Tuesday, July 31, 2007

World Domination

Stacy at Welcome to the Confessional started her own meme:

The World Domination Meme:

You are offered one superhero power to help you take over the world (or the country of your choice). What would your superpower be and why?

The ability to see through things, both physical and non-physical. Of course, eventually, I would be driven nuts by my ability as I would constantly be walking into walls and doing damage to myself. But my ability to see through lies would be extremely helpful.

Where will you establish your capital and why?

Somewhere in California. I'm pretty sure that their economy could support itself once splintered from the US. They are considering it too, after all.

What would be your first official decree as a brand new dictator? Why?

All corporations would need to evaluate their salaried employees and stop chaining them to desks. Let their performance be based on outcome, not hours tied to a desk.

As a Great and Fearsome Leader, you will need to have the best people working for you. Who would work for you? (Feel free to use famous people, fictional characters, friends and family, or other people from the blogosphere in your answer.) What would their jobs be?

  • Thursday Next, Political Adviser
  • Word Nerd, Grammar Police
  • Albus Dumbledore, Rule Maker
  • Dooce, Director of Entertainment
  • Naturally, I reserve the right to add more when needed.
If you could make one annoying habit illegal in your empire, what would it be? Either bad grammar or private conversations in public areas on cell phones. It's a tough choice.

In all, I'm sure my country would collapse in no time, as I'm more interested in reading than ruling the country. But it's fun to imagine, just for a day.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Not Completely Abandoned

Er, hello, there. I'm still around, but am not blogging as much.

I'd love to go into details, but I can't. As much as I love details, I also love having a job. Since one aspect has changed there, this one must also change here. (No, I wasn't doing anything naughty or illegal or against company policy. I find my job to be more mental work lately and my brain is too fuzzy to produce reasonable posts.)

If you are interested in keeping up with me, I do promise irregular posts at least once a month or so. I'd recommend subscribing with your favorite RSS feeder. The post will, in all likelihood, concern my reading habits and book reviews. Cheers! And have a lovely summer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Managing Smart

Best Buy has implemented some work principles that I could really get behind. Or make me want to work for them.

Smashing The Clock

At most companies, going AWOL during daylight hours would be grounds for a pink slip. Not at Best Buy. The nation's leading electronics retailer has embarked on a radical--if risky--experiment to transform a culture once known for killer hours and herd-riding bosses. The endeavor, called ROWE, for "results-only work environment," seeks to demolish decades-old business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity. The goal at Best Buy is to judge performance on output instead of hours.

It makes sense on so many levels that it is scary. It would involve trust. It would involve meaningful measurements. The potential is enormous. I know of a few employees who would appreciate the flexibility of working after their kids are in bed and during their school hours.

I applaud Best Buy for realizing that not every job means that you need to have your butt in a chair for 40 or more hours a week.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harry Potter Book 7 Predictions

Typically, I post a book review today. However, I re-read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in anticipation of this weekend's events. Instead of reviewing the books, I want to share my thoughts on the series finale.

At the end of Book 5, Sirius Black dies. I believe his death serves two purposes, both from a writer's point of view. One, it raises the stakes for Harry. When writing, an author constantly needs to think, "How can I make this worse? What other tragedy can I inflict on my characters?" Taking away a support system like Sirius is monumental to Harry. While the Weasleys are wonderful and love Harry to pieces, they aren't quite family. Sirius is both father and brother to Harry.

Two, it establishes that dead is dead. At the ending of Book 6, when Dumbledore is killed, no one wants to believe it: characters or readers. David Haber went as far as creating a website to document why he believed that Dumbledore lives. However, I believe that Sirius had to die in order for JK Rowling to establish that dead is dead. As a reader, I'm really hoping that Dumbledore finds a way to be in the book.

While the end of Book 6 established that Harry, Ron and Hermione won't be going back to Hogwarts, I predict that Ginny will try to find a way to join them. She's not the sort of girl to sit on the sidelines. If she does stay (or more likely is forced to stay) at Hogwarts, Harry will end up in some sort of adventure there at her request.

I also predict that the two characters that are going to die will be Ron and Hermione. Again, this is a raise the stakes, darkest hour before the dawn, etc. sort of thing. Those are the two most important people to Harry and have been throughout the series. I won't like it if it happens, but I predict it nonetheless.

Finally, I predict that Harry's defeat of Lord Voldemort will be the result of skill, not luck. In both Books Five and Six, much is made of Harry's luck by other characters. By Book Six, however, Harry's actions are deliberate, requiring advanced magic. I'm sure that this will be part of the Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort's fatal error as they will underestimate Harry's skills.

I have some thoughts on other minor characters, like Neville Longbottom, Kreatcher, Luna Lovegood, but won't go into them here. Already, this post is longer than my typical offering.

What are your thoughts on the finale?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Cocaine Prices Around the World

Cocaine Prices around the world

You just never know what bit of trivia you'll need for that next writing assignment.

via Kottke.org

Friday, July 13, 2007

Painting with the Kids

I like to paint with my kids. There's something great about making a picture of your house or family and sticking it on the fridge when you are done.

I have a few rules that must be followed or I'll take all of the painting gear.

  1. Painting is only done outside.
  2. Cleaning up is mandatory for all involved parties.
  3. You must mix your own colors.

To make that last rule a bit easier and more fun for all, I found an old cupcake pan at the local Salvation Army. It's not the sort that washes up easily any more for baked goods but makes great containers for mixing paint that won't tip easily.

At first my boys were annoyed that the green would run out and they'd need to make more. Inevitably it would be a slight different color. And they would moan and groan and ask me to help make it the same as before. Since I won't do it for them, we've learned how to adjust colors by adding a huge glob or just a few drops.

Instead of complaining, now they experiment with different shades of green or what happens when they don't mix it completely.

Painting is a favorite activity for all of us.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo by Obert Skye

Title: Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo

Author: Obert Skye

Genre: Fantasy, First in a Series

Summary: The world of dreams -- Foo -- is in danger of collapsing if Leven Thumps does not trust Fate and stay awake.

The Take-Away: Leven has some requisite fantasy elements, like the lack of parents and a heritage that is bigger than he is. However, great writing makes this story rise to the crop. The opening line is just a taste of what is in store: “It was at least forty degrees above warm.” I didn't want this book to end and was thrilled that the second in the series is already out.

Leven has several side kicks that made the book. First is Winter, another child with unfortunate and ambivalent parents. She has a special gift that will aid Leven in his quest. Next is Clover, a sycophant with an bottomless pocket. Geth is the final character, a Lithin that trusts Fate to bring the four of them together.

While the book resides in the YA section, it is charming, the same way that the first Harry Potter is charming. This is definitely a series to watch for.

Recommendation: Get it.

Bonus Review: Writer Unboxed

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I Wish He was Dead

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Everyone who suffered through childhood has probably thought the above sentiment, typically directing the murderous thoughts towards a sibling. On This American Life, with Ira Glass, listeners are given the choice.

Radio Lab, from New York Public Radio, poses two scenarios to their listeners, asking them to make a moral decision. Five workers are working on a railroad. A trolley is headed to them. You are unable to alert them, but can flip a lever that will re-direct the trolley to another line. Only one worker is on that line. Would you do it?

Take a minute and think how you would decide.

Next scenario -- same five workers, only this time you are standing on a foot bridge above the trolley. A very large man is next to you. If you push him in front of the trolley, it will save the workers. Would you push him?

Again, take a minute.

Did you save the workers in the first scenario, and the large man in the second? If so, you answered just as 9 out of ten people would answer. Yet, think of this, if you had pushed the large man, you would have saved the same number of people.

Disturbing, isn't it, that that majority of us could sacrifice the sole worker through a flip of a lever, but couldn't save the same four lives with a direct action.

The implications are vast. Government applications, thriller novels, rampaging psycho paths and good Samaritans are affected by this. The question is, where do they stand?

I might wish someone dead, but I couldn't directly kill them.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Graffiti Girl by Kelly Parra

Title: Graffiti Girl

Author: Kelly Parra

Publisher: MTV/Pocket Books

9781416534617, $9.95, May 2007, 256

Genre: YA Fiction

Summary: Angel Rodriguez wants to take her art further and the school's competition for painting a mural seems to be the place. Angel isn't selected as one of the three finalists, but finds herself torn between the good boy who was and the bad boy who should have been.

The Take-Away: I loved how Angel was positioned between the good kids and the bad kids. When Nathan Ramos -- the good guy -- and Miguel Badalin -- the bad boy -- both try to lure her into their own worlds of art, Angel has to make tough decisions about who she is and what she stands for. Her feelings of alienation from her mother and best friend force her to decide without guidance from those she cares about. Angel, inspite of her name, is one tough kid. Reading about her decision will captive the teen in us all.

One unique aspect of the title was the introductory lines to each chapter. Angel's intimate thoughts about her growing graffiti career give the reader insight to the slang used by graf artist as well as providing the reader with a sneak peek of what's to come in the chapter. They were probably my favorite part of the book.

Recommendation: Get this one for the teenage girl in your life.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Bookworm Report, June 2006

This has been a banner month for me, both in page count and number of books read.

Bookworm Review
Year Pages Books
2001 3,375 7
2002 1,975 5
2003 2,560 7
2004 2,608 6
2005 4,435 13
2006 3,386 7
2007 5904 16

  • The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
  • The Golem's Eye by Jonathan Stroud
  • Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud
  • The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon
  • For a Few Demons More by Kim Harrison
  • Open Season by C. J. Box
  • The Bitch Posse by Martha O'Connor
  • In a Country of Mothers by A. M. Homes
  • Hide by Lisa Garnder
  • Savage Run by C. J. Box
  • Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult
  • He Loves Me, He Loves Me Hot by Stephanie Rowe
  • Murder…Suicide…Whatever by Gwen Freeman
  • The Liar's Diary by Patry Francis
  • Grafitti Girl by Kelly Parra
  • Alone by Lisa Garnder

For the year, I've read 80 books, or 28,549 pages, which averages to 13 books a month, or 4,758 pages per month, and an average book length of 357 pages.

How is your summer going?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Fourth of July!

I'll be back on Monday. Enjoy the celebrations, fireworks and the irony of the amount of taxes you pay today compared to what the founding fathers fought against.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult

Title: Picture Perfect

Author: Jodi Picoult

Genre: Women's Fiction

Summary: A Hollywood marriage between movie star Alex Rivers and his anthropologist wife Cassie Barrett has a behind the scenes story that would shock Alex's fans.

The Take-Away: This book is incredibly fabulous. Picoult does a marvelous job of explaining how a woman could stay with a man that abuses, what he means to her, and what it took to get her to leave.

The book is broken into three parts. The first and third are told from third person point of view and with the input of the people who support Cassie. The middle section is told in first person, from Cassie. The switch in point of view makes the story very real.

As I read, I kept hoping that Cassie would leave her husband, but you never know what Picoult is really going to do. She's a writer who will take you on an emotional roller coaster. This book was no exception.

Recommendation: Check it out.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Fahrenheit 451 explained

LA Weekly got the scoop on the most mis-understood novel of the last century.

Bradbury still has a lot to say, especially about how people do not understand his most literary work, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953. It is widely taught in junior high and high schools and is for many students the first time they learn the names Aristotle, Dickens and Tolstoy.

Now, Bradbury has decided to make news about the writing of his iconographic work and what he really meant. Fahrenheit 451 is not, he says firmly, a story about government censorship. Nor was it a response to Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose investigations had already instilled fear and stifled the creativity of thousands.

Two thoughts come to mind about the mis-understanding, as it is labeled. First, I read this independent of any class or group. It took me a minute to catch-up to the fact that people did think it was about the government. My impression was closer to the explanation that Bradbury provides. However, I abhor most television and probably brought my own experience to the reading (thank goodness I didn't rely on experts in this case.)

Second, Rodney Dangerfield is in a movie where he goes back to college. The name escapes me (it's "Back to School" isn't it, o internet? That just seems too easy for my brain.) He pays Kurt Vonnegut to write a term paper for Rodney's character. Rodney gets a low grade and fires Vonnegut for not understanding himself.

Check out the article. It's pretty interesting.