October Braindump

Posted on Thu 22 October 2009 in Dispatches • 9 min read

I have not been posting here much of late, which is partly due to the amount of stuff I’m working on, and partly due to the fact that I’ve been writing and posting stuff in other places around the web, since it is easier. Some of this will get fixed with the next revision of this site, but honestly, it has less to do with those other things I’m working on and a lot more to do with general laziness. Either way, it is high time for an update.

What have I been doing?

Among other things, I’ve been working on the next version of the custom CMS that powers this site. I initially started this process to fix the comment issue I was having, and it quickly turned into a complete rewrite of the Django applications I use to power Andrlik.org. It’s a lot of work, mostly because I started off with way too large of feature list. I would trim some of those features, but at this point the actual code for the new stuff is already written. Ironically, it is the new comment application (among a few other things like actual template design) that are not completed yet.

The new site is being rewritten from the ground up to take advantage of all the new features and capabilities available in Django trunk, and it will incorporate pulling detailed activity data from virtually every social network I participate in that provides an API. I have not decided to what extent this information will play a role in the actual layout of this site, the primary purpose of these features is to provide me with an automated backup of all of that data. In addition to pulling data from social networks, I’m adding more discrete media types to the site which should allow me to do more interesting things such as podcasts if it ever strikes my fancy to do so. There is some basic podcast support baked into the blog application for the current site, but it’s inelegant and a pain to use.

In addition to new features for me, I’m incorporating the ability for readers to authenticate using OpenID, Facebook, or Google, the latter two options being new, while improving compatibility of my OpenID solution. I’m doing this because I’m planning to allow comments from authenticated users only, which allows me to utilize different privacy settings for any posts.

So, yeah, that should be cool. At least, whenever I get around to finishing it and deploying the new version to the server. :-)

I’ve also been busy with work, and doing a lot of traveling, which means by the time I get back to the hotel room I am ready to pass out. When at home, I’ve been reading, spending quality time with my girlfriend, and working on yet another project that I can’t talk about yet.

Splattered Content

While I have not been posting or bookmarking here, I have been posting to various other sites online. Of course, there is always my Twitter feed, where I post random bits of questionable wit, as well as links to stories I find interesting. In addition, as I’ve been reading, I’ve been posting quite a few book reviews to my Goodreads account, which I try to also mirror on my Readernaut profile, when possible. In general, I don’t include rereading books in my activity streams but there has certainly been a lot of that going on as well.

Every time I post a review to either service, I feel like I should expand it out into a real post for this site, but I rarely take the time to, which is a habit I hope to change in the upcoming months. In the meantime, I thought I would include some of my Goodreads reviews for books I’ve recently read that are particularly notable.

Memories of the Future, Part 1 by Wil Wheaton: 4 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. I laughed so much while reading Memories of the Future, more than I have for any other book in recent memory.

The episode recaps are the real stars of the book, and I would often stop to read a particularly hilarious passage out loud to my girlfriend. However, this isn’t just a book of condensed snark; Wheaton’s love of Star Trek TNG comes through on every page. His profound respect for his fellow actors, and his affection for what the show will become gives the recaps a humane quality. As a result, the snarky episode recaps, feel less like a nasty internet posting (the natural habitat of undiluted snark), and more like the playful ribbing of a friend at the dinner table, while reminiscing about that embarrassing event that everyone had to go through back in high school.

It’s a great book, but I do have a tiny niggling complaint. There’s a lot of references in the recaps to later episodes by their title, which I wouldn’t mind if the recaps of those episodes were in the same volume, however a few of them are slated for volume two, and since I don’t have the 1st season of TNG around the house to figure out what Wheaton’s referring to, I felt left out of a joke that probably won’t make sense to me until the second volume comes out (soon, I hope).

There were also a couple episodes where Wheaton didn’t actually recall anything from behind the scenes, so for those entries the “Behind the Scenes Memory” section would be a little weak.

To sum up: I loved this book and can’t wait for volume two. However, I knock off one star for the two small complaints I mention because I am a bit of a prick despite Wil Wheaton’s sage advice: “Don’t be a dick!”

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi: 3 out of 5 stars.

I enjoyed this book, which actually surprised me a bit. Typically with sci-fi I tend to prefer heavier fare, but Scalzi’s light touch with his prose worked for me quite well. It’s central idea is spectacular story-fodder, and I’m interested in seeing what he does with it in the later books of the series.

Unfortunately, there is a little bit of a strange disconnect in the story, which might have a lot to do with the fact that the protagonist seems to excel at everything, and never seems to face a real challenges, so the central conflict of the story feels almost superficial. Also, the alien species are painted in very broad strokes, and it gave me the impression (rightly or wrongly) that the universe was not fully realized by the author beyond the limited conflicts that are depicted. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I like to feel a bit more depth to the world, and I might have been able to ignore it had the protagonist faced more challenges.

Don’t ge me wrong, I enjoyed the book, and will try out the next book in the series, but the disconnection I felt means I can only give it three stars.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest: 4 out of 5 stars

This was my first experience with Priest’s work, and it was a pleasure. I found it to be a brilliantly imagined steampunk novel set during an extended Civil War, and in Seattle, a catastrophic event has brought the Blight upon the city, which causes the dead to walk. The story focuses on a mother seeking to save her son, whom has charged off into the city to find out about his father. Along the way she encounters air pirates, zombie rotters, and the other people who choose to brave the Blight, living beneath the ground and in sealed vaults for protection. However, it’s also a mystery, for the son’s quest will lead them both on a journey to answer the questions raised by the Blight, and to learn once and for all the real history of the experiment that brought the plague.

The book is well written, the action is tight, and it’s just a hell of a lot of fun to read. The only complaint I have is that the last chapter seemed a little flat to me, almost an unnecessary epilogue, that answers none of the questions that still remain, but without actually building any sort of wonderment or cliffhanger. This is the reason that I’m only giving it four stars.

The Child Thief: A Novel by Brom: 4 out of 5 stars

I admit that I approached this book with trepidation. In the past, I have encountered a number of attempts to retell the Peter Pan story, most of them spectacularly bad. Add in the fact that the author only goes by a single name, and alarm bells begin to ring.

I was pleasantly surprised. What I found was a dark, tense and well written piece of fiction that successfully reinvents Peter Pan, while still holding true to the core elements of the original. Brom doesn’t cheat. Peter is an unpredictable and violent figure, who is clearly borderline insane. However, Brom also demonstrates quite clearly that Peter is a pawn of greater forces, and the enemy that he is being pitted against is truly horrifying. With this in mind, you might almost forgive him for stealing the abused children of the world in order to serve as infantry in the battle, but the author rightly refuses to let Peter off that easy. You are confronted with the terror the children feel, and that is what makes this novel work.

And if that wasn’t enough, it comes in a beautiful hardcover edition with artwork from the artist himself. It’s definitely worth a read, so if you hear the same alarm bells I did, cover you ears. This book is worth it.

I’d also add in that you should read all of the Joe Abercrombie books in First Law trilogy, including the one-shot follow-up novel Best Served Cold. However, I recommend you start with the trilogy, and I am including my review of the first book. It is worth noting that the first book of the trilogy is the only one that I awarded less than five stars.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie: 4 out of 5 stars

An outstanding debut novel and start to a trilogy. Abercrombie does a wonderful job of introducing all of the complex characters and manages to make them all fascinating in their own right, although every reader may favor some more than others. In my case, I am particularly captivated by both Logan, the practical barbarian that is haunted with regret, and Glotka, the crippled torturer and inquisitor.

Abercrombie is also very effective at introducing the reader to his world, without much tedious exposition, which is a welcome change from a lot of other epic-fantasy. He also clearly illustrates what is at stake and carefully sets the events in motion that one assumes will drive the course of the story in the next two books.

I do have one complaint, and that is that occasionally Abercrombie starts a chapter without clearly telling you which character’s point of view the narrative is being told through, which can be a bit confusing. Usually, you can tell just from the voice of text, which is quite an accomplishment on the author’s part, but occasionally I would encounter a chapter and it would take me half a page to orient myself, which is the only reason I’m knocking off one star.

I can easily seeing this book joining the likes of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles as one of my favorite epic fantasy series produced recently, and I can’t wait to start on the next book in The First Law series.

Needless, to say I loved the rest of that series.

Get Back To Work

I’m serious, I’m sure we all have shit to do. I’m sure the various things I am working on will keep me busy over the next few months, but I will try to post here more often so that I don’t have to do such a gigantic braindump next time.