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Eugene Zaretskiy
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My IPod's USB cable broke, so I bought two replacement cables for 62 cents each on Amazon, from a China-based vendor. I assumed they were bluffing about the two month shipping estimate. I was wrong, but that wasn't the weird part.

When I opened the package, the smell of cologne hit me right away. I love that for 62 cents, not only did this company manufacture a working cable based on a closed spec, made it look as slick as a genuine cable, cradle it in protective plastic and bubble wrap, slip it into an envelope, and pay for two postal service companies to deliver it to my front door, they even managed to spray some cologne on it so that it would smell nice.

China gets scarier and scarier every time I turn around.
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Just watched the three-hour-long House hearing about SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). There's been a lot of buzz on Slashdot and other media that this act is the most dangerous attack on the Internet that actually has a chance of passing. Quick summary, basically the bill would allow copyright owners to quickly, without much judicial overview, to require ISPs to circumvent DNS and blacklist certain websites. That's the ultra-over-simplified version. Watching the hearing was a fascinating insight into how these types of laws are discussed and passed, couple quick observations:

1) By far the most ridiculous aspect of this whole hearing was that there were five witnesses representing strong, no-holds-barred approval of the legislation under consideration (RIAA, Pfizer, Mastercard, US Copyright, and AFL-CIO, a movie-professionals org) and one against (Google). Only one congresswoman pointed out this clear imbalance. Between everyone else's ignorance of this fact and the reliance in the hearing on witness testimony, this one aspect of the hearing completely condemns the entire thing. I would love to hear why this is okay and how, as a democratic society, passing laws like this isn't an outrage.

2) A lot of the media buzz, as well as one of Google's primary objections, seem to stem from the threat this poses to DNSSEC. Two congresspeople, out of what I believe were about 20 congresspeople, raised this as a potential bill-killer issue. One of them sternly required the witnesses to provide written testimony of whether the threats to DNSSEC from this bill are accurate. Frankly, this is really the only part of the whole bill that seems all that evil to me. Perhaps the "broad language" Google/Slashdot allude to might be a problem, but it certainly doesn't seem to be the case. I think despite Google's "best attempts" to fight this bill, it's really not the absolute monster the media would have us believe.

3) Google is a fascinating witness. Here I am finally starting to see the larger picture in the whole infringement story that the MPAA and RIAA and so on have been writing for years. It was absolute torture for any of the congresspeople to get the Google witness to digress from her prepared speaking points. Even when asked a direct, straight-forward question, she would reply with a regurgitated speaking point that had only the vaguest parallels to the question asked. In other words, a very difficult witness to sympathize with. But, remember -- combine this with bullet point #1. If the opposition had been represented by more than just Google, this wouldn't be an issue.
I could list points indefinitely here, but in the interest of getting on with my day, I think my overall interpretation of the problem, if ignoring those three bullet points above, was that at a fundamental level, the House was trying to do what it does best: use real-world, physical examples of how the law handles physical theft and precedent in legislation in order to produce a new piece of updated copyright legislation.

It all sounded very logical, the congresspeople made a lot more sense than I expected them to, Republican and Democrat alike, and logic and reason more or less dictated the proceedings. But despite all of this, the problem remains: the internet presents a problem that simply has never, ever existed before. There is no analogy, there is no precedent, there is no existing legislation that can control the omnivorous hydra that is the Internet. Time to get your thinking caps on, because this situation is going to get uglier before we see any progress.

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A bunch of folks dropped by during the power outage (I still had power), and at some point someone placed a piece of paper over my computer's top-mounted 200mm fan. Later that night, the computer shut down. Turns out this air blockage managed to somehow burn out my computer's power supply. I bought a new (modular!) power supply, only to find that the motherboard wouldn't boot either, even with a minimal amount of hardware plugged in. Fried! Torn between upgrading the whole machine and just replacing the board, I decided to... just replace the board. I know, I must be getting old.

After nearly a week without a desktop, it's up and running again.
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Just Finished: Hunter's Run by George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, and Daniel Abraham

This is the first book I've ever read with three people authoring it. Surprisingly, it has a very consistent voice. I'm familiar with all three authors' names, but I've only read books by Mr. Martin. Not just his Song of Ice and Fire books either, mind you... I can easily see his influence on Hunter's Run in the sorrowful aliens and the bleak universe that echo Martin's The Dying of the Light.

In fact, a lot of ideas that build the foundation of Hunter's Run are borrowed from the deep well of Sci-Fi cliches. What the book does with them is, however, not only unique but also thought-provoking.

The story is just as hard to put down as many lesser books (at least, after you get through the somewhat slow first quarter), filled with adventure and many twists and turns, but it does far more with these tools. The small cast of characters is fully-fleshed out and pivotal to the incredible, unpredictable conclusion.

The book's greatest strength might be its sparse, careful editing, which comes as no surprise considering Martin and Dozois are both prolific editors. It's not a long book, but Ramon's adventure through an alien planet to discover his identity is completely satisfying. That might not sound like high praise, but it's nice to read a book that doesn't aspire to life-changing epic proportions nor falls short of even lesser goals.

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Jeff Harman awesomely gave me this jar of homemade marinated jalapenos. I've been munching on them but I feel like I need to think of some other creative uses for 'em.

Ideas?
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Just Finished: Agyar by Steven Brust

I don't really know what to make of this one. Lets see....

* Vampires
* Romance
* Introspection

So, uh, Steven Brust does Twilight?

Well, no. This one came out first.

I dunno... If you're interested in a fun read, Brust's got you covered. Just not here. Pick up Jehreg instead.

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Just Finished: Epiphany of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe

I can't help but compare the Long Sun series with my favorite Wolfe series (my favorite book in general, really), The Book of the New Sun. The first and most prominent difference between the two is the perspective: Severian's rich, dark first-person narrative in New Sun is the icing on a many-layered story in which the action takes a back seat to Severian's musings.

By contrast, Long Sun_'s Silk is described in third-person in a far more flat voice. This was a disappointment at first (as Severian's voice is probably my favorite part of _New Sun_), but since I finished the final book, I've realized something unusual. I've always believed first-person narrative is preferable to third-person because it allows you to get to know a character better. That's why I've always been surprised to see critics of _New Sun who disliked the series cite Severian's poor characterization.

By contrast, Long Sun shows me exactly what those reviewers meant. We are given glimpses of Silk's character through his actions and words, and while the narrative sometimes pretends to guess at what he is thinking, the distance allows
the reader to know Silk as one might know a friend or relative: by observation.

Reading a diary or journal (as _New Sun_'s framing device is) gives a very different picture of a person than observation. As Severian shows us so brilliantly, no one understands Severian less than Severian (though this changes at the end of the series). You need to peel the onion on his story in order to get the full enjoyment the book holds.

Thus, Long Sun is immediately accessible, as Silk is a complex and fascinating character in the more traditional sense. It loses the "eye of the beholder" flair that I enjoyed so much, but it gains an ease and maturity that makes up for this.

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Irene's outside my window.
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2011-08-28
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I read this interview a long time ago, but recently quoted it in an argument with a friend, so decided to pull out a snippet. I think I agree very strongly with the "Cool Theory of Literature":

Chris Olson: The Vlad Taltos series is probably your best-known work. I feel I must ask: why an assassin? Was it simply born out of your "Cool Theory of Literature?"

Steven Brust: Yep. Or produced it. I dunno. I think Vlad is cool. I like hanging out with him.

CO: For those who might not know: what is this theory, and when did you come up with it?

SB: The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature states that all literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool, and the reader will enjoy the work to the degree that the reader and writer agree about what's cool -- and this functions all the way from the external trappings to deepest level of theme and to the way the writer uses words. I came up with it when I had to do an interview for Locus and hadn't enough sleep the night before, so I had to invent something interesting to say. Its Godfather is Gene Wolfe and some advice he gave a writer when judging a writing contest. I heard the advice and it got me to thinking. Most of the things Mr. Wolfe says get me to thinking. Why aren't you interviewing him?

CO: Well, uh. . . Mr. Wolfe's work, as far as I'm aware, doesn't contain flying reptiles with a penchant for sarcasm. . . .

SB: Man, couldn't he do a helluva job of it though, if he wanted to?
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