December 28, 2016

2016: Good, Bad, and Ugly

Not a lot to report, more just an acknowledgement this blog is still here and in the back of my mind.  I renewed this domain for another year, reminding me of the intention to write here with more frequency.  New board games have been played and Asimov's SF&F's read; I am definitely not lacking for content.

More than anything else, I wanted to wish you and yours a happy 2017.   Personally, I have a metric shit-ton to be grateful for - in stark contrast to the darker news of 2016 - and I can only hope for even better in the year to come.  

In the meantime, enjoy this picture of Lillian unenthusiastically dressed as a peacock.  

September 7, 2016

And.... We're Back.

The beginning of summer came with some big changes for us; we moved to Bellevue, NE!  That Hawkeye border is awfully close.   The packing, hauling, and unpacking was a large contributor to my absence on this blog.  I will not make any loose vows to be more present, though it is my intention.

CJ and I have been expanding our board game collection and the faithful march through the Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine archives continues.  It would not be hard to imagine updates on both of those fronts appearing in the near future.

In the meantime, enjoy a poem and a picture of some puppies:

The Coming of the Plague
By Weldon Kees

September was when it began.
Locusts dying in the fields; our dogs
Silent, moving like shadows on a wall;
And strange worms crawling; flies of a kind
We had never seen before; huge vineyard moths;
Badgers and snakes, abandoning
Their holes in the field; the fruit gone rotten;
Queer fungi sprouting; the fields and woods
Covered with spiderwebs; black vapors
Rising from the earth - all these,
And more began that fall. Ravens flew round
The hospital in pairs. Where there was water,
We could hear the sound of beating clothes
All through the night. We could not count
All the miscarriages, the quarrels, the jealousies.
And one day in a field I saw
A swarm of frogs, swollen and hideous,
Hundreds upon hundreds, sitting on each other,
Huddled together, silent, ominous,
And heard the sound of rushing wind.

January 31, 2016

Other Things, Don't Do That

I had wanted to get an actual blog post up, but Other Things happened instead.  So, for the last day of January and the first post of the New Year, here's Lillian Gertrude McGillicutty Fynbu Eggert The Third.
'Lily' for short.
The left shot is from November 2nd, 2015, the other is from today.  One of her litter-mates was genetically tested and we have ourselves a mix of Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, and Bloodhound.

Anywho, more posts to return in February. 

*

Don't Do That
by Stephen Dunn

It was bring-your-own if you wanted anything
hard, so I brought Johnnie Walker Red
along with some resentment I’d held in
for a few weeks, which was not helped
by the sight of little nameless things
pierced with toothpicks on the tables,
or by talk that promised to be nothing
if not small. But I’d consented to come,
and I knew what part of the house
their animals would be sequestered,
whose company I loved. What else can I say,
except that old retainer of slights and wrongs,
that bad boy I hadn’t quite outgrown—
I’d brought him along, too. I was out
to cultivate a mood. My hosts greeted me,
but did not ask about my soul, which was when
I was invited by Johnnie Walker Red
to find the right kind of glass, and pour.
I toasted the air. I said hello to the wall,
then walked past a group of women
dressed to be seen, undressing them
one by one, and went up the stairs to where
the Rottweilers were, Rosie and Tom,
and got down with them on all fours.
They licked the face I offered them,
and I proceeded to slick back my hair
with their saliva, and before long
I felt like a wild thing, ready to mess up
the party, scarf the hors d’oeuvres.
But the dogs said, No, don’t do that,
calm down, after a while they open the door
and let you out, they pet your head, and everything
you might have held against them is gone,
and you’re good friends again. Stay, they said.

December 25, 2015

October 31, 2015

October 30, 2015

Humans Need Not Apply, Photospheres, I Got Married

The implications of synthetic intelligence and machine learning are often left to academics and quasi-philosophical discussions over bar tops leaving the layperson sidelined, wondering what all the fuss is about.  Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence paints with broad strokes how smart technologies have already integrated themselves into our culture and the work they are doing  in the background of our lives.   The author, Jerry Kaplan, writes with an expertise and amusement; this isn't brain candy, it is brain dessert.

This nonfiction work is well structured, face-paced, and incredibly concise.  Each chapter takes on a different scene and innovation; be prepared to want to know more!  Between economics and the environment, algorithms are making decisions on our behalf, the consequences disastrous and humorous. Do not be surprised if you find yourself reading long sections out loud to your friends, family, and significant other.

Humans Need Not Apply is a map of what the landscape is today, planting seeds for the reader to envision what the terrain will look like tomorrow.

Published by Yale University Press, August 4, 2015.  Review copy received.  


*


Using some scrap lumber, I built a stand and cradle to rotate my Nexus 6 on the camera lens' axis; the theory is this will help to produce better photospheres.  Paired with Cardboard, it is an interesting experience being able to go back and immerse yourself in the environment again.


Lamenting I had forgotten my stand, I tried to make do with holding the phone upside down and trying to keep a steady axis over the end of a branch plunged into the sand.  A few decent shots turned out, however the stitching accuracy is definitely better when the cradle is there to hold the phone at steady angles.  

*

I got married.  It was a pretty neat day.  We also had a honeymoon which was also neat.  There will be photos floating around for the next long while.  Which is to say I am happy, however life is chaotic.  We are also getting a puppy tomorrow perhaps, maybe?  Pictures of that mess to follow as well.

September 4, 2015

The Best American Poetry 2015, Google Cardboard, Lucky Pumpkin

Any 'best of' selection prepends an obligatorily caveat, expounding the assembly of such a comprehensive anthology is as impossible as it is daunting.  Having read the entirety of this series and similar compilations, it would seem this year had to be more difficult than most.  Series Editor David Lehman continues to elevate the standard set by previous tomes in The Best American Poetry Series; this year's Editor, Sherman Alexie has culled a wider assortment of resources, extending the reader's vision of what poetry can be today.  

A smart collection that suffers no theme, however remains focused.   These anthologies are an excellent way to put poetry back in your life, and this title in particular has a bevy of great selections.  Perhaps you could ask your local bookstore to hold a copy for you?  More information on the official page.

Published by Scribner, September 8, 2015.  Review copy received.  

*

When Nintendo's Virtual Boy was released, no threat of migraines or seizures, no negative reviews, and no price could deter me from coveting this technology.  Twenty years later, the dream is closer to reality.  

A couple weeks ago I snagged the V2 Extra Large Google Cardboard from iamcardboard.com and am nearing cloud nine.  Paired with the Nexus 6, this easy-to-flip-together viewer is pretty darn neat when it comes to creating immersive experiences on an Android phone.  I search the Play Store nigh daily for new apps; many providing mere snippets, promising fuller fleshed program at a later date.  And this is not a complaint, the trailers, trials, and betas all do what we want it to do:  leave us wanting more.

There are plenty of reliable lists of apps to grab for your Cardboard experience.  Photospheres and 360 degree videos are starting to pop up with increasing regularity.  Both MTV and Discovery have jumped aboard, hopefully expanding the visibility and development of this fun little product.   I noticed yesterday the iamcardboard.com is now offering EVA material viewer which, for $5 extra, would definitely spring for if I were doing it again.

Brass tax though, is the hubbub worth it?  It is a lot of fun.  Echoing similar sentiments, the potential is there.  And the potential is pretty awesome.

Keeping my fingers crossed for a Virtual Boy a la Android.

*

This is a pumpkin grown from our too-often neglected garden:


Oh, and the wonderful lady holding it?  That's gonna be my wife.
I'm a lucky, pumpkin-having guy.


September 3, 2015

Zombicide (again), Asimov's 1979 (Part 4), So Early in the Morning

The first board game 'reviewed' here was Zombicide.  Since then, Guillotine Games has expanded this universe and CJ and I have been along for the ride.   Each iteration incorporates new zombie types (each with their own special mechanic), additional weapons, and a variation of places and pieces; all of which add interesting variables to previous and future Zombicide missions.

Remembering all the rules and mechanics for the expanding zombie population can be tricky.  Resources are available on boardgamegeek.com (recommended) if you desire summaries and rules clarification.  A great game for groups (4+); throw a few drinks down and Zombicide will keep y'all entertained for a full evening.  The Murder of Crowz and VIP sets arrived this week at the Fort, I cannot wait to see them in action!

If you have already picked up a copy of Season 1 from your friendly local neighborhood game shop (and a set or two), I highly recommend continuing to expand.

*

A couple posts ago I mentioned Asimov's October issue was kind of a bust for me, however November and December made it difficult to suss out favorites!

The search for the perfect scene can be a complex and arduous affair; Milton A. Rothman exposes this difficulty in The Eternal Genesis.  Opening November's pack of science fiction, the protagonist's pessimism threatens to ruin a good tale, however persistence always leads to a happier ending - usually predicting more difficult tasks ahead?


Steve Perry probably gives the ending away in Flamegame too soon, though arguably the subtle reveal focuses the reader, giving us a break to enjoy the rest of the story.  And enjoy it you shall.  Action from beginning to end makes this a quick, sweet morsel after some of the larger courses preceding it.

The Fare immediately follows Perry's, however sets a very different tone.  It would be easy to mistake Sherri Roth's tale as belonging to The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, and would surely be described as an inspired episode, luckily Asimov's was able to snatch it.  Teleportation has become commonplace, however its inventor refuses to utilize the creation.  One journalist, seeking her out, unravels the dark secret behind this technology, perhaps sacrificing more on this report than expected. 

December hides a gem about a quarter of the way through the issue in Somtow Sucharitkul's The Web Dancer.  An expert in acrobatics, our heroine is persuaded to a higher calling and develops a competitive and ultimately symbiotic relationship with an alien life-form.  Learning to what benefit and to what risk push her to the limit.

The Cow in the Cellar by Bill Earls was probably the most fun of the whole lot.  In a time where resources are controlled, acquiring fresh grocery items can be a struggle.  As you can tell from the title, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.

The narrative rounding out 1979 is Jack C. Haldeman II's Hear the Crash, Hear the Roar, and I could not have anticipated a better way to close out the decade.   It took a second for me to get into this one, however the patience was worth it.  From the sidelines of a demolition derby arena, an admirer for the art of the sport cleans up after every match, trying to understand life though his hero's eyes.

*

So Early in the Morning
by Charles Simic

It pains me to see an old woman fret over
A few small coins outside a grocery store—
How swiftly I forget her as my own grief
Finds me again—a friend at death’s door
And the memory of the night we spent together.

I had so much love in my heart afterward,
I could have run into the street naked,
Confident anyone I met would understand
My madness and my need to tell them
About life being both cruel and beautiful,

But I did not—despite the overwhelming evidence:
A crow bent over a dead squirrel in the road,
The lilac bushes flowering in some yard,
And the sight of a dog free from his chain
Searching through a neighbor’s trash can.


July 26, 2015

City, Demolition, Cat in a Box

Clifford D. Simak has created a remarkable work in City.  Split into several shorter stories, each tale accompanied by 'academic observations' shapes a complete novel greater than the sum of its parts.  And each part is good.  The ease with which Simak moves from the humorous to the thoughtful, from folklore to science fiction, pulls you through the tome.  Published in 1944 and expanded with the Epilog in 1973, the language betrays the time and does not rely on your knowledge of recent history to enjoy this fictional future.

If you are skimming the description and the idea of robots and talking dogs, human transformation and exploration seems too fantastical - or even ridiculous - do give this one a chance.  Clifford D. Simak succeeds at keeping even the most extraordinary elements of his storytelling believable.

Re-published by Open Road Media, July 2015. Review copy received.

*
Demolition
by Mark Doty


The intact facade's now almost black

in the rain; all day they've torn at the back
of the building, "the oldest concrete structure
in New England," the newspaper said. By afternoon,
when the backhoe claw appears above
three stories of columns and cornices,

the crowd beneath their massed umbrellas cheer.
Suddenly the stairs seem to climb down themselves,
atomized plaster billowing: dust of 1907's
rooming house, this year's bake shop and florist's,
the ghosts of their signs faint above the windows
lined, last week, with loaves and blooms.

We love disasters that have nothing to do
with us: the metal scoop seems shy, tentative,
a Japanese monster tilting its yellow head
and considering what to topple next. It's a weekday,
and those of us with the leisure to watch
are out of work, unemployable or academics,

(our bathroom)
joined by a thirst for watching something fall.
All summer, at loose ends, I've read biographies,
Wilde and Robert Lowell, and fallen asleep
over a fallen hero lurching down a Paris boulevard,
talking his way to dinner or a drink,
unable to forget the vain and stupid boy

he allowed to ruin him. And I dreamed
I was Lowell, in a manic flight of failing
and ruthless energy, and understood
how wrong I was with a passionate exactitude
which had to be like his. A month ago,
at Saint-Gauden's house, we ran from a startling downpour

into coincidence: under a loggia built
for performances on the lawn
hulked Shaw's monument, splendid
in its plaster maquette, the ramrod-straight colonel
high above his black troops. We crouched on wet gravel
and waited out the squall; the hieratic woman

-- a wingless angel? -- floating horizontally
above the soldiers, her robe billowing like plaster dust,
seemed so far above us, another century's
allegorical decor, an afterthought
who'd never descend to the purely physical
soldiers, the nearly breathing bronze ranks crushed

into a terrible compression of perspective,
as if the world hurried them into the ditch.
"The unreadable," Wilde said, "is what occurs."
And when the brutish metal rears
above the wall of unglazed windows --
where, in a week, the kids will skateboard

in their lovely loops and spray
their indecipherable ideograms
across the parking lot -- the single standing wall
seems Roman, momentarily, an aqueduct,
all that's left of something difficult
to understand now, something Oscar

and Bosie might have posed before, for a photograph.
Aqueducts and angels, here on Main,
seem merely souvenirs; the gaps
where the windows opened once
into transients' rooms are pure sky.
It's strange how much more beautiful

the sky is to us when it's framed
by these columned openings someone meant us
to take for stone. The enormous, articulate shovel
nudges the highest row of moldings
and the whole thing wavers as though we'd dreamed it,
our black classic, and it topples all at once.

*
More Zombicide stuff is arriving at the Fort later today, stay tuned!





June 17, 2015