Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Conversational skillz

The department where I work had some sort of team building session once, where one of the exercises involved pairing off and describing the other person. My partner said that I choose my words carefully. I think he literally said "thinks before he speaks." My boss later said that when I speak, people listen. I was surprised, because I hadn't observed the positive side of that character trait. I've only noticed that I'm good at killing conversations, or at least seriously maiming them.

The thing is, I censor myself a lot. I have a habit to only speak when I feel that I have something of worth to say, which means that I usually only speak when I know that I'm right and it has some bearing on what is being discussed at the moment. In a conversation that interests me, this might mean I state facts, clear up misconceptions and end the conversation before it had a chance to gain momentum. Cold hard facts don't make for interesting discussion. If the conversation doesn't concern something that interests me -- and they seldomly do -- then I don't speak and the conversation loses momentum due to long bouts of silence. I don't partake actively in most conversations. Lately, I've desparately tried to think of topics during those slightly awkward silences, but I find that there's not much I want to talk to anyone about. Either that, or my self-censoring has gone too far.

I'm fascinated by people who seem to have an endless supply of mildly amusing or enlightening anecdotes and topics up their sleeve. Of course, conversations with such people are very unbalanced to the point of becoming monologues on their part, because I'm either at a loss for words (or breath if they're really amusing), or busy analysing their conversational skills. I shun people who are under the false impression that they have an endless supply of highly amusing and enlightening anecdotes. I actively avoid or try to stifle such conversations, or imposed monologues, as it were.

Another problem is that I find most people to be incompetent in my areas of interest. I can't bring myself to listen to them prattle on about things that seem entirely inconsequential to me. I end up day-dreaming, analysing their body language, or thinking about why I'm not listening to them. When they do know something about something I like, they seem fixated on the subject and drone on and on, as if my life also revolved around that subject, which of course it doesn't. Sometimes I wonder if others share this feeling of incompatibility (or at least very limited and one-sided compatibility), but if they did, why would they keep approaching me and try to strike up conversations?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Freudian slip

I'm afraid this is only funny to the swedish speaking crowd. This article was only up for a few minutes -- I can only assume they took it down because of the typo -- so I just had to republish it.

Update: They put the article back up, with corrected spelling; my shared items used to look funnier.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Shared items

Have you sensed that you share my interests and sense of humour? Do you find yourself coming back to my blog, time after time, to glean more information from my tired brain? Do I update my blog too seldomly? If you answered any of those questions affirmatively, you are speaking to your computer and should probably quiet down. More importantly, you may be interested in my new feature: Shared items.

Take a look in the side bar to the right, under my silly photo. Under the heading "shared items," you'll find the latest stuff that I've found mind-tickling enough to share with you, my loyal and loving readership. There's also a special page you can visit with more items, if you click the "read more" link. You'll generally find news items or web comics that I've read and enjoyed, and offer unto you to peruse. And thus, I deftly sidestep my responsibility to update my blog with something original.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Turn it louder

Turn It Louder by jg

Any similarity to Demba Nabé aka Boundzound is purely unintentional; the drawing is just inspired by his song Louder. For the full experience, have a look at his video. =)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Amazon's Mobipocket

Joey's bagAfter lugging around 1000-page books on the subway for a few months, I've come to realize that it's not a practical solution in the long run. It's a hassle even when the weather's fine, so I'll probably give up when winter starts. The problem is that a book this big doesn't fit even inside my relatively large pockets, which means I either need to go about my daily life one-handed while fumbling with the book in the other hand, or get a bag to put it in. As much as I love and respect Joey, I don't share his love for man's bags, stylish though they may be.

Enter technology. I remembered hearing about Mobipocket, an e-book reader that runs on your phone and enables you to read books in digital format. I visited Mobipocket.com and had a shiny new book on my phone within minutes. Yes, I actually bought a book almost immediately, which is unusual seeing how stingy I can be. I boycott restaurants that I think are too expensive, and I hardly ever buy anything if I don't feel that I really need it. Thing is, I couldn't pass up their deal on Peter F. Hamilton's Night's dawn trilogy. If I'd bought those three books in paper form for the cheapest price I can find in Sweden, they'd sum up to 340 SEK. At Mobipocket.com, the entire trilogy in digital form is 79 SEK. Three e-books, cheaper than a single paper book. The price was worth it to just try out the software and see if I'd be comfortable reading on my mobile phone.

As it turns out, I kind of miss turning real paper pages, and the glare of the LCD screen can be irritating at times. However, there are just so many benefits. The weight, for one. I recently moved, first to a new town and then to a new apartment in the same town within a year. During that same year, I helped my parents move. The experience convinced me that a box full of books must be among the heaviest things on Earth. If all my books were digital, they would all fit in my pocket and weigh next to nothing. Secondly, I now always have a book handy, since I always take my phone with me wherever I go. No more sitting on the subway (or toilet) longing for something to read. Actually, now I can even pretend to do something relatively important and relevant with my phone during boring meetings when in fact I'm engrossed in an epic battle between organic starships and their mechanical counterparts. Third, as I've already mentioned, the price is right. Mobipocket has apparently been acquired by Amazon.com, which started out as an online bookstore and thus should have some experience in the field. Finally, as if you even needed a fourth reason, you can never lose a Mobipocket e-book since you can simply download it as many times as you want from the website. Also, e-books don't tear or get soggy, and nobody can ruin them by scribbling in them or underlining entire passages of text. Well, Mobipocket actually lets you enter notes in books, but it's purely optional and you don't have to view them, which does make it a feature as opposed to the eternal scourge of booklovers everywhere.

The only problem I have now is that I have too many books to read. My latest impulsive purchase brings me to a total of eight unread sci-fi novels. I have some catching up to do.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Pandora's Star

Tuesday, July 31

I am currently reading Pandora's Star by Peter F. Hamilton. I'm on page 163 of 1144, which seems a ridiculous length for a novel, but it's so good I'm already one tenth in. I've decided to simply add my experiences to this post as I go along.

In a book of this size, you're bound to stumble across a curious turn of words here and there, but some of them seem intentional, such as "[...] Wilson walked along a long, meandering gravel track [...]", or when describing the layout of a starship development complex, "[t]he complex layout was simple enough." I like to think that Hamilton wrote these phrases off the top of his head, spotted the rhymes and ostensible paradoxes and amusedly decided to keep them, wondering if his readers would spot them as well. This sort of shared jokes with the reader appeals to me, because then I get to squeal "I caught them, Mr Hamilton, aren't I clever, look at meeee!" Needless to say, it's a deeply satisfying experience.

Thursday, August 16

I'm now at page 422. It took Hamilton around 200 pages to impart much the same information as the summary on the back of the book, while adding a substantial amount of detail and a secondary plotline. He sheds light on the year 2380, when the human race is organised in an Intersolar Commonwealth. Through the use of wormhole technology, it spans several solar systems, as the name implies. During these 400-odd pages he has also relatively briefly, albeit in great detail, touched upon the lives of three seemingly random inhabitants of the Commonwealth. It's a titillating technique that leaves me wondering if and how he'll reintroduce them into the main story.

During their travels, humans have chanced upon a few sentient alien races. These are casually referred to early on in the book as if we already know who they are: for example, the Silfen and the High Angel, both with such interesting names it's almost painful to have to read through nearly 300 pages until Hamilton actually starts delving deeper into who these alien races are. I have to say, this book is definitely not for the inexperienced or impatient reader, but having said that, it's consistently well written and never dull.

Monday, August 27

Page 562, and still no end in sight... Sorry, for a moment there I imagined dedicating a blog solely to a page-by-page report on my arduous progress through this book. I quickly abandoned the idea, as my progress isn't arduous at all. By mid-book, famous police investigator Paula Myo solves a case, one of the seemingly ephemeral characters I mentioned earlier has been fleshed out and given a very foreboding plot, and finally a specially built starship, the Second Chance, sets off towards the titular star of the book. There's a substantial change of pace at this point as Hamilton exclusively reserves a whole chapter for describing the journey of the Second Chance and its thrilling encounters with alien technology. The story-telling is more focused, and the book subsequently becomes a real page-turner. I'd say the pacing is flawless; I'm at the first peak of the rollercoaster, and I just hit the point of no return. I'm glad I held out -- a normal-length book would be over by now.

Wednesday, August 29

I've only read a couple of pages since the last update, but I just wanted to hypothesize about the alien encounter in the middle of the book, and the reason their civilisation seems unexplainable to the crew of the Second Chance.

Click to view spoiler

Tuesday, September 11

Current page is 735. I was pleasantly surprised that one of the fleetingly mentioned characters from the first half of the book was reintroduced on page 666 and revealed to be the first-born of the head of a ridiculously rich and powerful family. The story took a break from the action and focused on political intrigue for what seemed to be a very long chapter, albeit strangely fascinating. Hamilton also adds in a loose end from the Paula Myo case in the form of the defendant's girlfriend, now broke and helpless. At this point, I was disappointed that Hamilton blatantly reused not one, but fully two concepts from his earlier novel Mindstar Rising, which rather taints the experience for me. I'm hoping he at least takes this storyline in another direction than he did in the earlier instance.

There's still a character that pops up now and then who doesn't have a clear purpose. So far, he hasn't had any impact on any of the major storylines, but he has served as an outside spectator, adding vivid detail to the Commonwealth universe. Also, one of the storylines (an exploration of the exotic worlds inhabited by the Silfen) is finally getting interesting.

Tuesday, September 25

On page 894, Hamilton returns to the outside spectator's view of the main plot. It's actually a welcome human perspective now that the Commonwealth is preparing for war, and still the politicians are thinking in terms of polls. Tension is building, and it seems like the focus of the storytelling is shifting more often, quickening the pace. As for the alien threat, it's been thoroughly explained at this point, and I was basically right. Yeah, I'm smarter than the brightest minds of the 24th century.

Monday, October 1st

Finally put aside some time to finish the book this week-end. Strangely, the side-plot involving the exploration of the Silfen worlds slowed down again, and contrasted rather heavily against the action-packed war against the alien invasion. I would have welcomed an even more focused storytelling near the end, since at times I felt that I had to trudge through some less interesting paragraphs to get to the juicy bits. Thankfully, the pacing was high and I was quickly rewarded for my perseverence. The pace revved up considerably toward the end while weaving together several plotlines, which made for a raffling finale.

It was also a rather special feeling to pass the 1000-page mark. Reading a book this long actually feels like somewhat of an accomplishment, and it was definitely good enough for me to immediately get started on the sequel, Judas Unchained, which weighs in at a hefty 1234 pages.