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I've recently decided that I like listening to stuff when I'm walking/biking/driving. And since a) I don't pay to subscribe to any music streaming services (nor is my private collection very impressive), and b) the speakers in my car are so crappy that playing almost any kind of music on it is an insult to the music, I've been listening to podcasts.

I had gone without listening to things for so long that I had a couple years of backlog of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me to catch up on, which kept me golden for a while, but then I ran out, and started seeking more. I feel like I've struck out way more than I've hit gold, so this post is mostly here to ask for suggestions.

What I like: humor, storytelling, brevity, segments I can start and finish in a typical day's commute (~20-25 minutes one way), nothing too deep as my attention isn't 100% on it at any point and my listening is the first things to go if my brain is preoccupied.

What I don't like: People having a lengthy, unedited conversation. Too much pop culture references that doesn't include me. The wrong kind of humor.

What I've tried:

Wait Wait Don't Tell Me
My favorite podcast that I've listened to for many many years and compare all others to. I like the personalities, I like the humor, I like that it is strictly edited and consistently timed, I like that no single segment in it is very long (even Not My Job is rarely more than 10-15 minutes).

The Moth
My next favorite. The stories are captivating and interesting and emotional and not too long. Just right for a small listening break in my day. The character list is ever changing, but they are basically all people who are picked for being good at storytelling, which is important. If I needed to I could probably just go back into the archives and listen to all of them.

This American Life
Pretty good show by those hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are. I like when humans are shown in detail and made to be complex and sympathetic and Ira Glass does a good job at that. I remember listening to it years ago in the car when I'd flip to NPR and it would be on by chance, and generally enjoyed it then, so I looked it up now. Not much has changed, but it's all new.

Hello Internet
This one breaks all my rules for what I think I should like and yet I kinda do. My older son introduced me to it as something he enjoyed, and we got through a couple episodes on a college commute trip. It is, basically, just two dudes chatting, which I would expect to be bored by, and yet somehow I'm not. I suspect it has to do with the fact that hosts CGP Gray and Brady Haran are both successful YouTubers, and know the art of editing. But I also appreciate that the two of them, even though they seem to have very different personalities with occasionally wildly opposing opinions, obviously get along very well, and their comfort with each other somehow comes across in their shows.

The Ezra Klein Show
I started this because I've read a lot of Ezra Klein interviews and articles that I've liked. I admire his brain and his interviews tend to be with people who are passionate and articulate in ways I want to hear more of. But the interviews are on the long side, and I always find my brain wandering a little. I would probably appreciate these interviews a lot more by spending 10 minutes reading them than an hour listening to them.

Welcome to Night Vale
The premise sounded really good to me, a lot of my friends are in love with it, and I enjoyed it some. I listened to the first 10 episodes to really try to get into it, and while it has some nifty bits, it's just not as appealing to me as I'd hoped. It's non-contiguous enough that while I realize I don't -have- to listen to them all in order, it throws in a few ongoing storylines here and there so that skipping around doesn't seem to make sense. On the upside, each episode is fairly short, so I may go back and try more eventually.

No Dumb Questions
Downloaded because I like Destin Sandlin's work on Smarter Every Day. Unfortunately the one ep I listened to was basically a really long conversation between three people, probably only about 25% of which I found particularly interesting. On the upside, I discovered Emily Graslie and The Brain Scoop, which is vaguely interesting, but I don't think the rest is worthwhile to do it again.

Dear Hank and John
I like the Vlog brothers's personalities and most of their videos that I've seen. And I liked Paper Towns. Unfortunately, like John's books, this show is really aimed towards a much younger audience than me, and although I gave it a few episodes, I found their focus on answering internet questions to be pretty irrelevant to me.

The Daily Show Podcast Without John Stewart
I love the Daily Show, I like the correspondents, I like the editing. This was fun. But there were only 20 episodes, and then it stopped.

Stuff You Should Know
I downloaded this one because it was rated highly and is hosted by writers at HowStuffWorks, which sounded interesting. But it's basically another hour of two people having a conversation and usually not about things that I cared about (or agreed with).

2 Dope Queens
I like both Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson and yet their conversations and joking around just didn't amuse me.

My Brother, My Brother, and Me
Answering inane questions from random listeners or Yahoo (bzzt). An hour of conversation between people I don't know and don't particularly find funny (bzzt). Not going back here.


So, dear Readers. Given these descriptions (or not), what podcasts do you like and you would recommend to me? Heck, I'm even interested in some that feature music, as my headphones are pretty decent.
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2016 Book Log

I enjoyed doing this last year, and decided to continue. Keeping a log helps me to make sure reading stays near the top of my personal priority list. I've included a brief summary with each book/series with my reaction. I tried to keep it short and also not include any spoilers.

My totals for the year: 45 books, 26 authors, 14 women authors. Thinking about my "top picks" for the year, I think women outnumber men almost 2 to 1. Maybe I should be prioritizing them more.

Now taking applications/recommendations for 2017!

2015 Book Log: http://blk.livejournal.com/302910.html

Science fiction
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1. The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu

Read because it won the 2015 Hugo for Best Novel.

I went into this one not knowing anything about it, which I think is the best way, because the main story plot does not become clear until fully halfway through, and going through the "wtf is going on" process with the main characters is fully appreciated. The writing was amazingly well done and smooth, with footnotes to help with some parts readers might not be familiar with. The science is lovely and philosophical, almost to the point where I wanted to spend more time on that rather than the actual story line as it ended up being.

I also went into this without realizing this was going to be first of a connected trilogy. It was both not an easy read for me and neither did it have any real conclusion, which made it less satisfying overall. I intended to continue it but somehow the second book never seemed appealing when I was picking what to read next. Maybe next year.

2. The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell

Eric, the store owner from Amazing Books in Squirrel Hill, highly recommended this one to me.

The story is about a mission - both scientific and spiritual - to an alien planet that went badly. That general premise is known from the start, and the rest of the book is learning what horrible things happened and how the main characters were affected. There is a lot more spiritual philosophizing than science in here, which was wonderful and interesting if you're into that thing, but the emotional agony of the characters eventually felt overly drawn out. The ending, while good at concluding this part of the tale, wasn't particularly rewarding to me, and didn't leave me with a desire to continue the story. I contented myself with reading the plot summary of the sequel and calling it a day.

3. Grass - Sheri S. Tepper

I picked this on the recommendation of Scalzi after Tepper's death this year.

In a lot of ways, this made me think of The Sparrow while I was reading it. The world-building is fantastic and both the alien world and the societal structures are well written and intriguing. There is a good amount of spiritual philosophizing in ways that don't give pat answers to things. What disappointed me is the lack of character depth. One main character was interesting to me; the others were varying shades of boring to annoying, and I found that I didn't really care what happened to most of them, despite the book's POV jumping around between them. I guess I've really been spoiled by other authors' characters. Good for what it did, though.

4. Carnival - Elizabeth Bear

Recommended by Jonathon

There were a lot of things to satisfy me in this book - good solid characters, interesting social and political intrigue, a look at a non-patriarchal society with interesting, complicated women, non-heterosexual main characters, and a good story. I did find myself going back and re-reading bits to recall exactly who this character was, or to try to make sense of yet another scheme within a scheme, or to find a thread I dropped of how characters ended up in certain situations, but I don't know if that was because it tried to be a little too complex or because of my own wandering attention. Good read.

5. Lock In - John Scalzi

Read because Scalzi was GOH at Arisia last year and I wanted to read more of his work.

This is a pretty typical Scalzi book, perhaps on the better side of what I've read so far. He's got an interesting future world, pretty good solid characters, and the wealth of sarcastic dialog that he's known for. It's a fun read, nothing deep or profound.

6. Tomorrow and Tomorrow - Thomas Sweterlitsch

Recommended by magentametrix

The delight of this book is that it is Pittsburgh based, and by Pittsburgh based I mean not only does much of the important storyline take place in Pittsburgh, the places are described in so much exquisite detail that it was like taking a tour. Someone rides a bus through the tunnels; they visit similar stores in Shadyside that I've seen; there's a mystery involving 9 Mile Run and distinctive real places; etc. It was all so achingly familiar that I kept wanting to go for a walk and find the landmarks mentioned.

The down side of the book is that it is a dystopia, which in this case means it involves not just Pittsburgh getting annihilated, but characters who are abused and killed in really violent, ugly ways. It reminded me of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, except minus the kick-ass primary female protagonist, which takes away a lot of the satisfaction of seeing good win. Definitely read it for the Pittsburgh, but brace yourself for the ugly parts.

Fantasy fiction (non-series)
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7. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - Natasha Pulley

I first saw this mentioned by Emily. Also other sources.

Part steampunk beauty, part historical fantasy, this book introduces and meanders around the mystery of a fascinating person. The writing is beautiful and subtle, leaving me to flip back to previous chapters where I could see the hints being dropped far in advance, but also just vague enough to offer multiple possibilities of what is really going on. I really loved this right up until the very last two pages, when the ending made clear that none of that vagueness I was really interested in was going to get resolved, and the fascinating person who I craving knowing more of was going to remain a confusing mystery.

8. Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman

Read because Gaiman and mentioned by most of my friends, but possibly first by larksdream. Finally got around to listening to the audiobook on a drive to Rochester with Justin.

I don't know what to say about this one except that it's a Gaiman story, and a wonderful one at that. It's told from the POV of a 7yo boy (as a flashback) and it does an amazing job of putting the reader into his shoes and experiencing his trauma from that perspective. It's powerful and wistful and magical and beautiful.

9. The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison

Another larksdream mention, as well as a 2015 Hugo nominee.

This book pleased me in totally unexpected ways, considering that basically nothing happens in the book, with the exception of about one half chapter of action. It is a really strong character story with a lot of thoughts and feelings about complicated social tension and power struggles and how one nobody person suddenly thrust into power does his best to do the right thing. There is almost no fantasy in this at all except as minor details - the goblins and elves and steampunk airships work as an excellently-distanced version of our own race and culture - but the main ideas are entirely universal. Highly recommended for people who like people books as much as I do.

10. Uprooted - Naomi Novik

Read because it was a 2016 Hugo Nominee.

This started off with the fairy tale premise of a small village "sacrificing" a young girl to a "dragon" in order to keep peace... and then it tosses that out the window (kindly) and goes off on its own incredible, magical journey. There is action and adventure, magic and energy flow, interesting characters and non-obvious directions in the plot. Interestingly, the relationships pictured in here are stilted and unsatisfying, but then I looked at with an eye towards how we as individuals relate to things in general - people, societies, environments, dark forces of the universe - and suddenly the way the characters -don't- relate well to each other actually feels a little more meaningful.


Fantasy fiction (series)
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Fairyland - Catherine Valente
11. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

I added this to my list because of Vryce, but having read this author before, it was an easy add. Cat Valente's writing style is absurdly beautiful, complex, and probably appeals to a very specific audience. I love it, although the sheer density of her imagination makes it not light reading for me, even the YA story which is a bit more of a straightforward story than the other things I've hers that I've read. magical. Valente's universes are chock full of weird magic that makes perfect sense in their context. This one has several more books that eventually I will probably read more of.

Magic Ex Libris - Jim C. Hines
12. Libriomancer

I read this one because I was at the library with David paying off his fees and he wanted a book. I didn't have my list with me, but Katy had recently mentioned it to me, so I recommended it. Then I read it when he was done. How can you not love the idea of someone who gets magic from books? Hines's writing reminds me a little of a cross between Scalzi and Sanderson, although I'm not sure I could tell you why. This one was fun, interesting and a fairly light read. Also, the main character's sidekick is a fire spider, which is just awesome.

The Adventures of Arabella Ashby - David Levine
13. Arabella of Mars

I picked up this one after hearing about it from Katy and seeing the Hamilton filk that the author did to promote it. Gotta give him props for that.

This book had a lot of good elements. A strong female protagonist who I liked, was level-headed, made good decisions, and had a good head on her shoulders. A lot of major steampunk components, many of which got described in great detail without it being tedious. Quite a few wild adventures. A satisfying conclusion that clearly opens the world up to many more future books in the series. Ones I don't really think I have interest in reading, though. Not sure if the story just didn't do it for me or if I just caught this one in my "not ANOTHER story set in a heavily misogynistic culture and society" phase.

Sandman Slim series - Richard Kadrey
14. Sandman Slim
15. Kill the Dead

Recommended by jet last year. These books are irreverent, crude, violent, cynical, and way more fun than I expected giving that description. It digs deep into the angel/demon/magic mythos, with an antihero protagonist who is sarcastic, immature, likes killing things, and is hella likeable.

I keep wavering back and forth on whether I liked it enough to continue. On one hand, fairly easy reading. On the other, the series is up to 12 books and probably still counting. It's not you, baby, it's me.

Song of the Lioness - Tamora Pierce
16. Alanna: The First Adventure
17. In the Hand of the Goddess
18. The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
19. Lioness Rampant

This was apparently a favorite fantasy series for many of my female friends decades ago, when they were teens. I can see how the strong independent female main character was probably a rare thing in its day and super appealing to younger girls, but I'm so tired of fantasy books that want to jump back to medieval time and thus also include medieval gender roles and the female protagonist has to be stronger and better and braver and faster and smarter than all of the men before they accept her as an equal. I finished the series, though.

Queen of the Tearling - Erika Johansen
20. Queen of the Tearling
21. Invasion of the Tearling

I don't remember where I heard about these books, but they sounded interesting. There was a lot of good to them. The characters, in general, are really good. The magic and the setting are interesting, and there's a good story going. But there are frustrating things too. It's definitely a single story in three parts, so some of the major plot points are still left hanging or unclear. I intend to read the final third soon, and that will probably determine my overall assessment.

Mistborn (Cosmere) - Brandon Sanderson
22. Shadows of Self
23. Bands of Mourning

I started the Mistborn series several years ago based off my son's suggestion, and liked them. Sanderson is a pretty comfortable writer for me. He has some weak areas, but overall I like his stories. His worldbuilding is amazing, and his characters are usually pretty good. There's always a big fight/battle scene or two that goes on too long for me, but the rest of it makes up for it.

Shadows of Self and Bands of Mourning continue with the Wax and Wayne Mistborn set, and I have to say that, particularly in BoM, I am liking this one better than the original trilogy, almost exclusively due to one character in particular (helped by a few supporting characters). If there was ever anything else written featuring Wayne I would read it in a heartbeat.

Novellas from Arcanum Unbounded (more Cosmere)
24. Mistborn Secret History
25. The Emperor's Soul
(Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell)

Two of these I'll consider long enough to count as novellas/books, the third is more of a short story. Justin and I listened to these on a trip to Rochester.

Secret History was fun for tying things together and revisiting the old stories from a different perspective, and it hints at a lot more possibilities to learn about. The Emperor's Soul is a great, short standalone that was just slightly too long for our trip, but it was Justin's copy, so after I dropped him off I had to scour the 'net for a copy so I could finish it. The collection is on my hold list so hopefully soon I'll acquire it and read the rest of what's in it.

The Reckoners - Brandon Sanderson
26. Steelheart
27. Firefight
28. Calamity
(Mitosis)

Recommended by David. Decent Sanderson material. Entertaining for the author's challenge of coming up with new, interesting, feasible superhumans without stomping all over any the other existing superhero tropes, stories, inventions, storylines, etc. The teen male protagonist is a little eye-rolly for me, and there's more ka-blooey fights than I care for, but the world-building is solid, and it was enjoyable and easy enough to finish it.

The Lunar Chronicles - Marissa Meyer
29. Cinder
30. Scarlet
31. Cress
32. Fairest
33. Winter
34. Stars Above

Recommended by mh75. Previously I have been leery of retold fairy tales, because the base stories themselves are so problematic and annoying. But when Cinderella becomes a snarky, brave, cyborg mechanic who doesn't play victim, and all the other tropey characters actually are pretty well fleshed out people (or androids/aliens), I ended up liking this way more than I thought I would. There's still an I guess necessary dose of romantic mooning, but it doesn't go too far overboard.

The Broken Earth - N.K. Jemisin
35. The Fifth Season
36. The Obelisk Gate

The Fifth Season was last year's Hugo Award winner for Best Novel, and given how much I enjoyed some of its company, as well as liking her Inheritance trilogy last year, I decided this series couldn't be a bad decision. Well, I was wrong. It was an awful decision, because this one, unlike her others, is a single story in three books, and only two of them have been published yet. The first book is heartwrenching, beautiful, dark, artful, and tense. It was difficult to read in parts because of what the characters have suffered through and how much that shows through in her skillful writing.

I immediately wanted to continue the next, which does not let down. However, now I have to wait another 6 months for the third. Not fair! This is going to be my highest recommendation for a while, but do yourself a favor and hold off another year.

Inheritance - N.K. Jemisin
37. The Awakened Kingdom

While searching around for more Jemisin to get my fix, I discovered there was an addition to the Inheritance trilogy and immediately jumped on it. This novella was a delightful read, well-written in so many ways, had an adorable main character, and ended on a lovely note. Good to read the others first, as the background characters are not explained in this book at all, but is still a standalone story.

Dreamblood - N.K. Jemisin
38. The Killing Moon
39. The Shadowed Sun

Yeah, I got on a Jemisin kick this year. At this rate, I may find myself getting into Mass Effect sometime next year. Weird. But it's clear that this author has my number. 90% into the first book, I swore it was going to be a single story in two books, but then the first one wrapped up suddenly and efficiently. Not completely, making it clear that there were many more stories to be told in this universe, but enough that one could stop with one without feeling like you're leaving something major lost. The second book had some overlap, and needed the background of the first for best appreciation, but was still a single story in its own right.

I could go on at length about the small things I liked about this, but I'll save that gushing for other conversations and just say that this is my recommendation of the year for something to read right now.


Fiction
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40. Paper Towns - John Green

I traded book recommendations with Rebecca to get this one. I know of and like the Green brother's vlogs, and was kind of aware that one was a YA author as well, and this is the first one I've read. It was good! Interesting concept that explored teenage years well and ended well without giving a happily-ever-after pat fairytale ending.

41. My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante

Sometime early last year I was going through random online Books Highly Recommended Lists by Other People, and this one came up. It sounded like my kind of book, and I think maybe it almost was. It's very much about the characters, about growing up - with and without enough, and about friendship and kinship, placed in Naples in the 50s. It meanders and it is thoughtful. I doesn't have overarching victories or grand sweeping conclusions.

And maybe that's the problem. I read through it getting to know these women and their society, but not really being attached to most of them, and their unfortunate circumstances and choices just keep me feeling depressed. Then when I finished and felt really unfulfilled, I found that it is part of a 4 book series that promises more of the same. Not continuing.

42. The Girl in the Spider's Web - David Lagercrantz

This is an addition to the Millennium series (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) by Stieg Larsson. It was not made with Larsson's notes (or his partner's permission). As a result, the characters are a little different, didn't come across nearly as powerful, and overall just didn't really sit quite right in my head. On the other hand, it's also missing some of the trope issues that I had with Larsson's original writing. It was enjoyable as a standard detective story that makes use of a familiar setting.

43. Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee

This book has a lot of really good things it, but I wouldn't call it a great book. Mostly in part because it was never meant to be. This is basically an early rough draft of the book that To Kill a Mockingbird was an extended excerpt/flashback from, and in that context, it makes a lot more sense. Also given the context of TKAM, I can appreciate the actual character growth a lot more. There is a lot of substance in it, though, and some of the roughness serves well to provoke more thought, if the reader is willing to do a little work.

44. Sunday Philosophy Club - Alexander McCall Smith

Recommended by mh75. This was a fun, simple mystery with a lot of thought and not a lot of action. Unfortunately, I didn't particularly care for the main character, and the story didn't really have much impact on me either way.

Non-Fiction
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45. Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates

Recommended by jadia. This was a hard read, I think because I'm not practiced in reading non-fiction, and mentally I try to look for rising action, character development, etc, and this was mostly an epistle. It is thoughtful, angry, hopeful, passionate, and informative.

Other
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I read a variety of other things, but of note, I went through as much as possible of Ann Leckie's short fiction: http://www.annleckie.com/bibliography/ and also as much as possible of N.K. Jemisin's short fiction: http://nkjemisin.com/bibliography/
blk: (avatar)
This year I have gotten my ebook collection in better order, both on my computer and in figuring out how to work with OverDrive so I can check out ebooks from the library. Also, ebook popularity seems to have caught on appropriately, so new releases are usually also available in the digital public library as much as in physical copies, and much easier to access without leaving the house (I don't buy books). This means not only did I read books but I also kept track of what I read, so I figured it would be kinda cool to recollect them for the future.

I included summaries of my reactions to them and general thoughts about the writing, with an attempt to not spoil anything and also trying to keep it short because this became a super long post. I'm happy to talk in more detail in comments if desired, and would also love to see opinions from others who have read stuff.

Since my list of to-read stuff is infinitely long, I tend to prioritize stuff by recommendation. This way, I tend to benefit by rarely reading crap books, and since I'm the type of person who finds it really really difficult to quit anything in the middle, it means if a book starts slow, I figure it's pretty likely that it'll be rewarding in the end. If you are reading the list below and are reminded of something you think I'd like, feel free to recommend to me. While I do gravitate towards SF/F, I'm not exclusive to it.

These are listed not in the order that I read them, but grouped somewhat by author and book type.

1-10, Babylon 5 trilogies )

11-19, SF/F trilogies )

20-27, other books )

28-32, children's books )


32 books, 16 authors, 9 women.
blk: (delirium)
Last week was Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week and Thursday, my local bar Hough's had a barrel-aged beer night, where they had 32 barrel-aged beers on draft. I joined a group of 7 other people who also like that sort of thing. We squeezed our way into the crowd (and amazingly, eventually found two tables), ordered everything in their 4oz taster sizes, and successfully tried all 32 beers!

I did take notes and we took pictures, and from my drunken scrawls I have a good list of the ones that I found particularly palatable. Of course, whether I'll be able to find any of them again is another question, but it's good to have records! In no particular order, my favorites were:

I think there might be a trend here )

The vast majority of the beers there were ones I appreciated. I think less than a quarter were ones that I said "no way" for. I had a great time, and it wasn't just because the beers there averaged above 10% ABV, although I'm sure it helped. Despite eating before and during and trying to keep to small sips, I was pretty wobbly before we were even halfway through, and thoroughly soused by the end.

I find the feelings of being drunk quite fun in certain contexts, and I constantly ponder how to describe it and put it into words. It both increases and decreases my senses. For example, I get more physical pleasure out of simple casual touching, while the dull roar around me of the large bar atmosphere, which would usually be aurally chaotic enough to mentally overwhelm me, decreases to just tolerable background noise. It works its job perfectly as a relaxant to me and thus as an anxiety-dampener, and as a side-effect of THAT, a lowering of inhibitions. Although that phrase itself seems odd to me, in that "lowering inhibitions" has been used so much in the context of it always being a bad thing, yet mostly the effect on me seems to be just making me less anxious about doing the things I'd like to do anyways. My mental processes about noting the comfort level of people around me reacting to me seem to keep working just fine, though (although I admit I'm a biased source, but I haven't heard any complaints), so maybe my "free impulses and expressions" just are fortunate enough to be mostly socially appropriate things.

Then the next morning, I had the joy of another new experience: a hangover!

It took me a while to recognize it, because a) I've never actually been hungover, as far as I know, and b) the thing I have heard most about hangovers is that they involve a killer headache, and I had no headache, nor did I feel like I was significantly dehydrated. Instead, I noticed that the room seemed kinda spinny, and I still had a bit of sour stomach going on, even after getting dressed and nibbling a little. Basically, it felt a lot like the really unfortunate parts of being a little too drunk, without any of the fun parts. So I looked up the symptoms of a hangover, noted that I was noticing a good several of the things listed, and concluded that yes, I had one. Fortunately, everything was reasonably tolerable as long as I moved pretty slowly, so I still biked into work and was productive, and the unpleasantness mostly faded by the afternoon. It did significantly reduce my immediate desire to have any more alcohol for a while, though, which has been nice for getting things done this weekend.
blk: (computer)
I made it a point to get some more reading time in over the break than I usually do, and a quick spin through my collection (electronic and paper) turned up these three, which I finished and enjoyed. I don't usually report on my reading but felt like doing it at least for the first one.

Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner, self-described as "a melodrama of manners," is in a historical fantasy setting where rich aristocrats hire swordsmen to act out their squabbles, all of petty and political. The characters are likeable, the plot is interesting enough, and the twists, although not unguessable (which likely translates to "pretty obvious," coming from me), are still intriguing. I did not feel particularly drawn in at any point, yet wanted to keep reading. The writing is rich with details and foreshadowing, enough that after I finished the book, I immediately flipped back to reread several scenes that had seemed to have little importance the first time around. I didn't feel like the story made that much of an impression, yet the characters kept rolling around in my head for the next couple days, and good characters in a book is really something that catches me. So while initial feelings of the book were more neutral, I've ended up upgrading it to "liked it." This was my first Kushner, and I think I want to read more by her.

But perhaps one of the most refreshing things about this book (to me) was that bisexuality - in both affairs and relationships - was considered normal and unremarkable, was treated with respect, and was a trait common to not just one, but several characters, both important and not. That the book is over 25 years old makes that, in my mind, even more nifty. I cannot at the moment think of any other books where bisexuality was written so casually and not made into a Defining Characteristic somewhere. Anybody else know of some?

Westmark, by Lloyd Alexander, is YA historical fiction. It's an easy, light read, and having read another of Alexander's series previously, I can also say that it shares a lot of the same tropes: a protagonist young male orphan who goes through hardship and adventure, a spunky girl sidekick who turns out to be a lost princess, a comedic relief sidekick, a horrible evil bad guy and a war he provokes. I'll probably finish the series just because.

Assassin's Apprentice, by Robin Hobb, was the only one of the three with actual magic. This book caught my interest from fairly early on, and for the most part, didn't let it go. It had complex and likeable characters, a variety of intrigue, and a plot that mostly winds down by the end, but includes a few overarching conflicts that don't get resolved in the first book (but I assume they do later). This was the first Hobb that I have read, and I like her style a lot. This was definitely my favorite of the three and the one I am most eager to continue.

Although not intentionally picked as such, all three of these are the first book in a series or trilogy (and the last, the first trilogy in a series of trilogies!). Moreover, they are also enough decades old that the sequels that I don't already have should be quite easy to acquire. So I have my leisure time cut out for me for the next while! If anybody else is looking for recommendations, I'd probably include all three to varying degrees.

What have you read lately, and would you recommend it?
blk: (bike)
I have spent a lot of time complaining at great length about cold fingers when I ride my bike in winter around here, and my failure to find a warm enough solution.

When I last ranted about it, [livejournal.com profile] danceboy stepped in with perfect timing and offered to send me an old pair of bigger gloves so I could try them with liners, going on the tentative theory that the reason liners hadn't been working for me is there wasn't enough extra space with my current gloves. I also acquired, per suggestion from [livejournal.com profile] xuth, a pair of heated glove liners to use (size S/M). The liners are nice in that they provide heat around the outside of the hand and fingers, where I actually get cold, instead of in the palm. They are very comfortable, too, if a little bulky with the battery pack.

My current cold-weather gloves are the Novara Stratos (women's M) and the new ones from danceboy are the Pearl Izumi Inferno gloves (men's L). Both are 4-fingered, waterproof, windproof, winter bike gloves. The Stratos fit me super comfortably, with generous room to move around without liners, and are just slightly snug with the liners I've tried. The Inferno are definitely bigger, with enough extra space to feel somewhat awkward without liners, and only a little too big with them.

With my new setup, I just had to wait for some below-freezing, dry, commuting workdays. Between temperatures hovering just above freezing, jury duty, vacations, and occasional precipitation, it's taken a bit longer than I expected to get a good trial, but it is finally time to report back with some data.

data log and details )

Conclusion: I have succeeded in finding a solution that works and I am super duper happy about it. I suppose my absolute perfect ideal would be to get another pair of Stratos in size L instead of the Infernos, since I really like the Stratos, but a) they seem to be out of stock everywhere, and b) I don't think the slight increase in comfort is worth the $$ they cost new.

Thanks to everybody out there who has listened to me rant and offered sympathy or suggestions. Happy endings FTW!
blk: (bike)
Last week I decided to go to the local Big Database Company Advertisement Day, where a certain large company that specializes in database management systems hosts lots of local database people somewhere nice and try to sell us more of their products. My workplace uses a few of their products already, and they have some other interesting-looking ones (and the event is free), so I decided to go. The professional aspect of the event gets discussed with coworkers where applicable, so this blog is about all the others parts of it.

biking, tea, food )
blk: (star)
I just finished reading Habibi, a graphic novel by Craig Thompson. This review almost certainly has spoilers and possibly triggers.

Firstly, the book is beautiful )

Also, there's a lot of rape )

At it's heart, Habibi feels mostly like a fable chock-full of metaphor and symbolism. It tells of the evils of power, corruption and cruelty, and shows a world where the weak is starved and cracked (both dry from drought as well as mad in the head) as a result. When read with a mind more for the symbols than for the characters, then it is moving and interesting and heart-wrenching and thought-provoking, piling hopelessness on the reader, then leaving them with hope. It goes through an awfully rough terrain to get there. For many, the open-endedness of the imagery and multiple layers of meanings and references combined with the sheer beauty of the art will make it worthwhile. For others, likely for the things I mentioned above, it won't.
blk: (computer)
After last month's angsting about e-readers, I made a choice to go with the Nook Simple Touch, B&N's second gen e-ink-only touchscreen reader. A couple people asked me to revisit the topic with my current thoughts. Disclaimer, I've only used it about a week, and mostly just for reading, so I haven't explored all the options, and I haven't rooted it.

The good:
+ works. WiFi connected, laptop recognized it by default and treats it as a USB drive. Calibre connected and transferred files on the first try.
+ physically attractive: It's cute, simple, lightweight, comfortable to hold. E-ink is easy on my eyes. Page refresh is pretty fast for e-ink. Fits perfectly into my new purse (which I got to be a perfect fit, so no surprise).
+ convenient hardware. the micro USB charger is actually the same one that my Pre uses, so I have no need of extra cables (haven't checked to see whether the Pre cable will do data transfer too).
+ interface fairly intuitive. I haven't actually finished reading the manual yet, as I got everything set up that I wanted to, and got distracted playing with functionality.
+ battery life good. I've been reading off and on for the past week+, and it's down to 76%.
+ nice screensaver. Pretty nature scenes by default, with no ads. Although it does seem a little weird that the screen is never simply blank.
+++ physical buttons. It has page turn buttons on both sides of the screen, so when it's cold and I'm reading with my hands under the blanket, I don't actually have to use the touchscreen to turn pages.

The meh:
- designed for buying. The 'new reads' section on my Home page apparently only shows new purchases or new subscriptions, not new titles I've just transferred from my computer. Which means that section will likely be perpetually blank for me. ETA: OK, not blank. I'll check out free options.
- buttons aren't awesome. I love that there are buttons. But they're just not as awesome as the Kindle 1st gen buttons.
- buggy? I've had one instance where the touchscreen stopped responding. It came back after I let it time out and sit for 10 minutes, so maybe it was a fluke?
- B&N vs Amazon. While I don't have specific complaints, the B&N experience just isn't as whistlingly smooth overall. Lacking 'cloud' and email features like the Kindle, but having never had them, I don't miss them. ETA: Wait, I have a complaint. I can't order a booksearch by "avg customer review"?? That's ridiculous.
-- filetype limitations. It doesn't read TXT, and while PDF is viewable, it can't be resized, which makes some files useless (I was hoping to put some of my commonly used bus schedules on it).
--- wifi limitation. WiFi is apparently only used for book purchases from B&N (and possibly some 'sharing,' although I can't really tell what). Book transfer from computer has to be done via data cable. Which means the existence of that feature feels useless to me (ETA: except for downloading free books, which it does quite easily). Although I hear that rooting opens up a lot more options, so I might look into that.

The pouty:
+/- too convenient. Now that it's SUPER AMAZINGLY EASY to just pick up my book and read, because I can carry it around everywhere, and start right where I left off, I've found myself grabbing time here and there (before my kid's school concert, while waiting for (and riding) the bus, while waiting at the doctor's office, etc). Which means that while I don't have to wait FOREVER to get back to my story, I am also lightly frustrated every time I have to put it DOWN again, because dammit, I want to keep reading! The last couple days have made me super aware that I still have to make sure to schedule a good solid block of cozy distractionless curl-up-and-read time to really get that deep book-escape feeling of contentment.
blk: (flower)
Thanks to CSA foods, lunch today contains stuff topped with pesto made from basil, squash blossoms and garlic scape, on a salad of a varied mixture of greens I can't identify half of. Thanks to my garden, I can identify the radish, spinach, and chard greens in it, and my side is a slice of delicious rosemary bread (with a variety of other fresh-from-the-garden herbs).

This is actually the first year I've taken part in a CSA. I've never done it before for all the usual reasons - it's way more money than I would generally spend on fresh produce for a season, for more food than I can really use, with variety I don't always want. This year, a friend offered to split half their box with us, and with our larger household (and a more comfortable income), I figured it was time to give it a try.

Read more... )
blk: (tree)
Yesterday at noon, as foretold by Sharon the wise, I tossed off my crutches of oppression and stood up to walk!

And promptly fell down again, as three-and-a-half days of keeping my knee mostly straight, my leg elevated, and no weight on it had swollen the muscles in my thigh and twisted the nerves in my hip so that leg would no longer would support my weight.

A few minutes of careful stretching got me able to put more weight on my leg, and I spent the rest of the day hobbling around looking a bit like Igor, while still keeping my knee mostly straight (because it hurts to bend, I don't want to pull stitches, and my whole knee is pretty swollen and stiff) and stopping to rest (and ice) it every now and again. Today is easier, and I'm feeling much more agile, but still a ways to go.

The pain and irritation has been going down in solid levels daily, and the progress is heartening, but I'm long past wanting to be -done- with this already. There are things to be done! Stuff that needs cleaning! Chores that are sitting undone! It's much better now that I can actually walk and carry things at the same time, as I can start tackling some of the things which drive me crazy, but things are still slow. I want to run! I want to climb! Goodness knows how difficult I'd be if I had to stay immobile for longer than a week.

On the bright side, I've been getting some reading done )
blk: (pie)
Yesterday's project: grapefruit meringue pie.

It started with a bagful of the Best Grapefruit in the World. Then a couple key lime pies over the past few weeks gave me the great idea to make grapefruit pie. I happened to have sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and a pie crust handy this week, so I started by combining liquidy things. One half of a grapefruit gave me more than enough juice.

First problem: grapefruit juice is not anywhere near as tart as lime juice. Pie filling was way too sweet. So I googled for answers and came up with adding an additional grapefruit's worth of zest to it before cooking. Then I had a bald grapefruit, which I needed to eat. Yum.

Second problem: grapefruit juice is not as acidic as lime juice, making the filling not firm up. But the edges didn't look too bad, so I turned the heat down and let it cook for a while longer, and that seemed to work quite well.

Final pie: Success! The zest gave it a much stronger grapefruit flavor and provided just a slight amount of bitterness to soften the sweetness. The custard was an excellent texture, and the meringue complemented it well. My test subjects all agreed that it was delectably nommable.

I froze three cups worth of grapefruit juice for possible future use, being careful to clearly mark what was in the bag, lest it get confused for the other bag of frozen chicken broth...
blk: (eyes)
Well, it's been two weeks of vacation for me, and I'm finally back home again (a slightly better summary of those two weeks will happen later). And this year, when my people are on vacation and relaxing, one of the popular pasttimes is... movies! I suppose one of the few advantages of rarely going to theaters (and rarely watching things alone) is that when I want to kick back and watch something good, I have a huge selection of stuff I have never seen to choose from. (The disadvantage, of course, is that I'm frequently the only one who hasn't seen something, and so my movie companions don't get nearly the same level of enthrall that I do, which can occasionally be rather frustrating for me.)

So here is a brief (mostly non-spoilery, I think, since this is an vaguely odd enough mixture that I'd be surprised if anybody has seen them all) accounting of the movies which have recently entertained me:

A small crowd in Pittsburgh braved the snowstorm to come over the evening before my flight out to watch Primer )

During my time in Tampa with the King parental units, we took advantage of their local Redbox a couple times, and first acquired Inglourious Basterds )

Next up was Coraline )

And just so that I could make a list that doesn't totally give me away as being hopelessly and pathetically behind everybody else I know on films, we even went out to see a new release, The Young Victoria )

After a fun but exhausting day at MOS in Boston, [livejournal.com profile] xuth sat me down to show me Up )

At that point, I thought I was going to stop at 5, but an extra afternoon gave us opportunity to see the rebooted Star Trek )

No, I haven't seen Avatar, unlike everybody else and their brother. Yes, eventually I want to. At my rate of these things, I assume it'll happen sometime in the next few years. Maybe by then I'll have upgraded my home theatre setup (want better screen, maybe more comfy seating), and I can convince people to come over for movie parties on occasion to eat popcorn and help me fill in my pop-cultural gaps. Yes, I like this plan.
blk: (eyes)
For my birthday, I gifted myself with a Palm Pre )
blk: (elfcycle)
One of the great losses in my divorce was the RoboRally game collection, and recently, I decided I needed to re-acquire some of it for use with my gaming nights.

I found a good deal on a new copy, and snapped it up, without realizing it was the newly released Avalon Hill version. I had heard suspicious things about the devolution of classic games such as this. It arrived, and didn't look too bad. Justin saw it, and immediately wanted to play. Armed with trepidation and fond memories of gaming nights at the Asylum back in '97 (or so), I opened it up.

% diff rr-wotc.1.0.1994 rr-ah.4.0.2005 > ljpost.txt )

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