June 30, 2004

Singularity Sky by Charles Stross

singularitysky.jpgThis is the second of this year's Hugo-nominated novels I've read. I just reserved the other three at the library and there are no holds on any of them so I might actually be able to get through them before the ballot deadline. We'll see whether I feel strongly enough about one of them to want to spring for a supporting membership so I can actually vote.

I've been reading Charlie Stross's blog for a while, but hadn't read any of his books. The Hugo nomination pushed me to bump him up in the stack.

The setting of Singularity Sky is complex. Sometime in the past there was an AI-facilitated diaspora of human-kind throughout the galaxy. Due to the physical separation of different social groups there's been some culture drift (similar to that in John Barnes's A Million Open Doors), but ways have been found (as they usually are in sf-nal universes) of bringing the varied cultures back together both via communication and physical travel.

Most of the action takes place on and between two worlds of a modest empire founded on an isolationist principle. They are resistant to the advanced technology of the larger human population. So when a flotilla of anarchistic novelty seekers arrive at one of their planets and begin disrupting the carefully maintained social order by spending technological secrets with wild abandon, the seat of govenment on the home planet quickly dispatches a fleet to repel the invaders.

Adding spice to the mix are a couple of spies from different factions of the outside human cultures.

Stross does a wonderful job playing farce against classic space opera against political intrigue. The book skips along at a good clip and never allows any of the players to devolve into caricature. The luddites are as sympathetic as the technophiles. It's great fun.

I must disclaim that it's been over a month since I finished this book so my account of the details of the story may very well be significantly askew.

Posted by jeffy at 10:49 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (1)

June 21, 2004

Work avoidance

Back awhile ago I read David Allen's Getting Things Done. I've been toying with his organization system and while it hasn't changed my life at this point it has led me into some changes that I think are for the better.

At work I spend all day every day working on a windows pc with the company-mandated Outlook as my mail client. Allen has contracted with a company to produce a plugin for outlook that facilitates the stuff-processing methodology he promotes. I gave it the 30-day trial and decided to buy the software (despite the outrageous price). It adds the concept of projects so that you can associate tasks and emails and appointments with a project. It lets you take an incoming email and decide whether it's actionable; if it is, you can morph it into a task (with the original message saved and linked to it for reference) or an appointment (hardly ever valid in my case).

In practice the system is working like this for me now:

  • login and find a box full of email
  • make a fast pass deleting or filing everything that's not actionable
  • make another pass answering everything that I can give a quick response (Allen says under 2 minutes. I'm using 5-10 otherwise the overhead of creating tasks would make me crazy.)
  • finally make tasks out of everything that's going to take more time
  • box is empty

So that's pretty groovy for the intake phase of the process. After working like this for about 6 weeks I've currently got a list of about 40 outstanding projects (things that take more than one step) plus a couple dozen other single tasks. I'd like to say that that's everything, but there's a bunch of stuff hidden off in our bug-tracking system that I haven't taken into this system yet. Anyway, it's not as bad as I thought it might be.

The other thing I've added to my stable is another outlook plugin called Lookout. I've often repeated a joke I heard somewhere that goes "why is it that google can search the entire internet in under a second, but it takes outlook half an hour to search my mailbox?" Lookout is an okay answer to that question. It's an indexed search engine for your mailbox. It rebuilds its index periodically in the background so whenever you want to search you just type in your keywords and bang you have a list of messages that match. It's not as good as google at guessing which ones are the most likely since it doesn't have the rich linking context that google enjoys in the web, but it's way better than the builtin outlook search tools.

Between those two tools I now have much higher confidence that I actually know what's lurking in my zone of control. I'm much more able to see the array of things I'm putting off and so I don't have that gut-clenching feeling that there are things I'm forgetting about.

So far so good. The problem now is that while I now know what I'm supposed to be doing I'm still having a hard time actually doing any of it. I haven't quite nailed down why that is. Some of it is my natural tendency (or long habit (what's the difference?)) towards avoiding work. Some of it is that I don't see the value in a lot of the work I'm supposed to be doing.

Some of it is that it's much easier to read blogs than figure out how to do my stuff. For that and some other reasons I've moved my entire blog roll into blogrolling.com to make my usual timesuckers a little less accessible. That killed half the day ;-) Probably won't help, either, but I wasn't happy with the old organization anyway.

Maybe I need a tool that will let me register my work-avoidance programs and administer some form of reality check (popup? beep? electric shock?) if I seem to have spent too much time using one of those programs.

This reminds me of the random activity checks in the experiments conducted by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that led to his books Flow and Finding Flow. Maybe I should go read those again.

I wonder if anyone has written a Palm app to do random activity checks? If I was going to use one I'd have to get a new palm with a vibrating alarm cause I can't hear my Palm beep.

Got a problem? Need a new gadget.

Maybe I'll just go back to Getting Things Done and remind myself what's supposed to happen once you've got everything in the system.

Posted by jeffy at 06:29 PM in Personal Interest | Comments (1)



light040617_2T.jpg light040617_3T.jpg light040617_4T.jpg light040617_5T.jpg

Last Thursday night there was a doozy of a thunderstorm in the Cascade foothills. It ran for several hours with multiple lightning flashes per minute. Other parts of the country might take this kind of thing for granted, but around here this is an event!

When it was obvious that the storm wasn't going to slow down I decided to try to take some pictures. My new camera (Optio S4) doesn't have the ability to take anything like a long exposure so I dropped back to the old Kodak DC290. Set up the tripod on the back patio and set it for its longest exposure (16 seconds) and started clicking away. Mostly I got dark frames with a scattering of noise from the ccd, but when a flash was in frame it did all right. The thumbnails don't render the bolts very well so click through if you've got the bandwidth (or time).

The storm was so far away we didn't get much thunder (or rain), but the light show sure was fun.

Posted by jeffy at 12:45 AM in Photo Log | Comments (1)

June 20, 2004

Sethra Lavode by Steven Brust

sethralavode.jpgThird volume in Brust's Viscount of Adrilankha novel. Piro, the viscount of the title is the son of Khavren, the focal character of the earlier books, The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years After. As the action of this volume opens, Piro is living a pleasant life as a highwayman with his lover Ibronka and their friends in a far corner of the empire. Meanwhile back in the city, Zerika, the new empress, is engaged in the process of building a seat for her government. Much of the action centers around Khavren's efforts to locate his son and, if not apologize for the disagreement that began their estrangement, at least to let Piro know that their familial connection is still valued in spite of said disagreement. The other source of action is an ongoing plot by the not-quite-vanquished pretender to the throne, Kāna, and our friends' ongoing efforts to foil that plot.

Those hoping that a book entitled with the name of Sethra Lavode would have some significant revelations about the history of that character must get used to disappointment. She remains an enigmatic figure. Which is fine with this reader since her mystery is a large part of her attraction.

Looking at The Viscount of Adrilankha as a whole now, the book is a fine swashbuckling romance. Like all of Brust's work, it lends itself easily to rapid reading for pleasure, but rewards more careful attention with nuanced explorations of larger themes. Now the long wait until the next Brust book begins.

Posted by jeffy at 12:22 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

June 04, 2004

PF: Landscape


Photo Friday

Posted by jeffy at 09:24 PM in Photo Log | Comments (0)

Lost Glove #19


Was late for a meeting this morning cause I had to stop and shoot this glove in the bike lane on East Lake Sammamish Parkway. Gotta have your priorities!

Posted by jeffy at 09:20 PM in Lost Gloves , Photo Log | Comments (0)