Monday, December 26, 2011

Timecard Typographies Aug-Dec/2011

Hey! More timecards! You think it'd be easy to remember to take pictures of these stupid things, but you would be wrong! In fact I'm quite awful at remembering to do it. It seems that from June-December I have forgotten to take pictures of 2 of them.

Well, technically I've forgotten to take pictures of 5 of them:
  • 1 - I had to call work and ask my coworker to take a picture of it for me.

  • 1 - I wasn't able to finish and I was just going to write it off, but a coworker finished it himself.

  • 1 - I came by to take a picture of but the boss had already taken it to his office. Luckily he was around and had it on his desk so he let me take a picture of it.

  • 2 - I just outright forgot to take pictures of.

Apparently I'm just rather forgetful. I really should just start carrying my camera with me wherever I go. Anyways, I think I'll provide you with some commentary on these so as to make myself feel better for failing to capture the complete set.

June 06 - Usually I base the letters around some common idea. In this case I was trying to come up with letters that seemed like they could be symbols or foreign glyphs.

June 16 - The idea behind this one was that I wanted to write it as small as I could. However, I ended up messing up right off the bat. It failed to be as small I could write it and ended up looking odd, mismatched, and stupid.

June 30 - As you can tell the idea with this one was a Connect-the-Dots signature. I love the concept, but I'm disappointed with the quality of my lines. They look rather thin and shaky and it takes a lot away from what would have otherwise been a favorite of mine. I think I was going to go over them again to make them look better, but didn't have the time.

This is the one I nearly forgot to get a picture of and ended up calling a coworker to have him snag a picture for me.

This one also brings up a common problem of mine: the H. I cannot tell you how often I get hung up on the H's. Because a capital cursive H isn't written with a continuous pen stroke and that fact often rears it's ugly head. It was a bit of a challenge to figure out how to do it without just giving a couple dots multiple numbers.

July 16 - This one kind of ended up as a stroke guide to letters, but it really wasn't meant to be. I was just trying to use arrows to make letters. This intent explains why you might notice that the way the arrows have you do some letters wouldn't be very natural at all.

August 5 - Yeah...I just wanted to do one in crayon. Little kid style. Sadly I forgot my camera and thus had to end up taking this picture with my phone. I hate when I have to do that though because the picture is never very crisp and the colors always get muted.

August 16 - I guess the idea behind this was outlined letters that form a single contiguous piece. But really it just stemmed out of a doodle I had been doing absent-mindedly one day.

September 1 - Admittedly, I always feel a little cheap when I do one like this. Why? Because I really didn't do anything fancy with the actual letters. The interesting part is only really coming from the style of the placement and setting. But in the end I really don't care as long as it ends up looking cool.

October 1 - I decided to do Halloween themed ones in October. This one was supposed to be a Jack-o-Lantern carving of sorts. So I tried to use the letters to create that usual sort of evil Jack-o-Lantern grin. The observant eye will notice that I forgot how to spell my own name in this one and forgot the second E in Jesse.

You will also notice this picture is a camera picture and thus looks kind of muted and shitty.

October 19 - The Halloween theme continues. This time I was trying to use creepy images that were symbolic of letters. Overall I quite like how it turned out, although I am slightly bothered that that snail ended up seeming rather out of place to me. It just looks it isn't quite connected to the others or something. It also seems a little too happy...

November 4 - Months back my coworker Max had said I should do one with Tetris pieces. I had briefly considered it, but ended up putting it on the back burner. It starts out so easy and the "Jesse" just writes itself. I could have just left it at that, but I was dead set on figuring out how to do my last name as well. As you can guess, some letters provided a significant challenge. Namely A & N.

December 2 - I've started exploring the side margins a little bit. This is actually the one I wasn't able to finish. I wasn't thinking and ended up trying to do a time intensive one during a time of the month when I actually end up having a lot of actual work to do. Thus I ended up with only the top part finished and the rest of it only had my rough ideas sketched in.

I was just going to write it off, but my coworker Max ended up taking it upon himself to finish it and was even kind enough to take a picture. I like that there's a record of it now, but I'm still a little mad at myself for not being able to finish it personally as there was a couple of little things I would've liked to fix up.

December 16 - As you can tell, like October, I made December a bit of a themed month. I had a much more complicated idea in the works, but then I realized that it wouldn't come up looking like what I was going for and then this idea popped into my head so I decided to just go with it. I quite like it.

Once again the cursive H rears its ugly head and requires me to try and attempt a work around.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Book List 2011: Part 6

The second to last booklist of the year. Time goes by so fast doesn't it?

* = reread

20th Century Ghosts
by. Joe Hill

A collection of short stories about ghosts, murderers, monsters, and more.

After reading Heart-Shaped Box I figured I'd see what else Joe Hill had written. Turns out not a whole lot. However, there was this one and a collection of horror themed short stories certainly sounded interesting.

I should clarify that when I say the stories are horror stories, I don't mean to suggest that they are scary. I doubt you'll read any and find yourself unable to get to sleep afterward. I just mean to say that they deal with the horror story material (murder, ghosts, death, etc.). In actuality, the tone of book differs quite a bit from story to story. I really liked that about it, because you never quite knew what to expect next. There are ones that are rather light-hearted, some are sentimental, others are interesting, while some are slightly unsettling. Some of my favorites were "20th Century Ghosts" a story about a movie theater haunted by a cinephile ghost, "Pop Art" a story about a boy and his inflatable best friend, and "Abraham's Boys" one of the creepiest ones of the collection about a pair of brothers whose strict father turns out to have deeper secrets than either of the boys could have ever guessed.

        “It has been argued even trees may appear as ghosts. Reports of such manifestations are common in the literature of parapsychology. There is the famous white pine of West Belfry, Maine. It was chopped down in 1842, a towering fir with a white smooth bark like none anyone had ever seen, and with pine needles the color of brushed steel. A tea house and inn was built on the hill where it had stood. A cold spot existed in a corner of the yellow dining room, a zone of penetrating chill, the exact diameter of the white pine's trunk. Directly above the dining room was a small bedroom, but no guest would stay the night there. Those who tried said their sleep was disturbed by the keening rush of a phantom wind, the low soft roar of air in high branches; the gusts blew papers around the room and pulled curtains down. In March, the walls bled sap.”

Howl's Moving Castle
by. Diane Jones

A young woman named Sophie ages into an old woman after being cursed by a witch. While looking for a way to free herself she ends up in employ of the notorious soul-stealing wizard Howl.

I've heard from a couple fans of this book and they seem to say that they like both the book and the movie, but for very different reasons. Personally, I have a hard time separating the two. Annoyingly, I feel that both of them work to undermine the other by doing something better.

For example, I love the imagery in the movie and how it really worked to serve the story. I also like how the changes the it made to the story served to create a tighter narrative with clearer focus.

On the other hand, I like how the book was able to better establish the different characters and their various relationships. It made the romance between Sophie and Howl seem a lot more natural than the movie did. I also liked how the book's Sophie had a bigger role to play. Additionally, its explanation for how she ends up entangled in these situations was more developed and much more interesting.

On a third hand I don't like how as the story goes on both seem to veer more toward Howl's story and away from Sophie's. I guess they're both supposed to be the main characters, but I think the story isn't set up in way to make that effective. One over the other would've been much more interesting to me.

So I just don't know. As I was reading the book I couldn't help but to miss all the parts I loved about the movie, and then I watched the movie afterwards and then I found myself missing some parts of the book. All in all I like the movie better, because I don't feel that Jones' writing was up to the challenge of producing the kind of imagery her story was capable of (as Miyazaki was able to demonstrate). For example, in the movie the castle moves by walking on mechanical legs, but in the book it just floats about.

But all in all, they're both a lot of fun.

        “It got cold on the stone as the sun went down. An unpleasant wind blew whichever way Sophie turned to avoid it. Now it no longer seemed so unimportant that she would be out on the hills during the night. She found herself thinking more and more of a comfortable chair and a fireside, and also of darkness and wild animals. But if she went back to Market Chipping, it would be the middle of the night before she got there. She might just as well go on. She sighed and stood up, creaking. It was awful. She ached all over.

        "I never realized before what old people had to put up with!" she panted as she labored uphill.

        "Still, I don't think wolves will eat me. I must be far too dry and tough. That's one comfort."

        Night was coming down fast now and the heathery uplands were blue-gray. The wind was sharper. Sophie's panting and creaking of her limbs were so loud in her ears that it took her a while to notice that some of the grinding and puffing was not completely from herself at all. She looked up blurrily.

        Wizard Howl's castle was rumbling and bumping toward her across the moorland. Black smoke was blowing up in clouds from behind its black battlements. It looked tall and thin and heavy and ugly and very sinister indeed. Sophie leaned on her stick and watched it. She was not particularly frightened. She wondered how it moved. But the main thing in her mind was that all that smoke must mean a large fireside somewhere inside those tall black walls.

        "Well, why not?" she said to her stick. "Wizard Howl is not likely to want my soul for his collection. He only takes young girls."”

Bill Moyers Journal:
The Conversation Continues
by. Bill Moyers

A collection of interviews from Bill Moyers' television show Bill Moyers Journal.

Collections are always the hardest to write about. By their very nature they are composed of different pieces, which makes it hard to judge the piece as a single tome. Overall I found this book fascinating. It covered all sorts of different topics with all sorts of interesting experts. The book really serves to give you a wider perspective on a lot of issues. Sure there were a couple interviews here and there and I didn't really care for (basically all the writers and poets), but they weren't even close to being numerous enough to have to bring down the others.

What more can I say? It's a collection of interviews from a PBS show. Either its up your alley or it's not. Here's a quote is from Bill's interview with David Simon, a former journalist and the creator of the hit show The Wire.

        Is is because we are tethered to the facts, we can't go where the imagination can take us?

        One of the themes of The Wire really was that statistics will always lie. Statistics can be made to say anything. You show me anything that depicts institutional progress in America: school test scores, crime stats, arrest reports, anything that a politician can run on, anything that somebody can get a promotion on, and as soon as you invent that statistical category, fifty people in that institution will be at work to figure out a way to make it look as if progress is actually occurring when actually no progress is. I mean, our entire economic structure fell behind the idea that these mortgage-backed securities were actually really valuable, and they had absolutely no value. They were toxic. And yet they were being traded and being hurled about, because somebody could make some short-term profit. In the same way that a police commissioner or a deputy commissioner can get promoted, and a major can become a colonel, and an assistant school superintendent can become a school superintendent, if they make it look like the kids are learning and that they're solving crime. That was a front-row seat for me as a reporter, getting to figure out how once they got done with them the crime stats actually didn't represent anything.

        And you say statistics are driving the war on drugs, though.

Stats, you know, dope on the table. 'We've made so many arrests.' I mean, under one administration they used to ride around Baltimore and say, 'If we can make fifty-four arrests a day, we'll have an all-time record for drug arrests.' Some of the arrests, it was people sitting on their stoops and, you know, loitering in a drug-free zone, meaning you were sitting on your own steps on a summer day. Anything that is a stat can be cheated, right down to journalism. And I was sort of party to that.

        So I would be watching what the police department was doing, what the school system was doing, you know, looking outward. But if you looked inward you'd see the the same game is played everywhere, that nobody's actually in the business of doing what the institution's supposed to do.”

Storm Front
by. Jim Butcher

A freelance wizard is getting framed for murders he didn't commit and has to figure out who's behind it before he has to take the blame...permanently.

This book wasn't my favorite. Basically it was because of 3 things:

  1. I never really felt much sympathy for the main character. He kind of seemed like a slightly incompetent douche. And not a lovable Joe-Morelli type of douche either. The guy struts around and acts all tough and yet he can't even mix his own potions without getting help. Also he gets beat up a lot and I can't say I blame anyone for doing it.

  2. The threats never seemed all that threatening. I was never even a touch concerned for his well being. And it wasn't so much that I didn't care if he lived or died, it was more that nothing evoked a real sense of danger. The main villain seemed more like a big dweeb than a serious threat, and the magic council out to blame him seemed to be fairly inept. Sure the council and the dweeb are powerful, but powerful doesn't equate scary.

  3. It seemed like a combination of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Monster, and John Dies at the End. Except that Dirk Gently was more interesting and likeable, Monster was funnier, and John had more interesting villains...and it was funnier.

I did, however, quite enjoy how all the magic seemed to be very grounded. The magic had rules that governed it which made it more interesting than most stories that just go with "It's magic! It can do anything!" and don't bother having any limitations on it. Also I loved the idea that wizards are powerful because they're smart and are good at planning ahead. It was the little things like that that I ended up really enjoying. The plot as a whole didn't interest me, but there were certainly some great parts and clever ideas that made reading it worth it.

Overall I think I'm casting it in a worse light than it actually was. I think my expectations were just a little too high. To provide the counterpoint to my complaints, I will leave this review in the hands of a fan. My friend Maddie was the one who recommended the book and the series is one of her favorites. So here's her thoughts, not on the first book, but on the series as a whole:

        “"What's it doing? Is this the superspeed one, or the teleportation version?"

        Bob coughed. "A little of both, actually. Drink it, and you'll be the wind for a few minutes."

        "The wind?" I eyed him. "I haven't heard of that one before, Bob."

        "I am an air spirit after all." Bob told me. "This'll work fine. Trust me."

        I grumbled, and set the first potion to simmering, then started on the next one. I hesitated, after Bob told me the first ingredient.

        "Tequila?" I asked him, skeptically. "Are you sure on that one? I thought the base for a love potion was supposed to be champagne."

        "Champagne, tequila, what's the difference, so long as it'll lower her inhibitions?" Bob said.

        "Uh, I'm thinking it's going to get us a, um, sleazier result."

        "Hey!" Bob protested, "Who's the memory spirit here! Me or you?"


        "Who's got all the experience with women here? Me or you?"


        "Harry," Bob lectured me, "I was seducing shepherdesses when you weren't even a twinkle in your great-grandcestor's eyes. I think I know what I'm doing."

        I sighed, too tired to argue with him. "Okay, okay. Sheesh. Tequila." I got down the bottle, measured eight ounces into the beaker, and glanced up at the skull.

        "Right. Now, three ounces of dark chocolate."

        "Chocolate?" I demanded.

        "Chicks are into chocolate, Harry."”

by. Christopher Moore

A comedic and raunchy retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear from the point of view of the fool.

        “Ah, Goneril, Goneril, Goneril—like a distant love chant is her name. Not that it doesn't summon memories of burning urination and putrid discharge, but what romance worth the memory is devoid of the bittersweet?”

I wish more people would do comedic versions of Shakespeare's stories because I've never really cared for Shakespeare's work. There's a website that makes the claim, "If everything is terrible than nothing is." I would say the reverse is also true, "If everything is wonderful than nothing is."

In Shakespeare every line is some eloquent display of wordy prowess, and the result is that it doesn't scan. I grew up with comic books and in a comic your goal is to never have medium interrupt the story. It's the same thing with a good font. You want your form to enhance and frame your work, but you don't want it to interrupt and take away from that work. Thus, when you have to deconstruct every single line of a play you can't appreciate them all and inevitably aren't being fully immersed in the story because you're thinking about the wordplay too much.

But I've digressed. My point is that a modern comedic telling of Shakespeare reformats into a medium that I can happily consume. You don't even need to be familiar with the story of King Lear to appreciate this book. It's well written and the jokes are funny enough to keep you interested. Although, from what I hear, it will add an extra level of humor if you are familiar with the original.

        “Lear sat on his horse outside Castle Albany, howling at the sky like a complete lunatic.

        'May Nature's nymphs bring great lobster-sized vermin to infest the rotted nest of her woman bits, and may serpents fix their fangs in her nipples and wave there until her poisoned dugs go black and drop to the ground like overripe figs!'

        I looked at Kent. 'Built up a spot of steam, hasn't he?' said I.

        'May Thor hammer at her bowels and produce flaming flatulence that wilts the forest and launches her off the battlements into a reeking dung heap!'

        'Not really adhering to any particular pantheon, is he?' said Kent.

        'Oh, Poseidon, send your one-eyed son to stare into her bituminous heart and ignite it with flames of most hideous suffering.'

        'You know,' said I, 'the king seems to be leaning rather heavily on curses, for someone with his unsavory history with witches.'

        'Aye,' said Kent. 'Seems to have steered his wrath toward the eldest daughter, if I'm not mistaken.'

        'Oh, you don't say?' said I. 'Sure, sure, that could be it, I suppose."”

That Is All
by. John Hodgman

The third part of the Hodgman's almanacs of COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE, and a helpful guide to the end of the world.

        “I appreciate that there are defenders of school sports—football especially—who point out that athletics is not merely a fun, concussive way to make our children fight like gladiators for our amusement. It also teaches young people valuable lessons such as DISCIPLINE, TEAM-WORK, and HOW TO LIVE WITHIN A BRUTAL CASTE SYSTEM THAT YOU WILL NEVER ESCAPE. But if that's the case, why not just have all the children play IN A SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA?”

Few books make me laugh as much as these Hodgman ones. First was Areas of My Expertise, then came More Information Than You Require. Each one hilarious in its own way. The only thing is that the series is so bizarre, it's hard to get across what it really is. In fact, it's bizarre enough that I wouldn't begrudge someone for not finding it to their tastes. But basically this particular one is designed to include all the knowledge you might need when the world inevitably ends in 2012. It is clever and hilarious and I love it. I'll stop trying to describe it and just leave you with another quote.

If you like garlic coffee and garlic fruit leather and guys with beards playing Dobro guitars, this festival is for you.

        And here's an insider's tip. If you go to the Dartburgh Garlic Festival, stay at the Howard Johnson's. It's not advertised, but this is where the Hudson Valley Swingers Association meets. You can tell because of the angry man with the chain on his wallet yelling at the receptionist that he shouldn't have to show ID is he's paying in cash while his lady companion, an intensely skinny girl of mysterious age with dry yellow hair, stares vacantly at the rain streaming down the window!

        At night, if you are a swinger or just swing-curious, you can go to Function Room C, where they will have set up some tables, a cheese play from 7-Eleven, and a boom box playing sexy music. Celebrate your life free from the chains of artificial monogamy by meeting a new friend and bringing them back to your room for an intimate encounter while looking at the parking lot.

        Or, if you are not a swinger, you can just hang out in your room, staring at the ceiling in terror.


        They also have a continental buffet, which I advise you NOT TO TOUCH."”

Food Rules:
An Eater's Manual
by. Michael Pollan

A list of simple rules to help you eat better.

I don't often go in for health books. Despite their good intention they often leave me confused and afraid. Besides, if I was to listen to every health claim out there I wouldn't be able to eat anything. I would be stuck paying out-the-nose amounts of money for top-of-the line organic,vegetarian, no preservative, non-genetically modified, gluten free, fair trade, free range soy paste. I don't care what anyone says, that many adjectives just can't be good for you. While I do believe that a lot of things out there are bad for you, I don't believe all the health-nut fear-mongers who act like eating anything will immediately give you cancer and kill you.

That's why I liked this book. It's short and it's rules for eating are simple and easy to follow. It doesn't tell you to abandon everything you know about food, it doesn't tell you to completely change your lifestyle and dinner menu, and it doesn't try to preach to you. It just offers some easy suggestions on little things you can do to eat healthier. It's easy to read, easy to absorb, and contains some great tips. I'll leave you with a quote from the introduction and a few examples of the food rules.

        “As a journalist I fully appreciate the value of widespread public confusion: We're in the explanation business, and if the answers to the questions we explore got too simple, we'd be out of work. Indeed, I had a deeply unsettling moment when, after spending a couple of years researching nutrition for my last book, In Defense of Food, I realized that the answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated question of what we should eat wasn't so complicated after all, and in fact could be boiled down to just seven words:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

                “13. Eat only foods that will eventually rot.

                14. Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture
                        in their raw state or growing in nature.

                20. It's not food if it arrived through the window of your

                35. Eat sweet foods as you find them in nature. "In nature,
                        sugars almost always come packaged with fiber,
                        which slows their absorption and gives you a sense of
                        satiety before you've ingested too many calories.
                        That's why you're better off eating the fruit rather
                        than drinking its juice."

                39. Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it

                47. Eat when you're hungry, not when you are bored.

                51. Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to
                        prepare it.

                59. Try not to eat alone.”

59.* 60. 62.
One For the Money
Two For the Dough
Three to get Deadly
by. Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum is out of work and willing to try anything, so why not a bounty hunter? Well, for starters there's her complete lack of experience, her fear of guns, her crappy car, and her uncanny ability for getting into trouble. But then again...the pay isn't bad.

The first time I read One For the Money was in Japan. It was one of the few books the school's library had in English and I remembered that it was one of my sister's favorites. I wasn't expecting much, but it actually is a lot of fun. My aunt describes books like this potato chip books. They aren't some hearty meal of literature, they're just fun, easy-to-read, and hard to put down. That's a pretty apt description for the series.

Snobs tend to dismiss books like these for their lack of depth, but I think that's just being elitist. It seems to assume that writing a book that'll keep you enthralled and entertained as blow through the book in a single sitting is an easy thing. The characters are great and you really end up caring what happens to them, which engages you into the plot. There really aren't many books out there that can really make me afraid for what was going to happen to a character and these ones are able to do that. Heck, I even feel nervous when some crook threatens her hamster. You'll laugh, you'll feel suspense, it's just a lot of fun. In the end the mystery doesn't really matter, the fun is in watching Stephanie try and handle it all, not for Justice (like so many heroes), but for the cash...and maybe for the prestige of being able to put "Fugitive Apprehension Agent" on your business cards.

        “I locked the Nova, hung my big black bag over my shoulder, and set out. I'd put the fiasco with Mrs. Morelli behind me, and felt pretty damn slick in my suit and heels, toting my bounty hunter hardware. Embarrassing as it was to admit, I was beginning to enjoy the role, thinking there was nothing like packing a pair of cuffs to put the spring into a women's step.

        The gym sat in the middle of its block, over A & K Auto Body. The bay doors to the auto body were open, and catcalls and kissy sounds drifted out to me when I crossed the cement apron. My New Jersey heritage weighed heavy, demanding I respond with a few demeaning comments of my own, but discretion being the better part of valor, I kept my mouth shut and hurried on by.

        Across the street, a shadowy figure pulled back from a filthy third-floor window, the movement catching my attention. Someone had been watching me. Not surprising. I'd roared down the street not once, but twice. My muffler had fallen off first thing this morning, and my engine noise had rumbled off the Stark Street brick storefronts. This wasn't what you'd call an undercover operation.”

China Miéville

On the edge of the known universe sits an alien planet whose inhabitants speak a language that's truly unique. Unlike every other language based in reality and thus has no lies. In the planet's human outpost of Embassytown, Avice Benner Cho has become a part of that language: a living simile. When a strange new ambassador comes to power it disrupts the balance between the humans and the natives and forces Avice into a position where she must set things right.

China Miéville is one of my favorite authors. There are multiple reasons for that, but one of the big ones is that he is able to construct worlds that are vastly different from anything you could have imagined. So often Fantasy stories are all the same. They all just take the same stereo-typical Tolkien worlds of Elves and Dwarves and just insert their story into it. Like buying a premade pie crust and only making the filling.

Miéville, however, always takes the harder road, makes everything from scratch, and it makes all the difference. Take for example the aliens in this story: the Ariekei. These are not your typical Star Trek standards of humans with funny ears. The Ariekei walk on four spider-like legs, have 2 coral-like "wings" (one in front and one in back), and have two mouths. Because their language requires both mouths to speak at once, normal humans are unable to speak it. Couldn't two humans speak it then? Nope, because not only do the words have to be in sync, but the minds behind those the words have to be as well.

How about another typical sci-fi feature: the fact most planets just happen to have a breathable atmosphere? Well, in this book the planet's atmosphere is toxic to humans. Because of this Embassytown has to live within the confines of an atmosphere created by a giant genetic structure called an aeoli that generates their oxygen for them.

And that's what's great about Miéville books: they're different. They're different, they're creative, and those elements make them fascinating. Not only that, but it also makes it hard to pin down what's going to happen next.

But is the book for everyone? Probably not. For one thing, Miéville uses a lot of words that you don't see very often...or ever. I love his vocabulary and word choice, but not everyone likes to have to have a dictionary on-hand. Especially in a sci-fi book where some of the words are for things that don't exist and thus are made up, but you don't know that for sure until you try to look it up. I also can't blame someone if the idea of a story centering around alien linguistics doesn't float their boat. But I thought it was great.

        “Yohn was the second-best southgoer in our group. He couldn't compete with Simmon, the best of all, but Yohn could write his name on the picket fence several slats farther than I. Over some weeks I'd strained to hold my breath longer and longer, and my marks had been creeping closer to his. So he must have been secretly practicing. He'd run too far from the breath of the aeoli. I could imagine him gasping, letting his mouth open and sucking in air with the sour bite of the interzone, trying to go back but stumbling with the toxins, the lack of clean oxygen. He might have been down, unconcious, breathing that nasty stey for minutes.

        'They brought him to me,' the man said again. I made a tiny noise as I suddenly noticed that, half-hidden by a huge ficus, something was moving. I don't know how I'd failed to see it.

        I was a Host. It stepped to the centre of the carpet. I stood immediately, out of the respect I'd been taught and my child's fear. The Host came forward with its swaying grace, in complicated articulation. It looked at me, I think: I think the constellation of forking skin that was it lustreless eyes regarded me. It extended and reclenched a limb. I thought it was reaching for me.

        'It's waiting to see the boy's taken,' the man said. 'If he gets better it'll be because of our Host here. You should say thank you.'

        I did so and the man smiled. He squatted beside me, put his hand on my shoulder. Together we looked up at the strangely moving presence. 'Little eggs,' he said kindly. 'You know it can't hear you? Or, well...that it hears you but only as noise? But you're a good girl, polite.' He gave me some inadequately sweet adult confection from a mantelpiece bowl. I crooned over Yohn, and not only because I was told to. I was scared. My poor friend's skin didn't feel like ksin, and his movements were troubling. The Host bobbled on its legs. As its feet shuffled a dog-sized prescence, its companion. The man looked up into what must be the Host's face. Staring at it, he might have looked regretful, or I might be saying that because of things I later knew.

        The Host spoke.

        Of course I'd seen its like many times. Some lived in the interstice where we dared ourselves to play. We sometimes found ourselves facing them, as they walked with crablike precision on whatever their tasks were, or even ran, with a gait that made them look as if they must fall, though they did not. We say them tending the flesh walls of their nests, or what we thought of as their pets, those whispering companion animal things. We would quieten abruptly down in their presence and move away from them. We mimicked the careful politeness our shiftparents showed them. Our discomfort, like that of the adults we learned it from, outweighed any curiosity at the strange actions we might see the Hosts performing.

        We would hear them speak to each other in their precise tones, so almost like our voices. Later in our lives a few of us might understand some of what they said, but not yet, and never really me.

        I'd never been so close to one of the Hosts. My fear for Yohn distracted me from all I'd otherwise feel from this proximity to the thing, but I kept it in my sight, so it could not surprise me, so when it rocked closer to me I shied away abruptly and broke off whispering to my friend.”

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book List 2011: Part 5's been awhile since I've bothered to do another edition of my booklist. The books just keep stacking up so I'd better start mentioning them before I forget them all.

* = reread

John Dies at the End
by. David Wong

[I've come to the decision that when a reread a book that I've already talked about in a booklist, I'll make an attempt to get someone else's opinion on it for you. Anyways, I read this book last year. And since I also lent this book to my friend Max this year, I got him to write a little review for you.]

A John Dies at the End Review
by. Max Rewitzer

       “If there’s anything I enjoy more in a work of fiction than a page-turning plot; it’s a work of fiction that’s also filled with bouts of black humor, absurd situations, and hilarious dialogue. Throw in a recurring joke about bratwurst and you have the recipe for an instant favorite. John Dies at the End, written by Jason Pargin, under the pseudonym David Wong (of notoriety), is exactly that sort of story.

       It’s hard to convey in a review why I liked this book; there are so many good things going for it. But one of the most enjoyable aspects is the characters. In most popular fiction you’re lucky if you find at least some of the characters relatable, but in the case of John Dies at the End, they all are.

       The main character, David Wong, is a twenty-something with a jaded attitude who works a dead end job at a video rental store. He’s bored with his life and ends up killing time with his best friend, the titular John (who may or may not die at the end of the story…you’ll have to read it to find out!). David and John are written with honesty, their dialogue is believable (not to mention unbelievably hilarious), and they’re instantly likeable. Just two normal guys who get lost in the plot of a supernatural-horror-comedy-action-sci-fi thriller and react the way you’d expect people grounded in reality to react.

       John Dies at the End suffers from no slow points, as far as I found. Pargin keeps the pace fast and throws as many twists and turns to the plot as he can. Many of the situations the characters find themselves in will leave you simultaneously busting a gut from hilarity and on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what happens next.

       Overall, John Dies at the End is a fantastic read that panders to nobody and doesn’t hold anything back. It’s a book that you can lose yourself in and not notice the passing of time. And it’s a definite must for any fan of the horror/comedy genre and any fan of good fiction.

       Highlights to look forward to:
  • Camel Holocaust
  • The puns, oh man, the puns are hilarious
  • Any scene with bratwurst
  • The twists and turns near the ending
  • Elton John”

       And watch out for Molly. See if she does anything unusual. There’s something I don’t trust about the way she exploded and then came back from the dead like that.”

[P.S. A movie adaptation is coming out and judging from the trailer it's gonna be amazing.]

The Lock Artist
by. Steve Hamilton

A boy discovers he has a talent for picking locks. Unfortunately for him other people discover this as well. Before he knows what's happening his life becomes wrapped up into a world of crime and can't get out without putting the people he cares about at risk.

I read this book on a whim because Joey Comeau mentioned it in a tweet. Usually I don't have the best luck when I try out books just because someone mentioned them. However, this one caught my attention right of the bat. It's got a little something for everyone: an interesting main character, the criminal intrigue, the mystery of the boy's tragic past, and there's even a bit of a love story.

But there were two things that especially got my attention:

1. The main character doesn't talk. He doesn't say a single word throughout the entire story. He serves as the narrator so you can tell what he's thinking, but he doesn't actually speak to anyone. I don't think I've ever read a book where the main character has conversations without ever saying anything. It really made the whole thing rather fascinating to read.

2. I really like all the detailed stuff about picking locks.

       I took out one of the tension bars. Not the smallest, not the biggest. I slid it into the bottom of the keyhole. I put one finger on the right side and pushed it ever so slightly. Then I took the hook pick and felt along the line of tumblers. I had already done this lock before, of course, so I knew exactly where to go. It was a very basic setup, six pins, one tight combination in the back but otherwise nothing too tricky. It had taken me all of three minutes with a screwdriver and a bent safety pin. With these perfect tools—hell, it wouldn't even take me more than thirty seconds.


        I popped the back pin, worked my way carefully past the fifth. With the good tension bar, it was much easier to keep the last pin engaged. I felt that satisfying little click with each pin as I made my way to the front. I could feel that I had it halfway done. With the mushroom pins, I knew I had to go back and do them all one more time. There were just the tiniest slivers of metal standing in my way now. Six notches on six little pins, and then the whole thing would turn free.

       The two men were quiet now. I worked my way through the pins again, back to front. I was about to pop that last pin when something made me stop.

       Think about this, I thought to myself. Do you really want to prove to these guys that you can break into this house whenever you feel like it? Into any house? Is that the kind of thing you want everybody to know?

       "Is that it?" Mr. Marsh said. "Are you giving up already?"

       "Playtime's over," the locksmith said. A sneer on his face. "Remember this the next time you feel like shooting off your mouth."

       Not the right thing to say to me, I thought. I looked the locksmith in the eye as I tapped up the last pin. I turned the knob, opened the door, and gave him back his tools.

       Then I put my gloves on and went into the backyard to start digging.

Write More Good
by. The Bureau Chiefs

A guide to writing from the people that brought you the Fake AP Stylebook.

I really don't know what else to say. It's a fake guide to journalistic writing on various subjects: Media, Sports, Technology, etc. More importantly it is often amazingly clever. In fact, it has some parts that are so hilarious you really don't laugh out loud because you're in shock at how clever the joke was. Additionally they seem to know their subject matter extremely well. If you're a journalist then you'll probably enjoy it on a completely different level than anyone else reading it. But even if you're not and you just like the stuff from their Twitter feed then you'll probably like this as well. If nothing else you should find a copy just to look at the glossaries at the end of each chapter, because they are absolutely priceless.

loose ball - The male equivalent of a nip slip.

March Madness - A term used to describe the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Avoid using, as the term is offensive to those who suffer from the real 'March madness,' described in the DCM-IV as 'a persistent and overwhelming obsession with the music of John Philip Sousa.'

NBA finals - The tests that all NBA players must cram for the night before or pay the team doctor to take for them.

offensive pass interference - Pass interference that simply goes too far. I SAID GOOD DAY, SIR!

The Sisters Brothers
by. Patrick deWitt

In the wild west, a pair of bandit brothers set out to collect a bounty, but the trip turns out to be more than they bargained for when setback after unusual setback befoul their trip.

I always seem to come across books that I have mixed feelings about and I'm never sure how to describe them. I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of it, but it lost a lot of steam at the end. So how do you describe something like that? Despite a bit of a lackluster ending, the beginning and middle are a lot of fun. The bizarre situations the characters kept getting themselves into and the people they come across were pretty great.

So yeah, if it sounds up your alley give it a try, and just know that if it starts getting boring near the end, then it's perfectly okay to stop there, because you won't be missing much.

       Staring out at the steam rising in the field, I felt a gladness at having survived the recent series of happenings: The spider, the bloated head, the curse averted. I filled my lungs with all the cold air they could hold. "Tub!" I shouted into the wilderness. "I am stuck inside the cabin of the vile gypsy-witch!" He raised his head, his jaw working on a mouthful of crunchy grass. "Tub! Assist me in my time of need!"

The Hunger Games
by. Suzanne Collins

To save her sister a girl must compete in a battle to the death. And it seems that surviving is just one of the challenges she'll have to deal with.

Let me just say this up front: I really loved a fair amount of this book. And by a fair amount I mean approximately 3/4ths of it. It had me hook line and sinker.

That being said, it somehow managed to completely destroy that hold in the last 1/4. I Just wow. I said something similar about The Sister Brothers, but let me clarify: The Sister Brothers' ending was just a little disappointing because it seemed to lack the purpose and charm the rest of the book had. The Hunger Games, however, trashed the entire story. I mean lazy writing and bizarre choices were flying everywhere.

I could rant about it for a long time (and I have done so to some poor friends of mine who couldn't care less). So I won't inflict that on you. Especially since to properly rant about it I'd need to spoil the entire ending, because that's where the main problems lie. Let's just leave it at this: unlike Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins can actually write well. However, there are certain things she doesn't know how to write and she uses rather clumsy and lazy methods to try and cover it up. You can build a good plot with some lazy pieces, but you need to have the proper keystone to lock it all together. And I just feel this book lacks that keystone element and so the plot just ends up collapsing at the end.

        “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

       I prop myself up on one elbow. There's enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother's body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Prim's face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose for which she was named. My mother was very beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.

       Sitting at Prim's knees, guarding her, is the world's ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin and he's a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.

       Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.

The Most Human Human:
What Talking With Computers Teaches Us About What It Means To Be Alive
by. Brian Christian

A man decides to try and be the most convincing human at the Loebner competition, but to do that he's first got to learn what exactly it is to act like a human.

I should probably explain a couple things right off the bat, otherwise this book just won't make sense to some of you. The Loebner competition is a well known Artificial Intelligence competition. More specifically a competition where people pit their AI programs against one another by means of Turing test. You see a Turing test is a type of test designed to see if humans can tell whether they are talking to a real person or with a computer. Contestants instant message with a group of humans and computers, then try to guess which ones were people and which ones were computers.

Now that that is out of the way, this book was fascinating. Brian Christian lands the role of one of the humans in the Loebner competition and sets out to train to be the most convincing human he can be and win the competition's "Most Human Human" award. So he starts training to be the best human he can be. While doing so he starts to uncover some fascinating ideas about what being human really means and what it'd mean if a machine beat us at it.

My one criticism is that the writer often doesn't seem to realize what writing for a layman means, as he occasionally seems rather condescending in what he chooses to explain, and other times doesn't explain complex and esoteric parts at all. Despite those times, however, it really was one of the most interesting science books I read this year.

If, or when, a computer wins the gold (solid gold, remember) Loebner Prize medal, the Loebner Prize will be discontinued forever. When Garry Kasparov defeated Deep Blue, rather convincingly, in their first encounter in '96, he and IBM readily agreed to return the next year for a rematch. When Deep Blue beat Kasparov (rather less convincingly, I might add) in '97, Kasparov proposed another rematch for '98, but IBM would have none of it. They immediately unplugged Deep Blue, dismantled it, and boxed up the logs they'd promised to make public. Do you get the unsettling image, as I do, of the heavy-weight challenger who, himself, rings the round-ending bell?

       The implication seems to be that—because technological evolution seems to occur so much faster than biological evolution, years to millenia—once Homo sapiens is overtaken, it won't be able to catch up. Simply put, the Turing test, once passed, is passed forever. Frankly, I don't buy it.

       IBM's odd anxiousness to basically get out of Dodge after the '97 match suggests a kind of insecurity on their part that I think is very much to the point. The fact is, the human race got to rule the earth—okay, technically, bacteria rule the earth, if you look at biomass, and population, and habitat diversity, but we'll humor ourselves—the fact is, the human race got to where it is by being the most adaptive, flexible, innovative, and quick-learning species on the planet. We're not going to take defeat lying down.

       No, I think that, while certainly the first year that computers pass the Turing test will be a historic, epochal one, it does not mark the end of the story. No, I think, indeed, that the next year's Turing test will truly be the one to watch—the one where we humans, knocked to the proverbial canvas, must pull ourselves up; the one where we learn how to be better friends, artists, teachers, parents, lovers; the one where we come back. More human than ever. I want to be there for that.

Forty Tales From the Afterlife
by. David Eagleman

A collection of possible versions of what comes after we die.

I got this book from the library on a whim after putting myself on the waitlist for a different book he had written. I really don't know how to describe it, but it's one of those books you just keep thinking back to long after you've read it. The different versions of the afterlife he comes up with are all intriguing and beautiful in their own ways. You find yourself to be uplifted in a very odd way after reading them. They're all rather short so it's a very easy book to pick up and read a section from.


       When soldiers part ways at war's end, the breakup of the platoon triggers the same emotion as the death of a person—it is the final bloodless death of the war. This same mood haunts actors on the drop of the final curtain: after months of working together, something greater than themselves has just died. After a store closes its doors on its final evening, or a congress wraps its final session, the participants amble away, feeling that they were part of something larger than themselves, something they intuit had a life even though they can't quite put a finger on it.

       In this way, death is not only for humans but for everything that existed.

       And it turns out that anything which enjoys life enjoys an afterlife. Platoons and plays and stores and congresses do not end—they simply move on to a different dimension. They are thing that were created and existed for a time, and therefore by the cosmic rules they continue to exist in a different realm.

       Although it is difficult for us to imagine how these beings interact, they enjoy a delicious afterlife together, exchanging stories of their adventures. They laugh about good times and often, just like humans, lament the brevity of life. They people who constituted them are not included in their stories. In truth, they have as little understanding of you as you have of them; they generally have no idea you existed.

       It may seem mysterious to you that these organizations can live on without the people who composed them. But the underlying principle it simple: the afterlife is made of spirits. After all, you do not bring your kidney and liver and heart to the afterlife with you—instead, you gain independence from the pieces that make you up.

       A consequence of this cosmic scheme may surprise you: when you die, you are grieved by all the atoms of which you were composed. They hung together for years, whether in sheets of skin or communities of spleen. With your death they do not die. Instead, they part ways, moving off in their separate directions, mourning the loss of a special time they shared together, haunted by the feeling that they were once playing parts in something larger than themselves, something that had its own life, something they can hardly put a finger on.

48. 49. 53.
Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War
Abarat: Absolute Midnight
by. Clive Barker

Candy Quackenbush comes from the most boring town in the world, until the day she finds an ocean in the Midwestern prairies and travels to a world where there is an island for every hour of the day.

The Abarat series is one of my absolute favorites. Most people know Clive Barker for his horror writing, but it is his Children's books that I love. The best kids' stories are the ones that have those elements of real darkness and his mastery over that is what really separates his books from other authors. His tale of the Abarat is overflowing with imagination. It spills over the pages, both figuratively and literally as he creates hundreds of color paintings that inhabit the pages of the books.

At first glance it would be easy to dismiss it as just another Wizard of Oz/Chronicles of Narnia type of story, however, I would argue that it is quite different. Its scope is much grander and its approach much less traditional. Just when you assume that you've got the story figured out and the plot predicted, the story will twist out of your grasp and into an uncharted territory you hadn't seen coming.

       The storm came up out of the southwest like a fiend, stalking its prey on legs of lightning.

        The wind it brought with it was as foul as the devil's own breath and it stirred up the peaceful waters of the sea. By the time the little red boat that the three women had chosen for their perilous voyage had emerged from the shelter of the islands, and was out in the open waters, the waves were as steep as cliffs, twenty-five, thirty feet tall.

        "Somebody sent this storm," said Joephi, who was doing her best to steer the boat, which was called The Lyre. The sail shook like a leaf in a tempest, swinging back and forth wildly, nearly impossible to hold down. "I swear, Diamanda, this is no natural storm!"

        Diamanda, the oldest of the three women, sat in the center of the tiny vessel with her dark blue robes gathered around her and their precious cargo pressed to her bosom.

        "Let's not get hysterical," she told Joephi and Mespa. She wiped a long piece of white hair out of her eyes. "Nobody saw us leave the Palace of Bowers. We escaped unseen, I'm certain of it."

        "So, why this storm?" said Mespa, who was a black woman, renowned for her resilience, but who now looked close to being washed away by the rain beating down on the women's heads.

        "Why are you so surprised that the heavens would complain?" Diamanda said. "Didn't we know the world would be turned upside down by what just happened?"

        Joephi fought with the sail, cursing it.

        "Indeed, isn't this the way it should be?" Diamanda went on. "Isn't it right that the sky is torn to tatters and the sea put in a frenzy? Would you prefer it if the world did not care?"

        "No, no of course not," said Mespa, holding on to the edge of the pitching boat, her face as white as her close-cropped hair was black. "I just wish we weren't out in the middle of it all."

        "Well, we are!" said the old woman. ...

Catching Fire
by. Suzanne Collins

Katniss Evergreen must compete in the Hunger Games again. But this time? It's personal.

Like I said earlier, I really like 3/4ths of The Hunger Games. I liked that 3/4ths enough to gamble on the fact that she was capable of writing something interesting. However, this book isn't like that 3/4ths. It is like the last crappy bit. Except longer. And quite possibly dumber. As you might guess I have not read the third book and chances are very good that I just won't bother.

       Last year, the supplies were spread out quite a distance around the Cornucopia, with the most valuable closest to the horn. But this year, the booty seems to be piled at the twenty-foot-high mouth. My eyes instantly home in on a golden bow just in arm's reach and I yank it free.

       There's someone behind me. I'm alerted by, I don't know, a soft shift of sand or maybe just a change in the air currents. I pull an arrow from the sheath that's still wedged in the piled and arm my bow as I turn.

       Finnick, glistening and gorgeous, stands a few yards away, with a trident poised to attack. A net dangles from his other hand. He's smiling a little, but the muscles in his upper body are rigid in anticipation. "You can swim, too," he says. "Where did you learn that in District Twelve?"

       "We have a big bathtub," I answer.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Post-It Greetings: Part 2

Here's another batch of those post-it note greetings I've been doing recently. Perhaps you'll notice that they're occasionally moving further away from actual greetings. You might also notice that I accidentally used the same greeting twice in a row! Just think, if I wasn't here to tell you that that happened by pure chance because I haven't been doing them exactly in order and many of them were done days apart, you'd just think I was incredibly lazy!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Post-It Greetings: Part 1

While messing around on Facebook one day I thought to myself, "Instead of posting a greeting on someone's wall, wouldn't it be funny to write a greeting on a post-it and then post a picture of it?". I decided that the answer was yes. Yes, that would be funny. Or at the very least it would be weird enough to add a touch of confusion to someone's day. And sometimes isn't that close enough?