July 30, 2004

The Child's Bill of Rights

We've had this posted on our refrigerator for years; I just found the original on the web (click on "Bill of Rights" in the left-hand column). My favorites:
Because it is the most character-building, two-letter word in the English language, children have the right to hear their parents say "No" at least three times a day.
Children have a right to scream all they want over the decisions their parents make, albeit their parents have the right to confine said screaming to certain areas of their homes.
Because it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, children have the right to hear their parents say "Because I said so" on a regular and frequent basis.
Children have the right to learn early in their lives that obedience to legitimate authority is not optional, that there are consequences for disobedience, and that said consequences are memorable and, therefore, persuasive.
Posted by Will Duquette at 08:42 PM | Comments(4)

Music Music Music!

Following upon Craig's statement that our choice of Sonny and Cher's Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves (among other songs) from ITMS had raised his opinion of our musical taste, I decided to shoot the horse altogether. So I'm going to take a tour through our iTunes music library and drop a few words about some of the things I find (the track counts are approximate):

Blues, 36 tracks: I've got a B.B. King album, and a couple of Keb' Mo' albums. What can I say, I don't like being depressed.

Children's, 126 tracks: We've got kids, which I'm sure hasn't escaped you. However, my iPod only sees kids' music that I'm willing to listen to myself. So we've got some songs from the Animaniacs cartoon show, a bunch of Veggietales tracks ("Oh, where....is my hairbrush?"), Grammar Rock, and a nifty album called Philadelphia Chickens by (of all people) Sandra Boynton.

Classical and Early Music, 435 tracks: I won't say much about this category, except to say that my tastes run toward the early end of the spectrum.

Comedy/Novelty, 241 tracks: Mostly novelty songs. I've got some Weird Al Yankovic; his spiritual father, Allan Sherman; Monty Python; Flanders and Swann; Ray Stevens; plus a couple of big Dr. Demento compilations. Which reminds me, I've got three Allan Sherman LPs that I really need to get transferred to CD. They're albums my parents bought back in the 1950's, and they've got some wonderful tracks that aren't currently in print--"Sir Greenbaum's Madrigal" is probably my favorite.

In fact, a quick digression. At one point, Allan Sherman was doing a stage show with Harpo Marx (they were next door neighbors in Bel Aire), and my parents went to see it. And at the end of the show, Sherman came up and announced that this was Harpo's last night on the show; he was retiring from show business. He was so affected by this that he got quite teary-eyed and couldn't go on, and Harpo came out from the wings, patted him on the back, and said something on the order of "There, there, Allan. It's not so bad." Then Harpo looked up, and said something like, "Hey, this talking thing isn't so bad either!" It was one of the very few times an audience ever heard his voice.

And the next die, Harpo died.

I've heard this story from my parents; and FWIW Sherman confirmed it in his autobiography, A Gift of Laughter, so I'm inclined to believe it.

But back to the tour.

Country, 176 tracks: I don't much care for country music, except as it shades over into folk music, but Jane rather likes it. So we've got her John Denver greatest hits album, her Dixie Chicks album (aaaaagh!), several albums by The Judds, for whom I have a fondness, and a whole bunch of Lyle Lovett. I'm not entirely sure that Lyle Lovett necessarily counts as country, always; he's hard to classify.

Easy Listening, 25 tracks: In addition to Allan Sherman, I grew up listening to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. All 25 of these tracks are from a single Herb Alpert compilation album, of which I'm inordinately fond.

I'd have put this in the Jazz category, except that a trumpet player of my acquaintance tells me that quoting Herb Alpert in improvisational jazz circles will get you shunned.

Folk, 977 tracks: The title of this group is almost certainly misleading. I've no Joan Baez whatsoever, and all the Bob Dylan is in the Rock/Pop category, below. We've got a few albums by the Weavers--

Another digression. When the folk revival came around in the 1950's, my parents got right on board. I grew up listening to the Limelighters and Harry Belafonte singing folk songs, and Allan Sherman spoofing them. But my parent's collection did not include anything by the Weavers or Pete Seeger. I rather expect that my father, a conservative soul, wouldn't allow them in the house. But damn, they could sing!

--and a great live album called Precious Friends: Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. But by far the largest part of this group is English, Irish, and Scottish folk and folk rock. We've got Steeleye Span (164 tracks all by themselves), Silly Wizard (an outstanding Scottish band), Clannad (they got a little New-Agey toward the end, but their early stuff is fabulous), the Chieftains (you have heard of the Chieftains, right?), and a wide array of tracks by other performers.

May I just say, ITMS is no help in this area, at all, at all.

Jazz, 525 tracks: Mostly older jazz--Swing era, Dixieland, and so forth. I've heard very little that's more recent that appeals to me. The best album in the set is probably the Benny Goodman compilation The Complete Birth of Swing. But I've also got Art Tatum, Claude Bolling, Louis Prima, Fats Waller, The Manhattan Transfer, Louis Armstrong, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (they were neither original, nor from Dixieland, but they did make the first jazz recordings, and they're pretty darn good), Mannheim Steamroller (jazz? I dunno, they are hard to classify), and the inevitable Squirrel Nut Zipper (swing revival, don't you know).

Christian, 52 tracks: I never got into Contemporary Christian music all that much. I've got a little Amy Grant, some John Michael Talbot (who's very good), and the Steve Taylor album with "This Disco (Used To Be A Cute Cathedral)".

Soundtrack, 261 tracks: I called this category "Soundtrack", but really it's mostly show tunes: from SIngin' in the Rain (the greatest movie musical of all time; in fact, it's maybe the greatest movie of all time), Guys and Dolls (the Broadway recording; the movie's lousy IMNSHO), Camelot (ditto), Fiddler on the Roof, Little Shop of Horrors (the movie, this time), The Music Man (also the movie version), Evita (Broadway), The Sound of Music (movie, of course), The King and I (this one's Jane's, really), A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (Broadway; the movie was a travesty), Man of La Mancha (a childhood favorite--just for the sound, as it went completely over my head. Fortunately.), and, finally, West Side Story (Broadway).

And, finally, the biggest group of all:

Rock (including pop generally), 2383 tracks: I grew up in the 70's; the disproportionate size of this category was, I suppose, inevitable. Here are some highlights, in no particular order: Al Stewart, The Band--

A digression. In early 1986, Jane and I went to see Crosby, Stills and Nash do a reunion concert.
The warm-up band was, unbelievably, The Band. It was a sign of the times that almost nobody in the audience had any idea who they were. And The Band came on stage, and played so well, and had so much fun, that the audience gave them a standing ovation. After that, the CSN show was a complete anti-climax. To this day, I think of the evening as the time we saw The Band in concert; and honestly, it's probably the rock concert I remember most fondly.

Richard Manuel, one of the The Band's singers, died just a few weeks later.

--The Band, a little Beach Boys, a lot (more than I need, really) of the Beatles, Billy Joel's Innocent Man album, a Blasters collection (I love the song "Border Radio"), several Beat Farmers albums, a bunch of Bob Dylan, a bunch of Bruce Springsteen, a little Chuck Berry, a little Clash (London Calling, if you care), some Creedence Clearwater Revival, Twin Sons of Different Mothers (but no other Dan Fogelberg, as it happens), a little CSN&Y, some David Bowie, some David Lindley, a bunch of Dire Straits, Don McClean (you gotta have "American Pie", you know), the Doors, the Doobie Brothers, selected albums by Elton John, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and Eric Clapton, Elvis (Costello, not Presley), a small smattering of Genesis, Fleetwood Mac and the Eurythmics (one album each), Harry Nilsson's classic album Nilsson Schmilsson (which you must go buy, right now), a little James Taylor and Jerry Lee Lewis, a truly staggering quantity of Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin IV, a bunch of Michelle Shocked, too much Neil Young, too little Oingo Boingo, some Paul Simon (with and without Art Garfunkel), a bunch of Pete Townshend, too much Peter Gabriel, too much Pink Floyd (the post-Roger Waters albums have completely failed to grow on me, and I'm tired of Dark Side of the Moon, but Wish You Were Here is still a favorite), the Pogues (who I could have put with the folk albums, but they are perhaps a little too boisterous), the Small Faces, Southern Culture on the Skids ("Camel Walk" is one of the all-time silly rock songs), a little Steely Dan, a little more Talking Heads than I really need these days, too little from They Might Be Giants, probably a little too much from Tom Petty, not nearly enough from the Travelling Wilburys (but that's not my fault; they only released two albums, and I've got 'em), just enough U2, some Van Morrison, and a bunch of Warren Zevon (he's such an Excitable Boy). Oh, and the Who. Lots and lots of The Who. Not to mention lots of tracks by folks I didn't mention.

No Rolling Stones? No Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger just makes me tired.

More than you wanted to know, I'm sure; congratulations for making it this far!

Posted by Will Duquette at 01:38 PM | Comments(4)

iTunes Music Store

I never got into the whole Napster music-sharing thing. It's not that I dislike music; I do, even if I don't talk about it much. All I really know how to say about music is "I like this," and "I dislike that." I'd feel like a real poser if I tried writing a serious music review. But I've got a sizeable CD collection, most of which has been ripped onto my laptop's hard drive so I can listen to it there and on my iPod. And there's always music I don't have that I wish I did.

But as a (mildly) aspiring author, I have this thing about intellectual property. I might choose to give my intellectual property away for free--but it's still mine. I wrote it, and I like to think that if things were different I could sell it and get paid for it. (And, in fact, that's what I do for a living--create and sell intellectual property. They call it "software development".) So I had something of a moral objection to Napster and its ilk. The point was moot though; in Napster's hey-day I had a dial-up connection, and Life's Too Short to spend it downloading music on a dial-up connection.

Then along came Apple and its iTunes Music Store. And though I've had a Macintosh computer and an iPod for quite some time now, I've not really paid much attention to the iTunes Music Store. We had that dial-up connection until just recently, and downloading music from Apple over a dial-up line isn't any more fun than downloading it via Napster. But on top of that, I still had an objection to downloading tunes--technical this time, rather than moral. It's all about Digital Rights Management.

I have hundreds of CDs. I can play them on any CD player in the world. I can rip them to play on my iPod, and put the physical CDs away. If CD players appear to be going the way of the dodo, Fair Use allows me to copy the content of those CDs onto new media, just as I can do with the forty or fifty LPs I still own. If I decide that I no longer like Apple I can throw away my Mac and my iPod, but a new computer and somebody else's music player, and re-rip all of those CDs in a new format.

In other words, I've put a lot of money into my music library, and open standards allow me to protect my investment. And thanks to my iPod, I'm still listening to music I bought over twenty years ago.

So what about music downloaded from the iTunes Music Store? It's encoded in Apple's proprietary AAC format; and it's locked so that it will play only on a small number of computers. Via iTunes I can change it from one computer to another, which is nice--so long as Apple continues to run ITMS, and so long as the AAC format is still supported. In short, music downloaded legally from ITMS is no kind of investment.

(Yes, I know, there are programs that will remove the DRM codes from ITMS music files. I have the same moral objection to that that I had to Napster. Though if Apple shut down ITMS I might change my mind about that.)

But yesterday Jane mentioned some songs she used to like when she was a kid that she hadn't heard for years. And it occurred to me that (now that we've got DSL) ITMS would be a nice way to acquire recordings of golden oldies that we'd never buy an entire album for. If I were going to buy an entire album I'd still rather get it on CD, but for the odd song the DRM issues weren't that big a deal.

So this morning Jane and I went looking for odd songs. Here's what we came up with (and I shudder to think what this tells you about us):

In the Summertime, by Mungo Jerry. I didn't exactly go looking for this one, but I happened upon it, and that riff is just so darned catchy--DOOT-da-DOOT-do-do-DO-do-DO-do-DOOT.

Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves, by Sonny and Cher. This was one of Jane's picks; she actually had this entire album when she was a kid. I drew the line at Half-Breed, though. Somethings are better left dead and buried. Which leads us to...

Frankenstein, by the Edgar Winter Group. What can I say? It's a classic rock jam.

Ballroom Blitz, by Sweet. I have no excuse for this one, except that it's thoroughly silly. I read something about Sweet the other idea; apparently the band's from our local area, and they're still around. I gather they've had more musical styles than Spinal Type. (Does anybody else remember Love Is Like Oxygen? Eeeuuuuuw.)

Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress). And here's the best of the lot, the only song by the Hollies I have any desire to listen to these days. The ironic thing is that it's entirely different than their usual sugary-sweet over-produced style. As I understand it, they needed a B-side really quick so they went into the studio, pulled out all the stops, and just thrashed this one out. They figured no one would ever listen to it, and it's the best song they ever recorded.

So there you have it.

Hmmm. It just occurred to me that we don't have a recording of Pink Cadillac either.....

Posted by Will Duquette at 11:00 AM | Comments(1)

July 29, 2004

The Road to Middle-Earth: How Tolkien Created a New Mythology, by Tom Shippey

This book has been on my shelf awhile. Part of me rebels against analyzing Tolkien's work since I think it should be just read and enjoyed for it's own sake. On the other hand, after reading this book some of what I found puzzling in Lord of the Rings makes more sense than it did before. Shippey wrote this book as an answer to the critics of Tolkien making an argument that it is a much more scholarly work than it appears on the surface to be. And it was the genius of Tolkein that he could write stories with very scholarly roots that hold lasting appeal to the mass market.

What this book puts across so strongly is that Tolkien created the languages of Middle Earth before he created the place. And he thought up the places before he thought up the story lines. It's a very upside down way of writing and but it accounts for the consistency throughout the different works. Tom Bombadil, whom I have always found to be a problematic addition to the plot of Lord of the Rings, was created much earlier than the story of Frodo and Sam. And while he rightly isn't part of the plot line as a whole, he is an important character to the world of the story since he demonstrates the agedness of Middle Earth. He is the Oldest, older than Sauron, Gandalf and the Elves. He "is," as Goldberry says of him.

Shippey also attempts to explain how Tolkien infused his own Christian beliefs into Middle Earth without making it an overtly Christian story. I've read other thoughts on that subject but nothing at the depth that this books looks at. He points out images from the Bible that end up in the story—the cock crowing is one that comes to mind. Rereading it, I'm surprised I missed some of them.

He also writes about the later years in Tolkien's writing and how his conception of Middle Earth evolved over time, causing problems for him as an author. He had to maintain consistency with older, published writing and while continuing to work on the world he created. Middle Earth for Tolkien was a life long project not captured in one or two published works. It mostly existed in his mind and we are treated to a glimpse of it in his writings.

I unfortunately haven't read The Simarillion, which is discussed in the last few chapters of the book. It's something I plan on doing in the near future. Then, of course, I'll go back and read the relevant chapters in this book again. I'm glad I kept it on the shelf rather than tossing it into the "sell at the used bookstore" box.

Posted by Deb English at 08:59 PM | Comments(2)

July 28, 2004

Birthday Surprise

Today's my birthday, and so first thing this morning I was awakened by all of my kids piling on the bed (well, except for the four-month-old). And little Anne, who will be three on Saturday, was so excited she stood up to dance and fell over the footboard onto her head.

We didn't realize that she had fallen on her head, at first; we thought she had landed on her back or behind and gotten the wind knocked out of her. She cried for a while, and then seemed to be better.

After a while she started to cry again, and didn't want to eat breakfast; she just wanted to be held. Eventually we discovered that her head hurt, and we put a bag of frozen peas on it for a while. It helped a little, but she remained listless and clingy, and continued to cry if we put her down. And then, not long ago, she threw up all over herself.

Jane called the pediatrician, who recommended that we take her to the Emergency Room. So Jane and Anne are, as I type, off to the Emergency Room; I'm at home with the rest of the kids.

I have to congratulate David and James--we were scheduled to go to Lego Land California today, and although I expected them to throw a fit, they are taking it very well.

I'll post an update when I have more information.

UPDATE: She's fine--no concussion, though she needs to take it easy today. Plus, the hospital gave her a teddy bear to help her feel better. (David got one just like it when he broke his arm at about the same age.)

UPDATE: In fact, Anne seemed so like her normal happy self after she got home that we threw caution to the winds and went to Lego Land anyway. We had a delightful time and got home very late (for us) and everyone will be completely wiped out tomorrow, but it was worth it.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:17 AM | Comments(5)

July 27, 2004

Free Land, by Rose Wilder Lane

Rose Wilder Lane is the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder of the Little House books fame. She also wrote books about homesteading in the Dakotas which are now reprinted by The University of Nebraska Press under the Bison Books logo. And if I remember correctly there was a short lived TV series in the 70's or early 80's based upon this book.

Anyone who is familiar with the Little House books will find much that is similar in this book. David Beaton and his new bride, Mary, take up the government on the offer of free land in the west. The story is of their first five years homesteading 300 acres of land, living in a sod hut, surviving tornados and blizzards and childbirth. It's a compelling story. It's much grimmer than Laura's telling of the same events in the Little House books. Mary gets tired and cranky. There is often not enough food. Cabin fever is a problem in winter. Children freeze in blizzards. Horses are stolen. And yet there is satisfaction in surviving and finally beginning to prosper. David and Mary stick together as a team similar to the matched Morgans that David is so proud of. It's also just a good, clean adventure story written for adults but eminently suitable for young folks. If you can find it, it's worth reading if only to remind you to be grateful for your washing machine and indoor plumbing.

Posted by Deb English at 06:12 PM | Comments(0)

Spammer's Got A Sense of Humor

I hate comment spam with a passion. However, there's one guy who spams me regularly who at least has a sense of humor; and I'm rather amused by his tacit admission that comment spam isn't meant to be read by people. As an example, here's the text of a comment he posted this morning:

I love tramadol even though I have no idea what it is. And this sentence is just filler.

The word in italics was a web address, of course, but I removed it.

Posted by Will Duquette at 10:35 AM | Comments(0)

July 25, 2004

It's Official

i'm in ravenclaw!

be sorted @ nimbo.net

Even if I weren't a muggle, I'd still be a nerd. Not that I expected anything different.

(Via The Grey Monk.)

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:40 PM | Comments(9)

Little Britches
Man of the Family
The Home Ranch
Mary Emma and Company
The Fields of Home,
by Ralph Moody

When I read kid books, I try to keep in mind the way the child would read them. Children, in my experience, read primarily for story line and dramatic telling. They don’t pay attention to imagery, foreshadowing or any other of the many literary devices that can make books compelling. And that's OK. It's the way I read many books also. However, there are occasionally children's books with deeper themes that catch my attention and then I begin to pay attention to what I call the deliberateness of the author. Those are the books I talk about with my kids. And they are the books I give away as gifts at Christmas and birthday time. I have a feeling there are 3 or 4 kids who will be getting this series for Christmas this year.

Moody writes about his childhood in Colorado, Boston and Maine. When the series opens, his family has moved to Colorado to farm in hopes that the dryer climate will help cure his father's TB acquired from working in the textile mills of the East. Little Britches is a homesteading story told from the viewpoint of a 9 year old boy, Ralph, nicknamed "Little Britches" by the cowboys on a nearby ranch. The family struggles to make it on the farm with poor land and very little water. There are disasters and good times but through it all is a deep sense of the value of every member of the family. Ingenuity and hardwork are portrayed as positives in this book and although the family doesn’t make it on the farm, it's not for lack of trying.

Man Of The Family picks up where Little Britches left off. Father has died of complications from pneumonia leaving Mother with 4 kids to feed and 4 months pregnant. They move to town and again pull together as a family working odd jobs, raising food and keeping body and soul together as best they can. Throughout the book, the emphasis is on hard work and the blessing of having enough to eat and a warm place to live.

The Home Ranch is a side story briefly mentioned in Man of the Family when Ralph takes a job, for a man's wage of a dollar a day, at a cattle ranch as a cowboy. It's a great story with horses and storms and cowboys who take him under their wing teaching him what he needs to do to work like a man. Part of what makes this book so much fun is the mentoring he gets from the older men.

Mary Emma and Company takes the family back to Boston. Mother has been subpoenaed in Colorado to give evidence against a horse thief that she knows is up to be hung based upon her testimony. Her principles won't allow her to send a man to the gallows so the whole family goes back to Boston to avoid the consequences of the trial. Here she must find a new way to support the family and Ralph must find his own place in a very different world than the one he is used to. Ralph gets a job after school and Mother and Grace, Ralph's older sister, take in laundry to keep food on the table. Unfortunately, what seemed normal activities in Colorado don’t quite fly in the city and Ralph keeps finding himself in trouble both in school and out.

The Fields of Home has Ralph going to his grandfather's farm in Maine to keep him out of trouble. Here he has to deal with his crusty, cantankerous grandfather who cant seem to adjust to anything new and makes life miserable for Ralph. This book is about how both of them learn to get along and bridge the gap in the generations. And it's on the farm in Maine that Ralph finally realizes that he needs to work with the soil and animals to be content.

I loved these books. They celebrate values like pride in the quality of your work and perseverance in the face of hard times. The kids in these books know who they are and how important they are to the survival of the family. Moody could have made the books seem glum and grim but he rather emphasizes the joy in living and working and being with family. Mother sings as she works and Ralph is very proud of his reputation as a kid who can work like a man. It's refreshing to read. They'd make great read alouds for parents to share with their children.

Posted by Deb English at 01:38 PM | Comments(0)

It Was A Dark and Stormy Night

Phil has the winner of this year's Bulwer-Lytton contest; it's a good 'un.

I actually entered one of the early Bulwer-Lytton contests, back when I was in college. I didn't win anything. I didn't get a Dishonorable Mention. I guess my writing just wasn't bad enough. Pout.

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:47 AM | Comments(0)

July 24, 2004

Programming Heaven

Howdy! I've got nothing of value to say today because I spent the entire day mucking about with a programming project (Snit, if anyone's interested). The work's going well, I've made some real progress, and I've had a ball. But as I've been reading neither books nor blogs, there's no grist for the mill.

Unless you'd like me to explain how I coaxed that last 23 microseconds out of Snit method invocations....

Any takers?

Thought not.

But I promise I'm taking the rest of the evening off from programming, so I might have something to say tomorrow.

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:55 PM | Comments(2)

July 23, 2004

Virtual PC is Too Cool

I've been using a Macintosh Powerbook as my main home computer for a year and a few months now, and I couldn't be happier. In fact, when my work PC came due for replacement I replaced it with yet another Powerbook. And it works great. However, just recently I ran into a problem.

Our project is producing a large software system. And when you've got a large software system you need to have a large Operator's Manual. And MS Word is, quite frankly, a lousy tool for creating large Operator's Manuals; it's the only program I ever managed to crash on Windows 2000, and that was because I loaded a draft of one of our previous manuals into it. Consequently, we've been using FrameMaker for our manuals for the last release or so.

Now, I have a copy of FrameMaker for MS Windows. I do not have a copy of FrameMaker for Mac OS X. And I'm not going to have a copy of FrameMaker for Mac OS X, because a few months ago Adobe pulled the plug on FrameMaker; they don't sell it anymore. Oh, I could probably scrounge up a copy somewhere on my own, but I tried going through official channels and the official channels ran dry. What to do?

So a few days ago I ordered a copy of Virtual PC, which is a really cool piece of software. It emulates a PC's hardware, processor and all, in software, on your Mac. And you can install pretty much any PC operating system you like into it. The version I got came with Windows 2000 pre-installed, that being what I needed. I dragged the application from the CD to my desktop, double-clicked it, and in moments I had a window on my screen in which I could see the familiar Windows 2000 boot screen. I had to run through the usual set up malarkey, which required a restart of Windows 2000; then I installed FrameMaker from the original CD, which required yet another restart of Windows 2000; and then I tried running it, and for a big mondo application, it's really pretty zippy.

And the neatest part is that although the installation process took three full boots of Windows 2000, I didn't have to reboot OS X even once.

I think this might be the best of all possible worlds--I've now got an installation of Windows that goes away when I don't need it, which is most of the time.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:26 PM | Comments(0)

July 22, 2004

More Spam

We've gotten several hundred pieces of comment spam today, which added to the several hundred pieces we got yesterday have annoyed me greatly, so I've disabled comments for the time being.

Update: I've enabled comments again.

Posted by Will Duquette at 04:08 PM | Comments(0)

July 21, 2004

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

What can I say about a classic like this?

I was tired, I had finished Russian Bride, and I needed a pleasant, familiar, comforting book, something I could fall into with speed, something as comfortable and satisfying as a pair of tennis shoes at the end of a day of hiking in heavy boots.

And darned if I didn't stay up way past my bedtime to finish it. (That was the subsequent evening, of course. Pride and Prejudice is too long to read in a single evening.)

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:12 PM | Comments(0)

July 20, 2004

Russian Bride, by Steven Alexander

This is the true story of a nice guy who loved not wisely but too well and got his heart ripped to shreds for it.

Steven Alexander, the author, is the nice guy; and Natasha, his Russian bride, is the one who ripped his heart to shreds. In a nutshell, Fifty years of age, Alexander has a successful career as a salesman but hasn't as yet found Miss Right. An elderly couple, close friends of Alexanders, live in a retirement home run by Russian emigrés, and he becomes acquainted with a number of the Russian women who work there. They are friendly, attractive, hard-working, good cooks, and they take excellent care of his friends. He begins to think that perhaps a Russian woman would suit him very well.

He goes on-line and finds a site with personal ads from Russian women who are interested in meeting Americans. And after a lot of hesitation, he sends a letter to a beautiful woman named Natasha, through a translation service. She responds. One of his friends from the retirement home visits St. Petersburg and meets Natasha; when she returns, she tells him that he should go to Russia and do the same.

And he goes, and he meets her, and eventually she comes to the United States to see if she'll like it here, and after several weeks he asks her to marry him, and she says yes. And so they are wed.

And that's when the trouble starts. I'll leave it at that, so as not to spoil Alexander's story; I'll just say that it's a painful, unpleasant tale, just chock full of important life lessons: never underestimate the power of cultural differences; judge people by their actions, not their words; marry in haste, repent at leisure; don't marry anyone expecting to change them afterwards; if your friends don't like your beloved, you should pay attention.

Alexander's not a professional writer, and it shows; his prose has a plain-spoken artlessness about it, as though he's telling you the story over a beer after a long day.

The book has two serious faults. First, the section from the beginning of the book up to the wedding is too long, and frequently dull; it's as though he's building a court case and doesn't want to exclude the smallest scrap of evidence. After the wedding it becomes quite gripping, rather like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Second, possibly due to 20-20 hindsight, he lays out the case clearly enough that the reader can see the train wreck coming almost from the first moment he meets Natasha in St. Petersburg. The impending doom kept making me cringe.

When I finished the book I put it down, and I went and found Jane and I gave her a hug, and I told her, "Jane, anything you'd like me to do, you got it."

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:34 PM | Comments(3)

July 19, 2004

Scream For Jeeves, by P.H. Cannon

This is the Lovecraft/Wodehouse parody I mentioned, a couple of months ago. I wanted to dig into it immediately on arrival, naturally, but I restrained myself because I wanted to see if I could turn the silly bit from the above link into a full-length story. I got a fair ways, then ran out of gas. And then, a few days ago, I really needed something to distract me from Russian Bride, of which you'll hear more in the next day or so. And Scream for Jeeves was just sitting there, and, well, here we are.

I have good news and bad news. The good news is, the book really is genuinely funny. It contains three Jeeves and Bertie stories, each of which follows the classic pattern: an old friend of Bertie's requires his help--well, Jeeves' help, really--and Bertie clusters round, Jeeves saving the day. The author has Bertie Wooster's narrative style down pat.

At the same time, each story is a retelling of a classic Lovecraft tale, with admixtures from various others. And here's the first bit of bad news: the three Lovecraft tales are "The Rats in the Walls", "Cool Air", and "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward". The first of the three is one of my favorites, but I fear I've never much cared for the other two, and that was a disappointment. I had visions of Bertie vacationing in the shadowy town of Innsmouth: "A bit scaly, what, Jeeves? I mean to say, you'd think they were all French." "Indeed, sir, the residents do seem to have a batrachian aspect." But no, it was not to be.

One gag that's repeated in each story is a conversation between Bertie and one of the other characters in which the other character speaks in dark purple Lovecraftian prose and Bertie is simply himself. The difference in style is quite funny--for awhile. The other character never responds to Bertie's inanities, indeed, never seems to notice them.

On the other hand, there are some really good bits; I rather liked the idea of Bertie Wooster and Charles Dexter Ward treating Erich Zann to some old Broadway showtunes. Plus, there are some neat illustrations by J.C. Eckhardt.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:08 PM | Comments(3)

Historical Revisionism is Vile

No matter who benefits, as Phil at Brandywine Books points out, revisionism is a bad thing, even in a good cause. I'll go a step farther; it's a bad thing, especially in a good cause.
Posted by Will Duquette at 05:57 PM | Comments(1)

July 17, 2004

The Kids Are Alright!

This is good news, if true. (Via NQCBSEI.)
Posted by Will Duquette at 06:04 PM | Comments(0)

Intolerance Watch

Every so often I'm moved to say a few words about the difference between intolerance and disagreement. It isn't intolerant to tell someone, "I think your religious beliefs are untrue." Depending on how you say it, you might or might not be polite, and you might or might not be offensive--as if that were the end of the world. But it isn't intolerant.

No, intolerance looks like this: in Pakistan this past April, a Christian teenager was tortured to death by Islamic seminarians determined to convert him to Islam. The teenager, whose name was Javaid Anjum, resisted for five days of torment.

He was given electric shocks repeatedly to various parts of his body including his ears, which damaged his hearing. His right arm and fingers were fractured and his nails were pulled out. His feet were swollen from beating and he suffered contusions and lacerations all over his body. He received many internal injuries, and besides the two failed kidneys the doctors’ report notes that he passed blood or pus instead of urine. In many places his skin appeared blackened and oozed pus and he could barely move.

Eventually, the future imams took him to the police station and accused him of theft. He died in the hospital several days later. Meanwhile, the seminarians were not punished; the chief constable apparently thought that what had happened was God's will.

An aside to certain folks in the Middle East--this is what martyrs really look like.

Oh, and what did Javaid do to deserve this treatment? The seminarians found Javaid drinking water from a tap outside the school.

(Via CANN.)

Posted by Will Duquette at 10:07 AM | Comments(1)

OK, Deb Can Have Lots of Cookies

I have just discovered the reason for my esteemed co-blogger's unwonted silence--not only unwonted but unwanted, as it turns out. It seems that she mixed her mammals, which you should never, ever do.

Some days ago, she was riding a large mammal of the equine variety in company with several others, including her daughter (the proximate cause of this unusual horsiness). It was a beautiful evening, the breeze was cool, the sky was sunny, the fields were....fields. Now, the first thing about horses is that they really are quite amazingly tall. And the second thing about horses is that they have minds of their own--and those minds really are quite amazingly small. If she'd been riding, say, an ATV, then our Deb would be feeling fine at the moment. ATVs are much lower to the ground, and what's more important they don't spook when two deer pop out of the brush at them. And if they did, and you fell off the ATV's back onto your own (your left shoe scribing a perfect arc over the saddle horn the ATV hasn't got) you wouldn't have nearly as far to fall.

As I say, it's dangerous to mix your mammals; it can leave you feeling truly wretched the next day. According to Deb she has no broken bones (except possibly for a hairline fracture in one clavicle), but she's got a surfeit of angry muscles, tendons, and maybe even a disgruntled rotator cuff. (You can buy stock in the Advil company if you like.) Today is the first day she's felt physically able to sit in a chair and type.

She hopes to have some reviews for us Real Soon Now (westerns, oddly enough); in the meantime, you can leave a Get Well note in the comments, below, or e-mail one to her directly.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:15 AM | Comments(2)

July 16, 2004

It's Quiet Out There. Too Quiet.

Fact is, I've been spending my time programming and playing video games. Goofing off. Added to that, Deb's been remarkably lazy (Bad Deb--no cookie!) and hasn't sent me any book reviews to post. So things have been quiet around here.

I'm reading two books I hope to finish soon, Scream for Jeeves, and Russian Bride;
the former is the Lovecraft/Wodehouse parody I bought a while back; I'd put off reading it while working on my own. Mine has been dead in the water for a while, though, so it's time.

Russian Bride is a bound galley of a forthcoming book that the author sent me to review; I'll have more about it when I'm done, but for now I'll just say that it's a really unpleasant, true, story.

So, more later.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:57 PM | Comments(0)

July 15, 2004

You call that acting?

The Forager has a new post up, this time on the subject of acting. Go read it; he has a lot of interesting stuff to say, and today I sure as heck don't.
Posted by Will Duquette at 09:45 PM | Comments(0)

July 14, 2004

A Mist of Prophecies, by Steven Saylor

This is the latest of Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series, a collection of mystery novels set in ancient Rome in the waning days of the Roman republic. The current installment is set in the period after Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon; Pompey, Caesar's chief rival, has fled to Greece, and Caesar and his legions have gone after him. Meanwhile, things are chaotic in Rome itself; some support Pompey, some support Caesar, prices have gone through the roof, and only the bankers and big landlords are doing well. If Caesar defeats Pompey--or, alternatively, if Pompey defeats Caesar--it's clear that things will calm down.

But what if Caesar and Pompey both die in battle, far from Rome? What then? There's a slim possibility that a clever, ambitious man could sweep into power on the wings of a popular revolution. Marcus Caelius thinks he just might be that man.

As always, Saylor's viewpoint character is Gordianus the Finder, the man Cicero called "the last honest man in Rome." Gordianus is getting on in years, and his son Eco is doing most of the finding these days; Gordianus spends most of his time tending his garden or hanging out in the Forum listening to the other geezers belittle each others' politics. He doesn't want to get involved with rebellion; he just wants to live comfortably and enjoy his children and grandchildren.

And then a strange woman comes to Rome. She has no memory of her past; because she occasionally falls into fits and utters strange prophecies, she is soon dubbed "Cassandra". She is strange, and unkempt, and beautiful, and Gordianus, for all his years, is captivated.

And then she is murdered. Gordianus gives her a funeral, since no one else comes forward--and seven of Rome's most notable women attend, briefly, on her funeral pyre. Why? Why was she murdered? And who killed her? It falls, naturally, to Gordianus to find out, as revolution brews in the streets of Rome.

Alas, I don't find Gordianus as compelling as I once did. He's become rather a sad sack; paint him dreary. And then, although Saylor's focus on historical events lends the Gordianus books much of their interest, it's also a problem. Each book involves some crux in the Roman political record, and that means that the books are never really about Gordianus or his doings at all. It's also why Gordianus is so old and tired only eight books into the series; there are only so many major political upheavals in one man's life span.

So what can I say? The book was published in 2002, and it's been knocking around the house for ages; I only picked it up because I was going to be waiting at the airport for an hour or so, and it was more or less the first paperback I put my hand on as I was going out the door. It didn't disappoint me--I'm not sorry I read it--but I'm not terribly excited about it either.

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:24 PM | Comments(0)

July 12, 2004

Comments are Re-enabled

I've re-enabled comments; we'll see how it goes.
Posted by Will Duquette at 04:37 PM | Comments(3)

July 11, 2004

It's Not You

But I've disabled comments on the blog for the time being. I started getting bombed with truly vile comment spam about twenty minutes ago, at a rate of one new message every seven seconds. I'll try enabling comments again some time tomorrow, and we'll see what happens.
Posted by Will Duquette at 08:36 PM | Comments(0)

Spinsters in Jeopardy, by Ngaio Marsh

This is the next of Marsh's Inspector Alleyn mysteries, and I'm afraid it's aged very badly.

Alleyn, his wife, and their little boy Ricky (his first appearance, as it happens) take a vacation to the south of France. Alleyn's mixing business with pleasure; while Troy and Ricky are having fun, he's going to be helping the Sureté bust up a drug ring. Tied in with the drug ring, possibly, are the denizens of the Chateau of the Silver Goat, the owner of which is the leader of what we'd now call a New Age cult. It's a scam, of course, at least mostly, but the cult leader uses the drugs to keep control over his small flock.

And this is where it gets dated. The two drugs mentioned in the book are heroin and marijuana, tellingly spelled "marihuana". Heroin is no joke, even now, but for the rest this spills over into Reefer Madness territory. The pinnacle comes during an occult ritual which Alleyn has infiltrated; there are six other participants. Each attendee is given a "reefer" to smoke; through a little sleight of hand, Alleyn substitutes one of his own cigarettes.

Now, really. I've never smoked either tobacco or marijuana myself (I was always a goody-two-shoes) but I know what they both smell like, and if Alleyn had lit up a normal cigarette in this situation, you can't tell me that the other six wouldn't have noticed the difference.

The book does have some fun moments, including one delightful scene where Alleyn comes over all Cary Grant and loses his temper with a slimy French executive, but the first half of the book is a bit of a slog.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:31 PM | Comments(3)

July 09, 2004

The Eccentricity Inventory

Courtesy of Lynn Sislo, I discovered the Táncos Cultural Eccentricity Inventory, which I had to do because I knew more of the choices on this list than on Terry Teachout's. And also, I don't have any books to write about tonight.

1. Philip K. Dick or Robert Heinlein?
2. Winsor McCay or George Herriman?
3. Crimson or scarlet?
4. Cream or Hendrix?
5. Francesco di Giacomo or Jon Anderson?
6. Cordwainer Smith or Isaac Asimov?
7. Mammillaria or Euphorbia?
8. Jacqui McShee or Maddy Prior? Actually, I have no idea who Jacqui McShee is, but Maddy Prior--I saw Maddy Prior play at McCabe's Guitar Shop once. I have many, many albums on which she sings. She is very, very good.
9. The Dream (Ashton) or A Midsummer Night's Dream (Balanchine)
10. Austrian Copper or Peace?
11. A Wizard of Earthsea or Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone?
12. Thunderstorms or snow?
13. Heath Robinson or Rube Goldberg?
14. The Face in the Frost or Stormbringer?
15. Muriel Spark or J.F. Powers?
16. Penrose tiles or the Mandelbrot set?
17. 3 Mustaphas 3 or the Klezmer Conservatory Band?
18. Steve Morse or Steve Vai?
19. Photography: black and white or color?
20. Four o'clocks or vinca?
21. Mountains or beaches?
22. Minimoog or DX7?
23. Chesterton or Belloc?
24. Stand Up or Aqualung? But a very tough choice.
25. Walnut or oak?
26. Chocolate: dark or milk?
27. Bill Nelson or Bryan Ferry?
28. Edward Koren or George Booth?
29. Terry Pratchett or Tom Sharpe?
30. Donald Barthelme or John Barth?
31. Randy Newman or Richard Thompson?
32. Stapeliads or orchids?
33. McCartney or Lennon?
Bonus question: "Simple Gifts" or "Amazing Grace"? Another toughie

That's 20 answers, which according to the author of the inventory means that the magnitude of my eccentricity is 61%, while my specific choices indicate that the quality of my eccentricity is 60%. Whatever that means.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:34 PM | Comments(7)

Inconceivable!

There's a delightful scene in The Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya and Westley are dueling at the top of the Cliffs of Madness (or whatever the heck they were called) and they are tossing the names of great masters of the sword back and forth.

I assumed that William Goldman made it all up, but it turns out that all of the masters they named were real people. Tenser, Said the Tensor has the scoop (and links to some of their writings).

Posted by Will Duquette at 05:30 PM | Comments(3)

July 07, 2004

The Teachout Cultural Concurrence Index

I don't usually do these things, but what the heck. If Ian can do it, so can I.

1. Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly?
2. The Great Gatsby or The Sun Also Rises? Cannery Row
3. Count Basie or Duke Ellington? Fats Waller
4. Cats or dogs?
5. Matisse or Picasso?
6. Yeats or Eliot? Carroll
7. Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin?
8. Flannery O'Connor or John Updike?
9. To Have and Have Not or Casablanca?
10. Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning?
11. The Who or the Stones?
12. Philip Larkin or Sylvia Plath?
13. Trollope or Dickens?
14. Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald?
15. Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy?
16. The Moviegoer or The End of the Affair?
17. George Balanchine or Martha Graham?
18. Hot dogs or hamburgers?
19. Letterman or Leno?
20. Wilco or Cat Power?
21. Verdi or Wagner?
22. Grace Kelly or Marilyn Monroe?
23. Bill Monroe or Johnny Cash?
24. Kingsley or Martin Amis?
25. Robert Mitchum or Marlon Brando?
26. Mark Morris or Twyla Tharp?
27. Vermeer or Rembrandt?
28. Tchaikovsky or Chopin?
29. Red wine or white?
30. Noel Coward or Oscar Wilde?
31. Grosse Pointe Blank or High Fidelity?
32. Shostakovich or Prokofiev?
33. Mikhail Baryshnikov or Rudolf Nureyev?
34. Constable or Turner?
35. The Searchers or Rio Bravo?
36. Comedy or tragedy?
37. Fall or spring?
38. Manet or Monet?
39. The Sopranos or The Simpsons?
40. Rodgers and Hart or Gershwin and Gershwin?
41. Joseph Conrad or Henry James? Stella Gibbons
42. Sunset or sunrise?
43. Johnny Mercer or Cole Porter?
44. Mac or PC?
45. New York or Los Angeles?
46. Partisan Review or Horizon?
47. Stax or Motown?
48. Van Gogh or Gauguin?
49. Steely Dan or Elvis Costello?
50. Reading a blog or reading a magazine?
51. John Gielgud or Laurence Olivier?
52. Only the Lonely or Songs for Swingin' Lovers?
53. Chinatown or Bonnie and Clyde?
54. Ghost World or Election?
55. Minimalism or conceptual art?
56. Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny?
57. Modernism or postmodernism? Can't I pick something else?
58. Batman or Spider-Man?
59. Emmylou Harris or Lucinda Williams?
60. Johnson or Boswell?
61. Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf?
62. The Honeymooners or The Dick Van Dyke Show?
63. An Eames chair or a Noguchi table? A Sam Maloof rocking chair
64. Out of the Past or Double Indemnity?
65. The Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni? The Pirates of Penzance
66. Blue or green?
67. A Midsummer Night's Dream or As You Like It? Twelfth Night
68. Ballet or opera?
69. Film or live theater?
70. Acoustic or electric?
71. North by Northwest or Vertigo? Rear Window
72. Sargent or Whistler?
73. V.S. Naipaul or Milan Kundera?
74. The Music Man or Oklahoma?
75. Sushi, yes or no?
76. The New Yorker under Ross or Shawn?
77. Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee? Thornton Wilder
78. The Portrait of a Lady or The Wings of the Dove?
79. Paul Taylor or Merce Cunningham?
80. Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies van der Rohe? Greene and Greene
81. Diana Krall or Norah Jones?
82. Watercolor or pastel?
83. Bus or subway?
84. Stravinsky or Schoenberg?
85. Crunchy or smooth peanut butter?
86. Willa Cather or Theodore Dreiser?
87. Schubert or Mozart?
88. The Fifties or the Twenties?
89. Huckleberry Finn or Moby-Dick? Life on the Mississippi
90. Thomas Mann or James Joyce?
91. Lester Young or Coleman Hawkins?
92. Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman?
93. Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill?
94. Liz Phair or Aimee Mann?
95. Italian or French cooking?
96. Bach on piano or harpsichord?
97. Anchovies, yes or no?
98. Short novels or long ones?
99. Swing or bebop?
100. "The Last Judgment" or "The Last Supper"?

At this point I'm supposed to add up the number of left hand choices I made, and divide by the total number of choices I made, but I'm not gonna do that, especially since in a fair number of cases I rejected both of Teachout's choices and inserted my own.

UPDATE: For the record, my score is 50%.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:03 PM | Comments(9)

Gardens of the Moon, by Steve Erikson

One of my (few) complaints about The Lord of the Rings involves the economics. The Shire evokes the simplicity of the pre-industrial English countryside--but even that simple countryside did not exist in a vacuum, and its inhabitants depended on trade for much that they could not produce themselves. Tolkien mentions trade now and then, when it suits his story, but it has always seemed tacked on to me, not really a part of his world. And though those simple English countryfolk might not travel more than ten miles from their homes over the course of their entire lives, there certainly were those who did. At a minimum, there was always contact between neighboring countries. Yet in Middle Earth, even long-time allies and next-door neighbors like Gondor and Rohan are so estranged that there is little contact between them.

In short, people have a tendency to reproduce, and spread out, and fill the available space. Realms have a way of butting up against each other. When you think of it that way, Middle Earth seems strangely empty, especially in the regions around the Shire.

Gardens of the Moon, by a new author named Steve Erikson, is squarely at the opposite end of the spectrum. It's the first book in a projected ten-book series called the Malazan Book of the Fallen, and there is little about it that's simple, least of all the geopolitical background. Indeed, I'm inclined to call it the theogeopolitical background, because the Gods are very definitely involved in human affairs, as if human affairs weren't complicated enough already. And I call them human affairs, although there are at least five different intelligent races involved (none of them, blessedly, elves, dwarves, or goblins).

To begin with, there's the ever-expanding Malazan Empire, a sort of magical police state ruled over by the Empress Laseen. Laseen, the former head of the Claw (the Malazan secret police), killed her predecessor and usurped the throne, and immediately purged as many of the old Emperor's supporters as she could; at least one reason for the wars of expansion is to provide plentiful opportunities for the remainder of the Malazan old guard to die in battle, far from the capital. But that's just part of the story.

One remnant of that old guard is the Bridgebreakers, a company of the 2nd Army, now commanded by Dujek One-Arm. They were the backbone of the army in the days of the old Emperor; of late they have been given assignment after assignment designed to get them killed. And they are tired of it. When they are ordered to infiltrate the city of Darujhistan to prepare for a later Malazan, they decide to do it their own way. But that's just part of the story.

Then there is the city of Darujistan itself. Largest and wealthiest of the Twelve Cities of Genabackis, it is the place where many and diverse threads will come together. There's the young fisher girl, now posessed by Cotillion the Rope, and turned professional killer. There's the young thief, chosen tool of Oponn, the Twin God of Luck. There's the seemingly frivolus Kruppe, a man who speaks much nonsense and hears everything of sense in Darujhistan. There's the assassin who's determined to avenge the wrong done one of his friends, and the fop who aids him. There are the councilmen who think they rules the city, and the cabal who actually do. But that's just part of the story.

Then there are the mages and alchemists, including an insane puppet with a nasty sense of humor and a penchant for chaos. The magic they practice is refreshingly novel in its details, which (delightfully) are never fully explained. And one mustn't forget the gods and demigods: Cotillion and Oponn, already mentioned; Shadowthrone, King of the Shadow Warren and lord of the Hounds of Shadow; Hood, the Lord of Death; Anomander Rake, the Lord of Moon's Spawn; any many others.

In passing, I'd like to point out the opportunities for some struggling grad student to do a thesis on the evolving notions of godhood in fantasy literature. The divide between the concepts of divinity in your average modern fantasy novel and any religion practiced by real people has (with a few exceptions) become a yawning chasm. But that's a topic for another time.

All in all, this is an amazingly rich and complicated book, and as it's the kind that doesn't pander to the reader it took me a while to get into it. Once I did, though, I was hooked. In fact, I ended up staying up late to finish it (on a weeknight, no less), which doesn't happen as often as it once did. The climax was worth it, too.

So I was entertained. Beyond that, I'm not really sure what to say. At times I was reminded of Fritz Leiber; at other times, of George R.R. Martin. The book is certainly better than many I've read, and might really be very good, but it is so different from its nearest neighbors that I think I'll have to read it once or twice more (at judicious intervals) before I know for sure. In any event, I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for the next book in the series.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:39 PM | Comments(0)

July 06, 2004

The High King, by Lloyd Alexander

My boy David and I have finished up Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain with this book, in which Arawn the Deathlord of Annuvin makes his move against the High King of Prydain and is ultimately defeated. As always, our viewpoint character is Taran of Cair Dallben, Assistant Pig-Keeper--but really, the point of the whole series is that the Taran of this book is not the Taran we began with. In each book he's matured, little by little; at the start he was a foolish kid who wanted to be a hero, and now he's a much wiser man and a leader of men. He has become strong, loyal, persevering, humble, and honest--indeed, he has all of what used to be called "the manly virtues."

And on top of that, there's also a rollicking good adventure, spiced with real loss and heartache, but ultimately having a happy ending. As a book (and series) to read to my kids, what's not to like?

Posted by Will Duquette at 04:43 PM | Comments(4)

July 05, 2004

Night at the Vulcan, by Ngaio Marsh

I'm not sure Marsh plays quite fair in this book, but it's such a charming read that I don't care.

Martyn Tarne is young stage actress from New Zealand. She's had some success touring in Australia, and has come to London to see if she can make it big. Most of her money was stolen en route, and she's spent the last two weeks traipsing from theater to theater trying to find a part. She's a stubborn girl, our Martyn; she wants to succeed on her own terms. Finally she arrives at the Vulcan theater late on a dreary afternoon, only to discover that her information was incorrect; there's no audition, and no job. It begins to rain, and with no money, little food, and nowhere to go, she takes refuge in the theater lobby.

And there begins a Cinderella story so replete with interesting characters that it's almost a pity that a murder has to enter into it--which, indeed, it doesn't until over halfway through the book, on the play's opening night. Enter Inspector Alleyn and the usual crew, there are many questions, the murderer is discovered, and young Martyn's career is launched.

All in all, quite a satisfactory book.

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:09 PM | Comments(0)

July 03, 2004

Only at Oxford?

Seems more like something from the Unseen University library to me, but what do I know?
Posted by Will Duquette at 02:49 PM | Comments(0)

The Intentional Fallacy Fallacy

To assume that an author's intent is the final determinant of what a text means is to commit the intentional fallacy, an act that is almost universally denigrated these days. As a frequent writer of technical documentation, I'm well aware that what I write doesn't always say what I meant it to say--but when the error is pointed out, I generally admit to the error and go back and fix it. In the arena of fiction, however, it doesn't seem to work that way; the author's intent is less important than the meaning the reader reads into the tale. There are a number of reasons for this, I guess, not least because reading any meaning into a narrative beyond the bare facts of the story is fraught with peril. But it's possible to stretch opposition to the intentional fallacy too far, and say that the author's intent has nothing to do with the meaning of the text, a position which is clearly absurd. And that's the topic of one of the Forager's latest posts, which you should go read.
Posted by Will Duquette at 11:45 AM | Comments(0)

July 01, 2004

Saturn!

Probably everybody knows by now that NASA's Cassini spacecraft has arrived at Jupiter after many years in transit; I keep seeing mentions of it on various weblogs. And each time I see one I have to shake myself a little bit, and remind myself how massively cool my job is.

As long time readers might (or might not) remember, I'm a software engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory here in Southern California. My work involves some of the software used by the Deep Space Network, or DSN, which is the global network of dish antennas and the related hardware and software used to communicate with NASA spacecraft like Cassini, Spirit, and Opportunity. I've never worked on spacecraft software, and I've never had anything to do with Cassini in particular--but every time the DSN tracks Cassini, my software is involved.

And all too often it becomes just a job, and I forget how privileged I am to work where I do, where such nifty things as Cassini are commonplace.

So here's to the Cassini flight and development teams, and to all the JPL and DSN operations personnel around the world who keep the bits flowing.

You can find more about Cassini here, including some cool pictures of Saturn's rings.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:26 PM | Comments(1)