Netvibes, an alternative to iGoogle

I’m sure I’ve posted about this before, but I wanted to mention it again because I love it so damned much.  Netvibes, like the more well known igoogle, is a customizable homepage.  Using it’s various plugins you can load things like gmail (and other email clients), RSS feeds, and any other of productive (and not so productive) widgets into a web page.  Netvibes is probably my favorite webapp (discounting gmail) so far and find the abiltiy to but all my frequent stops on the web in one place not only damned handy as well as horribly addictive.   Did I mention it’s free?  iGoogle is a fine app, but I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed my experience with Netvibes more; though I can’t quite put my finger on why.  Anyway, give it a try and let me know what you think.

Some pics:

Netvibes Home

This is my homepage with feeds for email, wikipedia, google maps, and various time killing feeds.

Reader page

Clicking on any like to a story from an RSS feed opens up this window.  It lists all the stories on the left with a view of the post on the right.

Impressions: Crysis Demo

For those that don’t know I absolutely hated Far Cry.   It wasn’t really a bad game but, if you’ve heard of my experiences with the original Hitman, you know that stealthy action and my play style don’t go together (the original No One Lives Forever being perhaps the only exception).  That being said I felt that the Crysis demo was exceptional, and tons of fun to play.  There is a similar element of stealthiness required here but the addition of the power suit and its myriad of power makes managing combat (at least what was in the demo) much more entertaining.  The physics model is astounding; attacking a distant humvee from a machine gun turret ate through tree trunks causing the palms to crash to the ground caused a moment of visceral joy.  A fire fight in a North Korean outpost destroyed the building I was using for cover and had me seeking more solid object to hide behind and employing my suit’s cloak action to avoid heavy fire.   I won’t comment too much on graphics, my CPU lacks a dual-core and only has PC3200 ram so the game leans heavily on my Nvidia 8800 GTS (only the 320 mb model) which just isn’t enough to churn out the pixels at pretty resolutions.  The game worked, and at decent resolutions, and managed to look pretty good. 

From what I can tell the story seems to be rather interesting and the impressive AI and rendering technologies for the character models make immersion almost instantaneous.  Sound direction in the demo from the bark of weapon’s fire to the voice acting were top notch; the distant moans and cries of some thingout in the jungle with me certainly had me on edge.  Will I be buying the game anytime soon?  No.  See my previous post for some reasoning behind that.  I’d also like to put together a new PC sometime in the near future (I’m waiting on the verdict of AMD’s new Phenom line, due this month or early next year, before I decide exactly what I’m doing) so I can take better advantage of newer technology (a jump from single to quad core would rock, faster ram would be nice too, and maybe a sexier chassis to house everything).  Depending on my level of laziness at the time I’ll either build one myself or give Cyberpowerinc or iBuypower a try.

 The full game of Crsyis is out and seems to be getting solid reviews.  Both metacritic and gamerankings have average score in the low 90s.

A Miscellany

Well, I hadn’t quite figured on how slow this novel would move at the start.  It’ll probably take a while longer to get through it than some of my previous reads.   Needless to say I am working my through it; though at a snail’s pace.

In the meantime I did plow through David Weber’s second Honor Harrington novel, the Honor of the Queen, and enjoyed it as much, if not more, than the first novel.  At the library I work at we were missing most of the middle novels in this series (we had the first novel, plus most of the recent ones), I was able to order the rest and look forward to more of Captain Harrington’s adventures.  Anyone looking for an action-packed, fast paced, light read should seriously consider these books.

I also recently finished Glory Road by Robart A. Heinlaein.  I was introduced to the book via one of the many fantasy/sci-fi blogs what I frequent where it was said that Glory Road was one of Heinlein’s only (if not the only) works in fantasy.  As it turns out that isn’t completely accurate.  Expect more detailed impressions to come.

I also recently finished Bungie’s Halo 3; which I may comment on in the near future.  I play games real slow.  How slow?  Well here is a list of games that are currently in process:

Elder Scrolls: Oblivion
I was playing on my PC but I ditched that for the 360 version. Apparently there is some sort of Main Quest, maybe I’ll get to it one day. Length played: 1 year+
Legend of Zelda: The Twiglight Princess
I have enjoyed this game but several things have kept me from finishing. Number one is probably the archaic save system. Though the length of the game is pretty ridiculous. I’ll be honest though: I thought the atmosphere and character of Wind Waker was better. As great an experience as TP is (and it is a worthy Zelda title) I still feel Wind Waker was the superior title. Length played: 1 year+ (almost near the end though)
Neverwinter Nights 2
Massive bugs early in the game that corrupted some saves made things difficult (to say the least).   After a couple of patches I worked my way to near the end of the game  when I saved at annoying spot that left me with spells that I didn’t want and no way to change them (thus making the final battle a pain in the ass) in fit of frustration I deleted my old save and started over.   The game is beast, my system isn’t top notch but she ain’t no slouch either, and finding the right balance between performance and bling (for lack of a better term) hasn’t been very easy. Length played: 1 year+
Half-Life 2 Epidsode 1, 2, and portal
Apparently Episode 1 is a platformer, the early levels made me want to kill someone. I’ll get to 2 when I finish 1. I got stuck in Portal and haven’t had a chance to get back to it yet. Length played: 2+ months

I’m sure I’m forgetting something.  Things grow infinitely more complex looking ahead at all the games that are out, or are coming out in the next month or so, that I want to play:

Those are the four off the top of my head.  That list doesn’t include Rock Band which I am dead certain will suck away more time from my life.  I’m a little game starved this week since a lengthy project for my grandma’s birthday took up considerable time.   I just got my laptop back as well (or rather a new old one) that needs some attention, after reinstalling xubuntulast night (with problems caused by the ati driver that took a while to resolve), and getting ndiswrapperup and running (I hate that broadcom chipset in the old Dells) I still need to locate and install some missing packages/programs (mainly bluefish and cssed), and transfer files from my pc.

I look forward to actually being able to play some games next week (Wednesday and Friday especially).

Review: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Revelation Space

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Tor, 2005

Off the bat I can tell you that my favorite part of Spin was that the science fiction aspect of the novel was told from a very human perspective. In many ways one might even look at Spin, especially in its earlier chapters, as a disaster novel. Much of the narrative concerns itself with the humanity-wide notion of grief; how we, as a species, copes with the inevitable death of our planet.

Wilson’s novel examines the relationship of the main characters: the Lawton twins, Jason and Diane, and their friend Tyler Dupree (the true central character) as they each cope with the titular spin effect. Tyler, our main narrator, touches on the nature of friendship, religion, life, death, and love as he carefully winds through the history of his relationship with both Jason and Diane. While I hardily approve at this deeply personal focus on character over action there are times when I felt that the emotional weight of the story shifted a little too close to melodrama for my liking (the Tyler/Diane aspect). However, I found this somewhat infrequent due mainly to the fact that Wilson was able to use the mystery of the spin effect, and the enigmatic Hypotheticals that created it, to take some of the focus off the more melodramatic moments

Tyler’s narrative switches between current events (labeled by the year in scientific notation) and a recounting of past events and I’m not quite sure where my opinion falls regarding these temporal shifts. On the one hand both sides of the story were engaging, on the other hand Wilson had the annoying tendency to end current sections of narrative with cliffhangers right before diving into lengthy past episodes. This is understandable since revealing too much during current events would spoil events in the past though it was still frustrating.

<EDIT:>  Well having thought the above over I realize that the personal elements of the story would not have worked without the constant shifts in time and place.  I suppose my frustration was mainly a result of the frequent use of cliffhangers at the end of the “current” sections.  There was never a point where I was so frustrated that I wanted to skip over a past section to find out what happened.  In truth the consistent quality of the prose in both sections of the narrative made them rather easy to swallow and certainly served to mollify my own frustration with the aforementioned cliffhangers.</EDIT> 

The science-fiction elements are both well-thought out and fascinating to read, but not so much so that they obstruct the main focus of the book; the characters. Indeed, the science-fiction elements of the story are all discussed in terms of how they might (and do) effect humanity. Overall Wilson’s strong character driven narrative is tautly directed and serves the plot well giving the story a deeply human feel. Spinwas a good read, not fantastic, and a worthy addition to a sci-fi collection. For those interested in attracting new reader it should be noted the Spinoffers a good alternative for fans of disaster fiction, or those who enjoy more mainstream genre fiction (Koontz, King, etc.), to expand their reading habits.

Overall Grade: B+

BONUS HALLOWEEN REVIEW: John Dies At the End by David Wong

John Dies at the End

John Dies at the End by David Wong

Permuted Press, 2007

Review: If you like gory horror with a twisted sense of humor stop reading now and order this book. Seriously. If you don’t like jokes about genitalia, feces, and any number of things that wouldn’t be considered acceptable in polite company than stay the hell away.Seriously. I have to wonder if something is wrong with me for having enjoyed this book. Sure it doesn’t feature nearly the same level of disturbing imagery as Conrad William’s Unblemished (the amputee stuff in particular *shudder*) but still. Having spent just under twelve hours watching horror movies this weekend I realized that this book is endearing  because it is similar in tone to those great schlocky horror movies that persisted throughout the 70s and 80s; and I mean that in a good way.

The plot centers around two guys, David and (the titular) John, who after an encounter with a crazy Jamaican named Robert Marley (get it?) get suckered into taking a reality altering drug called Soy Sauce and are forever changed. Soy Sauce reveals to the two the hidden horrors of our world (and others) that everyone else cannot see or percieve.  Various and sundry hijinks ensue.

The story is narrated by David and pays homage to untrustworthy narrator of Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” David’s credibility is further thrown into question by his partner John (a compulsive liar and general wacko) and the strange effects of Soy Sauce itself. All-in-all David’s dry wit adds a certain brevity to a story that, without it, might have wallowed too much in its own seriousness. The fact that David is also the actual name of the author serves the same purpose of Horace Walpole’s prefaced claims that The Castle of Otranto was based on an obscure italian manuscript.  This device allows the reader to get closer to the horror (Danielewski’s House of Leaves is another good, more modern, example of this technique) through the attempt to ground fiction elements in our own reality.

Permuted Press is a small publisher so if you really want John Dies at the End you’ll have to either order from Amazon or (a local B&N could also special order it for you if you’re not down with the whole online thing). For the computer junkies out there is the place to go. The novel was originally an online thing (similar to Wellington’s Monster series) that is slowly being reposted (they’re up to Chapter 8 as of 11/1). If you’ve already read the book you can also go there to check out the sequel. John Dies at the End was a fun read, reminding me of that first magical time I saw Hellraiser. Horror fans (film and fiction) should check it out now.

Final Grade: A

Review: Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds

Revelation Space

Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds

Ace, 2000

When reading sci-fi I find I gravitate towards stories with that feature humans (or something resembling a human) explore/discover the remnants of a dead advanced civilisation. The Martian elements of Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs novels are an excellent example (Broken Angels and Woken Furies in particular). This aspect of my reading habbit is what initially drew me to Revelation Space and, while the discorvery of ancient alien mysteries plays a part in the unfolding story, it is in the end eclipsed by the rather expansive nature of Reynold’s tale. The plot revolves around Dan Sylveste’s quest to discover the reason why an ancient alien species was wiped out completely, at the same time we get a starship’s quest to save it’s dying captain, an assassin lurking in the shadows, and potentially murderous synthetic lifeforms.

The novel gets off to a rather slow start and I found my interest hindered by the constant shifts between Sylveste, Triumvir Volyova, and Ana Khouri. The initial introduction to each didn’t seem to linger long enough to generate any major interest; at least in terms of plot. All three characters are well drawn, given enough eccentricity to draw them away from genre cliche, and situated in three interesting and diverse worlds. And while each of the settings used for these characters are interesting their geographic isolation from one another really stalls the plot and, unfortunatley, it isn’t until about halfway through the book that these three worlds converge and the action heats up.

While I found the Revelation space enjoyable it was not by any means a page-turner and I felt the Reynold’s writing wasn’t quite up to generating the level of supsense necessary to keep readers coming back for more. At the same time I can’t really fault his writing and I found that I really did enjoy his work. There are elements of the story that set my imagination running in particular the massive ship Nostalgia for Infinity could probably be the subject of a whole book itself. Reynolds did an excellent job of conjuring the mystery and hidden history of the ship enough so that I wish it had played a more central role in the plot.

Desipte the novel’s shortcomings I think it was a worthy read, especially for someone relatively new to the science fiction genre (I’m a fantasy fan mostly) looking to explore the genre. It serves as an excellent contrast to the more adventure/action heavy science fiction of Bujold (Miles Vorkosgian) and Weber (Honor Harrington). Revelation Space touches on some interesting themes, most notably the cost of science. Some of the elements in the story touch on the divide between cyberpunk and postcyberpunk fiction in particular when discussing the nature of humanity. Overall a recommended read.

Final Grade: B-