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Monday Book Review: Alan Moore’s Top Ten March 29, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Book Reviews.
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The book being reviewed for this week’s book review is a little different from our usual picks: it’s a graphic novel. I happen to love graphic novels, and have a modest collection of both series and stand alone stories. Although I occasionally pick up a Batman or Spiderman comic if I’m interested in the writer or artist for that particular issue, I generally don’t normally choose the comics about superheroes. I can’t tell you anything about the mythology of Superman or the X-Men.

Anyway, despite my aversion to superhero stories, upon a recommendation, I picked up Volume 1 of Alan Moore‘s Top Ten, a graphic novel about Neopolis, a city full of “science heroes” – people or beings having enhanced or supernatural abilities. Even though the premise is about what life would be like in a city where everyone is a superhero – the story and plot unfolds like any other dramatic comedy. To be more specific, the “Top Ten” of the title refers to the nickname of the Police Precinct that enforces the law in Neopolis, and the story is told in a Law and Order style Police Procedural, following a few subplots based upon the investigations and personal lives of a group of science-hero police.

The art was great, lots of details in each drawing, filling in bits of story to support the dialogue balloons. Volume 1 collects about 8 series comics, the complete set of the first story arc. Volume 2 is shorter, and tells another story. There has been at least one spin off, a prequel about some of the earlier science-hero cops in Neopolis, when the city was still new.

I’d recommend these graphic novels to just about anyone. Good stories, great characters, tight plots with plenty of clues and details, and pretty good artwork. These are very well-done, and I hope there will be more!

Can a book written by committee be any good? My sources point to Yes! March 26, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in reading.
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Over at NPR’s All Things Considered is a piece about a newly released Thriller that was written by 22 writers. The novel, Watchlist is the result of collaboration of some of the best authors of modern thrillers, including Jeffrey Deaver and Lee Child. It started with a character created by Deaver, and then the story was passed from author to author, each adding a chapter and moving the story forward or in a new direction. It sounds like a project that can go either disastrously wrong, turn our incredibly brilliant. I haven’t read it, so I can’t say yet whether the collaboration was a success – but I’m certainly intrigued enough to check it out.

Niche Blog Friday: Should Be On The Nanny March 26, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Niche Blogs.
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This eccentric blog showcases the latest designer looks but with a twist–the heads of Fran Drescher aka the Nanny and and on-screen nemesis C.C. Babcock have been photoshopped onto the models’ bodies. I can’t really figure out if the blogger is making fun of The Nanny or worshipping it. What do you think? Check out the whole blog here.

Casting Characters, Take 2 March 23, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Book vs. Movie.
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Earlier this year, we talked about picturing characters from books, and who might play them in movies. This is a fun topic to revisit, since there are endless possibilities of books and characters waiting to be paired with perfectly matching actors.

I love the Janet Evanovich series of novels about Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum and her supporting troop of friends, criminals and cops, some of whom are family. These are hilarious books, deserving of a full review – but I’ll save that for a Monday when I haven’t finished anything new. For now, I want to pass on this bit of news I came across today, even though its a little old: Katherine Heigl is set to play Plum in the movie version.

I’ve often thought about who would make a great Stephanie Plum, and Katherine Heigl has never, and will never be on the short list. Like many fans of the series, I have always thought Sandra Bullock (think Miss Congeniality) would be absolutely perfect for the role – but agree with the dissenters, she is now too old to play the mid-twenties Jersey-girl.

If I was casting Stephanie Plum now, I would go with someone with a comedic personality, someone who can do tough and street smart, while still being goofy and having ditzy moments. My current pick would have to be Tina Marjorino : she’s great at comedy, and she’s all grown up now!

Are you familiar with Stephanie Plum – who would you choose to play her? Any other characters you’d like to see brought to the silver screen by a particular actor?

Monday Book Review: Point Omega March 22, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Book Reviews.
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One might ask, “what is Point Omega?” Is it a book, a novella, a collection of unexplainable moments in time? One might also ask, “what is Omega Point?” The answer to either question is just as circular and elusive as the other. DeLillo bookends this short work with an unnamed character watching Hitchcock’s movie Psycho slowed down so that the frame changes only every few seconds. Between these bizarre, thought-provoking scenes is the story of an amateur filmmaker who has traveled to the desert to convince a scholar and government war adviser to be the only person in his documentary. What entails is pages of playful, thought provoking philosophical discourse between two reticent men. The action, if it can even be called that, occurs when Elster’s (the scholar) daughter comes to visit and then mysteriously disappears.

While this book was not unpleasant to read, I would not describe it as a page-turner. If anything, it is more like a fable or an allegory, in that the ideas behind the story are far more important than the story itself. Alexandra Altar, writing for the Wall Street Journal, made an apt point–that the novel is “…a meditation on time, extinction, aging and death, subjects that Mr. DeLillo seldom explored in much depth as a younger writer” (Wikipedia). But perhaps it is just this abstruse exploration of such heavy subject matter that DeLillo meant to convey. Omega Point is, “a term coined by the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to describe a maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which the universe appears to be evolving” (Wikipedia). And DeLillo certainly depicts a complexity in the brief, succinct discussions that occur between the two protagonists. Though their conversations could be taken as polite and superficial, the kind of conversation you would expect two men to have over whiskeys in the desert, the conversations always allude to more complex and universal ideas.

While this was one idea I toyed with, it is important to note that DeLillo named his work Point Omega and not Omega Point. Why did he reverse the word order of this singular idea? Was it to negate the whole idea that the universe is moving towards one global, complex consciousness? Was he really trying to say the opposite–that the world is increasingly chaotic and senseless? While the dialogue between the men would seem to support the idea of an Omega Point, the actual action of the book, Elster’s daughter’s incomprehensible disappearance, would argue for the latter.

I don’t know what DeLillo meant for sure with this complicated work, but I do know that I wish I could read it in a Literary Criticism class and that I would suggest it for anyone who likes an intellectual challenge.

Niche Blog Friday: Ads Gone Bad March 19, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Niche Blogs, Uncategorized.
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This blog is hit or miss but as it is fairly new I think it shows great promise. I was led to this blog from Information Today, in an article discussing the inefficacy of online advertisements. What I found most interesting was exactly what this blog monitors – the humorous and unexpected results of ads based solely on textual content of the web page. As the about page states, “AdsGoneBad.com is a collection of bad contextual ads, poorly placed display ads, viral videos mocking ads, and anything else that makes media buyers, planners and anyone working in the online advertising industry just scratch their head and chuckle.” Check out the whole blog here.

Librophile – Free audio and eBooks for all! March 18, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Resources.
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Thanks to Lifehacker, today’s Internet Resource is Librophile a site that collects links to Free (and commercial) Audiobooks and EBooks from around the web, in one place. Their collection comes from Librivox and Project Gutenberg and other sites too. Enjoy!

Two Amazing Sites for Graphic Artists March 17, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Amazing, Just for Fun, Technology can do anything.
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My husband, an art teacher and free lance graphic designer, showed me two sites last night that are definitely worth bookmarking. CoolIris.com is a graphic/image search engine that blows both Google and Bing out of the water. How annoying is it to find an image, click on it, be brought to the site containing the image, then click on “full image”, etc. etc.? Cool Iris takes away all these steps and streamlines image searching in an aesthetically pleasing, and helpful, manner. (Admittedly, the site works best on a mac.) My screen shots below show browsing the search engine, what a still frame looks like, and then how an image is enlarged. All of these are done simply and seamlessly without having to click through various pages.

Update: I kept playing around on Cool Iris and discovered that you can also search videos, movies, etc. this way and play them right from the site. In addition, you can load your own photos from your computer (instantaneously) and search them all this way.

The other site is more interactive and a great way to waste time at work! The experiments on Escape Emotions, by Slovakian artist Peter Blaskovic, are nothing short of innovative (and entrancing). With names like Fire, Flame, Magic, and Fields, just to name a few, these artistic experiments enable the user to create artworks based on the fluidity of motion. Flame is the only one that can be saved and exported, due to its static nature, but all are worthy of exploring. Here are a few screen shots of my experiments but make sure to try it out yourself!

My attempt to write "Infomavens" in Flame

Water Fluid Simulation

In this one, the user builds “walls”, adds animated water and air to blow the water into circulation.

Burning "Infomavens" in Fluid Fire Simulation 3

Have fun!

Why I Still Listen to Bad 80’s and 90’s Pop Music March 16, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Uncategorized.
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The man in the office next to mine at work plays his radio all day long – let’s call him George just to make writing this post easier. I suppose the volume would be a smidge too loud for some people, but since I generally like the music on the station he plays, it doesn’t bother me. It’s mostly an oldies/light fm style station – the kind of music I grew up listening to in my mom’s station wagon as a kid.

George is a bit older than I am; to be generous, I would call him a solid middle-ager, and I am entertained all day listening to him impart wisdom to his younger co-workers about “classic” movies, tv and music (and actually quite a few other topics as well, but I’m already getting off track).

Today, I overheard a conversation he was having with one of his older co-workers, a woman around the same age as my parents. They were in his office and a song came on the radio – I don’t remember which, but it might have been the Beatles, or some contemporary of theirs. The woman commented that whenever she hears songs from her youth, they remind her of things. For example, the Beatles’ Hey Jude was popular while she was learning to drive, and even now, every time she hears Hey Jude, she remembers what it felt like when she was learning to drive.

From joannamkay's flickr stream under Creative Commons.

The conversation then turned to “kids today” and whether they have the same experience? I had to chuckle (very quietly) as they decided that the “music kids listen to these days” can’t evoke the same emotion, you “can’t even understand what they are saying half the time”.

Obviously, this would be less amusing to me if I agreed. I may not be a “kid” anymore by George’s definition, but I definitely did and still do form associations to songs. Ask anyone I went to college with how annoying it was every time I heard a “GAP song” (those songs played on the store intercom on an infinite loop while I worked retail during high school). Even now when I hear those songs, I feel the urge to start folding tables of sweaters and polo-shirts.

Songs that were popular when I was a teenager remind me of all kinds of things when I hear them now, from high school friends, to my first summer with a car, to driving to off-campus lunch.

OK – so, I know George and friend are wrong. Here’s my example, when I hear Aerosmith‘s Livin’ on the Edge, I remember my first time away at summer camp, when one of my new friends let me borrow a mix tape, and Aerosmith was my new favorite band! Now, tell me how you know George is wrong!

Monday Book Review: Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession March 15, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Book Reviews, Book vs. Movie.
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In my opinion, crossword puzzles are a fun diversion from the stresses of every day life. I first started doing the New York Times Daily crossword puzzles during high school, when, through some newspaper readership program, stacks of NY Times were delivered to the school for students’ use. Always a lover of games and puzzles, I was instantly attracted to the Times’ crossword, a perfect balance of challenge and the satisfaction of achievement. Over the years, my obsession with the NY Times puzzle waxed and waned, depending on the availability of the newspaper (and whether I could get a copy for free!).

In 2005, I found Marc Romano’s book, Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession in the “New and Interesting” Display at my local library, and immediately upset the composition of the display by borrowing it – and though I felt bad about leaving the empty space, I knew the librarian would be happy someone was interested in what she had put out. I didn’t get a chance to read the book before its due date, so I dutifully returned it for the next reader, and stopped at the bookstore to buy my own copy – which in the last 5 years, I have picked up and put down at least a dozen times.

I kept giving the book another chance, because I truly love doing crossword puzzles, and there were more than a few bits about the history of puzzles in America, Will Shortz’ personal puzzle ephemera collection, and tips about crossword puzzle construction and solving. I was also curious to read about the author’s first-hand account of a rookie’s experience at the American Crossword Tournament, for which he had trained by doing over 2,000 puzzles. Unfortunately, I despised the tone of the author, and could only handle reading his extremely arrogant yet still somehow self-loathing babble for so long. He brags about how cool it is of him to take his Thomas Pynchon novel down to the bar rather than make conversation with any of the introverted tournament competitors, and drinks a neat scotch and soda while awaiting the “cool kids” to arrive in the bar. Oh – and let me not forget to mention, the “cool kids” crowd, or “Cru” (a take on crew, from “cruciverbalist”, a designer or aficionado of crossword puzzles) is headed up by one of the author’s favorite young constructors, Brendan Emmett Quigley, upon whom Romano can barely conceal his massive man-crush. The entire section of the book about the tournament itself was spent either noting what a bad idea it was to take so many anti-anxiety pills and thus be floating around in a cloud, or mooning over where is Brendan now, and how is Brendan scoring and look at all the groupies Brendan has, and on and on.

Several years ago, I learned that Will Shortz, editor of the NY Times Crossword Puzzle, has been coordinating the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament since 1978. The 33rd annual tournament was held just a few weeks ago in Brooklyn, NY, and the event has grown to be a weekend-long expo-like extravaganza, with vendors hawking all kinds of crossword-themed paraphernalia, game-related activities, receptions and ceremonies. The Tournament was the focus of a 2006 documentary, Wordplay, which undoubtedly led to the increase in the tournament’s popularity which precipitated a move from the Stamford Marriott venue which had hosted the tournament for 30 years, to the larger Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. A solid documentary, Wordplay was an intriguing peek into the world of crossword constructors and solvers, though possibly, only because I was already interested!

Even if you are interested in Crossword Puzzles, or the Tournament, you ought to skip this book and rent the movie. Wordplay was a great documentary that covered substantially the same ground, minus the attitude.