Comic Report: Girl Genius Collection #8 (Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones) | Act-i-Vate Primer

It seems kind of silly to post an online review a comic book when folks can go read the comic online and decide for themselves. And yet, here we are: Girl Genius. Girl Genius is a darned fun story of adventure, clockwork, romance, and mad science. It's been going strong for a few years now. If you haven't already, you should check it out.

I was prompted to mention this because the 8th printed collection came out. But mostly, I read this comic as it comes out online.

As long as I'm talking about online comics, another comic book that came out recently whose roots are online: The Act-I-Vate Primer. This is a bunch of comics from Act-I-Vate, which, if I'm understanding the intro correctly, is a cabal of comix artists who hang out on Livejournal. Anyhow, I got this comic book because it has a piece by Roger Langridge, but there was some other good stuff in there, too. It was quite a variety of stuff, so I didn't like everything... On the other hand, there was something in there for everyone.

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Non-Spoilery Shinteki Report

Yay! That was awesome!

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even scattered around San Francisco

I typed up some notes on BATH 4 DIchotomY. Like some notes about things I worried about that turned out not to be problems. And things I didn't worry about that turned out to be problems. And, at long last, revealing which of my plans was thwarted by Santarchy.

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Book Report: Anathem

Yesterday, I watched a co-worker give a "practice" thesis defense. My workplace has plenty of grad students who are just, uhm, taking a little break from school. He's one of them. I, on the other hand, am the grizzled industry veteran who didn't go to grad school, was pretty darned glad to get out of school and into business where we learned really useful stuff like 286 assembly language. Uhm, whoops. Anyhow, this guy is presenting his thesis, and as part of it he gives a demo of some software. And I growl out "Working code? I thought you said this was a thesis." And I felt bad immediately--here's this guy working so hard towards an advanced degree, does he really need me making fun of the ivory tower right now? Probably not. Anyhow, he talks about what he's been working on, and it's pretty interesting and makes it pretty clear that he's had to done some new, clever stuff. And then he starts talking about how this research might be useful. And someone else in the room pointed out "Hey, it's a thesis--it doesn't have to be useful." And I'm sitting there thinking Hey he said it, not me and who said it? Another co-worker--but he's also a part-time lecturer at a local university's computer science department. Ah, academia. Folks cloistered away in search of knowledge; it can be awkward when they brush up against the real world. Which reminds me: I read Anathem and it was pretty good.

It's scary when you look at it--it has plenty of pages, more than plenty. But it flows quickly, the pages turn. There are ideas inside. You remember ideas, right? They're supposedly why we read science fiction. Far-out ideas, not just another space opera.

On the other hand, it seems cruel to discuss the ideas in Anathem since most of them are introduced as big Reveals. "Isn't it interesting, the idea of Soylent Green being cannibal behavior--reflecting the lessening value of human life..." So reviewers talk about the beginning, which shows us a universe in which a sort of Clock of the Long Now has set up clock/abbeys at places around the world, co-existing with a society somewhere between our own and a sort of tech-instead-of-magic Dying Earth.

I ended up disagreeing with the internal consistency of the book's premise. But I had to think about it. And it was fun to think about. And it's a fun book even if I disagree with the premise. Probably that's because the book isn't just about ideas. There are some fun characters running around in there, too. Towards the end, things seem like an action movie, but it's an action movie in which you care what happens to the characters--and also the action gets weird in places due to... due to ideas which I'm not going to discuss, lest I ruin the Reveal.

Fair warning: this book introduces some strange vocabulary. If you made it through The Book of the New Sun, you won't have trouble with this book. If you do have trouble with this book's vocabulary, be aware that there's a glossary in the back. At least, the edition I read had a glossary at the back. (And even if it hadn't, of course the internet would have come through with the info.)

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Book Report: Infrastructure

Wow, Infrastructure is a great book. You should acquire it and read it. (Here, by "read" I mean "look at the photos". But you can read it, too, if you like.)

It is photographs of "infrastructure": mines, mining equipment, steel mills, utility poles, electrical transformers, dams, power plants, smokestacks, cooling towers, insulators, water towers. There is text explaining what these things are, what they do, and how that determines what they look like. There is industry, there is engineering, there is design, there is beauty.

This book is dangerous to read; it warps your thinking. I keep looking up at utility poles instead of watching where I'm walking.

  • A Becherian typology of water towers, and then a collection of outliers, of playful water tower designs.
  • The process of modern corn milling and its uses
  • The mystery of the fake cattle guards
  • The Rowan Gorilla III
  • Why you pulverize coal before you burn it (with a photo of the gleaming machine that does it)
  • two smokestacks: one venting visible steam, one venting invisible poison gas. Which one do the neighbors complain about?
  • The evolution of the windmill
  • power line splicing sleeves, dampers, and especially Stockbridge dampers
  • Live-wire guys and hot sticks
  • fire department callboxes don't work like you think they do
  • GEO vs LEO communication sattelites
  • Two paragraphs about Botts Dots "In California I once watched a road worker inspecting the Dots with a go-cart. Riding an inch or two off the road surface, he tested each Dot by banging it with a rubber mallet. The ones that rattled or moved were marked for replacement."
  • An illustrated list of bridge truss designs
  • Intermodal freight: history, modern practice.
  • The controversy of re-spraying landfill leachate

That's not all of the topics; that's just a few I picked out while flipping through pages.

This book is a survey; it doesn't dive into any of these topics in depth. But, wow, the breadth. I learned about all kinds of new things to obsess about. You will too. Go read.

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Link: Race for the Galaxy

When people ask me what I do at work, I clam up. Most of that stuff is confidential. Like when some of us geek gamers play-tested the geek game Race for the Galaxy some evenings, we knew it was a fun game, but we were sworn to secrecy. But now it's publicly available and I can say: it's pretty fun.

Actually, I think it's been publicly available for a while. But I forgot to post about it at the time, though I meant to. Just today I realized that I never did post about it. Intentions, actions, who can tell the difference? Anyhow, fun game. You can choose which phases of the turn you want to have happen, kinda like Puerto Rico or, uhm, that one card game? With the city? That game where you can be the thief, the assassin, the wizard, the priest, the... uhm... and you're trying to buy buildings with gold pieces, and they give you gems of different colors or something?

OK, I don't have a photographic memory for every geek game I've played, but nevertheless I remember this much: I remember enjoying Race for the Galaxy. Check it out.

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Link: Qwirkle

I don't feel so bad about all those times Susan Ross beat me at Petaluma Game Night now that she's an award-winning game designer for her game Qwirkle.

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Book Report: The Collected Castle Waiting

Castle Waiting was one of the best comics ever. It's by Linda Medley. It's set in the world of fairy tales, but it's so smart and so funny. It's not scary like fairy tales are scary, because it's not about little kids wandering lost in the woods. It's mostly about groups of friends sitting around and bantering. Well, that and bearded ladies, and adventure, and freedom, and derring-do, and... and... Anyhow, I already had a lot of Castle Waiting books, but there were gaps. So I was really happy when I saw this collection. I read the whole thing from beginning to end pausing only to laugh like a donkey.

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World Addition: Zoe Loftesness

Holy moly, Dave and Penny had a kid. Early indicators suggest extreme cuteness. Extra hippy-dippy style points for being born in a tub of water. Extra high-tech style points for being announced on googlepages.

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Book Report: Swimming to Antarctica

Yesterday, I was walking to the library. A cold wind blew. A light rain started to fall. I considered fetching my rain jacket out of my backpack, but talked myself out of it. I thought What would Lynne Cox do? and then I smiled and walked faster, letting the heat of excersize chase the cold from my bones, flexing my fingers to keep the blood flowing.

It started raining harder. I grinned, and raindrops ran into my mouth. I walked faster, glad to be awake and alive and out of doors.

Then it started raining even harder. And I thought I'm not--I'm not Lynne Cox. She's way harder than me. And I ducked into a transit shelter and waited for a streetcar to take me downtown.

What inspired such folly? Well, I was returning Swimming to Antarctica to the library.

This book turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. It's Lynne Cox's autobiography. Lynne is a long-distance swimmer. She swam the English channel, the Cook strait, the strait of Magellan. So you might think that her autobiography is something like "So then I kept swimming." But there's a lot more to it than that.

Actually, when she talks about swimming, she makes it pretty compelling. She swims in the ocean, and there's a lot of variety in the ocean. No, really, there is. There are waves with different shapes, different feels. There is ice. There are dolphins; there are sharks. She encounters all of these, and describes them in a plain, yet compelling way.

But there's some stuff that's only tangentially related to swimming, and that's pretty interesting, too. I'll mention it here, since I don't think I can fool you into reading this excellent book by telling you "she describes the water really nicely".

She arranged to swim to Big Diomede Island, in the Soviet Union:

...the place I wanted to swim to, was a listening post--a military installation equipped with sophisticated devices that monitored our ships' and submarines' movements in the Bering strait and beyond, as well as a state-of-the-art tracking system for spying on our aircraft and missiles. It was unlikely that the Soviets would allow any American to land on their spy island.

So, the commies had a SOSUS-like system. That's interesting.

There are interesting anecdotes about doctors and their studies--they wanted to know how Ms Cox was able to tolerate long swims in cold water. So there's the story about the 40-foot long rectal thermometer. And the time the doctors had trouble getting readings from her after she swam off the coast of Alaska--because of interference from the gold dust that clung to her legs.

Just don't get so caught up in the book that you lose the sense to come in out of the rain.

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Jason Shiga's site has erupted from inactivity to interactivity. He makes these wonderful interactive comic books, some of which he has translated to web-o-matic form.

Because this blog is more about books than about web stuff, I should point out the delightful not-interactive-but-nevertheless-fun comic Bookhunter. It was awesome!

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Book Report: the Founding Fish

John McPhee writes about shad. Shad are fish. That description should make you want to read this book. Go. Go! Maybe you read his shad articles in the "New Yorker". Maybe you think "Surely I now know everything that I could ever want to know about shad". You must, as a responsible scientist, test this hypothesis; you will find it to be false.

This book is about shad. It's the life of a shad, the life of a shad fisherman, shad's place in history, shad's place in the food chain. It's conversations with tackle-makers, biologists, fisher-folk, and ordinary citizens.

Why are you still reading this book report. Why have you not run to your local bookstore and purchased this book? Go. Go!

Between the time I read this book and the time I got around to posting this book report, I read a comic book about Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. That comic book does not mention that Booth was aided in his flight from justice by shad fishermen. McPhee mentions this. McPhee has the good stories. Go read McPhee.

(Though, now that I think about it, McPhee's book could benefit from some illustrations by Rick Geary, who did that comic book. But there is not much use wishing for books that do not exist, unless you are willing to become a book publisher. And that way lies ruin.)

Have you read the book yet? Go. Go!

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