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Sitting here with a heating pad on my back and right side, half watching the HBO “Game of Thrones” marathon, I’ve been waffling over making a year-end summary post.  I haven’t actually posted to this blog since last year’s wrap-up, and most of you already know I’ve never been big on the change of calendar as anything other than an agreed-upon arbitrary convenience.

Despite the presumably statistically high number of shitty things that have happened over the last 12 months, there have been some good personal things.  Let’s start there, shall we?

With much help from Sarah and Linda, Toni and I managed to pack up the State College townhouse where we’d been renting and, after closing in late January, moved into the ranch condo in Bellefonte in mid-February.  It’s smaller, and everything we need for general daily life is all on one floor, yet it has a full basement for storage and if we eventually want to set up a game room, hot tub, or whatever.  And I still love both the view of Bald Eagle Ridge and Bellefonte proper out the back and the fact that I neither have to do yard work nor snow removal.  We’re still unpacking and arranging some things, and we still need to hang shelves and art and cull and arrange the office/library, but it’s comfortable.

I’m sure most of you also know that I changed jobs in late August.  Because of things that happened (documented on my LJ and Dreamwidth accounts in 2014) at my previous job that had pretty much poisoned the well, when a new opportunity opened up that didn’t require us to move, I made the decision to become a federal bureaucrat support scientist with a local lab of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.  Some things had improved at the old job, but I could tell early on at my new one that I made the right decision.  Despite feeling somewhat overwhelmed at times and a bit lost in bureaucracy, I also feel welcomed, appreciated, and have felt part of the team since day one.  Ironically, I’ve also managed to get some assistance via the same university organization I left behind (and I won the lottery there as far as research assistants go – I’ve met an intelligent, creative, motivated colleague who has also become a good friend).

Those were the two big positives from 2016.  Toni and I also went to Louisville around Independence Day to visit her family, as a member was being treated for cancer, and who is now cancer-free.  Health-wise, here, both of us have been plodding along.  Knocked flat earlier this month by a bad flu or something from which we’re still recovering a bit, me in particular from a badly pulled diaphragm that is making doing a lot of things, including just sitting, rather difficult and painful.

And with that, I seem to have run out of steam.  Maybe I should try to get back to making shorter, more timely posts again, so I don’t have to try to remember everything over the last several months.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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*tap tap tap* Is this thing on?

Wow, I haven’t made an actual blog post since mid-May, and that wasn’t a pleasant one. I’m not big on New Year’s, as it’s really just a change of calendar, but since I haven’t talked about much here in a while, I might as well make a big year wrap-up post.

Work

Still working as Data Manager for the big interdisciplinary environmental research project at Penn State. Missing working with/studying clouds and precipitation, so a few months ago, my boss, with no other investigators on the project interested, let me take over responsibility for precipitation measurement at the field sites since the project’s first hydrologist left the project. She also made me informal supervisor of our new watershed specialist (he’s responsible for all the field equipment). So, I’m managing all the data, all the rain gauges of varying types, supervising the watershed specialist, and, thanks in part to his office being right across from mine, helping the national network manager (our project is one of a network of 9 sites around the country) understand network-level data management and leading a new inter-site data management working group. We had a hugely important virtual (web-conference-based) review by the National Science Foundation in the Fall, too, so I was heads-down doing a lot of work to prepare for that. I haven’t seen any feedback yet, but a couple of my colleagues said we got some good feedback. As long as we don’t get any funding cuts.

Health

Turned 50 back in October. Can I get a refund? If you missed my adventures in urology, just go back a few posts to earlier in 2015 for most of that story. It didn’t end then, though, unfortunately. By the time of my November follow-up appointment with the urologist, I’d been finding it hard to go again. When I told him my current symptoms, he scheduled a cystoscopy for the following Monday (the week of Thanksgiving). While he was inserting the scope, I could see the camera output on the big monitor, and, though I’ve no medical training, even I could see something was wrong. Then he asked, “What are you doing tomorrow?” I responded, hesitantly, that was rather short notice for the hospital, much less his schedule. He was concerned enough that the hospital was able to squeeze me in for surgery the next day. Apparently (this is my urologist’s theory) some of the dust-sized debris from his breaking up of my kidney stones didn’t get flushed out properly, lodged in the wall of my bladder right at the exit, grew, and caused some swelling. Afterward, he said it was a huge mass of calcium oxalate. He also told Toni he couldn’t get a very small gauge wire through before clearing the area, and wondered how I was able to go at all.  So, instead of prepping for packing and moving like we’d planned, I pretty much sat on my you-know-what for the entirety of Thanksgiving break.

Home

Did I say, “prepping for packing and moving” above? Oh, yeah. One of the big things on which Toni and I embarked this year was house hunting. We’re tired of dumping rent into this place where we have too many stairs. Going up and down between the living area and the garage, and going up to get to the master bedroom has taken its toll, given Toni’s mobility issues. We found a nice place just outside Bellefonte, which is the Centre County seat, a small town about 10 minutes north of State College. I’ll post some pics once we’ve moved, but it’s a ranch with a full basement and 2-car garage (why are those so hard to find around here?), and it’s also a condo, so, while we’ll have an HOA fee, I will Never Have to Do Yard Work. The view of Bald Eagle Ridge out the back is wonderful, and the area is So Quiet. Started packing in earnest this week, as we close on January 28, and will move sometime in early February.

Travel

Two significant trips this year. Went to Vermont and Maine with Toni back in late August. Stopped at King Arthur Flour, took the tour at Ben & Jerry’s, and stayed at a bayside resort in Belfast, Maine, in a room with a hot tub and bay view. It was so nice; it has convinced us that, once we can swing it, we’re putting a hot tub in at the new house.

Second trip was in November – Toni and I took a long weekend to go to Raleigh, North Carolina to see two exhibits at the NC Museum of Art. We met a friend who lives in Raleigh and went to the museum with her. The main attraction was an Escher exhibit for which the single most appropriate descriptive term I can think of is comprehensive. There was even a 3-D model of Belvedere, with a viewer placed where one could see how the real place could look like Escher’s print. Also saw the Da Vinci Codex Leicester, which was a lot of pages of his mirror script in which he discussed things like watersheds, erosion, and precipitation. It was very cool as well, but in a smaller space and more crowded than the Escher exhibit.

We also went to Louisville, Kentucky, to visit Toni’s family for Christmas, though we came home a day earlier than planned because of Toni getting sick.

Media – Read & Watched

Also been a while since I’ve posted about what I’ve been reading or watching. Getting a job that required Toni and I to move to Pennsylvania got me out of the habit again. Oh, I was reading a lot, but mostly work-related science and technical books and such. A few months ago, Toni and I both got new Samsung tablets for Nook to replace our previous Nook hardware, and I also (finally!) got the idea to bring it with me to and from work, where I could read during lunch (I usually stay in my office for lunch, but I don’t usually work through it), and we started dedicating more time during evenings at home to reading.

Books:

The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones – by George R. R. Martin, Elio M. García, Jr, and Linda Antonsson. I got started reading the historical passages in this, a reference book for George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I read the tome in its entirety (whew!), and it was rather enjoyable to read more about the world GRRM has created. We already had the hardcover, which is beautiful, but the e-version is much more portable.

Red Mars – by Kim Stanley Robinson. Picked this back up next. I started reading it back in March 2013, over 2 years ago. I was just about halfway through, and I remembered most of what had happened up to where I was, so picking it up again was relatively easy, and I finished it over a few days. It’s a strong story, and KSR certainly did his research. It begins the story of settlement on Mars, and the scientific, economic, and political implications of that, including terraforming the planet to be more habitable. It dragged a bit around a quarter to a third of the way through, which I think was why I took so long reading it even before my big life changes happened. I do want to read the rest of the trilogy (consisting of Green Mars and Blue Mars), but I needed a break from Mars for a while.

Outlander – by Diana Gabaldon. Toni and I had seen the pilot episode of the Starz adaptation last year, and we had the rest of the first half of its first season on Blu-ray, as yet unwatched, though. I had heard nothing about it other than it involved a WWII nurse who goes back to mid-18th century Scotland. The developer and showrunner of the adaptation, though, was someone whose work I’ve generally liked for a long time: Ronald D. Moore, who worked on the final 4 seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (still my favorite Trek series) and of course the acclaimed reimagining of Battlestar Galactica, which is still one of my favorite TV shows of any genre. We liked the pilot, but because it’s fairly cerebral, and we have a huge virtual pile of shows to watch, we just hadn’t gotten around to watching the other 7 released episodes. We didn’t even record the 8 episodes of the second half of the season when they aired this year, because we figured we would catch up via On Demand and/or disc. I was seeing a lot of praise online, though, for both the adaptation and the original novel and the entire huge series of books that came after it, so I started reading the first book and finished it fairly quickly (by my own slower reading standards I’ve had to accept since reaching my 40s, anyway). I loved it. There’s a scene in which Claire, the protagonist (and POV for the first novel) is punished by the main male character (an 18th century Highlander), for disobeying him and putting their entire group at risk, which really angered me for a day or so, and initially I couldn’t figure out why. The scene was well-written, and I could accept that Jamie is a man of his time and would see nothing wrong with it, so I think my anger must have come from the fact that I find such physical punishment completely anathema to my own character. Whatever it was, I didn’t stop reading, and things happened afterward in the story that helped quickly dissipate my anger. DG certainly knows how to create atmosphere yet keep one engrossed in the story without feeling bogged down.

Dragonfly in Amber – by Diana Gabaldon. I waffled for a while over what to read next, after I had finished Outlander. I think my to-read list may now be beyond life expectancy. Once Toni and I caught up on a bunch of TV shows (see below), including starting our way through the rest of the first season of Outlander, I just sort of kept going without thinking much about it. Second in the series (of currently 8 novels and counting), it definitely feels like a worthy installment, even though we are treated to more than Claire’s POV and more than a little non-linear storytelling. I liked it a lot, but decided I needed a break from Claire’s worlds for a while.

Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring – by Alexander Rose. The inspiration for the TV series TURN: Washington’s Spies, I picked this up after watching the first two seasons of the show (it comes back for another season in 2016), and I really enjoyed it. There was a lot of the history of the American Revolution that I didn’t know, and it was cool to see in-depth discussion of spy craft of that era.

Mort – by Terry Pratchett. Can’t believe I waited so long to read this. It confirmed that Death is still my favorite character in Pratchett’s Discworld series. I still have so much of the series to read, though, having only read Moving Pictures, Hogfather, and Soul Music before. I’ve loved all four of what I’ve read, though.

The Martian – by Andy Weir. I know several people who know the author personally, and, when I heard a film was being made, figured I would read the book. I loved it! The focus on science and problem solving was terrific, and the humor excellent. Very quick read, as well. Highly recommended.

Alias, Vol. 1 – by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos. Learning that Marvel was coming out with another TV series based on the more obscure character of Jessica Jones, I started reading the comic via new reissues of the e-versions of the trade paperback collections. This one introduces Jessica with all her humor and PTSD, but it holds off on explaining the reason she’s working as a PI and is no longer a publicly known superhero until the fourth volume, which I have yet to read (it just came back out yesterday).

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – by George R. R. Martin. This collection of the three existing “Dunk and Egg” stories set in Westeros ~ 100 years before A Song of Ice and Fire just came out this Fall, so I finally got around to reading them. I want more, but I want more of the main storyline first. I also hope one of the as-yet unwritten stories explains what happened to Egg in the Tragedy at Summerhall.

Alias, Vol. 2 – by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos. See vol. 1 above.

Alias, Vol. 3 – by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos. Ditto.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – by Alan Dean Foster. At least Alan can put his own name on this one (though I don’t think I’ve ever seen him complain about having ghostwritten the novelization of the original film – he got his check). Picked this up after seeing the movie with Toni, her brother, and our nephew on Christmas Eve. I like Alan’s writing style, and the film was so good, the book is helping tide me over until we get a chance to see it again. I’m also interested in some of the other new non-film canon material.

Films:

We don’t get out to the theater much (only 3 times this year – Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Martian, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens), but we do generally catch what films we want to see by the time they’re on cable or disc.

Marvel Cinematic Universe. We had the DVD of the first MCU film, Iron Man, since not long after it came out, as we both like a lot of Robert Downey, Jr.’s work. Seeing so much talk online before and around the time the first of the MCU’s second “phase” films were being released to theaters, we picked up a special Blu-ray set of MCU Phase One films, containing Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Marvel’s The Avengers. I loved all of them except The Incredible Hulk, primarily because I felt like Edward Norton was mis-cast as Bruce Banner (and it’s nothing against Mr. Norton – his film The Illusionist is one of my favorites) and the script didn’t seem to do justice to Liv Tyler’s character of Betty Ross being a scientist. I also had to admit that, despite not being much of a Joss Whedon fan (I liked some of the early seasons of Buffy, but it got stale quickly, and I tried twice and just could not get into Firefly at all), I did like what he did with Marvel’s The Avengers. That film and Iron Man 2 also led me to jump on the “Where’s my Black Widow film?” bandwagon, while the first Captain America film changed my interest in that character completely. I knew very little about Cap from the comics, and presumed he was some jingoist good-guy patriot that would probably drive me crazy. At least in the MCU, he’s not that at all (well, he’s still definitely a good guy, but for the right reasons).

We had missed original theatrical runs of the first 3 MCU Phase Two films, but we did manage to see Guardians of the Galaxy that way last year, and I am so glad we did. From TV commercials and trailers, it looked like it was going to be either very good or very bad. I laughed nearly all the way through it, and the visuals were spectacular. At least temporarily, after being disappointed by the Star Wars prequels, GotG took that series’ place in the fun, action packed, visually beautiful space adventure hole in my brain. We did manage to see the 3 prior films in that phase, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, when they came to cable. I thought Iron Man 3 was nearly as strong as the original (as far as I can tell, popular opinion for some reason considers it the weakest of the Iron Man films), and I particularly loved how Pepper was involved in the dénouement. The second Thor film was enjoyable, too – I especially loved how ruthless Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith was and seeing Thor and Loki having to work together for a while. The second Cap film was something else. It seems so bizarre to me that the showrunners of Arrested Development (a show of which, admittedly, I’ve not seen much) could make such a quality film. Including Black Widow, making Steve not pining for the “good old days” (except for Peggy and Bucky, of course), staging a huge mid-film action sequence that is chock full of competence porn on both sides (the bridge fight), and just generally a good, solid, conspiracy thriller story really help this one stand out. As a Sasquan member, I cast my Hugo Award vote for it in the Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form category, though I’m not really upset that it lost to GotG.

Despite some complaints I’d seen online beforehand, I enjoyed Avengers: Age of Ultron immensely. James Spader’s Ultron and Paul Bettany’s The Vision were stand-out performances, and I particularly enjoyed the parts concerning Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir. We didn’t make it out to see Ant-Man at the theater (we never go to films on their opening weekends – too many people), but we saw it a couple of weeks ago when our copy of the MCU Phase Two Blu-ray set arrived. Despite a slow start, I really enjoyed it, especially the macro cinematography.

While in Louisville last week, we saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As soon as the Lucasfilm logo cut to the “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” card, I was already tearing up, and, as the movie went along, I was 12 again. The plot was very derivative of the first film, but I don’t care. That’s a formula that works for Star Wars, and I appreciated pretty much everything I saw. Love the new characters so very much, loved seeing the old ones, especially the way they held back on one in particular. Loved the music, the effects, etc. And I can’t wait to get out to see it again. And again. I don’t think I’m seen as particularly excitable from the outside, but I can assure people that in my head I am so, so, very happy about this film.

TV Shows:

Futurama. Still at the top of my all-time favorite shows lists, the amazing hilarious and heart-wrenching science fiction cartoon went out well in September 2013, after 140 episodes. Over that run, they had very few misses (Mr. Chunks the 2-headed goat from “Attack of the Killer App” and Jrrr’s “candy” from “T.: The Terrestrial” among them), and were a little more fast and loose with getting crap past the radar in the Comedy Central episodes, but some of their best were in that part of their run as well, including some of my favorites, “The Prisoner of Benda” (the body switcher), “Overclockwise” (Bender gets omniscient when overclocked), and “Meanwhile” (the series finale).

The Simpsons. Yes, I still watch new episodes regularly. No, it’s not the same show it was in my favorite era (roughly seasons 3 or 4 through 8 – all of the David Mirkin era and some of those who ran it before and after). It can still be hilarious though, even in recent seasons. “The Book Job,” “A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again,” and others have made me laugh a lot. I’m bummed that Fox will no longer be releasing the series on disc after season 17, mainly because I like the episode commentaries. The episodes themselves are now on FX Now online and the cable channel FXX shows mini-marathons 5 days a week.

Orphan Black. Is there anything about this show about which I have not gushed already? I do feel like I’ve had to back away from a significant portion of fandom during and since the third season, though, because there have been a lot more fans expressing their dislike of developments (introduction of a certain actor’s characters, death of a certain character, quality of writing, confusion of the plot, structure of the narrative, etc.). I submit that for all of those, including narrative structure, there is no accounting for taste and I will not argue my like vs. anyone else’s dislike. I absolutely loved season 3, and I felt it flowed well and I was able to follow it fairly easily. It’s insane, the things that happen, yes, but that doesn’t mean it was confusing. And, though she didn’t win, it was also very nice to see the Television Academy finally nominate Tatiana Maslany for a Best Actress Emmy. After Christmas, a season 4 teaser was released, and I’m already wondering how soon the new season can get here.

Outlander. See the book entry above. The first season finale was pretty brutal, but fairly faithful to the book in that respect. The look of the show is amazing and has kindled a stronger desire someday to visit Scotland (it’s long been on my list) the next time we’re across the pond.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Let me start off by saying I have no idea from where so many of the complaints of the first season came. We watched that season on disc, pausing, in fact, to watch the MCU Phase Two films that changed things for the show. Since the changes imposed by CA: TWS, complaints or not, the rest of season 1, season 2, and season 3 so far, it has been a show that has been kicked up a notch. It’s well-cast all-around, particularly Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, and Ming-Na Wen (whom I’ve liked since The Joy Luck Club and Mulan, and who gets to be a real action heroine, but her character here is also so much more).

Marvel’s Agent Carter. I think my celebrity crush on Hayley Atwell may be the deepest I’ve had. And it is a quality show. It has its tongue firmly planted in cheek, yet it gives Hayley the opportunity to portray a unique character – an intelligent, resourceful, and kick-ass woman in a generally hostile to women who make waves post-WWII environment. The writers throw in a lot of appropriate tropes, while turning some of the more clichéd ones on their heads. I haven’t wanted a show to succeed so much since I became a one-man gratis marketing department for Orphan Black.

Jessica Jones. Oh. Your. God. This may be the best thing Marvel has ever committed to live action adaptation. We re-started our Netflix membership mainly so I could watch this, after having read a few of the Alias comics from which the character of Jessica hails. There’s very little I can say here that probably hasn’t already been said in the plethora of reviews and articles I’ve shared about the show in other places online. Krysten Ritter was amazing, with a very strong supporting cast, and the writing is fantastic. It just does so many things right for a TV show from what was once a comic book company.

I think I’m running out of steam after such a long post. There are plenty of other shows we’ve been watching, but I haven’t got a lot to say about them at the moment. Perhaps I’ll save them for another, TV-specific post. Some of them are new and are awesome, some are wrapping up, and some we still need to catch up on. They include Continuum, Doctor Who, Masters of Sex, The Americans, Turn: Washington’s Spies, Deutschland ’83, Game of Thrones, Broadchurch, Murdoch Mysteries (The Artful Detective), The Musketeers, Penny Dreadful, Lost Girl, Defiance, Dark Matter, Killjoys, Bob’s Burgers, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, HUMANS, Sleepy Hollow, and Mr. Robot.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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So, Toni and I came home today from a week at a cabin in the Catskills.  It was about 4 hours from here, barely over the NY state line from PA, near where those two states and New Jersey all come together.  It was the first time she and I have had a chance for a real vacation for just the two of us since before I went back to school in 2006.  And because I tended to burn her out and drive her crazy with always going places to see and/or do things, I felt I owed her a vacation where we did what she wanted – a place to get away from home and just hole up and be together and do as little as possible.  A new thing for me, I wanted to try that, too.  So, we found and picked a place – a little cabin/cottage converted from two barns.  We made sure it had an outdoor hot tub (and a very secluded one at that), and we used said hot tub almost every day.  It was very nice to get out of State College for a week, even though we still spent time on our laptops and didn’t completely disconnect from the world.  Did some reading, had some good food, and just *were* for a few days.

The place was very pretty and definitely captured the rustic look.  Here is the front, coming up the drive from the owner’s home:

Pics & More Here )

 

 

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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A little over three years ago, I made this post, ranking some of my top/favorite science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction TV Shows.  Because we’ve had some great new shows since then, and my opinion has changed on some as well, I thought I would update the list.  Just the top ten, though.  A handful of new shows would make the overall list, but don’t quite make the top ten, like Lost Girl, Haven, Once Upon a Time, and Defiance.  Three new shows have jumped right into the top ten, though:

10. Stargate Universe (was #8)

I still feel annoyed when I think about how short this show’s run was.  By the end of the second season, it was no longer a viable show for SyFy, and MGM was having enough financial difficulty at the time that they put everything in the Stargate franchise on the shelf indefinitely.  SGU’s low ratings were, I believe, in part due to a real smear campaign by fans of Stargate Atlantis who were ticked off about that show being cancelled, blamed SGU taking its spot, and didn’t appreciate the attempts to do some new things with the franchise.  Things I appreciated like aliens that don’t breathe air or speak English, a cast of characters woefully unprepared for their situation, and many highly flawed characters among that cast.

9. Continuum

New on my list, its second season just finished on SyFy.  A Vancouver production actually set there, it follows a woman from 2077 who comes back in time to our present with a group of terrorists and, being the equivalent of a cop in 2077, has to track them down and find a way back to her own time and her family.  It gets much more complicated, and I love that the show fully embraces the gray and gray morality trope, and will not reveal which time travel conventions are in place.  We don’t know if Kira is changing the past (for her) and by extension the world from which she came, or is actually creating the one she knows.

8. Game of Thrones

HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, taking its name from the first book in the series, this is something I never expected to see adapted to the screen.  Three seasons in the bag so far, with at least a fourth on the way.  Yes, there are many changes from the books, but considering the scope of the story, they actually do an excellent job.  The look and feel of the show and the cast are outstanding.  I am concerned they may catch up with GRRM’s glacial writing pace, but I understand they have been given major directions in the story by GRRM in case that happens.

7. Eureka (was #5)

Another show that ended prematurely, IMHO, after Comcast acquired NBC-Universal, including SyFy.  They turned the show on its head at the start of their fourth season which breathed new life into it, giving the characters better roles in the town and more interesting challenges.  The writing and acting were at the top of their game, so it was upsetting to learn the fifth season would be the last.  They at least got an extra (fairly satisfying) episode to wrap things up, but I still miss the little town.

6. Fringe (was #9)

Another show that only made it through four full and a shortened fifth season, and on a major network.  Considering the ratings it had before and after it moved to Fridays, I think we’re lucky we got what we did.  The final half season had a different feel, but wrapped up some of the major questions and it was a nice sendoff for Olivia, Peter, Walter, and Astrid.

5. Doctor Who (was #3)

I love Matt Smith’s portrayal of the eleventh Doctor.  Some of the most recent episodes have felt subpar on first viewing, but seem better on repeats.  I will miss Matt’s doc when he leaves at the end of the year, but I’m also very much looking forward to Peter Capaldi taking over.

4. Orphan Black

I gushed about this show in my most recent blog post before this one.  I love the story, the style, and Tatiana Maslany, who seemed to come out of nowhere to become, in a span of ten episodes, one of my favorite actors ever.  She plays at least 7 characters quite distinctly, and they interact and sometimes impersonate one another.  I have accepted Tatiana Maslany as my lord and master (lady and mistress?) and am an unabashed member of the CloneClub.  Can’t wait for the second season, which is slated to air in April, 2014.  The show has a brisk pace, doesn’t spoon feed viewers, doesn’t hold back on answering questions, yet still has plenty unanswered, and the characters, particularly all of Tatiana’s, are compelling to watch.  It can be disturbing at times, but is rarely gory, and the sci-fi aspect doesn’t dominate – it feels more like a suspense thriller to watch, and also has a lot of comedy.  The last episode of the first season has a death scene that is probably the most disturbing I’ve ever seen, but it is not gory in the slightest and is actually darkly hilarious.  The show is definitely female-led, passes the Bechdel test, and takes an interesting look at feminism and identity.  It also acknowledges sexual attraction as a continuum, with at least one bisexual character.  I also appreciate that the police detective characters in the show, for a show that is not a “cop show,” are intelligent and are figuring things out.

3. Warehouse 13 (was #7)

This one is about to end, as well.  After four seasons, they’re coming back next spring with six final episodes.  It really pisses me off, because they have years of story material available – artifacts can come from all of history, and the cast and writers are at the top of their game.  They’ve done some very original things with some tired tropes.  Lightning in a bottle.  That Pete and Myka, Claudia and Steve, Artie, and Helena won’t be snagging, bagging, and tagging on my television anymore after next spring is very sad-making.

2. Battlestar Galactica (2003 version)

It will probably take a lot to move this show from its spot on my list (Orphan Black may have the best chance).  BSG was consistently great whenever they were moving the major story arcs along – their only missteps came when trying to make stand-alone episodes late in their run, but even those are not unwatchable.  There’s probably not a lot more I can say that I didn’t say in my original favorites post.  It still holds up on rewatching, and often finds its way into our Blu-ray player.

1. Futurama

Still on top, its last (probably) episode airs this coming Wednesday.  After getting new life on DVD and Comedy Central, it’s still simultaneously hilarious and touching.  A couple of episodes since the show returned on Comedy Central were definitely misses (the one with the push-me-pull-you vomiting goat and the one where Zapp manipulates Leela into thinking they’re starting a new human population as an Adam and Eve on another planet, but some of the episodes since the return are among my favorites in the whole run of the show.  The mind-swapping one, the divergent series of reproducing Benders, and “The Late Philip J. Fry” are among them.  I will miss the show greatly, but we often rewatch it on disc, and 140 episodes is a good run, especially for a show that almost disappeared into obscurity after less than four full seasons during its initial life.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

Miscellany

Aug. 23rd, 2013 08:36 pm
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  • Last week I spent my workdays in a Drupal training class at the Penn Stater hotel and conference center.  I’m not sure how much I’ll use Drupal for web work, but there are a couple of web sites at work that use it, and improved knowledge of web content management systems in general won’t hurt.  Much of my time at work other than that class has been spent polishing off an interactive Google Maps-based web map of the measurement instruments at the local CZO (“Critical Zone Observatory,” the stream catchment south of campus from which most of my funding comes) and working on a database for all the data coming from that CZO (including web interfaces to that database).  One of my coworkers, who is responsible for ensuring the sensors at the site are in working order and transmitting data to campus, and I have to give an upcoming seminar on the new database to all the involved (local, anyway) scientists, but before that I need to make some mock up slides of my map and the database for my boss’ “State of the CZO” meeting in early September.  Speaking of my boss, early this week she asked me to take over an entirely new (to me) section of the data flow process for the local CZO:  in addition to managing the database and access, and providing assistance with visualization, I am now in charge of the processing of any and all data from the local CZO, including quality control and any conversion of raw data to commonly used forms/quantities.  I joked that someone should stop me before I go mad with power, but I actually am glad to have this new responsibility, as it gives me more contiguous control over an important area, instead of discrete bits of the process here and there.  And, as I learned in my years of management in my previous career, you cannot fix anything you do not control.
  • Saw a local doctor for the first time in State College late last month.  Went over my current conditions and talked about my fatigue and easy tiredness that hasn’t eased up since I returned to work at what is mostly a desk job.  I hadn’t gotten out on my bike because I hadn’t felt up to it.  We agreed to look at my sleep situation first, because some of my conditions may be aggravated by being generally out of shape, but I don’t have the energy even to start exercising because I’m not sleeping well.  Got a referral to a sleep specialist and had another overnight sleep study, at which I think I slept better than I have during any of those in the past, though it still wasn’t a great night.  Apparently, my CPAP needs to be set to increase my pressure by 2 cm water.  Once I get that changed, I hope I notice a difference.
  • Speaking of bicycling, another excuse I had been using for not going out on either bike was that I couldn’t find the bike tire pump.  Finally did find it, filled the tires on the hybrid, and headed out two weekends ago for a short ride.  Ended up being very short (about 2.5 miles), because I couldn’t even get off of our street.  Each end away from our condo is uphill, and at one point I couldn’t even catch a runner on the sidewalk, so I did several swings back and forth, climbing up each end as far as I could, coming back down, and doing the same at the other end.  I didn’t really prepare, nutritionally, and it was the first time out, so I’m not too upset about it.  I do think I’m going to try the road bike next, though, and hopefully this weekend, as it’s so much lighter than the hybrid.  May talk to a local bike shop about a fitting.  My geometry has definitely changed since last time I adjusted the road bike, so it wouldn’t hurt to adjust some things so I’m as comfortable on it as possible.
  • Found info on the local contra dance group.  They have monthly dances in the Fall, Winter, and Spring at a local school, and I’m going to try to go to the 1st dance of the season in September.  Toni may come along to watch (and it’s nice that the local group lets accompanying non-dancers in free).  Invited another friend along, because it’s more comfortable for me in a new group thing (even when I know the activity well, like contra dance) to be around one or two people I know, and I like sharing things I enjoy.  As for other upcoming things, Toni and I are going down to the DC area soon for a day of gaming (board/card games, not video games) with some friends there, and we’ve reserved a week in a cottage in the mountains northeast of here later in the fall – our first real vacation in years!
  • Went down to the DC area a few weeks ago to see a friend from grad school who is currently living south of Baltimore, and she and I wandered around the National Mall for an afternoon.  Met two other friends for lunch and ended up talking for three hours, so we missed hitting any of the actual museums.  We went to Annapolis for dinner and wandered around the waterfront a bit.  Downtown shops in Annapolis all seem to stay open very late, and nearly all of them have ice cream.  I uploaded some of the photos I took into a Facebook album.
  • Been absolutely fascinated by a new TV show, one that finished its first season several weeks ago, but I’m still geeking out about it.  With Warehouse 13 ending after six last episodes next summer, Futurama ending in just a couple of weeks, and no new Doctor Who until late November, Toni and I binge watched Homeland a few weeks ago, and can’t wait for its third season to start next month.  Continuum has been fascinating, getting nicely complex, and about to wrap up its second season on SyFy.  We’ve also gotten into Orange Is the New Black on Netflix, but we’re only watching that one about once a week or so.  Orphan Black is the new fascination to which I referred, which had a ten episode first season on BBC America back in April and May.  Watched it weekly then, and have watched the Blu-ray discs twice over since they came out last month, and I’m noticing more and it gets better every time I watch it.  The best thing about the show by far is the star, Tatiana Maslany, a Canadian actor in her late 20s I had never seen before.  She plays the main character, Sarah, who is a streetwise punk grafter coming back from being on the run for nearly a year, who wants to make amends and reclaim her young daughter.  At the train station, she sees a woman who looks just like her physically (thought quite distinct in hair, makeup, dress, and mannerisms) right before this woman kills herself by stepping in front of a train.  An opportunist, Sarah takes the woman’s purse and runs off, thinking she can use this as a chance to get out of her old life and take the dead woman’s identity.  She soon realizes that things are a lot more complicated, and she starts to meet other women who are also identical to her.  The show takes a strong side (in my observation) on the “nature vs. nurture” argument, and Tatiana plays each of the identical women very distinctly.  Clothing, hair, and makeup go a long way to distinguish them, but Tatiana also understands each of the women’s back stories and attitudes, and she does an amazing job of differentiating posture, movement, mannerisms, language (including accents), etc.  She’s very expressive, and deserving of awards for her portrayal of any one of the major characters, not to mention that she pulls off at least seven in the first season alone.  That she does a fantastic job of acting is an understatement, especially considering that she may be the only one in a scene, playing against another one or more of her own characters (which means when shooting the scene, she was acting against nothing – they have a woman actor as her double with whom she rehearses, but that woman leaves for the actual shoot – and does so as each of the women in the scene).  None of the characters she portrays is a gimmick, archetype, or throw-away, either – even one of the characters we meet early who gets very little total screen time is very well-fleshed out by the writers and Tatiana’s performance.  The writing is also sharp, the production quality high, and the pace fairly quick.  Not every moment is a rush, but very little time is wasted, and a ten-episode season is just right.  It doesn’t feel like a sci-fi genre show, either – more of a mystery/suspense thriller that has some science fiction as a relatively low-tech basis for the setting.  Tatiana has a great supporting cast as well, including Jordan Gavaris, whom I’d never seen before, but who gets many of the best and most humorous lines as Sarah’s foster brother Felix, and Matt Frewer (Max Headroom, Taggart from Eureka, etc.).  I’ve seen and praised multiple-character performances before (e.g., some of the Cylons in the recent reimagined Battlestar Galactica, such as Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, etc.), but Tatiana Maslany takes it to a whole new level.  Out of character, in interviews and at convention panels, I’ve seen her talk, and she is so very intelligent and a master (“mistress”?  I don’t really use “actress” anymore, so I don’t know) of her craft.  I think what helps her pull off the gargantuan feat that is her multiple roles in Orphan Black is the fact that she spent ten years doing long-form improvisation.  I could probably write an entire blog post gushing about her, as I’ve been so captivated by both the show and her.  I didn’t think much about her appearance (and it varies quite a bit between characters in the show), and she didn’t strike me at first as physically beautiful, but the more I see the show and the more I see and hear from her, the more beautiful I think she is (and not just physically), and I think the bigger my celebrity crush gets.  And it’s amusing to refer to her as a celebrity, as she has no interest in the Hollywood celebrity life (as she said in a recent interview) and is blissfully unaware of it – watch her 2013 Critic’s Choice Award acceptance speech if you want proof.  It’s on YouTube.  If you haven’t seen Orphan Black, find it and watch it.  It takes maybe the first three or four episodes to really kick in, but it’s worth it, in my opinion.  Unfortunately, the second season doesn’t start until next April.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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  • No more monthly reads posts until I actually finish another work of fiction.  I’m still on p. 252 of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars.  It’s not that I’m stuck and not enjoying the book.  I think I’m just still too tired mentally after coming home from work.  I think I’m getting more used to the new routine, though, and hope to pick up the Nook Color again soon.  Once I finish Red Mars, I think I will probably read Neil Gaiman’s latest, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  Been seeing and hearing great things about it.
  • Toni has seen a dentist and a doctor here in State College, and so far she likes them both, so the anxiety I had about finding new ones may be unfounded after all.  I’m seeing the doctor on July 15.
  • It has been very rainy here.  I can’t think of the last day it didn’t rain at least for a few minutes.  Last Thursday was horrible.  Most of the main road I use to get between campus and home was flooded out, particularly at the bottom of a rather deep valley just outside campus.  Our basement stayed dry here, but I know several who are still cleaning up.
  • Still haven’t gotten out on my bicycle (either of them) since we moved.  I blame both the rain and my adjusting to working again.  And some trepidation about the hilly terrain around here.
  • We went down to Harrisburg a couple of Saturdays ago for our first Pennsylvania Costco shopping trip.  Pretty drive, but long enough that we may not keep our membership.  Given the cost of dues and what we buy there, we’re not sure it’s worth keeping.  And please don’t suggest Sam’s Club as an alternative – I can’t support Wal-Mart’s employment practices.
  • Have been to the farmers’ market on Saturday morning a couple of times.  Good stuff.  Among things like spinach, lettuce, beef roast, etc., we’ve gotten some Amish whoopie pies that are some of the sweetest treats I’ve ever had.
  • Work continues to be good.  I’m learning a lot about Python, JavaScript, D3, PostgreSQL, GIS, and other things, and brushing up on Adobe Premiere and After Effects, as well as an open source 3D design and rendering package called Blender (it beats getting, even at University discount, a license for Maya or 3DS Max).  I spend a lot of time managing data from a nearby interdisciplinary observation site, and I’m working on automating conversion of much of that data for upload to a national repository.  I’ve set up a YouTube channel and Facebook page for the Institute in which I work (we also have a Twitter account, but I didn’t set that up, nor do I maintain it), and I’ve started posting videos and animations there, though so far most of it has been content that existed elsewhere before I started my job.
  • I’ve kicked off some new work projects in the last couple of weeks.  I’m taking over a long-stagnant 3D GeoWall project in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum.  I’m working with a group in Civil and Environmental Engineering on versioning (establishing code revision and documentation processes) of a hydrological model.  And yesterday morning I met with a professor and grad student from the Penn State Studio|Lab (an interdisciplinary lab that combines science and art) about a sonification project.  They want to take data from the nearby observation site from which I manage data and use it to generate music.  I’ll be helping them understand the scientific contexts of the data, working with them to combine meaningful data streams, and adding a visual component.
  • Presuming I can get the time off (non-tenure faculty vacation doesn’t exist, at least here, so time off is between employee and supervisor), Toni and I are planning to take an actual vacation again, sometime in the Fall.  One during which we aren’t really going to do much if any sightseeing or visiting people.  We’ll go somewhere, but I’m not saying where (in part because we haven’t nailed it down yet), bring our Nooks, and hole up for a week or so.  I think it will be very nice.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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  • Unpacking at the new place continues.  A bit slowly, but we are making progress.  Toni’s done a lot more than I have since I started work – the living room and kitchen are almost complete.  Just have a couple of art boxes and hanging of art in the living room.  My home office and the library?  Let’s not talk about them just now, eh?
  • Speaking of the new place… Given everything I love about it, I really wonder about the lighting in the kitchen.  It’s almost a galley kitchen, with dark cabinets and a dark granite counter top.  When I’m doing dishes, there is no light over the sink, and I’m shadowing the main overhead lights.  Thinking of looking for a stick-on light or something at Home Depot, but then we’d have to change batteries.
  • Have now been at the new job for a month, and I’m still liking it in general.  Every job has its headaches, and this one is no exception, but I get to do a lot of different things and learn a lot while I’m at it.  It’s not cloud physics, but I have done some atmospheric science already.
  • I also am getting Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects for my work computer, because I’m now in charge of the Institute’s YouTube channel, and will be making videos promoting Institute scientists’ work, along with all my other outreach and visualization work.
  • My predecessor used Maya on his old Mac Pro, and I’m trying not to ask the Institute to spring for a copy of that (the University doesn’t have a pricing deal for it), so I’ve installed Blender and will give that a try for any 3D rendering I need to do.
  • Speaking of Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Blender, it strikes me as amusing that I had to get a job in science to do video editing and production, despite working in the hardware supplier side of that field for nearly a decade.
  • Ever since Toni and I first visited here when I had my interviews, I’ve felt a little spatially disoriented.  For as long as I can remember, I have had a knack for knowing what direction is what (north, south, east, west, and in-between).  Maybe it’s from growing up in a gridded city (Indianapolis), or maybe it’s from growing up a map/navigation/geography geek and knowing where I am in relation to what is around me.  I do recall, I think (biologists feel free to support or tell me I’m full of it, whichever), reading that some species have what is in effect a compass that helps them orient themselves, and I’ve often joked that I do, too.  No idea if there is anything to that, but, aside from the fact that the labeling of the major grid here in state college is well over 45 degrees rotated to the west (north-south streets run approximately north of west to south of east, thanks to the orientation of the valley) and our condo faces slightly west of south, despite feeling like it faces southeast, I thought about something today that makes me wonder.  If there’s anything to a biological compass, I wonder if the presence of pyrite in the Allegheny ridges in the area has enough of an effect on the prevailing local magnetic field.  I don’t own a compass that I recall, save the one in our car GPS, and I don’t think it’s off, but I don’t know if it’s an actual compass or just extrapolation from GPS data, but I suppose I could look for local magnetic field info on a geological map of some sort (don’t recall what they’re called, but I’ve seen such maps before).
  • Toni has a dentist appointment tomorrow, either of our first contact with anyone local medically.  I’m curious how it will go.  Finding a new dentist after 17 years with an awesome one in Fishers, Indiana, and even finding new doctors, despite having better (and cheaper!) insurance now, is something I’ve dreaded about moving here.  Dentistry for me is practically a phobia, and our Indiana dentist’s office did everything they could to make it easy for me to deal with, from cleanings and X-rays to replacement crowns.
  • As much as I like living here – the town, the University and my job, and our home are all nice – it feels a little weird to think about Indiana as no longer being home.  Fleeting thoughts will drift through my head about “when we go back home (to Indiana),” and then I remember we are home.  Toni’s had similar thoughts.  I presume it’s just part of adjusting to living in a new place, particularly as far away from our previous one as this is, and after so long there.
  • Went to the closest farmers’ market on Saturday, in the Home Depot parking lot.  Got some great spinach and lettuce that’s already gone, and a roast.  Also got a couple of authentic Amish whoopie pies, and just one of them was practically of coma-inducing sweetness.
  • We’re probably going to make our first journey out of town soon:  the nearest Costco is down in Harrisburg.  I’m looking forward to getting out of town for a while, even if it is just for a Costco trip.  As much as I love everything here, as I’ve mentioned, I also have a love-hate relationship with routine, and I’ve already fallen into one since I started working full time again.  It will be nice to take a route through the middle of Pennsylvania on which I’ve never been.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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*snerk*

Didn’t finish any fiction in May, either.  I did make it 99 more pages along in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, so I’m now on page 252.  Starting back at full-time work on May 6 has added a lot of non-fiction to my currently-reading pile, including Python for Data Analysis, ArcGIS Tutorial 1, Learning MySQL, etc.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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Tomorrow ends my third week back in the full-time employment world.  I met with my boss, the institute’s director, this morning, before she disappears to France for a month.  She’s on sabbatical, and hasn’t been around much as it is, and her France trip is also work-related.  She’s happy with what she’s heard from others and was happy with what I told her as well, about what I’ve been doing and/or trying to do.  I do still like the job.  It’s taking some adjustments, as any workplace new to anyone would, but I can’t complain about the general professionalism and positive attitudes I encounter daily.

Specifically, I’ve been teaching myself a lot, including ArcGIS, Python, and basic geochemistry and other geology fields so I can understand the non-atmospheric scientists with whom I work.  I’ve been working a lot on making most of the data from a local observation site available on the project network’s national site, which means I’ve been heads down and knee deep in metadata and web content management systems.  I’ll be working with a couple of coworkers on setting up a MySQL database as the Summer progresses as well.  My boss put a priority on some of the visualization projects I have lined up, because they’re exposure for the institute and the observation project.

As home life goes, Toni and I are still settling in to the new condo.  Living room, kitchen, and master bedroom are pretty well unpacked, but the dining room, our home offices, and the library are still mostly stacks of boxes.  I love the town – people outside of the university seem to be generally as positive about things as those on the inside.  Pennsylvania still has bureaucracy and all its associated headaches, but nothing has put me off yet.  Also, there are mountains – we can see parts of some Allegheny ridges from various vantage points around town.

I like living 15 minutes (by car) from work, and being able to park within 100 yards of my building on campus.  I have decided not to bike to work, mainly because the most feasible route would take me down the very busy multilane road through town, which also goes down and up a rather long hill.  I am still lousy at hill climbing on my bike – add traffic and I really don’t want to deal with it.  I did sign up for the local bicycling group’s e-mail list, however, and they’re starting slower rides on Thursday evenings next month.  They call them “beginner rides,” but they’re at my normal cruising speed (usually around 12-13 mph or so on the flat), so it makes sense.

Looking forward to the Memorial Day weekend.  Toni and I have a wedding to attend in Virginia, and, while we’re there, hope to see some other friends in town, so, having that third day off will be nice.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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Just some highlights of my first day of full-time employment in a long time.  In no particular order:

  • Arriving at 7:45am on my first day was unnecessary.  The Institute IT person doesn’t come in until 9:00am, and I needed him to set up access to my office computer.
  • Said office computer will be going away soon, as I’ve discovered I desperately need a license of ArcGIS, and it won’t run on a Mac (and I’m not going to futz with running Windows on a Mac, either).  So, a Windows machine is on order.
  • Met with my boss, the Institute’s Director, at 9:45am.  Went from having a blank to-do list to 3 pages of notes that included quite a lot of tasks in the span of a 30 minute meeting.
  • I have a window in my office that overlooks a pretty courtyard.  I also have a lot of detritus from old outreach equipment, including flight cases and projectors of various kinds, left behind by my predecessor.
  • Apparently I picked the best possible week to start – an “all hands” meeting Thursday and Friday will facilitate meeting a lot of Institute affiliated faculty, who I’m sure will have plenty to add to my to-do list.
  • A national “all hands” meeting of the network of similar data collection sites is planned for September in Delaware.
  • I will be working closely with a geoscience data group at Columbia University on a standardized national geoscience data network.  It may include a visit there.
  • My office phone still thinks I am my predecessor.
  • Despite the water in our new home being decent, the water on campus, both that from the kitchen sink next to my office and from the drinking fountain down the hall taste funny. I need a better way to have water to drink throughout the day.
  • Everyone in the Institute has been cordial, professional, and very helpful.  I see some potential frustrations down the road, but they’re all (so far) of a technical nature.
  • They need me here.  They really do.
  • My boss, on her way out to drive back to D.C. tonight, apologized for the information overload and told me, “Great first day.”

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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Today is my last weekday before I re-enter the world of full-time employment for the first time since the end of August 2003 (six months at a call center in 2004-5 notwithstanding).  In the first three years after I walked away from my Worldwide Support Manager job, I spent some time on a photography and video production business of my own, learning a lot about what I loved about the production side of media, as well as what I hated about the business behind it.  I spent six months at a soul-sucking draconian high-volume call center, and finally went back to school for atmospheric science.

The time from late Fall 2005 through late Summer 2006 was filled with preparation for returning to school and taking make-up undergrad classes before starting at Purdue in August 2006.  From then, through obtaining my M.S. in May 2009, and on through when I left the Ph.D. program just before I would have taken my prelim in May 2012 is, in some ways, very much a blur.  The past year of job hunting has been alternately frustrating and exciting, and I’m looking forward not only to starting work on Monday, but to acclimating to and enjoying living in another state for the first time in my life.

Only a week into our move, and we’re still living among boxes and setting things up in our new home, and, since I start work on Monday, we may be doing so for a while, but we hope to get a few rooms in order this weekend.  Even without being completely unpacked, I think I like this place (both home and community) a lot.  And I don’t expect the new job to be perfect, but I think I have reasonable expectations, and, while I anticipate my share of days in which it will drive me insane (more so than I already am), I am hopeful those will be a minority.  If there is one thing I have learned about myself over the last decade, it’s that, as far as job satisfaction is concerned, I have three main requirements:  I like to learn, I like to help people, but I like to go home at night.

I wouldn’t have gotten through the last decade without Toni’s love and support.  Nor would I have made it through without a graduate advisor who was willing to give me a chance, was generally reasonable, and extremely flexible; without the acceptance and friendship of lab mates, classmates, and colleagues; or without other friends who helped me deal with a lot of the crap that I had to shovel.  I am also glad, of all the places in which I have had job possibilities, we’ve ended up somewhere with a good friend.

I feel bad in some ways about leaving some things behind in Indiana, like my biological family, especially with my Dad having some health issues, but I have always been able to guilt myself about not seeing them enough, and I am staying in touch with my closest sister via e-mail and the constant guilt is not good for me.

OK, so maybe it isn’t backing up nor is it punting.  I think we’re definitely back to having forward momentum.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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Bwahahahahahahaha!!!

*cough*  No measurable fiction reading in April, due to job and move prep, packing, etc.  Still sitting on page 153 of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars.  I have perused and poked around several non-fiction books, in part for job preparation.  Those have included Earth:  An Introduction to Physical Geology by Tarbuck and Lutgens, OS X Mountain Lion:  The Missing Manual by Pogue, Terrestrial Hydrometeorology by Shuttleworth, and Getting Started with D3 by Dewar, among other things.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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Didn’t complete as much fiction last month as the previous couple, mainly because I followed a couple of very promising job leads to a positive conclusion.  Continued zipping through and enjoying Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Vorkosigan Saga” in March.  Finished the latest five works in internal chronological order, and I have to say the series as a whole is one of the best collections of science fiction I’ve ever encountered.  LMB’s writing is what I would describe as “deceptively simple.”  Her prose is an easy and fast read, her dialogue smooth and witty, and her character voices consistent, and within all of that she touches on some deep and complex topics and original science fiction ideas.

A Civil Campaign – Lois McMaster Bujold, 3/4/13.  Heavily inspired, by the author’s own admission, by 19th-century romantic fiction such as works by Austen, Bronte, etc., this one takes the story of several major characters getting together in relationships and works in a rather disgusting (to me) but still interesting science fiction concept.  Miles courts the woman with whom he fell in love in Komarr, and hilarity ensues.

“Winterfair Gifts” – Lois McMaster Bujold, 3/4/13.  Miles and Ekaterin get married, but an assassination attempt complicates the day before the wedding.  Told from the point of view of Roic, one of Miles’ senior armsmen, it also features one of my favorite characters from Miles’ Dendarii Mercenaries, Taura.

Diplomatic Immunity – Lois McMaster Bujold, 3/7/13.  Miles must investigate an incident in “quaddiespace,” the area of the wormhole nexus occupied by the zero-gravity four-armed humanoids introduced in Falling Free, and he almost gets killed again.  I liked seeing Bel Thorne again, and the quaddies, and it’s clear Ekaterin has already figured out how to handle her manic husband.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance – Lois McMaster Bujold, 3/10/13.  I think this 2013 Hugo nominee for Best Novel is a worthy potential winner.  Miles’ cousin Ivan is the lead point of view in this one, and I was pleasantly surprised that he makes a great alternative main character, so, if LMB has indeed, as she has worried, “written Miles into a corner,” there is still so much more potential in the universe she has created.  I’d also like to see things from other time periods, such as the start and end of Barrayar’s “Time of Isolation,” but I know she needs to have well-defined characters.

Cryoburn – Lois McMaster Bujold, 3/13/13.  Miles investigates a plot on a planet that specializes in freezing and reviving the dead and near-dead.  I liked much of the story, but I was a bit disappointed that Miles’ original reason for his trip was a bit of a MacGuffin, or I just didn’t understand its resolution.  Well-written otherwise, though, and, sad though the ending was, I loved how LMB handled the “Aftermaths” epilogue from five different points of view, especially Emperor Gregor’s.

After March 13, I started Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, the first in a trilogy (that continues with Green Mars and Blue Mars).  A couple of friends have read all three, with different opinions on the two sequels, though both enjoyed the first installment.  Another friend is reading Red Mars as well, and I’m a bit behind her.  I have so far made it only to page 153, almost 30% through, and I’m enjoying it very much so far.  Haven’t touched it in a couple of weeks because of interviews, road trips, more interviews, and preparing to move to another state.  May not get much more fiction reading done in April, either, but once we’re settled in State College, I hope to get back to it again.  I noticed KSR’s more recent 2312 is also among this year’s Hugo Best Novel nominations, and is on my to-read list as well, but I think I want to complete the Mars trilogy first.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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“Can you hear the horses, ’cause here they come!”

In case it wasn’t obvious to anyone who also follows me on Facebook or Twitter, I got a job!

On May 6, I will be starting as a Research Assistant (full-time, non-tenure track faculty) with the Earth & Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) within the Department of Earth & Mineral Sciences at the Pennsylvania State University, in State College, PA.

I applied to two positions, and what I was offered officially when the interviews and negotiations were complete was most of the first, a little of the second, and wiggle room for several other things that caught the eye of the EESI (read the acronym as “easy”) Director (my soon-to-be-boss) and several other participating scientists. My primary responsibilities will be to work with a team responsible for the Critical Zone Observatory (the Critical Zone is the outer layer of the Earth – from the vegetation canopy to soil and groundwater), which has a local observation station south of campus. It’s an NSF-funded project on which I will work on public outreach documents and presentations, publishing data on the web, visualizing data, and otherwise promoting the CZO’s scientific efforts online. I will also work within EESI to assist students and faculty in data management and visualization, such as creation and use of science graphics for proposals, publications, posters and presentations. I may also work with other scientists on a case-by-case basis, using my knowledge of radar meteorology and cloud physics and other areas of expertise.

It isn’t pure atmospheric science, but I will get to use that, along with other knowledge and skills I’ve honed during and since my previous career, and I will be learning a lot of the other earth sciences. I’m very excited. While I’ve become an expert at many things while working somewhere, this will be the first time I’ll be walking in as the expert in several things. That will be different. I am still a bit boggled at how I have, twice during my nearly year-long job search, managed to have someone try to create or customize a position for me.

Toni went with me last week on a site visit. I had a day of meetings/interviews on Thursday, and more on Friday morning. After my final meeting on Friday ended, I e-mailed my preference between the two posted jobs to which I had originally applied. We looked at a condo (for which we have already been approved – we plan to move sometime in mid-April). And we have a good friend in the area, whom I think is also looking forward to our move there. Went to lunch with her on Friday after the condo visit, and, while sitting in the Wegmans Cafe, I received an e-mail mentioning their intent to make me an offer. By the time we’d been to the bookstore for me to get a Nittany Lions t-shirt, the Berkey Creamery (yum!) for ice cream, and back to the hotel, I got my offer letter via e-mail, indicating some of the customized responsibilities based on my many conversations. For a large, public university, I was impressed with the speed and efficiency, and I have a feeling my soon-to-be boss had a lot to do with that.

So now we have a growing list of things to do for the upcoming move…

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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More fiction read in February.  Still heads-down in the job search, which is still the usual expected emotional rollercoaster cycle of apply, interview, lather, rinse, repeat.  I am also still reading non-fiction, most recently including Fringe Science: Parallel Universes, White Tulips, and Mad Scientists by Kevin Grazier (editor), which is a collection of essays about various fringe science used in the “Fringe” TV series; Australian History for Dummies by Alex McDermott, which is what it says on the tin; Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, from A Game of Thrones to A Dance with Dragons by James Lowder (editor), a collection of essays analyzing Martin’s epic work; GIS for Dummies by Michael DeMers; and The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must by Robert Zubrin.  I also remembered when I used to make these posts in the past, I was keeping track of the date in which I finished a book or story.  So, on to my February fiction reads:

Brothers in Arms – Lois McMaster Bujold.  Continuing her Vorkosigan Saga, this is the first visit to Earth in the main works of the series.  Miles meets an interesting and dangerous aspect from his past, one that will change his future.

Mirror Dance – Lois McMaster Bujold, 2/03/13.  Miles’ newly discovered clone, Mark, tries to make a heroic move of his own, something to help him with his identity issues, but gets in over his head into a situation for which Miles arguably pays the greatest price.

Falling Free – Lois McMaster Bujold, 2/10/13.  Because my epub file for Memory, the next book in the saga in internal chronological order, will not display the text layout properly in the reader software on the Nook Color and Nook HD (paragraphs are each one line that scrolls off to the right), I decided to go back and read this prequel of sorts.  It takes place around 200 years prior to Miles, and introduces a very interesting genetically engineered subspecies of humans designed to live and work their entire lives in zero gravity.  Takes a hard look at corporate slavery.

Tuf Voyaging – George R. R. Martin, 2/14/13.  While I had been greatly enjoying every book and short story in LMB’s Vorkosigan saga so far, my desire to read it in generally chronological order had been thwarted, so, since GRRM had mentioned online that this collection of his short stories was back in print, I decided to give it a try.  Besides, I had been considering GRRM among my favorite sci-fi/fantasy authors (right up with Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny, Neil Gaiman, Frank Herbert, etc.) because of how much I love his epic A Song of Ice and Fire series, but it occurred to me I had yet to read any other fiction of his.  Haviland Tuf is an eccentric traveling galactic merchant who happens upon an ecological engineering ship, and this is a fix-up novel that collects several of GRRM’s short stories featuring him, written many years before ASOIAF.  It is definitely very different from ASOIAF, but it is still GRRM, particularly the humor.  I loved it, and, if GRRM ever finishes ASOIAF, I would love to read more stories featuring Tuf.  It brings up many questions about ecology and playing god, though, in typical GRRM style, doesn’t necessarily answer them.  It also confirms GRRM’s place on my favorite authors list, and I have added several other books of his to my list, including Dying of the Light, Windhaven, Armageddon Rag, and even his Wild Cards series.

Warehouse 13:  A Touch of Fever – Greg Cox, 2/16/13.  Something light was in order.  I’m surprised this is the only existing tie-in novel for Warehouse 13.  It was exactly what I expected – like an episode of the show, only longer and with no visual effects restrictions.  It almost fits somewhere late in season 2 of the show, but there’s a strange aspect that makes it not exactly a fit there, either, so I guess it’s its own canon.  I laughed much.  Cox has the main characters (Pete, Myka, Artie, Claudia, Mrs. Frederick, and Leena) down pat.

The Baroque Cycle, Book One:  Quicksilver – Neal Stephenson, 2/23/13.  Had this entire series in 3 huge hardcovers for several years, but never got around to starting it.  The hardcovers are destined to be sold to Half Price Books the next time I’m in Indy, but that has no bearing on my enjoyment of or interest in the story.  The Nook epubs also divide the story into the same 3 large volumes, but it actually consists of 8 books (3 in the 1st volume, 2 in the 2nd, and 3 in the 3rd).  I love Neal Stephenson’s writing style and sense of humor, and his, how shall I say? …indulgent tangents and explanations, but they make for thick and slow going, so I decided I’m going to break up reading this into the 8 internal books.  The first one is set during the mid-1600s and early-1700s, and involves several fictional and real historical characters, including some of the early Enlightenment natural philosophers.  It also alludes much to the calculus feud between Newton and Leibnitz, and contains one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever read:  use of a cadaver head and larynx, manipulated by hand like a marionette and supplying moving air via bellows, in order to study the physical formation of phonetics.

“Fire Watch” – Connie Willis, 2/23/13.  Why have I never read anything by Willis before?  Several friends have read much of her work, so she comes highly recommended.  I recommend her as well, based only on this short story featuring a history student at Oxford a couple hundred years in the future.  For his practicum, he travels back to the London blitz and joins the fire watch at St. Paul’s cathedral.  It sets up the premise for a number of her novels since, such as Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, etc., which are now on my list.

Memory – Lois McMaster Bujold, 2/25/13.  Finally gave up on a quick fix from Barnes & Noble and the publisher, especially since Baen Books no longer holds the rights to this transitional novel in the Vorkosigan saga.  Read it mainly on the Windows PC Nook reader application, which, given LMB’s easy-but-not-light writing style, was not the chore I expected.  Miles makes a mistake even before the book starts, leading him to despair, and then to solving a case involving his former boss in Imperial Security.  This launches him on a new career and a resolution of some of his own identity issues.  It also hammers home, if it had not been obvious in the series before this point, LMB’s philosophy with regard to Miles:  “What is the absolute worst thing I can have happen to this character now?”

“Dreamweaver’s Dilemma” – Lois McMaster Bujold, 2/26/13.  A short story written back when LMB was working on the early Vorkosigan saga novels, before she had sold any of them, I think.  This is set in the same universe, several hundred years before Miles, and probably one or two hundred years in our future.  Beta Colony is mentioned several times, as are the early forms of some technology in the Vorkosigan saga.  It involves a “feelie-dream” composer who gets a mysterious commission and how, with help from a close friend, she wriggles out of a dangerous situation.  Very enjoyable, and opened up curiosity about much of the untapped well of fiction in this universe of LMB’s.

Borders of Infinity – Lois McMaster Bujold, 2/26/13.  Another fix-up novel, this one contains the Vorkosigan saga short stories “The Mountains of Mourning,” “Labyrinth,” and “The Borders of Infinity.”  LMB connects them with a short framing story.  It was enjoyable, but I didn’t feel I had missed that much – the framing story is a very small number of pages.  Good way to get the stories within, though, and there’s nothing wrong with the framing story.

Komarr – Lois McMaster Bujold, 2/28/13.  A newly-minted Imperial Auditor (fancy title for investigator of sorts who has the Emperor’s authority and voice), Miles tags along with one of his new coworkers to investigate what looks at first to be an industrial accident above the conquered planet Komarr.  It turns into a terrorist situation, and Miles falls for a woman from his home planet.  I highly enjoyed this one, from LMB’s writing, characterization, humor, and story.  I did catch a science error early in the book which surprised me, given LMB’s previous record and the fact that she grew up the daughter of an Ohio State engineering professor.  In a meeting, an executive mentions the vast amount of heat trapped in the water ice on Komarr, and its “heat of liquefaction.”  Melting of water is endothermic – water molecules acquire energy from the environment when transitioning from ice to liquid phase.  It didn’t ruin the book in any way, just annoyed me for a bit.

After finishing Komarr, I have 4 novels and 1 short story left to catch up on the Vorkosigan saga.  Having read what I have, including the works set well in the past, makes me hope LMB will be writing in this saga for a long time to come.  I would love, for example, to see the story of the wormhole collapse that began the Time of Isolation on Miles’ home planet, or the opening of the new wormhole that ended it.  I also have several works by Connie Willis, GRRM, Neal Stephenson, and another writer I seemed to have missed in the ‘90s: Kim Stanley Robinson.  I’m particularly interested in his Mars trilogy (starting with Red Mars, which I already have on the Nook Color) and his Science in the Capital series (likewise with Forty Signs of Rain).  I have also added at least the first novel in William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive), a defining work in the cyberpunk subgenre which has been highly recommended by several good friends.  I don’t know how I missed this series years ago, either.  Next up, though, is LMB’s next Miles book, A Civil Campaign.  I’ve put her non-Miles work on my list as well.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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Ugh.  I had been trying to avoid this subject as much as possible since the media coverage first started gathering steam many months ago.  I decided late last week after hearing about another story in the sordid affair that it might be a good idea for me to get it out of my system.  First, I had to figure out exactly what had been bothering me (and still does) about it.

Recently, Lance Armstrong gave an extended and exclusive interview to Oprah Winfrey, where he finally admitted to many of the doping charges of which he had been accused.  I did not watch the interview, as I just did not want to sit there yelling at the TV the entire time.  Besides, from what I heard about it, he still held back from admitting to other things, and, just as he had tried to say about Floyd Landis’ accusations earlier, why should I believe anything he says after admission of a cover-up of such magnitude?

I have searched and analyzed my own feelings about the situation, and come to the conclusion that there are two main issues that bother me.  I am a cyclist.  I do not race, in any sense, but I do like to push my endurance and I greatly enjoy going places on my bike(s).  I also love the elegance in the design, engineering, and capabilities associated with such a human powered vehicle.  This is why, I think, that I am drawn to watch professional cycling.  I’ll never be as strong or fanatical as those guys, nor do I want to be, but I do like seeing what they go through on their bicycles, and, as a geography geek as well, I enjoy seeing the places the races are held.  (I would also love to see women’s professional cycling covered at parity with men’s, but that’s a rant for another time.)

Doping issues taint the entire sport, and, Lance Armstrong aside, in the last decade or two there have been plenty.  And as part of the Armstrong situation, accusations have been made of the existence of a conspiracy involving people in the UCI, the organization responsible for the professional tour.  Many years ago, I gave up following professional baseball, and pretty much every other professional team sport, because I no longer wanted to support the greedy, ego-driven jerks, to be blunt, involved in the sport.  The baseball strike of 1994, which led to the cancellation of that year’s World Series, in which it looked to me like both the players and the owners were being ridiculous, was a last straw.  I still love the game of baseball, but it takes a lot for me to care about the major leagues.  Were I still a hockey fan (gave up following the NHL around the same time I stopped caring about the other pro sports leagues), the long lockout would probably have driven me away from that as well, despite the return to play earlier this month.  I am angry at professional cycling, because, having given up on those other sports, it was the one thing in which I can participate, at least at a recreational level.

Armstrong is being made an example, and, after giving that some thought, I’m actually okay with that, especially if any of the accusations of his threats and intimidation are true.  It does make me wonder, though, for whom can I root when I’m watching the races now?  There are cyclists who have admitted to and/or had been caught doping in the past, like David Millar, Jonathan Vaughters, Levi Leipheimer, etc., who claim now to be clean.  In fact, Vaughters’ entire Garmin team is full of former dopers and professes a completely clean philosophy.  If they have turned over a new leaf, great for them.  Are they telling the truth now?  How do we know?  Bradley Wiggins has spoken out against doping, rather vehemently.  Did he and his Team Sky organization dominate last year’s Tour de France while clean?  How do we know?

How do we know?

This brings me to the other main issue I have about the whole Lance Armstrong situation.  After his amazing return from testicular cancer that had metastasized even to his brain (and now I have to ask how stupid someone could be to risk putting dangerous drugs like EPO into one’s body after recovering completely from cancer), I read his autobiography, It’s Not About the Bike.  I saw how he won the TdF for the first time in 1999, and repeated over the next six years.  I became a fan.  Even a defender, when he repeatedly emphasized he was the “most tested athlete on the planet.”  There was more to watch in cycling during his dominance than him, certainly, but it was fun watching him.  What bothers me, though, is a bit of cognitive dissonance.  In general, I am a cynic.  I believe I am so in a healthy way, but I try always to look at things critically.  Pull them apart to make sure I am seeing what is really there.  And I bought the Lance Armstrong bill of goods like a sheep.  The whole package.  In hindsight, that bothers me.  Probably more than it should, considering how many others did as well.

My copy of his autobiography is going in the next pile of media destined to be sold to Half Price Books, though I wonder (but don’t really care) how much I will get for it.  I am wondering if I should part with the tour overview books I have for each of the years in which he won, or the DVD sets of the same, in some semi-emotional fit of iconoclasm.  I probably won’t do all of that.  As for watching the races, I probably still will, when I can.  At least the highlights.  But someone else will probably confess or be caught doping again soon, and I am curious of whom that will be then.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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Only 3 reads this month, but job hunting is still consuming the lion’s share of my time.  And I’m not really counting non-fiction, which has included texts on air quality, atmospheric chemistry, etc.  As usual, here they are in reading order…

Ethan of Athos – Lois McMaster Bujold.  Part of the “Vorkosigan saga,” this one is told from the point of view of a man from an all-male planet.  I think it was LMB’s attempt to completely invert the trope of the Amazonian female society in sci-fi/fantasy.  Ethan is a reproductive scientist tasked with procuring new ovarian genetic material used for procreation.  He has to venture out into the galaxy, and most of his assistance comes from one of Miles Vorkosigan’s high-ranking mercenary officers, the beautiful, snarky, action girl Elli Quinn.  Of course, this being Bujold, hilarity ensues, for some values of “hilarity.”  It is an excellent examination of gender roles and genetic manipulation.  Despite Miles’ absence, I enjoyed meeting Ethan, and pairing him with Elli was perfect.

“Labyrinth” – Lois McMaster Bujold.  A novella in which Miles must infiltrate a ruling house on a purely capitalist planet to help an escaping (defecting?) geneticist, this one addresses even more issues with genetics and ethics.  Miles is also tasked with killing an experiment left behind by the geneticist, a chimera of sorts in which he hid various gene samples for later extraction.  Miles meets the quasi-chimera, and what follows is some of the most moving and poignant fiction I have ever read.  And that is saying something.  This one goes on the list of some of my favorite fiction ever.

“The Borders of Infinity” – Lois McMaster Bujold.  Another novella, this time putting Miles in a POW camp with the intent to rescue an important general.  Failing this, Miles must determine a new plan, on the fly.  It’s a great example of how his mind works, as he is literally naked, with no resources, when he begins to work his scheme.  Ending seemed a tad rushed, but exemplified the chaos appropriately, in my opinion.

All LMB this month.  A trend which may continue for a while, as I plan on starting her next novel in the Vorkosigan saga, Brothers in Arms, next.  While LMB is still writing new works in the saga, most of the early stuff was published in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  I’m at a loss as to how I missed them back then, as I was only initially introduced to them about a decade ago, and only recently started reading them.  I have no explanation, but I am glad I have discovered them now, at least.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

quasigeostrophy: (weather book)

This used to be on another online forum, and because I and others have referred to it recently, I decided it should be on my blog:

Complaining about “missed” weather forecasts, or commenting about how being a meteorologist is “the only job where you get to be wrong half the time” are part of one of my biggest pet peeves, and this was the case well before I headed down this career path.

Try this at home. I dare you:

  • Take a huge, not quite spherical ball.
  • Cover it with a very irregular surface, about 3/4 of which is water.
  • Cover that with a thin mixture of gases that gets exponentially thinner as you go up from the surface.
  • Tilt it 23.5 degrees, with a bit of wobble.
  • Spin it.
  • Heat it irregularly via a huge ball of fusing gas about 93 million miles away.
  • Send it around that ball of gas in an elliptical orbit so its distance to the heat source changes.
  • Accurately tell me what all the gases covering the first ball are going to do at any given time and place in the future.

Go on.  I’ll wait.

The other problems?

1. We do know the set of mathematical equations that describe how that mix of gases flows around our ball, with and without varying amounts of water vapor. Unfortunately, that set of equations cannot be solved exactly by any known means. So, researchers and forecasters build models that have to make approximations. Approximations introduce some error.

2. We don’t have accurate observations in enough places, or at often enough time intervals. I’ve heard via a third party someone (on faculty at Purdue, supposedly, but I don’t know whom) theorized that if we had observations about every square kilometer and every 300 meters in altitude through the troposphere (the bottom 11 km or so), we might have enough observations to calculate within the forecast models with an extremely high degree of accuracy.

Yes, forecasters make mistakes. Now you know why.  And with advances in knowledge of how the atmosphere and clouds work, along with advances in computing power, forecasts in general for 72 hours now are as good as a 36-hour forecast was 15 years ago.

[Edited to add:  Also, look back just a few months at Hurricane Sandy, particularly when and where it was forecast to make landfall several days before it did so.  Nailed it.]

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

2012 Reads

Dec. 31st, 2012 12:38 pm
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Hey, look, a blog post!  I’m not really up for making a “2012 in review” post, because a lot of it is really crappy and I’m trying to maintain forward momentum.  One nice thing about no longer being in school despite the lack of employment is the time and ability to read fiction again.  I do like to keep track of what fiction I read, and I’ve not done one of these since before I returned to school, and that was probably only on my LiveJournal.

There are a lot of series on which I’m trying to catch up, and I managed a few.  The list isn’t as long as some in years past, in part because I didn’t start until late May, I am actually trying to find a job and do other productive things, and also because I just don’t read as quickly as I used to do.  Anyway, here they are in reading order…

A Feast for Crows – George R.R. Martin.  I think, with the HBO adaptation, I was itching to catch up on this series the most.  I liked this volume a lot, even though some of the most popular characters were missing because of how he split up the story.  With it and the following volume, I’ve pretty much stopped counting individual volumes as stand-alone books – “A Song of Ice and Fire” is one long story, and I’m just waiting for the next chunk to be published.

A Dance with Dragons – George R.R. Martin.  This was the next chunk after the volume above.  First half or so overlaps the previous one, and then the rest of this one brings back in nearly all the point-of-view threads.  Winter is here, more characters die, and things seem finally to be moving toward some great event or series of them.

Redshirts – John Scalzi.  Never read more than his “Whatever” blog before, but couldn’t pass up this, just from the premise:  A handful of “redshirt” characters (yes, in the “Star Trek” sense) on a spaceship try to figure out just why they are so expendable.  It went a few places I didn’t expect, and was definitely funny.  Helped me confirm putting Scalzi’s Old Man’s War on my to-read pile was probably a good idea.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling.  I’d already seen both films, and knew the story in general, but, having returned to school around the time this came out or soon after, I never got around to reading it.  Toni and I put on the audio book in the car when we had to make a trip to Boston for a funeral early in the year, but we only got through a handful of chapters (even on an 18-hour drive).  I think it was a satisfying conclusion.  Rowling probably still needs an editor, but I could tell she was having fun writing this one.

The Fire – Katherine Neville.  A long-awaited sequel to one of my favorite books, her debut novel The Eight, this was not quite as good, but it was engaging and I think I could tell she set up a probable third volume to be forthcoming.  I complained to the publishers, though, because I have both the hardcover and Nook version, and, comparing the two, the Nook version is rife with typos and setting errors.  They wanted some examples from me, which I sent, but they were far from all of them.  Never heard back from the publisher after that, though.

The Warrior’s Apprentice – Lois McMaster Bujold.  About ten years ago, I picked up a couple of novels in this series (commonly referred to as “The Vorkosigan Saga”), and started to read one of them.  Got distracted, lost interest, and sold all the paperbacks and one hardcover I had before we moved.  The release of the next-most-recent novel in the series came with a disc of nearly the entire series, however, and I decided, after leaving school this year, to give the series another try from a different starting point.  Really liked this one – I think I did the right thing in starting with the first novel in the series that features the most common protagonist.  The series overall (so far, anyway) is original and clever, and has some very well-defined characters.  Miles, in particular, is a study in contrasts, being both a genius and nearly crippled since he was born.

Shards of Honor – Lois McMaster Bujold (reread).  This was the first novel I read in the Vorkosigan Saga ten years ago, featuring Miles’ mother and how she meets his father.  On rereading, it was more engaging than I recalled, and I wish there were more novels in the series from Cordelia’s point of view.

Barrayar – Lois McMaster Bujold.  The second novel in the Vorkosigan saga, in series chronological order, dealing with Miles’ parents, and attempted coup, and the origin of Miles’ physical issues.  Again told from Cordelia’s point of view, it features a hilarious crowning moment of awesome involving her near the end of the coup, referred to by some fans as “the shopping trip.”

Shada – Gareth Roberts.  A novelization of a “Doctor Who” story that dates from the late 1970s, a story that was never finished because of a strike involving many at the BBC at the time.  The original script was written by Douglas Adams, and involved the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana II (Lalla Ward), and a rather convoluted time-travel story (Adams was the best showrunner, IMHO, during the classic series years, to actually make time travel part of the story rather than just a device for placing the Doctor and companion(s) in a certain place and time).  The novelization is hilarious, and, despite being rather long, a quick read.  Roberts, who has written several episodes for the show since it returned in 2005 and whose episodes are comedic in nature, does an excellent job of filling in missing bits in the story, expanding on others, and nearly mimicking Douglas Adams’ writing style.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (reread).  I think I last reread this as an undergrad, and I was looking for something light and silly.  There are a lot of aspects to the story I didn’t recall, perhaps because the BBC TV adaptation was more in my memory than the book (and there are so many versions of the story, starting with the original radio show, that one cannot be considered canon over any other – they all stand alone).

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe – Douglas Adams (reread).  I want to reread the entire series, and the second volume is as far as I’ve gotten at this point.

Dune – Frank Herbert (reread).  Another favorite science fiction series I want to reread in its entirety (at least the original six volumes by Frank, not the expanded series by his son and Kevin Anderson).

“The Mountains of Mourning” – Lois McMaster Bujold.  A novella in the Vorkosigan saga that gives Miles a real challenge.  Fresh out of the military academy on his home planet of Barrayar, his sights set on the stars and “ship duty,” his father (who happens to be Prime Minister) assigns him to solve a murder case that involves a long-standing practice on the planet, a practice most of the more advanced and forward-looking members of the society there want to stop.

The Vor Game – Lois McMaster Bujold.  Miles’ first real military assignment, this one might be my favorite in the series that I’ve read so far.  Illustrates both his inability to be subordinate and his genius, particularly his ability to think on his feet.  He’s sent away to a remote assignment for a while, and manages to uncover an enemy invasion plot and rescue the emperor.

Cetaganda – Lois McMaster Bujold.  Miles and his cousin attend a state funeral for a neighboring empire that is a society highly dependent on genetic engineering, and again uncovers a plot, this time involving the higher classes of Cetaganda and an attempt to frame his home empire of Barrayar.  Not my favorite, but a good illustration of genetic engineering, class distinction, and the stagnation that might result from the rise of such a society.

Also read a couple of short stories by my friend Sarah (none of which I remember the names, unfortunately), and have been reading some non-fiction atmospheric science texts in relation to my job hunt.  Don’t know exactly what I will read next, but there are plenty of books still on the to-read pile, including more Vorkosigan Saga stories, the reread of the rest of the Dune and Hitchhiker’s Guide series, and I also want to catch up on Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next and other books.  Today, though, I’m sitting on my butt watching “Doctor Who” on BBC America, because I feel like crud – I think I’ve gotten the first real cold I’ve had in several years, and it is really knocking me for a loop.

Originally published at Abnormality Locality. You can comment here or there.

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