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May. 6th, 2014 @ 11:59 pm Book Review: Dr. Bloodmoney, by Philip K. Dick
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For my next book in the Worlds Without End Masterworks Reading Challenge, I read Philip K. Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb.

Alright, I've now read four PKD books. I can officially say that I'm not a fan. He overcomplicates things. It's like he takes a great idea, writes a great novel, and then puts it in a blender, scrambles it, and reassembles it arbitrarily, publishing it as is.

Parts of this novel are great, but characters often do things for incomprehensible reasons. A couple of them made me mad, they were dim witted to a level that was unbelievable.

Mercifully, it ended well, so that I can almost give it a pass, but I would say that there are so many classics out there, your time might be better spent reading some H.G. Welles, or some Heinlein or Asimov. Their stories made sense, at least, and it turns out, oddly, that it seems to be rather important to me that what I'm reading makes sense.

Now, in the writer's defense, there are whole websites dedicated to how brilliant Dick was, and whole pages that will explain his books. I'm just saying that if I need an English professor to interpret the book for me, then it's not for me. It's for the English professor.

2.5 out of 5 stars.
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Apr. 7th, 2014 @ 09:28 pm Book Review: The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin
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Next in my Worlds Without End Masterworks Reading Challenge was The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

The story moves along at a slow pace, introducing many characters, and some very different cultures. The story mainly follows Shevek, a physicist from a land that was settled by revolutionaries from another world. Their new planet is arid and forbidding, and has no property, no government, and little need for such intangibles as new theories of space-time. Thinking that he may need to turn to another planet to find those that would be interested in his work, and feeling the need to shake the status quo of his home world, Shevek decides to break all taboos, and arranges passage to the "propertarian" world in which his people came from. But the people that greet him as if he's a celebrity have their own motives for bringing him to their world...

The leisurely pace is not really a bad thing, as the novel unfolds it's story using flashbacks to reveal how Shevek got into his current position, his motives, the motives of the government of the nation that invited him to their planet, and possibly, the future of both worlds.

The only negative that I might have would be that with such a deliberate pace, it seems as though not much actually happens in the story, though I believe that to be a false impression, as the plot spans a decade of Shevek's life.

3.5 out of 5 stars.
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lab guy
Mar. 18th, 2014 @ 10:22 pm Book Review: The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
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Next novel completed in my Worlds Without End Masterworks reading challenge was The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut. I've read a book or two by Vonnegut, and I was expecting good things, but...

This one was meh. It started out well, but the second and third acts were... ambling. The story just seemed to ramble on, without direction, without focus, and most definitely without a point.

2 1/2 stars out of 5.
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lab guy
Feb. 21st, 2014 @ 10:49 pm Book Review: The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells
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My Worlds Without End SF Masterworks reading challenge continues well. Finished up The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells (1897).

Wells is known as one of the founders of the science fiction genre as we know it, and this book helped to justify that status to me.

The novel is told in a similar style as his War of the Worlds, that is, as if some time has passed since the event, and what we're reading is an account of the tale using several sources to complete it, as if it's told by a journalist. It admits to holes in the account, but rarely questions the various sources reliability.

The thing that I most enjoyed was the language used. The prose never seemed outdated to me, more it seemed as if the teller of the tale (as well as some of the main characters) were all well educated people, with the gift of gab. Much of what comes out of the characters mouths, most particularly the invisible man himself, is almost poetic in its rhythm.

The account follows chronologically from the moment a stranger wrapped head to toe in clothing and bandages appears at a lodge seeking quiet refuge, to the reveal of his condition, to him turning to violence, being sought for various crimes, and the panic that travels through the local area as the tale spreads. Only when the invisible man meets someone from his past does he reveal his name, and tell of the events that transpired to bring him to the situation he now finds himself.

From mysterious beginning, to tragic end, the novel is well worth the read. I rate it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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Feb. 13th, 2014 @ 01:40 pm Speaking in Tongues, by Deven Science
I started playing with Duolingo some time ago, after justphoenix mentioned using it. Now that I have been using it for a couple of months, I wanted to give some thoughts on it, for any who are interested in learning, or brushing up on fluency of, one of the five languages the app offers (Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese).

I've been learning German. For no real reason, I've always been interested in Germany. I've got a little German ancestry, but no more than I do any of the other half dozen nationalities that makes up your typical American Mutt. We are planning a trip there in a few years though, so to have some knowledge of the language would help then, for sure.

Anyhoo, the app is laid out differently than any other method of learning another language that I've ever heard of. It just sort of jumps in, teaching you whole sentences, and repeating them in a hundred various combinations to allow you to pick out what words are what, and when to use them. It has a format, to be sure, it breaks it up into sections. Conjunctions, accusative pronouns, clothing, plurals, etc. But it's focus is always on sentence structure. Because of this, I know that the negative "not (nicht)" goes after the verb, but I haven't even been taught the numbers one through ten, yet. I think that this is because the app is designed to have your end goal to help translate Internet pages in other languages into English, which is why it is free.

The other issue is that it moves very fast. I'm learning so many words with every lesson, that I can't possibly retain them all. They'll come up later, and I have no idea what they are. I was getting a bit frustrated, and then, I taught myself a way to make it fun again. The answer?

Cheat. Use the hints the lessons give. Look it up online if I feel like it. If I keep passing each level this way (it's got a semi-game like format to each lesson), aren't I then still moving too fast for me? Yes, but the app is repetitive, as I've said, and I figure even if I only retain 10% of what I'm doing, then 10% of 10,000 words is better than 10% of 1,000 words. I'm now treating it more like a game, with the goal to beat each current level, and I hope that some small amount of fluency will come with it as I continue.

I'm also looking into getting some other materials on learning German from the library. There are some audiobooks, some workbooks, and even an interactive book designed for kids! That one actually looks fun. No single one of these things is as good as something like Rosetta Stone, but added up together, these materials could help strengthen each other.

My final verdict is that I WOULD recommend it to others. I'm learning at least a couple good words or small phrases every day that I use it, and that is bound to add up. I could now ask someone for a bathroom, a place to eat lunch or dinner, introduce meine Frau, and I'm currently learning nouns found in a house, such as a door (Tür), or table (Tisch). I plan on keeping at it, even if I sometimes feel that other things are not fully explained (fucking when do I use das, der, or die? WHEN!?! Masculine and feminine? NOT. THAT. SIMPLE.).

You might want to give it a shot.
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Feb. 7th, 2014 @ 02:05 pm Book Review: A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick
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I completed my next novel in the WorldsWithoutEnd Masterworks Reading Challenge. I read A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick. Here's my review for the site:

I always hesitate to read PKD. The synopsis of his novels always sound so interesting, and so I give them another shot, despite the fact that his books are a puzzle to me. I just don't fathom his writing.

This book takes place in the near future (at least as of the time of publication), in a world where a drug called Substance D is so big, the police and federal government hire people to infiltrate its supply chains at such an alarming rate, one gets the impression that there are more agents then regular civilian drug users. The book, or at least its beginning, is centered around one of these agents, named Bob Arctor. Arctor is doing his job, and well, but as time goes on, the drug begins to affect his mind, so that he starts to lose grip on reality. As an agent, when not undercover, his real identity is hidden using a clever suit. When in the suit, Arctor goes by the name "Fred." Even his boss knows him only as Fred, and when said boss orders Fred to start monitoring known D user Bob Arctor, his brain is far gone enough to do so, which slowly seems to split him into a kind of multiple personality. Bob, the D user, and Fred, the officer watching Bob, reporting on him, and even encouraging the authorities to turn the pressure up on him.

This middle section of the novel is quite interesting, and I really enjoyed the strangeness of a man reporting on, and trying to bust, himself. However, there is a turn near the end that takes the focus a bit away from Arctor as his life and drug use come to a head, and the book really lost it for me at that point.

I gave this novel three stars out of five. It's just barely a pass for me, and barely a recommendation.
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Feb. 2nd, 2014 @ 12:36 pm Book Review: Time and Again, by Jack Finney,
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I joined one of the reading challenges on my favorite book related site, Worlds Without End. It encourages you to read 12 SF & F classics in 12 months. It's working specifically off of the SF Masterworks list and the Fantasy Masterworks list. I've got most of the books that I'll be reading picked out, and I've already finished two!

When I was a young, single parent, I burned through books. This was before the internet was in most households. I didn't even have cable! I just read every evening for hours. I couldn't do that now. I like the internet, and I like TV. But I still read, and I would like to do a little more reading than I do now, so this challenge will do me some good.

Part of the challenge is to write a review for each book (it actually calls for 6 reviews out of the 12 books read, but I'll try to write one for every novel), and post it to the book's page on the site. They can be as long or as short as you like, but it allows members of the site to see what others thought of the story, and not just what critics had to say. I've decided to post my reviews here also, just because we could all afford to be a little more literary, and this place is too quiet anyway. Here's the first one:

Time and Again, by Jack Finney (1970)

I picked up this novel, wondering how time travel could be considered fantasy, but it is.

Simon Morley is an ordinary man approached to join a secret government project. Only after he agrees do they reveal their intent, to send people with the right disposition back in time.

The method of time travel is very similar to the movie "Somewhere in Time," starring Christopher Reeve. If you surround yourself in objects of the area, and are able to convince yourself that you are there, then you are. Since the book is 10 years older, I'll assume that there was some influence on the movie.

The writer likes to take his time, and describe the scenes in every detail. It makes each setting very vivid, if also a bit long. The close it got to the end, the more it sucked me up into it, and I finished it that much faster.

A good novel, that ended strong. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.
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Jan. 30th, 2014 @ 10:48 pm ReWorked Splatter Bike, 54 Schwinn, by Deven Science
I did some cutting and hacking on my 1954 Schwinn that had that awesome splattered house paint on it, from a shed fire some years ago. I chopped and extended that front using a Schwinn girl's frame form the 60s, and cut and extended behind the cranks to lower it, then put a new bottom bracket on it. That's really all I did to it. I added a tank painted to match, and lights, but it's still mostly the 54 Schwinn, despite looking so very different.
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Sep. 1st, 2013 @ 12:39 pm My Finished Build-Off Bike, by Deven Science
I finished my Ratrodbikes.com build off bike on time. It was entered into the "anything goes" category. It didn't qualify for the much more popular "traditional" class, because I altered the frame. In the end, 26 people finished their anything goes bikes, and I came in 6th place with this one. What counts is that I've got a cool bike made from almost all old parts that I'll be taking on those rides that invite you to ride vintage. I have actually since these pics changed out the seat back to the one from the 30s or 40s I had originally, but I've kept the tank on it. The tank and tires are the ONLY newer parts.

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Aug. 3rd, 2013 @ 09:24 pm Reflecting on My Favorite Band, by Deven Science
Music has always been a big deal in my life. Cliché. It is for everyone. I just thought I'd chart my music listening through my favorite bands. It shows an interesting evolution.
When I was a kid, my brother and I mostly just listened to what came on the radio. This meant that Michael Jackson was a huge part of our childhood. A joke here would be too easy, so I'll not go there. Let me say it this way; My kids only know him as some freaky dude who probably touched kids inappropriately. It's hard to explain to them how much EVERYONE thought he was the shit back in the early Eighties. There was NO one bigger. The "Thriller" album was genuinely great, and we listened to it until the tape wore out.

The other big influence on us musically was the classical music that my mother was constantly playing. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, they were all there, with many others. For me, when it came to the classic composers,  the Russians were my favorites. Modest Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" and Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" are bombastic, violent, and a bit unpredictable. So, through the late Seventies and early Eighties, I had the strange balance of Jackson and Tchaikovsky as my favorite artists.
In the late Eighties, I was taking my radio listening much more seriously. I was recording stuff off of the radio all the time, filling up 90 minute tapes (and cursing when the DJs talked too long over the beginning of the songs), and later even recording the "best" of those from one tape to another, making my own mixtapes. Most of you reading this are from my generation, and know what I'm talking about first hand, but for those that aren't, or didn't, these were poor in quality, being essentially a recording of a recording of an analog transmission. It's a testament to the technology of the day that these tapes were even listenable, which really, they wouldn't be by today's standards.

In that time period of mixtaping and taking my radio pop music very seriously, one band had emerged from the crowd as the first band that I would unqualifyingly call my "favorite band." That was Information Society. Their first two albums, their self-titled debut and their follow up "Hack," were on almost constant rotation. Everybody knew "What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy)" well enough, but I SCOFFED at those people, knowing that was just the tip of the iceberg. I thought nothing could topple them from the top spot in my heart, but the same year that "Hack" was released in 1990, a friend introduced me to the Circle Jerks.

My friend Chris moved to California from New York, and he brought with him, oddly, a California band. Now, my friend Monte and had tried to introduce punk to me a hundred times, but every time, I shrugged, and just didn't get it. Every band he played for me, the Dead Kennedys, the Misfits, the Ramones, I would later love, but I just wasn't ready for it at that moment. The Circle Jerks album "Wonderful" is the perfect gateway record into punk. It's loud, it's got screaming and fast guitars, but it also has the jovial melodic energy to it that a lot of punk lacks. Much of the punk scene took itself too seriously. Let's say, as seriously as I had taken the most ridiculous pop radio music just months earlier. But the Jerks seemed to be on the edge of laughing at themselves, and you the listener. It's even in their name. As Chris blasted such gems as "Killing For Jesus" and "Making the Bombs" from his '68 Chevy II Nova, well, it was love at first listen. I secretly kept InSoc on rotation, but publicly decried such sugar-coated radio junk food, and put the Dead Kennedys "Frankenchrist" on for all to hear. Eventually, punk was 90% of what I listened to, and though that percentage has dropped, it's still a large chunk of what plays through my iPhone, even today.

The next evolution came in 1993, when I heard the Pixies for the first time. Not quite punk, but what punk rock musicians listened to. What an odd band that is, when you really analyze them. The singers are kind of switched, with the lead male vocalist letting loose a high pitched scream, and the back up female singer bringing in the bass vocals. The guitar mostly sounded like sci-fi movie sound effects. The songs never seemed to keep a typical rhythm, playing way too fast or really slow at almost inappropriate times. But there was one aspect of their music that seemed so natural, that it never occurred to me that I hadn't really heard it before, and that was their signature LOUD quiet LOUD formula. With the verses quiet, and the choruses loud, or sometimes, oddly the reverse, it seemed like such a natural flow to songs, that I never noticed that other bands didn't really do that to the extent that the Pixies did. Well, no band before them, anyway, since so perfectly suited was that formula to rock and roll, that most other bands after them incorporated it into their sound. I devoured their catalog, and they remained my favorite band for many years.

In the 2000s, many bands vied for the top spot. The Pogues came close to bumping them. Okkervil River came the closest in 2007, but as much as I loved them, and in particular the LP "Black Sheep Boy," I just couldn't declare them my absolute, top of the pile, favorite. I figured something as momentous as one's "favorite band" was not to be knocked around willy-nilly. It's at this point that I want to note that I've never detailed everything out so explicitly before, so I never fully realized that some of my "favorite bands" were only such for a couple of years. I kind of imagined that any one band probably held that honor for a decade or so, when in fact, only the Pixies held it for that long.

But all reigns must come to an end, and thus it was for my beloved Black Francis and company. In 2010, while on deployment in Afghanistan, I discovered Rammstein. A German metal band that sings almost entirely in their native tongue, they were an unlikely band to knock the Pixies from the spot that they held so firmly for 17 years (more than that, really, since I didn't declare Rammstein my favorite band right away). Rammstein's Singer Till Lindemann has such a guttural sound to his voice, that the consonant heavy German language is actually very complimentary to his singing. He sounds like he is going to set you on fire as he sexes you up. If you were to dance in a club with Till, his dancing would consist of grinding up against you, while holding your neck firmly with both hands at the same time in a light choke hold. Google some Rammstein videos on Youtube. I'll wait... see? His appearance fits in flawlessly with his voice. Fucking him would hurt, and only MOSTLY in a good way, I guarantee it.

Rammstein formed in 1994, and one remarkable thing is that there has not been one change in their line up in all that time. That's pretty rare, especially considering that they are a larger band. People often ask me how I can enjoy listening to a band that doesn't sing in English, but this is a foolish question, if you really think about it. Folks the world over love opera, but most of them don't understand Italian. It's about the rhythm, and about that person using their voice as a musical instrument. Also, I took Kristine with me to see them live when they came through on a brief North American tour, and it was the best concert either of us had ever been to. Kristine is not even a FAN of them, and she said this. They know that you don't have a clue what they are singing about, so they put on a very visual heavy show, filled with pyrotechnics, people being set on fire, Till riding a giant pink six foot cock that spews white foam, and even exploding laser babies. For the encore song "Engel (Angel)," Till came out wearing these beautiful metal wings with a 20 foot wingspan, and during the finale, fire shot out of the wingtips about another 20 feet in either direction. That's a 60 foot wingspan of flaming metal goddamn wings.

So what band will come along to defeat Rammstein in my heart, and when? I don't know, but they will be a tough band to defeat. I mean physically. I mean Flake, the keyboardist, will go down quickly with a glass jaw, but the other five look like tough mother fuckers. They may maintain that top spot for quite some time. A new album would help, as it's been a while, and I'm itching for new material, but even without that, and even as they aren't as heavily played by me as they once were, they still remain, to this day, my favorite band.
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