What I Read in December

Fiction

  • The Cruel Stars: A Novel, John Birmingham. I want to say I liked it, but its been 3 weeks and I have no memory of reading it. (reads blurb) Oh yeah! It’s okay enough to check out the sequel, at least.
  • Waiting for Tom Hanks, Kerry Winfrey. It was the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep and there was nothing on my kindle phone app so I went to Libby and there was nothing good available through the local library (at least nothing that I could quickly find), so I downloaded this and read 40 percent of it and I am 40 percent stupider now. I should’ve stared at the ceiling all night, instead. “A novel can’t just be a list of things you like,” is a thing I read somewhere, once. Deeply, gravely, sub-Hallmark Channel-ly dumb.
  • Bellwether, Connie Willis. This is the first CW book I haven’t enjoyed. Too much gimmick, not enough plot. Early in her career, but after some big success. That surprised me. (You can tell, once again, how she’s the master of research… but she made that part of the plot, instead of part of her behind-the-scenes job as author, which didn’t serve it well.)
  • Machines Like Me, Ian McEwan. I knew this author by reputation but had never read anything by him. It’s “Literature.” I read a while back that he sneered at “genre” fiction, which makes him an asshole (see this, and the zinger from Ken MacLeod immediately under it). It’s alternate-present because computers came along sooner because Turing lived, and now there’s a sentient robot in the main character’s kitchen. If that’s not sci-fi I dunno what is. The plot was supposed to be dramatic but it just felt like a series of deuses exing the machina. Meh.
  • “2 B R 0 2 B”, Kurt Vonnegut. A short snark about population control. Not nearly as striking as “Harrison Bergeron,” his best (AFAIK) story in this vein. (That’s supposed to be a “naught” in the middle, there. To Be R Naught To Be, get it. I’d rather read “Too Bro To Be,” honestly. “The guy who could not even.”)

Non-fiction

  • You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman, Mike Thomas. A well-done downer.
  • Hello. This bullet-point is here because the markdown plugin I’m using appears to only wrap bulleted paragraphs in p tags if there are 2 or more bullet points, but not a standalone bullet. Not sure that’s a “bug,” particularly if the idea is somehow rooted in the world of outlining, where you shouldn’t create a new indented subsection (or whatever) if you only have one item for that subsection (or whatever). But here’s the thing: I only read one non-fiction thing so there’s only the one bullet point and I need it wrapped in a p tag or the max-width and slightly-lighter color CSS attributes don’t get applied. See?

Ye Olden Tymes Fiction

  • “The Kit Bag”, Algernon Blackwood. Somewhere, probably on Metafilter, someone said “Give me some old-time short story scares!” Not my usual thing but I followed a few links and found two stories easily downloadable so I figured I’d give them a shot. This one was fun; I could see a young Stephen King being inspired by this and working up his own modernized version.
  • “Between the Lights”, E.F. Benson. …whereas this one was completely terrible. Not in a “old timey writing is dumb!” way, but in a “the day this was released this person should’ve been roundly criticized for writing a non-story story” way.

What I read in November

Fiction

  • Midnight Riot, Peter Grant. Last month, I said of The Municipalists, “Loved the premise (sort-of Laundry Files humor-tech but focused on civil infrastructure instead of Cthulhu.)” This is even more like the Laundry Files, supernatural-wise… but without the tech. Or the humor, really. Saw this recommended by a Londoner and with the very detailed descriptions of London neighborhoods and transport, maybe being a Brit is required context. DNF but strangely, would recommend.
  • In Xanadu, Lavie Tidhar. A short story that is hopefully a prologue for something bigger. AIs and interplanetary computer hidey-holes. Fun. (read free @ Tor)

Non-fiction

  • Medallion Status, John Hodgman. I’m going to automatically 4- or 5-star anything from the Judge on principal. I think I might’ve liked Vacationland, his last, a little more than this one, but then we saw him perform “Vacationland” as a live performance, so maybe that’s tilting the scales a little. Also: the hook that organizes this book is airplane travel, and I intentionally held off reading until I was on a plane. Length of book and flight matched almost perfectly. I was 5 pages from the Acknowledgements when the row in front of me started de-planing. If I hadn’t been pinning my stepson into the window seat, I’d have let the remaining passengers skip me, sitting there for another 3 or 4 minutes, to finish it up, just because. Also also, I got a retweet from JJH. Fun.

What I read in October

Non-fiction:

  • Play Anything, Ian Bogost. I like his shtick on twitter, @ibogost. (I skimmed the heavier philosophical bits.)
  • Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages, Gaston Dorren. One of those fun books that comes around every now and then, full of language factoids. (It was near the Bogost book; I have a habit of grabbing one random-nearby-book for every book I intentionally seek out.) I just noticed while grabbing a URL for this entry, that other versions have different subtitles. Weird.

Fiction:

  • The Municipalists, Seth Fried. Loved the premise (sort-of Laundry Files humor-tech but focused on civil infrastructure instead of Cthulhu) but it dragged a bit; felt like a clever idea for a short story, stretched into a full-length novel.

Gatsby & images in RSS

Gatsby uses plugins to transform markdown and images into HTML. (I think they have parents or cousins that work more broadly, but I’m familiar with them inside a Gatsby context.) One of them, gatsby-remark-images, does a lot to improve performance (transforming images into different sizes, handling placeholders and using ”blur-up” tricks, etc).

This is great for a blog with images. BUT… when all of the HTML that wraps those images gets stuffed into an RSS feed, the result doesn’t always look great. In particular, when my feed is displayed on micro.blog, my images’ aspect-ratios are distorted based on the app’s window width.

The hack-y solution I came up with was to do a string-replacement inside the RSS query. All the html in that function gets run through

html: html.replace("width: 100%; height: 100%; ", "")

and my images become fixed in size. Fixed!

(But wait … now I’m looking at the same image in my regular web-based feed reader, and the aspect ratio is fine, it’s just that the image remains 700px wide at all times regardless of window width. I wonder if setting CSS width and height to auto instead of just wiping them clean, would work?)

on Micro.blog & Tumblr

In announcing Tumblr cross-posting today, Manton said, “…the more I’ve used Tumblr in the last couple of weeks, the more I think about Tumblr as a community first and a blog host second.”

(a) I had a very-lightly-used Tumblr blog for about a year before I realized that the fun part was the dashboard, not your own blog. Once I figured that out and started making Tumblr pals, I forgot about the actual blog entirely. I haven’t looked at or linked to it in years, though my Tumblr dash is my #1 social media “place,” ranking well ahead of Twitter or Instagram. (I think my wife skims it sometimes; I’m not sure how much context is lost when my posts appear alone, without the rest of my dash above-and-below those posts.)

(ß) Thinking about (1) and micro.blog together, I’ve been pondering a post explaining micro.blog to my Tumblr pals. “It’s two things in one, just like Our Tumblr is; there’s the part where you have a blog, except none of us are really using that part, and there’s the part where your stuff shows up in a feed alongside the stuff from your ‘followings’. And also it’s $5/mo.”

(ç) Actually, (ß) might be that post. Boom, done.

(4) Marginally related: when I was first futzing around with micro.blog, I tried sending my Tumblr RSS feed into it, and the result was mostly a mess. m.b’s (understandably(!) narrow) focus on text and images meant that other kinds of content were getting lost in the XML… particularly audio and YT stuff, which makes up a fair amount of my Tumblring. To re-visit, maybe…

I listen to things, 3

@ftrain on the Vergecast

Listening to Paul Ford and Nilay Patel talking about online communities. They’re talking about small groups of people who share Plex passwords, and log into each other’s Plex servers to watch pirated TV/movies/etc.

I’ve used Plex for years and it has never occurred to me to share the password or get a password for someone else’s. Plex is just its own thing, for me, like my TiVo or my iTunes collection.

I’m reminded of Google Reader shutting down and the howls from people who said “I made so many friends on GR! How can you take it away?!!” I had never noticed the social part. I was just using it to skim as many headlines as I could. ”Whaddya mean there’s people chatting, under the hood?”

Always missing the fun part, that’s me!

They’re also discussing Dunbar’s number, and that in Paul’s opinion a fun community really should probably max out at 30, which is not enough to pay the bills, if you’re trying to monetize the group.

Tumblrrs seems like it’s the right size, to me.


(UPDATE: a couple of minutes later Paul mentions “private Slacks” for just goofing off with friends. Phew.)