Superfluous Matter
Books - Who Do You Think You Are?, by Alice Munro

This was another great set of stories from Canada's master, Alice Munro. Unlike her other collections I've read so far, each story in this book focuses on the same small set of characters. The stories can stand alone, but together they paint a picture of the life of a woman attempting to leave behind small town Ontario for bigger and better things on the west coast and in Toronto. The theme is in the title, as the main character Rose continues to think about herself in relation to her home town, wondering how people there might judge her for her actions and lifestyle. Fantastic stuff.

Books - Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh

Even if you haven't read any posts from the blog Hyperbole and a Half there's still a good chance you've seen a bit of Allie Brosh's work. The "all the things" meme inspired by this image:

(image credit: Allie Brosh)
(image credit: Allie Brosh)

came from her post This is Why I'll Never be an Adult. That post is as good an introduction to her work as any.

Much like the What If? book, Brosh has collected many old posts and combined them with new content to make a spiffy little book full of awesome. Again, like with What If?, if you've read the blog then there isn't necessarily enough extra in the book to warrant the purchase beyond perhaps a desire to bestow monetary recompense on a source of previously free joy. And that's a totally valid thing to do. Me, I picked up the book used for $5 as part of a charity sale so I guess I'm at least helping sales in the less quantifiable but still important secondary market. And also, charity! I'm not a monster.

Either via the book or the blog I do recommend reading her work. It's frequently silly and hilarious which makes the random moments of poignancy all the more powerful. Her two posts on depression (#1, #2) are maybe not the best places to start reading the blog, but combined form a pretty amazing look into a chronically misunderstood condition. Also the blog/book has lots of dog stories if you're into that sort of thing.

Books - The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

I've been on a pretty good reading streak lately (comes from reading shorter, easier books). This one from Mr. Rothfuss is a novella that brings some depth and backstory to the character Auri from his "Kingkiller Chronicle" series.

The author bookends the tale with an apologetic foreword and afterword. He feels it isn't a "real" story and that he commits all sorts of grievous sins against the craft of writing. He gathered lots of feedback before publishing and in the afterword he paraphrased the most common statement from his beta testers: "I don't know what other people will think. They probably won't like it. But I really enjoyed it."

I feel the same way. It's definitely an unusual story. Also in the afterword Rothfuss recounts a meeting he had with Vi Hart about the novella and she says, "I felt more of an emotional connection to the inanimate objects in this story than I usually feel toward entire characters in other's a good story." This is so incredibly apt. I loved every minute of reading this book and I wish it lasted longer.

If you've read "The Name of the Wind" and "The Wise Man's Fear" then you'll know Auri and know that she deserves the special treatment she gets in "The Slow Regard of Silent Things." If you haven't read those books, go read them now, and then please kindly refrain from directing anger in my direction about the fact that the series is currently incomplete (I think half a dozen people harbour some degree of irritation at me for introducing them to the series in its unfinished state).

Books - Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

"Ready Player One" is an intensely nerdy, dystopian, cyberpunk-ish novel full of references to popular culture, particularly from the 80s. So it's a ton of fun if you fit the demographic. I am definitely near the centre of that demographic and so, unsurprisingly, I stayed up rather late one night this week to read the whole book in one sitting.

I'm not sure if the book is "good" in the literary sense but I loved it, and the premise is to some degree plausible. The world in the book is almost completely broken, but there is a fully immersive MMORPG called the OASIS which much of the world plays (free-to-play, monetized with in-game purchases). The game is accessed with a virtual reality headset and haptic gloves. Such technology already exists and many companies (including my own) are rushing to be the first to create a successful product around these next generation interfaces. People in the book use the game for education, business and communication, not just entertainment. This already happens on a smaller scale in traditional MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. It is easy to imagine something like the OASIS coming into existence in my lifetime.

The book reads like a movie, so it's no surprise that Warner Brothers snapped up the film rights immediately. In March 2015 it was announced that Stephen Spielberg has been tapped to direct. It should be a good show!

Books - Wool, by Hugh Howey

While visiting Chaucer's bookstore in Santa Barbara last month it was recommended to me that I read Hugh Howey's "Silo" series. I picked up the "Wool" omnibus (containing the first five of nine books) right there. Chaucer's is a lovely bookstore, by the way.

Hugh Howey self-published the first few parts of the Silo series and the success he achieved with that strategy eventually led to print deals with a major publisher and the sale of film rights. He has maintained e-book rights for himself, accepting less money in his various deals to do so.

The book itself is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the surface of the earth is toxic and the remaining humans live in a "silo" that extends more than 140 stories under ground. Howey slowly introduces you to a surprisingly well-developed and complicated culture/social structure. The book isn't high literature or anything, but it's a lot deeper than it seems at first glance. It's also a lot of fun. I'm excited to read the rest of the series.

Books - Runaway, by Alice Munro

I continue to fail to prioritize regular reading in my life, but because I'm reading short story collections I am not penalized when I ignore my current book for weeks at a time.

Runaway is one of Munro's more recent collections (2004) and it won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. I think this may be my favourite collection so far. As always it's hard for me to separate the quality of her work from the warm fuzzies I get due to the familiarity of the settings, but I'm pretty sure this collection is another unequivocal win.

Central America Trip

After a number of social-life related delays I managed to push through this morning and finish up my trip blog for my recent adventure in Central America. I had a great time visiting Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras and Rob and Janet's amazing wedding in Roatán was a perfect way to complete the trip.

Books - What If? by Randall Munroe

Anyone who reads the web comic xkcd is probably aware that author Randall Munroe also has a site called what if? There he uses his background in physics and math (he worked at NASA in robotics for a while) to try to provide "serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions." He is pretty successful while also being hilarious (so many questions result in the complete destruction of earth). Last year he published a book compiling many of the articles from the site along with new exclusive content.

If you like the site then you'll like the book. I liked both quite a bit. I'm not sure if it's worth buying or not, but it is a good way to support the mountain of amazing free content Randall Munroe delivers weekly across his two sites.

More Awesome Times

I've been doing all the things lately and thought I'd like to write a few of them down for posterity while I wait until it's time to leave for the airport to do my next awesome thing.

I've been on three weekend snowboarding trips: Tahoe (Northstar+Kirkwood with Trevis), Seattle (Stevens Pass+Crystal Mountain with Trevis), and Salt Lake City (Snowbird with Alex). Despite sub-optimal conditions due to horrific drought on the west coast I had a blast on all three trips. Salt Lake City was the winner though for it's amazing snow and wonderfully run resorts. There was public transit to the mountains and I could pay with my iPhone using Apple Pay! I will definitely go back to Utah.

I went to several events with Keizo for SF Beer Week including the opening gala at Fort Mason. My favourite beer was from Speakeasy: a crazy blend of barrel-aged wonderfulness called "Joe's Ale of Strength."

I went with Mike to see "Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play" at the A.C.T.'s Geary Theatre. It was ostensibly about apocalypse survivors attempting to entertain each other by trying to recreate old episodes of The Simpsons. In actuality it ended up being a really cool commentary and exploration of how legend and myth can be born. Really surprisingly deep stuff and excellently staged.

Also with Mike I went to a fairly exclusive whisky pairing dinner hosted by the Dr. Bill Lumsden, master distiller for the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg distilleries. There were about 30 people total in attendance and Dr. Bill spent some time addressing the group and some time chatting with people individually. Along with Bruichladdich, Glenmorangie and Ardbeg are my favourite distilleries so this event was just amazing. The food was prepared by the Farallon Restaurant's chef Mark Franz and expertly paired with six different whiskies from the two distilleries. Mind-blowing.

Tonight, with Mike and two of our co-workers, I attended an interview of Neil Gaiman by Michael Chabon. Neil Gaiman is easily one of my favourite authors (hello, Sandman) and Michael Chabon is great too. He read from his new book "Trigger Warning" and I was able to pick up a signed copy before the talk. Sadly, fellow amazing author and Neil Gaiman's close friend Terry Pratchett passed away this morning. Neil spent a bunch of time reminiscing and telling awesome stories about that clever man's life. It was sad, but also very interesting and cool. He also read a bit of Good Omens, a book they co-authored.

In a few minutes I'm headed to the airport to catch a flight to Guatemala to begin a 1.5 week adventure in Central America finishing with three days in Roatán to attend and celebrate Rob and Janet's wedding! Woo!

All the things!

Books - Scott Pilgrim (Vols. 1-6), by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott Pilgrim (books and/or movie) is a giant love-letter to Toronto and anyone who grew up in middle-class North America in the 80s/90s. It's completely ridiculous that the movie even was made, much less widely distributed. I love them both and if video games or music or Toronto or being awesome sound good then you'll like them too.

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