Category: Miscellaneous


The Atrocity Archives

The Atrocity Archives (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As part of the book review world, I occasionally write reviews of fiction over at On Starships and Dragonwings.  It works – because crafting virtual worlds and compelling computer games involves at least some story-telling ability.  Heck, I’ll run if it involves a good story (watch my my review of Zombies, Run!).

Today, it is Top Ten Tuesday in the book blog world – and here are MY top ten TBR books for the fall.  Not necessarily in order ….

1. Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews.  Some reviewers have fussed that it is set in the world of Kate Daniels but does not feature the central characters of the Magic Bites etc. world.  Me – I’m thrilled to see Andrew’s richly crafted supporting characters get a chance in the spotlight.  I’m currently reading this one and loving it!

2.  & 3. Bayou Moon & Fate’s Edge by Ilona Andrews.  I’m kinda fan-girling this author right now.  With the Edge series, she has created a different urban fantasy world that is just as believable but totally different.

4. Destiny Binds by Tammy Blackwell.  A gift from my daughter the book blogger – who recommends it highly.   More fantasy set in an alternate modern world.  Yum.

5. Mercy Thompson Homecoming by Patricia Briggs.  I love Mercy Thompson and am looking forward to the graphic novel of her introduction to our favorite werewolves.

6.  Masques by Patricia Briggs.  A different series that I picked up in the local library.  Not sure about this one, but I’ll give it a try.

7. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross.  More urban fantasy recommended by friends.  This sounds like a cross between Dresden Files and Hitchhiker’s Guide.

8. The Pillars of the World by Anne Bishop.  A more traditional fantasy set in a totally different world.

9. Backup by Jim Butcher.  Speaking of Harry Dresden. This is a novella from his vampire brother’s point of view.  Should be wild.

10. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan.  I love Riordan’s work and don’t care that they are young adult fantasy.  Good plots, good characters, and set in an alternate world where the Greco-Roman gods run around like in the myths.

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I am a geek.

I am a gamer, I am a computer science major who went on to work in various software development companies and academia. I enjoy tweaking game code upon rare occasions (i.e. when I am not otherwise working or writing …. I am also a doctoral student).  I vastly enjoyed MUDs and similar text and ASCII games when I was in college, and I am always on the alert for some creative, serious competition in the world of game development.  I am – somewhat a rarity for the field – female.

I write these things to set the stage for my response to an article the New York Times Magazine ran at the end of July.  When I first started reading Where Do Dwarf-Eating Carp Come From? I was entranced by the possibility of a new, rich game — and game development platform — that could be used to introduce students to game development and modding.  I was ready to send off the article link to my college-aged daughter, who is also a computer science major who likes games and game development.  But as I continued to read the article, I began to be appalled.  Ultimately, I chose not to forward it on to anyone.

I’m still interested in what Dwarf Fortress can do for us; don’t get me wrong on that.  It sounds like a ton of fun that has to wait for AD (after dissertation) along with Rift and Star Wars the Old Republic.

What appalled me was page after page of analysis of the lives – or lack thereof – of the two game developers.  In an era when we can hardly attract young women to the field of computer science and engineering, why do we need to perpetuate the unflattering stereotype of the lonely, socially inept young male software developer as if it were in any way representative of the industry?

I am also an educator these days, interested in getting more women and a diverse selection of men interested in what I consider a very rewarding and interesting field.  Yet, when I have suggested to girls that they might enjoy computer science, I have often run into a long list of reasons why that field wouldn’t suit them, and often at the bottom is the fear of being perceived as a loser (no offense, guys) by association with the field.

Why a publication such as the NY Times would reinforce this stereotype is perplexing to me, especially since it did not seem to me to speak at all to the abilities of the programmers (who cares when they sleep or what they eat, really?) as truly creative individuals who are bucking the trend of flashier and better graphics in order to encourage creativity on the part of their game players.   The game itself and its position as a challenge to the industry would have been a far better story and more representative of the life of the modern, socially-competent, well-paid geek.

First the really good.  I cut the cable cord (not literally) and made a spare computer into our movie and TV server.  I’ve joined the growing percentage of online Americans who watch TV online.  Thanks to Netflix, Hulu (I don’t pay for Hulu Plus … yet), iTunes, and Amazon Prime I have more digital media at my mouse click than I have time to view.  After all, World of Warcraft has been sweetening the pot for us returning “vanilla” players with new locations and monsters, and tangible reality is sweeping in with its own set of geocaches.  But the ability to pick and choose what I watch pretty much when I want to watch it does actually entice me to watch a lot more TV than I would via broadcast.  This is the great TiVo idea implemented in a way that finally makes sense to me – in part because I don’t really have to plan ahead but can pick and choose as the fancy strikes me.  So, keep thinking up ways to deliver content to me over the Internet – I’m happy to pay a little for the privilege of choice and flexibility.

The good.

Supernatural season 6 was good enough to make me go back (thanks to Netflix) to prior seasons to put the latest season into perspective.  Watching season one after season six shows how far the show’s concept has grown, all for the better, in my humble opinion.  The writers rock and are delivering what I’d hoped for – and did not get – in the last season of LOST.  We still have a great story line, favorite characters, and a compelling narrative arc.  I can’t wait to find out what Castiel is going to do now that all that power has rushed to his head.  Yea, I know, you planned it that way  …

Bones also keeps pulling me back despite — can it be?? — six seasons of creatively dead people.  The chemistry between the actors makes the show interesting even if, as is often the case, I can’t remember who died or who killed them by the end of the show.  Nor at that point do I usually care.  I’m sure that many anthropology departments hate the fact that forensic anthropology has become a Hollywood major (as a student advisor at a local college names these TV careers), but I am greatly enjoying watching the sharp, witty investigative team work together week after week.  Although I have to admit that I do miss Zack Addy occasionally, the stream of interns has proven highly amusing, especially to a grad student who does NOT get yelled at by her supervisors (thanks, guys).

The bad. 

Fringe.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the show.  I wasn’t keen on it when I first watched season one, but it came on near the defunct Heroes, so I started watching it and got hooked.  Going between the universes has been excellent, especially since this affords a nuanced view of good vs. evil (philosophy undergrad here) – both sides of the conflict have their rationale for their actions and are making the best decisions that they can, given the information they have (or that fits their preconceptions of the “truth”).  The problem is that the end of the season started to feel as rushed as Fauxlivia’s pregnancy.  Were they getting ready to cancel the series and decided to wrap things up, a la Smallville,  in case there was not a season four?  The last episode felt like a semi-colon – unsure of its position in the overall life of the series. After following the debate about ending cult shows over at Henry Jenkins’ blog, I’m trying to keep an open mind here, respecting the voices of all who create the show, but I’m hoping that season four does not head way out into uncharted territory by eliminating the very character that caused the conflict in the first place.

Dying twice in the same season on two separate shows, Sebastian Roché went out both as Balthazar in Supernatural and Newton in Fringe – impressive.  However, “there is more than one of everything”  in the Fringe universes – just hoping the writers remember that.  I really enjoyed seeing Kirk Acevedo in the alternate universe and Seth Gabel popping up the main one.  Along with spotting all the differences in names and locations and watching for our friends in the fedoras, guessing the next cross-over is a Fringe fan hobby.

(And yes, I’ll be missing Leonard Nimoy‘s occasional appearances as well.)

The (not so very) snarky.

As  a huge sci-fi fan, details that get dropped annoy me.  One reason I still watch Babylon 5 was their fanatic attention to detail even when – especially when – it was “off screen”.  In this case, can we get some of the backstory on the shape shifters in Fringe’s season four?  Or at least some mention of their place — or lack thereof — in that world?  I found it odd that no one on the other side mentions them at all, despite the fact that we’ve got to be talking multi-million dollars worth of R & D and production as well as the fact that, with all of them lost, the other side is now functioning blind.

Little details — or maybe not so little.  The whole premise of Blade Runner was the problem of androids in human society – just sayin’ that it is worth throwing in a line or two to acknowledge the can of worms.

The future.

I’ll be watching, waiting, and hoping that next fall brings me more reasons to sit on the ol’ exercise bike each evening.  If not, well, all I can say is I will still probably be set for old movies and TV shows if the new ones do not look promising.

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Welcome!!

Bear with me as I weed through too many years and too many locations/services to pull together one, central information station … that is not in the tight control of some institution’s security systems.

Yes, yes, I know computer security is necessary.  I’ve worked for IT departments myself.  But there comes a point where the complex layers of security at multiple institutions makes creativity unworkable.

Today, I reached that point.

This morning I read, with some relief, a post over at Teaching Professor that echos some of my frustration with online teaching evaluations.

Since my current courses are taught mostly online, it makes sense to have students give me feedback online as well. Unfortunately, response rate is under 50% … and it seems to be the 50% who have “suggestions for improvement” who respond. The other half of the class presumably found the course acceptable to the point where they did not need to voice an opinion. But without data, one does not know what parts of the course should be retained as is, since they may have met the needs of the majority … or not.

I like the suggestion in the post that there should be some sort of incentive to complete these evaluations. They would, of course, need to be given by the system confidentially. But if it brings response rate up to something reasonable … such as the 80% cited in the study, I would think it worth the work. Otherwise, we may be basing promotion and retention decisions on inadequate data as well as asking teachers to “fix” course materials that really are not truly broken.