Posts Tagged ‘books’

Books and movies

Posted: 16 August 2009 in Uncategorized
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This post contains NO spoilers.

I saw The Time Traveler’s Wife with my wife today.  I had read the book about a year ago, and had been looking forward to the movie.  I wasn’t disappointed — I thought the movie was very moving and captured the spirit of the book, even if it didn’t capture everything.  It ignored some dynamics that the book elaborated on and some scenes and details were slightly different.

One thing I was concerned about while watching the movie was just how much I was liking it because I knew all the background in the book, or how much came from the movie.  If the former was true, then the movie wasn’t going to be that great an experience for someone who had read it.  If the latter was true, then it was a damn good movie.  I don’t have the answer to that.

Another concern is how it’s a cultural norm in our society to bash movies based on books, and yet to relentlessly watch them to the point that Hollywood feels compelled to turn every book that sells a few copies into one.  Douglas Adams once made the point that he changed the story of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to match the medium he was writing it for.  A story that plays well on the radio can take advantage of completely different things when it is translated to book or movie form.  I don’t have the exact quote and searching for that kind of thing is damn near impossible on Google (let me know if you find it).

But that’s an observation I have long taken to heart when watching movies translated from books.  Obviously you can’t fit an entire book into 2 hours and still have a story that tells like anything worth watching.  You can’t capture the full power of every scene, every nuance, nor every subtlety that a book can.  That’s not what the silver screen does well.  What it does well (when it is done right) is making you feel in touch with characters and the story.  Books do that too, but movies actually put the images before your eyes.

That said, I have never been able to bring myself to read a book based on a movie.  I just can’t do it.

Learning Scala

Posted: 11 July 2009 in Uncategorized
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Programming in Scala

Programming in Scala

Two weeks ago, I picked up my copy of Programming in Scala, which had been languishing on my shelf for months.  I pre-purchased it since I went to high school with one of the authors (Lex Spoon).  His mother, incidentally, was also my favorite math teacher.  When I started my new job back in September 2008, I was a total noob at Ruby, so learning that consumed my attention and other languages took a back burner.  Also, I’m always a little reluctant when it comes to learning new languages.  Not because I don’t like to learn them or because it’s difficult — but because it’s a serious investment of time that may be totally wasted.  Sure, Standard ML is an interesting language, but try finding a job doing it.  When I heard that Twitter was using Scala, I figured the time has come to pick up this book.  It also helped that a friend recently started an Atlanta Scala Meetup group.

Aside from being an update on my life, the point of this post is to say that this book is great.  Seldom have I encountered a programming book that achieves this level of depth while still being fun to read.  There are great examples with humor mixed in, the writing is clear and concise, and it’s thorough. What more could you want?

Has anyone else picked up Scala?  (I know there’s a few of you out there lurking!)  Are there any other good books you would recommend?

In the interest of full disclosure, though I know one of the authors, I haven’t actually talked to him in quite a long time (since high school, I think).  I also don’t make any extra money aside from the Amazon affiliate program commission if you happen to buy anything on their site after clicking the book link.

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I got most of the books I wanted the most for Christmas this year. It was a great haul that will keep me busy for a while. Among them were:

The books on string and tree algorithms and collective intelligence should be self-explanatory. The book on data visualization I wanted because it was an overlooked skill in my education. I appreciate great data visualizations and taking some steps to improve my understanding and increase my skills in that area is worth doing. Finally the book on evolutionary computing is for personal enrichment. I’ve been playing around with genetic algorithms since 1994, even before I got out of high school. It’s always been playing, though, and I wanted a bit of a more rigorous introduction to them.

With any luck, I’ll be posting some thoughts on these books in the coming months.

My Christmas Wishlist

Posted: 12 December 2008 in Uncategorized
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Just a few books and stuff I wouldn’t mind getting for Christmas.  Just sayin’.

Note:  sort by priority.

Michael Crichton died yesterday of cancer at age 66. Crichton was a favorite while I was growing up and was probably a big influence in my decision to pursue science as a career. I blazed through The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Eaters of the Dead, Prey, and others. I thought Prey was pretty cool in terms of exploring emergent behavior, though the level of suspension of disbelief was especially high.

A couple of years ago, I read State of Fear. It really played off my cynicism and I started looking into the possibility that the whole global warming thing was bogus. The more I looked, though, the more it became clear that it was Crichton’s points that were bogus. At that point, I lost respect for him. Thinking back now, it’s clear that one of Crichton’s most common themes was the danger of science unhindered by morality and pursued without caution. That’s a good goal, I think. Despite the fact that he went overboard railing against environmentalism, he managed to educate readers about science while keeping them entertained.

On balance, I think it is a good legacy.

Top 48 Sci-Fi Adaptations

Posted: 26 August 2008 in Uncategorized
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I just saw this meme on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and since he didn’t tag anyone, and I’ve never done this sort of thing before, I figured what the heck.  Just as he tagged no one, nor will I.  This is for my fleeting amusement and as an escape from the joys of moving.  The chain-letter-like aspect of “tagging” people is somewhat repulsive to me.

From Box Office Mojo’s list of Top 48 Sci-Fi Films Based on a Book (or Story) (1980- present). Some of the titles on this list look suspicious. (Was Cocoon really based on a piece of written fiction? There’s a difference between an adaptation and a novelization.)

Here are the rules.

– Copy the list below.
– Mark in bold the movie titles for which you read the book.
– Italicize the movie titles for which you started the book but didn’t finish it.
– Tag 5 people to perpetuate the meme. (You may of course play along anyway.)

And now, the list…

1. Jurassic Park
2. War of the Worlds
3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
4. I, Robot
5. Contact
6. Congo
7. Cocoon
8. The Stepford Wives
9. The Time Machine
10. Starship Troopers
11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
12. K-PAX
13. 2010
14. The Running Man
15. Sphere
16. The Mothman Prophecies
17. Dreamcatcher
18. Blade Runner(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
19. Dune
20. The Island of Dr. Moreau
21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
22. The Iron Giant(The Iron Man)
23. Battlefield Earth
24. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
25. Fire in the Sky
26. Altered States
27. Timeline
28. The Postman
29. Freejack(Immortality, Inc.)
30. Solaris
31. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
32. The Thing(Who Goes There?)
33. The Thirteenth Floor
34. Lifeforce(Space Vampires)
35. Deadly Friend
36. The Puppet Masters
37. 1984
38. A Scanner Darkly
39. Creator
40. Monkey Shines
41. Solo(Weapon)
42. The Handmaid’s Tale
43. Communion
44. Carnosaur
45. From Beyond
46. Nightflyers
47. Watchers
48. Body Snatchers

I’ve read most of the books on that list that I’d consider worth reading.  Any recommendations for the ones I haven’t?

An afternoon in Seattle

Posted: 10 August 2008 in Uncategorized
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I got to spend much less time in Seattle than I did in Boston, though I did manage to walk around the city a bit.  I visited Pike Street Market, which looked like it would have been awesome if I could have gotten there much earlier.  In the evening when I got there, things were closing down.  I also walked to the Space Needle and kicked in the $16 to ride to the top.  It’s a bit expensive for the ability to ride an elevator and take some pictures, but it was so peaceful at the top (even with the tourists) that I think it was worth it.

I have been told by many people that Seattle in the summer is spectacular and I have to agree.  The temperature was very moderate, the weather was mostly good, and there were people everywhere.  It’s a very clean and vibrant city.  The customer service at most places was consistently the nicest I’ve ever encountered, which was really surprising.  I hadn’t heard anything bad, I just didn’t expect it.  The only drawback I saw was that there were a crapload of homeless people, and they were very forward with asking for money.  There were also a lot of street musicians, and I’m not so sure most of them weren’t homeless.  One guy with no shirt was channeling Kurt Cobain.  It was so stereotypically Northwestern grunge that I wanted to laugh.

I managed to finish two books on the journey:  The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer Lytton and Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery, both of which I picked up in Boston.  The Coming Race tells the story of a man who ventures to a strange land and encounters a race of post-humans who have discovered a powerful energy source called vril.  It’s an interesting early commentary on individuality and communism, untainted by the failed Soviet experiment.  I highly recommend it if you like early sci-fi like H.G. Wells or Jules Verne.  Spaceman Blues is the complete opposite.  It’s modern poetry-made-prose.  I’ve always enjoyed experimental sci-fi.  If that’s your thing, too, then you’ll probably like this.  I can see this book being taught in literature classes in the near future.  I picked up Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko for something to read on the flight back.  It was originally in Russian, so of course I’m reading the translation.  There has been a movie made of it, which I’ve seen and is why I picked it up.  The movie rocked, and the book is great so far.

And now for the pictures.


Posted: 20 June 2008 in Uncategorized
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This post contains no spoilers.

I rewatched Primer this week. I had seen it a couple years ago as one of the first movies I got from Netflix the first time I signed up. It was a successful recommendation. Since I was a kid, I have been totally intrigued with time travel and time travel movies. Time travel movies rank among my favorite films, like 12 Monkeys, Time Bandits, the Butterfly Effect, etc. Time travel books are great too, like The Time Traveler’s Wife. Thinking about the implications of being able to change things — and what happens when you do — filled many teenage hours.  An important part of my fascination then is resolving the conflicts inherent in time travel.  What happens if you change something in the past?  What are the rules in the movie or book?  Does the movie/book adhere to its own rules or do they screw up?

Primer is a time travel movie in a league of its own.  I think it’s pretty much impossible to fully grasp the first time through.  It is probably the most confusing movie I have ever seen (that is not “absurd” anyway).  It’s been bumping around in my head for the past couple years, driving me to see it again.  Mike D’Angelo in Esquire said it’s like “following the path of one blade on a high-speed ceiling fan.”  That’s a fairly accurate description.


I have been interested in alien (invented) languages since my first brush with elven in the Lord of the Rings. I checked out The Klingon Dictionary from the library in high school and currently own a copy of it and The Languages of Middle Earth.  During high school, I nerdily amused myself by attempting to develop a language for Antarians, which involved gutturals and whistles.  Speaking it myself was nearly impossible and I would occasionally practice, trying to go from a growling sound to a whistle as quickly as my human apparatus would permit.  I imagine the average passerby might have considered calling the police to have me committed, or at least checked for rabies.

New Scientist has a brief article about the possibility of actually preparing for what alien languages might be like.  The argument that Terrence Deacon of UC Berkeley makes (according to the article) is that language serves a purpose.  It is a communication system for describing the world and since the world is in some way a fixed point of reference (though perception of the world is not), then abstract symbolism is a feature common to all languages.

At one point, the study of xenolinguistics would have been a dream job for me.  A nice office at NASA, a field that will probably never be verifiable.  Could you ask for more?

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke died yesterday.  He touched many lives through his writing and his ideas had an impact on me at an early age with short stories like “The Nine Billion Names of God” and movies based on his books like 2010 (which I saw in the theater) and later 2001 (which I saw as a young man).   His novel Rendezvous with Rama is being made into a movie and IMDB is quoting 2009 as the release date.  I thought it was interesting to find out he had been living in Sri Lanka for some time.

I visited my family in Ohio this past weekend and my uncle made a few interesting points.  He’s an old-school spring engineer, meaning he learned coming up through the trade rather than by going to school, and he supervises a number of employees at a relatively small spring company.  My grandfather used to own a spring company called, shockingly enough, Adams & Sons Spring Co.  That was later bought out and a number of the employees were moved to a different plant, including my dad and uncle.  So anyhow, my uncle was telling me a story, which I won’t go into, but the heart of it is that you should not wait for people to hand you “what you deserve.”  If you are a leader, regardless of your job title, then lead.  If you see someone who needs help, don’t wait for them to ask you.  Help.  Show that you have the initiative.  That’s probably fairly obvious, I mean we’ve all heard it before, but it came at a particularly important time for me.

I’ve been on twitter for a while now, though I don’t update it super-regularly like some people.  It’s fun and I hope more of my friends start using it, but I’ve noticed an interesting trend.  Just about anything is open to potential spam.  Friendster is sick with it.  MySpace is abominable.  LinkedIn seems fairly immune and I’ve gotten very few spam friend requests from Facebook.  Twitter has so far been very good about it, but there is a new trend that I’ve found interesting.  You can follow people and people can follow you on twitter.  So your status updates are public and potentially seen by thousands of people.  How do you increase the number of people who follow you?  Follow them, of course!  I’m having random people follow me left and right.  It only helps me, since I don’t follow them back, but it’s interesting to note.