August 31, 2004

Fun with politics

bushhat.jpgSamantha and Jeff are auctioning off a dorky little Republican donor tchotchke and sending the proceeds to

Please outbid me so I don't have to have this thing in my house!

Posted by jeffy at 09:16 PM in Soapbox | Comments (1)

Barb de Michele

Back on the 23rd, we had a "coffee hour" for one of our local candidates. Barbara de Michele is running for Washington State House of Representatives here in the 5th district. I met Barb when she was acting as treasurer for a group raising money for an artwork to be placed in the new Issaquah Library in memory of local education hero Kateri Brow. Barb is a great candidate with solid background in two of the most important issues in the 5th: Education and Transportation.

We volunteered to host a gathering in our house back when Barb announced her candidacy. We solicited the help of some of the neighbors we met at the Caucuses back in February and as a group we invited nearly 60 people to end up with a gathering of 23 people in our little house!

It was exhilarating to help bring our neighbors and friends together with a candidate. People asked lots of questions. There was even some healthy dissent. And when Barb goes to Olympia next year we'll all know our representative and what she stands for.


Posted by jeffy at 08:50 PM in Soapbox | Comments (0)

On Writing by Stephen King

onwriting.jpgI've only read a couple of things by Stephen King (The Shining and The Stand, both long, long ago), but when Becky's brother Steve (as opposed to Becky's sister's husband Steve) bought a copy of this book on a recent visit, I read the first few pages and ended up sailing through the whole thing.

The book is about 50/50 memoir and advice on how to be a writer. I most enjoyed the memoir bits even though they recounted a life that doesn't sound like it was a whole lot of fun to live through even after Carrie sent it on a drastically different path. I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise that Stephen King can tell a story, but there it is. He's good at this.

The parts of the book that match the title seemed like basic common sense to me, but I think that's because I've spent so much time reading things like rec.arts.sf.composition, and Making Light (and, for that matter, Making Book), and Uncle Jim. To King's credit, his advice seems to mesh nicely with the things I've learned reading those other luminaries in the field of writing about writing.

The hardest part of the book to read was the section where he recounted the details of how while walking along a country road he was run down by a drunken jackass driving a van. The attempted murder happened while King was in the process of writing the book. I'm glad he survived to finish it.

Posted by jeffy at 08:20 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

August 24, 2004

I'm Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown

coverKind of a gonzo Harold McGee. The subtitle of the book is "Food + Heat = Cooking", and a large portion of the book is truly dedicated to investigation of the various ways in which heat can be applied to food to effect the transformation that results in something good to eat. I enjoyed Brown's somewhat irreverent style. Evidently the fellow had a cable cooking show before the book, which I suspect is a hoot to watch. I got the book from the library, but I learned enough and saw enough I'll want to refer to in the future that I'll be adding the book to my library. There are recipes here that demonstrate the methods, and they sound good, but the best bits to me were all of the explanations of what's happening when you sear or boil or steam or fry. Knowing those kinds of basic principles can't help but make you a better cook. Now I just need to cook something.

Oh, its presence here really does mean I read this cookbook cover to cover.

Posted by jeffy at 11:24 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (1)

August 21, 2004

Busy day

Becky and Kate did a yard sale today. I'm Mr. Put-Up-Signs which I did late last night, but I had to check them this morning to make sure the Issaquah sign police (not kidding) hadn't taken them all down. This was at the hour of 9am which is several hours before my accustomed time of arrival in the world of the wakeful.

Signs were still up so I helped move the heavy stuff from the garage to the yard and thought about going back to sleep. But we're having something like 30 people over to our house on Monday night to meet one of our local Democrat candidates so I swept the remains of the irises off the front walk and then decided to cut the edges which hasn't been done in a year or more, then swept again and swept out the carport and sprayed out the carport and then swept out the carport again. Might not have been at my most efficient today.

I was going to clean the window screens, but I couldn't find the brush I usually use to do that even with Becky applying her feminine locate-lost-stuff super powers. So I biked to the hardware store and bought a new brush with a little handle on the back and everything. Then since I was right there I went to the bike shop and looked at helmets, but didn't buy one and then went to Mills Music and bought an easy piano songbook. Then I went home and cleaned the screens.

By this time it was about time to leave for the gallery (it's about an hour drive from here). Took a shower, helped Becky stow the garage sale for redeployment tomorrow, and drove to Kate and Mark's to pick them up since they wanted to go. Made it through various traffic snarls to hit the gallery where I got to meet Jeff, Dylan, Tara, Samantha, Mikey, and John, and had fun looking at everyone's pictures. I was my usual not-very-good-at-being-social self, not managing to exchange more than a few dozen words the whole time we were there. Everyone seemed nice, and like yet unlike their blog selves.

Shortly after we got to the gallery it started raining really hard. It was lovely. But it further snarled up the usual river of cars heading up I-5 so we spent a while poking along at 5mph. Finally dropped off Kate and Mark, went home by way of the cat food store and Flying Pie, checked that the garage roof wasn't leaking on the yard sale stuff yet, and watched a couple of episodes of Angel to keep from crashing completely before 10pm. Looks like I might get to sleep before 3 tonight.

Posted by jeffy at 11:53 PM in Personal Interest | Comments (3)

Humans by Robert J. Sawyer

coverLast in my pre-Hugo nominee reading frenzy. Humans is the second book in Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax trilogy. In it, Ponter Boddit returns to our Earth as a member of a diplomatic mission aiming to initiate trade between the two alternate Earths.

I didn't enjoy this outing nearly as much as the first. Some of my disappointment has to do with the lack of a driving conflict. In the first there was a murder trial where we knew the defendant was innocent, the issue of whether Ponter would be able to return home, and the novelty of comparing the two societies. In this one, the mysteries are mostly either easily resolved or left for the third book. The book uses the device of having Ponter discuss his visit to our Earth with his world's equivalent of a therapist which didn't work for me. Some of these things are just typical middle book issues, but I mostly felt like Sawyer wasn't at his idea spewing best in Humans. I'll read Hybrids to see how it all ends, but I'll be surprised if it holds very many surprises.

As for my Hugo pick, of the three of the five books nominated that I read, my favorite is definitely Charlie Stross's Singularity Sky. We'll see who wins in a couple weeks.

Posted by jeffy at 08:23 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

August 19, 2004

Photologger group show

tyd has set up a gallery show for a handful of eight Seattle-area photologgers.

The show is at the White Dove Gallery at 5934 88th Street SW down in Lakewood, WA, south of Tacoma. There will be an opening reception this Saturday afternoon from 2-4:30. tyd has more info.

I've got five pictures in the show. 2 lost gloves , a landscape, and a couple of outdoor still lifes. Three of the pictures have appeared on this blog. (lost gloves #15 and #16, and the second picture in this post)

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone else's stuff!

I plan to be at the reception. Be sure to introduce yourself if you come!

(post updated 8/20 14:50 to improve signal to noise ratio)

Posted by jeffy at 03:53 PM in Photo Log | Comments (5)

August 18, 2004

Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer

coverAfter reading two of the Hugo-nominated novels for this year, I thought I'd have a look at the others and see if I had a strong preference for a winner. My fabulous library had all of the books available with enough copies that there was no waiting. I already read Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson, and Singularity Sky by Charlie Stross. The remaining books were Ilium by Dan Simmons, Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold, and Humans by Robert J. Sawyer.

On a Saturday morning I looked the books over.

Ilium is a doorstop-sized retelling of the Illiad. I've loved everything I've ever read by Dan Simmons, and I'm sure the book would win me over in time, but it's huge, and my knowledge of the original is sufficiently sketchy that I was afraid I'd miss half the fun so I put it aside after a dozen pages. Someday, maybe, but not now.

Paladin of Souls is a fantasy novel with a middle-aged woman protagonist. That was unusual enough to get my attention so I tucked in, but by the time I was mid-way through chapter two it became clear that this is the second book in a series. You'd never guess from the cover or front matter which, while it mentions the prior book by name, gives no indication that the two are connected. Bad Eos! So I need to read The Curse of Chalion first.

Humans's title page proudly proclaims "Book Two of the Neanderthal Parallax" Good Tor! But dang! This three-book sprint for the Hugos has become a six-book slog (don't forget I need to read the Iliad ;-). Well I've read enough Sawyer to know that his books are fun and fast so off to the library catalog I went and a couple of days later I had Hominids in my hands.

The premise is kind of ridiculous. A man from an alternate reality where Neanderthals became ascendant rather than Humans is transported to our reality through a fluke in an experiment with quantum computing. But the book doesn't linger on the mechanics of how Ponter Boddit gets to our world. Instead it plays the utopian game comparing our society with one that went a slightly different direction.

The most significant difference is that in Boddit's world, physical violence is practically unheard of (partly since the Neanderthals' great physical strength makes any violence potentially fatal, partly for other reasons that would be spoilers here). Sawyer shows this in contrast to our world where Mary Vaughn, a human genetecist is raped on the campus of the college where she is a professor.

The book alternates chapters between Boddit among the Humans and his partner back in Neanderthal Earth who is being tried for Boddit's murder.

This being a Sawyer book, I'm leaving out a bunch of interesting ideas that are essential to the plot (and in any other writers hands would be carefully hoarded to make whole other books!) Loads of fun and thought-provoking to boot.

Posted by jeffy at 12:03 AM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

August 17, 2004

The Fall of the Kings by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman

coverThe Fall of the Kings is not exactly a sequel to Kushner's 1987 novel Swordspoint. All I remember about the earlier book is that it had a stratified society with a complex social structure that included the use of sword duels to resolve disputes. For the most part the duels were fought not by the disputants, but by trained professionals either hired for the purpose or kept on staff should the need arise.

The Fall of the Kings takes place many years later. Unlike with some fantasy sequels, there has been some evolution in the culture since the first book. Blood duels are no longer an everyday occurrence. But the practice is still in the psyche of the characters, and the concept of challenge and formalised resolution of disputes is still part of their society.

The book centers on college history professor Basil St. Cloud and on his lover, Theron Campion, a young and wild aristocrat.

One of the facets of the society is that sexual relationships have no standard gender identification. There is no stigma on same sex relationships. Not only is there no stigma, there seems to be no preference with many characters in the book pairing up with members of either gender at different points in the story. I mention all this not because it has anything to do with the plot of the novel per se, but just because Kushner and Sherman do such a good job of writing around such a subtle and pervasive difference from our own culture. It's refreshing to read a book where sexual preference is such a non-issue.

St. Cloud is a rebel in the university with his insistence on extending knowledge of history by reference to primary sources in contrast to the prevailing mode of his college which is to endlessly re-evaluate the evaluations of past historians. His investigation of primary sources leads him to belive some things about the past kings and their wizards that are not socially acceptable.

I don't want to give too much away. Many of the characters are plotting against each other in ways that make perfect sense to the plotters, but that you can see as a reader are completely misguided and doomed to failure. The story relates the collision of magic, art, passion, myth, history, love, politics, and scholarship.

Posted by jeffy at 10:21 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

Coffee Table: Design

I took a woodworking class through BCC a few years ago. In it I got most of the way through building a stepstool based on some plans from Woodsmith magazine. I learned a lot in the class, but the two biggest things were:

  1. I don't like power tools. Not one little bit.
  2. I don't like working from other people's plans.

I'd been thinking about building a coffee table. The last thing I built was a footstool in a traditional style. For this project I wanted something a little more minimalist and modern. I did some design in my head and tried and discarded some ideas on paper before settling on a design whose entire documentation is in this picture:

pencil drawing of rectangles with dimensions on white paper

Probably doesn't make sense to anyone but me. It's a table of a standard coffee table height (17-3/4 inches) with a smaller shelf below and legs which extend below the shelf and between the shelf and top. The joinery is tenons set in mortises cut directly into the table top and shelf. It's about as simple a table as it's possible to make. No aprons, no stretchers, no drawers.

Since I want to finish the project in finite time, my design uses standard dimensioned hardwood lumber that I was able to purchase at my local big box home center. I hope to move more toward using rough cut lumber in the future, but for this project, I'm going basic.

The first thing I did was cut the boards for the top and shelf to rough length. The top will be three boards edge-joined together, and the shelf two. I cut the pieces for the legs to exact length. I have sharp cross cut saws so all that length cutting was pretty easy.

The next step is to join the boards together for the top and shelf. In order to do that I need to smooth and straighten the edges of the boards so that the joint will be as clean as possible. The tool for this job is a jointer plane. I have one of those, but I've never used it before so it needs some tuning and sharpening. I looked at the other planes and chisels I need for the rest of the project. They all needed to be sharpened, so I spent some time sharpening tools.

Posted by jeffy at 02:02 AM in Personal Interest | Comments (0)

What I did on my summer vacation

I decided to take some time off from work and have a home vacation. There are a million jobs that need doing within and without the luxurious abode that is Flying House. I decided not to do any of those. Instead I dedicated the time I didn't spend playing WEBoggle to building a piece of furniture.

There's a section of my home page dedicated to my woodworking hobby, but I've never talked about that avocation here on Mad Times. When I went to record my first day's work in my shop journal I discovered the reason for that. The last time I did any work in my shop to speak of was in May of 2003. Hmm. Start a blog in March, stop woodworking in May. Could there be a connection?

Anyway, my shop journal is pretty basic. I enter the date and a brief description of what I did. My entry for my first day of work last week was something like "Started floating table, cut top and shelf to length." It's not very interesting reading. I thought I'd try doing a little more expanded version on the blog here. Maybe if I link these hobbies it'll keep me going on both of them.

Posted by jeffy at 12:41 AM in Personal Interest | Comments (1)

August 15, 2004

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

coverMy brother-in-law gave me this for my birthday last year and I finally got around to reading it a couple of months ago.

Wow. On its cover is a list of 9 different awards and honors this book has won. Not surprised.

This novel is told from the point of view of a young girl living in the Texas panhandle in 1934-35, the time and place known as the dust bowl. A long drought and over-cultivation has resulted in all the topsoil in the region blowing away. I vaguely remember learning about this event in school, but I didn't really get what a disaster it was until reading Hesse's book. Her character Billie Jo witnesses the general torment her family and friends are going through. And if that's not enough, some equally terrible things happen to her and her immediate family.

Not a happy book. Oh, did I mention that every chapter is a poem? Amazing.

Posted by jeffy at 11:20 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (14)

From the End of the Twentieth Century by John M. Ford

cover artFord is a joy. His writing style is spare and yet pleasingly euphonious. He isn't slotted in to any particular genre either with novels in SF, fantasy, historical (well, some would argue that The Dragon Waiting is fantasy, but it feels like a historical to me), even a spy novel. While the stories in this book are nearly all identifiably SF or fantasy, Ford's ideas and execution are so much his own that they feel like something that needs its own category. It's been a while since I finished the book (there's a theme you'll be hearing a lot in these pages as I catch up on some neglected reviews!), but some of the stories in this collection have stuck with me; in particular:

  • "1952 Monon Freightyard Blues" in which a space travelling story seeker (Singularity Sky anyone?) profoundly impacts the life of a young hobo.
  • "Mandalay" and "Intersections" which are both set in a quantum alternate reality theme park gone wrong. The first is about people trying to find their way back to their home fiction. The second is in an alternate WWII.
  • "Walkaway Clause", a sort of insurance-mystery romance space-opera.
  • "Preflash" which I'd already read, though it wasn't in either of the places the book credits it as having been published. It's about photography and prescience and death and death's opposite.
  • "Riding the Hammer", a Liavek story set along the train line from Liavek to Saltigos.

There are a couple of essays about his writing that shine a brighter light on the proceedings. And finally a bunch of verse (mostly songs), including several farcical pieces written as Christmas presents for friends that defy categorization.

As if the content wasn't enough to recommend it, there's also the fact that NESFA Press really knows how to put together a book that is a pleasure to handle and read.

Posted by jeffy at 08:16 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

August 07, 2004

Not quite dead

I'm just putting a post here since everything else has expired off the front page.

I've got a backlog of 7 or 8 book reviews and at least a dozen movie reviews.

Plus I've been spending a little bit of time playing with the HTML and CSS of this page so look for a new look one of these days.

I've been distracted by a number of things including a series of family visits (Nieces everywhere!), work, and some political action.

And WEBoggle (now with 5x5 boards too!)

I've been reading a lot of blogs lately. I tried out a couple of aggregators (most notably the IMAP-based BlogStreet (thanks, Jeff!)), but enough of the places I really enjoy reading don't have RSS feeds that I still had to do some of the click-and-check browsing that I decided to just stick with ye old link list.

Posted by jeffy at 02:52 PM in Administrivia | Comments (0)