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Monday, December 19, 2011

Recently watched: "The Great Ziegfeld"

A 1936 movie about the life and times of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr, "America's Greatest Showman".  The movie is "suggested by romances and incidents" so we don't have the true story of his life.  Played by William Powell, the movie follows Ziegfeld from sideshow barker (at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair) to creator of the Ziegfeld Follies, the Broadway shows which helped launch the careers of Fanny Brice, Ray Bolger and Harriet Hoctor (all who appear as themselves).

The movie is long (185 minutes) and we see several musical numbers in their entirety (the 8 minute "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" is amazing, even for someone who isn't a fan of showy musical numbers).   The movie won Best Picture, and Luise Rainer (as Ziegfeld's first big star, and first wife, Anna Held) won best actress.  Powell's "Thin Man" costar Myrna Loy appears late in the movie as Billie Burke, Ziegfeld second wife (who would play the good witch in "The Wizard of Oz" three years later (along with Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow).

Recently read: "Reamde" by Neal Stephenson

Reamde: A Novel

The most recent book from one of our (by "our" I mean SF...since I do consider Stephenson a SF writer) most interesting writers (and a fairly successful one by SF standards).  In ways, this is a bit of a throw back to some of his earlier works, since it's basically a thriller, with no real SF elements.

Richard Forthrast, former draft dodger and marijuana smuggler, has created T'Rain, a massively successful mulitplayer online role-playing game.  His game is successful enough that it's a target for hackers, which have unleashed a virus that encrypts someones data, and requires them to go into the game and pay to get the encryption key.

Richard's niece Zula (adopted) runs afoul of Russian mobsters that are victims of the hackers, and finds herself in China, trying to help track down the hackers.  From there we get Islamic terrorists, CIA agents and a thrill ride that leads back to North America, and Richard Forthrast old smuggling trail.

At over a thousand pages, many would say that it's much too long for an effective thriller, but this is Stephenson, and we get his usual digressions about any topic which interests him...and luckily for us, they usually interests us also.  This isn't as challenging as his last book, but Anathem suffered at time from being too serious.  Reamde is a ton of fun.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Recently read: "Killer Instinct" and "Riot Act" by Zoe Sharp

Killer Instinct: Charlie Fox book oneRIOT ACT: Charlie Fox book two

These are the first two books in the "Charlie Fox" thriller series, written by Zoe Sharp.  In the first book, Charlie is making a living teaching self defense to women, after being kicked out of the Army Special Forces (for reasons that become clear in the course of the book).  There are a series of murder/rapes going on, and the newest one is a woman that Charlie had a run in with at the New Adelphi club.  Charlie is offered a job working security at the club by it's owner, Marc Quinn, and begins to suspect there's a link between the club and the serial killer.

Charlie is a great character.  Dangerous, well trained but with baggage, she is in the category of "kick butt females" (she even rides a motorcycle) but Sharp handles this territory well, with Charlie being capable but not a super woman.

The second book has Charlie house sitting for a friend in Lavender Gardens estates while working at a gym.  There are teenage gangs running around and the neighbors have decided to employ a security firm since they feel the police can't maintain order.  It's a powder keg waiting to go off, and when a young Asian boy is killed in what looks like a racially motivated killing, the situation turns ugly quickly.  Things become more difficult for Charlie when someone from her Army past shows up.

We see incremental growth in Charlie in the second book, with a bit of thawing out between she and her parents, and understand a bit more of her Army background.  I sped through this second book, and then went and grabbed books 3, 4  and 5 from the Kindle store.  I'm interested in seeing how Sharp develops Charlie further.

Recently watched: "The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers"

I can remember reading the novelization of these when I was a kid, but don't know that I actually watched the movies (originally released in 1974) beyond bits and pieces on a network movie showing.  Several years ago I finally read Dumas' novel (in a newly released translation at the time) and enjoyed it a lot.  I then watched the Gene Kelly movie version, and liked it also (though I think Kelly was a bit old to be D'Artagnan).  Now, with Lester's adaption (with script by George MacDondal Fraser) I've seen what many consider to be the definitive movie version.

It's certainly a lot of fun, with some great casting (Oliver Reed is perfect, and Charlton Heston is very good as Richelieu).  The fights are great, with the Musketeers using whatever is handy as weapons.  I would like to see the 1921 Douglas Fairbanks version, which many say is a template for Lester's films.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

New thermostat anyone?

Wish Congress could get serious...

Recently read: Simon Morden's "Samuil Petrovitch" novels

Equations of Life (Samuil Petrovitch)Theories of Flight (Samuil Petrovitch)Degrees of Freedom (Samuil Petrovitch)

A big plus on cover design...the striking designs of the covers convinced me to look at the books (while browsing Barnes & Nobel).  I then looked at the Amazon write ups, and decided to try the first book.  It read fast enough that I followed up quickly with the other two.

I enjoyed the books, though at times the main character seems just too much ("no...I won't fail...").  He's possibly the smartest man in the world (though he's barely a man) and in the first book finds the key to the Theory of Everything (this leads to anti gravity in book two, and we see micro black holes in book three).

Set in London (the "Metrozone") with the U.K. in near anarchy, the US a theocracy and Japan destroyed, Petrovitch is a Russian with a past, working on his PhD.  A chance encounter with Sonja Oshicora (daughter of a Japanese gangster) has Petrovitch foiling her kidnapping.

We get an AI (called Michael in later books), the futher collaspe of the Metrozone, and CIA hit teams coming after our hero. Oh...and a warrior nun, who becomes Petrovitch's wife, and then develops trust issues.

The books are over the top, but a good bit of fun.  Might be interesting to see what Morden comes up with next.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Should everyone go to college?...I would think the answer should be clearly no...

Everyone should not go to college

From the article:

In 2009, American colleges handed out more business degrees than engineering, computer and biology degrees combined. We graduated about the same number of engineers as we did “Visual And Performance Arts” grads.

Alas, despite the fact that engineers are both well-paid and in short supply, The New York Times [NYT] reports “roughly 40 percent of college students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Malcolm Gladwell on Steve Jobs

My favorite part of the piece, when Jobs and Gates faced off in the 1980’s

In the nineteen-eighties, Jobs reacted the same way when Microsoft came out with Windows. It used the same graphical user interface—icons and mouse—as the Macintosh. Jobs was outraged and summoned Gates from Seattle to Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters. “They met in Jobs’s conference room, where Gates found himself surrounded by ten Apple employees who were eager to watch their boss assail him,” Isaacson writes. “Jobs didn’t disappoint his troops. ‘You’re ripping us off!’ he shouted. ‘I trusted you, and now you’re stealing from us!’ ”
Gates looked back at Jobs calmly. Everyone knew where the windows and the icons came from. “Well, Steve,” Gates responded. “I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

The more I read about Jobs, the more unpleasant he seems…