MxPx – Panic and Secret Weapon (Special Edition)

I continued to catch up with the MxPx back catalog and purchased both Panic and Secret Weapon. My initial feelings upon listening were that I liked a lot more songs on Secret Weapon. But maybe, as with Before Everything & After this would turn out to be just a first impression where when looking at each song one at time would leave me feeling differently. 

cover of Panic by MxPx
cover of Panic by MxPx

Panic

The album definitely sets you up to think it may be a dark departure when comparing the cover to those that came before it. It comes out 2 years after the previous album, but there’s nothing unusual about that. Going back to Teenage Politics and not counting live albums, B-sides, or covers, they were averaging about 1 album every two years. The album is their only album from the label SideOneDummy. It’s interesting that (at least according to the wording on Wikipedia) they were dropped from A&M. They seem to be going from success to success with that label and their previous album was their highest charting album. Maybe it was MxPx initiated after being made to make a more “commercial” sound? But this is just speculation on my part after having heard the previous album as the band trying to sound more like Good Charlotte. Taking a look at running times, the album is a return to sub-three minute songs with two big outliers – “Heard that Sound” and “Waiting for the World To End” – both clocking in at 3:40. Let’s take this album track-by-track:

  1. The Darkest Places – This is a VERY classic MxPx sounding song. Very fast. It’s about facing the world vs just giving up. I don’t know what Herrerra’s political leanings are, but since album came out in 2005, it’s probably written in 2003 or 2004 – in the shadow of the 11 Sept attacks and the start of the War on Terrorism. The lyrics mention flipping the channels on the TV and getting depressed. Seems to be a call to the youth to not be depressed and to fight the situation. Could also be a reference to shining a light into dark places as a Christian metaphor. It’s still 10 years before Herrera releases the statement distancing himself from the religion.
  2. Young and Depressed – Just like some of the songs on Teenage Politics, I’m rapidly aging away from this song, which seems to be targeted from late teens to mid-20s fans. It seems to really target that feeling of ennui that can strike around that age. However, it’s pretty clear that MxPx is also viewing it a bit tongue-in-cheek with the chorus line: You’re young and depressed/but you’re pretty well dressed . I think it’s meant to acknowledge that it’s not all as bad as you think. It also always makes me think of the Fall Out Boy lyric: …And perfect boys with their perfect lives/Nobody wants to hear you sing about tragedy…
  3. Heard that Sound – This song seems to flow from the previous one with Herrera starting off feeling depressed before the “sound” he heard seems to lift his spirits. Works quite well thematically in order after the previous song. So far the songs seem to match the promise of the darker cover – previous covers were usually pictures of PxPx or the band members. (Note from after I wrote this section, but before I published it: When I was listening to MxPx’s new live album Southbound to San Antonio Herrera mentions as an intro to this song that it’s about a sold out show he couldn’t get into)
  4. Cold Streets – This one is the first one on this album that I’m less of a fan of. It’s a much harder, distorted sound than the usual MxPx. It does also continue an overall depressing streak in the songs. The title of “Panic” is starting to make more sense. It’s not a horrible song, or even a bad song. It’s just not what I tend to like out of most of my MxPx songs. 
  5. The Story – The story continues this heavier rock sound, but this one sounds more like a Good Charlotte-style song. So I like it a bit more than the previous song. Wonder if it’s from a time period of song writing closer to the previous album. Lyrically, it’s kind of wondering where life goes from this point forward. 
  6. Wrecking Hotel Rooms – The first “slow song” on this album. Funny, for the title and the way the song starts, it’s a love song. It’s asking if the other person is pining for the narrator. Although, strangely, the second verse has the narrator admitting they’re singing to a person they’ve never even met. It’s oddly poetic in a way that MxPx songs usually aren’t. I like this one a lot. Definitely in the top three on this album for me. I wonder if the institutions line is a reference to the need for pills in the previous album. 
  7. Late Again – This song has a VERY weirdly country sound to it. It’s quite an outlier for MxPx and yet the band seems to be having a ton of fun with it. I wonder if it’s at all a reference to “My Life Story” on The Ever Passing Moment where he also mentions often being late. 
  8. Kicking and Screaming – Another Good Charlotte-sounding song. I would almost call it a punk version of “I did it my way”.
  9. Grey Skies Turn Blue – Back to a more modern MxPx sound for this song. The lyrics point to the singer saying he’ll rejoin someone (seems to be a significant other) after he gets over his depression. Sonically, I like this song.
  10. Emotional Anarchist – Lyrically, this one left me a bit puzzled, like the first few Fall Out Boy albums. Each line makes sense on its own, but I’m not sure how it all comes together. Sonically, the song is fun. It still remains tinged with some sadder elements.
  11. Call In Sick – 100% classic MxPx sound for this song. The lyrics are pretty fun, the narrator is just exhorting their significant other to call in sick to work so they can go have a vacation together, waking up together. Well, literally, it’s calling for an abandonment of societal responsibilities and eloping forever. But I think the sentiment is still fun and we’re finally into a bit of a happier and fun song. Also, this is a recurring theme with MxPx songs. The previous album has the singer telling the person to quit their job and stay with him, etc. 
  12. Get Me Out – A return to that hard punk sound (almost screamo) of Cold Streets. MxPx usually has at least one song like this per album or every other album. It’s not really my favorite. At least, it’s not what I come to MxPx for. Lyrically, just wants to be out of his current situation.
  13. Waiting for the World to End – Back to the usual MxPx sound. Seems to be sort of a companion to The Story (track 5). 
  14. This Weekend – A slower song about hanging out with your significant other and friends over the weekend. 

After going back over each of the tracks, it looks like I enjoyed about half the songs on the album. That’s not a horrible ratio and it’s a rare album where I like more than three quarters of it. I think it’s generally well put together and the song order is well-considered. There are a few odd placements. Get Me Out seems to sit out of place from the songs around it, for example. I think the biggest thing that makes me like this one a little less is the overall depressing feel over the album. I understand the sentiment – both from an age perspective and as someone who suffers bouts of melancholy. But as a whole album, it’s a bit much.

cover of Secret Weapon by MxPx
cover of Secret Weapon by MxPx

Secret Weapon

For this album MxPx returned to their original label, Tooth and Nail. There are some songs on the album that,in hindsight, seem to foreshadow MxPx moving on to their own record label, Rock City Recording Company, after this. They seem (speculation on my part) to have followed in the path of fellow Tooth and Nail former peer Icon for Hire in desiring the ability to make their own music without studio interference. After some cursory research, it appears to be a truly independent label, not an imprint of a larger label.

  1. Secret Weapon – A faster-paced MxPx song, but a real banger. Great song to put on in the morning to wake up and pump yourself up. It’s about embracing your own talents and strengths and pushing forward. A great reversal to the tone of the previous album. 
  2. Shut It Down – Love the first line “This is a public service announcement….with GUITARS!” Another fast-paced MxPx song. More than ten years later, the exhortation to not let a cell phone or TV become reality seems quite quaint. I mean, I do think that connected folks are, on average, spending too much time in a virtual existence that is toxic, but this seems to be a battle that those complaining about it in the early 2000s have definitely lost. I think at this point it’s about teaching people how to find balance and fun/peace out of these interactions rather than doom-scrolling. Sonically the song is right on the border between a faster MxPx song I can enjoy and the hardcore stuff I complained about in Panic.
  3. Here’s to the Life – I’m not 100% sure of the meaning of the lyrics here. I even looked them up to make sure I was hearing them correctly. It’s another one of those more poetic ones. But it seems to me to be a slight acknowledgement that the life of a musician can be less than ideal. I do like it, musically.
  4. Top of the Charts – This one is DEFINITELY about the record labels messing with MxPx’s song-writing. Are they talking about A&M, SideOneDummy, or Tooth & Nail? Again, foreshadowing that they’d soon be leaving for their own label. They do reference a lyric from Before and Everything After so maybe that’s a clue. I like it both sonically and lyrically.
  5. Punk Rawk Celebrity – A song both about about how celebrity is fleeting and also about how celebrity is the antithesis of the punk rock ethos. A very interesting song, especially when the trumpets jump in. Reminds me of some of the Panic at the Disco songs of the era that also would sometimes bring in various non-traditional-rock instruments.
  6. Contention – About the same speed as “Shut It Down”. This one is right on the other side of the border for me. A little too hard punk compared to my favorite MxPx songs. 
  7. Angels – Melodically MxPx has been here before although it’s a bit more pop than punk in an album that’s mostly a return to the skate punk sound. I do like the sound and lyrics a lot. Basically a song about guardian angels.
  8. Drowning – Sonically, it’s a typical MxPx song, if a little long 3:51. Lyrically, it’s about the feelings after a breakup
  9. Chop Shop – Another really fast one. This one’s a bit gruesome for me. 
  10. You’re On Fire – I see this one as a companion to Secret Weapon. Basically someone who’s got things going well for them (after a bad time) and now they’re unstoppable. 
  11. Bass So Low – A fun chorus that really rumbles your bass. Always have a good time listening to this song.
  12. Sad Sad Song – A funny Beach Boys via Skate Punk breakup song. Unlike some of MxPx’s other breakup or post-breakup songs where the singer is feeling blue, this one is more about how the other person’s a bit nuts and he’s glad to be broken up. Also a good listen.
  13. Never Better Than Now – A song about getting back up and trying again when things go awry. Another good song.
  14. Biting the Bullet (Is Bad for Business) – About a girl (maybe autistic?) who’s having a hard time. 
  15. Not Nothing – The back half of this album seems to be about breakups. Another breakup song. Still, a banging song that isn’t a chore to listen to.
  16. Tightly Wound – A really fun song about hoping you win soon. 
  17. The Hoo-Ha Jangle – Not 100% sure what the lyrics are about, but another fun song to listen to.
  18. Madcap Scheme – Another one of those songs that appears on nearly every album – although this could be friends or significant others – let’s just throw caution to the wind and have fun tonight type of song.
  19. Throw Your Body in the Air – Song about moshing/jumping around at a concert. 

After going through both albums track-by-track it’s definitely the case that I like Secret Weapon a lot more, it’s not just a bad first impression of Panic. Next up is Punk Rawk Christmas and since it’s not just covers of the usual Christmas songs, I think I’ll give it a review.

Adding Art to the Mundane

Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs in Coney Island with a painting on the doors
I love the idea of having art on the gates that come down when the the restaurant is closed. Rather than the ugly grey, possibly tagged with grafitti, we get this amazing art.

I saw this when I was doing a boardwalk run this summer. I’d been visiting Coney Island for nearly 20 years at this point, but the recent revitalization has been impressive to see. That includes ideas like this art that bring happiness and joy even when Nathan’s is closed.

Programming Update: September / October 2021

Across both September and October I got a decent amount of programming done. I just about finished the Learn You Haskell for Great Good book (got up to just before Monads) and started Head First Go. Once I had enough Go language to get started on AoC, I knew I’d be ready for the 2016 problem set. Let’s get into the nitty gritty!

Python (not Advent of Code)

Impractical Python

I finished chapter 11 which contained my old friend the Monty Hall Paradox. I’ve had a version up on my site for a very long time based on a PHP tutorial in Linux Format Magazine. This time I was able to code it in Python as well as creating a GUI version. Chapter 11 also touched upon The Birthday Paradox

Civilization VI Webhooks with FastAPI

I added a few more unit tests to my Civ VI play by cloud webhook service. FastAPI makes this incredibly easy and painless. I never thought writing unit tests for a web framework could be so easy!

DonorDrivePython and Extra Life Donation Tracker

After having laid the groundwork a few months ago, I finally got DonorDrivePython (an API framework that should allow anyone to build an app that works with the Donor Drive API) stood up and ripped the code out of the Extra Life Donation Tracker. I also had a few bugfix releases for the latter to deal with some issues folks were having over the Halloween weekend. The code is in a great place for me to put the final layer of polish on it in the next year. 

Advent of Code

I finished the 2015 problem set in September. I felt a great sense of accomplishment because I hadn’t been able to finish the 2020 problem set during December last year. In addition to that, I’d done it in 3 different programming languages! You can read my write-up about it here. I wasn’t yet ready to move on to 2016, so I went back to 2020 to try and solve some of the problems I wasn’t able to solve last December. I was able to solve part 2 of Day 7. Essentially I used my newly gained knowledge of how to do caching to be able to quickly find the solution. For Day 13 I was able to make use of my better programming skills to come up with a solution for part 2 that would finish in a reasonable time for the test input. But I was unable to figure out the main input on my own. I looked through the AoC subreddit and couldn’t really understand any of the Chinese Remainder Theorem solutions. Eventually I found a solution I could reason my way through and use that.

Then it was finally time to begin 2016! Before the end of October I got though Day 4 Part 1 with Python. I finished up to Day 3 in Perl, Ruby, and Go. And I finished Day 1 in Haskell. Haskell was a huge change in the way I look at problems. You’re not supposed save state or reassign variables so you essentially have to set up a chain of functions to get your answer. Here’s my Day 1 Haskell code:

import Data.Complex
import qualified Data.Text as T

-- Using the polar math turn one direction if L and the other way if R (or anything, but we know it'll be R)
figureOutDirection :: Num a => (Char, b) -> (Complex a, b)
figureOutDirection (dir, distance)
    | dir == 'L' = ((0:+1), distance)
    | otherwise = ((0:+ (-1)), distance)

-- This splits the letter from the number in the input
splitDirDistance :: [a] -> (a, [a])
splitDirDistance x = (head x, tail x)

-- this converts the number from a string into a Float number
fixString x = (fst x, read (snd x):: Float)

-- First convert the string into a Data.Text, split on the commas, then turn back into a string.
splitStringOnCommas :: String -> [String]
splitStringOnCommas x = map T.unpack (map T.strip (T.split (==',') (T.pack x)))

-- Basically we convert the puzzle input into a series of complex numbers and distances
getComplexDirections :: Num a => String -> [(Complex a, Float)]
getComplexDirections x = map figureOutDirection (map fixString ((map splitDirDistance (splitStringOnCommas x))))

--move :: Num b => (b, b) -> (b, b) -> (b, b)
-- does the actual movement along the blocks one block at a time.
move (current_direction, location) (rotate, distance) = (current_direction * rotate, location + (current_direction * rotate * (distance:+0)))

-- foldl to apply the move across the entire series of directions
finalLocation j = foldl move (0:+1, 0:+0) (getComplexDirections j)

-- now that we know where we ended up, take the absolute values of the final coordinates and sum. 
finalAnswer x = abs (realPart (snd x)) + abs (imagPart (snd x))

-- finalAnswer (finalLocation "R2, L3")
    
main = do 
    let puzzleInput = "R4, R4, L1, R3, L5, R2, R5, R1, L4, R3, L5, R2, L3, L4, L3, R1, R5, R1, L3, L1, R3, L1, R2, R2, L2, R5, L3, L4, R4, R4, R2, L4, L1, R5, L1, L4, R4, L1, R1, L2, R5, L2, L3, R2, R1, L194, R2, L4, R49, R1, R3, L5, L4, L1, R4, R2, R1, L5, R3, L5, L4, R4, R4, L2, L3, R78, L5, R4, R191, R4, R3, R1, L2, R1, R3, L1, R3, R4, R2, L2, R1, R4, L5, R2, L2, L4, L2, R1, R2, L3, R5, R2, L3, L3, R3, L1, L1, R5, L4, L4, L2, R5, R1, R4, L3, L5, L4, R5, L4, R5, R4, L3, L2, L5, R4, R3, L3, R1, L5, R5, R1, L3, R2, L5, R5, L3, R1, R4, L5, R4, R2, R3, L4, L5, R3, R4, L5, L5, R4, L4, L4, R1, R5, R3, L1, L4, L3, L4, R1, L5, L1, R2, R2, R4, R4, L5, R4, R1, L1, L1, L3, L5, L2, R4, L3, L5, L4, L1, R3"
    print (finalAnswer (finalLocation puzzleInput))

Go has been mostly easy to use. It’s a bit more verbose than the other languages, but the only real problem (or rather the thing that has caused changed in my solution) is that arrays can only contain one type of thing. Unlike Python, Ruby, and Perl – you can’t have an array with both strings and integers. So I’ve had to get a bit more creative with my solutions. Still, it’s been fun learning the ins and outs of Go. I look forward to learning more and, as I go further in Head First Go getting even more idiomatic in my solutions.

Review: Riot Baby

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I got this book for free twice: Tor.com ebook club and Hugo Award nomination

This book was very, very hard to read. It ripped open so many of the psychological wounds from the past decade in which I finally, truly understood the injustice of being black in the 2010-2020s. That we STILL haven’t healed past the original sin of this country. This book force-feeds you the pain of the lived experience. It takes place in our world until it splits off into a 20 minutes into the future – a future that seems all too likely to happen. Where we continue to give up more and more to algorithms and surveillance. I’m in the tech industry, I’ve seen the tech that’s coming. There are some folks trying to help, but we still keep making unbelievable errors. It’d be so funny if it wasn’t so (bleeping) sad.

It’s the type of book that people NEED to read, but is so hard to read compared to one where the lesson is more wrapped up in metaphor.



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Review: Axiom’s End

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I received this book for free as part of 2021 Hugo voting process.

Also, a reminder that I use the Goodreads tooltips for ratings – 3/5 means “liked it” – it’s not a bad rating. Let’s use the whole scale, guys!


I have been following Lindsay Ellis on Youtube for a few years now – both with her older videos that originally appeared on some other website (and no longer exist on YT as of mid-2021) and her newer stuff. I love her deep dives into various story-telling concepts and it’s pretty clear she definitely understands what she’s talking about. So I was pretty excited when I found out she released a book.

A few months or so before I read this book I saw her video about the process of creating the book. It took about 10 years of revisions, drafts, and (I think) a couple different publishers and/or agents. In some ways, I think it robs the book a bit of the immediacy it might have felt in the midst of the Bush Presidency. In other ways, in the wake of Donald Trump, the Q conspiracies, etc the story seems both more relevant and naive at the same time. Let’s just say that I think if Ms Ellis were writing this book in 2020, the Nils character might be more powerful or influential. Plus who knows how Twitter and Facebook would have come into it. Getting away from the meta ….

I think Ellis does a good job with a first contact story from the point of view of someone who has zero interest in the idea or even any expertise to make her ready. Unlike that movie from a couple years ago where the linguist speaks to the aliens who have a different concept of time, Cora has no reason to end up in the position of importance that she does with the aliens.

Speaking of aliens, Ellis also does a great job of making them truly alien. They are neither humanoid nor the traditional “bug”-like creatures. Instead they are truly alien in a way that makes any eventual TV or movie adaptation surely disappointing. Ellis also does a great job with figuring out an alien language that frustrates 40 years of in-story linguists and still makes sense.

The story as a whole follows the more enlightened (the idea’s been around in the PUBLIC sphere maybe 5-10 years) idea that we don’t actually want aliens to make first contact with us. They are likely to be AT LEAST as advanced against us as the Europeans were to the First Nations folks in the Americas. Yet, Lindsay Ellis keeps the focus on the personal struggles of Cora and the immediate consequences for the USA. The idea is there and characters speak it aloud a couple times, but I don’t think it rises to an anvilicious level.

If there’s one thing that kept the story back from 4 stars for me, it’s something about the pacing. As a contrast, I’m also reading The Ruin of Kings as it’s in competition with this book for the Hugo. Every day when I make time for that book, I can’t wait to read it. I REALLY want to find out what happens next. I wasn’t dreading my time with Axiom’s End, but I never found myself dying to know what was next for Cora. I was curious because Ellis created a story I where I couldn’t predict what would happen next. But I wasn’t going to do one of my Bad Decisions where I stay up until 2 AM to finish the book.

I recommend the book if you’re looking for something a little different in the First Contact and alien space. Ms. Ellis puts together a good book that will have you surprised as you go along because she’s mostly either subverting or playing with tropes in a way that’s out of the ordinary.



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Review: Lords and Ladies

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is my second time reading Lords and Ladies

Throughout this re-read I have asked a question in my reviews: Is this a good jumping on point for The Discworld. I have tried to give justifications for an answer in either direction. This is the first book where, at least in the version I have – American Paperback – Sir Pratchett himself mentions that to really enjoy this book you need to have been following the last few Witches books. In fact there’s even a potential reference made by Weatherwax to the seemingly retconned Equal Rites. Mostly the book is an almost direct continuation of Witches Abroad, picking up where the previous one left off as the Witches arrive back home in Lancre.

The main conflict is an internal one for Magrat about identity and whether she can be both a witch and a queen and whether she even wants to be a queen. It’s not helped by the fact that both she and Verence are so timid and inexperienced and self-conscious that Verence has sent out for books on everything, including how kings and queens should act.

At the same time, a few goth girls in town don’t like Weatherwax and Ogg’s headology take on witchcraft and want to do more spells. Throughout Discworld up to this point, we’ve seen Pratchett work his way to a system where witches are just as capable of doing magic as wizards, but prefer to use psychology, folk medicine, and superstition for fear of becoming power-hungry. I think I remember this side-plot becoming more relevant in future books and Pratchett is just setting the table for adding a little more variety to the coven.

Another reason for having had a few Discworld books under your belt by this point is the Wizard plotline. The main non-Rincewind wizards have been invited to Verence and Magrat’s wedding. If you haven’t ready any of the wizard books you’ll probably be fine as it’s a bit of a side-plot, but you’ll have more fun with the Arch Chancellor, Ponder Stibbons, the Bursar, and the Librarian if you have been reading along for a bit. Ponder is one of the more interesting elevated characters. He was the tiniest side-note in Moving Pictures where he accidentally gets the main character’s incredibly easy test, elevating him to full wizard-hood. Now he represents young, upstart professors and Pratchett’s way to have fun with The Discworld’s version of quantum mechanics.

Finally, the Elf plot is almost to McGuffin levels of inconsequential, but it does have one of my favorite bits of Discworld prose:

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvelous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.

All-in-all a good bit of character growth for Magrat and it’s always fun to see Granny Weatherwax; especially interacting with the Arch Chancellor Ridcully.



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Review: The Last Emperox

The Last Emperox by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Well, that was quite the trilogy! Scalzi took all that he had been building up over the three books and used them to create a satisfying ending. If this isn’t your first Scalzi series you won’t be surprised by the ending. Don’t get me wrong, it had all kinds of twists and turns that surprised and delighted me. But I mean Scalzi is the kind of author where the protagonists aren’t all full of plot armor. Brandon Sanderson is often (although not always) like this too. I prefer the higher stakes compared to, say, X-Men where any death is temporary annoyance.

If you enjoyed Scalzi’s characters from earlier in the trilogy, then you’ll have a blast here. Kiva continued to be my absolute favorite character in just about all of science fiction. Cardenia/Greyland came into her own and Scalzi demonstrates that she was never clueless, just thrust into an epic situation (once again my comparisons to Dune or Game of Thrones) and once she found her footing, she was a great character in her chapters. If you found Kiva or the others annoying, nothing will be better for you in this book. There aren’t really any memorable characters introduced.

Finally, the final line in the epilogue is going to become one of my new favorite endings to a book.

As I believe I mentioned before (don’t feel like checking right now), I’m a voting member of Worldcon this year so I read this series now (rather than when I had it scheduled in my Read Queue) as one of the series nominees. Right now I see the Murderbot Diaries series just barely edging this one out for my top spot. This was a great series as a whole, but Murderbot was awesome in each and every book. We’ll see how the vote eventually goes.



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Review: Django 2 by Example: Build powerful and reliable Python web applications from scratch

Django 2 by Example: Build powerful and reliable Python web applications from scratch by Antonio Melé

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


If you want to learn Django, definitely get the newer version of this book that covers Django 3. That said, this book was VERY helpful in getting me started with Django for the first time. My brain tends to work better with “by example” or project-based books because it shows how the pieces come together. Whenever I’ve come across programming languages and/or frameworks (Django, Rails, Flask, etc) that only have toy examples I’ve often had a hard time moving from there to a real application. (or at least a harder time than when I have those project-based examples)

This book has a few projects like a blog, a social media network, etc to demonstrate ever more complicated examples of what can be accomplished with Django. Again, look or the newer version covering Django 3, but it’s one of the better Pakt books.

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Review: Network Effect

Network Effect by Martha Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got this book for free by being a World Con member for the 2021 convention. It’s part of the review packet.
So, that was really flippin’ good. I wasn’t sure how well Martha Wells would do at transitioning from novella length Murderbot to full-length Murderbot. Not because I doubt her skills – she’s been writing for a long while (mostly in fantasy, I believe). But we all know that what works in a short-form doesn’t always work long-form. But this book rocks. I would say there was only a very small section – maybe 1 or 2 chapters that seemed to drag a little bit. Otherwise, the scope was just increased to keep a similar pace.
Wells also introduces a lot of new potential directions for this series to go. If nothing else, there’s a big difference with (view spoiler)[ the introduction of SecUnit 3 (hide spoiler)]. We get the return of ART who indeed seems to continue to deserve the moniker that Murderbot has given it. Wells also does a good job of moving everything forward with Murderbot, Dr. Mensah and the others rather than remaining static. Overall, it’s a huge triumph and I need to get to the next Murderbot book after I’m done reading for the Hugos.
Right now, between this series and The Interdependency, this one edges out the win. I still have a few other series to read for the series category, but I REALLY love this Murderbot series. If you liked the Novellas, I think you’ll like this one a lot.

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Review: Small Gods

Small GodsSmall Gods by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second time reading this book. I dropped the rating from 5/5 to 4/5.

As usual, Terry Pratchett uses the fantasy of Discworld to shed light on reality. This book is less whimsical than other Discworld book although it does have its humor and does get a bit silly with the philosophers in the Discworld equivalent to Ancient Greece. He takes the same concept as (future?) collaborator Neil Gaiman’s American Gods– a god’s power is relative to the amount of believers it has – and uses it to provide a withering look those who go along with the excesses of the church without even truly believing in their god. Om, god of the Omnians has been reduced in power because he has only one believer left. This despite Omnia being a theocracy with enough pilgrims to keep the Omnian Dibbler working and a large Inquisition that everyone is afraid of. People are essentially operating out of fear (of the system) and habit. Even more than when I first read this 10ish years ago, this just makes me think of the American Christians who are super Christian when it comes to hate and yet forget Christ’s own words when it comes to caring for the poor, sick, defenseless or turning the other cheek or giving up all your riches to follow him (looking at you, Prosperity Gospel Preachers).

This is a book I often recommend to folks if they will only read one Discworld novel. Like Pyramids, it’s mostly divorced from the other 34ish books in the series. Unlike Pyramids, anyone can understand what Pratchett is trying to say and it doesn’t get too weird in any places. If they enjoy it, then I tell them to go back to the beginning and watch as the Discworld evolves and the characters come into their own and it really makes the Discworld novels much richer. Especially any book that involves Vimes and The Watch or the Witches.

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How to get around Elisa’s lack of last.fm scrobbling

Elisa is currently the “default” KDE music player, replacing Amarok. I am just taking a guess, but I think that Amarok just ended up with too large a codebase to be maintainable at a reasonable pace. I’ve been using Cantata, an mpd player for KDE that’s currently on maintenance mode. On the one hand, I know that for many folks last.fm scrobbling (logging the music you listen to) is something they left behind in the 2010s. On the other hand, I’m not the only person who has commented on the ticket to get the Elisa devs to add support for it. (And you know I love the stats for my end of year posts)

Today I figured out a workaround – install the last.fm scrobbler on your phone. Install KDE Connect on both your Linux machine and your phone. Make sure that KDE connect is pushing the status updates of what you’re listening to to your phone. This will cause last.fm on the phone to scrobble it. Huzzah!

KDE Challenge (Fall 2021)

With KDE’s 25th Anniversary and the release of KDE Plamsa 5.23, I got excited to check out a few KDE-focused distros.

Kinoite

First up was Fedora’s KDE-based RPM-OSTree distro, Kinoite. (summary after each video)

Fedora Kinoite

Fedora provides a nice RPM-OSTree solution for folks who want to use the tech, but don’t want to use Gnome. The install is a bit barebones and doesn’t come with Flathub pre-configured, reducing the number of KDE applications that can be installed after the distro is first installed. Once Flathub is activated and Discover is reloaded, the user can start installing KDE apps. Not a good starting distro now, but with some sensible defaults, it could be great thanks to the way that RPM-OSTree makes the system more maintainable.

Kubuntu

Kubuntu 21.10

Kubuntu‘s 21.10 release just came out recently. Overall, it’s got more sensible defaults packages thank either Kinoite or KDE Neon. That said, it’s a little behind from KDE Neon.

KDE Neon

KDE Neon 5.23

While KDE Neon is based on Ubuntu LTS (long term support), it is true to its purpose with the most recent version of KDE Plasma Desktop, Frameworks, QT, etc installed. I just grabbed the ISO yesterday and it had KDE 25th Anniversary edition even though that just came out 3 days ago. Surprisingly, considering that it’s a showcase for KDE, there weren’t too many applications installed by default. The biggest surprise was that it’s setup to use Flatpak and not Snap. It seems that the KDE project has decided to center on Flatpak instead of Snap.

Conclusions

As I said in the videos, I’d recommend KDE Neon to anyone who’s really into KDE or must have the latest packages at all times. (Without the complexity of running Arch Linux) Kubuntu is the best bet for a newer Linux user who is going to set it up on their own without an expert there to help them out. Kinoite is great if you want the stability of RPM-OSTree and will probably mature into something great with time.

Review: Lightspeed Magazine, June 2014: Women Destroy Science Fiction! Special Issue

Lightspeed Magazine, June 2014: Women Destroy Science Fiction! Special IssueLightspeed Magazine, June 2014: Women Destroy Science Fiction! Special Issue by Christie Yant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of my favorite collections of stories and one of the best anthologies/magazines I’ve read so far in 2021. A lot of the stories in here a phenomenal. There are also a lot of authors in here who, in the past 6-7 years have become quite a bit more famous. That’s fun. The essay section was a little sad in the repetition of negative situations the women found themselves in. There were rays of hope in there, too. And I hope things are getting better. I’m certainly trying with my kids to raise them without gender limits.

As usual with a magazine or anthology, here are my reviews and notes for each story and essay:

ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES
– Each to Each by Seanan McGuire – What makes this tale of a SF future female navy extra scary is that we’ve done stuff like this before. We prefer looks over practicality. In this tale there are genetic modifications done to make the women better submariners (don’t want to give the plot away), but they are left with even larger breasts because that will increase the appeal for the program. At once terrifying and sweet, a great story by Ms. McGuire.

– A Word Shaped Like Bones by Kris Millering – This could almost have been in Nightmare magazine; a variant on the insanity of long-term space travel. A great subversion of my expectations.

– Cuts Both Ways by Heather Clitheroe – While this is immediately a meditation on what it’s like to work intel and get scarred by the situation, it also appears to have a couple other metaphors in it. The PTSD that our main character feels also seems an apt metaphor to what some folks on the autism spectrum describe as their lived reality when people don’t respect their needs. It also appears to be a slight metaphor for trans folks with the drugs and his whole situation going through airport security and having his body a source of ignorant questions. Even if none of that was Ms. Clitheroe’s intention, it’s still really neat that so much could fall out of one short story.

– Walking Awake by N.K. Jemisin: There is so much metaphor in one short story: slavery, complicity in opresssion, denial, how oppression can swallow the perpetrators of oppression, sacrifice, and more. It’s pretty powerful in a small package.

– The Case of the Passionless Bees by Rhonda Eikamp: A steampunk Sherlock Holmes, how delightful! Like any detective story, a good twist; one I didn’t expect.

– In the Image of Man by Gabriella Stalker: Combines late 80s-early 90s libertarian corporate dystopia with a solution to the mall crisis plus a little bit of of a reaction to the debt crisis. It’s really great.

– The Unfathomable Sisterhood of Ick by Charlie JaneJane Anders: Almost like a reverse Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Charlie Jane Anders has created a very interesting premise here. The story goes in some unexpected directions, but I really enjoyed it.

– Dim Sun by Maria Dahvana Headley: a science fantasy story about a good critic in the most exotic restaurant you’ve ever heard of. Funny and enjoyable.

– The Lonely Sea in the Sky by Amal El-Mohtar: I love this style of short story where it cycles between story and news clippings. Really enhances the universe of the story.

– A Burglary, Addressed By A Young Lady by Elizabeth Porter Birdsall: I’ve read some SF where, for some reason or another, Victorian values have reasserted themselves. But often they have some moral message within. This one seems to just be pure fun.

– Canth by K.C. Norton: The Science Fiction is almost incidental to the story and it falls more into Science Fantasy anyway. The story unfolds slowly, revealing a little more about the situation with each new discovery. A fairly neat and self-contained story, but I’d love to have another story with this protagonist.

REPRINTS
– Like Daughter by Tananarive Due: An interesting story about clones that hearkens back to the debates from a few decades ago that treated clones as some weird mystical thing when they’re simply time-separated twins.

– The Great Loneliness by Maria Romasco Moore: A delightfully strange world full of clones and Popes frozen while waiting for the second coming. It’s ultimately more profound than it seems at first.

– Love is the Plan the Plan is Death by James Tiptree, Jr.: I’m sure there are all kinds of metaphors here about sex and gender and roles and so forth. But I hate stories like this that are hard to parse because the characters speak strangely and there isn’t anything to latch onto for understanding.

– Knapsack Poems by Eleanor Arnason: very cute and fun hive mind story. Really enjoyed it.

– The Cost to Be Wise by Maureen F. McHugh (novella): Deeply depressing story about a space colony that has fallen “backwards” on the civilization scale and the Earth anthropologists interacting with them.

ORIGINAL FLASH FICTION
– Salvage by Carrie Vaughn – The old, investigate a dead spaceship trope in flash fiction form.

– A Guide to Grief by Emily Fox – This one takes a little bit to parse because of the way it’s written – almost poetic, but it’s very neat once it comes together.

– See DANGEROUS EARTH-POSSIBLES! by Tina Connolly – A bit dark, but hopeful. Enjoyable.
A Debt Repaid by Marina J. Lostetter – an extremely dark short story involving a fascinating technology. Really moving.

– The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced by Sarah Pinsker – a very short story about a possible danger of time travel. Would love to see more in this universe.

– #TrainFightTuesday by Vanessa Torline – A really funny story about a superhero fight told via tweets

– The Hymn of Ordeal, No. 23 by Rhiannon Rasmussen – A story that could be considered a metaphor for how our soldiers often come back in worse physical shape than the left.

– Emoticon by Anaid Perez – A very, very short story.

– The Mouths by Ellen Denham – a very interesting story about a society with only one sense organ

– M1A by Kim Winternheimer – HOLY MOLY! You can make stuff sound REALLY scary when it’s from a kid’s point of view! An interesting take on the stem cell debate. Showed this to my wife who is really into horror. She said it’s one of the most disturbing things she’s ever read. Now we’re reading Nightmare Magazine’s People of Colour Destroy Horror issue. Also, she has a different interpretation of the ending which is that the main girl will be replaced by the clone because the clone is more capable.

– Standard Deviant by Holly Schofield – A very cool story about how much worth we truly have.

– Getting on in Years by Cathy Humble – A really neat story about how we can be and are manipulated by PR firms.

– Ro-Sham-Bot by Effie Seiberg – A neat story about bots and sentience.

– Everything That Has Already Been Said by Samantha Murray – a poetic story.

– The Lies We Tell Our Children by Katherine Crighton – a pretty sad story about parenting


NOVEL EXCERPT
Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold – seems to be a sci-fi/fantasy combo in the Neo Pulp tradition. Added it to my TBR pile.


AUTHOR SPOTLIGHTS
– All of these involved talking about stories that appeared before: Seanan McGuire, Kris Millering, Heather Clitheroe, N.K. Jemisin, Rhonda Eikamp, Gabriella Stalker, Charlie Jane Anders, Maria Dahvana Headley, Amal El-Mohtar, Elizabeth Porter Birdsall, K.C. Norton, Tananarive Due, Maria Romasco Moore, Eleanor Arnason, Maureen McHugh


NONFICTION
– Artists Spotlight by Galen Dara – Interviews with all the artists and their galleries.Artist Gallery: Li Grabenstetter; Artist Gallery: Hillary Pearlman; Artist Gallery: Elizabeth Leggett; Artist Gallery: Christine Mitzuk

– Illusion, Expectation, and World Domination through Bake Sales by Pat Murphy – we still have unconscious bias, maybe through science fiction we can start changing assumptions.

– Women Remember by Mary Robinette Kowal – A very cool interview and the older generation of female genre fiction writers. They talk about how things have changed and how they’re the same. Also some conversation about the acceptance of genre fiction in the broader literary world.

– Interview: Kelly Sue DeConnick by Jennifer Willis – An interview with one of my favorite comic book writers about how she got into comics and her views of the industry, particularly as a female writer. It’s a good interview, but I wonder how much more incredible the interview could have been if Bitch Planet was already out at the time.

– The Status Quo Cannot Hold by Tracie Welser – A summary of a feminist SF convention. Sounds like it was a very awesome time.

– How to Engineer a Self-Rescuing Princess by Stina Leicht – A great essay with a reading list for the budding female SF fan.

– Screaming Together: Making Women’s Voices Heard by Nisi Shawl –


PERSONAL ESSAYS
– We are the Fifty Percent by Rachel Swirsky – this goes in a slightly different direction than i thought it would. It’s less about women being approximately 50% of the population and now about how people over-perceive women’s presence.

– Science Fiction: You’re Doin’ It Wrong by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff – about the perception (among some) that women automatically can’t write hard SF.

– Join Us in the Future by Marissa Lingen – About the whiplash of enjoying female SFG authors for years and then realizing some think that women don’t write in the genre.

– Are We There Yet? by Sheila Finch – another essay about dealing with the idea that women can’t write hard

– Not a Spaceship, Robot, or Zombie in Sight by Anne Charnock – about writing SF without the usual tropes.

– Writing Among the Beginning of Women by Amy Sterling Casil – another person who was rejected from SF because she focused on character development.

– Toward a Better Future by Nancy Jane Moore – editors should work to increase the amount of women published so that new authors will feel there is a market.

– We Are the Army of Women Destroying SF by Sandra Wickham – an essay that i think supports the idea that people raised without limits will not accept their imposition.

– Read SF and You’ve Got a Posse by Gail Marsella – a great essay about the camaraderie in the SF world.

– Stomp All Over That by O. J. Cade – a poetic essay about women in science and SF.

– For the Trailblazers by Kristi Charish – a really awesome essay about someone who’s only had positive experiences in the fields of science and genre writing.

– Women are the Future of Science Fiction by Juliette Wade – another neat essay about gate keeping

– We Have Always Fought by Kameron Hurley – I think this is my favorite essay, probably because it is longer and has much more space to make its point. Ms Hurley does an awesome job conveying why it’s important to make sure the women in SFF are more than 1D caricatures.

– Writing Stories, Wrinkling Time by Kat Howard – One of many essays that mentioned how A Wrinkle in Time was a life-changing read.

– Where Are My SF Books? by DeAnna Knippling – Bemoaning the last of middle grade SF books. (A sentiment I share!)

– Reading the Library Alphabetically by Liz Argall – Both a view to how even the old Golden Age SF could be inspiring to *some* women and a tale of internalized misogyny.

– Stepping Through a Portal by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam – Again, about how there have always been a lot of women genre writers, but they often aren’t taken seriously.

– The Wendybird by Stina Leicht – Another essay about internalizing misogyny from old genre stories.

– I Wanted to be the First Woman on the Moon by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley – About how easy it is for the adults to kill (or at least smother) drive in children.

– Never Think of Yourself as Less by Helena Bell – Introduced to SF by her mother, but her mother was going with what she knew – perpetuating the cycle of the idea that it’s men who write SF.

– An ABC of Kickass by Jude Griffin – An alphabet poem celebrating women authors of the past and present.

– Stocking Stuffers by Anaea Lay – About being 13 and getting the perfect SF book for Christmas.

– Breaching the Gap by Brooke Bolander – X-Files leads the author to a depiction of a realistic woman in SFF.

– Women Who Are More Than Strong by Georgina Kamsika – A call for more SF featuring women

– A Science-Fictional Woman by Cheryl Morgan – an interesting essay with a few different ideas, but that meshes with what other essays have said – the future is here and that has changed some of the ways people are seeing SFF and how that brings out regressive ideas and actions in some.

– Your Future is Out of Date by Pat Murphy – Another essay talking about how books have the power to affect the way people think.

– Stray Outside the Lines by E. Catherine Tobler – about not letting the constant moves against you kill your motivation.

– My Love Can Destroy by Seanan McGuire – About how lonely it can be when you have to hide your passions.

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Review: The Consuming Fire

The Consuming Fire (The Interdependency, #2)The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scalzi continues to kick butt in the second book of The Interdependency. I’m used to the second book of a planned trilogy to be all setup for the third book which can mostly be climax. Yet, within this book Scalzi continues to have mini-climaxes and story beats and surprises.

The story continues to be a sort of updated Dune/Game of Thrones type story with multiple families vying for control of the Emperox. Some of them want to manipulate her and others want to unseat the Wu family from their position at the top. There’s also what seems to be a throwaway line involving some simulated folks that isn’t paid off in this novel, so I assume it’s going to turn out to be a huge plot point in book three. The big difference is that Emperox Cardenia is coming into her own rather than being sideswiped by the events and deaths in book 1.

All the characters continue to be a blast to read, especially Kiva. I’m sad that it seems there’s a lot less of her, but I think that makes sense given the shift in the center of the gravity of the story. Warning – if you’re SOMEHOW or for some reason reading this review before having read The Interdependency 1 – this book is not for the prude of mind. Especially the Kiva chapters. If that doesn’t bother you, you’ll probably have a lot of fun.

I’m reading this series because I’m a voting member of this year’s WorldCon (Discon 3) and after the first book, I was leaning strongly towards Murderbot winning the series award. Now, after this one, it’s neck and neck. That’s my way of saying that while I loved the world-building of the first book (and I am a huge world-building geek), it dragged the story a bit. Now that we have the world in place, Scalzi can put the pedal to the metal and really push the story. I liked this one better than the last one. The battle continues as I move on to Network Effect before coming back to The Last Emperox and finish out both those series. (Then I’ve got a couple more series to read before I make my final decision for the category)

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