alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)
This weekend has been my thirtieth high school reunion.  I didn't go.

I considered it somewhat, but a few things militated against it.  It was up in Grande Prairie, of course, where the school is, which would have involved someplace to stay (either out in Beaverlodge, half an hour or so drive away, with my mother, or at a hotel in town, which of course costs money, not to mention six hours drive each way).  Later this week is my eldest son's own high school commencement, and I don't like to plan social events so close together.  Also, there was an expensive country-club banquet involved, and quite frankly I rarely find banquets that worth the cost for the food; maybe I'm just not a big fan of the most common kinds of banquet foods, unless they have an extensive buffet.

And, of course, there's the consideration about whether or not I want to go hang out with the people who are coming to the thirty-year reunion.

I was two years younger than my classmates from like Grade 3 onward, and still did better than them in some classes, so I had few friends for a lot of years.  From Grade 5 through 9 it was almost exclusively just one friend, Jeremy, with whom I shared interests in role-playing games, computer games, fantasy books, and the like.  Come high school, though, I did start to make a few more friends--mostly people I'd known slightly in earlier grades that I got to know better in various classes.  I had started developing my dry wit, to help make me less socially awkward and more somebody other people could perceive as clever.  I like to think that, at least, few or none of my classmates hated me, and that some of them liked me.

I did go to the ten-year reunion, mostly since I happened to still be living in Grande Prairie at that point.  I had done a good job of dropping out of touch with a lot of people by that point.  Some of them were at Grande Prairie for my first year of college, some I bumped into when I went down to Edmonton after that for university.  I tried inviting them to my birthday parties, and to my wedding (which was only four years after graduation), and some came, but I fell out of touch.  When I moved in with my wife (and out of the house I'd been sharing with Jeremy and another roommate best forgotten), I managed to basically lose contact with him as well.  I've never been a fan of phoning, so in pre-Facebook days I had trouble maintaining relationships unless there was some kind of regularly scheduled event.

So the ten-year reunion was good for at least getting a chance to see a few people from high school...but there were also lots of gaps among people I'd have liked to see again too.  I also became aware of the saying that the people who are the most nostalgic for high school are the ones for whom it was the best time of their lives, who hadn't really gone anywhere since then.  I'm not sure how true that actually is, but certainly for me I did not feel like my life was peaking yet at that point.  I was still crawling out of my shell (to the extent that I ever did); I developed crushes on some girls, but never actually dated them, and in hindsight a lot of them probably assumed I was gay or something, rather than just being insecure.  Certainly my core musical tastes were cemented during my teenage years, but that was mostly because of the time I spent watching videos on MuchMusic, not like hanging out with friends or anything.

I had the impression that the people I most would want to reconnect with were unlikely to show up at this reunion, which seems to have been the case, and so I'm not actually sorry I elected not to go.  I've seen a lot of people posting messages on the Facebook group about how they wish they were there, and I haven't because it isn't true, and I haven't managed to come with anything that's not just empty words.  I tend to just not say anything rather than say empty words, unless I can make them witty somehow.

I guess there is one exception.  One girl I was friends with at high school, to some extent at least (that extent being that she actually came over to visit one time, if only for help studying Chemistry).  On my website I'd put up a page of "people I'd like to hear from"...and at some point she came across that and sent me a big long message on Facebook about what had been going on in her life, during and after high school.  I was floored and dumbfounded...and did the thing I do when that happens, which was nothing whatsoever.  I let it just sit there in my messages, and I even read it over once or twice more over the years (because yes, it has been years).  She lives in Australia now, so I'm not likely to run into her just randomly (not like I tend to run into lots of my classmates who still live in Alberta just randomly either, but it's more possible).  I actually wrote her a reply a couple of weeks ago, just offline in a text file, thinking that I could just copy and paste it and send it off to her with abject apologies for the long silence.  It's still sitting in that text file, and who knows if it'll ever get sent.  (Unless she reads this, of course, since I'm not making it private or anything...)

I imagine if I had gone, I might have ended up just not talking to anybody much.  Or maybe I would've ended up hanging out with great people who I misjudged based on early impressions (and vice versa).  If I'd brought my wife it would have just been us talking to each other, which is what often happens in those cases.  Instead I went to a writers' group meeting where we talked about writing and stories (and politics, can't get away from those these days), spent the requisite time playing computer games and reading books, and this evening watched "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey" with my kids (first time for them, not for me, of course).  Tomorrow there'll be a board game of some sort.  And maybe dishes and vacuuming and yard work, but I wouldn't bet on it.  And this week my son will get to have his own experience.  (He hasn't done much dating himself yet; not sure what that's about yet, but he is my son, after all...)


May. 4th, 2017 10:15 pm
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)
The first time I tried karaoke was actually kind of by accident.  I went out for supper at this Asian restaurant with my friend Darren, and we were informed there would be something called "Singalong" happening, and we should select a song.  Not quite sure what this was all about, we selected "Let It Be" by the Beatles from their list of songs (which I don't recall being particularly long), since we were both pretty familiar with it.  And then at some point we found ourselves standing up on the little stage with microphones and attempting to sing "Let It Be".  I'm not sure the rest of the diners knew what was going on either; I seem to recall somebody requesting we sing another song (though I don't remember what it was, even though I suspect we did actually sing it).  When Darren asked a while later if I wanted to try it again, I demurred.

But I had been singing along with songs for years.  I used to listen to music on my headphones and sing along with it, which in hindsight can't always have been pleasant for the people around me.  I would even do this while bike riding, back when I was young and fit and apparently something trivial like riding my bike through the Bear Creek valley didn't make me breathe too hard or anything.  Eventually I stopped singing along quite as much, though I was still listening to music fairly steadily and probably sang along with it from time to time.  Later I made myself up some "favourite song" mix tapes, occasionally with themes though not that often, and when I acquired a car with a tape deck in it, I would play the songs while I drove and sing along with them.  It made the drudgery of driving somewhat tolerable, and maybe even a little fun, and in later years I applied the same principle to washing dishes.

Karaoke itself was pretty sporadic, though.  One family reunion I tried it, doing an atrocious version of "Jessie's Girl" (which I had only recently discovered and wasn't that familiar with), but having fun doing "Blue Suede Shoes".  There was karaoke at a couple of the NaNoWriMo "Thank God It's Over" parties, where I managed to do some pretty good renditions of "Hella Good", "The Middle", and "Shout".  At this point, after seeing the same person do the same song every time, I decided to try to avoid repetition if I could.  This wasn't that hard, since while "Shout" (the Tears For Fears version, at least) is one of my favourite songs, my list of "favourite songs" that I was familiar enough to do justice to was already into the hundreds, and continued to grow.

But still, I didn't really seek out karaoke to any great degree.  After all, it was generally held in bars, and I've never been comfortable in bars, since I don't really drink alcohol that much and don't like spending time around drunk people.  Not to mention that I generally don't like going out that often period.  I still took part every once in a while, though.  A few years they had karaoke at the When Words Collide convention, which was quite fun because generally there weren't that many people taking part ("good rotation") and I knew a fair number of the people there.  Last year a few of us, including myself, Randy McCharles and Vanessa Cardui, did a bunch of Tragically Hip songs in tribute to Gordon Downie and the band's final tour.

Also last year, one of the guys at work organized a karaoke evening, with a prize for the best singer, so I actually went out and tried the "karaoke at a bar" thing for the first time...and discovered it wasn't that bad.  The bar wasn't full of people who didn't care about the karaoke, for one thing.  Nobody was pressuring me into buying more drinks.  And while the rotation wasn't as good--I only got to sing about one song an hour--it was still fun to sing along with other people, and I even heard a few good songs that I hadn't run across before.  And I won the prize, with my kickass renditions of "Where The Streets Have No Name" and "The Saga Begins" (the latter of which really impressed one somewhat drunk guy who'd never heard the song before).

So I decided that, since I really enjoyed karaoke and wasn't doing it often enough, I would try to do something about that.  For convenience, I made it kind of a New Year's Resolution to do more karaoke in 2017; to be concrete, I set a goal of singing karaoke at least once a month for the whole year.

In a peripherally related development, my son's graduating class had a silent auction fundraiser last fall.  (Aside: I have a son who's in his last year of high school.  How weird is that?)  The students were encouraged to canvass their friends and families, as well as local businesses, for donated goods and services; my wife, for instance, donated a free manuscript editing session.  We were all also enjoined to actually attend the auction and bid on stuff.  I didn't generally find much there that I was really into, but one of the other parents was offering singing lessons, and so for a lark I put down a bid on it...and nobody else did, so I was the "successful bidder" on it.  I didn't do anything with it right away, though, for a few reasons--there was other stuff going on in my life, and plus there was no actual contact info for the teacher, Ms. Roslyn Petty, and then when I did get some via my son, it was a phone number, and I hate phoning people.

So in January I just picked a date and a place, not too far from my office, that had a sign out front declaring its karaoke nights (Tuesday through Sunday, actually), and started out just inviting all my Facebook friends who lived in the area.  From those who responded to that (whether they showed up or not), and a few coworkers who seemed interested, I created a Facebook group for arranging the subsequent karaoke nights.  It's been a small group so far, a lot of the same people.  One of the ones who turned up in January, actually, was a woman named Poonam who I hadn't seen since high school (though we had been Facebook friends for a while), so it was nice to catch up.  The rotation at this place (Today's Restaurant & Grill, which also has a decent Chinese lunch buffet) is still about once an hour, at least on all the nights I've tried.  I've heard of places where you can rent a room for you and your friends with your own karaoke machine, but that's obviously a little pricier, so maybe for my birthday or something.

I've also done some practicing with a karaoke app that our cable provider has, and a few Youtube videos.  I actually ended up with a karaoke machine as a prize from a work Christmas party a few years ago, but somehow I've never managed to take it out of its box.  I imagine that such things might come preloaded with some public-domain songs in them, and anything else you've have to provide yourself, and that seems like work...but maybe one day I'll give it a try.

I did eventually get around to phoning Roslyn Petty (probably in like February or something), and having a couple of lessons with her.  From her, and my friends, I have gotten the impression that I actually have a pretty good voice, with a strong mixed upper-range/falsetto voice (or something, not sure what the official designation would be).  The silent auction package was for two free lessons, but I think I may do some more lessons here and there, since the price is fairly reasonable.  I guess I don't know if I have any plans to do singing as anything other than a hobby--certainly I'd say it's too soon to quit my job and switch careers--but it does seem to be something I enjoy, and that I'm good at.

What I haven't decided yet is whether or not I'm going to keep up the once-a-month routine once the year is over.  It's about the right frequency, not so often as to become a chore, but still often enough to be satisfying.  But in my head I have mentally marked down 2018 as the year where I try to do board games every month instead of karaoke.  After all, I do enjoy those, but I mostly just end up playing them at home with my kids, when I could be trying to organize my board-game-playng friends (who may be more numerous than my karaoke-singing friends).  But I'm not sure I have enough gumption to do both.  I suppose I could just play it by ear, but in my experience of myself that usually turns into "don't do anything about it".  But I guess, in the end, only time will tell.


Apr. 9th, 2017 10:08 pm
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)

At some point, a couple of years ago, a coworker mentioned a podcast named "Mission Log", in which a couple of guys rewatch and comment on episods of Star Trek. I have, of course, watched Star Trek for years...well, sort of. I watched a lot of the original series reruns on TV in my childhood (late 70's/early 80's), and read the James Blish episode collections (and, to a lesser extent, the animated series and Alan Dean Foster's collections of those episodes), and in high school I got into reading a lot of the tie-in novels. I saw the movies (though not all of them in theatres, and I confess I never have seen all of Star Trek V), and read the Marvel comics Star Trek series for a while (not sure how long it lasted, though). And of course when The Next Generation came out, I started out watching that, though I gave up partway through the first season (Wesley Crusher annoyed me, of course, but so did Data, for some reason) and only watched it sporadically for years after that, before I got really into it. I gave Deep Space Nine a few episodes before giving up (I think the one where they were all trapped inside a board game was when I gave it up), and the same with Enterprise, though my wife and I watched Voyager pretty faithfully until the end (modulo the second season, which we missed because we spent a year without cable). So, yeah, I watched a lot.

So anyway, I started listening to "Mission Log". Now, unlike some people, for the last few years I've had a really decent commute, rarely taking longer than half an hour even at rush hour, and at the moment more like 15-20 minutes. And quite often I like to listen to music. So I get through podcasts fairly slowly. I've discovered that I can't keep up with a weekly podcast even when it's a short one, and Mission Log episodes tend to be close to an hour...not to mention I was like three years behind when I started. It's basically two guys, John Champion and Ken Ray (who I'd never heard of before, but that's fine, I haven't heard of a lot of people), who rewatch the episodes a few times, and then talk about it. To be more precise, they start with trivia about the episode, then a quick and often snarky synopsis, discussion of major issues that came up, and then "does the episodes hold up, and do its messages, morals and meanings?"

Being the kind of guy I am, I started at the beginning, which even starts with "The Cage" before going into the actual episodes starring Kirk. What I found was mostly that I was missing a fair bit because of the fact that it had been years since I'd actually seen most of the episodes. Somehow watching TNG had spoiled me for the original series, and I couldn't watch it any more. But luckily, the one streaming service I'm signed up for (Crave, which comes through my Internet/TV provider) has all the Star Trek TV series on it, so I, somewhat belatedly (i.e. when I was almost done the first season's Mission Log episodes) decided to start rewatching the episodes they'd covered. And even more belatedly, I decided to wait on listening to the Mission Log episodes covering episodes I hadn't rewatched. I skipped forward to the Mission Log episodes covering TNG, though I am rewatching those ones as well; as I feared, they often refer back to things from their discussions of original series episodes or movies which I don't always get, but I'm more familiar with the TNG episodes at this point, so it works out.

In the Mission Log episode I'm currently listening to ("The Battle"), they make a reference to a comment that Wil Wheaton made about the episode, which made me recall his series of blog posts about the TNG first season episodes, which I have in ebook form as Memories of The Future, Vol. 1. So I decided to read over that one again, too; I haven't quite caught up to "The Battle" yet, though. His synopses are even snarkier, though, usually full of running gags, not all of which are funny, but I guess you can't hit a home run every time. Now I'm considering dragging out my copies of The Nitpicker's Guide To Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I have on audiobook (Dwight Schultz and Denise Crosby being among the narrators, which is fun), which also has a synopsis, though less snarky, though it then proceeds to nitpick plot oversights, continuity errors, and inconsistencies between episodes. However, that might be too much; plus, adding in an audiobook is going to cut into my podcast/music listening time.

One thing I gotta mention, though, from both Mission Log and Wil Wheaton's coverage of "Lonely Among Us", where they're taking these two feuding alien races to the planet of Parliament: Is it just these three guys, or do all geeky Americans' minds immediately leap to George Clinton's funk band whenever Parliament is mentioned? Because they all went there. I confess that while I've heard of the band, I never really listened to them...but maybe it's just a Canadian thing. Because we actually have a frickin' parliament as part of our government. So while it could be considered just a fun and sly cultural reference, I can't help but hear overtones of ethnocentrism and cultural ignorance. Maybe that just makes me one of these knee-jerk oversensitive people, but sometimes, as a Canadian, one does get tired of other people knowing nothing about one's own culture while being expected to know everything about American culture, because it's like the default. Can you imagine someone giggling whenever someone said "Congress" because their mind immediately went to "sexual congress"? No? Because sometimes that's what it feels like.

I also have to say that I'm far from always agreeing with the Mission Log guys, either. I mean, I may have grown up with the original series episodes, but in general I find them to hold up much less often than Ray & Champion do...with the possible exception of "Court Martial", which they panned, but I still think is kind of neat. But then they were also gushing over "Encounter At Farpoint" and, god help me, "Justice". "Justice" is the episode that made me give up on TNG the first time through, and I think I even stopped watching at the point when Wesley Crusher got sentenced to death for his random transgression, so it was years before I actually saw the ending. I know I saw a few other episodes on first broadcast, such as "Skin of Evil" and "Measure of A Man", but it took me a long time to get past the bad taste that "Justice" left in my mouth.

For completeness I suppose I could add that I haven't minded the recent movies, but in general I think that I'm more fond of TV-style storytelling than movie-style storytelling these days. Movies you get a big budget and can only tell a 1.5-3 hour storyline, so it tends to be fairly simplistic, especially if you throw in a lot of big spectacle. Give me a TV series where you can spend hours on plot and character any day.

I'm sure I'll be trying the new Star Trek series that's supposed to be coming out soon. Will I give up on it partway through the first season as I have a tendency to do? I guess I'll have to see if they can avoid that curse this time. It's not encouraging that they're moving back in the timeline again, though.


Mar. 5th, 2017 10:00 pm
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)
I avoided horror movies and books when I was younger.   I had no particular urge to scare myself on purpose; my imagination could conjure up enough monsters hiding in the dark of my bedroom at night, thank you.  And mainly what I knew about Stephen King was that he was a horror writer, so I knew I was going to avoid him.

I can't quite remember which came first.  At some point I received a paperback copy of The Bachman Books, and at some point my mother had a hardcover copy of the unabridged version of The Stand.  I think it was the Bachman Books I read first, having been assured that they weren't horror.  Also, I was a teenager by this point, so maybe I thought I could handle it if they were.  Anyway, I started reading "Rage", the first story/novel/novella/whatever in the book, and was immediately sucked in.  It still sometimes happens to me if I happen to open it up, and now it makes me want to reread it again.  I was similarly, if less extremely, captivated by "The Long Walk", and to a lesser extent "The Running Man".  "Roadwork" was okay, but not really a standout.

And as for The Stand...well, I read that one too, and discovered that it also wasn't really horror but really some sort of science fiction, really, with its bioengineered virus...but there was something else to it, that weird Flagg guy and the way that the forces of good and evil seemed to align themselves, as if there was something supernatural going on as well.  I enjoyed it mightily, but I was still pretty sure that all those other books of his--Cujo, Christine, Carrie (the three C's, as I always thought of them), The Dead Zone, It, Pet Sematary, Firestarter, etc. were all definitely horror and to be avoided.

Oh, yeah, and I guess I did read one of his short stories at some point, "The Monkey", which was in some Fantasy Annual anthology edited by Terry Carr.  Creepy windup monkey toy that killed people.  I supposed that it was technically fantasy, but not the interesting kind, like Tolkien or Piers Anthony or Glen Cook or anything.  And didn't do much to disassociate him with horror in my mind.  I believe I also read The Gunslinger when I was in high school, but I didn't think much of it at the time.

Then I started dating this girl (whom I later married) who was also big into books, and not really into horror, and she encouraged me to read The Dead Zone and Firestarter.  After that I realized that maybe this King guy was okay after all, because I'd pretty much liked everything of his that I'd read.  And so I went on to read everything of his that I could get my hands on.

I always read lots of fantasy & science fiction, which as genres were at least reasonably clear-cut.  It was just a question of how you explained it.  Horror I had trouble with for a while, until I realized that part of what makes the genre is the fact that it's not clear-cut.  In horror, you may not know for a while, if ever, whether or not the killer is doing it because aliens are beaming signals into his brain, or he's possessed by a demon, or because he's just a regular psychopath.  That frustrated me for a while, particular when the explanation was purely mundane (he's just crazy!), but I think I've got a handle on it now.  So I enjoyed some of the more psychological books, like The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and Gerald's Game.

I'm not a fan of the downbeat horror, where the protagonist comes to a bad end, which is more found in his earlier works.  'Salem's Lot, Pet Sematary, The Shining, none of them among my favourites.  And some of the others just seem a little limp, like around the time he was considering retiring--Dreamcatcher, for instance, or From A Buick 8The Talisman didn't really work for me either, but I can blame Peter Straub for that if I have to.

I recently finished up a reread of the Dark Tower series.  I did eventually go on to The Drawing of The Three, in like 2004, when the series was practically done, and after that gobbled up the rest of them.  It's sprawling, it's indulgent (after all, saving the author's life is the goal of the characters at some point, even if they don't personally like him that much), it may even get a little repetitive, but it's great.  It was interesting on reread to note that while I bogged down in the long flashback in Wizard And Glass the first time through, it didn't bother me nearly as much the second time, and instead I found that Wolves of The Calla dragged a bit in the middle.  Those and the Bachman Books are the only books of his that I've reread to this point.

So King had a certain amount of a head start, and he's still churning them out, so I've got my work cut out for me trying to catch up to him.  I've read most of his books up to The Dark Tower, with the exception of Thinner, The Eyes of The Dragon, Dolores Claiborne (though I've seen the movie), Black House (as I mentioned, I wasn't a big fan of The Talisman), and a lot of his earlier collections (Skeleton Crew, Night Shift, and Different Seasons), or Everything's Eventual either.  So I'm getting there.  He seems to produce one or two books a year, and I read about two or three of his books a year, and I'm about 23 books I may not catch up with him before he dies, but maybe before I do.

There have been a lot of movies made from his books and stories, of course, but I haven't seen that many of them.  I did see "Dolores Claiborne", as I mentioned, though I'm not sure I was even really aware it was Stephen King at the time.  I saw "The Stand" TV miniseries, as well as "The Green Mile", and...maybe "The Dead Zone"?  (If I had, it would be the movie with Christopher Walken, not the later TV series with Anthony Michael Hall).  I'm still pretty dubious about horror movies, because the scary visual images are much more likely to torment me than textual ones.   I am curious about "The Shining", though, which seems to have become a classic, and definitely if there's a Dark Tower adaptation...
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)
Man, it seems like just posting about the things I've been worrying about, the darker thoughts in my mind, seems to have made me feel better about it.  Not to downplay any expressions of support and sympathy from my friends, either.  Or the healing properties of humour--I spent over an hour after my post giggling to "Texts From Superheroes".  Or maybe I'm just getting bipolar or something, who knows.

So, for instance, I have been trying to work on my superhero campaign, at least a little bit each day.  I'm still struggling with worldbuilding questions.  I'm mostly familiar with the state of the Marvel Universe in the 80's, but the rest of the family is more familiar with the recent Marvel which do I go with?  I'm leaning towards making it more like the movies, though with some need to go crazy with a ridiculously overpopulated Marvel universe from the start, at least.  Because they're starting out in Edmonton, the biggest question is whether Alpha Flight exists; at the moment I'm thinking not, if only so that they don't get too much subsumed or overshadowed.  Quite frankly, I'm creating most of the heroes and villains out of whole cloth, so if I wanted I could probably toss Supergirl and Dr. Tachyon in there if I wanted to.  After all, I've already decreed that the Faeries that Simon's character has been training with are actually more like the inhabitants of Wonderland.  This is literally the first time I've tried to run a full campaign, after all these years, so it'll be interesting to see what comes of it...if anything.

In my big Marvel Unlimited comics reread, I've reached the end of 1978, on the outer fringes of my original reading.  This would be the time when I wasn't buying comics yet, but my brother was.  I certainly remember the early Star Wars comics; the early Claremont X-Men comics mostly from the later reprints, though I do still have, somewhere, an old tattered copy of X-Men #102.  I also remember having the last comic of the original Korvac saga, Avengers #177.  There's still gaps in the Marvel Unlimited collection--I'm particularly frustrated at the severe lack of Defenders, which I often enjoyed more than the Avengers--but I'm getting a solid foundation in the central titles, at least.  They recently added a bunch of Luke Cage/Power Man and Iron Fist titles, doubtless due to the new series being out, and I enjoyed them a fair bit more than I expected.  Interested to note that Sabretooth seemed to have first been introduced in Claremont's run on Iron Fist, with hints about his relationship to Wolverine that I don't recall being revisited until years later, during the Mutant Massacre.

I've been reading less nonfiction than usual recently, with the comics perhaps taking up the slack.  My "to-read" shelf has gotten larger than usual, with over a hundred things on it, mostly next books in series or authors I wanted to remember to try.  My current reread is the Dark Tower series, into which I inserted the new one, The Wind Through The Keyhole.  Apart from that, my current selection procedure rests on an attempt to keep gender parity between my authors.  My wife and I were comparing our reading lists, and noticing that she reads more female authors than male, while I read more male than female...despite the fact that my to-read shelf is split approximately equally.  So I'm conscientiously trying to keep them 50/50 (apart from my rereads, which will have to average out over the longer term, perhaps).  A lot of the books with female authors on my shelf are urban fantasy, and I'm afraid I may have glutted on that a little bit, so I have to try to spread it out between the other genres.

I did pick up a nonfiction book up recently, Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes, at least partly because it was mentioned on a podcast I was listening to recently, since it was already on my shelf.  I'm sure I bought Vowell's books (I have this one and The Wordy Shipmates) after recognizing her name as the voice actress for Violet in The Incredibles.  I'm not entirely sold on her book yet, though; it's a history of Hawaii from contact with Europeans until, I presume, their becoming part of the United States.  It's not really in my normal wheelhouse, and my atheist nature is a little uncomfortable about the missionaries at the heart of the story, so we'll see how I do with it.  I have some more regular science books sitting around for later...or I may just switch to one of them, since I'm not as strict about maintaining my one-book-at-a-time rule for nonfiction as I am for fiction.

Nicole and I mostly-sorta caught up on TV, managing to finish last year's "Agents of SHIELD" season a few weeks before the new season started.  (Let's ignore the 11 episodes of Season 2 of "Outlander", shall we?)  And we've kept up with the current season, as well as "Big Bang Theory" and the first new show we're trying, "Designated Survivor".  Interesting to see Kiefer Sutherland as someone a bit more mild-mannered than Jack Bauer...but we'll have to see where they go with the plot.  I suspect it will probably lean more towards "24" than "The West Wing", but we can hope that maybe we'll get a little of both...  We're also planning to try "Timeless", and maybe that sitcom with the guy who has a girlfriend in 1775, but I guess we'll see.  We don't want to get too much on our plate, or we'll just ditch the less compelling ones the way we did "The Expanse", "Minority Report" and "Blindspot" last year.  Oh, and "Supergirl" will be starting up again soon, too, and we've been watching that with Luke and Jinian.  With Simon, we're just starting Season 5 of "Buffy" and Season 2 of "Angel".  Still no plans to sign up for Netflix or anything.

On my own watching, I am in Season 4 of my "Babylon 5" rewatch, just having wrapped up the Shadow war and starting on the Earth thing; halfway through the first season of "Glee", which is still keeping me entertained; several episodes into the Eleventh Doctor on "Doctor Who", and not finding it too annoying yet; a few episodes into the first season of "Torchwood", and still trying to figure out if I like it or not; and close to the end of the first season of my rewatch of "Star Trek".  I keep thinking of more movies I want to watch too, either old ones like "The Shining" or "Taxi Driver", just to see what the fuss was about, or newer ones like "Limitless" or "Source Code" that I missed in the theatre.  Plus, who knows, actual newer ones in the theatres someday, maybe?  Seems like there's about three that we want to see that come out in November.

Still listening to several podcasts, too.  I'm trying to keep up with the Night Vale people; I kind of enjoyed their second podcast "Alice Isn't Dead", and their third one, "Within The Wires", is growing on me a little bit.  Those ones, coming out twice a month, are easier for me to keep up with these days than the weekly ones, since my commute isn't all that long, and I like to listen to music sometimes too.  In listening to the "Mission Log" podcast, discussing Star Trek episodes, I was still managing to outpace my Star Trek rewatch, so I decided to try skipping forward to when they started on TNG, since I remember most of those better.  I forgot how dire some of those early episode were, though.  Similarly, I'm still a year behind or so on "Writing Excuses", and I'm not even doing much writing to put any of this stuff into practice.

Still trying to keep up with a bunch of webcomics, too; mostly it's pretty easy.  It's the ones I'm trying to catch up with that are more work.  I finally decided to make a concerted effort to read "Homestuck", which I'm given to believe is actually finished, and also to make a push on the long-running "Schlock Mercenary", so I've been trying to read 20 strips a day for each of them.  The end is in sight, now.  I'd already managed to catch up on "Dr. McNinja", which is apparently winding down too.  At this rate I'm going to need some new long-running webcomic to catch up on, or I won't know what do with those extra minutes of my day...
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)
Reading Wil Wheaton's periodic blogs about "rebooting" his life have led me to thinking about what I'm doing with my life.  Frankly, I'm not altogether that happy with it, but I don't know if I have it in me to "reboot" it.

I frequently find myself sitting in front of my computer in the evening, not knowing what to do.  Quite frankly, at the moment this is because I've grown tired of a lot of the long-term games I used to play--Skyrim and Morrowind, Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV, let alone ones like Space Empires III and Civilization II.  I still limp along with my Sims 2 neighbourhoods, at a fraction of the pace I once managed.

So what do I end up doing on my computer?  I guess I've moved into more "casual" gaming a lot of the time.  Bejeweled 3, Rogue Legacy, solitaire games, Talisman Digital Edition, Sherlock, and Geoguessr.  They are diverting, but I don't get the same sense of accomplishment that I get from the longer games.  Some of the mid-length games that I return to from time to time, like Discworld or Portal 2, may have reached the point of diminishing returns.

Or I'll go to Facebook, then maybe Twitter, read some webcomics, browse Stack Overflow sites, then back to Facebook again, because maybe ten minutes have passed and something interesting will have showed up.  Once in a while I'll even click through on an article.

Or I'll be looking for more music to download, from eMusic (where I still try to use up my 90 downloads a month), or Freegal, or, failing that, sometimes even shelling out on iTunes.  I've got over 45000 music files on my computer, which some part of me thinks of as an accomplishment, but I'm beginning to realize that there's no way that I'll ever get more than a passing familiarity with a lot of what I'm accumulating.  I still don't want to completely lose touch with the current state of music, and become one of those people who never listens to anything that came out after they were 25, but I still only have the most cursory familiar with it.  I try to keep listening to it, hoping some of it will grow on me, but it's probably hopeless by this point.  And yet I can't stop getting more.

Part of me thinks I should be trying to actually accomplish something on the computer instead: writing, for instance.  But I can't muster the enthusiasm to do it.  I've imported a few of my projects into Scrivener, but when I open up a file and actually look at it, to see if I can do something about turning one of my crappy first drafts into a second draft, I can't even think of a place to start.  I did actually try starting something for NaNoWriMo last year, but it bogged down and I gave up on it.  Or I could work on a programming project; I've had a few of those that I've started on, not necessarily for anyone else's use but my own, but who knows, in these days of open-source software...

Part of me thinks I could turn off the computer and do something else.  Like reading, for instance.  My reading rate is much slower than it used to be, even though I'm trying to be pickier with my reading, rereading more of my favourites and reading more by authors that I like.  Books that I bought years ago often languish on the shelves if they don't look like the kind of thing I'll like (though I don't get rid of them, either, another accumulation problem).

Or I could exercise.  I've never been much for exercising, if you don't count that time when I rode my bike everywhere.  That mostly came to an end when I wasn't able to bring my bike with me for the first couple of years I lived in Edmonton, and it was capped off when I did manage to get it into town and it got swiped a few weeks later.  Sometimes I like swimming, too.  I've never really wanted to go to a gym, or play sports, or do pushups, or walk or run.  Of course, the result of that, combined with the fact that I rarely watch my diet too much, is that I'm at about 225 pounds right now (down from my high of 238) and mostly just oscillating up and down from there.

Or...I dunno.  Doing work around the house?  Keeping it clean?  Keeping things repaired?  Not really something I can talk myself into either.  Sometimes the whole entropy of having to just keep cleaning things over and over again makes it seem pointless.

Being social?  Going out in the evenings?  Being in a play or something?  Also seems like too much effort most of the time.  I've done karaoke a few times, and enjoy it mightily every time--I like to sing along with my favourite songs, of which I've accumulated quite a list by this point, and I bask in the compliments that people give me after they've heard me sing.  I could do it more, but it would involve going out and being organized, so I don't do it nearly as much as I'd like.  Plays...the last one I did, back before Simon was born, in the last century, wasn't my favourite experience, and I've just sort of drifted away from it.  Up in Grande Prairie it was a different matter, but down here it just doesn't seem as appealing.  I do go to the occasional friend's party, especially if there are board games involved, but they all get busy and the parties don't come around as much, and I don't make overtures myself.

Part of me almost seems to be feeling like my life is over, that it's selfish of me to do things that only affect my own brain, because that's not going to make the world any better.  What good is it for me to read books and comics and watch TV and movies and not do anything else except consume?  When I'm gone there'll be nothing tangible left to show for any of that.  So all I'm doing is treading water, keeping myself entertained to keep myself from sinking into depression so that I can go back to work, and the only real fulfillment I get out of work is just to have earned enough money to support my family.

I do have the kids, I suppose.  They feel like the only thing I have to offer the world at this point, the only legacy I'm likely to leave behind.  Not like I devote all my time to them, but I like to think I'm not being an awful parent.  I try to be open-minded, not to fill them full of prejudices and fear.  I do yell at them sometimes, so maybe I'm not the most tolerant of when they're being silly and stupid.  I can't handle the homework tasks, because it frustrates me painfully when they can't figure out what they're supposed to do.  But I'm there, I guess.  I think we've managed to successfully turn them all into readers, given them an appreciation of the things we like (you know, board games and computer games and science fiction and fantasy and that kind of stuff).

I'm not going to say much about my job here specifically, because for all I know my boss is going to read this, or some future boss will find it.  I'll just say that I've never found a job yet that I really liked going to, so my favourite jobs are the ones that let me spend the least time working.  I always keep waiting for that windfall to happen--I buy lottery tickets when I'm feeling particularly down, or the jackpot looks particularly enticing, and so far that's working about as well as my knowledge of probability would let me predict...but it gives me the opportunity to dream for a little while.  My wife works hard at her writing, and if there were any fair reward of effort for that, she'd be raking it in, but that doesn't happen either, and I'm sure it's frustrating for both of us.  (That's another reason I can't bring myself to do writing--it just seems so futile in the current publishing market.  Or at least it makes a good excuse.)  I keep reading stories of people recommending Universal Basic Income, hoping that there'll be some indication that something like this is even mildly likely to come about in my lifetime, but I'm not getting my hopes up.  Canadian culture may be a little more socialist than American, but we're still not that much farther from the expectation that you only get what you worked for.

If I didn't have to work, if I stayed home all day, would it be better?  Would I have more energy to do something with my extra time?  Would I maybe go swimming a few times a week, actually fix up one of those broken bicycles in the garage and start riding on it, or at least buy an exercise bike and use it regularly?  Would I start accomplishing something of worth in my time on the computer?  Given what I did in my previous bouts of unemployment, I bet I'd watch more TV and read more books, stuffing more into my brain.

I'm not sure that I believe in midlife crises, but that may be what this is beginning to feel like.  If I believed that somewhere out there was a job that would make me feel more fulfilled, that didn't involve me uprooting my entire life, I'd look for it.  Because, of course, I don't want too much change in my life; nobody does, because one gets too attached to the familiar, however much you may claim that you hate it.  I don't want to take the risk of quitting my job and trying some half-baked scheme that'll leave the family destitute or make my wife feel like she needs to pick up the slack.  I'm certainly not feeling like anything more drastic.

And so, here I am, treading water.
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)
My wife and I finally finished our network TV for the season, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Sleepy Hollow", both of which we'd left on the back burner while finishing off "Game of Thrones" Season 4.  We're willing to go on the next season for both of them; "Sleepy Hollow" is more on the bubble, being a little bit campier, but John Noble's role is supposed to be expanding, so we'll give it a go.  We're also rewatching "Buffy" with my son Simon--only a few episodes in, but he seems to be liking it so far.  For movies, I recently watched "Edge of Tomorrow" in the theatre with my dad, and it was good, and at home we watched "Iron Man" (me for the second time, everyone else for the first, though Jinian decided to go watch "The Pirate Fairy" instead).  We've been watching the recent Marvel Movie batch with the whole family, mostly, except for the Hulk ones, but often not in the right order; we still haven't caught "Winter Soldier" yet.  I foresee "Guardians of the Galaxy" in the future.

I personally have been cycling between three different TV series on my computer--"Doctor Who", "Twin Peaks", and "Babylon 5".  "Doctor Who" I'm starting to try catching up, since I originally stopped watching the new program after having missed two Ecclestons and after only one Tennant.  Now I'm finished Series Two ("The Girl In The Fireplace" being my definite favourite) except for the "Doctor Who Confidential" disc, and Series Three is waiting in the wings.  The other two are rewatches, long overdue; I just finished B5 Season One, and ready to start on Season Two; "Twin Peaks" I'm into the second season, after the Laura Palmer murder is solved, which supposedly is where it jumped the shark.  I haven't rewatched this part as much, for sure, so it'll be an experience.  I also rewatched "Stop Making Sense" on DVD, and then finally got around to watching Laurie Anderson's "Home of The Brave" movie on Youtube; I'd never watched it when it was out, mostly because of one bad review, back when I was more affected by such things.  (To complete my trilogy of music movies, I'm planning on rewatching "The Wall" sometime, too.)

Except that I seem to have an ear infection this week, which makes me less likely to do anything that requires wearing headphones, which I generally do use when watching things on my computer, alas.
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default) offers to tell me what the hit songs were on various of my birthdays.  Though I've long since stopped following the hits, I still confess a certain fascination for charts.  So let's see what we've got...

British charts, 0th birthday: "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" by Middle of The Road.  Interesting...I just rediscovered this song a year or two ago, courtesy of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue--it sounded instantly familiar, and I was compelled to buy it on iTunes out of sheer nostalgia.

American charts, 0th birthday: "It's Too Late" by Carole King.  I'm fond of the "Tapestry" album, but this song was never a standout for me.

British charts, 12th birthday: "Baby Jane" by Rod Stewart.  I don't think that I've even heard this one, but maybe I have.  At this point I was probably still avoiding Rod Stewart because I hated his voice.

American charts, 12th birthday: "Every Breath You Take" by The Police.  This one I definitely recall, which probably isn't that surprising.  My brother was a bit fan of The Police, so I heard a fair bit of them.

British charts, 14th birthday: "Frankie" by Sister Sledge.  Wow.  If possible, I think it's even less likely I heard this one than the Rod Stewart one.

American charts, 14th birthday: "A View To A Kill" by Duran Duran.  Ah, yes, definitely.  I first started getting into music in a big way in the summer of 1984, mostly via Duran Duran, so this was the first new track of theirs to come out after that time.  Just as the band was fragmenting, so this might even be their jump-the-shark moment.

British charts, 16th birthday: "It's A Sin" by Pet Shop Boys.  A big hit of my MuchMusic video-watching years, definitely quite familar, though never quite my favourite either.

American charts, 16th birthday: "Alone" by Heart.  This song is always tied, in my mind, to my high school crush...not to mention my crush on Nancy Wilson.  So, you know, memories, nostalgia...

British charts, 18th birthday: "Back To Life" by Soul II Soul.  I was without cable for a year or two when I was at university, so I have a bit of a gap in my musical awareness, but this was one of the songs I recall from that period.  My friend/roommate Jeremy wasn't that fond of it, though.

American charts, 18th birthday: "Good Thing" by Fine Young Cannibals.  Also not my favourite track of theirs, but I certainly remember it quite well.

British charts, 21st birthday: "Ain't No Doubt" by Jimmy Nail.  I definitely remember this song, though it was years before I got my own copy of it.  I mostly remember Jimmy Nail for singing "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" (I still think of it as principally a Madonna song, though).

American charts, 21st birthday: "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-A-Lot.  I never got that heavily into rap music, and certainly by this time I was actively avoiding it as much as possible.  I don't know if I've ever heard the original of this one, though the Jonathan Coulton cover version is perfectly fine.

Yeah, ages 14-17 were my main immersion in mainstream pop music, as you might be able to tell.  Now it's rare for me to hear a song the year it's released.  I try not to stay stuck in the past, but I don't shun the music of my childhood either...
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)
I'm beginning to hate trade paperbacks.

I mean, I've been buying and reading books for a lot of years now, and the vast majority of those books have always been mass-market paperbacks.  The little ones, you know, the ones that can fit in your pocket, tend to be the cheapest, and can fit in two rows on most bookshelves.  Plus they all tend, with some variation, to be pretty much the same size.  A lot of books, particularly SF & fantasy books, only, or principally, came out in that format.  In the days when I bought most of my books second-hand, that was usually all I looked at, and even now is the principal format for genre books, though that may be changing.  For non-fiction, young adult, and mainstream, they're not quite as dominant, but that's not what I'm talking about here.

Hardcovers are the high-end books, the ones you can't wait for, extra-sturdy and extra-heavy.  For fiction, at least, there are very few authors that we'll shell out for here.  Otherwise, we'll wait a year, or however long it takes for the mass-market paperback release, or get it from the library.

Except that these days, for some books, the mass-market paperback release never comes.  Instead, the trade paperback comes out.  Not as sturdy as the hardcover, and not as compact as the mass-markets, they're like the worst of both worlds.  They're priced kind of in the middle, sometimes only a little more than a mass-market paperback, but sometimes twice as much, or even more.

Now, as I understand it, the advantage of trade paperbacks over mass-market paperbacks, from the publisher's perspective, is an economical one.  Mass-market paperbacks, to be profitable, have to be done in print runs of a certain size, where trade paperbacks can be profitable in smaller print runs.  I'm not clear on whether this is mostly because of the higher price, or something about the size or format or binding which makes them cheaper to print, but that's the information that I have in my brain.

I don't have any issues with small presses using them--I know too many people who have been published by them, or work for them.  Their margins are smaller, their print runs are smaller, so I don't blame them for it.  I'm willing to support them, by paying the extra money if the book I want is from a small press.  Not that, if there happened to be a small-press trade-paperback edition and a large-press mass-market paperback edition of the same book I will shell out for the trade in that case.  But how often does that happen?

No, my issue is with the authors whose books now, somehow, never seem to make it to mass-market.  In some cases I supposes it's the same sort of thing--the author isn't selling well enough for a mass-market printing of their books to profitable, so they elect to do a trade printing instead.  I remember seeing this some years ago for a few new authors, ones whose first book was coming out from a major publisher in hardcover, and then in trade paperback.  Those ones I remember being mostly standalones--Yves Meynard's The Book of Knights and Raphael Carter's The Fortunate Fall, for instance--so maybe this was just a last-ditch attempt to be able to publish standalone books from new authors, instead of always signing them up for a trilogy and hoping it sticks.

It's got to be worse for established authors--someone I've been used to buying in mass-market, often someone who's got a solid (but perhaps small) fanbase, or even a lot of critical acclaim, which is sort of the same thing if most of your fans are critics (or most critics are fans).  I've seen it happen to Steven Brust, and I eventually gave in and started buying him that way.  Stephen R. Donaldson's "Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant" have been stuck in trade paperback for years, so I assume something like that happened to him; I still haven't shelled out for those ones.  (I tend to like Donaldson's work, but the Covenant series generally less so.)  For the more critically acclaimed, China Miéville, after a couple of mass-markets, has seemed to be trade-paperback only, and I'm still peeved that Connie Willis's award-winning Blackout/All Clear are still in trade paperback as well.  Often I will just read them from the library, and then never buy them at all.  (Unless I decide it was good enough to shell out for, like Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora.)

Sometimes books that are in trade paperback have reasonably-priced ebooks (which is how I've started buying Jasper Fforde's Tuesday Next books), but with some of them, like the Donaldsons, they're still priced at more than a mass-market paperback, which still seems like an outrageous amount to pay for an ebook.  So that's not really a viable choice either.

I get that the publishing industry is going through a tough time.  They can't afford to pay authors very much, particularly if their first mass-market trilogy didn't do well.  But, as a reader and consumer, I still hate it when they choose the trade-paperback solution.
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)
We got a new widescreen TV for Christmas, but we didn't really have a place to put it.  We've already got a widescreen in the basement, so obviously it was for upstairs, where we had a bulky old CRT which just barely fit into our home entertainment unit.   My dad had said we should just go out and buy a stand, which I hadn't gotten around to because it was either a) "Boxing Week", b) back to work after Christmas holidays, or c) very very cold.

When I was talking to him this afternoon, I got to thinking about what we would do with the old entertainment centre, and I realized we didn't really have space for it anywhere.  It would be nice to have in the basement, because we need someplace to put the Wii and DVD player and PVR and other stuff which is currently just sitting on the floor, but it won't fit to either side of, or underneath, our existing widescreen, and most of the rest of the wallspace down there is taken up with bookshelves (natch).  So all we could really do with it was get rid of it.  Or was it?

The entertainment centre (unmemorialized in photography, so I guess I'll just to use 1000 words instead) was of course organized around the big central area where the TV went, with glass-doored cupboards to either side; a shelf overtop which was where we kept that TV's PVR and DVD player (and far too much other junk, over time); a slot underneath which may have been intended for a VCR or anything, but which didn't have any hole in the backing to put wires through so we just put other stuff there; and wooden-doored cupboards underneath.  I don't remember if it was originally an Ikea thing, but I definitely recall putting it together.  So...why couldn't we take it apart?

The base of it, with the cupboards and even the silly slot, was all we really needed.  The rest of it looked like it could be removed.  So, in an unusual fit of Saturday afternoon activity, I decided to actually do it.  Many of the pieces were assembled using the method where you screw a bunch of notched metal pegs into some piece(s), stick those pegs into holes in the other piece(s), then put in these "cam" things and tighten them to hold the pegs in place.  I figured I should be able to unscrew the cams and then pull the pegs back out, but I was having trouble getting it to work at first.  I removed the glass doors, then pulled off the little thin backing that had been nailed in place, and finally realized I was unscrewing the cams too far--when I loosened them a bit more, then suddenly things started pulling out easily.

The sides of the side cupboards were actually attached to the base the TV rested on (which I wanted to keep) with Allen-wrench screws; the inner sides had their screws easily accessible via the bottom cupboards, but unfortunately the outer sides were lined up with the bottom cupboard sides, so I actually had to loosen those cams and lift up the base before I could unscrew it.  I hadn't bothered to actually move the old TV (even though I knew I'd have to anyway), but I had to, of course, to lift up the base.

So my idea actually worked, and now I have a somewhat truncated entertainment centre turned into a stand, with a bunch of holes in the top that aren't being used for anything any more.  (No pictures of that, either.  What is this, Instagram?)  After that, it was almost anticlimax to actually unpack the new TV, attach it to the base, plug it in, hook it up to the PVR, and then pretty much have it "just work".  Okay, it took me a couple of minutes to figure out how to set it to use widescreen mode, and set the PVR to use that mode too, and then to get the PVR remote to connect to it, but now it's all set up and now we have an old TV to get rid of.  As an old CRT, it's probably one of those things that should go to the Eco Station, which means it'll probably wait until spring at the current rate, but that's okay.  We've still got a lot of space in the storage room being taken up by empty boxes, which we've been getting rid of slowly since the move (with a brief hiatus when one of our friends needed some for her own move).  Actually, I think the TV's original box is the big one that I've letting the kids play with/in, but I suppose there's no reason we have to deprive them of that, because, you know, box.

Oh, and the TV's a Toshiba, HD, 32 inch.  We're not actually using HD right now--we have no Blu-Ray player, nor do we have a HD PVR.  But it's pretty nice anyway.
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)
1993 was the year I went back to school. I had been working as a research assistant at the Canadian Network for Space Research, helpfully located in the sub-basement of the Biological Sciences building at the University of Alberta, since just after my graduation with a B.Sc. in Physics in 1991 up until the fall of 1992, when funding was cut for the "Network of Centres of Excellence" program that CNSR was part of, and my position disappeared. I spent pretty much the next year unemployed, deciding early in 1993 to go and get a Computing Science degree instead.Here's what I was reading during the first half of that year... )

84 books in the first half of the year--I don't think I managed much more than that in the entire year of 2011.  I guess that's what being unemployed and childless will get you.  Plus books were shorter back then; maybe someday I'll compare page totals and see if that makes recent years look better.

Anyway, the summary stats: By genre, we have 31 science fiction, 28 fantasy, 9 literature, 7 magazines, 2 mystery, 1 horror, and 1 non-fiction and 1 humour that were atypically included in my tally.  5 anthologies of stories by multiple authors, 7 single-author collections, 5 rereads, 2 of my wife's manuscripts, and 7 library books.  Comparing to the just over 6 months of 1992 I posted earlier, that's much fewer literature and library books--a total of 61 books against my "unread books" total.  A whopping 39 of those books, from the beginning of the year, were my Aurora Awards reading, Canadian SF/Fantasy books that had been eligible for the Auroras that year (or were, perhaps, prequels to eligible books if not eligible themselves).  Also includes the beginning of the last gasp of my Piers Anthony reading, something that had dominated my teenage years, and a few of my online reviews.

Hopefully I'll find the time to get to the rest sometime.
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)

"I'm not cutting off my arm," Duke Orland said. )
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Misha entered the final chamber cautiously. )
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"Count Lumus, of--" )
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Sam Manchester's breath came in gasps as he stumbled through the woods. )
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"So this is a Fermat car, is what you're saying?" said Neil Fremont, scratching his head. )
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)
In the spirit of New Year's resolutions and all that, I've got a couple which I'm going to try out.

1. After talking to [ profile] papersky at Pure Speculation last year, and also after spending three freaking weeks slogging my way through Steven Erikson's Toll The Hounds in October, I decided I needed to spend more time reading, or at least get more reading done. In the last two months of 2011 I set myself quotas in an attempt to get every book read in 3-4 days, in keeping with my previously-observed rough average of two books a week. I managed to get up to 81 books by the end of the year (17 of those in November and December, which is about 1/6 of 100 but 21% of what I actually read). So this year I resolve to read at least 100 books.

Just to be clear, because my counting method is a little odd--what I track here is prose fiction books. I track per volume, and not by any other unit, so I would count a standalone novel, a volume in a series, an omnibus, and a separately-published novella each as "one book". Also, I do tend to read a number of graphic novels, comic strip collections, non-fiction books, and other miscellanea--these do not count towards my total. This may seem a little arbitrary, but mostly it's because I maintain two parallel reading streams, one for prose fiction and one for everything else, and the "everything else" tends to be harder to track. I'll pick up one book and read it for a while, and then I may grab another one at the library and read that one, and if I lose interest in a book, it may sit around for months with a bookmark in it, but I could pick it up and finish it again, or just give up on it entirely. Whereas my fiction reading is more linear--I start the book, and I finish it before I start another fiction book.

With my quota, what it amounts to is that I count the pages in the book, decide whether I'm planning to read it in 3, 3.5, or 4 days (or possibly more or less, but I'd generally pair a longer book with a short one), then set myself a number of pages as a goal for that day. If I make those pages early in the day, then I will try to use any remaining reading time on one of my alternate-stream books, or play iPod games, or whatever. This means that I try to avoid doing those other things until I have finished my quota, which is the trickier part. If I can't finish my quota, for whatever reason, without staying up to some ungodly hour, then I try to just adjust my quota for other days, and be more strict with myself. So far it's been working, but I haven't read any outrageously long books under this system...I've got The Way of Kings, The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham, and another few thick-looking books sitting on my to-read shelf, so we'll see how those work out.

Since I am trying to make every third book or so a reread these days, I'm still counting those as well, even if they don't count as "progress" in the sense of reducing the number of unread books I own. (On the other hand, I do sometimes decide not to keep them after rereading them, so it can help that way.) I have another reread of the Harry Potter series planned soon, so with any luck I can match of some of the thinner ones of those with thicker books to read. The other books I read, I try to alternate between newer books and older ones, so it tends to go "reread--newer book--older book--reread" etc. I wouldn't necessarily claim that I'm going to make absolute progress on the number of books I've bought but haven't read yet, but maybe I'll fall behind more slowly...

2. Two of my Livejournal friends have recently taken part in something that at least one of them called WEDAY, "Write Every Day All Year", [ profile] hwrnmnbsol this past year and [ profile] crisper the year before that. I find it inspiring, but considering how many things I am trying to juggle in my spare time already, I don't think I could make it work. Instead, I am planning something on a weekly rather than a daily basis, which I am probably not going to call WEWAY because it doesn't resonate as well for me. I like the way that the French word for "weekly" is "hebdomadaire", so maybe I'll try to incorporate that somehow. Or I could just wimp out and call it A Story A Week or something. Suggestions welcome.

Anyway, these stories will probably be fairly random, probably around 1000 words in length, and probably posted on Saturdays, which will both coincide with the end of the first week of the year, and also alternate fairly well with the Vorkosigan Reread project where I'm posting on Tuesdays. I'll post the stories right here on this Livejournal, in all likelihood. I think I've passed the point where I'm particularly concerned about wasting my first publication by posting stories on the Internet, since I never seem to send stories out to magazines anyway, so I'm just going to be throwing them out there. I'll probably find this resolution a little harder than the reading one--and they might end up at odds with each other--but it's just once a week, I can manage that, right?
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)
Sometime in 1992 (June 18th, to be precise), I decided that I wanted to keep track of what I read. Actually, I'd had the idea a few times in the past, but I'd bogged down in the format to store it in or something. But in 1992, I had this program called Framework II on my second-hand XT 8088 computer, which had a spreadsheet/database mode, and it seemed like the way to do it. I've kept it up since then, in different formats--after I couldn't run FW2 anymore, I just used a text file, until I put it into Microsoft Access, where it still resides. This list is almost completely dedicated to fiction; for some reason, though I've thought of it many times over the years, I have never gotten around to doing an equivalent list for nonfiction reads, even though I spend close to half my time reading non-fiction these days.

So here's the list of what I read in 1992, for anyone who's interested... )
So, despite starting my tally almost halfway through the year, I still got 71 books read in that time, which meant I probably read at least 120 books overall, ten books a month, or so. I don't think I was reading nearly as many nonfiction back then, but there might have been a few. Anyway, let's sum up:

71 books: of those, 22 were from the library, 4 were actually magazines, 3 were my wife's manuscripts, and 6 were rereads, so that's 64 "real" books, and 36 of those, just over half were books that I owned and had not read before--books that "counted" against my quantity of "unread books", which was the count of books that I owned and had not read yet.

Of the non-magazine books, they are surprisingly evenly divided between Fantasy (24), Science Fiction (23) and Mainstream (18). I guess the Mainstream number is the most surprising, because I think of myself as a genre reader. A lot of the calls are kind of hard to make, though--Witch World is set in a fantasy-that-later-turns-into-SF, the Marquez book is sort of "magic realism" but I counted it as Mainstream, and yet Not Wanted On The Voyage I counted as Fantasy. I'm inclined to say that it averages out.

Also, including the magazines, there were 13 anthologies or collections, leaving 58 novels. 24 of those novels were in series--or thereabouts, since it's not always clear when a novel is part of a series. (For instance, Journey To Aprilioth may be in the same world as Songs From The Drowned Lands, but they're not closely related...)

I don't think there was any other I read more than two books by (unless you count the three of my wife's manuscripts)--those authors are Lin Carter, Andre Norton, K.W. Jeter, M.J. Engh, and Robert A. Heinlein. I do usually like to space out reading an author's books, unless I'm doing a series reread, and even then...

That's probably enough dissection. At some point I may get around to doing 1993, or the first half of 1993. Who knows, someday I may even catch up...
alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)
As I mentioned a few months ago, I had started doing a reread of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series, and six months later, it's still going...I'm into the third book, The Warrior's Apprentice (well, the third by some reckonings--chronological, but omitting one earlier book because it's too far back and I'm not as fond of it), and it's pretty exciting. All I need are, well, a few more if you're interested and not reading it, then become a reader of it! Even if you haven't read the books, all you need to do to fix that is to read the books, and you should do that anyway.
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