The Casual Vacancy

Posted in Book Reviews on January 19, 2013 by Bradley Hall

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The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s most looked-forward-to book, aside from books 2 through 7 of the Harry Potter series, and is her first book to have absolutely nothing to do with Harry Potter, or that universe.

On page two, the incident that sparks the casual vacancy happens: A councilor of a small British town dies.

This sparks a gigantic grab for the now-vacated seat. One group wants someone who is “Pro-Fields” to get it, while another group wants someone that is against the Fields to get it.

Just what is the Fields and why should anyone care?

The Fields is the “rough part of town” where just about everyone is an addict of some type, or will most likely be one in the future. Barry, the late councilor was from the Fields and therefore a Pro-Fields kind of guy.

There’s a bit of political back and forth over which township the Fields actually belongs to. It was created by a town near Pagford, but was pretty much given to Pagford over the years.

The story bounces between the happenings of the adults and the happenings of the kids. As to which group is the main group, that’s up to the reader’s speculation. For me, it seems as though the kids are the main characters, though the amount of characterization found in the adults and the children is breathtakingly marvelous. You really feel for their plights. Well, most of their plights.

One thing I thought was a bit off was Barry’s family, the ones hit the hardest by his death are the characters that are mentioned the least. It’s as if no one cares what happens to them. They pop up here and there, but they aren’t even minor characters.

This is as far from Harry Potter as you can get. I’m sure that Rowling couldn’t wait until she could write something that wasn’t “magical” to show people that she could write as well as anyone else could. In my opinion, she suffers from Kingitis, that is, an inflammation of words. On one hand, wordiness makes the world more alive, but it also makes the reading a bit of a chore.

After reading this the first thought that came to mind was, I wonder what Harry, Hermione, and Ron were up to when they weren’t actively being written about. 

Tales of the Abyss

Posted in Game Reviews with tags , , on January 8, 2013 by Bradley Hall

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I don’t think I’ve done many video game reviews, but after spending nearly 60 hours playing this one over the past few weeks, I really want to, and also it’d help to get this site out of the dearth of material that’s been plaguing me over the past year. I only posted a handful of stuff last year? This year will be different.

Anyway, when I started playing Tales of the Abyss, I thought it felt very familiar. Turns out I had watched the first few episodes of the anime and had possibly played some of the original PS2 game.

They say that no one ever reads the same book, that when you read a book you compare the story to previous stories. So too with games. Once I was past the “this is familiar because of the anime” problem, it morphed into the “this is familiar because this is almost every game I have ever played” problem.

The story starts with Luke, a young noble who is forbidden from leaving his manor because he had been kidnapped when he was ten, seven years ago and lost his memory. A woman appears and attempts to kill his mentor, yet Luke interferes and somehow he and the interloper vanish only to be transplanted somewhere hundreds or thousands of miles away.

The two work together to get back home and along the way learn more about each other and their plights. Eventually they make it back and all’s good, or is it?

While a few things from nearly every RPG ever made pops up, there’s enough variety in the story and characters to make this a great way to spend nearly 60 hours.

The characters are all excellently written and acted. My favorite character was Jade Curtiss, a Malkuth soldier who always has something sarcastic to say or otherwise delivers the best comebacks.

Fighting in this game is reminiscent of Star Ocean and the other Tales games in that the player controls a character and the computer controls the other three in a massive free-for-all, though you can control the tactics of the other characters and direct them to use certain attacks.

The battles seem to be pretty easy. My entire party only died in battle once through the entire game. Battles play out by spamming the Attack button while having your other characters bust out with attacks, spells, and healing as needed.

One of the plots of the game concerns a clones and the original person, this was the story I was really concerned about. If everyone was born to fulfill some purpose, what about those that were created just because science said they could be and then discarded without a thought? As such, several of the clone characters have a drive and a will to survive, to be better than the original. A superiority complex. While others see themselves as inferior to the original.

In all, this was a fun game and I’d play it again. Once the game is finished, the player can use “Grade” – a numerical form of experience gained after battles (but different from normal experience) to use on different variables in a subsequent play through, such as keeping the old levels, the ability to gain more experience, keeping items, etc. I’ve not tried to play the game again with any of these yet, I mean, the game itself was 60 hours, do I really want to play it for another 60? One day.

Another thing I liked (and would love to see in future RPGs) is a journal feature. The main character suffered memory loss as a kid so he keeps a fastidious journal that’s updated extremely often. If you have no idea where to go, check out the journal, it’ll point you in the right direction.

2012 in review

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2012 by Bradley Hall

Only 11, well, now twelve posts this year?

It’s been a busy year, let’s hope I can work more on this site in 2013.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Some Remarks

Posted in Book Reviews on November 5, 2012 by Bradley Hall

I recently read Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson, the guy who wrote Snow Crash and Reamde, both reviewed elsewhere in this website.

Some Remarks is, like William Gibson’s recent Distrust That Particular Flavor, a collection of short fiction and articles written for Wired and other publications.

One article is a crazy piece of writing. A one hundred page article for Wired about laying fiber optic cables from the UK to Japan and all the crazy international hurdles and boundaries and laws that had to be observed in order for this to be done.

While the fiber optic wires are probably a thing of the past, the amount of technological know-how to be able to put thousands of miles of cable into the ocean deep enough to not get damaged and into the ground and skirted around a country’s infrastructure, is amazing to behold. It must have cost Wired thousands of dollars for this article to be written.

The rest of the articles and short stories are awesome crazy stories about the kind of thing we all like Neal for already so if you’re Neal fan, you’ll dig it. If you’re not, check it out, it’s a great starting place, once you read this you can dive into his other books, which usually exceed a thousand pages.

The Last Policeman

Posted in Book Reviews on July 12, 2012 by Bradley Hall

There are many stories that feature a race against the clock. If the killer isn’t found by the stroke of midnight, he’ll never be caught, or he’ll strike again, or any other number of endings that result in the killer never being brought to justice.

In The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters, there’s a time limit. If the killer isn’t caught in six months, the world will end. Of course, the world will end anyway.

Scientists have discovered a gigantic meteor in space, several kilometers across that is on a collision course with Earth. There’s mass rioting, looting, panic, mayhem, and suicides, many suicides.

While some people quit work to go do the things they want to do with their last few months, others go on about their day-to-day existence.

One of the day-to-dayers is newly promoted detective Henry Palace. Palace is one of the last few cops who still shows up to work every day.

He’s tackling a case that everyone is telling him he’s crazy to even pursue. Everyone’s going to die in six months, so why take the time and effort to solve a murder? A murder that everyone else believes is just another suicide here in Hanger Town.

Winters expertly describes a world that just doesn’t care anymore. People kill themselves left and right, every crime is punishable by death, if only because the suspect will be locked up when the meteor crashes.

The first book in a trilogy, The Last Policeman drops hints about the future of this doomed world and its end. I can’t wait to see where this series goes.

Over the four days it took me to read this book, I never put it down. Whenever I had to go somewhere, TLP went with me. The last day I read it, I clocked over a hundred pages, most of it in a single hour.

http://quirkbooks.com/thelastpoliceman

From Hell’s Heart, I Stab At Linksys

Posted in Commentary, Uncategorized on July 6, 2012 by Bradley Hall

I wrote this as an email to my brother several years ago about the trouble I was having with a Linksys Wi-Fi router. I eventually got it configured and it still works to this day…

Following a recent spate with someone who doesn’t know the difference
between DSL and LSD (well, they are both drugs), I stepped up the date of acqusition of a Wi-Fi router to today. I settled on a Linksys
WRT54G 802.11G Broadband Router, partially because it looked cool,
partially because my laptop has a G card, and partially because it was on sale.

I read up on it online and saw 1 bad review and like, a hundred
glowing reviews. I didn’t check to see if the sites offering the
glowing reviews were owned by Linksys or not, but I’m guessing now
that they were.

I bought the thing, fondled it a bit, and followed the instruction CD
to install it (the CD was designed so a 3-year-old could understand
it, it had pictures and arrows and shit).

The line from the modem goes into the hole marked INTERNET, one end of the other wire goes in any one of four holes (you get to pick!
Customer’s Choice!) on the router and the Ethernet port on the back of your desktop computer. Then after some kind of magic spell, and
powering it up, a 2.4 GHz radio beam launches itself throughout your
house, irradiates you for a few grays of exposure and somehow finds
its way into the Wi-Fi 802.11G card on your laptop, causing you to see stuff online faster than you used to could.

All the wires went where all the wires go. The thing was up and
running and emitting some kind of signal my Wi-Fi card picked up, yet
the install wasn’t complete. I still had to configure it.

Configuring was nothing more than pressing “next” and “next” and
sometimes, “continue” worked its way onto the screen. It did whatever
it said it was doing, no way I could figure out if it did. Eventually, it said it could not find the Internet (!) so I made sure the Internet was still where it was (it’s still here). Checked the connections, re-checked the drawings and arrows, everything was where it was supposed to be (even checked to make sure the wires still worked).

Still no Internet.

I looked at the troubleshooting guide that came with it, and all it
said was “check to make sure wires are connected” so I’m like, “I did
that” so then I decide to give tech support a call.

I rig up my laptop in the living room and hook it up on the phone line splitter and dial into the Internet. After a few minutes of loading, the Linksys support page pops up. The Ever Helpful tech support guy (who actually seemed interested) talked to me for a bit and directed me to download their special install program.

I installed and ran it, and found that it was dumbed down further than the one that’s packed with the router. Yes. It’s made for a newborn, or a high-functioning autistic chimpanzee. Not only does it have arrows and pictures, it’s got Flashing Lights.

I go through the Rainbow Lite Brite Install Sequence and it too can’t
find the Internet (oh, what a surprise!). So, then the tech guy tells
me to go through this sequence of accessing the router via Internet
Exploder and changing its IP address from 192.164.1.1 to 10.10.10.1
which, as I thought, does nothing more than make me have to remember a different series of four digits.

So now, I have a $55 wireless router paperweight until I figure out
how to make it find the Internet. If starving kids in Africa have no
trouble finding porn on the Internet within minutes of first turning
on one of those XO One Laptop Per Child doodads, then this thing
should have no trouble finding the same Internet.

Amen and pass the aspirin,

Brad

Digital Vertigo

Posted in Book Reviews with tags , , , on May 22, 2012 by Bradley Hall

I just finished reading Digital Vertigo, the latest book by Andrew Keen. If I recall, it has been nearly five years since his last book, The Cult of the Amateur.

His target in his first book was Web 2.0 which was the user generated content of blogs, Wikipedia, YouTube, and the like. For this new book, he targets the Web 3.0 universe of social media. He lists more social media sites and apps and things than I have ever heard of.

MySpace, Facebook, Google+, SocialEyes, Twitter, Klout, Kred, LiveJournal, Blippy, BeKnown, BeWithMe, Flavor.Me, Nextdoor.com, and a whole host of other widely and lesser known social media things that offer a social solution for everything.

Keen focuses the narrative around the 19th century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, who he happened to “meet” in London’s University College over 170 years after Bentham’s death. How? Bentham bequeathed his body to the college and that it always be on display in a wooden and glass case he called an “Auto-Icon” which he translated as “A man that is his own image.”

While ruminating on this dead man, Keen began thinking that everyone is now their own Auto-Icon as they keep up their public image on Facebook, Twitter, and every other Web 3.0 site and app and whatever else there is.

The Internet has become, what Bentham called, an Inspection House, a panopticon. Essentially a prison constructed in such a way that an observer is able to see all of the inmates, yet none of the inmates know they are being watched.

Keen applied this idea of being always watched, but not knowing it to Web 3.0, except, that’s not the case at all. Everyone on Facebook, etc know that they’re being watched, that the all important Like button is the thing they crave attention from. The funnier, goofier, most Kony2012-like thing they can come up with will generate more likes, more shares, and a higher Klout score, as well as more people who want to read what you say.

In this way, Facebook, Twitter, and company have become everyone’s personal echo chamber, one person says something or posts a picture, and then it gets shot halfway around the world in several seconds as people keep liking and sharing and commenting on it.

Many of these websites are supported with advertising dollars. Facebook displays ads, other sites do too. One thing I have always wondered about this is there’s a finite number of dollars in the world. Every time someone creates a new site or thing that needs advertising to support it, that’s less money used to advertise on something else. Eventually there’s going to be a stopping point where there is no one left who can spare the money to advertise on every new venture.

Actually, that might be happening now. GM recently announced that it will be stopping its online advertising in Facebook, as they have found it does not motivate people to go buy a new Chevrolet or Cadillac.

One thing I am interested in seeing is what will happen when people from today’s connected age start running for public office, or even the presidency? Their every Tweet, forum post, Facebook update, possibly even every meal they ate will be available for public scrutiny online on some corner of the Internet.

If you really want to protect your privacy online, then the best thing to do is to not post anything online at all.

The Internet does not forgive and it does not forget.

In all, I really enjoyed this book and had been looking forward to it for quite a while. We all live in public now. All of us. Several times each year, the news reminds us of that fact as members of the nameless, faceless masses make a post or a video or do something online that for better or worse gains them a little bit of notoriety. The world is watching.

http://us.macmillan.com/digitalvertigo/AndrewKeen