Saturday, October 27, 2007

I just finished A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling, the third in his post-apocalypse/post-technology series. I wrote about the second book in the series, The Protector's War here.

The third book is better than the second. The bottom line is that if you started the series with Dies the Fire, you might be interested enough to keep reading. If not, this book isn't going to get you started. It's barely acceptable as a sequel but would be nothing as a stand-alone novel.

In this book, the conflict between the two main groups of heroes and the tyrant who has taken over what used to Oregon come to a head. Some of the characters are well drawn but most are fairly wooden.

Amazon Link: A Meeting at Corvallis

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I just finished Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart by Ian Ayres.

Super Crunchers is about what kinds of things can be learned by using basic statistical tools on huge data sets. The use of this kind of analysis is moving from universities, where "management science" or "operations research" disciplines have been advocating this kind of analysis for years, to the real world and this book discusses a few well known examples.

This book is very basic in what it presents - if you've ever taken even a basic statistics course you will be already aware of most of the tools discussed for data analysis. Some of the stories are interesting but the book feels like it has gone too far in trying to be accessible to the layman. Ayres is a practicing economist who does data analysis for a living but he comes across more like a journalist who takes the claims of the so-called "super crunchers" without a grain of salt. I'd like to have heard more about the limitations and pit-falls of this kind of analysis.

Amazon Link: Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart

Monday, October 22, 2007

This weekend, I finished Gardens of the Moon by Steve Erikson and Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.

Gardens of the Moon is the first book of a large fantasy series that I first ran across on my last trip to Canada. Most of the books in the series were prominently displayed in the fantasy sections of most bookstores I went to, which was a little bit of a surprise since I had never heard of the series before. I spend enough time in bookstores, both here and back home, that I couldn't figure out how a whole series of books could come out between my visits. None of them had the first book of the series, but they looked a little interesting, so I found it at the library here.

Overall, it's a weak start to a series. By the end of the book, the various plot strands got a little more interesting but nothing in the book inspired me enough to actively seek out the rest of the series, unless I'm looking for long books to read on a flight. If this series looks interesting to you, I'd recommend that you check out Glen Cook's Black Company books instead. They have a similar feel but are a lot more compact and the writing is of a higher quality.

I also read the kid's fantasy book, Howl's Moving Castle. I saw the animated movie version by Hayao Miyazaki a few weeks ago. The movie is pretty confusing and I thought reading the book might help me make sense out of it. The movie and the book differ a fair amount but it did help me sort out some of the plot in the film.

It's a nice, short book so I'd recommend it.

Amazon Links: Gardens of the Moon, Howl's Moving Castle

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Last night, I went to see California's premier Western Swing band, Lost Weekend, at the Freight and Salvage.

I was feeling under the weather but I've heard good things about Lost Weekend and missed seeing them a number of times, so I felt I should go anyways. It turned out to be the right decision because they put on a great show! Even though I listen to a lot of very modern jazz, particularly since my girlfriend favours the more modern ECM/free jazz styles, my taste runs more to pre-be-bop styles. And even though I mainly play bluegrass, I've also played some western swing rhythm. In fact, the only real public performance I've been part of was playing rhythm guitar for an acoustic swing show.

From looking at their calendar, Lost Weekend only plays in California so if you're not local, you're out of luck. But if you are local, I highly recommend them.

Here is a video of them playing at the Freight back in 1989 (with John Reischman on mandolin!):

And here is a more recent Freight performance: