... indistinguishable from magic
effing the ineffable since 1977


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I got two books and a couple of bookstore gift certificates for Christmas so I've read three books in the last three days. I enjoyed all three very much; however, I wouldn't be me if I couldn't find some nits to pick. So here are my comments on the three books I read, in order - both the good points and the bad.
  • The Full Cupboard of Life, by Alexander McCall Smith. The latest (and, I suspect, last: most of the loose ends now seem tied) book in the "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series, this book was more of the same, in a good way. Mma Ramotswe and Mr J.L.B. Maketoni's lives in small-town Botswana continue with the same mixture of drama, laid-back introspective insight and understated humor ("In her mind, her shoes always addressed her as Boss, which was good. Shoes should know their place.") as the previous books. The only nit I have to pick with this book is that it is "more of the same" and was more of a comfortable revisiting of old friends than a riveting page-turner. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
  • The Sunday Philosophy Club, also by Alexander McCall Smith. The start of a new series, this one is set in Scotland and the protagonist is Isabel, the part-time editor of a philosophy journal who obsesses over crossword puzzles and theoretical questions of morality. I initially found Isabel rather pretentious, but as the book progressed I began to recognize aspects of my own personality in hers, especially her desire to reduce things to abstract general principles and her need to occasionally remind herself not to be condescending. The humor in this book is in the same vein as the Ladies Detective Agency series, but perhaps a little less subtle; I found this to be an improvement. The principal weakness in this book lay in the plot - some events were blatantly obvious well in advance (at one point it was almost painful to watch Isabel fail to realize the obvious for several pages) while others were unpleasantly jarring. I have no problem with unexpected plot twists in general, but usually I'd expect them to be surprising only in advance - in hindsight you wonder how you didn't see them coming. In this book I was more inclined to wonder how I could ever have been expected to. The greatest cardinal sin of the book, though, was the introduction of two crossword puzzles in the second chapter - "Excited by the score (7)" and "Vulnerable we opined desultorily (4, 4)" - to which the book did not reveal the solutions. Surely I'm not the only reader who is now going crazy trying to figure these out? (If you do, please let me know the answers in the comments of this post.) If nothing else, the author deserves to be hung over a pit of scorpions for that one, although if the answers turn out to be clues to the plot I would be prepared to consider that a mitigating circumstance. All in all, I have bridled enthusiasm (Click the link. Trust me. It's worth it.) for this book.
  • The Bad Beginning, the first in the Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. I had heard that these books were akin to Harry Potter, but I disagree. Unlike HP, this was unquestionably a children's book. The plot was transparent to any adult reader and the characters were mostly caricatures of stereotypes. This didn't stop it from being a very enjoyable read, though, and the humor of the writing style had me laughing aloud on several occasions. One thing I did find extremely annoying was the habit of explaining words to the reader, which came across as patronizing (a word which here means "treating the reader as if they did not have a basic knowledge of English that even a child ought to possess") and left me feeling rather persnickety ("persnickety" means "annoyed", while also being a clever pun on the author's name). See what I mean? I found these forgivable when the explanation was also a joke, but just irritating the rest of the time. Still undecided on whether to buy the rest of the books and/or see the movie.


A day for good news


So the release date for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is officially July 16th. People who know me will realize that I consider this a momentous event. I'm so addicted to these books it's not funny. I think that if I were a crack addict shaking from withdrawal, and there were two tables in front of me - a dose of the drug on the left-hand table, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on the right - I'd dive to the right without hesitation, and thereafter be so engrossed in the book that I'd completely forget about the drug, not to mention food and drink and sleep (until I finished the book of course). Since my birthday is July 11th, I'm getting a nice birthday present this year. Now to plan my reading regimen for June and July to make sure the first five are maximally fresh in my mind for that date, and investigate the possibility of getting to a midnight opening somewhere...

Another excellent piece of news is that Poland has once again stood up for the democratic process in the European Union and refused to let software patent advocates push their version of legislation through under the radar. Take that, patent pushers - once again, You Forgot Poland! (Yes, I'm the 47,948,368th person to make that joke, but it's still funny)

Finally, a bit of technical good news of interest to probably very few people, but it's been announced that generics in Whidbey will be CLS-compliant. This should make life for IKVM a little more interesting... it becomes far more necessary to have some level of generics support, but perhaps the new CLS restrictions will make the implementation easier. No information yet (that I can find) on whether MS gave any consideration to interoperability with Java generics - I strongly suspect that they didn't. Jeroen may need to pull off another miracle to get the mapping right. I have no doubt he's up to the task.



Wow, I'm syndicated :) It's a strange feeling - knowing that someone might actually read this makes me rather self-conscious about what people might think of me from what I write, especially since some of my personal free-software heroes are on Planet Classpath. Especially when I post a pointless content-free introspective entry like this one ;)