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Thoughtshots #10

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Review: The Book

The BookThe Book by M. Clifford
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

While it has the lofty pretentions (and near constant references) of great dystopian novels like 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, The Book ultimately falls flat. For starters, the premise of the story is ridiculous: in this future society, all paper books have been destroyed in the "Great Recycling" and replaced with e-readers that the government controls and feeds content to. This radically pro-environmentalist society is somehow founded on the belief that paper (a renewable resource that is easily recycled) is more dangerous to the environment than e-readers (made from all manner of non-renewable metals that are extremely damaging to the environment to extract, not to mention the environmental cost of the electricity needed to power them). Really? This highly implausible future seems to be fueled by the author’s own anti-environmental ideology, something that I honestly wouldn’t have a problem with had it been handled with a little more energy and conviction (think Robert A. Heinlein). The two main protagonists bond over the fact that they don’t care about the environment – but why? This seems like a fairly key element to understanding their motivation for rebelling against their society, but it’s just glossed over.

The feeling of "glossing over" is a by-product of the author’s writing style. The author spends an inordinate amount of time describing things rather than showing them to the reader. Almost nothing we learn about the protagonist (Holden) comes through his actions or his interactions with other characters – all of his background comes in dull expository dumps. We learn, for instance, that Holden grows in confidence as he moves along in his journey, ultimately becoming the leader of his little group. But rather than show us this growth to interpret for ourselves, the author just tells us this and moves along.

As for the plot itself, it’s not nearly as terrible. Holden learns of the shenanigans of the Book and the how the government uses it to observe and control its population. He rebels, finds allies, and gets punished by said government. With such uninteresting characters, it’s hard to really care at all what happens to them, but the various twists and turns at least provided some engagement in this dull book.

My biggest problem, however, is that The Book espouses the simpleminded idea that the trustworthiness of a work is determined by its medium of delivery – simply because a printed work is less easily changed, it cannot be controlled or manipulated. I’m guessing the author has never walked into a paper bookstore and seen a "revised and updated" edition, because paper can be changed as well! If anything, technology in publishing (from the printing press to the PC) has nearly always been a source of democratization.

Whether you prefer a printed book or a digital one is ultimately an issue of personal preference, not an issue of validity.

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Review: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who CookMedium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook by Anthony Bourdain
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I went into reading this book as a fairly committed follower of Bourdain in all his forms. I’ve watched nearly every episode of both his tv series and I’ve swallowed whole each of his previous non-fiction works. He’s opinionated and crankily entertaining, but truly capable of some brilliant insight into the nature of food, society and work. That said, all great artists eventually will begin to run out of steam if they continue with the same old shtick – and Medium Raw definitely feels like a drop-off from his prior works.

There’s an attempt, it seems, to reacquaint readers on the world of food that has passed since Kitchen Confidential was published. Sure, it’s interesting to get his take on fine dining in the wake of the economic collapse, but ultimately it’s nothing more than a cursory glance. Same story for the "food porn" chapter which really just seems like brief synopses of his favorite episodes of the Travel Channel show. You’re better off skipping this chapter entirely and reading A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines.

Worst of all is how Bourdain wants to update on us on how he feels about various personalities in the cooking world. He likes Rachel Ray, Emeril and Jamie Oliver now, but has a new dislike for Ducasse and the James Beard house. Oh, but it’s good to know they can get back on his good side just by sending him a fruit basket. Slagging the (at the time) newly christened celebrity chefs might have seemed edgy in Kitchen Confidential, but now just feels like a whiny airing out of his beefs. It’s self-indulgent in the extreme.

What saves it is the chapters on his newfound life with his wife and daughter that are touching and bring out the better qualities of his writing. Best of all, however, is the chapter profiling Justo Thomas, the fish butcher at Le Bernardin. This is where Bourdain really excels – giving us a portrait of a man who is a master of his craft, an example of the hard-working, no-excuses world of cooking that Bourdain seeks to embody. It’s disappointing that the entire book could not have been imbued with the same enthusiasm and quality of storytelling that Bourdain brings here.

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Thoughtshots #8

First one ever that does not take place entirely on screen. Not bad, but I didn’t like the glare coming off that sock. Also, the band-aid on my finger (I stabbed myself with the screwdriver in the video) is kind of gross. Full post here.

Before & After

Fun with Facebook

Influenced in some degree by the cover to the Talking Heads’ 1980 album Remain in Light:

thoughtshots #7

I’ve been focusing a lot on the web stuff since September, so I’ve been overdue for a new video. Full post here.

Tampa Overground

Among many of the things that I geek out over, one of my more obscure interests is mass transit and its associated ephemera – particularly system maps. Maps are reductive by their very nature, and transit maps take that reduction to an extreme. There’s a beautiful precision in such reductionism, even if the precision is often more imagined than real.

So you can imagine my dismay when the good folks at Moving Hillsborough Forward sent me a giant map of the proposed transit system improvements here in Tampa:

Instead of beautiful reductionism, it looks like a bizarre, multicolored spaghetti. While I’m sure the designers of this worked very hard, and it probably had to go through hundreds of different departments before getting approved, looking at it feels like a hemorrhoid on my eyeballs.

So it is in that spirit that I decided to take on the task of creating my own map of Tampa’s future transit system. Instead of trying to insert bus routes and circulator systems, I focused mainly on fixed route systems like light rail and high speed rail. The stations are completely made up, but the routes follow pretty much exactly what HART and Moving Hillsborough Forward have made public.

Harry Beck I’m not, but I think it does give a better sense of how mass transit in Tampa is going to shake out (if it does). I wanted to do away with the highways completely, but in our car dominated region I found it hard to remove the main point of reference for most people.

This was a fun project, so I’ll be working on improving and expanding it.

Staying positive

Campaign Season

Thanks to the fact that my wife and I are registered to different parties, we get fistfuls of direct mail from political campaigns everyday. This lovely card from Mr. Scott came in the mail today.

Why must every political ad desaturate the images of the opponent? It’s one thing to pick an unflattering photo, but I honestly don’t see how it makes the opponent look bad. Especially if your own candidate looks a bit like Skeletor.

Except Skeletor is clearly a much more jaunty fellow.

And then there’s stock photo guy. He’s so sad. But that’s what misinformation will do for you. Make you sad.