Dear Mark,

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This afternoon I stopped at Second Story Books after work. I browsed the shelves and picked up a couple of John Burdett mysteries and a mass market Kurt Vonnegut. Scrolling through the fiction section with my eyes, I fixated on a book titled The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd. Today’s the birthday of my coworker Rob and he’s a pretty huge fan of cheese. Which is why I fixated on it.

I thought about picking up the book for him, a weird birthday gift, but I liked the cut of the cover, so I added it to my own pile, made the purchase, and jumped on the L1. (I’m a selfish bastard).

Which is one of the many reasons I love Second Story – the L1 stops right across the street, does not go through the traffic mess that is Dupont Circle proper, cuts out the congested parts of Connecticut Avenue, and gets me home in under ten minutes.

Anyway, flipping through Cheese Monkeys on the short ride home, I came across a neatly folded, hand written letter. I’m not sure if it’s a genuine love letter, or an interactive part of the book (think Joe Meno’s The Boy Detective Fails), but it’s kind of heartbreaking, honestly. I wonder if one party wrote the letter for the other, tucked it into the book, but the recipient, for whatever reason, never saw it. Needed a few bucks, sold the book. Was moving, sold the book. The book was in his bag, it was stolen, the book was sold.

Life is full of mysteries. I wonder if Mark ever knew it existed. Wonder if somehow they made a life together.

And feeling kind of dirty for being privy to the letter — certainly not something ever intended for a third party. (And here I go blogging about it).

Neal Stephenson’s Reamde

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I really had no intention of even picking up Stephenson’s new book, Reamde. I jumped at Anathem, his last book, published in 2008, got about seventy pages into it, and put it down as practically unreadable.

Stephenson’s a real conundrum for me. Some of his stuff is just brilliant. Here I’m talking about Snow Crash and Zodiac, two of his earliest works. Some of his stuff is just plain fun: Cobweb, and Interface here. Some of his stuff is just a mess of what-the-fuck-is-he-talking-about: the Baroque Cycle, for example. I’ve tried, but never been able to finish Diamond Age.

Reamde is highly readable, although it’s not exactly an easy read.

This is what Reamde‘s about (spoilers start here): MMOGs, computer viruses, American fundamentalist Christian gun-nuts, Russian mafia, Chinese hackers, MI6 agents, and an African-Welsh Islamic terrorist.

In a nut-shell: T’Rainn is an MMOG created by a guy named Richard, who used to smuggle marijuana across the Canadian border into Idaho. He made a fortune, went legit, and founded this MMOG (Massive Multiplayer Online Game: think World of Warcraft). He owns a ski-lodge in British Columbia which is where he meets his adopted niece, Zula, for a family vacation. Zula’s there with her boyfriend, a security hacker who’s moonlighting in stealing credit card numbers for a freelancer for the Russian mafia. Except, oops, the numbers he just handed over have been encrypted by a REAMDE file created by Chinese hackers. Basically, this corrupt file encrypts all the data on a user’s hard drive, and to un-encrypt the information, victims have to transform cash into credits which can be transferred to the hackers via T’Rainn (they can then transfer the credits back to cash). The mafia, to put it short, ain’t happy, kidnap Zula, and fly to China with a bunch of ex-special forces types to force the Chinese hackers to decrypt the data (“Why not just pay the funds?” you ask, and the answer’s complicated: basically, other users of the game are intercepting a lot of the ransom payments and the Russians want to actually hurt someone). All goes smoothly until the Russians are ready to raid the hacker’s apartment: they hit the wrong door, and find a bunch of AK-47 totting terrorists. BOOM! BAM! Hard to put down from there forward.

Spoilers end!

There’s a lot of exposition in REAMDE about this fictional T’Rainn MMOG Stephenson’s created. It can be a bit of a bear to slog through. If you’re digging into this in hopes of a new Snow Crash: forget it. This book is closer in tone to Cobweb, or Interface, which could best be described as techno-thrillers (Snow Crash is hard core cyberpunk).

Anyway, good read. Took me a couple of weeks, and I read some lighter stuff in breaks (including Halderman’s Forever War).

Black Wednesday

It looks ridiculously ominous outside, which is going to make for a truly horrible Black Wednesday.

Oh, you know what Black Friday is, but you don’t know what Black Wednesday is?

I used to work in the pizza delivery industry. I worked in that industry for far too long, but I’ve been out of it for almost four years (which is a pretty awesome feeling). This, then, is your pizza delivery guy (or gal’s) two part definition of “Black Wednesday”:

1. It’s the day when everyone’s traveling, so the roads are fucked.

This is particularly problematic because of the latter half of the definition.

2. Since everyone who is receiving visitors is going to be spending all of Thursday cooking and cleaning, almost everyone just orders out Wednesday night.

So combine the facts that it’s a heavy volume evening, and roads are fucked. It’s a nightmare. A fucking road nightmare.

Sympathies to everyone traveling on this Black Wednesday. May you get to your destinations safe and sound, and please, even if your food is delivered late, tip well: your pizza/Chinese/sub delivery driver is not having a particularly fun day.

Floorplan #1

I like floor plans. I think they speak a lot about the character of a place.

The above floor plan is not, as far as I am aware, a representation of a real place. I sketched it up last night. I envision it as a studio apartment in a pre-war (that’d be pre-WWII-war) building. It’s unusual for a studio in that it’s not just one huge room with the kitchen and bath along one wall. (My own studio is a little odd in that it’s shaped like an “L”).

My idea here was to draw a studio apartment that I would like to live in. The existence of both a powder room, and a bathroom, is pretty much just indicative of how I’d like NOT to share facilities with my cats.

Despite the fact that aside from the bathroom and powder room (and the closets), there are no interior doors, separate spaces are defined by features of the floorplan. The sleeping area is on a raised platform. One must descend from the foyer. Additionally, having access to what is designated the dining space (but need not be used as such) from three directions makes the place feel larger because a person is not forced to walk the same way to-and-from everywhere. Note the pillars along the right wall of the sleeping area: the stairs up to it, of course, occupy the first space, the other two are filled with a short rail, allowing an unobstructed view of the living space.

This has features I would like in my own apartment: an in-suite washer/dryer. A fireplace. Lots of storage. The kitchen is small but, I like to think, cozy (especially as I haven’t actually indicated where any appliances or counters would go, but I imagine it has a dishwasher). I need to figure out a way to incorporate a balcony of some sort.

I picture hardwood floor throughout, with tiles in the bathroom, and maybe granite in the kitchen.

Joe Paterno

I am not much of a sports person. So you can understand that I don’t much understand the differences between professional and collegiate sports, but I noticed that coaches in the pros are fired for losing games, whereas coaches at the college level are permitted to retire after a winning career of almost five decades, even though they apparently knew one of their key employees was molesting kids and did nothing.

Does this seem right to anyone?

Stay classy, Penn State.