Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book report...

Now that I've finished WoT (until the next one comes out this month) I've been devouring pulp SF with almost the same voracity that I apply to candy. I've burned through 3 "Clone Republic" books (by Kent) and one "Star Carrier" book by Ian Douglas. I like the Star Carrier book better but happened to have ordered 3 clone books off Amazon so I'm going to finish them before I grab more Douglas books. None of them are great, mind you - nothing like some of the Scalzi, Heinlein, Feintuch, books that I adore. But good fun anyway. And they hardly ever describe dresses in a lot of detail. I never knew how important that was until I read 10,000 pages of Jordan back to back. Trust me, it's important.

While we're on the subject of food...

Happy Halloween! In honor of Halloween, I'll share three facts. One, I just ran 13.1 miles (34 for the week), which is great. Two, 13.1 miles for a guy my size = burning 1700 calories. Three, that probably just about covers the amount of candy I've eaten so far this week. I disgust myself sometimes. Watch out kids, if you knock on our door tonight, I may lose control and eat all your candy. If I do I guess I'll have to let you give us extra tricks instead.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I'll Miss Uncle Giuseppe's

Hmmm, is it bad that a lot of these have to do with food? Well, that ain't gonna stop, so I guess, get used to it.

I just got back from the incredibly exciting grocery store Uncle Giuseppe's, where a live singer crooned "Unforgettable" to the Saturday rush. And I came home with fresh pumpkin ravioli. That's not gonna happen anywhere else...

We Should Never Have Fast-Forwarded

I'm one of the worst offenders. I have a Tivo. Even before Tivo my family obsessively muted the commercials because (I don't know whether you've noticed this) the commercials are at least 20% louder than the actual programming. Now I never watch anything when it's on anymore. Even if I want to watch something live (e.g., the final episode of Project Runway, or any episode of Mad Men), I generally fast-forward through the commercials. I'm obviously not the only one, because advertisers have resorted to two new strategies, one of which I like and one of which is really starting to burn my cookies.

The one I like is that they've resorted to making interesting commercials. I know, right? Who would have thought of this novel idea? I will stop my Tivo to watch each of the Dean Winters Allstate commercials at least once. My parents are obsessive fans of the Aflac duck--you are not allowed to fast forward through the duck under any circumstances. A lot of commercials have an arresting visual that makes me curious enough to go back and at least see what they're advertising. And the Unilever campaign placed during Mad Men airtime was genius.

The other type, which isn't really new, just changed, is the "in-your-face-commercial-in-your-TV-show" ad. Some of these are a little more subtle--during a recent car chase on Fringe, we inexplicably got an incredibly long and focuses close-up to show us that Olivia and Peter gave chase in a Taurus. Charlie on Numbers drove a Prius, which was actually in character, but he talked about it a LOT, which wasn't. On Chuck, Devon has just bought a minivan. Not just any minivan, "an AWESOME minivan! The Toyota Sienna, the safest family auto in its class." No, seriously, that's what Devon tells Ellie. In one of the craziest examples, during the episode of Bones where Hodgins and Angela finally tied the knot, they first rented a Prius and got so distracted advertising it that they got thrown in jail. Here again, Unilever has managed to go tasteful by putting Unilever products into Mad Men...where they kind of seem like they belong.

The in-show ad is not a new idea--television has been placing products in its shows for a long time. But it's definitely getting more aggressive and brazen, and less well-integrated with the entertainment that delivers the advertising. I'm not sure where these trends will be headed, but it's probably safe to say it'll be even more obnoxious eventually. I wonder if we'll end up fast-forwarding through portions of the actual shows...and then if we do that, I wonder what they'll do to us?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Job interviews

We've been conducting job interviews at work for the past few weeks and I've come to see more and more how wise Dave Barry really is. In his now old and perhaps classic book "Claw Your Way to the Top" he talked about how to make an impression when applying for a job. He gave an example of a cover letter for a resume that sounded like it was written by a superbrain athlete fashion model president. He pointed out that the letter was very impressive, and that it made the author of the letter sound like a complete, arrogant, douche. He suggested that people may not want to hire a douche, even if they're so very, very qualified. Having sat through two particularly tragic examples of over-eager, particularly confident, moderately qualified douches, I can now personally attest that Dave Barry was right again. There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and between eagerness and obsession. I've now interviewed two people who are, as Joey said, so far over the line they can't even see the line. "The line is a dot" to them.

Dave Barry recommended submitting a cover letter that was made up entirely of a punch line from a joke. He said that eventually you'd be hired by people wanting to hear the rest of the joke. From where I'm sitting now, this is not a bad idea! I'm waiting for someone to come in with a rabbi joke. They'll probably get my vote.


I've recently stopped reading on of my author blogs, mostly because I was detecting a creeping stench of "arrogant a##hole" building up over time. He's a very good writer, and funny (at times), but I figure if I want to enjoy that I can just read the books, where the creeping stench will not be present, rather than the blog. It occurred to me, though, that when I started reading the blog there was nary a stench, not even a whiff. It seems, as I said, that the whole "AHness" kind of crept on in. And I was wondering if there could be some way to quantify and measure these creeping jerkiness.

What is needed, I have decided, is an A##hole Meter. What is also needed is an abbreviation: the AHM. I'm not sure what should go into the AHM, how to make it tick, but I'm convinced the idea has merit. Perhaps it should be the proportion of sentences that have "I" and "great" in them in a blog post. As those sentences become more common, points start clicking on the AHM. Or the number of posts that have a tone of "you people suck." I think in this particular case, though, it's more of the first. This author has a ton of fans posting just loads of sycophantic bs for his every post, and I think it's finally starting to sink it for him. So the AHM would probably be picking up on that.

I think an AHM might come in handy in lots of situations though. You could take it with you on a first date, or if you're conducting a job interview, or evaluating a potential renter. I'd say I could take it to work but it would probably just melt down within the first 5 minutes. I believe some levels of AH-ness do not need a device to measure. It's like using a device to tell if the sun is out. Look up, you'll know. And for some people you just look at them, or hear them for 1 minute, and you know. Whether you want to or not.

By the way, I'm not going to say who the author is because I'm just not that interested in making personal attacks against someone, even someone who would never know I've made them (unless they're in politics, that's different :o). That may keep the AHM from clicking as loudly for this post, but maybe not.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I'll Miss FreshDirect

Another thing I'll miss about New York is FreshDirect, New York City's 100% fabulous grocery delivery service. Even though I live on Long Island, most of which does not get FreshDirect, I continue to get tantalizing e-mails like this one. I just can't seem to hit unsubscribe and say goodbye to delivered-to-your-door goodness forever. And yes, I'm aware that Stop-N-Shop and Safeway deliver groceries. FreshDirect is a fantastic customer experience. Finding what you want is easy. Ordering it is easy. Choosing things for a special dinner is easy. Picking the best produce is easy. Ordering delicious and healthy non-frozen single-serving meals is easy. Finding the nutritional content of everything you buy is easy. Ordering wine and beer is...maybe a little too easy. The site is beautiful. The customer service is excellent. I haven't yet read "Delivering Happiness," but FreshDirect was one of the first businesses I thought of when I heard about the book.

Goodbye, FreshDirect! I'll miss you!

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Little Test....

So, say there's a two-way street, and due to construction it's closed down to two lanes. One lane is full of cars going one way. What is the other lane for?

a. Um, traffic going the other way.
b. Sixty-five MPH.
c. The same thing. I don't know why nobody's in that lane. I guess it's because I'm the smartest person here!

Ready for the answer?

If you said a, I like you very much and you are sane.*
If you said b, you are clearly an IT professional who hasn't slept in a month. Go to bed.
If you said c, you're a degenerate freeloader who thinks the world is all about you! Congratulations! Also, I hate you.

*The term "sane" as used here is strictly relative, and should not be construed as an alternative to professional care.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I'll Miss the Wackadoos

There are a lot of things I'll miss about New York. This is definitely one of them. It defies satire. The former madam, Kristin Davis, performed better at the debate than some presidential candidates have, and ya gotta admit, she's got the sound bite down. (I personally think the MTA runs pretty damn well, but I can still appreciate a finely-tuned insult as much as the next person.) And astute Blackadder fans no doubt watched Jimmy McMillan lay out the platform of the "Rent is too Damn High" party with fond reminiscence about the Standing-At-The-Back-Dressed-Stupidly-and-Looking-Stupid-Party:

Seriously, and I mean this with absolute sincerity, New York is a place where magic happens. Crazy, wacky, surreal magic, to be sure, but magic, all the same.

Monday, October 18, 2010

So True

I've taken on a role in my latest project that I lovingly refer to as "Documentation Whore." I won't go into all the geeky reasons I'm not thrilled with being the Documentation Whore. The documentation has to be done, and I'm pretty good at doing what needs to be done and explaining to the compliance trolls when something isn't necessary. (This is because I still have that scrap of optimism which imagines a world where the documentation actually helps someone. Most of us are well beyond that point, and see the documentation as meaningless busywork. Coincidentally, this is probably why I'm the Documentation Whore.)

The problem is that people insist on inventing new documents. The trolls only want a specific set of documents explaining what insanity you've wrought over the course of your project. But there's a host of other people who seriously just invent documents and then ask you to produce them, and a lot of what we end up doing is regurgitating the same content into a variety of different templates. Seriously, sometimes it's just easier to produce something that looks like what people are expecting than it is to educate them about why what they are expecting is insane or asinine (or both--why limit ourselves).

And so another day passes where our entire project team is convinced that Scott Adams has installed surveillance equipment in our workplace.

End of an Era, Part II

I totally know what Shifter's talking about. I'm going through the same thing with books. I got an e-reader a few months ago (yeah, no, not a Kindle, and not a sexy new Kindle, but a Bookeen Opus, which is the smallest and lightest e-reader on the market, and yes, I like it, but I'm tired of explaining to random people in airports and restaurants that not all e-readers are Kindles). My dream would be to have only a few physical books--the ones by my favorite writers, the ones I pick up and look through occasionally, and the ones that are autographed. So I started looking through my books and really being honest with myself. Which ones might I read again? Which ones have I not opened in ten years?

It's been an interesting experience. On the one hand, I'm a former English major, so a lot of my stuff is readily available for e-readers, and it's free. The collected works of Charles Dickens are easy to come by. Even the collected works of Wilkie Collins aren't difficult to find. On the other hand, there's a lot that isn't available yet. I have some academic texts that I really enjoy. Some of my absolute favorite books, my touchstone books, are not yet available as e-books (Marathon Man is one I'm particularly sad about--I'd feel great about having that book in my purse all the time).

Some things are actively better as e-books. When I bought the collected letters of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning (from before she was Barrett-Browning), I could not afford a nice edition. A good edition reproduces certain pages of the letters, and has footnotes providing context for some of the things they mention. I was really fond of Browning's doodles--there's a cute one where he draws a musical note in the margin to describe the squeaky wheel sound that grates on his nerves when he has a migraine, for instance. Not knowing that it's there makes the letter kind of whiny, but the doodle hints at a lively humor. The edition that I had was pretty much your bargain basement text, with no footnotes and no facsimiles. So far I've only been able to replace volume 1, but there's a nice PDF with the pages I remember and nice footnotes.

I have six boxes of books ready to go to a charity. A couple of other boxes are waiting to be mailed out to friends and family, but I'm still replacing a few special titles. I'm really hoping that I can get down to one bookshelf (which would mean getting rid of about 3/4 of my collection). No doubt some tough choices lie ahead...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

End of an era...

Today I sold about 3/4 of my CD collection. A few hundred I think. I didn't sell them because I needed the money. I sold them because I needed the space. Our house is big, I think, but it still gets filled up and I literally haven't played any of those CDs in years. There were enough CDs there to take up the room of a fair size book case. So off to the store I went.

It's not that I don't still listen to music. I still do, quite a bit, but every CD I own has been ripped to MP3 on my PC(s) and it just never seems necessary to put in a CD. My CD changer is ancient and only still works because I never use it. So it seemed time to acknowledge the change in technology and life-style (and age) and get rid of CDs. The guy at Half-Price books was pretty impressed - he told me a few times that "you've got some nice stuff in here" "stuff I don't see every day" and so on. It made me happy and sad all at once. Happy that my taste was seen as leading to "nice stuff" and sad to be parting with that nice stuff. It's weird, because I still have access to every single song if I want it, but not having the physical media, the discs themselves, feels like a loss. Probably because for years of my life collecting those CDs was one of my main focuses outside of school and friends, and indeed a big part of some parts of school and friends. Music was a big part of my identity. And, back in the day, I would NEVER consider letting go of CDs in favor of MP3s because MP3s are not 100.000% true to the sound of the CD. Who cares that only a dog could hear the difference! If it's not perfect, it's not good enough for my music. Or it wasn't. But now I'm more practical, and need the space, and, well, a lot older. How depressing.

I couldn't go through with it all the way, though. I kept back about 50-70 discs that I just couldn't part with - favorite bands, rare stuff that was hard to find, imports. I won't be using those discs either, but I'm just not ready to let them go. As Monty Python noted, "I'm not dead."

I swear I didn't put her up to this...

My youngest daughter is on a crusade, entirely based on her own inclinations and personality, to save the endangered dragons. She has been going in and outside of our house putting up signs, like this one. Dragons, it turns out, are really just misunderstood and poorly treated creatures of mother nature, and we should all do our part to keep them around. How cool is that?

The picture of "Frustrating"

So we got this really cool puzzle, and I worked on it for 5 days, and it was 999 pieces of fun! And it was one piece of shear frustration. And that one piece kind of killed the buzz. Can you spot the one piece in this picture? Top left quadrant. I knew you could...


My brain was actually working the other day, which was good because it turned out to be a particularly disappointing day. When my brain is actually working, which is rare, I come up with random thoughts. And one random thoughts was that freeways are just modern marvels. I don't mean that they're marvels because of how they're built, how big they are, what they allow us to do, or anything like that. I mean those are marvelous, but that's not what my thought was. The amazing thing about freeways is that they work, at all.

Think about what it takes for a freeway to actually function. You have to have tens of thousands of people all driving cars. All the cars have to be reasonably maintained. They all have to be driven by people who can judge speed, distance, direction, and so forth. These people all have to have a shared understanding of rules of the road - how to pass, what it means to pass, how to merge (oh yes, they REALLY need that shared understanding), when and why to honk, when to stop (never), when to speed up, and so forth. And the thing is, if even ONE of these things doesn't happen, a freeway won't work. If ONE driver is sufficiently inept, they can either slow the whole thing down atrociously or they can get in a wreck and stop the whole damn thing. It amazes me that we can get tens of thousands of people to more or less satisfy these requirements every day to the extent that freeways actually run. In general, it seems impossible to get a group of 10 people to work together at even mundane tasks, but here we routinely get 10,000 people to work together on a rather complex task.

Now I know, Mr. and Mrs. Snark, that there are plenty of times freeways DON'T work, and that when they don't it is precisely because someone or a group of someone's don't meet those basic requirements. They drive like idiots, or they drive a car that blows up, or they don't know the rules of the road, or whatever. And I know this because I have sat there for hours paying the price for this failure of some individuals out of our 10,000 to be smart or lucky enough to keep the thing going. But consider, I live in a city which, with the metro included, has a few million people, lots of them use the freeways, and it is almost NEVER the case that I can't get where I'm going on the freeway. Given the variables that have to align for that to happen, it's kind of, well, amazing.

Another fascinating thing about the freeways is when you view them as a complex, self-correcting system. Freeways can be a chaos theoretician's dream experiment. A butterfly flapping it's wings, distracting a driver, causing a fender bender, causing police to come, causing rubber-neckers, can indeed cause the freeway equivalent of a hurricane.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It is finished

Lo, many months ago Shifter did undertake a great undertaking, which was undertook lo many months ago. And that undertaking did require the undertaking of a buttload of reading. And that buttload of reading, which was undertook, did involve ALL of the Wheel of Time books, each of which has a gazillion words and pages. And now, as it was undertaken, so it was undertook, and it is done.


Having now re-read the entire series, and read the new Book, which was outlined by Jordan and finished by Brandon Sanderson, I can make a few observations.

First, the series is, if anything, even longer than I remembered.

Second, the first books were every bit as good as I remembered.

Third, the latter books were not, overall, as bad as I remembered. Reading them all in order definitely helped with many of those later books.

Fourth, SOME books (especially Crossroads at Twilight) were EVEN WORSE than I remembered. Really, CaT was a colossal waste of trees, brain cells, and precious hours that I could have spent plucking my eyebrows or other tasks, all of which would have been more interesting and valuable than reading that book. However...

Fifth, the new book (book 12, The Gathering Storm) really rocked! I am very impressed by what Sanderson did. It is definitely not a "Jordan" book and in some ways that is not a bad thing. The pace was much faster, for example, and clothing was described much less often. I know it seems like I harp on clothing descriptions a lot but believe me, I harp on them far less often than they show up in all 11 of the other damn books. There were actually some decent and I think fairly accurate reviews of Book 12 on Amazon, and I agree with them that the writing for Matt Cauthon was a bit jarring compared to Jordan, but aside from that it was a fairly seamless transition from Jordan to Sanderson. And it was just a good, fun book.

So now the next book (Book 13) comes out in about a month and I will pick that up and read it, but probably not right away. I'm longing for some books that are under 800 pages - working on some true pulp at the moment. The Malazan empire books are calling to me as well, but again I'm hoping for some lighter, sub-900 page novels for a bit.

And there you have it.