Thursday, March 26, 2015

Unseen Academicals

Unseen Academicals (Discworld, #37; Rincewind #8)Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It pains me to give a Discworld novel a less than stellar rating, but I found this one lacking in some way. It started out promisingly -- the wizards at Unseen University find that in order to keep a sizable endowment, they must play a game of commoner "football," or as it is known, "foot the ball." They are aghast, but are more aghast at the thought of their losing any of their nine meals a day, so they begin to form a team led by Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully. Meanwhile, Lord Vetinari, the city's benevolent tyrant, has decided he wants to control this game, forming leagues and handing out gold looking trophies and he wants the wizards to lead the way. Promising start, yes?

Unfortunately, it's all ruined by a Romeo and Juliet love story between Trev and Jewels, two new characters. We also meet Glenda, a forceful cook in charge of UU's Night Kitchen and Mister Nutt, a goblin (who later turns into an orc) who is adept at pretty much anything. Trev takes Nutt to his first football match, where the crowd does "the Shove," and where the wizards are in search of pie, and Nutt is really taken with it. So much so, that he grabs the ball and scores the game winning goal.

Somehow it comes to the wizards' attention that Nutt has some skills, so they make him coach of the team. They ask Trev to join, as he's the son of a late, great football player, but Trev declines, saying something along the lines of "I promised me old mum" he'd never play. This is repeated so freakin' often, Pratchett pretty much beats the reader to death with it. It gets old very quickly. And of course, you know Trev ends up playing. Duh.

So Jewels becomes a fashion model for dwarves and becomes quite famous and in demand. Glenda acts as her manager. Nutt seems to develop a thing for Glenda, which is odd because one traditionally doesn't think of "things" happening between goblins and humans. But Glenda feels her heartstrings being tugged at for the first time in her life and she loves it.

I guess my main complaint is, the book really isn't so much about foot the ball as it is about Nutt and his relationships with others, such as Trev and Glenda. And while that's moderately interesting, the humor that could have been attached to a book devoted to a book of the wizards playing at foot the ball solely could have been pretty forceful. This, however, is rather mediocre. It's a romance, with football as its backdrop. I feel disappointed. I'd recommend it to Pratchett fans, but not to anyone else.




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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Don't Call Me Goon

Don't Call Me Goon: Hockey's Greatest Enforcers, Gunslingers, and Bad BoysDon't Call Me Goon: Hockey's Greatest Enforcers, Gunslingers, and Bad Boys by Greg Oliver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is about hockey enforcers and their fights. It goes back to the early years of the early twentieth century and highlights many, many players. Let me tell you, for those of you who think fighting is still prevalent in today’s hockey game, it isn’t. They actually brought people up on murder charges back then! Hockey would break out at fights. It was crazy!

The authors cover early fighters such as Joe Hall, Red Horner, and Sprague Cleghorn before moving on to heavyweights from the original six era. It was fascinating to read about. Things really got bad, though, during the expansion era, circa 1967. When the Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, and other teams came into existence, doors opened for players who previously couldn’t get on with the original six teams. A lot of these were fighters. And so Philly’s Broadstreet Bullies were born, and they terrorized the NHL throughout the ‘70s. I was disappointed the authors didn’t cover someone I consider to be perhaps the most famous enforcer of all time, Dave “The Hammer” Schulz, nor did they cover Bob “The Battleship” Kelly, other than just brief mentions. Still, the fights were tremendous. And tremendous to read about.

The authors then go into pairings of fighters, such as the infamous Bob Probert and Joey Concur, as well as Tiger Williams and Dan Maloney, among others. They then go on to highlight fighters who could score and defend too. They try to cover issues like concussions, but I don’t think they go quite far enough with that. It’s a growing concern and one that shouldn’t be swept under the rug.

It was interesting to read the former enforcer’s take on the current state of the game. They think it’s been ruined by a newish interference rule that has resulted in cheap shots and gone a long way to eliminating the role of enforcer. They think enforcers policed the game and the refs shouldn’t be the ones having to do it themselves and aren’t in a position to do it right either. They think today’s game is watered down with pansy players skating around doing whatever they want. As noted big time enforcer Tiger Williams said in the book, “Some snot-nosed little [punk] that isn’t going to break a nail is going to score 50 goals and he’s never driven to the net in his life. He’s never stood in front of the net with Moose Dupont giving him 89 cross-checks in the back of his head,…. To have today’s play’s players score 400 goals in a no-punch pond hockey league is garbage. Getting in another guy’s face is part of the character of the game.” Well said, Tiger, well said.


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Monday, March 9, 2015

Broken Angels

I didn't think this was a good follow up to Altered Carbon, a book I really liked. In it, Takeshi Kovacs is a 25th century ex-military noir detective who has been resleeved (lived quite a few lives) and who solves a murder/suicide mystery. It's a good tale. I expected more of the same. Now, in a sequel, you do expect the author to deviate a LITTLE from the original, or it'd be more of the same. Same with music. But this? In Broken Angels, Takeshi Kovacs is a mercenary who is persuaded to become a ... mercenary to find some leftover Martian garbage that may or may not be worth a fortune. And he has to do it in a nuclear war zone. Pretty different from the first. And he's changed in this book. He's darker. He's more introspective. Not necessarily bad things -- just different. Also the sex is different. In the first book, it fit the plot. In this book, you get the most ridiculous sex scene that's perhaps ever been written, in VR no less. Stupid. The sex scenes seem forced and I didn't like them. They also all seem boilerplate to me. All of the women do all of the same things in exactly the same order to Kovacs, I guess exactly as Morgan likes in real life. Gag. I didn't finish this book. It wasn't exactly terrible. I just started reading other books and set it down. After it had been on my table for a month, I realized I just was no longer interested, so I'm giving up on it. 'Fraid I can't recommend it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dealers of Lightning

Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer AgeDealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age by Michael A. Hiltzik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve heard of Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) for years now and of its importance, but this book really drove home just what a critical place PARC was for the development of the personal computer. It was an excellent, excellent book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Back in the mid-60s, Xerox decided they wanted to compete with IBM and AT&T by developing their own research labs in the hopes of winning prestige and a possible Nobel or two, just like Bell Labs did. They set PARC up with a virtually unlimited budget and told the director he could hire whomever he wanted. Pake, the director, had heard of one Bob Taylor, formerly of ARPA, the precursor of the Internet, and hired him to head his computer lab. Taylor instilled a fierce commitment in his employees, but had a very adversarial management style and made a lot of enemies around the company. Another key hire was Alan Kay, a programmer with a dream of creating laptops and one day tablets (30 years before they ever came out) which would be so easy to program, kids could do it. Soon PARC had the best and the brightest from Stanford, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, UC Berkeley, Utah, etc. They came from all over, from the best computer science programs. And there were no deadlines and nothing to produce – it was like a giant think tank where you could just follow your dreams to see where they’d lead with unlimited funding. For the most part.

By the late 60s, one of the programmers had produced a mouse, ancient by our current standards, but radical by theirs. Also, they were producing GUI operating systems for point and click possibilities. By the mid to late 70s, the inventers had invented a graphical user interface, an operating system, overlapping windows, a text editor (word processor), a programming language, software, Ethernet for networking, a mouse, display, keyboard, audio, and a laser printer, which would be the only thing Xerox would go on to make money with. And that’s the crux of the situation. Xerox didn’t know what it had. Xerox did nothing with PARC. PARC embarrassed Xerox. The wizards at corporate were so far behind the times that change of that enormity just unnerved them too much to act, so they didn’t. In fact, they got rid of the R&D people who had created PARC, brought in new managers to run PARC, got rid of Bob Taylor (who had gotten too big for his britches), prompting a ton of resignations from his team members, and lost a lot of people who went on to form companies like 3Com, Adobe, SGI, and others. Xerox could have OWNED computing and they blew it! They literally could have been Microsoft, IBM, and Apple rolled into one and they blew it. The author tries to shield them from this criticism. He tries to say that as a copier company, they weren’t equipped to sell computers. Well, why invest in researching them, then? He tried to say you’d have to retrain 100,000 salesmen. Well, do it. Piss poor excuses, in my opinion. Xerox has no excuse for blowing things the way they did.

One last thing. I really enjoyed the chapter on the visit by Steve Jobs. Of course, it’s a famous story about how Jobs visited PARC, saw what they had, ripped them off, put everything in the Mac, and made a killing. Part of which is true. However, with his first visit, he was given just a main demo given anyone who would visit. Apparently he wasn’t impressed and he had the ear of the Xerox CEO, who was investing in Apple, so PARC got a call telling them to show Apple everything. Jobs and his crew went back again and this time got more, but not everything. Somehow Jobs knew this, and before Jobs was out of the building, the Xerox CEO was on the phone to PARC telling them to show them everything. This elicited a great deal of stress and agony in some Xerox employees, who thought they were giving away the store. (They were.) So Jobs went back and apparently went nuts when he saw the GUI interface, and his engineers also appreciated the mouse and networking, etc, et al. And so the Mac was born.

This book isn’t perfect. There are a ton of people to keep up with. It gets hard. Sometimes the book gets a little boring. But all in all, if you’re into computers and into the development of the personal computer, the story of how the first one was built before Steve Wozniak came along and claimed to do it is pretty awesome and the story of Xerox PARC is pretty awe inspiring. Definitely recommended.


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Dogfight

Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a RevolutionDogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution by Fred Vogelstein
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Rarely has a book incensed me the way this one has. First of all, let me announce that I am an iPhone lover and Android hater. No need to take pot shots at me. Just the facts. If you don't like it, read something else. Anyway, I thought this book was going to be a reasonably objective look into the war between Apple and Google on smart phones and tablets. Boy, was I wrong. The author lets us know right away where he stands. He starts by mocking Apple and Steve Jobs as they get set to introduce the iPhone to the public, making them look like total dunces and then pulling one over on the public's eyes with a brilliant demo. Then, poor Google. They loved the iPhone. They loved Apple. So imagine how hurt they were when Jobs and Apple got wind of their development of the Android and didn't appreciate it, of how badly their feelings were hurt. They even went for walks with Jobs assuring him that they weren't going to go ahead with Android -- only to do it. And this was somehow justified by the author. The author also went out of his way to explain that Apple has never sued Google, just the phone and tablet manufacturers. Okay. Nonetheless, Apple has the patents and it's winning. This is a hatchet job disguised as journalism and it pisses me off. It also pisses me off that I spent good money on this damn book thinking I was getting one thing when in fact I was getting something else. If I wanted to read something by a Google cheerleader, I would have bought something else. So too, if I had wanted to read of a Jobs smear job on Google, I would have bought that -- but I didn't. I wanted something balanced. This was not. So I didn't finish it. I made it to the seventh chapter before giving up. I'm trying to get my blood pressure down now. I can't believe what a crock this book is. What a Google lover this author is. How open software trumps closed systems every time, which isn't necessarily the case -- look at the facts. Of all of the books I've not recommended, this comes in at the top of my list. Most definitely not recommended!

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