predator's catchment area?) Lightning strike? (Why are you walking around in a thunder storm?)

Hrm.

Wed, Oct. 6th, 2010, 12:23 pm
Oh come on, just wash it, man!

Seen at work in lunch-room:
• Handsome Young Intern fellow fetches plastic fork out of drawer full of plastic cutlery next to sink, for lunch.
• HYI takes two steps back to lunch table with fork, bumps fork against his leg, and drops it on floor.
• HYI picks up fork, takes two steps right past sink, gets another fork out of drawer, and then pitches first fork into garbage.

I am boggled with the idiocy of this event on so many levels.

Mon, Oct. 4th, 2010, 04:24 pm
Ah fickleness, thy name is corporate travel!

In one fell swoop, the interestingly awesome weekend I saw spreading out ahead of me shrank and disappeared rather like the ever-smaller-zooming dot on a CRT that's just had its power line cut. Turns out that the corporate travel that I had managed to align in a "the stars are right" fashion suddenly turned out to be foolishly impractical, got binned, and now the stars are all a-kilter.

Crap.

On the upside, I get to spend my Thanksgiving weekend (or the portions I wouldn't have) with my family.

On the downside, I lose out on meeting all the cool new people I would have met.

Wed, Sep. 29th, 2010, 01:41 pm
Ooo, I loves me some revisionist hist'ry

Stan-Van says (according to Tim Povtak) of Vincey:
"Everybody here just wants him to play the game the way he's played it through his career -- attacking the basket."

Excuse me, Mr VG, were you at all paying attention to Vincey's career here in the "tee dot"? Where, season after season, we heard constant commenting from broadcasters and pundits, "You know, the Raps would be in this game, if only Vince would live up to his promise and aggressively go to the rim..."

Vince's unwillingness to bring his game on a consistent and regular basis is the key to his disappointing career, to the Raps, to the Nets, and no doubt now, to the Magic. The Magic may in fact do well next year, but I rather doubt it will be at all thanks to Vince.

From Vince himself, we get:
"Just bring it. It's time to be me (again). I accept that. I understand that. It's been on my mind all summer. And I don't have a problem with it."

Wow. How refreshing. We've never heard anything like that from Mr Carter. If I only had a nickel, etc, etc, etc.

Wed, Sep. 29th, 2010, 08:50 am
Sad news by proxy

One of my favourite authors reports that his agent (also the agent of another of my favourite authors), Ralph Vicinanza, has recently (and suddenly) died in his sleep from a burst aneurysm. This is sad news, but I also find myself envious in this regard: I quite hope that I die in this kind of manner--sudden, quiet, quick, and also a bit unexpectedly.

Mon, Sep. 27th, 2010, 10:15 am
Recently read: The Pyramid

On the weekend, I finished off Mankell's "The Pyramid" a book of shorts and a novella that chronicle the career of Wallander up to (the very beginning of) "Faceless Killers". "The Pyramid" makes a clever change of pace to Mankell's previous depictions of Wallander: structurally and narratively.

Structurally, because to this point, all the Wallander tales had been novel length; narratively, because the stories in Pyramid have a strong anti-mystery component to them. We already know how the lives of many of these characters develop through the years: who lives, who dies, who remains faithful, who betrays, who leaves. The mysteries themselves are even more strongly in this direction than most of Mankell's Wallander stories: the conclusions seem to leap upon Wallander as if by chance, good or bad. Many of them seem to be united thematically by severe injury.

The stories in "The Pyramid" are strongly written, and serve as a nice counterpoint to the rest of Mankell's Wallander novels -- they are not the best or most compelling stories in the series about the dogged provincial policeman, but because of their differences from the established pattern they reward the reader, like seeing a sculpture from a different angle.

Well recommended for Mankell fans: don't start with this one, but if you've become attached to Kurt Wallander, then you should not miss it.

Thu, Sep. 23rd, 2010, 03:31 pm
Setting back causes

Fox News (sic) reports that the glorious Ines Sainz has written this gem in a newspaper in Mexico City:
"A group of news people and communicators, eager to make an even bigger scandal out of this situation, have moved women's rights backwards at least 50 years ... I am surprised by how easily some colleagues skip the basic rules of journalism: one should investigate, inquire, and look at the facts before giving an opinion."

Please remember that Ms Sainz is the TV Azteca glam-journalist who has, in the past, performed such critical investigative service as measuring the biceps of football players during the annual presser-orgy-media-week leading up to the superbowl.

Just about everyone seems to have behaved completely shabbily over this entire circumstance. And I'm sure that Sainz' behaviour and comments have absolutely nothing to do with a desire to place herself firmly in the middle of the story. Was she asking to be harassed? Absolutely not. Was she angling to have attention paid her way? That seems hard to deny given her "historical pattern of behaviour" as league head-office is wont to say.

In the words of the immortal Coz, "::phweeeet:: Everybody out of the pool!"

Fri, Sep. 17th, 2010, 02:56 pm
Acceptable

Rare response to a meme: post your photo taken now, un-altered, yoinked from pyat and catvalente.

Only if you need to see me.Collapse )

Thu, Sep. 9th, 2010, 08:35 am
Recently read: Tomato Red

Busted Flush Press, a small independent imprint focussed on "fine thrillers and hard-boiled crime fiction reprints", has reprinted Daniel Woodrell's "Tomato Red", a short crime thriller from '98, published eight years before "Winter's Bone". I so liked the latter that I immediately yanked the former off the shelf when I saw it at my FLBS.

Is it as good as "Winter's Bone"? No. But it's still very good.

"Tomato Red" is, structurally, a formulaic noir narrative. Marginal, well-spoken loser gets mixed up in circumstances that he can't resist: he's led by his pants, the emptiness in his wallet, a sad over-valuation of his abilities, and some ambiguous sense that something better might lie out there that he can grasp. And the reader can fully see that things will not end well: how could they possible do so? It's awfully hard to enlist the reader's sympathy in any of these characters: there's not much nobility in poverty-stricken loserhood. These folks have not much at all to recommend them, barely a chipped cookie jar of crumbs.

The femme fatale for whom the book is named is Lomanesque in her mistaken conviction of entitlement. She's so certain that she deserves more that she binds herself into completely unsustainable choices in the present, choices that ensnare the narrator, and her family, leading to misadventure, homicide, and a bad deal all around.

As with "Winter's Bone", Woodrell's craft is on display: his portrayal of events is graphic, but not necessarily exploitative, frank but not fetishistic. His writing draws you forward smoothly, but has enough texture, depth, and power to convince you that there's something beyond just the events on the page: the book borders on fine bourbon and not just a pedestrian corn mashy slop.

I'm glad I read the two books in this order, because if I'd started with "Tomato Red", I'm not sure I'd feel I needed to move on to "Winter's Bone". But given the strength of the latter, I'm glad to have expanded a bit into Woodrell's earlier work. The two books together lead me to expectation of Woodrell's next book, and not necessarily the rest of his back catalog. I'd give "Tomato Red" a solid B, and if you like well written hard-boiled thrillers, then you'll probably be pleased to read it. It doesn't quite bring to the table what "Winter's Bone" does, but it's quite good all on its own, thanks.

Tue, Sep. 7th, 2010, 11:53 am
How loathsome

Six.... Four. Three? How about six-effing-teen, and shut the hell up, you entitled punk.

Mon, Aug. 23rd, 2010, 10:25 am
Recently read: Edwin of the Iron Shoes

Something lead me to run across Marcia Muller and her fictional detective, Sharon McCone. Might have been someone asking about female PI characters and McCone being one of the examples I'd never heard of. Accordingly, I dusted off the library card and borrowed a copy of Edwin of the Iron Shoes, the first in her series.

The result was a bit mixed. The book was a quick and smooth read, more or less: 170 or so pages of not very dense type and not a few blank chapter-facing pages. In modern terms, the book seems more like a novella than a novel, for length. Originally published in 1977, the book also feels very much like a product of its time. The narrative is pretty well seasoned with some earnest social commentary project through the plucky young detective and her interactions with other characters. Looking at wikipedia's list of the McCone's series, I find it interesting that the first book was published in '77, and then a five year gap to the second, and then pretty much a book every year or two up to the present day.

For some reason, the setting, character, and even plot, seemed to remind me a lot of The Rockford Files: a slight rotation of the characters involved, and the book might well have been adapted into a Rockford episode. The plot involves a murdered antiquarian in a neighbourhood in transition to which the investigator has a previous connection thanks to having looked into previous incidents of vandalism and arson in the area. The book introduces three characters who might well show up later as "series regulars": her boss, a possible love-interest cop, and a friend who provides her with some expert advice around physical evidence involved in the case.

Mechanically, the plot works reasonably well: there are several plausible candidates for the killer, and they logically get hewn away as time passes. The (seemingly) best candidate, stereotypically, gets taken off the list in the fourth act, and then replaced through a bit of a twist. However, the book suffers a bit from an unplausibly tight arrangement of characters: some of the characters have unreasonable connections to one another, and this is perhaps one reason why it comes across as a TV script -- it's all very well not to alarm the reader by yanking the killer from off sage in act five, but it does stretch credulity a wee bit by tying the killer into the dramatis personae in surprising ways that make it all fit into a neat little box. It seems to me that this might be a symptom of the times, and the scope, of the book: modern procedurals that have more pages to stretch across seem to reject this level of structural tidyness: not everyone in the city knows everyone else, nor should anyone reasonably expect them to.

Still and all, the book was not a disappointing read, and I'm interested enough to read the second in the series, Ask the Cards a Question, to see how it compares to the first. Not sure how much farther than that I'll venture, though. I think the book is probably a solid B tending to B-, and not worth your time except perhaps as a matter of curiosity or completism to get to the later books, or a quick read if you read quickly, and are pre-disposed to consume mysteries in volume. Muller seems roughly contemporary with Sue Grafton and Sarah Paretsky: Milhone first appears in '82 with A is for Alibi and Warshawski in '82 with Indemnity Only. In wonder how much Muller's McCone appearance in '77 influenced Grafton and Paretsky (if at all)?

Fri, Aug. 20th, 2010, 12:01 pm
Kurzweil fires back

Originally noted by james_nicoll was PZ Myers' broadside at Kurzweil.

It appears that Kurzweil has, inevitably I suppose, fired back: in summary, "I'm not the jackass you made me out to be."

Wed, Aug. 11th, 2010, 09:20 am
Dear Sir

I find you calling yourself King James pretty offensive, actually. You can officially consider that a shot; now you can add me to your list.

Fri, Aug. 6th, 2010, 10:12 am
Recently played: Age of Industry

Scheduling variances allowed a near-impromptu gathering at the redoubt to play the latest addition to the Treefrog collection, Age of Industry. Problematically, even though I thought I was doing quite well, I actually got smacked squarely in the face and ended up in last place by a fair stretch. This leads me to believe that I can't really give any kind of reasonable analysis of the game's mechanical aspects. But I can make some commentary on the game.

Click through to read more.Collapse )

Fri, Jul. 9th, 2010, 09:50 am
Dude: where's the struggle?

We are all witnesses. To the fact that you seem to have so little idea about what it really takes to be great. But perhaps we should not expect anything more from you: high-school student turned stroked and spoiled celebrity sports demi-god.

Where's the struggle? Where's the challenge? Where's the contribution to the legend? Where's the message you're sending to the kids? It's not about loyalty, or work, or craftsmanship, or building anything. It's about that most hollow and dross-filled relic of the Cult of Celebrity: brand.

Have fun playing pick-up in South Beach. I'll check back with the league again when you're no longer in it.

Mon, Jun. 28th, 2010, 11:34 am
Recently read: Yiddish Policeman's Union and Winter's Bone

Two books just finished this weekend, and the contrast is interesting: Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" and Daniel Woodrell's "Winter's Bone". Both are thrillers, at least in part, and both set their tales in a strange other-world to mainstream North American life.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union. Typical of Chabon, it's very hard to nail down exactly what this novel encompasses: is it a police procedural? a Jewish tale of humour? a science fiction store? alternate history? urban fantasy? The easy answer is that it mashes together all of these things, in pretty liberal doses, to end up with something that's reasonably interesting, but dense. It took me a long time to get through this book, unlike the previous work by Chabon I consumed ("Gentlemen of the Road"). In the end what got me through was Chabon's skill as a writer, and not really any of the individual thematic aspects of the work.

There's much to like in this work, but also a lot to carp about: there's wit and humour here, but also so much of it that nearly every character seems unnaturally equipped with above average skill in wisecrackery; there's murder, some mayhem, and some unfolding and uncovering, but in then end the details of the secrets are somewhat messily presented as Chabon fattens the book with all the other things he wants to present; there's a whimsical and interesting choice for a diversion point, which Chabon layers with thematic weight, but at times it seems like the author works a bit too hard to throw in detail and it becomes a game of "spot the historical difference". Chabon's tale folds in enough of the fantastic that adding "urban fantasy" to the list of things going on here seems undeniable, but pinning up the strange gifts of the corpse found in Chapter One next to the meticulously detailed otherwhen that Chabon constructs seems in some sense to undermine its plausibility, to unseat it from a foundation that the reader can fully engage in. At this point, the book becomes a bit of a confection, and loses its ability to engage serious thought on the part of the reader: what's going on here? why should I think this is anything more than a light diversion? I suppose that "the point" of alternate histories relies pretty solidly on the feeling of "this could have happened", to serve the end of holding a mirror up to our present circumstances. It's not clear to me how effective this work is at doing this.

All that said, Chabon's skill, humour, and whimsy come soaring through solidly in this work, and this seems (oddly) an excellently drawn companion piece to "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay". If nothing else, Chabon is idiosyncratic: what's the book like? Well, it's like Chabon.

Rather like the cinema of Tarantino, if you're predisposed to like Chabon, then it's almost certain that you'll like "The Yiddish Policeman's Union". If what you're looking to connect with is a strangely set mystery, or a gripping, detailed alternate history, you'll find aspects of those, but only as flavours within the wider stew.

It took me months to finally get through this book, picking it up and putting it down a dozen times. I'm fully glad I read it, and I'm happy to seek out another of his books, but I rather suspect that my palate prefers to sample Chabon in smaller doses (or at least, smaller doses at a time).

Winter's Bone. By contrast, while there's some humour in Woodrell's "Winter's Bone", it's spare and far between. I read this dark tale of the modern Ozarks in a weekend. It's sparse, tight, well-contained. There's not much of anything here that could get pared away: the detail is precise, evocative, but there's little room for expanse. The premise is simple, gripping, and relentless: Ree is a young teenager who's family circumstances have pushed here into caring for her younger brothers and ailing mother; their lives are stretched thin enough that's there's no room for slack, no way to absorb a big crisis; so, of course, one arrives: her father has been released on bail, has disappeared, and has put the family homestead up as his security bond. Unless Ree's father is found, Ree's home will be taken from her, and (as she puts it) they will end up living in the fields like dogs. It takes Woodrell no time at all to make the reader realize that Ree's explanation is not metaphor or adolescent exaggeration.

As the tale spins out, Ree's struggles are carefully and starkly drawn as she's pushed from one stage in her dilemma to the next. Ree doesn't so much as solve a mystery, or uncover secrets, as she staggers stubbornly through in a manner that, of its own accord, lets her arrive at a resolution. Is she lucky? Some. Is she smart and clever? Some. Is she capable and independent? Some. Woodrell seems to suggest that any success Ree pulls out of her horrid situation might parallel her wider life: Ree does not so much triumph as persevere.

Winter's Bone is a short, gripping novel. It has a stark poetry despite the desperation and ugliness of (parts of) the setting. There's nothing cute or coy about its presentation; there's not much in the way of hope or beauty or happiness portrayed in the book, and in some way that spareness helps throw the brief moments of bravery and tenderness into higher relief.

To make any comment about how the story ends, or how Ree's life changes (if it does at all), would rather spoil not only the story told in the book, but also pull an end-run, a bit, around the way that it gets there. "Winter's Bone" isn't as fanciful, cozy, funny, deep, or affirming as Chabon's book: it's meaner, in just about every sense of the word. But it's hardly arguable that Ree Dolly isn't a memorable protagonist and one that the reader can get pretty solidly behind.

I'd say strongly that both these books are a very good read, and heavily recommended. My taste these days seems to be move slightly in the direction of Woodrell's book and others like it, but it was a pleasure to have read both, and I wouldn't hesitate to suggest either as fine, interesting, well-crafted works.

Thu, May. 20th, 2010, 04:01 pm
Oh! Irony thy name is Google!

I love the contrast in these two recent reports on the Register:

Google unveils new version of Android, supporting Flash, because "[i]t turns out that on the internet, people use Flash".

Google, pressed with concerns about Android's power management (battery life), blames third party software developers for "using the phone's radio capabilities too much".

Umm, Google. It turns out that, on mobile cellular networks, people use their mobile devices' radios.

Wed, May. 19th, 2010, 08:50 am
Hey! Adobe!

It sucks that you let people use Flash to provide clips with excessive volume levels without providing users with a volume control (effing advertisements 90% of the time). It also sucks that you cant seem to store a user's preferred initial volume level locally, and think that "oh, I don't know, as loud as we can!" is the best place to start.

I may not agree with Steve, but you're not winning any friends either, with this consistently appearing annoyance.

Tue, May. 18th, 2010, 03:00 pm
Why Mignola is a genius

The Red Hood!For years, MIgnola has been my favourite illustrator in the comics arena, more even than Hergé (for years the reigning champion) and Guy Davis. His command of composition and his energy can be a bit sledge-hammery, but it accords so well with my tastes that I rarely see a piece that I don't like.

A recent tilt of his at providing a splash, re-imagined cover for a significant DC Comics anniversary1 is a wonderful example of his excellence.

He still can't draw feet, but, really, who notices?

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1<http://dcu.blog.dccomics.com/files/2010/05/bm_cv700_variant-copy.jpg>

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