Hey, everybody! Look at the crazy old coot!

Apparently, in addition to penning almost exclusively annoying and poorly structured, overly precious novels about baby boomers, Jonathan Franzen also hates ebooks and considers them (I’m not kidding) incompatible with a just society.

Also, I’m sure he would like us to get off his lawn, turn down our music, tuck our shirts in like normal people, and otherwise conform to his increasingly myopic view of the world. I’d say he should just spend more time writing, but after slogging through the Corrections I sort of hope he’ll stop doing that, too. Others do it far better.

JWZ Feels Our Pain

We’re sort of persistently on the edge of kicking any sort of bulk TV provider to the curb here at Heathen World HQ. We probably don’t watch enough shows to justify the $90 or $100 month DirecTV costs, and could probably get 85% of what we want for cheaper just buying it from iTunes, and fill the gap with an antenna or torrents, but right now that’s just a bit too much fiddly for us to make the leap. Wide online streaming availability and occasional $1.99 single-ep purchases have already made it completely unnecessary to hook up the 2nd tuner on the Tivo. It’s only a matter of time before such things obviate the first one, too.

But we’re not quite there yet. Fiddlyness aside, we’d also be screwed on (a) sports on cable (ie, college football, which admittedly won’t start again for 8 months) and (b) HBO, which is the one consistently bright spot on the dial. We would pay HBO $15 a month directly in a HEARTBEAT to get access without having to go through a middleman. Probably $20. Near as we can tell, nobody in the “channel bundler” business — not Dish, not DirecTV, and sure as shit not AT&T or the incumbent terrestrial cable companies — is really doing much of anything to justify their cut of the price. (To be perfectly honest, we feel the same way about pretty much everybody between us and the actual programming providers — local network affiliates could wither up and die for all we care, as long as we get national feed. (Frankly, we feel the same way about KUHF and NPR, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing (HDANCN?)).)

Anyway, the aforementioned Mr Zawinski (a famous-to-nerds Internet person, programmer, and Netscape millionaire cum night club owner) is in more or less exactly the same spot we’re in: standard definition service from DirecTV using a now-nearly-extinct version of the DirecTV-Tivo combo box that was the new hotness in 2002. It really is a nice way to get your TV, but they keep raising the rates for no good reason that I can see. The promised HD Tivo is still a pipe dream, at least in this market, and I will ditch DirecTV altogether before I use one of their bullshit braindead DVRs. And don’t even ask me about a bundled pile of crap from ATT or Comcast.

I think the answer is still, basically, hand on like we are for a bit longer. Bundled programming is a model that is under direct threat from other providers (Apple, Hulu, NetFlix, Amazon). Either DTV will figure out how to provide value in a post-scarcity world, or we’ll ditch them. But right now, the real sock in the face is that all this horseshit JWZ describes is being done by the clear frontrunner in terms of customer service.

That should tell you a LOT about TV service.

In Which A 19 Year Old Mystery Is Unraveled

At some heretofore unknown time in the early 90s, Mr O’Shea Jackson — known to you, no doubt, as Ice Cube — experienced something known colloquially as A Good Day. And yet despite the many notable events — no smog, no gunplay, public endorsements by airborne advertising — scholars have been unable to determine the exact day to which Mr Cube refers.

Until now. It’s sad to realize we missed its 20th anniversary just 10 days ago.

Hollywood: Still Stupid, Still Hating You

This AppleOutsider post takes note of the new MPAA-NetFlix agreement (wherein subscriber access to DVDs will be even further delayed, supposedly to encourage us to just buy the damn things instead), and notices something that should be obvious to the MPAA and everyone else now:

There is no delay for pirated copies of DVDs. There is no DRM. There are no bullshit unskippable warnings or commercials. In response to this supposedly existential threat, Hollywood is making easy access to their content harder, and encouraging folks to find another path. After all, iTunes succeeded because it was easier than piracy.

It really is amazing how fundamentally stupid this is, and how much it suggests an utter contempt for their audience. Make it easy, make it available, and we’ll pay to watch or listen to the things we like. It’s that simple. Start putting hoops in the way, and they just encourage mechanisms of distribution outside their control.

Where Neil Came From

If you’re fan, you should, at your earliest convenience, go read this essay over at neil Gaiman’s site, about the influence of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton on his literary development. It’s completely brilliant and wonderful.

Also, it includes photographs of all three. If you are like me, and read Sandman when you were younger, and perhaps had not at that time or since actually seen a picture of Chesterton, you will be astonished by how obvious the correlation is between the author and Gaiman’s character “Fiddler’s Green.”

Meta-Note: RSS

Because of the shift to WordPress, those of you who have been reading the site via RSS will need to update your feed reader to point to http://mischeathen.com/?feed=rss2 and not the old feed address.

Hey Chief Heathen! What’s all this foofooraw about the Cloud?

Well, odds are, you already use “The Cloud.” The term refers to any product or service that lives in whole or in part on computers provided by some other party. For example, your Gmail is in “the Cloud.” Flickr is a “cloud service” for sharing photos. Every social network lives in the “cloud.” Basically, somebody decided a little while ago that marketing this “cloud” thing like it’s some new magic fairy dust was a good idea, but mostly it’s just confused the nontechnical people I know. So, you know, yay marketing!

I love “cloud” services that involve both remote and local storage. I think of cloud-mediated syncing services as one of the best things to happen to my personal computing needs in like EVER. Instead of keeping my handheld in sync with my desktop by religiously plugging a cable in and pressing the Big Sync Button (like I had to do with Palms), today it just happens silently via connections to central servers — for my mail, my addresses, my calendars, my notes, my working set of files, etc. It’s awesome.

There ARE cloud services that don’t use local storage at all, like Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets. Mostly, I don’t use any kind of service where my work is residing only on someone else’s servers. I think this is a good guideline. With all my syncing mail and other data, I retain a full copy on my computers, and therefore on my various backup tools. Because I access my NoGators mail via a local mail program, Google could vanish and I’d still have all my mail, for example, because it’s all saved locally. Same with all my address and calendar data. (There are of course people who don’t do that, and trust Google not to accidentally fuck them. I think of this as a bad plan.)

With something like Google Docs, that isn’t the case. It’s only at Google. If Google fucks up and zaps your account, good luck getting that data back. I use GDocs for some things — collaboration, mostly — but not for real work for precisely this reason.

Other use cases make the cloud even more appealing: for example, there exist a whole HOST of cloud-based music streaming services, like Spotify and Pandora and others, that give you access to vast libraries of music without having to download anything or maintain a giant local media library. You need a reasonably robust Internet connection, but that’s easy in an urban area like Houston (even, I suspect, in GBV, ha ha). Sure, if the service goes away, you lose access to the music, but you also get to stop paying them. This may or may not be appealing to you, but it’s one use of the so-called cloud. (I use a low-end Spotify account ($5/month) as my “giant sampling account” — sometimes, it keeps me from buying music I only need to listen to a little bit to quash an earworm or whatever; other times, it convinces me that a CD or download is in order.)

Another area the cloud has completely revolutionized is backup. There are SEVERAL good, reputable cloud-based backup services, and I’d advise you to sign up with one. Apple’s TimeMachine does a pretty good job of protecting you, assuming you remember to keep the laptop plugged into a drive. Cloning your laptop’s drive to an external drive periodically is a great second option, and I do that, too — usually before big trips, or before OS upgrades. But the what most people forget to do is arrange for some kind of off-site backup, in the event of catastrophic household loss. Cloud based backups put your (encrypted) data elsewhere by slowly uploading the files and folders you designate, and then keeping the online copies up to date quietly, mostly in the background. House burns down? No problem. Have CrashPlan.com send you an HD of your most recent backup, and you’ve suddenly got all your photos and financial records and email back. This is HUGE.

Finally, you may have heard about a cloud-based service called Dropbox. Dropbox is pretty amazing. Basically, you can use it to keep a folder hierarchy in sync between an arbitrary number of computers. My main working folder is my Dropbox folder now. Everything is always in sync between my laptop, my backup laptop, and my little Mac Mini, just for safekeeping. Even better, I can log into the Dropbox web site and access any of the files from my Dropbox from any other computer — you may recall I pulled an MP3 out of my Dropbox at y’all’s house one evening. Dropbox also makes keeping a shared folder between two Dropbox users pretty trivial, and that’s an enormously powerful idea, too.

Dropbox, obviously, wouldn’t be possible without the so-called Cloud. (It’s also become the de facto network file system for lots of iPhone and iPad based tools, and I suspect their counterparts on Android and Blackberry.)

Apple has also jumped on this bandwagon with iCloud, which is an interesting initiative. Or, I should say, there are some interesting aspects to it. Now, any music, TV, or movies you buy from iTunes are always available to any device you register with your account, regardless of whether or not the file is in the local library. It’ll just download a new copy for you from Apple. That’s kind of neat.

So: Does this impact your actual HD space needs? Probably not. You’ll still have a large MP3 library in the house. You’ll still need space for pix. You may accumulate digital copies of movies. The cloud may make sharing these things easier, but for anything you mean to actually keep, you’ll want to store your own copy on some device in your own home. The so-called Cloud just makes it easier to move all this crap around, and access it whenever you want.

Hey, Chief Heathen! Which Mac Laptop Should I Buy?

I get this question rather a lot. Please note these recs are really only useful from now until Apple revs the product lines again, so check the date; I’m writing this on January 25, 2012.

Your main choice at this point is between a Macbook Air (which has replaced the old “just Macbook”) and a MacBook Pro. There are no white plastic Macbooks anymore.

Macbook Air Options

The Air is insanely slim and portable, and boasts absurd battery life. It’s also really, really zippy. The battery life and zippiness are in part because ALL Macbook Airs use the new SSD type drives, which have no moving parts (unlike traditional hard drives, which contain spinning platters). SSDs are more expensive per gigabyte than regular hard drives, though.

If you haven’t actually seen and touched one of these, please make a point of doing so before you buy something. It’s difficult to explain just how game-changing the size and weight on these things is. They feel as much like something from the future as an iPad, if not moreso. They’re whisperquiet, too.

Dimensions will help you picture it, but definitely go to the store and SEE them. Airs come in 2 sizes: 11″ and 13″. The 11″ is less than 2.4 pounds; the 13″ is just under 3. At their thickest point (they have a wedge-like cross section), both are about 0.68 inches.

The 11″ models are very small, but that cuts both ways. More portable, but less screen real estate.

The “baby” model ($999) also has only 64GB of storage, which is insanely tiny in 2012, and also only 2 GB of RAM. I would not buy this one.

The nicer 11″ model ($1,199) doubles both RAM and storage, and is probably a viable computer IF you don’t plan on:

  • Keeping a media library of any consequence (movies, tv shows, music)
  • Accumulating lots of digital photos (I have 100+ GB of just photos on my computer)
  • Running a Windows virtual machine (which would take probably 20 to 40GB all on its own).

The “lesser” 13″ model ($1,299) has the same storage and RAM as the nicer 11″, but is slightly faster and (obviously) has a bigger screen, so it has the same limitations.

The nicer 13″ model doubles the storage space again to 256GB, but keeps the RAM at 4GB. This is absolutely a reasonable computer for nearly any purpose except very serious photography or very serious virtualization. You even have room for a modest media library. However, it’s $1,599, or significantly more than a larger (but still way sleeker than Dell or HP or IBM) Pro model that would have more storage. If I were buying an Air, this is the model I would buy, but my needs are probably not your needs.

Macbook Pro Options

If you switch over to the more traditional MacBook Pros, you get a bigger computer, but also more net computing power for your money. Let’s qualify “bigger,” though — my 15″ Pro is still lighter and thinner than nearly all mainstream PC laptops. It only looks clunky next to an Air.

Pros come in 3 sizes. I’m going to assume you don’t need a 17″ monster, so really we’re talking about 13″ (same screen size as the bigger Air, but 4.5 pounds instead of 2.4) and 15″ (the size I’ve used forever; these are 5.6 pounds). There are 2 configurations each for the 2 sizes.

These computers come with significantly faster processors, but they won’t seem much if any faster than the Airs because they run traditional hard drives, which are MUCH MUCH slower than SSD.

Both sizes come in a “4GB RAM, 500GB drive” model ($1,199 at 13″ and $1,799 at 15″) as well as a “4GB, 750GB” configuration ($1,499 and $2,199). The 15″ computers are a little bit faster in terms of raw horsepower, but also include significantly nicer graphics chips (for gaming or video work).

Wouldn’t Those Big Professional Computers Run Circles Around The Tiny Air?

You’d think, but apparently not. The current Air is actually faster (when measured by CPU performance) than my Macbook Pro. Adding the speed boost due to the SSD makes the Air models seem absurdly, ridiculously fast when compared to almost anything using a traditional hard drive.

The chips in use in the Pro line are more powerful and faster, but for most users that extra power is wasted unless you’re doing photo or video work, or Windows virtualization, or gaming, etc.

Basically, it’s not an issue here.

Other Differences You May or May Not Care About

Only Pro models have the backlit keyboard.

Pro models also have more ports. The Air models have ONLY USB ports (2) and the new Thunderbolt port, which can support both superfast hard drives and external monitors. Note that this means Airs don’t even have a normal Ethernet port; it’s wireless only, unless you buy a USB adapter. Airs also lack a “Kensington Lock” slot, for laptop cable locks.

Pros include all the ports from the Air plus Ethernet, a FireWire 800 port (2x as fast as USB), and the Kensington slot. It’s possible none of this matters to you — I only use FireWire on my laptop, for example, for large bulk data moves. I use it on my Mac Mini that serves as our media repository, but that’s not a role I’d see a hypothetical Lindsey Air serving. Likewise Ethernet; outside of occasional weird hotels with hardwire-only net access, I never use that port.

Finally, the all Pro models have built-in optical drives. The optical drive for an Air is available as an external USB drive at $79.

What Does Chet Buy?

Well, that’s of little relation to your needs, but I generally buy the fastest 15″ model they make. I’ve done that several times, and it’s usually a hair under three grand when all is said and done. But I have needs you don’t have.

What Does Chet Tell His Mother To Buy?

A much more interesting question, since she’s sort of in the market right now; it turns out her nearly 6-year-old Macbook isn’t talking so well to her new $10,000 sewing machine.

(If your first thought there was “HOLY CHRIST FARMER I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THEY MADE TEN THOUSAND DOLLAR SEWING MACHINES,” well, I’m right there with you.)

Anyway: I think the lesser 13″ Pro ($1,199) is the best deal in raw terms, but I’m a little on the fence, since the nicer 13″ Air ($1,599) is so sexy, light, and portable, and I still perceive nice laptops south of two grand as pretty good deals even though the Air is 1/3 more.

You’d definitely be paying a premium for portability (and, let’s note, stability — no moving parts in the HD makes it more robust) in both dollar and storage space terms. But I’m not certain I wouldn’t do it anyway just because of the sleek size and portability, especially if I were going to schlep it all the time.

Extra Notes

Apple remains the only vendor from whom I always buy an extended warranty. Add $250 depending on model, but that covers everything for 3 years (2 extra years over the basic warranty).

None of these devices have a “normal” (which is to say, VGA) monitor port. If you ever need to plug one into a projector to give a presentation, you’ll need an adapter. That’s extra.

Apple more or less ALWAYS has a no-interest deal going, and I always take advantage. It’s essentially free money.

You will of course want an external drive (USB is fine) of at least 2x the size of your internal drive to configure as your Time Machine backup. Trust me. I know things.

What About Software?

Depends on what you want to do with it. That’s a whole ‘nother conversation, but I’ll add that Microsoft Office ’11 (the Mac version) is pretty nice and, shockingly, isn’t very expensive ($149 for Home/Student, which omits Outlook, or $199 for Home/Biz which includes it). Use true-blue Office if you’re planning on swapping files with work. Use something else if you don’t need to bother with that. Some people will tell you that OpenOffice or Pages or Some Other Thing will swap files with Windows Office fine, but those people are liars. Trust me. I know things.

More followup on SOPA, PIPA, and the entertainment conglomerates

Look, it’s real simple: they hate us:

The MPAA is a hate-sink, a front to protect its members from negative PR. But unlike the similarly purposed Lodsys (and many others), it’s easy to see who the MPAA represents: Disney, Sony Pictures, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Brothers. (Essentially, all of the major movie studios.)

The MPAA studios hate us. They hate us with region locks and unskippable screens and encryption and criminalization of fair use. They see us as stupid eyeballs with wallets, and they are entitled to a constant stream of our money. They despise us, and they certainly don’t respect us.

Yet when we watch their movies, we support them.

They use our money to buy laws that are hostile to us, and will continue to do so until either the succeed or we get real campaign finance reform.

More here, which includes a video you should watch.

We Keep Reading: Dresden part 13

Some Heathen are aware of our affection for Jim Butcher‘s “Dirty Harry Potter” series The Dresden Files, concerning the adventures of a modern day wizard (Harry Dresden) working as a paranormal investigator in Chicago. I discovered them during a period of intense travel five years ago, quickly caught up, and have read each new book pretty quickly after publication since.

Well, that sort of changed with the last one. After Changes, the penultimate volume, I was getting a little tired of Butcher’s schtick. He’s turned a certain corner by my lights such that his voice is overrunning his narrative talent, but he’s selling so well he’s got no reason to reign it in. Hey, dude’s making a living, and presumably a nice one, so more power to him, and I absolutely recognize how hard it must be to sustain a series, so this isn’t meant as a dig. It just means I was less enthusiastic about reading Ghost Story when it came out last August. In fact, I didn’t pick it up until this week, when I was reminded it existed after loaning a giant sack of Dresden books to a friend recuperating from some surgery.

Let’s just say my fears were a at last partly justified. I blew through the book quickly, obviously, as is often the case with genre work. I certainly enjoyed it more than The Trinity Six I mentioned in the last book post, but that’s not a high bar. Mostly, I’m still along for Harry’s ride because I already have a bunch of time invested, and I’m interested to see how it all resolves, but that’s the literary equivalent of being in an abusive relationship. Seriously: Ask any Game of Thrones fan.

What’s worse is that Ghost Story doesn’t resolve any of the growing backstory for Harry. There’s nary a peep of the White Counsel, the Black Counsel, or anything beyond the immediate repercussions of the events in Changes. Granted, that was heavy, but what that leaves us with in Ghost Story is a fairly thin plot with a fairly predictable end that’s telegraphed way, way in advance. (And, to be perfectly honest, the finale of Ghost Story is a clear and obvious place for Harry to end up based on the events of Changes; the plot of the most recent book ends up being almost completely filler.)

So, read it if you’re into Harry. And I can’t say the first few books (at least) aren’t fun, so the series itself is at least worth some of your time.

Oh, and how funny is it that Butcher is still putting the same plea to “please read my sword and sorcery Codex Alera books” in the back of each Dresden tome? Apparently, he only wrote the Dresden books to make cash, and his main love is a cycle of traditional fantasy. I do not have the sense that the fantasy carries any of the charm he’s managed with the Dresden Files.

(Confidential to certain parties in surgical recovery: It may be possible to steal Ghost before Erin reads it, given the pace with which you’re reading the others…)


We were totally gonna invite some of you Heathen people over for dinner, but decided champagne and the bath sounded better. Sorry.

Wait. Really? The CDC and hysteria about drinking

Over at MeFi there’s this link, which is funny and amusing. Why, the author wonders, does his binge drinking behavior (per the CDC) not result in violence or unprotected sex? After all, he might have 4 or 6 glasses of wine at any given dinner party!

The real money shot here, though, is in the comments to the MeFi post, which pointed out the CDC’s actual, by the numbers definition of “binge drinking,” which they actually take from the NIH:

Binge drinking is a common pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above.

It’s even on the definitions page at NIH.

Unless I’m reading this wrong, the CDC thinks you’re binging if you reach 0.08 percent BAL, or a level that is actually below the driving limit in many states — i.e., well before most people would consider you “drunk” in any sense other than “maybe shouldn’t drive.”

Seriously, really? So perhaps any wine tasting is a binge. Perhaps any afternoon of tailgating is a binge. Certainly any trip to a modern cocktail bar is a binge.

I have no doubt that alcohol can be a problem, and that the problem is magnified by extravagant drinking habits — but when I think of “extravagant drinking habits,” my mental picture is a bit beyond the guy who’s considering whether or not he should, legally, drive. The CDC and NIH do nobody any favors — except, perhaps, prohibitionist types like MADD, but that may be entirely the point.

SOPA and SIPA are not dead

But the protests DID make a mark; see here, and marvel at the ability of folks like Chris Dodd and Lamar Smith to lie as though they have no shame whatsoever.

Keep paying attention. Keep watching.

Every so often, Vanity Fair does something perfect

Should Vanity Fair Be A Spelling Vigilante?

Reproduced here in full, just because it’s so awesome I can’t stand for you not to see it:

Just as New York Times public editor Arthur S. Brisbane is concerned whether his newspaper is printing lies or the truth, we here at V.F. are looking for reader input on whether and when Vanity Fair should spell “words” correctly in the stories we publish.

One example: the word “maintenance” seems like it should only have one “a” in it. It should be “maintenence,” right? But it’s not. So is it our job as reporters and editors to spell it correctly?

Another example: who decides “Michele Bachmann” should be spelled with one “l” in “Michele” and two “n”s in “Bachmann”? I’ve never seen it spelled like that in any other circumstance, so should we print it just because that’s how she spells it? I don’t know.

As one reader recently wrote in a message to the spelling editor:

“My question is what role the magazine’s news coverage should play with regard to stupidly spelled words. In general, Vanity Fair spells stuff correctly, but sometimes words just look wrong. ‘Broccoli,’ for instance, looks dumb. If a magazine’s overarching goal is to be correct, but something makes you do a double-take because it just looks so bad, should Vanity Fair just let these oddities stand?”

Is that the prevailing view? And if so, how can Vanity Fair do this in a way that is objective and fair? Whose job is it to decide what words look strange and what words just look fancy? And at what point does an exotic extra consonant become distracting?

Dept. of Intensely Smoking Covers

Fiona Apple completely owns Elvis Costello’s “I Want You” in this clip; on guitar, of course, is Declan himself:

I wish I knew what this was from, and where I could get an audio copy (i.e., other than a youtube rip). It’s apparently from the VH1 Decades concert series back in 2006, whose concept was “classic artists and new artists together.” Hard to believe any combination was more successful than this one. More clips from the Costello edition are here.


The MPAA — an organization that once compared a household VCR to the Boston Strangler — is referring to the growing online protest against SOPA/SIPA as an abuse of power.

Lamar Smith — one of SOPA’s primary backers — insists it’s a publicity stunt, and that bill markup will resume in February.

The saddest part of all this is how absurd and awful the end of Chris Dodd’s career has become.

So, about commenting…

Probably the best thing for you to do is register here, at Heathen, to comment. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get the Google thing hooked up again, but the reason I discouraged it before was precisely because the move to WordPress was imminent.


Via TechDirt, we find something very clever from Tim O’Reilly. Here’s the core bit:

I found myself profoundly disturbed by something that seems to me to go to the root of the problem in Washington: the failure to correctly diagnose the problem we are trying to solve, but instead to accept, seemingly uncritically, the claims of various interest groups. The offending paragraph is as follows:

“Let us be clear—online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, and threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation’s most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs. It harms everyone from struggling artists to production crews, and from startup social media companies to large movie studios. While we are strongly committed to the vigorous enforcement of intellectual property rights, existing tools are not strong enough to root out the worst online pirates beyond our borders.”

In the entire discussion, I’ve seen no discussion of credible evidence of this economic harm. There’s no question in my mind that piracy exists, that people around the world are enjoying creative content without paying for it, and even that some criminals are profiting by redistributing it. But is there actual economic harm?

Seriously. Show us. Remember, O’Reilly is a publisher. He makes his living in the content business. But all the hollering about piracy assumes that every pirated copy is a lost sale, and that’s never been the case. Assuming that the entertainment industry is correct about its supposed losses, or even that it’s being honest at all, is just a bad idea — this is a group that has fought every innovation tooth and nail going back a hundred years or more. They hated player pianos, they hated radio, they hated cassettes, they hated the VCR. Why should we think they’re on the level now?



Chief Heathen Technology Officer Dorman has graciously converted Heathen once again, this time to WordPress. Movable Type was, sadly, just about done. Let us know if you see anything weird.

Comments may be janky for a bit. It’s also possible you’ll need to reregister IF and ONLY IF you tried to use a local-to-Heathen authentication plan. If you’re using Google or something else, that should carry over just fine.

HeathenFact: This is the 5th platform for Heathen in eleven years:

  1. Blogger (pretty brief — November 2000 through July of 2001)
  2. GreyMatter (July 2001 through sometime in 2003)
  3. Blosxom (2003 through about 2008, I think)
  4. Movable Type (2008 through today)
  5. WordPress

I think that’s all.

One, Two, Three

A quasi-resolution this year is to blog more about books. I’ve finished 3 since the first of the year; here’s a brief rundown:

The one I loved
Ready Player One is a beautiful love letter to geeks of a certain age. Set in a dystopic near-future, it centers on the wild scavanger hunt set up by the will of a dead video-game billionaire equal parts Richard Garriott, Bill Gates, and Howard Hughes — a hunt that takes place entirely in a virtual world, but which has very, very high stakes in the real one. Said billionaire has left his entire 12-figure estate to the winner of an online game centered around his love for 80s nerd culture. It’s all there: the films, the books, the video games, the whole nine yards. This one’s particularly recommended if you enjoyed Stephenson’s REAMDE earlier in the year.
The one about which I’m ambivalent

Seriously, I am, and that’s a first for China Mieville. He’s move on from his Bas-Lag world in recent works, mostly to great success. The City and the City was mindbending and awesome without being full of the sort of physical weirdness that dominated his primary trilogy. Kraken was a bit more of a return to form, but set in an urban-fantasy version of London, and was no less compulsively readable and thought provoking.

So imagine my surprise when I found Embassytown too clever by half. I really had to sort of make myself finish it, and was only kinda-sorta glad I had. What Mieville is doing here is definitely interesting — this time it’s a novel-length rumination on the role of language in cognition, among other things, so if you’ve got linguistic leanings, jump right in — but it tends to overpower a narrative I found murky and slow. Having one’s Big Idea overshadow one’s Story is an ongoing risk in the world of speculative fiction — the so-called “literature of ideas,” as if realistic or literary fiction was somehow free of them — but given his past work, I thought Mieville was immune. It’s probably still worth reading if you’re a fan, or if my thumbnail description here piques your interest, but it’d be a bad place to jump into the deep pool that is Mieville. (For that, go for Perdido Street Station.) piques your interest, but it’d be a bad place to jump into the deep pool that is Mieville.

The about which I almost forgot

I am forever making notes about books I want to read. After Amazon happened, and especially after Amazon’s app meant it was always in my pocket, one way I handled this was to just order the damn book with the idea fresh in my head. In this way, I developed a fucking enormous stack of to-read books in my office.

Fortunately, the Kindle has made this process a little better, but without making the to-read list any shorter. Now, instead of buying a book I might want to read immediately, I hit Amazon and tell it to send a sample to my Kindle for free, which I’ll get around to reading eventually. I do this a LOT. If I enjoy the sample, I buy the book. If not, I found out for free.

That’s how I found myself reading The Trinity Six, which has been described all year as a “literary thriller.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, unless it’s a reference to the fact that the protagonist is a university professor instead of a special forces operative. I found it compulsively readable without being particularly filling, but also without the sort of literary hangover I experience when I read utter crap. Definitely worthwhile for air travel, but otherwise unremarkable.

Slacktivist, right again, this time about the New York Times

Yesterday I ranted about Arthur Brisbane’s inane worry about the Times becoming “truth vigilantes.” Fred “Slacktivist” Clark, a longtime member of the journalism tribe, has some choice words for Arty:

OK, Brisbane seems unclear on both sides of “All the news” and “fit to print,” so let’s review.

“If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

That’s the job. That’s it. That is what being a reporter and a journalist means.

If your mother tells you she loves you and you turn around and repeat, “My mother loves me,” or even the slightly more careful, “My mother says she loves me,” then you’re not a reporter or a journalist. You’re not reporting, just repeating. That’s stenography or gossip, not journalism.

Checking it out is what makes a reporter and what makes a report.

It’s amazing to me this needed to be said. Clark has more:

Arthur Brisbane’s column is an admission of journalistic malpractice. He should be told to step away from his desk and go home before he does any more damage. The New York Times ought to be furious for what he has done to its once-respected name.

And his name should become a shorthand epithet for all who are clueless about the most basic purpose of their jobs. The next time a cornerback totally flubs the coverage to allow an easy touchdown, the announcer should say, “Boy, he really pulled a Brisbane on that play. He looked like he had no idea why he was even on the field …”

You should, of course, go read the whole thing.