my recent reads..

The Eyre Affair - Lost in a Good Book


My sister introduced me to Thursday Next, the SpecOps literary crimes specialist (who even has her own website). The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde was a gift that I am sorry to say sat around for too long before being picked up. But once I did, I was hooked. Soon moved on to the second in the series - Lost in a Good Book. I only hope I got to them quick enough ... who knows how they could have changed in the meantime? NB: You will understand that once you have met Thursday Next.

See, Thursday is trying to stop the literary puritans, villains and other particularly unsavoury geezers from sneaking inside books and changing the plot to suit themselves. Or characters from one novel vacationing in another. Of even kidnapping of the lead roles.

OK, so maybe I can't explain it very well. Just take it from me that it is a mind-bending laugh. I can't help thinking Jasper Fforde has created a whole new literary genre .... but I am wondering what Thursday would think of that? Is that allowed?

This excerpt from when Thursday visits a novel may (or not) help you understand ...

"Hello!" she said in a friendly voice. "I haven't seen you around here before [...]"
"Don't we have to be careful as to what we say?" [Thursday Next] managed to utter, looking around nervously.
"Goodness me no!" exclaimed Marianne with a delightful giggle. "The chapter is over and, besides, this book is written in the third person. We are free to do what we please until tomorrow morning when we depart for Devon. The next two chapters are heavy with exposition - I hardly have anything to do, and I say even less! You look confused, poor thing! Have you been in a book before?"
"I went into Jane Eyre once."
Marianne frowned overdrammatically.
"Poor, dear, sweet Jane! I would so hate to be a first-person character! Always on your guard, always having people reading your thoughts! Here we do what we are told but think what we wish. It is a much happier circumstance, believe me!"

If you need something fresh and fun to read, bet on Thursday. Can't say I like the new covers though ... prefer the older comic-style.
See? Turn your back, and someone is off changing the books, which just isn't right.



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Facebook's Gonna Tank!

Laurent Schneider just asked what LinkedIn is good for?. Good question. One I've been asking myself for the past couple of years as I've seen a dribble of invites coming in.

Then I changed jobs. Something I've done many times before - but all before the era of social networking. I'm ashamed to say I have more dud email addresses and phone numbers in my little black book than I care to mention ... and no way to try to get back in touch. This time is different. It hit me in a flash that with LinkedIn, I hope to never accidentally lose contact with good friends and collegues again.

There's nothing flash about LinkedIn, but it does what it does really well. Managing a network of contacts that trascend jobs, geography and time.

I'm also on Facebook of course. But just like Amber and Leo and many others are asking ... so what does it really do for you???

Sure, if you are not on Facebook you just have no Web2.0 cred because it is the uber-hyped social networking poster child of the moment. But will it ever be more than a footnote in Internet history? I think not. It's gonna tank, and fast.

To tell you the truth, something just didn't feel right the moment I got on Facebook.

First, there was the insidious commercialism. Initially very subtle. Like build your personal library .. but did you realise most "bookself/CD rack" application authors are skimming an Amazon kickback from your personal collection? And now the talk about advertising nicely targeted thanks to all the work you put into your profile. And who benefits? Zuckerberg I think. Certainly not you.

Networks are about respect and trust. This just doesn't smell right. And it is not about Microsoft taking a stake in Facebook, presumably to get placement rights. As it stands, I think Microsoft is the sweeter-smelling partner (at least with them I know where I stand).

Then there's the utility. While LinkedIn is a great example of a site that does one thing, and does it well, wherefore Facebook? All those Zombie invites, pokes and superpokes. Everyone's having a ball, but what are you achieving except repetitively and redundantly proving the network effect, spreading your vampire bites amongst your aledged "friends". But beyond these mickey-mouse apps, what can you do on Facebook? Feels real constrained to me. I have little control, and this is meant to be my network, my social networking home-site? No way, thanks.

Of course, now there's increasing discussion of the natural next step towards portable/unified social networking that is essentially shared infrastructure, just like DNS is for computers. OpenSocial is one attempt. Time will tell whether it is the solution. Regardless, we will move towards something of this nature. In such a world, what does Facebook offer? How is it differentiated? The shifting wisdom of the crowds will easily move on to the next post-MySpace, post-Facebook social site you must be on. Not that Facebook's going to disappear, just slowly receed into the background, over-taken by the new young punks.

Tim O'Reilly may not think Google/OpenSocial have it right yet, but he may be spot-on with his comment that..

I think Amazon is the only company that really understands that we're in the process of building an internet operating system, and is building services with the depth and power that will be required to create the next generation of computer applications

So while I will stay on Facebook, poke my friends and play Scrabulous with my sister, I'd run a mile before putting money into the company now. They're gonna tank. It'll happen fast, and probably sooner when we all expect.

Another great thought from xkcd
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Weapons of Choice


Talk about a page turner!

I've shied away from John Birmingham's Weapons of Choice (The Axis of Time Trilogy, Book 1) for ages. It's always staring at me on theshelf in the bookstore. Chunky like Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver. All about a 21st century US-lead naval group time-travelling back into the battle of Midway in 1942. Gimme a break. I've got better things to do with my time!

But curiosity got the better of me down at Kinokuniya last week and I picked up a copy. A plane flight and a few evenings later it is dog-eared and done, and I am looking for the next volume.

Birmingham does a decent job of setting the scientific basis to explain the time-travel bit. At least convinced me to the level of my understanding of string theory and quantum mechanics! Add some ego and a major cluster f#$k in a lab (easier to understand) and you are back in 1942. By then you are caught up in the story and the pages fly.

It might be easy to write this off as a macho, techno-military thriller in the Tom Clancy vein, but this book offers much more when you get thinking.

Without grinding your face in it, there's a great study and commentary on how morals and ethics have been through a rapid evolutionary process over the past century. Birmingham doesn't hold back when it comes to the reality of modern racial and gender attitudes facing off against WW2-era society. African-american, female naval Captain suddenly thrown into 1942? Don't expect the locals to just marvel at your ship and say thanks for the help.

What comes a little unexpected to the modern mind is the challenge that it is not all a one way street. Being comfortable with unleashing the mass death and destruction that 21st century weapons are capable of is not a natural state of being. Makes you think about what we've lost for all the gains of modern society.

There's a lot of thought that has gone into the alternate future/past that Birmingham has created. A great deal to ponder.

And/or you can just dive in for a rollicking good yarn.

Postscript: I was browsing movies in HMV the other day and stumbled across The Final Countdown. I'd completely forgotten about watching this 1980's movie (telling?) that has USS Nimitz time-warping back to just before Pearl Harbour. Similar idea that might have inspired Weapons of Choice, but Birmingham has taken the concept to new heights.




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Quarter Share


Imagine a Stephenson-esque golden age of clippers, plying the trade routes through space on the solar wind in the far distant future. And the story of a young lad learning the ropes and working his way up through the ratings.

Nathan Lowell's Quarter Share is the first of a trilogy set in this world, and drips with a sense of mercantile adventure and bonds of companionship. This is another great book available as a podcast download from podiobooks.com.

I was sucked in by the details that Mr Lowell packs into the story of Ishmael Wang, Pip and the rest of the crew of the Lois McKendrick. Be it scrubbing the urns and tuning the grinder to produce the best possible coffee in the galley, or the intricacies of balancing Ish & Pip's trading portfolio.

Loved the book. It has a great feel-good factor, since in this first volume we go along with Ishmael's gradual rise-and-rise from greenhorn to well-loved and respected member of the crew.

Gotta download the next volume, Half Share, PDQ!

PS: Visit The Trader’s Diary for more information on the Golden Age


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