The most recent, at time of writing, blog post


As the title may suggest, I don’t have anything to say, but I am not letting a silly thing like that get in the way of a perfectly good blog post. The last couple posts have been stories, so I must insert a real post here before tackling this week’s writing prompt from the folks at writingexcuses.com in the next post, if I get around to it.

I am going to force myself to not talk about books. I’ve written lots of posts about them already. Football is out as well, as I have already said pretty much all there is to say on the subject. I could talk about ducks, but most readers know what those are. Same goes for frogs.

I’ll just talk about the news this week. Tuesday November 2 was a big day. It was the day Towers of Midnight, book 13 of the Wheel of Time, came out. It was written by my two favorite authors: Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Besides having a cool title, it is the penultimate book in the series. This is exciting and also sad. On one hand, we only have one more book to go to find out what happens. On the other hand, we only get one more book after this. Another good and bad thing is that Brandon Sanderson is awesome at finishing the series in the absence of Robert Jordan. It’s great that the ending to this, the greatest literary achievement in the history of mankind (in my humble opinion, although wrong people might disagree), is in good hands. However, the downside is that Brandon can’t write book 2 of the Stormlight Archive yet. Maybe I take that back. Writing A Memory of Light (WoT 14) will make Brandon a better writer, as writing The Gathering Storm (WoT 12) prepared him for The Way of Kings (SA 1).

That was news, which just happened to be about books, rather than me just talking about books again. So this blog post is still not about books, like I promised.

In other news, NaNoWriMo started. NaNoWriMo, like it sounds, is one billionth of a WriMo. Since NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, we can safely assume that a WriMo is one billion national novel writing months, or eighty-three thousand, three hundred thirty-three national novel writing years and four national novel writing months. That is why they are using such a small unit. NaNoWriMo is just during the month of November. Basically, the idea is that participants write a fifty-thousand-word novel in that month. There is no time for proofreading, agonizing over wording, et cetera. It’s an exercise to get people to write.

Elections were this week. I thought it was funny last election that Obama’s thing was “change”. It was remarkably unspecific. Remember, prior to the election, US citizens were never attacked by winged monkeys and the dead did not rise up to terrorize the populace. Now, if Obama had made that happen, it certainly would have been change, and yet I don’t think the people who voted for him had that in mind. Luckily for him, people assumed he meant good changes, and luckily for us, we haven’t had any zombies or airborne simians show up. But I still think slogans should be a tad more specific.

That’s enough news for today. Enough blog post too. The next post might be a Writing Excuses prompt or a discussion about Europe and/or its languages.

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Reading


“What’s this?” you ask. “Another post about books? Isn’t he interested in anything else?” Well, I am interested in lots of things, just not all at the same time. Right now I like books. It’s important for bloggers to write about interesting stuff. Otherwise it’s no good at all. For example, I will now write a paragraph on American football.

American football (which I shall just call football for the rest of this paragraph) is a popular sport in the United States. People like to play it and watch it on television, presumably because they find it entertaining. There are two teams, and they compete against each other. They play on a field with grass, or sometimes turf. The grass has lines on it. The lines are parallel to each other and run across the field from one side to the other. They are spaced 10 yards apart. The teams line up when they decide that’s a good idea and then attempt to run into each other, unless they are holding the ball, in which case they try to not get run into. Sometimes they throw the ball, and sometimes they don’t. Just when it starts to get interesting, the referee blows his whistle to make everyone stop attacking each other. Eventually, the teams move the ball to the other end of the field and receive points. Sometimes they kick the ball too. The ball is pointy on the ends so that players can throw it with one hand. The game is apparently so tedious that the audience has difficulty cheering. To address this issue, the teams employ “cheer leaders”, who lead the cheering, like a conductor leads an orchestra, only their batons have exploded on one end and have streamers sticking out. The teams play the game until the timer says they can stop.

That is what happens when bloggers write about things they don’t care about. So no more imaginary, hypothetical complaints out of you.

In recent years, there has been a revolution in the format of books the like of which has not been seen since the printing press. E-readers are changing everything, the good and the bad things. E-reading makes buying and reading books way more convenient. However, this is not without cost. As people begin to move towards e-readers, they consequently buy fewer physical ones. This means that physical bookstores are going to start disappearing, which means you can’t go and peruse real books or have author book signings. Disneyland claims to be the happiest place on earth, but bookstores are even better. They are even better than libraries, which are the second happiest place on earth. Disneyland can come in third I guess. And since we are ranking happy places, the best bookstore I have ever seen is University Book Store next to the University of Washington in Seattle. But what can be done to save bookstores? I don’t know. Hopefully we won’t lose bookstores altogether. But I admit I am part of the problem, since I buy most of my books electronically now. There is an upside. E-readers are so convenient that people are more likely to buy a book rather than drive to the library, so authors and publishers should make more money, which is good.

Speaking of e-readers, there has been some confusion about what they are for. As more and more devices become integrated (e.g. phones, cameras, PDAs), people expect electronics to do everything. However, the Kindle, Nook, and other dedicated reading devices are really lousy at doing anything else. In fact, they are not even good at some kinds of reading. They are excellent for black and white, sequentially-read books. But any book you want to flip around pages in quickly (like a text book) is awkward since you can’t just flip anywhere instantly like with a real book. And for color magazine articles, the screen is too small and not color. The Kindle DX fixes the size issue, but is still black and white. When the iPad was announced, Steve Jobs decided to try to break into the e-books market (he sort of broke in, but mostly he just broke it. See my first post). He touted the tablet as an e-reader, even though it does not have the e-ink screen that is the main feature of e-reading devices. LCD screens like the iPad has are good for lots of things, and are better for magazines and comics which need color. However, they are still backlit, which means that they are not as comfortable on the eyes as paper or e-ink. So the iPad is a tablet device that can display books, but is not really designed for reading novels. Remember, e-readers didn’t even bother existing until e-ink came out just for this reason. But Steve Jobs said it was an e-reader and confused everyone into thinking it was a Kindle competitor, despite the very different goals of the devices. People even thought the Kindle 3 might “upgrade” to LCD (a much older and less appropriate technology), and Jeff Bezos had to come out and explain why the Kindle 3 continued to use e-ink screens (basically, so the Kindle would be a great e-reader, rather than a lousy iPad clone). It’s kind of like the head of Honda explaining why the new Accords are still using engines. It should be obvious, yet enough technical writers questioned it that he felt he needed to offer a response (mini-rant: tech writers can be awfully dense at times, like the ones who jumped on the Vista-hating bandwagon and doomed the world to XP for 3 more years). Anyway, this is my attempt to clear up the confusion, for the 3 or so people who actually read this blog. Kindles are good for reading books page-by-page, and not much else. The screen really looks like paper with ink, so it is as easy on the eyes as a real book. iPads are good for everything except comfortable reading because they have the jack-of-all-trades but not-as-easy-to-look-at LCD screen. So if you plan on reading books electronically, get a Kindle. If you want to read mostly magazines and web articles or need a multipurpose device, then the iPad is a better choice because it has color and is faster at navigation. Basically, you are choosing between a book-like experience with the Kindle and a computer-like experience with the iPad.

So perhaps the one problem will help solve the other. People will buy iPads, try an e-book or two, get tired of reading novels on the screen, and go buy books at their local bookstore and keep it in business. Yay!

Book collecting and various media


So last time I said this post would be about “book collecting and various media”. I can talk about book collecting, but dashed if I know what I meant about “various media”. I assume I was going to deliver a brilliant discourse on television reading (see last post) or something, but I must admit I haven’t been brushing up on my various media lately. I’ve been sticking to books and Dr. Who. That’s kind of various I guess.

So, book collecting. I like to do that. Books are just nice objects to have. They feel good to hold and peruse, they smell good, and you can read them. I have always collected books, although earlier in life my collection consisted mainly of Goosebumps books. I got rid of those when I outgrew them, but I continued collecting books. I started collecting hardcover John Bellairs books (the ones with Edward Gorey’s awesome covers), although I only had a few until I bought the entire series from e-bay a couple years ago. John Bellairs shared my love of old houses (or maybe I got it from reading his books) and the setting and characters were great, so those books were some of my favorites when I was in elementary and middle school. But it was the amazing cover art by Edward Gorey that first attracted me to them, so it’s nice to have those editions in my collection. I read them again in grad school and they are still great.

A few years ago I got to meet Ray Bradbury when he came to the local library. I got a copy of Fahrenheit 451 signed by him. Then, a bit later three big science fiction authors came to the UCLA book festival: Harry Harrison, Joe Haldeman, and Robert Silverberg. I got books signed by them too, and that got me interested in signed books.  It’s neat to have a copy that the author has actually physically written in.

abebooks.com is a good site for finding signed books, although it’s more fun to get books signed in person. However, some people are dead so you can’t do that. But when you can, it’s cool to meet the people who wrote the books. They invented and created the worlds and characters that made their books so fascinating, so in a way it’s the closest you can come to meeting the characters. I wish I had gotten to meet Robert Jordan. But it was cool to meet Robert Silverberg, Ray Bradbury, Harry Harrison, Brandon Sanderson, and Dan Wells. I met a few others but I haven’t read their books yet (Joe Haldeman, Brent Weeks, and Terry Brooks). I just got books signed since I was at the signing.

Despite collecting books, I prefer to read them on the Kindle. It’s way more convenient and comfortable than a physical book. There is only one side, so you don’t have to reposition the book in your hands all the time. Also, remember that I read books by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan. They are huge. But I can fit them all into a paperback form factor with the Kindle. And on vacation you can finish one book and buy another without needing to find a bookstore or pack a bunch of separate books. And for the lazy, a Kindle means you don’t need to get up and go to the bookshelf to change books. So my bookshelf is full of books I have not physically read.

I also have a few old books, like a 17th-century math book and a French astronomy book printed on the royal press in Paris (back when there was royalty in France). Old books are really cool. They look like proper tomes that you’d see in games like Myst. And people back in the renaissance or other periods of history read them, and even wrote in them. As a European history lover, that is really cool to me. Last spring, I spent a day in Metz, France, at the home of my second cousin once removed, Jean Marc. He is awesome. I mention him now because he also like old books and he even had some that had belonged to and been written in by our ancestors. That was extremely cool to see, and I have some photos of some of them I might put up.