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Cohesive Lemmings

About Musings and Geekiness from Ross -2

Read the internet! Jan. 6th, 2010 @ 08:39 pm
I have decided to slush-read the Internet. I'm opening up the project to any who might wish to join me in this noble venture.

1) You know what I can never get enough of? Awesome short stories.
2) You know where you can get short stories by the virtual truckload? On the internet, that's where.
3) You know how many of those stories I actually enjoy reading? Not too many.

How, then, to wade through the whole World Wide Web and find the good stuff, the great stuff, the gems you know must be out there somewhere?

The answer is, the same way anybody tries to pick stories they love out of an endless flow of slush: ruthlessly.

As any aspiring writer knows, slush readers for big magazines or anthologies don't have time to read each story the whole way through - and they don't need to, because the first few pages of a story are a good enough indication to cull a huge portion of the slush. Well, if I too want to enjoy, say, one story out of every two or three, instead of one out of thirty, then why shouldn't I do the exact same thing?

Here, then, is my little project: I am scouring reputable sources of short fiction, and compiling files containing only the first few pages of many stories. These I read at my leisure, and I make note of which stories I'd like to finish reading, and which I've had enough of, or simply don't entice me to continue.

I would never glance at so many stories if I intended to read them start to finish. On the other hand, reading on the webpages themselves, I would hardly stop to consider at what point I've lost interest, and reading through the entire thing would practically be less effort than slush-reading. But this way, I've got a big honking file of story beginnings, and I can read the rest of whatever grabs me. The rest don't take up more than a couple minutes of my time.

Now that I've explained what I'm doing, I'd like to know if anybody else would be interested in joining in. Would you, too, like to receive batches of stories you can pick your favorites out of? Are you interested in sampling a lot of stories, but don't know how many of them you'll actually like? If so - let me know. I'll count you in and I'll keep you posted.

Notice I'm not even mentioning critiques or recommendations here. That's practically the whole point - instead of reading reviews and trying to figure out whether a story's worth the effort, why not spend the same amount of time reading the story itself? You won't find a better, more personally-tailored review than that!

The batches so farCollapse )

Here's my hope - that with a few different people involved, lots of people can compile story batches that everybody can use.
Chipping inCollapse )

Pirates! Dec. 21st, 2009 @ 12:46 pm
For those of you who haven't heard elsewhere:

Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance is being performed in Jerusalem this week and next. Pirates is an awesome, hilarious, magnificent show, particularly if your sense of humor leans towards straight-faced absurdity, British accents, and, well, pirates.

I'll be singing in the chorus. Please don't come to see me. If you'd like to come, make it because you think the show sounds like fun; if it doesn't, it won't be, and that'd be a shame. Also, the show's on the expensive side (alack, 100NIS a ticket), so really - come iff you actually want to.

Of the production, I can say that this troupe has always put on excellent shows. A lot of the high price is due to high production values - we've got costumes, scenery and lighting out the wazoo; we've got a full live orchestra, we've got an excellent theater. More than that, though, we've got a cast which is having the time of their lives - we've got great actors and chorus doing their best and their most energetic. What all of this is going to say is, our production definitely lives up to excellent play.

If you have no familiarity with Gilbert and Sullivan, well, all I can say is that I'm very upset that you're spending so little time around me, but also you can take a peek at some YouTube clips here and here. Those are from a Hollywood film with rather a larger budget and somewhat more renowned actors than we can claim, but they should give you an idea of what type of humor, story, and music you might expect from the show.

If you're interested, give me a call. Full details are posted on the ENCORE website.

The Best Stories I Didn't Like Dec. 20th, 2009 @ 01:43 am
So over the weekend, they've released the Tables of Contents for two Best-of-the-Year anthologies - lists over here,, for example.

And this year I've actually read a ton of current short fiction. Primarily from F&SF, which I've had a nice subscription to all year. F&SF is one of the big magazines, so unsurprisingly it's well represented.

And I'll be darned to heck if the selections for "Best Of 2009" weren't some of the the stories I liked least of all. One of them - which got into both anthologies - I find entirely baffling; a standard epic genre romp told with unusual angst and lack of cohesion. Most of the others aren't objectionable, per se, but I find the selection very discouraging. None of the could be said to have strong plots, characters, or the intriguing what-ifs of SF/F (one does present a hypothetical future, but it is introduced only at the end of the story, and not explored as an actual setting).

What are they, then? That's a good question; it's not as though there's one particular thing everybody's doing "wrong." And while I'm all for lyrical writing, intense atmosphere, and surreal speculation - I'm fine with those as long as they don't come at the expense of what I see as the more basic, fundamental parts of storytelling.

I read an excellent article, Science Fiction Without The Future, by Judith Berman, who did a survey of SF short fiction and found that very few current stories actually attempt to portray and develop an interesting future. That's kind of how I feel looking at this list - that (most of) the stories picked are certainly interesting, some are thought-provoking, some have literary merit of some sort or the other but if they're the "best of," if they're the way SF is going, then I'm not going to be having much fun with SF.

There have been very cool ideas out there this year. There have been wonderful stories - ones that had great, solid content and were told beautifully, were thought-provoking, were literary. Are these not being appreciated? Or maybe I'm reading the wrong magazine, and the stories with the brilliant plots, ideas, and characters are better represented somewhere else?

FICTION OVERLOAD Dec. 19th, 2009 @ 06:42 pm
I have 50 short stories to read. :eye-pop:

In short order, I've acquired: a Best-Of SF/F anthology (Dozios, for 2000), the latest issue of F&SF, and the Israeli היה יהיה, "Once Upon a Future." Leaving me with a sum total of 50 new short stories. WOW.

And my new copy of Night Watch. And the next two Fandorin mysteries. And the next F&SF, which should be here in a couple of weeks.

I hereby declare myself well-provisioned.

Our Lovely Country Dec. 6th, 2009 @ 02:55 pm
From today's Jerusalem Post, in discussing Ben & Jerry's reboot in Israel, and difficulties they had the last time around:

Zinger learned his lesson in 1998 when, as a marketing gimmick to sell sorbet, he issued a press release saying he would make it with Eden Mineral Water. After the story ran in Haaretz, it led to international protests against Ben & Jerry's using "occupied" Syrian water from the Golan Heights.

When the press contacted the company's Vermont headquarters, Ben & Jerry's responded that it would consider telling its Israeli licensee to stop using the water. That led to headlines saying Ben & Jerry's was "boycotting Israeli settlements."
Other entries
» Effective C++: A Haiku
Book shipment! Such bliss
to learn beautiful coding
and no one else cares
» First Nebula treat of 2009!
Yay for SF awards, and the free quality fiction that starts popping up around them!

This year, nominations have barely even begun, but I've already stumbled across something nice. It's a free online reprint of When Thorns Are the Tips of Trees, by Jason Sanford.

I was pleasantly surprised to find this, because I'd previously enjoyed it when I reviewed an issue of Interzone, and back then I'd wished I had some company to mull it over with. So put this on your reading list, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!
» ספרות עברית: מדריך ז'אנרים
בארץ סיפורת מקורית מקוטלגת במקום כלשהו בקרב שלושה ''ז'אנרים'' גדולים: ''ספרות יפה'' (מנסה להיות עמוס עוז), ''ספרי טיסה'' (מנסה להיות רם אורן) ו''ספרות פופ'' (מנסה להיות אתגר קרת).

תודה, דותן. כשאני אומר את זה לרחל, היא מתרגזת עלי.

אם אתה (או אחרים) מכירים יוצאי דופן נוספים, אני אשמח מאוד לשמוע מהם.

» The Radio Magician And Other Stories
I came across James Van Pelt thanks to his writing columns over at The Fix, but it didn't take long to discover that his more interesting, less packaged thoughts could be found on his LiveJournal. JVP teaches creative writing to high-school students, and his LJ is full of insights about writing, teaching, and teaching how to write.

By way of both disclaimer and explanation, JVP made an offer I couldn't refuse, under which he sends me a PDF of his new short story collection, and I review it online. I'd recently read his Nebula-nominated "How Music Begins," which was superb, so I was happy to take him up on the offer.

Let's begin by saying that this collection is strong and solid. Almost every story in the anthology is, at very least, an enjoyable read, and many of them do a lot more than that. Most of y'all probably aren't interested in a detailed run-down of a bunch of short stories you haven't read, so let me focus on the stories I found particularly fascinating.

The strong trio that, IMHO, form the backbone of the anthology are "The Radio Magician," about a child with polio who listens to magic shows on the radio, "The Small Astral Object Genius," where the new collectible card craze is either a cunning hoax or the forefront of space exploration, and "How Music Begins," in which a high school band has been abducted by aliens, and have nothing to do but practice, perform, and wonder what the aliens want of them. An anthology with three such gems is one I can enthusiastically recommend.

Each of these stories is superb. "The Radio Magician" effortlessly submerses us in a different age and a different mindset. "Genius" combines a very neat science-fictional premise with human pain and hurt; couching it all in the familiar geeksome pastime of collecting makes for a powerful and unusual story. And "How Music Begins" conveys perfectly the uncertainty and desperation of its characters, while bringing them to life - in addition to a stunning conclusion which is sure to leave readers gasping for breath.

One thing this trio of stories has in common is that they are firmly rooted in an element that is firmly mundane - yet unfamiliar, lesser-known. In "Genius", it's card-collecting; in "The Radio Magician," it's the idiosyncrasies of radio entertainment in the 1930's. For "How Music Begins," JVP's reported that he's gotten emails from band leaders, surprised and gratified to find a story featuring one of their own. The result is characters and situations that are fresh and compelling even before the SF comes in. These stories are exceptional because the mundane and the SF each plays off the other, and because there's not the slightest hint of stereotype or over-familiarity.

The other crucial element of these stories that I'd like to touch upon is: suspense. JVP does it right.

Each of these stories has woven into it a central tension. Is the magic show actually being performed, or does it just a creative announcer? Are the collectibles all a big hoax? Will a perfect performance set the band free? These are all questions we immediately, reflexively care about, because it is clear what they will mean for our protagonists. The power of this thread of tension to keep the entire story on edge is enormous - and JVP comes through, creating for each of these an answer which manages to be decisive, significant, convincing, yet unexpected.

...And Other StoriesCollapse )

In summary, "The Radio Magician And Other Stories" is a fine and worthy single-author anthology, from an author certainly worth keeping track of. Several stories here are absolute must-reads, and those along with a full house of enjoyable, creative stories makes for a very pleasant collection indeed.
» לא אמרו לי, לא סיפרו לי
אל תגידו.

לחובבי הקידוד ביננו, מתחיל הלילה תחרות הקוד של גוגל - Google Code Jam. הצצתי בשנה שעברה (לפני שהיתה לי סביבת עבודה על הלפטופ...) השנה, בע"ה, אני אצטרף (ובטח אפול בסיבוב הראשון, אבל ניחא). הנקודה היא שזו תחרות מאוד מוצלחת וקלה להבנה, עם שאלות חידתיות מעניינות עם פתרונות יפים. מי שמתעניין, ממליץ לו לבקר באתר - גם מי שלא בא לו להשתתף, ההתנסות בשאלות משנה שעברה היא מאוד מעניינת. מה שהתחרות עושה בצורה נפלאה זה להדגים איך הפתרון הנאיבי יכול להתפוצץ נורא מהר - ועם קצת מחשבה, אפשר לפתור את אותה בעיה בצורה הרבה יותר פשוטה ואלגנטית.

ושנית, לחובבי הספרות שבינינו, קם לו מועדון סיפורים קצרים וירטואלי לסיפורי מד"ב פנטזיה. שיחות מעמיקות על סיפורים קצרים זה דבר מצויין שצריך יותר ממנו, כל הסיפורים כאן הם חינמיים וזמינים לכל דורש, ומהשיחות הראשונות מסתמן שמדובר בקוראים וכותבים רציניים שיש להם מה להגיד ויודעים איך לשוחח על יצירה מעניינת.

The Hebrew announcement will be followed by an English one:

  • Google Code Jam starts tonight and presents great problems and riddles in programming and geeky computer science-ness.
  • An online short story reading club is active, reading free SF/F stories and having interesting discussions. People don't talk about short fiction enough - go fix it!

» Google: Still Reigning Supreme
Google's recently unveiled a new product called Wave, which is basically meant to improve email and incorporate a bunch of different tools into one convenient package.

I've just watched the first 15 minutes of their presentation, and boy, am I impressed. The thing that's so impressive is how easily and elegantly they've come up with modifications and improvements to the email and conversations we take for granted. Take a peek at the video,, from about 3:00 on for about ten minutes. Over and over, I have these moments that perfectly combine "YES, that would be so great to have!" with "OMG, that's so simple and obvious!".

@google: Kol HaKavod. Keep up the good work.
» For Boojie

» Literally
Another site I'm glad exists: "Literally, A Web Log." Tracks (and illustrates) the use and the rampant abuse of the phrase "literally." Briteny Spears' sugery diet is "literally a roller-coaster to hell," the stuffed cuddly doll who is "literally alive," and Joe Biden explaining how the next president of the United States will "literally, literally to change the direction of the world."

You know what I'd like to see? Since using "literally" for emphasis is a laughable error, I think it should be replaced with the obvious. "Oh, yeah - he came in, and he figuratively charmed our pants off!". Ah, the world would be a better place.
» פגיעה, ביזוי, והשפלה
Now I, too, am taking part in provocative, edgy entertainment!

My game-master for a short mini-campaign of a humorous investigation of the supernatural just got a wonderful email. In our game, each one of has had a bizarre, misfit character. My intrepid GM wanted a summary of the mini-campaign, and so he wrote a page on our game on a wiki website, belonging to the Israel Roleplaying Society.

Now, one of our misfit characters was an attorney-at-law, and his name was not Gunther P. Jorgen, but I'll pretend it is rather than using his real name. The reason for this mild pretense is because it turns out that in fact, there exists a real lawyer whose name also is not Gunther P. Jorgen. Ooops.

So today my intrepid GM, along with a couple of the good folks in charge of the RPG Society, got an email...

I'd like to stress that the email was friendly and understanding, even if it was itemized and full of the Hebrew equivalents of "henceforth" and "the undersigned". Because, you see, the result of our little game page was that running the search phrase "Gunther P. Jorgen lawyer" returns text explaining that Gunther P. Jorgen is a nearly-qualified attorney-at-law, hired because he was cheap, specializing in "laws concerning the rights of the deceased, and other esoteric topics" (langbeheim suggests this could be summarized as דיני נכסי דלא ניידי), and whose primary skill was avoiding work.

Note that this isn't the information you find by clicking through to the page, reading three screens worth of game information (including the introductory "this page describes our roleplaying game" passage), and eventually finding that single paragraph. This is the snippet that Google presents in the search results. Anybody who doesn't read further (and, let's be fair, doesn't take any notice of the URL) might very reasonably assume that this is a mocking description of a very bad lawyer. I should also note that this is the third result Google comes up with - and by far the most attractive if somebody's looking for actual information on the guy.

Our intrepid GM, of course, altered the page right away, although the search result, funnily enough, still comes up when I search for the right phrase. A real shame, because now those who click through on the link will no longer show the explanation about it being a game, nor see that Mr. Jorgen has Academic Score of 3, plus 1 Coolness point.

In conclusion, I find the entire episode absolutely hilarious. Readers are invited to contribute suggestions for the Moral of the Story.
» רוצים לעבוד עם רחל?
רחל ביקשה ממני למסור ש-PayPal, שם היא עובדת בתחום איתור ומניעה של הונאות, מחפשים עכשיו עובדים חדשים.

יש משרה של תכנות ופיתוח ב-JAVA. מה שיותר יוצא דופן הוא משרת האנליסט, שזה די קרוב למה שרחל עושה; יתרונות נחמדים מאוד של התפקיד הם: תפקיד מעניין, בתנאים מצוינים, ושלא דורש ידע קודם בתחום ספציפי. חסרון אפשרי: משרה מלאה בתל-אביב.

רחל מוסרת גם שכבר קיבלו לא מעט קורות-חיים, ועל כן לא כדאי להתמהמה.

משרת אנליסטCollapse )

משרת מפתח JAVACollapse )

דברו עם רחל או איתי אם אתם מעוניינים. אם יש חברים שנראה לכם שיתאים להם - גם סבבה, פרוורדו.

» Up Up and Away!
Tonight Rachel and I and friends are going to UP in Jerusalem. Anybody want to come with us? We'd love to see you.
» More on Dollhouse:
Two interesting posts about Dollhouse, at the ever-elequent Tiger Beatdown, and the eternally-insightful Asking The Wrong Questions.
» Attention Gaiman fans
Please read this comic. Then, please, scroll down through the comments. Don't worry - you can't miss it.

BTW, nedroidcomics is a consistent source of awesome. You should follow it.
» With A Whimper
Guess who's closing down. Anybody remember good 'ol Geocities?

Makes you realize how much the web has changed in just a few short years. Once, Geocities was HUGE - I remember when I was about 14 years old, and I wanted an internet page too, and I chose a subject I liked and I learned HTML. Back then half the URLs on the net that weren't for porn went "www.geocities.com/SouthwestNevada/Wyomingsville/bob42/" or "geocities.com/MovieCity/SwingingFiftiesFlicks/bob42/", and they all looked like crap. And I wanted one too, and so I chose my city, and block number, and whatever the heck else, exercised my vast talent at web design and image altering, and proudly posted my own webpage, which by now is deeply embarrasing and which will be permanently excised from the internet at the end of 2009, along with millions of other pages, most of which are even worse.

The web's different now - concentrated into portals and hubs, with most people's personal contribution on a personal blog and their social networking sites. Websites without a full staff behind them are increasingly rare. It's good. But different.
» (No Subject)
A weird use of comics. Me likeses.
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