January 31, 2006

Photografee

A reader sent me links to a couple of articles on digital photography from a webzine called TidBITS. The first compares oil painting techniques with photography, and talks about how to enhance photos in similar ways in Photoshop; the second talks about getting the best color and sharpness out of color printers.

I've read both; all I've got to say is, the author is an ardent perfectionist and knows far more about either topic (and the pitfalls of each) than I'm quite comfortable with knowing. For the brave, TidBITS has at least one other related article (and possibly more than one) by the same author.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:17 PM | Comments(0)

Sunlit Fountain

Sunlit Fountain
Sunlit Fountain,
originally uploaded by will.duquette.
I went for a walk at Descanso Gardens on my way home from work today, and thereupon walked straight into this: the setting sun shining through trees into a fountain of water. Even a novice can see a good scene when it whacks him on the head with a two-by-four. I took a bunch of pictures, of which this is the best.

Do look at the larger sizes; it's well worth it.
Posted by Will Duquette at 08:38 PM | Comments(0)

Let There Be Light!

Let There Be Light!
Let There Be Light!,
originally uploaded by will.duquette.
I found this while out walking the other day. It's a manhole cover of some kind, but it's a lot bigger than most; it says "C OF G" on the other half, which I presume stands for "City of Glendale". The recess around the word "LIGHT" was already full of light-colored gravel when I came across it; I liked the contrast between the dark letters, the light gravel, and word "light" itself.

If I were to print this, I'd crop it down a bit, so as to lose the fragment of letter in the upper right corner; and in retrospect I really should have moved the stick in the lower left.
Posted by Will Duquette at 08:34 PM | Comments(0)

Understanding Digital Photography, by Bryan Peterson

The reviews at Amazon didn't lie; this is a fabulous book. Whereas most books I've seen on digital photography are mostly about using Photoshop, Peterson's book is mostly about how to take good pictures. There's a slim section on using Photoshop at the back, 40 pages out of 160 total: the basic clean-up steps Peterson does with most photos, and a few advanced techniques for composing multiple photos into a single image.

Other than that, the book is all about taking pictures with digital cameras--that is, on the photographic aspects of taking pictures with digital cameras. Peterson assumes the reader is both reasonably serious about photography and capable of reading an owner's manual. He doesn't tell you how to set the aperture using your particular camera's controls; instead he tells you why and to what, depending on what you're looking to accomplish. On the way he covers issues of exposure, composition, depth-of-field and the like; how to stop motion and how to emphasize it; how to shoot vast landscapes and intimate portraits; when the light is best and how to make the best use of it; what to do when conditions are just wrong; shooting at night and during the day; and on and on. He has a boundless and infectious enthusiasm for his subject, and the book is filled with gorgeous pictures, tips, tricks, and suggestions.

Peterson generally assumes the reader will be using a Digital SLR with multiple interchangeable lenses and an external flash, and consequently some of the things he discusses don't apply in my case. I won't be switching between a wide-angle and telephoto lens, for example. Most of what he has to say applies in either case, though, and where there are important differences--e.g., the effect of specific apertures on depth-of-field--he's careful to explain how it works in both cases.

In short, this is a fun book to read, and useful as well; and Peterson's enthusiasm is infectious as to be a real inspiration. It's not all pie-in-the-sky, either; I'm already taking better pictures than I was. Highly recommended.

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:49 PM | Comments(0)

January 29, 2006

Photographic Composition, by Tom Grill & Mark Scanlon

As has no doubt been abundantly clear over the last week, I've got a new camera, and I've aspirations to learn how to use it properly. One of my friends at work is seriously into photography--which is to say, he's utterly nuts--and he's going to be helping me along. In the meantime, of course, any new hobby is a good excuse to go shopping for books. Unfortunately, finding good books on photographic techniques proved difficult.

The Photography section at the first store I went to (a Borders) consisted mostly of large expensive "art" books and coffee table books containing beautiful pictures from various cities and countries. While a careful study of many of these would undoubtedly benefit a serious student of photography, I'm hardly at that level. This particular store also had a "Digital Photography" section, grouped with the computer books. It consisted almost entirely of books which show you how to use Photoshop to overcome your non-existent photography skills. I saw nothing with an emphasis on how to take a good picture.

I went from there to a large independent bookstore. It has a large section on the arts, including architecture and photography, and I had high hopes. The situation was indeed somewhat better: the books were at least organized by type. There was a large section of books collecting photos by one or another photographer; a second of monographs by photographers; and a third consisting mostly of fashion photography with two whole shelves of books on photographic techniques. I didn't see anything I liked, though.

A couple of days later I went to a third bookstore, another Borders. They had a relatively small photography section, but--wonder of wonders--they had many books on photographic technique. There were a few that were specifically aimed at digital photography; most of those were, again, more about Photoshop than about taking good pictures. But I did find one book that appeared to be exactly what I was looking for: Photographic Composition, subtitled "Guidelines for Total Image Control through Effective Design". Published by Amphoto, it covers all aspects of photographic composition, with lots and lots of example photographs.

I've since read the book cover-to-cover, and anticipate reading through it once or twice more, a little bit at a time--it's a difficult book, but the subject is sufficiently complex that it will take time and repetition to fully digest it. I'm glad I bought it, and expect to learn quite a bit from it.

The book is not perfect, however. The authors take their subject (and, I suspect, their photographs) a little too seriously. Every Photograph Must Make A Statement, and every aspect of the photo's composition must contribute to that Statement. They give some examples towards the end of the book; taken after one of the authors returned from serving with the Peace Corps in Brazil during the 1960's, they are all about his alienation with America as he found it on his return.

Gag me.

On top of that, the authors appear to prefer pictures with a lot of soft focus and without a lot of clear, crisp detail; which I suppose is natural if photography is about making statements rather than taking compelling pictures of interesting subjects. In their defense, of course, they were trying to choose images that illustrated their points without a lot of distracting elements. Possibly, the simplicity of the images stems from their pedagogical style rather than their preferences. Nevertheless, the whole book is weighed down by their serious, portentous attitude. There might be some fun in photography, but you'd never know it from this book.

All that said, Grill and Scanlon manage to explain a variety of basic concepts in reasonable detail, well enough that there are a number of obvious mistakes I hope I won't be making again.

If anyone has a better book to recommend, of course, I'd love to hear about it.

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:44 PM | Comments(0)

January 28, 2006

Got a book on digital photography...

...which had really good reviews on Amazon.

First thing I read, the author's saying that you never want to use JPEG format because it's a lossy format: you lose a bit of the detail every time you open and close the file!

Well, no. You lose detail every time you (1) open, (2) edit, and (3) save the file as JPEG. And when the image is initially compressed as JPEG, of course. But after that, anybody with any computer savvy knows better than to save an image they're working on in JPEG format until they are completely, absolutely done; and even then, you keep a non-lossy copy. Other than that, you can open the file and view it as many times as you like without degrading the quality even a smidge.

I'm not going to dismiss everything he says out of hand; I'm reading the book to learn about photography, not image processing. But my confidence is shaken.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:06 PM | Comments(0)

January 27, 2006

Spider

Spider
Spider,
originally uploaded by will.duquette.
I've never seen a spider quite like this one before. Its legs curve so far up above it that you can hardly see its head.

(Found on a path at Descanso Gardens.)
Posted by Will Duquette at 10:07 PM | Comments(0)

January 25, 2006

Rover Prototype

Rover Prototype
Rover Prototype,
originally uploaded by will.duquette.
Here's a prototype Mars rover relaxing in JPL's Mars yard. They've got a number of these prototypes, all different; they use them to develop and test new rover software. Why they had this one out yesterday I've no idea, but it makes a nice picture.

Why, yes, JPL is a nifty place to work.
Posted by Will Duquette at 04:59 PM | Comments(0)

January 24, 2006

Loving your work

Paul Graham has posted an essay on how to earn a living doing something you love to do.

As it happens, I earn a living doing something I love to do, and as it happens I got here more or less the way he describes.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:14 PM | Comments(0)

January 23, 2006

20060122-134055.jpg

20060122-134055.jpg
20060122-134055.jpg,
originally uploaded by will.duquette.
This is a sad old house I see every day on my way home from work. It's an anachronism; it's on the main street through town, and the only others houses on that street for blocks in both directions were converted into businesses a long time ago. Until recently, though, it appeared to be in decent shape...but recently, there are signs that it will soon be coming down.
Posted by Will Duquette at 05:29 PM | Comments(0)

Fool's Errand, by Robin Hobb

FitzChivalry Farseer has spent the fifteen years since Assassin's Quest rusticating in a small cottage far from the Queen's court under the name of "Tom Badgerlock". Almost everyone who knew him thinks him dead, and after the tumultuous and agonizing events of the Farseer trilogy one imagines that he and his wolf companion needed the rest.

Much has changed in the fifteen years since the end of the Red Ship war. Chade Fallstar, FitzChivalry's old teacher, is now Queen Kettricken's chief advisor. Prince Dutiful, the heir to the throne, is in his teens and will soon be betrothed to a lady of the Outislands. And FitzChivalry's unique talents will soon be required by his Queen.

There are two major kinds of magic in Hobb's world: the Wit and the Skill. The Skill allows the one Skilled to communicate telepathically with others who are Skilled, to see things that are far off, and to mentally influence the lesser or un-Skilled. In recent years, training in the Skill has been the purview of the royal family; it is consequently highly regarded. The Wit, by comparison, is the subject of many a gruesome legend. Those afflicted with the Wit, it is said, may talk to beasts and command them to do their bidding--and in time they become beasts in human form. It is the Wit that creates the bond between Fitz and his companion wolf. There are many with the Wit in the Six Duchies, but few speak of it openly; the Witted have often been persecuted, most recently during the reign of the usurper King Regal. Feelings against the Witted run high.

So it has often been--but there are two new developments. First, a secret society known only as the Piebalds is agitating, so they claim, for full acceptance of the Witted in society; and one of their tactics is to publically denounce those Witted who will not help them. And second, Prince Dutiful has been gifted with both the Wit and the Skill. Things are going to become very interesting....

Hobbs is frequently a little too mean to her characters, in my view, but she has restrained herself somewhat in this case; as a result, I enjoyed reading the book more than some of its predecessors. On the other hand, the major conflicts are less interesting. You win some, you lose some. Anyway, I enjoyed it enough to go looking for the sequel, Golden Fool, which I'm reading now.

Posted by Will Duquette at 05:22 PM | Comments(0)

January 22, 2006

Photografee

20060120-073121.jpg
20060120-073121.jpg,
originally uploaded by will.duquette.
In a fit of madness I got myself a new camera last week, and naturally I've been taking pictures with it. I have pretensions of learning how to compose pictures properly and how to adjust the exposure to best effect; I'm not there yet. Most of the pictures I'll be taking will be family snapshots, which I don't intend to share with the world, but there will be others as well, of which this is one. It's a picture of a new antenna at JPL; I gather that it's part of a prototype antenna array which will be used to track some upcoming missions. It's on a hill just above the building my office is in; I see it like this every morning. That gray and blue thing in front of it is the back end of a cherrypicker they use when working on things in the dish.
Posted by Will Duquette at 08:26 AM | Comments(0)

January 20, 2006

It's Been An Interesting Day...

...but then, any day on which you need to go out and buy a pair of bolt cutters is likely to be an interesting day.

It's like this. There's a single door between our kitchen and the rest of the house. This door has a lock on it, for no reason I've ever understood. It's the kind with the little doohickey in the center of the knob that you push in and turn clockwise to lock the door. From the other side--the kitchen side--you can only lock and unlock it with the key, which was lost untold ages ago.

Today, my almost two-year-old daughter Mary pushed in the little doohickey, and turned it counterclockwise, and then closed the door, locking herself, her sister, and her mother into the kitchen--or, really, as the kitchen has a door to the outside, out of the rest of the house.

Our house has two other outside doors, and Jane had her keys; it should have been the work of a moment to step outside, go round to the front door, and voila, problem solved. Except that our children had officiously set the security chain on the front door. And on the back door.

At this point, Jane had two options. She could call a locksmith, or she could call me. Our local locksmith charges $90 for a housecall, and as I'll come home for free she called me. I went to Orchard Supply for a pair of bolt cutters ($30), and shortly thereafter we had one fewer security chain and the run of the house.

I don't think I'll be replacing the security chain, incidentally; snipping through it took about half-a-second, and I'm sure all the crooks know this perfectly well.

Whilst at OSH, in any effort to prevent any repetition of the problem, I bought a new non-locking doorknob set, and my first task after unlocking the door was to remove the old lockset and install the new set. I got out my handy-dandy Leatherman multitool, flicked out the screwdriver, and prepared to get to work.

And promptly discovered that there were no screws on the doorknob assembly on either side of the door. I spent a good ten minutes looking it over, and frankly I'm still not sure how to remove the old lockset.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:58 PM | Comments(0)

January 19, 2006

How....Nice.

So here they are: The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft, available to you, on line.

Using typography and color choices that make eyestrain inevitable.

It is horror fiction, I suppose, but that doesn't mean that the process of reading it needs to be actively unpleasant.

(Via Lynn Sislo.)

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:25 PM | Comments(0)

Through A Scanner, Oddly

I've got a friend who's seriously into view cameras--you know, those old-fashioned cameras with the accordion bellows and the black cloth you duck under draped over the back and the little squeeze bulb and the Great Big Plates that you insert into the camera after you've composed the picture you're looking for. Actually, I don't know whether Ted's cameras have either the black cloth or the squeeze bulb, but you get the idea. View cameras are mechanically very simple, but you can do things with them you can't do with normal cameras.

I've always said that almost everything interesting is done by folks who are utterly nuts, and this site just goes to show (click through to one of the mirrors). Several years ago this guy decided to try making a home-built digital view camera out of a cardboard box, duct tape, and a cheap flatbed scanner. He was so impressed with the results that it became an obsession. And I have to admit, it's pretty cool. You see, a scanner doesn't scan a page all at once; it's like a copier, it scans the page slowly from one end to the other. And when the scanner is attached to a view camera lens, and there's movement in the scene.....well, the results can be quite striking.

Posted by Will Duquette at 04:42 PM | Comments(0)

January 17, 2006

Fancy Nancy,
written by Jane O'Connor,
illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Fancy Nancy is a picture book I picked up for my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter the other day. It's illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. The cover illustration shows a little girl with poofed-up hair wearing a tiara and a hair ribbon, high-heeled shoes with lacy socks, a lacy dress with a long train (really, a bedsheet tucked into a ribbon), and cat's-eye sunglasses. She's carrying an umbrella and a large feather. Let me be perfectly clear--this is not a too-little girl dressed up to be sexy for a beauty contest; this is a little girl who has dressed up to be "fancy" by her own lights, using the materials at hand.

I took one look, and said, "Good grief, that's Anne!"

It turns out that Nancy has a problem. She loves to be fancy: to dress in fancy clothes, with fancy accessories, to do fancy things, and to use fancy words. Her family, alas (a mother, a father, and a sister) are not fancy; in fact, they tend to the plain. It's a distressing situation, and so she arranges to give her family lessons in being fancy, culminating in the entire family going out to dinner dressed as fancy as they can (by Nancy's lights), calling each other "Darling" and extending their pinkies while eating their pizza. All eyes are upon them from the moment they enter the pizza parlor, and Nancy is sure that everything thinks they must be movie stars.

Allow me to describe the father's fancy attire. He's wearing one of his own pin-stripe suits, some kind of scarf tied around his neck sort like a cravat, and a top hat, and he's carrying a cane. Well, really, the top hot is a prop from Nancy's magic kit, meaning that it's far too small, and the cane is the magician's wand. He wears them with a certain flair and panache, and with oceans of good humor. (Good humor which I intend to lack, utterly lack, if push ever comes to shove. I am Not Fancy, and I intend to stay that way.)

Anne loves the book, not at all to my surprise. Jane captured her feelings about it, thus:

Well, you see, I really like it because it is lovely and so beautiful. It is my favorite book in the world. I have a chair like her and I do fancy just like her. I do it all the time. She makes her family so beautiful.

The chair Anne mentions is one of those bent-wire chairs with a heart-shaped back and little round black seat, the kind that's supposed to go with a vanity table. It used to be my mother-in-law's, but somehow Anne inherited during Mom's recent move. And indeed, Fancy Nancy has one just like it, except that Nancy's is pink and Anne's is brass. That only makes Nancy's chair better, of course.

Having gotten Anne's opinion, Jane went on to get David's; he's my eldest at going-on-nine. Here's what he had to say:

It wasn't really a good book for boys because mostly it is all about a girl. It is not very interesting but TOO fancy. She did not have any brothers so they wouldn't have to dress up. I do not like to dress up. I would recommend this book for girls ONLY.

Do you detect a certain lack of enthusiasm? I have to admit, I'd agree with him completely, except that I now have a fancy daughter. Anne sometimes leaves Jane and I at a loss--Jane's no more fancy than I am--but I'm really very sorry that my own mother didn't live long enough to know Anne. I think they'd have understood each other.

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

January 16, 2006

1632,
1633,
1634: The Galileo Affair,
Ring of Fire, by Eric Flint

I have to admire Eric Flint; 1632 exemplifies the rule that if you can't make something plausible, make it as fun as you can. Flint wanted to see what would happen if you magically moved a West Virginian mining town (Grantville, by name) from the present day United States to Germany, specifically Thuringia, smack-dab in the middle of the 30 Years War: 1632. One day in 2000, during a wedding reception, Grantville experienced a sudden earthquake and power failure. Citizens who were outside reported seeing a "ring of fire" in all directions. And when they went to investigate, there they were--in Germany, at a very bad time.

What caused the Grantville Disaster, as it came to be known back in 2000? It seems a bit of cosmic debris, remnant of the production of a piece of performance art by a super-advanced yet highly irresponsible race called the Assisti, struck the Earth just so...

As I say, if you can't come up with anything plausible, let your imagination go to work and have as much fun as you can.

So what happens when American values meet religious intolerance, rapine, and royalty? Therein hangs the tale related in these books. 1632 details the arrival of Grantville in Thuringia and their initial attempts to survive and thrive in an immediately hostile environment. By 1633 the local threat has mostly been dealt with, but the great powers, notably France and Austria, are getting involved. Grantville has to step up war production, and support their allies with everything they have, plus they must send out envoys seeking new allies. By 1634 the situation has ramified considerably, so much so that a single book is no longer sufficient to cover their entire year. There are ultimately going to be at least three books (if I recall correctly) covering 1634; 1634: The Galileo Affair is simply the first. Although, "first" only in the sense that it's the first to be written and published; the books will take place concurrently. This reflect's Flint's view of history--the world's a big place, and everything more or less happens at once, and develops in ways you wouldn't expect. And this, in turn, has drive Flint's use of collaborators.

Flint has always enjoyed working with collaborators; most of his books are collaborations. 1633 was written with David Weber, for example, and 1634: The Galileo Affair was written with Andrew Dennis. In this case, though, he's a man with a method. If history is messy, with all sorts of unpredictable things going on, and if you want to produce a series based on an alternate history, what better way to simulate it than to allow other authors to play in your world--and then embrace their creations and allow them to influence your own work?

That's the story behind Ring of Fire, which is an anthology of short stories and novellas set in Flint's world. It's a neat collection; I have only one criticism of it, which is that it was published in paperback after the publication of 1632 and 1634: The Galileo Affair, despite being published earlier in hardcover. As many of the characters in the later two books stem from stories in this anthology, there was an annoying sense of already knowing how the story was going to turn out.

Anyway, this is all good stuff; both Jane and I are eagerly looking forward to future volumes, of which there are going to be many: in addition to the direct sequels, Flint's evidently planning a couple of spin-off series. One will involve yet another community transplanted from one time and place to another (though not from present day); the other will take place in the far future, and will involve the Assisti getting their comeuppance. Taken all together, it ought to keep him busy for a while.

Flint is a history buff; he's also fond of working with collaborators, and this extended series

Posted by Will Duquette at 10:26 AM | Comments(0)

January 11, 2006

Patrick O'Brian

Bookworm has some interesting stuff to say about Patrick O'Brian. I agree wholeheartedly.

Posted by Will Duquette at 05:51 PM | Comments(0)

What's In Your Wallet?

Or, more specifically, who's your spiritual provider?

(Truly funny; via TitusOneNine.)

Posted by Will Duquette at 05:34 PM | Comments(0)

January 08, 2006

Shuffling the Songs

Jaquandor has a new meme--old to him, apparently, but new to me: load your music library (in iTunes, in my case) shuffle it, and read off the first ten tracks. Well, why not? Here's mine.

1. "Long White Cadillac", The Blasters. Straight-ahead old-fashioned rock'n'roll from the punk/new wave scene.

2. "Boy From New York City", The Manhattan Transfer. It rather shocks the me I used to be that I actually like this song.

3. "Man Machines", Pete Townshend, from The Iron Man sound track. I like the album, but this isn't the best song on it.

4. "Streets of Fire", Bruce Springsteen, from Darkness on the Edge of Town. I'm afraid Springsteen doesn't grab me the way he used to.

5. "Too Late To Cry", The Stanley Brothers. Old-time Bluegrass.

6. "The Guns of the Magnificent Seven", Boiled in Lead. An odd track by a very odd Celtic Folk band from (I believe) Southern California.

7. "Kalamazoo", the Glenn Miller Orchestra, from In The Digital Mood. This album was recorded early in the digital era with all of Miller's original band (except for Miller himself, of course). It's a gem.

8. "Democratic Circus", the Talking Heads, from Naked. If this one vanished, I don't think I'd miss it.

9. "40", U2, from War. I don't think I'd miss this one either.

10. "Rio Grande", Leonard Warren, from Lebendige Vergangenheit. Warren was an up-and-coming American opera singer around 1950 or so; he'd be much better known, I suspect, but he died young, which rather terminated his career. This is an unusual album--it's Warren singing a variety of folk standards, American patriotic tunes, and Kipling poems set to music. I got it as a premium from our local public classical station, KUSC, and I've never regretted it.

Well, that's an eclectic selection. I don't know that it's particularly representative of my tests in any other way, but it is suitably eclectic.

Posted by Will Duquette at 02:21 PM | Comments(0)

Galileo and Steno

We all know how Galileo was persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church because his views contradicted the reigning biblical orthodoxy; ever since, he's been the poster child for the "war" between science and religion.

Except that if you look into it, you find that Galileo wasn't persecuted primarily for his scientific views but rather for his rude, contemptuous, and insulting treatment of powerful people who disagreed with him. There's a lot more to the story than most people are aware of.

Now Amy Welborn points out an interesting sequel: it develops that the individual who initially proposed the theory that "the fossils and rock layers of the earth, if studied scientifically, gave a chronicle of the earth's history at least as valid as the accepted version in the verses of Genesis," one Nicolaus Steno, proposed his theory not that long after Galileo. Was he condemned by the Church? On the contrary, he wasn't even criticized, and soon after became a priest, and then a bishop. In 1988, he was beatified by John Paul II.

That's right--the basic theory on which modern geology (and hence paleontology, and hence much of evolutionary theory) is based was the product of an orthodox churchman.

Yowzah.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:10 AM | Comments(0)

January 05, 2006

Good Morning Midnight, by Reginald Hill

This is the latest in Hill's long-running Dalziel/Pascoe series of police procedurals, and it's pretty well par for the course: twists, turns, odd relationships, Andy Dalziel being coarse but effective and Peter Pascoe being uptight and thorough. Hill always surprises, and this book is no exception.

More I won't say, mostly because I read this sufficiently long ago that the plot is murky; suffice to say that Hill (almost) always does a good job; if you like this sort of thing, you'll like the book.

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

January 04, 2006

Assassin's Apprentice,
Royal Assassin,
Assassin's Quest, by Robin Hobb

I've been trying to work my way through my shelves of unread books, and one book on the shelf is Fool's Errand, a book my brother loaned me some while back. It's the first in a trilogy; but that trilogy is, taken all-in-all, a sequel to a previous trilogy which my brother loaned me even longer ago. In order to have the background for Fool's Errand in mind, then, it seemed wise to re-read the three books of the previous trilogy first; and then I could give all four volumes back to my brother at our family Christmas gathering. That was the plan, but in fact I was only part way through the third book in the first trilogy, Assassin's Quest, when Christmas rolled around. Ah, well; I've since finished it, and here's what I think this time.

The three books listed above tell the first part of the story of FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of a prince of the kingdom of the Six Duchies. Acknowledged by his father, who promptly abdicates in embarassment at having sired a bastard, he is given a place by his grandfather, King Shrewd. Shrewd makes a deal with the young boy: he will provide FitzChivalry with food, clothing, training, and a life of relative comfort; in return, FitzChivalry will pledge his complete loyalty and discretion. And then begins his training as King Shrewd's back-up assassin.

It's a time of troubles for the Six Duchies; red ships from the Out Islands have begun raiding the coastal regions in earnest. Out Island raiders are not uncommon--the ruling Farseer line was founded by a successful raider--but now there's a difference. The raiders are not carrying off goods or slaves. Instead they are destroying entire villages. Those they do not kill are carried away and held for a very unusual kind of ransom. If the ransom is paid, the captives are killed. Otherwise, the captives are returned to their devastated homes--returned, alive and physically unharmed, but with all humanity stripped from them. The Forged, as they come to be known, are rather like locusts, eating anything that comes to hand with no thought for the morrow, and killing anyone who has anything they might want. The Forged must be put down, and a lot of that work goes to the unfortunate Fitz.

That's just the beginning. There's a lot to like in these books: magic (two distinct kinds), intrigue, interesting good guys, horrendously evil bad guys, a touch of mystery, and even a somewhat happy ending. There's a certain amount to dislike, as well. Fitz goes through so much, and so much that's awful, that reading about it can be an ordeal. Also, I think the books are rather longer than was really necessary, and would benefit from some judicious trimming.

I liked them better this time than the first time, though. I read them more slowly, which helped, and though I'd forgotten most of the details I had a vague notion of where the plot was going, and that helped too.

I can't recommend these unequivocally; but on the other hand, I stopped at a bookstore yesterday and picked up some more of Hobb's books. So I guess I can recommend them equivocally.

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

January 02, 2006

Ex Libris Reviews

The January Issue of Ex Libris Reviews is now on-line.
Posted by Will Duquette at 03:30 PM | Comments(0)

Oldmonia

My cold is showing signs of easing up today, finally, possibly thanks to the antibiotics I got on Saturday, though I slept poorly and consequently still feel lousy. Possibly I'll actually be able to go in to work tomorrow...though the way this cold is going, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it gets worse today.

Jane's feeling cold, tired, and grouchy this morning--her words. But the antibiotics are helping with her pneumonia, as is the asthma medication she got yesterday; apparently the pneumonia triggered a serious asthma attack.

So there appear to be moderate grounds for rejoicing.

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

Rain on the Rose Parade

The Rose Parade starts in about seven minutes, at 8 AM PST. Historically, it has almost never rained on the Rose Parade; if I recall correctly, the last time was back in the 1930's. It's come close on occasion, though--I remember one New Year's Day back around 1980 or so when I spent the night on the parade route with friends, and it rained all night long and stopped just in time for the parade.

Today, though, it's still pouring here at our house--about fifteen minutes' drive from the beginning of the Rose Parade route--and according to Weather.Com it's liable to continue all day.

As it happens, this is the first year ever that I won't be watching the Rose Parade; we disconnected our TV last spring. So if it rains on the parade, as it appears that it will, now you know who to blame.

Update: The last time it rained on the parade was 1955. A bit of trivia: in 1955, the Grand Marshall of the Rose Parade was Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren. This year it's Sandra Day O'Connor. Consequently, I can no longer take credit for the weather--it's clearly the Supreme Court's fault.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:58 AM | Comments(0)