52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2006 Edition

I might as well go on the record now in accepting the 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge again this year.

For those of you too apathetic or lazy to click on the link, I'll paste the rules to last year's challenge (because I'm too apathetic or lazy to type them from scratch):

  • Only books read entirely in 2006 count. If I start a book on New Year's Eve, too bad—it doesn't count.
  • Only books that I haven't read before will count. Sue Grafton's latest Kinsey Millhone novel (S is for Silence) is out, so I expect I'll be reading it some time in 2006. However, if I reread any of the previous 18 stories in the series, they won't count.
  • A book counts towards the total when I finish it.
  • The goal is not to finish 52 books in 2006, but to finish at least one each week, which ends on Saturday. If I complete more than one book in a single Sunday-to-Saturday period, I don't get to slack off the following week.

Now I just need to find that freakishly long list of book titles I left lying around the hard drive of my old laptop.


Back in the saddle again

Well, I finally did it. I combined malt, water, and hops in a big pot and brought it to a boil.

Yes, for the first time in almost 6 months, there's beer in that thar fermenter. It's a Scottish ale, and while the target gravity didn't turn out where I thought it would (which is something of a surprise when you're brewing with malt extract instead of all-grain), it's still in the proper range for an export (80 shilling) ale.

That is, according to the BJCP. I should know, because as of this week I'm officially a Recognized BJCP beer judge. We took the test back in April, and have been waiting more-or-less patiently for the results. I'm happy to say that I scored high enough—but just barely—that with a little more judging experience under my belt I'll automatically qualify for a promotion in rank to Certified. To get any higher than that, though, I'll have to take the test again (and do better, of course). However, I'll also need more than ten times the amount of experience I already have, so I don't think this will be a concern any time soon.



I spend the better part of fifteen years tethered to a keyboard, and how do I finally end up with tendonitis in my right wrist? Applying stone veneer to the new columns on our front porch.

The worst part is that I'm not done, I want to be done in less than two weeks, and after four days my wrist still isn't back to normal. I'm not sure if I'm going to have to learn to apply mortar with my left hand, or just give up and find a stone-veneer-worthy epoxy to do the job.


Remotely Possible

In all the hullabaloo about the new iMac, I'm surprised no one has mentioned that the remote looks remarkably like the iPod shuffle.


Lightning does strike twice

I'm no longer talking like a pirate; instead, I'm now cursing like a sailor.

We took another lightning strike today. This time, the casualties are an Ethernet hub and possibly one port on an Ethernet switch.

Can anyone recommend a company to install a lightning rod on our house?


Step lively, me hearties, or I'll keelhaul ya!


My iPod has a sense of irony

The last song it played was by Barenaked Ladies. The song it's currently playing is by Debbie Gibson.


There's activity in the brewery again

Unfortunately, it's not Saccharomyces cerevisiae; all fermentation is still on temporary hiatus. However, I started washing bottles today—or at least soaking off their labels in ammonia. After that, they'll get a run through the dishwasher, then a bath in diluted bleach to sanitize them. Now, I just need to get something in the works to fill them....


RIP TiVo 1?

Tonight, we noticed that our TiVo hadn't been dialing in for programming updates in almost a week. At first I thought it might be the phone cord; we have two rabbits who occasionally get under the TV and chew through the phone cord (but only the phone cord; they've never gone for power cords or the cable TV cable or the audio cables). A quick check revealed no chew marks. I unplugged and replugged the cord at both ends, hoping it was a bad connection, but no dice. Finally, I dragged out The World's Longest Phone Cord and plugged the TiVo into a different outlet in another room. This confirmed our worst fear—the modem is futzed.

We had a bad lightning storm some time last week. One flash of lightning came with immediate thunder, and the smoke alarms in our house went off. (They're the kind that are wired together.) I suspected at the time that the house was hit, or at least suffered a near miss. Now, I'm more convinced, since we seem to have a casualty on our hands.

We've been TiVo users for nearly 6 years. The prospect of facing television without it is a little scary. The clock is ticking; we have less than a week of program information remaining. After that, the box reverts to a glorified VCR.

Three options have come to mind:

  1. Someone we know has a Series 1 of vintage similar to ours. The hard drive in that one has failed, but as far as I know the modem still works. They can't use it because they no longer have a landline. We may try to beg, borrow, barter, or buy it and transplant the hard drive from ours into it.
  2. Repair kits are available; Google for "tivo modem repair". I don't know how long it would take for one to arrive, and they seem to involve soldering surface mount components (in other words, really really small electronic parts). I can probably handle that (because Daddy can fix anything) but my eyesight isn't what it used to be. You can get a replacement modem that doesn't require cracking the box, but it costs almost as much as a new TiVo (see below).
  3. We bite the bullet and buy a new Series 2. The good news is that they can be had for around $100, which is a lot less than I paid for the Series 1 six years ago.

In the meantime, please think happy thoughts for our TiVo.

On Piracy

No, not the RIAA kind. In fact, Angela is buying songs from the iTunes Music Store while I type this.

I'm talking about the real thing. One of the books I'm currently reading is Pirates of Pensacola by Keith Thomson. It's not To Kill a Mockingbird by any stretch of the imagination, but if anything qualifies as "light-hearted romp", this is it—and it's a damn sight better than the last book set in the Caribbean that I read. There's just something about the premise—that pirates are alive and well and flourishing, sort of, in the Caribbean— that tickles my fancy.

Then, tonight we were at PetSmart buying rabbit litter when we stopped to look at the birds. I suddenly had this revelation that it would be cool to get a parrot and teach it to talk like a pirate.

That's all. Back to your regularly scheduled lives, already in progress.


Back in the RSS, or how to lose a customer

I have fired up an RSS reader again, for the first time in months. I had to give it up last time because I was trying to read between 100 and 200 feeds every day (I don't remember how many, and I can't recreate the list if I wanted to—but more about that later), two of which were Boing Boing and Engadget. If you've ever read either, you know they're each good for twenty or so posts a day.

Well, there was a second reason. I probably could have mustered the self-control to prune my feed list. After all, I did pull the plug. More on that second reason later.

This time around, I'm keeping it small. I'm currently subscribed to 20 feeds, but three of them I own or contribute to (however poorly or infrequently), and a couple others came by default with the newsreader I'm using, looked interesting for the time being, but may be dropped later. My motivation this time was keeping up with my blog buddy. (Ooh. That reminds me of another friend's blog. Up my count to 21.)

It turns out that one's newsreader can have a profound impact on one's enthusiasm for news feeds. Come to think of it, that probably goes for just about every computing activity, at least as far as I'm concerned. I'm that sad, sad combination of code gnome and Macintosh user. I'm regularly awash in aesthetics, and I know from experience how hard it is to write a good, usable application—so I have zero tolerance for third-rate cack that looks like it was cobbled together by some bozo with Visual Basic and freshly-cracked copy of Visual Basic for Dummies. (Oh. Sweet. Buddha. I had to click on two different products at Amazon to find that link. It's going to affect my recommendations, I know it.) I'm spinning off on a tangent. Time to reel it back in.

The first two newsreaders I tried way back when were NetNewsWire and PulpFiction. NetNewsWire seems to be a favorite in the Macintosh community, but it never did it for me. It may have been the interface (I seem to remember it looked so 1999, and I freely admin that I'm an Aqua tramp); or it may have been because it came stocked with a zillion feeds, only three of which held any interest.

PulpFiction, on the other hand, was like that person you lusted after all through high school—pretty to look at, but when you got to know it better, the experience was so excruciating that you wondered what the hell you'd been thinking. In the case of PulpFiction, it was chock-full of Cocoa eye candy, but it was slow. I'd say it was as slow as molasses, but that would be unfair to the sorghum industry. It made me regret every second I spent trying to do anything with it. Come to think of it, there were a few people in high school who probably said the same thing about me.

NewsFire—now that was like... no, I'm not naming names. Let's just say I'm too young for Christie Brinkley and too old for Christy Carlson Romano. Now imagine she lives next door. And she thinks you're cool. NewsFire was like that. I'd call it love at first sight, but I'm pretty sure that's illegal in Kansas.

NewsFire is almost everything a Mac OS X application should be. It's slick, but not gaudy. The interface is simple, but highly functional: a column of feed names, with the count of how many posts you haven't read, on the left, and a pane on the right. Click on a feed name, and the right pane shows a list of all the posts for that feed. Click on a feed, and the right pane is filled with the text of the post. There are handy buttons for moving to the next post (or previous post). As you read posts, or as new ones come in, the feed names swoosh around in their column like screen names in iChat. (Why did I feel the need to explain that? If you're a Mac OS X user, you already know what I'm talking about. If you're not, you wrote me off as a Mac weenie and stopped reading a long time ago. I have learned that a great way to get out of annoying conversations is to say "This one time, on my Macintosh...".) I can't do it justice in words. Go look for yourself.

Okay, so you're thinking, if NewsFire is all that, why do you keep referring to it in the past tense? It turns out that NewsFire decided I was that person it didn't want to be around.

I jumped on the NewsFire bandwagon when it was still in beta—I forget how early, but it was a pretty small number. Every once in a while—fairly often, in fact; David Watanabe was doing a great job of fixing bugs and adding features—it would pop a box saying that a new version was available and I should download it. Fine, I said, download away. And install away. Who doesn't like new versions?

Then, one day, immediately after installing a new version, NewsFire popped a new box—the old "pay up and I'll go away" nag dialog. Fine, David always said it wouldn't be free forever, and I'm in favor of paying for software if it's sweet, sweet software. Which NewsFire was. Except that it wouldn't allow me to add more feeds, at least not until I deleted all but 10 of the ones I already had. (I told you I had a compulsion.) And it kept popping the nag dialog. Every. Thirty. Minutes.

That alone probably wouldn't have made me stop using NewsFire—that took an intervention of one—but it made it easier. I recall that David caught several windstorms-worth of crap via email over this, which he attempted to rationalize in his blog:

It has been noted that NewsFire has “unexpectedly” made the transition from “freeware” to shareware. I put “freeware” in quotes because it never was freeware, and I never said it was freeware - it was in a public beta release. Its eventual transition to shareware was always planned and this plan has always been public knowledge. I put “unexpected” in quotes because this was publicly known since NewsFire version 0.1 in August 2004.

I can't speak for everyone else who complained; I for one knew it was not freeware. My quibble is that he should have put "eventual" in quotes. Or perhaps "transition". Or perhaps "publicly known". "Unexpectedly" certainly does not belong in quotes. I don't recall any kind of warning like, "hey folks, come version 1.0 you're going to need to start paying". Instead, it was "here's a new version", then bang, you're locked out of your feed list and you're being nagged. Every. Thirty. Minutes.

Still, like some daytime talk show reject, I came back for more this go-round. Maybe it's different, I thought.

Wrong. It still looks good enough to eat, but now it has deleted all but maybe 10 of my feeds (with, I assume, no hope of recovery, which is not necessarily a bad thing, since I had so many, but that should be my choice to make, shouldn't it?) and it still nags. Every. Thirty. Minutes. I even set the refresh interval to once per day—I really shouldn't be refreshing more than that; I have a compulsion, remember?—but it still nags. Every. Thirty. Minutes.

So, NewsFire gets left by the curb, without cab fare even. And in waltzes....


It looks as good as I remember, but boy howdy, has the performance improved. It even comes in a less-featureful free version that is, well, less featureful, but at least it doesn't get in your face all the time and beg to be appreciated. Sure, it doesn't have all the bells and whistles that NewsFire does, and I have no doubt that every once in a while we're going to quarrel. But you know what? I think it's going to be okay. It's just good enough that I'll probably use it every day.

And here's the lesson for David Watanabe, which I hope he'll see when he Googles himself and NewsFire and clicks through nineteen pages of other results to find this, because my PageRank is undoubtedly crap:

It's just good enough that I'll probably pay for the full version.


Daddy can fix anything

At least, that's the running joke in our family. I don't recall how it started—possibly it was our daughter's response to my fixing some malfunctioning toy by replacing the batteries.

While I won't suggest that it's a factual statement, there is some truth to it. My father used to do all the work on his own cars (even things like replacing clutches), and somewhere along the way I must have picked up some skills via osmosis. I can't do as much of my own work as I'd like—it rankles me a little to have to pay someone else to change my oil, but it's just too blasted difficult to get to the oil filter on my Honda Civic, and I'd still have to go to someone to dispose of the used oil—but I can do things like replace air filters, light bulbs, and spark plugs. I have even done brake jobs (but not anymore—the safety of my wife and daughter is not worth saving a few bucks).

Yesterday afternoon, the Saturn wouldn't start. You'd turn the key and the dash lights would come on and the starter solenoid would click, but the engine wouldn't turn over. My first thought was that the starter was shot, and since that's way out of my league, we'd have to pay to have it towed to the dealer. (Aside: The Saturn L200 is a nice little car, most of the time. We've had trouble with the fuel pump since day one, but the dealer claims they can't find the problem, so we've just learned to not let the gas level drop lower than 1/4 full, and not to park on hills when it does. There have been a few other problems with it which escape my recollection at the moment, but every time I've said to myself, "my Civic is ten years older, and it's never had this problem.")

The more I thought about it, the more liked the idea that it was much simpler than the starter—like the battery. I decided to take a flyer, bought a new battery, and installed it. (Which was much harder than it should have been. Saturn is now second on my list of "cars which are much harder to work on than they should be", behind Ford. I had to Google for how to remove the battery. For the sake of posterity: To remove the battery from a 2002 Saturn L200 sedan, remove the little black box in front of the battery, and you'll find a bolt holding down a clamp that holds down the battery.) Presto! It starts now.

Nothing like saving who-knows-how-much on a tow to the dealer, plus at least $75 in labor alone, to brighten your day a little.


I have a blog buddy!

I got my first blog comment today. Better yet, my new blog buddy is my sushi buddy!

If you knew sushi like I know sushi....

Okay, so I'm not going to claim that I'm some kind of sushi connoisseur, but I like squid, I don't dislike uni, and I'm willing to try natto. Unfortunately, I'm in the Midwest, where "fish" is usually prefixed by "cat-". Also, my wife doesn't like sushi aside from the occasional California roll, so I don't get the raw stuff very often.

Which is but one reason why I look forward to trips back to the home office outside of Washington DC. Northern Virginia has what appears to this Missouri boy a stunning array of sushi restaurants. They also have something which, to my knowledge, is not available around here at all—the all-you-can-eat sushi lunch.

The first time I heard of one of these, I assumed it was going to be bargain basement—all makizushi like California rolls. To my surprise, at least half was nigirizushi. Granted, it was mostly "entry level" stuff like salmon and tuna, but they also had octopus, surf clam, and mussels.

Today, my sushi buddy and I tackled the place near the office. For once, I decided to count how many pieces of sushi I can eat at one sitting. The answer, it turns out, is 30—and if I'd skipped the tempura sweet potatoes, broccoli, and green beans, and the steamed mussels, I probably could have eaten another five.

That should hold me for another few months.


Enabling Samba access through the firewall

This isn't going to make any sense to the vast majority of you, and the others will point and laugh at something that can probably be looked up elsewhere. But this is going to come in handy in a few weeks, and I don't want to have to figure it out again.

At home:

    ssh -R 9939:localhost:139 server_alias

On the laptop:

    sudo ssh -L 139:localhost:9939 username_on_server@fully.qualified.server.name

Then connect in the Finder (via Go|Connect to Server...) using:


This is what serendipity gets you

I'm cleaning out my filing cabinet, and I run across a printout of Web bookmarks from back in 2000. I'm going through them to figure out which ones are still useful, so I can add them to my del.icio.us feed. And I run across this: http://www.nearside.com/.

Yes, the meme is old and creaky. Still, it's a good thing I didn't have a mouthful of coffee when it loaded.


Tending my own garden

I stumbled across The Zen of CSS Design by Dave Shea and Molly E. Holzschlag at the library a couple of days ago. I'd heard of the CSS Zen Garden, and the book as well, but while I develop web applications for a living, I've never really gotten deep into the layout and design side. I checked it out on a whim, thinking it would be interesting to leaf through.

Boy, am I ever glad that I did. The best phrase I can think of to describe this book is "a music appreciation course for web design". That, or "the first computer-related coffee table book".

The CSS Zen Garden is a showcase for what web styling can do. It starts with a simple HTML page; all designs have to use it, without modifications. What can be modified is the stylesheet, and it's all about how far each edge of the envelope can be pushed—or not pushed, as the case may be. There are currently 653 different designs, which should be proof enough that the envelope is very, very stretchy.

What I love about the book is that it's not just a portfolio of different designs. It's a primer on the basics of web design, and graphic design in general to some extent. For instance, there's a whole section on color—how to choose an effective color palette (depending on the desired effect), how different colors have different cultural and psychological impacts, and so on. It's probably all Graphic Design 101 stuff, but for those of us who never studied graphic design, yet find ourselves embroiled in it professionally, it's a great read.

And the designs are, well, inspiring. I'm partially responsible for several other websites, and I'm getting fired up about redesigning them. The static HTML for the CSS Zen Garden is valuable on its own as an example of HTML that is flexible enough to be stretched many different directions. That's where I think I'll start.

More weeks, more books

My plan to read 52 books in 52 weeks ran off the rails, so to speak. I certainly haven't been keeping track very well of what I've been reading and when.

I just returned to the library The Enemy by Lee Child, and Hide & Seek by Ian Rankin. I'm currently leafing through The Zen of CSS Design, which deserves a post of its own. I have four more books waiting at the library. And, of course, the new Harry Potter is waiting to be picked up from Borders.


Week 6/Book 7: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon


Back in the brewery

I brewed today for the first time in four months or so. The time and effort required for all-grain brewing took its toll, and I got a little burned out. This time, I bought a kit from my local homebrew shop, and returned to my roots (so to speak).

I got turned off of extract brewing very quickly (I went all-grain on my second batch), due to the mess of dealing with liquid malt extract. This time, armed with that experience, I knew what to expect and wore disposable gloves whenever I was working with the extract. That, and working in the garage, made for a much more enjoyable experience. Being done in an hour or so instead of six hours was very nice, too.

Only one thing didn't go as planned. It had been so long since I'd used my big fermenter that I'd forgotten how much volume it contains, and I topped off the wort to six gallons instead of five. That brought the starting gravity quite a bit lower than it's supposed to be for this style (a doppelbock). I added a little more than a pound of dry malt extract (it was all I had to spare), which should help some. And even if the final result isn't exactly to style, as long as it's drinkable I'll be happy.


Week 5/Book 6: Shutter Island

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Good quotes day

B.Greenway writes at Mac HTPC:

I want to preface this review by saying I’m a windows user, have been since 1992 when I bought a 200mhz Intel chip, a barebones case and had a co-worker build me a ‘windows machine’. It blew obviously, and had little of the geek appeal of my first computer an Atari 1200XL (1983’ish). But even back in those days of new wave and Reaganomics, I lusted for an Apple, but apparently St. Nick never got any of my letters pleading for a IIc. Well times have changed and I don’t rely on fat men in red suits for my toys anymore, err today it was a skinny man in a blue uniform, but never mind that. Luckily when I actually set out to buy my own Mac the stars aligned, or at a minimum Steve Job’s bent my reality to make them appear aligned.

From Fraser Speirs:

[T]he thing that keeps me Perl for life is this: if there's even the remotest possibility that someone will have thought of this problem before you, there's a 99% chance that there's a CPAN module to help you out.

In the short time I've been playing with Ruby, that's the only thing I've missed from Perl.


It's all been done before

Dion Almaer blogs about adding support for closures to Java iterators, a la Groovy. While it certainly is a neat idea, if he'd checked the documentation for Jakarta Common-Collections, he'd have discovered that it's already been done.


Week 4/Book 5: Fermat's Enigma

Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem by Simon Singh

Week 3/Book 4: Next

Next: The Future Just Happened by Michael Lewis

Week 2/Book 3: Flight

Flight: My Life in Mission Control by Chris Kraft


The hardest thing about 52 books/52 weeks

It's not the reading, believe it or not. It's reporting the results here. I thought that this reading project would get me to blog more regularly; instead, my poor blogging habit is interfering with the project.

I have two more books under my belt that I haven't yet blogged. The problem is, I think, the amount of time it takes me to write up an entry for each book they way I want to. Between writing up a small review (which has always been a time-consuming process for me) and tracking down and generating links to the books (and other resources), it takes me quite a bit of time to blog a book.

I probably need better tools; I definitely need better habits. I used ecto for a while (until the trial period ran out), and I was impressed with it enough that I should purchase a license for it. Unfortunately, my discretionary computing budget has been eaten up lately by the LaserJet IIIP that I've managed to nurse back to health. That, however, is a subject for another blog entry.

The books I've completed but not yet blogged fully:

  • Week 2/Book 3: Flight: My Life in Mission Control by Chris Kraft
  • Week 3/Book 4: Next: The Future Just Happened by Michael Lewis


Week 2/Book 2: Time Lord

Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time by Clark Blaise

(I finished reading this on 16 Jan 2005, so it still counts as week 2 as far as I'm concerned.)

This book starts off like one of Simon Winchester's: A minor anecdote, an event that in passing seems otherwise forgettable, that leads to bigger, better, often world-altering things. Unfortunately, that's about the last time that Time Lord resembles anything by Simon Winchester.

The initial anecdote turns out to be a maguffin. Fleming misses a train (in that day, since there was no standard time, there was no guarantee that noon here was the same as noon 50 miles down the tracks), and this spurs him to create one time standard for the whole world. The problem, unless I misunderstood, is that Fleming missed his train because of a misprinted train schedule (PM was listed, but the train left in the AM), not because of non-standard time.

Only about half of the book has anything directly to do with either Sir Sandford Fleming or the creation of standard time (24 time zones for the entire Earth, with noon defined at Greenwich Observatory in London). The rest of the time, the author waxes rhapsodically on time, the passage of time, what time meant to those who lived through the Industrial Revolution and to those of us living today…. We learn a fair amount about Fleming, from his emigration as a young man from Scotland to Canada, to a career of civil engineering (building many of the railroad miles in eastern Canada), to his eventual knighthood for laying the first around-the-world undersea telegraph cable. Amidst all of this the creation of standard time seems almost an afterthought, and in fact his role in it seems minor. The United States had already standardized on four time zones (very similar to the present-day ones) several years prior, and many of Fleming's proposals to the conference that defined standard time were voted down.

So why, then, does the author give Fleming the title of the book, yet such short shrift inside it? In the afterword, we learn that Blaise, Canadian by birth, was writing a personal memoir at the age of 57 when the words "time zones" leapt off the page at him:

And I wondered, idly, why do those words suddenly seem strange, where did a term like "time zone" originate? The encyclopedia informed me that time zones were born with the Prime Meridian Conference of 1884, in which standard time for the world was decided. The leader of the movement was a fifty-seven-year-old(!) Canadian(!) named Sandford Fleming. [Punctuation in the original.]

So in the end, this book is not so much about Sir Sandford Fleming as it is about time itself, and about the author himself.



I'm starting to accumulate "things to remember" here, so I might as well put links to them all in one place. (In case anyone from Google/Blogger is reading this, it would be nice if I could assign categories to my posts.)

Starting and stopping Oracle

This isn't going to make any sense to the vast majority of you, and the others will point and laugh at something that can probably be looked up elsewhere. But I've been carrying this little piece of paper around for almost a year now, so I figure it must be important enough to write down somewhere a little more permanent.

Stopping Oracle:

    sudo su - oracle
    lsnrctl stop
    sqlplus /nolog
    connect sys as sysdba    # any password should do
    shutdown immediate;

Starting Oracle:

    sudo su - oracle
    sqlplus /nolog
    connect sys as sysdba    # any password should do
    lsnrctl start


scooter, RIP

Scooter, my nearly-10-year-old Power Macintosh 7200/90, is dead, for the second time in its life. The faulty part, again for the second time, appears to be a failed hard drive. The difference this time, and the reason that it may not come back for a third shot at immortality, is simple economics. Then, a new SCSI drive was just expensive; now, assuming the prices I saw a couple of months ago were realistic and representative, a new SCSI drive is prohibitively expensive, especially for a 90MHz PowerPC 601 with 40MB of RAM.

I haven't given up completely yet. Sonnet (at least) makes an IDE adapter from which the 7200 can boot, and I have several drives currently sitting in storage. So, maybe, for now we should just say that "it's not dead; it's merely resting."

52 Books/52 Weeks update

Okay, so it's the end of week 2, and I haven't finished my second book. That doesn't mean I'm falling behind, or that I've given up. I'm currently reading two books, and expect to finish at least one of them tomorrow.


Week 1/Book 1: Brilliance of the Moon

Brilliance of the Moon by Lian Hearn

I read Across the Nightingale Floor not long after it came out, and was immediately entranced. Then, somehow, I managed to forget that two more books were planned to follow, and it passed into memory. A month or so ago, something made me think of it again, so I checked with the library, and saw that all three books had been published. I decided to reread Nightingale, to get it fresh in my mind, then read Grass for His Pillow immediately thereafter. Tonight, I finished the third book, Brilliance of the Moon.

I don't suppose that there's a lot I can say about the story itself without giving too much away. These three books (collectively called The Tales of the Otori) comprise, I think, the best historical fantasy since Lord of the Rings. In at least two ways, they're better:

  1. TotO is shorter than LotR, so you feel less overwhelmed before starting and less exhausted after finishing.
  2. Though I called both "historical fantasy", TotO is less fantasy—in fact, there's only enough fantasy that I can't not call it fantasy, if that makes any sense. LotR, on the other hand, is fantasy through and through. It's a personal prejudice, I realize, but I'm a fan of LotR despite its being fantasy, not because of it.

Enough heresy for now. :-)

I had the same feeling at the end of Brilliance of the Moon that I have too often, especially with stories of this scope—that feeling that everything comes crashing to a halt, instead of gliding smoothly to a stop. Since I'm the only person who seems to say anything about this, I'm going to suggest that maybe it's me.

The only other quibble I'll raise at this point is that Brilliance of the Moon brought the world of TotO too close to our own. Throughout all three books, references are made to "the Hidden"—those who believe in "one true God" who recognizes all persons as equals, in contrast to the rigid class system that pervades everyday life. The parallels to Christianity and feudal Japan are obvious, but not obtrusively so. In the third book, however, we learn that the "secret sign" of the Hidden is... a cross. At this point, it was no longer possible to pretend that the world of TotO was a different world, a lot like ours but not ours. (Actually, that point came a page or two earlier, with the appearance—sort of— of a "barbarian from the mainland", with skin "white as an oyster" and yellow hair. There's a third thing presented at the same time, but I'm not sharing it here.) The "and it was really feudal Japan all along!" feeling took a few more pages from which to recover.

But recover I did, and I'm glad I did. I don't know that TotO needs either prequel or sequel, but I hope Hearn has more tales to tell.

Next up: I'm working on Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time by Clark Blaise, and Flight: My Life in Mission Control by Chris Kraft.

Geek cheesecake

Angela brought the mail in yesterday, and asked me if I wanted to keep the new Micro Center or dump it straight in the recycling bin. "Keep it." I said. "We don't get Victoria's Secret catalogs anymore."


52 books in 52 weeks

David at Largehearted Boy read 52 books in 52 weeks in 2004. Jason at kottke.org tried it with magazines, but apparently failed. Maybe I'm a bit arrogant, but I'm thinking I can do this (with books) with my eyes closed without hardly trying. I'm pretty sure that I read more than 52 books last year, but I didn't keep records, so this year I'm going to list them here.

I've always been a voracious reader, but my reading rate has gone up since I discovered the Olathe Public Library's online catalog. I've kept a "to read" list for years, and thanks to the many blogs I've started reading regularly, it has (I think) been growing rather than shrinking. The biggest problem I had in the past was finding books on my list—I would visit one of the local library branches with a hardcopy of my list in hand, then scour the shelves for whichever books they happened to have at that branch. Now, thanks to the online catalog, I can reserve a book from home and they'll shuttle it to the branch of my choice.

I don't know what rules David or Jason set to follow for this challenge, so I guess I'll have to make my own.

  • Only books read entirely in 2005 count. I ended 2004 with two books on my nightstand—Why Toast Lands Jelly-Side Down by Robert Ehrlich, and Four to Score by Janet Evanovich—but since I had already started reading them, they won't count for 2005.
  • Only books that I haven't read before will count. I don't reread many books these days, but I received three of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone novels (G Is for Gumshoe, H Is for Homicide, and I Is for Innocent) for Christmas, so I'll be starting over from the beginning of the series now that my collection is complete (to date).
  • A book counts towards the total when I finish it.
  • The goal is not to finish 52 books in 2005, but to finish at least one each week, which ends on Saturday.

First up is Brilliance of the Moon by Lian Hearn.