Finally…we’re live!

Our new library website is LIVE!

I’ve been working on this for what amounts to a year or more now.  Long, I know, but I learned as I went. While I knew basic HTML when I started, enough to put together a simple page, I had to learn XHTML, CSS and, eventually PHP.  The site has seen multiple iterations prior to the final design but I’m pleased with how things have finally turned.

The main page uses SimplePie to display a couple of RSS feeds as content generated by the amazingly useful listgarden generator.  The calendar is a bit of damn useful PHP developed by James Cridland.  Some areas are still a work in progress, some are simple movement of old content into a new package, but overall I’m happy with how things turned.

Browser compatability isn’t perfect.  An advanced CSS3 selector used to pick out Children’s events on the calendar only works in Firefox, Opera, and IE7.  However in most instances everything should work in IE6, IE7, Firefox 2 (and FF 3 beta 5), and Opera 9.x.  Give it a whirl and feel free to leave comments/suggestions/thoughts.

One last note, not everthing is standards compliant….yet.  PHP is a pain in the ass to validate for that, at least as far as I can tell, so if anyone has input I’d definatley appreciate any advice in that regard.

This represents my first “real” website design and I’m pretty proud of it so try not to bruise my ego too much.

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Review: Worlds Collide by Apocalyptica

I just recently noticed that Apocalyptica’s entire catalog has been loaded up on Rhapsody.  Presumably it’s part of a larger plan to advertise their new album, Worlds Collide, which seems to be the trend for a lot of artists that have been holding out on “monthly fee” services. Since I’ve been only listening to their second album, Inquisition Symphony, up until this point (because it was the only one on Rhapsody), this gave me a chance to see what else a metal band founded by four cellists can do.

The Bad: I’m fully convinced that the addition of a drummer to the original quartet stripped away some piece of the band’s uniqueness.  On the initial few albums, the percussion section was either dropped entirely or picked up by one of the cellos. Either choice results in a unique sound in a genre where the drummer is heavily emphasized and that’s now missing. The only other problem with this album is that the collaborations tracks with vocals are clear attempts at sacrificing their sound to garner some play on rock radio (success…I actually heard I’m Not Jesus on WMMR recently). The results are some tracks that tend towards generic hard rock.

The Good: The instrumental tracks are fantastic. The band does an excellent job of letting the beautiful sound of the main cello come through while still maintaining an overall metal sound that proves they really understand the genre despite being trained in classical music. After the novelty of “cello metal” fades for the listener, the band can easily stand on the quality of their music. As an added bonus for Rammstein fans, there is clearly a lot of overlap between the two bands since they toured together in 2005. Till Lindemann makes a guest appearance with a German-language cover of David Bowie’s Heroes. A longtime Rammstein producer is also at the helm of Worlds Collide. Combining that with Rammstein’s frequent use of strings results in a couple moments that could have come from either band.

The Verdict: A strong B+. Find a way to listen to this album. Just maybe skip some of the generic vocal tracks.

UPDATED: The Darker Side of Hobbits

The Hobbit movies now officially have a director and the choice couldn’t have been more perfect: Guillermo del Toro. I can’t wait to see what he does with the series. His previous movies have shown a perfect combination of whimsy and psychosis and modeling The Hobbit in his trademark style could make it something truly disturbing (and awesome). I look forward to a very disturbing portrayal of Gollum.

Update from Mike:

I’m pretty excited.  I love the practical effects from Hellboy from the Hand of Doom design, the Samaritans and especially the work done on Kroenen.  I don’t know how much input del Toro had with the prop design but the thought of Jackson, del Toro, and Weta putting their heads together is a pleasing image.  The Balrog was amazing, I will have dreams of Smaug until the movie(s) are released (and will do my best to ignore any pre-release leaks/design shots).

Thoughts on who might play a young Bilbo?  I love Ian Holm’s performance from LotR; hopefully they’ll get someone of his caliber.

Some del Toro links:

Aintitcool post on the announcment.

Variety’s announcement.

del Toro’s IMDB page.

Solid del Toro fansite with pre-official annoucement coverage.

Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

I guess I thought about this, mentally composed a post, and published it to the ever floating ether that flits about the inside of my head.  Stupid imagination.  I am certain, at the very least, that I mentioned the book to Ricker way back when, but I guess I never got around to actually sharing my opinion here.  Oops.

With mass market release this month a couple of late reviews of Patrick Rothfuss’ debut novel (that distinction is important since his earlier published short fiction made him ineligible for a best debut nomination last year which was complete bull) The Name of the Wind.  I won’t belabor you with too much unabashed praise but, in a genre for which my enthusiasm has waned (some at least), The Name of the Wind stands as one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read.  Ever.  It has it’s flaws, no doubt about that, but the quality of the language and seeming revelry Rothfuss has in crafting his tale for you made the pages fly by and left me wanting more.

Which is sad since personal events in Mr. Rothfuss’ life have delayed the sequel for at least another year.  But if having Mr. Rothfuss’ at his mental best and taking his time writing the novel means turning out a piece of fiction equal to, or even better, than the Name of the Wind than it is certainly worth it.  It helps that Patrick Rothfuss is also a nerd to the T; a fellow Whedonite and a believer in the inherent potential of video games as an artistic medium. So I can’t really be mad about waiting.

John’s review over at Grasping for the Wind was the initial prompt for this post.  For a counterpoint and harsher critique there is a review over at SF Site as well.  Give them a quick look and don’t hesitate to check out The Name of the Wind.

Rothfuss’ Official Blog.

In vitro chicken-meat…?

Science allows us to do plenty of cool and creepy things.  But whether you’re into weird science for resurrecting extinct species or just to grow ears on the backs of mice, PETA wants you to know that they’ve one-upped you.

PETA is offering a $1 million prize to the contest participant able to make the first in vitro chicken meat and sell it to the public by June 30, 2012. The contestant must do both of the following:

• Produce an in vitro chicken-meat product that has a taste and texture indistinguishable from real chicken flesh to non-meat-eaters and meat-eaters alike.
• Manufacture the approved product in large enough quantities to be sold commercially, and successfully sell it at a competitive price in at least 10 states.

First off, I would like to salute PETA on this. Usually they strike me as militant dolts, but the phrase “in vitro meat” is a stroke of brilliance. The idea itself is doomed to failure at the moment though. Many vegetarians won’t eat the meat because “animal cruelty” is not their primary reason for being vegetarian in the first place. And the number that do switch over to eating in vitro meat will probably be offset by people who are scared or weirded out by the concept itself and refuse to eat it. Plus, even if they can get people to eat it, there’s still the problem of cost. The amount of R&D needed to grow edible tissues in culture will be astronomical (and the $1 million prize is likely a laughable drop in the bucket). All of that money will be reflected in the price of the meat and realistically, crazy organic-loving hippies aside, there’s probably not a huge market for bizarre pseudo-chicken that costs more than regular chicken.

UPDATE:

Upon seeing this I immediately thought of an episode of Sci-fi Channel’s blissfully goofy Eureka.  It took me a while to find the info but a blog over at tvguide by pgoody had a succinct summary of what I remember:

With that crisis averted, Jack turns his attention to the “dumb virus” and soon deduces that all the dummies all ate chicken at Café Diem. After investigating the chicken farm, Jack finds out that the chicken farmer doesn’t want to kill birds so she uses stem-cell technology to grow independent chicken parts (yummy?). The cloned chicken parts, while organic, causes some chemical reaction that makes people who eat them stupid. A vegetarian doctor, who kept her smarts, develops the antidote, and all goes back to “normal” at GD.

Episode was from Season 2 called “E=MC…?” Not that I expect anything of the sort to happen in real life but it reminded me of that whole fiction to reality surealness I posted about earlier.

-Mike

Series Perspective: David Weber’s Honorverse

  1. On Basilisk Station
  2. The Honor of the Queen
  3. The Short Victorious War
  4. Field of Dishonor
  5. Flag in Exile
  6. Honor Among Enemies
  7. In Enemy Hands
  8. Echoes of Honor
  9. Ashes of Victory
  10. War of Honor
  11. At All Costs

It has been a little over a year since I started this series and it has been, on the whole, an entertaining ride.  It is hard coming at a review from this angle so bear with me here.

Honor Harrington starts off as a Captain in the Royal Navy of Manitcore.  For 11 books she is beaten, abused, triumphant, exalted, loved and hated by people in no less than three star systems, fights enemies both foreign and domestic, and grows along the way.  Across the eleven books readers follow what is essentially the ongoing struggle between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the People’s Republic of Haven.  Set amidst the backdrop of interstellar war and politics is the very human story of Honor’s maturation from green Captain to important personage.  Indeed both the political and military aspects of the novel work in tandem with the emotional development of Honor’s character to create a compelling narrative tension that drives you forward from book to book.  Emotion certainly plays a strong part in the series at large thanks to Honor’s bond to a treecat named Nimitz.  Treecats, sentient cat-like creature that are both empathic and telepathic, form strong bonds with humans.  While not true in the early books Honor’s bond (contrary to other people’s bonds) allows her to sense the emotions of other people through Nimitz’s own empathic abilities.  While animal-human bonding is a hallmark of fantasy literature (Hobb’s Farseer trilogies come to mind) Weber provides a fascinating and engaging twist in a sci-fi environment, in the process creating a society of creatures that could perhaps stand on its own in a wholly seperate series.

I would argue that the first five novels offer the strongest outing by Weber, with the best elements of personal tragedy and grand scale action managed in a taught well-paced narratives.  Later in the series things start to suffer a bit from page bloat, copious infodumps, and occaisonally unnecessary recaps.  That last of course comes with a small caveat since, having read the novels over the course of some 13 to 14 months, the narrative was typically fresh in my mind.  Of the later novels both Echoes of Honor and Ashes of Victory suffer most from the info dump.  Characters grow long winded in discussion or, where they are brief, are interupted mid-dialalogue for lengthy sections of exposition that brings the pace to a screeching halt.  However the later novels also feature some of the best battle scenes, and Weber’s command of space naval combat is something worth reading.  Furthermore War of Honor has some of the most politically interesting story elements of any of the novels and tames some of the exposition down a bit.

Regardless of the weaker narrative in the late volumes I have enjoyed my foray into the ‘honorverse’ and would recommend it to anyone interested in grand scale epic space opera.  As Novelist was my initial introduction to the series (Novelist is a reader’s advisory service provided by Ebsco host and typically available in most medium-large public libraries) I feel obligated to point out that their recomemdation that fans of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorksokian might also like Honor Harrington was right on the money.  Like the Vorksogian series Weber’s Honorverse features a strong dose of the romantic that occaisonally slides into the melodramatic but never threatens to overwhelm the narrative, in fact Honor’s bond with Nimitz often takes what could be construed as melodramatic and makes it a far more potent element of conflict.

While I’ve been using my library to borrow all of these books I should hasten to point out that they are available for free online.  With the release of At All Costs Baen published a CD of Weber’s books that has since made it’s way online. Anyway as I said this is a fun, space opera, adventure series well worth a look for any genre fan.

NJ Says: IP Address = Private

From Ars Technica:

In the decision, the justices discuss the differences between IP addresses and return addresses on envelopes when discussing whether or not Internet subscriber information deserves an expectation of privacy. The justices say that IP addresses are sufficiently anonymous to justify privacy protection because, theoretically, only the Internet service provider can identify who is associated with a specific IP address.  Link.

Interesting stuff that, as Ars points out, is likely to become a more important topic down the road. How many times have you watched a crime procedural where the IP was magically tracked back to a person/address? In all the times I saw that I happen I never once considered that it might even be a violation of a person’s privacy.  But the judges make a good point, and Ars highlights, that:

The State compares IP addresses to the return addresses found on the outside of envelopes, which carry no privacy protection. But there is an important difference: letter writers choose to include their address on an envelope. They may also opt for anonymity and list no return address. Internet users have no such choice because they must have an IP address to access a website. In addition, the string of numbers that comprises an IP address and can be collected by a website is both less revealing and less public than a name or street address posted on an envelope,

As I said, interesting, a certainly food for thought as you do your daily browsing.

It’s evolution, baby

It’s been a big week on the evolution front. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is looming on the horizon, threatening to again paint our country as a bunch of backwards yokels who don’t understand a) the distinction between faith and science (and why one can’t substitute for the other), b) what a scientific theory is and why it’s different than a theory in everyday language, and c) that not all scientists are atheists but rather all scientists have to ignore faith in their experiments because it’s not a valid part of the scientific method. For those that don’t know what the movie is about, let me give you the tl;dr summary: “The Man” (referring to scientists here) is keeping creationists down and blackballing them. Plus evolution brought us Social Darwinism and the Holocaust, therefore it’s bad.

You might be tempted to think I was using hyperbole here to mock the film. Nope. They actually went so far as to edit Darwin’s writings to make it look like he approved of eugenics, despite the unedited paragraphs saying exactly the opposite. Expelled is just now filtering out to audiences that can actually analyze the movie’s content instead of just test audiences from the uber-right and the reviews have been predictably bad. Watch the movie (preferably by finding yourself a copy on BitTorrent) and understand that we live in a country where the teaching of evolution is threatened in numerous states, including right here in PA.

But it hasn’t been all bad for Darwin and his theory. He got his complete works put up online for all to see at no cost. There’s some great stuff on there, including original sketches from his time on the H.M.S. Beagle. Plus Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania just announced 2009 to be the Year of Evolution. Philadelphia is frequently mocked (sadly with good cause) for being low brow and a second-tier city, so it’s good to see the city take an active role on the front lines of an intellectual battle.

Electronic Storytelling

Saws on my BoingBoing feed:

We Tell Stories, is an online site made for Penguin publishing in which 6 authors are telling 6 stories based on classic works through the digital medium of the internet and using non-traditional methods.

How non-traditional?  The first story The 21 Steps uses google maps while Fairy Tale uses a choose-your-own-adventure form model.  While I doubt any of these will taking over the publishing world anytime soon it is certainly an interesting experiment worth a look.