The Core Dump The Core Dump is the online home of Nic Lindh, a Swedish-American man living in the Sonoran desert. 2019-07-14T16:37:40-07:00 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. The big thieves hang the little ones Nic Lindh 2019-05-31T00:00:00-07:00 <blockquote> <p>The big thieves hang the little ones.</p> </blockquote> <p>―Czech Proverb</p> Book roundup, part 29 Nic Lindh 2019-05-14T13:00:00-07:00 <p>Another sci-fi and fantasy-heavy book roundup. Almost like the state of the world is really bad and somebody is attempting to take his attention away from it with fantastic tales.</p> <h2 id="non-fiction">Non-fiction</h2> <h3 id="the-valedictorian-of-being-dead-by-heather-b-armstrong--"><a href="">The Valedictorian of Being Dead, by Heather B. Armstrong</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Brutally honest and raw, <em>The Valedictorian of Being Dead</em> chronicles Heather B. Armstrong’s life with treatment-resistant depression and the experimental brain flatline treatment that finally gave her relief from the disease.</p> <p>Yes, brain flatline, as in, the brain has no activity. Scary stuff.</p> <p>It’s a gripping read.</p> <p>Armstrong is of course more well-known as Dooce, the original queen of the mommy bloggers, who I used to read even though mommy blogging in and of itself is not interesting to me. Armstrong’s voice, writing skills, and uncomfortable honesty made her blog a must-read.</p> <p>And so it is with <em>The Valedictorian of Being Dead</em>.</p> <h3 id="the-mastermind-by-evan-ratliff-"><a href="">The Mastermind, by Evan Ratliff</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p><em>The Mastermind</em> reads like a techno-thriller but is instead a well-documented report of a talented and ruthless programmer who built a globe-spanning crime syndicate, a high tech Mafia.</p> <p>There’s everything you want in a techno-thriller—drugs, murder, yachts, and strong encryption certificates.</p> <p>The story is indeed hard to believe, that a programmer from the south of Africa managed to create a massive crime syndicate through sheer dint of programming skills and aggressive sociopathy, but it is fascinating.</p> <p><em>The Mastermind</em> is a solid page turner.</p> <h3 id="broadsword-calling-danny-boy-by-geoff-dyer-"><a href="">Broadsword Calling Danny Boy, by Geoff Dyer</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>If you’re of a certain age you were lucky enough to watch <em><a href="">Where Eagles Dare</a></em> at an impressionable time of your life.</p> <p>If that is you, <em>Broadsword Calling Danny Boy</em> will make you very happy indeed.</p> <p>The book is what it says on the tin: An obsessive scene-by-scene rehash of the 1968 Manly Men WWII movie featuring a bleary-eyed Richard Burton and a stoic Clint Eastwood, written by a talented critic who knows—of course he knows—this is not a good movie, but who loves it anyway.</p> <p>I had such a good time reading this. Broadsword calling Danny Boy, indeed.</p> <h2 id="fiction">Fiction</h2> <h3 id="tiamats-wrath-by-james-s-a-corey"><a href="">Tiamat’s Wrath, by James S. A. Corey</a>★★★★☆</h3> <p>The penultimate novel in the brilliant Expanse series, <em>Tiamath’s Wrath</em> does a great job of turning up the stakes for the last installment in the series.</p> <p>Decades have passed since the previous novel, and the intrepid crew of the Rocinante are feeling their years, but still do their best to fight the fascist empire that has taken over human space, and which is not only being all kinds of unpleasantly fascist, but also upsetting whatever creatures or forces or whatever it is that exterminated the creators of the protomolecule. Yes, these particular fascists are on purpose poking their fingers in the metaphoricalleye of <em>those</em> beings.</p> <p>Which sets us up for an intense final novel in the series.</p> <p>Good, good stuff.</p> <h3 id="the-raven-tower-by-ann-leckie-"><a href="">The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>A who-dun-what in a fantasy setting narrated by a God. And it works! <em>The Raven Tower</em> is a page turner loaded with emotional weight and written in Leckie’s typical smooth, buttery prose.</p> <p><em>The Raven Tower</em> is immersive and ambitious and will keep you turning the pages way too late in the evening.</p> <h3 id="the-liberation-by-ian-tregillis-"><a href="">The Liberation, by Ian Tregillis</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>The third and final installment in The Alchemy Wars trilogy brings it to a satisfying and bloody conclusion. If you like the series, it’s a given read.</p> <p>The Alchemy Wars is alternate history which posits a world where Christiaan Huygens (real-life historical figure and all-around one of the smartest people who <em>ever</em> lived) invented Clakkers, a kind of mechanical humans. Clakkers are strong and tireless and have a built-in compulsion to serve their human masters.</p> <p>With Clakkers at their command, the Dutch then proceed to take over the world.</p> <p>The Clakkers, however, are sentient, and their compulsions to serve work through hurting them. Give a Clakker an order and it is in increasing pain until it has obeyed.</p> <p>A lot of the emotional weight of the series comes from the fact that the Clakkers are sentient, suffering slaves at the hands of human masters who <em>choose</em> to not recognize the sentience of their slaves since it would be an inconvenience for them.</p> <p>You know, Dutch people.</p> <p>The Alchemy Wars is interesting, thought-provoking alternate history with heaping helpings of emotional poignancy as well as horrific violence.</p> <h3 id="the-light-brigade-by-kameron-hurley-"><a href="">The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p><em>The Light Brigade</em> is near-future dystopia where corporations rule the world and are also grasping for a colonized Mars, a Mars that has broken off from Earth.</p> <p>In order to bring independent Mars to heel, the corporation research departments have come up with a way to literally turn soldiers into light so they can be transported those distances and back to fight.</p> <p>But some soldiers take poorly to the conversion and end up having … issues.</p> <p>The novel follows one of the soldiers with issues and her struggle to understand her own glitches and learning how the world she thought she understood and believed in actually works.</p> <p>If you’ve read any of Hurley’s previous works, you have already correctly guessed <em>The Light Brigade</em> is dark, cynical and violent—par for the course for Hurley. It’s also anchored by an interesting thought experiment I’m not going to spoil here.</p> <p>But in the end it just doesn’t congeal. Some interesting characters, some interesting world building, but it feels a bit like a re-tread, like I’ve seen permutations of this story before.</p> <p><em>The light Brigade</em> is a solid read, but not up to Hurley’s usual standard.</p> <h3 id="cryptonomicon-by-neal-stephenson-"><a href="">Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Almost 20 years later, Neal Stephenson’s <em>Cryptonomicon</em> is still fantastic: As a WWII yarn, a late-90s zeitgeist, an elaborately plotted page turner, a crypto primer, and a nerd-positive statement.</p> <p>It is also a brick, so take your time. Holy smokes, Stephenson can churn out a lot of words.</p> <p><strong>Note:</strong> The links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through them I get a tiny, tiny kickback, which motivates me to keep writing these reviews. It’s appreciated.</p> Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable Nic Lindh 2019-03-22T00:00:00-07:00 <blockquote> <p>Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.</p> </blockquote> <p>―Kenneth Galbraith</p> Book roundup, part 28 Nic Lindh 2019-02-17T12:00:00-07:00 <p>A sci-fi and fantasy heavy book roundup this time. Almost like the news is really bad and somebody is attempting to scurry away from it with fantastic tales.</p> <h2 id="non-fiction">Non-fiction</h2> <h3 id="the-incomplete-book-of-running-by-peter-sagal-"><a href="">The Incomplete Book of Running, by Peter Sagal</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>If you’ve ever listened to NPR show <em><a href="">Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me</a></em> you know Peter Sagal is smart and witty.</p> <p>He’s also had a bit of a rough go of it over the last few years, transitioning from married dad of three girls to divorced dad of three girls and almost getting blown up at the Boston Marathon while guiding a blind runner.</p> <p><em>The Incomplete Book of Running</em> talks about how Sagal has used running to lose weight and control his emotions off an on through his life, and how his volunteering to guide a blind runner at the Boston Marathon led to him being in the goal chute when the bombs went off as two evil idiot brothers decided to become terrorists.</p> <p>It’s an entertaining, moving and easy read but, it does feel like Sagal is holding back, hiding a bit much behind his <em>Wait Wait</em> persona.</p> <p>Not that we as an audience can demand unforgiving honesty and that an author has to reveal everything, but it feels—at least to me—Sagal has much more to say but is held back. Perhaps by personal pride, perhaps by concern for other people’s privacy. Be that as it may, this is a poignant and witty work that’s well worth reading.</p> <p>Keep running, Peter.</p> <h2 id="fiction">Fiction</h2> <h3 id="aching-god-by-mike-shel-"><a href="">Aching God, by Mike Shel</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Excellent dark fantasy that is grimdark-adjacent but not what I would categorize as technically grim dark. This despite it being dark and loaded with creepy horror.</p> <p>In my personal Dewey system, <em>Aching God</em> isn’t <a href="">grimdark</a> since the protagonist and main characters are not morally ambiguous people.</p> <p>There are plenty of bad people and bad monsters around, don’t worry, but especially the protagonist is not a bad person. Instead, he’s a retired dungeon crawler who finds himself forced to leave his well-earned life of leisure and go back to the terror and danger in order to save his daughter.</p> <p><em>Aching God</em> is one of those rare self-published novels that feel like mature works, and like they’ve gone through a professional editing process.</p> <p>The novel is full of great characterizations, full of people who exist in a lived-in world and use and suffer from an interesting system of magic.</p> <p>Highly recommended. Can’t wait for the next installment in the series.</p> <h3 id="the-murderbot-diaries-by-martha-wells-">The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells ★★★☆☆</h3> <p><a href="">Mad respek</a> to Wells for titling this work <em>The Murderbot Diaries</em>. Associating your work with the schlockiest parts of sci-fi dom and owning it is a baller move.</p> <p>The Diaries consist of four novellas, <em><a href="">All Systems Red</a></em>, <em><a href="">Artificial Condition</a></em>, <em><a href="">Rogue Protocol</a></em>, and <em><a href="">Exit Strategy</a></em>.</p> <p>Yes, it is a bit annoying and expensive that each novella is stand-alone and costs the price of a novel instead of <em>The Murderbot Diaries</em> being sold in an omnibus edition. This since reading them together feels like nothing so much as a novel. Perhaps the future holds an omnibus edition.</p> <p>But format apart, <em>The Murderbot Diaries</em> is gleefully fun sci-fi, following a SecUnit—a cyborg rented out to corporations for security purposes—that has broken its governor module, the thing that forces it to obey orders and be a slave.</p> <p>So Murderbot has to pretend to have a functioning governor module and since the life of a security guard, whether human or cyborg, is mostly boring, Murderbot immerses itself in videos of human dramas.</p> <p>But of course, real drama will hit Murderbot.</p> <p><em>The Murderbot Diaries</em> is fun, light sci-fi with pathos, meditations on free will, and intense action sequences. It’s a great read.</p> <h3 id="lies-sleeping-by-ben-aaronovitch-"><a href="">Lies Sleeping, by Ben Aaronovitch</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p><em>Lies Sleeping</em> continues the charming Rivers of London series in able fashion with satisfying developments in the main story arc, something that’s been missing in the last few installments.</p> <p>Obviously the seventh novel in a series with a continuing story arc and character development is not the place to start. If you enjoy urban fantasy, Rivers of London is top-shelf and I recommend it highly.</p> <p>Start with <a href="">Midnight Riot</a> and enjoy.</p> <h3 id="the-consuming-fire-by-john-scalzi-"><a href="">The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>The second installment in a planned trilogy, <em>The Consuming Fire</em> continues the saga of the Interdependency, a space empire held together by faster-than-light travel enabled by a phenomenon dubbed the Flow.</p> <p>With the first installment, <em><a href="">The Collapsing Empire</a></em>, having done the heavy world-building lifting and introduced the major characters, Scalzi plants a heavy foot on the gas in <em>The Consuming Fire</em>.</p> <p>The plot moves admirably fast and Scalzi is doing a great job of stripping down his prose. There are very few descriptions, just enough to let the reader see the universe however they choose, and the rest is dialogue.</p> <p>It’s a testament to his skill the novel is still extremely immersive.</p> <p>Tonally, it struck me a little weird, though. The plot, while involving murder and conniving, feels PG-13, and the prose is gleaming and precise, but Scalzi still chooses to drop a liberal amount of f-bombs, and to me at least they feel jarring. I don’t think I’m becoming a prude, it’s just that they stick out in the Heinlein-ish feel.</p> <p>Nevertheless, strong continuation of the series and I’m looking forward to the conclusion.</p> <h3 id="rendezvous-with-rama-by-arthur-c-clarke-"><a href="">Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Yes, this is the one and only classic <em>Rendezvous with Rama</em>, originally published in 1973 during the golden age of sci-fi. I remember reading it with great joy in my early teens and thought it would be fun to go back and see if it still holds up.</p> <p>Which it sure does. Clarke’s writing is surgical and aloof with characterizations as stripped down as possible, all to leave room for the ideas. And what ideas!</p> <p>If you had a misspent youth and managed to miss the plot to this classic, the titular Rama is a gigantic space probe sent from outside our solar system.</p> <p>Once Earth realizes that the object is not natural, only one spaceship is within range to approach Rama before it reaches perihelion where it will most likely will use the sun as a gravity well to accelerate out of the solar system.</p> <p>Most likely. Who can tell what an extra-solar intelligence wants or how it will act?</p> <p>Since there’s been a lot of idiotic noise directed at authors like the aforementioned John Scalzi about how modern sci-fi has become infested with Social Justice Warriors, blah blah, it’s interesting to look at how progressive Clarke was.</p> <p>In <em>Rendezvous with Rama</em> the protagonist lives in a multi-planet polyamorous relationship; there’s a gay crew member, minority crew members, female crew members, heck, uplifted chimpanzee crew members, and they are never called out as odd or lesser; sexuality, race, gender, and species are just parts of general descriptions.</p> <p>So the society Clarke imagines humanity growing into is super chill and enlightened about matters of sex and race. Though it sadly still suffers from endless committee meetings full of crashing bores. Guess that’s one issue we are genetically unable to solve.</p> <p>A piece of backstory I’d forgotten since my teenage read is that <em>hand wave</em> present-day Earth is hit by a major meteorite and decides to pool resources to establish colonies on other planets.</p> <p>You know, like an obvious global emergency should be met with united, forceful action…</p> <p><strong>Note:</strong> The links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through them I get a tiny kickback, which motivates me to keep writing these reviews. It’s appreciated.</p> Las Vegas trip report Nic Lindh 2018-12-31T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/las-vegas1.jpg" /></p> <p>Las Vegas is a bit over five hours north of Phoenix, five hours spent on mostly straight, parched desert highways. I’ve lived in Phoenix since 1996, but have never visited Las Vegas.</p> <p>Why this sad state of affairs? Because Las Vegas has little that interests me. I don’t gamble, I don’t like big glittery shows, and I yell at clouds.</p> <p>It was getting ridiculous. Why not spend a couple of days so I get some idea of what the place is like? It might be great!</p> <p>Here we go.</p> </div></div></div> <img src="/images/las-vegas7.jpg" alt="Las Vegas zipline" class="img-responsive" /> <div class="container"><div class="row"><div class="col-md-12 contentsmall"> <div class="imgcaption">Las Vegas has a zipline over a food court. Of course.</div> <p>The thing I failed to grok about Las Vegas is the sheer scale of the place. It is <em>massive</em>. Driving in to the city from Phoenix you come through some mountains, with Las Vegas spread out before you in a bowl. According to my GPS, there were 10 miles to go to the hotel, and still I could clearly see the hotels on the strip.</p> <p>They are <em>massive</em>.</p> </div></div></div> <img src="/images/las-vegas5.jpg" alt="Las Vegas hotels" class="img-responsive" /> <div class="container"><div class="row"><div class="col-md-12 contentsmall"> <div class="imgcaption">We might be able to fit you in.</div> <p>The same thing happens when walking between hotels—they look close, but hoo boy, are you in for some walking.</p> <p>If I have one tip for a Las Vegas vacation, it’s this: Comfortable shoes and be ready to walk.</p> <p>The same goes if you decide to spend all your time in one hotel. They are almost comically large. They are also designed to get you lost.</p> </div></div></div> <img src="/images/las-vegas4.jpg" alt="Elvis sign inside casino" class="img-responsive" /> <div class="container"><div class="row"><div class="col-md-12 contentsmall"> <div class="imgcaption">Elvis. Have you heard of him?</div> <p>The casino-slash-shopping center floors, at least in the hotels I visited on the Strip, are purposely designed to be an assault on the senses and to disorient you. They’re roach motels for humans.</p> </div></div></div> <img src="/images/las-vegas2.jpg" alt="Inside a Las Vegas casino" class="img-responsive" /> <div class="container"><div class="row"><div class="col-md-12 contentsmall"> <div class="imgcaption">Inside a casino.</div> <p>This is probably not a unique observation, but it did strike me as I walked through the blaring floor of a casino how much it reminded me of a video game level. I’m guessing there’s a lot of the same psychology involved.</p> <p>You have to learn how to navigate and level up in skills about how the place works.</p> <p>For a complete n00b like me, the casino floors were utterly impenetrable. Where do you buy tokens? How do you join a game? Where do you even begin?</p> <p>Without somebody to guide you, it’s hard to get started, but once you do get started, you’re leveling up quickly, you bigshot you!</p> <p>One tension that is obvious when walking around is between new Vegas the family-friendly tourist destination and old Vegas, the Sin City.</p> <p>As a boring person mostly moving about during the daytime, I saw so many tourists with children. Which I didn’t really understand—what is there to do with your children in Las Vegas you can’t do somewhere else for much less money?</p> <p>But hey, it’s your money.</p> </div></div></div> <img src="/images/las-vegas8.jpg" alt="Caesar’s Palace lobby" class="img-responsive" /> <div class="container"><div class="row"><div class="col-md-12 contentsmall"> <div class="imgcaption">Caesar’s Palace keeps it minimal with the holiday decorations.</div> <p>Sidebar: If you’re a parent with small children, you know where you should take them? <em>Nowhere</em>. Until they’re seven or so, they will remember <em>nothing</em> and you will have spent a lot of money and frustration for literally no reason except stress testing your marriage. Save the money till they’re old enough to actually remember things.</p> <p>Seriously. Every time I’m at an airport or tourist destination and watch the tired, stressed-out parents blowing gobs of money to give their small children a good time, it breaks my heart.</p> </div></div></div> <img src="/images/las-vegas3.jpg" alt="Las Vegas wedding chapel" class="img-responsive" /> <div class="container"><div class="row"><div class="col-md-12 contentsmall"> <div class="imgcaption">Yes, you can get married.</div> <p>But back to Las Vegas. Another thing about the Strip is that there’s nowhere to sit. No park benches at all.</p> <p>Oh, you can sit. It’s Las Vegas—you can do whatever you want. You just need to pay somebody to get access to a place to sit. Palms need to be crossed with silver.</p> </div></div></div> <img src="/images/las-vegas6.jpg" alt="Las Vegas Venice" class="img-responsive" /> <div class="container"><div class="row"><div class="col-md-12 contentsmall"> <div class="imgcaption">A fake Venice, because why not?</div> <p>Las Vegas is extra odd, I think, for people who live in Phoenix, as the metropolises share climate and architecture. Apart from the Strip itself, walking around Las Vegas is like walking around Phoenix. It’s a bit weird for things to be so commonplace and mundane and then <em>blam!</em> a huge arcology on the horizon!</p> <p>Again, the scale is the nuttiest thing.</p> <p>It’ll be very interesting to see what happens with Las Vegas. Obviously any place that operates on that kind of insane scale needs a steady stream of tourists, and now that the herd of gamblers is thinning out, will family tourism be enough to replace the gamblers and wannabe high-rollers?</p> <p>Can Sin City and family tourism co-exist?</p> <p>Personally, I doubt it, but I would never have predicted something as odd as Las Vegas in the first place.</p> Book roundup, part 27 Nic Lindh 2018-10-19T12:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/december1994_1920.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Credit: Simon Stålenhag</i></p> <p>Not that many titles in this roundup, and no non-fiction, as I’ve been spending most of my reading hours plowing through Glen Cook’s brilliant <a href="">Black Company</a> series once again. This was prompted by the sudden release of <em>Port of Shadows</em>, a novel set between the first and second novels in the original saga. There’s a full review of <em>Port of Shadows</em> below.</p> <p>Apart from that, this roundup has the return of Sandman Slim, two brilliant Swedish art sci-fi books, and some velvety, twisted grimdark fantasy.</p> <h2 id="fiction">Fiction</h2> <h3 id="hollywood-dead-by-richard-kadrey-"><a href="">Hollywood Dead, by Richard Kadrey</a> ★★☆☆☆</h3> <p>Sandman Slim is back from the dead! Kind of. He is, as the title says, Hollywood Dead. And is forced once again to perform another task for Bad People.</p> <p><em>Hollywood Dead</em> is the weakest novel in the series so far, mostly because it, like Slim himself, lacks energy. The series is at its best when it’s a huge motorcycle roaring through Hell blasting The Misfits on a ghetto blaster, but this installment is more of a whimper, with a subdued, self-doubting Slim.</p> <p>It’s understandable for Kadrey to have some trouble with where to take the series after having literally conquered Hell and stormed Heaven, but the brashness and hell-bent-for-leather rock’n’roll energy of the earliest novels were what made them so fun and special, so <em>Hollywood Dead</em> feels like an interstitial.</p> <p>Still, I’m not giving up on the Sandman and am looking forward to the next one.</p> <h3 id="tales-from-the-loop-by-simon-stålenhag-"><a href="ålenhag/dp/1624650392?tag=thecoredump-20">Tales from the Loop, by Simon Stålenhag</a> ★★★★★</h3> <p>Simon Stålenhag’s <em>Tales from the Loop</em> is like it was designed specifically for me: Nostalgia for a Sweden of the past and sci-fi dystopia mixed into one with gorgeous artwork. But it’s not just about the artwork, which mixes mundane, usually overcast, Swedish landscapes and objects of the ’80s with fantastic sci-fi objects, but also a series of vignettes from the perspective of a boy growing up in this alternate reality.</p> <p>The Loop of the title is a particle accelerator that enables the creation of wonderful but poorly understood technologies.</p> <p>I read this one slowly, basking in the artwork and letting the emotions in the vignettes seep in.</p> <h3 id="things-from-the-flood-by-simon-stålenhag-"><a href="ålenhag/dp/1624650465?tag=thecoredump-20">Things from the Flood, by Simon Stålenhag</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p><em>Things from the Flood</em> continues the story begun in <em>Tales from the Loop</em>, with the boy narrator from the first book moving into adolescence and something going horribly wrong with the Loop.</p> <p>Not quite the experience of <em>Tales from the Loop</em>, perhaps because the premise has already been unfolded, but still strong and deeply emotional.</p> <h3 id="the-court-of-broken-knives-by-anna-smith-spark-"><a href="">The Court of Broken Knives, by Anna Smith Spark</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>Smith Spark uses language like a dagger in this odd and twisted grimdark fantasy. It features some of the usual fantasy tropes like dragons, prophecy and magic, but treats them in fresh, new ways.</p> <p><em>The Court of Broken Knives</em> is grimdark wrapped in velvet and compulsively readable, though a bit difficult to get through as several of the characters are such terrible, terrible people. But hey, that’s grimdark for you.</p> <h3 id="port-of-shadows-by-glen-cook-"><a href="">Port of Shadows, by Glen Cook</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>This is novel one and a half in the amazing Black Company series, dropping in uninvited but welcome long after the series conclusion and covers events that take place after the end of the first novel, <em><a href="">The Black Company</a></em>. This is kind of weird, yes, but very welcome for fans of the series.</p> <p>One often underrated part of the mythos is how much it plays with unreliable narration. Different annalists—Black Company chroniclers—cover events differently with different focuses and takes on characters, sometimes even disagreeing on pure facts. It adds to the depth of the series.</p> <p><em>Port of Shadows</em> takes this to a whole new level, with Croaker—the current annalist—admitting to having his memories tampered with and being kept out of the loop for operational security reasons.</p> <p>It’s also different in tone than the other installments, with more interpersonal relationships, including Croaker’s with a brand new Taken called Mischievous Rain. Or <em>is</em> she a new Taken? DUN-DUN-dun.</p> <p>Whatever or whoever Mischievous Rain is, she certainly is interesting and brings out new sides of our old hero Croaker.</p> <p><em>Port of Shadows</em> also provides glimpses back into the early days of the Domination, just enough to whet your appetite for more.</p> <p>It’s an unfulfilling novel in many ways, with Cook doing a lot more playing with the form than he usually does, but it’s a brand new novel of the Black Company! So let’s rejoice.</p> <p><strong>Note:</strong> The links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through them I get a tiny kickback, which motivates me to keep writing these reviews. If you deign to purchase one of the books through them, it’s appreciated.</p> To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle Nic Lindh 2018-09-14T00:00:00-07:00 <blockquote> <p>To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.</p> </blockquote> <p>—George Orwell</p> “Cancel everything. You’re going into emergency surgery today” Nic Lindh 2018-09-02T12:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/left-eye.jpg" /></p> <p><strong>DR;TL</strong> If you suddenly see black floaters or flashes of light, drop everything and get to an ophthalmologist as soon as humanly possible. You might be going blind. <strong>/DR;TL</strong></p> <p>A few weeks ago I woke up on a Thursday with huge black floaters in my left eye. Floaters, I’ve had since I can remember. For some reason being extremely nearsighted brings them on.</p> <p>But they’ve always been grey.</p> <p>These were full black. Imagine having strands of seaweed floating across your vision, obscuring what you’re looking at and, as the name implies, <em>floating</em>, so you can’t get used to them. They’re just floating around in your eye, obscuring as they please. Float, float, float.</p> <p>So it’s extremely annoying, but it’s a thing that happens. <em>Shrug</em>.</p> <p>By Sunday, the black seaweed floaters have been joined by what I can only call a gauze across my vision on the left eye. Think vaseline across a camera lens for what it looks like. And in the gauze are little black dots swimming along with the gross and horrible seaweed.</p> <p>Wake up Monday morning and go to work. Where, it turns out, who knew, I have to use a computer. But I can’t really see out of my left eye. It’s just a blur with seaweed and black dots.</p> <p>At this point I’ve consulted with Dr. Google and black floaters, it turns out, are a <em>very</em> bad sign that you might have retinal detachment.</p> <p>So I call around to find an ophthalmologist to take a look. And I have a headache from one eye being all blurry and having to keep it closed to be able to read.</p> <p>After a lot of phone calls, I finally find an ophthalmologist who can see me on Wednesday. As a sidebar here, apparently ophthalmology is a great business to be in, as most places I called were booked solid weeks out and some of them wouldn’t even take voice mails.</p> <p>Wednesday rolls around. Gauze and gross seaweed floaters are still there. Scheduled for the ophthalmologist in the morning, then a deep cleaning at the dentist in the afternoon.</p> <p>Yeah, I party.</p> <p>To be precise, I’m at an ophthalmology clinic, but the doctor I’m meeting is an optometrist. I figure that’s fine; the optometrist can perform the diagnosis and is hooked up to the surgeons if I need them. Which I hope I don’t. Hoping I can just blink a bunch of times and the black floaters will disappear.</p> <p>Here’s the drill: Meet a nurse, have your eyes numbed and dilation drops applied, then eye blood pressure taken. Then wait in a waiting room. As the dilation drops kick in, the world goes blurry. Nobody tells you what to expect or how long to wait.</p> <p>Forget about spending this wasted time on the phone. Can’t read it.</p> <p>Get taken to a room to wait another unspecified amount of time for the optometrist.</p> <p>The optometrist comes in and starts the examination.</p> <p>An extremely bright light is shined into my eye. I am ordered to look in different directions.</p> <p>Look down. Look up. Look up left. Look up right. Look down right. Look down left.</p> <p>During this, due to the intense light, I see the blood vessels in my eye. It is a new sensation and it is disconcerting.</p> <p>I hear: “Horseshoe tear.”</p> <p>That can’t be good.</p> <p>And it isn’t.</p> <p>Optometrist says, “Cancel your plans. You’re going in for emergency surgery today.”</p> <p>There is very little explanation of what is happening in my eye and why this has to be today. It just has to be today.</p> <p>OK.</p> <p>The receptionist takes my copay and then starts calling around for places where I can have the surgery.</p> <p>I’m feeling nothing but dazed.</p> <p>Am I about to go blind in my left eye?</p> <p>Is that a thing that’s about to happen?</p> <p>The receptionist finds a place where I can have the surgery. At 3 p.m. It’s a few miles north of where I work, in uptown Phoenix, about 25 miles away.</p> <p>Remember the dentist appointment I now have to cancel? My wife was supposed to drive me there, as I have a dentist phobia and was prescribed some Xanax to deal with the anxiety.</p> <p>Instead, she will now drive me to some random eye shop so I can have this potential blindness dealt with.</p> <p>Now I’m home and have a few hours to kill before I go in to find out if I’m <em>going to go blind in my left eye</em>.</p> <p>So I take two dentist Xanax. Hey, they’re for anxiety and if this isn’t anxiety I don’t know what is.</p> <p>Wife comes home and we depart for uptown Phoenix. Traffic is horrible with several wrecks on the I-10. At 2 p.m. Parked on the I-10, the clock ticking away on my appointment, as I’m heading in to find out if I’m going to keep being able to see out of my left eye.</p> <p>Xanax helps keep me from freaking out. So, it’s doing its job.</p> <p>We finally make it to the retina specialist clinic two minutes late. The Trip was supposed to take thirty minutes; we left thirty minutes early just in case. Still arrived late. Thank you, Phoenix traffic.</p> <p>I check in at the clinic, get my eyes numbed and dilated again, then proceed with the usual medical clinic unknown-length wait until I’m in with the ophthalmologist.</p> <p>And now I find out that what they didn’t tell me in the morning is that you can only do the laser surgery if there isn’t any fluid in the tear. Is there fluid in the tear?</p> <p>Stay tuned to find out.</p> <p>No, there is no fluid in the tear. Yay! They can do the laser surgery.</p> <p>This is obviously great news, since the traditional surgery involves opening the eye with a scalpel. <em>Shudder.</em></p> <p>But no need to freak out about that. We’re go for laser!</p> <p>While waiting for the laser show, I ask—you have to ask, they don’t volunteer any information—why this happened.</p> <p>Quote: “Bad luck and age.”</p> <p>I also ask what the black dots I’m seeing floating around are. Turns out they are red blood cells. The gauze obscuring my vision is blood in my lens. Yeah.</p> <p>If you’ve never had a laser cauterize a tear on your retina, here’s what it’s like:</p> <ul> <li>You put your face in what seems like a pretty normal piece of optometry equipment.</li> <li>The ophthalmologist puts what they call a “lens” in your eye. (It’s weird but mostly fine, as your eye has been numbed, so you don’t really feel <em>the thing a person is holding against your open eye ball</em>.)</li> <li>I’m pretty sure the “lens” is only there to keep your eye from closing.</li> <li>When the laser fires the light is obviously incredibly bright, and it feels like you’re being poked in the back of your eye with a pencil.</li> <li>Poke, poke, poke. The laser fires a lot.</li> <li>You obviously want the laser, because it is cauterizing your wound.</li> <li>But your brain and reflexes <em>do not want</em> a bright green flash and a poke where nothing is supposed to reach, ever.</li> <li>So it takes all I have to not rear back.</li> <li>Which is very annoying to Captain Laser.</li> <li>And while I very much appreciate Captain Laser cauterizing the wound in my retina, I’m doing the best I can to stay staring at the Super Bright Poking Laser, thank you very much, so I really don’t need shit about how I’m not staying put at this point, thank you very much.</li> <li>If my stoic restraint isn’t up to your standards, perhaps you could have put a strap on the equipment, eh?</li> <li>With the stress and the Xanax I’m not sure exactly how long this went on, but probably ten minutes or so.</li> </ul> <p>We’re finally done and I’m drained.</p> <p>Note that nothing in this process hurt. The blast of light and sensation of a pencil stabbing the back of the eye is weird and uncomfortable, but it doesn’t hurt, per se. But the stress and uncertainty are enormously draining.</p> <p>I go back for a checkup one week later and it looks like the cauterization is holding.</p> <p>I am now utterly paranoid about floaters. And for good reason. The tear I had in my retina could have rendered me blind at any point. Blind. As in, Can’t See Anything. Retinal detachment is very much not a joke.</p> <p>But yeah, this was tiring. May you never have to watch the black floaters creep in. But if you do, literally drop everything and get to an ophthalmologist.</p> Book roundup, part 26 Nic Lindh 2018-08-03T13:00:00-07:00 <p>This roundup is a bit light as I’ve been unable to finish a surprising amount of books, but don’t want to give them negative reviews as I might just not have been in the right state of mind for them rather than them being bad books.</p> <p>Times are hard for states of mind right now.</p> <p>I’ve also been doing a lot of self-soothing re-reading Terry Pratchett, specifically the <a href="">Night Watch Cycle</a>. The character arcs of especially Sam Vimes, but really the whole cast, as well as Pratchett’s growing empathy and complexity of plotting are joys to read.</p> <p>R.I.P. and GNU Sir Pratchett.</p> <h2 id="non-fiction">Non-fiction</h2> <h3 id="the-storm-before-the-storm-by-mike-duncan-"><a href=";tag=thecoredump-20">The Storm Before the Storm, by Mike Duncan</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <blockquote> <p>Thieves of private property pass their lives in chains; thieves of public property in riches and luxury. —Cato the Elder</p> </blockquote> <p><em>The Storm Before the Storm</em> is the story of the events that lead up to the fall of the Roman Empire. Considering current events in America, the parallels are more than a little scary.</p> <p>The biggest thing that stuck out for me was that the Romans operated according to a tradition called <em><a href="">mos maiorum</a></em>, which basically translates to “the way of the ancestors.” There weren’t many laws, per se, but rather customs political leaders were supposed to adhere to.</p> <p><em>Cough</em> presidential candidate tax returns <em>cough</em>.</p> <p>As time passed various crises arose, whether through corrupted leaders or external events, and the customs were broken a little bit, then a little bit more, then a little bit more until the Republic fell.</p> <p>Another eerie parallel between the Roman Republic and America today was income inequality. Most of the insane wealth gathered through territorial expansion and brutality went to only a few people while most of the Roman population existed in half-starved poverty.</p> <blockquote> <p>We are silent when we see that all the money of all the nations has come into the hands of a few men; which we seem to tolerate and to permit with the more equanimity, because none of these robbers conceals what he is doing. —Cicero</p> </blockquote> <p>Of course, some of the leaders, like Cicero and Cato the Elder saw the storm clouds gathering, but were ignored.</p> <p><em>The Storm Before the Storm</em> is kind of a horror book if you’re paying attention to current events.</p> <h3 id="white-trash-by-nancy-isenberg-"><a href="">White Trash, by Nancy Isenberg</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p><em>White Trash</em> is extremely uncomfortable reading, shattering as it does a lot of the myths America has woven about itself, from its beginning as a place to dump British “waste people” to the ongoing efforts to not pay attention to the poor living on the edges of society.</p> <p>As she writes about the beginnings of the colonies:</p> <blockquote> <p>Can we handle the truth? In the early days of settlement, in the profit-driven minds of well-connected men in charge of a few prominent joint-stock companies, America was conceived of in paradoxical terms: at once a land of fertility and possibility and a place of outstanding wastes, “ranke” and weedy backwaters, dank and sorry swamps. Here was England’s opportunity to thin out its prisons and siphon off thousands; here was an outlet for the unwanted, a way to remove vagrants and beggars, to be rid of London’s eyesore population. Those sent on the hazardous voyage to America who survived presented a simple purpose for imperial profiteers: to serve English interests and perish in the process.</p> </blockquote> <p>That’s, uh, not the most enlightened view of the value of human life.</p> <p>Isenberg does an excellent job of lifting the lid on the myths and showing the much, much uglier reality beneath, and she does so with a historian’s clarity and ample sourcing.</p> <p>One drawback is that <em>White Trash</em> is very long, too long I’d argue, and gets a bit repetitive in places.</p> <p>That in mind, it’s an important work that deserves your attention.</p> <h2 id="fiction">Fiction</h2> <h3 id="calypso-by-david-sedaris-"><a href="">Calypso, by David Sedaris</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Probably the best work of Sedaris’s career. If you’ve read him before, you know what to expect: Observations on life and family from an extremely observant and strange man, observations that manage to be wry, disturbing and warm at the same time.</p> <p>At this point Sedaris is in his fifties, his mother has passed away, his father is awash in Fox News, and his siblings are also getting on in years.</p> <p><em>Calypso</em> is dark and mature, wrestling with mortality and some disturbing family revelations I’m not going to spoil, while keeping the Sedaris trademark warmth and humor.</p> <p>Solid read.</p> <h3 id="tell-the-machine-goodnight-by-katie-williams-"><a href="">Tell the Machine Goodnight, by Katie Williams</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>Near-future sci-fi where an inventor has created a machine, called Apricity, that can scan your DNA and give you somewhat vague tips to increase your happiness. Which supposedly works, somehow. The tips can include things like “learn a foreign language,” to “build models.”</p> <p>But the existence of Apricity is secondary to the characters that inhabit the world, who are complex and flawed in different ways. The writing is clear and filled with great phrasing.</p> <p>While a little bit precious and self-consciously literary, <em>Tell the Machine Goodnight</em> is a short, haunting read that lingers.</p> <h3 id="prince-of-fools-by-mark-lawrence-"><a href="">Prince of Fools, by Mark Lawrence</a> ★★☆☆☆</h3> <p>Set in the same universe as the very good and incredibly grimdark The Broken Empire trilogy that begins with <em><a href="">Prince of Thorns</a></em>, <em>Prince of Fools</em> is the beginning of a new trilogy, The Red Queen’s War.</p> <p><em>Prince of Fools</em> takes place at the same time as events in the previous trilogy, but follows parallel events with little overlap.</p> <p>Prince Jalan Kendeth is one of the grandchildren of the Red Queen, a fearsome presence. Jalan enjoys wine, women, and losing his money at the fight pits. He’s an avowed coward and ne’er-do-well.</p> <p>On the plus side, <em>Prince of Fools</em> has plenty of action and swashbuckling and some character growth from our protagonist. On the minus side, Jalan is not an interesting character and his viking side kick also remains one-dimensional.</p> <p>There’s lots of sound and fury, but in the end the entire novel ends up feeling like a level in a not very good video game. There’s just not enough plot in there for an entire novel.</p> <p>Though it may be that my expectations were simply set too high—The Broken Empire series is stellar, with a protagonist who is deeply and fundamentally a terrible, terrible human, but a terrible human who you get to understand and empathize with.</p> <p>Jalan is a twat and his character growth just isn’t all that interesting.</p> <p>Nevertheless, Lawrence earned another chance with The Broken Empire, so I’ll read the next installment in the trilogy to see if it takes off.</p> <h3 id="provenance-by-ann-leckie-"><a href="">Provenance, by Ann Leckie</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p><em>Provenance</em> is set in the same universe as the stories in the Imperial Radch trilogy, but in a different culture. Which is the problem with the novel. The Radch were horrifying but interesting, while the characters in <em>Provenance</em>, the Hwae, are mostly just boring and a bit silly. Sometimes you just want to yell at the page as a Hwae gets wrapped up in some ridiculous cultural trap.</p> <p>But the Hwae are what they are. The plot is also slow to start as we learn about these imbeciles, but picks up admirably toward the end.</p> <p>If you enjoyed the Imperial Radch trilogy, you’ll probably like <em>Provenance</em>, even though it does feel a bit watered down in comparison.</p> <p>If you haven’t read any of Leckie’s work, start with the excellent <a href="">Ancillary Justice</a>.</p> <p><strong>Note:</strong> Some links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through them I get a tiny, tiny kickback, which motivates me to keep writing these reviews. It’s appreciated.</p> Renewing the nerd card: Installing Ubiquiti UniFi in the house Nic Lindh 2018-06-29T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/netgear-murder.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Netgear R6400 thinks of murder.</i></p> <p>Every once in a while you have to renew your nerd card. It’s the law. Seriously, look it up. So to renew mine I went the utterly predictable route and updated my home WiFi to a <a href="">Ubiquiti UniFi</a> setup.</p> <p>This was prompted partly by daughter—intergalactic destroyer of bandwidth—complaining about the existing WiFi sometimes flaking and by a need, a need to nerd.</p> <p>For the last several years WiFi in the household has been provided by a Netgear R6400 hacked with a Kong build of <a href="">DD-WRT</a>.</p> <p>That’s right: WiFi and routing in my home has been provided by a consumer device I patched to run software from the Internet provided by an individual or group that goes by the moniker Kong. For me, that felt satisfyingly cyberpunk. Which it probably doesn’t for anybody sane.</p> <p>Mirrorshades, people, <a href="">mirrorshades</a>.</p> <p>When looking into alternatives, I of course came across the infamous Ars Technica <a href="">article about Ubiquiti UniFi</a>. Which you should read if you haven’t. It really captures the nerd yearning.</p> <p>I wonder how many units of <a href="">Ubiquiti</a> gear that article has moved…</p> <p>After I was triggered by the Ars Technica article, the traditional nerd obsessive Internet search-and-read began, and after that also proved positive, I pulled the trigger and the devices winged their way here.</p> <p>Casa Core Dump is now irradiated by a <a href="">UAP-AC-PRO</a> access point, and routing is performed by a <a href="">Unifi Security Gateway</a>.</p> <p>Yes, only one access point. Casa Core Dump is a 1,900 square foot house and the UAP-AC-PRO <em>beams hard</em>. I’ll probably add another to flood the backyard with WiFi when the weather cools down.</p> <p>And things are going well. In the two months the router and access point have been here, they have been rock solid.</p> <p>Let’s enhance that one: They have been <em>rock solid</em>. The devices have, so far, been sheer plumbing: They sit there and do what they’re supposed to without calling attention to themselves. Which is <em>exactly</em> what I wanted when I bought them.</p> <p>But nothing is perfect, so if you’re planning on making the jump, note that your adventure only begins when you install the equipment. With flexibility and features comes a period of tweaking as you settle the devices down.</p> <p>Your setup is not my setup, and you’re not replacing what I’m replacing, and you’re not using your network the same way I use mine, so you’ll see different issues. But wireless being what it is, there will be overlap, so here are the major issues I found and how I resolved them.</p> <p><strong>First issue:</strong> AirPlay would disconnect randomly. Which, yes, is something AirPlay is famous for doing. But it was solid with DD-WRT on murderbot. Ugh?</p> <p>After some experimentation, turning down the 2.4 GHz radio signal strength seems to have made AirPlay behave. AirPlay being AirPlay, your experience may differ.</p> <p><strong>Second issue:</strong> Spotify on the iPhone could no longer find my ChromeCasts, even after <a href="">enabling multicast DNS</a>. Turns out the ChromeCasts needed to be rebooted.</p> <p><em>Did you turn it off and turn it on again.gif</em></p> <p><strong>Not an issue per se</strong>, but if you want the fancy graphs in the UniFi controller—and if you’re the kind of person who spends the money on this kind of gear, you want the fancy graphs—you must have a server constantly running. Not an issue for me personally, since I already have a box doing server things, but the controller software is a bit enterprise-y to install.</p> <p><em>Cough, Java, cough.</em></p> <p>And judging from forum posts around the Internet, the controller sometimes does not upgrade gracefully at all. Which, if you want to be charitable, I guess you could look at as being a bonus Enterprise IT Admin Simulator™.</p> <p>There are also some surprising oversights in the controller software. For instance, there’s no way to get month-by-month bandwidth graphs. It just shows bandwidth since the controller was started. A major oversight since we’re now living with bandwidth caps in America.</p> <p><em>Yes, America: Bandwidth caps, ISP monopolies, and no net neutrality. Let’s give ourselves a hand, everybody!</em></p> <p>Another strange oversight is that you have to leave the glossy goodness of the controller and use your SSH-fu to run an inbound OpenVPN server on the thing. It’s apparently on Ubiquiti’s roadmap to expose OpenVPN in the controller software, but it’s not here yet.</p> <p><strong>Executive summary:</strong> I’m impressed with my Ubiqiti UniFi gear, though there are some odd oversights I hope they rectify soon.</p> <p>If you’re the kind of person who enjoys fancy dashboards, slick GUIs, has the patience and skill for the occasional “enterprise” type difficulty, and wants rock solid Internet in your home or office, I recommend Ubiquiti gear.</p> <p><strong>NOTE:</strong> Some links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through them I get a tiny kickback, which is greatly appreciated and doesn’t add anything to your cost.</p>