Destroyer/Pretender/Deliverer by C.J. Cherryh Book Review

This is the Third trilogy of books in the Foreigner Universe. I’d read the first cycle when it originally came out many moons ago and I really dug it. The main protagonist, Bren Cameron, is atypically thoughtful and consistent. He never pulls a Gordon Freeman and becomes a complete badass, and he also doesn’t pull a Rand and get godlike powers. Most of the books are about his internal deliberations as he tries to interpret and decipher the actions of the atevi. The atevi are an humanoid alien species that exists with the humans in this universe. Strangely like us, they also differ in some important ways, and that is the main crux of every storyline – Bren is the liaison/interpreter/diplomat to this species and provides a vital role in human/atevi relations.

This particular cycle picks up after a 2 year space romp (disclosure: i never read the 2nd cycle ) when Bren is returning home from a rescue mission. He has saved around 4,000 human colonists from a space station set upon by another alien race. ‘Natch, good ole Bren smoothes things out with the kyo using his skills and heads back to report the good news. The main impetus of the story is a brewing rebellion that happens on the planet in Bren’s absence. Not that his presence is the sole reason for it, which is refreshingly new for a change of pace. Most of the actions in the story happen outside of Bren’s direct influence, and he often comes into the events as a fellow participant, not the primary instigator. It gives the story an interesting angle and goes along well with his status as outsider to the atevi. That’s about as much as I’m going to talk about the story. Its a really quick read, and is moderately entertaining, so you should read it. I’m going to spend the rest of the review talking about the story/plotting/tropes rather than the specifics of the actual plot.

First things first: The covers are fucking horrible.

I mean, I guess we can’t get Michael Whelan to do everything, but the covers are of especially low quality for these series. On top of that, the 2nd cover in particular is egregious in depicting Bren as this super duper white guy surrounded by the suspiciously African American looking Atevi. C.J. has done a really good job of avoiding that at all in her books; the atevi come off more as giant, black Japanese people, but the subtext is there for those who are looking, and the cover is just a really poor translation of what the story is about. In addition, Bren looks a little googly eyed. lol

In my best estimation, I’d say a little bit of the steam has run out of the series. Its still a good grind, but the best part of the book was Bren’s exploration of the culture initially. I guess I find it hard for Bren to constantly underestimate himself and to never feel at ease with where he is in the atevi culture. It might be accurate, but I feel like the character has hardly developed at all and is constantly assessing things from a non-changed perspective. This same feeling of stagnation is also present in the main story line. All of the truly interesting antagonists have either been explored or co-opted into the main story line so there doesn’t feel like there is truly anything dangerous or interesting occurring. I like to call this "David Edding’s Syndrome". If you want to see this in action, read the Belgariad and then the Mallorean. The 2nd is like a pale imitation of the former.

Another harp on the plotting is the lack of any true resolution. The books are almost more snips of time, and the ending of the final book doesn’t bring with it any true resolution to the events that mostly concluded in the 2nd book. It could be argued that the inclusion of another character’s viewpoint in the third is a significant event for the, I felt like it was more of a gimmick and didn’t really give us anything interesting. Frankly, Bren is more interesting, and it felt odd to flip back and forth like that from Bren and the other character’s perspective. The other character was ostensibly atevi, but didn’t feel emotionally different, which has been an important part of the story. Giving us the atevi thinking ruins part of the mystique of the story, rather like pulling up the curtain on a magic act. Its not important for us to know what the atevi are thinking, but rather to see how Bren interacts with them as the surrogate for the reader.

Anyway, decent read. Thanks Betsy! I enjoyed being able to read some space opera again and veg out over the long weekend we have.

Recommendation: Borrow or buy the paperback versions. The hardcover is nearly $26(!!!!!) per book.

2005 Volkswagen Beetle/Bug Review

I had to briefly take my car to the shop to get the plates, fix a ding that someone put in the car prior to me taking delivery, and a piece of plastic that fell out of the sunroof ( Yes, I’m an idiot for buying a VW, but the car feels damn nice when I’m driving it ). My loaner car was a 2005 VW bug/beetle, and I had about 5 1/2 days with it. The car came in a nice gray color; I’m willing to bet even money it was nearly the same as my current car. Since I’m a bit of a car nut, I’d tabulated all the things I noticed about the car and decided to put out a review. Disclosure: I’m totally in love with my new car, a 2007 VW GLI w/ Package 2, but I’ll try not to be too bias.

Specs:

2005 bug, 2.0 Naturally aspirated, Automatic transmission, leather, sunroof, fog lamps, monsoon stereo – appears stock with a tape deck(!!!).

Exterior:

Not a huge fan of the bug, but the dimensions are pretty pleasing. Lots of round shapes and a totally non-aggressive look. There are some nice breaks in the lines, and the overall appearance is well-proportioned. The gray paint is pretty dark and pleasing – like I said, pretty close to my own car, so I definitely approve of the color. Tires are a bit smallish, but on a car of this class, not our of place. Not sure if they were alloy or not, but certainly not a big issue on this car. Also, I forget to check if the side mirrors are collapsible. No huge loss, since on the Jetta they do collapse, but hardly enough to even make it worth the trouble. Headlamps are standard halogen and illuminate well enough. Never tested the fog lamps, which are slightly ridiculous on most cars anyway, I have yet to use mine on the Jetta.

Interior:

First of all, the seats are terrible. Probably designed for the widest, fattest denominator, but the bottom cushion is almost completely flat and strangely large. The seatback has almost no arch support and has no adjustment. The main seat adjustment is the normal VW ratchet/wheel combo, but I had difficulty finding a comfortable position due to the really flat seat cushion and no arch support. Head restraints are acceptable, but a little wide – they block a bit of visibility during blind-spot checks. The leather appears to be of decent quality. The odometer had around 32,000 miles on it, and the leather didn’t have any obvious cracks or damage. Commendable in a loaner car that people probably don’t take good care of.

Never sat in the back seat, but considering the small compartment space and the coupe design necessitating the seat to be pulled forward, I would say that its probably not a pleasant place to sit.

The trunk is TINY. I had purchased a floor heater for mother’s day, but my mom didn’t want it so I used the car to return it. In order to get it to fit, I had to fold down the rear seats and jam it in. It barely fit crosswise. Additionally, the curved design of the trunk forces you to touch an inordinately large patch of exterior when leaning into the trunk space. Do not wear white when loading this car! The loading level is nice and low however, and the trunk is fairly light for those with weaker arms/shorter arms.

Cockpit wise, the car is a win. Every control is within easy reach, and with the armrest down, its pretty natural to lightly grasp the shifter while steering. Speedometer is centered and gauge cluster includes a tachometer. Its tiny, but there, which is more than the G6’s I rode in (sedan and coupe). The only fumble is placing the clock waaaaaaaay up on the roof controls, right about the sunroof dial. What? I have to take my eyes of the road and totally refocus them to be able to see the clock.

Interior design is a mishmash of different textures. There is a bumpy finish on the front of the dash, and then a large area of flat plastic. The steering wheel was wrapped in leather, but the door panels where a mixture of metal and plastic. Unfortunately, the metal is at the top of the door, next to the window. Tinting is probably mandatory in this vehicle in the hotter states, where I’m sure the metal becomes scalding hot during the summer. Nice touch in the inside is the almost complete lack of hard edges/lines. Almost everything has been rounded off, which does go well with the exterior.

Also, the cupholders have this weird design where the move towards the passenger, but not the driver. I realized the necessity of this when I went to McDonald’s with a colleague. Normal sized cups barely fit because the holder is jammed underneath the center console. Most annoying part of this whole arrangement is my leg constantly bumping against the driver’s cupholder.

Pedals are decently close, but the gas pedal is tiny. Heel/toers in this car, I salute you.

Ride/Handling:

The car definitely displays Germanic tendencies, and the car handles admirably well over rough terrain/roads for a car of this class. Road imperfections and ruts are pretty damped, and don’t upset the composure of the car too much. Suspension is surprisingly stiff, but when loaded into a turn can spring somewhat nastily. Steering however, is fairly numb. Has a nice weight to the steering, but that weight masks road feeling. It is disappointing that certain road imperfections are felt more through the seat than the steering wheel. Not sure how many turns lock-to-lock, but surprisingly large turning radius for such a small car. Jetta feels and is more nimble. Road noise is moderately load, but windnoise can become loud at higher speeds. Overall though, the level of refinement is acceptable.

Engine/Transmission:

Most disappointing aspect of the car. The Too-slow (2.0) engine has decent power, especially at "normal" speeds ( 25+) and cruising on the highway, however, it is REALLY loud during hard acceleration. Additionally inspite of its small displacement and moderate power, returns only middling gas mileage. I was averaging maybe 25-27 miles per gallon with this engine, which I can meet or surpass with the GLI’s turbo-charged 2.0 liter. Huge disappointment. I was hoping to get at least 30 miles per gallon. I believe the main reason for this is the transmission – also a HUGE disappointment. I think it might have had 4 gears, but the real problem is the gearing. At highway speeds ( 65 mph ) the tach was reading around 3,000 rpm. This introduced noticeable transmission drone into the engine compartment during otherwise quiet conditions. This also hurts the gas mileage and makes the car need to shift. The short gearing allows the transmission to burn through its range rapidly, causing lots and lots of shifting to occur during all traffic patterns. The shifter is old school with the side button, but feels nice in the hand. Thankfully has a handbrake, but positioned underneath the armrest in an awkward position.

Stereo/Climate Control:

Lots of speakers and ok sound, but reception was crap, the buttons were tiny, and if there were speakers in the back, I couldn’t see them. Forward sound bias is the watchword for this car, but I don’t think anyone is going to want to sit in the back seat. Oh yeah, the final straw, a tape deck??? 1995 calling VW, they want their tape deck back, otherwise cyberdyne is sending a Terminator to retrieve it. Climate controls were excellent and easy to use. Large dials with lots of feedback allow you to promptly and easily set the temperature.

Overall:

Definite niche car. Appeal is primarily for city dwellers, but the poor gas mileage makes the car a poor choice for commuters. Additionally, the relatively large turning radius is puzzling on a car that is designed primarily for cities. Poor trunk space hurts the practicality of the vehicle, and makes this car a hard one to recommend. If I had a few more dollars, I’d definitely step into a mini, which supposedly handles better, has better service ( BMW owns Mini ), is more practical ( say what??? the mini has a normal shaped boot at least ), and is "cooler" to boot. Who wants to be Herbie when they can evoke Michael Caine?

Not recommended.

End of the Season

Tomorrow my mom leaves to go back to Michigan. What can I say? It was probably the craziest of crazy things for me to do: purchase a house with my mom and live with her. I’m going to confess and say that I had some real reservations about the whole thing, both about my mom and even my own motivations. To illuminate things, let me say that my family is Vietnamese, and I would say we had a fairly conservative childhood with them. I think the primary motivating factor for all of the children ( my older brother R.I.P. I love you forever man, my sister, and myself ) was to move out and away from the controlling presence of my parents.

Have you ever seen platoon? Its a great movie, but there is a fantastic line at the end of the movie where the main character contemplates who his father was, and if the resolution was ever resolved. I have felt this same push/pull dynamic in myself. In alot of ways, I think the struggle was between how my relationship with my mom once was, and how it was today. I’ll be honest and say that I was probably holding onto that relationship from the past for my own reasons. The naive five-year old and the infuriated fifteen-year old in me constantly clinging to these old ways, from both comfort and nursed resentment. But, as the saying goes, You can never go home. I used to think that just meant change: change in your neighborhood, change in your age, change in your friends. Now I know that it means everything. I can never go back to before the car accident, I can never go back before my brother died, I can never go back. My relationships had already changed for good or for ill, and I had yet to recognize it.

I couldn’t have seen it any clearer, than one night while me and my mom were studying Vietnamese together. She was trying to explain some word to me, and we just started laughing. I remember looking at her, and just feeling so guileless and empty of feeling. It sounds so cheesy, but I just looked at her face while we were laughing and realized that we could never have done this before. Even now, I can’t really articulate what I was feeling. Its so bizarre to think of your parent as your equal, to have this give and take that only equals can feel. Not to say I don’t respect my mom, but its more like we both respect each other, and we KNOW that we respect each other.

I don’t know, maybe this makes no sense at all, but I’m going to miss my mom. Not because she does my laundry, but she is my friend, and I’m going to miss doing my Vietnamese lessons with her.

Got Game Book Review

Not to put to fine a point on it, but this book has been like a GIANT FUCKING ALBATROSS AROUND MY NECK.

🙂

I think I borrowed this book sometime around the new year from my co-worker Bob Rebholtz and its been sitting on top of my "To Read" pile ever since. Its even on my book list if you want to take a look. However, life and my own inherent laziness conspired to prevent me from finishing this book. Fortunately, my fearless leader Vikas Ahuja has been pushing me to learn SQL, my errant mentor Jason McCullough, and his soon-to-be wife Betsy Aoki have given me several books that I need to read. So I mustered the gumption and finished the book over the past few days. And what did I learn? I learned the no matter how hard you try to analyze something, you’ll never be that thing, but you might learn something interesting about yourself and the thing/people your analyzing.

Case in point: Got Game – How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever. This is a book written by people older than the targets in the book, and definitely NOT gamers. I thought I’d give the book a shot because I’m basically who they are targeting: Youngish, gamer, entry-level workforce, and college educated. So how was the book? Well, I’ll say that certain parts of the book were actually really interesting. Its a bit unfortunate that they went over those parts so fast, but I think the book is meant to hit fast and hard, and leave the deeper intellectual contemplation to further review. It appears the book was first published in 2004, damn near 3-4 years ago, so the book’s value actually increases slightly because its at least riding the wave of the gamer generation into the workforce. So here is the cliff notes review:

Introduction: Skip it

Chapter One: Trash

Chapter Two: Only read if you think video games are a waste of time

Chapter Three: Starting to be interesting

Chapter Four: Good stuff

Chapter Five: Good stuff – pretty prophetic as far as my own penchant for scrum/agile methodologies

Chapter Six: Beating a dying horse, but O.K.

Chapter Seven: Entering forecasting – some good and some bad, think of your local weather broadcast "Cloudy, slight chance of showers" type correctness

Chapter Eight: Coda for everything, read if you’re bored.

Best Parts: Parts analyzing statistical data and pointing out trends and attitudes based on thoughtful analysis of videogames. The part about groups and attitude towards companies and self is especially true in my opinion. Even thought the words "Agile" or "SCRUM" are never mentioned, there is a part that almost word for word describes a standup meeting, and based on my own experience, younger team members tend to "get" agile philosophies more so than older team members. This is of course skewed by game playing time, so my PM Taylor totally gets everything even though he is older than me by a fair amount.

Worst Parts: The introduction and Chapter one. Chapter one is basically where they try and come up with metaphors to try and explain what "we’re" collectively thinking. Its filled with rotten tropes like the "gold == venture capital", and my favorite ( and by favorite I mean least favorite ) example of the "fighting-game" dot-commer fighting the VC pigs. God.

Recommend? Yes, w/ reservations

Long time no see and a Movie review of Journey from the Fall

Sorry for not posting in forever. I have been super busy with my house and work. Big thing at work was the refresh of my project into Beta 2.0. Same URL, but now the new hotness versus the old, busted stuff. 🙂

http://beta.communities.microsoft.com/tagspace/default.aspx

Check it out. We’ll be trying to refresh it on a semi-regular basis now that we’ve got some steam. If you haven’t heard of it before, its a social bookmarking and tagging site. A little bit like Del.icio.us, but we’re hoping to do some new things to.

Anyway, onto the good stuff. 😛 For mother’s day me and my sister took my mom out to see "Journey from the Fall". Its an independent film production portraying the experiences of the Vietnamese people at the end of the war. Its not entirely biographical, but rather a pastiche of different people’s experiences merged to form one picture that encompasses many people experiences. Also, before I proceed, in full disclosure I’m Vietnamese, but born here.

I really enjoyed the film. First off, technically the film is highly proficient. That is to say, the cinematography was excellent and the digital/film they used looked excellent as well. I mention this because generally cheaper film/TV productions tend to have this garish look that screams "cheap cheap cheap". Additionally, the music was well-done and appropriate.

Question: What is the first song w/ lyrics that plays during the film? When Long is being dragged into the box for the first time, there is this song and I have looked all over for the title/singer/lyrics and I can’t find anything!

Anyway, story-wise, I think this film definitely has a few cliches, but the restrained tone and overall excellent acting makes them completely tolerable and even enhance the story because of the emotion involved. This film has some moments that telegraphed in much earlier scenes, but the delivery is excellent and makes the emotional payoff worth it inspite of the clumsy prep. For those of you with crappy or non-existent Vietnamese ( I’m raising my hand here… ) the subtitles are clearly legible and for the most part printed slowly enough for most people to read without any difficulties. My Vietnamese is not good, but from what I could tell the translation was mostly appropriate, only making a few gaffs/modifications for things that don’t translate well. I.e. Ba Noi is, well, Ba noi, in the entire film. This title and indication of origin from the males side of the family is non-translatable into English, so the subtitles/credits indicate that this is here name.

Final Summary: Highly recommended. I would definitely bring some tissues, because I even cried during one part. Even if you were not part of the "boat people", the scenes in America are picture perfect for any Vietnamese child or adult who lived during that period. Highly resonant with me, and I think any Vietnamese person. Additionally, I think any non-Vietnamese person will find an excellent film, especially if they enjoy "Merchant Ivory" type films or smaller foreign film productions.