Review: Lightspeed Magazine July 2010

Lightspeed Magazine, July 2010Lightspeed Magazine, July 2010 by John Joseph Adams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As usual for anthology-type things, an expansion on my status updates. But, before that, let me just say that I love science fiction and fantasy short stories and listen to SFF/F podcasts to hear them. So this was a very fun read.

“No time like the present” – One of the things that I both love and hate about short stories is starting in media res. It feels like short stories aren’t allowed to introduce the world. You have to figure it out as the story goes along. Sometimes this can be fun in a detective sort of way. Sometimes it can be frustrating as you learn something halfway through that completely changes your understanding of the first half. Again, sometimes that can be fun like in Fight Club. Sometimes it’s just annoying. This time it was fun and I think having a kid narrator was part of the reason.

“Manumission” -An exciting version of same story type as Paycheck. An evil corporation has taken some extreme measures to ensure compliance among its hit squad. Works very well.

“Airships” – a fun steam punk world told through vignettes and news stories. I don’t know if Alan Moore comics were the first place I came across using news clippings to tell a story and set some of the background, but I enjoy

“GRRM story – The story really hit me hard. He’s been working in SF and Fantasy for DECADES, but most people only know him via A Song of Ice and Fire. I’m sure the money makes it less frustrating, but this story is a great example of how he can work in different genres and still tell compelling stories.

“Time travel Non-Fiction piece” – good sense of humour and 5 things that could go wrong if you time travel.

“You are you” – a look at memories and how they determine who we are.

“A history of Zeppelins “- a nice summary. All I could think of was the Archer blimp episode.

Interview with The Lisps – neat idea for their broadway show. Too bad it’s no longer playing.

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Review: Dune

Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, that was quite a journey – both in the amount of time it took me to finish the book and in the scope of the book itself. I guess I’ll consider it in that order. This book, like all sci fi books that deviate so much from how we live today that everything has a new name, is hard to get into. While it is good narrative form to jump into the story without walls of text explaining everything, when it’s as alien as this (no pun intended) it becomes impossible to know what’s going on. And that makes it hard to get invested in the story. Additionally, in order to have the big payoff at the end, Herbert spends a lot of time without much going on. I know I spent a lot of time wondering why this was such a heralded book in our fandom.

But even as I was struggling for purchase, the book held some of my favorite tropes. Like Asimov’s first Foundation book, it had quotes from an in-universe book that gave some context to what the future would hold based on the events of Dune. There was also evidence of a vast universe – which is what I loved about the Mass Effect games. The appendices add quite a bit of backstory to the book. It was also interesting to see a world in which apparently all religions had merged, but a great amount of Islamic ideas and words had made it into space.

Of course, how could I mask my delight at understanding the lyrics behind the hook in Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice. (… ) “Walk without rhythm and you won’t attract the worm”.

In the end, the book won me over as it sped towards the climax and conclusion. One of the best things Herbert does is also one of the best things GRRM does with A Song of Ice and Fire. Many people die who you don’t expect to die. People try to act for justice and fail. It creates an atmosphere where you don’t know what’s going to happen. Indeed, even once the Muad’dib can see the future he often sees his death. (After reading the description of what it’s like for him experiencing past, present, and future at once – I wondered if it was the source of inspiration for Alan Moore’s description of Dr Manhattan’s worldview in Watchmen).

If you want to read one of THE science fiction books not by Asimov, I can recommend this book. Just know that it has a slow start and ideally make use of the glossary at the back of the book. (One of the things that’s easier in a paper book than an ebook)

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Review: Kill Screen Magazine: Games are No Fun

Video Games Are No FunVideo Games Are No Fun by Kill Screen Magazine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I usually do with an anthology-style product, I’m just moving over my status updates.

“Big Buck- I’ve seriously misjudged this game all these years”

“King of the Ogres – Although I never got into WOW, I’ve faced similar issues with others (sometimes peers and sometimes the older generation) not understanding games as a diversion as valid as whatever they do for fun.”

“Feminist gamer of the year: This aligns with what we often describe in the comics world as men with breasts – female characters that the male authors don’t fill with authentic female voices. Reading about fallout was pretty eye opening. The Portal section was great, but I’m surprised the author didn’t pick up on the female taunts from glados like calling Chell fat.”

“Intensive – interesting interview about the role of games and point and click games in particular”

“Tura, Lost – Very deep. I’m thankful to the author for sharing that. What a great, eclectic collection this Kill Screen is turning out to be.”

“Some Russian – not only was that fan fiction great, the intro reminded me of the back stories my brother’s and I created for Tetris.”

“Bungie Dev – Interesting meditation on whether competition is always best for video games”

“The sound of sickness – a good reminder that sound had to be created for video games. There is no ambient recording”

“Ball is out of control – I heard this story on a podcast. (I think 99% Invisible) Pretty weird bit of history with Pinball and NYC.”

“Creating discomfort – I’m not familiar with these games, but I’m glad we have a good indie scene now that can support them.”

“Winning hearts and minds – reminds me of conversations I’ve had with veterans about what they think of military shooters.”

“Lick Her Boot – just like creating discomfort, a discussion with a designer who does things to mess with the player. There’s a logic to the way the player is messed with that reveals how we’ve been conditioned by decades of play and game design vocabulary.”

“Axe to grind – It’s so amusing how we get so caught up in what we’re supposed to be the best at that we fall apart when a kid bests us.”

“Chiller – arcades …. I wish they still existed”

“Bosses – a look at some truly disturbing bosses and what it says about us.”

“The local – As I’ve learned more and more about how localization works, I’ve been less and less upset with the compromised made”

“Calling off the engagement – an examination of how we interact with games and how that makes it different from other art”

“Stephen Lavelle – communicating difficult themes through games in which there is no winning.”

“Monday – a neat use of a text adventure interface to communicate a sad story.”

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Sam Jumping Around

Taken by Danielle; edited by Eric.
Taken by Danielle; edited by Eric.

So much I want to say all at once…I hate when that happens – makes me wish we could speak in parallel threads. Well, I guess I’ll start with the credit. There are lots of photos I’ve posted on here taken by Danielle. But usually by the time I get a chance to post photos I can’t remember for sure who took the photos. Generally, if the photo is taken with the Canon Powershot S100 it’s a greater than 80% chance it was taken by Danielle. But not only has not much time passed since the photo was taken (allowing me to know it was Danielle who took it), but it’s just so perfect, I had to make sure to credit her for having the photographic eye.

The angle, the timing, the look on Sam’s face, the highlights coming in from the morning light. I took a look at a few different ways of rendering it and black and white seemed to do it the best justice.

Fedora 24 is out!

Fedora 24 was released yesterday. I updated Daisy, my big laptop, first since it’s not critical. If the update broke something I wouldn’t care. The only hitch it had was that I had to reinstall the RPMFusion repos from the RPM for Fedora 24. Otherwise it was saying that one of the packages wasn’t signed and refused to do the upgrade. Probably has something to do with the fact that for the last release or two, RPMFusion wasn’t exactly in the best of conditions. I’m currently updating my netbook (Kuribo), but that’s more of an all-evening affair since it’s just running on an Intel Atom. There are three more Fedora machines in the house – SuperMario, TanukiMario, and BlueYoshi. I’ll probably save the livingroom Kodi (BY) for last since everyone in the house uses that to watch TV.

So far I haven’t noticed too many changes on KDE, but the icon indicating that I have updates is different. That seems to change with every release (or at least every other one).

7 Month Old Portraits Lighting Setup

I meant to write about the lighting setup in the blog post in which I uploaded the photos from the 7 Month photo shoot, but with twin 7 month olds, there’s never enough time for anything – even with my mother-in-law in town helping us out. Oh well, at least I don’t have to pay per post.

First of all, I’d like to discuss the concept I wanted to go for. For the Five Month photos, I went with the balloon theme I posted about here. For month six, I didn’t do anything special. Danielle did her usual couch portraits. But this time around I had a bit more time for the photos and I started thinking about it a week or two in advance. Unlike 2 months ago, both children were able to sit on their own now for extended periods of time. As of when I took the 7 month photos, the only thing that made them tip over was when they got over-excited and tipped back. It’d been a while since I had done portraits with the black background and I wanted to switch it up a bit. Because I don’t have any formal photography training, I like to browse the work of other photographers to get ideas I can take and make my own. Gavin Hooey, who has a great series of videos on Youtube through the photography store Adorama, has a dark grey background at his studio. He likes to have a highlight behind the model rather than just a plain dark background. If you look at his photos, he does it more often than he doesn’t. I figured it might help with the look of the photos. If you don’t do it, then you really do need to use a light as a hair light in order to keep dark-haired subjects from merging into a black background.

So here’s the lighting diagram:

Lighting Diagram for the 7 Month portraits of the twins
Lighting Diagram for the 7 Month portraits of the twins

Let me go overĀ  why I set it up this way. Unless you purposely want to have the main light cast shadows on the background (and there are some times you might want to) you want to have your subject away from the back of the backdrop (or wall). So the kids were just about 6 inches from the front where the cloth ended. The octobox was just about a foot away from the kids. With lights you want them as close as possible and as large as possible most of the time as it will give you soft shadows. Also, when you get to a modifier as large as this 4 foot octobox, the light starts to wrap around the subject. So what I love about it for the kids, is that with how small they are, it ends up allowing me to shoot with a much simpler setup – just one light, but the kids are well lit with just enough shadow to keep the image from looking flat.

Normally, for the highlight behind the subject, the photographer would put the light source right behind the subject. Their body hides it and you end up with a perfectly centered highlight. Since the kids are so small, I wasn’t able to do that. So I had to put the flash off the to side and aim it straight at the right spot. By putting the grid modifier on the flash, it ends up focusing the light more. It’s not as tight a light as a snoot, but it still does keep it from spreading all over the place.

The last thing is that when I put both kids into a shot, I had Sam a little further forward than Stella. Not enough to be noticeable, but enough to keep Stella from throwing Sam into shadow. That’s something I’ve had to learn as I work with multiple people and lighting. I practiced with myself, so I’m not used to the pitfalls of lighting more than one subject.


Sometimes Scarlett asks me to draw with her. So I drew this scene:

Scarlett (who added a bird and some apples to the drawing) thought I'd drawn a dinosaur and a dragon. At least, that was her first guess. She got it right on the second try.Of course, what we “see” is dependent upon our state of mind. Having been watching lots of fairy tale cartoons, her first guess was that I’d drawn a dragon and a dinosaur. Her second guess, of course, was correct that it was a giraffe and rhino. She then added a bird and some apples for the giraffe.

BBQ Ribs

Ever since I bought my house and got a BBQ/grill I’ve learned that most of what I thought of as BBQ growing up was actually grilling. The key difference is that you BBQ at a lower temperature (typically around 225 F) and that BBQ is cooked via indirect heat. Grilling is cooking directly over a fire and, typically, done at the highest heat your BBQ/grill can provide (at the very least starting around 350 F and higher). Although I’ve been cooking ribs successfully on the BBQ/Grill for the past 6ish years, I’ve never really been BBQing them. So I looked around on the web and I found the recipe for Last Meal Ribs.

Ribs and wood chips
Ribs and wood chips for smoking

I thought about the best ribs I’ve ever eaten and one of the aspects that adds a lot of the taste is smoking. So I bought some hickory wood chips. I’d usually done Danielle’s family ribs marinade, but this time I wanted to make it American Style. So I put together Meathead’s Dust rub to dry rub the ribs before I put them on the BBQ.

Ribs on the grill with the thermometer probe
Ribs on the grill with the thermometer probe

When I BBQ this new way, it ends up being just juicy enough without falling off the bone

One thing that was essential for BBQing that’s not really needed for grilling – a thermometer. BBQ built-in thermometers are just not accurate. Also, they’re measuring temperature up where the lid is, not by the meat. I couldn’t get a photo (with my phone) where both thermometer were in focus, but this one shows the BBQ in focus and the numbers on the external thermometer are large enough to read, even if it’s out of focus.

Inaccuracy of BBQ thermometer
Inaccuracy of BBQ thermometer

Another reason you need the thermometer (even if you’re BBQing on a gas grill) is that weather and humidity affect the heat. For example, when I took these photos, this was the setting to maintain 225 F:

225 F setting in May
225 F setting in May

Only one of the burners on this setting with the others off. But when I BBQed yesterday, I had to turn the knob to the bottom setting.

Everything needed, including the sauce
Everything needed, including the sauce

So, having now done this twice, what are my lessons learned?

  1. I need a bigger BBQ if I’m going to feed more than just my immediate family. I can only make about 2 racks of babyback ribs on my BBQ.
  2. I need to work on getting the wood chips to smoulder/smoke better. I’ve gotten some flavor out of them, but not exactly what I’m looking for. Next time I’ll have to remove the grate and put it right on the fire to see if I can get a better amount of smoke.
  3. I always preheat the grill first – all high at 15 minutes. That’s supposed to help get the grates into a good state and help some of the fat or anything that remained on the grill melt off. I always wash them before use, but I can’t get everything off without risking ripping off some of the anti-rust coating of the grill.

Overall, I like the texture of the ribs better when I cook it this way. It tastes good when I cook it the old way where I was finishing in an hour, but it’s a bit tougher. When I BBQ this new way, it ends up being just juicy enough without falling off the bone (which is overcooked and probably pre-boiled). Next up for me is to try a Brisket. I’m slightly intimidated by the 10ish hours of cooking time, but I’d definitely like to try it.

Waiting for the cooking to be done
Waiting for the cooking to be done