31 Oct

Windblogging

This is totally superfluous, unedited windbagging. Move on if there’s already a stiff breeze in your region.

I like to run along to recorded books–typically the kind of book I know I’ll never get round to reading and in a genre that I know will entertain and engage me, and that are good read-out-louders: usually spy or crime thrillers (the former have mostly been E. European or Scandinavian and the latter tend to be literate tales of washed out tough guys set in places like Florida), and sometimes fantasy (and sometimes a reading of a book I’ve already read).

I read most fantasy novels fairly quickly–even if they are loaded for bear most of the details are superfluous. Unless they’re really unique or thoughtful or uniquely thoughtful and, unless you still assess life risks and opportunities in terms of 20 sided dice, most fantasy doesn’t fall into those buckets. Earlier this year I picked up Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss from the library–his first bazillion seller in the series was really long and kind of windy but still a good story, and despite the length easy to breeze through (enough with the Rothfuss wind jokes). Same with the second, even though it felt like it had the same amount of editing as the latter Harry Potter novels. So I put the recorded version in my request queue, thinking it’d be nice entertainment and include some useful ideas about what sells books in bulk, plotwise. It showed up yesterday in a lunchbox-sized container of 36 CD’s.

When I borrow a book on CD from the library, I always burn it to my laptop, converting it to MP3 format that I can play on my itty bitty Sansa Clip (who I call Clippy, except when it, like the infamous ring, randomly unclips from my waistband and falls into the trailside bushes (I run in Forest Park when possible), always right at a good bit. I’m left there scrounging through the ferns dripping in sweat with earbud wires dangling like some sort of black saliva from my chin (sorry about the image–I couldn’t think of a less queasy or more original metaphor for useless dangling from the region of my head–take your best shot). And I’ll probably rip Wise Man’s Fear, too, all 36 discs, while I’m doing other work. But I have to wonder at the amount of audible data they decided was necessary to tell this story. Most big books require, at most, 20 discs or less. With Wise Man’s Fear, I’m concerned that they’ve swelled the story with Orwellian pauses that’ll cause me to trip over roots and follow Clippy into the brush (yes, I do believe in quantum collusion). Or that the reader will attempt to mimic some imaginary old style of speaking and elongate all the vowels (flourishing the i so it becomes eeee, and so on) and cause me to throw Clippy into the brush.

I tried simple comparative analysis, Just To See (a perfectly valid reason, perhaps the best, for research). The closest relative–marketing-wise, at least–is the George R.R. Martin series* (now bringing to the home screen, if the ads are correct, gorgeous Conan-like scowls, fur cloaks, mighty blades, mighty boobies**, and Loki-like villainy). I looked them up online in the Washington County library catalog and they, too, come in between 30 and 35 discs. Apparently read by the same reader or with the same sort of relish. I think the Rothfuss books are about the same page count, so it’s possible that the Spinal Tap rule was invoked to create an additional disc.

I can either rip them all to MP3*** and get around to listening later, maybe keeping, maybe deleting all 2 GB after 20 minutes like I deleted poor Connie Willis’s Blackout (not a bad book, just a poor reading and many discs worth of ripping), or rip one and listen while I’m working, and at least see if the reader’s competent.

Why would I borrow CD’s when I may be able to find them already as MP3 files in the library system? Because the latter are controlled by an artificial and clumsy checkout system, and the audio files come with built in DRM–they fizzle after 2 to 3 weeks, making it difficult to build a queue. I usually have several books worth of MP3 files queued–listening time doesn’t happen like clockwork–and I always delete them after listening, keeping the spirit of the loan agreement (and not denying anyone else access–copying them allows me to return them sooner).

Why am I windbagging (or windblogging) about this? Because I think there’s also plenty of opportunity in the publishing world to create easily accessible, easily importable audio book experiences–especially through libraries–that are device independent and fit user stories (how people really use and not forced into using audio books) before CD’s go away. A small percentage of authors release their own versions of all or part of their books–some, like Neil Gaimain, are terrific readers. Some authors (if they’ve retained audio rights) allow others to record and publish parts or all of a book–usually in a sort of Open Source readers community. Those results usually come off as well meant (like having dry toast shoved in one’s ears, but with just enough marmalade to show good intent).

Snarky imagery aside, no one should make fun of anyone who provides a free listening experience of a good book, whether its via the author, a community, or a library. It takes a lot of work to create a good reading and listening experience. Even if one is a proficient reader, the experience is full of errors: dry throat, stumbling over text, missteps in rhythm or word choice (our brains often choose words similar to those on the page with that same flexibility that allows us to get what you meant, not what you said).

I’m left with seeing a chink in the wall (simulated by these two outspread fingers) but unable to interpret what’s on the other side. A democratic Berlin? More woods?

 

* Which I will read or listen to Real Soon Now
** It’s premium cable and a “period piece”–there will be boobies.
*** Listen to the ferocity of syllables in that phrase: “Rip them all to MP3!” Muahahaha!

25 Oct

News from the Farm

Dear City Cousin Steve,

We took great comfort in hearing how your harvest progresses. Ourselves, we put the ripe maters on the garage floor, on paper or cardboard. We’ll put them in a paper sack or wrap them loose in paper if they aren’t ripe to get the bacterial bath going. They’re slowly but steadily rolling in–the wet weather’s here and we’ve been pulling them as soon as they’re pink, before too many can crack or the slugs can get them. I think, from our “compact” sauce tomato plant that grew to a compact 4′x4′ space (and that was with me hacking it back), we’ll pull in about 25 lbs. We’ll let the Sungold cherry keep popping them out as long as it likes, harvesting as it produces.

We have a hawthorn in the uppermost corner of our tetrahedonish back yard where I also heap leaves that decompose (which don’t include the oak leaves from the grandfather oak next door) and grass clippings (yes, I snip each blade with scissors, because all life is important and deserves to look its best). The hawthorn’s job is to drop dead spiny branches on me or hide trunk spikes just outside my peripheral vision. But it’s the only tree actually in our back yard–all the rest are neighbor trees overhanging our fences, so the wife says it stays. And heaven knows you can never have too many nemeses.

I was surprised to dig out about 8 pounds of yellow finns from our sprawling potato plants last Saturday. In a good year, the 4 plants would have produced much more, but this wonky summer boosted foliage growth for the tomatoes, not leaving much light for 2 of the potatoes (and never giving the eggplant a chance). I need to read up on storing them. I only brushed off the dirt and put them in a paper sack in the garage. I don’t think there’s an issue with a little dirt left on potatoes after harvest, but want to check. We have a dedicated 2′x5′ raised bed in the back yard (a sort of gated community for our potatoes) I hope will be more prolific. I’ll gather those in the next couple of weeks.

It was a good year for beets and peppers, a moderate year for basil (we grew Genovese, globe, and holy), and mediocre for pole beans and carrots. The carrots partially suffered from crowding by mutant marigolds, partially from the cool weather, and partially from poor soil in a raised bed that I think has been infested and is being drained of nutrients from below by neighboring tree roots. Or a subterranean inter-dimensional portal.

Otherwise, Aunt Lou and Uncle Marion send their best. Marion’s gout is receding like the economy and he says he’ll be marathoning in no time while Lou is on pins and needles waiting to hear back on her doctoral candidacy. Luckily, Mom and Dad still aren’t talking to each other. And Wags the pig lives up to his name every time we mention your’s. Look out for the dust devils and don’t let your students fill your head with nonsense.

All the best,

Suburban Country Cousin Kurt

24 Oct

Dumas Gets His Eye Shot Out

All for one, one for all. It's like math, you know.

All for one, one for all. It's like math, you know.I took Noah to see the new Three Musketeers movie today. If I’d wanted technical analysis of the swordsmanship or acting, I would have taken Travis (who knows something about each). If I’d wanted the “Oh Jesus, Come On!” reaction, I would have taken Jordan. But I wanted to see the Universe in Action via the pleasure of a 12 year old boy. Nothing like your kid leaning on your shoulder one second and then popping up with a “Did you say that! Hilarious! Those cannonballs bounced! Wouldn’t the airship explode if they shot flame at it? Oh who cares!” (To be fair, 23 yo Adam would have done the same, but without leaning on my shoulder.)

Yes, Three Musketeers with airships, bad dialog, mustache twirling, bosom heaving, and some nifty swordplay layered with slomo violent but bloodless ballets all in a wrapper we couldn’t take our eyes off. Dumas as live action anime. A terrible movie. We had a great time.

20 Oct

An Acer and Four Hearts

We bought a new laptop on Saturday. The Dell D830’s motherboard power connectors were fried–I can think of several reasons how that happened, but the end result is unchanged–the battery worked but the AC system didn’t. Rather than spend 200 to $300 on a replacement motherboard for a 4 year old laptop, we went shopping at Fry’s.

Here come the acronyms. Keep your head down and eyes open, and you’ll be okay.

Any more, you can buy a very nice, modern laptop for $500 or less, across brands. In our case, for $490 it’s an Acer with the brand new AMD A8 quad CPU, a 500 GB hard disk (that’s a half terabyte for those excited by nomenclature), 4 GB RAM with an extra 512 MB VRAM, DVD writer, with Windows Home Premium installed. My only complaint is that the display doesn’t have the nice black tones/level of contrast that the Dell had, but Debby is fine with it. The computer is primarily for her use (and secondarily for her two in-home charges Noah and Sophie), so her opinion counts more than most.

We also saw comparable workhorse Lenovo and ASUS systems for between $400 to $500 (with the slightly older hyperthreaded Intel i5 CPUs and nicer displays but no VRAM). I won’t buy another Dell unless I have money to shell out for a physically solid system–the cases and keyboards on the less expensive Dells are flimsy (or “cheapshit” using the term I grew up with ). There are solid models in other brands, but they were either outside our budget or Orwellian with proprietary drivers and utilities.

Ironically, I was the household member unhappy with purchasing new tech. We had to dip temporarily into savings that’s partially our safety net and partially our fund for an oft-delayed trip to Spain. But we set up a payment plan to replace the funds over a three month period with no interest. And Debby relies on the ability to move the computer with her, rather than go to it. So it was the right thing to do because it was possible. Not because it was fun. (I just read that last sentence, looked in the mirror, and asked, Who ARE you?)

The old Dell’s being parted out–the battery and keyboard to Adam for his almost identical laptop, 4 GB RAM to a friend, and the rest sitting on a shelf in case something other than the mother board on Adam’s system fails. We could have set the scavenged case to weather in the front yard, but, you know, the neighbors. And all.

Five days later with the Acer, so far so good. Now, the bad news. I tested out the CPU(s) and video last night with Mass Effect 2 (borrowing my son’s Steam account). Damn. Oh damn. Damn damn. It reminded me again why I limited myself to a netbook and installed Linux instead of Windows. If this game was on my computer and looked and ran this nice, I’d be down from an average of 3 pages a day to 3 paragraphs a day. I closed the lid (in my head, slamming it) and handed it back to Debby, admonishing her to keep it away from me. I know my addictions and depend on others to keep me on the straight ‘n narrow.

12 Oct

Not Mine, Not Our’s, but Your’s

Next time someone asks you, “Where do you get YOUR ideas,” pretend they meant YOUR generically* and launch into a monologue about how the brain stores millions of pieces of sensory input and makes associations behind your back, a whole gang of them laying in wait for you to wander down the alley for a good old fashioned mugging. Now, if you don’t want to get mugged, you should stay out of alleys and away from subway entrances at night. But then you’ll never get mugged. Or experience the frightening pleasure of whipping out an invisible lasso, rounding them up and hauling them, not to the hoosegow, but back to your place where you’ll chain ’em to a desk, throw a pile of notebooks at them, and put them to work. Where they’ll try to turn out nothing but a trainwreck of runaway metaphors or paper bag of greasy cliches, till you come to some agreement. Maybe feed ’em a casserole of fresh eggs and a pot of coffee and dangle some wine as a re-ward–lots of it, and conversation. Whatever it takes.

So, where do you get YOUR ideas? Well, it all starts with a good mugging.

*As in, “When baking YOUR casserole be sure to add a dozen eggs.”

06 Oct

Girl Redux

Now that I’ve finished Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland and am out of its thrall, I wanted to note a few attributes that helped make it more than just a pretty face. If we were to liken it to a pretty face, it would be that of a deeply beautiful woman who’s seen more of the world than you or I can imagine–at least not since we were children–and still remembers it. (I’m also writing this post because I think the book deserves more than a gushing reaction, even if it’s brief.)

September, our heroine, is a child of Nebraska in a home broken by WWII–father serves on the European front and mother works days as a machinist. Father is offscreen and referenced only a few times. Love bonds mother and daughter and gets them through the days and nights. But it’s a sad life, so September is easily lured “down the rabbit hole” into a fairyland that’s under new management. (To say more gives away too much.)

Valente gives September the coldness and warmth and quickness of AnyChild and quickly sets her on a hero’s journey. Like Alice, she meets beings that in our world would be seen as dangerous or insane but in Fairyland fit right in and are sympathetic or limited  by their natures (or by Nature). Or stock characters that she reblends in unique ways. (Like Tock in The Phantom Tollbooth.)

There’s blood–a surprising amount, and if I had to grumble it would be about how easily it’s shed without helping us feel the cost–at least during the shedding. Maybe the sudden moments of bloodshed are there to remind us how dark and sometimes visceral this story (and a child’s life) can be, or that it’s minor compared to the other difficulties characters face. A real old fashioned fairy tale but without the eye gouging. Without Valente’s language to light the way, many readers might set it aside. I think it was hard but necessary for her to write those parts–perhaps she composed (or edited) on the side of light exposition to keep the story moving and younger (or more delicate) readers (or listeners) from weeping or turning away before the end. This isn’t Tender Morsels. (I never wrote to ask her and am guessing.) Younger does not always mean delicate. September would not have turned away.

The ending is redemptive with pomegranate seeds as an honest sugar substitute. It fully deserves to never be followed by a sequel. (Although there’s a “prequel” available for free online reading, it won’t make sense without reading the novel first.)

Meant to say more and to say less, but ran out of time. I’ll let it hang on this for now.