Review: The Silver Ninja: Indoctrination

The Silver Ninja: IndoctrinationThe Silver Ninja: Indoctrination by Wilmar Luna
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disclosure: I got this book for free for review.

Let me start with what I liked. Wilmar does a good job creating a believable female hero. She has flaws. She sounds like a woman; not a man with breasts. At the same time not a caricature of womanhood or a ditz. The sisterly relationship seems like a girl’s version of what I’ve seen with my brothers. While the dialog sometimes fell a little flat, the martial spat and relationship and sexual dysfunction seemed realistic.

What I didn’t like but was forgivable:
Almost everything about the suits and physics. Because the story seemed like 2014 + nanotechnology it was harder to suspend my disbelief than if it was a more science fiction world.

The amount of blood she loses and her concusions.

But I can just pretend this is an anime or Michael Bay movie as a book and not worry too much about that.

What made me give it two stars instead of 3 or 4:

Lots of loose plot threads. What were the consequences of government confiscation? Was the computer virus successful? Why was Black Rook involved? Why did he want what the bad guys planned?

The whole time I felt like this was the second book in a trilogy with lots of setup without payoff.

As I mentioned in my status update I have to respectfully disagree with Wilmar that this book can be read without reading the first one. Everything going on between the main characters is based on stuff that happened in the first book. It is hard to understand all the arguments without the context.

Finally, the book never properly setup the climax so that I wanted to keep reading. The only reason I read the first 60% in one go is because I was on a long flight. The only reason I finished is because Wilmar gave it to me for review. That’s not to say it was a horrible book. It was fine. It just wasn’t great. If it’d kept me on my toes that might have been enough for 3 stars.

I love writing but I’ve never been able to finish a novel so I have a lot of respect for what Wilmar has done and how he’s put himself out there. It’s why I wrote such a comprehensive review for a 2 star book. I think there is a good foundation here. I would definitely start with book #1 if you are a new reader. Perhaps if there is a #3 we will get some needed closure. Even if he plans a book #4, perhaps we need to close the book on Black Rook.

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Suddenly Charlie XCX seems to be everywhere. In reality she’s been slowly appearing in and writing lots of pop songs for the past few years. But I had no idea who she was or anything. So I was surprised to find I had “What I Like” from her True Romance album on my computer. Must have been one of those MP3s Rolling Stone used to give away weekly.

Review: The Sword & Sorcery Anthology

The Sword & Sorcery AnthologyThe Sword & Sorcery Anthology by David G. Hartwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed all the stories but one on here – the one about the pick-lock. One of my favorites turned out to be the last one, which I think is the shortest story. But the there’s still a very compelling story told. I was disappointed with the GRRM story because I thought it was going to be an original short story. It just just part of a Dany chapter from ASOIAF. But, on the plus side I got to compare how it’s different from the HBO show, I got to see that I enjoy the way GRRM writes, and it was my favorite part – when Dany reveals to the Astaporians that she understands Valarian. As I mentioned in my updates, I enjoyed the Conan story and other than the vocabulary being a bit more formal, not much gives away that it was written 70-80 years ago. Also, having just read Gail Simone’s first Red Sonja arc, it was neat to see one of the stories call out Red Sonya (who Sonja is based on). Other top story was the one with the “Chinese” soldier. But really, lots of them were great.

I’d recommend this to any fan of short stories. It’s a plus if you like fantasy. I’m impartial – I can enjoy it, but rarely seek it out.

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Review: The Mocking Dead Volume 1

The Mocking Dead Volume 1The Mocking Dead Volume 1 by Fred Van Lente
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Parodies are hard to do well. The worst parodies are unbearable, the best deconstruct the tropes. I was afraid The Mocking Dead would be the former, but since I got it as part of a huge Humble Bundle, it was nearly free for me to check out. Luckily it turned out to be less Scary Movie and more like something Mel Brooks would put together.

It is a competent story that stands alone without any knowledge of what it parodies. While Spaceballs is funnier if you know Star Wars, it’s enjoyable without any knowledge of it. Similarly, the only things The Mocking Dead takes from The Walking Dead are the black and white color scheme and zombies. This saves it from the Family Guy-ization of parodies (eg Scary Movie, Not Another Teen Movie, etc).

However, the greatest original contribution is that of laughing zombies. The art is so perfect – it captures what’s always been horrific about Joker’s laughing serum. Bad guys coming at you with a grin plastered on their face is creepy. Combine that with being undead and laughing and it’s almost terrifying.

The Mocking Dead is not going to be a classic nor is it an awesome comic book. But it’s a good story that pokes fun at zombie tropes and current nerd/pop culture. (With a little politics thrown in for good measure) I’d recommend it for the zombie geek in your life.

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Reviews: Wizzywig: Portrait of a Serial Hacker

Wizzywig: Portrait of a Serial HackerWizzywig: Portrait of a Serial Hacker by Ed Piskor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a commentary on the sad state our country has been in since the 70s and 80s when it comes to computer crime. Although there should always be consequences for skirting the law we have often taken it a bit too far. This graphic novel was sad to read in the wake of Aaron Schwartz’ suicide when threatened by law enforcement.

Main character Kevin Phenicle is a combination of a bunch of historical hackers and ends up “being there” at a lot of key events. (Phone phreaking, etc) I missed out on most of this when it happened – partly from being too young and partly from my family’s socioeconomic situation at the time. My family couldn’t afford a computer until I was much older (at least a modern computer – my father did give me a Tandy when I was 8) and we didn’t get a modem until years later. Even then I didn’t associate with the computer nerds. I would have loved to, but didn’t even know that was a sub-culture. I thought I was alone – what a different world from today.

As for the particulars of this story, Kevin Phenicle’s amalgamation means that while there is a story arc and progression, it’s not quite as cohesive as some other stories. The art was fine, if a bit uneven – in some scenes Keven goes from skinny to “fat” or super broad-shouldered. As someone who’s drawn his entire life without getting that good at it, I am not claiming I could do better. Just mentioning that it was a bit uneven.

I’ve mentioned my stance on profanity, smutt, etc in previous reviews. It doesn’t bother me on its own. As I’ve mentioned before, the over-the-top profanity and violence in Pulp Fiction is one of the things I enjoy most about the movie. But, like the famous Supreme Court decision says, obscenity is something you know when you see. In my case, sometimes it seems necessary to the plot and sometimes it seens arbitrary. I don’t know why, but it bothered me a bit in Wizzywig. The profanity and random depictions of sexual acts – it bothered me a bit. I can’t quite put my finger on it other than to say there’s a random scene late in the book in which someone mentions marrying someone and that it was nice and the accompanying image is of the man having sex from behind his wife. Nothing necessarily deviant about that on its own. But it just seemed unecessary to the story, and again, given that this was not an over-the-top crazy porno book, it was irksome.

If my review seems a bit lukewarm, that’s pretty accurate. I appreciated and enjoyed the story Ed Piskor is communicating through the graphic novel because I have a respect and fondness for the hackers who came of age a decade or so before me. But the execution wasn’t something I was a huge fan of.

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Exploring btrfs for backups Part 4: Weekly Culls and Unit Testing

Back in August I finally had some time to do some things I’d been wanting to do with my Snap-in-Time btrfs program for a while now. First of all, I finally added the weekly code. So now my snapshots are cleaned up every three days and then every other week. Next on the docket is quarterly cleanups followed up yearly cleanups. Second, the big thing I’d wanted to do for a while now: come up with unit tests! Much more robust than my debug code and testing scripts, it helped me find corner cases. If you look at my git logs you can see that it helped me little-by-little figure out just what I needed to do as well as when my “fixes” broke other things. Yay! My first personal project with regression testing!

A small note: to accommodate the unit testing, I had to change the file name – so the one you want to use is the one without dashes. I am not 100% sure how to get rid of the old file without losing commit history, but I think it’s not too big of a deal for now.

If I can get my way, the next update will be when I setup the self-healing RAID 1 followed by setting up the backup harddive and btrfs send/receive.

How did we get to the point where certain singing voices are racialized? Everyone I’ve spoken to (and me too) was surprised to discover (a few years ago) that Adelle was not black. Now it’s happening all over again with Meghan Trainor and “All about that Bass”. I’d heard the song at the gym and looked for the music video, when Ms Trainor appeared I was shocked. As was my wife when she walked into the living room. I’ve polled a bunch of others in the office and they were all shocked as well.

I don’t know if this is above average, normal, or below average for a 2.5 year old, but the following exchange left me impressed yesterday:

Me: I am married to your mom. So, your maternal grandmother is my mother-in-law. Who is my father-in-law?

Scarlett: Maternal grandfather!

I also heard that while she was in NYC she correctly surmised that my wife’s grandfather was my mother-in-law’s father.

A guy in a wheelchair with a hook for a hand is in a bad spot.

-D.D. from work (who is wheelchair bound, but does not have hooks for hands)

Super Mario Kart Wii

April – August 2014 Video Games Report

April:

Civilization V (7 hrs): Met Dan in Mesa Bros; Waiting in Lefties Game

May:

Civilization V (11 hrs): More of the multiplayer games.

June:

Civ V (3 hrs): More multiplayer games.

Super Meat Boy (30 min): I played a few levels until it began to get too hard for me. It is a very well-designed game, but I was never that good at platformers. Really, I just stuck to Mario and Sonic growing up. The others were often too hard for me; at times even Mario and Sonic were too much. I don’t think I ever beat a Sonic game although with one of them (3 or S&K) I used to always get to the final Robotnick.

Guacamelee Bilingual Bonus! (If you speak spanish you will get a bit more out of the game)
Guacamelee Bilingual Bonus! (If you speak spanish you will get a bit more out of the game)

Guacamelee (30 min): To say that this is a fun action game filled with fun Mexican stereotypes is possibly to sound a bit too harsh. Then again, I’m Cuban, not Mexican, so I’m not in the best place to say what is and isn’t cool for stereotypes. However, it all seems to be in good fun – I only played the first few areas so far. My character is a tequila distiller who saves the governor’s daughter and ends up putting on a luchador mask that gives me special powers. Each area has a regular version and a land of the dead version. Overall it’s fun. I intend to get back to it in 2015 after I graduate.

July:

Civ (30 min): More multiplayer

Aug:

Beatles Rock Band (1 hr): I’ve been trying to help Scarlett make the connection between instruments and music and one of the best examples I have (since I lack music-playing talent) is Rock Band. Scarlett actually really enjoyed both playing the drums and the guitar (even though she wasn’t really doing anything)

Mario Kart Wii (I won!)
Mario Kart Wii (I won!)

Mario Kart Wii (1 hr): I was experimenting with getting the Wiimote and the PS3 remote working with my main Linux computer (Supermario) and it paired over Bluetooth perfectly. My Kubuntu machines are using an older version of BlueZ so they didn’t work, unfortunately. I don’t yet have an IR source, so I wanted to see if that would affect driving since the steering wheel has a hole for the IR receiver. Nope! I was able to drive perfectly. I’d forgotten some of the controls but quickly learned them and took the cup.

Mario Kart Wii - I won the whole cup
Mario Kart Wii – I won the whole cup

Civ V (1 hr): A little more multiplayer.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (30 min): Scarlett’s been obsessed with Mario so I figured it’d be fun to show her a game with Baby Mario. She enjoyed the heck out of it for a about 10 minutes. (Which is pretty good for anything that isn’t a cartoon she already likes)

Mid June Photojojo

It’s once again time for my latest Photojojo post. For those of you who haven’t been following my blog for a long time, Photojojo is a digital time capsule service. Every two weeks they send me an email that has my most interesting photos posted to flickr from one year ago.

Scarlett at the Beach in Florida and my dinner at Universal Studios.

Review: Striptease

Strip TeaseStrip Tease by Carl Hiaasen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve listened to somewhere between four and five dozen audiobooks (used to be an Audible subscriber) and the voice acting/narration on this book is definitely in my top three, if not in the top spot itself. Although the narrator slipped a bit in the last chapter with Garcia sounding a bit like Chad, it was otherwise an amazing performance. The narrator did something like 15 different, distinct voices. It’s not always necessary and it’s distracting if done poorly, but for this book it really brought something special. I’ve been a huge opponent of those who have used ebook DRM to prevent book readers from autoreading books to the sight-impaired. This book is a perfect example of why they shouldn’t prevent sight-impaired people from having a machine read a book. That’s just someone reading a book. It’s nothing special. But a performance, like in this recording of Striptease, that’s something worth paying for and something MANY years away when it comes to machine reading.

As for the substance of this book, I can see why Hiaasen has such a following. The satire and wit was sharp and biting. I almost fell out of bed with the hilarity of the final scene with Chad in the last chapter (not the Epilogue). I shouldn’t feel bad spoiling a book that’s 20 years old (and made into a cult classic movie – which I haven’t seen), but I had such a great time with this book, that I’d like to not be the one to spoil it. Here’s what’s great about this book: all the characters are real Characters. I never found myself bored with any of them. The political satire is top notch and hasn’t changed in the past 20 years. The social commentary is a lot of fun. The book also does something that society and pop culture haven been good at – portraying the dancers at the strip club as human beings. It really shouldn’t matter WHY someone chooses to do something that isn’t hurting anyone, but the main character certainly has a reason that goes along with something the majority of society would find acceptable. The lawsuit satires are definitely of the 90s. I mean, we’re still with them (Ancient Greeks and Romans were incredibly litigious as well – it’s a human trait, I think). But I remember that there was a real lawsuit zeitgeist in the 90s and this book taps into that in the most hilarious way. Finally, the divorce plotline is a great satire in the spectacular ways the system can fail us.

My only two complaints with the book were that, one, Daryl’s luck makes him second only to horror movie villains in his ability to terrorize. Even in a book full of outlandish ideas it can reach ridiculous heights at times that took me out of the story. Second, while the book was overall paced very well, it does take some tangents where it’s pretty obvious Hiaasen is messing with you because he just left a plot point dangling. At times I found myself wondering how I had so much more story left.

Overall, I STRONGLY recommend this reading of the book – Goodreads says cassette, I think, but I got this as MP3s from a Humble Bundle. I also really recommend this book (even if you have to read it to yourself) whether or not you’ve seen the movie. I enjoyed it a lot without having seen the movie. Now I’m curious to see if the characters match what I saw in my head.

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Review: From Hell

From HellFrom Hell by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s something to be said for the rough style of this graphic novel. It goes quite well with the subject matter. There’s also a bit of – “oh, the gore’s it’s not so bad if it’s in black and white” like Hitchcock’s Psycho. And, like Psycho, there’s the added benefit of us being able to suspend more disbelief because it’s in black and white. Hitchcock used syrup or chocolate, I can’t remember, for the blood. Similarly, we can get caught up in the story and the gore without being taken out of it with the blood being the wrong color. Also, as I’ve mentioned on some of my reviews here and on www.comicpow.com , color affects the way you interpret the comic – is it more cartoony or realistic. I remember a few years back hearing someone having issues with a sci-fi comic because the palette was all wrong. All that said, the lack of color and the rough drawings sometimes made it hard for me to keep track of who was who.

I’m sure, like most of his other stories, the movie is a departure from his comic vision, but now I’d like to give the movie a viewing.

I don’t know if this goes without saying, but this book is not for kids – it has profanity, explicit sex, and crazy violence.

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