More recent reading

[it’s late, forgive typos]

I re-read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion, which is a readable and capable. The sequel, Paladin of Souls, I have had trouble getting through; the main character seems aimless and not well motivated, and the various societal structures that are supposed to provide reasons for why the characters act the way they do simply seem petty and unsustainable in what is essentially a peasant agrarian economy.

Maybe there’s just something screwed up and way too analytical about my brain when it comes to castle-and-quest fantasies. But they’re hard to enjoy if you know anything about how things really worked in our own similar age (sans actual magic, substitute lots of real horse poop). Basically, except for a lucky few, life pretty much sucked. I hate to see that glossed over.

Mike Mullane’s Riding Rockets is one of the better memoirs of shuttle-era astronauts that I’ve read; while Mullane pulls some rather sexist stunts early-on, he’s at least gone to the trouble of apologizing all over himself post-facto, and his take on the shuttle technology is informative and bang-on. (My favorite book on shuttle astronauts as personalities remains Henry Cooper’s Before Liftoff, which is set pre-Challenger-disaster, but well written and not sickeningly optimistic).

I finished Jack McDevitt’s Polaris. What saves this book from being boring are the well-drawn characters and the occasional interesting scuffles they get into. It’s essentially a mystery, and fortunately McDevitt plays fair with the technological world he’s set up and gives you everything you need to solve the puzzle (with a few humdingers of red herrings to mislead you). I had it figured out a hundred pages or so from the end, but I’m kind of slow that way… 🙂

Jim Dodge is one of my favorite authors, but he hasn’t published many books, and none in the last decade or so. His first book, Not Fade Away, is a bit rough and maybe not worth it, but I highly recommend his Stone Junction; though it gets somewhat random when the main character becomes involved with an improbably large gemstone, things are wrapped-up nicely. (Also, Fup: A Duck is a quick, fun read, certainly worth checking out from a library that hasn’t figured out the spoonerism).

Vernor Vinge returns after another seven years (A Fire Upon the Deep in 1992 then A Deepness in the Sky in 1999) with Rainbows End (the deliberate missing apostrophe in the title must be driving people crazy). I must say that I’m a little disappointed; first, it’s not a Zones of Thought novel (chorus: “Deal with it!”), but second, I think it’s a weaker work than his others. The main character isn’t very likable, nor is he very bright (okay, he’s recovering from Alzheimer’s, so that’s understandable). The story seems forced, as if Vinge had a grab-bag of technologies and messages about them that he wanted to put on parade, and so with a few exceptions things are pretty predictable. Vinge paints an interesting future of connected technology and what might be required of law enforcement in an era where a single devious madman can do tremendous amounts of destruction, but I think he could have done more. There is the occasional fun bit, but on the whole I’d wait for paperback.

Christopher Moore cranks out yet another comedy, A Dirty Job, which is about a guy who (sort of) becomes Death. Haven’t finished it yet; the funny lines don’t always hit home (the first chapter has most of the zingers, though I laughed out loud in some later bits). I wouldn’t compare this book to his wonderful comedy / tragedy / philosophical work (eek! well, yes) Lamb, but there you go: It’s not as good. Maybe he can tackle Moses next or something; Moore seems to do best when he’s essentially doing criticism.

I re-read a bunch of Tim Powers, all worthwhile: The Anubis Gates and The Drawing of the Dark are great and you definitelty shouldn’t miss them (the “Dark” of the first book doesn’t refer to evil, but rather, beer). I’m going through Last Call now (rather disturbing “Poker Fiction” mixed up with Tarot), preparing for Expiration Date (urban fantasy about the ghost of Thomas Edison) and then the co-sequel to both books (weird, huh?) Earthquake Weather. Powers has another book coming out this summer that I’m looking forward to. (NB: The Stress of Her Regard was miserable, and when I tried to re-read On Stranger Tides I couldn’t handle how random the mix of magic and quantum mechanics was).

Oh — if you liked Charles Stross’ “Laundry” series at all, definitely read Tim Powers’ Declare, but only in that order (Stross does mention this in the afterword in the Golden Gryphon edition of The Atrocity Archives). Declare is a tale of the cold war, mixing spycraft with terrifying encounters with the supernatural. It really is creepy, though a little tame towards the end.

Early Intel Days

Recollections of Early Chip Development at Intel. 64-bit, 256-bit and 1Kx1 RAMs, where “80” came from, and doing chip layout on drafting tables with mylar film. “By 1974 [we started using digitization] so repeated cells could be layed out automatically, instead of being hand drawn every time.” (These days you could probably make those circuits in your kitchen). Link.

Java bile

Behold, the Bileblog. No, it’s not a Gaimanite Norse god who has been brought to the Americas by immigrants, now making a living in the stock yards of Chicago and working the occasional scam against we soft, pudgy mortals. The Bileblog is a much deeper form of nightmare; imagine that you are trapped in Java APIs designed by inarticulate code monkeys, have the marginal ability to write, and harbor lots and lots of suppressed anger towards practically everybody The result would be: Link.

Those who do not study the past…

One of my favorite books, Smalltalk 80: Bits of History, Words of Advice, long out of print (and bloody unlikely to be reprinted), is available online. Link.

While some of the obstacles to getting a system as rich and complex as Smalltalk running acceptably on (say) an 8 Mhz 68000 with a megabyte of RAM have been removed by the last 25 years or so of progress, there are still many things to learn from the early struggles for performance. While techniques for on-the-fly code generation, incremental garbage collection and introspection practically everwhere are not unique to Smalltalk, they do all come together in a nice, comprehensible package, and you can appreciate How Bad Things Were in 64K address spaces, and so on.

Oh yeah, and the cartoons are funny, too.

Cadillac-O-Death


According to this BBC news bit, a gallows kit costs about $25,000. (This guy exports them to foreign countries, presumably excluding Texas, who apparently don’t have any convenient trees or something).

Though one can imagine the reaction of the condemned: “Are you crazy? I’m not getting on that thing, I want a gallows made by a professional!”

Real Scrum

Apparently this guy and me share the same name –

landon-dyer-footballPlayer.bmp

Josh Kubiak led the UMHB defense with nine tackles and Ricky Lopez added eight tackles, four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Lopez also recovered a fumble for UMHB. Landon Dyer led the HPU defense with 18 tackles and Brandon Stevens added 11 more.

Yeah. If the software folks ever give you any trouble, just start tackling them….