Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ancillary Mercy is Sooooooo Good

I first read "Ancillary Justice" last fall after hearing some good buzz online (I was late to the party). I liked it, but wasn't blown away. I read the sequel, "Ancillary Sword", this summer and really liked it. In anticipation of the trilogy's conclusion, I reread Justice and it greatly improved upon reread. So, the trilogy is complete: did Ann Leckie stick a "Return of the Jedi" (or better) landing or did she stumble to a "Matrix Revolutions" (or worse)? I can happily say that she, at worst, went "Jedi"*. It was the best kind of satisfying ending -- plots are wrapped, characters change, and I'm excited to read more in the same universe (though it will be hard to let Breq go).

I like my sci-fi to both entertain and enlighten/inspire me -- books like "Anathem", "Snow Crash" (I LOVE Neal Stephenson), "Ender's Game", "Spin" -- big ideas, engaging characters and a plot that has some surprises. And a few laughs wouldn't hurt (or a bunch, like "Starship Grifters"). The previous two Imperial Radch books did almost all that, but were pretty short on humor. Mercy rectified this.**

Each of the Ancillary books has a different flavor -- Justice was Breq's single-minded pursuit of revenge, Sword saw her struggling with being in command and contact with her decades that approaches that she had as an AI, and Mercy has her trying to find a viable future (first she has to even accept that there can be a future for her beyond revenge). Of course, this isn't just chatting over tea (though there is plenty of that, and lots of chatting over fish sauce). She is faced with all the threats, implied or overt, from previous books: Mianaai, rebellious citizens, the Presger, other AIs and her own crew (and their feelings for her).

What stood out the most from the previous two was the humor; I laughed out loud several times, and each of the major characters shows a distinct sense of humor (though at least one, the Presger translator, may not be intentional humor).

So, it's funny, filled with big ideas and complex characters, and it's got some great action. What more do you want from your space opera/sci-fi?

If you haven't read Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Mercy already, you should do so, then prepare yourself for an even better treat. Leckie stepped up her game for the final volume.

* First, it's sad that RoTJ is the best SFF trilogy we have. Return of the King had potential, but the 13,000 different "endings" killed it.
** The rest of this post is copied shamelessly from my own reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.***
*** See that? With one footnote, I go from autoplagiarism to efficient use of social media. Booyakasha!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Another Day, Another Scam

Just as I'm about to get into the bath (I'm sick, cut me some slack), the phone rings. Worried it might be family (expat problems FTW!), I rush to pick it up. This follows...

Hello, this is Windows Technical Support, from New Jersey. We're calling because your computer has been sending out a lot of emails.

Ok, I thought I detected a hint of Jersey in your accent (This is a mocking, bald-faced lie. He couldn't sound more Indian if he was extolling the virtues of cricket while claiming India has never started a war).

Yes, I'm not from New Jersey. (Apparently he has learned to detect SOME sarcasm. Which isn't hard, as I'm already laying it on so thick that I'm using a goddamn Sarcasm Trowel)

What's the problem? Will you be able to help me? And how much will it cost? (Using the Trowel for this line)

It won't cost anything, unless there's a problem we need to fix. Then there's a small, one-time fee.

That's great to hear, what do we do?

At this point, he mentions that the fee is "only" 100-150 Euros, then leads me through opening up the Event Viewer on Windows. Which is difficult for me to BS, since I'm not using Windows. Which he would know, if he were even vaguely real. But he's a scammer, so he doesn't.

What program that I registered for gave you my information? I just want to be sure you're for real. (I back off the Trowel so that he thinks I'm just a sucker. It works.)

I'm from Azure, not Windows. (This is a relief? I've heard of the color, not the company.)

OK, I was worried, because Windows is actually a Microsoft product and not a company. But I never registered for Azure. (I'm getting bored, so I give another hint. It's untaken.)

We do support for Windows, so that's how you registered. Now, tell me what you see in the events window. (Whatever, jackhole.)

I see a list of events. But, let me ask you, how would it look if I was using a Mac? (I'm now ready to end this, so I drop a much bigger hint)

(Long Pause) You are the biggest motherfucker I have ever met. (He hangs up. Score! He finally took the hint! And I earned quite the compliment.)

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Oh, India, You SCAMp

I got a call from "Anonymous" this morning. Before I moved to Germany, I wouldn't pick up Anonymous's calls, but Germans love their privacy, so quite a few people block caller ID. So, I picked up, in case it was someone I knew that liked to keep it on the DL.

In this case, it was "Microsoft, from London". Which was odd, because the caller didn't give his name AND had a very strong Indian accent, with nary a hint of London. In the background? LOTS of other Indian accents, very loud. Which was another red flag, since I've called Microsoft (in London, or at least the UK) and 1) the rep introduces him/herself right off, 2) the reps had clear English accents and 3) I couldn't hear a bunch of chatter in the background. I was skeptical, to say the least, but I wanted to hear how this would play out.

He told me that my computer had been hacked and that it had been sending out emails (he didn't say my email account had been hacked, just my computer). He was going to tell me which folders to clear out on my computer to fix it. First, he wanted to know what key was next to the "STRG" key on my computer. I told him there was no such key, and he argued with me. "Yes, there is. It is left of the space key." He finally accepted that a Mac might not have such a key and decided to move on. He had me open a browser, "Do you use Mozilla?" and search for "validator". Which leads to a "Markup Validator Service" which is a real thing used to debug HTML.

At this point, I'm tired of the BS and ask for some confirmation that he's really from Microsoft. He hands me off onto the next guy, who also doesn't introduce himself. When I ask for validation, he assures me that he's "Microsoft, from London". I tell him that if he really is, he'll have my product registration information. "I'm just a technician, I'm not with Sales." Sigh. I ask a few more times, politely* and he finally blurts out, in a huff, "you're registered with the... beauty salon!" and hangs up. Burn! You Stay Classy, Indian scammers.

* Shocking!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hugos 2015 No Awards Reaction

The Hugo winners were announced today/last night (depending on your time zone), and there were some surprises. First, the completely awesome Ms. Marvel won best Graphic Story, as I said it should :) However, that's not the big news. The big news is that FIVE! of the categories had NO AWARD as the winner. That's (I think) unprecedented and pretty bad news.

My source for this is the official Hugo Statistics file, found at
  I voted for No Award in one category, Best Novella, but in the other categories I had at least 1 work that I thought was worthy. But the massive numbers of votes for No Award makes me wonder if the various calls to automatically put anything on a Sad/Rabid Puppy slate were the driving force. From what I read, most people used the list by Deirdre Saoirse Moen (to be fair, she says in her post that it's up to each vote to use or not use the list). I used this list to sort out the finalists/nominees into Puppy/Non-Puppy groups.

Personally, I think it's bullshit to automatically vote against something because of a list someone else made. Regardless of your opinion of the people, methods or views behind the Puppies, they didn't break any rules, and so their nominees should be treated the same as any other. Read* 'em, rank 'em and move on. The key there? READ*.

The only reason I noticed this was because of the Best Novelette winner, which I ranked near the bottom of my ballot. I thought it was easily the worst of the stories**, but one-third of the voters thought was the best. Which is fine, tastes and all that. However, the work closest in theme/tone (but far, far superior, IMHO) to it was "Totaled", which was hammered in Short Story. This seems fishy to me (fishy in the sense of the votes given, not the tally -- I think the counts were/are totally above board)

So I looked a little closer, and it seems like there were large numbers of voters who followed the puppy-free guide (obviously, it's impossible to tell this from the totals, or even from the votes). 14 of the 16 categories with at least 1 Puppy nominee/finalist had the non-Puppy noms at the top, then No Award, then the Puppy noms. The exceptions? Best Dramatic Long/Short Form, i.e. Best Movie/TV episode. I think (with no data to back me up) that these are least affected, because Hollywood blockbusters & TV are seen as above the fray (and, for TV, GoT is a juggernaut). And I am certain, based on nominee counts, that both Puppies and non-Puppies voted for Guardians of the Galaxy and Interstellar (as they should have, since they were both great, in very different ways).

For the 14 categories where the final placement was: non-Puppy noms (if any), then No Award, then Puppy Noms, I added the votes for No Award + No Preference as a percentage of the eligible votes for the category. Numbers below, but some thoughts:
  • In the 14 categories, at least 2000 people voted No Award above any Puppy nominee/finalist, and it was 51% or more of the eligible votes in each category. If half of these (not necessarily the SAME 2000 people -- info only the votes could give) were voting strict non-Puppy, that's almost 20% of the voting population and 10% of the year's members. That's HUGE.
  • Since 1038 of the 1966 non-GOTG voters for the non-Puppy Marvel movie (Captain America: Winter Soldier) preferred No Award to the Puppy Marvel movie (Guardians of the Galaxy), the above 1000 hardcore non-Puppy guess gains some weight. This is likely coincidence, but it makes me more curious about the actual votes
  • Based on the nominee data (at the bottom of the Stats pdf), there probably weren't more than about 200 Puppies nominating out of 2122 ballots in any given category (most finalists had fewer than 200 noms), and were almost definitely fewer than 400 (no non-movie had 400 noms). Puppy noms dominated for the simple reason that NOT MANY PEOPLE NOMINATE. I'm in that group, and both Puppy supporters and opponents have a very simple solution to their gripe: NOMINATE good works.
  • Personally, my reading tastes are closer to non-Puppy than Puppy, but I STRONGLY feel that one should weigh the nominees/finalists equally and fairly. The numbers below give strong circumstantial weight to a large number of voters that dropped the NO PUPPY hammer. It's disappointing, but not surprising, given the level of vitriol on both sides over the last few months. So, thanks to BOTH hardcore Puppy and anti-Puppies: THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS. Stop calling people SJWs, neo-Nazis, commies, racists, etc. and just discuss the damn books POLITELY. The anonymity of the Internet is not a license to be an asshole (TBH, I've forgotten that a few times). Ugh.
There is a clear trend:
  • Best Novel: Position 4 is No Award vs the 2 Puppy nominees: No Award + No Preference = 2674 + 387 = 3061 possible non-Puppy votes of 5653 eligible (54%)
  • Best Novella: All are Puppy Noms , Winner is No Award, so 3495 possible non-Puppy votes of 5337 eligible (65%) (I voted No Award here, but didn't follow the non-Puppy guide, so there's 3 basis points explained :D)
  • Best Novelette: Position 2 is No Award, the non-Puppy won, so there are 3089 + 89 = 3178 possible non-Puppy votes of 5104 (62%)
  • Best Short Story: All are Puppy Noms, Winner is No Award, so 3053 possible non-Puppy votes of 5267 eligible (58%)
  • Best Related Work: All are Puppy Noms, Winner is No Award, so 3259 possible non-Puppy votes of 4901 eligible (66%)
  • Best Graphic Story: 1 Puppy Nom, Position 5 No Award + No Preference = 3722 possible non-Puppy votes of 4412 eligible (84%). Personally, I thought this was the weakest Puppy offering, and the
  • Best Dramatic Long Form: The lone Puppy winner. Honestly, I'm not sure how to sort out the non-Puppy vs other voters, and I don't want to waste more of a sunny Sunday going through the minutiae of voting order. Of course, with the full voting data, I could get this with no problem :) Which means I'll need to email the Hugo people after I finish basking in the sun.
  • Best Dramatic Short Form: This is category where the Puppies have been clear in their boredom with Doctor Who's dominance***. People love the top Puppy nom, GoT, so that will muddy the waters (non-Puppy noms got slots 1 & 2). So I used it in Position 3 -- No Award + No Preference = 381 + 1194 = 1575 of 4705 eligible (33%)
  • Best Editor, Short Form: Personally, both Editor votes were tough for me, as I've never dealt with an editor (like most voters, I'd bet). Still, an all-Puppy slate. 2672 for No Award out of 4850 eligible (55%)
  • Best Editor, Long Form: Another all-Puppy slate. 2496 for No Award out of 4907 eligible (51%)
  • Best Pro Artist: Full discretion: I didn't vote, because I knew nothing about anyone here. Won by only non-Puppy nom, so Position 2 No Award + No Pref = 2350+271 = 2621 of 4354 eligible (60%)
  • Best Semiprozine: 3 non-Puppy noms were top 3, so Position 4 No Award + No Pref = 2021 + 479 = 2500 (ROUND NUMBER ILLUMINATI/PENTAVARATE ALERT!) of 3880 eligible (64%)
  • Best Fancast: 2 non-Puppy noms were top 2, so Position 3 No Award + No Pref = 2098 + 219 = 2317 of 3384 eligible (68%)
  • Best Fanzine: Only non-Puppy nom won, so Position 2 No Award + No Pref = 2356 + 148 = 2504 of 3818 eligible (66%)
  • Best Fan Writer: Only non-Puppy nom won, so Position 2 No Award + No Pref = 2687 + 224 = 2911 of 4183 eligible (70%)
  • Best Fan Artist: No (Edited: had incorrect "non" here) Puppy noms (so, the opposite of Short Story/Novella), so no relevant data. Interesting to note that 485 votes for No Award -- upper bound for (completist****) hardcore Puppy-only voters
  • Campbell Award: The only non-Puppy nom won, so Position 2 No Award + No Pref = 2381 + 377 = 2758 of 4388 eligible (63%)

* By "read", I am including watching the dramatic presentations, listening to podcasts, etc. Basically, "experience" or "consume".
** It ranked with/above 2 stories that I downgraded as clearly excerpts of novels, rather than being a novelette. I liked the other 2 better, but I didn't think they should be eligible.
*** A boredom I share. Dr. Who is good, occasionally great, but 3 episodes nominated in each of the previous 5 years? C'mon. And beating Community's Remedial Chaos Theory? Whovians need to put down the Kool-Aid and try something new. Rant over.
**** What an ugly word. With or with out a second "e", it looks wrong. English spelling is the worst. 

Food Waste Update Week 1

It's been a "week" since I posted about limiting my food waste. Here's what I tossed, uneaten since then:
  • Anchos and pasillas -- I had these in the oven to dry before i ground them, and I forgot. They made EXCELLENT charcoal powder, but I opted to pass on that. This happened about 5 minutes after my original post, so lesson learned -- don't blog while cooking
  • 1 massive green onion-leek hybrid (I'm assuming; it might've just been the largest green onion I've seen). The bundle of these had 4, i used 3, this one went bad before I could use it. A partial victory, though, since I previously would only use one or two
  • A handful of strawberries -- out of a kilo, losing a small handful isn't too bad. Especially as they were moldy after 1 day in the fridge.
  • 1 annoying blackberry -- this had some seriously overachieving mold spores on it. It was completely covered in white mold 5 hours after I put it in the fridge. I don't feel bad about this at all.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Me Vs Food Waste

Several of my friends, and John Oliver*, have recently gotten interested in the topic of food waste. This has gotten me to thinking** about how much food I waste. The amount is embarassingly large, mostly veggies that I buy with the best of intentions that go uneaten as those intentions die a quiet death. This is a waste of money & food, and that pisses me off.

I'm going to try to change my ways! How, you ask? The way that all the world's problems have traditionally been solved*** -- by blogging about it. I'm going to track (almost) all the groceries I buy and all I throw away. Here is this weekend's haul from the farmer's market & Rewe:
So, my rules:
  1. Any fresh food I buy gets logged, unless I forget or eat it right away. C'est la vie.
  2. Meals at restaurants, food stands, etc. don't count unless I waste a bunch, which will be logged.
  3. Any food wasted inadvertently (berries on the bottom that are already moldy the day I buy them, an egg I drop, etc.) aren't counted as waste.
  4. The non-food parts of the food (egg shells, stems, cherry pits, etc.) aren't counted as waste. It'd be great if I could compost that, but it's not currently an option.
  5. Wine and other beverages won't be listed unless they're wasted.
Here is the first meal:
  • ALL of the bacon (I only bought 3 strips, knowing I could inhale that) I bought today from the Fleisch Frauen****
  • Some fresh homemade pico de gallo (I outdid myself, it was real AND spectacular)
  • Two eggs (organic, bought last week) with the leftover green onion, jalepeƱo and cilantro from the pico.
  • A G&T on the side to use up some of the lime ;-).
Hopefully the rest of the food will be as tasty & fully consumed!

* Just for you, Steve
** Shocking!
*** For my tongue to be any further in my cheek would require surgery 
**** My name for the two women who run a butcher stand at the Rheinische Bauern Markt.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Hugo 2015 Reads -- What I Learned

Now that I'm finished with my reading for the Hugo award voting, I can look back on the experience and reflect. Because, to quote Shakespeare, "forsooth, what good is a blog, if not to gaze at one's navel?"*
  • Too Much Short Fiction: I understand the motivation behind 3 categories of shorter fiction (it's a great way for new authors to get attention/experience and can give interim revenue between longer works to new and established authors), but as a reader, the divisions seem arbitrary. Especially as at least 3 of the 10 novellas/novelettes were clearly subsections of larger works. From a pre-vote reading perspective, I hope that these two categories are combined before next year.
  • So Many Beards and Hats: Everyone has their own personal style (mine is "meh"), but plenty of male SFF authors are rockin' the "beard and wide-brimmed hat" in their photos. I'm not sure why it's so popular, but it certainly seems like it is. If anyone is looking for a subject for a "Related Work" for next year's voting, investigating the rise of this phenomenon will get a nom from me (I'm betting Robert Jordan's popularity is partly responsible).
  • So Many Apostrophes: When SFF authors want to make a word or name sound exotic, their favorite method is to toss in an apostrophe or two. Some authors are more consistent with this than others, but it's played out. Unless an author explains (in an appendix, I don't need in-story pronounciation guides) how it sounds, just skip it. It's distracting and a bit annoying.
  • And Where's The Fantasy: While both sci-fi and fantasy are eligible, the nominees in each category have more sci-fi. I'm not sure if this is a trend (and I don't have enough interest to do the googling & counting) or the result of a personal Hugo nominations sample size of 1, but I'm curious about what it looks like next year.
  • Everyone Needs to Chill: The big controversy of the Sad/Rabid Puppies and their calls for more pulp-y fiction/unsung writers (Sad) and more works published by the leader of the Rabid Puppies (Rabid) has caused quite the Internet shitstorm. As always, this was handled on all sides with polite, measured discourse that never crossed the line. Or, not -- people were doxxed, the cops were warned of potential violence at WorldCon, etc. In other words, the same crap idiots do everyday on the Tinterwebs. Why people feel that anonymity is an assholery license, I do not know. Ugh. And lots of people online claim they automatically put Puppy noms below No Award without reading them. They were nominated without breaking the rules, read them and then rank them -- give them a fair chance. If you still think they're pedestrian* works riding a slate, then vote them below No Award (which I did with most, but not all). Don't punish the authors for something that they may not control***.
  • Don't Wait And Binge: I read most of the works in two short binges bookending my vacation, and this was a mistake. A lot of the short fiction was similar in style, and I think my ratings were lower because of it. Next year I plan to spread it out a bit, and hopefully have already read some of the noms.
  • There's Just So Much: I didn't vote in a bunch of categories (fanzines, art, etc.) that I didn't have any opinion/experience with, and I didn't have time to search it all out. Maybe next year, but maybe not. I don't feel that one has to participate in all aspects of SFF. It should be enjoyable, not a chore!

So, will I do it again? Definitely! Overall, I'd give the experience a 3.5 out of 5 (4.5 for novels, 3 for the rest), and I'm excited to participate again next year.

* I wouldn't waste a lot of time search for this quote in your Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
** Not literally pedestrian. Though that would be impressive, if they wrote the stories while walking.
*** I can see doing this for nominees whose behavior, on- or off-line, is far beyond what you consider acceptable, but I think one should generally only rank stuff you are familiar with.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hugo 2015 Reads - The Dark Between The Stars

OK, I didn't post this earlier, mainly because I was hoping my interest would be rekindled after some time away. It was not. I didn't finish it, but I gave the ol' community college try and read a fourth of it. Is this entirely fair to Kevin J. Anderson (whose Star Wars books I enjoyed)? No. But it's life, and I hope to finish it later in the year. My mid-book grade would be 2 of 5.

The Good:
  • It was fast-paced, with short chapters. This seems like faint praise, but it moves the pace. I think it's underrated, especially in a Kindle book. Seeing "1 min more" means I'm finishing the chapter.
  • Some cool ideas among the various interstellar races and tech. But trying to introduce so many leads to... 
  • It's fun space opera! Not too serious, good ideas, not obsessed with tech. Which is what I'd expect given his above-average work on the Art Formerly Known As The Star Wars Exanded Universe (sniff, sniff. We'll always miss you, Mara).

The Bad:
  • He just has too many balls in the air. There are a bunch of alien races, some very cool, a few human factions and it's just a bit much. I think he'd have been better served by starting with fewer POVs and branching out more later.
  • Speaking of the humans, they're pretty flat. Now, I am only partway through the book, but several felt more like stereotypes (especially the driven, vengeful career woman and the ethically-challenged CEO) than people. Again, this can change later in the book, and I'll definitely post a full review when I'm done. 
Current Ballot (Pending 1 Vote):The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman (Not a nominee, but amazing)
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Not a nominee, but very good)
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
No Award (this is an option in the rather complicated, but logical, voting process)
The Dark Between The Stars by Kevin J Anderson 

2015 Hugo Reads - Novellettes

Almost done! This is my last fiction category, and another dominated by Sad and Rabid Puppies nominees. However, this was one category where a Puppy nominee beat the field (for me). Of course, most of the field was Puppy nominees, so it's not exactly triumphing over the forces of liberal mediocrity forced upon us by the Great Tor Conspiracy*.To be fair, I'm pretty tired of short fiction, especially the crop that's in the list. So most of these probably deserve an extra half-star from me. But that's what they get for waiting until the last 2 days for me to finish them**.

Once again, in the order listed on the Hugos website:

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium, Gray Rinehart - 3.5 of 5 A short look at a human colony that's been overthrown by some late-arriving reptiles. A quick, easy read, fun with a nice sense of closure. The characters were very familiar, but it all worked for me.

Championship B’tok, Edward M. Lerner - 1 of 5 This one has promise -- interesting worldbuilding, but the characters are flat and it's blatantly only the start of the story -- clearly the first chunk of a novel, not a novellette. Had it been the same quality but an actual full story, I'd have rated it a few points higher (probably my second favorite of the 5 until I reached the end and said, "wait, that's it?!?). I'll probably read the full-length version, but this one was a sample, not a complete story.

The Day the World Turned Upside Down, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator - 1.5 of 5 This was just too on the nose, too cute. After a man is dumped by his girlfriend, the entire world... turns upside down. Get it? I liked the author's/translator's prose, but i couldn't get past the annoying elephant/metaphor in the room. I might read more by him, but this was not my cuppa.

The Journeyman: In the Stone House, Michael F. Flynn - 1.5 of 5 Another story that is part of a larger tale, this one stands basically alone. Still, it's not my bag; it's an odd mix of cultural archetypes -- Plains indians (with South Asian names), Arthurian lords, and a crashed spaceship with a working AI. A lot going on, but the pidgin English got old fast. The sword fighting was well-done, but I needed more.

The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale, Rajnar Vajra - 2 of 5 Not a bad idea (and some cool ideas about the applications of the ability to control inertia), but the resolution fails to live up to the buildup. Adding in that 2 of the 3 characters were flat and fairly stock, and I have to pass.

Final Ballot:
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium
The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale
The Day the World Turned Upside Down
Championship B’tok
The Journeyman: In the Stone House

* I am joking here. The Puppies claim that Tor (Books or Dot Com, I'm not sure which) has a conspiracy of mindless drones that are driving the awards. Given Tor's record the last few years (single digit noms, 3 or fewer wins), it's an odd claim. Especially when the Sad Puppies have 51 of their 60 noms on the list and Rabid Puppies have 58 of 67, with only 12 from either or both list not making it -- and only 24 not on either list. Counts from File 770. (linked without permission, but will remove if asked!)
** OK, fine, that was my fault.