The next podcast from my Writing and Rhetoric 2 class.  In this one, I explain the idea of “convergence” as I understand its relationship to electracy, our coursework, and the Lawrence Weschler book we’re using as our guide.

Podcast below the break.

Continue reading Convergence

Through the Looking Glass

Alice tries on her crownBy Lewis Carroll; Librivox recording narrated by Adrian Praetzellis

Now that I’ve listened to both of the books, I have to say I liked this one better. Through the Looking Glass has more of the stuff I’d come to expect in the Alice stories. I also found that, unlike the last story which I knew pretty well by itself, this one I knew mostly through cultural references to it.

  • I love the jabberwocky poem, but it makes me think of Jabberwocky, the Gilliam film about a knight errant (or a page-boy errant? It’s been a long time). Doesn’t the Jabberwocky also show up in The Fisher King? I need to see that movie again … Netflix’d … queued.
  • The Tweedles are very entertaining, and I enjoyed listening to the poem about the Walrus and the Carpenter, which I’ve of course heard about quite a great deal. I wonder whether the Tweedles are supposed to understand its indictments of religion, and whether the fact that they engage in noble battle (over a broken rattle) is a criticism of their atheism.
  • I loved “Haddock’s Eyes,” the poem the White Knight recites for Alice. Check it out: Haddock’s Eyes
  • When the White Queen is prattling on about butter and jam, explaining to Alice that she can have them “every other day,” meaning “every day that isn’t today,” I couldn’t help but remember Carol Channing singing “Jam Tomorrow Jam Yesterday” in some made-for-tv Alice movie.  In watching it again, I can’t believe that I remember it.  Dear Lord.
  • I think these stories will be indelibly connected in my mind with home improvement projects now. I listened to this book while working on the bathroom.

Praetzellis does a great job with the book, developing interesting and believable voices without straining himself. As I said above, I liked “Haddock’s Eyes” the most; the effort involved in learning the song and singing it well shows a skill that makes me want to read Praetzellis’ other recordings. (He’s working on The 39 Steps right now. That would be a good ‘un!)

Good ol’ YouTube. Here’s the Carol Channing song:


Dark Integers and Other Stories

Cover of Dark Integers by Greg Eganby Greg Egan

A solid collection of hard sf stories.

  • Luminous – lots of cool ideas here.  The main thrust is the idea that there is some realm of mathematics where the usual algebra doesn’t work.  Huh.  Strange and cool simultaneously.  The opening sequence is a tense battle between an organ harvester and a potential harvestee.  Excellent.
  • Riding the Crocodile – Egan imagines a far future that seems to be the end result of a world who started out like Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.  The main characters think and live in decades and centuries, and have technology to match.  I don’t understand the title of the story, though.
  • Dark Integers – Another story that follows from “Luminous.”  Also delightful.  Both of these stories make me think of Eric Zenk, my long-lost grad school mathematician roommate.  The contemplation of vast numbers in untenable and incomprehensible forms brings me fondly back to his ruminations in our apartment, instrumental music blaring, pacing in and out in front of the white board.
  • Glory – A strong indictment of competitive species foibles; feels a lot like a LeGuinn story.
  • Oceanic – Not to be read if you’re squeamish or prudish about sex.  The sex stuff comes a bit out of nowhere, by the way.

Paul R. Potts, a reviewer on Amazon with an awesome name, commented that the cover for this book is for shit.  Or, in his words,

It looks like it is trying to be evocative, even erotic, with arms and legs and what appear to be Curta calculators (look them up!) over some kind of logo, but why do the limbs appear to be amputated, and what’s with the blue floating brain? (Note: there are no giant blue floating brains or amputated limbs to speak of in these stories). I was embarrassed to have my co-workers see this book cover. Even an abstract fractal or a cliched rocket ship or alien landscape with three moons would be far more attractive than this depressing Photoshop train wreck.

You go, Paul.

A Letter of Mary

Cover image, A Letter of Maryby Laurie R. King; narrated by Jenny Riley

The third novel in a series (but the first we’ve read) about Mary Russell, Sherlock Holmes’ young wife.  An entertaining series that reminded me very much of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mysteries.  Russell has the same intrepid spirit and emancipated ways.  The mystery is moderately interesting, but truth be told the end was a bit flat for my taste.  It’s really about the characters more than anything else.

  • King does a pretty good job with Holmes, I think, but I’m not a purist.  I wonder what hardcore Holmes fans think of this series.  See also: The Final Solution
  • I particularly enjoyed Russell’s matter-of-fact ability to shift and navigate the various personae that she adopts during the course of the investigation.  The balance between her inner feelings and her attempts to play the mousy secretary she’s pretending to be provides much of the entertainment of the story.
  • LeStrade comes off well in this book, as he usually does in the Doyle stories.  Not at all like in the television show, where he blusters and raves as Holmes solves all the mysteries.
  • This story inclines me to return to Doyle to see about Mycroft, as I’ve only read about half of the original Doyle stories.

This book also marked a return to one of my favorite things Jenny and I do together, which is to read books aloud.  It came from our Florida days, when we would take car trips of 18 hours or more.  I like listening to books on tape, and can pretty much drive forever if I have one to listen to.  Jenny gets sleepy listening to them, but can read for as long as her voice lasts if she’s reading aloud.  The result, we read a huge chunk of the Amelia Peabody series aloud during our trips back and forth.

Since Avery’s been born, however, we haven’t done as much of that since she doesn’t like it.  (We’re hoping when she gets a bit older and can follow sustained stories, we can start again.)  This week, though, I’ve been mudding and painting in our bathroom, and since Jenny’s seven months pregnant, she can’t really help much.  Also, paint fumes are a no-no.  So we put the speaker from the baby monitor in the bathroom with me, and the transmitter in the living room with Jenny, and she read the book to me as I worked.  It kicked ass.

The Last Detective

Cover of The Last Detective by Robert CraisBy Robert Crais; narrated by James Daniels

Crais crafts a solid, thrilling detective story with a little bit of procedural, a whole lotta action and badass dudes, and a likeable main character.  A good book to listen to while doing something else (like, say, mudding drywall).  A few thoughts:

  • I generally don’t like stories that put kids in danger, and this is a kidnapping.  That said, it’s handled in a way that didn’t give me too many of the willies.
  • The production of this audiobook was pretty intricate.  There was some exciting, b-movie thriller music at the beginning and end of each CD, a cool voice filter whenever someone was talking through a phone, and nifty stereo effects during the Vietnam flashback sequence (with Vietnamese shouted convincingly in the background).  This made me want to see if there are radio plays or other more produced CDs I can request; I have requested 5 of them or so.
  • When I was in high school and would regularly take long-day trips or even weekend trips with my nerd bowl team, I enjoyed buying men’s action novels, particularly Mack Bolan stories.  In reading one of these treasures, I cracked the spine and a page fell out.  When I gave the novel to another teammate, I didn’t mention the missing page and he didn’t notice it, so we made a habit of removing pages to see if people would notice.  I mention this because the main character’s partner, Joe Pike, reminds me a lot of Mack Bolan.
  • The main detective in this story is a pretty nice guy with no major personality flaws, so that’s a nice change from the stereotype.  His name is Elvis, too.
  • I have no idea what the title means or what it refers to.  Someone else who has read this book, please let me know.
  • Spoiler in white text, highlight to read (Double spoiler, also spoils the Denzel movie, Man on Fire): Very early on in the novel, I made the clear call that the money-grubbing wealthy asshole ex-husband of Cole’s girlfriend (and father of the kidnapped boy) was behind the kidnapping.  I had much less suspicion about it in the Denzel movie.

James Daniels does a great job with the reading, giving Pike a vicious, throat-shredding growl of a voice and managing the other voices pretty well too.  He doesn’t do female voices very convincingly, but that’s no big deal for me.

Andrew Jackson: Angry About Diarrhea

\"Andrew Jackson\" by H. W. BrandsBy H.W. Brands.  Narrated by John H Mayer.

Going into this book, I knew very little about Old Hickory.  To tell you the truth, I often confused him with Stonewall Jackson.   A few notes about this blustery Unionist:

  • Fought in the revolutionary war at fourteen (?) or so, as a messenger first and later as a soldier.  His mother and brothers died during the war and left him on his own.
  • He was quite a hothead, fighting in several duels and exchanging severe words with folks all the time.  He would often, in letters and angry words, accuse people of being poltroons.  Apparently a poltroon is a cowardly person.  Aww man, I thought it was going to be an ethnic slur with the connotation of cowardice.
  • When he was in his early twenties, he got a substantial inheritance (approx $40k by today’s reckoning) from an uncle in England.  He gambled it away on cards and horses in three months.
  • AJ’s prime motivation was to the Union.  But aside from keeping the Union together, he was a “state’s rights” guy.
  • On the day of his inauguration, he shook as many as 10,000 hands.
  • Brands spends a lengthy passage explaining that Jackson’s frightful temper might have been from the fact that he suffered from nearly constant “bowel complaints.”
  • Despite his awful record of stealing land and chasing off Indians, Jackson adopted two Indian boys as his own and raised them with his family.

Don’t throw out those CFLs

Via consumerist who got it from NYT:

Home Depot has started a nationwide compact flourescent light bulb recycling program. “At each The Home Depot store, customers can simply bring in any expired, unbroken CFL bulbs, and give them to the store associate behind the returns desk.” CFL bulbs contain mercury and can be damaging to the environment if thrown into regular landfills.

Google kicks me in the Ego.

First, with their daily Google updates, which I have set to watch for occurrances of Brendan Riley on the web. I do this because I learned that it can be a handy way to spot when people mention your stuff. Alas, this means that every day I get an update on the writings of Navada Associated Press writer, Brendan Riley. And little else. Occasionally some High School student will win a baseball game and Google will let me know. No one ever mentions ME.

Second, I occasionally check out the server statistics for my website (I’m using 4.5 GB out of 6800 GB/mo bandwidth), and I’m always depressed about what brings people to my site.

Search results for my website

Why isn’t the world all about ME? 8 people searched for me. The rest were looking for all sorts of weird stuff. I get SO many hits because of a student project about the Unabomber. That’s always in the top one or two. Martians is an image.

UPDATE (26 June):

Google Alert

I guess one way to make it more satisfying would be to include my name in my blog posts every day.

Get Smart

Get Smart

Was actually pretty enjoyable.  It wasn’t great, but it was positive, enjoyable, and well worth an afternoon.  I liked the balance they gave Max (SC).  He has skills but is still a bit bumbling.  Anne Hathaway was also delightful as Agent 99.

I thought “Missed it by that much” could have been more carefully orchestrated.  We see it once in the middle of the film and once at the end, but we could have seen it once at the beginning before he becomes an agent.

In some regards, this film mirrors the plot of Johnny English, but in that one the spy is much more bumbling.  Now that I think about it, there’s a degree of similarity with The Man Who Knew Too Little as well.  I wonder how many bumbling spy movies there?  Of course, the mother of all of them is The Pink Panther.

Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it?

Toy Story 2: Zerg\'s gun goes to 11

When Emporer Zerg points his gun at Buzz, you can see that it goes to eleven.


Sentence of the week

See if you can pick it out.

Context: P.Z. Myers grouses about some claims made in an article profiling “Intelligent” Design.  The boldfaced sentence is the claim being made by the article.

IDists are correct to say love is not an illusion. Scientists say this. Frankly, this is the most dumb-ass argument in a whole slop-bucket of dumbassery; that cherished, complex phenomena like love have a material basis does not in any way imply that they are not “real”. (Pharyngula)

Did you catch that?  Frankly, this is the most dumb-ass argument in a whole slop-bucket of dumbassery. Beautiful.

The nuances of free mailing labels.

Those bastards at Unicef.  First, they made me feel a little guilty about using the mailing labels they send me.  I decided that I shouldn’t feel guilty since they sent them without me asking, and they’re just trying to guilt me into sending some money.  But for some reason I feel really guilty as I unstick the nickel they sent and put it in my pocket.   Then I blog it.

I have a bunch from my alma mater, but we pay $50/year for those.  The same goes for the labels from the Heifer project, which they send as part of their “thank you” package.

You may remember that we had a dry spell in the free-label department last year, and I was nearly forced to use misprinted labels.  Horrors.

The most interesting bit of my mailing label habit right now is the “Vote Democrat” labels that I use.  I find myself tearing the “vote democrat” or the kicking donkey icon off the label before I put it on the package.  In part, this is practicality — I generally send mail to fellow bookmoochers or to pay bills.  With the former, I don’t want to be seen as some guy making book borrowing political; with the latter, I don’t want some vindictive dittohead throwing away my gas bill.

The challenge of a dislikable protagonist

David Rosen\'s book, I JUST WANT MY PANTS BACKI Just Want My Pants Back
by David Rosen

A friend gave me this book because it made her laugh, and I can definitely see why it did. Rosen’s writing feels a lot like that snarky friend you like to meet, who always has a biting remark to make about nearly anything. It’s funny in that way.

But my experience with the book was mostly dislike. It wasn’t until the halfway point that I really warmed to the story. If the book hadn’t been a gift, I wouldn’t have finished it. So here’s my proclamation, drawn from the book, to explain my curious problem with it. It’s kinda like the uncanny valley. In case you don’t know the uncanny valley, here’s the Wikipedia definition:

The uncanny valley is a hypothesis that when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost, but not entirely, like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The “valley” in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s lifelikeness.

I have a similar sliding scale for protagonists in books and movies. The closer the person is to myself, the less I enjoy it when they act differently than I do. Being a relatively sober, directed, proactive person, the protagonist’s drunken debauchery and lack of direction really irked me. His similarity to me in many other regards made that behavior even more annoying. Thus,

The uncanny protagonist is a hypothesis that when characters in novels look and act almost, but not entirely, like their readers, it causes a response of revulsion among those readers. The “valley” in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a the character’s similarity to the reader.

I’ve experienced this revulsion more often in films than in books, as I think films often work harder to have you identify strongly with a specific protagonist and thus you take their failings more personally.  In books, I remember just hating Confederacy of Dunces, because its protagonist was so horrible.  In films, I really dislike Meet the Parents, because I could see a lot of similarities between the main character and myself, except that he didn’t have the balls to just tell the truth to questions he was asked.  Watch that movie again, and you’ll see that EVERY problem rises because he’s afraid to tell the truth.

I had a similar feeling at the beginning of Novocaine, the Steve Martin movie.  That film involves a bad choice that he spends the rest of the time trying to correct, however, so it grew back on me.  I Just Want My Pants Back had a similar effect in the second half of the novel, when the main character starts to pull his head out of his ass.

The sounds of mid-June

In bite-size bullets.

  • 4: Leo Kottke – I love the song “Pamela Brown.”  It’s amusing and interesting.  These four CDs are perhaps my favorite CDs to come from my dad’s music collection.  Pamela Brown clip
  • 1: Les Claypool & The Holy Mackerel – not much to say about this album, except that its title makes the album worth buying: Highball with the Devil.
  • 6: Less Than Jake – someone once explained the name of this band to me.  I’ve yet to hear anyone use the term “jake” to mean “fine.”  Also, I lived in Gainesville for five years without managing to get to one of their concerts.
  • 3: Linkin Park – I enjoy these albums, but if you mixed their songs in with Sum 41, I wouldn’t be able to tell which is which.  I really like “Breaking the Habit,” though. Breaking the Habit clip
  • 3: Live – My single favorite radio moment was one summer, during a period in which I was listening to Mental Jewelry daily, the DJ announced a “new one from Live.”  I bought Throwing Copper the next day.  Ahh, memories.  Also, I saw them on that tour.  Their opening band was this spunky little band with a cool hoppity first album, Weezer.  I wonder what happened to those guys?
  • 1: Loreena McKennit – I like this music, but man it’s soporific.
  • 1: Los Lobos – I know this means “The Wolves,” but I always think of pieces of brain playing guitar.
  • 1: Lou Rawls – I learned, from Lou Rawls, that the wind in Chicago is called “the hawk.” Dead End Street clip
  • 2: Mamou – now that’s some cajun-stompin’ accordion music.
  • 1: Matthew Sweet – one of those musicians whose albums I almost never choose to listen to, but am always delighted when I end up listening to them.  The same goes for Juliana Hatfield.