Archive for the 'Books' Category

Snowed In.

March 8, 2008

It would be easy for me to waste the rest of the evening. We are snowed in. I have not seen this much snow since 1978. Our street is impassable. Our driveway was plowed three times earlier but is now also impassable.

For someone like me who enjoys being indoors, this is not entirely bad. I have spent the day reading or watching TV and of course playing with my computers.

The computer experience has not been entirely positive. One of my file servers went down. I think I’m going to keep it down. It was the first one I built and I don’t really need it any more. I am fairly certain that I identified what was causing problems. It doesn’t seem to be playing nicely with the external drive I attached to it. Additionally, my Linux box is acting up. It won’t open a terminal. Instead, it crashes back to the login screen. Useless!

I have been playing with the Python programming language. Every now and then I get the urge to learn something completely new. This is definitely in that category. The book I have is on version 2.4. It relies on software accessories that do not seem to be compatible with the current version of Python which is 2.5.2. It figures. So I am bumbling through the book trying to figure this out as best I can.

In other computer-related activities, I spent some time looking at laptops online today. I know that I am very much used to having the flexibility of a laptop all the time. Because of the snow, I ended up leaving work early and not going back on Friday. This caused me to leave my laptop at work. It is my work laptop anyway but because I currently do not have a personal laptop it’s the only thing I have for portable computing. I want a new personal laptop. I looked at the Macbook Air and a host of other laptops including Dells and Fujitsus. I definitely think I want something light but useful. The Air is beautiful. I wonder how useful it is, though.

Otherwise, I am enjoying a weekend where I do not have a lot of structured and planned activities. It is rare for me. Strangely, I still have no desire to do any gaming. This is really odd.

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Book Review: Soon I will be Invincible by Austin Grossman.

August 5, 2007

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up Austin Grossman’sSoon I Will Be Invincible.” Would it be a tongue in cheek superhero book? Would it be played straight like a comic book or a graphic novel? There are so many ways to mess something like this up. Anyone who has read fan fiction or books written in an established science fiction universe knows this. What I got was a balance of humor and action that fits in the comic book genre the same way “The Watchmen” does. In fact, while it is not a graphic novel like Watchmen, it might just be better. It is a comic book novel for adults that’s both well written and entertaining.

The narrative is first person from a super villain (“Doctor Impossible”) (who has a lot of Lex Luthor in him) and from a neophyte cyborg-gal (“Fatale”) on the hero team. There is so much back story that is told rather than shown, one imagines that Grossman has built an entire comic book universe in his head. You can also tell that he has studied books. There are many subtle (and perhaps no so subtle) references to English literature. In one minor plot line we hear about a story that sounds an awful lot like “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and we have a main character who is a fairy, formerly in the service of Titania. Lewis and Shakespeare (and Dante later) are good company to keep.

The plot is essentially straightforward, although the allusions and back stories add a lot of intrigue. Doctor Impossible’s purpose in life is to try to take over the world. The book recounts his latest attempt. Mind you, these are not Pinky and the Brain escapades. Doctor I is the 4th most dangerous man in the world! The New Champions are out to stop him.

One of my favorite lines in the book occurs when Doctor Impossible meets up with an informal gathering of other non-heroes. He describes them as: “Losers and geniuses and Olympic-class athletes, with nothing much in common except the preference above all else to reign in his or her personal hell.” Haven’t we all been there?

All of the characters evoke some level of sympathy. The heroes and villains are deliberately close in terms of morality. At least twice, the villains even accidentally save the world. One of the chapter titles illustrates this: “Maybe We Are Not So Different, You and I.” In fact, all of the chapter titles are a send up of expressions associated with the comic book mythos.

I enjoyed this book. I hope Grossman writes a sequel or if not that, another book set in his universe. If you have any geeky tendencies at all or if you read comic books in your youth, you’ll want to pick this up. If you’re a Hollywood producer, given the popularity of comic book movies these days, you’ll want to buy the rights.

Book Review: The Happiness Myth by Jennifer Michael Hecht.

May 5, 2007

I have a fixation on the concept of happiness. When I read about The Happiness Myth: The Historical Antidote to What Isn't Working Today, I immediately bought it and read it. It does not disappoint. Hecht takes an historical approach to happiness. She breaks this down into categories: Wisdom, Drugs, Money, Bodies and Celebration. She discusses each topic as humans have behaved over time in an engaging and through provoking way.

I learned a bit of history on Celebration. It seems that if a people are oppressed in one way, they can develop elaborate and in some ways shocking ways of cutting loose through carnivals and festivals.

It goes too far to say that Hecht advocates drug use. However, the reader gets the feeling that she has no problem with using legal drugs to get through rough spots. She has a great deal of historical backing on this point. Of course there’s also a lot of historical data about how bad drugs can be. The message seems to be: if are not the type of person who gets addicted, don’t feel bad about using legal drugs to get by. She argues this point well, yet there are an awful lot of people who struggle with addiction. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but it is thought provoking.

Hecht writes very well. In fact, this book seems to be classified as a self-help book and this does not do it justice. She is a writer of the caliber of Steven Pinker or Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner The book does discuss self-help and distills that literature down to: “Know yourself. Control your desires. Take what’s yours. Remember death.” Taking these topics in turn, Hecht seems to say that happiness is found in open-minded moderation. She also identifies virtually all areas of human endeavor that can make one happy. Yet she goes beyond this in her clinical discussion of happiness and how humans have tried to find happiness over time.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in happiness as a concept.