You just can't go wrong with a book like this. In-depth, respectful, and great in the same ways the other books by Borg are -- and with N. T. Wright'sYou just can't go wrong with a book like this. In-depth, respectful, and great in the same ways the other books by Borg are -- and with N. T. Wright's perspective as well. I found it as enlightening as I had hoped....more
An interesting read, in the style of the old philosophical dialogues. Three characters: a religious traditionalist, philosophical (but not religious)An interesting read, in the style of the old philosophical dialogues. Three characters: a religious traditionalist, philosophical (but not religious) skeptic, and religious anthropomorphist discuss the nature of God and the universe. Lots of food for thought, which I really ought to write about sometime.
[ I read the Jonathan Bennett edition at earlymoderntexts.com :] ...more
Wow. The ending of this book blew me away. We all know we are reading epic fantasy here, but Robert Jordan is truly the king of wrapping up a book. YeWow. The ending of this book blew me away. We all know we are reading epic fantasy here, but Robert Jordan is truly the king of wrapping up a book. Yes, as reading it, you get some hints about what will happen -- but the finale is so brilliantly executed, and so very personal. I felt like I was there, witnessing it, reading of the accounts of the locals that witnessed it too. If Jordan were describing me reading it, I'm sure I'd be described as wide-eyed, shaking as if I were an Ogier with ears to twitch. It is hard to describe how awesome the finale is without spoilers, so I will just leave it at that.
Like The Eye of the World (the first in this series), this book is long, and over-long at places. But it was better about that than the first book. Some things become more clear in this, and others significantly more gray; and I think I can safely say that both these descriptions apply to every main character as well as the entire Aes Sedai. This adds an extra level of depth to the story, and an extra level of engagement.
I read in my spare time, which isn't a lot, and it took me about 16 days to read this book. And I read it immediately after finishing Eye of the World, which I did in 8 days. As I was in the middle of it, I was saying to myself that I really have to stop reading this series for awhile before I get burnt out. But now... would it be too geeky to say it feels as if the Wheel is urgently weaving my way towards book three?...more
A few dud universes can really clutter up your basement.
- Neal Stephenson, "In The Beginning. . . was the Command Line"
What a fun read. It's about tec
A few dud universes can really clutter up your basement.
- Neal Stephenson, "In The Beginning. . . was the Command Line"
What a fun read. It's about technology, sure, but more about culture. Neal takes a good look at operating systems, why we get emotionally involved with them, and why Windows is still so popular. He does this with a grand detour to Disneyland, and a hefty dose of humor. The above quote was from near the end of the book, where he imagines hackers creating big bangs from the command line.
He starts out the book from some anecdotes from the early 1970s, when he had his first computer class in high school. His school didn't have a computer, but they did have a teletype (the physical kind that used paper) with a modem link to some university's system. But time on that system was so expensive that they couldn't just dial in and run things interactively. The teletype had a paper tape device. You'd type your commands in advance, and it would punch them out on the tape. Then when you dial in, it would replay the tape at "high speed".
Neal liked this because the stuff punched out of the tape were, actually, "bits" in both the literal and the mathematical sense. This, of course, led to a scene at the end of the schoolyear where a classmate dumped the bin of bits on the teacher, and Neal witnessed megabytes falling to the floor.
Although the book was written in 1999, and needs an update in some ways, it still speaks with a strong voice today -- and is now also an interesting look at what computing was like 10 years ago.
He had an analogy of car dealerships to operating systems. Microsoft had the big shiny dealership selling station wagons. Their image was all wrapped up in people feeling good about their purchase -- like they got something for their money. And he said that the Linux folks were selling tanks, illustrated with this exchange:
Hacker with bullhorn: "Save your money! Accept one of our free tanks! It is invulnerable, and can drive across rocks and swamps at ninety miles an hour while getting a hundred miles to the gallon!"
Prospective station wagon buyer: "I know what you say is true...but...er...I don't know how to maintain a tank!"
Bullhorn: "You don't know how to maintain a station wagon either!"
Buyer: "But this dealership has mechanics on staff. If something goes wrong with my station wagon, I can take a day off work, bring it here, and pay them to work on it while I sit in the waiting room for hours, listening to elevator music."
Bullhorn: "But if you accept one of our free tanks we will send volunteers to your house to fix it for free while you sleep!"
Buyer: "Stay away from my house, you freak!"
Buyer: "Can't you see that everyone is buying station wagons?"
That doesn't mean that Stephenson is just a Linux apologetic. He points out that the CLI has its place, and has a true love-hate relationship with the text-based config files (remember XF86Config before the days of automatic modelines? Back when you had to get out a calculator and work some things out with pencil and paper, or else risk burning out your monitor?) He points out that some people want to just have the thing work reasonably well. They don't want control -- in fact, would gladly give it up if offered something reasonably pretty and reasonably functional.
He speaks to running Linux at times:
Sometimes when you finish working with a program and shut it down, you find that it has left behind a series of mild warnings and low-grade error messages in the command-line interface window from which you launched it. As if the software were chatting to you about how it was doing the whole time you were working with it.
Even if the application is imploding like a damaged submarine, it can still usually eke out a little S.O.S. message.
Or about booting Linux the first time, and noticing all sorts of cryptic messages on the console:
This is slightly alarming the first time you see it, but completely harmless.
I use emacs, which might be thought of as a thermonuclear word processor. . .
Microsoft Word, were devoted to features like mail merge, and the ability to embed feature-length motion pictures in corporate memoranda, were, in the case of emacs, focused with maniacal intensity on the deceptively simple-seeming problem of editing text. If you are a professional writer--i.e., if someone else is getting paid to worry about how your words are formatted and printed--emacs outshines all other editing software in approximately the same way that the noonday sun does the stars. It is not just bigger and brighter; it simply makes everything else vanish. For page layout and printing you can use TeX: a vast corpus of typesetting lore written in C and also available on the Net for free.
I love these vivid descriptions: programs secretly chatting with us, TeX being a "corpus of typesetting lore" rather than a program. Or how about this one: "Unix. . . is not so much a product as it is a painstakingly compiled oral history of the hacker subculture. It is our Gilgamesh epic." Yes, my operating system is an oral history project, thankyouverymuch.
The book feels like a weird (but well-executed and well-written) cross between Douglas Adams and Cory Doctorow. Which makes is so indescribably awesome that I can't help but ending this review with a few more quotes.
Because Linux is not commercial--because it is, in fact, free, as well as rather difficult to obtain, install, and operate--it does not have to maintain any pretensions as to its reliability. Consequently, it is much more reliable.
what really sold me on it [Debian:] was its phenomenal bug database (http://www.debian.org/Bugs), which is a sort of interactive Doomsday Book of error, fallibility, and redemption.
It is simplicity itself. When had a problem with Debian in early January of 1997, I sent in a message describing the problem to email@example.com. My problem was promptly assigned a bug report number (#6518) and a severity level (the available choices being critical, grave, important, normal, fixed, and wishlist) and forwarded to mailing lists where Debian people hang out.
That should be our new slogan for bugs.debian.org: "Debian's interactive Doomsday Book of error, fallibility, and redemption."
Unix is hard to learn. The process of learning it is one of multiple small epiphanies. Typically you are just on the verge of inventing some necessary tool or utility when you realize that someone else has already invented it, and built it in, and this explains some odd file or directory or command that you have noticed but never really understood before.
I've been THERE countless times.
Note the obsessive use of abbreviations and avoidance of capital letters; this is a system invented by people to whom repetitive stress disorder is what black lung is to miners. Long names get worn down to three-letter nubbins, like stones smoothed by a river.
It is obvious, to everyone outside of the United States, that our arch-buzzwords, multiculturalism and diversity, are false fronts that are being used (in many cases unwittingly) to conceal a global trend to eradicate cultural differences. The basic tenet of multiculturalism (or "honoring diversity" or whatever you want to call it) is that people need to stop judging each other-to stop asserting (and, eventually, to stop believing ) that this is right and that is wrong, this true and that false, one thing ugly and another thing beautiful, that God exists and has this or that set of qualities.
The stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments carved in immutable stone--the original command-line interface
Apparently this actually works to some degree, for police in many lands are now complaining that local arrestees are insisting on having their Miranda rights read to them, just like perps in American TV cop shows. When it's explained to them that they are in a different country, where those rights do not exist, they become outraged. Starsky and Hutch reruns, dubbed into diverse languages, may turn out, in the long run, to be a greater force for human rights than the Declaration of Independence.
Unix has always lurked provocatively in the background of the operating system wars, like the Russian Army.
I had followed the Twitter feed for awhile, and enjoyed it. This book is more than just snippets from Twitter. It has longer stories, and was a lot ofI had followed the Twitter feed for awhile, and enjoyed it. This book is more than just snippets from Twitter. It has longer stories, and was a lot of fun to read. Funniest thing 'I've read in quite awhile....more
“Lord of the Morning,” he said, “I have come for you.”
On the island, the air shimmered and coalesced. The black-clad man stood staring at the fiery mountain rising out of the plain. His face twisted in rage and contempt. “You cannot escape so easily, Dragon. It is not done between us. It will not be done until the end of time.”
Then he was gone, and the mountain and the island stood alone. Waiting.
And then, as often, Robert Jordan began books citing some of the prophecy he invented:
And it came to pass in those days, as it had come before and would come again, that the Dark lay heavy on the land and weighed down the hearts of men, and the green things failed, and hope died. And men cried out to the Creator, saying, O Light of the Heavens, Light of the World, let the Promised One be born of the mountain, according to the prophecies, as he was in ages past and will be in ages to come. Let the Prince of the Morning sing to the land that green things will grow and the valleys give forth lambs. Let the arm of the Lord of the Dawn shelter us from the Dark, and the great sword of justice defend us. Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.
—from Charal Drianaan to Calamon,
The Cycle of the Dragon.
Author unknown, the Fourth Age
And then, the grand opening to each of the books in the 11,000-page series, something like this:
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
Born below the ever cloud-capped peaks that gave the mountains their name, the wind blew east, out across the Sand Hills, once the shore of a great ocean, before the Breaking of the World. Down it flailed into the Two Rivers, into the tangled forest called the Westwood, and beat at two men walking with a cart and horse down the rock-strewn track called the Quarry Road.
And yesterday, 11,000 pages later, I have completed the series. Really, how could I have put down a book with such a majestic beginning as that? It hinted at the epic that was to come, the amazing literature I was going to read. I didn’t read it straight through; I enjoyed books like War and Peace along the way. But what a trip the Wheel of Time series was. The characters were so detailed, so deep, the setting so elaborate, the plots so grand and also so small — everyone from servants to queens were well-represented in the books. Not every section was a page-turner; in fact, around the 4th or 5th book, the series started to plod for a thousand pages or two, reading more like a history book than a novel. Sometimes the prejudices and stereotypes of the characters, particularly the sexism that both the men and women displayed, were frustrating to read. I never quite figured out of this was brilliant writing (making the reader feel frustrated at the plodding pace of the book when it was describing characters being frustrated at the plodding pace of events), or if it could have been trimmed down by 2/3 in some places.
But really, the number of brilliant endings, laugh-out-loud situations, and page-turning suspense that somehow managed to build over hundreds, and then even thousands of pages, outweighed the flaws.
Politics is a foggy mire full of snakes.
- The Eye of the World
“Ah.” Furlan washed his hands in one direction, then rubbed them in the other. “Ah. Forgive me, Master Andra, but Lady Alys is a fierce sounding woman.”
“Only with those who displease her,” Lan said blandly. “Her bite is far worse than her bark.”
“Ah. Ah. Ah. Your rooms are this way. . .”
- The Dragon Reborn
One of the marks of truly good writing is that I leave a book or series with a sense of sadness or nostalgia, leaving characters that seem almost like friends. I felt that after finishing the last book in the series, A Memory of Light. The ending was deep, and satisfying, but ultimately left me wanting even more — even more than 11,000 pages, somehow.
“Elienda and Briain woke from the dream.” She might have been speaking of the weather rather than two deaths among women she knew. “We all must wake eventually.”
- Knife of Dreams
I was often touched by the way the Aiel referred to each other. A desert people, their fond farewall was “may you always find water and shade.” A fitting metaphor for anyone’s life, I think. And they referred to their spouse as “shade of my heart.”
Jordan touched on quite a few themes of religion and philosophy. In that quote above, he has the Aiel referring to death as waking from a dream. An intriguing metaphor, isn’t it? He even writes conflicts of philosophy, religion, and culture into the series.
I was particularly impressed with his treatment of theodicy and the problem of evil (the argument and religious response relating to the presence of evil in the world in the face of a loving God.) It is the most impressive treatment I have seen in fiction, and does a better job of advancing the theodistic argument than many philosophers have, I suspect. It is hard to really go into that one here because of the length and potential for spoilers.
I can, however, comment on his treatment of existential nihilism — the theory that life and the universe is without meaning, and the sometimes-related comment that “what does anything matter then anyway?” Here are a couple of quotes:
“In Maradon, I saw what had been done to men who followed me. I saw Light in them, Min. Defying the Dark One no matter the length of his shadow. We will live, that defiance said. We will love and we will hope. And I saw him trying so hard to destroy that. He knows that if he could break them, it would mean something. Something much more than Maradon. Breaking the spirit of men…he thirsts for that. He struck far harder than he otherwise would have because he wanted to break my spirit.” His voice grew softer and he opened his eyes, looking down at her. “And so I stood against him.”
- Towers of Midnight
“What if I think it’s all meaningless?” he demanded with the loud voice of a king. “What if I don’t want it to keep turning? We live our lives by the blood of others! And those others become forgotten. What good is it if everything we know will fade? Great deeds or great tragedies, neither means anything! They will become legends, then those legends will be forgotten, then it will all start over again!”
Why? Rand thought with wonder. Because each time we live, we get to love again.
It felt relaxing to stare out at that distant light, so welcoming and noble. “Storms will soon come,” it seemed to say. “But for now, I am here.” I am here.
- The Gathering Storm
I unfortunately can’t put in in its proper context due to spoilers, but it is a pivotal turning point in the series, relating to the preservation of the world. By giving what we might normally call a characteristic or behavior — evil — an almost-human voice and character, it can be discussed in interesting ways.
We are always more afraid than we wish to be, but we can always be braver than we expect. Hold on to your heart, and the Aes Sedai cannot harm what is really you, your heart. They are not nearly so far above us as we believed. May you always find water and shade, Egwene. And always remember your heart.”
- Lord of Chaos
“Eben is dead. Would you want to forget your pain if you lost that hulking giant of yours? Have your feelings for him cut away like some spoiled chunk of flesh in an otherwise good roast?”
- The Gathering Storm
These quotes are examples of characters in the series dealing with difficult situations. In one, a character is yelled at for offering to use her special powers to numb the pain of another person over a death. It brings up a question that those of us that have known pain might find interesting: would we really have wanted our pain erased? And suggests perhaps not. That there is a benefit to it. That we get through it by embracing it — by embracing it while still being true to our heart.
He had four rules concerning action and information. Never make a plan without knowing as much as you can of the enemy. Never be afraid to change your plans when you receive new information. Never believe you know everything. And never wait to know everything.
- Lord of Chaos
Sometimes the series treats us to logical thinkers, whether they are generals or innkeepers, and gives us little tidbits like this one.
Androl brushed off his hands, smiling. Children were so adaptable. Before them, centuries of tradition, terror and superstition could melt away like butter left too long in the sun.
- Towers of Midnight
And sometimes, things to chew over. Isn’t that an interesting comment on prejudice? Children aren’t born prejudiced; we can see how easily they make friends with anyone. It is sad that we teach them to be, isn’t it?
Wheel of Time is a fine story, expertly woven. But it is not just a story. It is true, in the sense that it illuminates truths, just like Romeo and Juliet can. In it, I see lessons and echoes of the civil rights era, comments on what makes good leaders, characters wrestling with decisions without adequate data, people putting on a mask of emotions, sacrifice, and the overall theme of the entire series: the power of love and compassion.
The inspiration of the series for me — well, it is there, but it may take a few more days to figure it out. I think it has something to do with this: “The wind rose high and free, to soar in an open sky with no clouds.”
I started to write this review last night, and went looking for Wil Wheaton's blog, where many of the stories came from, so I can link to it from my rI started to write this review last night, and went looking for Wil Wheaton's blog, where many of the stories came from, so I can link to it from my review.
It was getting late, I was tired, and so I was a bit disoriented for a few seconds when I saw my own words flash up on the screen. At the time, his most recent story had excerpted my review of paper books. Wow, I thought. This never happens when I'm about to review Dickens. And actually, it's never happened before, ever. I'll admit to owning a big grin when I saw that one of my favorite authors liked one of my blog posts.
And Wil Wheaton is one of my favorite authors for sure. I enjoy reading others too, of course, but Wil's writing is something I can really identify with like no other. My parents were never in a London debtor's prison like Dickens' were; I was never a promising medical student like A. C. Doyle. But I was, and am, a geek, and Wil Wheaton captures that more perfectly than anyone. After I read Just a Geek a few years ago, I gave it to my wife to read, claiming it would help her understand me better. I think it did.
In The Happiest Days of Our Lives, Wil recounts memories of his childhood, and of more recent days. He talks of flashbacks to his elementary school days, when he and his classmates tried to have the coolest Star Wars action figures (for me: calculator watches). Or how his aunt introduced him to D&D, which reminded me of how my uncle got me interested in computers. Teaching himself D&D was an escape for the geeky kid that wasn't good at sports, as teaching myself Pascal and C was for me. Between us, the names and activities are different, but the story is the same.
I particularly appreciated Wil's reflections on his teenage years. Like him, at that age, I often found myself as the youngest person in a room full of adults. Yet I was still a teenager, and like any teenager, did some things that I look back on with some embarrassment now. Wil was completely honest with himself -- he admitted crashing a golf cart on the Paramount studio lot, for instance, but also reminds me that he was a teenager then. He recognizes that he didn't always make the best choices and wasn't always successful with what he did, but isn't ashamed of himself either. That's helpful for me to remember; I shouldn't be unreasonably harsh on my 16-year-old self, and need to remember that I had to be a teenager too.
I also identify with him as a dad. He wrote of counting the days until he could teach his boys about D&D, about passing on being a geek to his sons. I've had a similar excitement about being able to help Jacob build his first computer. Already Jacob, who is 3, loves using the manual typewriter I cleaned up for him, and spent an hour using the adding machine I dug out on Sunday while I was watching the boys. (I regret that I didn't have time to take it apart and show him how it worked right then when he asked). And perhaps his 2nd-favorite present of Christmas was the $3.50 large-button calculator with solar cell power I got him as an impulse buy at the pharmacy the other day. He is particularly enamored with the square root button because a single press replaces all the numbers on the screen with completely different numbers!
I can't find the exact passage now, but Wil wrote at one point about his transition from a career in acting to a career in writing. He said that he likes the feeling he gets when his writing can touch people. He's been able to redefine himself not as a guy that "used to be an actor on Star Trek" but a person that is a good author, now. I agree, and think his best work has been done with a keyboard instead of a camera.
And that leaves me wondering where my career will take me. Yes, I'm an author, but of technical books. Authors of technical books rarely touch people's hearts. There's a reason we read Shakespeare and Dickens in literature classes, but no high school English teacher has ever assigned Newton's Opticks, despite its incredible importance to the world. Newton revolutionized science, mathematics, and philosophy, but Opticks doesn't speak to the modern heart like Romeo and Jiuliet still does. Generations of people have learned more about the world from Shakespeare than from Newton.
I don't have Wil's gift for writing such touching stories. I've only been able to even approach that sort of thing once or twice, and it certainly won't make a career for me.
Like Wil, I'm rarely the youngest person in the room anymore. His days of being a famous teenage actor on a scifi series are long gone, as are mine of single-handedly defeating entire teams at jr. high programming contests. (OK, that's a stretch, but at the time it sure felt exciting.) But unlike him, I'm not completely content with my niche yet. I blog about being a geek in rural Kansas, where there still aren't many. I'm a dad, with an incredible family. And I write about programming, volunteer for Debian and a few other causes, and have a surprisingly satisfying job working for a company that builds lawn mowers. And yet, I have this unshakable feeling of unsettledness. That I need to stop and think more about what I really want to do with my life, perhaps cultivate some talents I don't yet have, or perhaps find a way to make my current path more meaningful.
So I will take Wil's book as a challenge, to all those that were once sure of what their lives would look like, and are less sure with each passing year: take a chance, and make it yours.
And on that score, perhaps I've done more than I had realized at first. Terah and I took a big chance moving to Kansas, and another one when we bought my grandparents' run-down house to fix up and live in. Perhaps it's not a bad idea to pause every few years and ask the question: "Do I still like the direction I'm heading? Can I change it?"
Wil Wheaton gives me lots to think about, in the form of easy-to-read reflections on his own life. I heartily recommend both Just a Geek and The Happiest Days of Our Lives.
(And that has nothing to do with the fact that the Ubuntu machine he used to write the book probably had installed on it a few pieces of code that I wrote, I promise you.)
If I think back to fond memories of being with my dad during my childhood, there’s one thing that always comes back first. It’s those late summer evenIf I think back to fond memories of being with my dad during my childhood, there’s one thing that always comes back first. It’s those late summer evenings outside. Dad often had outdoor projects going on of some sort. I’d go out there hanging around, maybe chatting, maybe playing with cats, or maybe doing something of my own.
Dad often had an old AM radio sitting around and would be listening to a baseball game while working. As it got darker, lights would come on, and the bugs would start flying near them. Sometimes dad would be working just inside the barn, and the bugs would start flying in there, while some light poured out the big front door. There’s something about that scratchy AM signal, the evening slowly getting darker, the slow pace of the baseball game, and just being around dad and a peripheral part of whatever he was doing that stirs a wonderfully fond recollection in me.
I don’t remember the specifics of any one of those times, nor do I really remember how often it happened, but it does stick with me.
We’ve had a routine in our house, starting early enough that neither of our boys know anything different, where right before bed, I read a book and sing a song to each of them individually.
Last November, I was looking for some books to challenge Jacob a little more than what we had been reading. I found The Complete Winnie the Pooh used for $4 on Amazon. This contains the original A. A. Milne stories, not the Disney series. It had a few line drawings, but there were many pages without any. It’s 352 pages and written in a rather dated form of British English. So for all these reasons, I wasn’t sure if Jacob would like it. But it was $4 so I bought it.
And Jacob was hooked. Each evening, we start bedtime with looking at the “map” of the 100-acre forest, just inside the cover. He gets to pick out 4 things for me to describe, and then we turn to our story. We usually read somewhere between 2 and 5 pages at bedtime, depending on how well he got ready without wasting time. And then we sing.
A. A. Milne has his Pooh character make up songs throughout the book. They are printed with words only, no tune, so I make up a tune for them as we go. Jacob has taken to requesting these songs for his bedtime song as well.
Jacob always gets to choose his bedtime story, and sometimes he chooses a different one — but about 75% of the time, it’s been Pooh.
A few weeks ago, he started noticing that we were almost to the end. He got very concerned, asking what we’d do next. I suggested a different book, which he didn’t like. Then I pointed out that we could restart the Pooh stories from the beginning, which was exciting for him.
Last night, we finished the book. The very last story was an interesting one, suggesting Christopher Robin growing up and no longer having imaginary adventures with the animals, but making Pooh promise to always be there for him. I don’t think Jacob caught onto that meaning, though. When we finished it, we had this conversation:
Jacob: “Dad, is that the end?”
Jacob, getting a big smile: “Yay! So can we start back at the beginning tomorrow?”
Jacob then gave a clap, shouted “Yay!” again, and was a very happy boy.
Sometimes I wonder what our boys will remember in 25 years of their fun times with me. I don’t know if Jacob will remember all the days reading about the animals in the 100-acre wood when he was 4, or maybe he’ll remember watching train and combine videos, or playing radio hide-and-seek, or maybe something entirely different.
But I have no doubt that I will remember sitting on the couch in his room, holding him on my lap, and reading a 350-page book to a loving 4-year-old. As Pooh aptly put it, “Sometimes, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”