May 13, 2013

A Visit from the Goon Squad; Jennifer Egan

"Older people are more resistant to . . ." She seemed to falter.

"Being bought?"

Lulu smiled. "See, that's what we call a disingenuous metaphor," she said. "DMs look like descriptions, but they're really judgments. I mean, is a person who sells oranges being bought? Is the person who repairs appliances selling out?"

"No, because what they do is up front," Alex said, aware that he was condescending. "It's out in the open."

"And, see, those metaphors--'up front' and 'out in the open'--are part of a system we call atavistic purism. AP implies the existence of an ethically perfect state,which not only doesn't exist and never existed, but it's usually used to shore up the prejudices of whoever's making the judgments."

"So," he said. "You think there's nothing inherently wrong with believing in something--or saying you do--for money?"

"'Inherently wrong,'" she said. "Gosh, that's a great example of calcified morality. I have to remember that for my old modern ethics teacher, Mr. Bastie; he collects them. Look," she said, straightening her spine and flicking her rather grave (despite the friendly antics of her face) gray eyes at Alex, "if I believe, I believe. Who are you to judge my reasons?"

"Because if your reasons are cash, that's not belief. It's bullshit."

Lulu grimaced. Another thing about her generation: no one swore. Alex had actually heard teenagers say things like "shucks" and "golly," without apparent irony. "This is something we see a lot," Lulu mused, studying Alex. "Ethical ambivalence--we call it EA--in the face of a strong marketing action."

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posted by sstrader at 9:36 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

November 28, 2012

The Fractal Prince; Hannu Rajaniemi

I'd read Rajaniemi's first book in this series, The Quantum Thief, a little over a year ago and have been anxious for the follow-up. Where the first riffed on themes of presence as identity--common in posthuman lit--this worked through story as identity, modeling it's chapters after those stories in The Arabian Nights. This has the same fire hose of information as the first but with a different character: the primary setting is Earth gone desert and infested by nanotechnology that can both steal your mind (through stories) and subvert your body to destructive growth. Perhaps more moody than the first?

It's an effort not to be irritated by a book that demands multiple readings and earns them.

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posted by sstrader at 12:11 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

November 11, 2012

Three books on atheism

A month ago, I decided to get caught up with My People's sacred texts: Harris' The End of Faith from 2005, Dawkins' The God Delusion from 2008, and Hitchens' God is Not Great from 2009. It was helpful to read them in order as both Dawkins and Hitchens refer to earlier events and writings.

I didn't expect to learn too much, not out of arrogance but more that I swim in those waters so much that I thought I'd already been exposed to most of the ideas. There were, unsurprisingly, surprises. Harris opened with a scathing and convincing denouncement of politeness towards Islam. I dismiss it as just another religion as silly as the next, but he pointed out that religion in western society has been neutered by knowledge. The totalitarian violence that was possible in Medieval Europe is long gone, but there's no doubt that Catholics and many American Protestants would impose their ideas violently if they could. In the Middle East, Islam can. His concerns were echoed by the other writers. Dawkins was a delightful read and he is a very clear writer. It was like being lectured by Mr. Rogers! I was, however, most sympathetic with Hitchens' book, maybe because of his mix of world-wide travel stories, an encompassing understanding of religious and political history, and his barely suppressed anger at the primitivism that persists. Dawkins gets angry at religion as child abuse (indoctrinating them when they can't fight back), but Hitchens is just angry and how they've held back society as a whole.

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August 15, 2012

Three recent books

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace. Had this on my bookshelf for a while, and I'm not sure why I put off reading it. Like The Pale King, there were chapters I wanted to send to others because they were just that well written. And the names. My god, the names: Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman, Candy Mandible, Mindy Metalman, and of course Norman Bombardini (who plans on eating enough to eventually encompass all space in the universe (and who makes a grotesquely noble effort towards that goal)). Every few chapters could be studied as a Bach-like invention in writing styles and challenges, few being, for all the virtuosity, too challenging. Its inventiveness will have you smiling throughout.

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernon Vinge. A year or so ago I'd read and loved his more recent novel Rainbows End, set in a remarkably believable near future. This was set in a future far distant, tens of thousands of years from now. The key conceit--of the many that are truly unique--is that species intelligence and natural laws can change across different zones in the galaxy. Higher level zones allow FTL travel; the highest contain intelligences comparable to gods. The book starts with a short prologue narrating the events--with the right mix of tech and tech-babble--of a high-level intelligence's take-over of an archaeological dig. The outcome, we're told in the first few pages, will destroy several species and last for centuries to come. Needless, there is a grandiosity to the drama.

vN by Madeline Ashbey. In this now (50%) but have no idea why I downloaded it to my Kindle! I must've heard a recommendation somewhere. Probably io9 again, although their last few months of recommendations have been poor. It's a cheap romp around a future where vNs (i.e. John von Neumann), built by an Xtian millenarian cult to look after those "left behind", struggle integrating with society. An unlikely premise but entertaining all the same.

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posted by sstrader at 7:41 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged david foster wallace, io9 | permalink | comments (0)

April 26, 2012

February 21, 2012

Trios

Reddit comment linked to a video of the Crimson Jazz Trio playing "I Talk to the Wind". Not my favorite, but there are two CDs of them recording King Crimson covers in a classic piano/bass/drums jazz trio. Members include original KC drummer Ian Wallace, whose death ended the trio's recordings.

Recommended with the CJ3 recordings on Amazon is a recording by (Tony) Levin, (David) Torn, and (Alan) White of a more hardcore/experimental guitar/bass/drums style. Somewhat reminiscent of Elliott Sharp's recording Datacide. This was a more challenging listen. Octatonic scales and tone clusters and compound meters. Enjoyable and varied.

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posted by sstrader at 9:15 PM in Current Interests , Music | permalink | comments (0)

February 8, 2012

1Q84, Haruki Murakami

Not the most highly praised Murakami, but it appeared on my Amazon wish list and I'm not sure how (but I am sure that it's something I would've put on there after reading about it). 900+ pages, a very dry style, but (at ~400 in during the first week) I'm drawn to its magic realism. Comprised originally of three books when published in Japan, the story hops between two narrators as their discrete lives are revealed to be joined (spoiler! (as if you didn't see it coming)). As clumsy as some descriptions are, others are sublime. And that's part of what keeps me interested.

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January 28, 2012

Four sci-fi novels

Another batch recommended by io9.

Ship Breakers is the first YA novel from Bacigallupi. It's in the same dystopia as Windup Girl and his collection of short stories. It was an engaging read but didn't captivate me intellectually as Windup Girl did (and as, say, the ideas in the YA Uglies books did). Quick, grim, and solid though.

Ready Player One presents another dystopian future with the world's poor finding refuge in a virtual world. The character relationships are at times a little cartoony, but the book is as much a vehicle for 80s pop-culture as for its plot of David v. Goliath. I missed maybe 1/2 the references, but it was still a ripping good yarn.

After the Apocalypse felt like late-era Southern Gothic almost. Moody and directionless and more depressing about the future than the previous two novels because of that directionlessness. The author really handles pacing and descriptions just perfectly. Well done overall. Her first (?) novel, China Mountain Zhang, will probably be on the next stack of books to read.

Embassytown was as virtuosic, both in writing and ideas, as the first Mieville I'd read: The City & The City. He owes much to Lem's alien environments in Eden or Fiasco, and Embassytown shares to some extent Lem's idea that different species may simply be unable to communicate. A fully realized and very distant future.

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posted by sstrader at 3:12 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged io9, ya fiction | permalink | comments (0)

September 28, 2011

Currently reading

Picked up this set while browsing B&N. Pulpy, fun story that deals with a post-nuclear terrorist world and is centered around one of the few untouched cities--London--which is now a megalopolis called The Metrozone. The terrorists who took down the world were non-specific religious armogeddonists. When the US is mentioned it's described as a xenophobic and thinly veiled theocracy, so nothing much has changed. The main character is a Russian physicist/badass whose exploits are far less believable than even pulp should allow. Still, enjoyable enough to keep me through the set.

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September 21, 2011

August 30, 2011

Four sci-fi novels

Continuing my run of reading new sci-fi on the Kindle. Insert some insight about medium and message here. All were pulled, again, from io9 bookclub recommendations and there's been some stunning writing. The first time I've read all of these authors.

The City & The City by China Mieville. Mieville's prose hit me immediately: short, noir sentences mixed with inner dialog that reads like a puzzle. Detective on the case of a dead girl must extend his investigation into the antagonistic sister-city. Dashiell Hammett turns magic realism. Once into it, just pages before the Big Reveal was made I started to suspect it, with well-timed intent of the author. I had at first felt it came too early but then became completely wrapped in the brilliant conceit. Though he couldn't deliver an ending to match the earlier promise, I want to buy this book and loan it out to friends (ah, there's the sad insight about medium--the publisher blocks lending for this publication).

Rainbows End by Vernon Vinge. From the skilled prose of Mieville to the more quotidian of Vinge. Rainbows End (intentional non-possessive) is in the group of novels like Stranger in a Strange Land (haven't read it) where an observer from our time adapts to a strange future. This approach lends itself to the intriguing conversion that happens by the end of the novel: resistance to the change in cultural values eventually becomes understanding and appreciation of those values. The more interesting aspect of the story is the technology: ubiquitous wearable network access includes contacts that repaint the world with virtual presences and instantaneous, pop-up knowledge. Names and biographies are easily accessible; video games are played IRL; non-local communication has lost most of its non-locality. Entertaining.

Rule 34 by Charles Stross. This and the Atwood are the two where I'd heard of the highly praised author yet had never read their work. Title is from rule 34 of the Rules of the Internet: "There is porn of it. No exceptions." and following an SVU-type police department in future-Scotland that investigates grisly, meme-based crimes. Stross's future is more expressively realized than Vinge's more dry telling. One oddly common sub-theme is the potential accidental manifestation of an AI in the global network. Different from Vinge's approach--but the same as one suggested in a Cory Doctorow short story--the AI in Rule 34 may have come from the arms race of spammers creating more and more human-appearing presences to fool people. The novel switches between different characters, and keeps you off-kilter throughout (and long after).

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. End-of-the-world downer-lit. This reminded me of Martin Amis's short story "The Immortals" from his collection Einstein's Monsters. In both, one of the last humans on Earth examines the causes of our extinction. In Oryx and Crake, it is from consumerist genetic engineering. Just the thought of the monstrosity that was created to produce "meat" for Chicken Nubbins (TM) fast food is icky enough. Rule 34 level depravity is rampant and believable and the how-did-we-get-here shock is somewhat Stranger in a Strange Land (haven't read it). Where Vinge provides the formula for optimism--he's a singularity proponent so it comes naturally--Atwood slippery slopes us into something both unfathomably bleak and sadly of human nature. Her creative spinning was well done even though I felt Vinge's vision that life will be different-but-OK holds a more realistic truth. Still, anti-futures aren't meant to be realism but simply warnings, and this was valid.

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posted by sstrader at 7:07 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged io9 | permalink | comments (0)

July 19, 2011

The Quantum Thief; Hannu Rajaniemi

Highly recommended heist/detective novel dressed in post-human scifi garb. Our hero gets busted out of a dilemma prison by a warrior from the Oort cloud in order to retrieve a valuable object that a previous version of him had hidden on one of the walking cities on Mars where people use life time as currency before they are harvested by the Resurrection Men to become Quiets, human/machine hybrids that sustain the city and terraform the planet. Not for the technologically squeamish. This was a completely show-don't-tell novel that, despite the maelstrom of undefined terms, provided thrilling action next to thoughtful drama. Another great recommendation from the io9 book club. Moving on to The City and The City next.

See the Wikipedia entry for more details plus keep their articles on characters and terms used for a reference while reading.

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posted by sstrader at 12:23 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged io9, the windup girl | permalink | comments (0)

June 11, 2011

The Last Western; Thomas S. Klise

I found this book based on a recommendation during the Infinite Summer book club almost two years ago. This is why you should buy books even if you don't plan on reading them immediately: they provide options when your queue's empty. Around 50 pages in. I like the prose style but am suspecting I may have gotten myself into a Jesus allegory. I picked up a hefty used hardback stamped "Newport News Public Library System, West Avenue Branch, West Avenue and 30th Street." I haven't read it during my commute yet, but I already miss my Kindle.

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May 26, 2011

The Three Musketeers; Alexander Dumas

I really enjoyed the two 70s films adapted from this book. They had a sense of fun throughout and yet they didn't seem simply thrown together for laughs. The book has much of the same, silly attitude. I'm around 1/2 through now. The first third contained the first 1973 movie and so far the material for the second 1975 movie has only been hinted at.

This was sitting on my Kindle as part of the Gutenberg cache I'd loaded up in preparation for our Thailand trip. I was re-reminded of it from a reddit thread about book recommendations and someone brought up The Count of Monte Christo specifically and Dumas in general.

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May 13, 2011

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch; Philip K. Dick

Of his books, I'd previously only read, and greatly enjoyed, The Man in the High Castle. Movie adaptations were plenty: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers (only recently), Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly. Yet to watch The Adjustment Bureau. Three Stigmata had a wealth of wonderful ideas that got derailed, at times, with clumsy dialog. It took a few chapters to get used to the dated quality of some of the conversations similar to what I felt with The Demolished Man from 1953, Three Stigmata coming 11 years later. The sheer number of "golly!"s and "nuts to you!" were odd, but the writing for some of the conversations was just bad. Ignoring that, you have to admire the prescience of the subject matter: the population spending the majority of their free time in a virtual world, paying for virtual accessories. PKD lays on top of this the concept of Christian transubstantiation and an Inception-like uncertainty about "real" reality.

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posted by sstrader at 5:08 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged philip k. dick | permalink | comments (0)

May 7, 2011

God's War: Kameron Hurley

Sci-fi. An amoral, ex-assassin works with her team to track down a missing off-world visitor. Their world remembers vaguely when its first settlers came millennia ago. For almost as long, two countries have been involved in a war of religious differences. The fauna consist mostly of bugs and bugs are a component of everything: vehicles are run based on some organic combinations of swarms of bugs, messages are sent via documents composed of masses of tiny bugs shifting like e-ink, radio is transmitted via swarms. And there is magic of a sort: individuals born with the ability to manipulate nearby insects or born with the ability to "shift" into other animal forms. Social norms fluctuate with odd gender roles across the different nationalities. Much of the background of this future is given in passing, which is nice.

Recommended by Kelly over at io9 where they always have good suggestions (got The Windup Girl based on their reading club).

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posted by sstrader at 3:03 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged io9 | permalink | comments (0)

April 14, 2011

The Pale King; David Foster Wallace

Opening sentence:

Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb's-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spinecabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in the morning breeze like a mother's soft hand on your cheek.

Opening sentence of Infinite Jest:

I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies.

I would love to purchase chapter 19 and send it to many friends. It manifests every political/social/philosophical discussion we've ever had. I just finished the kernel of the book--chapter 22, pages 154 through 252. A daunting, directed bildungsroman. Overall a less flagrantly bleak worldview and more bleakly hopeful. I have yet to go back and map all of the characters I've met at various ages and when I've met them. This should have been done, casually and without too much effort, from the start. There are many.

I received the book, pre-ordered, the Friday before NYC whereas it officially comes out tomorrow on tax day.

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posted by sstrader at 10:40 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged david foster wallace | permalink | comments (0)

March 30, 2011

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer; Seth Grahame-Smith

Last read before The Pale King comes in (The following items have been shipped to you by Amazon.com: The Pale King ...).

A weird combination of historically informative and trashy. The story unexpectedly illustrated the great uncertainties involved in very iconic events that are otherwise often shorthanded with certainties. The major player that was slavery shares time with economics and territorial expansion. And vampires. My only frustration was the same I have with any historical novel: their made up bits feel too much like history. When Lincoln reminisced of his youthful experiences, was that drawn from actual documents or simply true-to-character? Either way, a fun read.

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posted by sstrader at 10:58 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

March 20, 2011

Little Brother; Cory Doctorow

Started this to burn time until DFW's The Pale King arrives in the next few weeks. But with my new job being on the Marta line, I'm burning through books much more quickly and this grabbed my interest more fervently than I'd anticipated.

The plot is about a teenager in San Francisco who uses his technical savvy to defeat the various tracking mechanisms around school and throughout the city. His skills become more vital after a terrorist attack hits the city and DHS starts disappearing anyone they deem suspicious. It's set only slightly in the future, with all of the tech possible if not widely used. His exploits are often annotated detailed descriptions and keywords the reader should use to google for more details. All very anarchist manifesto-y, but it's directed towards teens to make them more surveillance-state aware and filled with good tech and privacy rights history.

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posted by sstrader at 7:31 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

Sense and Sensibility; Jane Austen

The characters were at time excruciatingly self-absorbed, idle, aristocrats, but once past that, I started to appreciate the author's observations. It's a fascinating look into the history of English society in the early 1800s, written by a 19-year-old. Looking forward to watching the Ang Lee movie and eventually moving on to her sophomore work: P&P.

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posted by sstrader at 7:19 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

February 23, 2011

The Hunger Games trilogy; Suzanne Collins

I've enjoyed several other YA dystopian novels over the past few years. The four Uglies books got me started in 2008 and that led to Feed not long after. Both have stayed with me, and have much to be recommended for. Oddly, Feed had the weaker writing but the more resonant, and bleak, message w/r/t technology.

After a couple of days, I'm nearly finished with The Hunger Games. It's difficult to put down and really does deserve all of the attention it's getting. Despite the grim premise (teens fight to the death as retribution for their geographic regions' past rebellions against the Capitol) this is very teen-friendly and thoughtful.

IO9 just posted an article on the rise of dystopian YA novels titled What would it take for grownups to love dystopian fiction as much as teenagers?. The examination of the history of such works manifests this wry comment:

A lot of people credit Star Wars with destroying New Wave Science Fiction, which means you can add the lapse in dystopian stories to the list of things to blame George Lucas for.

Amen. The author asks why the young are latching on to dystopian stories and adults aren't, pointing out that teenagers often feel thrown into a bizarro world, but: Most of us still have the feeling that things are badly wrong with the world, and that powerful people are able to walk all over the rest of us. If you're a progressive, you probably blame big corporations. If you're a conservative, you probably blame big government.

The article also points to the New Yorker piece from June 2010 Fresh Hell: What's behind the boom in dystopian fiction for young readers? I tend to agree with the author's assessment of Uglies and Hunger Games: they're less warnings of impending doom than descriptions of specific anguish. Feed--however--was very much warning.

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posted by sstrader at 12:30 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged io9, ya fiction | permalink | comments (0)

February 9, 2011

His Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman

lyra + will

I planned on reading these during the Thailand flights, but didn't start until the LA-to-Atl leg home. Ever since I saw The Golden Compass movie, I've had these book on my list. The Kindle purchase for Thailand + the fact that they're relatively inexpensive ebooks pushed them to the top of my list. Still plan on purchasing those beautiful, 10th anniversary hardback editions though.

I finished the last book two days ago and have had the standard sadness after losing characters you spend an extended time with. The story has its quizzical metaphors which don't lend themselves to obvious parsing, and so stay in your head. It's also confusing as, potentially, young adult literature yet with some mature and grotesque scenes. I suspect, as the author has explained, that young adults are better equipped to consume such complexities than they are normally credited.

I read daily and have been largely consumed by the story and by our heroes Lyra and Will. The carving made on the Botanic Garden bench is particularly sweet. I'll miss them and although I'm tempted to get the short stories that he's written with characters from the books, I just don't think the mood will be matched. The trilogy was complete, and that's enough. Not sure what to read now that I'm on an end-of-story downer.

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posted by sstrader at 11:57 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged religion, ya fiction | permalink | comments (0)

February 7, 2011

Currently listening to

Chopin Etudes, Op. 10 and 25.

Looking to learn the short Etude in A minor. Desperately need to get my piano tuned; the cold weather has wreaked havoc on it.

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posted by sstrader at 11:35 PM in Current Interests , Music | permalink | comments (0)

December 4, 2010

October 20, 2010

Zero History; William Gibson

First thoughts: not sure if I'm enjoying his elliptical sentences (and paragraphs) anymore. And his focus on fashion minutiae comes across as aristocratic putrefaction. Or maybe incisiveness? I enjoy revisiting these characters (viz. Hollis Henry and Hubertus Bigend) though.

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posted by sstrader at 12:43 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

The Girl Who Played with Fire; Stieg Larsson

More action than the first. Larsson continues his odd stylistic sallies into dray, page-long descriptions. Dragon Tattoo had a lengthy list of the specs on Salander's new PC (ca 2002). Played with Fire has the furniture acquired from her trip to IKEA. LC sent me this article from Apartment Therapy with the passage in question+pics of her IKEA swag. The comments were fun. Also noticed that every character seemed oversexed in the first half of this book. Am I missing some theme? Last ~150 pages were riveting action/suspense. I'd seen the movie but there was much added here.

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September 30, 2010

The Chaos Scenario - Bob Garfield; The Age of Spiritual Machines - Ray Kurzweil

Read these to take a break in between the first and the second Stieg Larsson books. With The Chaos Scenario, one of your two two favorite hosts of On The Media riffs on the various disruptive aspects the internet will have on media, business, and, ultimately, society as a whole. There were many questions and few answers but rather cautionary tales. If you like his discursive style on OTM, you'll enjoy his very conversational writing style.

Kurzweil's book presents a conundrum: how to objectively approach a 10-year-old book that attempts to predict the world 10 years into the future (and much further)? Additional: how to give fair judgment when the author emphasizes their credentials yet over-estimates potential accomplishments within those credentialed areas? This was an impulse purchase after reading it referenced with praise in several discussion threads. Although many ideas were interesting, I came away disliking his inelegant, artless writing style and generally dry structure. In contrast, I thoroughly enjoyed the predictions and explications of bioengineering in Fukuyama's Our Posthuman Future, even though I disagreed with his conclusions.

[ update 30 Nov 2010 ]

Ray Kurzweil's Slippery Futurism from IEEE Spectrum [ via Slashdot ] gives a drubbing to predictions in The Age of Spiritual Machines, examining both the difficulties in separating what had been common knowledge 10 years ago from what seems prescient now, and the difficulties in getting Kurzweil to admit when he was, obviously, wrong. The inexplicable crowing that Kurzweil does in the book regarding his past business successes seems more explicable now.

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posted by sstrader at 9:47 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged fukuyama | permalink | comments (0)

August 22, 2010

July 31, 2010

Let Me In; John Ajvide Lindqvist

We saw the film when it came through maybe a year or so ago (?) and I then recommended it to a co-worker. He almost immediately went out and purchased the book and recommended that to me. Both are strong works in their own way and, though abbreviated, the movie stayed very true to the book. The American version is rewriting many major aspects of the story.

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May 20, 2010

The Chaos Scenario; Bob Garfield

This just won an Independent Publisher Book Award gold medal for current events. If you listen to On the Media (and you should), you'll notice that this book reads exactly like BG speaks. Very casual, idiomatic, fragment-heavy. Not a criticism, just a comment.

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posted by sstrader at 11:46 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

April 20, 2010

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood; Peter Biskind

Borrowed from Matt and ~1/2 way through. Making me want to watch and re-watch every one of those early 70s movies and convincing me that, without exception, every director at the time was an unmitigated asshole. Also a good argument that art is best created in conflict.

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posted by sstrader at 11:32 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

February 15, 2010

The Windup Girl; Paolo Bacigalupi

Heard about this via the io9 book club and so purchased the hardback of it and his short story collection Pump Six. TWG has been praised by Time Magazine as one of the top ten books of fiction for 2009 and by the American Library Association as the best SciFi of 2009. Halfway into the story thus far and it feels very of-a-time with Naomi Klein's and Michael Pollan's ideas, along with (in a more minor fashion) Fukuyama's somewhat older book Our Posthuman Future.

Other links:

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posted by sstrader at 1:09 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged fukuyama, io9, the windup girl | permalink | comments (0)

January 14, 2010

Currently listening to

Almost a year ago, I got the itch to hear some orchestral song cycles and backburnered the task to find some recordings. It took this long. These are my first MP3 purchases from Amazon. The Mahler recording has a lot of distortion (at least, it does on my crappy PC speakers that otherwise sound "good enough"). The Canteloube and Glazunov don't have this problem. The Glazunov symphonies I picked up for free after Amazon gave me a $5 credit. Worth it even not-for-free.

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posted by sstrader at 12:11 PM in Current Interests , Music | permalink | comments (0)

January 13, 2010

Three Stanislaw Lem novels

While speaking with a Russian co-worker about Tarkovsky's Solaris, we moved on to discussing Lem's novels. I'd read a few in high school, but only really remember The Cyberiad (which was adapted into an opera in 1970). Picked up these three and hope to eventually find a non-movie-branded copy of Solaris.

The Futurological Congress was a quick read and a darkly satiric anti-future taking society's dependence on mood-altering drugs to an absurd extreme. I'm halfway through Fiasco, a late work of his. It contains rhapsodic creativity along with somewhat hard science. Where The Futurological Congress has the rambling absurdity of The Cyberiad, Fiasco is more like Tarkovsky's moody Solaris.

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December 16, 2009

Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy; Lawrence Lessig

Just started this over the weekend. Quick read. Not as satisfying as I'd hoped. I'm reminded of some of the themes in The Recording Angel--specifically when Lessig talks about Sousa's warning that albums and player pianos are ruining the culture of amateur creative musicianship. These two books would be paired well in a reading list.

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Outliers; Malcolm Gladwell

Read a few weeks back. In short: an argument against blaming the victim presented as an argument against congratulating those who are successful, often backed by direct quotes from those successful individuals. Gladwell's books are always a lesson that life is more subtle and varied than those beliefs that many declare to be basic "common sense."

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June 23, 2009

Infinite Jest; David Foster Wallace

Decided on Friday to join Infinite Summer for the next three months and re-read Infinite Jest. I had read it once before beginning in October 2002. This was in the middle of the three-year vow to get back to reading and read at least one book a month. I'll assume for many subsequent months, those books were read in parallel. I hessitated to join the, now large, online reading group for all the reasons others had: intimidated, afraid of commitment, etc. At 55 pages in, I have no regrets and am somewhat obsessed with the book. Much easier the second time through.

Some links of note:

Misc.: Taking advice from someone's Twitpiced book to use two bookmarks: one for the story proper and one for the footnotes. Many west-coasters were having a difficult time finding a copy! There's some new edition out, but it's not so new that IS could be pegged as a (decidedly weird) publicity stunt. I have no idea where I got my copy in 2002; it's from a UK division of Little, Brown, and Co. called Abacus. Every blurb on the cover is from a different British publication.

[ updated 14 August 2009 ]

Found an obit over at IFC. Contains links to many of DFW's writings available online.

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April 26, 2009

Spook Country; William Gibson

Picked up for the flight to NOLA. Best part so far: the concept of locative art where the viewer must wear VR specs to see guerilla 3D installations in public places (e.g. a life-sized whale floating through a mall atrium).

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February 16, 2009

Feed; M. T. Anderson

Quick read. Made me very depressed. It's sort of a 1984/BNW for young adults (although, we all read those as young adults, so the genre label is a little unfair). Many of the scenes are as bleak as those two anti-futures, with a more relevant, timely grimness. The future is defined by a combination of corporations taking over American schooling ('cause state-supported education is so Nazi) and the near ubiquity of brain implants providing internal internet, chat, entertainment, and pushed, personalized advertisements. Once knowledge is always available and without effort, learning is abandoned. There are many scenes where the female protagonist wonders why culture appears shallow and moronic only to her. This attitude doesn't need to be set in the future to ring so true.

To me, the technological possibilities--even when presented as such a destructive force--were fascinating. Late in the novel our heroine marvels sadly that, when she doesn't try to hide her preferences, the corporations' product-recommendation algorithms actually did work better than her own choices. Something we think we want can give us what we want and yet still be destructive.

I liked the Uglies series better but only because it wasn't nearly as depressing.

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December 28, 2008

The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century; Alex Ross

~150 pages in. So far a very approachable review of 20th century music. Predominantly on the "classical" side, but with many stories on how different styles and different classifications have interbred. I think I recommend it to anyone interested, but I also have noticed that many of the refs in the book have been refiring my music history class synapses. YMMV. He's got streaming excerpts on his web page, but while reading I seldom stop to take advantage. Accessible knowledge is sometimes an inconvenient interruption.

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November 19, 2008

The Demolished Man; Alfred Bester

Very 50s crime drama set in 2300 or thereabouts. Halfway in and it's so far a good read.

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Bad Monkeys: A Novel (P.S.); Matt Ruff

Quick read. Entertaining but can't really recommend it. Good, light reading for the beach (too late) or a flight (none planned).

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September 16, 2008

September 12, 2008

July 1, 2008

May 28, 2008

May 7, 2008

April 20, 2008

Uglies, Pretties, Specials (Boxed Set); Scott Westerfeld

I'd heard about this set from Boing Boing and was intrigued but wanted to avoid it for the idiot reason that it felt too much like buying an Oprah book: the heavy weight of a Boing Boing recommendation makes it more "marketing" than "recommending." Anyway, I picked up the boxed set during the recent Amazon sci-fi sale (along with complete Space: 1999 DVDs, complete Aeon Flux series, and two experimental films by Shozin Fukui) and just finished the first book, Uglies. It's teen fiction, but I've been completely engrossed with the characters, story, and ideas contained. Anti-future where everyone gets extreme plastic surgery at 16 to make them super-super-model beautiful. Our very much flawed female protagonist is drawn into a resistance group. Reluctantly, at first, then heroically. The clever concepts make up for the limited, teen-directed vocabulary and short (< 5-page) chapters. You'll burn through it quickly because of both this and it's compelling drama.

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April 1, 2008

Irreligion; John Allen Paulos

I'd read his books on innumeracy and thought that this would be a nice, quick entry into the recent atheist-lit. He used to have a fun column on ABC's web site. Check out his (slightly ill-formatted) web site for more fun facts.

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February 18, 2008

Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure; Michael Chabon

A mix of Scheherazade (with its story begetting story begetting story format) and adventure yarn, Chabon provides a short, swift tale of virtuoso prose and enlightening history, but never too heavy. You don't have to turn to trash to turn off your brain and enjoy an adventure. (read several months back...)

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September 26, 2007

June 27, 2007

April 4, 2007

February 20, 2007

February 7, 2007

December 29, 2006

To Kill a Mockingbird; Harper Lee

Picked this up in the airport on the way to NYC and am now just finishing it. It's as great as you would expect.

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September 10, 2006

John Henry Days; Whitehead, Colson

I was introduced to Whitehead through a short story from Harper's a year or so ago. This novel came mildly recommended by others.

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David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest; Burn, Stephen

A quick read (< 100 pages) with some notable insight into IJ. He points out mythological references, storyline intersections, and major themes. I would've liked to have seen a concise character outline to match the 11-page timeline of major events he provides in an appendix.

One problem with analyzing maximalist novel (Burn calls them encyclopedia novels) is that the abundance of detail offers itself up to the adoption of many different templates of intent. Still, some are stronger (and more intent-full) than others. A couple of Burn's ideas felt too fine-grained but most were a welcome insight, and he presented his reasoning with the transparent honesty of dead-ends and alternate possibilities.

It's been several years since I had read IJ, but this analysis helped bring back and organize the story as a whole.

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September 8, 2006

Genesis; Anderson, Poul

Read this over the past few days. I had wanted a quick read, and this was one of those books sitting on the shelf for years after an impulse, discount purchase. I quickly got hooked on the epic story spanning millions of years in the future, although the affected scifi lingo felt overrefined and cringe-worthy. "Well-nigh" and "yonder" aren't words that generally come up in conversation. The ideas however were interesting, and the story presented a likely distant future of human consciousness merged with machines. Throughout, there was a dread of inevitability. Overall a ripping good yarn.

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August 12, 2006

Currently listening to

The first two Peter Gabriel albums paired with his last one. Have fun noting the similarities across the 25 years from his beginning as a soloist in 1977 to his possible final statement in 2002. One noticable difference is his use of genre musical styles on his first two albums (blues, honky-tonk, and even cool jazz) abandoned on all subsequent ones. There are some gems but unfortunately many throwaway items too.

From 1, "Moribund The Burgermeister" has his oddball storytelling that could have come from Tresspass's "The Knife" or Nursery Cryme's "Harold the Barrel," just as it reappears in Up's "The Barry Williams Show." Apparently, the townsfolk that Moribund is responsible for are having some sort of Woodstock freakout and he runs to his mother to help him bring them back under control: Mother please, is it just a disease, that has them breaking all my laws, Check if you can disconnect the effect and I'll go after the cause. "Humdrum" has a nice, short binary form that contrasts the mundane against the grandiose. The most notable song is "Here Comes the Flood:"

Lord, here comes the flood
We'll say goodbye to flesh and blood
If again the seas are silent
in any still alive
It'll be those who gave their island to survive
Drink up, dreamers, you're running dry.

This should have had more attention than (the obscenely over-played) "Solsbury Hill."

From 2, it opens with another silly misfit story in "On the Air," where our hero is a bum who lives out his fantasy life through television. The intended jab is not subtle, but the humor is well-placed. "Mother of Violence" holds up by its spare and timeless lyric Fear, she's the mother of violence, and "Indigo" is an effectively moody song about dying, reminding me of "In the Rapids" from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

Up is appropriately reminiscent of his first few solos and contains songs that are a hybrid of his early eccentricity, his middle obsession with world music, and his later commercial production. The strongest tracks are "Darkness," "Sky Blue" (also from the sad film Rabbit-proof Fence), "My Head Sounds Like That," and "Signal to Noise." And like PG1's closing "Here Comes the Flood" and PG2's closing "Home Sweet Home," Up closes with a reflective piano/voice composition called "The Drop."

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July 13, 2006

April 22, 2006

Currently listening to

I just recieved the Leon Kirchner double CD of historic recordings and the Vincent Persichetti CD with his Symphony No. 5 and Piano Concerto. I discovered Kirchner from the New World Records album with his Piano Concerto, checked out from the local library in 9th or 10th grade (?). I was stunned. It was beautiful and wild and new and my dad was perplexed ("do you really enjoy that?!?"). The very same recording is contained on this set--I immediately recognized the nuances of the performance even across the many years--along with various other mostly chamber music that is equally engrossing.

Persichetti was introduced to me by my first piano teacher here in Georgia, just post high school, whose name I hate that I forget. She presented me with the invaluable set of his Poems for Piano and it really opened up a new world of piano repertoire. Without digging out the sheet music, I remember one piece that I played from that set was "To whose more clear than crystal voice the frost had joined a crystal spell." I've listened to little of his works since that time, but expect the best.

Something brought me back to the Koyaanisqatsi score but I don't know what. I've been curious to watch it again just to see the masterful closing scene with the decending rocket. It also coincides with my Genius Idea that wine bars and coffee shops, instead of having live jazz, should have live music like that in Koyaanisqatsi. It would be similar to the trip-hop soundtracks of Very Cool Bars, but with a more unique flavor. Everyone does electronica. No one does minimalism.

So far, my workshopping of the idea to friends hasn't gone over as well as it does in my head.

Finally, the Saint-Saens Piano Concertos. I really have no familiarity with his music, so that needs to changes. These were recorded off of RadioWave.

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April 19, 2006

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam; Aslan, Reza

Finally getting around to reading this. I just received it after a rash of impulse-purchases (mostly CDs). The opening caught my attention as he describes his chance meeting with missionaries in the post-9/11 Middle East. He wonders how to respond to such spiritual profiteers when, also post-9/11, Franklin Graham calls Islam an evil and wicked religion, Ann Coulter encourages countries to kill Muslim leaders and convert [their people] to Christianity, and a past president of the SBC calls Muhammad a demon-possessed pedophile. With these unfortunate examples, he introduces what he calls a clash of monotheisms in contrast to the less-precise class of civilizations.

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April 12, 2006

How We Are Hungry; Eggers, Dave

Finished this a couple of days ago (very slow in updating lately).

The stories have a narrow and somewhat monotonous tonal range. There are good moments (it's unimportant that we can look behind the stories and see where the author has travelled) presented with a tell-all honesty that at its best is rewarding enough, even though there are few of those moments. A quick and satisfying read.

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January 18, 2006

The Arabian Nights

Impulse buy from a weekend viewing of a couple of Sinbad movies.

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January 5, 2006

Currently listening to

A year ago I started re-listening to I, Robot--within the first five albums that I ever owned--and it's really stuck with me. Early imprinting, I guess. It came back into my consciousness when, a year or so prior, a pot smokin' friend played it at a party. Apparently, not unlike Genesis' Selling England by the Pound which I learned from some art rock afficianados, Alan Parsons too is well paired with drugs. Who knew? Anyway, I don't own the CD (listening on Rhapsody) so I can't put it up on Radio from the Ether until I shell out the $9.90 (which very well could happen). I just wish that Rhapsody had Alan Parsons' Pyramid album too.

I know. I'm so gay.

Got the itch to revisit the Beethoven Quartets. I know and love the rawness of his early quartets, so I need to get more familiar with the middle ones. I can listen to one or two movements on the way to work if traffic's not heavy. CDs are in the car right now, so they'll get added to Radio from the Ether in a few days.

I knew the name Alan Hovhaness but had never heard any of his works. An Armenian-American, very tonal and pleasant. This music is so approachable, why are people listening to crap new age/wallpaper music when there are well-constructed modern compositions that are more pleasing and with greater depth? It's an old argument, and Hovhaness' works bring it back up (I've recommended Part and Gorecki for the same reasons).

I recorded the Liapunov and Scharwenka Piano Concertos on RadioWave on a whim. Late romantic, over-zealous. They should be fun.

Finally, I had first heard about Avet Terterian from the always-interesting Tim Rutherford-Johnson. Terterian completely freaked me out on first listening, so I took a break. I'm back and hope that the poor streaming quality doesn't completely destroy the sonorist subtleties of the works. (Oh, and that Wikipedia entry for Terterian was stubbed in by me before I had an account!)

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December 27, 2005

October 20, 2005

The Scientist, The Madman, The Thief and Their Lightbulb : The Search for Free Energy

An (even-handed) history of the quest for free energy: energy that doesn't consume matter and doesn't produce waste. Much of the hope rides on electricity and magnetism and the research is as old as our modern study of electromagnetism.

[The theories] are not creating any new energy. The systems are doing at least one of two things: they have either found--as in the case of some cold fusion cells--a new way of accessing chemical, nuclear or other forms of energy locked up in the system's components parts; the other possibility is that they are getting their energy from the 'zero-point fluctuations of the vacuum'. This zero-point energy is the 'background' or 'ether' energy of the universe, and is also called vacuum energy, or the 'quantum fluctuations of the vacuum'.

So the hope is that we can tap into the larger machinery of the Earth and the universe itself and convert its fundamental processes into useful energy. There are many quack-y stories in here but some fascinating all the same. I was astounded that even in the earliest days of fossil fuel use, many scientists were warning that we shouldn't become dependent on it. In 1900, Nikola Tesla says:

In some countries, as in Great Britain, the hurtful effects of this squandering of fuel are beginning to be felt. The price of coal is constantly rising, and the poor are made to suffer more and more. Though we are still far from the dreaded 'exhaustion of the coal fields', ... it is our duty to coming generations to leave this store of energy intact for them, or at least not to touch it until we shall have perfected processes for burning coal more efficiently. Those who are to come after us will need fuel more than we do.
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September 23, 2005

Currently listening to

Finally giving a listen to Paul Creston's Symphonies. I'd breezed through them before and actually got hooked on a section from #3 listening to NPR late at night, then impulse bought the CD. They're pleasant enough, and might have some surprises. Not sure what to expect from the Penderecki Symphonies. He can be all over the map.

(These are going with us on a road trip to a friend's wedding this weekend, so they probably won't all make it onto Radio from the Ether until Sunday or Monday of next week.)

To balance out the Penderecki, I'm digging into my RadioWave files and listening to some Brahms: Piano Concertos #1 and 2, Piano Trios #1 and 3, and the Violin Concerto. Come on: who couldn't love Brahms?

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August 13, 2005

Currently Listening To

Picking up a couple of the Naxos CDs I had purchased for future listening.

First, the Elliott Carter. I was dumbfounded at first listening to the Copland-styled tonality of the Holiday Overture and Symphony No. 1. He was, apparently, still finding his own style in these early pieces. A style I would praise from Walter Piston I only tolerate from Carter, possibly because of the unique experience of hearing Carter's own voice in his two-movement Piano Concerto that closes the CD. Difficult but enjoyable.

Ginastera is one of those composers I know of but don't know. Time to get more familiar with his Piano Concertos (yesyes, Keith Emerson did an arrangement of No. 1's Toccata on Brain Salad Surgery [Amazon]). These come after his overtly nationalistic period and can be compared with Bartok's works: both composers created very nationalist works that then influenced their more, say, international styles.

From RadioWave, I've got the two Romatic era Violin Concertos of Max Bruch.

Finally, some nerdcore from MC Frontalot. Poor programming, I know, but it's new so I gotta listen to it.

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August 9, 2005

Everything Is Illuminated; Foer, Jonathan Safran

How did I hear about this book? I'm not sure, but a KQED interview of the author reminded of it back in April and I ordered it not long after. Many sections consist of a sort of dialect writing, with a Ukrainian narrator writing in thesaurus-laden English (as he explains: Like you know, I am not first rate with English. In Russian my ideas are asserted abnormally well, but my second tongue is not so premium. I undertaked to input the things you counseled me to, and I fatigued the thesaurus you presented me, as you counseled me to, when my words appeared too petite, or not befitting). I thought it would get old, but it quickly dropped into the background, and now--at least in my head--I'm calling everything "premium."

Anxious to see the movie [IMDB] with Elijah Wood and written by Liev Schreiber.

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July 24, 2005

Radio On: A Listener's Diary; Vowell, Sarah

I've been picking through this whilst finishing up the Sherlock Holmes collection (see "Sarah Vowell, NPR, and Coldplay" and "Publishing and tuning out"). It's grown on me in a minor way--she's alternately honest and opinionated, although others might reverse just where those labels would be placed. She's the type of rock snob that appreciates only street-wise sincerety and a clear lineage to rock's roots. I agree with her on many points (e.g. the hate-inducing and insipid Grateful Dead) but I'm staunchly anti-originalist when it comes to rock. I feel that the quicker the tyranny of the blues is overthrown, the better. She likes Sonic Youth and Courtney Love (agreed), but hates Stereolab (huh?). I guess difference are good.

And many scarey/familiar observations on conservative idiocy (e.g. Rush's absolutist rants based on lies, or Dole's plea to "ignore the details" of a very detail-laden tax package that benefits the rich) that could be observed unchanged today.

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June 21, 2005

Currently Listening To

More music from RadioWave. I'm listening through all of the Schumann works that I've aquired. Some of the major piano suites (Papillons Op. 2; Carnaval Op. 9; Fantasiestcke Op. 12; Scenes from Childhood Op. 15; Kreisleriana, Op. 16; Arabeske, Op. 18); his Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54; two String Quartets Op. 41 #s 1 and 3; his Symphonies #s 2 and 4; and Marchenbilder, Op. 113 for viola and piano. I know Papillons and Carnaval and Scenes (mostly from my fractured readings in college), but several of those other works are new. These RadioWave recordings, far from hi-fi, are great for getting familiar with the standard repertoire--and to share them with others.

Someone had recently recommended the new recording of the Ligeti [Wikipedia] piano etudes, but I swear I can't remember who. This disk includes book 1 (1985), book 2 (1988-1994), and the first etude from book 3 (1995-2001). The dates are according to Wikipedia, although I believe Ligeti says in the liner notes that he hasn't finished the third book.

The CD was released in 1996, so the third book of the Ligeti is probably floating around somewhere.
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May 19, 2005

Currently Listening To

Piano works by Shostakovich performed by Konstantin Scherbakov. It doesn't get much better.

I anticipated being absorbed with the preludes and fugues, yet the odd characteristics of the opus 34 preludes have taken over my interest. It's been great driving-to-work music. The opus 87 pieces need more focus and promise to be more rewarding. I'm anxious to get the scores (just received the shipping confirmation yesterday) in order to examine more closely his dissonances and key relationships. I long ago bought and fell in love with his string quartets (#1 through #15 in six CDs by the Emerson Quartet).

I've also been cleaning up my RadioWave recordings and have begun listening to a few of those. I have Vasily Kalinnikov's Symphonies #1 and #2. I had never heard of him before--kindof an exuberant Rachmaninoff, but a little more corny. They're worth a listen. I've also got more tasteful works from Sibelius. His Symphonies #1, 2, and 5, and his wonderful Violin Concerto. I never listened to enough Sibelius, so now's my chance.

Just recorded the Sibelius Symphony #6, so I added that to the list.
And now I recorded the Sibelius Symphony #3, so that's been added also.
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May 1, 2005

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories

Beautiful two-volume hardback edition of Conan Doyle's [Wikipedia] short stories of Sherlock Holmes [Wikipedia] edited by Leslie S. Klinger. A third volume from the same editor containing the four novels is coming out later this year. There is some discussion on Amazon that the binding quality and content is somewhat below what editor William Stuart Baring-Gould offered in his edition. The arguments seemed more of a dispute over originality than over flawed research, so it shouldn't affect my enjoyment.

I became interested in Sherlock Holmes from the references to Moriarty [Wikipedia] and their confrontation at Reichenback Falls in Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Then, last Sunday, Lisa and I lucked upon The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes [IMDB] and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution [IMDB]. Both well-done movies from 1970 and 1976 respectively. I'm overdue to read the source material for this famous literary character.

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April 19, 2005

Currently Listening To

Still listening to The Who Sell Out (still loving it), and just beginning an arrangement of "Our Love Was" which I'm completely smitten by. But--gotta move on. I have been waiting for an Amazon shipment of several CDs of Shostakovitch preludes and fugues, but they are still weeks away. Gah.

I've been really sweating over the "Starship Trooper" arrangement, so let's get some more Yes in my head to seal the deal. Close to the Edge and Relayer are both the Rhino re-release with a few b-sides and demos (studio run-throughs). I've always drooled over doing a piano/voice arrangement of "The Gates of Delirium." Hearing the studio run-through provides some insight into the process of the song, but it's still far off. I was blown away to read in the liner notes that Jon Anderson was the primary composer of Gates. Patrick Moraz (the keyboardist) comments:

Jon actually led me through the compositions and through the core of the arrangement and the construction of most of the themes of 'The Gates of Delirium,' which were composed by the time I came in. Not all of it was complete, but everything was in his head. I think he had the plan for the whole symphony. It was like a symphony. In the world of rock 'n' roll, although very influenced by The Beatles and the English music scene at the time, I always acquaint Yes with what Stravinsky would have dona as a rock musician. Yes music has that kind of symphonic approach and arrangement. The sophistication of the orchestration is absolutely staggering.

This from someone who worked on the album, but all the same. I never considered Anderson the "big picture" kind of composer. The Close to the Edge album has a similarly illustrative run-through of "And You & I" and "Siberian Khatru."

Decided also to re-investivate the backgroundy-but-enjoyable Kid A from Radiohead. Brad Meldau played the opening track at the recent Variety Playhouse concert, so it's been in my head. Its simple harmony was used as an example of modal mixture in rock in a recent MTO article (which I tried to make sense of back in January).

Finally, Schnittke's Concerto for Two Pianos and Concerto for Cello. I can't pretend to understand his manic shifting of harmonies, but that's what makes it so compelling. And I-shit-you-not I actually find myself humming melodies (as best I can) from the cello concerto. He reminds me of the harmonic "wow" I felt when I first heard (and still feel when I listen to) Messiaen.

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posted by sstrader at 10:51 PM in Current Interests , Music | tagged the who, yes | permalink | comments (1)

April 3, 2005

Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

I bought a nice hardback of this years and years and years ago and have now dug it out of the stacks. I hope it's not too simplified an examination of communication systems. Windows developers grew up on Petzold's programming books going back to Windows 3.x. It's interesting to see those "academics" cross over into more readable fare (like Hackers and Painters author and Lisp guru Paul Graham [Wikipedia]).

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posted by sstrader at 2:10 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

March 29, 2005

March 21, 2005

Comic Page of the Week

title

Flaming Carrot, No. 25, back cover. Flaming Carrot challenges Death to a game of Jarts a la The Seventh Seal [IMDB].

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posted by sstrader at 11:10 PM in Art , Current Interests | permalink | comments (0)

March 1, 2005

Currently Listening To

My demo of The Silent Spectrum is up on Radio from the Ether along with The Journalist. I don't own any of my other listening choices and have only been able to listen to them on Rhapsody, so it's all me all the time.

I read some references to and favorable reviews for The Who Sell Out. I had never listened to it, so I thought I'd give it a chance. During my research, I found the Petra Haden (daughter of jazz bassist Charlie Haden [Wikipedia]) remake of a good portion of the album a capella. Should be interesting.

Still wowed by Blueberry Boat. I love the negative reviews on Amazon--there appears to be a lot of hatred for The Fiery Furnaces (and for Pitchfork for praising them).

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February 3, 2005

The Best American Essays 2003

I've been collecting this series sporadically since 1996. The first was purchased while in a what-to-read-next malaise. I'm there again, so here's the recently-purchased 2003 essays to get me going. The selections are always artful and varied and, like listening to This American Life, always provide interest for topics I would otherwise deem uninteresting. It's nice to find those things that can surprise you.

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posted by sstrader at 12:38 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (1)

February 1, 2005

Top 10, issue 8, page 25

Top 10, issue 8, page 25

Top 10, issue 8, page 25. Peregrine (Cathy Colby) watches as two victims fused together in a teleporter accident expire. One, Mr. Nebula, was returning from a vacation with his wife who was killed instantly. The other, a "gamer" named Kapela, provides a dry philosophy of life as a game between the black of space and the white of the stars.

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January 18, 2005

Currently Listening To

Missing tracks 3 ("Guide Vocal") and ("Heathaze") for Duke, but they may be acquired and added later.

I've been piecing together the eight Walter Piston symphonies and finally ordered CDs containing the last three to complete the collection. They (1, 3, and 4) just shipped and will be added later (to 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8). It'd be nice to have one conductor/orchestra, but honestly if someone recorded them all now I'd be pissed.

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January 16, 2005

The Merchant of Venice; Shakespeare, William

I had purchased Shakespeare's histories, comedies, and tragedies a few years back in these Everyman's Library editions. Prior to that I had, and possibly still have somewhere, a mishmash of used paperbacks of a dozen or so different plays. The Everyman's Library hardbacks are nearly perfect: they have good binding and paper, good size for reading, are inexpensive, and have excellent essays and commentary. Each play has a ten-or-so page essay covering the major themes from both high level structure and detailed, sentence level nuance. Just reading these introductory essays provides a lesson in history and etymology. The footnotes offered throughout each play serve as sufficient struts to understanding. My only complaint is that I sometimes forget a footnoted definition that was presented early on whose word is repeated later in the play--a glossary would help considerably. Thanks to the brother-in-law and his fiance, I have this wonderful Dictionary of Shakespeare to fill the gaps of my poor memory.

I had purchased these volumes back in 2002 before we went to visit Diane in Sun Vally, Idaho where she played Kate in The Taming of the Shrew. The commentary almost made me sound intelligent about the theater when we hung out with the other actors after the show. You too can sound intelligent with the Everyman's Library! Buy yours today.

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posted by sstrader at 11:26 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (1)

December 19, 2004

Cosmopolis; DeLillo, Don

None of his books has every really matched the evocotive wackiness of the first one I read of his, White Noise. This has been sitting in the queue with Underworld ... Underworld still has a dusty bookmark, months since place, where the wife abandoned it (though, she gave Cosmopolis high marks). I've chosen this 200+ page book (with slight pages) as a palette-cleanser after Cryptonomicon.

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Currently Listening To

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts should be required listening for anyone interested in pop electronic music. Released in 1981, this work was both a product of its time and a milestone. Byrne and Eno drew from existing pop and experimental styles and fltered them into a definitive expression of those styles. Their daring may seem at points quaint now, but I always find something that still surprises. Greater minds than mine have dissected this many times prior, so I'll just point out the line from the seminal opening track "America Is Waiting." The track samples what sounds like a venting talk radio host, punctuated against the jerky, clumsy 5/4 rhythm: America is waiting for a message of some sort or another. Out of context, the emptiness of that phrase is brought to the surface. A medium dispersing "messages" can only recycle the presence of need but itself can offer no content.

I got into a knock-down-drag-out last night during a family dinner over George Winston of all things. Invariably, Philip Glass came up as the perfect counter-example to the spare-but-cliched music of Winston. The Hours is a pleasant collection of short pieces from the film. There is also a solo piano release available. I don't have either and am listening to them on Rhapsody, so this CD's not on Radio from the Ether. I purchased the Symphony No. 3 CD from a birthday gift card but hadn't taken the chance to give it a good listen.

My friend's label, OttoTone Records, released its first sampler last week. The Web site is a little in flux (I swear I'm working on it...), but there's an abundance of tunes on the sampler from the best of what west Georgia has to offer. Check. It. Out. Why don't you?

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posted by sstrader at 12:06 PM in Current Interests , Music | permalink | comments (0)

December 15, 2004

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, 'Fortunately...'

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, 'Fortunately...'

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, "Fortunately...". James Reed Corrigan, the grandfather of the title character, plays hide-and-seek with neighborhood children during the viewing of his recently deceased grandmother. An older red-headed girl catches his attention.

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November 23, 2004

Currently Listening To

I discovered Amy Beach's [Wikipedia] music at the public library back when I was in high school. New World Records published her Violin Sonata under the name Mrs. H. H. A. Beach--in the halcyon days of pre-feminism and pre-suffrage, women went by their husbands' names with the quaint 'Mrs' attached. Anyway, post-feminists re-branded her works and she's now herself again. She was part of the New England School of composers. I'm generally not a fan of early American music or art, but at around this period our composers start getting interesting. And I'm a sucker for this Romanticism.

The Kabao CD was handed out during his recent show at Django. A cool time was had by all, and now you can relive a few songs of that cool time.

Red is classic King Crimson from 1974 (30 years ago?!?). I can do without the free improv on "Providence," but the rest of the songs are models of creative rock composition. The mix of alto sax (?)--carried over from their earlier days too influenced by soft jazz--and noisynoisy guitar and drums is perfect. Some notable musical features: check out the diminished scale [Wikipedia] used in "Red" and the single-note solo played over a 13/8 meter in "Starless." Two sites provide analysis: King Crimson: Red - An Analysis by Andrew Keeling and Chapter Six: King Crimson III and Brian Eno from the online book Robert Fripp by Eric Tamm (who mistakes the opening scale in "Red" for the whole tone scale [Wikipedia], probably because of the tritone in the harmony). Correction: Mr. Tamm has below corrected my sloppy misreading of his analysis. In his book, he points out the whole-tone-scale root relationships. Subtle and different than my misrepresentation. Apologies.

I've been enjoying my recent acquisition of Kleptones music. They combine Queen and The Flaming Lips with various rappers by replacing the former's vocals with the latter's. It's called mash up [Wikipedia] for all you groovies out there. With these recordings, the pallid harmonies and limited song structure of rap is replaced with music that excels at both. The Yoshimi tracks contain the exact songs with the vocals replaced. The Queen tracks are more scattered and fragmented--The Kleptones create a new structure using Queen's harmonies.

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posted by sstrader at 10:30 AM in Current Interests , Music | permalink | comments (2)

November 12, 2004

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II, page 6

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II, page 6

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II, page 6. John Carter [Wikipedia] and Gulliver Jones meet in preparation for their battle against the Martians who will eventually invade Earth a la The War of the Worlds [Wikipedia].

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November 1, 2004

Currently Listening To

After previously listening to the Glass arias, I got my mind on Glass operas specifically and operas in general. I had never learned enough about operas and am still quite inexperienced when it comes to the major stories. A sabbatical is a good a time as any to pick up new knowledge.

The only Glass opera I have is the experimental Einstein on the Beach [Wikipedia]. I purchased my copy used (with a $39.97 sticker still on the box) not long after I graduated from college and not long after I recorded a special on it from PBS. It's at times difficult and would be categorized with his more experimental works. The PBS special had scenes of the opera being practiced along with many interviews of Glass and director Robert Wilson.

Chosing The Magic Flute [Wikipedia] as the other opera to listen to falls under the same category (limited choice in my library) and also under coincidence. It was given to me, IIRC, last Christmas by my mom-in-law, and after I finally decided to listen to it, I found out that she went to see it performed last week. This copy had burned a hole in my Wish List for a while because it was both inexpensive ($14) and a highly rated introduction to the opera. The Black Dog Opera Library publishes their operas in small hard-back books containing the libretto and history. That plus two CDs is a great deal.

A word of caution: Amazon is cataloging them under 'books' now, and some of the comments suggest that there is miscategorization with the complete opera and recordings with only excerpts. Very unfortunate, but just be cautious when you order.

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posted by sstrader at 9:43 AM in Current Interests , Music | permalink | comments (1)

October 28, 2004

Why I Hate Saturn, page 107

Why I Hate Saturn, page 107

Why I Hate Saturn, page 107. Rick and Anne jokingly attempt to decipher an apparently innocuous letter from Anne's insane sister Laura.

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posted by sstrader at 12:21 AM in Art , Current Interests | permalink | comments (0)

October 24, 2004

Cryptonomicon; Stephenson, Neal

I had no clean segue from Fermat and the OED, so I decided just to go back to fiction. It will probably have some heady math-stuffs in it to tie it in with Fermat--and it'll be a good way to start my sabbatical (one week to go!).

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posted by sstrader at 6:55 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

October 20, 2004

The Professor and the Madman; Winchester, Simon

A year or so ago, I had read and enjoyed Simon Winchester's The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology. In it, he documents the life of the father of modern geology, the Englishman William Smith. Winchester told the drama of his story with engaging details and, perhaps, very British fastidiousness. This other book, The Professor and the Madman, seemed equally appropriate for his style of writing.

Pip pip.

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October 11, 2004

Currently Listening To

With this entry, I've begun broadcasting the music listed and that I own over Radio from the Ether. Enjoy.

This recording of A Musical Offering [Wikipedia] is a perfect CD: superlative performers playing on period instruments performing one of Bach's most shining examples of counterpoint. Take a look at the very chromatic melody (a bitch to write tonal counterpoint for) in the short Wikipedia entry. This site displays the canons in Bach's cryptic notation and provides a short explanation of the riddles included. Such musical trickery could have turned out sterile sounding in any other hands.

Trespass is the second Genesis album, recorded in 1970. It's hopelessly quaint, but I'm a sucker for some of the arangements and continue to go back to it.

The Glass songs are arias from his three operas based on great visionaries: Einstein on the Beach (1976) [Wikipedia], Satyagraha (1980, Ghandi) [Wikipedia], and Akhnaten (1983) [Wikipedia].

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posted by sstrader at 11:24 PM in Current Interests , Music | permalink | comments (1)

October 9, 2004

Fermat's Enigma; Singh, Simon

Long ago, I picked up this book from a discount shelf at Borders knowing that I wouldn't read it immediately. It was one of many books that go into the queue as a recommendation to the future me. Good recommendation--thanks Scott-of-the-past.

Aaaand, the copy was signed by the author!

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October 2, 2004

Ghost World, page 25

Ghost World, page 25

Ghost World, page 25. Enid mocks an ex-punk who's gone corporate and tries to defend her new look.

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posted by sstrader at 3:47 PM in Art , Current Interests | permalink | comments (0)

September 30, 2004

The Tipping Point; Gladwell, Malcolm

This was recommended long ago by a trusted co-worker (post co-working), so I bought it immediately with the unintended intention for it to become a dust catcher. It has since haunted me on one of our book shelves. I know Malcolm Gladwell's writing from his many articles in The New Yorker.

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posted by sstrader at 9:27 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

September 18, 2004

Stray Toasters, issue 1, page 40

Stray Toasters, issue 1, page 40

Stray Toasters, issue 1, page 40. Abby, a psychiatrist, sits with Todd who had appeared at her front door and is apparently autistic. Prior to this scene, she recalled the child she had lost in an accident and now avoids deciding whether to report this abandoned child.

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posted by sstrader at 3:21 PM in Art , Current Interests | permalink | comments (0)

September 17, 2004

September 10, 2004

Watchmen, issue 1, page 1

Watchmen, issue 1, page 1

Watchmen, issue 1, page 1. Rorschach's journal is a voice-over for the criminal investigation of the apparent-suicide of his aquaintance, fellow super-hero The Comedian.

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posted by sstrader at 11:48 PM in Art , Current Interests | permalink | comments (3)

September 7, 2004

Currently Listening To

I was recently drawn back to the Beethoven sonatas while thinking about music form and content in my recent post. I once played the prestissimo movement from the Sonata #30 (in a definitively un-prestissimo manner), and we had heard it performed at Emory a couple of seasons back (by whom?). I really fell in love with the epic theme and variations in the final movement. I love solo and chamber concerts for their intimacy and for the connection you have to these musicians as they perform at the height of musical ability. It's exhausting just to listen to the climax of the final movement with its double-trills, fluid changes in key and meter, and expansive handling of style. Watching it performed 20 feet away was exhilarating.

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posted by sstrader at 12:20 AM in Current Interests , Music | permalink | comments (0)

September 4, 2004

Cerebus, issue 93, page 8

I frequently dig through my collection of comics--you always "dig through" collections--and thought it'd be good to put up a page every week. Or so. There may be more or fewer eventually. The selections won't be Earth-shattering or definitive; just whatever pages strike me as interesting at the time.

Cerebus, issue 93, page 8

Cerebus, issue 98, page 8. Cerebus, as Pope, and Lord Julius (Groucho Marx) travelling to interrogate Astoria, Julius' ex-wife, who is being held in a cell because she assassinated the western pontiff.

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August 28, 2004

Currently Listening To

One of the best concerts I ever went to was a movie. Philip Glass was touring with an ensemble performing his movie music in theaters while the movies were projected on the screen behind them. They came to Atlanta and performed at The Fox. We only got to see Koyaanisqatsi, but it was stunning. I had never watched it before but had heard much about it. The performance, often blazingly fast, was flawless.

I had originally listened to the Stravinsky piano music from inexpensive albums purchase through The Musical Heritage Society. They were white covers with no-frills, black & white printing and liner notes on the back (Naxos seems to have similar intentions). MHS always had some good obscure stuff that I could experiment with--I got a recording of the Messiaen piano preludes from them. This Stravinsky recording includes two works from his neo-classical period: the sonata and the concerto.

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posted by sstrader at 12:17 PM in Current Interests , Music | permalink | comments (0)

August 25, 2004

August 14, 2004

August 12, 2004

August 4, 2004

July 17, 2004

July 14, 2004

June 24, 2004

June 19, 2004

June 4, 2004

May 23, 2004