Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book Review: The Technologists

The Technologists is a Fun little thriller/whodunit based in late 19th century Boston. Call it 'Historical fiction with a pinch of steampunk'. The first graduating class of the newly-founded MIT are forced to band together to get to the bottom of a series of technology-based disasters that befall the  city.

The book started out a bit weak, with the period-centric language feeling forced, and some of the character motivations feeling excessively contrived (e.g. in several places in the book, anti-technology folk stop their violence/rioting/etc to pontificate on the evils of science and technology). The science used to create the disasters is contrived and implausible, but this is as forgivable as that used in your average Bond flick.

The book really comes together in later chapters though. A good thriller like this, upon revealing who's behind the wrong-doing, should have you exclaiming "I should have known it was him! The signs were there all along!". The author accomplishes this several times over, only then to pull the reader back to realize that the given character wasn't the culprit after all. The author did a good job doing this, making the last few chapters worth the few groans induced during the earlier parts of the book.

The Technologists: A Novel

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book Review: A.D.D: Adolescent Demo Division

I find Douglas Rushkoff a provocative thinker about media theory, so when I heard he'd co-authored a graphic novel related to the subject, I put it on the to-read list and recently picked it up at my public library.

A.D.D.: Adolescent Demo Division centers around a group of teenage professional gamers in a near-future where reality TV, pro gaming leagues and mega-corp marketing collide. The result is part X-men, part Enders Game, and part MTV's Real World.

While that might sounds like an interesting setup, the book has many flaws and so I can't strongly recommend it.

On the positive side, the artwork is clean and well done. I find many modern graphic novels leave me lost, artisitic ambition sacrificing a clear indicator of where the reader's eyes should go next. ADD doesn't suffer from this. Additionally, there are some interesting bits of near-term sci-fi in the setting.

What it does suffer from is a poor connection to the story, especially at the end when it's never fully revealed what the evil corporation is actually up to. Additionally, the excessive use of slang and offensive language (think lots of boner jokes, towel-snapping shower, and cyber-porn-tugging scenes) may have been used to make it clear that these are teenage boys lacking parenting (a pinch of Lord of the Flies in there), it comes off as flat and forced, hurting more than helping the story.

If I had to rate it, I'd give it 2/5. YMMV. A.D.D.: Adolescent Demo Division

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Console Volumes over time

Martin Hollis tweeted a link to this very nice graph comparing the console "Generations" and their total unit volumes:

It's a nice graph, despite the chronological order being right to left.

It's a rough swag to group by generation as it is, since launch dates and end-of-life dates have only some alignment. Since some liberties were already taken, and I was curious, I did two things:

- Aligned the generations by date, picking a rough data for "mid life cycle"
- Normalized to 2010 numbers for population size. I used the sum of US, Japan, UK, France, Germany, as my proxy for "first world", as that's where most consoles are sold anyhow.

The resultant graph looks like this (going left to right with time)

Sort of more telling I think. Question is whether the current plateau is an anomaly, or whether we've saturated the market for consoles. A good second question is what this would look like if you removed the portion of Wii sales that were "fad customers", and whether that's fair to do in trying to preduct the next gen numbers.

Anyhow, food for thought.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Review: Hello, Skater Girl

I backed my friend Julian Bleecker's book Hello, Skater Girl on Kickstarter and just received my copy.

Julian spent well over a year photographing skateboarding girls in Venice Beach and it shows in his photos. He not only captures some great action shots, but shots of the girls eating, laughing, etc, and as a result you get a nice little snapshot of a particular sub-culture community.

Here's a nice video he did that captures the spirit of making the book, and gives you a feel for the book itself.

It's a really pretty book that makes a nice addition to a collection of photo books, if you are into such things. I'm also looking forward to my daughter consuming it some day, not in hopes that she'll become a skater, but rather that she'll see that girls can do whatever they want - even things that some think are just for boys.

My only complaint is that I'd have loved for some of the back story (much of which is on Julian's blog) about the shoots to have made it into the book. Now, that would have changed the nature of the book itself, which is purely a photo book, so I'll forgive him for not including it, and now you've got an excuse to pour through his blog too. (As an example of what I mean, read this page, about climbing "Seal-Team-6" style into the back yard of a condemned 70's house, and it makes the photos of skating the pool that much sweeter.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book Review: Neuromancer

I'd never read William Gibson's seminal cyberpunk thriller, Neuromancer but have had it on the to-read list for a long time. It holds up well, and is amazingly prescient given that it was written in 1984. Not only did he coin 'cyberspace', but think about where your concept of computers and networking in nineteen eighty frikkin four and then imagine, "The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games. …Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation". Holy balls.

As visionary as Blade Runner, in some ways more so.

As an aside, I now look upon The Matrix in a whole different light. So much of it was clearly lifted from Neuromancer. I'm surprised there wasn't more talk of it at the time that movie came out.

Anyhow, if you've never read it, do yourself a favor and do so. Get a recent copy as it'll have updates from the author with some perspective on the time since it's writing.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Book Review: The Windup Girl

I loved The Windup Girl. Biotech steampunk. Monsanto-styled shocktroops. Blade Runner's neon and steel city of the future, but powered by springs and compost. Takes a little while to get going but wow, when it does, it's great. It's sci-fi at it's best in the sense that the author uses a superbly envisioned future to frame social commentary about biotech, genetic modification of food and animals, and corporations holding patents over such things. Some of the characters are a little flat but I'll forgive him that given how well the rest of the book executed.

 The Windup Girl