Friday, April 01, 2016

My 2016 Hugo Nominations - Writing

Just in time for you to copy my nominations*, here's my ballot, with a few notes:

Best Novel:

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson - All the awesome

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab - Cool setup, great characters, fun read

Uprooted by Naomi Novik - Was a bit light (felt like YA), but a great read

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie - It's a bit boring to nominate the 3rd book when the first two both got noms (and the 1st won), but this was the best of the three. Another great read 

I am normally skeptical of tie-in works, but this one was excellent! Though it brought *ALL* the feels to the top, still a great read!

Short Fiction:

I only read two, so deciding what to nominate was easy!
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor - A fascinating story, and it opened me up to learning about the Himba people, which was even more fascinating

Tuesdays with Molakesh the Destroyer by Megan Grey - This was incorrectly nominated last year, but it was still a great read. A surly teen and a surly, retired demon are enjoyably surly together!

* If you have a working time machine

Sunday, January 31, 2016

I'm A Lowlife Cheating Scumbag

You flirt a bit, but then you fall in love, you make a decision, you make a commitment, and you stick with it. Sure, you're tempted by that hot new thing in your eyeline, BUT YOU MADE A COMMITMENT. And this relationship, through its ups and downs, it buoys you. I knew this. But then everything changes.

I was always a Canon guy. My photo-Yoda, Jim Veneman*, backed me in my choice. And then, this week, I threw away a relationship of more than 30 years. Sure, I'd dallied with Panasonic**, but we all knew that was just a meaningless fling. Point-and-shoot, it meant nothing. But this? A DSLR? That? That was some serious shiz-nit.This isn't a dalliance, this is CHEATING. And, dammit, I'm ok with it. I'm sorry, Canon, but I've moved on. I'm a Nikon guy. At least for now.

Photos to come!

* Seriously, he's amazing
** Like a different area code or being in Vegas, It doesn't count

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

US News Country Ratings Are Horseshit

US News & World Report partnered with a brand management firm and Wharton (the business school) to whip up a ranking of countries, presumably so that upper and middle class American kids can choose their next citizenship the same way they do their colleges.

Germany came in first (no arguments here), and while that was exciting for me (a German resident), it made me wonder how they were ranked. The methodology has its own page, and after patting themselves on the back, you get this:

"A set of 65 country attributes – terms that can be used to describe a country and that are also relevant to the success of a modern nation – were identified. Attributes by nation were presented in a survey of more than 16,000 people from across the globe where participants assessed how closely they associated one with the other."

So, what these really are is a ranking of how people perceive the countries. This explains why Uruguay, which gets 95% of its electricity from sustainable sources, ranked 33! in the "Best Countries for Green Living". Of course, doing this hand-in-hand with a brand management company should've been a dead giveaway. This isn't ranking reality, THIS IS RANKING PERCEPTION. Rankings are like computer data: Garbage in, Garbage out.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

My Bucket List

Some web surfing brought me to a blogger based in the 'dorf, GiveForGranted, specifically her post about her bucket list. I started one while I was home last year, but hadn't followed up on it. So, I am blatantly copying her post (which, to be fair, is not the only one of its kind)

  1. Sell my house
  2. Go skydiving
  3. Go bungee jumping
  4. Run a marathon
  5. Play well again* in an ultimate tournament
  6. Visit every country in Europe
  7. Visit every state in the USA
  8. Visit every populated continent (I'm counting American-style with 7 total N/S America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and Antartica, which has enough trouble without me)
  9. Visit the Tatooine sets in Tunisia
  10. Visit the new Star Wars location in Ireland (Thanks a lot, The Force Awakens)
  11. Visit all the former Soviet Republics
  12. See the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World (not sure what to do about a few that are completely gone)
  13. Pick a list** of 7 existing wonders and see them
  14. Visit Angkor Wat
  15. Visit Machu Picchu
  16. Visit Easter Island
  17. Visit all the US National Parks
  18. Cross a country by bike
  19. Cross a country by car
  20. Backpack across a country
  21. Ride a hot-air balloon
  22. Learn to scuba dive
  23. Learn to snowboard
  24. (Re)Learn to ski
  25. Catch and hold green waves
  26. Brew my own beer
  27. Finish writing a novel
  28. Write an app(pplication, platform isn't important)
  29. Fall in love (again)
  30. Run a marathon
  31. Read Ulysses
  32. Read Infinite Jest
  33. Smoke at a coffeeshop in Amsterdam
  34. Take a cooking course in Italy
  35. Stand on the equator
  36. Learn to ride a skateboard
  37. Do a fjord cruise
  38. Drive around Iceland
  39. Achieve Elite status on Elite/Oolite (childhood goal!)
  40. Return to Taiwan
  41. See Victoria Falls
  42. Go on a 1 week backpacking trip
  43. Ride a Vespa in Italy
  44. Work in a vineyard during harvest
  45. Start my own company
  46. Lead a tour group
  47. Hitchhike
  48. Do a weekend biking trip
  49. Take a running tour of a city
  50. See Petra
  51. See Cobá
  52. See the paintings at Bonampak
  53. Volunteer at an archaeological dig
  54. Visit Rift Valley
  55. See paleolithic cave paintings
  56. Visit a FIFA men's World Cup
  57. Be asked for, and pay, a bribe to cross a border
  58. Visit Tokai
  59. See an F1 race in person
  60. Watch Messi play in person
  61. Go to a USA-Mexico match in Azteca
  62. Go to an England match in Wembley
  63. Visit Pompeii
  64. Attend Carnival in Rio
  65. Take a Nile cruise
  66. Visit the Smithsonian
  67. Watch a Supreme Court case
  68. Watch a debate in Congress
  69. Shave my head
  70. Take a Segway tour
  71. See one of the Ring Cycle live
  72. See an Opera at La Scala
  73. See da Vinci's The Last Supper
  74. Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway
  75. Ride on the outside of a train
  76. Go hunting
  77. Climb a volcano
  78. Stand on the 4 Corners
  79. See a solar eclipse
  80. Learn Morse code
  81. Swim with bioluminescent algae
  82. Spend a night in a desert (of the natural, rather than the moral, variety)
  83. Visit New Zealand
  84. Successfully eat a gimmick spicy food (hottest curry)
  85. Visit North Korea
  86. Leave North Korea without going to jail
  87. Run with the bulls
  88. Jump off a waterfall
  89. Go on a safari
  90. Go to an airport/train station without knowing my (long-distance) destination
  91. Get married
  92. Visit the Galapagos
  93. Take a culinary tour of a city
  94. Tour Chernobyl
  95. Visit Baikonur (during a launch, if allowed)
  96. Heckle a comedian
  97. Do stand up
  98. Go sailing with my mom
  99. Shoot the moon in Hearts... after announcing that I'm going to do it (the technical term for this is "dickbagging")
  100. See the Forbidden City
  101. Visit the ruins of Karakorum
  102. Eat insects (other than those preserved in booze)

* Former teammates are free to argue the validity of the word "again"
** There are a bunch of these floating around, so I need to pick one. Or two.

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!