I saw Robert "Mr Fantastic" Muraine's So You Think You Can Dance audition video last year (probably a day or two after it aired). And I was damned impressed; I'd seen a little bit of popping dancing, but I'd never seen it really well done.

He's also about the most flexible man I've ever seen, plus, I've never seen anyone integrate that sort of contortionism into dancing. And man, that was amazing. Afer watching a few videos of him and Philip Chbeeb, something occurred to me.

Popping really owes a lot to mime. It uses music, and tends to move rather faster, but both are really about body control, precision, and balance.

Which kind of makes me wonder... I've heard a lot of people expressing "nuke from orbit, it's the only way to be sure" thoughts about mime. How many of them would say the same thing about popping?

(And as a side note, what reminded me about seeing this the other night was catching Phillip Chbeeb appearing with (his girlfriend?) Arielle Coker on So You Think You Can Dance again. And yeah, we saw it on air. Bizarre!)

Tranquil thoughts

Well, finished Tranquility Wars. I generally liked it, although it ended rather abruptly.

As far as my speculation was concerned, I was close on all matters, but not completely right on anything. Tehani's affair was with the Minister of Defense, not the Chairman. Rango did confront Hunter about Tehani, but it didn't turn into a fight. And Tehani did go back to Mars.

But the encounter with Rango just didn't make any sense to me. They were challenging Hunter about the Minister Tehani's having the affair with; important information for the reader to find out, but I couldn't figure out why those pirates would care about Hunter's knowledge, or lack thereof, about it.

And that should have been important information for Hunter, but it didn't seem to make any difference to him. That is to say, he knew it, but it didn't have any effect on him.

And a minor bit of irritation; why was such a big deal made about what putative means? You have a very smart man talking to another very smart one; why would Goldmatt assume that Hunter didn't know the meaning of the word? If it was because of Hunter's reaction, that reaction should be noted. It isn't that unusual of a word.

Another minor disappointment: after the raid, just before returning to Mars, Hunter finds out his girlfriend is pregnant. He talks to her just after finding out, and says that he's going to stay with her, and she refuses. A good idea on her part, although one that damned few people would be able to follow through on. What I expected from her, though, was pointing out that if he really wanted to stay, he would have gone back to talk to Lance and called it off before waking her up. And then he would have told her that he was staying just because he'd changed his mind and wanted to do so.

Not a big deal, and not something most people would have said. But after the discussions about handling bits of relationships throughout the book, I rather expected it. Plus, it would have really pointed out to him that he didn't really want to stay (even if he was demonstrably being an idiot to leave).

Anyway, as I said, I did enjoy the book, though I certainly wouldn't consider it flawless. But it did a very good job of keeping my attention, and got me thinking more about what was coming than most books do. (Generally, I don't, because it has a tendency, for better or worse, to ruin the book.)


how bad are the Nats?

Was just looking again this morning at their futility (despite Paul Dunn-yan's heroics last night). They're comfortably on pace to finish with the top pick in the draft again this year. What was more interesting to me, though, was who was second and third in that race: Oakland and Cleveland.

The A's haven't had anything go right this year for them. They traded for Holliday from the Rox, and he started the season in a deep freeze. They knew their pitching was risky, given the youth of the starters. Chavez is badly injured again, and might not be able to play again, ever. In fact, without checking any facts, I wonder if the only off-season move that's paid off is Giambi.

Cleveland is also quite a surprise. Like the A's, they were expected to compete for their division. They have a couple of bright spots, but when your top hitter (by far) is your catcher, you know you're in trouble.

a few thoughts on Tranquility Wars

Poking through my unread books, I ran across Gentry Lee's Tranquility Wars. After starting it, I definitely read some amount of it before (at least 30-40 pages), but I'm not sure how much, beyond that (I think I might have read up to the point where they were captured by pirates).

I'm still in the middle of it (around page 350), but wanted to put some thoughts about it down.

Hunter seems to have better luck with women than anyone I've ever known. Especially considering how little effort he puts into it.

Tehani is an interesting character, but I know that if I were Hunter, she would have been driving me nuts. In their conversations while captured by pirates, what she said was very mature and correct, but with no emotion at all. Given that she kept repeating that she loved Hunter, that felt very off-putting to me. Seriously, at that age, it probably would have made me about ready to kill her. (I was very emotionally immature at that age, though, I should admit.) One thing about her history bothers me very much, though; she ended up as a high-class call-girl because of debts her father ran up. What I can't figure out, though, is how her father would have been allowed to run up debts so far even beyond what his life insurance would be able to cover.

It's just a very bad way to run a gambling establishment; you can't let your best customers run themselves that far into the hole. Once they can't pay, you have to force them to earn some money somewhere else before they can come back. It's the moral equivalent of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Most gambling places can't address that issue, but this was government-sponsored gambling; they most certainly had access to his finances.

In any event, it seems clear to me that she is the mistress for Chairman Covington, and has been for about a year (when she stopped having trouble with customers with whom she was forced to reject for being asses). And so, he was willing to pay a substantial ransom to get her back.

The pirate society is kind of interesting, although there are a couple of things about the group with whom Hunter is living that bug me. So, we know that there are about 500 of them, including women and children. We also know that there are about 50% more men than women. We also know that, five years ago, there were exactly 43 men and 2 women in a couple of spaceships with nowhere to go. They were ready to hand themselves over to authorities to keep from dying out. And then they ran into a spaceship with ten women (one of whom was from a wealthy family). And somehow, from this, they were miraculously saved.

We know that they are currently living on an asteroid, but we don't know how they got from those couple of lost ships to the asteroid. There must have been a connection with the ship with the women on board, but the connection was never made (or even implied). The asteroid, btw, had been uninhabited for over a century, so it wasn't a case of the rich woman owning the asteroid (nor did it seem likely that she was THAT wealthy, anyway).

Moving on, where I am, Tehani seems to have been ransomed back, and Hunter has remained with the pirates, running their medical clinic. He's met some very interesting people, and, as I implied earlier, has quite a varied sex life (especially impressive, I should point out, because of the gender ratio mentioned earlier).

He's convinced to help out on a daring raid by several pirate groups working together. One of the groups is headed by a smart, but apparently brutal guy, who tried really hard to get his hands on Tehani.

It seems clear to me that all hell is about to break loose after this raid is over, a fight is going to break out with that pirate chief for one of two reasons. Either he never did get his hands on Tehani, and is going to take it out on that group, or Tehani and Hunter were both lied to, and Rango did get her. And Hunter will find out.

Anyway, despite the fairly large holes I mentioned, the book is quite interesting, and I'm anxious to see how it goes.

Update: It occurred to me while I was writing about Tehani, above (although I forgot it before I wrote it down), that perhaps Hunter got the prized Covington Fellowship because of Tehani's intervention.

Stardust memories

Night before last, I finally got around to watching Stardust (thanks to finding the HD-DVD for very cheap).

I've read a few things that Gaiman has done, and while they've been good, I haven't been blown away. Perhaps my expectations have just been too high from the raves I've heard from so many others; I'm not sure.

This, though, was fabulous. A bit sappy, I suppose, though in a way that I tend to be a sucker for (I mentioned Love Actually in a previous post; that's one of my favorites for having even more of the same).

It was very humorous; there were a series of princes (seven, of whom three are dead when the movie starts) the last survivor of whom is to inherit the throne of Stonewell. What makes that funny is that as each one perishes, he appears as a ghost, in the company of his ex-brothers, to make commentary on what's happening.

Their names, btw, were First through Seventh (in latin). One thing I found odd is that they had a sister who was named One (again, in latin). Why the difference between ordinals and cardinals? I've no idea.

Another thing I found odd was that the dying Peter O'Toole (the king whom each of them were trying to succeed) picked a method of succession that (apparently; it wasn't spelled out) required the successor to catch a falling star, and make her love him. While that's a very interesting and original means of choosing a successor, bear in mind that he had become king by killing all eleven of his brothers. And he had encouraged his sons to kill one another, so that the survivor could become king. It just seems rather self-defeating to encourage behavior in your potential heirs that will pretty much make it impossible for them to succeed in completing the mission set before them.

I'm sure there's something there I'm missing, and maybe it was addressed in the novel, but it sure felt odd.

Nevertheless, as I mentioned, I liked the movie very much, and would recommend it to anyone who likes romantic movies.

Oh yes, and Ricky Gervais (of The Office, British edition (well, to be more specific, he did practically everything for the british version; he is still the creator (at least) of the american version as well)) had a fantastic, if small, appearance. And he got what he deserved.

weird night in playoffs

Ended up flipping back and forth between the hockey and basketball games the other night. Had expected to only do so for a while, but ended up watching until LeBron's last-second shot won it for the Cavs.

It was a weird night, though. When I turned the TV on, I think the Cavs were ahead 24-18. It took me a couple of minutes to find the hockey game (I forgot where Versus was on the HD tuner); when I did so, Chicago had just scored to extend their lead to 3-0. Seeing that that one was pretty well in hand, I flipped back to the basketball game quicker than expected.

Pretty soon, Cleveland was up 43-20 and Chicago was still leading 3-0. Seeing that both games were blow-outs, I almost stopped watching entirely. I'm glad I didn't, though, as Detroit stormed back to tie the game around the end of the second period (one of the goals was pretty amazing, too, as it appeared that the puck was deflected twice by the same player, once on the shaft and once on the blade of his stick).

Meanwhile, Orlando had been chipping away at the Cavs lead for a while, having chipped it all the way down to twelve by halftime, although Cleveland remained ahead by quite a bit.

Starting the third period, Chicago surprised me by inserting Huet in goal. This turned out to be a good choice, as he yielded no goals. But it got me to thinking; Huet spent the end of last season with the Caps, and did a great job for them. I knew he had signed elsewhere in the offseason, but hadn't realized that he'd done so to be the backup. So Chicago was willing to pay him more to be a backup than the Caps were to be their primary, apparently. I hope that the reason for that was because the Caps were expecting Varlamov (or Neuwirth) to be ready too soon to pay that much, although the amount Theodore is getting paid certainly calls that into question.

Anyway, getting back to the games, the third period of the hockey game was tense, with no scoring at all. And through the third and fourth quarters, the Magic kept chipping away, finally tying the game with a minute or two left. The game was back and forth the rest of the way, though still with Cleveland in the lead until the last minute. I believe the Magic got their second lead from Turkoglu with a second left, setting up LeBron's shot.

Meanwhile, in overtime, Detroit had continued to pressure, but Chicago was the one to score the winning goal after a shot on a rush had rebounded directly to a Blackhawk on the opposite side of the net. Sharp buried it in the mostly-empty net immediately, and Chicago was rejoicing.

Cleveland saw similar reason for celebration after LeBron buried the three-pointer to send their series to Orlando with a tie, although Orlando certainly had no reason to hang their heads after forcing the game to that situation.

All in all, and interesting night. :)


trying new ddr version

Mostly, I play DDR Extreme2, which has an awesome 'Endless' mode. With its very short breaks, and high difficulty, that's a great way to play for exercising (or for getting better at the game, for that matter).

But a while ago, I bought DDR X (it was cheap). I finally tried it today.

Since I wanted to play for a while, with minimal interruptions, I put it into exercise mode (after noting that it doesn't appear to have any equivalent Endless mode). Aside from the one Pet Shop Boys song, the music was pretty lame (I did only look at 25 or so songs, though). And the difficulty? After the first two songs, I put it in its hardest difficulty setting.

On the ten-point scale on which every song is rated (and which on previous versions seemed to be comparable), this was nines, tens, and elevens(!). And yet it was easier than the eights and nines from Extreme2. None of the songs would have killed me if I'd not been in exercise mode; only two would have even been close.

Overall, I'd rate it as LAME. Not sure if I'll play it again in the future.

Afghan poppies

Was listening to the Kojo Nnamdi show today; they were talking to Gretchen Peters about poppies financing the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Her conclusion was that there was no way to help the situation until rule of law was established over there. The poppy wasn't hygienic, so it wouldn't be useful medically (which seems a bit suspect to me, but I don't know nearly enough to say that with confidence). And selling it elsewhere wouldn't pay, because the legal market for poppy prices it similarly to wheat.

While there's more than a little bit to that (it would give the US an exit strategy, for one thing), it ignores the demand-side attack to the problem. That is to say, what happens if the US decriminalizes heroin and other drugs. Most likely, it would kick the crap out of the value of the poppies.

And it would have several other salutary effects. 1) We wouldn't be paying our enemies. 2) Recidivism rates on drug users would probably drop (since they'd be treated, rather than incarcerated). 3) It would provide more income for our cash-strapped government. 4) It would probably become easier to keep drugs out of the hands of minors.

The latter point probably needs a little explanation, since it is counter-intuitive for most people. As things stand right now, the risks are equivalent for selling to adults or minors. Either way, if you get caught, you're screwed. But if you could sell legally to adults, would you instead risk prosecution to sell to minors? A few would, probably, but their market would be tiny (since they'd probably be unable to sell to adults, based purely on price).

One good thing that did come up (though probably could have used more discussion) was combining narcotics and intelligence operations, and hoping to snare terrorists while just tracking the money in the drug operations. The point that really needed to be discussed, though, was that all successful counter-terrorism operations worked by treating terrorism as crime, rather than as war. For one thing, treating it as war glorifies it, making recruiting easier for the other side. It also attributes a lot more capability to the terrorists, again easing recruitment for them.

After all, some people only really care about the spectrum of powerful to powerless, and less so about the good vs evil spectrum. To those people, hearing that those terrorists are so powerful is an unavoidable siren's call. We really don't want to encourage radicalization of such people.

So let's focus on things that work, ok?


drm evil revealed

I mentioned previously that DRM was the main reason I wouldn't be buying a Kindle, despite some definite benefits to it. As an object lesson in why DRM is so evil, we find out that Amazon has disabled text-to-speech for certain books retroactively.

I'm not a big fan of audiobooks, in general, but this is pretty sad. Especially when there seems to be no legal reason to do so.

playoff-caliber offense?

The Post, this morning, talking about the Nationals, said, "its offense humming at a playoff-caliber level".

This seems, at best, a bit of a stretch to me. Looking at runs scored, the Nats are in a three-way tie for sixth in the senior circuit. For what it's worth, that puts fourteen teams ahead of them in the majors.

I'm pleasantly surprised to see, now that I'm looking, that it does put them at a solid 107 OPS+. Seeing as the National League as a whole has a 94 OPS+, that's quite impressive. Adding in that the only two teams ahead of them (the Mets at 108 and the Dodgers at 109), I guess I'll have to concede the point.

Hmm... Actually, those numbers seem a bit suspicious now that I'm looking at the whole of the Majors. I can't really see how the league as a whole could have something other than a 100 OPS+; kind of defeats the purpose of the stat, if that's the case. Certainly, the park factor for the new Yankee stadium is still an unknown, but that should fall out in the wash of the overall stat, I would think (but it does make the Yankees 112 OPS+ a bit suspicious, to put it mildly).

Anyway, I guess the Nats do have a better offense (at least in performance so far; I'm not sure what their odds of this continuing through the season are). And it appears not to be absurd to say playoff-caliber.


helio- or geo-centric? globe or flat?

Rereading Clavell's 将軍 (Shogun), and enjoying it greatly. His Japanese isn't all that great, but then, it probably shouldn't be expected to be (At least for the most part, the words are correct, but the phrasing is a bit off. Especially with no differences between women and men. Or between politeness levels. Not a big deal, and certainly not enough to detract from the story. Nor even to keep the book from being a pretty decent introduction to Japan).

A couple of side notes, though: I was thinking, while reading it, that it would have been good for him to have had a name dictionary. Mostly, they aren't too bad, but occasionally a woman's name is used for a guy, for instance. Which got me to wondering, were any available in English back then? It turns out that O'Neil's Japanese Names was out in its first printing then.

Another thing that got me curious; at one point, Blackthorne is talking with Yoshi Toranaga-sama and Toda Mariko-san, and describes the world as a globe. They didn't question it, but I wonder what the then-current Japanese belief was about the world. That is, was it flat or round? Or something else entirely? (Yes, yes, I know about the myth of a flat earth supported by a turtle, in turn supported by another turtle, ad infinitum; but I'm wondering about scientific belief. Or at least well-learned belief.) Which also begs the question of belief in a geocentric or heliocentric universe. And was either question ever a big deal, as in the west.

Hmm... I'm pleasantly surprised to see that the TV "maxiseries" is available on DVD. I've never seen that, and will have to think about it. I'm also happy to see that they actually had Japanese in the Japanese roles. Somewhere along the way, I'd gotten the impression (I wish I knew where) that that was not the case.


health care debate

It's sort of amusing (and more than a little disturbing) to listen to what's being discussed. Why don't we start with easy, low-hanging fruit:

  • Go back to forbidding direct-to-consumer drug advertising. This direct advertising, last I heard, was responsible for about 40% of the steadily-increasing cost of medical care. Consider that those drug companies are spending more money on those ads than they are on R&D.
  • Allow medicare/medicaid to bargain as an entity for drugs. The price will go through the floor on drugs for people in those programs, with almost no effort.
  • Require insurance companies to standardize paperwork. Right now the paperwork attendant with insurance is absurd. Duke University's medical system has, according to its web site, 1241 doctors. According to its director (heard on NPR a couple of weeks ago), it has about 600 people processing insurance paperwork (down, recently, from 900).
  • Start a public plan, or, if the will for that is lacking, require availability of a non-profit (or maybe not-for-profit) insurance option across the country. This would not offer, for instance, access to cosmetic surgery (except, I suppose, for cases like mastectomy "repair" (man, there's gotta be a better term for that)). This would just be a no-frills thing for basic and urgent care.

None of those should really be all that difficult to implement, and would vastly improve costs across the system.

Another issue that I see is that, it seems to me, medical schools are turning out way too many specialists, and too few GPs. Unfortunately, I have no clue how to attack the problem.

The reason, of course, is that specialists make so much more than GPs do. As always, follow the money. Maybe that public plan could reduce that by cutting down on the price premium for seeing a specialist? This is something I can only speculate on.

Hmm... more to discuss on this, but that's it for the moment.



Caps aren't playing like a team that wants to be playing; they're getting beaten to every loose puck (mostly not even trying to compete for them), passes aren't crisp, etc.

And now two very quick goals by the Pens. Not hard to predict, given the rest.


Update: Well, it appears as though they continued to play like a team that saw the front of the Sports Section of the Post today, and decided that they would win simply by showing up. Congrats to the Pens on playing like they wanted it, and good luck to them the rest of the way. Hopefully, the Caps will play better next year.


Caps stay alive

The Caps are still showing no killer instinct. They're showing a great deal of tenaciousness, but that can only take you so far.

They're really hanging Varlamov out to dry. Aside from the one game the other day, he's been playing fabulously. The defense, however, is allowing way too many shots. They're allowing 38 shots per game, and that's just not a recipe for success. Even with Varly's 91% saves, that's quite a lot of goals.

Answer: more pressure on the Pens. Take the game to them. And don't be so careless with the puck. And play the entire game. Trying their hardest, the caps might well be the best team in the league, but they don't play that way consistently.

I'm not a huge basketball fan (I like it seeing it played well, but the foul calling is too divergent from the rules (and, especially in the NBA, too inconsistent) to take all that seriously. But I watched an awful lot of games in the last running of the Bulls. Why? Because that was an amazing team that played on all cylinders almost every night. Seriously; they took off only one or two nights each season (and for some reason, it seemed like almost all of those games were against Toronto). It was the most amazing team display in sports that I've seen. (Yes, I'm not nearly old enough to have seen Russell's Celtics or the 30's or 50's Yankees; I suspect those teams were similar.)

The only thing close that I've seen was the Patriots run through the league season before last. That was also very impressive (even if they did run up the score unnecessarily a few times; that, however, bothers me only a little at the pro level).

Anyway, I wish these Caps could learn from those teams about playing their hardest all the time.


Two Days in Paris

My wife bought this one at the Circuit City going-out-of-business sale. (The sale, incidentally, was pretty sad. We went, thinking about getting a new TV, and their closeout TVs were at least as expensive as Amazon's normal prices. I checked. But we did buy a few movies.) She bought this one because we were expecting romantic comedy, and we very much enjoyed Paris when we were there.

The movie was very strange, though. There was humor, but not so much of the "laugh out loud" variety. Neither of the main characters was really all that sympathetic. In fact, I started out disliking the guy; it took rather longer for me to dislike the woman.

Warning, by the way. The stereo downmix was terrible; don't watch it if you don't have a center speaker. We did, and had a lot of trouble hearing the dialog (not helped by not being able to turn the volume higher).

But the biggest problem was this. It was all about them doing uncomfortable things to each other, some deliberate and some accidental. But when they got to the ending, they punted by not playing out the denouement. It was pictured, but with one of the characters doing voice-over. Lame, lame, lame. It also didn't help that it was of the, "he'll irritate the piss out of me, but I'll still love him" variety. There's definitely some realism there, but who watches romantic comedies for excessive realism?

A second viewing of this one certainly seems unlikely.

Caps not doing so well

I wasn't able to watch much of the game tonight, but the Caps didn't look like they wanted it. Hopefully playing at home will help.

Which reminds me, it was weird to read the Post's summary of the game the other night. They kept saying that the Caps weren't showing much desire. I was only able to watch the first ten minutes of that game, and they were sure playing hard then. I guess they must have gotten complacent shortly after that.


One thing I'm wondering, though... The Caps have a great offense (third best in the league, and only two goals from second); why haven't they managed to win a playoff game without Varlamov having a great game?

more recent authors

I mentioned, in an earlier post, that I re-read books quite frequently, and hadn't found many new authors recently (recently, I suppose, being defined as 'in the last few years'). Some books I'd ordered a while ago finally appeared yesterday, and reminded me that I've forgotten rather a few.

Like many, I greatly enjoyed Rowling's Potter books. I'm actually mostly mentioning this because, while I've been reading sci-fi/fantasy for most of my life (the first adult novel I read was Brooks' Elfstones of Shannara, when I was eight or nine); my mother's been pooh-poohing those books for just as long (she liked mysteries and spy thrillers). And yet, I was introduced to this series by my mother; I still haven't figured out how that happened.

The books that arrived yesterday, though, are Riordan's The Last Olympian
(and some others of that series that I'd previously read through the library), as well as several of Butcher's Dresden series. I'll get back to this later, but at about the same time as I discovered Riordan, a friend recommended Stroud's excellent Bartimaeus trilogy.

It's quite ironic; I'm reading more kid's books now than I did when I was in second grade.

Anyway, Riordan's series was wonderful (in both its current and original uses) from beginning to end. Although it was quite predictable what the monsters were, particularly in the first two or three books (having read a great deal of greek mythology, and played D&D quite a bit, didn't hurt), these were hard to put down. And it doesn't hurt that they're very fast reads; I'm not an exceptionally fast reader, and I had to put the book down several times last night for various reasons, yet I still finished it before going to bed.

To be a bit more specific, the series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) takes place in modern-day US, and most of the main characters are demi-gods. The title of the series makes a bit more sense when taking into account that Percy is short for Perseus. The rationale is that, as the center of "western civilization", the Greek gods have moved Mt Olympus to the 600th storey of the Empire State Building. Other features of Greek mythology have also moved in similar vein. If you haven't seen much of Greek mythology, the series is a pretty good introduction. If you are very familiar, that won't spoil the story.

As I said, the series makes a fast-paced, very entertaining read. I'm not sure I really have an opinion of how the last book compares to the earlier ones, but it was still very difficult to put down. At the very least, it makes a very fitting ending.

I was introduced to Butcher's books by a friend with whom I used to game. We played a Fantasy Hero campaign based around his books, which was a lot of fun. The main character is Harry Dresden, the only wizard in the Chicago yellow pages (or at least the only one listed as such). He's also treated, at best, with suspicion by other members of the magical community. And as magic tends to break technology commensurately with how powerful it is, that community is a fairly insular one.

The main enemies are vampires (of several different flavors), werewolves, the fae (though, as with most series including them, the fae are a bit of an enigma), evil wizards, and the occasional bit of unholiness. The books are quite action-packed, though definitely not to be mistaken for kids books. They're very gritty, in lots of ways (gore, sex, swearing, outright cruelty, etc).

In the last several Dresden novels, Butcher has mentioned his new "swords-and-horses" series that was apparently what he always wanted to write. I haven't read any of those, but when I saw the first of those, I worried that that series would get all of his attention and care. I'm happy to say that there hasn't been a noticeable drop-off in the Dresden books since then (at least not as of White Night, although I can't tell you anything about that Aluria series; I haven't touched it.

I also mentioned the Bartimaeus series earlier. It definitely borrows a few pages from Rowling; one of the two main characters is a wizard (also starting at age eleven) growing up in England. This is 19th century England, though, and it stays in and around London. Magic in this series is all of the summoning variety, though; the only spells are summoning and controlling demons. The other main character is a demon named Bartimaeus, who is, as demons go, only medium-powerful, but very old and with a gift for the one-liner.

The trilogy takes place over, IIRC, seven years, and progresses from the boy being a gifted apprentice to a high-level bureaucrat (it is Britain, after all). In the first book, Nathaniel is stretching himself to be able to summon a demon as powerful as Bartimaeus. One thing I did find odd was that, even in the third book, Nathaniel is not summoning more powerful demons.

One of the reasons for that is that is that Bartimaeus figures out a way to balance the power in their relationship fairly early on. Even though he has to obey Nathaniel, he is able to negate the punishments that Nathaniel would normally be able to inflict. Because of this, Nathaniel refuses to let Bartimaeus return to the realm of demons; this causes great difficulties for both of them.

One other wrinkle in the series is that societies in that world that depend on magic for their dominance breed people who are immune (to varying degrees) to it. One girl with that immunity is a particular thorn in Nathaniel's side, although they come to somewhat of an accommodation, eventually.

Mostly, the series is about the interactions between Nathaniel and Bartimaeus, with external threats being largely levers on that relationship. I won't give away the ending, but it is a very powerful one.

One final note, relating to Stroud and Riordan. They're both in the kid's section, and both sold in the same age range, but Stroud is actually written for kids who are a few years older than Riordan's target. (I'm guessing that Riordan is writing for the lower end of that range, while Stroud is writing for the top end. I think the range was 7-12, but I'm far from sure about that.)

Hmm... And that prompts one last bit of speculation... The Last Olympian ended with a prophecy that will surely drive another series (an author's note after pretty much guaranteed it)... I wonder if the target age will be the same for that series.


kindle dx, huh?

Well, it sounds interesting. It doesn't address either of my major concerns with the kindle, and it doesn't make them look as silly as I'd speculated, since it's just a better model, rather than a replacement.

It does add native support for PDFs, though, which might be good enough to convince me. And the larger screen certainly doesn't hurt.

As an educational tool, too, it's intriguing. I wish it'd been available when I'd been a student. I killed my back when I was in college (well, high school didn't help, either), since I tended to carry all of the books I might need on any given day. This was frequently twenty pounds of books, and I made things worse by carrying them over one shoulder.

So the thought of carrying all the books for my entire time at school in less than a pound of weight is quite seductive.

It's especially attractive if there's a good way to search the titles that it holds. Man, that would have made references a breeze.

When I was growing up, despite being into D&D and similar pursuits, I was always glad that I had been born when I had. But technology marches on, and now I wish I could be just growing up. Funny how that works.

I must say, this is sounding better and better, the more I think about it. I could get it, and get all my technical books in pdf form; that would rock. Plus I've already got a large number of comics in pdf... this is sounding better and better.


adobe customer service

I just got my hands on Photoshop Elements 6 for my Mac. I'd been debating whether to get it, or to wait for 7, or just to do without, but Amazon had a really good price a week or so ago. For whatever reason, it took until today to arrive (I'm guessing they got a lot of orders and ran out before they fulfilled mine, given that it was shipped overnight).

Anyway, I started the installer, and got this error immediately.

Interesting, as I'm using a bog-standard 'Mac OS Extended' filesystem, and as there's nothing mentioned in the system requirements at all, in terms of filesystem.

So, I mosey on over to Adobe's support site (helpfully linked from the readme that listed the requirements). No issue listed there, so I head over to the Elements forum. Nothing similar listed there, either, so I try to create a new post. And that takes me to this lovely page.

Scheduled Maintenance?!? At 3pm on a weekday? If they're telling the truth, then they are really stupid. And if they're not, what does that mean? They hate their customers? I'm not sure. Whatever it means, I'm probably returning the software; this is not the sort of thing to inspire customer loyalty.

Update: It turns out that PSE (and most, if not all, adobe products) can't be installed on a case-sensitive filesystem. WTF? Time to return.



Well, I finally got around to seeing The Watchmen earlier today [ed: I wrote this several weeks ago, almost immediately after seeing it, and only slightly edited it today], and I wanted to get a lot of my initial impressions down before I forgot about them. I should preface this, I suppose, by saying that I re-read the graphic novel a week or two ago (it had been ten years or more since my previous exploration).

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about it. I think it did a good job of staying true to the story. It was way too gory (people had told me it was quite gory, which didn't bug me, as the original was pretty gory as well, but this was much more graphic, to no real purpose). The soundtrack was fantastic (except for the closing credits music, which was awful). I did not like how the masked heroes were suddenly superhuman in abilities; that was a significant change. They did a very good job of keeping most of the best lines; in fact, all of the best lines were straight out of
the graphic novel.

To get into more specifics: I loved the opening montage introducing the milieu. The Times They Are A-Changin', indeed. That was gorgeous, and hit all the right notes, both high and low.

The setup they did for John's martian "Fortress of Solitude" was also incredibly cool. In the graphic novel, I hadn't really seen it as a clockwork apparatus, but I loved what they did with it.

The (almost) rape scene was a very important one. I thought having Sally hit The Comedian, especially as it occurred before he'd done anything physically, really changed the character of the encounter. Not a plus. The only explanation I can come up with for it was to make her appear stronger, but it failed signally at that.

And, while I'm looking at that vein of the movie, her reason for forgiving Eddie didn't really make sense, on the face of it. If the rape had actually occurred, and she had conceived from it, it could have worked as a reason to forgive him (it seems a bit of a stretch, but at least not... uh... inconceivable). But as it was presented, she had to have forgiven him before the conception ever occurred. Hard to forgive someone based on something that hasn't yet occurred. Perhaps she just didn't want to tell her daughter the truth, I suppose.

Ok, moving along. As I said, the movie added a great deal of gore, for no purpose. My objections on this center around three scenes.

The first of these is the fight in the alleyway. We really did not need to see exposed bones and knees bent backwards. Seriously. The only word I can come up with to describe that is fetishistic. It does nothing to advance the story. If you want to show how strong they are, have the sound of bones breaking when they punch people, maybe. But you really don't need to even point out how strong they are. There was no indication at all of them having superhuman strength in the original. In fact, now that I think about it, Dan's ED doesn't really make sense, even vis a vis the Keene Act, if they're superhumanly strong. It's kind of hard to make someone feel emasculated if they still have that kind of power. If they only seem to have power (hyperintelligence notwithstanding, I suppose), but are actually just normal people, then the Keene Act was a whole lot more emasculative.

The second scene was Rorschach's origin. Yes, they needed to show the dog's head. And perhaps the shoe on the bones the dogs were fighting over (I can't think of a better way to show that). But killing the guy with a huge cleaver? Come on. The original way of killing the guy was much better; not least because it did give the guy a chance to live. Plus it would have spared us on-camera shots of a guy being brained with a cleaver. And it had style.

The final one that really bothered me was the guys breaking in to Rorschach's cell. Specifically, cutting the arms off of the guy who was "in the way". Really, a sound effect would have been quite sufficient for that.

Hmm... And this reminds me of what bothered me about the end of that sequence, when Rorschach follows the midget into the bathroom. By showing it through the swinging door like that, I got the impression that that was showing Dan and Laurie's view of the proceeding. And that didn't really make a whole lot of sense with their lack of reaction. But I will applaud the pan to the blood flowing out from under the door. That was a nicely understated touch, of which the movie could have used a lot more.

Alright, let's get back to what I did like. Jackie Earle Haley did an absolutely magnificent job as Rorschach. Seriously, he nailed 'im. My only complaint with Rorschach through the whole movie was the line as Dan and Laurie passed him, unknowing, on the street. He said they didn't recognize him because he didn't have his mask on, rather than because he didn't have his face on. Small script error.

Also, as I said, the soundtrack was fantastic. I already mentioned The Times... The Sound of Silence also worked very well where it was used. And Ride of the Valkyries, while ripped off from Apocalypse Now, was still a solid choice. All Along the Watchtower, while unexpected, worked perfectly for the approach to Karnak. 99 Luftballons, while I thought it worked when watching, I'm now wondering if I thought that just because I like the song. Thinking back to the lyrics, I can't see any special aptness to it. And Me and Bobby McGee? I must have missed
them using that one, although I'm not sure how I would; it's an awesome song. Oh, yes, and one minor note about the music created just for the movie? The Requiem while they were leaving Karnak was also very well done. Oh, and that crap they used for the end credits? Come on. How about something a little more meaningful? Maybe a longer version of that requiem, and then following with something more hopeful (Ode to Joy, maybe)?

And speaking of the ending: I had read in a review beforehand (without spoilers) that the ending was significantly changed in a way that was much more clean and elegant than the original. I will agree with that analysis, however it misses a bigger issue. Being faced with the prospect of an alien race would be a very effective means of bringing lasting peace and cooperation, particularly if the capabilities of that race were unknown. However, having a known "enemy", and especially one of virtually infinite capabilities? I don't see how that leads to cooperation. They can't keep him away from the ones in power, since he can either teleport or just walk through barriers; they can't keep him from "exploding" like that repeatedly. They really can't do anything to stop him. So where does the cooperation come in? What makes it last? I guess I just don't buy it, that that would lead to peace.

So, to sum up, I guess I mostly liked it, but it is a movie that definitely has its flaws. Certainly, it was a heck of a lot deeper than the vast majority of action movies.

video games

I used to play a lot of video games; through college and for quite a few years after. Bomberman and Bomberman '93 were my favorites for a long time (it went rather downhill from there, though; the punch took a lot of the skill out of multiplayer). I was the first player I know of (and I was on a turbo duo mailing list at the time) to find the 10M point "power-up" in the original bomberman (it took getting through the first 63 levels of the game without dying).

But anyway... since a job I had a decade ago, where we had daily quake2 deathmatches in our group, I haven't hardly played them. Lately, the only game I bought expecting to play quite a bit was Civ IV. That was quite good, but I largely lost interest after several very long games. I guess part of it was that it was very, very tough to take over anything via cultural superiority; much tougher than it should have been. Putting an enormous percentage of my resources into that, I was only able to take over one city over the entire course of a very long game (and that one was very small). Overall, I think I liked Alpha Centauri (man, it's sad to notice that it'd been ten years since I updated that page) a lot better. The only game I still play regularly on my computer is a computer bridge game.

I do still play console games on occasion, though. DDR is my main form of exercise (I also play ultimate frisbee, but usually only once a week). And Karaoke Revolution is a lot of fun, also. My pitch is still far from perfect, but at least I can sometimes hear when it's off, now.

Be that as it may, the main reason I was writing this was to talk about DDR. I've been playing it for a long time; I only play it on Hard difficulty, unless I'm playing a new version. And when that happens, I get back to Hard as quickly as I can; not much exercise in the easier levels. I've been asked if I memorize the levels, but, as far as I can tell, I don't. It's hard to be sure, really. If I have memorized it, it's only at the subconscious level, except for a couple of particular sequences in a couple of songs, where my instinctive action would leave me wrong-footed. The only thing I really consciously remember is the beat sequence (when is there an extra syncopation, when does the tempo change, that sort of thing).

I've tried telling people that DDR is a good training for ultimate, but no one seems to believe me; what it does particularly well is train you for defense. Getting wrong-footed on D in ultimate (as in most sports) means you lose the match-up immediately; by the time you can play DDR on Hard level, you're almost never wrong-footed. And you're rarely off-balance, as well. Plus, it's very good aerobic exercise, so it helps with your wind. Win-win-win. :)


Kindle thoughts

I was always pretty skeptical about electronic books replacing real books. The extra eye-strain from reading on a screen always made it seem pretty far off. That has improved a great deal with LCD screens over CRTs, and I suspect that LED-backlit LCDs are probably even a bit more of an improvement in that category. But it wasn't until I saw a Kindle screen that I thought it might happen before too much longer.

That isn't to say that the Kindle is that much better than its competitors. Honestly, I don't know; I haven't seen the competition. But I get the impression that the screens of the major competitors are all equivalent. Whatever. The point is, the screen does seem good enough to replace paper. (I think; I suppose the final test would be to read it for an extended period, and see how my eyes feel.)

But I wonder if Amazon really gets the other issues. I buy, and read, a lot of books. I read some for work, and a lot more for pleasure. The ecosystem may be nice, but I won't be buying a kindle, to say nothing of kindle books, until at least two things happen. One, they must remove the DRM from the books. I'm not about to buy a book where the company can turn around and remove my access to it at a later date. That's happened to far too many music stores, even ones run by tiny, fly-by-night outfits like WalMart and Microsoft.

The other thing that needs to happen is that they need to rethink book pricing. They talk about how great the price is, but I buy a lot of mass-market paperbacks, and kindle pricing is more expensive than those. Seriously, the overhead is close to zero, so the price should drop by at least half.

But, I guess, maybe enough people are buying them for Amazon to feel comfortable keeping prices there. I don't know, but it's definitely too much for me.

This, btw, was inspired by seeing an RSS link to an article saying that amazon was going to introduce another kindle in the next week with a bigger screen. I didn't read the article, but I've got to say that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Frankly, I think Amazon will look kind of silly if they do, putting out a "kindle 2.5" so soon after 2.0. I suppose stranger things have happened, though. I guess we'll see.