Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Accomplished …

July 4, 2018

So, I think the best way to describe the mode I’m in right now is that my main push is to “accomplish” things. In short, to get the things done or do the things that I’ve wanted to do for ages and so now I’m deliberately planning for that, with my revamped reading list, my list of video games, and even my list of dvds to watch. I’m not merely trying to finish things that I’ve been wanting to finish — which is what I did before — but instead have been listing all of the things that I want to do, even if that’s to re-read, re-watch, or replay something that I’ve been looking to experience again for a long time. That’s even what drove my trying to slot hour long shows into my gaming time, and now to carve out an hour or so out of my evenings to watch Dynasty there, just so that I have a chance to watch it and get it done.

The problem is that, well, these sorts of things are really supposed to be in my leisure time, and sometimes doing that isn’t all that much fun. Or, rather, it’s not as much fun as the many, many other things that I could do in that time.

For example, right now I’m reading the abridged version of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. The book is, well, not terrible, but not terribly fun. But I’m soldering through it because I’ve owned it for years and never really go all that far in it, and I want to finally finish it and put it behind me. But I can look at the stack of books to follow it, and know that at least the next two are going to be far more interesting than it is right now, and so can’t help but think that there are much better books that I could be reading right now. This is not helped by the fact that the previous two books that were on the list were not as good as I remembered. Oh, and I also went through my collection of books and gathered six boxes of fiction books that I want to read at some point once I get off this non-fiction run, which doesn’t even include the old favourites like the X-Wing books and the Wing Commander books that I will indeed read likely at some point this year. So every time I pick up that book, I can’t help but be reminded of all of the other books I have available that I could be reading instead. This does not make me more favourably inclined towards that book [grin].

The same thing can be said for video games right now. I’m playing Persona right now, which is a game that I really wanted to finish at some point, and is one of the games that I was annoyed over losing access to when the battery on my PSP died and I was having a hard time finding a replacement. But I don’t like Persona, as a game, anywhere near as much as the other Persona games, which are right now sitting at the end of my current queue. I also recently went through my other games and, again, found a long list of games that I want to play at some point. So, again, every time I sit down to play it I can’t help but be reminded of all of the other games I could be playing instead.

For both of them, the only thing that’s keeping me going with them is the fact that they’re on the top of the list and so are in a great position for me to actually finish them, and I really want to finish them. I’m also not likely to get anything new any time soon to distract me from them. So I’m not going to get any better chance to finish them than I have right now. So, I’m hoping that that sense of accomplishment at the end will outweigh the mild annoyance I’m experiencing right now.

Amazingly, DVDs don’t have this issue. I’m enjoying He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, even if it’s been a bit displaced by Dynasty, which I’m also enjoying. Knight Rider has been pushed aside for now, but that’s mostly because I don’t play Persona as long as I had thought I would and since my play was to watch an entire disk while playing and since one disk is closer to 4 hours than to 3 it doesn’t fit in that time slot anymore. Moreover, there’s always baseball and now soccer to watch while playing games so it doesn’t even support that as well as it did originally. But there is no doubt in my mind that I’ll find the time to watch it at some point when I finish Dynasty, even if I watch something else first.

Hopefully, I can slog through these to get to something more fun. The last thing I want is to put this much effort in and end up bailing on them at the end anyway.

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Thoughts on “The Decisive Duel: Spitfire vs 109”

June 25, 2018

So, a while back — while I was watching “Frasier”, actually — I was read a book called “The Decisive Duel: Spitfire vs 109” by David Isby, talking about the development of the two main fighters of WWII and their “duel” throughout WWII. I picked it up originally because I generally like discussions about the air war and air power and general, and it was recommended by Andrew Roberts, who had written “The Storm of War” which I also remembered liking (although I mixed that book up with “War at Sea” by Nathan Miller, which made me think that it was the same kind of book but only from the perspective of the air war, which made me more inclined to read it).

After reading it, I have to say that I liked the book. The best part of it is the descriptions of the moves and counter-moves and thus the many, many different variations of each plane as they tried to find the best planes for the specific problems they had to address and to counter improvements made by the other side whenever they managed to get any kind of actual advantage. And the specifics of each fighter’s design played a huge role in not only what they did there, but also if they even could counter that advantage, and the overall design of each fighter was actually very dependent on the overall experience and personality of their main designers. The 109 was the way it was because of Messerschmitt’s experience and interests, and that at times gave it an advantage but also caused serious issues with future designs, for example. It also talks about other issues around the duel, like cost, production ability, and even tactics, all of which come together to give a larger overall idea of what the air war in WWII really entailed.

While the “Battle of Britain” is, of course, important and covered in detail in the book, it goes on past that until the end of the war, and it’s interesting to see just how much of the duel carries on past that crucial engagement. The Spitfire and 109 continued to duel past that point, and both continued to be modified in reaction to each other until the very end of the war.

I, personally, found that the book often devolved into long technical discussions that didn’t really interest me, but this isn’t a criticism of the book. Given the subject matter, you pretty much had to expect that they were going to need to do that, and in general the technical discussions are relevant to the overall story of the duel. So it’s just a warning that if you do read that book to be prepared for technical discussions if that isn’t your cup of tea.

Overall, I liked the book and will almost certainly read it again at some point … but probably not while watching Frasier [grin].

Thoughts on some old “favourties”

June 18, 2018

So, recently, I re-read a couple of books that I had read a few years ago and found interesting: “The Holy Kingdom” by Adrian Gilbert and “The Last Knight” by Norman F. Cantor. In fact, I remembered both of them so fondly that I was excited to get a chance — or, rather, to deliberately plan — to read them again. And yet, both of them disappointed me. They certainly weren’t as good as I remembered them to be.

One of the main reasons for this, I think, is that both of them are decidedly one-sided. “The Holy Kingdom” focuses on the theory that King Arthur was really two different historical figures and was of Welsh origin. The former is a very interesting idea, and Gilbert at least tries to provide good sources that theory, but it is interspersed with numerous shots at the traditional English historians for being biased against Welsh history. This might be true, but reading that makes me skeptical that the assessment is totally fair, and thus only makes me feel that in order to accept their overall views I’d need to go and do more research myself. And I don’t have the time to do that, so my reading feels incomplete, while at the same time the asides don’t add anything to the book for me. Sure, they are used as answers to the question of why no one noticed these things before, but “They just don’t want to see it!” no longer counts as sufficient reason for me. They may well be doing that, but they might also have reasons for rejecting it. I would have preferred more direct replies rather than asides saying that their opponents were just being obstinate.

“The Last Knight” focuses on the life of John of Gaunt. Or, rather, it focuses on what we can say about England in the Middle Ages based on how he lived his life. In reality, though, it far more often wants to talk about sexual mores and link John of Gaunt to modern billionaires than to really focus on either John of Gaunt’s life or on the details of medieval society. This results in the most interesting part of the book — the titular “Last Knight” — getting short shrift in what it purportedly his own book. The book is also very repetitive, saying the exact same things in the exact same way even in the span of a few pages. There is no examination in depth of pretty much anything, either the times or the people or John of Gaunt himself. There are a number of interesting links that are drawn, but they are so shallowly examined that, again, all they do is make me want to delve into the topic in much more detail, which I again don’t have the time to do, and his constant comments about elites grate after a while.

The books aren’t terrible books. “The Holy Kingdom” does make its case and the two Arthur theory is interesting, and “The Last Knight” does reveal some interesting things about the Middle Ages. But I guess I have to say that both of them aren’t the sort of work that I’m really looking for right now, or else the other books I’ve read have eclipsed them. It also might be that I’m more skeptical than I used to be and so am looking for works that really take on their opponents in the fairest and strongest ways possible. Either way, they aren’t as much fun to read as I remembered and so I don’t think I’ll feel the same zeal to re-read them as I did this time.

Next up is me reading a book that I’m pretty sure I never finished reading: an abridged version of Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. I wonder if the abridging is what is causing my struggle to read that book …

Thoughts on Darth Plagueis

June 6, 2018

So, recently, I read the Star Wars Legends book “Darth Plagueis” by James Luceno. I’ve liked a lot of his stuff before, so it was worth giving this a try. Anyway, the book follows Darth Sideous’ mentor Darth Plagueis, his researches into life and death, and the relationship between the two, including the reasons for the main plot that Sideous follows on with in the PT — that leads to establishing the Empire — and how that all gets started.

What’s good about the book is that it does, indeed, fill in a number of details about how that all works and worked out, including why Naboo had a 14 year old elected Queen at the time, as well as what this was all supposed to achieve, and why there was taxation of trade routes and why that all mattered … and, in fact, why that dispute would lead to civil war. In short, the taxation of trade routes was a minor issue, but Plagueis and Sideous had already manipulated things so that the galaxy was being divided up into factions based on self-interest, and the Naboo situation struck directly at those divisions of self-interest. The taxation wasn’t that important, but which of the two sides managed to “win” was, as the other side would feel hard done by which would cause issues.

It also goes into the backstory of Sideous a bit more, showing how he progressed from a minor political figure on Naboo into becoming a Sith Lord. I think this has all or mostly been eliminated by the new works, but it was interesting, even if Sideous’ specific background isn’t all that interesting for a Sith Lord, paling in comparison to characters like Bane or Vader or Revan. It also goes into the backstory of how Sideous found Maul, which again I think has been eliminated by new media, but is interesting enough.

The main problem with the work, though, is that while it helps establish Sideous as a villain by making the overarching villainous plot make sense and by filling in the details — and also by showing the political machinations required to pull it off — it also hurts his character because most of the plot was devised by Plagueis, not him. Sideous shows some but limited political skill throughout the entire book; the big moves are all orchestrated by Plaugeis. This, of course, can explain Sideous’ at least potential mistakes and why he didn’t foresee the end that befell him, but in terms of the overarching plot it seems that for the most part his role is like what would happen if Darth Maul had killed Sideous and taken over his plan: Sideous runs the plan that was already set into motion by Plagueis, but for the most part is only slightly more competent at those sorts of manipulations as Maul would be. I really would have liked that to be more of a partnership than it was, with Plagueis having more Force knowledge while Sideous had the political knowledge, and Sideous deciding to take out Plagueis when he thought that Plagueis had no more to teach him.

That being said, the book at least spells out a clear goal for the Sith, something that they wanted to achieve, which is more than we can say for the PT (beyond “rule the galaxy”).

Darth Plagueis was a decent book, and I’d likely read it again.

Lists …

June 1, 2018

So, I’ve been recently redoing my schedule to try to fit more things into it. I’ve also been trying to plan out things so that, eventually, I can talk about them on the blog. And I’ve started to get onto a kick of either finishing things or, at least, trying to make sure that I get things finished that I’ve wanted to get finished for quite some time. Long-time readers of the blog will remember the various pages that I made to list these things out, and so I’ve decided to update those lists with an organized set of things that I want to do. This will help me keep track of what I want to do next — so no hemming and hawing over what I’m going to do next when I finish something –, give the people reading the blog an idea of what I’m going to talk about at some point, and in some sense have this out in public which then gives me some incentive to actually finish it.

So, first, let’s talk about books. I’ve been on a non-fiction kick lately, reading through a ton of non-fiction books and, in particular, a number of Pierre Berton books. I plan on commenting on them at some point when I get a chance — although the stack is getting larger and larger — but for now I’ve added a bunch of historical books to the list, which tracks non-fiction books. I think there are three books there that I haven’t read — “History’s Greatest Battles”, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” and “Guns, Germs and Steel” — but I’ve been wanting to re-read “The Holy Kingdom” and “The Last Knight” for a while and I re-read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” pretty regularly, and “The Storm of War” fits nicely into the WWII mindset. After that, I have to catch up on my philosophical reading, but I haven’t made that list yet because these books will take me a few months to read — non-fiction takes longer to read than fiction — and after that I’ll have to see if I’m ready to pick up more non-fiction or if I want to read some fiction at that point.

Next are TV shows. I only have time to watch half hour long shows in the evenings, which is why I’ve been commenting on cartoons a lot right now (also why I did comedies like Wings, Cheers and Frasier). So I’ve listed the last set of cartoons for now: “The Real Ghostbusters”, “He-Man” (all of the series), and “She-Ra”. After that, it’s “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, which I’ve watched but never talked about. After that … I don’t know.

I’ve also wanted to watch or re-watch some hour long shows, and I’ve carved out some time to watch them … while playing games on the weekend, which gives me about two disks a week. Right now, “Knight Rider” and “Airwolf” are going in that slot, and when they’re finished I don’t know what I’ll do yet. But at that pace it will take me months to get there, so I have time.

For both of these, once I finish off the current lists I might well go back and re-watch things that I just want to watch but either have already commented on or don’t want to comment on, so I may not use the next things to generate content for the blog. But, for now, I will comment in some way on all of these shows.

And speaking of video games, I’ve created a new list for my planned video games. Right now, it’s all of the Persona games except for Persona 5. I have a lot of candidates to play after that — including Persona 5 — but at six hours a week I estimate that just playing those four will take me until about Christmas. Let’s see how I feel at that point.

So, that’s it so far. There may be other lists coming if I think them useful, but these are the ones that I already had and did find useful at some point, so I figured it made sense to use them. You can watch the lists to see what gets added, what gets removed, and what gets completed.

Thoughts on “Ready Player One”

April 23, 2018

So, I finished reading “Ready Player One”, and overall found it … okay. I’m going to talk about it in detail, and even though the book isn’t that recent the movie is so I’ll continue below the fold:

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If not for you …

March 28, 2018

In “Nine Princes in Amber”, the first book in the Amber series by Roger Zelazny, Eric of Amber says this to his brother Corwin: “I might have pardoned him, save for your present recommendation”. He goes on to say that because Corwin wanted their brother Random spared, it had to be for some ulterior motive, so Eric couldn’t trust that recommendation.

I now feel the same way about “Ready Player One”.

I heard about the book from numerous sources. Despite being in the age range to get the nostalgia hit, it didn’t seem to me like a book that I’d want to read. And after giving up on popular sci-fi — and pretty much any sci-fi — after the whole Hugo Awards thing and my assessment that the winners in 2016 were at best mediocre, I certainly wasn’t inclined to try out something else that some people liked and some people griped about.

But P.Z. Myers hates it.

Now, this is not the first time Myers has griped about it, and it’s not the case that I’d do anything or seek out something just because Myers hates it, because if you look up the word “curmudgeon” in the dictionary you’ll probably see his picture (or Jerry Coyne’s, which makes it all the more ironic that they even dislike each other). If I tried everything he hated I’d never get done. But in the latest post he linked to another post talking about other people disliking it:

Let’s not beat around the bush: Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is a circle jerk of male geek culture sustained over a grueling 400 pages.

Well, now I’m interested, just to see what it did to tick them off so much (despite her later commenting that there’s nothing wrong with a movie about that, despite the harsh response). So, I bought it, and I’m going to read it. I’m going to read it with the same attitude as I read all of those Hugo nominees from 2016, and attempt to give an objective assessment of how good or bad it is. I could think it terrible. I could think it great. I’m expecting to find it “Meh”. But we’ll see. And it’s filling up the Amazon free shipping for the Infinity War TPB, which I’m looking forward to reading after really enjoying Infinity Gauntlet. So, there’s that.

But let me talk about the rest of Jess Joho’s article above, because her main point is indeed less that “Ready Player One”‘s focus is bad, and more that it leaves out all of the girl pop culture from the same time periods, and goes on to suggest things that could be done to make up the gap:

That why everything from Transformers to The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can get reimagined with CGI reverence — but the idea of a blockbuster live-action American Girl Dolls or The Powerpuff Girls franchise sounds laughable.

So, why did those two specific things get their movies? Well, let’s start with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. See, the reason it got reimagined might have something to do with the fact that in 1990 it actually had a live action movie, that was successful enough to spawn two sequels. If you were looking for something from that era to reboot as a live action movie, that one was a pretty good bet, especially after Transformers worked. And for Transformers, it was actually still running incarnations of the cartoons up until 2006 (the first movie was made in 2007). Oh, and it had a theatrical movie, too, which was poorly received at the time but has gone on to be a cult classic. So if you were going to try out a couple of old cartoons to turn them into modern movies, these were pretty good bets for having, you know, actually been movies at some point.

But it’s far more enlightening to look at what she left out. She left out the G.I. Joe movies, and since Transformers and G.I. Joe were both Hasbro products, it only makes sense that they’d try those two, and also explains what she finds inexplicable that the “Battleship” board game would get a movie before the “girl” movies she wants. And given that Hasbro is involved, we might want to ask about a Jem and the Holograms movie … except that it had one, which was poorly received, and so didn’t get a second movie even though they clearly planned for a sequel and even planned for a potential crossover with G.I. Joe and the Transformers, which was killed by how poorly the Jem movie did. Wonder why she left that one out. And she could have asked about “My Little Pony” … except that it got a theatrical release in 2017. Again, wonder why she left that one out. So far, her post is more noteworthy for what she ignores than for what she says.

So let’s look at her seven suggestions:

1. An HBO The Baby-Sitters Club mini-series

The original #girlbosses, Baby-Sitters Club is lowkey one of the most enduring feminist staples of girlhood. Long before Time’s Up made pay equity a central cultural conversation, these young entrepreneurs were making business plans and getting ****ing paid. Yes, there was a 1995 movie, but the time is ripe for a reboot (Hollywood loves those!). So we propose HBO takes this on to deliver a Big Little Lies for the younger generation.

I’ve heard of this series. I’m not sure how it would work on HBO, given that it’s not likely to be a deep or complicated story, and if they made it that way it would probably end up a lot like the Jem movie. And it also had a movie. Still, it’s hard to see this one working in the same way as Transformers or TMNT did, because Michael Bay took the source material and built a somewhat credible set of action movies out of it, which meant it had an audience beyond those who wanted to watch it out of nostalgia (and good thing, because Transformers, at least, for the most part ignored what made the original shows so interesting and so killed most people’s nostalgia anyway).

2. A live-action Sailor Moon franchise

Sailor Moon was the ’90s kid Saturday morning cartoon blast in the face of lady power. Aside from being a radical school girl who could turn into a magical goddamn moon princess, she also taught us about the enduring power of female friendship. We’re envisioning something that’s Sucker Punch levels of extra — only without all the gross male gaze-y bullshit.

I watched this show. I liked it (Sailor Mercury was my favourite). I think it would make a crap live action movie. First, because it was an anime, and unlike cartoons anime tends to stretch their storylines out over an entire season and so it’s hard to isolate a storyline that can fit nicely into one movie (and a planned trilogy can fall apart if it isn’t done right, like Jem and the Holograms) and second because it’s a magical girl story and I think that would be hard to pull off credibly in live action. I suspect that such a movie would turn into some kind of action movie a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I don’t think would please any audience that might be inclined to see it.

3. Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy

This Victorian-era fantasy trilogy is not only beautifully written, but one of the starkest YA portrayals of how girls must navigate complicated relationships to power, patriarchy, and friendship. We got pretty close to seeing them made into movies when Icon Productions licensed it in 2006. Then nothing happened… until the company recently relinquished the rights — leaving it totally open for grabs (are you listening, Warner Bros.?!)

The what now? I’ve never heard of this, and if you’re looking to get comparisons to Transformers and the like you’d think I’d have heard of it, having heard of the first two and Powerpuff Girls …

4. A feminist reboot of Life-Size

Who could forget Trya Banks’ acting debut in 2000 as a Barbie brought to life. But while the original Disney movie played Eve’s inability to perform Barbie’s many jobs (doctor, astronaut, lawyer, etc) for laughs, there’s a real metaphor there. There are endless possibilities in a feminist reboot that actually critiques the cultural messages we send young girls through marketing and toys. And, yeah, we know: a sequel was actually announced. But we want less made-for-TV Life-Size 2, and more of a wide theatrical release for Life-Size: The Reckoning.

Well, at least it being from 2000 explains why I’ve never heard of it … but it also doesn’t make it fit the sort of nostalgia narrative that the other series hit.

5. The Song of the Lioness series, or anything from the Tortall Universe

Wouldn’t you know it — here’s another beloved, classic female-oriented YA series that almost got made into a movie, and then didn’t. But for the love of god, if we can get an Eragon movie and two Percy Jackson movies made, then I think we can spare one measly Hollywood adaptation to Tamora Pierce. This book follows the story of Alanna of Trebond, a noble girl that disguises herself as a boy so she can train to become a knight.

Seriously: everyone wants this adapted, for too many reasons to count. Just call Maisie Williams and tell her to clear her schedule already.

I guess I’m not everyone, because I could care less. Mostly because I have no idea what it is or was. Then again, the same could be said for Eragon or Percy Jackson … but then I didn’t watch those either and they clearly don’t have the same cultural cache as the things she originally talked about.

6. A Daria movie that isn’t a joke

Do we even need to defend this? The fake College Humor trailer for a live-action Daria starring Aubrey Plaza basically did the work for us. And it feels like a sin that no one’s taken up the task of turning that dream into a reality. I mean, we can all agree that Daria is an icon for apathetic millennials everywhere, regardless of gender — right?

I’ve heard of Daria, watched it, liked it. Am not convinced that you can turn it into a movie, although a live action series could work. Still, it might be worth someone taking a stab at it, but on the other hand it’s not like anyone tried to do a reboot movie of Beavis and Butthead yet, either.

7. Skip the Bright sequel, and make Tithe instead

Bright already felt pretty much like a really bad, racist knock-off of Tithe, a well-respected YA novel that brought fairies into cityscapes. Holly Black’s Tithe didn’t originate the gritty urban fairytale genre, but it grounded it in girlhood experiences through protagonist Kaye Fierch. You can find Kaye struggling to reconcile with her musician mother’s unconventional lifestyle, while also dealing with hangovers from a night out partying with the faery folk in their (literal) underground bars. Think Lord of the Rings if it was dropped into the Gossip Girl universe (and a lot less reductive.)

The what now? I haven’t heard of either … and I’ve heard of “Sweet Valley High”.

Okay, what’s clear is that Joho is really simply posting a list of things she wants to see made into movies or TV series or whatever, but that don’t really have any kind of logical link to the male geek culture nostalgia movies and shows that have been made. While I think it intentional, the main reason to gripe about male geek culture being made is that she thinks that making arguments like that are more likely to get attention than simple arguments about how good this series would be if it was made into a movie. It also lets her hide behind the excuse of sexism if they don’t get made or if they are made and fail, without her ever having to admit that it wasn’t a good idea in the first place. So we can see that people are using the excuse of sexism to argue for personal preferences as opposed to things that really highlight sexism, ignoring things that would cast doubt on the sexism interpretation and hyping up the parts that neatly fit that narrative. This clutters the landscape and makes it hard for us to know when things are really sexist and when it’s just a result of personal preferences that aren’t shared by most people and so don’t have an audience. There’s no real consideration of who the audience might be or if that sort of thing can work. This results in people demanding that customers who are not interested in those things buy it anyway in the name of fighting sexism even though the intended audience itself won’t buy enough of it to make it work. This, of course, is very, very bad for any media that actually listens to them.

And remember, I liked some of these things, and still am wary about trying to find a way to give her what she wants (because I think we can’t). If she can’t appeal on the basis of there being enough of an intended audience to make that work, we should not let her get away with appealing to how important it is to women to do it.

Thoughts on Thrawn …

February 19, 2018

So, after watching and not being very impressed by “The Force Awakens” I was pretty much ignoring the new Star Wars canon, and haven’t even watched “Rogue One” or “The Last Jedi” yet. However, I was browsing in the local Chapters — picking up a slew of Pierre Berton books — and I went to look to see what they had for Star Wars books. I came across one written by Timothy Zahn, simply entitled “Thrawn”. Since I knew that Thrawn had been added to the new canon, and since I had already written that using him would have solved many of the problems with “The Force Awakens”, and since it was written by the person who created the character and who, you know, could actually write, I thought I’d give it a try.

And, overall, it’s a pretty good book, with one glaring error that drags it down. Since I’ll be going through that error — an entire character arc — in detail, I’ll continue below the fold:

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Your chance to help decide what I write about!

November 29, 2017

So, I’ve been running with the three updates a week schedule for quite a while now, and it seems to be working out pretty well. It even managed to survive my incredible busy time without all that much of a hitch. In doing this I’ve also started to figure out what things work, what things don’t and how things can work out better in my schedule, which then might start to make the blog more predictable consistent in how things work and what sort of content you might see here. In short, there are certain types of content that work pretty well whether I’m busy or not, and that are also things that I like talking about and am going to do some things with anyway, so I might as well talk about them.

The key is that what works best for the blog are things that I can watch, read or do at any time and then comment on later without having to refer back to the original source material that much. If I can do that, then it really makes my blog writing more flexible and so gives me things that can be done in a relative hurry if I’m busy but that I can do in free time if I’m not busy. TV shows are the ideal for this, and books are probably the worst (since to comment on arguments fairly I generally want to quote from them). But since a lot of these things are things that I haven’t focused on or that are suddenly fitting into my schedule better than they did before, I’m also a bit short of things that fit into those categories and so need to find some new sources for those sorts of posts.

Here is your chance to guide me towards new things to try in those areas.

So, one thing that I’ve found myself lately is watching Extra Credits youtube videos and commenting on them (which in their case means “Disagreeing with them”). In fact, I’m planning on commenting on another couple of them in the near future. But other than SF Debris, I don’t really watch a lot of youtube videos, especially when it comes to gaming. And about the only other commentator on games that I read consistently is Shamus Young, and I’m thinking about digging through his old columns — which he is planning on revisting himself, making this so much easier — to find some other things to talk about. But what other video game commentators do you guys like to watch or read who might have things to say that I might find interesting and want to talk about? While ones that I would probably disagree with are in some sense good — because it’s always pretty easy to write posts disagreeing with people (Hi, Extra Credits!) — I’m also open to people who just say things that might bring up interesting, tangentially related ideas for me to talk about (Hi, Shamus!).

A couple of caveats, though: for youtube videos, the videos can’t be longer, on average, than a half-hour, and can’t be Let’s Plays. Text reviewers are not only excluded from those restrictions, they’ll get precedence because it’s easier for me to read them anywhere and quote them if I want to talk about what they’re saying.

Another thing that I’ve recently started doing more frequently is commenting on TV shows that I’m watching in general, which you saw with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Transformers, and most recently Cheers. I’m currently watching Frasier, and will talk about it as things go along, and I still have a show like Wings waiting when this is done. But since I don’t watch a lot of TV in general, I don’t have much of an idea of what shows might be worth watching, and for my purposes — see the upcoming caveats — don’t want to risk trying something out that I don’t think will be good.

Right now, there are a number of caveats. First, for at least the next year it looks like half-hour shows are what I’ll be watching, and that’s all that I could do for the blog because it would take me too long to watch hourly shows to be useful for generating content on the blog. However, that isn’t limited to sitcoms, as it can fit into anything that is half-hour in length and sounds interesting, like cartoons (for example). Second, these have to be completed series, and it has to be the case that I can get the entire series for a reasonable price. Ideally, if I can order them all on amazon.ca, that would be wonderful. EDIT: I’ll pretty much be buying DVDs, so if it’s not out on DVD the chances of my watching it are slim to none. Third, they can’t be too long; the eleven seasons of Frasier and Cheers are probably about the limit, although that’s more number of episodes rather than number of seasons.

As an example, I’m right now looking to see if I can get Hot in Cleveland — which I’ve talked about before — and maybe, now that its run is done, 2 Broke Girls if I can get the seasons for a reasonable price. Big Bang Theory is out because it is still running and is too long anyway, as is something like The Simpsons for the same reason.

I’m also interested in getting suggestions for books to read and talk about. I do want to keep reading and writing about deeper and more serious topics like that, even though it takes me a while to get around to commenting on them (I have finished reading Philipse’s book, for example, but still have to finish writing posts about it), and I’m a bit out of the loop on what the most recent or, for some genres, even what the popular books and topics are. So I’d be looking for suggestions in the genres of theology, philosophy, and history primarily. I’ll also consider requests for TPB comic editions (but, at least for now, not Alt-Hero).

Now, just because something isn’t listed here doesn’t mean that I won’t be writing about it. For example, I still intend to write about video games, but that will still be limited to the ones I play, and I won’t be soliciting ones to consider as something new so I can talk about it on the blog. And I’ll talk about music and my own eccentricities and do song parodies and talk about computers and write philosophical posts regardless. It’s just that these are categories that it is both relatively easy for me to write about and that I’m fairly uninformed about what’s out there that I might want to get into and write about, which is why I’m asking for suggestions here.

Also note that this isn’t like Chuck’s requests. I don’t put these on a list and promise to have them completed at some time in the near future. I’ll do them if I feel like it and get time and can get them without breaking the bank. I’ll try to respond to all comments as to whether there’s even a chance of it and I’ll try to put something up for things that I’ve bought and so plan to get to at some point, but any suggestion you make here is a suggestion that I’ll consider but may not do, even if I think it’s a good one.

Thoughts on two books by Adrian Goldsworthy …

October 13, 2017

So, I recently somewhat read two books on Roman History by Adrian Goldsworthy, Caesar and Pax Romana. I really liked Caesar, but couldn’t even manage to finish Pax Romana. I could have finished the latter if I had really tried, but I bought and was reading these books for entertainment and found at about the midway point that I wasn’t enjoying reading Pax Romana and wasn’t likely to start any time soon.

I think the main issue is that Pax Romana doesn’t really have a purpose, or at least one that the book supports. Goldworthy frames it as examining whether the Roman Empire could be considered peaceful and civilizing or aggressive and oppressive, but all he ends up doing is talking about how Rome gained its territories and how it governed them. While he generally slips in a comment or two about whether this made Rome oppressive or not, most of the time there’s no real direct relevance to the main thesis, and so if you are thinking about that premise you would be wondering how this all fits. However, most of the time you will have completely forgotten that that was what he was going for, and so simply be working through the details of how things worked in those areas or provinces. But he doesn’t go into enough detail on the everyday life of the people in those provinces or areas for it to work as just giving background history, and there’s no real chronological or even causal/narrative link between the sections to draw you along. Without a strong tie to the overall theme, the sections seem disconnected from each other, and the sections talk too shallowly about their specific topics to work as an interesting examination of those topics. At the end of the day, the topics examined were neither detailed enough to be enjoyed for their own sake or tied enough to a main thesis to work as establishing evidence for whatever conclusion Goldsworthy wanted us to draw.

Caesar works better — and is the one I read first — because it has an overarching framework to work with: Caesar. While there may be quibbles here and there, generally the book both has a reason for detailing what it does — telling us about Caesar — and has a chronological and causal chain carrying us from one chapter to the next, as we examine Caesar’s career. If we have to hop back into the past, it’s because what happened then is important — at least in the author’s mind — for understanding what happens to Caesar next. If we talk about political systems or historical events that don’t directly involve Caesar, it’s because it’s important to establish them in order to understand Caesar and how things got to that point. While the ending seemed a bit rushed, overall we get a pretty good narrative of Caesar and his life, as well as the cultural factors that made Rome what it was at the time and the systems that Caesar took advantage of and opposed.

Pax Romana had none of that, and so ended up seeming, at least to me, like a series of disconnected sections rather than any kind of comprehensive, unified work. And that, ultimately, bored me.