Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I've read The Lord of The Rings twice. And, yes, i've seen the movies. But the other day, i started listening to an unabridged audio production of the work. Just this morning, i've finished Chapter Seven - The House of Tom Bombadil. The chapter is fairly full of Goldberry - the daughter of the river who stays with Tom. Tom fetches nice things for Goldberry. Goldberry and Tom pursue errands for their guests in perfect concert, but without seeming to coordinate. It's a lovely scene.

But all i'd remembered of it was when Tom sang a song and the Willow tree released the hobbits. And, of course, when Tom put the ring on, and nothing happened. Fair Goldberry was lost to memory. Tom's power is evident and remarkable. Goldberry's power is subtle and forgettable.

Of course, the movies cut Tom and Goldberry out altogether. Not even a mention. The hobbit's journey through the Old Forest was cut too. Well, that's to be expected. Tom is not a player in the drama - just a spectator. And books are long, and movie screenplays are short. Something has to go, even for long movies.

So, just now, i'd like to raise a toast to what's-her-nose.

The audio, unlike the book, can really sing. The lyrics have melody.
Ho, Tom Bombadil,
lives his life with what's-her-nose.
Cares for the Forest,
brings his love another rose.
Talks to the hobbits,
engages with the elven folk,
All the time, he laughs and sings,
Every thing's a Merry joke.

And so on...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ida - an audio book

I like writing reviews, but delayed writing this one. I don't like to write negative reviews, and I'm still not sure if this one will be positive. Well, for one thing, there is the halting problem, and i can't predict how this review will come out before i'm finished with it.

So, the audio book is about 12 hours. However, each of the 32 audio files has an introduction by the author, and, and i hate this word, an outro (outroduction). And here is the first thing i didn't like about the presentation. Timothy apologizes for his Philadelphia accent before you even get to hear him read. Guys - if you're presenting a show, let the audience decide if they like it themselves. Don't make us pity you for being too stupid to get someone else to read your book. Don't go the other way either. It's OK to promote some other work of yours or someone else's, but just avoid it here.

After the first chapter, the introductions also contained a summary of what had gone on before. OK. So maybe the serial was released a chapter a week. Maybe some people can't remember what happened last week. I skipped all the introductions. The guts of the new chapter start after a bit of music, and my iPod was able to get me there in fast forward most of the time. I also skipped the outro's, which is easy enough, since he says that's the end. I don't have to fast forward, i can just skip to the next track. Since i skipped all that material, there was somewhat less than twelve hours of total material for me.

Another odd thing. After the book, Ida, was over, he offers in a single track, his book Balance. Balance is, by comparison, a short story. And, this story takes place well after the story in Ida. Ida is a prequel. It's a backing story to Balance. Like his introduction to Ida, Timothy apologizes for his book Balance. Jeez. For the record, i liked Balance better. As a short story, the pacing was much faster. Remember that reading a book to yourself is something like three times faster than reading it aloud. So, short stories with very fast pacing work better in audio format. And yet, Balance was long enough to give you the idea that several events actually took place. The events in the story were believable. The events were mostly related to each other. No laws of physics were broken in the making of the story.

The worst parts of Ida have to do with laws of physics being broken. They weren't broken like faster than light. They were more like having a character survive an acceleration of ten or twenty thousand miles per hour in a few seconds time. That would be something like 50 G's, minimum. Ouch. A little more explanation could salvage the suspension of disbelief, and oh, by the way, the plot. This suspension of disbelief nearly caused me to quit listening.

It's science fiction. It'd be nice to have someone vet the science by doing some math here and there. It wouldn't take much. Really.

The best part of the story was that there really is a plot. Things happen. Characters interact. Characters are changed by the events. They aren't entirely wooden. The characters are in space. Space is dangerous. So, the danger isn't just believable, it's expected. In fact, the routine spots are the less believable spots. What about cosmic rays? What about coronal mass ejections and other radiation? Dangers abound.

In all, the work had sufficient interest to make it worthwhile. Multi-dimensional characters. Character interaction. Believable responses. You can identify with the characters. Pick favorites and root for them. Suspense. And the end of the story was not simply telegraphed. There were plenty of surprises in the middle. And the flaws - mostly physics gaffs - were nothing so bad as those in typical Hollywood movies. They're mostly fixable.

Is there sex? Yes. Is there violence? Yes. Is there swearing? Yes. Is the swearing pointless? Yes. This story could have been consumable by my ten year old, but because of pointless swearing, it isn't.

By the by. I'm not generally overly fond of critics. For one, they often think, "Oh, i'm a critic, i should criticize." But they're real goal should be to let their audience be able to decide if they would like something. So, you shouldn't care if i liked this work or not. You should only really care if you are now informed enough to decide if you'd like it. You might not care about the laws of physics. You might not care about the plot. But, you do care if it's going to be worth twelve hours of your time.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Relative Diet

This morning's spread at the bagel club here at work is huge. Not just bagels, but Sun Dried Tomato flavored potato chips, Lemon Loaf Cake, Cinnamon Butter Loaf Cake, and Chocolate Fudge Cake, in amazing quantities. Yum.

No money changes hands at this club. You sign up for your spot in the rotation to bring in the goods. I can only imagine that today's excesses are an attempt to become thinner by comparison to one's peers.

See also, Zeno's Diet. The fun never stops.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Save As...

foobar.csv may contain features that are not compatible with CSV (Comma delimited). Do you want to keep the workbook in this format?

It makes me tired. First, the file that was opened was foobar.xls, not foobar.csv. foobar.csv is the file that i want to save to, not the source file. foobar.csv doesn't exist yet, and therefore has no features of any kind. Second, foobar.xls will continue to exist after the Save As... is over. So, no information has any possibility of being lost. As the savvy computer user, the dialog is an annoyance. To the novice, though, it's probably a nightmare. No wonder many novice computer users are terrified.

As it happens, what i want is the data. I'm going to alter it with a text editor. Then, i'm going to stuff it into a relational database. If there is some 'feature' associated with this data, i clearly don't want it. For that matter, the file is just data. Any 'feature' is something programmed into some receiving application. That might be Excel, but probably isn't.

This isn't a problem confined to Excel. It's also MS Word, Open Office, and many other applications. It's the status quo. A poor standard.

Let's take a Word example. I've got a file in Word_5_for_the_Mac. I'm decommissioning my 1987 Mac II, and want to convert my old documents to something a modern word processor can use. The modern word processors don't read Word_5_for_the_Mac format anymore. So, i bring each document up and do a Save As... in RTF format. Now, Microsoft invented Rich Text Format (sometimes also called Interchange Format) for just this reason. But, true to form, on each save, one gets a dialog similar to the above.

Now, only Word could possibly know what features the document is really using. Only Word could possibly check to see if these features exist in RTF. My experience has been that RTF seems to be able to preserve all formatting, pictures, etc., and nothing is ever lost. But if something could be lost, Word could check, right? Why doesn't it?

I have an answer to this question. It's pretty cynical. Microsoft (or whoever invented this dialog) wants to discourage you from exporting your data. They want you locked into using their applications.

Well, here's a hint. If you want my business, you'll have to stop changing your native formats. I've been blessed by not having to change formats for twenty years. Some of these documents have at least forty more years of life left in them (assuming i do). So, their next stop is some open source format, where, in principal, i will be able to support the format forever (or forty years, whichever comes first).