Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Another Great Opening Act - One Eskimo

Sue won tix for the Tori Amos concert which was last night at the Chicago Theatre. Can't say I loved the show, although the audience was definitely into her. It didn't help that I only recognized two songs ("Cornflake Girl" and "Big Wheel" which pretty much bookended the show), and a lot of the rest was very avant-garde, almost operatic. Her diction is not in the Natalie Merchant zone, so following the songs -- which didn't have a lot of verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure -- was difficult, even boring at times. Nice light show.

The opening act was One Eskimo. They weren't on the ticket or the marquee, but I'm glad they were there. It consisted of a vocalist who couldn't stand still, bopping up and down even when hunched over the mike, and three musicians who were so laid back, sitting down, almost comatose, that at first I thought it was all coming from a recording (there were some recorded/sequenced synth and samples). The bassist also played horn, the guitarist had nice chops, and the drummer was playing a mostly-electronic kit that looked like he borrowed it from "Rock Band" but really rocked out when he pulled out the mallets and tom.

I'd have to say that influences definitely include Moby, Primitive Radio Gods and that sort of trance/electronica stuff -- I'm probably getting those names wrong, it's outside my usual music comfort zone. But it was fun, engaging and these folks could go far. They've got an album coming out in September, and a 3 song/4 track EP (only $5 at the souvenir stand? You can't get a pin for that price anymore). We listened to the EP on the way home, and it didn't have the immediacy, the emotion of the live show -- but it seldom does (let me tell you about Billy Joel's Storm Front some time).

Give them a listen. Nice stuff.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Flat is right

Just got finished with Larry Niven's "Flatlander" -- four old stories of Gil "The Arm" Hamilton, plus one new one. I realize it's not new -- the book came out in '95, but I finally picked up a used copy. I'm not shelling out the $6.99 list price for one short story.

The old stories (originally found in "The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton" and an illustrated TPB called "The Patchwork Girl" -- no relation to same in the Oz pantheon) are still a delight. Terse prose, wry jokes, well crafted plot, a techie macguffin per story on top of the SF aspects of a detective with an imaginary arm.

The new story is what left me flat: "The Woman in Del Ray Crater" seems to pick up shortly after "Patchwork" but it's jarring: different language patter, no humor, awkward phrasing (everyone calls Gil by his rank: "Ubersleuth Hamilton" -- where did that come from?). The common thread in the other four stories of the organ bank crisis is dropped here, introducing a new 'impenetrable' device into the Known Space universe -- we already have skrith (Ringworld), Slaver stasis fields (World of Ptavvs and others), GP Hulls (Ringworld and others). It's barely even critical to the plot, and the motive makes most CSI episodes seem truly brilliant.

Niven was an author that used to be tops on my must read list: Ringworld Engineers is the first SF I bought new in hardcover. Mote in God's Eye (with Pournelle) is still one of the best hard SF stories written. But latter stuff just doesn't thrill. "The Gripping Hand" (sequel to Mote) was pathetic, and this new story shows he can't even keep it together for forty pages. I picked up "Crashlander" at the same time (the Beowulf Shaeffer stories) but I'm not putting it too high on my must-read list.

Note: I did find a previously unnoticed link in Flatlander to other stories: In "Patchwork Girl" there's a character named Marion Schaeffer, likely Beowulf's ancestor. But PG came out long after the other Gil the Arm stories, it's more of a retcon than history building.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

There's nothing wrong with Cantonese food

Don't get me wrong, I love spicy food. Give me Tony's Three Chili Chicken (Lao Sze Chuan), fiery Indian curries, spicy salsa, crushed pepper on the pizza, giardinera on my Italian Beef... but there's times when I've forgotten how good the stuff that isn't spicy can be too. Anthony Bourdain wrote in one of his books that one of his Mexican-born chefs said, "Why do Americanos like their food so [deleted] spicy?" I don't know... I like it. But sometimes I need to step away from it.

When I was young, there was a restaurant (long gone) on the west edge of Northbrook called Mandarin Village. It was the first place I ever had Kung Pao chicken (and it's still my memory of the best version of that: lots of peanuts, oily chicken, few veggies), but the dish I remember best was something called Beef with White Onion. I've never been able to find that dish elsewhere, (it might have been labeled "Mandarin"), and it's flavors are mainly sweet onion and sesame oil, but something about it has always eluded my cooking skills. Whatever happened to Shrimp with Lobster Sauce? These days, you order it you get a flavorless white sauce full of egg "rags" and not much else. When I was a kid it was a dark brown sweet and salty sauce, probably amped up with sesame oil.

In recent years, LTHForum.com has reintroduced me to the pleasures of Cantonese: Their namesake "Little" Three Happiness in Chinatown, Sun Wah on Argyle. There's a reverence to slow-cooked meats (roast duck and pork), a simple sauce, and a dedication to umami. The good stuff is oilier, fattier than the "healthy Chinese" that's been all the rage for a decade or more, but the good stuff always is.

So tonight, instead of ordering something with a chile pepper next to it on the menu, I ordered Chow Fun with Roast Pork. For a moment, the flavors of that long-lost Beef with White Onion came through.

They say you can't get your childhood back, but I found it for a moment.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hugo Nominations

So, the Hugo nominations for best novel came out. What do I think? Awesome picks, folks.
This is the first time I can think of that I've owned all five novels prior to the nominations, and I don't think I've ever owned them all prior to the awards either (exccept for the year Brad Templeton's ClariNet created a CD, something even harder to do now that the publishers have caught on to eBooks).

Yes, I own them, but I haven't read them all yet (still slogging through Matter by Iain Banks, from last year's list).

Overall Impressions:
  • Three juveniles (Graveyard Book, Little Brother, Zoe's Tale)! Are people having problems reading grown-up books?
  • Younger authors are definitely pushing out the old guard: Scalzi, Stross and Doctorow are sort of a posse. The Neil/Neal pair looks like the fogies here, and they're still young authors too.

The books, and the odds:

  • The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman: Haven't read it yet, but hey, it just won the Newbery Award, and has lots of critical acclaim. Lots of Gaiman fans on the convention memberships. I'd give it about a 5:2.
  • Anathem, Neal Stephenson: Haven't read this one either. Neal's return to SF after wandering through near-future thriller (Cryptonomicon) and historical SF (Baroque Cycle) also has a lot of critics liking it, but it's big and bloated -- there's some backlash against Stephenson's tendency to digress and 5th-act weakness. Still, a lot of fans going back to Snow Crash will probably vote for this. 3:1
  • Little Brother, Cory Doctorow: Fun lighthearded but serious anti-Homeland Security cautionary tale. I enjoyed this a lot, but the more you know about crypto the less novel it is, since large chunks of exposition are pretty much cribbed from Bruce Schneier's Beyond Fear -- with permission. There's some great bits on LARPing, practical joke-level stuff, and a lot of "get off your butts and realize how much the nanny state is destroying our lives." This isn't allegory like much SF with a political tone, it's real and now. 3:1
  • Zoe's Tale, John Scalzi: This is fun, and yes I think he got the teenaged girl protagonist right (not quite "Juno in Space" but close), but it's a parallel tale to The Last Colony, and it's not that far away for most of the story. There are several, "Oh, that's what happened!" moments because of the different point of view, and it fills in a lot of gaps in the Old Man's War background. Frankly, though, the other three novels in the series are better. 5:1
  • Saturn's Children, Charlie Stross: Stross is probably my favorite author right now, but this isn't his best book. He should have won for Accelerando a few years ago, and there's a chance he might win on a series of noms even through the weaknesses here. Why? It's an homage to Heinlein, specifically Friday (one of the more readable late-period RAH books), but with grown-up sex, in fact rather kinky sex between robots of various sizes and shapes (the heroine has encounters with rather randy hotels and spaceships). That might turn off some readers (not many, but assuredly some), might attract others. 4:1.

In any case, you can't go wrong reading any of these.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The only thing you can do when they're dead is go through their pockets for loose change

If only mom's computer were all dead it would have been easy. Do the stupid HP system restore which "Nukes it from space, it's the only way to be sure."

But no, it's only almost dead -- the Windows folder was gone, but the Users and other folders were still there. I was a little disturbed to see the "Startup Repair Failed" -- and so was the guy at HP support, he said "Oh, that's bad."

Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, HP only provides a restore-to-factory-conditions method, no way to reinstall Vista, so far as I could tell. So I called up HP, went through the phone tree, and the guy was actually very good. No, he couldn't help me, but he (a) acknowledged that the options were bad, (b) didn't try to walk me through his script once I demonstrated that I was indeed the master, and generally tried to be helpful.
Me: "Can I write to a USB drive from the Command Line mode?"
HP: "Yeah!" (too bad my parents have no thumb drives around, more on that below)
Me: "What about writing a CD or DVD?"
HP: "That should work too."
Me: "Uh, what command line commands work to write to CDs?"
HP: "Oh. I guess you need Windows for that."

I thought I'd have to drive home to get a USB stick, but then I remembered my Crackberry has a 4GB microSD in it... and luckily we found a cable. It looks like Windows' recovery system only has USB 1.1 drivers, 'cause it was slower than molasses would be outside right now.

So dozens of reboots and "Please wait for updates to install" messages, downloading the antivirus from AT&T, getting HP drivers for her printer, restoring the cruft from the Blackberry... four hours at Mom's house, and probably a couple more to come.

It could have been worse... but as I said, "all dead" would have had me out of there in an hour, but them a lot more miserable.