Wednesday Mar 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke : 1917 - 2008

Yesterday was a sad day. We saw the passing of the last of the Big Three of Science Fiction with the death of Arthur C. Clarke.

When I started reading science fiction about forty years ago, it was with his juvenile novels (along with similar works by Heinlein and Asimov).

As Katu.com reports:

"Clarke was credited with the concept of communications satellites in 1945, decades before they became a reality. Geosynchronous orbits, which keep satellites in a fixed position relative to the ground, are called Clarke orbits."

And so much more. He wrote some damn good stories too.

I can still remember seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey when it first came out in 1968 and not understanding it at all. It wasn't until I went and read the original story that it was based on, that it started to make sense.

I keep a record of when I read books, and looking back, I noticed that I stopped reading his books in 1988. Then in December last year, I read a book of his that he co-authored with Stephen Baxter. Now he's gone. Same story with Kurt Vonnegut. I read his books when I was a teenager then stopped reading them in 1994, then started again in 2006, and he died in 2007. Hopefully these are just ugly coincidences. I want to go back and re-read some Jack Vance, but I'm having second thoughts now.

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Friday Feb 29, 2008

The Neverending Story

For the last couple of weeks, Lynea and I have been reading this book to Duncan at bedtime. Duncan has also been reading from it too. We are working from a copy that uses green and red text to show the two different worlds, which is kind of cool.

It's a book I'd never read before, and to be honest I still haven't. I'd guess I've now read about a third of it. It's not easy to pick it up every other night and try to work out what's happened while your wife or son has been reading it in between.

Duncan has decided to use this book for his next school book report. This time the book report needs to be in the form of an advertisement for the book. To give him an idea, I showed him the trailer for the film that's on YouTube. It'll be interesting to see what he comes up with.

We also watched the movie last night. Spoilers ahead (if that's possible for a movie that's almost 24 years old). This was the first time that Duncan had read a book and then watched the film of it. If he's anything like me, he was probably hoping for something that was "just like the book". He was mildly surprised to see where it differed and what parts they left out. When it ended, he asked "where's the rest of it?" For those who haven't seen it, the film ends roundabout when Bastian renames the Empress. That's about a third of the way through the book. We mentioned that there are two more films. Oh, he replied. We'll now have to borrow those from the library too.

No doubt if they remade Neverending Story nowadays it would by jam packed with CGI rather than large "puppets". That didn't really spoil the story though. I have to wonder what 24 years would do to the fact the father just left the boy to go off to school on his own at the start of the film, and there was no concern that the boy didn't come home from school again afterwards. But then again, when I was a kid his age, that wasn't a big deal anyway.

Times change.

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Monday Feb 25, 2008

Recently Read - 25th February 2008

Here's a list of the books I've recently read, with an Amazon-style star rating and a few comments.

  • The Moccasin Telegraph - W. P. Kinsella
  • The Lone Ranger And Tonto Fistfight in Heaven - Sherman Alexie
    Two books containing Indian Native American stories written by Indians Native Americans. The first is very funny in parts, but overall, they are just variations on a theme and I found them more depressing than enjoyable. The (fairly) high star ratings are because they are well written. They are just not what I really want to read more of.

  • Jeeves in the Offing - P. G. Wodehouse

  • Plum Lucky - Janet Evanovich
    If my library didn't have them, there is no way I'd buy these thin expensive hardcover books. But it does, and they are mindless candy, so I read them quickly, grumble I'll never read another one because it's the same story over and over again. And around we go again.

  • The Best of Morecambe & Wise - Eddie Braben
    Morecambe and Wise were two of my favorite comedians when I was growing up. (Although rather dated now, there are numerous sketchs of them on YouTube if you are interested). This was a 25c purchase at a recent library book sale. It contains several of their best scripts written by Eddie Braben.

  • A Man Called Spade - Dashiell Hammett
    Book of short mystery and detective stories by Hammett (containing three featuring Sam Spade).

  • The Glass Menagerie - Tennessee Williams
    My on-going effort to educate myself by reading some of the all-time classic plays.

  • The Crack In Space - Philip K. Dick
    One of the lesser known works by Dick.

  • It Was a Dark And Stormy Night - Ed. Scott Rice
    Many of the selections from the first Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Some very funny entries, mixed with a lot that weren't.

  • Walking Across Egypt - Clyde Edgerton
    Absolutely hated the ending.

Two more from the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century list.

Then there were a load of graphic novels. See here for my thoughts on most of the ones I read. Plus four more:

  • Top 10 Book 2 - Alan Moore
  • Top 10 Forty Niners - Alan Moore
    Two more from one of my favorite series. The art work on Forty-Niners is exceptional.

  • Tom Strong Book 1 - Alan Moore

  • The Borden Tragedy - Rick Geary
    This to me is a poster child for graphic novels. Beautiful black-and-white line artwork. The writing is precise and complete. Great story-telling. If I'd bought this (as opposed to borrowing it from my local library), the back cover -- where Geary spells out the reasons why O. J. Simpson is the Lizzie Borden of the twentieth century -- would be worth the price alone. I will definitely be reading more books in this series.

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Monday Feb 18, 2008

Aunt Dimity's Death: Beth's Cookies

Last week, I finished reading this book. It's on the list of 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century.

As the Publishers Weekly review on Amazon says, "Despite its buoyant tone, this blend of fairy tale, ghost story, romance and mystery proves a disappointment."

I agree. It's cute, but not my cup of tea. In fact, there were too many cups of tea. Too English. There's a mystery but no suspense. It's just the kind of book that my wife likes though. Me? I prefer mysteries with tough guys and dangerous dames.

Anyhoo, the book contained a recipe at the back for Beth's Cookies. Beth is the mother of Lori Shepherd, the main protagonist. From the way the author wrote and the reaction of the characters in the book as they eat these cookies, you'd have thought they induced an instant orgasm. So we decided to make them.

They are good but not great. The secret is cooking the raisins in the boiling water. You end up with plump raisins. Note that this recipes makes 72 cookies, so if you don't want to be eating them for a long time, adjust accordingly.

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Monday Feb 11, 2008

Graphic Novels

After reading four of the classic graphic novels back in January (see last Recently Read post), I decide to go on a reading spree of several others in this genre.

I mostly followed the suggestions given in the comments to that previous post (thank you), but I also checked out Graphic Novels: Everything You Need To Know from the local library. As the Amazon review from the School Library Journal states "This is a wonderful primer for someone new to the genre or who is starting a graphic-novel collection." The author gives thirty of his favorite titles, with a couple pages from each one, then goes on to give four other similar titles if you liked this one. I just made a list of each of those recommendations (the follow-on ones are indented).

So what did I read? (Minor spoilers ahead). I haven't given any star ratings. Taken individually, I would put them all between 4 and 5 stars. Taken together (like an overdose), the ratings start to go down.

Three individual books:

  • Pride of Baghdad
    Based on true events, about a pride of lions that escaped from the Baghdad Zoo, when the bombing started in 2003. Wonderful artwork.

  • V For Vendetta
    I can see why a lot of people thought the film was hard to follow. There is a lot of background information that would have been hard to impart.

  • Top 10 (Book 1) This is part of a short series. Hill Street Blues with super-heroes. Probably one of my favorites (so far) that I've read in this genre.

And then several books from several series:

  • Preacher 1 2 3 5 6 9
    An Amazon one star reviewer called them "Blasphemy in Print". You could take it that way, or better to just consider it a work of fiction that contained some very dark humor. But after a while they started to get rather repetitive. Perhaps the secret is not to read four in a row and space them out over the months. But what I never did understand was if Jesse has The Word, why did he need to keep fighting people "manually"? Why not just tell them to kill each other? And there's only so many ways you can slice'n'dice an Irish vampire before it gets boring. In the end I skipped to the last one just to see how it all turned out.

  • Y: The Last Man 1 2 3 5 6 8
    Great premise, but it also got repetitive. And what a dysfunctional extended family! I'm going to have to just find the last one and see how it turns out. Could be a while. I think this series might be still on-going.

  • Ex Machina 1 2 3 4
    Excellent rendering of politics against an alternate New York after 9/11 where the major is a super-hero.

  • Fables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
    This was overall my favorite series. Old fables and their characters set against a contemporary background. But it's much more than that. I'll be looking to read the rest of them.

  • Transmetropolitan 1 2 3 4
    I started off really enjoying these. A different premise. Interesting stories. Then it got to be more and more of the same. After eight pages of Spider beating the crap out of Fred in volume #4, I'd decided I'd had enough. I'm just going to look for the last one to find out what (eventually) happens.

But that's it for now. I'm sated. I'm going back to reading novels without pictures for a while.

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Friday Jan 25, 2008

GreaseMonkey Listsofbests Script With Amazon Links

Tyler Trafford has revamped my GreaseMonkey script that will take any list from Lists of Bests and will automatically replace the contents of that web page with a simple numerical list, of all the items in that given list.

His improvement in the new version of the script, is to automatically add in Amazon links for each item. I should also mention my original code has been cleaned up and simplified and the new script looks much nicer (thanks).

Note that this only now makes sense for lists of books and music and movies. The other types of lists now give "interesting" results.

If you want the old version of the script, it's here.

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Monday Jan 21, 2008

Recently Read - 21st January 2008

Here's a list of the books I've recently read, with an Amazon-style star rating and a few comments.

  • Thirteen - Richard K. Morgan
    Morgan's latest anti-hero. A deeper novel then the Takeshi Kovacs series, with more politics and world building. This tended to make it drag at times. After about 300 pages, it really starts to get going, and the body count starts increasing dramatically. About 100 pages from the end, when you think it's starting to finish, Morgan introduces more plot twists and away you go again.

  • Idoru - William Gibson
    I've now read all of Gibson's novels, and a lot of his short stories. I haven't "read" Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) yet, but at that price and with it's self-destructive nature, I'm unlikely to bother. It all seems so artsy-fartsy to me.

  • The Light Of Other Days - Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter
    Based on the idea of "Slow Glass" found in Bob Shaw's excellent Other Days, Other Eyes, (a book that badly needs to be re-released), but taken so much further. Chock full of ideas and possibilities. What would the world be like if everybody could see everything you were doing (or had ever did)?

    Minor spoiler: one of my favorite parts was where one of the main protagonists uses the technology to keep going back in time to see his ancestors. All the way back.

  • The Lady In The Lake - Raymond Chandler
  • Red Harvest - Dashiell Hammett
    Two more novels about hard-boiled detectives set in California.

  • Forrest Gump - Winston Groom
    I saw the film when it first came out and was expecting the book to be very similar to the film plot. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised that the novel has Gump doing several other different (and highly unbelievable) things instead. Entertaining and funny in places.

  • Nightmare in Manhatten - Thomas Walsh
    Won the Edgar for Best First Mystery Novel in 1951.

  • Times Without Number - John Brunner

  • Dusk And Other Stories - James Salter
    One of the Amazon reviewers referred to Salter as "Hemingway with a heart". I'll agree that the sentences are economical, with not a wasted word, but what made me give it a lower star rating was that there were several stories that just ended in what appeared to be, a bunch of non sequiturs. Very annoying.

  • How To Live With A Neurotic Dog - Stephen Baker
    I can heavily relate to this book. Highly recommended for dog owners.

  • The Captain And The Enemy - Graham Greene
    Graham Greene's last novel and one of his minor works.

  • Mathamatics A Human Endeavor - Harold R. Jacobs

  • Rebuilding Coventry - Sue Townsend
    A book by Townsend that isn't about Adrian Mole or a spoof of the Royal Family or the Prime Minister. Slightly disappointing. Townsend is much better at satire.

  • Child of Silence - Abigail Padgett
    One of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century and rightly so. An original plot that was a complete page-turner. What makes this even more impressive was that it was her first novel.

  • Coraline - Neil Gaiman
    I'm always on the lookout for books that I think Duncan might like to read when he's a little older. This is such a book. Maybe in 2-3 years.

Which brings me onto Neil Gaiman. If you read Gaiman's bio, it mentions that he was the writer of the Sandman comics (which I'd never read). So this time I decided to do something about it and for the first time, started to read some of the best from the genre of the graphic novel. I wasn't disappointed.

  • The Absolute Sandman Volume 1 - Neil Gaiman
    Luckily the library had this thick heavy book. Volume 1 contains the first 20 issues, plus a few "bonus features" such as the play-like script and directions for the Midsummer Night's Dream story. The writing and artwork are excellent. My favorite episode so far (haven't read Volume 2 yet) is Men of Good Fortune.

  • The Contract With God Trilogy - Will Eisner
    According to the Wikipedia page, this is one of the first graphics novels. Written by Will Eisner when he was 61, and published as a hardcover trilogy in 2006 (with Eisner adding several more illustrations and commentary). The Eisner's are the award in the comic book industry.

  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - Frank Miller
    I'm not going to give anything away, but this was like no Batman story I'd ever read before. I loved it.

  • Watchmen - Alan Moore
    A Hugo Award winner, there are a lot of similarities between this book and the last. Both written at a time when there was a clear and present danger of a nuclear war. Both treating the super heroes as vigilantes.

    Allan Moore's publicity still on the back cover, left me wondering whether he was also living in a shack in the woods somewhere and working on a manifesto. But he sure can write. Watchmen often had places where the dialog related to 2-3 stories going on at the same time. Exceptionally clever.

This has now left me wanting to read other great graphic novels and comic books. I'll probably start from this list. Other recommendation gratefully accepted.

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Sunday Jan 06, 2008

Daniel Keys Moran

(Let's hope I can post this before the fricking power goes out again).

I have good news and bad news.

I've been cleaning out another of my old saved Usenet folders. This time for Rec.arts.sf.written. I came across a posting from August 1992 on Daniel Keys Moran

At that time he was one of my favorite SF authors. He had big plans for his Continuing Time Series. 33 novels in total. So far I think there has been 3-4. Then it went very quiet. Problems with Bantam, his publisher.

From his Wikipedia entry, I found his blog. From there I found that all his old books are online (for those of you who might have trouble finding them).

The good news (according to a recent post of his), is that he should be getting Players: The AI War back from Bantam this month. Hopefully he'll be able to line up a new publisher soon after that. I wish him all the best in this.

The bad news (also reported by DKM in the same post and which I didn't know), is that Terry Pratchett has early onset Alzheimers. More on this from The Register and the Beeb and in Terry's own words. As he puts it, this is an embuggerance indeed. I also wish him the very best.

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Monday Dec 17, 2007

Recently Read - 17th December 2007

Here's a list of the books I've recently read, with an Amazon-style star rating and a few comments.

  • Space Boy - Orson Scott Card
  • A War Of Gifts - Orson Scott Card

    Two more thin hardcover books (who buys these books apart from libraries and hard-core Card fans?), each containing a novella. The latter is set in the Enderverse.

  • 1632 - Eric Flint

    Imagine what would happen if a West Virginia mining community mysteriously turned up in 17th century central Europe at the time of the Thirty Year's war. Yes, the people, the town and everything in it.

    It's well written, but just too unbelievable for me. Okay, I'll buy that the mining union spokesman might make a good leader, but it just went over the top when the cute bouncy cheer-leader morphs into a crack-shoot cold-blooded sniper.

    And there are several more books in the series so there would appear to be a market for this type of book. If you think you might like them, I suggest getting them initially via the Baen Free Library

  • Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Volume 1 - Jack Kirby

    See a separate review.

  • Nebula Award Showcase 2004 - Vonda McIntyre

  • Basket Case - Carl Hiaasen
  • Lucky You - Carl Hiassen
  • Nature Girl - Carl Hiassen
  • Sick Puppy - Carl Hiaasen

    Bit of a Hiaasen binge. When you read four of them very closely together, you realize he's yet another author that has got a formula and he's sticking to it. After a while, all the plots blur into one. Enjoyable at the time, but (for me at least) fairly forgettable.

  • Practical Demonkeeping - Christopher Moore

  • The Paths Of The Dead - Steven Brust

    It took some time to get into (because it's written in the style of The Three Musketeers, but it was entertaining enough that I want to read the next one in the series.

  • George's Secret Key To The Universe - Lucy and Stephen Hawking

    This was recommended to me via a blog comment (thanks!) as a book that would help my son learn about astronomy. It's certainly that. It's written for kids from 9-12., and it's likely to keep them enthralled. The story is interspersed with good easy-to-read technical sections on different astronomical objects: planets, galaxies, black holes etc.

    What really annoyed me about the book is that the illustrator is hardly mentioned. He's on the title page, but didn't get his name on the cover or in the bio section on the inside back cover. His great illustrations are what made the book fun. At least for me.

    One of Stephen Hawking's interns/students did all the technical work for the book. At least he got his name on the title page and in the bio section. I wonder just how much Professor Hawking actually did for this book, apart from let his daughter use his name to help boost sales and let his new theories on black holes be a part of it.

  • Freakonomics - Levitt & Dubner

    When ego's run wild. Dubner sure is a fan-boy for Levitt. It's oozes from the beginning of every section.

    For me this thin book is vastly overrated. There are lots of interesting tidbits of information (the parenting section was very entertaining) and for an economics book, it's very readable, but the presentation of the information is continually slanted to present the author's points of view. You can make statistics say anything you want.

    And the constant mutual appreciation and the over-inflated ego's just kept grinding away and ruining it.

  • The Speed Of Dark - Elizabeth Moon

    Science fiction, and the winner of the Nebula award for best novel. From one of the Amazon.com editorial reviews:

    Corporate life in early 21st-century America is even more ruthless than it was at the turn of the millennium. Lou Arrendale, well compensated for his remarkable pattern-recognition skills, enjoys his job and expects never to lose it. But he has a new boss, a man who thinks Lou and the others in his building are a liability. Lou and his coworkers are autistic. And the new boss is going to fire Lou and all his coworkers--unless they agree to undergo an experimental new procedure to "cure" them.

    Just like The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, this book tells a story about an autistic person, and how they see the world, from their point-of-view. Speed of Dark also tells parts of the story in the third person, so you will get a "normal" slant.

    I thought the ending was just right. Extremely well written. Not contrived to fit what had previously occurred, but what the main protagonist would most probably have done.

And now for books with a film, play or TV show tie-in.

  • Cheaper By The Dozen - Frank B Gilbreth Jr.

    I've never seen the film with Steve Martin, but from reading the plot synopsis, it's very different from the original book.

    The book came out in the 1940's, but the humor is timeless. Highly recommended.

  • Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead - Tom Stoppard

    Stoppard's play takes two of the minor characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet, and tells the tale from their perspective. The dialogue is modern except for when Hamlet and his entourage are on stage.

    Also checkout the film starring Gary Oldman and Tim Roth.

  • The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark

    I remember seeing the award winning film when I was a kid and not fully understanding it. Now, after having read the book (and 35+ years on), I can better appreciate it.

  • The Life And Loves Of A She - Devil

    There was a wonderful TV mini-series in the mid-80's. There has also been a film with Meryll Strepp, Ed Begley Jr and Rosanne Barr/Arnold (or whatever she's calling herself this week).

    But the book is so much more than either of those. Some things can better be expressed in words that in film, and there are so many subtle nuances to this story. Another highly recommended book.

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Friday Dec 07, 2007

And the Winner Is ... Tellico

Continuing on from yesterday's book cataloging fun, I can tell you that I persevered and with great help from Robby Stephenson (thanks!), I now have my book collection cataloged on my Ferrari using tellico.

So here's what I had to do, to get things to work. Importing in RIS format: I was not conforming exactly to the RIS specification. There needed to be exactly two spaces each side of the hyphen. I adjusted my conversion script accordingly:

import sys

def readBookList():
    return sys.stdin.readlines()

def writeRISEntries(lines):
    for line in lines:
        tokens = line.split('\\t')
        tokensLen = len(tokens)
        sys.stdout.writelines('\\n')
        sys.stdout.writelines('TY  -  BOOK\\n')
        if tokensLen > 37:
            sys.stdout.writelines('AU  -  ' + tokens[37] + '\\n')
        if tokensLen > 10:
            sys.stdout.writelines('TI  -  ' + tokens[10] + '\\n')
        if tokensLen > 8:
            sys.stdout.writelines('SN  -  ' + tokens[8] + '\\n')
        sys.stdout.writelines('ER  -  \\n')

if __name__ == "__main__":
    lines = readBookList()
    writeRISEntries(lines)

and reconverted my Delicious Library exported data and reimported it into tellico. This was very quick. At this point, tellico did nothing more than read and remember the data. There were no pretty book cover images to go with the title, author and ISBN values.

To fix this, I needed to select all the books and run Collection->Update Entry->Amazon (US). This proceeded to check and update each book, with each update taking about 1-2 seconds. It then tried to update the images of the books on the shelf. As it progressed, this got slower and slower (taking upto 8 seconds per book). Apparently the graphics update is in the main thread as the rest of the application refused to redraw when I put the window to the back and then bought it forward again.

Anyhoo, I let it continue and several hours later, there were all my book covers (or at least as many as Amazon US knows about). I quit the application and saved the new book information. Images were saved in with the rest of the data, and this resulted in a 10MB file. Still, it reloads the book data quickly the next time the application is started. As there are no books initially selected, then it doesn't have to display the book cover image detail right away. Selecting all the books does take about twenty seconds, but that's still faster than Delicious Library on my old G4 Powerbook.

One of the nice features with tellico is that I now know how many books per author I have. My most popular author is Jack Vance with 52 followed by John Brunner (37), Terry Pratchett (34), Robert Silverberg (31), Michael Moorcock (31) and Isaac Asimov (30). Do you see a pattern here. My biggest non-SF/Fantasy authors are Martin Gardner (19) and Graham Greene (18).

I now need to spend a little time to fully read the documentation and find out all the other features it has.

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Thursday Dec 06, 2007

Experiences With Alexandria And Tellico Book Cataloging Software

Currently I have my book collection (over 3000 of them) catalogued with Delicious Library.

It's a great application, and I'm mostly happy with it, but I'd really like to do my book cataloging on my Ferrari, the computer I use the most. I'd also prefer it to be open source, so if I have the urge to hack modify it, then it's possible.

I started looking for something on the GNOME desktop, and found Alexandria. There was a version that automatically came via the Ubuntu network software repositories but as it wasn't even able to dismiss the About box via the "Close" button, I wasn't holding out too much hope for how useful it was.

So I downloaded the latest deb package via their download page, installed that and tried again. The About Close button bug is definitely fixed (yea!), and I was able to easily add a book by giving it the book ISBN, via the "Add Book" button. Cool. Now I just need to work out how to automatically add the 3000+ books I already have.

I saw that one of the import options is to supply a text file where each line contains the ISBN number. So I went to my Powerbook, fired up Delicious Library, exported my book collection as a text file, copied it over to my Ferrari, and cobbled up a quick script to extract out all the ISBN's (actually they are Amazon ASIN's but hopefully that shouldn't be a problem, as Amazon is one of the providers that's used, to get book information).

#!/usr/bin/env python
#
# create_asin_list.py - v0.1
#
# Usage: python create_asin_list.py < "Library Text Export.txt" > ASINList.txt

import sys

def readBookList():
    return sys.stdin.readlines()

def writeASINList(lines):
    for line in lines:
        tokens = line.split('\\t')
        if len(tokens) > 8:
            sys.stdout.writelines(tokens[8] + '\\n')

if __name__ == "__main__":
    lines = readBookList()
    writeASINList(lines)

I then tried importing that file to alexandria and it just hung. By experimentation, I discovered it didn't like the third ISBN number: 033025068X. Looking deeper I discovered that this is an ASIN number from Amazon UK, rather than Amazon US. Delicious Library gives you a choice, and as I bought the book in England about thirty years ago, I picked the UK version to catalog.

I then started alexandria again, and tried to just add that single ISBN number via the "Add Book" button. It hung again. At this point I was so disgusted, that I just went to the terminal window and typed Control-c to try to quit the program. Lo and beyond, it printed out "found at Worldcat" and proceeded to add it to the collection. Sigh.

As alexandria started, it output:

Can't load image_size, hence exported libraries are not optimized
Can't load mechanize, hence provider Deastore not available
Can't load Ruby/ZOOM, hence Z39.50 and providers Library of Congress, British Library not available

so maybe that's what's causing the hang, but I would have liked to think that the initial installation of alexandria via the Synaptic Package Manager would have sorted out all the required runtime dependencies. It certainly told me about a load of other packages that it intended to install as well as alexandria.

I then tried the Control-c "feature" whilst retrying to do the import, and it just aborted the program.

There doesn't seem to be an easy way to add another provider (Amazon UK), which would presumably solve my hanging problems, so I've currently given up on alexandria. If I feel in a hacking mood, i'll download the source, learn Ruby, and see if I can fix this.

I then installed tellico which appears to be the KDE equivalent. This one seems to be more fully-featured, yet there doesn't appear to be a way to add a book via an ISBN. I tried adding "033025068X" via it's title and author and it picked up the U.S. edition. That's not what I wanted.

There also doesn't seem to be a "simple" import mechanism. It's looking for much more complicated import schemas. I looked at a few, and decided that RIS was one of the simplest, and cobbled up another Python script to try to generate the minimal amount of information that would be needed to import the books into tellico.

#!/usr/bin/env python
#
# create_ris_list.py - v0.1
#
# Usage: python create_asin_list.py < "Library Text Export.txt" > library.ris
import sys

def readBookList():
    return sys.stdin.readlines()

def writeRISEntries(lines):
    for line in lines:
        tokens = line.split('\\t')
        tokensLen = len(tokens)
        sys.stdout.writelines('\\n')
        sys.stdout.writelines('TY - BOOK\\n')
        if tokensLen > 37:
            sys.stdout.writelines('AU - ' + tokens[37] + '\\n')
        if tokensLen > 10:
            sys.stdout.writelines('TI - ' + tokens[10] + '\\n')
        if tokensLen > 8:
            sys.stdout.writelines('SN - ' + tokens[8] + '\\n')
        sys.stdout.writelines('ER -\\n')

if __name__ == "__main__":
    lines = readBookList()
    writeRISEntries(lines)

This time I gave it an RIS file that just contained the single that had been causing all the trouble.

TY - BOOK
AU -
TI - Again, Dangerous Visions: v. 1
SN - 033025068X
ER -

It didn't import it. I'm not sure what it did (except not hang). I tried another simple example with a valid Amazon US ISBN number, and it didn't like that either.

At this point, I'm taking a break. Book cataloging software shouldn't be this hard to use. Delicious Library proves that.

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Tuesday Dec 04, 2007

Amazon Kindle

The new Amazon Kindle wireless reading device has been out for about a week now.

I was tracking the reviews before it came out. At that time about 300 had reviewed it, and over 100 of those people had given it a one-star review without even having tried it. Apparently several hadn't read the specifications in detail, because they vented on problems that aren't really problems or can easily be worked around (such as lack of PDF support).

A friend pointed out that Robert Scoble has panned it. His video is well worth watching if you are considering buying this device, and he makes several excellent points. But this is version 1.0 of the Kindle, no doubt rushed to market just in time for Christmas. There is plenty of opportunity to fix some of these problems in the future.

I'd like to try it before I make a judgment, and this is where Amazon apparently has a real disadvantage over other retailers that have bricks-n-mortar stores. I would have to buy one from them, then return it if I didn't like it. Or find somebody who has already got one and play with theirs.

From just reviewing the specs on their web page and watching Robert's video, it looks clunky. It's also more than I want to pay for such a machine.

I think I'd sooner get one of those ASUS Eee PC 4G Notebook PC's and read my eBooks with that. The price is the same. And at least I can also use it like a normal (albeit smaller and slower) PC, for other things like reading email, browsing the web and running OpenOffice apps (just to name a few).

I bet it wouldn't be too hard to write something that would allow you hold the PC the other way around with the screen length-ways on one side and the keyboard on the other. You know. Sort of like holding a book, albeit with just one "page" displaying text. In fact, not much bigger than a hardback book. I wonder what the reading experience would be like then.

Overall though, I guess I'm still old-school. I still prefer the feel of a paper book. The ability to easily and quickly view other pages. It'll be a while before I do my reading-for-pleasure electronically.

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Wednesday Nov 14, 2007

Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus

Last night I finished volume 1 of this series published by DC Comics. It was marvelous (ouch!). Kirby is a legend in the comic book universe, and in 1970, DC hired him and gave him free rein.

He came up with three new titles -- The New Gods and The Forever People and Mister Miracle as well as taking over Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen. As the blurb on the cover says, Kirby rejuvenated the comics industry by introducing his unique vision of The Fourth World.

This four volume series will reproduce all those comics and make them available to a whole new generation of readers.

The art work is phenomenal. The imagination staggering and the new ideas prolific. I'm disappointed that they decided to use what appears to be the equivalent of comic book paper for the books. This might give a touch of authenticity, but it's unlikely to keep the book in pristine condition for very long.

Some of the names Kirby uses, such as Apokolips and Granny Goodness caused mild tittering. If I was a kid reading them for the first time, I probably wouldn't have reacted this way.

The continual use of hyperbole didn't sit well either. Here's an example:

WILD AREA! ZOOMWAY! HABITAT! OUTSIDERS! STRANGE NAMES IN A STRANGE WORLD WHICH WAS EVOLVED IN A GREAT NATURAL CAVERN BENEATH MODERN AMERICA! THIS IS THE WORLD OF THE "PROJECT" -- WHERE THE SECRET OF THE CENTURY HAS BEEN KEPT! THE HARNESSING OF THE DNA MOLECULE!!!! THE BREAKING OF THE GENETIC CODE!! MAN EXPERIMENTING WITH LIFE!!

If Kirby was alive today and typing this out, the exclamation mark key on his keyboard would be very shiny.

He also wasn't afraid to introduce new physics either. Here's the text from a couple of the panels in one of the issues that just made be burst out with laughter:

BEFORE HIS COMPANIONS BECOME AWARE, SUPERMAN TAKES TO THE SKY WITH FASTER-THAN-LIGHT SPEED AND HEADS FOR METROPOLIS IN THE DISTANCE!

AT THIS INCREDIBLE SPEED, SUPERMAN IS A STREAKING BLUR!

But then again, I'm not the target demographic that this publication is going after. 35-40 years ago, I would probably have been lapping it up.

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Monday Nov 05, 2007

Recently Read - 5th November 2007

Here's a list of the books I've recently read, with an Amazon-style star rating and a few comments.

  • D. A. - Connie Willis
    Subterranean Press seem to be taking a selection of novella's from well know science fiction writers, and publishing them in expensive thin hardbacks. This was another of them. It's a quick read, occasionally funny but I'm glad that I was able to borrow it from my library.

  • Making Money - Terry Pratchett
    I've lost count of how many discworld novels there are now. Over thirty. This is the latest, and features the return of Moist von Lipwig (from Going Postal). Lots of new characters to get used to as well, so there wasn't the usual familiar feel to the book (for those of us who have read the whole series). But Pratchett is a master story-teller and it all came together at the end. I strongly suspect we'll see von Lipwig again, giving another commercial enterprise the complete overhaul.

  • The Start of the Art - Iain M. Banks
    Not to be confused with State of the Art. A collection of the earlier short SF stories from Banks, including a lengthy essay by Banks on The Culture that was originally posted to rec.art.sf-written.

  • Fables for our Time - James Thurber

  • Nebula Awards 30 - Ed. Pam Sargent

  • God Bless You Mr. Rosewater - Kurt Vonnegut
    This is classic Vonnegut. Forget his most recent books and go back and read this one, which I consider one of his best.

  • The Beast Must Die - Nicholas Blake
    Another of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century. As one of the Amazon reviewers says, how can you resist a book that starts out with:

    "I am going to kill a man. I don't know his name, I don't know where he lives, I have no idea what he looks like. But I am going to find him and kill him...'

  • A Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams
    I've never seen this Pulitzer winning play or watched the film, but I kept picturing Marlon Brando in the role of Stanley Kowalski as I read the play. Now I must get to see the film, and read some of Williams's other plays.

  • Less Than Zero - Bret Easton Ellis

    Or Beverly Hills 90210 on Crack or How I Spent My Christmas Holidays.

    It's an excellent first novel by Ellis but as I read this I kept thinking of White Punks on Dope by The Tubes who sum it up so much more succinctly and present it so much better.

    (As an aside, I was at their performance in Oxford in 1978 when Fee Waybill fell off the stage and broke his leg. We didn't know this until the next day's news headlines, as he continued with the show, and nothing seemed unusual. Bad wording that. Anybody who has seen the Tubes knows that there is nothing usual about this group).

  • Howtoons - Saul Griffith
    See a separate review on this one.

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Thursday Oct 18, 2007

What Kind of Reader Are You?

The latest quiz.

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen
 

You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Dedicated Reader
 
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
 
Book Snob
 
Fad Reader
 
Non-Reader
 

Via Geoff's blog.

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