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Month: July 2008

Review: Graceling


Gracelings are people gifted with abilities far above what anyone could call a talent. Katsa is gifted with the ability to run faster, strike harder and kill anyone better than anyone who has ever lived.

Graceling is the author Kristen Cashore’s first novel. It recounts the story of Katsa; a gifted killer in the employ of a King. Far beyond the norm for a girl; Katsa can run for hours, see in the dark and kill wild lions with her bare hands. She is dispatched to maim or terrify those that displease King Randa, to whom she owes total loyalty and fealty. Her secret rebellion against this world is discovered by another gifted fighter and Katsa joins him on a quest to learn the secret behind a royal kidnapping.

My rating: 4.5 stars

For a first novel, this is certainly an excellent first impression; I shared the first chapter with my Daughter as I read it and she was so intrigued that she demanded that I read it to her in its entirety when I was finished with my review.  Graceling is exciting in places, contemplative in others and gorgeous in others.

The “Graced” inhabit a world that loves and fears them; save those that live free on an island kingdom removed from the politics of the mainland.  They are vetted and employed by kings and queens for their skills and live (for the most part) at the whim of others.  I couldn’t help but find a number of parallels between Graceling and 1602 (by Neil Gaiman) where the “Graced” are simple analogs to the Mutant heroes that populate comics (X-Men for example) but set in a Fantasy world. This is not a critical point however; it makes the characters somewhat familiar, not off-putting.

As for the characters themselves, we have the Mysterious Stranger/Love Interest, The Punk Nerd/Best Friend, The Older Man/Trainer, The Mother Analogue, the Overbearing Father and even the “wise ass little sister”.  Again; these are familiar archtypes that I encourage you to discover in the story for yourself, especially the spurned suitor.  Being a Young-Adult novel, complex characterizations aren’t what one would expect.

In the quiet moments, when the characters are just existing and no plot movement is going on we are treated to characters as people instead of archetypes and the author gives us people to sympathize with rather than thin action/adventure caricatures. The Quiet moments inevitably happen during some period of travel, which are as numerous as those in the Lord of the Rings; one could imagine the characters passing a pair of hairy-footed little people and having them curse under their breath “horses, why didn’t we think of horses?”

However; all of the characters save Po and Raffi seem to be dim, waiting on the Graced girl to do their thinking for them, Oll who is the spymaster for a King always seems to be one step behind Katsa.  Katsa may be a skilled fighter, but Raffi (and others) all remarked that she was not the most perceptive of people; but she has built a grand enterprise around her.  This uneven storytelling was off putting at points. Right there on page 183 Po calls out (in so many words) that the council proves that Katsa is much more intelligent than she gives herself credit for, which only enforces my concern with the storytelling regarding Katsa’s character.  We’re constantly given these adolescent characters who are not sure of themselves, but able to draw to themselves these crowds of followers.  Can’t we have a confident character who is also a protagonist?  The self-assured are usually villains and supporting characters, can’t we have a self-assured hero who is legitimate?

It is an old world we are given, with people of fantastic gifts who have become a part of every day life.  The extraordinary made tame if not banal.  Which, I suppose is what would happen; given the circumstances of the story.  People of great ability but limited means used as tools to an end; not quite slavery but not freedom either.  Po represents the departure from that form; his circumstances being exceptional in the world we are presented with.

As for the actual story?  By the later chapters I found myself willing the Author to forgo the very things that made the narriative so compelling, skip the traveling parts I would will the words to just vanish. It’s a well-paced, engaging piece of fantasy.  The characters, while thin at points, are still strong enough to make you want to follow them on.  I sussed the majority of the story early on (it’s a young adult fantasy, how complex do you want it to be) but I wasn’t bored, which is a great accomplishment.  I don’t need a surprise twist to enhance a story, I just need a strong narrative and characters that I enjoy spending my time on.  Graceling provides us with a semi-familiar fantasy setting with a rounded history and believable world that one could easily have loved as a teenager and thought back fondly on as an adult.

This is a review for mini book expo if you a Canadian blogger intereseted in reviewing books on your blog, please do not hesitate to visit.

Candian Politics: How to fix health care in Ontario (and the rest of Canada)

I like the ontario health care system; it has shown repeatedly that in a crunch; Ontario Doctors and Health Care workers can save your life and heal your ills.  Both of my parents are repeat Cancer survivors at zero cost (save gas) to them, I don’t think anyone south of the border can claim that save rare beneficiaries of other’s largess.

However, as some people have noted; the health care system in Ontario (and Canada) needs to change in order to maintain services.

Here is my Simple, if at times expensive, plan to save Health Care in Ontario:

No more paying for Medical Training

New doctors face long years of instruction and ongoing education costs; it’s expensive to become a doctor and then face paying for that education on a government paycheck.  Let’s make Education for ONTARIO doctors free.

  1. Fund education for General Practitioners at 100% if they sign a 10 year contract upon graduation that they will stay in Ontario and practice in one of the under serviced rural areas.  These are assigned via a lottery, rather than by any kind of relative need.
  2. Fund education for Specialists at 100% if that sign a 15 year contract upon graduation that they will stay in Ontario and practice in a central rural location.

These education benefits will ensure that Ontario will have a constant cycle of new doctors entering the system, these new doctors will be given a reason to settle in the various rural areas that they end up assigned to.  These contracts will be binding and contain penalties for early termination like the doctor having to pay back all granted funds plus earned interest at the prevailing rate when the contract was started.

At the end of the contract period doctors will be free to move on or stay in Ontario; however local incentive programs in the municipalities can be funded to retain those doctors (if necessary).  Ongoing education can also be funded as a further inducement to extend the medical service contracts.

The alternative is to continue to allow these same new grads to be lured away by the same material needs to other countries.

Imagine, 20-30 new doctors in Ontario’s rural areas each year, bringing the latest techniques and fresh enthusiasm to the job.   They will cut their teeth in Ontario and become the leaders of tomorrow.

What do you think?

Twitter Updates for 2008-07-30

  • UUUUrrrrhhhhhhh Morning Zombieeee #
  • Internet engines, Amuse and annoy me! #
  • Didn’t notice this before: #
  • “ALT+ENTER” the best shortcut (for firefox) I have learned since “CTRL+T” and “Win+L” on windows #
  • When am I going to see my paycheque!?!?!? LoL #
  • Link to the Canadian Do Not Call List: #
  • Finally! Now to pay some bills… #
  • @stephthegeek “Alt+D” Nice, I didn;t know that one… Maybe I can abandon the Mouse altogether… #
  • @cheyennejack It’s the price of being a vanguard; history teaches us that the humble avoid webs in the face (pies too) #
  • It’s getting late Shack. See you in the morning. #
  • If being a POW gives you superior knowledge of War then Lifers are superior lawyers, right? #

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US Politics are Sexy: Obama is unprepared for Office

I’ve been shy to post very much about the coming US election, mostly because I no longer have a dog in that fight.  I’m not really in the Tank for Obama; I think he’s a good guy but still really a “Politician” Politician, who would sell out his own morals for votes.  I’m not really saying that as a negative; it’s probably a virtue in a politician.   However, I’m infinitley more interested in Obama than I was in Hillary or McCain.  Both of the latter candidates strike me as people who could be trusted to simply enact their own personal policies, whereas Obama appears to blow with the wind, which (as Bill Clinton showed) can make for a memorable and light presidency.
All that said; I don’t dig on the “Obama is too new to be President” arguments; thus I present this compelling argument from a Digg comment I read today.
Obama is definitely more qualified to be President than George W. Bush was, and is definitely more qualified to be President than McCain. How so? Well, on the former point, one only has to look at Bush’s history to have that question answered. If Bush was qualified for the job, then Obama certainly is. On the latter, one only has to look at McCain’s lack of grasp of economics & foreign policy, & his continued blunders, plus his rather shady history in the Keating 5.

Obama has served 11 years in elected office, including 8 years in the Illinois Senate and 3 years in the U.S. Senate. He is the only candidate to begin a presidential bid with experience at both the state and federal levels. He brings more elected experience to his presidential campaign than Ronald Reagan (8 years as California governor), Perot (zilch), George W. Bush (6 years Texas governor), Hillary Clinton (7 years as senator), John Edwards (6 years as U.S. senator), Giuliani (8 years as NYC mayor), Mitt Romney (4 years governor). Obama has much more foreign policy experience than either Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan had when they were elected.

But if the best candidates are those with the most experience, then you surely believe that Strom Thurmond should have become president.

Remember: The three presidents who historians consider the greatest of all time (Lincoln, Washington, and FD Roosevelt) all had much less legislative experience Obama. Abraham Lincoln served but a single term in the United States House of Representatives and less time in the Illinois Senate. Even Eisenhower had virtually no political experience.

Experience? 30 years in the senate will not necessarily mean you will make good decisions on foreign policy, or will choose smart, pragmatic advisors/cabinet members. There are few people with more experience in public life over the past 40 years than Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld – and George W. Bush was around politics his entire life. Have they done a decent job? Do you trust ’em? If so, you’re a chump.

Twitter Updates for 2008-07-29

  • Filling the iPod with musical juice #
  • OH: “The Joker has been arrested in Michigan” “Again!? That guy really loves Detroit house music, huh?” #
  • They truly don’t get it: #
  • – Usb webcam with ringlight built in for under 25 bucks #
  • On Houston: “Mean, ugly, willfully ignorant city of the damned.” #
  • @billdeys Isn’t that about Baseball? #
  • The “Waveforms” view of the earthquake in chino are violent and azure, like the sky. #
  • @billdeys Whaddaya know, look at all the talk about ICE in there…. My vote remains The Hockey Song (The Good Old Hockey Game) #
  • Mid Read/Review of a new Book… I’m up and down on it right now. I Want to finish before Thursday, I’ve got some notes about it already. #
  • oh boy it’s Spam O’Clock at Local Blogger. #
  • Mervyns and Bennigans? What’s next, Fudruckers? #
  • Must try make Risotto some time this week #
  • And Congee #

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Let's Revalue Long Distance Travel

So much for Democratized Travel.  I’m actually tired of cheap air fares.  Yawn, easy long distance travel via planes needs to be a thing of the past and I’ll tell you why.  Costs and Convenience.

I like convenient air travel, convenient, unhurried, non-volume based air travel.

Air Travel (even as late as the early 90s) was still kind of special.  It was a comfortable and expensive way to travel to a far-off location.  It was expensive and comfortable and they took great care of you.  You were an important customer because you paid so much and expected to be treated as a customer; not another chunk of cattle.

As prices have dropped and “competition” took hold, service has taken a nose dive and air travel has become as valuable as high speed BUS travel.  This has to change.

First and foremost, all air lines should cut flights by 50 % and increase the price of all tickets by 50%, right there.  Across the board.  All flights should now cost 50% more.  This will offset fuel and labor costs as they are now and set those remaining flights to a profit basis.

Now, you wonder about plummeting ridership, due to the increase in price, right?  How can this make sense for the airlines?  It should balance out in the end, the smaller airlines will end up consigned to commuter/airBUS style service; daily repeat flights between major centers.  These will end up being expensive, but reduced usage (perhaps less than twice a week) will make it into a boutique service, reducing security loads too.

Imagine the lines at airports having their populations halved!  The TSA could focus on real security, instead of high volume annoyance.

Imagine 50% less planes in the air!  The savings on fuel would be amazing!

Now, what about freight?  With less passenger flights, won’t freight suffer?  With fuel prices dropping (due to a 50% drop in demand) freight gets cheaper; meaning import and export prices can stabelize until real alternatives become viable.

As for business travel.  Why?  You can ship whole operations overseas!  Why do you need to go anywhere in person?  Let’s put the sales and personal politics of business in the past and save long-distance air travel for absolute needs and VERY special events.  We have the technology to allow for simultaneous meetings via cameras and video screens with people around the world,  lets leverage that.

To sum up, I am ephatically stating that we have to return to an age when air travel was expensive and exclusive and available only to the affluent, the vacationers and the wealthy.  Like it should have remained, and I’ll see you in the lounge on a 747 for a free drink and a complimentary meal.  Cool?

Cuil maybe useless, but Clusty shows promise

You will remember that yesterday cuil was released upon the world with as much fanfare as possible.  I was unimpressed.  I’ve had a few hits here since then, mostly variations on “Cuil” and “Useless” which express a great deal of the emotion that Cuil engendered.  Maybe because of the lack of Hubris that Cuil showed, maybe because they copped Flickr’s color scheme for their logo.  I don’t care; Cuil is just not that great.

That aside a commenter (John) pointed out Clusty which I promptly checked out; ego surf? Check.  Deep Search on my real info? Check.  Satisfaction?  Check.

Nice One John, I’ll have to keep Clusty on my mind when searching.

Twitter Updates for 2008-07-28

  • Looking at my future options. Still looking for a perm. Job with Benefits. MMMmmmm Health Care. #
  • Arsenic and Old Lace starring John Hurt and Ian McKellen as the aunts; doesn’t that sound like CAMP AWESOME?!?! #
  • With Ryan Reynolds in the Cary Grant Role and Steve Buscemi in the Peter Lorre role. Can you say Oscar Winning Comedy? #
  • I was going to go looking for Writeroom for Linux; but then I realized that I have Vim there. I’m just going to sit back down now. #
  • Stephen Fry as Cousin Teddy!!!!! #
  • OH; I forgot. I played Mass Effect. It’s good. I turned off Bloom, Depth of Field and Blur effects. I played with them on, but, No. #
  • I’m listening to Marc Maron “Tickets Still Available”. You should too. #
  • Acomedian doing jokes about how “Ironic” by Alanis isn’t about Irony. How funny is that? If you said “not funny at all” you get check-plus #
  • MF: Couldn’t find work, was on food stamps but about to lose them….and hates libruls.

    Ladies and gentlemen, may I present: Irony. #

  • If you read my last blog post in Stephen Fry’s voice, it sounds great. #
  • MF: There is an awful lot of inarticulate and misguided rage out there, and sometimes it’s armed or behind the wheel of a car #
  • @warrenellis Perhaps you are not familiar with the works of Michael Bay, it’s essentially the same thing. #

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I need more paperwork!

I’m fibbing a bit here; I hate paperwork.  I despise it, in fact.  However, I love feedback from people (and while I prefer email) I really enjoyed getting weekly updates from my daughter’s teacher on her progress at school.

I came accross this story linked from “The Times Online”

Times have changed so much since many parents were at school, that teaching methods are often now completely different. This report says that parents feel that schools “expect” them to support their children’s learning, and assume they know how to do so.

I sometimes had to scratch my head over some of the more baroque teaching methods employed by my Daugther’s instructors; they had warned us to expect the unexpected, but how does one prepare for the utterly alien?  I wish I had kept some of the pages on hand to demonstrate the malefic wonder of it all; the square diagrams of numbers that seemed utterly foreign to me.  Not to mention my wife; who would often look at the homework sheet, sniff a bit then pass it off to me in hopes that I could make heads or tales of it.

This situation improved slightly when we were presented with an actual copy of the source materials that gave examples of the expected product of our daemonic equations.  Sometimes we could even check over her work to ensure that it was correct.  As the days progressed and the teaching methods solidified, so did our Daughter’s understanding of the work and therefore it fell to us to simply ensure that it was correct and complete.  My codex Malefectorum being of the old-school; sometimes I wondered if I was not getting the answers right myself; or at least; not “new school” right.

Food for thought.