Wednesday, February 27, 2008

LibraryThing and Book Reviews

Jeff Winkler noticed that I like books and like talking about them and pointed me at LibraryThing. It's a website that effectively functions like a giant book club, allowing you to see who else has and likes the same books as you and what they'd recommend. I decided to set up my account and put a few of my books in my catalog. I plan to review books here and link to my reviews from LibraryThing - I've seen others doing the same thing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Book: Free Agent Nation

I just started reading Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working For Yourself. So far, I like it quite a bit. The number of people working independently in the US (30 million or more as measured by several organizations) is staggering. I'll add more about the book as I make progress through it.

Sizer - nice little window sizing tool

I was just looking at the blog of Jeff Winkler, another member of the Boston Java Meetup and saw his entry, "Fix Offscreen Windows Easily with Sizer". Using a screencast, he describes a cool little app called Sizer, which allows you to set the exact size of an application window on a Windows machine (looks like it doesn't support Vista yet), but also helps you make lost/off-screen windows visible again. It comes with three preset window sizes (640x480, 800x600, and 1024x768), but you can easily add your own by right-clicking on Sizer's System Tray icon and choosing "Configure Sizer...". I've added a few which subtract the approximate height of the taskbar (30 pixels on my machine) so that I can see what an app would look like at other standard monitor sizes. I like my widescreen monitor, but I know not everyone has one. I hope you find it useful.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Battlestar Galactica - the new series

Quite a while ago, maybe as much as a whole year back, friends of ours recommended the new Battlestar Galactica series to me and my wife. They knew from past discussions of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that we were really into what you might call "serious Sci-Fi", science fiction with interesting and complex stories. We like beautiful visuals and impressive explosions, but what we're really looking for are good, inventive stories. With Deep Space Nine, we really love the way it brought together politics, religion, ethics, and science and how those forces can complement and compete with each other. The Mars Trilogy novels by Kim Stanley Robinson (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars) about humanity colonizing Mars painted a similarly complex picture of how future society might function. I was somewhat hesitant to watch the new Battlestar Galactica series because I still remember the original one from the Seventies, which I watched as a little kid. Even then, I think part of me recognized how dumb it was.

So, with all that as a backdrop, we finally decided we should watch it. But, before we started with the new series, Beth and I discovered that the original series was available on the Netflix Watch Instantly streaming video service and we thought we'd sample it for some perspective. As I expected, it was painfully stupid: poorly written, poorly directed, poorly acted, and at the same time very sexist and dated. That was a bit discouraging, but we pressed on and got the first DVD from the new series this week. It was actually the pilot mini-series, which was definitely the right one to start with. We watched the whole three hours on Friday night and were blown away. It was incredible! It's based on the same root story as the original series, but the character of it is so different. It's much darker and the people feel so much more real. I'm so glad they cast Edward James Olmos as the battle-weary Commander Adama (I remember first encountering him when he played Lieutenant Castillo in Miami Vice). What a great choice! I don't want to ruin any surprises for new viewers, so I'll just say that the new series seems very engaging and does a good job of combining the same sort of story elements that I described above for Deep Space Nine and the Mars Trilogy. If you like either of those, I'd highly recommend the new Battlestar Galactica to you. Probably my only complaint is that there's one female character who's rather over-sexified. If you can forgive that, I'm pretty sure you'll like it.

So, next in line for us is the first season! I'll keep you posted.