Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Devil's Interval: a very short review

I missed Linda Lee Peterson's first novel, and instead dove right in with The Devil's Interval

I think that starting with book 2, as it turns out, was Just Fine.

Peterson is quite ambitious, and tries to accomplish a lot, weaving together a complex plot, a lot of local San Francisco atmosphere, and some fairly strong secondary characters.

I think she is at her best when she channels her inner Janet Evanovich, with passages like:

He sat down gingerly on the edge of his chair. "Where's Michael?"

"Out being Father of the Year, where else? Leading his admirable, sainted, patient, kind, generous, self-righteous life," I said. I think I was shouting. I shook the thermos. It was full. "Coffee, and it's hot? Or, do you want tea?"

He waved his hand. "Whatever you're drinking, I guess." He hesitated. "You seem like you're on a roller coaster between manic and depressive, with a hangover holding the whole thing together."

"Right you are," I said grimly.

Peterson needs to develop this, but she's definitely got the skills to pull it off.

Where she struggles, I think, is in her attempt to simultaneously incorporate a harder edge, stirring in some grit and tragedy. It just isn't in her to have her bubbly, energetic, enthusiastic, unstoppable heroine-with-the-two-kids-and-the-suburban-household down in the muck and the mire. This part of The Devil's Interval is clearly heart-felt, but lacks depth and plausibility.

Still, her story moves at an enjoyable pace, and I was never bored or frustrated.

I see that she's now published a third Maggie Fiori novel, perhaps I will give it a try!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

smaze?

There was one clue I couldn't complete in last week's Split Decisions crossword puzzle by Fred Piscop.

It turned out that the missing word was: "smaze".

"Smaze"?

It's in the dictionary, alright.

But I've never heard it, in 57 years.

And the various spellchecking software on my various computers is dubious, and growls at me with little red underlining of this not-so-well-known word.

Perhaps it's new, and now I am on the bleeding edge.

At least on this beautiful Sunday morning the skies are blue and the air is clear and there's not a whiff of smaze to be found.

Happy Mothers Day!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Titles

Marking the end of one of the great political dynasties of my lifetime, Jerry Brown is retiring.

And so, we have an election.

There are 27 registered candidates for the June 5 primary election for Governor of California.

California, if you weren't already aware of this, is where 1 of every 7 Americans lives, and is now the 5th largest economy in the world.

So, um, it's actually an important election.

Anyway, one of the aspects of running for Governor of California is that, on the ballot, you get to list your "title".

Just as with job titles at many of the companies I've worked at recently, you can pick your own title when you get your listing on the ballot.

A few of the titles that are listed are pretty mainstream and as you would expect:

  • California State Treasurer (John Chiang)
  • Lieutenant Governor (Gavin Newsom)
  • California Assemblyman (Travis Allen)
  • COO, Justice Department (Amanda Renteria)

But, um, there are a few others.

Here are a sampling of the job titles of some of the other candidates:

  • Marketplace Minister
  • Graphic Artist
  • (none)
  • Entrepreneur/Economist/Father
  • Virtual Reality Manager
  • Mathematician
  • Senior Software Engineer
  • Transhumanist Lecturer
  • Puppeteer
  • Blockchain Startup CEO

Ah yes, California.

This sort of thing actually happens happens quite commonly around these parts

And, usually, it seems to turn out OK.

So we will see.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Song of the Lion: a very short review

Anne Hillerman continues her series of Navajo Police novels with Song of the Lion.

After what I thought was a somewhat weak second effort, I had some concerns approaching Song of the Lion.

Overall, Song of the Lion benefits from better plotting, smoother story-telling, and improved pacing.

Most importantly, with Song of the Lion, Hillerman succeeds by evoking the sense of place that is so much a part of these novels: the wide open spaces, the mountains and rivers and plants and animals, the spirits and traditions, the tens of thousands of years that have made the Great South-West what it is.

The drive worked its magic. The morning sun brought the landscape to life -- iron reds, subtle grays, warm browns. She passed the country she'd seen with Palmer, the dinosaur walkway, and rolled across the bridge over the Little Colorado River, the place where, after miles of meandering, the river begins to make its rock-rimmed descent to the canyon's ancient floor.

It is wise of Hillerman to recognize from where the strength and beauty of these stories springs, and to return to it time and again.

However, I could wish that she was working harder to develop her technical writing skills. All too often, her dialogue and descriptions are a bit flat, a bit bland, a bit ordinary.

Lee put his hat back on, making it easier to talk with both hands. "He wants me to do some contracting work if the project is approved and told me about the big powwow here. I'd never met him in the flesh. So I figured I'd mosey on out here and say hello. I wanted to find out about the hubbub over the hotel, or resort, or whatever the heck the plan is before I sign on to work with him."

Possibly the problem is that her stories are a bit over-stuffed: she always has a broad cast of characters, with various sub-plots, incidental encounters, and unrelated episodes filling the novel. This was true of her father's novels too, with rather the same result: sometimes you feel like you are just driving through these novels at highway speed, enjoying the view, but not really stopping to savor the individual details.

Whatever, I really can't complain. Song of the Lion is a lovely novel, I enjoyed reading it, and I hope Hillerman writes many more.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Derby 10.14.2.0 released!

It's been a while since I've written much about Derby; it's been pretty quiet.

But over the spring, we completed another release!

This was a patch release, with fixes for CVE-2018-1313.

More details here and here.

It's interesting to be on the "inside" of a vulnerability disclosure, even if this one wasn't tremendously high-pressure. Apache have a well-documented process for handling vulnerability reports, and the Apache Security team, as well as our correspondent Grégory Draperi, were extremely helpful and informative throughout.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Legacies

I was talking about the relatively new-ish notion of "Legacy Games," such as the enormously popular Pandemic: Legacy, or the newer (but maybe even hotter), Gloomhaven.

"I know what a legacy game is!" the conversation went, continuing, "it's a game that nobody plays anymore, like Myst."

Indeed, there is an Old Joke around Old Programmer Circles, that goes something like this:

What is the definition of legacy software?

It's software that works.

(The joke being, at least partly, that once a program finally starts to work and does something useful, nobody wants to change it anymore; they just want to keep running it, so it can do its job.)

A legacy board game, however, aims for a different interpretation of "legacy".

In a game like Pandemic: Legacy, or Gloomhaven, when a player character progresses through the game, the game is fundamentally changed by the passage of the character. Paths once taken, cannot be taken again. Events that occurred before, shall not happen afterwards.

Mechanically, the games accomplish this by simple measures: pieces are removed from the game; the game board is altered; new pieces are introduced; rules are altered in minor, but meaningful ways.

It's a beautiful use of the word "legacy," and reclaims it, I think, from those snarky computer programming types, with their bitter insinuation that the old is to be discarded, ignored, forgotten, consigned to the category of "boring: it works."

Instead, "legacy" is properly restored to its original, better meaning: "that which you changed, because you were there."

I've been thinking about legacies a fair amount recently, as I've reached That Age, the point where people that you strongly identify with start to disappear from your life, in a permanent way.

And it seems to me that a person's legacy is a beautiful thing.

We don't just exist; we don't just occupy space. We act, we alter, we influence, we engage, we cause.

The future, whatever it may be, is different, because It Came After Us.

It may be good, it may be bad (oh, let us, surely, strive for the good, whenever we can, hard though that is!).

But, one way or another, each of us leaves a legacy.

And I applaud the creators of games like Pandemic: Legacy and Gloomhaven for restoring "legacy" to its rightful place of honor.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Magpie Murders: a very short review

Magpie Murders is by Anthony Horowitz, who is not well known to me as an author, although apparently his young adult "Alex Rider" series is tremendously popular.

However, as a screenwriter, he wrote the beyond-wonderful Foyle's War, which by itself would be the accomplishment of a lifetime.

(And before that he adapted Caroline Graham's Inspector Graham series into Midsomer Murders! What a resume!)

Magpie Murders is a delightfully-executed showpiece of a murder mystery. Its hook is that it's a book-within-a-book, in which our heroine is the editor at a small independent press which publishes a series of cottage mysteries set in rural 1950's England. She has just received the latest in the series, Magpie Murders, only to discover that it is the last, for the detective Atticus Pund has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Only then it turns out that the author of these mysteries is himself rather a mystery; soon there is plot and intrigue both within and without the book, as our heroine tries to figure out what clues the book itself reveals about its author and his circumstances.

Without giving too much away, it turns out that our (fictional) author, who has become quite wealthy by making a career of writing murder mysteries, fancies himself a author of serious talents, and is disappointed that his attempts to write "literature" have been unsuccessful. Perhaps this is actually a book-within-a-book-within-a-book?

Along the way there are twists and turns, there are a delightful cast of characters both within the murder mystery and without, and there are entertaining sequences both in England of the 1950's as well as in England of present times.

And, this being an English murder mystery, there is wordplay, there are artifices, and, of course, there are castles, moats, and a vicar with a squeaky bicycle.

The endings, both of the book, and of the book, are quite cleverly arranged and delivered, and are very satisfying.

It's all truly delightful, even if it does seem rather like something you should be enjoying with your blueberry scones, clotted cream, and a nice pot of Earl Grey.

Recently my thriller diet has been considerably more gritty; mild disputations between the groundskeeper and the assistant at the surgeon's office are a fair bit afield.

Still, Horowitz is an author of tremendous skill, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.