October 31, 2005

Woo-Hoo!

As everyone knows, I've been swamped with a project at work for the last six months. I've been having a lot of fun, but I've been extremely busy, and I've had little energy for anything else. For the last month (saving last week's attendance at the Tcl conference) I've been in a sprint, leading up to next week when we're having our "Proof-of-Principle", a live demo where real people get to bang on my software and see if it really does anything useful. It's a limited demo, in that the full capability isn't being delivered until this May...nevertheless, it shows that the software is architecturally complete, and can do all of the kinds of things it's supposed to be able to do.

Now, my software doesn't run in a vacuum; it cooperates with several other software packages. And today, for the first time, we actually got all of them up and talking to each other with everything working the way it's supposed to. There are a few more small bugs to squish before next week, but honestly everything's looking pretty good.

Now maybe I'll be able to relax a little.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:00 PM | Comments(0)

October 29, 2005

Thank You Very Much!

A few weeks ago, Kevin Holtsberry of Collected Miscellany recommended a script for marking old MovableType posts closed for comments and trackbacks. I've just run it; life should become rather simpler.

So thank you!

Posted by Will Duquette at 01:15 PM | Comments(0)

October 28, 2005

Play the Digeridu, Lou!

I'm on my way home. Portland Airport has wi-fi pretty much throughout, so I'm sitting in a quiet corner at the very end of Concourse C. A few last impressions:

After the conference ended I grabbed a quick lunch at Red Robin, where the service remains outstanding. I had chili, as it happens; in fact, I ate a lot of chili at Red Robin this week. It's not extra-good amazingly-wonderful to-die-for chili; rather, it's an unpretentious little chili that tastes OK, satisfies your hunger, and doesn't call attention to itself, either when you're eating it or, um, later.

After lunch, I picked up my suitcase at the hotel and headed for the airport. The hotel is right next to one of Portland's light-rail lines, and it so happens that the line runs to the airport, so that's what I did. I don't know why the fellow with the big black dog who got on the train just prior to mine was playing a digeridu in the train station, but it was an interesting touch. And then, on the way to the airport I saw a number of buildings that were leaning so far over I couldn't understand why they weren't falling down. Turns out, it wasn't the buildings; the train was moving very fast through a gentle curve, and the designers banked the track so well that I didn't even feel it.

Portland has a nice airport. If you have to spend a couple of hours waiting for a plane, you could do much worse. There are lots of shops and places to eat, the aforementioned wi-fi, and interesting sculpture to look at (including a representation of the Columbia River in brass on the floor. And the section of six or eight unused gates at the end of Concourse C makes a really nice, quiet place to sit.

But it's about time to close up my laptop and go find my gate.

Posted by Will Duquette at 04:25 PM | Comments(0)

October 27, 2005

Of Papers and Parrots

I gave my paper presentation this morning. It was very well received, from what I can tell; several people whose opinions I respect came up and told me that it had gotten them thinking, which is precisely what I was after. And by happy coincidence, the paper the followed mine meshed almost perfectly; my discussion motivated their application in a way that was most gratifying. Quite a few other interesting things went on around and about the conference today as well; it's been a fascinating time.

Re: the service at the Red Robin across the street from the hotel--Wednesday, about twenty or thirty people from the conference trooped over there for lunch, because it was close. Today, without any discussion at all, so far as I could see, approximately the same group trooped over there again. Usually most folks at these conferences try to hit as many restaurants as they can.

This evening is going to interesting...because Jimmy Buffet is performing at a sports arena called the Rose Garden tonight, and this hotel is pretty much the nearest place to stay. There are people all over the hotel wearing leis, and multi-colored grass skirts, and I saw one guy wearing a papier-mache parrot hat on his head. Sure, it's quite enough now...but I'm worried what it's going to be like after midnight.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:09 PM | Comments(0)

October 25, 2005

Impressions of Portland

After I checked in to my hotel yesterday, almost the first thing I did was hie myself off to
Powell's City of Books, a truly outstanding new-and-used bookstore. My hotel is next to the convention center, which is on the wrong side of the Willamette River, and I have no rental car, but not to worry--the "Max" light-rail line runs by the hotel, and took me across the river to within a few blocks of Powell's. I didn't stay long, as it was getting late and I wanted to get back to the hotel before dark; so this morning I took "Max" across the river but got off sooner and took a rather longer walk to both the main Powell's and also to Powell's Technical Books. I came away with a number of impressions.

The urban population is rather more diverse than I am used to. I'm seeing lots of young folks with metal sticking out of their faces, and there are more smokers than I usually see. And I'm seeing a surprising number of people in wheelchairs on the train. Possibly, of course, the train makes it easy enough to get around that folks with wheelchairs tend to live near and its route; I dunno. And of course there are the inevitable homeless folks.

Portland is a nice city to walk in; apparently they've really made an effort to work on that. The stores (and there are lots of big stores in Portland) have inviting entrances on the street corners. And for what it's worth, I walked about ten blocks along Everett from China Town to Powell's Technical Books and didn't hit a single "Don't Walk" signal.

Everyone I've dealt with since I've arrived has been extremely friendly, from the cab driver who drove me in from the airport to the sales people at Powell's. And I have to say, the service at the Red Robin restaurant across the street from my hotel is as good as I've ever gotten in any restaurant anywhere. When I went there for dinner last night, the person who seated me saw that I was alone and offered to find me a paper to read. I didn't need one (having just been to Powell's), but it was a nice gesture. And as I'm trying to keep to my diet as best I can on this trip, I had a number of special requests, and the waitress couldn't have been more helpful or more attentive. It's not a fluke, either; I went back there for lunch today, and was just as pleased.

Tonight I let myself go, a bit; I went out for pizza and beer with a group of folks from the conference. I thought we were going to some local joint; in fact, we ended up at BJ's Pizzeria and Brewery. It was a nice dinner, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but at this rate I'm not going to be able to indulge in any of the Red Robin's mud pie.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:57 PM | Comments(0)

October 24, 2005

Wi-wi-wireless!

Upon my arrival at the hotel here in Portland, I was somewhat disappointed to discover that they didn't have broadband connections in the rooms; I was going to have to use dial-up. It turns out that the hotel's guide to services is out-of-date; in fact, the hotel has free wi-fi. So I'm sitting in my room, in a reasonably nice reading chair in a well-lighted corner, posting this entry while watching the US Figure Skating Championships on ESPN. Life is good. Update: Whoops! 'Twasn't the Nationals, as I thought; it was Skate America. A Japanese fellow just one the men's competition.
Posted by Will Duquette at 07:22 PM | Comments(0)

October 23, 2005

Off, Off and Away

For the next five days I'm going to be in Portland, Oregon at this
year's Tcl/Tk conference. I might be posting blog entries; I will most
likely not be responding to personal e-mail until I get back.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:05 PM | Comments(0)

October 21, 2005

Excuse Me?

Jane took the kids to the library the other day, and came home with one of those rubbery plastic bracelets that are all the rage these days. It says,

County of Los Angeles Public Library * Read * Leer

"Leer"? Um....

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:52 PM | Comments(0)

October 16, 2005

My mailing lists are down

I've just discovered that my Snit and Notebook mailing lists are down; in fact, they seem to have disappeared without a trace (the server currently has no memory of them). I've got a support request in; we'll see what happens.
Posted by Will Duquette at 06:40 PM | Comments(0)

The Shadow of Saganami, by David Weber

This is the second in Weber's extended "Honorverse" series; being solely authored by Weber himself, it follows the pattern set by his previous few solo outings, to wit: a {ship, squadron, ...} of the Manticoran Space Navy is sent to a {system, cluster, star-nation, ...} to deal with some {mystery, crisis, situation, ...}. The main plot follows the {ship, squadron, ...} as they go about their business, one facet of which is usually to determine just what's going on. Meanwhile, we witness lots of meetings between other players on both sides where Weber explains to us just what's going on, so we know what kind of trials our gallant sailors will encounter. The volume naturally ends with some kind of naval engagement in which our heroes come out on top, bloody but unbowed.

That said, I enjoyed The Shadow of Saganami rather more than the most recent Honor Harrington novel, though (as it lacked Eric Flint's, um..., colorful imagination) not so much as Crown of Slaves.

Chronologically, The Shadow of Saganami is the latest view of the greater series, following shortly after Crown of Slaves. HMS Hexapuma, a new Saganami-class heavy cruiser, is sent to the Talbott Cluster, a vast expense of poor-to-destitute planets at the terminus of the most recently discovered member of Manticore's wormhole junction. The cluster as a whole has requested annexation by the Star-Kingdom of Manticore, and the details are currently being hammered out; Hexapuma has been sent to show the flag and to patrol what may soon be Manticoran territory.

The Talbott Cluster is on the far side of the Solarian League from Manticore, in a region where Manticoran ships would never go if it weren't for the new wormhole. And there are a number of folks who aren't happy about the possibility of increased Manticoran presence, notably the Solarian League's Office of Frontier Security (which enslaves entire planets under the guise of protecting them) and genetic slaver's Manpower United.

As with Crown of Slaves, The Shadow of Saganami looks like old home week. Helen Zilwicki, daughter of Anton Zilwicki and sister of Berry, is on board Hexapuma on her middie cruise. Also present are a couple of Engineering officers from Honor Among Enemies, and the provisional governor of the Talbott Cluster is Estelle Matsuko, whom we first met On Basilisk Station.

All in all, I liked the book; but Weber needs to stifle a few of the talking heads and give us a little more action. A few less words would be nice, too.

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:15 PM | Comments(0)

October 15, 2005

Hey! It works!

So yesterday, angry about being sent to her room, my little girl spent some considerable time drawing a "shadow" on the wall with a purple crayon. We didn't find it until after she'd gone to bed; and this morning we were faced with the task of making her clean it off.

So how do you clean crayon off of the wall? (In this case, a wall of tongue-and-groove pine panelling with a coat of off-white paint on it.)

I went to Google, naturally, and Google led me to eHow.com, which had a number of suggestions. There were a number of suggestions from users of the site, some of which had a suspiciously commercial cast to them, and others which were just strange. Toothpaste? OK, it's a gentle abrasive, but it
seems like it could make quite a mess. Dryer sheets and hand-lotion? Huh?

But above all of these was eHow.com's own suggestion, which is the one I ultimately used. First, you scrape off as much of the wax as you can with a plastic spoon. This gets off quite a lot, but still leaves purple marks all over. Then, put some baking soda on a damp cloth, and rub with that. And my goodness, it works surprisingly well. A little elbow grease is required, but the crayon marks came right off--along with a shocking amount of other grime. And also some paint, but the paint on that stretch of wall was evidently in bad shape even before my treasure started drawing on it. Finally, use a damp cloth or sponge to wipe the wall clean, and dry it, and you're done.

It was surprisingly easy, really.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:05 AM | Comments(0)

October 14, 2005

Of Symbols and World Views

Today I'll continue my discussion of Tom Wright's The New Testament and the People of God. As always, assume any errors in the following are mine, not his; I Am Not A New Testament Scholar. (Not that, judging from the footnotes, that's any guarantee of infallibility.)

Wright's purpose in this book is to lay the groundwork for serious study of the New Testament, and to study the New Testament one needs to understand the People of God, the Jews, as they lived and moved and believed in Jesus' day. He does this by trying to identify their "world view." Wright spends a great deal of time defining just what a world view is; here, suffice it to say that it involves unifying stories, symbols, and praxis. "Praxis", I gather, is a fancy word for "how they put their beliefs into practice."

First, the symbols: racial identity, the Land, the Temple, and Torah. The Jews were and are God's chosen people, called apart from the nations to be His. This identity they retain to this day, nearly two thousand years after the destruction of Herod's Temple and the end of Temple worship. Next, the Land. God promised blessing to his people, and (I'd not considered this before) the Land was his chief means of blessing them. It was through the Land that they received milk and honey, grapes and figs and wheat; it was in the Land that they found green pastures and still waters. Next, Torah, the Law. It is Torah that defines the Jews as God's Chosen People, it is Torah that records God's covenant with them, it is Torah that explains what is expected of them as God's Chosen People. The Temple has been gone for over nineteen centuries; they have only recently regained the Land; for much of western history, Torah has been Land and Temple both to God's people.

These symbols are all wrapped up in the Jewish story, which is told and retold in the Old Testament, and in a wide variety of other texts and traditions. Indeed, there are two stories, the greater and the lesser. The greater story I've touched on already: God chose the Jews and set them apart from the nations to be his People, to do his work in the world, and ultimately to be a blessing to all nations. The lesser story fits within the greater story--and indeed, has been repeated multiple times: God's People become separated from the blessings of God's Promise; God rescues them and restores His rule in the land of Israel.

In the days of Joseph and his brothers, the children of Israel are saved from famine by going to the land of Egypt, leaving the lands which God had given to Abraham. Note that they go at God's command--this is important.

In time succor becomes slavery; and through Moses God rescues them again. He brings his people out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land, which he helps them to conquer. He is their God, and they are his People. This is the greatest rescue of all: they regain their identity, which they had forgotten; they regain the Land, which they had left; and they gain Torah, which tells them how not to lose themselves.

In time the Jews request a king, and God gives them Saul, and then David, and then Solomon; and Solomon at God's command builds the Temple. God's dwelling place is thus established forever more among his People.
Their descendents will number more than the stars in the sky, and they will dwell in God's blessing forever--provided they remain within the Covenant.

Of course, they don't. The kings of Israel were, unsurprisingly, of varying quality; many chose to follow other gods as well as (or instead of) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In time, the Land was split into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The prophets came to warn God's people, to call them to repentance and back into Covenant with God, but ultimately to no avail; and they were led into captivity in Babylon.

The exiles did not forget their God, and in time the Babylonian Exile came to an end--but in a strange way. God delivered them, and restored to them the Land, but He did so through the hands of Cyrus the Persian, and the restored Israel was a client state.

They were rescued yet again, but this time from the consequences of their own folly rather than from the wickedness of others; and the rescue was somewhat ambiguous. As a result, the Jews began to look forward to a yet greater rescue, in which the Land would be fully theirs, in which the Temple would be properly restored, in which God would reign triumpant in Jerusalem through his holy Priesthood and a king of the line of David. The Jewish story became one which was not yet complete, one which demanded a proper ending.

The Lord helps those who help themselves, it's long been said. Perhaps, some Jews reasoned, if Israel were to be restored it was up to them to move things along. Around 200 BC Israel was in the hands of the Syrians, and their ruler intended to set up a statue of his god on the Temple Mount. The Jews under Judas Maccabeus and his clan fought a successful rebellion. The Maccabeans declared that Israel was restored; and for over a century the head of the Hasmonean dynasty ruled Israel as both King and High Priest.

Again, God had rescued his people; and again the rescue was somewhat equivocal. The priesthood belonged to the sons of Levi; the kingship to the sons of David. Uniting them in one person ran counter to expectations. Moreover, the culture of Greece had spread throughout the shores of the Mediterrean Sea, and the Hasmoneans either started out or became (I am not sure which) far too Hellenized to suit the people they ruled. Morever, the Temple hadn't been properly rebuilt.

It was during this time that the Essenes withdrew from the people of Israel to live apart, to pursue holiness at Qumran and possibly other sites; they believed that if they kept themselves pure God would eventually raise from their numbers two (2!) messiahs, one to be the new high priest, and one to be the holy king. We know this from the Dead Sea Scrolls and excavations at Qumran; otherwise, the Essenes vanished without a trace. (No, Jesus wasn't an Essene. I'll tell you why that's so after I read the next volume.)

It was also during this time that the party of the Pharisees arose. If God hadn't chose to rescue his people fully, perhaps his people needed to pursue purity and holiness even more strongly? The Pharisees emphasized purity over and above the commitments expected of the average Jew; they were a political force to be reckoned with; and some large fraction of them were not averse to pursuing political change by violent means--which is to say rebellion.

Eventually the Romans arrived, and installed Herod the Great as King of Israel. Herod was no fool, clearly. He understood the story as well as anyone, and proceeded to rebuild the Temple forthwith. He did not presume to name himself high priest, but on the other hand made sure the high priests came from previously undistinguished priestly families, so that the high priests would be personally loyal to him. By the time of Jesus, the bulk of the aristocracy owed their positions to the Herodian dynasty.

Herod's attempts to use the Jewish story to bulwark his position were ultimately unsuccessful. Though his Temple was used and revered, it was used with an undercurrent of suspicion, for though it was a beautiful building and occupied the Temple Mount it was not the proper Temple--it had been built by a king not of Davidic descent, and moreover one who ruled at the sufferance of the Romans. The high priestly families were the tool through which the Herodians and later, directly, the Romans ruled Israel; but the people, all too aware of their origins, did not respect them as they ought. The Pharisees remained a strong party, and attempted rebellion was frequent from before Christ's birth up to 135 AD when the last rebellion was crushed.

After 135 AD Torah took the place of both Land and Temple in the lives of the remaining Jews, as it had already begun to do among the Jews of the Diaspora; thoughts of rebellion and restoration of the Temple were no more; and the hope of God's rescue of his people, the hope of a messiah, became increasingly remote.

As a Christian, of course, I believe in an alternate ending: that God sent a new high priest, a king of the Davidic line, in the person of Jesus; that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice such that no new Temple sacrifices need be made, and that Jesus' body was itself a new Temple, which, risen from the grave and ascended into heaven, can never be cast down or destroyed. But that story belongs to the the next volume of Wright's magnum opus.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:42 AM | Comments(0)

Why, Yes.

Yes, it must.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:22 AM | Comments(0)

October 13, 2005

Epistemology? Who Knew?

A while back, Amy Welborn recommended two books by Tom Wright, the Anglican bishop of Durham: Jesus and the Victory of God, and another whose name I can't recall at the moment. I found them at the bookstore; but found that they were volumes 2 and 3 of a connected series titled "Christian Origins and the Question of God." Being naturally anal retentive, I of course grabbed Volume 1, The New Testament and the People of God, because you have to read things in sequence. It's a much more scholarly tome than I'm accustomed to; I am now about halfway through it, and quite pleased with myself. It's only taken a couple of weeks.

But what does it mean when you read a book and feel like you know less than when you started?

The book begins with a lengthy treatise on epistemology, that is, a discussion of what we can actually expect to be able to know about the New Testament era , and how we can know it. In all that follows, please remember that I am not a Philosopher, Theologian, or Historian, and that I'm doing such violence to his argument that I might just as well strap it into a wheelchair and hurl it down the stairs.

Anyway, what Wright's doing in the first part of his book is highlighting a number of common epistemological errors that make studying the New Testament difficult, misleading, or pointless. To begin with, scholars tend to look at the New Testament through only one of three lenses: history, literature, or theology. Wright argues that the New Testament is literature and often follows literary conventions; that it involves historical events; and that its subject matter is inescapably theological. The nuances take him quite a while to work through, but I think that's the gist of it.

Specifically, Wright rejects the Enlightenment positivist view, which is usually historical in nature. The positivist approach rejects supernatural explanations at the outset, which is rather putting the cart before the horse; second, it tries to pin the texts down to a single, precise, specific, objective meaning when in fact there are clearly layers of meaning.

After the failings of the positivist approach began to become clear, a theological approach became popular. Rather than worrying about what really happened so long ago, which we can't know for sure anyway, the new game was to try to identify eternal verities. Here, the problem is that the meaning of the texts is clearly bound up in the time they were written.

And once you start neglecting obvious components of the text, you're likely to go too far. More recently, postmodern analysis has been in vogue. There is no correct reading of the New Testament; there's my reading and your reading and their reading and everybody can have their own reading and there's no reason to prefer one over another. We can't really know what happened or what the author was really thinking; all we know are our own thoughts, and we have to be happy with that. These folks treat the New Testament as Literature.

Isn't it interesting how scholars can say things like this with a straight face, in books they expect other scholars to read and take seriously?

Anyway, here we're gone from positivism at one end of the spectrum to phenomenalism at the other: I can't know anything for sure except my own sense data, and so I don't really know anything.

Wright rejects this extreme as well (as well he should); he maintains, contrary to the winds of scholarly fashion, that the time in which the New Testament was written matters; that the intent of the authors of the New Testament matters; that the history that led up to it matters; the literary forms matter; the theology matters; and that though we can't know everything about these things with absolutely certainty we can know quite a lot with reasonable certainty.

Cool! It seems rather like common sense, to me; but then have you ever heard a mathematician trying to define the word "number"? It's a lot more complicated than you might think.

Having got that out of the way, I'm now reading Wright's thoughts (which I can, indeed, know something about, Derrida and Foucault to the contrary) on the history of the Jews from the time of the Maccabees until around 135 AD. There's been quite a lot of he-said, she-said about the Pharisees, and as I say I think I know less about them than I did before. That's partially because he assumes more background than I've got, and so is leaving things unsaid; at least, I think so. But partially it's because most of the positive statements are hedged about with caveats and disclaimers.

I dunno. I think I'm learning something, maybe....

Posted by Will Duquette at 04:22 PM | Comments(0)

October 08, 2005

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

There's been a great deal of concern in Christian circles over the upcoming film adaptation of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: would Peter Jackson and Disney be able to make a film that's true to the book and its Christian roots, or would they secularize it and in so doing spoil it?

Barbara Nicolosi had the good fortune to see a preview of it; according to her, we have nothing to worry about and a great deal to look forward to.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:51 PM | Comments(0)

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

A miracle occurred a short time ago, and as a result Jane and I were able to have an unprecedented two nights off to ourselves this weekend. This is truly amazing, and I'm surprised yesterday wasn't greeted with earthquakes, fires, plague, war and rumours of war. Instead, all was relatively placid. There were no earthquakes, the war hasn't been a rumour for several years, and the fire was last weekend. We have walked on the beach, and eaten not wisely but too well (something I've certainly earned over the last six months), and around noon found ourselves next to a movie theater with an early matinee of the new Wallace and Gromit feature film, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Being on our own, and being who we are (Jane, remember, is the one who got a copy of Where's My Cow? as an anniversary present and was pleased about it) we bought tickets forthwith.

And we had a glorious time.

As the movie begins, the entire town is eagerly awaiting Lady Tottingham's Large Vegetable competition. All and sundry are pampering their tubers, melons, and roots in hopes of winning the coveted Golden Carrot--and only four days remain. Their chief concern: rabbits. As it happens, Wallace and Gromit have a new business: Anti-Pesto Humane Pest Control. They've got everyone's gardens wired with movement detectors and such-like and act as an immediate response SWAT team if the detectors are tripped by a hungry bunny in the middle of the night. All is going well, and Wallace is the darling of the town...until things go suddenly, horribly awry.

I won't give away anything else; suffice it to say that the film is every bit as good as The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, with all the bits we've come to love, and the animation was stunning--it's all traditional clay stop-motion animation, and I have no idea how they did some of the shots.

Looking back on the film, I'm not sure it had any more real story than its shorter siblings; but it never dragged, and the extension to feature length appears effortless though I'm sure it was anything but.

So go see it.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:42 PM | Comments(0)

A Sweet, Familiar Dissonance

Lynn Sislo has moved! And not only that, she was kind enough to send me e-mail telling me so, which is pretty spiffy.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:51 AM | Comments(0)

October 05, 2005

Thud!, by Terry Pratchett

This is Pratchett's latest Discworld novel; and it is to my lasting regret that due to soccer practice and an inability to find a babysitter we missed seeing him when he was at our local bookstore a couple of weeks ago. (So happens I missed Neil Gaiman last week, which is also regrettable but not nearly as lasting.)

Thud! is yet another tale of the City, Ankh-Morpork, as seen through the eyes of its most determined defender: His Grace Samuel Vimes, the reluctant Duke of Ankh-Morpork and most eager Commander of her City Watch. The topic this time around, as it so often is in the Sam Vimes books, is race relations. Koom Valley Day is approaching, and the dwarfs and the trolls are working themselves up to break a few heads. The dwarfs and trolls first fought the Battle of Koom Valley a thousand years earlier; they've given repeat performances every few decades ever since, sometimes even within the confines of Koom Valley.

Koom Valley Day is always rather fraught in Ankh-Morpork, thanks to the massive influx of dwarfs and trolls over the last twenty years; but this year it's shaping up to be a doozy. Indeed it appears that unless our Sam can do something to ease the tensions, the city will be the site of the next Battle of Koom Valley, and that eftsoons and right speedily.

Much of the tension may be laid at the feet of one Grag Hamcrusher, a leader of a new group of "deep down" dwarfs who have recently come to the city. Grag is not a name, but a title; it is the grags who are responsible for transmitting the essence of dwarfishness to the next generation. The closest human approximation is probably "rabbi"; and if "grag" equals "rabbi" then Hamcrusher and the "deep down" dwarfs make your average Hasidic Jew look like a secularist. Hamcrusher's not to impressed with the dwarfishness of your average city dwarf, and he's absolutely appalled by the vast numbers of trolls in the city, about whom he has not been silent.

As the book begins, Hamcrusher is not only Vimes' chief problem; he's also dead. The "deep down" dwarfs claim that the killer is a troll. And Koom Valley Day is only a few days away....

Like all of the Sam Vimes books, Thud! is a mystery with Vimes as the sleuth; and like all of the Sam Vimes books, the mystery is odd, surprising, and funny. I'll only say that the book Vimes reads to his son Young Sam every night at six o'clock precisely--every night, without fail, at precisely six o'clock, utterly without fail, because if you'll skip it for a good reason you'll eventually skip it for a bad reason--that is, the estimable Where's My Cow?, plays a dramatic (also odd, surprising, and funny) role at the climax of the tale. Jane and I are going to be giggling about it to each other for the indefinite future.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:46 PM | Comments(0)

October 04, 2005

Where's My Cow?, by Terry Pratchett

This is an odd little book, written as a companion to Pratchett's new Discworld novel, Thud!. Sam Vimes, commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, has a standing engagement every evening at six o'clock--no matter what else is going on, he hurries home to read a bedtime story to his very small boy, Young Sam. And not just any book, but Young Sam's favorite book in the world, Where's My Cow?:

Where's my cow?
Is that my cow?
It goes "Baaa".
It is a sheep.
That's not my cow!

Speaking as a father, I've read dozens of books just like this. But Where's My Cow? isn't just another kid's book; it's a book about Sam Vimes reading a book called Where's My Cow to Young Sam, complete with pictures of Sam Vimes making all of the assorted noises. (My favorite is the Hippopotamus: it goes "HRUUUUUGH!") And partway through the book, Sam begins to ask himself...why is he reading a book about the noises made by barnyard animals to Young Sam when Young Sam is going to grow up in the city and will never encounter barnyard animals except on a plate? What if Where's My Cow were about the noises Sam hears every day as he travels about Ankh-Morpork?

And so Sam Vimes begins to embellish the book a bit, and extemporize, and spread himself considerably....until Lady Sybil comes in and gives him the eye.

Speaking as a father, I've done this myself, hundreds of times, with one book or another (for example...but then, perhaps we should pass lightly over Princess Jewelianna and the Sparkling Rainbow Ball, in which all of the tasteless princesses dress most excruciatingly gaudy. One day my little girl is going to learn to read, and I'm going to be in big trouble.)

Anyway, Where's My Cow is good fun, if a bit lightweight, and the pictures are excellent. If you're both a parent and a Discworld fan, you owe it to yourself to get a copy. I gave Jane a copy as an anniversary present; she was thrilled. No, really, she was, and she sat in my lap while I read it to her. And then we went back to Thud!, which I expect we'll finish tonight.

If you're not a Discworld fan or a parent, though, give it a miss, because most of the book will go right over your head.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:19 PM | Comments(0)

October 02, 2005

I know, I know...

...I've not been posting regularly. This is partially due to lack of interest; my project at work is taking almost all of my energy at the moment, and this is likely to continue for some time. Plus, I'm teaching myself to play the piano--the fruits of which are certainly worth a blog entry or two--plus I've been doing lots of reading, but haven't had the energy to write much about it.

So much for excuses.

But frankly, one of the reasons I've not been posting much is that I'm about fed up with Movable Type and blog spammers in about equal proportions.

In Movable Type 3.x, the MT folks added the TypeKey commenter authentication system. I was drowning in comment spam, so I implemented it. It did for the comment spam perfectly well, but it dramatically reduced the number of comments I got. Then, a few weeks ago, my server was getting hammered so hard by spammers trying (and failing) to post comments that my web hosting service disabled the comments script. I didn't say anything at the time, as it seemed like a short term thing; but it has gone on and on, and finally yesterday I simply disabled comments altogether. Existing comments have been preserved, but there will be no new ones.

In the meantime, Trackback spam is greatly on the increase. I'm getting hundreds of Trackback spams every day. I gather that MT 3.2 has some tools to help with that, and I really ought to install it. At the same time, I gather that MT 3.2 doesn't have what I really want--a way to disable trackbacks altogether. There's an "allow trackbacks" flag on every single post, and the only way to change them is one-at-a-time, by hand. Would it kill them to provide a better mechanism? Would it kill them to provide a safety valve: automatically close trackbacks on all posts older than X days? Or on demand, close trackbacks on posts from this date to that?

And how come I'm so darned popular with these blasted spammers? Other folks don't seem to have to disable their comments mechanism just because of the mass of foiled spam attempts.

Sigh.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:44 AM | Comments(0)

October 01, 2005

Ex Libris Reviews

The October Issue of Ex Libris Reviews is now on-line.
Posted by Will Duquette at 11:31 AM | Comments(0)