Thursday, April 24, 2008

Red Seas Under Red Skies

I read the first book of this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, partially during the insanity that was National Novel Writing Month, and the rest during December. It was pretty good. It wasn't a pretty story, by any stretch, but it was entertaining and a lot of things tied together very well.

Red Seas Under Red Skies was better, in my opinion, though both were very good. They both had the rare distinction of being very entertaining, easy to read, and surprisingly deep. The bonds of friendship between Locke and Jean are touching and, while the depth of the two main characters makes the secondary characters seem shallow by comparison, most of the supporting cast is actually pretty well fleshed-out.

Like with a lot of good fiction/fantasy, it's nice to see characters mess up just because they're human, and humans make mistakes. It's also nice to see people act out of self-interest, not always having a sense of awareness that borders on supernatural.

I'm glad that I started this series, which began with an impulse buy at the Chinook Mall in Calgary. The dialogue is very witty, even unrealistically so, but it doesn't distract from the rest of the story. The descriptions are the only thing I would change. There are pages of description where maybe a paragraph or two would do. I don't need to know exactly what I'm looking at everywhere the main character goes. I usually gloss over the descriptions and let my mind fill in the gaps, especially when nothing is left to the imagination in the exposition.

There is supposedly at least one more book left in the series and I am eagerly looking forward to reading what Scott Lynch has to write.

The Bonehunters

I always struggle to finish Steven Erikson's books. Not because they're bad. They're really good. But they're also really long.

I think that these books tend to suffer a little too much from the jumping-around viewpoint that… ah hell, I don't know who popularized it but Martin does it and it pisses me off, Brooks does it and it pisses me off. What I want is twenty pages or so per character. I want some momentum with a character and follow through with it.

I understand (believe me, I understand) that sequencing is not very easy to write. Knowing that a character has to be at a certain point, and a plot point has to already be written in order to keep things clear, I understand that's all important.

I've read, however, that it's important when you're reading, to look at a point when you put the book down. Why did you put it down there? Why didn't you want to keep reading? A lot of the time, I will admit, it's because I have other things that have to get done. I have children, I have a wife, and I have a job. These things mean that I can't just spend all day reading. But there are also a lot of times when I will just put the book down. When I examine my reasons for this, more often than not, I come to the fact that a character's POV has just ended and it's gone back to a character I haven't read about in a long time. I'm not in step with him/her and it takes me a bit of effort to get enthusiastic about this part of the story.

Maybe that's a risk and there are tradeoffs to be made when properly sequencing a story and cutting and pasting bits of story but if this is the case, maybe the requirement is to take a step back and understand that some of those plot points, if not story lines, are too much.

Take this book for example. It's twelve hundred pages. Maybe there's just too much in there. Maybe the scope is too broad.

Don't get me wrong, I'm loving this book. The characters are very well-written, the humour is my style, the plot is fairly engaging but it flies around from character to character, omitting entire story arcs per book, trying to keep up with everyone. It tends to make the book a little disjointed and, while I like reading it, and I look forward to finishing the book and the series (in a good way, not in a "Thank-God-It's-Over" kind of way), it just takes a long time for me to read these humungous monsters.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

I took a chance on a science fiction book called Old Man's War by John Scalzi.

Normally, I don't read Science Fiction. This book kind of tore me in two directions. On one hand, it made me wonder why I don't read science fiction more, and on the other, it cemented my decision.

Scalzi's main character, unsurprisingly named John, fights to secure human colonization. I had some problems with the plot points, as he is the only character in the story to be able to succeed. All the way from Basic Training, where he wins over the drill sergeant (first guy ever to do this), to his first ever combat mission where he discovers the secret to defeating the enemy (shoot twice instead of once) to various other things that he's able to do that nobody else can do.

Still, the technology that's imagined in this book is amazing. Things like computers implanted in your brain made this book worth reading.

I don't believe I'll continue the series, more because I don't care for the writer's style than because of anything to do with Science Fiction. I'm definitely interested in reading more ideas that Science Fiction writers have about advancements in technology and exploration of the boundaries of the universe.

So, while this one was a bit of a dud, I'll definitely try again. In fact, I am right now, with Robert Charles Wilson's Spin.


Today, I am 32.
I am 2^5.
I am 100000. (Binary)
I am 40 (Octal)
I am 20 (Hexadecimal)

32 is a good number. A powerful number. Just you wait. This year is going to be huge.

Monday, April 21, 2008

New Links

I have added new links to my sidebar.

There you can access:

el Cliff's blog (he of the comment-hilarity throughout this blog's history), Peer Pressure Works! (a.k.a. Broken Class)
Tune in as el Cliff rants and raves about everything from a chronic beggar to Pittsburgh Penguin commercials to the Alberta "Advantage".

Shaun the Angry Scotsman's blog.
Shaun has recently moved into his downtown condo. He has a lot to say.

Chad the Graphic Designer's blog.
Chad has recently made the decision to turn over a less angry leaf when it comes to blogging. Oh, and he's a confessed WoW guy.

So check 'em out.

Reason for Excitement

Q: How can you tell it's spring?
A: It's playoff time and the Leafs are out.

yes, it's an old joke. And not especially true, in the non-hockey sense.

Snow has kicked the door open and stomped all over our welcome mat again.

Do I care? Not really.

Aside from concerns about the soccer season (I'm playing and coaching this year), and not being able to bike to work, I have good reason for my spirits to be uplifted this week.

Tomorrow night, the Calgary Flames get another kick at the cat (erm... shark). They avoided elimination with a dogged effort against the Sharks last night. I was happy to see them come out like that, especially since they got their asses driven through the ice in game 5. Hopefully, they'll have the same jump tomorrow as they did yesterday.

This weekend, the NFL holds its annual entry draft - also known as the most exciting event of the NFL offseason. This is where the transformation of the league takes place. It's an incredibly addictive time for someone who can do absolutely nothing about the outcome (aside from whining and complaining, which seems to happen a lot).

Finally, this week I turn 32. I'm not a superstitious guy, normally, but 32 is an awesome number. I feel good things coming this year (not that any year in the past 5 has beeen anything but spectacular).

32 things to be excited about at 32:
1. My favourite football team posted its first non-losing season in its existence, despite once again, leading the league in players on the IR.
2. Going to Chicago next month for training.
3. Going camping in the mountains in June.
4. Lillian's third birthday.
5. Nicholas's eighth birthday.
6. My fourth wedding anniversary.
7. Spring! (When it finally comes)
8. I will finish the rough draft of my first novel.
9. I will finish edits to my first novel.
10. I will send my first novel out to publishers.
11. Work is looking up.
12. Kim's half-marathon (knock on wood)
13. Annual bonus in August.
14. I'm going to buy the rest of Sandy Foster's discography.
15. Heroes.
16. Battlestar Galactica.
17. A Dance With Dragons. (I hope he gets back on track)
18. No more Sword of Truth to disappoint me.
19. Finishing The Stand.
20. The prospect of starting another novel.
21. It's almost riding season (even though I've ridden probably a half-dozen days already)
22. Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) is released on my birthday.
23. Backyard landscaping.
24. Houston Texans 2008 regular season.
25. Nick starting Cubs.
26. Guitar Hero!
27. Real guitar!
28. Christmas.
29. Actually getting to play outdoor soccer (in a league)
30. All the books I will read this year.
31. All of the stories I will write this year.
32. My family.

So see, it's not so bad being old. There's lots to look forward to!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Historical Edmonton Radio musings

Doing the dishes.

Not enough sleep.

Surly as all git-out.

What comes on the radio? "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves. The most overrated song in the history of the 80s.

I'm suddenly transported back in time to even before I had the mullet. 630 CHED morning crew.

"Well, we've tallied your votes on 'Make it or Break it' and it doesn't look good for Katrina and her waves. 20 votes to 1 that that song breaks it." I don't remember the DJ, whether it was Rob Christie (before his loudmouth blowhard stage at Magic 99) or someone before him (Bruce Bowie maybe?) but I remember that session of Make it or break it better than I remember probably 90% of University. Very clearly.

Why couldn't we have been right, Edmonton? Now I've got some stupid song stuck in my head and feeling a Rob-Christie rant coming on.

My biggest problem with Magic 99 is not that their DJs are blowhards. It's impossible to find a radio station without a blow-hard. It's their insistence that they're different. Better. Don't spoon-feed me that bullshit. Just because you act better and fill your between-songs time with name-dropping anecdotes that are exactly the same each and every time the same goddamn song comes on does not mean that you're better than the others. You have a wonderful variety of songs that you could play. You barely touch them. Instead of some simpering weenie singing about how I'm beautiful or lamenting my bad day, reach back. Pull more Bobby Darrin or (God forbid) Mel Torme off the shelves. Instead of pretending the only artist back in the day was Frank Sinatra, blow the dust off some Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald or even some modern-ish swing. Yeah, I like Michael Buble and Diana Krall but mix it up. Give me some Big Bad Voodoo Daddy or Big Rude Jake. Throw some themed shows into some time slots. Learn a lesson from CKUA. Pick a prime-time hour and play all old stuff. Pick a weekend hour and do some small-label stuff. They've done wonders for local artists like Sandy Foster and Ann Vriend but it would be really nice to take it to the next level.

My other gripe with Magic is their "we're just folks" attitude. Just because I like listening to old standards and swing music doesn't mean that I give a crap about Mercedes or winging my way down to the sunny Caribbean. I certainly am not for going in for a Botox injection to get rid of the wrinkles on my face. Or liposuction for my gluteus-assimus. Don't try to cozy up to me and talk about how we all want this or how everybody knows that.

I'm out of steam.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Another Milestone (Millstone?)

So in October and November I wrote parts 1 and 2 of Dark Prophecy. I had ambitious plans to have those parts edited and ready for mass-consumption (read: literate victims) by the end of March.

Alas, I was daunted.

I have never edited writing before. I know how Stephen King does it and I think that I'll take his approach (hard-copy, blue pen, big brass cojones and a heart of ice). That, however has not happened yet. And thus, it is not the main point of this post.

Part 3 has been fully plotted. What that means is NOT that I am finished writing it. It also does not mean that it's just a matter of transcribing my notes, adding some comic relief and going on my merry way.

No, sir. What it means is that the major plot-points have been decided on. How the characters get where they're going, what they learn, the conflict, the dialogue, and yes, even the comic relief, are still sitting in the back of my head. I haven't written more than a page or two of part 3's actual story, all of which is likely to change now that I know what's going on. I wrote those bits with absolutely no eye on eventual goal, and more of a way to kick my ass back into the writing chair. Now, I know where I'm going and I can actually set the characters up, add some foreshadowing (because that's the kind of thing that good writers do, I hear) and type away to my heart's content.

In a piece of news that is either bad or good, depending on whether you actually care to read the book or whether you believe a writer must be unfailingly true to his story, I have discovered that this will actually be a four-part story. Don't worry, I'm not succumbing to story-bloat (which Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind and George R. R. Martin have been accused of). I have the end of the story in my heart. Surprisingly, the end is absolutely nothing like I had envisioned it, what, 14 years ago? Then again, maybe it's not so surprising. What occurs to an 18 year old as a closing (of a project that looked like it might take a couple months) should look completely different than the end of a decade and more of conception to a 32-year-old man. (That's right. I turn 32 this month. Live with it. I am.) So the set up contains what I thought was the end of the story back then, and the end has its own bit of climaxiness as well as a twist that I hope I can pull off as well as I imagine.

We'll see.

Well, I'll see. If I can't, you may never see this book. Heh.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Can You See the Look in Their Eyes? - or – Bureaucracy Killed My Baby

That look in a business’s eyes when faced with the prospect of mediocrity or worse, irrelevance? The massive layoffs, the mergers, the new wacky ideas that seem to fall just short? Almost like they were pushed out before they were ready?

Business. Money. These two things are inextricably linked. Business wants money. Money flows toward successful business.

Lately, the most money has flowed toward businesses that live innovation. Successful innovation leads to rapid growth. Rapid growth, handled properly, leads to money.

Two perfect examples of this: Google and Apple.

When you think of the two biggest innovation companies, that is where you land. Google and Apple have done things exactly right over the past five years. They’ve clawed their market shares out by out-thinking, out-creating and out-pacing the bigger guys (or the former bigger guys, anyway).

Intuit has decided they want to innovate. They want to learn and grow and become creators of beautiful and good things and these will lead to increased growth and more money.

The problem is, everyone wants to be innovative and create wonderful great things that increase growth and bring in money.

When you see a company do wonderful things and then you see people who are coming late to the party, copying the things that the great company does (maybe not as far as them) and adopt the same mindsets as them (maybe not as zealously, though) you can smell the stink of fear.

When we got together for the Brad Smith speech about rapid growth and innovation, I thought I would smell that stink, see the fear in the eyes of an archaic machine that fears that it is perceived to have outlived its usefulness. However, the more he talked, the more it made sense to me. Intuit already does so many things so well (good clean processes, good products that are easy to use and that help with a need that is both under-served and critical to people). The importance of innovation at Intuit isn’t the creation of a music player or the opening of the world’s eyes to the greatness of online collaboration, free software and a culture that is all about sharing content, creativity and community (which I believe is Google’s greatest contribution to the world). Intuit’s need for innovation surrounds a new content delivery system. We already do great things to help people with finances, taxes and book-keeping. But the things we do well are outdated.

Quicken does a great job of helping manage personal finances. It is wonderful for that. But it is also limited. In the world where computers are connected to the internet 24 hours per day, how can Quicken not automate paying bills online?

Quickbooks does good things with bookkeeping for medium-to-small businesses but it doesn’t go far enough, either in communities or automation of tasks, communication or interface.

There are so many new areas where Intuit can go. Online banking is a big growth opportunity, which saw Intuit purchase DI. The big bosses believed in this idea so much that they invested more than a billion dollars.

I have since been transferred to DI along with our online banking project. The project has changed throughout the past nine months and the decisions made by senior management have baffled me since June or July. The project was looking to be cut in the summer and only a reaction to external changes (see that look in their eyes? Fear. Reactionary fear.) kept us afloat. Recently, other changes have led to the termination of our codebase and a switch to other opportunities. (I hate being vague but I have no choice.) The reason we were cut? We’re not in the market.

I beg to differ.

Our program has been through a V1 in November of 2006, ready to go. Our program had a 1.5 (which they were going to call 1.0) in May/June of 2007. Our program was ready to release a beta of 2.0 (which they probably still would have called 1.0) by end-of-March 2008. Our program would have had a 3.0 (maybe 1.5) by end-of-July 2008. We were ready. The platform that would have integrated with our software, however, was not ready. We were in the market. We were ready for prime time. We were held back.

Process-heavy departments of the company halted integration with red-tape, unnecessary delays and issues that should not have been issues. In the end, Bureaucracy killed our baby.

Brad Smith told a beautiful story about how departments would adopt other departments’ processes, the ones that worked the best. I felt heartened (not for the dead baby that was our project but for the future). I felt encouraged. The new logo and mindset were not just fluff. We can build a future, I believe it.

Then the meeting afterward left me deflated and miserable. The word from the top? “Nothing will change.”

While it was just sad to hear the rote, expected things from our internal leadership, I believe that things will have to change. Our upper levels seem to change fairly frequently, and I have enough faith in the top boss that if things aren’t going his way he will not hesitate to make necessary changes.

What will force a change? Look into their eyes. That will tell you.

Friday, April 04, 2008

More on the new Intuit

Brad Smith is our new CEO. On the 25th anniversary of the initial release of Quicken, he gave a State-of-the-Company address where he mentioned the next 25 years, concerns that he has uncovered about our company and strengths that he believes will help us to be competitive in the future.

The new logo I showed you in my previous blogpost was selected to be the new banner, the new armour that Intuit will wear into competition with others in our space. Our goal? To be quick-growing and innovative. Not only to be those things but to be the very representation of those things.

The dots above the Ts are there to represent people because Intuit wants to bring people together, using a community-style platform to bring clients together. They already do this well with Quickbooks, bringing Accountants together with Small Business. They want to take that to the next level.

There are other spaces where Intuit wants to go but it is exciting to see that they have their minds on the future and the best ways for them to compete in the quick-paced, fickle marketplace that’s completely exploded in the past five years.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Not your father's Intuit

It was communicated to me yesterday, by our new CEO that this will definitely not be your father's Intuit.

What does that mean?

We'll have to see. But this is the new logo. I'm thinking I like it.