jmadigan.net

31Aug/07Off

Book Review: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The more I read by Robert Heinlein the more I like his stuff. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress sets itself up to be a typical science fiction adventure story, but quickly takes a sharp turn into more of a sci-fi political thriller. Ever wonder what would happen if a super intelligent, self-aware computer was put in charge of overthrowing a corrupt government on Earth's moon? That's a large part of what this book is about. Mannie, a one-armed computer technician with an anti-authority streak, discovers that Mike, the computer that runs basically every system on the struggling Luna colony, has developed consciousness and a predilection for jokes. Soon Manny and Mike are at the center of a revolution against the crooked corporate/government forces that have been keeping the lunar colonists under their thumb. The book has a nice "small epic" feel to it, in that it traces this story from discontent to revolution to war with Earth to victory to self-governance. It's a great ride.

Heinlein still has some of his dippy hippy fantasies in place here, though it's not as flagrant and bizarre as in A Stranger in a Strange Land. Luna is a place of free love and sexually empowered women, but the author actually makes a case for it a lot better here. Group marriages where one woman takes several husbands make more sense in the context of a society where men vastly outnumber women. In fact, a fair chunk of the book is spent on detailing the humdrum of lunar life, from social systems like marriages and court trials to farming technologies and prosthetic arms. The book can get dense, dry, and overly self-reflective at times, but I loved how it balanced those things with good old fashion adventure, intrigue, and a David vs. Goliath showdown between Free Luna and Earth where the heroes have to out think and out bluff their adversaries rather than win through just brute force.

There's also a lot of Libertarians in SPAAAAAAAAACE going on here, too, with Heinlein's political views about the proper role of government and individual accountability on center display. As with many of his other works, the heroes of the books speak directly for their creator. But again, it works and it's both thought provoking and entertaining. Luna's situation is highly contrived, to be sure, but it does make for a good mental exercise about these kinds of topics.

So while some things are a bit outdated given this book was originally published decades ago, there's a lot to enjoy here, as with the other Heinlein books I've read. If you want a good story with message and meaning as well as entertainment, you could do a lot worse.

Filed under: Books No Comments
29Aug/07Off

This week on photos.jmadigan.net

Recently posted on my photoblog:






Click on those thumbnails to see the full-sized images.

Filed under: Photography No Comments
27Aug/07Off

Week 187: The Claw, Rebellion, and Choking Hazards

Sam and Mandy had a great week this time around, largely because my mom was in town. I don't think she quite knew what she was getting into with Sam, who will soak up attention like a infinitely porous sponge. My mom made the mistake of spontaneously curling up her hands and saying "It's the claw! The claw is gonna getcha!" Sam thought this was the OHMYGODBESTTHINGEVER and from then on out it was a constant stream of demands to "Talk to the claw" or "Do the claw" or "Let's play claw." This continued until I dropped the claw, with my mother attached, off at the airport to go home.

My mom also took Sam shopping at Toys R Us for a present. After initially flirting with the idea of some godawful Bratz thing (you know, those little girl dolls that look like crack addicts suffering from radiation sickness) Sam eventually fell in love with a big bucket of plastic dinosaur figures. She brought them home and built a "dinosaur habitat" --basically an enclosure built out of wooden blocks. When she insisted that I sit down and play with her, I amused myself by having a particularly resourceful Spinosourus repeatedly engineer his own little prison breaks. He broke through the wall, knocked over a tree to he could use it to climb the wall, had another dinosaur throw him over, dug a tunnel, and a engaged in a few other shenanigans. Each time Sam would shriek and chase after him so that she could put him back in the Jurassic pokey.

Eventually Sam shook her finger at the little plastic dinosaur. "You stay in the dinosaur habitat!" she said.

I held up the figure and said for him, "No way, man! I was born a free dinosaur. You can't cage me!"

"I want you to promise not to escape any more!"

"No way," I answered, making the little guy hop around. "Free the dinos! Free the dinos! Revolution! Revolution!"

"Okay," Sam said. "Then I KILL YOU!" She made a gun with her index finger and thumb, pointed it at the offending dinosaur, then started making little "Pew! Pew!" sounds. "AND NOW YOU'RE DEAD!" she shouted as she snatched him and flung him aside.

I really should have explained that that was not a proper response, but I was laughing too hard. Malcontents take note: This is how Her Highness will deal with you once she has taken over the rest of the world.

Also, I hope you're enjoying the pictures. It's a scientific fact that people never get tired of watching children in party hats cram donuts into their faces. I read it once. Also, here's a neat little parenting hack for owners of a new model that may be teething: Take a damp washcloth and put it in the freezer. When it's good and frozen, give it to your child and sit back why she happily gnaws on it until the cows come home. Repeat as necessary.

Mandy continues to do fine for those of you keeping track. I swear she's saying "Ma-ma" and "Da-da" at this point, though not consistently. She's so different than Sam was at that same age it's amazing. Even then Sam demanded attention and interaction, while Mandy is content just to know that you're nearby as long as she has a steady supply of choking hazards to play with. Where these small chokable objects come from I have no idea, since I can make a sweep of an area and think it completely clean, then look over and see Mandy produce a crayon or crate of thumbtacks like Bugs Bunny whipping a mallet out from behind his back.

I have no idea how she does it, but Sam seems to have made it her new mission in life to ensure that Mandy remains free of such dangers. The problem, of course, is that Sam's definition of choking hazard is quite fluid, and can encompass any toy --of any size or deadliness-- that Sam desires to possess at any time. In this way, Mandy is often in danger of choking on books, blankets, or even stuffed animals several times larger than she is. Still, it keeps both of them busy.

Filed under: Parenting 3 Comments
25Aug/07Off

Fun With Amazon Search

I did a search on Amazon for the GameBoy game "Mario Golf Advance Tour" and got this (click for larger):

Mario Golf Search

Top two results:

  1. Mario Golf Advance Tour by Nintendo of America
  2. Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Agroecosystems (Advances in Agroecology) by Mario Giampietro

That second guy has got a good agent.

Filed under: General No Comments
22Aug/07Off

Photo of the Week: Null Entry

So, there's no photo of the week this week. It's not because I don't have anything to post, in fact I've been sitting on a surplus of (relatively) presentable shots for a few weeks now. I've also had this thought rattling around in the back of my head to start what's called a "photoblog." It's a weblog in that it's personal and updated regularly, but instead of text and links and snapshots of your cat/kids/feet, the emphasis is on photographs. Often they have minimalist designs that put the photos front and center, maybe with some basic commenting and browsing functionality built in.

So, given these two factors, I started fiddling around with PixelPost last weekend and ended up with http://photos.jmadigan.net:

photoblog

Instead of a photo of the week here on jmadigan.net, I'm going to post 3 (well, 2-3) new pictures a week on photos.jmadigan.net and remind people here once a week about the photoblog. I say let's call this a little experiment to see how I like it and to see if I can keep up 2-3 new pictures a week. If it goes smashingly, I may register a new domain name (any ideas?) and add some subtle bells and whistles to the site. If not, well, I can always deny that it ever happened and tell you you're crazy if you think it did, you crazy crazy internet person.

There's a few reasons for doing this. First, I think it's cool and that's almost reason enough. I like the idea of a simple site where I can build up an online portfolio and the photoblogging community seems pretty cool. jmadigan.net has other focal points, and Flickr isn't as pretty and a bit spastic at times. Also, deep down, some part of me sees this as necessary groundwork to building a side business in photography so that I can actually make some money off this stuff. Right now that idea can still most charitably be described as "fanciful dream born on the lilac breezes of la-la land" but you have to start somewhere and it's actually part of a plan that I'm putting in place a piece at a time.

So, go on. Click through. Tell me what you think.

Filed under: Photography 4 Comments
20Aug/07Off

Week 186: Definitions, Donuts, and Determination

As I've mentioned several times before, Sam seems to have hit that invisible age marker where questions burst out from her like popcorn from a kettle. Her favorite is the simple "why?" which is elegant but utilitarian. It's the new black. And that still wears thin, but to my delight she's been asking us to define words for her. Like, constantly, which, ironically, is one of the words she's asked me to define. Along with "ironically." In fact, Ger and I kept a log for a week of some of the words and phrases Sam asked me to define. They include:

  • Hypothesis
  • Stereotype
  • Vernacular
  • Truthful
  • Design
  • Satellite
  • Pissed
  • Variable
  • Late
  • Internet
  • Digest
  • Swarm
  • Rotate
  • Belligerent
  • Look it up
  • Dictionary

Defining these words for a 3-year old is a lot harder than you might first think. The main problem is doing so without using words that also require definitions, so that you get caught in an endless daisy chain of question/answers that stretches on into the wee hours of the night. Otherwise, I'm perfectly willing to do it for her. It beats "why?"

At some point in time Sam and I have settled into a Saturday morning routine of Daddy Daughter Time (also sometimes known as "Give Geralyn a Fricking Break Time)." The routine starts around 6:00 a.m. with Sam's bounding into bed and babbling about going to get a donut breakfast and how she totally dreamed about EATING THE BIGGEST DONUT EVER! This assault persists until I stumble out of bed to get dressed while Sam bounds downstairs to stand in front of the door to the garage, still wearing her pajamas. There is much cajoling and corralling until we're both dressed, washed up, and vaguely presentable.

By 7:00 or 7:30 we're out the door and headed for the donut shop. At this point Sam is still yammering about what kind of donut she's going to get. Sprinkles? Chocolate? Cake? Glazed? OOOOOHHH COCONUT! Being firmly settled into my ways I always get the same thing (one chocolate, one glazed, small coffee), but Sam seems to delight in running up to the counter and smearing her face and/or hands all over the glass display as she erupts into paroxysm over the insanity-provoking choices given to her. It's like if H.P. Lovecraft wrote a children's book about delicious pastries.

In the end she gets juice or milk, from which she takes like two sips, and one donut, from which she simply eats all the icing and leaves the rest as a cakey husk before saying "I've had enough." I guess the anticipation is sometimes the thing, even for a 3-year old.

We normally follow the donut breakfast up with some other activity, but it's still usually 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, which kind of limits one's choices. So it's often a park. Sam inevitably comments that there's no other kids there, which I explain by the fact that it's barely past dawn and none of the kids have Dads that are as cool as I am. This last week, though, I took her to a science museum, which she totally loved. She got to gaze at nifty things, play with nifty things, and oddly enough sit transfixed by a nifty movie about rocket launches and space flight. She fell sound asleep in the car on the ride home.

Sam has also been interacting a lot more with Mandy now that her little sister is sitting up and grabbing at things all the time. Mandy's favorite thing in the world is now to sit up and then abruptly lean forward, so that she does a face plant into her lap. If we put something soft like a stuffed animal in front of her, she will do this for quite some time and be thoroughly entertained by it. Sit. FACE PLANT! Giggle. Sit. FACE PLANT! Giggle. Over and over again.

It's also pretty easy to tell that the kid wants to be more mobile. She tries to crawl and get after things, but she just doesn't seem to have the motor skills or strength yet. Still, it's fun to watch her try, and I'm struck by how kids seem to have a much deeper well of determination, patience, and gumption than we do. Me, I get shouting mad if I can't get the lawn mower to start after the third pull. But Mandy will try to pull herself towards the cat for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. I wonder when we lose that?

Filed under: Parenting 1 Comment
17Aug/07Off

Book Review: Executive Coaching

I picked up this book by Anna Marie Valerio and Robert Lee on a whim at last May's SIOP convention. Most of the reading material I pick up at these conferences tends to be dense, technical stuff about employment testing or research methods that actually gets put on a shelf to serve as occasional reference material rather than read cover to cover. So I thought it might be good to try something in an area I have less expertise in and which could be read cover to cover. This book, which looked and smelled like the kind of primer that could be consumed by Human Resources generalists, seemed to fit that bill.

Well, it wasn't dense, that's for sure. In fact, the book seemed to be about 80% fluff and could probably be distilled down to a series of bullet points. I'm not sure I've ever read anything that was so general, noncommittal, and generic. Sure, all the advertised points are there. Each section looks at a different aspect of the executive coaching realm, from why to do coaching in the first place to the various roles and responsibilities of the coach, the HR person, and the executive. It all just struck me as pretty obvious. There's some tools, sample meeting agendas, and that kind of thing in the back that I may refer back to if I ever need to, but otherwise, eh...

I guess I may not be the target audience for this book, but what I'd really like to have seen is some more hard details about the benefits of coaching (beyond fictitious case studies) backed up by research. More specifics about the assessment tools (they basically say "Yeah, there's tools and you should use them") and more details in general. It all just felt too fluffy.

Filed under: Books No Comments
15Aug/07Off

Photo of the Week: Differ

Differ

This week's photo was done for an assignment with the theme "Red" but I actually had the idea a while ago and retrieved it from my little photo idea notebook. The penguins came from a Clearance bin at Target at 65 cents each and I took the picture in my home made lightbox. I had to keep the whole thing hidden from Sam, lest she demand that the penguins be turned over to her, because obviously this kind of frivolity isn't the purview of respectable adults.

After looking at this photo I liked it, but I thought the background might be too light. So I put in a blue piece of poster board and took this one:

also differ

Which do you like better? I thought I'd like the contrast between the yellow and blue, but I actually think this darker background makes the little red guy stand out less, which is the entire point of the picture. Speaking of which, all the penguins were yellow to begin with. I changed the one to red using a Hue/Saturation layer mask in Photoshop. Nifty!

Filed under: Photography 4 Comments
13Aug/07Off

Week 185: Dressing, Prune Goop, and “Buh!”

Sam seems like she's turning some kind of corner with the whole willfulness thing. She's still strong willed (and, for the record, I don't think such a trait is actually a bad thing all considered), but she has mellowed out a bit and directed her thirst for independence differently. This morning, for example, she came down from her bedroom looking fully dressed and especially pleased. She had, she said, dressed herself! Except she couldn't quite button her pants. Because they were tight. Because she was still wearing her pajamas. Underneath them. I pointed this out to her and she seemed substantially crestfallen over my criticism, yet insisted on setting it right without my help. Eventually she did, and proper accolades were heaped upon her.

Sam also seems to be seeking new outlets for her attitude, as evinced by her exclaiming "Buh!" after every answer to a question she thinks we should know the answer to, such as "What do you want for breakfast?" ("Pancakes, buh!") or "Sammy, where did you put Mandy?" ("The cabinet, buh!"). This is somewhat amusing since she apparently thinks she's saying "Duh!" and we don't see the point in correcting her. It's easier to get the last laugh on her this way.

Mandy is doing quite well, except that she was a little, well, slow moving in the gastro... pipe area. Okay, she was constipated. Following the advice offered by her pediatrician after a brief phone call (I would love, by the way, to hear all the ways that different parents ease into this question in a clinical and professional way worthy of a patient-doctor relationship), Geralyn ordered me to prepare a concoction consisting of the following:

  • One part barley cereal
  • One part dark corn syrup
  • One part pureed prunes
  • One part grape juice

I was to prepare this goop under the light of a full moon, feed it our child, and then stand back. FAR back. Mandy actually loved it, which shouldn't be surprising, since 3/4 of those ingredients are sweet enough on their own, and combined they created some kind of super Voltron-like baby treat. As to its effectiveness, let's just say it WORKED and leave it at that. Mandy has been much more relaxed since that feeding.

The pictures from this week are kind of fun. It's been one hoojillion degrees outside for the last week or so, which means that Sam's outdoor playtime has been somewhat limited. What we do let her do, though, is play in the sprinklers all she wants. This is easy work for me, since I just get to stand there and the lawn really needed to be watered anyway. It seems that playing in the sprinklers is some kind of American tradition, going back a few generations now. I remember doing it as a kid, though my mother also somehow got the idea that instead of a swimming pool she could just fill up two garbage cans --the old round, metal kind-- with the hose and plunk me and my sister down into them. It probably had the side benefit of cleaning the cans out, plus I loved it until I ran my hand along the jagged inside lip of the can and opened a huge gash in my palm. And then of course I couldn't climb out of the can with just one hand, so I sloshed around until I tipped the thing over and it dumped me onto the lawn and almost drowned me. I'm serious, I have a VERY vivid memory of this. Good times, sure, but I think Sam and Mandy can just stick to the sprinklers.

We also had a fun photo shoot on Sunday afternoon where Sam half-heartedly played the role of my assistant by holding up a gray card. She didn't hold it very still, or for very long or even in the right place before walking out on the job, but it's a start. She got much more into it once I started taking pictures, gracing us with her glamor shot and a sweet pose with Mandy. Also, this is my new favorite shot of Mandy.

Filed under: Parenting 2 Comments
10Aug/07Off

Book Review: Moby Dick

Moby Dick

So, Herman Melville's Moby Dick is supposed by many to be the greatest Engligh-language novel ever written, especially among those written in the Romantic tradition. Meh.

It's not that I don't get that there's a TON of complexity, subtlety, and depth to this book about a mad captain's quest for revenge against a great white whale. And on the surface it's even a pretty darn good adventure story. And, honestly, Melville's prose is flowing, elegant, and as beautiful as any writing can possibly be. It's magnificent, actually.

It's just that any enjoyment or satisfaction I got out of the book was overshadowed by the tedious, largely pointless stretches of encylopedic descriptions about the whaling industry. Melville strikes me as one of those people who would corner you at a party and talk incessantly about whaling, whaling ships, whales, whale diet, whale etymology, whale zoology, whale blubber, whale delacies, whale migration, whale oil, whale biology, whale ecology, whale meat, whale skinning, and every other possible topic about whales so that you'd finally have to pretend to have to go to the bathroom just to get away from the crazy old man. Only he'd FOLLOW YOU INTO THE BATHROOM and keep talking to you about whales while peering over the side of the stall and trying to make eye contact with you the whole time.

Look, it's not that I don't get it. Or at least some of it. I get, for example, that Ishmael's description of the absurdities of whale classification systems provide a backdrop against which to project the recurring theme of mankind's doomed quest for complete understanding of truths that are ineffable and forever hidden (sometimes literally) under the surface. I get that. I just wish the guy didn't feel like he had to take it to such absurd lengths. I do not need twenty pages about how to properly coil a harpoon line! I can see why most people don't make it through this book without judicious skimming.

Still, I feel like I accomplished something and that I can now nod sagely the next time someone makes an oblique reference to Captain Ahab, mentions the Pequod, or refers to something as "that person's Great White _______." And chances are they skimmed more than I did, anyway.

Filed under: Books 2 Comments
8Aug/07Off

Photo(s) of the Week: 36 cents per Gallon

Gas Pump

This week I'm doing a couple of things differently with the PotW. First, it's a set of photos on the same subject: a derelict old gas pump that's abandoned out in the middle of nowhere. I don't normally go in for the "rusty junk that's just sitting around" kind of subject, but I kind of like how these turned out.

These shots were taken as part of a recent excursion with a local camera club I joined. I had been looking for a way to get out and meet new people, as having a toddler and a baby comprise the majority of your social network leaves something to be desired. So I did a bit of Google searching and found that my city actually had a very august and active camera club. And their next gathering was coming up soon. Neat!

So I signed up and RSVP'd for the photowalk that they were going to do last weekend. In hindsight, the fact that the club was gathering at the Cracker Barrel restaurant might have served as my first clue as to what kind of people I was meeting up with, but I plunged ahead. Indeed, when I arrived at the restaurant and located the group I was momentarily stunned by hold OLD they all were. After me, the youngest person there was probably in his mid 50s, and the age of the oldest member was probably unfathomable without the aid of carbon dating.

After a hearty breakfast we set out for our trek to the countryside and I took the opportunity to call Geralyn on my cell phone. "They're all SO OLD!" I hissed into the phone before she could even finish saying "Hello?" She laughed, then said she felt terrible for me, then laughed again.

Gas Pump

It turns out, of course, that my prejudices were completely malformed and unsubstantiated. Everyone I encountered that day was friendly, accommodating, and willing to go out of their way to make a new member like myself welcome. Right off the bat when I got lost one of them called me on my cell phone and gave me directions to where he was waiting for me on the shoulder of the highway. Others introduced themselves and chatted me up. It was nice.

In fact, once we actually got out shooting in the field (like literally, we were actually out shooting in a field) it became apparent that many of these old timers really knew their stuff, including digital photography and post production. A couple of people had simple point-and-shoot cameras and a couple more had entry-level DSLRs like mine, but the balance were well geared and nonchalantly walked around with what looked like $4,000 or more worth of electronics dangling from their necks. And I had gotten so used to the idea of old people being incompetent with technology that I could hardly believe it when this 75-year old guy started telling me about how to force your printer to recognize certain color profiles and how to change the blend mode in Photoshop layer masks to achieve certain results.

Gas Pump

Over lunch one seasoned photographer even told me about how he had recently been on a trip to arctic Norway where he tried to photograph wildlife from a pitching boat and how a brown bear had once herded him up a chest-deep river for a mile while he held his camera over his head. This is crazy, I thought. I've never been chased by a bear. I'm completely out of my league here!

So, good trip after all. I didn't exactly end up with a ton of keeper shots (shooting between the hours of 10 and 2 is hardly ideal), but I have a few more besides these three that I'll include in future PotW updates. And I'll probably get more on future outings.

Filed under: Photography 4 Comments
6Aug/07Off

Week 184: Questions, Answers, and Throwing

If you were to ask me some of Sam's favorite things, I could probably take a pretty good guess at most of them. Favorite show? Curious George. Favorite movie? Cars. Favorite desert? Fudgecicles. Favorite restaurant? That Italian place down the road that has the rope lights all over the ceilings because that's soooooo pretty! I also know, beyond a doubt, her favorite letter: "Y." Because she says it. A lot. A whole lot.

She also asks other questions, too. One day this week Geralyn decided to take notes on all the inquiries Sam asked, and while a comprehensive study would take a team of graduate students and a several governmental grants, she did do a pretty good job of taking a nice sample:

  • What does "show some restraint" mean?
  • When are you going to buy me my own "Foster's [Home for Imaginary Friends]" DVD?
  • Can I have a cheese sandwich?
  • Can I have a piece of cheese on the side with my cheese sandwich?
  • What's in bread?
  • What's in cats?
  • What's in cars?
  • What's in houses?
  • What's in people?
  • What's in forks?
  • What does "high tech" mean?
  • What's a murloc?
  • Will it be nighttime all day?
  • Why does it change from night to morning?
  • What's a "boob shot?"
  • Where's the cat?
  • What?
  • Do bad people kill us?

That last one was particularly vexing since I wasn't quite sure how to answer it. Anyone who would kill us is certainly a bad person (we don't usually go around pushing the self defense issue), but there are certainly bad people who don't take things to that particular extreme. So some bad people kill us, but not all. I started to draw a Venn diagram to help Sam understand this, but then she moved on to five new questions.

Still, as irritating as it can be (especially the tried and true "Why?" after every declarative statement) I'm glad she's asking questions. That's a good practice. And I try to give her the best, most honest answer I can and not just say "because, that's how it is", though man it's tough sometimes. Why do thing get cold when you put them in the freezer? Uh... Why is water clear? Um... Why did the cat hiss at me? Er... Well, I look forward to her Pulitzer prize-winning, investigative journalism piece entitled "What's Inside of Forks: The Shocking Truth"

(By the way, the answer is, as I always tell her, "more fork.")

Mandy isn't asking many questions these days, but she is making her will known. She can sit up now on her own, which is cool even if she still momentarily forgets that she is, in fact, sitting up and arches her back suddenly, which sends her skull crashing to the floor. The other night I sat her down in front of a box full of blocks and she just sat there, picking up block after block and inspecting them before tossing them aside.

In fact, this is her new favorite thing in the world: discarding things. Essentially every object in the world has the sole purpose of being picked up, peered at briefly, then cast to the floor. This toy? It belongs on the floor. This spoon? It goes on the floor, too. Blanket? Floor. Sippy cup? Oh, you better believe that goes on the floor. Cup full of mashed peas? If I can get my hands on it, I think you know where it's going. GIVE IT TO ME.

The bright side is that Sam seems to enjoy scurrying to pick up the things that Mandy throws aside, which leads to a kind of perpetual child motion machine. At least it lets Ger and I eat our dinners in peace.

Filed under: Parenting 1 Comment
3Aug/07Off

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

NOTE: This review is spoiler free. Well, maybe some very minor ones are in there. At any rate if you're still reading the book you may want to skip it for now anyway. I wouldn't want to affect your reading even with general discussions.

Like every other being on the English-speaking parts of the planet, I picked up J.K. Rowling's new Harry Potter book on the day it came out. This is the final Potter, and after 10 years of following the series I was pretty interested to see how it would all turn out with Harry and his coterie are on the lamb and everything is going to hell now that the chief bad guy is seizing control of the wizarding world.

One of the things that I've always admired about this series is how they started off being childish and fanciful, then matured into more and more sophisticated, dark, and --oddly enough-- realistic books. The Deathly Hallows takes this trend to its conclusion, and not just because the body count is so alarmingly high by the end. I loved how this book looks full into the face of an issue that every one of us has had to deal with on our road towards adulthood: adults are flawed and fallible. And I'm not just talking about the bad guys here. I mean our friends fail us. Our authority figures fail us. Our parents fail us. But it's only because they're real, complex people and we can't see that until we've done some aging ourselves. I loved how Hallows expands on this theme by showing us how people like Dumbledore and even Harry's dad were, at least once, worse people than we thought they were, and how others like Snape and even the Malfoys are better than we thought they were. Rowling teases apart the simple, bold lines she used to draw her characters in the beginning of the series so that they are now possessed of shades and nuances that weren't there before. And yet it flows naturally and you can see that the groundwork was often laid thousands of pages ago.

The other thing to love about Hallows is, of course, that it's a rip-roaring good adventure. Despite the disappointing fact that it falls back on the tired old cliche of the quest to collect all the magicle foozles (actually, there are two sets of foozles in play here) so they can be combined/destroyed lest they save/explode the world, our favorite wizardly teens go from one exciting scene to the next. Well, mostly. I could have done with a lot less of the clomping around in the woods that goes on in the middle of the book, but otherwise it's just good entertainment. And things culminate in (MINOR SPOILER!!) a battle royale at Hogwarts towards the end of the book in which just about every major and minor character from the series gets called in to take the safeties off their wands and totally cut loose. That was just plain fun.

I did have a few problems with the book, but they were mostly minor. It dragged in the middle, as I said, to the point where it seemed like Rowling was just padding it out. I had also have had QUITE enough of Emo Potter and his hissy fit ways in the previous couple of installments, so that I was banging the book against my head when Harry started to get all pissy and emotional to the point of sundering his friendships. Thankfully Rowling moved on, in the name of character development if nothing else.

My only substantial disappointment with Gallows was how it lacked the sense of discovery and world building that earlier books had. What I loved about the early parts of the series was that Rowling's impressive imagination was on full display, meted out in revelations about the wizarding world, its mechanics, its societies, its places, its people, and its, well, magic. I loved finding out what she was going to think of next because it was entertaining and delightful. Hallows, on the other hand, is in full wrap-up mode. We get very little new except the chaos and loss that came out of breaking down everything we had come to know at that point. Still, I guess Rowling had to stop introducing new stuff at some point so that she could wrap it up even if the sense of wonder and discovery is greatly reduced.

So, thumbs up from me. The last 100 pages of the book create what is one of the most satisfying endings to an epic series that I can remember, and I'm really glad I've read the books. I hope that my kids read and enjoy them some day. It'll be fun to talk about them.

Filed under: Books 4 Comments
1Aug/07Off

Phot of the Week (and more): Green Trolley

Green Trolley

For this week's PotW I'm featuring the image above, which I did for The Digital Photography School's weekly assignment. The theme this week was "Transportation." I'm going to try to do these things every week just to keep myself shooting.

But wait. There's more. When I saw the theme of "transportation" it didn't take me long to remember that there's a Museum of Transportation right down the road from where we live. So I packed up my gear, waved goodbye to the family, then went and shot two gigs' worth of trains, planes, automobiles, and trolleys. I thought several of them were worth sharing, so I'll include them here.

NOTE: As usual, all the thumbnails below are squared off to make them line up neatly on the page. Please click through to see the full, uncropped versions.







While there were various things available to point my camera at, I did have one major problem: the weather. It was brutally hot, but that wasn't really that big a problem. The main problem was that it was also overcast, which meant that the sky was utterly and completely blown out in every shot. Nothing but white, which looks lousy and immediately grabs the eye to say "Hey! Look at me! Aren't I ruining this shot? Aren't I?"

This was too bad, but I worked around the problem by focusing on shaded areas (like the one with the trolley shot above) and by zooming in to fill the frame. So some detail work and close-ups, which is actually a different kind of way of looking at something huge like trains. My first instinct was to do some big, dramatic shots featuring the iconic silhouettes of the big, old steam engines against the sky. Since none of those looked any good with the white sky, I had to get creative.







One of the best examples is probably this shot of the Silver Charger. I couldn't get all the letters in the shot without showing a bunch of the sky as well, so I ended up tilting the camera. I quite like the effect with the strong diagonal lines that go nicely with the words. It may be my favorite pic of the trip.







One other neat thing about this shoot was that since Geralyn had graciously volunteered to stay home with the kids, I had the whole time to myself and didn't have to worry about keeping an eye on anyone. And probably just as importantly, I didn't have to worry about trying to get pictures of the kids. This was surprisingly liberating and I recommend you all try it. It also gave me a chance to slow down and take my time. I took shots of the same thing from many different angles with many different camera settings, and I even had time to break out my new gray card and do some manual exposure settings, which turned out very well on some of the pics.

So, fun trip. I'll just have to go back some day when the sky is more cooperative to get all the other shots I wanted.

Filed under: Photography 2 Comments