Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Jul 30, 2007

Government vs. Diabetics

I was a little too busy to blog earlier today, but I just had to say something about this particular piece of stupidity. The article is a bit long, but notice the careful dance of how the numbers are reported.

The first two numbers have no bearing on any data whatsoever: they are votes by government panelists about whether the data (data we have not seen yet) are "convincing". Then we have a theoretical, large number, 2,200, which could be the number of people subjected to "serious side effects" from use of Avandia. What constitutes "serious" in this case? No answer is given.

Next number? An even larger approxmation of the number of people in the U.S. that use Avandia: 1 million. Oh the horror. They must be dropping like flies. (Would someone tell me why the graphic says that there are 3 million prescriptions if only 1 million people actually use the drug?)

Next number? A bunch of studies that report on the next number, which seems huge: a 43% increase in risk of heart failure. But hang on a second, that's a relative number . . . if the percentage chance of heart failure was only 1% before, that means that your risk of heart failure on Avandia is only *gasp* 1.43% now. Oh no!

It's not until the last couple of paragraphs (if anyone could tolerate wading that deep into this overly-long and verbose article) that we have some hard actual numbers. 4100 new cases of diabetes a day. 810 deaths, 60% of those are from heart failure. Is this the before-Avandia or after-Avandia heart failure rate? (Diabetics are already more likely to experience heart failure than other people.) Since these are new, untreated cases, we can probably assume that this is the before-Avandia rate.

Okay, let's do some math here. 810 deaths divided by 4100 cases = .19 and some change: 19%. But hang on, we have a problem here . . . are these deaths within the total population of diabetes cases or deaths within the population of new diabetes cases?! THE ARTICLE DOES NOT MAKE THIS EXPLICIT. Let's assume that, every day, 810 people die from diabetes, period. Note that the article doesn't give an estimate for total diabetes cases in the U.S., either. Hmm. We can't use their graphic for an approximation, because we have that weird 1/3 ratio thing going with drug takers vs. prescriptions.

Lucky for me I know how to use Google, so I found this little number here. And we have some more numbers:

Diabetes was the sixth leading cause of death listed on U.S. death certificates in 2000. This ranking is based on the 69,301 death certificates in which diabetes was listed as the underlying cause of death. Altogether, diabetes contributed to 213,062 deaths.

Let's do more math! 69,301 deaths divided by 365 is . . . 189 and some change. Where the heck did this 810 number come from?! Even if you take all the deaths in which diabetes is simply listed as a contributory factor, that's still only (213,062 divided by 365) 583 and some change. Granted, these were the numbers for 2000, and the CDC documentation says that diabetes is probably underreported as a cause or contributory cause of death. Okay. Let's assume that 810 deaths a day, out of a population of 18.2 million diabetes sufferers, is correct.

So, back to our earlier math: 810 divided by 18.2 million . . . no, wait, let's be fair. Let's do chance of death per year, and use the most generous number we have. So 213,062 divided by 18.2 million is: .01 and some change. That looks a lot like 1% to me . . . and remember that only 60% of that 1% is due to heart failure.

Result: my intial estimate of your increased risk of heart failure (1.43% vs 1%), which seemed AMAZINGLY LOW, was actually TOO HIGH.

And for this the government panelists are considering banning a drug that helps one million people control their diabetes?!

Jul 26, 2007


Just to clarify: the title of this post is the first book in a trilogy. I linked to a boxed set for the trilogy. I've only read the first two books in the trilogy.

I'm not really sure whether I have any interest in reading further: the bookstore that is actually near my house doesn't have the third book by itself and my overall impression of the two preceding novels is that they are really, incredibly . . . girly.

You heard me: girly.

Now I appreciate that this is not actually a bad quality if you are, in fact, a girl. And Elizabeth Haydon appears to be a pretty good writer in a more general sense: the books are interesting and once I started I read them all the way through without getting bored or fed up. But CRIMINY woman your CHARACTERS ARE SO CLICHED. Could your heroine be any more like the stereotypical good girl from any given fairy tale? Can we stop with the loving children and forest animals thing? Please?

Ms. Haydon left me with a truly mixed perception of her novels on pretty much all levels. Okay, we have the stereotypical characters. But she appears to realize this fact and does some interesting things to correct it, like having other characters complain that the heroine is acting in a stereotypically "female" manner. It's almost like she wrote the book, realized it was terribly hacky, and then went back and fixed all the worst moments . . . almost, in fact, like a case study in what happens when a Naturalist writes using archetypical characters. I don't quite know how to describe it, because I don't think I've encountered quite this same phenomenon before.

The plot is certainly surreal enough on its own. The first novel starts out with an assassin and a giant that is also a military sergeant (there is never any explanation given for why these two are hanging around together, it's just one of those weird fantasy crossover things) escaping from the Evil Force of Doom (something like that). They meet: a bard. She's an ex-prostitute on the run from an obsessed client, btw. It's like Pick Your Former Profession Out of a Hat characterization or something. So, due to a fundamentally bizarre coincidence, the assassin and giant duo kidnap said cute bardic female ex prostitute.

They end up climbing down the roots of the World Tree for LITERALLY CENTURIES and emerging in a new land, which is good because they old land they left has been destroyed while they were doing their Journey to the Center of the Earth thing. How does this make any sense?! I think it Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time. They find a Really Cool Magic Bard Sword. Oh, and by the way it's really nice that here they are in the Future now because it turns out the reason that our bard nee prostitute Rhapsody (the title character of the first book, go figure), was actually in love with this guy that travelled back in time from the New Land and just incidentally claimed her virtue and then vanished, leaving her bereft. Hence why she descended into a life of sin.

Help me. I tell you, the really surprising thing about these books is the fact that they're actually readable.

Rating: 2.5

It's Official, I'm a Webcomic Junkie

These things are just too much fun. Here are some more:


Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic:

Full Frontal Nerdity (Which also is a link to Nodwick):

This one is a little odd, it seems like they picked up a new artist relatively recently. I didn't dig through the site enough to find out, but the comic is funny even if the art varies dramatically.

Jul 25, 2007

Feature Changeup

I switched the display for my blog archive to a drop-down list because I don't like it when the sidebar is longer than the displayed posts. It just offends me esthetically for some unknown reason. It looks unbalanced when the skinny part is longer than the fat part. Anyway. I also don't like displaying a week's worth of posts all at once, so I thought I'd give the drop-down box a try. It looks all right to me thus far.

A Nameless Witch

This is the first book I've read by A. Lee Martinez, so I couldn't tell if some of the content of the book was intended to be referential. In any case, I don't think it matters too much.

This moderately humorous novel is about a young woman, cursed to be one of the undead since birth, who is taken from her family by a horrible old witch. Given, since her family was keeping her prisoner in the basement, this is actually an improvement. The witch wants to train the young lady as her successor, but the older woman is dissapointed because her acquisition is far too pretty to be a witch. It seems the young lady is cursed to be one of those undead that lures men into bed with irresistable visions of carnality and then devours them.

Then the witch is killed rather horribly. The rest of the novel is the young undead witch's journey to Find Herself, which the author does acknowledge is a fantasy cliche so it's not as bad as it might have been. She encounters humans, likes them, and finds she also has an unfortunate desire to eat them. This isn't so bad until she meets the White Knight and discovers herself nearly paralyzed by her conflicting desires.

I think the novel is meant to be quite funny, unfortunately I found most of the humorous elements fell flat. Note to authors: just because something is egregiously weird does not, in and of itself, make it funny. A duck that is inhabited by a bloodthirsty demon is not inherently amusing. There has to be another aspect to the joke. This may be an application of Scott Adams' "two of six" rule.

The story is cute and enjoyable, and has a simple theme: an imperfect reality is better than a perfect illusion. The frequent references to cannibalism are a little stomach-turning, though, and kills the romantic fantasy just a wee bit. Overall I give it a thumbs-up.

Rating: 3.0

New Feature, Maybe?

I've been thinking about adding a new feature to this blog because I don't spend a lot of time on my favorite authors: some of them are dead or produce new books once in a blue moon, and I feel goofy reviewing books that have been on my shelf for months if not years. That, and in reviewing a specific book I don't always get to talk about my favorite aspects of their writing.

So, anyway, this new feature would be called "Authors I Have Read" and be a general discussion of the author rather than any specific book. I'm hoping it doesn't seem too much like a rehash, but I will start doing these entries shortly.

Jul 24, 2007

Thank You, J.K. Rowling

I know that a great many people have a great many things to say on this subject, and I have a personal dislike for doing what everyone else is doing. That's part of the reason my Objectivist blog is full of reviews of books that probably no other Objectivist on the face of the Earth has or ever will read. However, sometimes a matter is important enough that I have to say something, regardless.

What I have to say is this: Thank you, J.K. Rowling. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I don't know how many people out there really appreciate what a titanic feat it is to create your own fantasy realm and write seven books--nearly four thousand pages--of complex interwoven plot. It is hard enough to write a single good plot long enough to fill a short story. Many, many fantasy series authors write themselves into limbo, and those are some of the best authors in the genre! People that tell compelling stories of massive scope! Yet what happens to them? They forget where they were going, if they ever knew, and their great work shrivels and dies in infancy.

I've heard a lot of criticism of Rowling as well: her style is "childish" her characterizations are "simplistic", her themes are "altruistic". Whatever. Where Rowling really shines is in the creation and development of plot. I managed to predict ahead of time many of the developments in the final book of the series. Far from a condemnation, this is actually praise for Rowling's plot-writing abilities.

If a plot is logical, you should be able to figure out where it is going. The surprise should come from the specific steps the author takes to lead you there. This makes the conclusion of a novel both satisfying, in that it confirms your expectations for how the world is organized, and startling, in that you hadn't seen the world through quite that lens before. This is also Rowling's genius.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ties up her plot so beautifully that is shocking. Events that occured early in the series and seemed somewhat pointless are tied back into the story. Everything leads inexorably to one single conclusion. If you are an author, this is what you should aspire to in your writing. The plot of Harry Potter should be, if not your model, then at least your inspiration.

Others will speak for the theme, characterization, subject, etc. of Rowling's books, but to me they speak on a very personal level because they demonstrate so very clearly that it is possible to undertake a very challenging plot and do it justice. I'm working to follow in Rowling's footsteps, and she has given me a very clear idea of the satisfaction I can expect should I succeed.

That is why I say thank you.

Jul 20, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard

You thought I was going to blog about Harry Potter, didn't you? WELL YOU WERE WRONG!

I will probably succumb and write about HP after I read the book, but now you get a movie review because I'm too tired to do anything else. It's kind of hard to do a good review more than two weeks after you saw the movie, though.

Live Free or Die Hard was a very enjoyable summer flick, but unfortunately nothing really stood out as unusual so I think it may vanish into the woodwork. Astonishingly for most action movies it had a reasonably clever and maybe even plausible plot. The stunts, of course, were not plausible at all, but they were fun.

Most of the fun of the movie comes from the interaction of the main characters, though, and there is some good dialog. Justin Long came across as a Keanu Reeves-Matrix look-alike, only with ACTING SKILLS, which was almost shocking. Most of the villains didn't get much screen time, though, and they didn't have a lot of dialogue, either, which made them seem kind of one-dimensional. The one thing I do have to say in their favor is that the main villian is presented as being out for revenge because he tried to warn the government that a disaster could happen but they ignored him. So, predictably, he's causing said disaster. He's never portrayed as a sympathetic character. You are not supposed to think, oh, poor him, screw those guys that wouldn't listen to him. Instead the director did an excellent job of making you think: "Wow, what a jerk."

It's fun, but it needed some surprising or vibrant element to make it all really come together and be exceptional.

Jul 19, 2007

They're Ruining my Reputation

Via Myrhaf, I find this little bit of blogtrivia:

Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating

You have got to be KIDDING me. G?! I think it only rates you based on the text on the front page, because I know there's some significant profanity in older posts. Sheesh.

Jul 18, 2007

Treasure Tables

Via Twenty-Sided I ran across this blog which is pretty-much devoted to helping GM's improve their skillz. This is pretty close to being my favorite (maybe only) topic of conversation with my non-Objectivist friends, and just from skimming the front page of the blog I found several tips that I will be considering further. Can you say gold mine?

Running a role-playing game is like any other complex social activity (running a small business, starting a club) that involves a small group of people with a single goal. It requires a lot of organization, applied philosophy and psychology, and VERY good problem-solving skills. A lot of games crash and burn when the GM fails in one of these or a myriad of other areas. A friend of mine sometimes asks why people keep gaming if most games are a disaster. He supposes that people practice selective-forgetting so that they don't feel they've wasted the time on doing something that wasn't actually fun.

I think it's the opposite: that a good game, properly done, is so much fun that you're willing to put up with all the other crap in order to experience it. It's kind of like sports: to an outsider it looks like the players spend a lot of time doing the same old not-very-interesting things over and over. But the moments of pure awesome drama make up for it.

Would You Have Survived in the Middle Ages?

Shamus Young has an interesting post up on his blog, something I think a lot of D&D players have probably considered at some point. Good role-playing really demands that you try to project what your character should be feeling when they encounter a variety of nasty situations, like the deaths of loved ones, catastrophic burns, a plethora of injuries including some very esoteric ones like disintegration.

So, the question is: would you have survived to your present age without the benefit of modern medicine. Weirdly enough, I think the answer in my case is yes.

We're ignoring the effects of things that you can't estimate, like the effectiveness of vaccines that let you give nasty diseases a miss, and only taking into account illnesses/accidents that you have actually had in your lifetime. In my case, the only life-threatening illness I've ever had was the pneumonia I contracted when I was still an infant. This, however, is survivable without medication, although it probably would have left me with permanently reduced lung function.

I have a righteously competent immune system and I recover from pretty much anything on my own. I didn't take care of my teeth when I was a kid and I've had one cavity filled because I thought it looked bad. I did get my wisdom teeth out a few years ago, but they weren't causing me any pain, I just figured it'd be better to get them out than to wait until they were.

As a side note, I read an interesting article that implies wisdom teeth may actually be beneficial if you're likely to lose many of your teeth before they come in: there's room in your jaw for them, then. That would work out for me, because I was told I would lose most of my top incisors if my jaw wasn't relocated by ortodontia.

The worst injury I've ever had was a teeny, tiny, invisible fracture in my right radius last year and the only result was that I had some restrictions on what I could do with that hand for few weeks. I had bronchitis in high school but I pretty much recovered on my own. That's it. Apparently I'm a freak.

Jul 16, 2007

More Comics

I added a couple more webcomics on the sidebar: Jet Packs and Time Machines and Home on the Strange. Both of them make me laugh. JPTM is mostly surrealism, although the creator's style reminds me a lot of Calvin & Hobbes. Home on the Strange is more geek gamer humor and right on the money. Despite what you may think, gamers do realize just how . . . odd . . . our hobby may seem to the rest of the world, so we are able to make fun of how seriously we take our goofy hobby.

I'd like to see some sports fans making fun of their goofy hobby.

Military Science Fiction/Fantasy Tropes

I mentioned this genre briefly in my last post and I thought I would go a bit more in-depth. I'm not a big fan of the "Military" sub-genre in fantasy and science fiction because, although most of what I have seen evidences a great deal of benevolence, the books also seem to have exactly the same plot. It goes a little something like this:

A mind-numbingly exhaustive description of opposing factions, political structures, houses, animals that BY GOD cannot have the same name or body structure as any actual Earth mammal (unless the author is Mercedes Lackey) but DAMN they sure ACT just like an Earth mammal, vehicles, weaponry, alliances, military units, and matters arcane. This description vies with novels like War and Peace and Les Miserables for complexity.

Reader: You aren't seriously expecting me to remember all that, are you? And why do several of the factions have very similar names?

Author: Shh! No talking!

At some point during this description, the protagonists are introduced:

Main Protagonist (MP): Hi! I'm misunderstood! Also, I have angst!

Secondary Protagonist (SP): Shut up, you pansy!

MP: Jerkface!

SP: Momma's Boy!

A disaster ensues which forces them to work together, during which the MP kicks major butt.

SP: Wow, you kick major butt!

MP: Yeah, I have (pick one: implants/magical ability/special forces training}.

SP: Apparently I misjudged you!

MP: You aren't so bad yourself!

SP: You know, it's going to get awkward if we keep acting seperately. It could slow the action down or something!

MP: Yeah! Let's form the Protagonist Mutual Admiration Society (PMAS)!

PMAS: Okay!

Another battle, rife with exquisitely detailed descriptions of gore, carnage, destruction, and the names of many political factions/creatures/weapons/military maneuvers.

PMAS: Whew! War is hell!

Reader: No shit.

Antagonists: We're evil!

Reader: Where the heck did you come from?!

Antagonists: Little do you know, but we are actually behind the gore, carnage, destruction, etc.

Reader: What? Why?

Antagonists: We just get off on being evil! Watch us smirk in a self-satisfied way at how invincble we are!

Reader: Is it just me, or do they seem kind of stupid?

Author: Shh! No talking!

Another battle which is amazingly similar to the previous battle.

Antagonists: Ouch!

PMAS: Bitch! Where's my money!

Ambiguous Guys (AG): Wow, they kick ass! Hey, ass-kickers! Let us welcome you to our home in a fashion that leaves serious doubts as to our motivations/allegiances!

PMAS: Okay!

AG: We've noticed that you have some serious firepower there!

PMAS: Yes, and we know all about military tactics, too!

AG: Hmm . . . perhaps you can assist us in defeating our enemies!

PMAS: Okay!

More battles, each more drawn-out, gory, and nerve-wracking than the last.

AG: You are getting your butts kicked here! What are you going to do!

PMAS: Arm the locals!

AG: Yes, that always works! You guys are so cool, can we join the PMAS?

PMAS: Okay!

Training Montage.


Secondary Protagonist: (dies)

Main Protagonist: OMG you killed Kenny! You bastards! KILL THEM ALL!!!

The Epic Battle of more than fifty pages of exquisite descriptions of carnage, gore, etc. etc. etc. ensues.

Reader: Zzzzzzzzz.

Author: (kicks Reader)

Reader: Huh? What?

Author: You're missing the best part!

PMAS: Yeah! We won!


PMAS: (smacks)Dude, you're being evil!

MP: Oops. Um, can I go back to having angst then?

PMAS: . . .

PMAS: Fine, kid, knock yourself out.

MP: (smacks himself in the forehead and falls to the ground unconscious)

PMAS: That was great! Well, the book's over, let's stand around congratulating ourselves until the Author wraps this up!

Author: Little do they know that another, bigger evil army awaits them!

PMAS/Reader: WHAT!?!

Author: Come on, I've got four more books worth of epic gory descriptions here! And I haven't gotten past C in my Military Arcana dictionary!

Jul 13, 2007

Class Dis-Mythed

I think Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures were the first fantasy novels I ever read. I was eight years old and the jokes did not even remotely make sense to me. It didn't help that my Dad started me on the third book first, so I didn't even have the advantage of familiarity with the characters to help me out.

But I still liked them! In fact, I eventually bought all the books in the series and re-read them all numerous times. I feel a little old for them now, as I do for the other fantasy novels I read as a youngster: Piers Anthony's Xanth novels and Craig Shaw Gardner's tales of Ebenezum and Wuntvor. Still, I usually enjoy Asprin's new fantasy offerings while I have abandoned most of the other authors.

I think the primary reason for this is that Asprin also belongs to the "Military Science Fiction/Fantasy" club that loosely includes Linda Evans, Elizabeth Moon, David Drake, David Weber, Eric Flint, Mercedes Lackey, and John Ringo (I may have missed one or two there). The main distinguishing literary factor of their writing is that they all firmly and obviously believe that people act the way they do for a reason. I mean, to the extent that they actually have a really tough time presenting a convincing villian that isn't appallingly stupid and cliched. They are like modern disciples of Victor Hugo. Their books sometimes read like cheerful management tracts for a down-at-the heels organization.

Class Dis-Mythed, apart from its obvious lisp-inducing qualities, is one of Asprin's better books. In it, The Great Skeeve (a human magician whose reality does not meet the hype), undergoes to train a mixed gaggle of off-dimension students in "practical" magic. It just gets crazier from there. Skeeve may not be the magician most people think he is, but his practical thinking skills are top-notch and he demonstrates them very convincingly over the course of the novel.

I thought the ending, which dramatizes the students off on their own, was just a bit dull and over-done because it seems completely isolated from the plot at first, but Asprin brings it back on track after a short while. All in all a very fun, light read.

Rating: 3.5

Myth-taken Identity

Here we have another book in the Myth series by Robert Aspirin, this one about credit-card identity theft. I didn't really like it that much because the subject was over-the-top corny and the characters demonstrate a distinct lack of ingenuity and panache over the course of the book. It doesn't help that the three main characters in this book are mostly one-trick ponies: Aahz, the lean mean green Pervect who has a soft spot for two things: his former apprentice Skeeve and cold, hard cash; Massha, the proverbial Fat Lady who dresses like a cross between a Thousand Nights houri and a Drag Queen at a Cher revival; and Chumley, the big purple troll that is smarter than he acts.

I think the writing was sub-par: several elements are introduced that should reasonably become important later, but they prove to be heavy-handed plot devices that vanish just when you might be expecting some kind of payoff. The main adversaries in the story are a pack of Mall Rats (literal rats) that have secret tunnels all through the giant extra-dimensional Mall. One of the tunnels lets them spy on the Mall Administration and the rats make use of it to learn the plans of the three protagonists early in the story. Then, when matters get serious and the rats should either be discovered or foil the last, best plan by getting advance information, Asprin mysteriously forgets about their access entirely. The result is that the entire story seems very contrived.

Rating: 2.0

Jul 12, 2007

Here Kitty, Kitty

I like cats. Given, I'm also allergic to cats and I don't have anywhere to put a cat, but I still sort of wish I could have a cat. Well, my allergies haven't been bothering me that much recently and I will certainly be getting my own apartment as soon as I can, so I figured the first thing to do was to look at some cats. Now, most people would start looking for an actual apartment first, but I like to do things my own way.

I found the above site with a list of all the "official" cat breeds, and I just thought it was cool. I like the Ocicat the best, I think, but I'm also very fond of the Egyptian Mau. Mau is the Egyptian word for cat, go figure. We should name animals after the sound they make, too, you wouldn't have to correct your kids when they insisted that the dog was a "bow-wow". On the other hand, I'm not sure I'd want to be calling dolphins the "eeeekeeiaekkkkeeee"; that's a little hard to pronounce. Spots aside, I also like some rather plain fellows like the Bombay, which really does look like a miniature panther, and the Korat and Russian Blue.

The hairless cats look kind of sad, though.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I'm not usually the type of person to go to a midnight matinee (especially since you don't get to pay the matinee price), but my boss wanted to go see the new Harry Potter movie on opening night (actually, morning) so I decided to oblige him.

The movie was fun, but it substantially different from the book. This actually makes it better than the previous movie as far as I'm concerned: they realized they couldn't fit everything in, so they did some re-writing to make it work on the screen. Even so, it is still a very, very busy movie. I didn't have any trouble following the rapid-fire plot, but it was still the progress of a machine gun. I doubt I would have had such an easy time if I hadn't read the book more than once.

I think they kept in a few things that they still should have cut entirely, like the Occlumency lessons, which were important in the book because they set up further ambiguousity about Snape's character, but they were a great deal less so in the movie due to the re-writes. I think they would have done better to have left out the bit with Bellatrix Lestrange and Neville's parents as well.

I think there are also a few bits they could have cut a bit more ruthlessly to make more time for the things that were really important, but I'd have to watch the movie again with a notebook to really make further recommendations. The scenes came in so fast that they sandblasted my opinions out of my brain almost before I could form them.

The actress that played Dolores Umbridge did a great job however, and they also did a great job of turning Sirius into a sophisticated gentleman with a spotty past rather than a scary street mutterer. The acting was pretty good although the new Dumbledore still grates on me.

About all I can say at this point is that I'm wishing they turned it into a miniseries instead of a movie series. The first book was the shortest and it still made a 3-hour movie. If you are a fan of the books you will probably enjoy this movie, but you probably won't be able to expect any kind of payoff until the final one comes out in 3 years or so.

Jul 10, 2007

Shrek the Third

Here we have another third installment in another series. There have been a lot of thirds this year. Anyway, this one, like most of the other ones I've seen, was cute, but not exceptional. I think the main problem was that it just didn't come together very well; it was more like sketch comedy than a single unified movie.

Just look at the storyline and you'll see what I mean: Fiona's father dies, leaving the kingdom to Shrek unless he can line up another official heir to take over. Luckily, there IS an official heir because Shrek doesn't want the job, so Shrek sets off to find him. Seems kind of forced, but they could go somewhere with this. So far so good, yes?

It kind of goes downhill from there. We have: the return of Charming, who wants his revenge, hijinks with the less-than-impressive alternate heir (his name is Arthur, which should basically explain to you the entire nature of the jokes revolving around his character), a bunch of fairytale princesses running around inside the castle, and Shrek ruminating over the fact that Fiona is pregnant and he is going to be a father soon.

It's too much! Any one of those ideas would have made an entire movie all on its own, and all of them were crammed together. Given, they did some fun things with each plot and the whole story does manage to get wrapped up, but it just wasn't as much fun as it might have been if they'd stuck with one idea.

Adding to the jarringly disjointed plot was a slight weirdness with the animation. Now, this isn't a major issue by far (in fact other people may not notice it), but it was pretty obvious they did the faces of human characters using a different method than they used for body animation. I think they did one of those tricks where they put sensors on the actual humans face to get much more realistic expressions, but the result is that the quality of the animation on the face doesn't quite match the animation on the body. One is very realistic, the other much less so.

I'd say, stick with Ratatouille.

The Anvil of the World

This book is so astonishingly mediocre that it's difficult to even have an opinion about it. I think at least part of the problem is that it's really difficult to identify basic literary elements. Is there a plot? Is this characterization? A joke? What's going on here?

I think this is what happens when someone that isn't actually funny tries to write humor and Make a Statement at the same time. The result? A heavy-handed piece of environmentalist propaganda full of unrelated things that are bizarre but not actually funny.

The main character, Smith, comes across as a strange dichotomy because he is portrayed as being clueless AND effective. (Of course you find out later that he's only effective because some magic is inhabiting him and using him to transport it around. So really, he's just clueless.) The secondary characters include a demonic magician, the son of a Saint that married a Demon, and a well-travelled cook that, Forrest Gump-like, was apparently involved in every major event in recent history.

The entire novel is tiresome from the beginning to the end. Every time it looks like it might get interesting (a train under attack by assassins!) the author ruins it by introducing an amazingly trite explanation (they're ecoterrorists!).

The very last scene is actually reasonably well-done, yet it bears no relation whatsoever to the rest of the book. Maybe the author came up with an idea for a short story and decided to add about 300 pages of text just for the heck of it.

Rating: 1.0

Jul 9, 2007

Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End

For some reason Blogger will not allow me to attach a link to the title of this entry. I've been having some irritating problems like this for a while, like the fact that whenever I edit a post it puts the entire thing into a blockquote for some reason. They just rolled out some sort of new functionality package and the only result I've been able to detect is that a bunch of things STOPPED working.

Anyway, here is the link:

I heard a lot of negative comments about this movie; in fact, I only went to see it because I was seriously bored. I can somewhat understand the negativity, but I enjoyed the movie a lot. It reminded me more of the endgame of an RPG than of a movie, though. After spending the first two movies meeting new people and creatures and discovering a bunch of information, all of it comes together in the same place for the Big Showdown.

Pirates III handled the number of events a lot better than Spiderman 3 did and the movie wasn't filled with lengthy pauses where either nothing much happens or something happens but it makes no sense. There were a few surreal scenes but since the plot involves people that are supposed to be dead/enchanted/immortal/crazy those scenes were acceptable even if they were indecipherable.

I also thought the special-effects extravaganza/endgame was really, really sweet, although I have to admit it occured to me that I'd seen something remarkably similar in The Little Mermaid. I should also mention that if any GM did try to run the Pirates movies as an RPG, I would feel really sorry for them. Talk about splitting up your party!

Jennifer Government

Sometimes you have to ask yourself: why did I get this book? Well in this case I'll tell you flat out: it had my name in the title. I wasn't really expecting much, in fact I had a hard time reading it objectively because I was expecting it to be Libertarian propaganda.

It's not, though, or at least not exactly. Instead, the book is a remarkably honest take on what happens when the government is not capable of/allowed to fulfil its important and necessary functions. A corporate representative says it best near the end of the book, at the moment you might almost identify as the climax: "This isn't freedom, John. It's anarchy."

Max Barry, the author, does not have a lot of love for big corporations, and this shows in the plot of Jennifer Government. A marketing executive, John, at Nike Corporation hits on the idea of building "street cred" for Nike's latest ultra-expensive shoes by having some of the first customers capped. Image-conscious teenagers will be thrilled to be seen in lethal shoes. It is beneath the mighty marketeer, however, to actually carry out these planned killings, so he bullies some poor merchandising rep into signing a contract without reading it.

Everything becomes chaos from there. The shootings draw the attention of Jennifer Government, an embittered agent and single mother that wants to see justice done even though the Government doesn't have the budget for that sort of thing. The remainder of the plot involves kidnapping, a computer virus, and an all-out corporate war involving missiles and guns instead of more traditional standbys like money and advertising.

It's a fun book and fairly short; the kind of novel you take to the beach so that you can fall asleep with it on your face about halfway through and amuse the tourists. The corporation angst felt kind of dated, though, seeing as how this is increasingly the world of The Long Tail. Part of what keeps mega-corporations in existence any more are government subsidies and regulations that keep new entries from competing effectively. In a world without that insulation the mega-corporations will dwindle unless they really do provide unmatched service.

Max Barry also has a very funny website that you can visit if you are so inclined.

Sing it with me now: "You're so vain . . . you prob'ly think this book is about you . . ."

Rating: 3.0

Jul 6, 2007


I've been reading reviews of this movie over the past couple of days since I stumbled over one on the Randex. I can sympathize with director, who has spent considerable time trying to get people to stop drawing parallels between his work and Ayn Rand's. It's no fun to put a lot of work into writing something fun and original and be told that you're "Just like Tolkein" or "Just like Ayn Rand" or whatever.

Granted, he might have gotten away with it a little better if he hadn't directed a movie that is similar, in essentials, to The Fountainhead. Ratatouille is about someone that loves his work and is held back by society. Given, he's a rat, and he loves to cook, but Remy is sort of like Howard Roark. Some of the events in the movie are a little goofy, but it's supposed to be goofy.

I think the main characteristic of this movie is simply its benevolence. There isn't a really evil character to be found anywhere, although there is some underhandedness and the food critic is certainly fearsome. Instead of reducing this battle over the kitchen to unimportance, it elevates it into a battle royale between opposing forces. As a writer I find it difficult to get a good story out of everyday things like cooking. I consider this to be a deficiency and I always like it when someone else manages to do it. I think everyone needs to be reminded that there are important things in life other than shooting the bad guys.

Fighting the bad guys is easy: the lines are clearly drawn and it doesn't take great mental effort to arrive at the correct conclusions. It might require a lot of physical effort, but that's easy compared with the task of figuring out whether to, say, take someone's word on their abilities or sort out what is causing your office morale to sour. Yet all these little activities of astonishing difficulty go largely unnoticed. That's why I'm always pleased when someone shows one of those activities in a light that outlines what an important issue it is.

A Song of Ice and Fire

This is a series by George R. R. Martin that perfectly exemplifies the principle of how to write yourself into a hole; very similar to Robert Jordan, in fact. There are four books in the series thus far: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows. The series starts off with a bang: A Game of Thrones catapults you right into the action and the several threads of the story all take off immediately with the presentation of the various members of the Stark family.

The setting is presented a little oddly, in that some of the important fantasy details aren't explicitly drawn out: you have to infer their nature over the course of many chapters and changes of narritive perspective. I actually found this to be a good presentation because you adopt the same view of the world that the characters hold: you take it for granted as the natural course of things in this fantasy world rather than viewing it as some abberation that needs to be corrected.

The plot is a twisting complexity of intrigues, betrayals and counter-betrayals, so it is a fun read and Martin does a good job of making it easy to follow the events: the motivations of the various characters are fleshed out so perfectly that the events are not confusing at all. A Game of Thrones leads us from the general stability and well-being of a prosperous land up to the death of the King at the hands of conspirators and hints ominously of the disintegration that must follow as the land breaks up again into numerous factions.

A Clash of Kings follows the struggle of these vast warring factions and introduces several new narrative characters and plot threads. Things begin to get more complicated but for the most part we are remaining with the Stark family and the personal importance of the events is clear. Some factions you like, some you dislike, and some you empathize with but despise their methods.

In A Storm of Swords, the faction fights are all-but-solved, or at least you think you can see the shape of the solutions on the horizon. Some of the worst characters are killed off, the good ones remember their priorities, and the fantastic parts of the world begin to solidify and take hold. It looks very much as though one more book could bring everything to a very satisfactory conclusion.

In A Feast for Crows, this illusion is brought crashing down. Nothing happens in the book. Nothing. More narrative perspectives are brought in, important previous ones are completely ignored, and instead of the great events being resolved you are brought down to the tiniest, narrowest view possible: it is as though the story has developed cataracts and is reduced to stumbling myopia. Tellingly, the author finds it necessary to explain/apologize for the nature of the book. He intentionally presented only half of what was going on in the story; he intends to dramatize what happens to the other narrative characters in his next book.

This killed any desire I had to read the rest of the novels. What draws you through these books primarily is the desire to know what happens. Well, if I'm going to have to wait for him to write two more books before I can find that out I'm not even going to bother. I can't retain interest in a story for that long. A Feast of Crows mangled the cast badly enough as it was: my favorite conflicted character died in the most pathetically pointless way possible. The whole story has become uselessly tiresome. I suppose this is what happens when an author takes a ten-year hiatus from writing. In his afterword Martin explains that when he started he found himself writing and writing and writing and he just ran out of room to tell everything that he wanted to in one book. Well, I'll tell you what this means: it means you need to avail yourself of the services of a good editor.

Oh well, the first three books were good.

Rating: 2.5

Jul 5, 2007


I just got back from seeing this movie and I am so happy I went to see it. It was an action movie, it was totally melodrama, but oh it was good melodrama. It is so rare to see a movie so full of explosions and meaningful dialog and hilarious comedy; it's simply a delight for the senses. Oh, before I forget: SPOILERS. THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS. Yeah!

Now there are one or two criticisms I could make, like the fact that it was kind of dopey how the Sector Seven nincompoop basically said all human technology was reverse-engineered from Megatron . . . what was up with that? Bah. It was totally unworthy of such an excellent movie to make a statement like that, but it was only like 2 seconds of the entire movie so nevermind.

I really liked how Optimus Prime really had the power of his convictions; he was absolutely willing to pay the ultimate price to uphold them. Plus the voice they used for him was awesome, Peter Cullen, who also voiced Optimus Prime in the cartoon series. Personally I think HE should have been called the "leading man", but then I'm a sucker for a military man with a good voice. He was also the voice of King Kong, another impressively masculine character. Why are the best men robots and apes? Nah, on second thought, don't answer that. I'm not sure I want to know.

I also like how (don't forget I said SPOILERS) they didn't cheese out the ending and kill Optimus. I was all set for it, I was ready to cringe and be pissed off, and boom! Someone thinks for two seconds and we have The Happy Ending Extraordinary. Oh, it was good. Everyone in the theater clapped at the end, I haven't been to a movie where people clapped in a long time!

It was also very nice how the military was portrayed as being competent, the Men in Black were shown as jerks, the Secretary of Defense was a cool guy, there was a nifty girl hacker . . . I could go on and on but you'd probably be better off just going to see the movie already.

Have fun!

Soon I Will Be Invincible

No, I have not thrown a cog and suddenly turned into a megalomaniac (or at least, more of one than I already was): this is actually the title of a book. I was a little leery when I saw it at Borders, partially because I was thinking of writing a novel about superheros after I finish my current project(s). That, and I was pretty sure that it was going to be a steaming heap of postmodern dreck. You have to be careful with those books that say they have "novel ideas about good and evil". Most modern ideas about good and evil are bunk.

However, I encountered the book again on when I found out that someone had pre-ordered it and was planning on reading it. So I was in a quandry: maybe it wouldn't be awful after all.

Anyway, if you can't tell this little story is leading up to me buying the book and reading it, finally. My opinion can be summed up very succinctly with one syllable, not even a word: eh. It wasn't as bad as I'd feared, but it wasn't as good as I'd hoped. The book asks a lot of questions about what makes a superhero or a supervillian but it never really answers them, either. The two main characters, a super-genius villian (Dr. Impossible) and a newbie hero cyborg (Fatale) posit a lot of potential theories but they don't seem particularly satisfied with their own theories. Certainly none of their actions lead to any sort of resolution; the good guys win because an ambiguously-aligned character allows them to, not because of anything they did.

So, not a very satisifying novel. I read in other reviews that it was humorous because there were a lot of "references" to comic-book culture, but I don't read comic books so either I didn't get them or they just weren't that funny. It makes me sad to see a mainstay of incredible melodrama (super heros) made so gray and dull, like wet newspapers.

Rating: 2.0

Dragon Bones

This is an interesting little fantasy novel that revolves around the psychological effects of abuse; not so much what the attacker does to the victim, but what the victim does to himself. The plot is a little simplistic but the characters are interesting and well-drawn, so it was definitely an enjoyable read.

Dragons are a fantasy mainstay so it intrigues me how many different ways authors come up with to present them. In Dragon Bones the dragons (well, I should say dragon, there's only one in the story) are almost like genius loci; the defining spirit of a place rather than a big firebreathing lizard with wings. Mistreating the dragons has dire consequences for the entire realm.

Unfortunately there's not that much more to say about the novel. It's something to do if you happen to be bored, but there's no reason to add it to your reading list if you're like most people and you have more books than time.

Rating: 2.5

Jul 4, 2007


I'm not a big fan of Joel Rosenberg, but I thought I would give this book a try anyway, primarily because I liked the title. Well, the book was okay.

The main difficulty I have with Rosenburg's writing is that nothing he writes is any fun. He conveys nothing that makes me smile or laugh or feel delighted. I can't hold a frowny face for the entire time I'm reading a book. Heck, I can't even stand to be frowny for an entire hour. Yet this is the essence of his writing. His books sit on the spirit like a lead brick.

It doesn't help that he writes series fiction, either, so every one of his novels contain elements that are important to the meta-story (whatever it is) but not to this particular novel. Paladins is essentially about men that carry "live" swords; swords that are inhabited by a particularly strong soul. These swords grant great power, but it is a dangerous power, difficult to wield and placing great strain on its wielder.

That's all well and good. So explain to me why he decided to set this fantasy story in an "alternate history" where Mordred beat King Arthur and established a huge British Empire? Not to mention that there are mythological creatures like Morgaine running around? How do these two elements fit together? When you write a novel, the setting should be no more and no less than a vehicle for presenting your story, whatever it is. It should not be this weirdly disconnected world that you invented because you could.

The best characters in the book are pushed hither and yon by the whims of other players, the story ends with a hideous deus ex machina scene (the king comes in and rearranges everything), and everything is grim and defeatist. Not my favorite novel by far.

Rating: 2.0

Public Decency and Nuisance Laws

One of the tougher, long-term debates going on at is the question of what kind of public decency/nuisance legislation is proper and effective at protecting rights. I, personally, have difficulty with the idea of ANY legislation to this effect because every attempt I have seen thus far has relied on non-objective definitions. Non-objective law is a monster that cannot be set loose in any circumstances.

Still, I agree that I don't want neighbors that play music at 110 dB or flash strobe lights in my windows or wear thong swimsuits that bare their hairy buttcracks to all and sundry. What rational person DOES want to live with those conditions? So the problem becomes: how do you protect what Ayn Rand called approximately "the right not to see" when there is no universal definition for what is "offensive"?

Well, I think I've come up with a practical method for this, although it probably needs some work. Firstly, you break the area up into two categories: nuisance and communication.

Nuisances are things that impinge on your property, like bright lights, powerful smells (note I didn't say BAD smells), and loud noises. These are nuisances and the most important point is that you must not have to take any action to be affected by them on your property.

Communication is, well, anything that can be used to communicate an idea. This can be images of people or animals or anthropomorphic vegetables (body language) or symbols, or words. These don't necessarily have to be loud or painfully bright to cause a problem, like the aforementioned thong bathing suit.

Then, you have two fundamental situations where this sort of thing becomes a problem. Either you are on your own private property and someone is impinging on you from their private property, or both concerned parties are in some "open" location owned either by one of you or by a third party. I say "open" instead of "public" because of the current state of "public" property, which is owned by everyone and no one. This type of property is improper.

I say these two fundamental situations because others are easily dealt with: if a nudist wanders onto your private beach, you just tell them to leave. End of problem. If you are running an "open" beach, though, then you have an issue that may not be as easily handled.

This is where the stipulations come in.

For private property cases, you simply have to explicitly delineate the rights of the complainee. I came up with a few stipulations, but there may be a few more required.

1. The complainee can by no means be prohibited from engaging in the specific activity, they can only be restrained from displaying it where it impinges on the property of the complainer. How the complainee restrains this display is up to him.

2. No damages. You are not going to get money out of your neighbor. This right here will help reduce harassment because no one is going to spend money to litigate--unless it's a real problem--when they can't hope to gain anything from it except peace-of-mind.

For open property cases the entire matter can be handled by requiring everyone that wishes to have open property to post their restrictions--if there are any. You already see this around with signs like "no skateboarding" and "no swimming", all you have to do is extend it to things like "no complete nudity" or "full coverage suits only" or "no shirt, no shoes, no service".

It should also be required that you identify the type of business you are operating. This is simply good advertising. If you're running a restaurant, there should be a sign saying so, if you're operating a Nazi store, there should be a sign saying THAT.

This works because it is universal and objective, and no one is required to have or post restrictions. At worst, they're required to put a sign on their door explaining what the property is. If the mall doesn't have a sign saying "no nudity" and someone streaks the place, on what grounds are you going to litigate against the mall? You can complain to the mall in the hopes that they will revise their signage, but that's about it.

I think this (or something along these lines) would be a functional approach.

Jul 3, 2007

Blogroll Update

My 'roll has been out of date for a while, but I finally got around to fixing it. I don't read many blogs on a regular basis because I have limited patience/interest with politics and most of the blogs I read are political in nature. This may be in an indication that I need to branch out, but since I'm a conservative reader I don't actively search out new blogs to read. Heck, I haven't even been writing that much for months, so I doubt anyone noticed the blogroll issue anyway.

Anyway, I have added:

Rational Jenn:
I stumbled across Jenn's blog as an indirect result of Diana Hsieh's OList project, but I liked her blog and I like her name so on the 'roll she goes. Her blog is a lot like mine in that she mostly talks about what's going on in her life and her interests instead of politics, but the politics are there.

Edge of Reason:
This is my boss's blog, actually, but he writes some interesting stuff about Objectivism and psychology etc.

Shamus isn't an Objectivist, he's a libertarian, but he's also into gaming in a big way so I like to read his material. He is also publishing a webcomic called DM of the Rings that makes me laugh quite a lot.

I also fixed the link so Acid-Free Paper now leads to Toiler's new blog as opposed to his old blog. It's funny because when I first added him to the 'roll on Literatrix he commented that, yes, it was correct to put the hyphen in there even though there wasn't "officially" one on the title of his site. Well, now there is. So, it's even more correct now.

I've also added two new sections to my 'roll, although I don't have a lot of links in those sections at the moment. This may change, but then again it may not. The major addition there is Schlock Mercenary:, which is a fun space-opera webcomic that I now read daily.

That's all for now.

Check Out My New Ride

Whenever I reach a new level of prosperity in my life I always wind up having to make tough decisions about what I want to improve first. I have a list (yes, an actual list) of all the things I want to get. It includes things like an apartment, new furniture, gym membership, new computer . . . it's a long list. However, my shortly after I arrived in New York my car started misbehaving again and I realized that it just wasn't worth maintaining the thing any more.

So, I got a new car.

I've always preferred to own new things. I realize this is probably not very economical of me, but I figure the point of doing all this work is so that I can actually enjoy myself, not so I can bury myself in austerity. Well, let me tell you, I understand now why people get a new car every few years. My Ion is gorgeous.

It has a few features that I could do without, like Onstar, but for the most part I just love it. I like having automatic windows and doors. Granted, I forgot to lock the car a few times the first couple of days because I didn't have pushing the button automatized, but I live in a low-crime area anyway, so no harm done. I love that the car is so quiet and accelerates smoothly, two things my old car did NOT do. I love being able to sit in the driver's seat without having to put the seat all the way back and lean forward slightly to reach the wheel. This is a really uncomfortable position on long drives.

I love cruise control. I wish the idiots around here were better drivers so I could use it more, though. I have an hour-long commute every morning and evening, 90% of it on highway and I very rarely can use my cruise control because I can guarantee that when I try to turn it on some moron will pull out RIGHT IN FRONT of me and force me to slam on the brakes. I wind up looking in my rearview miror thinking: Why'd he pull out in front of me? There's no one behind me for a kilometer but he just HAS to get IN FRONT of ME.

People in New York don't know how to merge, either. Instead of sensibly getting in the correct lane as soon as they can, they ALWAYS drive all the way to the end of the lane and then try to run someone off the road. If you don't slow down for them, they'll just drive right into you, it is pathetic.

The New York drivers are another reason I'm glad I have this new car: now I have AIR BAGS and scratch/dent-resistant side panels.