log (2007/12/21 to 2007/12/27)

Ha, a weblog!

All sorts of things have, of course, happened since last time I wrote here ("here" construed as broadly or narrowly as you like), many many bifurcations (n-furcations?) in the universal wave function. None of them, within this small warm space that has somehow been carved out for me, have been large or disruptive or epochal, unless one counts the filling out of college applications (which the teenager assures us is going fine and we don't need to pester her about it).

M asked sometime in early November just how much unused vacation time I had left, and due to my vastly long tenure with the company and our having taken only the usual smallish number of vacations during the year it turned out to be a significant amount. So I've been taking Fridays off, and also I'm now taking off from well before Christmas to the 2nd or so, and we aren't doing anything large or specific so mostly I'm just lazing around at home, doing errands and chores, getting a new water-heater and having it installed, having a different plumber look at the lack of hot water pressure in the master bathroom (debris from the internal disintegration of the old water heater coming up and gumming up the fixtures being the prime suspect), playing lots of WoW and a certain amount of SL (when it isn't crashing), not writing in my weblog, and so forth.

The little boy got that "Pirates of the Caribbean: the End of the World" movie on DVD for Christmas, and we all watched it together. It was a fun amusement park ride, and made not the tiniest bit of sense. I've decided that they must have started from the Climactic Scene and then worked backward to unimportant things like plot from there.

"I see a huge whirlpool, and two ships spinning wildly at the center, their masts tangled, the air full of the screams of battle. On one ship, the pirates; on the other --"

"The British East India Company!"

"No, zombies!"

"-- the British East India Company and zombies! Up on one of the masts, a vicious but graceful sword-fight: Jack Sparrow fighting --"

"A guy with an octopus for a head!"

"And Jack has to fight one-handed, because he's holding --"

"A chest!"

"And in it is the octopus-guy's heart!"

"Yes, yes! And below on the deck, the lovers fight for their lives, saving each other from death at every moment!"

"And the pirate captain marries them!"

"While fighing zombies!"

"And the East India Company!"

"And down in the hold these two guys with cannons are doing a Monty Python sketch about racism against fish-people!"

"Yes! Perfect! Now we just sketch out some rough hints of plot around that, and we're done!"

So that was fun.

In SL, I've managed to pull myself away from shopping and the Busy Social Whirl long enough to do a nice little build; a bunch of floating rocks in the sky inspired by the classic Roger Dean, with places to sit and a tree and drifting bits of enigmatic debris.

I'm quite fond of it; I thought I had taken at least one picture but I can't find one, and although SL's been behaving a little better lately I really don't feel like having to hard-reboot the machine; so you'll just have to imagine for now.

I also discovered that a side effect of SL's using HTML and HTTP for lots of their communication (and leaving them nicely open when there's no reason not to), is that various inworld things can also be poked at in one way or another from the outside. For instance, here is some version of (part of) my SL profile. Fun, eh?

We had a lovely Christmas ("Winter Solstice (observed)"), with presents in the morning and a nice ham dinner in the afternoon, various phone calls to and from family, lots of Seasonal Music playing from people's iTunes playlists. I got some books and a nice jacket and (as the main Thing I Would Never Have Spent The Money On Myself) a place in the queue to get a 3D figure of Spennix made. Incredibly silly, but it makes me smile.

(Spennix is level 51 now, by the way, and having a fine time.)

What else? Something left over from before vacation started: Reasons I Hate Meetings, #372:

ME: So we'll have some red cars over here...

ATTENDEE (looking up from email): Wait, are you talking about cars?

ME: Um, yes, red cars in this...

ATTENDEE: Are they red, or are they cars?

ME: They're red cars, over in...

ATTENDEE: No, no, no, red is like apples. Are these cars?

ME: Yes, red ones.

ATTENDEE: No, no, that will be very confusing. 'Red' means something very different.

ME (sighing): So we'll have some scarlet cars over here...

ATTENDEE (goes back to his email)

Now it wasn't "red" and "cars" in the actual event, but (at least in my version of the story) it might as well have been.

Widely blogged: An uncanny 1960s view of the future World Wide Web:

What the wife selects on her console will be paid for by the husband at his counterpart console.

So right, and yet so utterly wrong! *8)

I wonder what similar future-predictions we'd make today, that will turn out to be correct in the basic technology, but wrong in the social context?

They correctly anticipated that we would have flying cars, but it didn't occur to them that they would be driven by household pets!

I've been reading a disappointing number of mediocre books lately. On a whim I picked up Man Vs Machine at the bookstore. It was, well, I actually wrote words for Amazon:

This book has the problem that many theme anthologies do: the prime criterion is the theme, not the quality of the story, and many (most) of the stories feel dashed-off, cookie-press, run-of-the-mill. None of them are awful, but of the 15 the only one I really enjoyed was S. Andrew Swann's "The Historian's Apprentice" (and even that one had the obvious ending: I enjoyed it for the setting more than the narrative).

Pretty much without exception these are unchallenging reiterations of themes that have been used so often you can see right through them; seldom do they rise above cliche. Maybe I'm just jaded, but Booklist's "fresh and sometimes brilliant" just says to me that they're real easy graders over there...

Maybe I've just read so much SF that everything reminds me of something else, and I see cliché even when it's not actually there? I dunno.

There was one other review on the Amazon page when I went to post mine there: a five-star review full of amusing run-on sentences by Amazon's unlikely Number One reviewer, Harriet Klausner (who reviews many books a day, and always gives either four or five stars). This inspired me to poke around on the Web a bit, and see what-all people have been saying about her lately. She's certainly not a good reviewer, but as an obtainer of free books and fame she's clearly highly skilled. *8)

The other disappointing book that springs to notice is The Economic Naturalist, which I'd hoped would be a collection of enlightening economic explanations of puzzling phenomena. Which is, in fact, what it purports to be, and while reading it it sometimes feels like that, but mostly it's too shallow to be really satisfying.

The book is organized as a bunch of questions about Stuff in the Marketplace (Why does X cost more here than there? Why do Zs come in round containers while Ws come in hexagonal ones?), each with clever economically-based answers.

The problem is that the answers, while clever and facile, are pretty much entirely speculative, just-so stories without any real evaluation of whether or not they're the right explanation. "It might be because C!" Well, okay, but is it?

While it's fun to see smart people make up plausible economic explanations for puzzling things, I'm finding it ultimately unsatisfying that the book stops there. It would of course take more work to try to verify the armchair guesses, but without that verification the whole thing ends up feeling sort of pointless. I'd much rather read about clever economic explanations that turned out to be correct.

I've also read some nondisappointing books lately (including "Sit Down and Shut up" and "Zen Speaks"), and should really write down thoughts about them sometime too. Still reading through various other books, and got a couple of Charles Stross books for Xmas that I'm eager to start reading. So I can have really many many many too many books going at once. *8)

And that's all for now! Keep your aphids sharpened!