Distractions, Diversions, Books, Wines, Whiskeys and Other Stuff To Think About When You Should Be Doing Something Else.

diversions distractions and digressions

Diversion and Distraction of the Ingress Kind: Tactical Portal Defense / Portal Control

 

Time for another Ingress post, maybe a book post later too.

 

This post is on the topic of portal defense / portal control in Ingress. I am talking specifically about purely tactical, within action range, portal defense / control. I happen to work right next door to a portal (OK, considering how much time I spend at work I practically live within range of the thing), and since I’ve been playing it has more or less been mine. This is not to say that the silly Frogs haven’t tried to take it away from me on occasion and that is what this post is about. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at tactical portal defense / control.

Caveat #1: I am perfectly aware that portal defense / control of this kind, however it is done, is in the end something of a waste of resources, but because of my dedication to the logistics of the game I am well prepared to expend the resources in order to achieve the psychological advantage of this sort of confrontation. If you aren’t loaded to the inventory cap with a full range of resonators, portal shields, power cubes and high level XMP bursters, this is not for you.

Ok, a little background on the situation. I live in a medium sized city and while there are active Ingress players there aren’t enough of us, green or blue, to trip over each other (the iPhone release of Ingress may change that, too early to tell). We, more or less, know who each other are and the areas we tend to play in. I specifically have two greens whose preferred play area overlaps with mine at my work portal. We are all at this point Level 8, though they started about a month after I did so until recently I was a level ahead of them and had a very slight power advantage. Their advantage is that they always play together (though their speed is pretty lacking in my opinion). My city is also situated so that out-of-town players come here to power level so I’ll get the occasional green dropping by to knock on my proverbial door. My work portal makes an inviting target for them as it is usually an anchor for multiple links and fields. Until I fight back, that is.

Tactical portal defense / control ultimately depends upon how fast you get the notification that your portal is under attack and how fast you can pull up your scanner. You first need to assess the situation. If you still have resonators on the portal you are in luck. Your first job is to make sure your portal is fully resonated with the highest level resonators you can place. Don’t start throwing low level resonators on the portal (more on that later). Once that is done turn your attention to the portal mods. Shields are the key. They are expensive in logistical terms but even a common shield will keep your resonator placements coming faster than your opponent can kill them, just make sure you keep at least one shield on at all times. Considering the cost, common shields are your best bet and two is better than one thanks to Ultra Strikes. A common shield and a force amp or turret is nice, but if you lose the shield you will lose resonators faster than you can replace them. With the shield, even in a 2 on 1 engagement (which I’ve had more than a couple of times) you can keep ahead.

At this point you have an XM advantage. Attacks from your portal are affecting your attacker and sucking away their XM. You only have this advantage because, you will notice, you haven’t tried to recharge a resonator, merely replaced them. I think recharging is a mistake for two reasons. First, it sucks away your XM. Second, your opponent is probably going to be able to reduce your resonators faster than you can charge them and speed is key in defense / control. It costs far less to place a new resonator, in XM terms, than to charge one, especially a high level resonator. If you can determine where your opponent is attacking from you should, of course, place your highest level resonators at the farthest point from them. More on physical position later.

Caveat #2: Whatever the level of your portal when you start out at the end of the contest, should you prevail, your portal will likely be reduced to the highest level portal you can field by yourself. Your fields will probably be gone. Your links will probably drop. Any that you manage to keep are bonuses in your favor, but assume they are gone, don’t chase keeping them. That is why this is portal defense / control.

So what happens if you get the notification and your portal is already gone. Hopefully it hasn’t yet been fully resonated because you need to stop it before it does. Why? Because you need to be killing resonators before your opponent deploys a shield. You have lost the defense fight already, but you may still control the portal. You are essentially now playing the other side of the previous engagement but you have the advantage of surprise and preparation. To put things in Boydian terms, you have an OODA advantage.

Caveat #3: There is a delay in your scanner between what your opponent does and what you are doing. If you are on the resonator placement side of the engagement your resonators will dissappear suddenly when, to your scanner, they look to be at full power. You have to keep in mind how many of what level resonators are deployed and switch very quickly between them. Again speed is key. On the attacking side your scanner may show few to no enemy resonators. They are probably there, you just can’t see them yet. You can recon by fire, do it, assume there are resonators and act accordingly.

So the idea on the attacking side of portal defense / control is to, obviously knock down the resonators to keep the portal from being fully resonated. Note that it isn’t as to kill resonators as fast as they appear. It is a delicate tightrope to walk, but even with logistical superiority you need to be hitting more than one resonator with each XMP. I would recommend using Level 7 bursters if 8s are harder to come by in your area, but if you have a pocket full of 8s go right ahead and use them. Usually in my battles so far the resonator destroyed notifications come in groups of 2-4 and that’s about right I think. It is tempting to try and jump back to the resonator placement side of the battle, but be careful. Because of the delay in your scanner you may waste valuable, irreplaceable, time trying to slip a resonator on the portal while your opponent (who is already placing resonators) blocks you with their own and potentially fully resonates and shields while you are poking at your phone trying to get back into attack mode. My thinking is that once they give up and go away you can resonate all you want. Keep up the pressure. In a 2 on 1 engagement, if your opponents aren’t communicating (and I don’t think mine do very well) they may be trying to place resonators over top of each other, all to your advantage.

Note: A common mistake that many players will make is that they start using lower level resonators because they feel like they are wasting their higher level gear. They are probably logistically insecure, and it is also easier to just keep throwing out Level 1 and 2 resonators than switching back and forth and keeping track of how many higher level resonators they are using. It just means they are easier to kill, so keep at them. You might be able to downgrade to Level 6 bursters though and still keep up the same pressure. It depends on how fast they are.

Position: Because of where I usually am in relation to the portal and where my opponents have typically positioned themselves (Usually in the parking lot of the building next door, sometimes positioned almost on the portal in order to use their Ultra Strikes) I have had the outer position. With Level 7+ XMP bursters and the ability to deploy resonators at greatest distance from the portal itself. The further they are from the portal, the more likely you are to need higher level bursters on the attack side of the engagement. I also have the possible advantage of playing from wi-fi though I think it is pretty negligible. Many times if you take a physical position where you can wave politely at them and give them a big shit-eating grin they will give up and go away. It also keeps them from thinking you are a spoofer which is good. I don’t do it unless I don’t know the attacker.

 

So that is my take on tactical portal defense / control. The goal is to keep the portal tuned to your faction, and more importantly hand your opponent a psychological (strategic) defeat. They might decide to leave you alone, or they might decide to come back when they know you aren’t there and take your portal anyway (Big deal, you still beat them, they know it, and you can take your portal back at your leisure. No portal is safe in this game and you get game points for taking it back). The point is to not make it easy for them and to make them expend resources they can’t afford to waste. Good luck and happy Ingressing.

Advertisement

Classic Sci-fi / Fantasy Distraction

image

When you come in to work and find boxes full if classic Sci-fi and Fantasy paperbacks sitting out, (Chalker, Hambly, LeGuin, Asimov, Harrison, Heinlein, Card, among others) don’t be surprised when the store almost doesn’t open on time.

Just sayin.


Diversion and Distraction of the Amusing Kind: The Killing and Firefly

I was watching the first episode of the new season of The Killing on AMC. We meet Detective Holder’s girlfriend played by Jewel Staite (who played Kaylee on Firefly) who reveals Holder’s “Serenity” tattoo.

I had to pause my DVR. That’s just about as funny as Richard Castle (played by Nathan Fillion) dressing up as Mal for Halloween.

By the way, though the first two seasons of The Killing seemed to drag on interminably, the third season starts a whole new case and it is looking incredibly interesting based off just the first two episodes.


The 2012 / 2013 Jericho Award

Jericho AwardFor those of you who aren’t familiar with the Jericho Award, that honor is bestowed, by me, upon the best new show of the season (starting in the summer and ending with the close of the spring finales) that was cancelled. Granted, it is kind of an ignominious award to win but, it is also intended to point out injustices and frustrations with “The Powers That Be” who decided what shows live and die even apart from their respective, and sometimes rabid if small, fan bases.

This year I even kept track of all of the new shows I started watching to make my selection process even easier! In no particular order:

Defiance on Syfy

I don’t play the game so I’m not exactly sure how it ties in but the show has… potential. I kind of like it because everything isn’t explained right away, avoiding hours of exposition for the sake of explanation. I also dislike it because we, the audience, need some exposition from time to time to figure things out. A note to the writers: a lot can be learned just by showing the audience a map, no dialog needed.

The Following on FOX

The only problem I have with this show is suspension of disbelief, otherwise it had some pretty good entertainment value. If think were it lost me most was watching Kevin Bacon personally end a cult member or two in virtually every single episode. Actually I think he did shoot somebody in every single episode.

Ripper Street on BBC America

Why did I start watching this one? I have no idea except to explain it as the curse of the DVR. So many shows, so much memory. I actually kinda liked it. I’m pretty sure it is a cleaned-up depiction of Whitechapel in that era, but the acting is good and the writing doesn’t assume the audience is stupid. Check it out on DVD if you run across it.

Revolution on NBC

You know what? I don’t like this show and yet I continue to watch it out of sheer stubborness. I haven’t even watched all the episodes and I’m pretty sure I know how the season will end (the last episode is either on my DVR or will be soon). I so wish it had hewn closer to S. M. Stiriling’s “Dies the Fire” type of world, but it didn’t, it has guns. I’ve got news, guns pretty much killed any reason to carry a sword that you actually fight with. Aside from that, the plot is so convoluted and contrived in order to put a dozen people at the heart of every single major event before and after the power went out it blows my mind. Seriously, aside from these dozen people nothing else has or will happen in this world. Everybody is just waiting for them to get near so they can actually do something.

Elementary on CBS

Far and away my favorite new show of the season. I wasn’t sold on Watson being a woman at first but I really like the juxtaposition. The writing is smart. The acting is great. Above all Holmes isn’t single-handedly solving every crime for the NYPD. My only complaint is that Moriarty was introduced way too early in the series. I could happily have watched whole seasons without bringing in the arch-nemesis. Make him go away for a few years then bring him back when you know you only have a few seasons left.

Copper on BBC America

A gritty and brutal period show. The crimes and mysteries and situation seem believable and the acting and writing is very well done. Another show to watch on DVD.

Arrow on CW

Another show I liked quite a bit. Granted, it is on the CW so there is a fair amount of “pretty people doing pretty things” but the action is good and you need a little bit of brain-candy every now and again. It also did a really good job of working in the back-story all through the season instead of dumping it in all at the beginning. Some of the acting is good, some is pretty rotten but hey, how many other live-action super hero shows have made it on TV without being really weak in writing and acting or just  too campy. I think Arrow will avoid both of those things.

Continuum on SyFy

I started out not liking this show, probably because the main character relied very heavily on her future tech at the beginning. As episodes went on it gradually was whittled away from her and the show got better. You get to see her actually being a policewoman and a detective. Great job writers! (Everybody else take notes, Bond has toys because he is Bond and he is awesome. Your characters need to be characters first and use gadgets second). I like where this show is going. Lots of potential.

Perception on TNT

Sherlock Holmes meets A Beautiful Mind. Yeah, I can watch that. The imaginary people seen by the main character are more interesting than most of the other characters on the show but I’ll take what I can get.

Longmire on A&E

My second favorite show of the season. The acting is super. The writing is spare and elegant (Walt Longmire is a man of deep introspection and few words).  This is the kind of show where something happens and it seems at first to be straightforward, but Walt gets those narrowed (or more narrowed) eyes and you know there is something else afoot and the next hour of TV is going to be interesting to watch.

Hannibal on NBC

This show has grown on me. I started off not liking it simply because of Lecter’s terrible accent. I still don’t like that accent. It is Scandinavian meets Scottish and somebody is making him hold a marble under his tongue. Otherwise, since they are going to be using many elements from the books it looks like something that will get better. I hope so.

Last Resort on ABC

This was a terrible, terrible show and I’m glad it was canceled without finishing. Not even the phenomenal actors and great locations it had available could rescue the ridiculous premise or the horrific writing. Seriously, if all you see is Andre Braugher’s speech in the first episode you have seen the best this show has to offer. Everything else is downhill from there.

Robot Combat League on SyFy

I don’t even know if this is a show that will come back but I really liked it. Actually I liked parts of it. I really liked the fighting parts. I couldn’t have cared less about the reality-show parts of it. I hope that this season will serve as a proof of concept and next season, or even a new show, will feature robots that follow game rules but are designed and built by the teams themselves (A whole other show I would watch). Even if the network bankrolls the production costs I want to see teams that are invested personally through blood and sweat in their bots and who will innovate nifty ways of beating the hell out of each other for my personal amusement.

So, who wins the Jericho Award for 2012/2013?

Nobody!

Only one of these shows was cancelled and that was Last Resort and I refuse to give an award of any kind to that show. Really this is congratulations to all the other shows I listed here. I enjoyed watching your first seasons and you remain programmed into my DVR for this coming season. Hopefully your freshman compatriots of 2013/2014 will be able to follow in your footsteps and get picked up for a season 2.


The 2011-2012 Jericho Award

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Jericho Award, that honor is bestowed, by me, upon the best new show of the season (starting in the summer and ending with the close of the spring finales) that was cancelled. Not very prestigious I’ll admit, but since it is awarded to the show that I like the most, I would like to think that it serves to point out an injustice or two.

This season has a few shows to nominate. I didn’t really like all of them all that well, but I did watch all of their episodes. There are other shows that failed after their first season, but for one reason or another, I didn’t watch them. You may think they are much better but if I don’t watch them they don’t get nominations.

And The Nominees Are:

The River

For all of the times that I rolled my eyes at the rampant stupidity of the people on the Magus the show really hooked me with the first episode and finished just as strong. Granted, in between there were a lot of moments where it was kind of painful. I think the weakest point was with writing that had to be, well, convoluted in order to get the group to go in a certain direction or down a particular path. On the whole I didn’t think the show had more than a season in it based on its premise but after the finale I could see potential. I also liked how it ended with a soft cliffhanger. Maybe it will get picked up by TNT or Syfy, but I doubt it. Too expensive. Not enough cult following.

Alcatraz

In spite of never being a Lost fan (I only watched the first season and that on DVD) I really enjoyed this show. The back and forth between the two timelines to tell the story and bit-by-bit reveal new aspects to the mystery worked for me. If anything I think the end of the first season was too ambitious and may have killed its chances of getting picked up by a cable network like Syfy, though it would still suffer from fewer problems than some other shows. I really though FOX would have brought this one back. Oh well.

The Finder

Ok, I don’t watch Bones so I don’t really understand the tie-in beyond being in the same narrative universe, but I am a sucker for quirky detective stories. This one was about as quirky as it gets. To tell the truth, I was a big fan of Walter logic and the ensemble cast really worked and was interesting. Each of the characters seemed to really effortlessly bring their particular skill-set to the table, though Walter was the one to tie them all together. If there are any of the nominated shows that I think should be picked up on cable it is this one. Personally, I think it is a natural fit for USA or A&E. Both of those networks already have quirky detective shows in Psych and The Glades (respectively) but I don’t think another would hurt either of them and may actually help to pull audience from one to the other.

Terra Nova

Ok, to be honest I didn’t like this show, but since I did watch all of the episodes I decided to include it with this season’s nominees. Honestly, the premise was weak. The plot was contrived. The special effects were gratuitous. The writing was tortuous. The acting was weak (I know, I already said weak but it fits here too). I am appalled that this is the show that is getting the most traction for a bid to go to cable. Seriously? I know Terra Nova had fans, but I just don’t understand what people see in this show.

And The Winner Is…:

Well, I am really tempted to declare a tie, but I think the show that I am going to miss the most is The Finder (whose potential Jericho-mate is Alcatraz). Both of these shows were solid all the way through and seeing as how they were on the same network, and that House is coming to an end, I don’t see why FOX would want to discard both of them while keeping the terminally stupid Touch. I could only stand two episodes of that piece of garbage.

Like I said, winning the Jericho Award is kind of ignominous. The reall winners this year are the shows that I watched that did get picked up for another season and that deserve a look from those of you who missed them. Here they are in no particular order (probably missing a few too):

  • Person of Interest
  • Hell on Wheels
  • Alphas
  • Grimm
  • Homeland

The State of Distraction: February 1, 2012

I’m going to try something new. Maybe it will start a conversation. Maybe it will only happen once. Maybe it will alleviate some boredom…

The purpose of The State of Distraction is to throw out some things that may be of interest that may not get their own posts or that I may not get around to posting about.

We will see how it goes.

Books:

I just got done with Ghost in the Wires the autobiography / memoir of Kevin Mitnick. I liked it as much as The Art of Deception and The Art of Intrusion (both are must-reads on the 5GW bookshelf). I might get around to doing a more complete post about this one but in short I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in security or cyber-security.

I’m currently reading Storm Front by Jim Butcher. I’ve heard a lot about how good The Dresden Files are but never picked up the novels. So far I am enjoying it quite a bit and I will probably end up reading the series, though I probably won’t post reviews about them. Storm Front came out in 2000 after all so there isn’t much new there to talk about. My local library seems to have all of the books available and I already have Fool Moon waiting on deck. I might have to make it a point to go back and read up on series that I didn’t read because they were already a couple of books in before I noticed them. Suggestions would be great.

Wines:

Of the wines I’ve been sampling lately a couple have stood out from the rest. One is the S.I.P. certified (a classification that goes beyond the organic tag) 2009 Carmel Road Pinot Noir from Monterey California. It has a nice, rich cherry / plum flavor and a beautiful black tea-like character. It also has very nice structure and balance and is worth looking for.

Another winner is a Spanish Rioja, the 2005 Marques de Murrieta Reserva. This is a wine at its peak right now showing a wonderful glowing garnet (going brickish) color, and a nice fruit / earth / wood balance with a delicious finish.

Whiskey:

Most recently I’ve been drinking (rī)¹ and it is delicious. I have lately been kind of developing a taste for high-rye bourbon and straight rye whiskey. I guess something about that extra spicy character and extra touch of heat appeals to my palate. This one is exceptionally complex with layers of nuanced flavor. My preferred way to enjoy this one is in a Glencairn glass with no ice.

Other Diversions:

Who couldn’t be diverted by the Presidential primaries right now. It looks like it is coming down to Mit and Newt (though Mit has the upper hand I would say). As an independent moderate (if I can be called anything except cynical) I really should like Mit, but he seems like a weaksauce politician to me who will do anything to get a vote. Newt appeals to me (I hate to admit) because he seems more like a political animal rather than a politician. I acknowledge his strategic ability but I have doubts about his ability to lead. I guess if you show me a real leader with the ability to deliberately improve the position domestic and international position of my country beyond the next election’s time frame, then I’ll vote for that candidate. It’s pretty much that simple for me, I just don’t see that guy on the ticket.


The 2011 Christmas Card Game

Christmas Cards, Holidays Cards, Season’s Greetings, whatever it is you want to call them, this is the time of year when we keep the U.S. Postal Service solvent by sending out copious amounts of mail, mostly out of a sense of guilt and obligation. In fact, most people wish this lame holiday tradition would come to an end.

On the other hand, there is opportunity for fun and bragging rights. This is your chance! Play the 2011 Christmas Card Game with your family and friends.

Rules:

Some point awards are positive (+), some are negative (-).

There are 12 positive and 12 negative awards.

Each card is individually scored by tallying the positive points and subtracting the negative points.

Awards are changed each year in order to prevent gaming of the system.

Positive Awards:

+2 points for each card received.

+1 point for a hand-written address.

+1 point for a hand-written return address.

+1 point for a family photo.

+2 point for a photo including a crying child.

+3 points if an alcoholic beverage appears anywhere on the card.

+1 point for a Christmas stamp.

+3 points for a Hanukkah or Kwanza stamp on a Christmas card.

+5 points for a hand-made (by the person sending the card) card.

+1 point if the card includes or features a child’s drawing.

+2 points for a first-time card from somebody you have known for 10+ years.

+2 for a personal hand-written message, of more than two sentences, inside the card.

Negative Awards:

-1 point for receiving a card you didn’t reciprocate.

-2 points if your name is misspelled or your address is incorrect, anywhere on the card or envelope.

-1 point for computer generated, stamped, or printed signatures.

-5 points if there is no handwriting anywhere on the card or envelope.

-2 points if a featured drawing is from a child over the age of 10 and under the age of 18.

-3 points if the card is accompanied by a fruitcake, fruit basket, or really, any kind of fruit.

-5 points if the cards contains a photograph where everyone is wearing the same sweater.

-1 point for a non-holiday stamp.

-2 points if the card includes an original poem by the sender.

-1 point if the card signature includes pets.

-3 points if the card signature includes more than two pets.

-2 points if the card rains glitter when taking it out of the envelope.

There you have it. Happy Holidays and happy card-sending!


So what the heck happened to Red Herrings?

I finally can’t take it any more. I know that picture of the guy in the grape costume is funny and all but I’m tired of looking at it and I guess I should get back to blogging and make it go away.

So what happened?

Well, I took the summer off to enjoy “The Summer of the Re-Read 2011”. The latest books in several series that I have been following for years (including George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons) dropped over the summer and I decided to take a break from blogging in order to go back and re-read those series from the beginning. The idea was to get more free time in order to more quickly burn through those books…

And then there was Civ World…

.

Civ World

As diversions, distractions and things to think about when you should be doing something else go (in other words a true Red Herring), the game / insanity known as Civ World reigns (or at least reigned) supreme. For those of you out there who didn’t get sucked in by it, you are lucky, and I also feel very, very sorry for you. Civ World is a Sid Meier Civilization game created for Facebook. Honestly though, at this time I have very mixed feelings about Civ World. When it started I had no idea what I was doing and there was little to no documentation to explain the tricks. On one hand this was great because it was an honest, actual, STRATEGY game. You had to figure them out and those that played the most efficiently ruled. I spent hours playing and thinking about better ways of playing. Hours that I should have been doing more important things (like reading those books and getting back to blogging). On the other hand it was buggy, frustrating, constantly having its rules and gameplay mechanics changed in maddening ways, and then they went and tried to monetize it, and ruined it forever.

I would have to say the very best thing about Civ World is the awesome group of players I was very fortunate enough to team up with. The Civ World Strategy Group came from all corners of the globe: China, Bangladesh, Norway, Sweden, British Columbia (some guy named Sean Meade in South Carolina) and Alabama. These were wonderful, funny and incredibly devious and utterly implacable people. We had the game wired. We knew all the best plays. We crushed all opposition without mercy or remorse. If you were in a game with us, You Were Going To Lose. It was that simple.

I miss Civ World.

.

The third thing that changed how much blogging I can do is that at work I was promoted. I am now the General Manager of three stores of purveyors of fine wines, spirits and beers. This is great! I am really happy in my new position and it challenges me in ways that managing a single store didn’t, and I still get to help customers find the great stuff they are looking for, my favorite part of my previous position. The downside, at least as far as blogging is concerned, is that I don’t have an office of my own anymore (though that should change eventually) and I have a lot more stuff to do so I generally work later.

New Job = Less Free Time.

Oh well, I get to try even more tasty wines, spirits and beers and I’m working on ways to create time to share the most tasty of them here. So it will all work out in the end with a little patience.

So, that’s the update. Blogging should increase in the near future. Thanks for reading!


Diversion and Distraction of the Educational Kind: John Hunter and the World Peace Game

.

Also, the trailer for the film made about this extraordinary teacher and the World Peace Game. 

.

.

An Editorial Digression:

Teachers like John Hunter are the reason why students get excited about going to school, because they know when to teach and when to get out of the way of the student’s learning. It is through this kind of interactive engagement that education becomes fun and ultimately applicable to the real world, exactly what the educational system is supposed to be about. When this kind of engagement is absent, and teaching is about shoving information at a student and hoping enough of it sticks long enough to pass the standardized test, school becomes just another chore to be endured and does very little to prepare a student for life’s challenges.

Another inspiring story along the same lines is a book I recently finished called The New Cool by Neal Bascomb (my review is forthcoming  my review is here)  about a just as inspiring STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) focused high-school teacher, and his student’s efforts in the FIRST robotics competition.


Diversion and Distraction of the Epic Kind: A Game of Thrones on HBO

Ok, I couldn’t possibly let something this awesome go by without saying something about it. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin is one of the greatest epic stories of all time. You will notice I didn’t say fantasy epics. It is, indeed, fantasy, yet I have no reservations placing it against any epic, fantasy or otherwise.

Plus, how cool is this opening?

The HBO series has been a long time coming (though not as long as some of the books have been coming). From seeing the first episode I think it is way too early to tell it they have really captured the depth and spirit of the book A Game of Thrones but the potential is certainly there. To do it justice they will definitely need to get a few things right.

They will need to get the feel:

Martin’s world is dirty, violent and brutally unforgiving of weakness. The series seems to be off to a good start in this regard. Nobody gets a free pass in this world. Being a “Hero” means a very nasty death is probably right around the corner. Being a villain means somebody even worse is likely to soon appear. The land is equally as harsh and pitiless. For example, audience members who haven’t read the books need to understand the import of a continent spanning Wall of ice. It is there for a reason. It was built, at great effort and expense, to protect against something. What could possibly be so terrible to require such a barrier be built? Even if the characters never ask these questions, the audience should look at the Wall and absorb a feeling of dread and apprehension. You can create almost anything in CGI these days but CGI alone can’t truly convey the sheer harshness of the environment of a land where winter may last for a generation or more. That has to come from the writing and acting as well as the settings.

There are several characters that have to be right:

This is what you really can’t see by the first episode alone. The most major characters have hardly been introduced, if at all. Arya Stark is there but she says little. Sandor Clegane has one throw-away line and has yet to be formally introduced. Tyrion and Jamie Lannister have a great deal of encouraging screen time. Jon Snow is still much of a mystery as is Daenerys Targaryen even though they are probably the axis on which the series will eventually revolve (at least that is my thinking though, of course, the series has yet to be finished).

Without quality acting from these characters the series won’t fly. It is very cool that on the strength of the first episode alone, the series has been renewed for the second season / second book  A Clash of Kings (I wonder if they will change the name of the series with as each season is intended to cover the events of a single book). It makes me even more eager to get my hands on A Dance with Dragons, the newest book in the series that will hit bookstore shelves shortly after the end of the A Game of Thrones season.

I’ll need to start my re-read soon.


Diversion and Distraction of the Artistic Kind: Sheree Rensel

I was looking around the internet for pictures to use as backgrounds or banners or whatnot and stumbled across this one. I liked it enough to post it by itself. Click the picture to visit the artist’s website.


On the Bookshelf: What I read in 2010

Books of 2010

I don’t really have exhaustive record keeping as to what exactly I was reading in the year 2010, though I do have a pretty fair list (and one of my New Year’s resolutions is to keep better track, and to write reviews more often). It isn’t exhaustive because I am sure for about a month or so, all I did was re-read a bunch of my old favorites by Gibson, Stephenson, Heinlein and a few others. That being said I have a few statistics that are probably pretty close to reality.

In 2010 I read 67 total books.

Even taking into account the books not on my list this means I was reading about one and a third books a week, or about five and a half books a month. That is, honestly, a faster rate than I thought it would be. I would consider myself to be a fast reader though speed is certainly not my goal. I do tend to mow through fiction though and I probably pick up time with those books that offsets my more deliberate non-fiction reading pace. 

42 Fiction books.

25 Non-fiction books.

I thought this number would be closer to even as I had been trying to alternate between fiction and non-fiction for a good portion of the year. I have a hard time reading too many non-fiction books (like two) in a row. I need fiction breaks in between to let my conscious and subconscious work on the things I learn. On the other hand, I’ll read nothing but fiction if I let myself. I guess a two to one fiction to non-fiction ratio is pretty good on that score.

22 Reviews (13 fiction and 9 non-fiction)

I reviewed a third of the books that I read in 2010, though most of those reviews came in the second half of the year. I had been using a Facebook application (most of the reason I could make this 2010 list to begin with) to post about books as I read them. These posts often included short thoughts about the books. Starting with my review of Extra Lives by Tom Bissell that capability ceased to function. As a result I began posting longer and more thought-out reviews here at Red Herrings. I think that is good for me as a thinker and as a writer and I will continue that practice. Frankly, I wrote more reviews in the second half of the year than I thought I did.

A list of titles as wells as links to my reviews of those books (where applicable) is below the fold:

(more…)


RFC: Procrustean Prompting

So, I’ve gotten my hands on a copy of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new book The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms. I must say it isn’t exactly what I expected. Most people probably know an aphorism or two, even if they don’t know that is what they are called. “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” or “The only thing required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” are two common aphorisms, but essentially any short saying that contains a general truth or bit of wisdom can be considered an aphorism. I knew the book was going to be a collection of aphorisms but I also expected some longer sections of philosophy. It turns out that the book is entirely composed of aphorisms without a larger narrative though there is, apparently, a theme.

In an idle moment I was flipping randomly through the various ‘chapters’ that contain aphorisms on particular topics. As I did, I found myself thinking about using aphorisms as writing prompts, something that is one of the oldest tricks in the history of old tricks, and how it might be really interesting to turn this book into some kind of weblog meme, passing the torch from blog to blog to elicit a post inspired by the aphorisms contained in the book combined with the interests and world-view of the authors. Maybe even making them into an online, or even printed collection.

Thus, my request for comment.

Anybody else think this sounds like an interesting project or would like to offer any ideas to improve or expand the concept?


Diversion and Distraction of the Beer Kind: Brew Masters

Brew Masters

I recently added a new entry to my “Television Worth Watching” queue; Brew Masters, an infotainment offering from the Discovery Channel featuring adventures in the craft brewing industry. I honestly like infotainment programs and I don’t much care if they are hard-core factual explorations of events on the History channel, science-geekery / invention programs on Science, or travel / food-porn on Food Network. Brew Masters kind of bridges the gaps between all of those subgenres to connect the history of an endlessly interesting industry with the nuts-and-bolts of the brewing process and the people in it, and the beer itself.

Brew Masters features Sam Calagione the founder of the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery of Delaware. He is both the host of the program and the main character of the reality-television show that encompasses all of the non-brewing or historical aspects of Brew Masters. He seems to be a really nice guy who is a little more than slightly odd and unique in the same kind of interesting way that he envisions his beers being (The Dogfish Head motto is: Off-centered ales for off-centered people). He is, quite literally, the kind of guy who would be a lot of fun to have a beer with, and that makes the show interesting and engaging, though the first episode contains bits featuring his craft brewing hip-hop group that was almost painful. It wasn’t the music so much (it wasn’t to my taste but the music videos were amusing), but rather that he thought it would be a good idea to use the premise / theme of the first show, the brewery’s collaboration with Sony Music to produce a beer accompaniment to the re-release of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew album, to pitch a record deal of his own. It could have gone better I suppose.

I’m looking forward to more episodes of Brew Masters. Even more, I’m looking forward to the possibility that future seasons of Brew Masters will feature other craft breweries like Sam Adams, Stone, Founders, New Belgium, Magic Hat, Three Floyds or Avery who are known for making fantastic, excellent and unconventional beers. There are too many interesting characters and stories to tell to keep the show confined to one brewery, even one as colorful as Dogfish Head. Maybe they will even spin it off to distilleries and wineries. I’d probably watch those too.


Diversion and Distraction of the Diorama Kind: USA vs. China

In what might be a peek into the military mind of the Chinese, the 8th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai has an exhibit of the integrated battlefield presented as an impressively detailed diorama that reveals Chinese knowledge of secret American capabilities and may tip China’s hand about their own super-secret military projects.

US vs. China Diorama (click to enlarge)

The Chinese have obviously been paying attention to the U.S. interest in improving our littoral capabilities. By the looks of this the Chinese have discovered out willingness to use a Carrier Battle Group in a littoral role as long as it is accompanied by an Iowa class battleship (though honestly I’ve heard stranger ideas come out of the Pentagon). There also seems to be an interesting mix of aircraft on that flattop.

Littoral Combat Carrier Battle Group

It also seems that the Chinese penetration of our secret military mad-science labs is far-reaching for they have apparently discovered our formerly closely held Freeze Ray capability.

Freeze Ray area effect weapon

They also seem to be privy to the latest in our Air Force air combat tactics and capabilities. No, those two F-22s aren’t about to have a mid-air collision. The fighter on the right is actually flying backwards. This revolutionary formation enabled by our amazing next-generation fighters (and possibly devised by John Boyd?) is known as Fully-Spherical Air Superiority or F-SAS. This is obviously necessary to prevent the destruction of the dirigible mounting the USAF’s formerly super-secret Freeze Ray.

F-SAS (Fully-Spherical Air Superiority) formation and Blimp deploying Freeze Ray area effect weapon.

All of these revelations seem to show Chinese knowledge about our capabilities, but what can we infer about improvements in Chinese tech? Honestly, I almost missed it the first time I looked, but sure enough, China is letting us know through this presentation that they have an ace-in-the-hole to deter any proposed U.S. invasion of the Chinese mainland. The Chinese military can now field the world’s first operational combat Mecha!

They cleverly tried to hide them behind those houses and trees, and tried to distract us with the SS-888 (Skyscraper) ballistic missile battery (last year’s news), but two, thirty to forty-foot tall, anthropoid Mecha are clearly visible. The one in the lower right-hand corner almost seamlessly blends into the woodland environment. The other, however, is oddly painted in a desert camouflage scheme. One might wonder if that also signals an increased Chinese military interest in the Middle East?

Chinese Combat Mecha revealed!

Special Hat-tips to Wired’s Danger Room “Weather Machines, Origami Drones, and Battlefield Dioramas: Inside China’s Big Air Show” and Aviation Week’s Ares Blog’s “The Future Chinese Battlefield”.


Diversions and Distractions of the Undead Kind: Zombies!

The Zombie Apocalypse is Coming!

Apologies to Roosterteeth for totally stealing their excellent shirt logo. Right click to go buy one!

Do Not Enter
Do Not Enter

No, Really!

This Halloween night AMC is going to debut a brand new series called The Walking Dead. It is based on the comic book series by the same name and follows the story of the survivors in a world overrun by the ghoulish living dead. AMC is already the home of my latest, favorite television program, the spy-drama Rubicon. If The Walking Dead follows the precedent set by the writing and production values of Rubicon as well as the multi-Emmy award winners on AMC;  Breaking Bad and Mad Men, it should be totally and completely awesome.

Aside from the entertainment value, the Zombie Apocalypse has been a favorite Black Swan scenario / What-Would-You-Do-If, mental puzzle of mine for a long time. What other possible situation could create the same all-or-nothing hard choices than an invasion by the undead? I’m not alone either. Apparently lots of other serious thinkers (Daniel W. Drezner at Foreign Policy Magazine, for example) have the same fascination with a situation that forces outside-the-box thinking.

For the most part, the horror movie genre doesn’t really appeal to me (and among zombie movies I prefer the more amusing ones like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland) but there are two really excellent zombie books out there for those looking to survive the Zombie Apocalypse.

zombie.jpg image by angel0nline00

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead

by Max Brooks

For any zombie survivalist this is the first, and foremost, book that needs to be added to your undead survival go-bag. It’s information is priceless for anyone thinking about living in a world where the undead could strike at any time. It covers all possible scenarios including strategies for surviving zombie outbreaks of a few dozen ghouls, to a full-on worldwide Zombie Apocalypse. It discusses the relative advantages and disadvantages of all different sorts of weapons from swords and axes to handguns, shotguns, rifles and flamethrowers. It covers tactics for those on the run from the undead, and for those who turn zombie-hunter. Also included are handy packing lists and equipment suggestions that could mean life or undeath when every second counts, efficiency is essential, and dead-weight takes on a whole new level of meaning.

After reading the book, you will know your enemy. You will know their habits and their tendencies. You will understand their strengths and their weaknesses. It even includes historical case-studies of previous zombie outbreaks so that you can learn the lessons of the past and apply that hard-won knowledge.

The other book World War Z is also by Max Brooks (son of director Mel Brooks) and is novelization told in the form of a series of interviews collected by a historian in the aftermath of a worldwide zombie outbreak. It is set to become a movie starring Brad Pitt. The audiobook, even though it is abridged, is also highly recommended and features an all-star lineup of voice actors.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

by Max Brooks

World War Z follows a zombie outbreak from its first stages to what develops into a worldwide Zombie Apocalypse. It is framed as a series of interviews with survivors and witnesses, soldiers, politicians, doctors and others who had roles small and large.

What I enjoyed most about World War Z was its plausibility. Granted, the possibility of a real zombie outbreak is vanishingly remote (though you never know what is going on in the bio-tech lab down the street), but the forces that serve to cause the rampant spread of the infected are straight out of a CDC worst-case-scenario. The official response by governments and militaries, foreign and domestic seems completely characteristic. The short-sightedness of people trying to do anything to get away is sad, but believable.

Like I said, this is a great Black Swan scenario with decisions having unexpected consequences and forcing new ways of thinking about problems. My personal favorite image from the book is during the North American offensive, when U. S. anti-zombie forces break out from behind the Rocky Mountains to fight their way eastward. At one point, from behind a prepared defense and using formations familiar to Grant and Lee, the U. S. forces instigate a zombie attack that develops into a zombie chain-swarm, drawing in zombies for miles and miles to be methodically shot down until a rampart of the undead surrounded the camp.

Happy Halloween!

Hat/Tip and Apologies to the guys at Roosterteeth for totally ripping off the logo from one of their t-shirt designs.

You really should go buy the real Zombie Plan shirt from their store and be the envy of your friends.

 


Diversion and Distraction of the Map Kind

Two interesting maps. Maps of the internet, the mind, the social network, society and culture.

Mind Map of the Digital Age via Fast Company:

 

Updated Map of Online Communities via xkcd:

Online Communities 2

I like maps.


Distraction and Diversion of the TV Kind: What I’ve Been Watching.

In response to fellow 5GW theorist and blogfriend Purpleslog, a list of the shows I’ve been watching brought to you courtesy of my DVR, which makes any television viewing possible.

In no particular order:

Leverage: Con games and manipulation to right wrongs. How could a 5GWist not enjoy?

Justified: Wild West justice in the modern world. I’m with Purpleslog on this one. It’s awesome!

Warehouse 13: Sort of an X-files-ish detective show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Great premise.

South Park: My half-hour dose of animated absurdity.

Rubicon: My favorite new show. Excellent!

FlashForward: Wins the Jericho award for the new show I liked that got canceled. My next nominee is The Event.

Bullrun: Hot cars and stunt driving do keep my interest.

Penn and Teller’s Bullshit: Very snarky. Very, very funny.

House: As long as this show remains about the case/puzzle I enjoy it. When it becomes a soap-opera, not so much.

Wipeout: The unapologetic unfairness of this show amuses me to no end.


Diversions and Distractions of the Virtual Kind: Fantasy Football

Fantasy Football absurdity for your viewing pleasure. My favorite part: “Remember the Alamo!”

I don’t get into it as much as some people seem to, but I do play a bit of fantasy football.  It gives me a chance to interact with friends I see everyday and friends I haven’t seen in years and I enjoy that. Plus, it makes watching the uninteresting or irrelevant games you sometimes get stuck with on network TV a bit more enjoyable.

Hey, I just drafted Adrian Peterson to one of my teams!

-DUCKS-


Distraction and Diversion of the Television Kind: Rubicon

Rubicon is a spy drama that seems to me to have a great deal of potential. The plot, thus far, follows two different storylines that intersect with a shadowy conspiracy. It is dark, quiet and slow-moving. Normally, that combination would quickly bore me but in this instance it creates an atmosphere of intent expectation and underlying mystery. It is as if everything, even the most innocent things, have a deeper and more sinister meaning. Also, the acting is excellent. It seems like more is said in the wordless glances and the expressions as the actors walk alone through empty rooms or read papers and notes than in the spoken dialog of most television programs.

 The first, main, storyline belongs to Will Travers (James Badge Dale), an analyst for an organization known as API, an intelligence analysis super-agency that takes in the raw intel generated by many spy agencies and turns it into (theoretically) unbiased analysis and recommendations for future action. In the series opener, Will notices a strange coincidence between the crossword puzzles in many major world newspapers. He shares this insight with his boss, David Hadas (Peter Gerety), who is immediately killed in a train crash, but not before leaving behind several vague clues that point toward his death being anything but accidental. Will, slowly and carefully, begins to tug on this fragile thread that may unravel a dark conspiracy.

The second storyline features Miranda Richardson as Katherine Rhumor. In the first episode her husband, a wealthy and powerful man, unexpectedly commits suicide. Her mystery begins when, at the reading of his will, he leaves her a townhouse and a clothing manufacturer that she didn’t even know existed. Initially, she thinks her husband kept the secret townhouse to cover for an affair, but soon begins to suspect a deeper secret, especially when she catches her husband’s best friend in several small, but confusing, lies. She has yet to fully realize that she also is tugging on a loose end to the conspiracy, but she feels whatever she is uncovering ultimately led to the death of her husband.

Rubicon airs on AMC.

See the first episode.


(De)Motivational Poster: Suggestion Box

Employee / Employer relations are very important and the suggestion box is a fabulous tool for knowing what the people working for you are thinking. This particular model makes it possible for even the busiest managers to provide an outlet for employee concerns and ideas.


(De)Motivational Poster: 8/16/10

My staff asks about this all the time. About time I gave them an answer. Looks like fun to me!


(De)Motivational Poster 8/9/10

 

Poster of the week, enjoy!


(De)Motivational Posters

As part of my ongoing and never-ending quest to keep my co-workers amused I have lately been creating some (De)Motivational Posters to inspire their dedication to their jobs.

I thought I would start sharing them here as well since it probably qualifies as a distraction or a diversion.

I make my posters here.

(more…)