Monthly Archives: December 2004

2005 Reading List

As a counterpart to the previous post, here’s a list of the books currently in my stack to be read.

Of course, this list is subject to modification, and in particular A Feast for Crows will jump to the front upon its release…

2004 Favorites

As promised, here are my favorite media items from 2004. This is hardly a fair competition, since my media selections over the year were relatively small in number. Most of the books I read were not 2004 releases, and are therefore excluded from this list; in a nod to objectivity, I am also removing from consideration James Hime’s excellent novel Scared Money. It’s unfortunate that I haven’t had a chance to play much of Half-Life 2 (as I have been away from my gaming computer during the vacation), and have only just started China Miéville’s Iron Council, as these would certainly be contenders.
With those caveats, here’s the list:
Books: The Confusion by Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson is at his best when the pace is fast and the action is chaotic, and so the middle volume of the Baroque Cycle is the most fun of the three. It also helped that the focus of the book was on Jack Shaftoe, my favorite character from Quicksilver. Jack’s pirate adventures (and a few memorable scenes involving his brother Bob) make it well worth suffering through digressions like Eliza explaining economics to French nobility. And while the ending may be abrupt, Stephenson wraps the series up nicely in The System of the World.
Music: Misery is a Butterfly by Blonde Redhead
The first song from this album that I heard was “Falling Man”, and it seemed to reach through my ears to strike my soul like a tuning fork, ringing a melancholy resonance. As the title suggests, misery is a central theme in the album; when I’m feeling sad I can lose myself for a while in this music. Blonde Redhead has a rich and baroque sound here that is very different from their previous work; this is apparently a result of switching labels to 4AD.
Movies: Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
I was expecting another Dude, Where’s My Car?, but it turned out to be much funnier and smarter. Sure, it’s a stoner movie, but it’s also about individuality and race, and the American dream. And it’s hilarious.
Games: Ninja Gaiden
This game is infamous for its difficulty, but it isn’t the annoyingly cheap difficulty of its NES predecessors or the level-memorization that a game like Contra requires; it’s more like a demanding teacher whose challenges, once overcome, are in hindsight highly effective lessons. Thus, I could expect to die a few times on any given boss, but after these defeats I would come back with a more graceful and polished technique, and emerge victorious. Even the minor battles look cinematic, and there’s a special thrill to executing a combo that defeats four or five opponents. This was an almost perfectly balanced game with exceptionally smooth controls, and I enjoyed every minute. (But I’m still scared to play on Hard Mode.)
Discoveries: The above picks are chosen from 2004 releases, but I wanted to mention some older items that I only just discovered this year.
Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan (2003)
Cyberpunk noir detective novel with a brilliant premise and an appealing anti-hero. You know all this, because I’ve been raving about this book all year.
Angel (1999-2004)
After finally getting into Buffy the Vampire Slayer last year, I was skeptical about its spinoff; I had become thoroughly sick of the tortured, brooding dork by the end of Buffy’s season 3 and wasn’t particularly interested in seeing more of him. But in Angel Joss Whedon revitalizes the character with sharp writing and the right amount of self-mockery, and rounds it out with a terrific supporting cast. I’m eagerly anticipating the last DVD set (early in 2005) and lamenting the show’s cancellation.
Danse Macabre by The Faint (2001)
The name says it all: dark and energetic new wave music. When work gets too frustrating, I put this on the playlist.
Perdido Street Station by China Miéville (2001)
Another one I’ve been raving about for a while. It’s a horror novel disguised as fantasy disguised as steampunk. All genre cliches are either tossed out entirely or subtly parodied, and Miéville replaces them with a rich and imaginative world, and some very scary and bizarre monsters. This book infected my dreams; read it. (The Scar is equally good.)

Site Outage

The management apologizes for today’s server outage; this was a result of a scheduled power shutdown in the building which we had completely forgotten about. Everything is should be back to normal.

Picks of the Webcartoonists

John Allison of Scary Go Round is having the characters in his strip review his top 20 albums of the year at the rate of 4 per day. So far I own 75% of the picks…
Meanwhile, the Questionable Content guy has his own top 10 list up, of which I own 0% but have heard a few. I just can’t get into Modest Mouse. But The Futureheads and Arcade Fire both sound interesting.
Penny Arcade is doing their top 10 video games; I am 0 for 3 on the first set, having resolved not to pursue another Nippon Ichi game until I finish Disgaea.
I was thinking of posting a few picks myself; probably just the top one or two in a few different media categories. Stay tuned…

Friday Humanblogging: White Christmas

Tonight we have captured a true rarity: snow in Houston! Here’s my father investigating this meteorological anomaly:

My last memory of snowfall in Houston is from (I think) January 1984; I’m sure it has snowed at least once in the intervening years but I would have been elsewhere at the time.

Learning Curve

I am learning how to drive a manual transmission. Like most skills requiring physical coordination, this is not easy for me. At least this is a task for which both positive and negative feedback are strong and instantaneous…

Friday Dogblogging!

It’s once again time for vacation filler. My short-lived catblogging run was ended when the subject stopped visiting my back door. However, while at home I have access to another photogenic animal: Merlin, the family dog.

That laser-like gaze is focused on my brother’s tuna sandwich.

Escape [Open Thread]

With the lack of blogging around here, it’s like I started my vacation early! Actually it’s due to spending more time doing actual work. Soon I’ll be able to leave the lab for a while, though. Here’s my itinerary by destination:
16 Dec: Houston, TX
25 Dec: Austin, TX
26 Dec: Houston, TX
29 Dec: New Canaan, CT
3 Jan: Berkeley, CA
I’ll need to make more effort than usual to keep posting during this period so you all don’t wander off. Or recruit guest bloggers (volunteers?).
Last week’s quote (Not a word of this to anyone else, o shrouded one…) was spoken by Locke in the classic SNES RPG Final Fantasy VI. I’m feeling uninspired with the quotes lately; the new one is difficulty: Easy; 1 point.
In other news, I have now seen all 144 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.