Friday, December 23, 2011

Six Months With the Kobo Touch

According to the receipt that I found yesterday, I have now (as of today) owned my Kobo Touch for six months. Coincidentally, a new firmware version has also been released today.

At the time, the Kobo Touch seemed like the right choice. I had considered buying the first Kobo eReader since it was cheaper than a Sony and it didn't lock you in like Kindle, but several things held me back. The biggest thing was that change was promised to be on the horizon. "Price drops by Christmas," they said, "colour e-ink next year. . ."

Of course, those promises were broken. So by the time the Kobo released a new touchscreen I was tired of waiting and ready to buy a device just to 'get me by' until the good stuff came out.

By and large, the Kobo has worked. Most of the time. Right off the bat the reading experience wasn't great. There was little support for sideloaded content (the main reason I bought the thing) but you could read with it. It just wasn't very easy. There wasn't much control over how the text was displayed and the 'page' number would often overlap the text. Through quite a few firmware updates all this has changed, of course.

But the story doesn't end there. It hasn't always been an uphill experience. With each firmware 'update' it seems that new bugs are introduced. Sometimes old bugs come back. There was one bug that cut off the last line of text on every page. There was one bug that broke the functionality of SDHC memory cards for some users. There was even a bug that caused some Kobo databases to become corrupt forcing constant 'factory resets'.

Currently, the only bug that really bothers me is that it will sometimes not turn the page when I tap the screen, a second tap will then turn two pages. This bug has been around for a long time. . .

I hope that the new firmware I just installed will fix this, but I doubt it. It isn't listed as one of the fixes. Also, there is still no way to organize the library into collections or shelves.

Conclusion: while buggy and often frustrating, it works. Still, I can really only recommend the Kobo Touch to users who won't mind mucking through CSS and XHTML to make their books work, or who can hack the Linux based firmware. Furthermore, within the last six months, new ereaders have come on the market that are priced competitively with the Kobo. Sony and Kindle (Amazon) both offer much better customer support and can pump far more resources into their software updates.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Kobo Touch 1.9.14

For those of you considering buying a Kobo Touch for Christmas (and as penance for yesterday's post), here are some of the features that Kobo has added to the Touch since it's initial release (my notes in italics):

  • Choice of five new pre-loaded fonts (seven in total)
  • Add your own fonts!
  • Adjustable margins, line spacing, justification and more
  • Search within a book
  • Enter text for dictionary search in all supported book formats
  • Select words within ePubs for dictionary search
  • Set your preferred language
  • Translate words in a book into other languages
  • Full German dictionary now included
  • Sleep and power off screens now show full screen book covers!
  • Support for free ebooks from Internet Archives
  • Book progress available in Library
  • Customize how you tap on the screen to turn pages (including left-handed)
  • Check the time while you are reading
  • Revised EXTRAS page under Settings (extras include Sudoku, Sketchbook, and the internet browser)
  • Make notes within a book while you read
  • Browse and edit your notes with the Annotations List
  • Tap the upper right-hand corner of your page to bookmark it
  • Add notes to your bookmarks from the Annotations List
  • Sync your notes and bookmarks to the Kobo Cloud (Proprietary ePubs only)
  • Share passages and awards with your friends through Facebook
  • Recieve awards for sharing your reading life
  • Share book on Facebook
  • Quickly preview Footnotes and Endnotes from linked text in a book (not working properly yet)

I have found the Kobo Touch to be very buggy. Each firmware release fixes some problems but invariably introduces more or resurrects old bugs. Strangely, these bugs do not affect everyone, but everyone will get a bug at some time or another.

One persistent bug which has affected my Kobo is that it will randomly not turn the page when I tap the screen. I could then wait forever staring at the same screen, the interval is not a factor, but the next time I tap the screen the page will process two taps. This means that if I tap forward a second time the reader will quickly turn two pages. If I tap in the center it will turn the page once and then bring up the menu. This problem presents more frequently under certain firmware versions than others but it has not gone away.

I still cannot recommend this device to the average user. There are plenty of alternatives on the market now such as the Sony PRS-T1. If you can find the discontinued Sony PRS-650 I'd recommend that over the new Sony. Personally, I would avoid Kindle at all costs, but they reportedly do have great customer service.

And just recently colour eInk eReaders have started to show up. . .

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kobo Touch Malfunction

What is this? Some sort of cosmological retribution for finally getting a functional Bluray palyer?

Last night my ereader started acting up. Basically, my SD card no longer functions with my Kobo Touch.

This is a known problem, has been for a couple of months now, it just never bit me before. Kobo keeps telling us that they've fixed the problem, but that doesn't seem to be true now does it. In fact, the Kobo Touch has many problems and lacks in some industry standard features (like the ability to organize your library), although firmware updates may address these issues in the future. For instance, they have added many features since the original launch such as search within the text of a book, highlighting, and notes. Yes, those are standard features on other ereaders, and yes Kobo Touch owners had to wait until quite recently for those last two (note that they list the SD card problem as 'fixed'). Mostly they've given us clutter like reading awards, post to facebook, and other crap like that.

And how do they reward us loyal early adopters? By giving away free ebooks to new adopters. . .

I was going to post about all the nice features that Kobo has added to the touch, but I'm too pissed off at the moment. As it stands now, I cannot recommend this product to anyone.

Edit (12/09/2011): Oops, my bad. The problem was caused by a poorly formated epub. . .

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Finally, a Bluray Player that Works!

So, finally fed up with a growing collection of Bluray discs that I can't watch, I went out and bought a new player last night.

And I'm shocked to report that it actually works. And no, that is not me being facetious.

The list of failures my old player presented me with is long and stretches back all the way to the day I got it. A specific example would be Batman Begins, a problem disc to be sure.

I like this movie. It really is a shame that the sequel is a steaming pile (I hope the third is better), but even more disappointing is the fact that I have been unable to watch the Bluray that is in my possession.

Okay, that is not entirely true, I was able to watch it once on my computer, but that was a struggle in itself. The digital lock would not permit me to watch past the warning and logo screens. I naively tried to update the software that came with the computer, a move which locked out all the movies I own, including the ones I had previously watched on my computer; such titles as Iron Man, Get Smart, Stargate, and The Fifth Element. I finally resorted to a trial version of an on the fly DRM stripping program called AnyDVD. It worked. . . the first time.

My old LG never would play this disc. I always found this to be rather odd. Batman Begins is not a new title. It was not even when I bought the player. The digital key should have been available even then, and certainly via firmware update since. It never was.

Begining to doubt that the player was at fault when I tried to watch this movie on my computer for a second time, I even tried dropping the disc in boiling water for ten seconds, a remedy I had read about that had cured some Xbox discs. No go. In fact the computer would no longer even recognize that the disc was valid.

I thought I had killed it.

Not so. Last night, and continuing this morning, I began going through the list of discs that wouldn't play on my old LG. So far so good; they all play. With trepidation, and little hope, I placed Batman Begins on the tray of my new Sony BDP-BX58. Success - an FBI warning! Then the WB logo! Then the menu! Wonder of all wonders, the movie even played!

Okay, so the picture quality of this old bluray isn't the best. DNR all over the place. At least the movie itself is good. And more importantly, I can see it again!

Rating for Sony's BDP-BX58


Tuesday, November 8, 2011


So I was busy making up my Christmas wishlist and I went to check if there are any deals on seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Wow! Just wow! HD TNG is coming in 2012! (links in order of my discovery)

That happened much earlier than I expected, but I guess next year is the 25th anniversary. 25 years? I'm getting old. . .

My only concern is that they will be redoing all the special effects rather than upconverting. This could be good and it could be bad. I guess it depends on how many elements they can salvage and how many they have to recreate. Hopefully they give us better looking planets for the first few seasons anyway.

Wait and see, I guess.

I hope they don't cost an arm and a leg either. . .

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sucker Punch (2011)

I like to think of Sucker Punch as a frame story for a bunch of action movies that I wish were full length movies on their own. The frame itself is very much like a picture frame; it is the functional, stylish, yet utterly mundane thing that surrounds the beautiful picture.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

No DRM = Less Piracy?

Yeah, I knew this too (see my previous post). Apparently, a recent study shows that abandoning DRM would actually reduce digital piracy because legal customers would no longer be driven to other means in order to avoid being harassed. Shocking. . .

While I have a hard time understanding how anyone could not see this as common sense, I can believe that the sociopaths and other power freaks that run business might not.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Canada to Support Evil

I knew this was going to happen. . . but I wanted the 'tough on crime' Bill and the eradication of the long gun registry. . .

The specific evil to which I refer in the title of this post is the provision in Bill C-32 that makes it illegal to break DRM even for personal use of media that you paid for.

Let's be clear here: DRM is evil! It is the equivalent of selling a house that only one person can live in, no one can visit, the key may or may not open the front door even if the newest version of key has been provided, ownership can be revoked at any moment at the whim of the vendor, yet it cannot be resold when the 'owner' needs to move to a new city and it cannot be jacked up and trucked to the new property.

The most annoying aspect of this is that DRM serves no purpose unless law-abiding customer annoyance is the purpose. Pirates tear through DRM like tissue paper. Sometimes, the new encryption is broken before it even hits the market.

In fact, it can be argued that digital piracy exists, in part, because of DRM. This is due to the annoyance factor. Personally I have been stung with a number of Blu-rays that simply won't load despite installation of the latest firmware. Worse yet, the new firmware broke compatibilty with some of my Blu-rays that previously would load.

And I know I'm not the only one being inconvenienced by DRM. In fact, I would wager that the only people being inconvenienced by DRM are legal consumers. I've read many testimonials on the internet from those who have purchased a game that, due to draconian DRM (worthy of its own post), was unplayable so they downloaded a cracked copy. I've also read about people ripping DVD's just so that they don't have to watch the anti-piracy ad every time they want to watch a movie.

Just to highlight some of the lunacy this Bill represents, here are a few quotes from the article listed above:

"Bill C-32 would make it legal for consumers to make a back-up copy of content to protect against loss or damage."

Then later:

"Under the law, Canadians will not be allowed to break digital locks, even if it's for personal use. This includes picking a lock on a DVD purchased overseas to watch at home or to transfer a purchased e-book to read on another personal device."

How does it even make sense to say that you can make backups for personal use, yet you can not bypass the DRM to do so?


Meanwhile there is still no word about removal of the 29 cent levy on blank CD's, which is supposed to compensate musical artists for piracy (and tacitly making said piracy legal) or how this will affect the Mountie's stance regarding file-sharers.

And hey, what is a conservative government doing meddling in the affairs of business anyway?

P.s. Tivo and other PVRs were illegal? What was Futureshop really selling in all those boxes then?

"The law will legalize everyday consumer practices, such as using a personal video recorder to record a TV show for later viewing or copying music from a purchased CD to an MP3 player. These are not allowed under the current law."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Total Recalled

How come I never hear about things until well after the fact?

For those who didn't click the link above (and probably some who did) let me elucidate: They are remaking Total Recall!

Why they are doing this is not really a secret. In short, fewer people are paying $13.00 a ticket to watch movies in room full of inconsiderate people, fewer people are buying Low-Def DVDs to watch on their High-Def TVs, and even fewer people are buying overpriced DRM protected locked BDs (Can anyone say "Netflix"?).

So Hollywood is turtling into the realm of 'Safe' movies (i.e. remakes, low budget productions, etc.). And what could be safer than remaking a successful movie. And that's not all, it's one of the most successful of the many adaptations of Philip K. Dick's writings. For the record, these other adaptations are Blade Runner (1982), Screamers (1995), Total Recall 2070 (1999 TV Series), Imposter (2002), Minority report (2002), Paycheck (2003), A Scanner Darkly (2006), and The Adjustment Bureau (2011). Also in the works are a Blade Runner Sequel and a Prequel.

Will I go see it? That is question that I can't answer yet.

Interestingly, it seems that Colin Farrell didn't get enough of a taste of (P. K.) Dick. Previously he played a fatally naive detective on Minority Report, opposite Tom Cruise. I just don't know how successful they will be replacing an Austrian Oak with an Irish Twig.

Be sure to check out the picture of the flying car prop over on the Wikipedia page.

P.s. Somebody please pick up the Lone Ranger project! So typical to cut a potentially good film when the crappy one you just made bombs at the box office Smiley

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Oldie, But Far From Classic

Book Review - Whipping Star by Frank Herbert

Every so often I manage to attend the yearly book sale at my local library. Last year I just happened to notice the sign while driving by. . .

Fifty cents (CDN) for a hardcover is a very good price, assuming you can find something you like.

One of the books from my haul last year was Whipping Star by Frank Herbert. Now I admit that the last thing I read by Mr. Herbert was Dune. And that was over a decade ago. What I remember is that the book was kinda obtuse and overly dense. Of course, I was seventeen at the time that I read that tome.

Despite my first impression of Herbert's writing, I bought this novel.

Or perhaps novelette would be a more apt description. The first thing I noticed when I picked up the book was that it was quite thin. Opening the book revealed rather large font. Font almost large enough for the elderly to read.

That being said, it felt kind of refreshing to read a story that wasn't plumped up 500% like many books being written today.


The Empire was built on a gift from a mysterious alien race, a gift that allows instantaneous transport to any place in the universe. Now the last member of the alien race is being slowly tortured to death by a madwoman and it soon becomes clear that once the alien dies anyone who has ever transported will wink out of existence. . . and no-one is known to have not transported.


My first impression of the writing was that it was amateurish. While reading those first few pages I surmised that this must be one of Herbert's early works. So I looked up some dates on the internet to confirm this idea, but alas, I was wrong. 1945 appears to be when his first short story was published. 1963 was when Dune appeared. 1970 is when the book form of whipping star was published (apparently a shorter version was published in Worlds of If Science Fiction the year before). I think it's safe to assume that Whipping Star was written to keep Herbert's pot of water boiling.

One thing that intrigued me was Herbert's invention called the Bureau of Sabotage, although it was not fully developed in this short work. In fact it mostly came across as just another government agency.

Herbert also created some cool alien names in this book which mostly offset the negative aspects of the Law of Alien Names. Despite this, the names match up to some pretty average aliens. That's not to say that there isn't some experimentation, especially with the eponymous race (what you couldn't figure that one out from the title?). At least, should a movie ever be made from this story, the aliens couldn't all be played by people with rubber masks.

The main character reads very much like an ethnologist from the 1960's. I picture him as a burly man wearing flannel, arrogant and full of bluster (pretty much exactly like this guy). His ethos is characterized by an oblivious humano-centrism, much as real ethnologists from the mid twentieth century were ignorant of their Euro-centrism. Central to this attitude is also the belief that everything can be understood (usually with only casual observation). Typical of literature from this period, this attitude is always correct and successful.

One last thing - I don't normally condone vandalising library books, but. . .

Rating: **.5/5

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hanna (2011)

Okay, not SF. Maybe fantasy if you take that word at its base meaning.

Whatever, I'm going to review Hanna anyway.

This could have been a good movie. At times it actually is a great movie. However, bad pacing and plot holes bring this one down.

Unfortunately for a 'thriller', this one starts out slow, without a hook, and continues in this rut for far too long. On its own, the opener wouldn't be such a bad movie. One I might not watch, but not bad. Does it fit where it is? Not so much.

Then the narrative finally switches and it seems that we get the movie that was advertised.

But the action is short lived. We then get a fish out of water story not unlike the movie Nell. Oh, there's also a bit of a lesbian romance.

Eventually the bad guys catch up with Hanna and there is a brief flash of excitement. Hanna totally outclasses these thugs, yet she opts to jump in the river rather than finish the bad guys off and rescue the family that has been helping her. The movie dishonestly leaves the fate of the family off camera. However, everyone else that encounters the bad guys meet gruesome ends and it is unlikely that the family would have escaped a similar end.

From here it's all downhill. The only gun seen (and used) belongs to the main antagonist which works quite well for her until Hanna remembers how to use it.

Ultimately this movie revels in a bleak, masochistic view of the world and offers little entertainment in return. I recommend last year's Kick-Ass over this movie.

Rating: **/5

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cyberpunk lives!

Guess I'm going to have to re-read Neuromancer soon. . .

I remember when I first heard about Cube. Like so many movies, the trailer was better than the feature. But It did prompt me to watch each of its sequels. (for a really good Canadian film check out Foolproof)

I haven't seen Splice yet. It really doesn't look like my thing.

At any rate, I think Natali is probably the right man for the job.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blu-ray Sucks!

I'm sick and tired of Blu-ray DRM. More specifically, I'm tired of buying movies and having to wait upwards of a month to watch it because the latest firmware for my player isn't out yet. I'm tired of disc load times that creep ever upward. I'm tired of disc failures due to damaged DRM tracks. I'm sick because I payed for this headache. And I'm sick because I also payed for an expensive Blu-ray drive for my computer that requires an even more expensive piece of software that still won't play my movies!

The insanity of it all is that there is absolutely no reason to keep changing the encryption every time a new movie comes out. Let me be absolutely clear on this point: DRM does not stop pirates! What it does manage to do, and do quite well I might add, is piss of those of us that insist on giving our money to these jokers.

Now why is it that everyone seems to be joining Netflix?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kobo Touch 1.9.5


The 1.9.5 firmware update (full details here) for the Kobo Touch adds a fully featured text adjustment menu. There is now a slider to adjust margins, a slider to adjust line spacing, and a slider to adjust font size. You can also select left aligned or justified text.

Most importantly, there are new Fonts! The Kobo Touch came pre-packaged with Avenir and Georgia. Now it also has Amasis, Delima, Felbridge, Gill Sans, and Rockwell.

You can even add your own fonts! There is room on the font menu for five more fonts that you can load yourself. Just make a folder called fonts (not Fonts) and put the OpenType or TrueType font files in there. Right now I have Bookman Old Style, Calibri, Charis SIL, Segoe UI, and a modified version of Nimbus (not fully functional on the Kobo) made by the mobileread forum user delphin.

I've also tried Book Antiqua, Cambria, DejaVu Sans, DejaVu Sans Mono, DejaVu Serif, Droid Serif, Garamond, Garamond Premier Pro, Liberation Serif, and Minion Pro.

Note: Italic and bold text in side-loaded books seems to have been broken by this update.

My wish list for future updates: Dictionary and highlighting for side-loaded books, library sorting options (Author, Genre, length, etc.), a notepad, first line indent.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson

Sadly, I cannot recommend Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson, but read on if you would like to know more.


A young man with a promising career as a composer, and who also happens to be the son of a Nobel Prize winning genius, discovers that the woman he wants to marry is actually the heir to one of the biggest, and wealthiest, dynasties in the solar system. He has been deemed worthy by the patriarch of the family and everything is ready to proceed. One hitch, he has to give up his career as a musician, his surname, and all the dreams he had for the future.

Sounds like a deal, right?

Instead he joins a colony ship heading out for the stars and far, far away from the only woman he has ever loved.

My thoughts

Let me state right off the start that I have never before read anything by Robert Heinlein nor Spider Robinson. Perhaps fans of either author will find more in this offering. Perhaps not.

To begin with, this is not a Heinlein book. Spider Robinson was told not to write one. This is a book based on an unfinished outline for a juvenile novel that Heinlein shelved early in his career. It also carries on with some of Heinlein's themes and is set in a version of Heinlein's 'Future History' universe. How exactly this version differs from Heinlein's own I can't really say, but there is one rather large event half way through the book that I'm pretty sure mucks things up really well.

It most definitely is not appropriate as a juvenile novel.

I don't know how Variable Star compares to Robinson's other works, but this one was not for me. His language skills are proficient enough; I have no problem there. The problem is that there are really three stories here, each of which could have been given their own treatment. Or rather, they should have received their own treatment. The first is a romance story, the second a tale of a generational ship, and the third. . . well I won't spoil it for you. The storylines sit mostly on their own, growing from the previous story but never returning, not really interdependent. Each could probably have been worked to stand on their own as a short story or novella. Each has enough changes in theme or genre to cater to an entirely different audience than the last.

I also found that too much depended on sheer coincidence. It's a pet peeve of mine. I find that it interrupts my suspension of disbelief. But that might just be me, and I realize that coincidence is not only necessary in some degree for most narratives, but that it actually does happen in real life too.

Parting Shots

Apparently there are three sequels forthcoming. Maybe then we'll get an answer to the mystery of the poppy incident.

I did enjoy the little tidbits of Canadiana that Robinson inserted here and there. Now if he would just learn more about the rest of his adopted country. . .

I wish I had bought the paperback version. I got the hardcover on impulse; it was in a bargain bin at Coles. Normally I like to do a little research before a purchase, but hey, the price was right. What I later learned was that the Cover Art, mostly covered up by a text box on my copy, was done by none other than Stephan Martiniere (whom I wrote about here). As you can probably tell from the article behind my parenthetical link, I'm a fan of his work. Such work as is displayed much better on the paperback edition. . .

Rating: **/5

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kobo Touch

So, I took the plunge today and bought my first e-book reader. You may have noticed the title of this post. . . yes that's what I got.

The software has already become corrupt once. Smiley

Not an auspicious beginning. I'm not sure how that happened. Perhaps there is some trick to ejecting the device that they didn't mention in the pamphlet type 'manual' that it came with.

Other than that it works well. Reading on the e-ink is much nicer than the LCD on the iPod I borrowed from my sister.

I'm busy loading it up with public domain books.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Eddard Stark

Well, that didn't go the way I wanted. . .

I don't know if I can bear to watch any more.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hobbits and the Soap Opera Effect

I'm worried about the new Hobbit movie. Very worried.

Not that long ago my family upgraded to a flat panel LCD television. It turns out that our chosen model was not the best (it really could use more black definition) but it works reasonably well. I especially enjoy watching bluray movies on it. What baffled me at first was that one of the 'features' of our new TV, when activated, actually made the viewing experience worse.

That feature is called motion interpolation, or TruMotion (240hz) on our LG. All new flat panels have it, although each manufacturer has their own name for it (Sony = MotionFlow, Panasonic = Intelligent Frame Creation, Sharp = Fine Motion Enhanced, etc.). What it boils down to is that this feature is supposed to create a smoother, apparently more high-def picture by increasing the frame rate. To accomplish this, they add frames between those actually being sent to the television. On some this is accomplished by simply repeating the last frame shown. On others, a computer program interpolates what the new frame 'might' have looked like, had it ever existed. Obviously the former is more prone to judder and the latter is more prone to introduced artefacts.

That doesn't actually sound so bad. In fact there are many advocates for this new technology, including one very vehement employee at my local Sony store.

But I just can't stand it. It makes everything look cheap and artificial, a little too smooth or fast. Some people say it looks like everything was shot with a camcorder. Others say it looks like Corry. I suppose that's how it got the nickname "Soap Opera Effect".

I remember when I first saw this effect in action. They were playing Quantum of Solace at the Sony Store. Having not seen the film previously, I assumed that MGM had simply gone cheap on the production values. Let me tell you, anyone familiar with CBC or BBC programming would recognize the look.

Or maybe not. I know a number of people who can't tell the difference.

Fortunately for me, you can turn this 'feature' off.

48 Frames Per Second

So what does this have to with the Hobbit?

Both James Cameron and Peter Jackson have announced that their next projects will be shot in 48 fps (and/or 60 fps for the Avatar sequels, but who cares about those?). They describe it as smoother, more clear. In fact, they describe it exactly the same way proponents of motion interpolation describe 240 hz TV's.

All possible technical difficulties aside, this will effectively force us all to abandon the familiar film look.


Apparently I'm not the only who's concerned which has prompted Peter Jackson to announce that a regular 24 fps print will be made from the 48 fps master so that every theatre will be able to show the movie. But he also says that it looks different than a regular 24 fps film when taken from the 48 fps master. I'm also anxious about the silky look he's talking about making via a larger shutter angle.

He also didn't mention anything about home video versions.

I don't know, am I a Fossil? A Ludite? Or is it that I simply know what I like?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Two New Fantasy Series: Game of Thrones Vs. Camelot

Game of Thrones (HBO 2011)

I gave this one a couple of weeks just to make sure the first episode wasn't a fluke. It's wasn't! (although episode four was much weaker than the first three)

This is certainly the best fantasy series to hit the small screen in a long, long time. A warning however, it contains nudity and. . . more.

Much as I did when I discovered The Legend of the Seeker, I have begun to read along with the show from the source material. Unlike that series, this one seems to follow the book pretty faithfully. What they have changed has been for the better.

It will be interesting to see what they do next year, since I hear the written series really goes down hill after the first book.

Camelot (STARZ 2011)

With a rat faced, scrawny King Arthur (Jaime Campbell Bower) and a breathy, forced vocal performance from Eva Green this show is far from perfect. I stopped following this series when Bower did his best impression of Miss Piggy amorously attacking poor Guinevere (Tamsin Egerton).

Ultimately, there is nothing that elevates this show above soft-core porn.

Winner = Game of Thrones!

Movie Round-up

It's time for a round up! Here's what I've been watching these past few months:

Gulliver's Travels (2010)

Not bad. And I don't mean that in a bland way. It could have been so much better if the editor had handled the 'passage of time' gaps more fluently.

A shout out to Roy (Chris O'Dowd) from The IT Crowd! Great job! Too bad they gave you so many crap lines.


Gamer (2009)

Jittery, intentionally glitchy camera work leads to hard to follow action. But, surprisingly, this movie is smarter than expected. I felt that the premise was similar to Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, only done better.

I should warn you at this point that Gamer has more nudity, gore, and perversion than any R rated movie should have.

Somehow the casting director managed to round up a very eclectic cast, including some strange cameos. You've got Dexter (Michael C. Hall) in a very prominent role. There's also Kevin Bacon's wife, the Closer (Kyra Sedgwick). And then there's the perpetual teenager (Alison Lohman). Of course, no movie would be complete without John Leguizamo, no matter how brief the appearance. Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) even shows up doing his best to convince us that he really is a psychopathic rapist. It's Ludacris, they even have Chris Bridges!

The most surreal moment for me was when Sean (James Roday) and Juliet (Maggie Lawson) from Psych popped up as hosts on some news show.


Stylistic BS. Give it a pass.


Skyline (2010)

Vapid L.A. partiers during an alien invasion. Pure fantasy, no science. It's not intellectually engaging.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wildside Review!

A while back it was my pleasure to participate in the 'crowdsource proofreading project' for Steven Gould's new ebook edition of Wildside. It was a good deal; I got to read an old favorite and test drive a couple of ebook formats and all I had to do was report any errors I found.

Well, here's my promised review of the book.


Young Charlie Newell discovers a doorway to an alternate version of earth where man never existed - the eponymous wildside. Flocks of Passenger pigeons still fill the skies, mammoth and bison still roam the plains, and dire wolves and saber tooth tigers still lurk in the tall grass.

If you found something like this, what would you do?

Make money of course!

Fresh out of High School, Charlie enlists four friends in his (environmentally concious) money making schemes.

Praise and Criticisms:

First of all, I've got to say that I really enjoy this book. I first read it twelve years ago when I was in high school. Re-reading it, although I have done so at least twice before, was a little bit like coming home again. I was also able to pick out more references to Monty Python as well as The Chronicles of Narnia this time around.

Normally I cringe when the label 'Young Adult' is thrown around, especially if it relates to a novel I still enjoy. However, I do admit that the clichéd flaws each character struggles with really lend this book an 'after school special'-esque feeling. There's the gay guy coming out to his friends, the alchoholic, and the guy with father issues who also has trouble getting a girlfriend.

The strangest thing about the 'wildside' of the gate is the ecology. You see, the alternate version of earth on the other side of the gate purportedly differs from the earth on our side of the gate in one key way: human's never existed there. Therefore, the pleistocene kill-off never hapened, and the climate is cooler because no one burned all of those evil fossil fuels.

Now I'm not go into a long debate about climate change, but I will point out that history tells us that earth's climate has never been static. Where I live it was a desert 6,000 years ago. How the Wooly Mammoth would have survived that, I don't know. Either way, I doubt that the adventurers in the novel would have encountered Woods Bison on the wildside. Not with sabre tooth tigers still prowling around. Bison antiquus was the ice age species and was better adapted to deal with dire wolves and saber tooth tigers. Why bison alone would have evolved into a more familiar species, I can't fathom.

But hey, it is, after all, an alternate earth. Who's to say how similar it has to be to our earth, just as long as it pushes your own political agenda…

And I suppose Charlie could have been mistaken in his identification.

My largest complaint, however, stems from something I had failed to fully appreciate before:

Spoiler alert!

Charlie fully expected to confront the government from the very begining! Sure, he didn't expect it to go to such an extreme, but to proceed with an action so likely to raise suspicion as to start selling Passenger Pigeons is kind of a dick move.

Or just plain dumb.

I mean, really? Charlie couldn't come up with a better plan to generate his start up cash?

I still like it, but it's not as good as Jumper.

Rating: ***/5

BTW, Columbicola extinctus and Campanulotes defectus are not extinct

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Blindsight by Peter Watts

I don't know what to think about this book. There is a lot I like about it, but at least as much that I don't like. I suppose that's a good thing. I mean, if a book was exactly what I expect it to be, I wouldn't have to read it now would I?


Mysterious objects blaze through earth's atmosphere. A strange construct is detected out in the black, headed this way.

This is a novel about first contact.

Siri 'Cygnus' Keeton, a man with only half a brain, and his artificially augmented crewmates led by a Vampire are sent out to investigate. What they find will bring insight into the nature of the universe as well as the nature of humanity.

This a novel about the futility of our existence.

What I Like

Okay, now that I've got that out of the way lets get into Potential Spoiler Territory.

This is ostensibly a tale of adventure and discovery, an odyssey if you like. I like adventure stories. But in this novel, it is just one the many frames around the novel's core philosophical message. Unfortunately there isn't much action until well into the book, and even that is relatively scarce. The discovery part is slightly more interesting.

Speaking of frames, the most obvious one is the running narration by the protagonist, Siri. I think the decision to go with an unreliable narrator is the true genius of this book because the story is, at least in part, about identity, self discovery, and human ability to perceive reality.

I rather enjoyed the philosophical discussion presented in this book, even if I cannot agree with the conclusions. Although the concepts bandied around are often hard to follow for all the jargon, they are compelling enough to make the effort. The main course of the discussion is solid existentialism with a heavy dose of nihilism wrapped around the philosophy of mind. The tone of it all, if not the content, reminded me very much of the writings of another Canadian author, Karl Schroeder (my current favourite), so I wasn't very surprised that Watts credited him in the afterward with much of the input in this regard.

There is also plenty of speculation about future technologies, the highlight for me being the human hibernation process. I loved the description of the process being as if they were dessicated corpses coming back to life like zombies or something. Of course, as described in the book it only really works if you've had Vampire DNA grafted on to your own.

Which brings me to my next point, the fantastically weird crew. Siri is a man with half a brain, the other half of his skull filled with bits of computer, who acts more like Data, the Android from Star Trek: The Next Generation, always trying to be human. There is also Susan James aka. The Gang of Four who has had her conscience artificially split into four individuals. Then there is their Vampire leader, Serasti, a creature recreated from ancient DNA whose ancestors once stalked ours across the savannah. Even the ship, Theseus, is intelligent. Delightfully quirky!

What I Dislike

The biggest drawback for me is that this book doesn't really get interesting until about page 300. Partly this is because the author spent a lot of time on Siri's backstory; a backstory that is perhaps necessary for the message of the novel, but which I found to be mundane. I also didn't find it to be entirely successful at explaining Siri's affliction. Now I admit to not spending much time researching any potential links between hemispherectomies and psychopathy or autism but I don't believe there is one.

Another major drawback for me is that the characters of Amanda Bates, Isaac Spindzell, and Robert Cunningham are not strange enough. The later two are purported to be amped up humans with so many technological enhancements they can no longer feel with their own hands. Instead, they come across as rather baseline humans with a few more research tools that have trouble walking.

Finally, I felt that the vampire vulnerabilty to right angles, i.e. crosses, was a lame concession to the old vampire legends. According to the timeline in the book, vampires died out long before Christianity developed. How the two would become associated is beyond my comprehension.


I found this novel to be an eclectic mix of Canadian and British SF styles. It has the philosophy of Karl Schroeder, the societal dysfunction of Robert J. Sawyer, and the pessimism of virtually all British SF. He even has a tacked on, tangential ending much like most of Alastair Reynolds' books.

At least I know what James Nicoll was talking about now.

"Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts."
I would have to say that you should avoid this book if you are:
- looking for an adventure story
- confounded by big words
- prone to depression



BTW, This novel, as well as the rest of Peter Watts' work, is freely available on his website,

Friday, March 18, 2011

'V' has jumped the Shark

Yep. Add another show to the list of 'I no longer care what happens to. . .'

The last few episodes really started to piss me off. But the last one? Ruined everything that came before.

Was this a ratings grab? Because even if it works and they get another season, I know at least one former fan that won't be tuning in any more.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A New Novel, A New Name

There is a new book being released today. It is called Up Against It by M. J. Locke. I don't quite know what to make of it yet, but I have read the five sample chapters offered here.

My interest in this book lies mostly with the name on the cover. You see, it turns out that Morgan J. Locke is a pen name for Laura J.Mixon, an author that I have followed for some time. Apparently she felt the need to publish her first novel in nine years under a made up name. Ever since I found out I have been scratching my head wondering why.

Here are some reasons I came up with as to why an author might possibly choose a pen name:

1. There is an issue with his/her name itself. Perhaps the name is hard to remember, spell, or pronounce. Maybe it sounds silly, stupid, or obscene. Or it could be that it is the same as, or similar to, another author or a well known person.

2. He/She is reclusive, fears fame, or fears retribution for the published work.

3. To disguise his/her gender. Perhaps they feel that their books will sell better with a genderless name or a name of the opposite gender.

4. They are publishing a new book in a genre that is different than those works they are already known for.

5. They are trying to distance themselves from their past works.

The first two reasons don't seem to apply here. She is a published author with at least three and a half novels to her name. While I can not confirm that Laura J Mixon is her legal name (her twiter account is LauraJMG), it does appear to be a name that people who know her recognize her by. I do not find it hard to remember, pronounce, etc.

Morgan is certainly a gender neutral name. M. J. Locke even more so. I don't know that male names sell SF books any better than female names, but it is certainly possible that this is what she is going for. Although I do wonder why she didn't just go with L. J. Mixon then. It worked for J. K. Rowling (and she doesn't actually have a middle name).

Her previous novels have all been SF. This novel is not so different in genre from her last. So I don't think that's it.

So, until I get an answer from her, I'm left to assume that she has abandoned her old fans to start fresh. Tor even proudly announces that this is her first book. . .

Edit: I see she has finally provided an answer to my question and it sounds reasonable, if slightly insulting.

Edit #2: I mean of course that her decision to follow the advice of her publisher was reasonable. That publishers think readers need to be manipulated to buy books is insulting, no matter how true.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The (Real) World

Warning, Spoilers below!

A short story, if you will:

"I told you already, my name is Scott Pilgrim"

The haggard looking homicide detective glanced back up at the stringy young man with the shaggy hair who smelled vaguely of cheese and dirty socks. Then, shaking his head he looked back down at the file in front of him that clearly listed the perp's name as Scott Peabody.

"Okay Mr. Pilgrim, once again, what were you doing carrying a bag of human body parts down the street."

"Body parts? No, no, no. It was a bag a coins. I got them when I defeated Gideon."

"Got them?"

"Yeah, he turned to coins when I kicked him in the head. They always do that."

"Wait, you're saying that when you kick people in the head they turn into coins?"

"Well, not just their heads. I only had to touch one girl on the back of her knee. That was. . . it was embarrassing actually. I don't want to talk about it."

"Let's just take a step back here. You're saying you kicked a guy in the head until he turned into a bunch of coins?"

"He stole the girl that I met in a dream. Well actually she said it was a hyperspace bypass in my head that cuts a three and a half mile trip down to fifteen seconds."

"Rrrrrright." The detective flipped the folder shut mentally closing the case as well. The kid was obviously going for the insanity defense. He was going to get it.

Seriously though, I love this movie! Or maybe not seriously. I mean one really can not be serious while watching this movie or the above interpretation might cloud the enjoyment factor.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Twisted Metal by Tony Ballantyne



I just finished Twisted Metal by Tony Ballantyne last night. I've gotta say, it's a mess.

The world just does not track true to me. No justification is given for the levels of technology that suddenly appear and would have been useful just pages before (or even afterwards in different applications). What powers the Robots? They are never depicted 'eating', fueling up, or recharging. Why would you bother collecting bauxite ore if you think Aluminum is mythical? How can you develop nuclear reactors if you don't even understand the role that oxygen can play in chemistry or metallurgy? Why is the main weapon of the Robots an awl (as opposed to a stiletto or rondel)?

I even found a major typo!

At least the philosophical issues are interesting and the action fast paced. The narrative is, in fact, quite addictive. I can hardly wait for the next book in the Penrose series!


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ringworld's Children by Larry Niven


I thought that Ringworld's Children by Larry Niven fit in very well with the series. It is a little short, and a bit too concise, but that probably helped the pacing.

It is a thoroughly entertaining continuation and, perhaps, conclusion to the series.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Tron: Legacy in IMAX 3D

So, a couple of weeks back I went to watch Tron: Legacy. I admit that I entered the theatre with trepidation. Not only was this the first movie that I would be seeing in Imax 3D, but the movie itself represented a new chapter in one of my favourite childhood stories and sequels are rarely any good, let alone one that comes out 28 years after the original.

But I loved it!

Sure it messes with many of the conventions of the original (upgrades perhaps?) and it raises more questions than it answers, but it is quite lush both visually and sonically. And it's just great fun.

The soundtrack/score by Daft Punk is absolutely perfect for this movie. It is electric, moody, and atmospheric without ever being intrusive.

My one wish would have been that they not do the de-aging entirely through CG. It looked so fake to me, although my sister couldn't tell. NCIS did the de-aging much better through practical effects, although admittedly they did not have to take as many years off of Rocky Carroll's face.


I was quite impressed with the 3D IMAX. It was clearer than the 3D on a regular screen. The only negative was the glasses. They re-use these glasses so they will be scratched to some extent. Also, my nose and ears hurt when I took the glasses off.

Surprisingly, only part of the movie is in 3D. It's an interesting choice.

Now I know that the Imax screen is physically 4:3, but they letter-boxed the projection of Tron: Legacy to it's native widescreen . . . mostly. I thought it was strange that it would switch back and forth between aspect ratios until I read this.



Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Dragon Book


I have just finished reading The Dragon Book: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. I thouroghly enjoyed it; not a single story failed to entertain!

As a fan of Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, I'll admit that the main reason I purchased this book was for her story, Vici. I was not dissapointed.

I was, however, pleasantly suprised that the other stories in the book also held my interest. There is some great variation represented by this collection in both setting and type of type of dragon(s) encountered. For instance, one story may take you to Tsarist Russia where winged terrors are hatched from firery eggs while another takes you to a 195o's nuclear testing site in Nevada where an ancient alien dragon curse comes to light.

While each story has it's own weaknesses, and some stories are weaker than others, the collection as a whole was excellent.

My favorite stories were:

  • Humane Killer by Diana Gabaldon and Samuel Sykes
  • A Stark and Wormy Knight by Tad Williams
  • None So Blind by Harry Turtledove
  • The War That Winter Is by Tanith Lee
  • The Dragon's Tale by Tamora Pierce
  • Dragon Storm by Mary Rosenblum

Oh, and don't let John Jude Palencar's destinctive cover image fool you - the book does not contain a story by Christopher Paolini.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Shows I no Longer Follow

  • Stargate Universe - I've discovered that I simply do not care about any of the characters. Worse, I actively hate most of them.
  • The CSI Franchise - It's time for something new.
  • Criminal Minds - No one else wants to watch it with me. Too 'dark'.

Shows in Danger:
  • No Ordinary Family - The lack of plot advancement in the face of obvious opportunity even to the point where the characters must either be morons or actively ignoring what is in front of them is getting ridiculous. Oh well, it likely won't see a second season anyway.
  • Bones - Quit jerking us around. Get Bones and Seeley together already. The only thing worse than when the main characters finally get together is when they never do. . . IMO. (You hear me Nathan?)

Edit: Seems I'm behind the times yet again. SYFY has already decided not to renew Stargate Universe for another season. Maybe now we'll get that third SG1 movie? Or the Atlantis movie?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Virga: Cities of the Air by Karl Schroeder

Mini Review

Virga: Cities of the Air by Karl Schroeder is a great adventure in World building, not unlike Larry Niven's Integral Trees. The story is, however, dragged down by the immorality of its characters, by its over-reliance on coincidence, and by a very odd concept that a bullet can both remember it's journey and transfer that memory to the person it hits.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Editing The Past

Well, looks like the PC revisionists are at it again. At least they waited 100 years after the passing of Samuel Clemens before they took a hatchet to his work.

For those not in the know, apparently the publisher NewSouth Books has released a version of Mark Twain's classic novel, Adventures of Huckelberry Finn, in which all instances of a certain word which begins with the letter 'N' have been replaced with the word 'slave'.

I hope they have included an attribution to a second author, Alan Gribben, much as they have done with the novels of the new mashup genre. But I digress.

Why am I once again defending the use of the 'N' word? Because that's the word the author used. What's more, that's the word his characters would have used. Don't forget, this book was first published over 115 years ago. It is not only period correct, it was written in that period! In fact, initial criticism of the book wasn't that it contained the 'N' word, but rather, at least in part, that it portrayed a black man as a sympathetic and fully human person. Go figure.

Denying the realities of history is like poking out an eye. Sure, you might not see anything on that side anymore, but that doesn't mean that nothing is there.

It is even worse to push such ignorance on others. Want to know why the youth of today are so dumb? Look to those who are taking a black marker to history.

Wait a few more years and the word 'slave' will no doubt be replaced with 'freedom challenged person' or whatever PC term is popular at the moment. At least that would be synonymous with the word it is replacing (the first substitution, not the original).

Here are some famous quotes to close with:

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
- George Santayana

". . . he who does not know the past can never understand the present, and he certainly can do nothing for the future."
- John Diefenbaker

"Freedom includes the right to say what others may object to and resent. . . The essence of citizenship is to be tolerant of strong and provocative words."
- John Diefenbaker

"Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it."
- Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain)