Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Favourite Books 1. "West of January"

I was at my first geek convention this summer. One of the panels was a discussion on which books would be best to introduce a non-science fiction reader to the genre. I just finished re-reading my nomination: Dave Duncan's "West of January".

It's in the world-building genre, set on a planet whose day-and-night cycle last two hundred years. Human-kind are there by accident, marooned by navigational error. Our protagonist is a nomadic herd-boy named Knobil, a blue-eyed bastard child fathered by the gun-toting 'angels' as they scurry across the surface of the planet trying to maintain some semblance of civilization. We follow him as he is turned out of his tribe after the death of his mother and adopted father, enslaved after saving a sea-people civilization, deliberately crippled and traded to . . . well, I don't want to give too much away.

Other reviewers found this novel to be dark, cynical, misogynistic, and lacking plot (even though they still agreed it was a good book). Certainly the events that shape Knobil's life and the events that shape the planet's culture are grim and cruel. This is what I like about this novel -- Duncan imagined a world, set his players in place on it, and wrote the consequent story as the planet rotated its way through its 200 year cycle. As we follow Knobil's re-telling of his life-story we can believe that this is the way it did happen, and we anticipate what might happen next. Duncan's description of primitive life, attitudes, and culture are real and fascinating. Again, as we read, we think this is how things really might have been even in our own history. Not bad for a guy that used to be a petroleum engineer.

Duncan's authenticity, however, runs deeper than moving characters around on the surface of an imaginary planet well. Knobil's internal emotional dialog is what really propels the character and the plot. His guilt and inferiority complex, beginning with being the only blue-eyed child in a tribe of dark-eyed people, and continuing with his successive abandonment or betrayal (in his eyes) of his mother, adopted father, wife & children, "true" love, and biological father. In our day and age we'd send him to a therapist to work out his issues, but in a primitive society there is no such thing. Instead, his inadequacies drive him and fuel his accomplishments, eventually leading to the salvation of the entire planet.

This is the strength of this book: its geographical & astronomical, cultural, and emotional authenticity. Duncan spins a wonderful story anyway, which only gets better with successive readings. It's a great book that also happens to be science fiction, and in my opinion a great introduction to all the possibilities of the genre.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006


Why didn't anybody tell me about this? I just discovered Martinis, and they are amazing. I ran out and bought gin, vermouth, and olives. Now I'm set. In fact, I'm drinking one right now.

While researching "martinis" at (where else?) Wikipedia, I came across the Wikibooks bartending guides. Right on! Hey, Dad, have you still got the old martini shaker I used to play with when you were'nt home? Er, oops!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Great White North

My buddy Karl turned me onto Ze Frank a while ago, and we're both big fans. Then he had a brainwave to tape our our own intro for the show. It took me a month to find/make the stubbies, and here is the result: Bernie & Karl McKenzie in the Great White North.

We had way too much fun, and just kept taping. As you can see, I had a hard time keeping a straight face.

Be sure to visit both the intro, and the longer clip where we riff on Canadian Politics.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Daily Monster

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Red Dwarf Movie

I was going to blog about how BBC plans to use BitTorrent to distribute high-def versions of their content, including "Red Dwarf". Then I discovered that there's a "Red Dwarf" movie in production.
[Does happy dance]

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Another Camera Tripod

I posted about a coathanger tripod last week. Now here's one that's even smaller, simpler, and lighter.

Monday, December 18, 2006

When Lawyers Get Involved

When lawyers get involved...

Saturday, December 16, 2006


I just thought this poster was funny. That's all.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Worlds Funniest Picture

In search of the world's funniest image. You can help choose.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Under the category of "why didn't I think of that?", and also "participatory on-line communities that make money for their creators", and also "wow, that's a neat frickin' idea": Threadbare, the t-shirt company that get design submissions from it's customers, let's their customers vote on which ones to print, and then sells them back to the very same people. I bet they're making money hand over fist, and it looks like a cool place to work. Plus, some very cool t-shirts.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Night Vision

An LED headlight build by somebody that a) knows how to build things, and b) knows what to build. Now I have a Christmas project!

Something I didn't know: The rods in our eyes (the parts that help us see at night) are most sensitive at 507nm/blue-green. So why not build a light that puts out that frequency? Now we can see x2.5 times better. Just by changing from white to blue-green!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cheap, portable, light camera tripod

Easy to make and fits in your pocket. It uses stiff wire wrapped in electrical tape as legs, and taped to a bolt. One of those "why didn't I think of that?" ideas for a tripod that you can actually take on a hike.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Tabla Prodigy

I play drums a little, but this two-year-old is freaky.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Stop Motion Excellence

Some people have too much time on their hands. Thats a good thing (Thanks, Karl.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Drunken Obstacles

An interesting game, and an interesting lesson to go with it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Portscanning your Computer

Ports are like the "channels" that come on your internet connection. In the early days of the web, they were all open, and anybody could reach out and touch someone on any of these ports. Today, by default, these ports closed by virtue of your computer's firewall.

It goes without saying that your computer should be behind a hardware firewall, which these days usually come on your router. Not the router your cable or telephone company provided, but the one you have connected between that & your computer. You have one, right?

If not, GRC is a good resource for how to configure these routers, and will even "portscan" your computer for you for free, without downloading anything (scroll down to "ShieldsUp!")

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Free Bullshit

Links to free episodes of Penn & Teller's TV show "Bullshit", in which they debunk & demystify by using critical thinking, something I enjoy. Plus, they're funny.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Eat! Eat!

I had a chance to do some Christmas shopping down in Inglewood (Calgary) at the start of the weekend and I had lunch with Cathie at a little place called "Eat! Eat!" ( 1325 9th Avenue SE). They specialize in home cooking, mostly breakfast and lunch. They've recently announced evening hours as well.

The space if small, but nicely decorated - currently with a showing of acrylic paintings of local Calgary scenes by a local artist. The furniture is 50's diner, but comfortable. Cathie had the tunu melt, and I had the steak sandwich with the chili soup. The price was reasonable, the service friendly, and food fresh, hot, and well prepared.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Casino Royale

Went to see the new James Bond movie, "Casino Royale". Excellent movie which I heartily recommend. It's gone back to the original attitude & context of the books, more based on people interactions and less geek-gadget space-lazers-chasing-cars-across-glaciers B.S. It's like they hired a writer that actually knows how to write and a director with a pair.

For example, Bond is having a bad day and asks the bartender for a vodka martini. "Very good sir, shaken or stirred?" Bond replies, "Do I look like I give a !#$%?"

Friday, December 01, 2006

Stackable Sawhorses

I always wanted stackable sawhorses, but couldn't be bothered to do the . . . trigonometry?


I know it's been awhile since I updated the blog. Sorry. I'll try to do better - I've adjust some things at work, so hopefully I'll have a better balance. Thanks to everybody that's still checking in...

-- Bernie