Book Review: Hurricane Fever by Tobias S. Buckell

Update 7/17 16:21 to add disclosure: I received my ARC copy of this book via a reviewer giveaway from the author’s blog. I had to request the copy.

Note: this review is spoiler-free.

Tobias Buckell writes very smart people-centric speculative fiction. When I was reading the ARC of his latest novel Hurricane Fever, I realized he has quietly become one of my five favorite authors.

Hurricane Fever

One of the reasons is how he writes in a style I’ll just have to call “Flow” for lack of a more precise term. From the non-typical (and welcome) way Buckell deals with writing dialect to his pacing, his stories move smoothly from introduction to crises to resolution. You cover a lot of ground, but it doesn’t feel like it, much like a ramble through the countryside. Hurricane Rising is no exception. Even as the tension and the stakes crank up, the book is a relaxing read. Even if you haven’t read the first book in the series, Arctic Rising, you should be able to drop right in without feeling like you’ve missed anything. (I can’t promise that you will still feel that way when you get to the end; if you feel the need to run right out to the library or to a bookstore, or at least make a big order on Amazon, you’re in good company.)

Another reason is how his stories deal with big ideas of world-shaping significance. Hurricane Rising is a near-future espionage thriller that rivals the scope of a Bond story, with a world-threatening plan that would make Fleming green with envy. In most books, the writer would try to give us hints that Something Big was coming; Buckell makes us care about the people and reels us in from there. The protagonist, Prudence “Roo” Jones, is a retired Caribbean intelligence agent who is just trying to raise the nephew who is all the family he has left. Roo is drawn out of his life onboard a catamaran into the unfolding geopolitical events because he is driven by bonds of family and friendship, not for the sake of power or adrenaline or some abstract duty.

Tobias Buckell writes very smart SF

Probably the biggest reason, though, is that Buckell’s version of smart isn’t intimidating like so much SF can be if you don’t know as much as the author. Rather, his writing is inviting and comfortable. If you know as little about the Caribbean islands as I do, this may be the book that will lead you to your atlas or tablet so you can look up the geography Buckell so lovingly introduces us to. Roo lives just around the corner of tomorrow where the consequences of our bad decisions have come home to roost; climate change has remapped our coastlines, tweaked the balances of power and resources, and altered the patterns of weather. There is a lot of thoughtful worldbuilding that has gone on behind the scenes, but Buckell is comfortable enough in his skill as a storyteller to let it slip in hints and dashes – a master chef deftly and subtly spicing the meal he is preparing. There are no infodumps, no expository lumps, and no detours through backwaters whose only purpose is to show off a feature of the world that would otherwise lay untouched by the plot. I felt like Buckell had made a pact with me: he would stay on task of telling a compelling story, and I would bring my reader A-game and imagination to come play for a while.

We in the Seattle area will host Buckell at University Bookstore on July 28th, one of just five appearances in the Hurricane Rising West Coast Book Tour. I’ll be taking the opportunity to fill in some of the gaps in my library. Hope to see you there!

Local Date Night, @SoundersFC edition

This last year Stephanie helped me become something I never thought I could be: a soccer fan.

Wait, let me rephrase. She got me interested in football. Although soccer is the original and correct name, most of the rest of the world just knows it as football (or futbol if you are from a country whose primary language is a Romance language). It’s only here in North America where we refer to gridiron football as just football.

At any rate, Steph used to play as a goalie when she was growing up and has retained a love of the sport. She used to follow the Seattle Sounders FC matches via Twitter until we moved last fall and got hooked back up to Comcast as our Internet provider. While our package doesn’t include access to ESPN and ESPN2 (where MLS broadcasts national games), it does include JoeTV and Q13 Fox, the local Seattle channels that carry Sounders games when they aren’t being nationally televised. (As an aside, remind me to rant about the stupidity that the FCC permits some other time.) So this year, I got things set up so Steph can watch the Sounders games, and inevitably started sitting next to her with my Surface on my lap while she watched. Then I started asking questions. Then I started recognizing players. Then I started figuring out what the hell was going on. Really, in about three games, I understood 95% of the rules – more than I understand to this day of American football.

At that point, Sounders games became time to spend together. I’d already gotten Steph a Sounder shirt; she got me one, and got us both scarves. And then the World Cup happened. HOLY CRAP people, with all the games being televised over ESPN3/Watch ESPN, and viewable within the ESPN app on our Xbox 360, it was easy to keep games on all through the month of world soccer awesomeness. With two of the familiar Sounders faces on the US Men’s National team, it was natural to watch and cheer them on. Even when they were eliminated by Belgium in the Round of 16, I was invested in the final results. In between the World Cup games, the Sounders had moved into the US Open Cup season, so I streamed those from my Surface to our TV (thanks to the HDMI plug and the Sounder website streaming video). I had become a football fan.

Today, we watched the final struggle of Germany vs. Argentina, then tried to figure out what our options were for watching the Seattle vs. Portland game (broadcast on ESPN2). Steph finally remembered that a local pizza joint, Sahara Pizza, had advertised that they were showing all of the World Cup games. They have gluten-free and dairy-free options on their menu, so Steph called them up to see if they would be showing the Sounders game tonight. They said yes…so we had ourselves a date night.

Here we are, dressed up in our Sounders shirts, practicing for our big day next weekend when we go see the Sounders live in their exhibition game vs. Tottenham.

WP_20140713_20_23_59_Pro

My name is Devin L. Ganger, and I am a football fan.

Getaway

We’ve lived in Monroe for over 13 years. In that time, we’ve not taken advantage of many of the opportunities available in this area to get out and see the amazing beauty of the Puget Sound region. Late last summer, we finally started correcting that with hikes and drives to various attractions. Stephanie and I are also closing in on our 15th anniversary, and it’s been a while since we’ve had a getaway for just the two of us that didn’t also serve some other purpose (such as her heading to Las Vegas with me for Exchange Connections); it was time to correct this. This weekend, I combined those two imperatives and planned a Friday night overnight to Whidbey Island, as a slightly-belated celebration of Steph’s birthday.

Whidbey Island

The first thing I did was do a little research to locate a candidate list of reasonable bed and breakfasts for us to stay at. Steph had never before been to one and, frankly, hotels are boring. Ideally, I wanted one that was based out of a Victorian house, since Steph loves them. Potential bed & breakfasts of course would have to be able to handle the no-dairy/no-gluten restrictions. I really wanted to find one on Whidbey Island, which is close off-shore in the Sound, separated from Fidalgo Island by Deception Pass.

Why did I want to go to Whidbey Island for our overnight?

  • Islands are picturesque as hell. On the right island, you’re always close to the water, which I love.
  • We’d only been there once previously, during a quick drive-around last September when we got our new car.
  • Whidbey is one of the bigger islands in the Sound. It hosts several towns and has a high enough population to still offer some great experiences even during the depths of the off-season.
  • You can drive to it (by the bridge to Fidalgo Island, then by the bridge over Deception Pass to the north end of the island) or take the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry at the south end of the island. Transportation flexibility in winter months is a good thing.
  • Our most direct route to Whidbey Island is the ferry route, which runs every half-hour and is a short 20 minute ride. This helps achieve Steph’s goal of riding every ferry route in the Sound at least once. It also indulges my love of being out on the water.

Once I had a couple of candidates and knew what their check-in times were, I could work backwards for travel times and ferry crossings and determine the window of time in which we’d need to leave. This gave me the all-important time: my cut-off for the work day. Armed with this time, I set up an out-of-office calendar appointment and clearly communicated with my co-workers and clients that I had a hard stop at 3pm. As I set up each part of the weekend reservations, I sent Steph appropriate meeting requests in our shared Outlook/Exchange calendar. This let her know what my plans were and gave her the links and information she’d need to poke around and do her own reading. It seemed to work, because I quickly got acceptance notices and by Wednesday, Steph was practically bouncing off the walls in anticipation!

Whidbey-Island-Map

Whidbey Island (from the Whidbey Island Visitors Guide website)

Once Friday came, Steph was obviously eager to be off on our adventure. I think she was packed to go by 10am. At any rate, I was promptly done with work by 3pm, took a few minutes to pack, and we were out the door by 3:45pm as I’d planned. We took a quick detour to run a necessary errand, then headed for the Mukilteo ferry terminal. We arrived in time to queue up and watch (but not participate in) the loading of the 5pm ferry crossing as the sun set; it would be our turn in 30 minutes. The ride across the Sound was quick and cold in the gloaming, and we made our way north up the island until arriving at Coupeville.

The Blue Goose Inn

After doing some homework and reading reviews, it became clear that my #1 choice was going to be The Blue Goose Inn in Coupeville, overlooking Penn Cove in central Whidbey Island. Proprietors Sue and Marty McDaniel offer a fantastic getaway experience out of two lovely restored Victorian historical homes, and during a good portion of the year also operate a pub on-premises (sadly, it was closed during our visit). When I called to inquire, Sue assured me that the dietary restrictions would be no problem. A few minutes later, I had chosen the Captain’s Suite because of the king-size bed, the soaking tub, and the view of Penn Cove; we had our reservation!

steph_and_the_blue_goose

Stephanie in front of The Blue Goose Inn in Coupeville, WA

Even though we arrived after sunset, Stephanie could see enough details that she was delighted by the choice. As we walked in the front door and were greeted by Sue and Marty, we immediately felt welcome. As I’d taken care of payment over the phone when I made the reservations, there was no paperwork to take care of; we chatted for a few minutes, they approved of my choice of venue for dinner, gave us our room key to the Captain’s Suite in the Coupe House, explained the accommodations that were available besides our room, and sent us on our way. We were not disappointed; the room was lovely and tastefully appointed with beautiful and functional furniture. In many older homes, drafts can be a problem, especially on a cold, windy night; this was not a problem here! The room was comfortable without being stuffy or unpleasant. We quickly unpacked, rested for a bit, and prepared for dinner.

Once we’d returned from a fabulous dinner, we again relaxed and settled in for the evening. Other than our Windows phones, we didn’t crack open any computers, so I don’t know how the complimentary Wi-Fi access was. We can both report, however, that the soaking tub was every bit as luxurious as it was claimed. The king bed (which towered off the ground) was one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in away from home.

Viva Whidbey Island

Looking NNW over Penn Cove from the Captain’s Suite

In the morning, we woke up, brewed tea (for her) and coffee (for me, which is not my normal morning habit), got ready, and packed. As promised, the view of Penn Cove was beautiful and not marred at all by the brief but vigorous attack of hail and rain we enjoyed. Just before 9am, we placed our bags in our car and headed back into the main house for breakfast, where Marty greeted us by name and showed us to our place in the dining room with the rest of the guests. What a treat!

  • Tea and coffee were on offer and Marty was quick to refill any cups that looked like they were thinking about becoming empty.
  • The first course was a green mango fool. Now, I’m not a mango person…or at least, I didn’t think I was. I had a tiny bite of this and it was quite simply divine. I would have promptly devoured my whole serving, but I wasn’t quite awake yet and the morning’s cup of coffee kept me from being hungry yet. Stephanie also got to enjoy this, minus the cream.
  • Our next course was buttermilk scones with currants. Again, these were very tasty, and again, my stomach wasn’t quite open for business yet. Sue made sure that Steph was supplied with gluten/dairy-free banana muffins, which Steph devoured.
  • The final course was a three-cheese omelet and a serving of oven-roasted seasoned Yukon Gold potatoes; Steph got scrambled eggs. Now, Steph’s not a scrambled egg person, but you’d never have known that — just as you’d never have known that I never eat breakfast potatoes unless they’re hash browns. The eggs came in separate porcelain oval bowls that kept them hot and tasty.

We lingered over our breakfast until the other guests left. At that point, we chatted a few minutes more with Marty (and said goodbye to Sue when she stuck her head out of the kitchen). After purchasing a Blue Goose Inn mug for me, we promised we’d be back during pub season, then hit the road back to the ferry terminal and points east. We had to head home, unpack, relax, and get the family ready for the afternoon’s plans: a visit to the Seattle Art Museum.

Christopher’s at Whidbey

Since Friday evening dinner wasn’t provided by The Blue Goose, this was the other major logistical challenge I faced in my planning. Dining is now much more exciting than it was back when I was the pickiest eater in the family, and it can be a significant source of stress for Steph. This was supposed to be a relaxing night away and I didn’t want her to have to worry about anything. Was I up to the task? As I said before, one of the reasons I chose Whidbey Island is that there are several towns on the island. Even if I couldn’t find anything near our lodgings, I was confident I’d be able to find a nice place for an intimate evening meal that could offer Steph not just one dinner option, but a choice of meals. They would also need to have food I’d eat — I still don’t like too much food with my food, if you know what I mean.

Coupeville turned out to be perfect because it’s also home to Christopher’s on Whidbey, a small and unassuming restaurant that boasts exquisite food and wine at amazingly affordable prices. During my planning, I’d called them up, explained our requirements, and in a few moments had an 8pm dinner reservation set up. They assured me that not only would Stephanie’s needs be taken care of, but that she would have a number of items to choose from. They asked me all the right questions to give me confidence that they actually did understand how to properly cook her meals without overlooking anything or putting her in danger of cross-contamination.

It was just a short drive from the Blue Goose to Christopher’s; if the weather had been better and we had still had light, we’d have walked the few blocks. When we arrived, the interior of the restaurant was well-lit, warm, and comfortably elegant without being pretentious or snobby. They greeted us by name, reassured me that they had Steph’s dietary restrictions on file, and showed us to a quiet table in the corner.

Pinot Blanc

Albrecht 2008 Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France

They had an interesting and eclectic wine selection, with offerings from a number of sources. Unlike many wine lists, they seemed to focus on offering affordable, enjoyable wines, mainly from local and regional wineries. Stephanie and I both favor white wines, and I noticed they offered a pinot blanc from Alsace. I’ve heard good things about Alsace wine but have never had it, so I enquired about it; apparently, this was a good thing, because this wine turned out to be a favorite of their wine expert. We ordered a bottle and found it to be delicate and satisfying both chilled and warm; it boasted a fantastic balance of dry vs. sweet with an unassuming and crisp fruity taste. A lot of whites taste like alcohol mixed with simple syrup; this one barely tasted like alcohol at all, and went well with both our dishes. While we waited for our entrees, Steph enjoyed a salad and I attacked a basket of bread with butter.

Stephanie chose the king salmon with raspberry barbeque sauce with greens and mixed vegetables. I went with something a little less adventuresome: linguine alfredo with chicken; in my defense, I don’t get cream-based sauces at home any more thanks to our Glorious New Dietary Regime. Our food was served rather quickly and was presented with a simple elegance that could easily have double the price tag in another establishment. I’ll let Stephanie speak for her meal if she chooses, but I will note that she told me at least once that she could eat it every day and be happy. My linguine was simply fantastic; the pasta was perfectly al dente, the sauce was light and creamy and in perfect proportion to enhance the pasta without smothering it, and the chicken was tender and full of flavor. It was easily the best pasta I’ve had in my life, and the entire meal rates up in my top three dining experiences. The service, of course, was quick, cheerful, and unassuming. We will happily come back and acquaint ourselves with the rest of the menu.

Picasso at the Seattle Art Museum

Upon arriving back at home around 12:30pm on Saturday, we unpacked, grabbed an informal lunch with the family, and planned out the rest of the day. For Christmas, the kids had purchased Stephanie a family membership in the Seattle Art Museum, in part so we could all head to the Picasso exhibit they have running through January 17. We had our tickets to get into the Picasso exhibit for 5pm, and with the Seahawks kicking off in Seattle at 1:30pm, we decided to wait for traffic to die down and head into town later in the afternoon. That gave us time to locate several alternatives for dinner after we’d been to the museum.

Once we got into Seattle and were parked at the garage underneath the SAM — a much trickier proposition now that we have a Ford Freestyle — we went up to Member Services and got our temporary membership cards. At that point, we had about 75 minutes to fill before we could enter the Picasso exhibit. We therefore broke up into groups and wandered around the museum’s various levels. Much of what I saw made little impression on me; a few of the pieces provoked a strong response (usually strong incredulity). I very much enjoyed the European and Italian galleries; in particular, they had a recreation of an Italian room, full of dark carved wood, that I found particularly intriguing.

Soon enough, 5pm approached and we queued up to enter the Picasso exhibit. I’m afraid I’m the wrong person to comment on it — I find most of Picasso’s work to be unapproachable. I tended to concentrate, instead, on the other people viewing the exhibit. There were a lot of very serious people there who apparently found all sorts of serious things to ponder. They were no fun. I liked watching the people who were totally blown away by what they were seeing; even if I didn’t share their reaction, I couldn’t help but be happy they were having a great time. These people invariably talked about how the art made them feel; the former types tended to pontificate on how it should make others feel and think. That’s an interesting lesson, don’t you think?

Once we had our fill of Picasso — or at least of walking around on the hard floors and dueling our way through the maddening crowds — we headed down to the waterfront to the Old Spaghetti Factory. I hadn’t dined here in many years — back when Stephanie and I were first married and I was working down on Pier 70. I’d really enjoyed it then and was looking forward to introducing my kids, especially because they offered gluten-free/dairy-free options. Instead, Stephanie and I found it to be one of the most disappointing dining experiences we’ve ever had. Maybe we were spoiled by still being on a high from the previous evening’s dining, but the restaurant felt crowded and dark, our table was noisy and drafty, and our server, while personable enough, couldn’t hit the right balance between competence and comedy. I can make better pasta than the half-hearted attempt I received. The best thing we can say is that Mom enjoyed it, as did the kids, although even the kids say that Steph would have made a better meal.

Wrapping Up

So, now it’s time for me to get off the computer and go spend the rest of the day with my family. I think we’ve got a board game or two on deck, maybe a family movie. Or, I could always pull out the copy of Enchanter’s Endgame that we’ve slowly been working through and read another chapter out loud. At any rate, we’ll have a good evening and get prepared to throw ourselves back into school, work, and life come Monday morning.

This is what I do for fun???

For the last three weeks, I’ve been on vacation.

Much of that vacation has consisted of quality Xbox 360 time, both by myself (Call of Duty: World at War for Christmas) and with Steph and Chris. (Alaric had a friend over today and we had a nice six-way Halo 3 match; the adults totally dominated the kids in team deathmatch, I might add.) However, I’d also slated doing some much-needed rebuilds on my network infrastructure here at home: migrating off of Exchange to a hosted email solution (still Exchange, just not a server *I* have to maintain), decommissioning old servers, renumbering my network, building a new firewall that can gracefully handle multiple Xbox 360s, building some new servers, and sorting through the tons of computer crap I have. All of this activity was aimed at reducing my footprint in the back room so we can unbury my desk and move Alaric’s turtle into the back room where she should have a quieter and warmer existence.

Yeah, well. Best laid plans. I’ve gotten a surprising amount of stuff done, even if I have taken over the dining room table for the week. (Gotta have room to sort out all that computer gear, y’know. Who knew I had that much cool stuff?) My progress, however, has slowed quite a bit the last couple of days as I ran into some unexpected network issues I had to work my butt off to resolve.

Except that now I think I just figured out the two causes. Combined, they made my “new” network totally unusable and masked each other in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. It was rather reminiscent, actually, of the MCM hands-on lab. I guess I’ve been practicing for my retest.

Ah, well. I still have one day of freedom left before I head back to work. I might actually be ready to go.

No, just the Doctor

After looking at a lot of options, Alaric has decided that he wants to be the ninth Doctor for Halloween. This is good for us — it’s a simple costume, in theory, especially since I’ve already got a sonic screwdriver prop I can lend him. The Ninth Doctor has very simple clothing, especially compared to some of the earlier versions, and beats trying to put together a “Vader’s Apprentice” or “Master Chief John 117″ costume. However, finding a suitable jacket for an affordable (I’m thinking $15-20 here) price is going to be the challenge.

Anyone out there got good ideas of how to get a suitably sized jacket (boy size 10; men’s small is too large) for the boy in time, in an affordable range? It doesn’t have to be an exact match.

Feel free to forward this plea for help on.

Bad Nick

Nick has done a very bad thing. He bought me Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for the Xbox 360 as a late birthday present. After the stress of this last week, studying for (and passing) the Microsoft 70-237 and 70-238 exams (two-thirds of the Microsoft Certified IT Professional – Enterprise Messaging certification; I passed 70-236, the third, back in March), this led to a couple of enjoyable hours getting to wander through some very lush Star Wars locales and wreak havoc with lightsaber and Force powers.


This may have de-throned Call of Duty 4 as my favorite Xbox game.

 

LJ random quote meme

One of my friends on LiveJournal posted a meme. Now, I’m normally not the kind to participate in various memes, but I like this one: go here and pick out five random quotes that somehow resonate with you (keep going until you find the right five), then post them. Here are mine:

  • If you want to catch something, running after it isn’t always the best way.
       Lois McMaster Bujold, “Borders of Infinity”, 1989
  • Avoid the crowd. Do your own thinking independently. Be the chess player, not the chess piece.
       Ralph Charell
  • Forgiveness does not always lead to a healed relationship. Some people are not capable of love, and it might be wise to let them go along with your anger. Wish them well, and let them go their way.
       Real Live Preacher, RealLivePreacher.com Weblog, July 7, 2003
  • Women and men have to fight together to change society – and both will benefit… Partnership, not dependence, is the real romance in marriage.
       Muriel Fox
  • Never tell evil of a man, if you do not know it for certainty, and if you know it for a certainty, then ask yourself, ‘Why should I tell it?’
       Johann K. Lavater

Your turn! I’m pondering whether I should tag anyone specifically; it only seems appropriate to do so as an appropriate evolution off of LJ. If I were to tag anyone, I’d tag Stephanie, Paul, and someone who claims to be not so clever (but lies).

Am I hot or not?

Stupid website, but it gives me a chance to taunt my co-worker Kevin. This morning I got a puzzled e-mail from him, asking me why this picture of me in Sydney from February (yes, that’s Sydney, Australia; we were there for training for work) was the most-viewed picture in his online galleries (warning, probably not a worksafe gallery). I have no clue, but I think it’s damned funny.


Kevin’s a hard-core picture nerd; he’s got a wireless card for his digital cameras that will automatically use any nearby open WiFi connection to upload pictures to his Web gallery. This means that on a trip he’s usually got pictures uploaded before he gets back to his hotel, let alone before he gets home. That’s pretty cool, even if (like me) you aren’t inclined to take gigabytes of pictures everywhere you go.

A reality show I’d watch

On a break this afternoon with co-workers Jon, Kevin, and Ryan, the idea for a new reality show was born. I hate “reality” TV — but I might watch this one.


It all started with Jon suggesting that it would probably be very entertaining to follow Wesley Snipes around prison, as he’d be likely to be jumping over tables and kicking drug dealers in the face. (“You’re Wesley Snipes! What are you doing here?” “I killed vampires.” “Cool!”) Kevin chimed in with the idea of just putting cameras in and making it a reality show. Jon suggested adding Jean-Claude Van Damme to the mix. Ryan suggested that Christopher Walken needed to be in there somewhere, so I had to point out that he’d of course be the prison warden.


I also suggested that the show start immediately and run until December, just to give everyone an alternative to election nonsense. Oh, yeah, we’d get John McCain to host it.


Jon, bless his heart, has the perfect title: Snipe Hunt.

Dear iPod

Dear iPod,


Over the years that I’ve had you (as your second owner), we’ve had our rocky times. You’ve worked well with both my Windows and Mac workstations — that’s a plus. Your battery life is damn near useless (and I understand that’s not really your fault), but with the appropriate adapter therapy we’ve been able to work around that. I hardly ever use you with headphones, but that iTrip is a righteous score that allows you to rock the car, the house, and any other FM radio within distance. True, you’re only a 3G classic model, but you’ve got 40GB and I’ve never even come close to running you out of space. All in all, we’ve been good for each other. Today, however, was something entirely different.


I now, of course, realize that you picking Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life when I was driving home through Woodinville was really a message. But I didn’t get that message until after we got on to 522 through the funeral procession and slowly drove by the column of funeral-goers. Just as we drew even with the hearse, you switched to Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping. Specifically, you blared the following line out the open windows:


I get knocked down, but I get up again
You’re never going to keep me down.


That, dear iPod? Total awesome.


I was thinking about getting a newer model, but now? Now we’ll see what we can do to replace that no-good battery of yours. You’ve still got years of life left in you with just a little TLC from me. You, iPod, rock.


Love,


Devin. 

Two minor things you may or may not know

For the record, Aly & AJ’s Potential Breakup Song is one hell of an earworm, but it sounds really good on my work desktop’s speaker/subwoofer. I’ve got it cranked up loud before anyone else gets here.

I have finally found out what is more annoying than getting your ass kicked online by a nine year-old kid — getting your ass kicked by an eighteen year-old girl who keeps giggling over voice chat every time she gets a kill. I mean, damn, girl’s got skills, but does she really have to be quite so vicious about it?

Gary Gygax, requiescat in pace

E. Gary Gygax died yesterday at the age of 69.


They say that anything you do more than once is tradition. I guess that mine is to offer the words written by Annie Lennox, Howard Shore and Fran Walsh, as sung by Annie Lennox, at the end of The Return of the King:


Lay down your sweet and weary head
Night is falling; you’ve come to journey’s end
Sleep now and dream of the ones who came before
They are calling from across the distant shore
Why do you weep? What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see all of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms, you’re only sleeping

What can you see on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea a pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home.

And all will turn to silver glass
A light on the water; all souls pass

Hope fades into the world of night
Through shadows falling out of memory and time
Don’t say “We have come now to the end”
White shores are calling; you and I will meet again
And you’ll be here in my arms, just sleeping

What can you see on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea a pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home.

And all will turn to silver glass
A light on the water; Grey ships pass into the West


As I have no words of my own, perhaps this image will do:


[A tribute to Gary Gygax: dice and candles, PNG, 640x480]
in 160×120
in 320×240
in 640×480
in 800×600
in 1024×768
in 1280×1024


Feel free to download and use it; just please don’t remove the copyright notice. Also, please feel free to share with others; please, though, just link them here instead of simply passing the files on. If you download it, I’d very much appreciate it if you’d leave me a quick comment.

Expanding Alaric’s world…and getting mine expanded in return

Recently, we decided to do something about a problem we’ve been noticing with our kids. While they’re both avid readers, they both tend to re-read the same books — tens of times serially if we’d let them. Alaric was not happy when we temporarily banned him from yet another end-to-end re-read of the Harry Potter series (by this point, he’s easily read them three times more than I have), and for a week or so has been ignoring the assigned reading we gave him off of our bookshelves. He was probably hoping we’d forget.


Well, he finally picked up the book we told him to read — Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Pretty soon, he was hooked (just like we told him he’d be). He even told me we were right, so let’s hear it for expanding horizons! If you haven’t read it, the book is about a future Earth that has been united only by the existence of aliens, insect-like beings colloquially called the Buggers. We’ve had two wars with them, both won only at great odds and narrow margins, and a third is inevitable. Earth’s military complex is so desperate for talented fleet commanders that they’ve set in place a process to detect, requisition, and train young children; an exceptional 8 year old will be taken into space to Battle School where he (or the occasional she) begins years of training. Ender, the main character, is younger than normal, but also more talented.


We knew that once he got started, he’d love it; the process of getting him to expand his horizons is sometimes a struggle, but usually worth the effort. However, in this case he returned the favor. If you’ve read the book, you know that one of the neat bits is the little quotes Card opens every chapter with. Many books do this, but in Ender’s Game the quotes are snippets of conversation between minor adult characters in the book. With one exception, all of the major characters in the book are children, so these snippets give Card a way to fill the reader in on the full political situation of which the children are ignorant. They are designed to be tantalizing at first, only fully coming into focus after the major plot points begin to be revealed, and it usually takes a re-read or two to be fully conversant with who is speaking in these conversations. Alaric, at first, thought that the Buggers were holding these conversations! He pretty quickly realized his error, but that really got me thinking about how cool it would have been if Card had pulled something like that off…


…and now I’m wondering if I can work that idea into any of my stories. Hmm.

Halo there, stranger!

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged much. There’s been a few reasons for that, but I just finished the lastest one last night. Yes, that’s right, our Christmas houseguest and I have been working back through Halo and Halo 2 in Cooperative mode in preparation for Halo 3. Last night, Chris and I finished Halo 3.


WOW! Awesome game, great storyline. Anyone who says otherwise will be promptly ignored.

Games in the key of X

Thanks to the miracle of Cragslist, I have an Xbox. Not an Xbox 360 — that’s the plan for the family Christmas gift — but a regular Xbox, which is still more than enough to play all sorts of cool games I haven’t played yet.


For $65, I got the following: Xbox console, A/V and power cables, two small Xbox controllers,  and nine games:



  • 4×4 Evo 2 (4×4 racing) — haven’t played this one yet.

  • Amped (freestyle snowboarding) — haven’t played this one yet.

  • Colin McRae Rally 04 (rally racing) — pretty fun.

  • Colin McRae Rally 2005 (more rally racing) — way fun, especially in 2-player mode, and they have the Ford Focus as one of the cars you can choose.

  • JSRF Jetset Radio Future (anime-ish RPG included with Sega GT 2002) — looks way damn weird, not sure I’ll EVER play this one.

  • Mercenaries (battle/first-person shooter?) — haven’t played this one yet.

  • Project Gotham Racing 2 (street racing) — jury’s out, we’ll have to see. It’s no Need For Speed: Most Wanted (NSFMW), though.

  • Sega GT 2002 (street racing) — again, I’ll have to get used to it. I really got used to how well the driving in NFSMW worked, so it’s hard to judge each game on its own merit.

  • Syberia (RPG) — a strange steampunkish RPG that Steph’s been wanting to have on the PC for a long time. This alone darn near made the whole purchase worth it.

  • Xbox Live Arcade (included in Project Gotham Racing 2) — you need an Xbox Live account for this one, but it gives you access to a bunch of different games, including some classic arcade games I grew up with.

  • X-men Legends (comic RPG) — haven’t played this one yet, though Alaric is dying to get his hands on it.

I’m thinking seriously about finding a copy of NFSMW for the Xbox. Obviously, I won’t be getting the Transformers game soon — it’s out for the Xbox 306 but not the classic Xbox (and is one of the reasons I want an Xbox 360).


So, for those of you out there who have an Xbox — is it worth getting an Xbox Live account? What about getting a wheel controller for driving games? Any games I should look at (other than Halo and Halo 2, which you can safely assume I’ll be picking up when I can)? 

Oh, yeah

For those of you keeping track, I’m 35 now. Yup, had my birthday Wednesday.


Going by a literal reading of the Bible, I’m half-way through my life span (“threescore and ten”). Going by modern numbers, I could in theory be only 1/3 of the way through my life. Going by actuarials….forget that. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. I should have been wiped out so many times already but here I am. I think I’ll follow Han Solo’s advice — never tell me the odds.


My birthday present to myself? I’m trying to buy an Xbox. Not an Xbox 360, just a regular Xbox. It’ll play the games I want to play right now, and I’m still planning on getting the family an Xbox 360 for Christmas, so the games I get between now and then will work on the family console. 

GENIUS!

Earlier tonight while reading my LiveJournal friends’ posts, I saw this video:

The Mean Kitty Song

This video has been cracking me up for hours now. I’ve watched it, like, a gazillion times, and I still am laughing my ass off. I’m also madly wanting a cat, but that’s partly Ryan’s fault, since he just got a new cat and we went over to his place to get his help with Steph’s car.

Can I have a cat? Me, Mr. Cat Person? Nooooooo. Landlord says “No can has cat.” Meh.

(Thanks to Elizabeth Bear for the link.) 

Recycling content: I don’t think I’d want to be a cave troll.

I was looking back through my LiveJournal and found this piece from 2004 Jun 30. For some reason it struck me, so first I’m going to repost the content here, then I’ll add my additional thoughts after.




Put on the extended version of Fellowship of the Ring tonight to help grease my mental wheels while catching up on the badly neglected Exchange Cookbook recipes I owe my co-workers. Noticed something this time and was finally able to put it into words.


The cave troll scene in Moria always makes me feel sad. He always strikes me as a picked-on, abused victim who finally finds someone he can thump on. Kinda like he’s the really big, but really slow, older brother of one of the cool orcs. Cool Orc doesn’t want brother to tag along, but some time ago, Momma Orc put her foot down, so Cool Orc and the gang are stuck with having to let him tag along. Over the years, they’ve gotten accustomed to the benefits of this arrangement: he’s big and, with the proper teasing, quite scary. He’s a great prop for terrorizing dwarves and holding up other gangs of orcs for their milk money.


Then Cool Orc and his gang — and poor cave troll — run into the Fellowship. Cool Orc and his cronies realize that they’re in over their head — hell, maybe Cool Orc is the one who takes Legolas’s first arrow in the throat. So the rest of the the gang is pissed about that, but also has lost all control over the cave troll, who sees Cool Orc gurgling in a pool of his own blood with a nice feather throat piercing compliments of the prettiest boy-elf this side of Valinor, and yeah — he’s pissed. Conflicted, but still, this is family, and you don’t let tragically hip elves in facepowder and down-to-his-ass hair kill family.


So of course he goes nuts, and yeah he tries to skewer Frodo. But still, he’s not on top of it all, and the orcs have left him to his fate pretty quickly, and it’s sad.


That’s all I’m saying. Maybe I should go to bed now.



For the most part, this is still an accurate description of my feelings when watching this scene. It occurs to me to wonder why, in a world that is clearly designed with Good and Evil — and in which orcs and and trolls are clearly Evil — I still identify with one of the bad guys, at least in this way. It’s easy to understand with Gollum/Smeagol — during the narrative, we clearly see the duality within him, presenting as it does a mirror for the struggle going on within Frodo — because he’s meant to generate at least some sense of compassion.


So am I projecting, here, when I watch this scene and see the cave troll, or am I seeing hints that Jackson & company put in? The animators and special-effects crew clearly put a lot of time in to creating the cave troll model; for them, he’s not just a clear-cut case of evil foil, an obstacle to be vanquished. They put hours and hours of sweat and tears into him, even as they knew that his fate was to die on-screen.


How often do we see cave trolls in our own life? Like that asshole in the BMW on I-405 today who came across three lanes of traffic to zip into my lane just in front of me when there really wasn’t enough space, when he had 15 carlengths behind me — clearly, he is Evil. Needs an axe to the head. But when I get frustrated in traffic, see an opening and go for it, I’m the noble hero of the piece, only taking that which is my due.


Maybe not. Maybe it’s just my turn to be the asshole.


 

Painfully shiny

While Steph and I were getting our Battlestar Galactica[1] fix last night, I did something I haven’t done since mid-December 1992: have a shoe-shine party. I’ve got four pairs of nice black shoes that were in various states of repair, but before we figured out which ones were worth keeping and which ones need a new home, they all needed polishing. I used to be pretty good at shining shoes. I still am, once I got back into it. The only problem is that my right shoulder and arm have been aching all day today because of the non-typical exercise. That wouldn’t be so bad, but work recently got a foosball table and the shoulder screwed up my game today. Not like my game needs the help; I pretty much suck.


The key to putting a good shine on a shoe? Don’t stint on the polish, use your fingers to apply it (wrap a cloth around them first, of course), and don’t use plain water when you go to buff the excess polish off. We always used Listerine. You can use other things, but the point is to use something that evaporates fairly quickly (which is what leaves a good shine) without evaporating so quickly that the polish develops cracks. Listerine is a good balance. I’ve still got the glass bottle I bought after getting out of boot camp; apparently, they don’t sell Listerine in glass bottles anymore.


The combined smell of shoe polish and Listerine really did a head trip on me. My dreams last night were far more nostalgic than I’m used to. I remembered a lot of stuff I thought I’d forgotten, or at least had forgotten to think about. As crummy as my life was back in those days, it wasn’t all bad; there were some good times, too. It’s nice to remember that every now and then. Life was not all bad before I got married.


[1] Insert obligatory “BSG is the best show on television!” plug here. I keep lending out my DVD boxed sets.

Spoiler ettiquette reminder

This isn’t aimed at anyone in particular whose blog I read, or who I know reads this blog, but more of a general comment prompted by the reaction of a friend who just received a huge Battlestar Galactica season 3 (the current season) spoiler on Digg:


If you’re talking about the current season of a TV show, or a recent book or movie, do NOT reveal plot points without providing adequate warning. Doing so can result in innocent readers having their enjoyment of said plot point diminished thanks to your moment of thoughtlessness.


I myself can be very easygoing about receiving spoilers — for most shows, movies, and books I just don’t care. (Harry Potter, for example, although I definitely in the minority on that one.) BSG, however, I care about. If I were my friend, I’d be livid right now.


If God is just, there is a special eternity of torment reserved for habitual spoilers.


 

Good-bye, Alias.

Steph and I finally watched the last of Alias – The Complete Fifth Season this week, thanks to Netflix. We really enjoyed the first two seasons, but season three felt like it started to go a bit downhill, and season four was a definite disappointment. After watching the season finale/cliffhanger for season four, I was loudly inclined to not bother watching any more. I only relented when I found out season five was the last season.


No spoilers, but I’ll say that season five turned out to be a redemption of the previous seasons. They brought in some neat new characters, as well as old home week for a bunch of cool characters that we hadn’t seen for a while. Without giving any spoilers away, the finale was pretty good. People tended to get what they deserved, in the end, and the people who met their downfall did so largely as a consequence of their own philosophies and actions. The fights were good, the tech was crazy, and they struck the right balance with the Rambaldi material (unlike earlier seasons when they’re practically chasing a new Rambaldi McGuffin every week, making it really hard to keep up.)


Character development was satisfying. Several key players finally come to terms with their flaws and nature, accepting the mistakes they’ve made and dropping pretenses of being anything different. The new agents Rachel (Rachel Nichols) and Tom (Balthazar Getty) inject a note of freshness, even while bringing the storyline full circle as Sydney moves into a less active role and more of a mentorship.


All in all, a very good show; it was worth the wait. 

Arvin Clone!!!

I’m down at the Seattle Convention Center today for day one of a four-day training conference I’m attending for work. One of the gentlemen in the registration line behind me looks just like Arvin Sloane (a character from the TV show Alias, for those who don’t get the name).


I’m keeping a close eye out now for weird artifacts, people in suits (they’d stick out here like a sore thumb), Jennifer Garner in a tight dress (probably won’t happen; there’s no nightclub), or the eye of Rambaldi. I’ll keep you posted. 

The Tenth Doctor

We recently finished up watching the 2006 season of Doctor Who. I walked into this season with a chip on my shoulder; Christopher Eccelston, the ninth Doctor, was in my mind the perfect Doctor and frankly I resented losing him after a single season. My first five minutes of “The Christmas Invasion” assured me that, whatever other mistakes the BBC was making, they weren’t trying to replace Christopher with a clone. David Tennant was definitely not a rehash of the Ninth Doctor, but I wasn’t sure that I like his incarnation.



After the final episode, I am man enough to admit: I was wrong. David Tennant is a damn fine Doctor. I honestly cannot choose between the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, and I’ll cheerfully watch further seasons with him.



Highllights of this season:


  • Some very nice uses of returning characters from the 2005 season.

  • Episode 3, “School Reunion”: the return of Sarah Jane Smith, one of the most beloved Companions of all time. Elisabeth Sladen reprises her role with a lot more grace, intelligence, and character than I remember her having in her time-hopping days. I always liked Sarah Jane (even if her first inclination was to scream), but both the character and the actress have clearly matured and grown. Mickey gets off one of the best shots against the Doctor: “Ho ho, mate! The missus and the ex. Welcome to every man’s worst nightmare!”

  • Bringing back the Cybermen…and how!

  • Torchwood and the continuing tie-ins with the Bad Wold theme of Season 1.

  • Revisiting Rose’s Dad…again, yet different.

  • Mickey finally comes into his own and discovers his center.

  • Best line of the season in the finale: “It’s like Stephen Hawking meets the Speaking Clock.” Again, uttered by Mickey.

  • Best exchange of the season, again in the finale: “Daleks have no concept of elegance!” “This is obvious.”

  • An ending that actually made me cry. I knew that Billie Piper was leaving the show, but they wrote Rose out with a bang.

Drive-by memeing

First, I would like it to be known that I am only doing this under protest. I don’t usually participate in blog memes, because most of them are damned silly. However, I got tagged on this one by Paul in what looks like a fairly typical spree of spreading the love, so I’ll go ahead and do it.


So here’s the meme, in Paul’s words:



The latest craze sweeping the series of tubes is “5 Things”, a sort of chain letter in which victims participants are supposed to list 5 things that others may not know about them, then pass the baton on to some other people.



And here are my responses:



  1. Those folks who read my professional blog (e)Mail Insecurity have already figured it out, but those of you here have probably not heard about it yet. This week, I got the official notice that I had been awarded the the 2007 Microsoft® Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award in the technical community of Microsoft Exchange. Basically, this means that Microsoft has noticed and appreciated the work I’ve done out in the real world (blogging, speaking, writing, spending time on mailing lists) helping people learn about and use Microsoft Exchange Server. It’s has some neat perqs that come with it, including a great network of other MVPs (many of whom I’ve already been blessed to work with over the years) and more direct access to the Exchange product group at Microsoft. Of all the things I’d envisioned for my five-year goals, this wasn’t one of them, and I’m truly blown away that I’ve been selected.

  2. Most of you know that my ambition is to be a full-time sf author and have many novels and story ideas in progress. Many of you know that I also enjoy singing and writing music, going so far as to dabble with guitar and keyboard. What almost none of you know (hush, Steph) is that I have the ambition to write and produce my own professional fully-sung Eucharist liturgy (a Christian Communion service, for those of you not up on high church terminology). I’d write it so that the congregation would definitely have parts that they’d join in, but there’d be four main celebrants (SATB, of course) with much harder parts to perform. In my perfect world, I’d be able to entice Jason Michael Carroll, Sting, Alison Krauss, and Sarah McLachlan into performing at the inaugural celebration of the liturgy.

  3. Taking a cue from Paul, I had my first paid computer job when I was 12. The secretary at the resort Dad was working at needed someone to do some data entry for her, as they’d just switched her IBM PC from one accounting package to another and she needed to get the accounts receivable data into the new software. IIRC, I was offered the princely (for the time) sum of $8 an hour. We estimated that it would take around 24 hours or so, so I was standing to make quite a decent chunk of change. The first morning, I went into the office, acquainted myself with PC-DOS for the first time, and spent the first four hours doing data entry. When lunch came around, I grabbed the manuals and read them while I ate. I noticed that the new package talked about being able to import data from a variety of programs (none of which was the old package) and formats, so I checked the manual for the old program. Sure enough, it could export to one of those same formats. I backed up the work I’d done so far and tried the export/import. Perfect! You’d think she would be happy, but no — she was quite upset that a 12-year-old had figured this out and somehow made her look bad. She paid me for one single hour of my time — since the actual export/import work had taken one hour and was in a separate data file from the one I’d spent the morning on, she claimed that it was the only work that counted — and that was that.

  4. While I grew up in Oregon and have spent the majority of my post-college years in Washington, I am not in fact a native Pacific Northwesterner. My family actually comes from back ’round Wisconsin and Michigan, and we moved out to Corvallis, OR when I was just 11 months old. The Pacific Northwest Native Advisory Board did, in fact, take this into consideration, decided that it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t get my parents to move out here before I was born (and in fact one member of the panel commended me for “extraordinary action in relocating his family while still shy of his first birthday”), and granted me PNW native status anyway. This is good, because if I didn’t have that status, I wouldn’t be able to gripe about the Californians as is the right of all native PNWers.

  5. During high school, I participated in an academic competition at our local community college. To fill out an empty time slot so I could take the entire day off, I picked the radio broadcasting competition, since when I was a young lad I used to spend hours in my room with cassette recorders pretending to be a DJ. The next year after the competition, I spoke to the college radio faculty director about doing a 15-minute radio show focused on events at the high school. Suddenly, I found myself gathering information for, recording, and producing a weekly radio show. The poor college DJ who had to run my piece before his own show quickly grew to hate me, as I pushed the envelope of what I could do by including clips of favorite pop songs and completely harshed the mellow of his own show (which was heavy metal, IIRC). I had the complete backing of the faculty director, though, so there wasn’t much he could do. My first year of college, I took radio as a pass/fail credit and continued harshing the mellows of the broadcasting program students; my format, right in the middle of a highly-desired timeslot, was an eclectic combination of news commentary, music selection and experimentation from all genres (there was literally nothing I wouldn’t play), and pure naked listener gratification. I must have been making someone happy, though it wasn’t the “serious” broadcasting students; I enjoyed a constant high level of feedback from the surrounding community. Again, that kept The Powers That Be from stepping in and messing with my groove.

I’ll just note here, for the record, that I’m only doing this because I already have a couple of things I wanted to blog about and I can twist this meme to my service. The fact that I’ve been needing to update here is just extra gravy. The fact that one of my other co-victims needs to actually fix his blog server before he can respond just makes me feel better about the whole thing.


And now on to my victims, which is the hard part. I’ve been seeing this meme running around the tubes for a while, so anyone who hasn’t already done it is either less connected than I am or just as likely as I am to say “Poppycock!” at the whole concept and just not participate. With that caveat in mind….


….I choose you, Alistair, AndrewBrian, Nick, and Steph (in alphabetical order so no ranking is implied).

Two new friends

My mother got me an Amazon gift certificate for my birthday back in September, and it wasn't until a couple of weeks ago I decided which books I wanted to purchase: Dzur by Steven Brust, and Hood: Book I of the King Raven Trilogy by Stephen Lawhead. My wife and have now both devoured these tasty additions to our household, and proper reviews will be forthcoming.

A Father and Daughter date

Hello, readers! Devin and Treanna here. We’re trying an experiment in which we attempt to co-write a blog post. So you can follow along at home, Devin will be posting in normal type, while Treanna posts in italics.


I’ll start. Or do you want to go first, T?


Yeah.


…okay, go for it.


I said, “You!”


Oh. My bad. iTunes is turned up a notch too loudly, I guess. Quit snickering, it’s unbecoming. So where do we start?


We start out with before we went to the theater.


Sounds good. Why don’t you continue?


We went to McDonald’s for lunch. We had chicken nuggets and water.


No fries?


Okay, we had fries. We ate them in the parking lot by the movie theater. We chatted while eating. We had two different kinds of sauces: BBQ and Sweet & Sour.


Tell them about the word games you were playing with “Sweet & Sour.”


Oh yeah! Okay. I called Sweet & Sour “Sweet & Four.”


I have a question. Why’d we go out to lunch and then to the theater?


Because, um…hmmm. Because we went on a father-and-daughter date!


A father-and-daughter date? What are those?


It’s a date where a daughter and her father go out and do something. It gives her more time to get used to the boys, so she can date them.


More specifically, it’s to give her a baseline of expected behavior for a date. Once she heads out on her own with her date, I want her to have high expectations on how she deserves to be treated. We don’t go nuts — this first one, for example, we didn’t bother to dress up in special clothes, and the cuisine was the lowest of the low — but I did little things for her, like ask her opinions on things, hold doors open for her, and give her a chance to practice her one-on-one social skills in a safe setting. I remember going on my first date — I was terrified, because I didn’t know what to expect. I only had all those bad ’80s movies to go by.


Really? Did you really have those ’80s movies? Tell me about them.


Well, as your mother would point out, they really suck. The boy and the girl get all dressed up and go out to a fancy restaurant . Since (usually) neither one of them were used to that kind of food or restaurant, they were uncomfortable with the menu, with the expectations of the setting. Add all the sexual tension into the mix, and it was a recipe for, well, extreme awkwardness.


Strange. Let’s get on with the story.


<chuckle> Okay. I’ll be sure to add a couple of the relevant movies to the Netflix queue in a couple of years, though, so you can see what I’m talking about. In the meantime, think about the date scene from the book of “A Walk to Remember.”


Ohhhh! Okay, where was I?


In the parking lot of the theater, in our car, scarfing down chicken nuggets and playing word games with your sauce.


Well, we finished. We went inside and bought our tickets.


What were we going to see?


Flicka. <woohoo!> Finding the movie was easy. It was right there just as we walked in; it was right in front. I got the seats and saved one for Daddy.


…I told you, it’s “Dad.” Not “Daddy,” not “Pops” or “Poppy.” Got it, kid?


Sorry! Okay. He went off to go get popcorn and pop. Then he came back and I went to the bathroom before the movie started.


My idea. I didn’t want her to have to miss part of the movie half-way through.


I came in just as the movie was about to start. The movie was AWESOME. Dad was really amazed by who played the father.


Tim McGraw. Actually, I’d been somewhat interested in seeing the movie, because I’ve never read the original book. Then I found out Tim McGraw was playing the dad, and suddenly I had attitude failure. It’s not that I dislike Tim McGraw, but he’s one of those country stars who currently can do no wrong and is constantly in the news. I’ve been Tim McGraw’d out…or thought I had.


The person who played the daughter…


Alison  Lohman


…was a really great actress. My favorite part in the movie was all the horse parts.


Raise your hands, everyone who is surprised by that.


Didn’t think so.


Dad! Mean Dad!


<smile>


We saw all the pictures at the end.


Yeah, that was pretty cool. As Tim’s song “My Little Girl” is playing over the end credits, they show a montage of photographs of young girls with horses. All sorts of girls — really young to young ladies in college, from all walks of life.


Even a baby.


Yup. They’re dressed in every getup imaginable, decades back through modern times. English, Western, high money, dirt-poor working ranch. And every single one of them are intent on their horses, even when they’re aware of the camera. They’re focused on the horse.


So we were about to go out when I saw the Dance Dance Revolution game, which I really like to play. And we played it.


Not that I wanted to. Can’t dance. Two left feet. Complete lack of coordination. Alas, I had precisely enough change left to feed the machine, and I couldn’t very well say “No” after being exposed to two hours of heart-melting father-daughter bonding, now could I?


You kicked my butt!


<smile> Can’t let you get completely spoiled, dear.


I told you I was going to win.


Shouldn’t brag.


Shucks.


So after a valuable life lesson was learned, and I was sure I wasn’t going to drop dead from my unwonted exertion, we piled in the car and came on home. It was a great afternoon, one that should inaugurate a new tradition.


You forgot that I got to sit in the front of the car.


So I did. I wasn’t about to have you thinking I was your hired driver.


Bye-bye, guys.


So that’s it?


Yes.


Right, then. Thanks for reading! 

A brief note on Dark Angel season 2

I’ve heard from a bunch of people that Dark Angel season 2 wasn’t worth watching. Well, it had its flaws — it was no Battlestar Galactica by any means — but Steph and I both enjoyed it immensely.


I think part of the reason people had problems with it is that it drastically shifted gears. Season 1 is all about Max, her life in Seattle, coming to terms with her past, and being on the run from (essentially) one man (who represents the Manticore Project as a whole). Season 2, on the other hand, changes all of that. Certain Big Things happen, and the rest of the season is spent exploring the consequences of those actions, both those Max has taken and those that were forced upon her. The Familiars plotline wasn’t quite as polished as it could have been — okay, it was downright hokey at times — but the rest of the season more than made up for it.


And for all that Normal was a pain in the ass, he completely redeems himself at the end. 

Random weirdness

I don’t do random lists of weird stuff nearly often enough. So, I thought I’d show you one funny picture and a bunch of videos from YouTube. Enjoy.

  • Steph says that the new Mac Pro looks like a shaver (see the picture next to the Get to know Mac Pro heading). Doesn’t that look like a Remington Microscreen? C’mon, you can admit it.
  • If you’re just seeing this for the first time, you don’t get out on the web much. (Hi, Mom!) Nevertheless, this little dance clip displays the kind of physical coordination I can only dream of. I can’t even manage Dance Dance Revolution without trying to break an ankle. Treadmills would eat my face. And then I’d have no face and a broken ankle, and wow, that would suck. And then these guys go and do the entire song in one shot. I hate them, the smug, coordinated dancing geniuses they are.
  • I’m not jealous of this guy. The squid and jellyfish might be, though; he makes them look like vertebrates. But over in this clip, we get to see the man who should be the Weird Al of dancing. He takes us on a journey through close to four decades of music (and dance) in less than six minutes.
  • I love living in the future! Smart robots! Dancing robots! Even scary robot cats!
  • And finally, the obsession of a cat named Gizmo. Dude. I bet their water district loves them. At least, they love Gizmo.

This time, it’s our *final* final mission…

I have no words. Just go to this site, pick your jaw off the ground, then hoist a cold one in memory of the once-interesting franchise. They’ve marketed and promoted all things Star Trek right into the ground — ridden it there on the flaming remains of Voyager and Enterprise.

This, however, made me laugh. A lot.

That would be why I love her

I’m still chuckling about the words that passed my wife’s lips fifteen minutes ago: “I try not to read books that encourage my homicidal tendencies.”

You see, I’ve finally gotten around to getting A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4) from the library and have just started in on it, after re-reading the first three volumes. Steph, on the other hand, read the first book and was thoroughly unimpressed. She said that by the time she was done, there were no characters in the book she liked. I can certainly understand why she feels that way.

Writing lesson for the day: I continue to be in awe of how George R. R. Martin can so thoroughly screw every single one of his characters over in such an impartial fashion, and in the process make you realize how much of your impression of a character is colored by the viewpoints you have of him, and how quickly that impression can change once you learn a few key facts. On my re-read, I watched carefully to see how he accomplished the redemption of one of the characters I most despised until the end of the third book. It was not as effortless as it appeared; he laid down a steady foundation for two books before dropping the final key scene that “suddenly” flipped my impression of this character. Had he not put in that time and effort (and made it look so effortless in the process), I’d not have reacted in the same way.

One more thought on Firefly

You may have noticed that I posted a disclaimer in the comment thread on my previous Firefly review stating that I would delete comments that were personal attacks. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a theoretical warning. I’d been given good advice — which I full intended to heed — that my comment was sufficient and that I should leave it alone. Unfortunately, here we are and it’s still upsetting me, so one last post to get it off my chest — and then I’ll do my best to avoid ever bringing up the entire sordid episode, or even mentioning Joss Whedon and his properties, ever again.

The biggest reason why I dislike Firefly and Serenity: because they have created a class of passionate fandom who are unwilling to accept “I don’t think I’ll like it” as a acceptable reason for not watching it, and who are willing to drop a friendship (to all appearances) when one finally does watch it and still not like it enough to proclaim that it’s the Greatest Show Evar(tm). It’s not like I couldn’t come up with a list of things I liked; they’re listed right there in black and white. It’s that the list of things that I didn’t like outweighed the things I did like.

A large part of that has to do with the writer. As I’ve been working on creating my own stories and novels, I’ve realized that almost all writers have their specific set of viewpoints and tools that they tend to use on every project they do. I’m not talking things like genre, point of view, and person; I’m talking more intangible qualities like how they approach storytelling, how they balance in-story reasons for why things happen with meta-reasons, and so on. There are damned few writers who can write two different projects so differently that they can’t be identified with a little bit of effort, even when they’re consciously trying to hide these clues. As it so happens, Joss Whedon — while a hella talented guy — is one of those writers whose intangible approaches to storytelling don’t mesh with mine very well. As a result, it’s damned near impossible for me to set aside my own headview, and I argue that it’s completely unrealistic to expect me to. I can’t be objective about these things; no one can.

It’s like trying to argue that two people should be compatible and fall in love madly when they haven’t. No matter how well they match on paper, there’s that intangible something we call “chemistry” that trumps all. After several dates, I’m not ashamed to admit that Firefly and I just don’t have that chemistry. The sin isn’t that I didn’t fall for the show; the sin would be in beating this dead horse any further.

Am I glad I watched it? Yup. It had some neat ideas that I wish had been developed more fully, and I really wish some other talent had been involved in developing those ideas. I had some ideas I didn’t think were so neat, but other people apparently did.

I feel like I got pushed into a corner with no way out except to lie. I gave the show an honest chance; it wasn’t my cuppa tea. Hey, I didn’t watch the pilot and then bag it — I watched all the episodes, I watched some of the extra footage, I watched some of the commentary. If it failed to enage me by that point, that’s life, move on.

I can’t imagine getting so wrapped up in a show — any show! (not even Battlestar Galactica) — that I’d buy hundreds of dollars worth of tickets out of my own pocket and stand in the lobby of the theater accosting random people begging them to see the movie. I can’t imagine getting so wrapped up in a show that if I was having a casual conversation with a stranger in a public space (like a bookstore) and end up yelling at them because they aren’t fans of my show. I’ve seen plenty of reports on the Web of the former; I’ve had the latter happen to me. I’ve read about plenty of other people getting strong-armed by self-identified Browncoats who use tactics that, if they were members of a church, would get that church slapped with harrassment suits faster than Danica Patrick’s driving. That accounts for the tone of my review; I’m still not sure that it was a good idea to spend so much time trying to find reasons to like a show that spawns wide-spread fan behavior that I find that personally repulsive.

I do know that no matter how genius the show might have been (if the chemistry had been there), it wouldn’t have been worth personally attacking someone I call a friend.

On the Care and Feeding of Browncoats (or, my reactions to the ouevre of Firefly)

Introduction


For a long time, I’ve actively avoided watching (or thinking about, or even listening to people talk about) a short-lived SF show by the name of Firefly. I had my reasons; they were good ones and I liked them fine. I had enough people, though, ask me what I thought about the series (and the follow-on feature film) that I finally told them my opinion.


This, it seems, wasn’t good enough. You see, unwashed heretic that I am, I hadn’t actually watched the series, so I had no right to have an opinion. Clearly, I was a mental defective who in an earlier, less enlightened age would have been quietly put out of my misery.


We apparently live in a more enlightened age, where the proper course of treatment is to nag the mental defectives until they agree to watch the series. Then they can be eased out of their defective state and retrained to be happy, healthy, members of society who can be counted upon to sing the virtues of the show at least every other post in their blog.


“Screw that,” I said. I saw no reason why I needed to subject myself to a show I didn’t want to watch. When sweet reason and polite discourse failed, I brought out my secret weapon — utter indifference and the ability to ignore things I find inconvenient. (Steph and I had a great time kvetching about the Rabid Vermin Fen who made this course of action necessary, though, so thank you all for the hours of ranting entertainment you’ve given us. Our vocabularies are much improved.)


Finally, though, the day came when I couldn’t dodge fast enough. Damn you, DVD boxed set. Damn you, writing deadline. And damn my habit of writing to the background noise of something in the DVD player. “At least,” I consoled myself, “I’ll be paying attention to the intricacies of e-mail discovery and compliance, and won’t have to really watch the thing.” I watched the pilot episode. Then, I watched the second episode. I watched them all, one by one. (Bet you thought I was going to say something stupid like “Two by two, hands of blue” — didn’t you?) I even put the movie in my Netflix queue. After some thought, I even moved it to the top from the #206 place of honor it occupied.


Now at last, I’ve seen the entire run of Firefly and Serenity. And now that I can sneer contemptuously at the charges of ignorance, I’m posting my reactions for all to see. Fate, thy name is Hatemail. As in, the hatemail I’m going to get as this review slowly gains readers as Google brings sweet unsuspecting Browncoats to my blog. Take that!


Note: my plan was to do the entire review as prose. That lasted as long as it took for Steph to look over my outline. “Why,” the strawberry tart who is also the love of my life said in her maddeningly intelligent fashion, “are you going to waste any more time on this project when your outline says it all?”
Damn me if the wench isn’t right. Here it is, then, in outline form. Love it or leave it, but either way, I’ve seen it and I didn’t much like it, nanner-nanner boo-boo.



Why I didn’t watch Firefly originally



  1. We don’t have cable or satellite.

  2. Based on Buffy and Angel, I think Joss Whedon is Teh Suck(tm). Okay, not really, but he writes stories that aren’t kinds I want to see. I happen to be a complete nut about Guinness, but I know plenty of fine people who prefer to drink other brands of beer.(1)

  3. I did a smallish bit of research on the concept and wasn’t that thrilled.

  4. I’m not a fan of the “tramp steamer” concept. This is also why the Traveler RPG never rang my bells.


Why I didn’t watch Firefly + Serenity



  1. The loads of shrill, obnoxious fans who couldn’t shut up about the big, bad eeeeevil network that killed The Best Show Evar(tm).

  2. My instinctive response to being told, “You have to watch it!” is to flip you the bird. No, I don’t.

  3. By the time Serenity came out, my lack of caring was a well-ingrained habit.

  4. Did I mention the fans? Granted, not everyone who talked to me about it was like that, but enough were that I was having White Wolf/In Nomine RPG flashbacks.


Why I finally watched Firefly



  1. Nick offered to let me borrow the boxed set over an extended period of time, allowing me to watch it at my own pace.

  2. Nick could explain why he liked it without feeling the need to assure me that of course I would therefore love it too.

  3. Nick was, in fact, completely open to the possibility that I might not only not think it was The Best Show Evar(tm), but that I mightjust think it was Teh Suck(tm).

  4. Thus, Nick could graciously accept my “I’ll watch the pilot; if I don’t like what I see there, I’m not wasting any more time.”(2)

  5. Nick and I both had projects to work on, we needed background noise, music wasn’t cutting it, and we didn’t have anything better to watch


Why I finally watched Serenity



  1. I wanted to see the movie that so many Rabid Vermin Fen(tm) proclaimed Teh Best Movie Evar!(tm). Any movie that gets people to kill those many electrons in the blogosphere and yet fails to turn into even the pretense of a commercial success is something to behold, if not for the reasons one might think.

  2. I wanted to see if Joss could actually manage to wrap up the storylines in a way that made the True Believers happy.

  3. I wanted to see if Joss had a horse in his string other than the “hawt teenage girl saves the universe from evil.”(4)

  4. use I knew I was going to write this review and wanted to head off all the angry accusation that I knew nothing because I hadn’t bothered to see the whole thing through to the bitter end.


Things I liked about Firefly



  1. A few of the characters — namely, the preacher, the companion, and Jayne.(5) Oh, yeah, Kaylee was there too, but I didn’t like her the way Nick did.

  2. The Reavers. Good times!

  3. I thought some of the storylines had potential, but I didn’t completely like the way they were handled.


Things I disliked about Firefly



  1. Inconsistent writing and characterization. Example: the origins episode and our first view of Kaylee. Sorry, that doesn’t seem consistent with her. She’d have exerted her whiles to get into geeking range of the hardware. Once she got in fondling range of the engines, pretty boy mechanic wouldn’t have been able to get her attention back. And Mal’s whole “let’s keep taking shots at Inara and Simon even after I’ve explicitly said they’re my people.”

  2. The inconsistency between the level of technology/hard science and the everyday details of the setting. There’s an unwritten correlation in SF that goes something like the lower the level of technology you have in your everyday life, the harder the science of the setting is. Firefly completely violates this, and in unpredictable and stomach-churning ways.

  3. That stupid-ass theme song. If it had just been an instrumental, it would have been fine. I love me my country music. The words were…well, they were whiny.

  4. Too many made-up swear words. There are plenty of good real ones to choose from that have lost their teeth these days.(6)

  5. The Chinese thing was cool, but I don’t speak it, and neither do the majority of the fans in North America. Some translated subtitles would have been nice, even if they were wildly inaccurate. It ended up feeling like an in-joke, which left me feeling like an outsider.

  6. That idiotic over-emphasis on the Western motif. In many cases, it actively hampered the storyline, Train Job being merely the most egregious example.

  7. The whole “River is this tortured soul who is chased by the entire Alliance” thing. “Two by two, hands of blue?” Here’s your thorazine drip, please shut up now crazy girl. Too much + too fast = complete loss of empathy for the character.(7)

  8. The whole “The Alliance is eeeeeevil because our characters think so” thing. For the most part, we saw the Alliance worlds being wealthy and healthy. The outer worlds were dirty and nasty, but the Alliance hadn’t been out there for very long and hadn’t had time to make a real difference even if they’d been trying. So how are we supposed to see if they’d been trying?

  9. Simon. Is. The. Stupidest. Damn. Person. Evar.

  10. Hey, Mal? Make up your mind already. Are you a good guy or a bad guy?

  11. The pacing was all wrong. Granted, Joss was hoping to get more than a handful of episodes out the door before the project was cancelled, but we didn’t really get any sense of character growth or even any traction on any of the mysteries of the characters. This, Joss, is why prudent young gentlemen don’t let it all ride on one number.

  12. Hey, Zoe, you’re married to Wash, not to Mal. You’re also not in the military anymore. Learn to lighten up a bit.


Things I liked about Serenity



  1. Music I could listen to without wanting to vomit.

  2. Joss had actually planted a couple of clues about the Reaver origins in the series. They were mostly in the pilot, but they were there. Kudos!

  3. The Reavers!

  4. I knew I didn’t have to sit through anything else in this universe once it was done.

  5. Kaylee finally gets her moment with Simon, even though I have to wonder about her taste in men. The last time we saw her having sex she at least got a job out of it.

  6. River was nuts, not because she was Fated to Save the World, but because she learned about a horrible tragedy she wasn’t supposed to know about. Oh, yeah, and having drills stuck in her brainpan once too often. That will do it too.

  7. The operative was cool. Another person who’d done his SF homework — swords are eminently practical in space, where bullets and holed hulls are not your friend.


Things I disliked about Serenity



  1. How to say this politely? Hmm…let’s try this. Joss, you bastard, you completely wasted the deaths of the preacher and Wash for no good reason.

  2. The pacing problems continued, albeit at the other end of the spectrum. I concede that this was probably an inevitable effect of going too slow in the series.

  3. Mal is now in the running with Simon for King of Stupid. It’s like this, Mal: you’re either still a soldier and an honorable guy or you’re a criminal who is lowlife scum. Either way you need to shoot the operative in the head after you’ve seen he has body armor. Make sure he’s dead!

  4. The Alliance execs who knew about the failed colony were desperate enough to go to very visible lengths to retrieve River, but were stupid enough to not have a screen of ships positioned to intercept ships actually going to said colony? I don’t buy it.

  5. Speaking of the Alliance, given the density of Reavers in that part of space, it should have been fairly easy to stand off from a long distance away and float in a mess of big-ass bombs disgused as ships or cargo pods. Now you have a lot fewer Reavers to worry about.(8)

  6. Mal’s had how many close scrapes and still hasn’t managed to jury-rig (or better yet, get Kaylee and Jayne to jury-rig) some sort of short-range weapon system for the Serenity by now? When ships are moving that fast through atmosphere that close together, a sudden load of junk coming undone can ruin the pursuer’s day.

  7. This movie had too much ground to cover the way it was framed. It either needed to be a standalone movie for people who had never seen the show, or it needed to be total fan service. I don’t think it did either adequately.(9)

  8. The fan interviews showed off a truly frightening level of ignorance. There were at least two instances where people were quoted as saying that no other show had been cancelled yet managed to get a feature movie made. Um, hello, WTF? Ever hear of this little project called Star Trek?(10)


Final thoughts



  • Devin sez: “I’ve now watched it and given you a lot of reasons why it wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m glad you liked it, but I didn’t. Please leave me alone now.”

  • Steph sez: “I’d rather rewatch The Chronicles of Riddick — and that’s not a slam on Chronicles because I liked that movie. The pacing was better.”

(1) I’m only saying that to be polite. They are offenses in the sight of God and will be shown the error of their ways, oh yes they will…
(2) Nick is actually really cool. I mean, Snakes on a Plane cool. He’s Good People(tm).(3)
(3) Even if he does need to fix his broken PHP: “Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /www/nickw.stormsim.com/geeklog-1.4.0sr2/public_html/lib-common.php on line 4768″
(4) Joss isn’t the only one who can do that whole Western thang.
(5) Steph thought Jayne was her favorite. This should tell you something about Steph.
(6) Steph sez: “Pardon me if I say ‘Poppycock!'”
(7) Granted, having drills stuck in your brainpan that often would be squickalicious, but still, quit whining about it after the first million times.
(8) This, possibly, is finally some of the missing evidence that the Alliance is not sweetness and light. Too little, too late.
(9) Then again, I’m not a fan, so what would I know?
(10) Oh, right, that one doesn’t count because its movie made money hand over fist and revitalized the franchise, far beyond the success of the original show.

Looking up

I had a pretty nice weekend than has gone a long way toward getting my attitude back close to being fit for human consumption.


On Saturday, despite the now-standard insomnia and sleeping in late, we got out of town up into the mountains to a party at a friend’s house. They’ve got a lovely place right out in the middle of nature, with a spectacular view of a particularly impressive bit of mountain (complete with a waterfall). I barely even touched a computer Saturday.


On Sunday, we slept in — we’d meant to get up and go to church, but we slept right through the alarm. Oops! However, I was able to get up and going and get a few writing odds and ends taken care of. The draft of Chapter 6 of my DCAR ebook — long overdue — is now in the hands of my editor. Yay! Plus, I watched Serenity, which completes my viewing of the Firefly material, and started getting some of my thoughts about that put down into a review. I have resigned myself to the fact that when I do get around to posting my review of the Firefly oeuvre, I’ll probably get more comments (and flames) on that one post than I will have on my combined two previous years’ worth of blogging.


Steph and I had a couple of productive chats last week on the novels I’m writing. I’ve figured out the resolution to a pretty complicated issue in The Next Day — basically, how it all works out — so I’m ready to get back to work on that. We also got some of the important character timeline work down for my Charism series, which moves me closer to being able to dig in on that.


As a bonus, the party Saturday seems to have knocked loose a song that’s running around in my head. This is good on two counts — first, it’s something I obviously need to write for me. Second, it’s going to be useful material for the first Charism novel, so that’s a bonus.


Thansk to all for supportive comments, prayers, etc.

Why the heck not?

Texas Holdem Poker

I have registered to play in the PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker!

This Online Poker Tournament is a No Limit Texas Holdem event exclusive to Bloggers.

Registration code: 5134341


All the cool kids are doing it. Now, if I could just figure out why the HTML is breaking and causing weird formatting issues with my template…

Words fail me

I’ve never been a big fan of the whole zombie genre. However, I’ve finally found a bit of zombie-themed entertainment that makes me giggle. A very talented musician by the name of Jonathan Coulton has taken the basic zombie concept, mixed it in with office meetings and lingo, and set the whole tasty thing to music: Re Your Brains.


You can listen to it only or download it for a dollar. While you’re at it, check out the rest of his songs. His white boy easy listening version of “Baby Got Back” is funnier than sin.


Also entertaining, yesterday I got what was quite possibly the funniest spam I’ve ever seen. Somebody out there is aggressively targetting geeks. It was your basic Viagra ad — a picture of a woman and a man obviously about to get intimate — but the tagline read, “Take the blue pill…and I’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Marketing male fertility by using Matrix references — genius! If only they weren’t spammers…

Upgrade woes and date night!

How wonderfully frustrating, in a minor way.

Last night, I upgraded from Community Server 1.1 to 2.0, which offers tons of new features, better performance, a hugely improved administrative interface, a better skinning model — in short, lots of crunchy goodness. Had a few minutes of panic trying to figure out why picture galleries weren’t showing pictures, but eventually got that sorted out and went to bed to sleep the sleep of the righteous.

Unfortunately, when I woke up this morning, what do I find but that there’s another problem? For some reason, CS isn’t properly converting paths like http://blogs.thecabal.org/blogs/devin into http://blogs.thecabal.org/blogs/devin/default.aspx — under the old one, the system knew that …/devin should become …/devin/ and then …/devin/default.aspx and show you the correct page. For some reason, 2.0 isn’t doing that. I’ve got a post in on Telligent’s forums, so we’ll see what happens.

In other news…

Alaric is going to spend the night at a friend’s after school, and Treanna will be visiting one of her friends until 8pm, so Steph and I have a period of time from 4pm to 8pm where we have no kids. Other than seeing a movie — since there’s nothing in the theater we just have to see at the cinema instead of waiting for Netflix — what should we go do? We’re trying to avoid anything that involves heading into downtown Seattle or farther down 405 than, say, Redmond, just to avoid Friday rush hour traffic. We’d like to have time to actually do something fun.

Mac Humor Break

Back last year, I got my first Mac. I’ve been using it for the better part of a year now and am pretty happy with it overall. I’m using Microsoft Entourage for my email/calendar software instead Apple’s mail and calendar software, since I need to interact with not one, not two, but three separate Exchange accounts and Entourage (unlike Outlook) lets you do this easily. It even helps you synchronize items between them, which is nice for creating a unified calendar and contact book that then neatly downloads to my Windows Mobile cellphone/PDA.

That’s not to say my Mac experience has been carefree. Oh, no; I’ve had my share of glitches and WTF? moments. Which is why I think this Switch-style video is absolutely hysterical. Unfortunately, you’ll pretty much need to view it from a Windows PC, unless someone out there can find the same video in a more platform-friendly fashion. It’s worth the time, though.

It’s funny because it’s true; it hurts because it’s true

Thanks to net.friend [info]larabeaton (from back in my rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan days, back when I still read Robert Jordan) I ran across this tender musical moment from Australian comedy group Tripod.


This one was funny because it was a bulls-eye; even though I don’t own a gaming console, I all too often find plenty of things to occupy my attention in the evenings. Steph is incredibly patient with me at those times. Of course, I don’t feel too bad, because she returns the favor plenty of times (if not as often as I do). If for no other reason, I’d feel less than charitably inclined towards Neopets and Puzzle Pirates, because of all the evenings they’ve tempted her into staying up late. At least I am doing serious stuff! real valuable work! like blogging, and reading blogs, and looking for new blogs to read.


What? Why are you looking at me like that?

Study monkey, but with good beer

I have to acquire some Microsoft certifications in a short amount of
time. Not a full MCSE, although that’s always been in the gameplan, but
at least one passed exam (and thus Microsoft Certified Professional
status) from a specific list of exams, Real Soon Now. And hey, if I’m
going to go into MCSE Study Monkey Mode (MSMM), I might as well do it
right and get my MCSE out of it, yes? Then I can worry about getting
some of the hard, security related certs.

So I’ve been cracking the books and taking practice exams. For the
most part, I know the material — if I didn’t have to worry about
finishing ebook chapters and developing talks for Exchange Connections,
I could easily have my MCSE within the next couple of months — I just
have to learn Microsoft-think. Most of my errors on my practice exams
so far have been because I haven’t acquired the particular mental
shorthand the tests expect you to have. Example: one of the Exchange
questions I hit asked you to select, from a list of tasks, the three
tasks you needed to complete to install Exchange in a certain scenario with the least amount of administrative effort.
It turns out the three tasks were all concerned with making sure the
account you were installing from had the proper permissions. I missed
one of those permissions because I selected the task where you ran two
particular pre-installation routines (Exchange admins know them as ForestPrep and DomainPrep).
I’ve been dealing with convoluted Exchange organizations for so long
now that manually running those steps has become second nature and I
just plain forgot that if you have the correct permissions on your
account, the Exchange installer will automatically perform those steps
for you when you install the first Exchange server. I missed two
questions because of that particular thinko. Le sigh.

It’s all good, though; I’m confident I’ll be able to get a decent
set of successful exams under my belt in the next couple of weeks and
be well on my way to my MCSE cert (seven exams required, with two more
if I want the messaging competency, which I do). And since we had to
run into Redmond today (I needed to swing by the office and grab some
software I need for a couple of current projects), we swung by the
British Pantry, a neat little shop that sells all sorts of great
British items including food and beverages. The Strongbow cider is hawesome (don’t know about hawesome yet? This blog entry from Nickerblog
should help), and even the Newcastle Brown Ale (which I bought on the
advice of a British gent who admitted it’s crap beer but spun a funny
enough story about it that I agreed with his conclusion that it was
worth trying at least once) was far tastier than American beer. (When
he said it was less than stellar beer, I replied that I was used to
that, being an American.) Clearly, I must tour the UK and sample their
beers when even their crap beers taste better than the horsepiss we’ve
got here.

Oh, for those who know, my homebrew experiment failed utterly, so
there will be no tasting parties in the near future. I’m not sure if
I’m going to sink another $65 into getting supplies for a second
attempt, so we’ll have to see what happens. There might be some
alternatives — or I could just drop the whole project altogether. I
need another vice at this point like I need another hole in my forehead.

Mileposts

Today was a day of mileposts.


It was my first working day of 2006. Because Paul and I got our various projects wrapped up before vacation, I went into the 3Sharp offices and spent a good part of my day doing something I’ve never done before — pack up my office. No, we’re not moving locations, and yes, I’m still with 3Sharp. However, we’re getting tight on office space and since my average in-office time over the last year has probably been close to one day a week, I realized it was going to be a lot less disruption if I offered to give up my nice one-person office and officially move everything to my home office. It made all sorts of sense, but I found myself feeling very uncomfortable getting the first couple of boxes packed up until I realized that my only previous experiences with packing up my office were at the end of a job, not switching locations while staying employed. Once I realized that, the rest of the packing went a lot more smoothly.


Today was also the day I won my first Texas Hold’em tournament. One of the local bars hosts a couple of freelocalpoker.com tournaments every Tuesday and a friend and I checked them out last November. Now that the anti-smoking law has kicked in here in Washington, I can go play without coming home reeking, so I showed up tonight for the 9:30 game. We had ten players — a smaller turnout than normal, even though the later game is usually a bit smaller than the 6:30 game — so we all crowded around a single table. Two hours later, I was the proud possessor of a $15 gift certificate for the bar. Not only that, I’d earned the bounty (extra points received for being the player to knock the previous winner out of the game). Unlike previous games (where I can remember all the hands I lost all too clearly) I don’t remember much; the only hand that really sticks out is the hand where another player and I both got a straight and split the pot. There are bits and pieces of the rest of the game, but I have no idea how I won. I do remember (if my math is correct) that I knocked out five people — I had a couple of hands near the end where two players had gone all-in, so when I won those hands, I knocked out two players at once.


Finally, today was Steph’s birthday. And now that she’s gotten her nose out of the new Honor Harrington book I got for Christmas, she gets the rest of my attention before sleep time.

Back

The title of this post is appropriate in at least three different ways:

  1. Sometime this afternoon, my servers got knocked offline thanks to a transient power glitch. Normally, this is fixed just by rebooting the servers in the correct order, but this time it was made much more difficult by the fact that I’m currently in Arizona. Mad props to Stephen and Sharon for letting me walk you through the necessary steps over the phone. The planned downtime in January to install the UPSs just got bumped to a higher priority; it might happen over New Year’s. Those of you whose websites are hosted on my servers may have noticed the outage. By now, however, you should notice no such outage — your sites are back. (As are our blogs. Man, I am such a junkie.)
  2. Like I said, I’m in Arizona. Today before my servers died, my dad took us out to see Faraway Ranch, located amidst the Chiricahua National Monument. I’ll do some more detailed writeups later — and we’ve got some nice pictures of some pretty stunning views. However, we made it back all safe and sound without any dehydration; thanks to Stephanie and Katherine for the awesome tour of the Faraway Ranch house.
  3. I switched the skin of my blog back to the faithful Iroha (Gunjoh) skin I’d been using for months. Mom decided the Black Sun skin was too grim and boring and threatened to stop reading my blog if I didn’t change it back. I don’t know about you, but I’d feel pretty darn pathetic if my mom stopped reading my blog now that she’s discovered it.

It is nice to be having weather in the 70s over Christmas, I have to say, even if the Arizona sun is even stronger and more painful to my eyes than Washington sun.

Ultimate Lego!

Oh. My. Stars. And. Bars.

Thanks to net.friend Mark (who goes by hasturcubed on LJ), I have now been made aware of the eBay auction for this one of a kind 8-foot long Lego Star Wars Rebel Cruiser.

drooooool…

It’s for a good cause, though, and the bidding is quite brisk, so I hope it helps Habitat for Humanity make a good Christmas for folks.

A Doctor Who HOWTO

Fellow blogger, GURPS author, and all-around good guy Jon Woodward has written the essential Filling In for Doctor Who HOWTO. Says Jon of his efforts:

Making Light has a link to an article with the above title. Which, unfortunately, does not appear to be about standing in for Doctor Who.

-I see a need. I will fill it:

Good stuff, go read it now.

(I don’t normally observe Halloween, but I couldn’t help commenting to a couple of folks this year that my outfit on 31 Oct was my Ninth Doctor costume. My leather jacket isn’t quite the U-boat captain look that the Ninth Doctor sported, but it was still close enough.

Feeding the monkey on my back

Every now and then, I look up from the keyboard and wonder why the heck I’m blogging. I’ve been blogging for work for 14 months, and I still don’t have any really good feel for how many readers I have. Some days, it feels like five or six.

Well, this morning I’m feeling pretty good about my blogging. When I do a review of a book on this blog or on my work blog
I make a point of dropping an email to the author (if possible) to let
them know about it. Since I’ve actually worked with both of the authors
of Protect Your Windows Network : From Perimeter to Data (Microsoft Technology), when I posted review on my work blog I made sure to let them know. A few hours later, I got back a nice response from them — they seemed pretty pleased.

Apparently, the publicist at their publisher is too. I had a very
nice email drop in my inbox this morning, and the upshot is basically
that I’ve been invited to do reviews on any of their books I’d like.
They’ll even send me the books.

Free books for a book junkie[1]. Hmm. This, as they say in Canada, does not suck.

Now all I have to do is convince some of the major sf publishers to do the same thing…

[1] Yes, I consider writing reviews in exchange for books to be the equiavlent of free books. I like writing.