Sterling amongst the Children’s Books

Here are some photos of Bruce Sterling from the reading in Chicago last night. I’m still getting used to digital photography, so forgive any weirdnesses. I do like the ease with which I could correct the woozy 15 degrees of list to port of the photos with Graphic Converter. Digital cameras and editing are the best thing that ever happened to mediocre photographers like myself.
Note that in both of these photos, Bruce is flanked by all manner of brightly colored and completely non-threatening children’s books. Due to his right are some kind of tie-ins for the movie Home on the Range. I find it all amusing in a non-specific way. It seems like it should be funny, but I couldn’t explain why.

Shiromi

I have seen before, from Technorati and via the referer list, that there is a link from Shiromi’s weblog to mine, in his sidebar of favorite blogs. I find it kind of interesting, because I don’t know Shiromi and as far as I can tell, my blog is unlike every other he cites. Most of those are Japanese or Tokyo related somehow. I’m about as occidental as they come, a white boy from Kansas. How I ended up as one of his favorites, I have no idea. Now I feel this vague pressure to stay worthy of his interest. I’m not sure what I do or say that makes me of interest to people like Shiromi and Uzer but I couldn’t be more happy about it. I guess dorkiness cuts across culture lines.

Congratulations on your wedding, Shiromi!

Shockwave Rider

I finished Shockwave Rider by John Brunner this week. I absolutely loved this book. It was interesting that 30 years after writing it a lot of it rings true as a description of current life. The technology is different, of course, but the feeling that people have of being overwhelmed and out of control in the book could come from our daily American lives. It was a great read, and I think the final two political propositions are highly relevant today:

  1. That this is a rich planet. Therefore poverty and hunger are unworthy of it, and since we can abolish them, we must.
  2. That we are a civilized species. Therefore none shall henceforth gain illicit advantage by reason of the fact that we together know more than one of us can know.

I found it interesting that this shares a conceit with a story by Damon Knight, “I See You.” In each, what seems like it could be a dire oppressive lack of privacy – basically anyone can find out anything about anyone – leads to a completely equitable information sharing utopia. The point as I interpret it is that most of the issues and ills we associate with lack of privacy are really about inequitable distribution of information. It’s not that people can find out things about you, its that they do without you finding out the equivalent about them. Anyone can find out your information and try to do something with it, but then you can also find out that they did it, so ultimately there is a completely even, universal civility that settles in. It seems unworkable, but it is a nice image to keep in the head.

I’m very happy I read it, and almost every word was read listening to the Sine Fiction soundrack for it over and over. I highly recommend both the book and the music.

Worldchanging

At the book signing, I took a few minutes and chatted with the dude from WorldChanging asking him if they could do a full-text RSS feed. Well, I checked the site today and see that one is in fact there. I doubt they did it overnight, so probably it was already been there for a while and I just never noticed. I had been following it, but in the move to Shrook I didn’t carry over things with excerpted feeds since they defeat the purpose of what I want Shrook for. I’m delighted to add WorldChanging back in!

Bruce Sterling at Barbara’s

I went to Bruce’s book event last night. I was a little surprised at the turnout – 25 people by my count. On the other hand, it was only a fluke that I even knew about the event in time, so maybe it wasn’t that surprising. Because of the craplousy Chicago traffic I got there a few minutes into it, as I sat down Bruce was explainging why he wrote a “techno-thriller” for his new book Zenith Angle. It was funny how he talked about it, almost deprecating the book even as he talked about it. Eight years ago when I interviewed him for Holy Fire he did exactly the same thing, essentially calling the book inconsequential. I suspect this is just how Bruce is. He talked a little more about various stuff, kind of freewheeling and talking about politics and environmentalism. He then talked about the umpteenth revival of Amazing magazine and how he’ll have a story in the re-re-re-revival. Around that time he put in the funniest plug I’ve ever heard. He said how folks should buy the first issue of Amazing or even subscribe, and while you are at it subscribe to Asimov’s and F&SF because this is where new science fiction writers come from. If these magazines go away, he said, the pipeline we have for getting new sharp visionary SF writers of the future will be cut off. Mind you, he added, I’m not saying to read the magazines, but just buy them.

The story was good and funny, and left one guy in hysterics. It is the tale of a recognizable public figure who is frozen and awakes as the last man on earth. Afterwards, he took a few questions from the audience and riffed for a long time on Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow who he refers to as the successsors to cyberpunk, “overclockers.” He also pointed out that both he and William Gibson’s most recent books are near present day books, and suggested that maybe they are writing “nowpunk”. Just on the train in this morning, I read a story that uses the term “nostalgiapunk” which might be the next step.

Afterwards, he kicked off the signing ironically as always with the cry “Alright, let’s sign some product!” Pretty much everybody stood patiently in line. I was near the back so I heard most of the chit-chat. Two guys ahead of me was one of those guys who kind of dominates these events, the dude who wants to start a heavy conversation and won’t stop. He got his books signed and then kept talking and talking until finally Bruce asked to start signing the next guys books to keep the line moving. Still, the guy didn’t disengage which is kind of uncool because that was just preventing the next guy from getting his 90 seconds of conversation. He was gone by the time I got up, and I mentioned to Bruce how I appreciated his heads up over on Another World is Here (and one of the WorldChanging.com guys was there too) on how to find a specific Turkish pop CD I had been hunting for years. We talked about Turkish music and then it was over.

I’m glad I went and it was pretty fun but I suspect that Barbara’s Bestseller and their event staff (if one exists) are slackers. There was no publicity for this event, which is evidenced that in a bigass city like Chicago only 25 folks turned up for Bruce Sterling. There was no one from the store keeping things going, enforcing time, telling people what to do, telling folks what the rules were on limits and such. That was left to Bruce himself to do. It turned out alright in the end, but that was just because Bruce is an old pro at this and the people were polite enough to self-organize. I hope that isn’t how they do all their events. Things always go better at these hoedowns when someone is standing there to tell folks where to lineup, when they have too many books and that the author will only sign N of them, etc. Don’t make the author be the bad cop, don’t make the person standing behind the guy with 17 things be the bad cop.

I took a couple pictures, which I didn’t have time to sync to the Mac before leaving for work. I’ll upload them this evening.

Bruce Sterling in Chicago

I saw on LaGringa a note that Bruce Sterling is on a signing tour. Interesting, says I, let’s see if he will be stopping in Chicago. Yes, he is. When? Tonight!

Chicago, IL Thursday, April 29th @ 7:30 PM
Talk & Signing
Barbara’s Bookstore
1100 Lake StreetOak Park, IL 60301
Phone: (708) 848-9140

I belive I might be stopping by for that. I don’t get out much, but then I’ve never had a chance to get a book signed by Chairman Bruce before.

Achewood For Geeks

The painfully brilliant comic strip Achewood now has an RSS feed! It could be slightly better by having an img reference to the strip itself, rather than just a link to that day’s strip but it is a start. I love the strip, but I’m guilty of forgetting to look at it for weeks or months at a time. Now I’ll be reminded every time there is a new one. Right on, everyone dance like there’s ass in your pants! I run smack in my van! Man, things ain’t never the same once you seen a dude’s stew. You were a fat child!

Atlanta Government

I swear to god, almost every dealing I have had with any bureaucrat in either the city of Atlanta government or in Fulton County, from when we moved there in 2000 to this day, has been absolutely hellish. Simple damn things are difficult, difficult things are impossible. Everyone I talk to sounds pissed off to even have to talk to someone. Today I called the Fulton County tag office, because they sent us this dire looking letter about how they are going to revoke our Georgia auto registrations for lack of insurance. Well, we registered in Illinois 9 months ago but that’s not good enough for Fulton Country. We have to send them stuff proving that. I really don’t understand why I’m supposed to care or send them anything. We’re not registered there, when the registration would have expired anyway we won’t be renewing so what hair is it off our asses? I pointed this out (in different words, or course) and the woman got very agitated. “You didn’t turn your tags in, so you need to prove to us that you are registered somewhere else.” Whatever. I’ll send them their bullshit, which will effectively do nothing but get them off our asses. We’ve moved state to state four times and never done this before. What a load of crap.

We had a situation with the water department, where they had both the address funky and my name wrong. We filled out the little form to correct such things every single time we paid the bill for over three years. It was wrong all the way until we moved, at which point it didn’t forward correctly because, like, all the information is wrong. It took a pleading note added to the bill pointing out that we can’t pay if the bill doesn’t get there and failiing consistently to correct our information keeps the bill from getting there. If you added up all the time Atlanta/Fulton government has wasted of my time in the last few years it would easily be over a grand at the rate I bill. Sometimes I get a little wistful for the place, but this ain’t one of those times.

Registered Shrook

Yesterday I got the notice that a newer version of Shrook was available for download. This was supposed to address the crashing problems I have. I downloaded it, and while I was time limited to 15 minutes by virtue of my unregistered state, it never crashed in two full 15 minute sessions so that was enough for me. I registered it yesterday, and used it for a while. It really is a nice program, and I’m very happy with the synchronization to the web UI version of it. Now I get to see how well it works when it stays up all the time and maintains things like my window placement for more than a few minutes at a time.

Texas going for classroom eBooks

Via Slashdot comes this story of a school in Texas is giving students laptops with ebooks for their textbooks. Interesting. God knows, I’d have loved to carry a single Thinkpad to my Georgia Tech classes, rather than the 50 pounds of textbooks I humped around. Of course, I’d rather be one of the students in Virginia getting an iBook, given a choice between it or the Thinkpad.

The article cites the cost of the device as the big issue. Since the students books cost $350/year, getting a laptop for around $500 is where the administrator cites as the sweet spot in price where they begin to cost less overall. I wonder how long they expect to keep any individual laptop in service? I’ve been saying that ebooks on PDAs have a natural growth curve ahead of them, when the Gameboy generation that has grown to love that form factor become adult consumers. Add more people to that if students get used to the joy of ebooks in school – assuming that just by virtue of being “school stuff” they don’t learn to reflexively hate it.

Jon Kincaid Benefit Concert

On Thursday May 6th at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta will be a benefit concert to help Jon Kincaid with his medical bills. This will feature the original lineups of both drivin ‘n cryin and The Nightporters, so for an evening Little Five Points will be back in the mid 80’s again. This is a highly worthwhile cause. John will be hammered by the fallout of these devastating medical bills for a very long time, so please come out and support him if you can, or donate via Paypal if that is possible. The big man needs you!

Week 4

My weight this week was 238 – down 2 pounds from last week and 8 pounds overall. I’m actually a little surprised by that. Because I was sick last week, I fled to some comfort foods and wasn’t very active for last half of the week. I had a Starbucks mocha, deep-fried sweet-and-sour chicken, a big plate of of pad Thai noodles, and yesterday I even slipped badly enough to eat peanut butter toast for breakfast. Despite all this, I’m a little down, so that’s not bad.

I also crossed another big milestone. I pulled out some of my size 36 jeans that I haven’t worn in quite a while, and tried them on. I was intending to see how badly they didn’t fit so I could keep up with that, but to my pleasant surprise I could put them on. In fact, I’m wearing them right now. They are pretty tight, but not unbearable. Not so long ago my 38s fit like these 36s do now. That was where I drew the line in the fat – I decided there was no way in hell I would go up to a 40. That’s an admission of defeat, and part of what got me headed the other way. With my illness mostly behind me, I’m taking the stairs at work again, eating right, and should be headed further downward.

Blankets

This weekend I read the graphic novel Blankets by Craig Thompson. It is a massive tome, almost 600 pages long, but well worth the read. I thought it was brilliant, and it left me feeling melancholy. I was surprised by how much I had with the (semi or perhaps totally) autobiographical protagonist. We both grew up churchy religious boys in rural areas, turned from our faith at about the same time, felt isolated even from the Christians with whom we were supposed to be “brothers and sisters”, considered the ministry, had bouts of purging non-religious “things of the flesh” in order to be better Christians, and so on. All in all, it was brilliant. It captured that feeling of adolescent aimlessness much like Ghost World did, including the painful feeling that there is nowhere that you belong and no one that really understands or even cares. This is an excellent read, and it makes me want to hunt up his early work Goodbye Chunky Rice.

The above links are to the items at the publishers, the classy Top Shelf Comix (right up the road from my old house in Atlanta.) Here’s a link to the Amazon page, kind of gratuitously but to get it on the Technorati booktalk radar.

Adobe and JPEG Patent

In his post about the Forgent lawsuits over the soon-to-expire JPEG patent, David Rothman points out a certain ironic poetic justice in the company that leaned so hard on Dmitry Sklyarov for his DMCA “violation” in pointing out their weakness getting busted on an IP violation. Adobe is another group that I have little sympathy for, since the one time I worked on a development team that dealt with them, they were complete ball-busting pains in the ass about everything. In fact, I took a little schadenfreude in Sklyarov pointing out their weaknesses since they gave us so much grief about “not compromising their high level of security.” Ha! In a lot of these maneuverings between companies, just as in the ITRU vs MSFT lawsuit, I feel just like I do when the Mets play the Yankees in the World Series – disappointed that everyone can’t lose because I don’t want any of these bastards to win.

Partition Heck

I was able to get my Debian install disk to recognize all 20G of my hard drive. To do that, first I had to download the PowerMax utility from Maxtor. This created a diskette from which I booted and then was able to run some diagnostics and do a low level format. After that, Debian saw the driave as 20G, not 2G. However, I set up my partition tables and – unlike RedHat or other Linuces – Debian forces you to format the partitions one at a time, not having a “format all these and get to installing” option that I could find. In formatting the very first partition I told it to check for bad blocks. Thus far, it’s been formatting and checking for 18 hours and is still just over 1/3 finished. I can tell when it is in an area of high bad block density because it goes veeeeerrrrrry slooooooowly. When it leaves, it zips along. I’m half thinking about aborting this install, throwing this drive away and picking up whatever cheap smallish ones they have at Microcenter. Life is short, time is scarce.

NNTP from the Grave

I got a little bit of a shock from reading my Dueling Modems groups today. I seldom make it all the way to the bottom of my subscription, so most days I read until I run out of time. There are groups that I only get to every few months, if that. Not that long ago, a long time member of the online science fiction community, all the way back to the GEnie SFRT, killed herself. I was not close with her, but I had seen and interacted with her occasonally online for at least a decade. Today, I ran across a bunch of her posts in groups I hadn’t read in a long time. It was kind of an eerie sensation, reading her words and knowing that in her life at the same time she was chit-chatting like normal she was secretly arranging her affairs in order to commit suicide. There’s no insight here, just a cold shivery feeling on the spine.

Ebooks, E-ink, E-yawn

I link less to this slashdot item about an e-ink driven ebook reader and more to the discussion thread. Starting with the very first comment, you see all the same bullshit few remarks I always see in ebook conversations. It’s to the point where I can map out what people will say before they do, because they are so invariant. Bring up ebooks and at least one person will reply that:

  • Paper books are just fine. Why do we need ebooks?
  • The screen sizes are too small/the resolutions are too low/I don’t like reading off of screens all the time
  • You can’t read ebooks in the tub
  • I like the feel/smell of paper books

Having been through these arguments repeatedly for the last 5 years, I’ve hit the point where I no longer feel like engaging with people that say these things. My experience, having read dozens of full novels on various handheld devices of higher and lower resolution, grayscale and color, is that it is not one bit less agreeable than reading on paper. I just the other day read a discussion of how the DPI was too low on a handheld device for comfortable reading. Bullshit! I read all the time on a device of about 80 DPI and it is perfectly fine. Like I’ve been saying in this blog, the enormity of the paper books I own overwhelms me so I am getting rid of them. There’s really nothing to say to someone who can’t see how a 10 ounce device that is always on my person and contains the text of hundreds of novels is preferable to me than having those hundreds of novels spilling off my shelves and onto the floor. I’m tired of hearing these opinions about how handhelds are no good for reading from people who have never made a good faith effort to try reading on one. I wouldn’t dream of writing a restaurant review of a place I’ve never eaten at, but these people are happy to expound on why these devices make for poor reading. As Cory Doctorow points out, “More people are reading more words off more screens every day.”

I’m a bibliophile. I love reading, and I love books. Just as much as anyone, I like that musty old books smell. However, that doesn’t mean that I have a romanticized view of the book as an artifact. Books are great, I love them. I have some books I’ll never give up, such as my copy of Buckminster Fuller’s Synergetics. Most books in my house, though, I have for the words and I couldn’t care less if those words are printed on the page or bits on my secure digital card. These are the books that I want to have electronically, which more and more I get that way. For several years now I have subscribed to Asimov’s and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction via Fictionwise. I wish I could trade in the 15 years of paper copies of each that live in my basement and make them electronic. I don’t care about the artifact, just the words. If you can’t understand this feeling, I’m not engaging you in this discussion. When it comes back to “I just love paper so much” we just don’t have anything more to talk about.

Backsliding

I think I had a bit of a virus or cold or something yesterday. It’s hard to tell because the pollen and my allergies have been bad enough that I’ve been sneezing and snotting for a month regardless. I had the shivers for a while last evening, then I felt like I was burning up and by the time I woke up I felt reasonably good. I did do a little backsliding on my food intake in my moment of weakness, though. I had the deep fried chicken with sweet and sour sauce at the 65 Chinese restaurant (with a huge bowl of egg drop soup to make me feel better, like chicken soup with really young chickens) and later on I had a mocha from Starbucks, with all the gratuitous sugar and chocolate that entails. I’m better now, though, and back in business. The worst part about trying to eat better is the feeling like I’m one slip up from compete recidivism. It’s actually good for the soul, I think, to backslide a little now and then without backsliding all the way to the previous bad habits. It reinforces that a few mistakes and setbacks are not going to scuttle the whole thing. Today for lunch – a salad or wrap and some fresh fruit.

Partition Hell

I have a computer that was a Win2K box for several years. Last week it stopped booting because of some corruption on the hard drive. I tried to repair that and just made it worse, essentially hosing the partition table on the hard drive. I decided to just wipe the HD and install Debian Linux on that box. However, when I go through the part of the setup where I create the partition tables, it thinks there is 2114 MB available. Really, the HD has 10 times that amount. My question that I throw open to the web is this: is there a tool that will let me wipe this down to the bare metal and reclaim everything? I have the newest Knoppix to which I can boot, or whatever I can do from the Debian install disks. How does one start over with a hard drive in a funky state like this one?