Books – January 2009

January was a month where I burned through a ton of books. I’m not sure exactly why, but it worked out well. Many of them were not exactly long so it wasn’t a big thing to do, but it was a 6 book month and set the tone for the year.

First up:
Man In The Dark – Paul Auster – Oh Paul Auster how you keep breaking my heart recently. Reading Auster has become a chore when it used to be a pleasure. As I wrote elsewhere once, it seems he’s writing and pumping out books to finish out a contract. It’s got all the hallmarks of an Auster novel (the stories within stories, lines of reality and imagination blurred and the ever present idea of chance happenings), but it feels just so dialed in, and not with the spark I’ve missed since Book of Illusions.

My hope here is that he takes a bit of time off before the next one to recover his passion and his creativity that brought me to his work, and made him one of my favorite authors.

Visualizing Middle Earth – Michael Martinez – Ahh, the Tolkien nerd in me comes out. Here’s a great collection of essays written by a guy who knows more about Middle Earth and the Lord of the Rings than is probably good for you, but then again, the “Elvish” language is actually studied seriously by some linguists! Like so many people, I first discovered fantasy novels through Narnia and Middle Earth, and each time i get back into Tolkien’s books I find something more, a new depth, a new moment that I had missed earlier. He truly built a world and populated it, and gave it a history, and gave it’s peoples reasons for being where they were. This book was released before the movies, so it carries a bunch of movie speculation baggage, but the articles that focused on different aspects of the Tolkien world are quick, easy to read and really make sense out of the complex history he created.

The 39 Steps – John Buchanon – A very early “thriller” novel from the early part of the 1920’s I believe, it’s the story of a normal man who gets mixed up in a spy plot after an American spy is murdered in his apartment. It’s quick and short, but you can easily get swept up in it quickly and want to see where he’s chased to next, and who will betray who. It’s no hard task to see why Alfred Hitchcock picked up this and made a movie from it. It’s just the type of thriller he is so well known for.

Last Argument of Kings – Joe Abercrombie – Ah, one of my new favorite fantasy authors. Here Joe Abercombie finishes out his First Law trilogy with a really great ride. Abercrombie, who took genre staple characters in the first two books and fleshed them out and made them more alive than your typical novel, but also took their stories in new directions, holds nothing back by the end of the book, and while everything is resolved, it’s not the picture perfect ending. One of his great traits is creating sympathetic characters out of seeming villains, and villains out of those who you should connect with the easiest. Highly recommended

.Foundation – Issac Asimov – It’s probably my third or fourth time reading this book (I say possibly fourth, because looking through a box of old family photos I found one of me reading this book at a young age, but I have no memory of reading it way back then!), and it’s one of those quick easy early science fiction books that can be so great to read. Asimov’s genius doesn’t come from the quality of his writing, but from the incredible ideas and projections of where all of these new technologies of the day would take the human race. The Foundation series, along with his Robot series, are his two most well known fiction works. It’s a book I’d place on a cannon list of novels that should be read in Science Fiction.

And we end it with:
The Road – Cormac McCarthy – Good god this book hits you like a ton of bricks. I picked it up on hearing great things about his writing, and I must say that for his sparse style, he is a powerful, emotional writer. The story of a father and son trying to survive in an America of the near future that is a wasteland, it’s the story of them, their bond, their will to live and damn if every few pages I wanted to put down the book and go kiss my son on the head as he slept. The relationship between the boy and his father is powerfully told, and the struggles and heartaches of their journey do not allow you to stop the book at any point. In fact there is no easy stopping point in the book for a night, as there were no chapters! I am looking forward to the movie release of this book this fall.

All right, so February won’t have a post. I was (and still am because I took a break from it) working my way through a book on the American Revolutionary War, but by the end of February I needed a break and oops I haven’t returned to it yet. Next up – March!

Books of 2009

So for the first time this year, I’ve been writing down all the books I read. I’ve always mean to keep track over the years, but never managed/remembered to keep it up. So this time around I’ve actually been doing pretty well.

17 books as of the end of June so far this year. Mostly fiction. Okay pretty much 95% fiction, though I’ve been reading two non-fiction books on and off since the beginning of the year, they just take a bit longer usually.

January and March have been my most productive months of reading, while February and May most all of my time was spent reading through my two non-fiction books.

I’d planned on doing a year end type of post with all the books, and a quick blurb on them, but I’m realizing that if I wait till the end of the year, I’ll have so many to do, that there is a good chance it would never get done. So we’ll do monthly posts, and a few catch up ones to get us up to date. So soon – January 09 – 6 books.

3 Months.

Now I’m not one to usually go for the personal posts, or try one of those more lyrical and thoughtful posts that some people just manage to pull off with out even a conscious thought. It’s not that I don’t like that type of post, or reading that from others, but I so admire it in people and their ability to write and their ability to share their feelings and their insights. Maybe it’s a feeling of not having the ability or that my own intuitions about life and what I feel isn’t as meaningful or as well writen. I think I just don’t like my own writing style or that my writing never quite seems to say what I feel I want it to say.

Whatever.

These last three months have been interesting. Many who know me laugh at my even temper and my steady emotional state. It’s part of my anchor system that’s carried me through so much in my life. But it’s a bit crazy discovering still yet new emotions and feelings at seemingly this later stage in life. It’s not like they are anything dramatic, or new to the human race, and millions of others have experienced them for sure, but they have really for me been a personally new thing. It’s those age old feelings of loss, loneliness, sadness, betrayal, confusion, frustration, and even, well not really anger, but can’t quite find the right word here.

I feel so weird talking about them in almost an analytical way here, but it’s how I do things. I’m not the best talker, I have a hard time sharing my feelings anyways unless someone draws me out, or asks questions, and so many people don’t. (I think many people don’t want to pry.) So much of my life I’ve always processed things internally, thought about them. Whether that’s good or not I don’t know.

Point of all this I suppose is that that while this has sucked, it’s also teaching me a lot about myself. I’m discovering how to make friends again, and keeping connections with those you know. I’m finding that passion is attractive, and if I find it attractive in others, it also means that you need to be passionate yourself about something if you want others to find you interesting. I’m discovering that I’m still the nerdy guy I always was. I have discovered that my son means more to me than life itself and that all of this would have been impossible without his little hugs and kisses. I’ve got a new range of empathy for others.

We’ll see. 3 months have done a lot. What will the next three hold? Here’s looking at you life…

Visualization in Sports

Visualization in Sports ? Visualization Blog.

I’ve been long fascinated with data visualization and the growing field that it’s becoming. With the amazing amount of data that’s being collected and stored with the advances of technology, new ways to derive meaning out of data beyond simple bar graphs and pie charts are needed.

Here’s a collection of links that marries my love of sports and a number of great visualizations of different aspects of the sports.

A favorite?

Baseball – Salary vs. Performance – Showing how much a payroll vs. wins and losses shows up. The Mariners do not fare well here.

Early Nasa Moon Images Restored and Recovered

NASA’s early lunar images, in a new light – Los Angeles Times.

A great quick story about a woman who kept early images produced by the Lunar Orbiter missions from the trash pile, and with help was finally able to get the early space images recovered back to their original fidelity and resolution.

It’s amazing how so much history can get almost thrown away so cavalierly.

The Pac-Man Dossier

Love the old art!
Love the old art!

The Pac-Man Dossier is the source for an incredible wealth of technical information on Pac-Man. It covers the history of the game, technical details of how the movement of the ghosts are determined, and why certain areas can be exploited and a ton more. Really worth a quick check through, or a more though reading if you have a chance.

I love these in depth looks at games, and finding out the nuts and bolts of what makes them tick.

(Found on Offworld)

Game Journalisim Symposium Part Two

Shawn Elliott: Symposium Part Two: Review Policy, Practice and Ethics.

In part two of this excellent conversation between a great collection of some of the more thoughtful minds reviewing and covering videogames for a living (Part 1 is here on review scores) covers some great new ground. It’s very text heavy, but here are a few of my thoughts on their discussions:

– It starts off with a question of “Should a game reviewer by knowledgeable about the genre of game he/she is reviewing?” My take? Yes and no. For me it depends on the genre. For one like say role playing games, I know the genre well and know the standards by which most games are judged, so I would like in a review that I’d read about the game the reviewer to be at a similar level. Tell me about the game, what sets it apart from others in the crowded marketplace, and if it’s innovations (if any) along with it’s gameplay and story make it worth playing. In this case I value someone with a background in the genre, and their knowledge.

But take something like a more action/adventure game. I love these games as well, but I’m not as well versed in the genre. I’d like a review that isn’t about how it compares to other games (“the controls are similar to [i]Action Man 2[/i]”) and other references I may not get. Tell me what’s good and bad about the game, and why you’d recommend it or not, and I’ll go from there. I want the reviewer to be knowledgeable about the genre they are covering but their review to be written for the masses and not the genre fanboys.

– I guess what the above is really saying is that reviews really depend on the audience that is reading them. I like some of 1UP’s RPG coverage, because they are not afraid to get into the nitty gritty of the genre, but I tend to avoid their reviews about other genre’s because I am not part of the target audience for those reviews. Some sites and publications know their audience well and write to it.

– There was a brief mention of writers developing a following. I’m in agreement that if I have read a given writer enough and know how his/her tastes line up with mine, I can better judge how well a game they review will line up with my own likes and dislikes.

– I loved the idea towards the end of feature type “fresh take reviews” of people who aren’t into a type of game or don’t have the baggage of previous games in a series. I’d read one, and I’d get an educated look as to if I’d really want to jump into a game.

– One of the best bits for me was at the end. The idea put forth by Harry Allen. Gamers change. Especially with the coming of children. My genre and types of games I like didn’t dramatically change, but I find myself going for simpler games, quieter games, and games that are shorter. I still love to game, and I know I’ll play with my son, but my habits have changed, and I don’t foresee them going back for now.

Quick update

I upgraded to WordPress 2.7 here a couple days ago, and so far I like the backend and admin tool updates that they did over version 2.5.

So far everything still weeks. I’m working on few side things. Now Reading has broken with the new updates and won’t let me search for and add new books. Hopefully an update will be coming for the plugin soon.

Otherwise, I’m still alive and kicking. Honest.