When I got my first iPod, umpteen years ago it looked like Steve Jobs had gone ten years into the future, snatched the thing and reversed engineered it, The thing was that cool looking. Apple's devices work well but they're designed to excite.
In 2009 Mrs. Silverman called me up and told me I had to get a Kindle, so I did. I never regretted it either. But it looked like Bezos went back in time to 1990 with specs and got some firm in the past to make it:
my first one died after six months but Amazon replaced it. After that I had it until last week. It worked well but it looked and felt cheap. Apple could price the iPhone at $600 because most of us were getting it for $300 through are carriers. Amazon didn't have that luxury. But over time they brought the price down, added functionality and made it look nicer.
It took Amazon a while but they ditched the keyboard and the buttons for on screen controls. Took me a day or two to get used and now that I have, I like them. The device looks like something made in 2015.
But as a compulsive reader the Kindle 2 I bought six years ago was a marvelous device. It was like it was from an episode of the Twilight Zone where a kid's toy can contact aliens. By the way, did you know that Stephen King wrote a story about the Kindle? It was called Ur. And it was about a technophobe who buys a Kindle just to shut people up. He gets a version not meant for the general public. King said about it:
The delivery mechanism to my mind is secondary for me as a writer. [...] But I did this once before with a story called Riding the Bullet and I never had so many guys in suits come up to me and ask me questions. But they didn't want to know about the story, they didn't want to know about the process, they wanted to know about the delivery system, but to me that's secondary. [...] I think people will be more interested in the business aspect of [Ur] than they will in the story. I would never have agreed to it if I didn't think it was a pretty good story. I decided I would like to write a story for the Kindle, but only if I could do one about the Kindle. Gadgets fascinate me, particularly if I can think of a way they might get weird. I had previously written about homicidal cars, sinister computers, and brain-destroying mobile phones; at the time the Amazon request came in, I'd been playing with an idea about a guy who starts getting e-mails from the dead. The story I wrote, Ur, was about an e-reader that can access books and newspapers from alternate worlds. I realized I might get trashed in some of the literary blogs, where I would be accused of shilling for Jeff Bezos & Co., but that didn't bother me much; in my career, I have been trashed by experts, and I'm still standing.
So there you go. After a week, I'm half way through Seveneves. Not a bad book to christen a new ereader with.
July 6, 2015
Google Voice and Siri
With infinite patience, Rolf finally got me using voice search with Google. Now I use it for most of my searches. But I have another AI on my phone, AI in a rather loose sense of the word, Siri. So the other day I decided to try her out with a simple search.
I read comic books. In current continuity, Lex Luthor is a tech billionaire. His distrust of Superman led him to do some really bad things and he was put in prison. But during an incident where super criminals from another universe attacked Earth, Lex heroically helped defend the planet. Afterwards he received a full pardon from the president and is now a member of the Justice League. And that started me thinking. Even after doing their time people who went to jail lose certain rights for good, for instance they can no longer vote. But Lex received a pardon, could he vote?
Yes, I have too much time on my hands. Anyway, rather then use Google I decided to try Siri and this is what I got.
Not overly helpful. Google gave me the answer, the president pardons you, your rights are restored.
In a way, it was an unfair question. On iPhones, Google Voice is a tool for searches and that's it. OK Google may do wonderful things on Android phones but that's another story. But Siri isn't a search tool. Hell, Apple doesn't have its own search engine. Siri's job is to help you with the OS and use certain Apple apps. She can open apps and do stuff like set the alarm and make calls.
The alarm thing is actually useful. On the iPhone to set your alarm you have to navigate to utilites>clock>alarm. Or just tell Siri to set the alarm for ten in the morning. Siri also comes in handy for opening the NY Times. The Times' app is buried in Apple's Newsstand app. And she's good at phone calls, if I can remember what I call people in my address book. The thing also makes a handy spell check.
I'll probably start using Siri a bit more for the things it's good at. Neither Google or Siri are AIs in the sense that HAL and Wintermute were but they're both surprisingly good at figuring out what I'm babbling about via context. Given how difficult it is for a program to figure out what we're talking about, speech recognition, albeit in a limited context, is pretty cool.
I feel like an old man in 1952 who's just been given a television set by his kids. He's got no use for the thing, radio is just fine, then he discovers I Love Lucy and he's hooked.
One more thing, I've thought about making Siri call me alChandler but I decided to keep things on a professional basis.
July 4, 2015
A patch or two ago Blizzard introduced a selfie cam for players. You needed to complete a special quest to get it and the quest was only available from time to time. I finally received the quest, got the camera so expect to see a lot of these.
July 3, 2015
For two months I get to take Zolipidem for my insomnia. On the third month I have to switch to Trazodone. Trazodone is actually an antidepressant, used, according to Wikipedia, to treat depression and anxiety. The insomnia thing is sort of a side effect, it makes you sleepy.
The transition is strange, two days of sleeplessness followed by a month where I get four to six hours of sleep a day. Normally I'll drink beer for the first few days to help the Trazodone along. But this month I decided to just tough it out. The first night I got three hours of sleep and got up at seven in the morning. The second night I got four hours. But the third night I got almost eight hours of broken sleep.
I'll take it.
And without beer Trazodone's intended effects are starting to kick in, I found myself smiling today. So I decided to treat myself by going to McDonald's. Here, I'll say it for you, the word treat might not mean what I think it does.
When I was a kid dad would surprise us on rare occasions by bringing burgers from McDonald's on his way home from work. They were rare because mom was a nurse and knew how bad that shit was for you. In those days, the 60s, McDonald's was perceived as a low cost way to feed your family. Yay advertising!
Today when I got there the drive through line was long, so rather then burn gas I parked and went in. The line was long inside too and normally I would have left but Trazodone. Today I have patience. I waited, gave my order and several minutes later I got my stuff. If I sighed, it wasn't from impatience. I have a bad knee, back and lately a hip. Standing in place for a couple of minutes ain't as easy as when I'd go into soft count. But I don't think I was too cranky.
McDonald's used to be fast, that was one of their selling points. You'd go in, place your order and be out the door in under five minutes. But in those days the menu was hamburger, cheeseburger, quarter pounder, quarter pounder with cheese, big mac, chicken sandwich, fish sandwich and, of course, fries. One guy in the back could grind that shit out which meant that there'd be three people to take your order and give it to you. Now, with so many items, there are several people in the back and the poor manager was taking our orders and telling us the number on our receipts. I was #287.
McDonald's is losing customers because it's not super fast and it's not super cheap anymore. I paid about $7.50 for my take out and was in there for a little over ten minutes. For the same amount of time and $10 I could have gotten a better burger at Five Guys. McDonald's, fast and cheap. But today it's not that fast and its price advantage is eroding.
There was one youngish family (generation X mom and dad) but the rest were rapidly aging boomers like myself. I've no idea how many millennials patronize them but I can't believe it's a large percentage. McDonald's is trying to reach young folk via ads but tragically people younger then, say 45, don't watch ads. Hell, I'm 59 and have adblock on my browser and do the 30 second skip thing on the DVR.
Some businesses can limp along for a very long time.
July 3, 2015
An Organic Document
Nine Iowa state representatives and senators signed a declaration opposing gay marriage. Naturally I scoffed, organic document indeed. But then I had business in Philadelphia. So while I was there I went to Independence Hall to see the Declaration of Independence.
At first I noticed nothing odd but then it started to pulsate, slowly, almost imperceptibly expanding and contracting. It took on a faint, greenish tinge. Then the words came. I will not repeat them here but they talked of dark wonders, both beautiful and vile. Since then I've tried to bury the words in drink, in booze, in pills but they won't go away. I know that it's just a matter of time until I walk into the night to join them, worshiping at the fountain of chaos.
I know it's too late for me but heed the warning of the nine. The Declaration of Independence is organic, it's evil and it's hungry.
July 3, 2015
Some shots the New Horizons craft took of Pluto, the only planet to be downgraded (right sized) to dwarf planet. New Horizons' closest approach to Pluto will happen on 7/15, after that it's off to the Kuiper Belt. By the way, Lovecraft wrote about Yuggoth, the ninth planet, before Pluto was discovered. In his Mythos the Mi-go had a colony there. I'm not sayin' that the markings on Pluto are from the Mi-go, I'm just speculatin'.
Oh, the Soyuz rocket went up from the Baikonur Cosmodrome this morning without a snag. It's bringing supplies to the ISS. It was kind of critical, the last Russian Progress ship screwed up its orbit and crashed and SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket went boom so it was good to see a boring launch.
By the way, if you want the real poop on Pluto, read The Whisperer in Darkness by Lovecraft.
July 3, 2015
New Kindle, I finished a long biography of Napoleon so it's time to tackle the new Neal Stephenson. After The Diamond Age Stephenson's books have weighed in at about 900 pages a pop so I'll be awhile.
July 3, 2015
In Which alChandler Becomes a Libertarian
At least on this subject.
Amazon has been getting a lot of low cost content for its Kindle lending library from self published authors. Yeah, you can find The Club Dumas in the lending library, good book by the way, but there are a lot of books that aren't from commercial publishers. Cool.
Amazon has decided to change the way it compensates self published authors. They'll compensate them by number of pages actually read. This will result in self published authors getting paid a lot less. According to the Guardian:
Casey Lucas, a literary editor who works with self-publishing authors, says she has lost six clients already. They have decided to stop writing after "estimating a 60-80% reduction in royalties".
"A lot of self-published romance authors are disabled, stay-at-home mums, or even a few returned veterans who work in the field because a regular job just isn't something they can handle," she says. "People are shedding a lot of tears over this."
And yes, that does suck. Furthermore it might be short sighted of Amazon. If their selection of books in the library loses a lot of self published authors then they might have to substitute authors who have contracts with publishers. And that would end up costing them more then their current royalty of a $1.30 per download to self published authors. But for all that I can't get too worked up over this.
See, I remember when self published meant you'd pay to get a company to print and bind your book. Then you'd leave with 300 copies or so and try to get a local bookstore to carry the things. You paid upfront to get your thinly disguised Kirk/Spock slash fiction novel in print. The idea that anyone would actually pay an author up for a self published book without an investment from the author is a new phenomena and one that may not last.
I don't know, I just buy my books. Even though I know I didn't actually purchase Napoleon, I just bought the right to read it on certain licensed devices. I'm not affected by this. And at least I'm not as cranky as this guy.
July 2, 2015
Presented Without Comment
July 2, 2015
The trailer for the Steve Jobs bio movie. It doesn't look like there's any great revelations here but Aaron Sorkin wrote the script and while Michael Fassbender and Seth Rogen look nothing like Jobs and Woz they've got the moves down, if you know what I mean. I may actually watch this one.
And if you're into this sort of thing, check out Pirates of Silicon Valley. It's about the twin careers of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. It was released in 1999 so it's not too current but Noah Wyle killed as Jobs. John DiMaggio was pretty good as Steve Ballmer too.
July 1, 2015
In the 80s Vladimir Putin Fronted a Band
June 30, 2015
I forget where I read this but someone pointed out that we tend to view magic as a way of getting around the dreary laws of the universe. But if you postulate a universe where magic works then its laws are part of that universe. Magic may not be well known, it may be hard to do and their might even be a genetic component, but it's part of how that universe works.
Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker have powers because of the lineage. I can't do magic and I can't wield the Force. And if a magic user in Harry's universe marries a muggle their children might be muggles too. It's strictly genetics.
On the other hand John Dee practiced magic and believed that the results were reproducible. Issac Newton believed alchemy worked. Neither man was doing magic, attempting to cheat the way things worked, they were attempting to understand the laws of the universe.
Both approaches tend to take the magic out of magic, if you know what I mean, unless the creator is very careful. Tolkien used both approaches in The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf and Galadriel could do things because of their nature. No amount of training would allow Frodo to create a scrying mirror like Galdriel had, or summon lightning to finish off a Balrog. On the other hand when Sam was given rope by the Elves he expressed an interest in how it was made. The Elves were surprised at his interest and informed him that had they known he was into rope making they could have taught him how to make his own Eleven rope. Indeed, Galadriel mentioned that she didn't understand what humans meant by magic. It encompassed stuff she could do, spells that anyone could do if they knew the right procedure, and stuff that Sauron could pull off.
And this is a long way of explaining that after one episode I gave up on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell a television show based on the book by Susanna Clarke. I read the book ten years ago and liked it well enough. It's set in an alternate 19th century Britain. The Napoleonic Wars are going on and two guy try to figure out why magic stopped working 300 years ago. Magic is a matter of skill. Anyone can do it but it helps if you have a talent for it, sort of like math.
The book's charm was that it riffed on 19th century writing styles, the television program can't do that. And the program makes magic just a tad too mundane for my taste. The book did too, that's probably why I haven't reread it. At any rate, I've swapped out Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell for Mr. Robot. Now those guys can do magic.
June 30, 2015
Mr. Robot is a surprisingly good show on USA. It's about a guy named Elliot Alderson. He works as a tech for a security company called Allsafe Security. E Corp, a typical all embracing company, think Google, or maybe Amazon, has hired Allsafe Security to secure their servers. This puts Elliot in an ironic position. He calls E Corp Evil Corp. He not only calls them that, he sees Evil Corp on their ads and signs. And since Elliot is our point of view character, that's what we see too.
Because Elliot takes drugs, he's severely emotionally dysfunctional and he hallucinates. In fact, if I'm being honest among friends, parts of Elliot remind me of me. Anyone who's ever seen me at a party will attest to the accuracy of that statement.
So, given that Elliot has hallucinations and takes morphine, when he's tapped by a hacker group called Fsociety to destroy Evil Corp, not to mention the world financial system, the question arises, how much of this is real and how much is delusion? Elliot really is a hacker and can mess with people's lives but is Fsociety real and how much of Evil Corp's evil is in Elliot's head?
Mr. Robot is set in 2015. Halt and Catch Fire the show about techies trying to build a company and get wealthy in the early days of the computer revolution, is set in 1985. And the thing of it is that our current reality, if fictionalized a bit like Mr. Robot would seem incredibly cyberpunkish back in 1985.
At any rate, I enjoy the show.
June 30, 2015
Midway in Norwich's book on Venice in the 19th century he recounts Napoleon's visit to the city. That made me realize that I don't know nearly as much about him as one should. And, as it turns out, last year Andrew Roberts' biography of Napoleon was published to very good reviews. That was going to be the first book I got for the new Kindle.
But the new Kindle won't be shipped until 7/1 and may not arrive until next week and I really wanted to read the biography. So instead of being the first book on the new Kindle it will be the last book on the old Kindle.
I'm not sure you can tell from this picture but the e-ink is starting to smear a little. My first Kindle got to that point very quickly, so I've no complaints about getting four years out of my second one. The point is that for a compulsive reader, that sort of thing gets annoying and it's the reason I wanted to wait until the new one arrived before tackling an 800 page biography.
The new Kindle won't have a physical keyboard. In fact the devices haven't had one for years. That's going to take some getting used to. But if I can defeat Mr. Freeze, Joker, Ra's al Ghul, the Mad Hatter and Clayface then I can handle an onscreen keyboard. I'm told the increased reading area makes up for it.
June 28, 2015
alChandler's Games 2015
At the half way mark pf 2015 I've only played two games, Batman: Arkham City for about 27 hours and Dragon Age: Inquisition for 143 hours. So it's not as if I've given up gaming, it's just that I found two gaming worlds to lose myself in. Sometimes it works out that way.
Playing the Batman game was good for my ego. I'll admit I was hesitant to begin Witcher: The Wild Hunt since the second game in the series didn't work out for me. But I never finished (came damn close though) Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City not only held my interest but I beat it. So perhaps I'm ready to become Geralt for a hundred hours or so.
I suppose this makes up for last year's dissapointment, Divinity: Original Sin every critic raved about how great that game was but I gave it up about half way through becase I found it boring. Other people didn't, it was almost almost certainly me, so there you go. I'm told the game is more fun if you played it co-op so that might be part of my problem with it.
At any rate I'll leave gaming for a bit, then restart Witcher: The Wild Hunt.
June 28, 2015
Soon I think. I've completed the main game but I can still do side missions. I've stopped Deadshot from killing the reporter Jack Ryder and now, as Catwoman, I'm looking for the stuff Two-Face took from me. Catwoman and Batman humiliated Two-Face at the beginning of the game so he made it a point to steal the stuff she stole from Hugo Strange. She tracked down Two-Face and defeated him but only got half her stash back. The other half he gave away so now I'm tracking down guys with my thief vision, yes thief vision and taking my loot back.
This is the first brawler I ever played to completion so I'll be dad to see it go. It's true I did finish Mortal Combat vs DC Universe on the Xbox but that didn't count. After three or four defeats the game would noticeably ramp down the difficulty. Pity wins don't count.
I expect that Batman: Arkham Knight will get its shit together when it goes back on sale in the fall. But there's a large driving component in the game and players with much better coordination say that the batmobile is hard to handle. I get aggravated enough without dealing with things like that. So it looks like I'll be leaving Gotham for a long time. Farewell the big city.
June 27, 2015
The End of the Joker
Spoilers (obviously) for a four year old game. Of course he'll only stay dead in the game world until somebody reboots the franchise.
June 27, 2015
Yesterday Mike Huckabee Woke Up in a Strange Parallel Earth
June 27, 2015
Batman: Arkham City
At the end of Batman: Arkham Asylum you have to fight the Joker who is hopped up on the Titan formula that gives a normal human super strength. The fight had two parts and although I failed I figured that if the game saved between the two parts I would have succeed. We'll never know about that but in Batman: Arkham City the big boss is Clayface. That fight had three parts and the game saved between each one. I finished the game and feel vindicated.
I also have a bit of content yet. Catwoman left her stash to save Batman. At the end if the credits she's trying to retrieve her stuff and leave Gotham, as any sensible person would. So a bit more stuff to do but the main game is finished.
June 26, 2015
The End of Hugo Strange
It's 4:30 in the morning and I just defeated Hugo Strange, the guy who persuaded the Gotham City Council to turn some 20 blocks of downtown Gotham City into a prison. I was rewarded with this cut scene.
Note that the two villains who know Batman's secret identity both decide to commit suicide. How convenient for Batman.
June 26, 2015
God I Love the Internet
I was curious what would have happened if I had let Catwoman leave Gotham without saving Batman. Then I remembered we have an internet.
June 25, 2015
Gotham City Time
It took me forever to beat the guy in red, that's armor he's wearing and it absorbs your punches. The way to take him down is to click the mouse wheel down and then rapidly click the left mouse button. That triggers the beat down attack that gets through the armor. It really didn't work for me so I was going to remap the beat down attack only to discover I already did, to the Q key. Once I realized that, Catwoman's life got a lot easier.
Combos are why I tend to avoid fighting games, I'm just not good at combos. When I'm Batman I've got so much body armor I can generally just punch my way through but the game has me playing as Catwoman at the moment. She doesn't have body armor she relies on stealth. It's actually strange, she'll have to stealth her way, then beat the shit out of a couple of guys and then stealth some more.
Right now I have a decision to make. I've defeated Hugo Strange's goons and the suitcases are full of, well I guess whatever Marsellus Wallace's suitcase was full of. Catwoman is happy, but she's also learned that Batman has been taken down by the Joker. I have a choice, she can leave Gotham, keep the stuff and then, I guess, that's it for Catwoman in this game. Or I can drop the suitcases and rescue Batman. Given the checkpoint save system I'll only be able to do this once so Catwoman is going to help out Batman. They always had a thing for each other anyway.
I've been playing this for 20 hours now. When I hit 12 hours it looked like I was done. I was wrong.
And on a wistful note, I'm wondering what will happen to the Batman franchise after the Batman: Arkham Knight disaster. Rocksteady's story it that they didn't do the PC version, they farmed it out. Right now it's not for sale and that's that. About the only good thing to come out of this is developers and publishers may realize that the days of releasing broken games under the assumption that you can fix it with a patch a month after release are over.
One more thing, from what I've read, if you're playing the game on an Xbox or PS4 it's stable and a lot of fun.
June 25, 2015
Batman and Corvo Attano
Whatever else changes about him the core of Batman's story is always the same. Bruce Wayne sees his parents killed before him and vows vengeance on all criminals. He becomes the Batman and his vengeance consists of beating the crap out of them and then turning them over to the cops. Because Batman doesn't kill, ever, even when it's someone like the Joker. If ever a person deserved death, it's that guy.
The amount of control it hands over to the player is key. The most popular incarnation of Batman is always presented as a character of restraint. He has one rule: do not kill. The moment he uses his power to take a life is, in his mind, when he becomes just as evil as the villains he fights. This pops up all the time in pretty much any modernish Batman-related media, whether creators are harping on it incessantly with overwrought monologues or they're creating an alternate universe just so they can have Bats kill someone for the novelty of doing so. More than the toys and the rich sad boy routine, that one rule is his thing. It's what makes him who he is. The Arkham games are content to let us play around with Batman's stuff but they always wrestle control away from us once a fight with a villain is finished. We don't get to decide what happens with the Joker after we've beat him over the head a bit; the game sends us zooming toward the next story beat. We never have to make the choice of restraint; we don't even get the option. For all of Arkham's fun combat and flying mechanics, it keeps the most important part of crafting Batman's identity out of players' hands.
Dishonored casts you in the role of Corvo Attano, who, like Batman, is ridiculously overpowered thanks to a host of gadgets (and mostly optional super powers). Upon release Dishonored received some criticism for not being challenging and there's definitely a measure of truth to that. Less than half an hour after the game starts you're given all the tools you could ever need to overcome every obstacle you come across, and that's not even taking into consideration the numerous power ups you can get throughout your journey. It's a laughably easy game if you run through slaughtering people left and right in every level. However, this is also a game that invites you to make your own rules, that gives you power and then lets you loose upon its world. It rewards the creative and the patient by challenging you to live in defiance of its assertions that "Revenge Solves Everything" and "The Boldest Measures Are The Safest." Dunwall, like Gotham, is a diseased city and you can either help cure it or make it more sickly depending on your actions.
I played Dishonored without killing, well mostly. Some levels were so difficult, for me anyway, that I took a life now and then. You actually get five kills per mission before deaths start affecting the game world. But most missions I got through without killing.
But there was one time where I did kill, coldly and without mercy. Then I went back to a save game and did the mission without killing. I did that several times before I finally decided on the nonlethal path and wiped out my saves so I couldn't go back.
It would have been nice to be able to have that sort of decision in the Batman games. I play a lot of games and a lot just gets forgotten after I finish. But that one moment from Dishonored still sticks with me.
But that decision was not Rocksteady's to make, they don't own Batman, Warners does and Batman, whoever plays him, doesn't kill. Arkane Studios created Corvo and working on your own creation gives you the freedom Rocksteady didn't have. And having a nonlethal Batman didn't prevent Rocksteady from making great Batman games, at least until the horrifying abortion that is Batman: Arkham Knight.
Gwaltney points out that the thing about Corvo, and I presume that in most situations you do have the power of life and death. One of the Corvo's biggest struggles, if you choose to play it that way, is not using it.
June 25, 2015
Ultimate General: Gettysburg and the Confederate Battle Flag
I tend towards the absolutist end of the free speech spectrum. Never the less, I do recognize that their are legal limits and some of those limits are good ones. There are laws against threatening speech, revenge porn, that sort of thing. Now let's move on to the case of Ultimate General: Gettysburg. It's a game created by Game-labs, it's about the Battle of Gettysburg, the Union and Confederate units are represented by the American flag and the Confederate battle flag respectively and, until yesterday you could buy the game from Apple. Not anymore, Apple notified Game-labs that it's suspending sales of the game until it removes the Confederate flag. Game-labs has said no so if you want to play their game you'll need a PC.
People have noticed that while games using the battle flag have been pulled, D. W. Griffith's racist and, to my mind far more offensive film The Birth of a Nation is still available on iTunes for the low low price of 99¢.
Adapted from The Clansman indeed.
But this is not a free speech issue. It's about a company making a decision about what they will or will not carry in their online store. I don't agree with their decision and am free to take my patronage elsewhere. Which is not going to happen because Ultimate General: Gettysburg is real time strategy and I dislike that genre.
June 25, 2015
This isn't from me but this is what I had to do to get past the door that pissed me off last night. Beer helped with batrang control.
June 24, 2015
I Hate Gaming
So, in Batman I have to throw a switch. I figured out for myself that I have to throw a batrang down a corridor, reverse it and then send it into the room with the switch. That took me forever to accomplish. But it didn't work. So I exit the game, go to the walkthrough and learn that when I throw the batrang I have to send it through an electrical arc first. Only then do you reverse it and aim for the switch. Fine, I'll try that. I restart the game and discover it's dumped me ten minutes back. So now I'm too wired to try it but also too wired to sleep. And now the cat wants to play with me.
Fuck him, why should he have more fun then me?
June 24, 2015
Amazon is releasing a new version of its Kindle reader on 6/30. It's a single purpose device, you use it to read books. It's very good at what it does but that's all it does. And damn it, I'm going to buy it.
This seems to be the year for updating electronic things. I got a new Tivo, a new keyboard and a new monitor. Unlike the other things, my Kindle is working fine. Its battery life is starting to go somewhat but it's four years old. I'm sure I could get another year or two out of it, but I don't want to. And having come to this decision, I want it right now. But it won't be released until the end of the month.
So I will finish the book about Venice, read a little from the Arabian Nights, wait until next week then order the new ereader. I checked, this one will be my third.
June 24, 2015
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City is out and while the Xbox and PS4 versions are great the PC version has its problems:
And you're lucky if it's running like this on your system. There are also crashes to desktop and a memory leak to worry about. Steam's new refund policy is getting its first real test today.
June 23, 2015
After Lord of Light I planned to reread The Way of Zen by Alan Watts. I had a copy that I used to reread regularly in my youth and while it disappeared, I bought another copy ten years ago or so. But I never cracked it open. Perhaps after reading a short novel about an ersatz Buddha would be the right moment to tackle it. Then I came to this passage:
It is one thing to feel oneself in conflict with socially sanctioned conventions, but quite another to feel at odds with the very root and ground of life, with the Absolute itself. The latter nurtures a sense of guilt so preposterous that it must issue in denying one's own nature or in rejecting God. Because the first of these alternatives is ultimately impossible-like chewing off one's own teeth-the second becomes inevitable, where such palliatives as the confessional are no longer effective. As is the nature of revolutions, the revolution against God gives place to the worse tyranny of the absolutist state-worse because it cannot even forgive, and because it recognizes nothing outside the powers of its jurisdiction.
Well that escalated quickly, from atheism to a brutal dictatorship in one paragraph. That sort of thing never bothered me in my youth and it still doesn't bother me if I know what I'm getting into, like reading Lewis or Chesterton neither one has much use for atheists and they'll playfully tweak us. But they don't get insulting and I didn't expect insults from Watts. While the 19 year old Kevin might have just glossed over the insult, or might not even have noticed, his 59 year old counterpart did notice and I put the book back on the shelf. I'll look around for a better history of Buddhism.
But I was still looking for some nonfiction to read, preferably something short. I glanced at Henry James' Italian Hours but I was a little hypersensitive after Watts and James' smug remarks about poverty being good for the Venetians put me off. Yes, it's an asshole thing to say but he was writing in the 1880s. They said a lot of asshole things in the 19th century. Anyway, no James.
I next started looking at John Julius Norwich. The first book was Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy and the second was The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean . I'd read and enjoyed both but once again after Burckhardt I wanted something of less scope, even for a reread.
And that, my friends, led me to Wikipedia and a list of his books. That in turn led me to Amazon and the next book is going to be Paradise of Cities: Venice in the Nineteenth Century. I can handle that sort of scope and after finishing it I'll be ready for Seveneves. I do want to reread the Mediterranean book again soon.
And by the way, I suppose that if I hadn't reread Watts so much in my youth I probably would have muttered, "fuck you," and moved on. But I reread Watts times. In a way it's like discovering a beloved aunt who you adored as a child always considered you a twerp. It was pretty obvious to the adults but you never caught on until you came home from college for Christmas day and the two of you got into it.
By the way, I do have a beloved aunt, she 94 and, as far as I know, does not consider me a twerp.
June 22, 2015
Kali and Yama
At the end of Lord of Light Brahma is mortally wounded in battle. Yama's wife Kali took over the role of Brahma after the old one was murdered and this dissolved the marriage. At least it did in 1967, in 2015 not necessarily. At any rate when Yama sees Brahma fall he take him up and leaves the field. Yama is going to transfer Brahma's consciousness to a new body. But when Yama isn't seen for some time, his friend Kubera tracks him down. And that leads up to one of my favorite passages in any book:
The innkeeper told Kubera that they did have a guest who fit that description, second floor, rear room, but that perhaps he should not be disturbed.
Kubera climbed to the second floor.
No one answered his knocking, so he tried the door.
It was bolted within, so he pounded upon it.
Finally, he heard Yama's voice:
"Who is it?"
"Go away, Kubera."
"No. Open up, or I'll wait here till you do."
"Bide a moment, then."
After a time, he heard a bar lifted and the door swung several inches inward.
"No liquor on your breath, so I'd say it's a wench," he stated.
"No," said Yama, looking out at him. "What do you want?"
"To find out what's wrong. To help you, if I can."
"You can't, Kubera."
"How do you know? I, too, am an artificer-- of a different sort, of course."
Yama appeared to consider this, then he opened the door and stepped aside. "Come in," he said.
The girl sat on the floor, a heap of various objects before her. She was scarcely more than a child, and she hugged a brown and white puppy and looked at Kubera with wide, frightened eyes, until he gestured and she smiled.
"Kubera," said Yama.
"Koo-bra," said the girl.
"She is my daughter," said Yama. "Her name is Murga."
"I never knew you had a daughter."
"She is retarded. She suffered some brain damage."
"Congenital, or transfer effect?" asked Kubera.
"She is my daughter," repeated Yama, "Murga."
"Yes," said Kubera.
Yama dropped to his knees at her side and picked up a block.
"Block," he said.
"Block," said the girl.
He held up a spoon. "Spoon," he said.
"Spoon," said the girl.
He picked up a ball and held it before her. "Ball," he said.
"Ball," said the girl.
He picked up the block and held it before her again. "Ball," she repeated.
Yama dropped it.
"Help me, Kubera," he said.
"I will, Yama. If there is a way, we will find it."
He sat down beside him and raised his hands. The spoon came alive with spoon-ness and the ball with ball-ness and the block with block-ness, and the girl laughed. Even the puppy seemed to study the objects.
"The Lokapalas are never defeated," said Kubera, and the girl picked up the block and stared at it for a long time before she named it.
Damn, moves me every time.
June 22, 2015
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