Reviews

If you actually care what I think about movies, music, or books, this is where to look.

Readings again

Last posted about books in April last year. Since then…

I finished What the CEO Wants You To Know by Ram Charan (a work reading assignment). Didn’t enjoy it, exactly, but portions of it were thought-provoking and it lead to me researching and learning a little bit about business finances.

I finished Dave Duncan‘s second quartet of books set in Pandemia. I really enjoyed them, too, and I’m sure I’ll be reading more stuff by him.

I finished Earthman, Come Home by James Blish. Old Sci-Fi, with only (thankfully) brief visits from female characters, with a really out-there ending (not that I dislike female characters in sci-fi, but I really dislike female characters written by male authors in the 50s). Not bad, but not great.

I finally finished the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe. I was not really wowed by any of it. Most of it was OK. Some of it was pretty challenging to finish.

The Dreamstone by CJ Cherryh. I enjoyed it, but not enough to seek out more books in the Ealdwood series. I’m fairly sure the physical book I read came from my grandfather’s collection.

Chilkat and I finished The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Of course it’s really good. We started The Magician’s Nephew, but she lost interest.

I read Existence by David Brin. It’s interesting, not really great, about a weird form of first contact that is described as a chain letter or a virus.

The War of the Wing Men (apparently also known as The Man Who Counts), by Poul Anderson. A book about an engineer, a princess, and a merchant stranded on a primitive planet populated by sentient flying creatures. Not bad.

Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer. Fascinating and terrifying, a book about parasites, both the specifics of individual parasites, and the effects they have on ecology and evolution.

I read the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. Violent and fast paced fantasy. What I like most about it is how deeply flawed all the main characters are. I’m now in the process of reading three more books set in the same universe, featuring some of the same characters.

Another book for work: Negotiation Genius by Deepak Malhotra. I liked this book, because a large part of it is about being open to being wrong and understanding the point of view of an “opponent.”

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie (I loved her Ancillary books). This was an interesting story primarily about gods but mostly told through humans, with an interesting system of “godly power” anchored upon “anything a god says must be true,” meaning that if a god says something, it’s power is used to make it true, and the god may die if what it says is beyond its power to make true. Also with a not-so-subtle tie-in to Hamlet.

I listened to the Infernal Devices trilogy from Cassandra Clare. A fantasy series wherein the “nephalem” (or shadowhunters) are the police protecting the mundane from the magical, set in the 1800s in London. It was not terrible, but I kind of resented finishing it. The over-the-top gushy emotions and drama left a bad taste in my mouth.

I read The Inspirational Leader by Gifford Thomas. This was for work, and it was probably the worst book I have ever finished. If this book had an editor, that editor should be fired. There were multiple egregious grammar errors every god damn page, and it barely even made a point beyond “Being a leader is not the same as being a manager.” At least it was a quick read.

Since I finished Poe, I’ve started reading Sherlock Holmes as my chore book. I finished the first one, A Study in Scarlet. I enjoyed it.

I’m reading Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard.

That’s pretty much it for reading right now.

I also started actively looking for new music by writing things down when I hear music or read or see something and I passively think, “Hey, I should check this band out.” Every week, I also listen to Spotify’s recommendations and dig further if there’s anything particular I really like. I’ve recently acquired music by new-to-me bands Man Man, the Swingin’ Utters, and the Pink Spiders, as well as more music by familiar bands Clutch, Johnny Cash, Our Lady Peace, and Nerf Herder.

Posted by snaotheus in Reviews, 3 comments

Fuck you, Apple

I have absolutely no hope that any Apple representative will actually see this, so consider it venting.

iTunes is a piece of shit. I’d rather use software developed by the proverbial infinite monkeys with an infinite number of IDEs.

All of Apple’s mechanisms of managing devices are fucking horrible.

The only reason people think the iPhone and other iGarbage is easy to use is because all of the options are equally shitty. If you’re marginally familiar with one (such as iShit), the others are clearly incomprehensible. If you’re familiar with Android, then iSmegma is horrifying.

I got this new computer, fumbled around in Apple’s poorly designed website to find their iTunes installer because (pathetically) there is no other way to manage an iPhone. Installed, and then spent untold hours trying to get it to actually recognize my phone and sync with it.

I don’t want it to create giant backups of my phone every time I want to sync music, but I don’t have a way to tell it not to do that. The best I can do is sync wirelessly. But that requires iTunes to magically recognize when my phone is on the same network. Which it rarely does. And if the “manage your expensive-ass shitphone” button doesn’t show up magically in the GUI, you’re SOL. You can’t tell it “Hey, my phone’s right here, motherfucker, why don’t you look for it?” You can drink and cry and despondently restart shit and hope vainly that something will change.

But it won’t.

Because Apple sucks.

Every time I have to use iTunes, I want to throw my iPhone in the trash. I want to mail photocopies of my middle fingers to Apple headquarters. I want all of the iTunes’ development team members’ moms to call them and tell them they should be ashamed of themselves.

Beyond that, of course, is Apple’s (and other tech companies’ [yeah I’m fucking looking at you, Adobe]) love of discussion boards instead of support systems. Sure, they’re cheap. But when I’m already frustrated with my phone and local management options, do I really need JeveStobs6969 to tell me to restart my computer without actually reading my question? Or link me to some Russian website that will automatically fix it for me? Or a forty-seven step process that may or may not have worked for someone one time with a different problem in a different situation that isn’t even valid for my version of iTunes? And even if it did, it amounts to superstition because they don’t have a fucking clue what it means to disable UDP on your local network or how that might affect iTunes or iPhone — it’s just something that they did while flailing around with their own problems?

And god forbid you want to let Apple know there’s a problem that they should fix. Our ol’ buddy JeveStobs6969 will still tell you to restart your computer. You might as well scream into the void. You have a better chance of teaching your intestinal system to produce smartphones instead of feces (although you’d probably get better results that way).

Fuck you, Apple.

Oh hey! Check it out! In the time it took me to write this (coinciding with attempts seven through thirteen), I was able to get my new album on my phone! Not wirelessly, of course. I had to use a cable and back up my phone twice to do it.

Posted by snaotheus in Reviews, 4 comments

More Readings

Currently reading:

  • At home paper book: Earthman, Come Home by James Blish.
  • Work assignment reading: What the CEO Wants You To Know by Ram Charan.
  • Commute audio book: Upland Outlaws by Dave Duncan
  • With my daughter: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis.
  • Chore book: Still plowing through the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe. Next up is the Poetic Principle, after I finish my work assignment book.

Since the last time I wrote about books I was reading:

None of the Poe stories really stand out to me. I didn’t feel like including any of the work related books I read.

Just yesterday, I finished the Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It was interesting, very strange, and I’m confident I missed a lot of the points the author was trying to make in ridiculing Russian society at the time. I’ll be reading the Wikipedia article on the book and on Pontius Pilate and a few other related topics as a result. I suffered from my standard Russian literature complaint: Each character has like four completely unrelated names and I can’t tell who we’re talking about more than half the time.

I’m listening to Dave Duncan‘s second quartet of books set in Pandemia. I like it. He has a really unique magic system, a unique universe, and genuinely interesting stories. I found it in some list of something like “unknown but excellent fantasy fiction.” I suspect I’ll eventually read more of his books.

I’m somewhere around halfway done reading James Blish‘s Cities in Flight quartet — interesting kind of out-there sci fi about a future where city-encompassing anti-gravity allows entire cities (like New York) to become space-faring, and “anti-agathic” drugs indefinitely prolong human life spans. Cities go from planet to planet looking for work (like hobos as described by a more old-fashioned terminology where that doesn’t necessarily mean a deadbeat street person), finding planets at various stages of development both technologically and culturally.

I listened to Neil Gaiman‘s Norse Mythology, which of course was good. No idea how true it is to the original stories or how completely, but definitely the most approachable rendition of the mythology I’ve ever attempted.

I listened to James SA Corey‘s Expanse series up to the last book. I really enjoy that series, and I think the last book is supposed to come out this year. Eventually I probably want to watch the series, too. I think I was hooked in the scene in the first book where one of the main characters realizes he’s not respected by any of his peers, when he thought he was really good at his job.

I read (or listened to, can’t remember) The Girl from the North by Cat Bruno, and I’m not sure why I found it so terribly tedious. I kind of forced myself to finish the book. I didn’t start the next book in the series.

Interworld by Neil Gaiman, a book about a kid who suddenly discovers he can travel transdimensionally and finds himself in the midst of war between evil technology people, evil magic people, and other transdimensional-traveller versions of himself. It was OK, but I didn’t feel the need to continue the series.

Chilkat and I read Half Magic by Edward Eager. It was fun to read it with her.

A Gift From Earth by Larry Niven was pretty strange and interesting. A colony on a planet with a relatively tiny habitable area, where the “crew” of the colony ship becomes the hereditary lords of the planet and the “passengers” become the hereditary serfs, where minor crimes are punished by distributing the criminal’s organs among the “crew” to prolong their lives. This twisted society is disrupted by deliveries of new technology from other colonies (or the home planet) and of course a local with special powers.

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky was pretty good — Human society self destructs just as it reached a level of technology where it was trying to set up a world as a turbo-charged evolution experiment; the experiment goes wrong and ends up with highly evolved giant spiders, who are encountered thousands of years later by Earth’s last survivors escaping their poisoned planet — complicated by the decayed and corrupted remnants of the previous human interplanetary empire. I think this is the start of a series…not sure how well it would extend, but I might get to it some day.

I picked The Alien Way by Gordon Dickson years ago and finally got around to reading it last year. Through convoluted means, a human establishes a one-way telepathic link (the human is a receiver) with an alien from an aggressive interplanetary empire with fundamentally different societal norms.

Island, by Aldous Huxley, was a little boring, but an interesting mixture of idealist optimism (the utopian society on the island) and caricaturistic pessimism (its relationship to the surrounding world).

I finally finished the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (mostly). Brandon Sanderson kind of scrambled to pull together all of the threads at the end, but managed to do it and wrap it up in a reasonably satisfying way. I don’t think the series was bad (although large chunks of it are), but I think it did not live up to its potential.

Posted by snaotheus in Reviews, 3 comments

Solo (non) Daddery

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Aurora, IL, wearing slacks and a dress shirt, waiting for my 8:30 meet-up with colleagues to attend a training class at which I expect to learn little or nothing from the material — I’ll learn about what people learn about when attending this training.

KrisDi and the kids are at home. I took Monday off as a vacation day, and came in on an early flight on Sunday to give myself about a day and a half to putter about Chicagoland looking for beer and food.

First thing I did after leaving the airport was go to Portillo’s for an Italian beef sandwich. Then I went to Mikerphone and Une Année/Hubbard’s Cave, headed to my hotel, from which I Ubered to Off Color, then Half Acre, then walked to Spiteful, and Ubered back to the room. I texted Weesh updates periodically in case she felt like joining me for a beer (she didn’t).

The room was at Fieldhouse Jones, a strange, heavily sports-themed hotel. Aside from being poorly sound-insulated and having very noisy plumbing, it was a perfectly nice place to stay.

Monday morning, I woke up at 4 (not on purpose), checked out, and drove to Munster, Indiana, hoping to beat traffic. Mostly I did, except a tanker truck wrecked on the interstate just before the Indiana border, blocking all lanes of traffic. Myself and others got by on the shoulder. I have never seen a truck wrecked as badly as that one. I think it took out a quarter mile of guardrail.

At 5:45 AM in Munster, I didn’t have much to do. I checked email for a bit until the Riviera Restaurant opened. I very slowly ate way too much, and the local news told me that cleanup crews were going to have to close all lanes of the interstate (at least in one direction) for 10 hours to clear out the mess.

Then I had four hours to kill before Three Floyds opened. I drove around Munster and Dyer for a while, napped for a bit in a parking lot, got some coffee at a Dunkin Donuts, wandered around a couple liquor stores (and had a nice conversation about bourbon with the manager of the Cask and Cellar), then sat in the Three Floyds parking lot to read (finally finishing The Girl From The North, which I firmly do not recommend). I had a Scotch Egg (breakfast left me too full for a real lunch), went to Windmill and had a nice conversation with the server there (she got permission from the owner to sell me a four pack of Memes & Dreams straight off the canning line).

My next intended stop was One Trick Pony; Google said they opened at 3. I did the email thing for a while at a Dunkin Donuts. When I got to One Trick Pony, their door said they were closed. Their website said they opened at six. I gave up and headed to my hotel (it’s been a long time since I’ve had a long drive where the number of miles was pretty much equal to the number of minutes driving). I checked in, got some cold beer at a grocery store, picked up a pizza from Lou Malnati’s, and had dinner in the hotel. After confirming that I wasn’t going to meet up with colleagues, I visited Solemn Oath, and had a nice conversation with the bartender there, who was surprisingly familiar with my home town — she works for a logistics company that frequently uses some facility there when shipping things to and from Canada.

  • I was impressed with Une Année/Hubbard’s Cave. I really enjoyed the beer and the environment, and the other patrons brought out some impressive beers to share. The bartender was really excited about the beer, was engaged with customers (he seemed to know more than half of them). The people there were all beer people — you don’t stop in at this dingy looking place wedged into a strip mall between a dollar store and a Chinese restaurant because you want to look cool. I was horrified by the story the bartender was telling about one of the brewers having scalded himself by unknowingly opening a pressurized 180 degree water valve (sounds like he badly burned an arm, and I think he probably got lucky with that).
  • Off Color makes some interesting and good beer. I’m glad I stopped there. The vibe seemed more “downtown” — more crowds of young folks wanting a beer being tolerated by the staff (that’s actually a really good description of how I felt about the service).
  • I don’t think Windmill makes as good of beer (in general) as Half Acre or Three Floyds, but since I had never tried any of it and they had a couple beers that were really good, I really enjoyed this stop. The bartender was a young goofy girl who really liked the beer and was watching old sixties-era sci-fi/western TV). There were no other patrons.
  • Three Floyds still has some really good beer (Zombie Dust and Lazer Snake are my favorites right now), but doesn’t seem to have come up with anything new that is really interesting. It’s kind of a busy place.
  • Half Acre still has some good beer, but hasn’t wowed me with anything for a long time.
  • Solemn Oath makes solid beer, but nothing really impressed me. I liked the space and the vibe.
  • I liked Mikerphone, but wasn’t that impressed.
  • Spiteful was OK.

I had an interesting experience being on my own for a day and a half with no actual responsibilities besides deciding where to go next, when, and how to get there safely. I felt guilty — like I was doing something I shouldn’t be doing (or not doing something I was supposed to be doing), and someone was going to catch me and I was going to get in trouble.

I had a good time. I think I would have enjoyed it more with someone else (but I’m not totally sure, to be honest — I like spending time with people, but I really don’t feel like I get that much time to myself. It was nice to do what I wanted to do and not worry about what other people wanted. Selfish I suppose, or self-centered, or both, but still true.

Posted by snaotheus, 1 comment

Readings

I haven’t done this in a while. I used to do it fairly frequently.

Generally, I split my attention between five books or so. I can categorize them by context / purpose:

  • Work reading: Something work / skill related, that I read at some reasonable pace, which takes precedence for reading starting Monday until I finish the week’s quota. Currently I’m reading Design Patterns, and my weekly chunks are “read one pattern” which only takes about 30 minutes and makes a nice cognitive segment.
  • Personal chore reading: Something that I always mean to read, but never gets started unless I make a point of it. Currently it’s the entire collection of Edgar Allan Poe. Right now, each time I finish a personal pleasure book, I read 5% of this collection (minimum — keep reading until 5% is reached and I hit the end of a story or other natural break). After I realized how long this was, I wasn’t willing to follow my normal pattern of alternating between chore and pleasure reading.
  • Personal pleasure reading: These are the things I would read naturally — usually science fiction or fantasy. I try to vary between the two, and vary between older and modern. Currently it’s the Broken Sword.
  • Commute listening: Now that the kids aren’t in the car with me, I don’t need to worry about whether they’re sufficiently entertained during my commute. So, I started listening to audio books, since I get a minimum of one hour per work day to do it. Currently it’s Lord of Chaos, book 6 of the Wheel of Time. This is an attempt to get through the entirety of this series in a relatively unbroken chain and relatively short amount of time (which will probably be more than a year).
  • Home paper reading: All the reading above is digital. Mostly I read on my phone. And I have a huge queue of digital reading already. And I rarely have paper books with me, unless I’m at home. So, paper books just don’t get read if I don’t make a point of it, and I can’t reasonably just stop other reading when I start a paper book, because I would have it with me so rarely. Therefore, on the weekends at home, I read a paper book. Currently, it’s How Music Works. I might get through 10-20 pages a weekend, so it moves slowly.

Every once in a while, I get a specific reading assignment at work, which I have to dedicate time to in order to finish — over Christmas break I read Winning with Accountability for a discussion among managers at work early this year. A smaller subset of managers and I are going to start going through The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which should take roughly one hour a week.

The last batch of Poe stories (Lionizing, Devil in the Belfry, Three Sundays in a Week, King Pest) have been boring or ridiculous in ways that I think could be made more interesting. A lot of his writing is over the top in a way I don’t find very appealing. I’m really not a huge fan of most of his writing. It seems to be a good bet that if the story’s name is a woman’s name, I won’t like it. I actually started reading Poe because someone told me that Lovecraft mostly wrote Poe fanfic. Maybe for some particular Poe stories, I suppose.

I’m not going to be able to differentiate between what happened in Wheel of Time book 5 (last finished) and 6 (currently listening) — but it’s right in the murky middle of the series where all of the female characters are the same unbearably annoying character, and where Jordan seemed to have lost focus on actually getting anywhere with the damn story. The book could probably be cut in half pretty easily without really losing much.

Provenance by Ann Leckie was not a bad book, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped. I got this because I loved the Ancillary trilogy. This was clearly in the same universe, and wasn’t a bad story — but maybe it focused too much on the main character’s experience simply exerting self-control and weathering self-doubt and fear.

Posted by snaotheus in Reviews, 5 comments