Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The last few nights I've broken out my telescope to see just what I can see here in deep urban Minneapolis. The results aren't that great but still kind of fun. Got a wonderful view of the (nearly) full moon. Even had the FP Gal look at it. She feigned interest.
I'm wishing for some darker skies . . .
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Done? Good. Ok, does that make sense to anyone?
Actually, the thing that baffles me is how something this stupid could get through some kind of creative process and be put on the air. Some advertising company must have brainstormed this piece of crap. Then they pitched it to the client, who somehow thought this gave customers a good feeling about their product. And then they filmed this without someone (anyone!) standing up and asking what they were doing.
Ok, end of rant. Let me now tell a related story!
There was a period of my life, starting right after I moved out from the parents, when my furniture was . . . not so nice. No really. It was college apartment style stuff. Functional but not nice. And nothing even came close to matching.
As I hit the age of 30 I thought about finally upgrading and improving the lot. But then I realized that it could be a terrible mistake. What if I met a woman who wanted to change and improve me? Yikes!
Unless . . . what if I left something improvable? Something that could be changed and I'd be happy about it. Something like furniture! Ah, the perfect plan.
And then I screwed it up. I changed apartments and decided it was the perfect time to get a new couch. They could deliver it and I wouldn't have to move the durn thing. So I did the shopping, put in place and it was (still is) wonderful. It's deep and long enough to lay down on comfortably. It has one small flaw in that the back is pillows and not cushions but it's not a big deal. It's a great couch.
Guess what one thing the FP Gal wants to change . . . ?
As with so many books on the Hugo list, the setting is really what brings the story to life. And so it is with 'Julian Comstock'. This story takes place a couple of hundred years in the future from now. The global economy has gone through the peak oil shock and global warming has created shipping lanes north of Canada. As you can imagine, there has been quite a bit of chaos. The United States has absorbed central Canada and most of Latin America down to the Panama canal. The Dutch (more properly read as Deutsch, or Mittleuropa) have conqured the maritime provinces and have been fighting US forces in Labrador. American society has lapsed into more of a feudal system and the prime powers are a President for life and a powerful central church based out of Colorado Springs. Got it?
The story is told by Adam Hazzard, a budding writer and childhood friend of the title character, Julian Comstock. Comstock is the nephew of the President and is in voluntary exile since his family fears the jealous whims of the executive. They're living in a farming town in Saskatchewan when an attempt is made to draft Comstock, certainly in order to martyr him. The boys escape and the adventure is on.
This is a very well written and fun book. The world-building is satisfying and the story is quite unpredictable. There is very much a civil war era feel, even though the battle grounds along the St Lawrence seaway shift the setting considerably.
And did I mention that it's fun? One of the stops is in Montreal where Hazzard falls for a local girl. Small portions of the book are French quotations from her. No attempt is made to translate and the misunderstanding is delightful. The same thing is true for a captured letter that is written in Dutch. In fact, the book has a delightful number of easter eggs that the reader can tease out.
I had one small problem with the continuity, in that much of the knowledge gained since the 19th century seemed to be lost. I suppose there is some over-arching theory of church suppression but that doesn't make sense with such obviously useful things like medicine or battle technique. But I'm sure that was put in place to keep the transition to a 19th century feel.
'Julian Comstock' isn't a literary wonder. But it is a fun read, well written. And that's a good thing all on its own. I doubt that it will win the Hugo but it certainly does the shortlist no shame. I look forward to reading more from Wilson.
Monday, June 28, 2010
At 10 p.m. on the northwest horizon, you will see the stars Castor and
Pollux, the heads of the Gemini twins. Comet McNaught (C/2009 R1) should be
swooping in from the north and above Castor, at magnitude 4.7. While that is
only as bright as the stars in the handle of the Little Dipper, the comet's tail
will give it away in a pair of binoculars, if not to the unaided eye.
Related picture here.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Two difficulties for my future plans. These 14 mainly fall into two categories. Either 1) they were built in the country where there is lots of space or 2) they were the result of death bed promises by Catholics. Neither one works for me. Yet. (As a side note, apparently Spain is unable to stop building construction that was promised on a death bed.)
Take a look through the list again. There is a certain beauty to some of the buildings. A grandeur sometimes. Each one certainly speaks to something in the human soul and the desire to create something everlasting. Were the builders crazy? Sometimes, maybe, but they also had a certain poetry that I think we should admire.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
'Shrek' now joins a growing list of post-modern fairy tales in our house. We have:
- A book that tells what happened to the three little bears after Goldilocks visits them.
- Another book that tells the big bad wolf's side of the story when it comes to the three little pigs.
- The Stinky Cheese man, who replaces the more traditional gingerbread one.
Is that weird?
Friday, June 25, 2010
Relia: Felix will be a baby elephant. I'll be a big sister elephant. (Pause.) And momma, you can be a momma elephant.
FP Gal: And daddy?
Relia: He'll be a tiger. Rawr! (Pause.) Or he could be a daddy elephant!
You know what? I'm glad we have better technology now.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
The sticking point is the players. Two extra meaningful games means more chance for injury. It also means that their per game pay will be reduced. The pay thing is probably the bigger thing but everyone hopes that more season games means bigger TV contracts and bigger paychecks for players. This doesn't seem insurmountable.
At first I loved this idea. Four preseason games produce about six quarters of real(ish) football. Going to two games would still bring about the same amount of watchable action. And two more football Sundays? Yes, please. But I've got some objections . . .
- The NFL has worked hard to not have games on Labor Day weekend. In theory this could shift the first preseason game two weeks later and end the season in mid-January. That would put the Super Bowl into the middle of February. Of course they could do the sensible thing and just move the opener up.
- We currently have a very balanced schedule with only two different games for each team within a division. Adding two more games would screw that up. This isn't that big of a deal but it's nice to be able to compare apples to apples so completely right now.
- And the biggest one, this will mean less drama. The NFL currently has a problem with meaningless games in the last week of a 16 game season. With two more weeks you'll find more teams eliminated with more weeks left to play. And of course the winning teams will have even longer to rest their starters. The Colts will have three empty games at the end rather than just two.
Hopefully I'm wrong about this because I really do think it's on the way.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Last Thursday there was an ugly, ugly looking storm cell that approached. The wind was strong and the air had that particular tightness that it gets when big weather is a comin'. The sky turned yellow and I started wondering if I should move the bouncy seat into the basement. And then it went around us!
And maybe I shouldn't complain about that since the whole storm caused lots of damage and a few deaths. I'm really not looking for anything bad like that to happen. But I do want some thunder and lightning!
The heroine of 'Wake' is Caitlin, a teenage girl who is brilliant with math and totally blind. She is a whiz with her computer, navigating the web at a speed that tops the sighted. This girl is plugged in and hip. Her web handle is 'Calculass'.
She is contacted by a Japanese scientist that wants to try an experimental procedure with her. Her blindness is caused by a fault in her nervous system where the information is received by the eye but the data doesn't route correctly to her brain. He wants to install a chip that could fix this.
While this is happening a strange conciousness is awakening. Through fits and stops and painful bouts of self actualization this something is becoming aware. I'm going to spoil this for you and tell you that this strange thing is the entire internet! And, land sakes, the chip in Caitlin's eye helps her see this happening!
There are a couple of other sub-plots, one having to do with censorship in China and the other with a painting gibbon. Neither one is well resolved. Or all that interestingly presented.
I can't recommend this book. The writing was poor throughout. Caitlin was annoyingly precious. The 'awakening' process is not even a little bit believable. The writing, though light, conveyed very little story for it's length. On the plus side, it was a quick read so at least it was only a short pain.
I've heard it speculated that this book was popular amongst SF fans because many of them could put themselves into the place of the heroine. I don't know how true that is. This book is the first of a scheduled trilogy and I hope that the next two aren't nominated. In fact, if they are I'm going to skip them and just assume that they are at least as bad as this is.
Monday, June 21, 2010
- I want some kind standardized format. I want to be able to buy books from several different sources, not just one seller. This should make for more widespread value
- They need to hammer out ownership issues, much like the music industry is going through. Books, of course, are different than songs but many of the piracy issues are the same.
- The price needs to come down. History suggest that it will happen in time.
To be clear, I'd still get paper copies of some books. I'm happy with my complete Hugo collection. And eventually, with the help of used book stores, I'll have the complete Bookers. I love shopping actual shelves too much to give that up. But I'm starting to see a place for a different book strategy.
Even a few years ago my book buying habits were almost exclusively for old books. My reading tended towards reading and rereading. Now I'm more interested in the newer stuff. And new books (especially hardcovers) are pricey. An e-reader will cut down on the money.
As I said: hmmmmmm . . .
Sunday, June 20, 2010
The family got me a gift certificate for movies and the FP Gal agreed to let me have time to use it. Some people can't stand to go see movies on their own but it doesn't bother me. Now I just need the movie industry to make something that I want to see. (Which isn't completely true. Both 'Toy Story 3' and 'Iron Man 2' will be watched but I'm saving them to see with the FP Gal.) I'm sure something good will pop up.
Yikes! I just checked to see what movies are out right now and one of the theaters near us has a midnight showing of 'Knight and Day', the upcoming Cruise/Diaz movie. Are they seriously expecting such interest for that recycled piece of crap that they needed a midnight showing? Will they get even ten people? Color me skeptical.
As I said, the day was low key. I spent about two hours up on the third floor this afternoon. Watched some of the flop fest that was the Brazil/Ivory Coast game. Played some Adv Civ and did some reading. Which was a fine way to spend a couple of hours . . .
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Relia: I'm here to save the day!
Me: (smiling) Ok. And what are you going to save it from?
Relia: (pause) Sharks.
Me: That sounds like a good idea. You're going to keep them away from us?
Relia (long pause) I'll yell 'Stay away sharks!'.
Me: (laughing) Yep, that ought to do it.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Thursday, June 17, 2010
- I won't pretend to be a big soccer fan. But I enjoy this period every four years or so. Part of it is that I get into big international sporting events (like the Olympics). There is something to be said for the pageantry and passion that's involved. Especially since almost all the passion belongs to other countries and it's easy to just sit back and watch.
- The World Cup happens every four years and I think it's kind of a shame that it falls in the same year as the Winter Olympics. What if we hold the next one in 2013 and then every four years after that? That would give us one large event three out of every four years. And I'm open to suggestions on the other year too.
- There is literally one song in my music collection that ties into the World Cup. Live version of it here. Two things, 1) nobody writes 'wronged women music' better than Kristy MacColl and 2) if I'm ever crazy rich I will hire some Mexican brass to provide my own personal soundtrack and it will sound something like this.
- I think I've mentioned this before but I can really dig live sports early in the morning. If the MLS wants to start playing 6a games, I might become a fan.
- One of the real negatives to watching soccer in HD is that you can really see the flops. Absolute minimal contact provides seemingly fatal reactions. If you key a soccer players car, would it blow up?
- Vuvezuelas. Early runner for word of the year, yes? There is controversy over whether they should be banned from the stadiums or not. I say let them use them. But if they choose to do so, please never award South Africa with another large sporting event.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Yesterday I wrote about the book 'Palmipsest'. This video shows the a small section of the book, the description of the railway system. I think this is pretty well done.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Palimpsest is the name of a fantasy city. It's hard to reach and has some special rules for entry. One of them is that people enter in groups of four and are then mystically linked together. And how do they enter? Simple. You have sex with a previous visitor. You can find them because afterward a small portion of the city map will appear like a tattoo somewhere on your body. Which makes this sound tawdry, which is unfair to the book.
'Palimpsest' focuses on a quartet, none of whom intended to get sucked into this world. Each of them is driven to return again and again. There is Oleg, a lock-maker who is chasing the ghost of his dead sister, Ludovico who has lost his wife to the city, Sei, a young girl who is courted by the train system and November, a beekeeper who has been claimed by the bees of Palimpsest. They are strangers who span the world and are forced to try and find each other, each at a terrible cost.
This book was a little tough to get into. The imagery in the beginning is so rich that it's almost overpowering. It did begin to click though and became one of the strengths of the story. The city Palimpsest is eye-poppingly fantastic. Each bit of setting is more interesting than the last and it adds up to some serious impact.
I mentioned that each traveler is brought in through sex. This could easily become tawdry but for each of the four main characters this route leads to personal difficulty. Instead it becomes difficult and sometimes degrading. It's easy to see how a lesser writer would have gone in a different and ultimately less satisfying route.
This is a great book. I'm not a huge fan of fantasy writing and the early bits had me frightened. But as it caught hold I found myself working to find more and more time to read. I was sad when it ended (and I don't know a better compliment to give a book). Well worth reading.
Update: Cool weather is a pretty good excuse to snuggle under a blanket though.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Being a big football fan, I can tell you that we tried hard to make it down to Austin before kickoff so we could see them both. Didn't happen and I've probably told that story enough so I won't do it again. How weird that I can watch it some seven years later?
Good thing I didn't know it was on tonight and try to make it home early. Who knows what would have happened to this car?
Sunday, June 13, 2010
To my surprise, only ten (with an assist from Wikipedia):
- Heat and Dust (1975)
- Schindler's Ark [retitled 'Schindler's List'] (1982)
- Oscar and Lucinda (1988)
- Remains of the Day (1989)
- Possession (1990)
- The English Patient (1992)
- Last Orders (1996)
- Disgrace (1999)
- Life of Pi (2002), currently in production
- Vernon God Little (2003), currently in production
Saturday, June 12, 2010
It's been a good (and busy) five years. Actually, it's been great. Love you, FP Gal!
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Shpunt says he is a scientist and a healer, not a magician. His method could not guarantee the Dodgers would win, he says, but it could make a difference.For this very difficult job he was paid well, with a bonus of 'six figures or higher' depending on the team's success. It wasn't necessary for him to attend any games. He simply watched them from a Boston suburb and directed some king of energy. He said he couldn't win games but he could improve their chances by 10-15%. Over a full season that would be 16-24 games improvement. Which is a lot.
"Maybe it is just a little," he said. "Maybe it can help."
In the five years he worked for the Dodgers, he attended just one game. Instead, he watched them on television in his home more than 3,000 miles from Dodger Stadium, channeling his thoughts toward the team's success.
Hey, Kenny Williams, I'm available to send energy if you'd like. Heck, I'll even attend games if you think that'd help . . .
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Her face fell.
Being able to play with the several computers set up just for little kids was something of a saving grace. She was a little upset that the Barney game didn't seem to have any audio. (I was not.) The Dora game was a little better and she got something of a lesson on how the mouse directs the arrow on the screen.
Felix didn't care for the store at all. He started crying and wailing. The people near us were all either young and childless or old and childless. In any case, there were many dirty looks shot. Then the FP Gal took him and he calmed down. She has the distinct advantage of having his food supply right with her at all times.
Relia had a weird dynamic with me today. She actually refused to talk to me for some time. "I'm talking to momma!". Well, ok then. I didn't take it seriously of course. And it faded by supper time. But it was a brief window to that wondrous time when she'll be a teenager. All attitude and unexplained surliness. Fortunately she'll be the problem of the nuns at whatever convent we find for her at that critical time.
A recently discovered comet is surprising skywatchers by becoming brighter than predictions had first suggested and can now be seen with the unaided eye during the next few weeks. ... The comet is visible now for people with dark skies away from urban and suburban lighting. By mid-June it may be an easy skywatching target for most people. ... Comets are very unpredictable, but some astronomers say Comet McNaught might reach magnitude +2 by the end of June. If so, it won't rival the brightest stars in the sky, but it should be easy to spot and readily identifiable as a comet.
I'm trying to figure out if it will be bright enough to see from our house or not. If not I may need to figure a little trip to a nearby observatory. And I see a scheduled time on June 19th . . .
If you live near some dark skies and/or have a clear view to the east you might want to check this out. The first linked article has a pretty easy to use star map on it. Good comets don't come around very often.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
'The City & the City' starts with the dead body of a young woman. Inspector Borlu of the (fictional) city of Beszel has been called in to investigate. The problem is that he suspects that the victim isn't from Beszel but from the city of Ul Qoma (which is equally fictional). Which turns out to be a big problem.
You see Beszel and Ul Qoma are, well, not really neighboring cities. More like two cities on top of one another. They share the same geographic space but are utterly different. Residents of each are taught from a very young age to 'unsee' and 'unhear' anything and everything from the other. There are serious penalties for violations, including being taken by the mysterious members of Breach.
Borlu suspects that the young woman was killed in one city and dumped in the other, which makes it a matter more serious than simple murder. He must somehow find a way to investigate in the foreign and forbidden regions. But his way is blocked by powerful officials and the whole thing seems like a coverup for something big.
This is a very finely written book. An absolute pleasure to read. It combines the best of hard-boiled detective noir with a convincing eastern European location. The story slowly unravels its most interesting question: what is the nature of the two cities? But there is where the problem lies as well. If there is some mystical, fantastical reason for the Split then I could believe in this strange 'unseeing' existence from residents of both sides. But if it's merely convention that blinds and deafens them then the whole story falls apart. If it's the latter option then it loses any claim to being fantasy. All that's left is an unconvincing and unrealistic situation where whole populations act contrary to human nature. Which is kind of a big problem.
I liked it. Mostly it was great. In the end, I don't think that it quite satisfies the (incredibly loose) genre requirements and I couldn't vote for it to win the Hugo.
Monday, June 07, 2010
FP Gal: No, you have to eat with me in the kitchen.
FP Gal: Because this is where civilized people eat.
Relia: Are you cibilised?
FP Gal: Yes.
Relia: (pause) I'm not cibilised!
And I'm going to disagree with the FP Gal on this one. I'm certain that the Romans, Greeks and other honored civilizations would have eaten in front of the TV if they could. I suspect that their ancestors do today.
Sunday, June 06, 2010
Is that even a little bit believable? Is a quick call to Aunt May going to put the whole thing on the fritz? It's barely plausible when the airlines ask you to shut off all electronics. And this is a train propelled on a single rail!
So. Be careful when you're at the zoo. If you walk under the rail while talking on your phone you alone could be responsible for the worst zoological disaster in state history.
Remember: Wait for the call, don't cause a fall!
"Hello Comcast? I have too many dollars and I want to scrape them up."
This is pretty much the dream call for any call-center worker. There wasn't any real context to this conversation but the FP Gal tells me that Relia has been calling the empty diaper box 'her Comcast' for some time now.
The mind boggles.
I've written and complained quite a bit about the bedtime fights. There have been two related problems, the length of time and the emotional intensity of the fighting. An hour or so of screaming is dreadful. Especially when it's night after night.
But [knock on wood], the fights have been gradually getting shorter and less intense. A couple of times this week there was no fight at all. And sometimes bedtime has only taken an hour. Even if she had a regular nap that day!
What a difference!
Not sure if she has learned that testing us here doesn't work. Not sure if she's finally comfortable in the routine. Or maybe she's just under the weather and next week will be back to hell. But for the time being, it has been very nice. For what it's worth, we're leaning towards growing maturity.
Thursday, June 03, 2010
Holy cats, do I need this bumper sticker!
I don't understand why some people resist using their turn signals. Sometimes I think it's a power thing. Which is stupid. You're not losing power to me if I can tell which way you're going to turn. Really. Your power levels remain at the same point they were previously.
Lately I've been seeing a new variant of signal stupidity. The driver will pull up to a red light and stop there without a signal. As soon as they get a green, they turn on the left blinker and go.
Look, when you're on the road, other drivers try to figure out what you're doing. Anything that makes that harder is a bad thing. Get it together!
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
'Boneshaker' is a steam punk novel that takes place in 19th century Seattle and involves fighting with zombies. If that description sounds good to you then you'd probably like it. Otherwise . . . And it really is that simple.