Wednesday, December 12, 2018

[Book] There There by Tommy Orange

Book cover
I will start by noting that this book started slow for me.  It took me over two weeks to read the prologue up through the fourth chapter.  Once I passed that, I read the next 80% of the book in two days finishing on a third.

Every character in this book is a Native American either from or converging on Oakland California.  There is a lot of exploration, especially among the young characters, of what it means to be Native in the city.  A native away from the things externally associated with being Native.

I loved this book, but I feel I should not have liked it at all.  This book has most of the things that I've complained about in reviews past.  The book is non-linear.  The book retells the same scenes from different perspectives, sometimes many chapters apart.  The book jumps between grandmother to grandchild without reminding us of the shared relationship.

Yet, the details emerge.  The memories re-ignite.  Not the way I expect them to, but there is always enough there that I'm not left confused and angry.  Chapter headings are helpful here.  They name the character that the chapter will focus on.  The perspectives are amazing in how different each character sees the world.  Which things energize and which things turn off.

The author does an amazing job really pushing the personality drivers of each person, making families familiar in a way that is obvious, while making each character a fully believable individual.  There are multiple people in this book that I wish I could just sit down with an have a conversation with, or just share a meal.

By just about the middle point of the book, it becomes clear that these individual pieces of story are all converging.  More and more, the life stories that are being told are intersecting in place and time.  In this, all of the exploration, the meaning, are all in service of the overall story-arc.  The shifts in place and time, are to help us avoid spoilers for what is to come, and it is done very well.

This is a book I'm recommending without reservation.  I don't do that very often.

There is violence, gang, domestic and sexual, though the sexual violence is not described in graphic detail.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

[Book] I Am Not Famous Anymore by Erin Dorney

Subtitled, Poems after Shia LaBeouf, this is a short volume of erasure poems lifted from interviews with Shia LaBeouf.  Before this book, I had only seen erasure poetry in poster or postcard format.  Kitch, at it's best.  Also, I have very little patience for poetry.  I've read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and never completely read any of the song-poems that are scattered throughout those volumes.

All of this leaves me quite surprised that I really enjoyed this book.  I read maybe 5 to 10 of the poems in here per day over the course of a few weeks, and while often bazaar or nonsensical, there are several poems in here that I think back on from time to time.  Through this book, I've found an appreciation for this art-form.

Ultimately, this is a very short read, but I recommend this.  I recommend spacing it out, as I did.  Also, I can't think of a good reason that you might want to skip this one.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

[Book] A Guile of Dragons by James Enge

Book cover
The book starts in a very promising place.  It offers a map.  All of my favorite fantasy novels have included a map, and this leaves me excited for a tale with some traveling.  The first very short chapter introduces some world building back-story, a short story about gods.  Then, on page 19 (or the third page of story) the novel lands in a fantasy space that I find very overused and tired... Merlin in fantasy old England, complete with a mention of King Arthur's Court.  This has nothing to do with the map, and that gave me the hope to keep reading.  This turns out to tell the story of the birth of the actual main character, Morlock Ambrosius, son of Merlin Ambrosius and Nimue Viviana.

The book divides itself into four parts.  The first part explains how the main character comes to be in, and introduces us to the world that the map describes... a world that is not fantasy old England or even Earth.  At part two, we leave back-story and really get into the main part of the story.  Dwarves, Wizards and, yes, dragons.

The world building is important to this story, but it's also good.  Despite the Merlin reference, this is not a reused fantasy world of others.  The dragons are not friendly or even sympathetic.  The dwarves are not overly talkative.  There are no elves in this story.   The dragon lore in this book is a very interesting take, and I find that I'm quite fond of this version.  I'll note that guile is used as a collective noun, as a herd of cows or murder of crows, but also implies a social structure.

After finishing the book and preparing this review, I found out that Morlock is a main character in some of James Enge's other books as well, meaning that this book is an origin story.  Here's the cool thing, besides being disappointed with the Merlin / Arthur tie-in, I didn't notice this was an origin story (and those are the best kind).

There are definitely parts of the story that are left unexplained.  Not plot holes, but points of resolution that I wish had been further explained.  Knowing that this character appears in other books, I find myself wondering if these are story points in other books, or things specifically being left for future books to explore.  It's a suspicion I would not have if this were a stand-alone book, but I feel it, so I felt I should mention it.

There is exactly one passage in this book that allows it to pass the Bechdel test, and it's singularity stuck out to me.  I don't think that I usually notice these things, but the one passage was distinct enough that it stuck out as being too lonely among many great opportunities for - you know - more simple exposition between two women.

Read this book if you are looking for a different fantasy space, and a male point of view.  Skip this book if an overly male point of view bothers you.  Honestly, this is the reason I'm not likely to seek out more books from this author.  The story telling is great, but it's almost all guys.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Google Cardboard is a Terrible Experience

Every time I ever try to do anything with Google cardboard - apart from the demo itself - the entire thing is a horrible experience.

Take something that seems like it should be relatively common: VR video.  Go into cardboard (the app), request the VR video channel.  Find a video.  Start that video.  THEN hit the cardboard icon that will put it into cardboard mode.  Then pause it.  Put my phone into the cardboard-compatible viewer and hope it doesn't touch anything on the way in.  If anything touches the screen in the wrong place the phone jumps back to full screen.  That means, remove the phone again, re-queue the entire thing and try again.  Finally, I can strap the thing onto my head and if everything went just right, I can hit play and watch that video... at least until it's over.

"If anything touches the screen
in the wrong place the phone
jumps back to full screen."

When the video is over, YouTube does what YouTube always does.  It randomly queues another video that is subject related to the one previous.  Normally, this could be okay, but I've tried this multiple times and the next video has never been a 360 experience.  There is no way within the limited cardboard interface of YouTube to go back in and select a different 360 video.  That means, remove the phone and do the whole thing over again to get back into a 360 video.

I played around with an Android app called Cosmic Roller Coaster.  There's no back in the interface.  Done with the "free" experience, my only option was to remove the phone from the cardboard and hit the Android back button to get back to the main menu within the app.  I then promptly uninstalled Cosmic Roller Coaster.

Google Earth, launched from within the cardboard demo environment is the only decent experience that I've found.  Why is this the only thing I've tried that gives me good feelings about VR as an experience?  Everything else I've tried is mostly a frustration at some point.

Here's the thing.  I love 3D.  I love VR.  I am geeky enough to understand the interface problems and all the steps necessary to overcome them.  Good or bad, Google Cardboard via smart-phone is the first most people will ever get to try VR, and even though it's been around for years, the experience is pretty bad.  I look at the fairly sad sales of the higher-end VR gear (Vive, Oculus or the Microsoft AR vendors), and I can't help but wonder if the underwhelming experience under Google Cardboard isn't part of why there hasn't been more adoption in this market.

I've done some playing with an Oculus and that experience is mind-blowing.  Comparative, Google Earth on both is about the right experiential jump between a phone to a PC hosted app.  That is the only place where Google Cardboard doesn't feel like a complete waste.

Am I missing something?  Leave a comment below if you've found something worth the time and setup of using the Google Cardboard interface.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

[Book] David Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones

Book sleeve cover
The author of this book took a huge amount of time to collect together statements and interviews from a vast array of people who knew or in some cases even briefly met David Bowie.  Jarringly, there are places where David Bowie's own statements are included.  All of these vignettes are presented each in whole, collected into chapters into an approximate order as to when the main point of each vignette happened.  Each vignette starts with a name followed by a parenthetical as to what this person is in relation to Bowie.  Very sparingly, there will be fully italic paragraphs where the author actually writes some narrative framework.  Pointing out things that are important, but not illustrated in the vignettes.  It took me until chapter 3 until I realized that this is what the italic sections were for.

The first chapter of vignettes was very difficult to read.  Of course, the youngest part of anybody's life is the hardest to keep interesting.  "Nick Kent (journalist)", who hadn't met Bowie, but saw him on TV at 17 representing, The Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men, said "...I remember thinking, Now, this fellow we'll probably be seeing again."  At this, it was really hard to keep my eyes from rolling out the back of my head.  There were even vignettes that simply talked about a neighborhood where he was living, without any direct connection to Bowie himself.  Nothing much here but color commentary.

Starting in the second chapter, there are more vignettes from musicians who actually worked with Bowie, and those start to get interesting.  Rick Wakeman, of Yes fame, is a stand-out for good short stories, and though his stories start in Chapter 1, they don't get good until Chapter 2, when he's talking about things that he was part of.

Another thing that goes on through these vignettes that overlap in time is that often two or three recollections of a person or event in Bowie's life will contradict each-other.  Where this happens, there is no narrative interlude to give more information, just the confusion that we don't really know.

Bowie's first wife, Angie, was either "a snotty bitch" and "her own worst enemy" or "... if he hadn't met Angie, David might have continued as a sort of Bob Dylan type..." and "part angel" who "did more than her share of domestic chores".  All I can get from this is that she rubbed some people the wrong way, and - more likely - people who liked her then came to dislike her after the divorce.  Ultimately, I found the Angie bashing to be distracting more than enlightening, and it is just one early example of narrative contradictions.

Because the vignettes overlap in time, and often contradict each other in detail, the book is very hard to follow in a narrative sense.  This is actually worse than the eyE Marty autobiography; that was also out-of-time order, but at least it was a single voice and viewpoint.  This book left me with a mess of details, and I'd bet that two people could read this book at the same time, and come away to tell their own version of the story of Bowie in multiple ways, depending on which vignettes resonated with each reader.

I tried to force myself through this book, but have put it down several times to read other things that have a straight forward narrative.  This book forces you to pay attention, and I wouldn't call it a good summer read (that is, I actually started this book in mid-July).  I got about half-way through this book before deciding I'd read enough of it to publish this review.

Skip it even if you are seeking a narrative walk-through of Bowie's life.  Read this if you are obsessed with all things David Bowie, and really want to get a very in-depth view from a lot of different voices.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Next Career Move

The company I work(ed) for has been planning a division sell-off for most of the year.  Weeks after that division spin-off into Private Equity, I was notified that my last day will be 29 October.  The last time I was laid-off, it was similarly driven by a corporate action.  Upper management had been talking about a flatter organization, and cutting out management levels, so I was well prepared mentally.  I actually expected that I would take it much worse than I did.

I have about 15 years of management experience in IT and Software, so the first phase of my looking for a job will be to try to find a Software Manager position (since this is my longest, most relevant, and most recent experience).  If that doesn't go well, I'll open up to IT management roles as well.

Anyway, if you know me and you know of an opening that I might be good at, feel free to send me a note.

I suspect this may mean less book reviews (though I currently have reviews written through 12 December).  This summer I reviewed a bunch of books, and then dropped to every other week to help stretch out the fact that I've slowed down my reading a lot as fall hit...