Posts for May 2006

2006-05-02: Last Hugo haul

This is the last set of book purchases for getting all the Hugo nominees. (If I actually get to A Feast of Crows, I expect I'll borrow it rather than buy it.) It's probably also the last book purchases until Baycon, where I'm sure I'll get at least something in the dealer's room.

Patricia Anthony -- Cold Allies (sff)
David Gerrold -- A Matter for Men (sff)
Linda Nagata -- Memory (sff)
John Scalzi -- Old Man's War (sff)
Sharon Shinn -- The Alleluia Files (sff)
John Sladek -- Alien Accounts (sff)
Paula Volsky -- Illusion (sff)

I'm caught up on reviews except that I just finished A Clash of Kings. Quick preview: Eh. I think Martin's starting to lose me. Things are simply not happening fast enough and I don't care about the characters enough to wade through 1,000 page books. It's better than Jordan but also less compelling than Jordan in complicated ways. But more on that later.

2006-05-03: Policy flurry!

I was already excited when Policy 3.7.0 was released, and now we're up to Debian Policy 3.7.2! Admittedly, some of that is the rethinking of the cgi-bin to cgi-lib change which was agreed on years ago but which has since been rethought and has now been retracted, but there have also been a lot of typo fixes, fixes around the X migration, and other good work. Many thanks to Manoj for all his work in this area. It's great to see multiple Policy releases.

lintian has been updated to support 3.7.2 already in Subversion. I was hoping to commit a bunch of the patches and implement a bunch of the wishlist items from the BTS, but I'm not sure if I'm going to have time. I'll probably upload whatever's in Subversion on Friday to not let too much time go by with the new Policy version without a new lintian.

2006-05-05: kstart 3.4

Sidney Cammeresi provided several additional good tips for dealing with the Mac OS X ticket cache, which is associated with a session and therefore does odd things in combination with the -b switch to k5start and krenew. The issues are now documented in the krenew man page, k5start redoes authentication when necessary after backgrounding, and both now force file-based ticket caches when the -k option is used.

You can get the latest version from the kstart distribution page.

2006-05-13: I'm alive

I haven't written much in quite a while, I see. Mostly that's because I was sick with a cold last week, and while as colds go it never got too bad and wasn't as bad on the cough as my last one, it really took out all of my energy. For the first part of the week, I didn't want to do anything; Friday, I wanted to do things but couldn't keep my eyes open.

Thankfully, I got a good night's sleep last night and today I feel significantly better. I've been getting things done from the moment I woke up, which is a great feeling after that long of down time.

Anyway, today I mostly caught up on mail (apart from work stuff that can wait until Monday) and cleaned out the hall closet comprehensively. Now I just have to figure out whether I need to take keyboards and mice somewhere special to dispose of them or can throw them in the trash under the new laws, and if I have to take them somewhere special, where I'm supposed to go. The apartment office should know, and I'll give them a call on Monday. (One of the keyboards is brand new, so it's a shame to get rid of it, but it's a pre-PS2 connector and I'll never use it.) The random crap in the closet is now somewhat more organized after I cut the lids off a few shoeboxes to use for repositories.

I find it amusing that I'm much better at closing out home tasks than I am at closing out online tasks, at least right now. I'm way behind on book reviews, too; I've finished four books and a magazine that are waiting for me to write up my thoughts.

Currently reading About Writing by Samuel R. Delany, which is amazing, and about to start A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. Looks like I might actually make it for reading every Hugo nominee before Baycon. I'll at least be close. Picked up V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd while out and about today, but I'm focusing on the Hugo nominees for right now.

2006-05-14: Analog, Jan/Feb 2005

Review: Analog, January/February 2005

Editor: Stanley Schmidt
Issue: Volume 125, No. 1 & 2
ISSN: 1059-2113
Pages: 240

Analog is the science fiction magazine with the highest circulation and the one that tends to take the most awards, over either Asimov's or Fantasy & Science Fiction. It has a reputation for being focused on engineer with a wrench stories and not as much the kind of science fiction that I prefer, so I'd been focusing on other magazines. This is the first issue I've read; I was expecting to not be as fond of it.

What I wasn't expecting was this degree of simple shoddiness.

I'm working from a sample size of one, so I don't know if this is typical. If it is, I'm embarassed for Schmidt to be putting his name on a magazine with this many simple editing errors. A few misspellings, dropped words, and grammatical errors are tolerable; magazines get less care than books. At least one, often more, per article is distracting and irritating.

The stories were worse even than I expected. It isn't so bad that I had no idea why a story would have been accepted, but there's a lack of writing skill in most of the stories, particularly around characterization. Characters speak in cliches, telling rather than showing is common, and rarely is a character sufficiently compelling to pull me into the story.

The editorial was interesting, as was the science fact article (on theories of the likelihood of the development of life on planets). The book review column was also competent, although mostly plot synopses. The less said about The Alternate View, the better; if I want to read prickly arguments over what is and isn't crackpot, I'll read Usenet. I don't care about either side of that debate. But the letters column underscores that I have little in common with the Analog readership.

"The Stonehenge Gate, part 1" by Jack Williamson: I was looking forward to this serialization. Jack Williamson has been writing science fiction for something like eighty years and is one of the giants of the field, and I'd not yet read anything by him. For first experiences, though, this was quite disappointing. The characters were wooden chess pieces existing just to show off a world concept, even though the story is written in the first person. Ram's constant negativity (frequently expressed in exactly the same words) started to grate by halfway in and was painful by the end of this section. His world is vaguely interesting in a "huh, Stargate but not as well done" sort of way, a classic story of exploring an alien world and trying to figure out what's going on, but the world feels sparse and underpopulated and too much time goes by between interesting discoveries. Combine that with characters who are wooden and obnoxious by turns and I can't say I'm thrilled by the prospect of more installments. (4)

"Seventy-Five Years" by Michael A. Burnstein: Proving that I just don't get what Analog readers see in this stuff, this unoriginal political statement masquerading as a short story is a Hugo nominee. A politician's ex-wife argues freedom of information about census data in a thinly veiled reference to the arguments around copyright terms. There's a bunch of wooden dialogue, a bit of blackmail, and a completely unconvincing "happy" ending. I agree with Burnstein's political point, but a non-fiction essay would have had a more believable plot. (3)

"Rough Draft" by Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta: This one was a bit better. What would a one-shot writer do if an explorer in alternate time lines found a book that an alternate version of himself wrote? The idea is interesting and the writing is at least competent. I can't say as much for the plot, which goes about the way that you'd expect complete with an moralistic happy ending. It's at least average, but I think so much more could have been done with the concept. (5)

"The Supersonic Zeppelin" by Ben Bova: Here's another story with a blatant moral (I'm noticing a trend). A project manager and a bunch of engineers come up with the idea of a supersonic zeppelin. The project manager ends up leading the project, trying to get funding, and goes to Washington to play politics. Unoriginal, over-the-top political parody ensues. The story is full of cliched dialogue and stabs at politicians and the press that were old years ago. The predictable demise of the project amidst political wrangling sets up a groan of an ending. Pointless. (4)

"Mars Opposition" by David Brin: This is the strongest story of the issue and the only one that manages to say something worth thinking about for more than a few moments after finishing the story. Martians arrive, with spectacularly advanced technology and no interest in human hierarchy. They approach and start trading with whoever they encounter. And then they start killing people. This clash of cultures and motivations, with resonance with colonial contact between advanced and primitive cultures, is quite well-done and builds into hard moral choices and a nasty conundrum. Well done. (7)

"Nova Terra" by Jeffery D. Kooistra: Kooistra had me with the setup: a mysterious last letter from an old boyhood friend who was involved in top-secret government projects, a plan for an engine that shouldn't possibly work, and encounters with secret government agencies. It's not original, but it seemed like the material for a good SF thriller. The problem: we get no satisfying explanation, Kooistra completely defuses the promised conflict, and by the end we're no more enlightened and feel vaguely silly for thinking that any of this was important. Disappointing. (5)

"Uncreated Night and Strange Shadows" by James Gunn: For me, BDO stories (stories about the exploration of mysterious alien artifacts) live and die in the explanation. I want a slow unveiling of some neat concepts. I want a sense of wonder thrill from the discoveries. I don't want a rather boring and frustrating exploration slog followed by a gift of a wad of exposition. It didn't help that the characters all felt interchangeable. The underlying explanation isn't horrible, as these things go, but it comes as an undigestable lump and sets up a dilemma that I didn't find compelling. (4)

"A Few Good Men" by Richard A. Lovett: This is the only other story of this issue that I can say I truly enjoyed. It's a fairly standard take on a time travel story, with people from the future interfering with the past but trying to avoid creating paradox and skew that would badly affect their time. Think Millennium, but not as dramatic. The selling point is solid characterization of the first-person protagonist, who ends up as a psychological counsellor for men kidnapped into the future, slowly making friends and working out what's going on. The ending was an anti-climax, but the story still kept me interested all the way through. (6)

Rating: 4 out of 10

2006-05-16: lbcd 3.2.6

Nothing particularly exciting in this release. I just fixed some problems with builddir != srcdir builds that Quanah discovered. The Debian packages were a bit more exciting, since the bug fix in debhelper meant that they wouldn't install if the init script couldn't stop lbcd. Since we often have the package installed on systems that don't run it, that wasn't good. So I implemented the same workaround that we had to do for Shishi to ignore errors from stopping lbcd until the package could upgrade to a new init script that ignored errors on stopping.

You can get the latest version from the lbcd distribution page, and Debian packages are available from my personal repository as always.

2006-05-17: Books everywhere

I just got a shipment of seven boxes of many, many things from a family estate, along with some random stuff that my parents still had. I'm amused to see that I can still take a "magic snake" from the straight form to the ball form in well under 20 seconds with pure muscle memory, despite not having touched one in more than ten years.

The best thing in the shipment is an old Monroe mechanical calculatore that belonged to my grandfather, which is now on prominant display in my living room. The next best thing are piles and piles of books; most of them just complete a collection of every Louis L'Amour novel in paperback, books that I used to read but haven't for some time and may or may not again, but there are lots of other fascinating things in there to sort through.

Of course, this means that my apartment currently looks like a mess, with packing material and empty boxes everywhere. I also have kitchen stuff stacked all over the kitchen, most of which really should be washed. It's a little intimidating. We'll see how much of this I can get cleaned up this week, and then the rest will require some concentrated time this coming weekend.

But now, bed, since I have to get up at 6am to do a DNS upgrade.

2006-05-31: I'm alive, redux

This has been the month for not communicating with the outside world.

I'm hoping to do better next month, including catching up on a large backlog of reviews, doing more Debian work, posting more frequently about what's going on, and working on getting my life a bit more organized. However, project work is going to continue to hammer at me, I'm going to be travelling next month (and July as well), and it remains to be seen how much time I'll have.

Baycon was excellent, although not quite as good as last year (but last year was the best Baycon I can remember in quite a while). I'll try to write up a more detailed con report later; suffice it to say that I bought quite a few books, had a great conversation with the employees of Borderlands Books and now need to go up to SF to visit their store, picked up more artwork (including winning another piece at auction), played much pinball, and stayed up until very late talking. It was not the most relaxing vacation, but it was a great mental break.

Today, I was still catching up on organization, but I still managed to cross two or three things off the to-do list and make progress on the next version of remctl, so I'm content. Tomorrow, I get up at 6am again to do a DNS upgrade, but it's the last one, and then that project is nearly done.

I owe you all three book reviews, a haul post, a con writeup, and an update on Debian projects, at least. And probably some musings over Big Eight newsgroup creation. We'll see when I get to that; tomorrow is a new month.

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