The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

On books

| June 10, 2014

So, it seems that the last book stack post of any substance was way back in 2010. I’m trying to remember all that I’ve read since then.

  • Liz and I both read The Hunger Games.
  • I finally read all of the Harry Potter books. I resolved to do that before the last movie came out and accomplished that.
  • Monster Hunter International, which I blogged about before, and enjoyed very much – so much, in fact, that I was taking notes for ideas for roleplaying game plots and miniature wargaming scenarios.
  • Pebble in the Sky (and I’ve started The Stars, Like Dust, which is the second one in that trilogy (though apparently takes place before..)). As is typical of Asimov, it is very classic, literate, highbrow science fiction, heavily influenced by the idea that everyone is well spoken and and gentlemanly and, if you are not, you are a rogue or ruffian of some stripe.
  • The Falcon Banner and Sigil of the Wolf, and I’m partway though The Lion’s Pride.
  • I’ve read all the Laundry Files books that are out so far. If you like James Bond + hackers + Lovecraftian horror, this is a series for you.
  • The Dystopian Wars Rules. So, I loathe age of sail games, and can generally take or leave later “battleship” games, but this Victorian SF naval (and, technically, land, because there are land ships) game appeals to me. I picked up 4 boxed sets, 2 each Prussian and French, 2 each land and sea, so we could try them all. I’m currently painting the ships. There are also “tiny flyers” – very effective fighters and bombers. The ships get AA to try and shoot them down as they come in, etc.
  • The Savage Worlds Showdown Rules. This is likely going to be my go-to generic miniatures rules set – provided Liz likes it. I need to run a demo and introduce her to the system. It has the potential to let me play with all the different minis I’ve accumulated over the years, even pitting them against each other.
  • The Athena project. This was a decent thriller with the interesting hook that it’s an all-female delta force team. Pretty girls make men do stupid things, etc., then they get shot.
  • Saturn’s Children. This was underwhelming. It claimed to be classic-style SF, but the plot was predictable and not very exciting. It wasn’t horrible, just underwhelming.
  • Kitchen Confidential. I like Bourdain’s snarky sense of humor in general, and this was an interesting look in to how a kitchen works. I’ve always respected cooks. Not just chefs, but the guys working the line. It’s a really tough job, one that I likely could not do. This book gives some insight into that world.
  • Jarhead. A gripping account of the first gulf war. Better than the movie.
  • Ghost in the Wires. If you ever wanted to know all about Kevin Mitnick, this is an interesting read. I knew, at the time, that the charges were trumped up, but I didn’t realize just how trumped up the charges were.

I’ve read parts of the following (mainly because I pick them up and then get distracted by the next shiny thing):

  • Fate Core. This is my go-to “story” system. It’s totally solid and flexible. (Of note: Savage Worlds is my go-to generic “classic” system, and I’ve stolen some bits from Fate as house rules. Both of them are quick to get going, though Fate wins as far as a “pick up” game, especially with Fate Accelerated Edition, a stripped to the bare metal build of Fate. I think I’ll likely have to write up a comparison of these.
  • Deadlands: Hell on Earth: Reloaded. So, back in the day, Hell on Earth was one of my favorite games that I only ran once (I think there’s a story there too..), and this is the reloaded version of that, so it’s totally revised with the updated Savage Wolds rules. Awesomeness.
  • Deadlands Noir. This is new – it’s Deadlands, in the 30’s, classical 30’s places like LA and New Orleans. (For those not in the know, Deadlands is an alternate history where there are more powerful sources of energy than there were a the time, magic has come to the front of the world, and all the badness that one can contemplate can come along with those two things has.)
  • Shadowrun 5th Edition. I love Shadowrun. Rather than the radical rewrite that 4th edition was, this polishes off the edges and makes it much smoother and easier to run. That said, I likely will never play this, and will likely stop buying the books. In reality, Savage Worlds settings which scratch that cyberpunk itch are really where its at, because, on the off chance I actually have time to play, the rules get out of the way of the story, combat flows more quickly, and it’s just all around an easier system to run. On the one hand, it makes me sad, because I have a nostalgia for Shadowrun. But, like your first car as a teenager, if you were to go back and drive that car now, and compare it to a modern car, you realize it’s underpowered, can’t corner for crap, and gets rotten fuel economy (and, if it was anything like mine, all the plastic bits feel off, the trunk leaked, and the headliner had fallen down on your head so it tickled your hair (back when I had hair)).
  • Numenera. This one is interesting. I’m not familiar with the “Science Fantasy” genre, but the basic idea is that it’s a billion years in the future and while there is no magic, but there’s so much fantastic leftover tech that there might as well be – but civilization has regressed back to a roughly medieval standard. Suggested reading were Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun which I picked up from Amazon and to which I plan to give a read.
  • Traveller 5. I actually bought this a long while ago (before Kickstarter really hit) to get access to the beta, and then I got a final PDF copy of the game. Traveller has been such an institution for so long, I figured I’d give it a read. I’m not sure that I would ever play it, for the same reason that Shadowrun doesn’t generally get played, but a lot of the techniques (world building, etc) are generally applicable. Plus, it still pings that nostalgia button of mine.
  • Firestorm Armada. This is a space miniatures game from the same guys who do Dystopian wars. The rules seem solid, I just haven’t painted up ships. My one criticism is that it’s not really generic (the way, say Full Thrust is) so I can’t use my existing ships unless I try to make up points values for them (and, lacking unit creation rules, you can imagine that this is a problem). Of course, one could as “why not just use Full Thrust” and the answer is “because Liz doesn’t like it very much”, though that’s mainly because of the vector movement system, and if I instead used the cinematic movement system (which is similar to the Firestorm Armada movement) that would likely make her happy. Still, even if the game stinks, the ships are awesome, so I could use them with Full Thrust rules..
  • Battletech Alpha Strike. So, I love Battletech, and have a ton of mechs, but, similarly to why Traveller 5 won’t get played, I doubt I’ll play much Battletech anymore – it just drags. This ruleset scales Battletech out so that instead of, say, 4 minis per side, you can run more and still have it be manageable. However, it also means that if you just use 4 minis per side, it will be quick. Of note: a game of this is still set up on the gaming table because Liz and I were going to play it one Thursday before Christmas. However, the boys decided to come that Monday. So, no game.
  • Pulp City. This is a supers game that Liz and I played a demo of at TempleCon. The dice pool mechanic was interesting, and there was a lot of fun and flexibility. I picked up some heroes and villans starter boxed sets and rules, but never got a chance to paint the minis. But, I did read the rules, and they seem decent.. I just need to paint up some minis and make up a cardstock downtown, and I can play!

Boosting the signal

| June 6, 2014

I haven’t read this book, but for less than the price of a cup of Starbucks, it was worth picking up, and the fact that it helps a sick author is worth it.

Make Ken’s Day

Update on the boys and other things.

| April 8, 2014

The boys continue to grow like crazy. Max has decided he likes things that he sits in (bouncy chairs, etc.) and Miles has decided that he likes laying on his back and hitting those types of things that dangle in front of your face. Both of them are over 13 lbs, with Max at nearly 14 lbs.

Anyway, I’ve added several more pictures spanning from the end of February to the end of March to The Max and Miles gallery (scroll down, they’re in chronological order, with the most at the bottom)

On the programming front, a friend of ours introduced us to Rockabye Baby! so we picked up some CD’s off of Half.com, and I ripped them to a USB stick so I can play it in the car. Of course, this brings up the age-old problem of there not being any decent .m3u playlist generators or synchronizers (or, at least, not any that I like). So, I wrote one. You can find it on one of my github repos. You’re looking for manage_playlists.

On the consumption of media front, I’ve finished Monster Hunter International, very good, highly recommended.

I’ve also been playing through X-Com: Enemy Unknown, which is also highly recommended. This is a bit different than the original, more streamlined. The key with this version of the game seems to be to drag it out so that your troops can gain experience and make scientific advancements. If you research the priority items too rapidly, the game progresses too rapidly and you get overwhelmed.

Additionally, I’ve been playing a little bit of Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall, which I’ll likely be playing more of now that the manage playlist script is finished.

I also finally got to cooking up my hot sauce from the peppers for this year:

Hot sauce - peppers

Hot sauce – peppers

Hot sauce - blending

Hot sauce – blending

Hot sauce - straining

Hot sauce – straining

Hot sauce - done!

Hot sauce – done!

So, that’s about what’s been going on in my world.

Book Stack Update

| November 21, 2010

So, I haven’t made a bookstack post recently, so I have a lot saved up.

  • The Past Through Tomorrow – Robert A Heinlein – This is a collection of Heinlein’s short stories. As one would expect, some are better than others. They are also very much intertwined – stories make reference to other stories, characters pop up in others, etc. If you like Heinlein, this is definitely worth a read. If not, there are probably better introductions to his work.
  • Halting State – Charles Stross – This was the first book of Stross’s which I’ve read, and it’s a definitely solid work. In a nutshell, some folks knock over a bank in World of Warcraft (except, it’s not exactly WoW). There are Chinese hackers, international intrigue, etc. Very decent.
  • Boneshaker – Cherie Priest – I actually thought this was a bit overrated. Had I read it in isolation, I would have thought it to be solid and a good read, but given how much people hyped it, I expected a little more. The nutshell story is that this mother has to go rescue her kid who ran off into a disaster area, and it’s all steampunky with airships and such. The tech is not overstated, but it just simply didn’t grab me.
  • Foundation – Isaac Asimov – This, on the other hand, lived up to the hype. It’s a bit surprising that I hadn’t read this until now. That said, I can see why people think Asimov and Heinlein’s works are a little boring – Asimov writes like a scientist, and Heinlein writes like an engineer (funny that). As one might expect, I don’t have much of an issue with this, and rather enjoy the style. Anyway, this series was a bit of a coming home for me – I can easily see the roots of a lot of my favorite tropes carried back to this series. Traveller, 40k and Battletech all tie into this.
  • Daemon and Freedom(tm) – Daniel Suarez – This is a two-part series which takes place in the very near future. It is similar in technical grittiness to Heinlein and Asimov, though from the background of a programmer and systems engineer who handles complex networks – and realizes just how easily they can be broken. This is the type of stuff which keeps me up at night, especially the first book. The second book veers off a bit into the more fantastical, but the first is very solid, and the hacks documented therein are real. I highly recommend it if you like thrillers, and want a little window into the world of what it is like trying to secure infrastructure.
  • Ubuntu Kung Fu – Keir Thomas – This is a technical book packed with lots of easter-eggs to get the most from your Ubuntu installation. Read it with a notepad to write down those things with which you want to play. I’m actually quite happy for book like these because there are so many packages in the repositories these days that you wouldn’t have much change of finding some of these unless you were looking for them – or read a book telling you about them.
  • Healthy Soils for Sustainable Gardens – Brooklyn Botanic Garden – My mother in law actually gave me this to read and venture my opinion. While I cannot really comment on the factual nature of it as I am no authority, I think some of the hints and tips are worth knowing – if you can handle the overwhelming anti-technology crazy hippie bent. (Don’t use tillers, they’re evil and waste gas! Don’t use chemical fertilizer! Stuff like that).
  • V For Vendetta – Alan Moore, David Lloyd – This is actually the first time I’ve read this book, and I actually saw the movie first. The movie was actually a decent adaptation of the book. There’s a bit of character development interlude which breaks up the main plot which was edited out of the movie, and I’m not sure it really lost anything for it.
  • Watchmen – Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons – Okay, this one I read some years ago before the movie came out, and I agreed with the common wisdom about how groundbreaking it was. I was very happy to see it made into a movie, and thought the movie was very well done. Then, I read it again, and realized that they left that whole “genetically engineered psychic monster of DOOM” out of the movie – and I didn’t really notice. So, I think that (aside from too much big blue penis..) the movie is actually slightly better than the book… and the musical selection was awesome (and that doesn’t come with the book).

Of course, this wasn’t all the books I’ve read, but I’ll do a separate one about gaming books.

Update

| July 6, 2009

Been busy, but still here.

I’ve updated the blog to WP 3.8.

I also had a bit of an overloaded meltdown a couple of weeks ago. Basically, the working theory was that we weren’t going to work on the house or do anything until after the potatoes went in (which happens about the second week of July). At least, this is what I thought. After the list got stupidly long, and it had to be done sooner, rather than later, I basically just stopped doing everything outside work, working on the house, and being a fire commissioner. This made Liz sad, because she was looking forward to brewing beer, and I had told her not to get me any brewing stuff for my birthday, since I would not have time to use it and it would just take up space. I think that put a bit of a point on it, so she agreed to let me set the pace of things, and not set deadlines, and try to slow down. So, theoretically, we’re actually going to be able to do things like brew beer and sit and read…

At least, once the peas are picked and the potatoes are in. We picked and processed about 4 gallons of peapods today, and we’ll do our first picking of garden peas later this week. The replacement tomato, pepper, squash, etc. plants are all in (next year we’ll wait until the second week of June to plant them).

Fire stuff continues to be stupidly busy, with 3 meetings last week, and while there right now aren’t any this week, I expect there to be 2 by the time the week is out.

As I mentioned, I’m basically not gaming. Essentially, I’m not going to schedule anything recurring until it’s been a year and I’ve actually had at least one night free a week for a year where I can just read and play video games. I’m still buying game books, as I tend to collect them, and like to just read them, etc.

I upgraded everything to Jaunty, fixing the XFCE bad window placement problem by giving new windows focus. While it is not ideal, I spent several days poking different window managers and basically being disappointed by them. KDE4 is too unstable, GNOME is not configurable enough, and FVWM would take too much work to make it not make my eyes bleed. E17 is too unstable (though I may try the official E17.org Jaunty builds)

There’s more, but I think I’m going to break here for tonight. I finished reading Watchmen (there’s a pile of other books I need to review, and will do once I unbury them in the mess which used to be my office), and am now on to V for Vendetta.

Oh, as of right now, I’m planning on hitting Carnage, and will likely be bringing some homebrew. Since it’s not a regularly schedule thing, I likely will be able to find the time. If anyone else is going, let me know – especially if you want me to run something.

Book reviews

| March 22, 2009

So, I was cleaning my office and found a pile of books which I had read and put aside because I wanted to comment on them, but they got buried under all the other crap and just found them.

  1. Dread
    1. This is a horror roleplaying game I bought though IPR. It’s very interesting in that it uses individual questionnaires for each player where the player describes things about his character. It’s kind of like the whole “the character sheet is a love letter to the GM telling him what you want out of the game”, but taken to the next level. These questions are designed to be leading like “What caused you to get in that fight last year”, which establishes that there was a fight and then opens it up for the player to tell something about his character.
    2. Another interesting facet is the use of the game Jenga as a conflict resolution mechanic. The idea is that it induces psychological stress on the characters and that affects the game.
  2. The Official Handbook Of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
    1. This was actually quite good, provided you like a book which attacks socialists and hippies, which I do.
  3. Iron Empires: Faith Conquers and Iron Empires: Sheva’s War
    1. I actually learned about these from buying Burning Empires. They have a very distinctive visual style, which I happen to like. The stories seem very familiar, reminding me a lot of some of Heinlein’s work. This is not a bad thing, just gives you an idea of the type of books they are.
  4. The Gunslinger Born
    1. This is a beautiful, dark, well-written comic. Of course, it it based off the backstory from The Dark Tower series, so the story is pretty well established, rich and solid. This just fills it out a bit more and adds some very nice visual imagery.

Miscellany

| March 10, 2009

  • I found myself searching for “The Definitive Tank Girl” to add to my Amazon list. It turns out that you want the “Remastered” ones, as they have been restored and such.
  • Of course, this brings up my book stack – this is what is currently on my bedside table:
    Books

    Books

  • I have some reviews of books which I’ve recently read, and plan to post about those.
  • I’m also not going to worry about posting larger pictures in my blog… after all, kylecassidy does it all the time, and it doesn’t bother me, so I presume it doesn’t bother any of you folks.
  • I’ll also be posting from Cold Wars, including photos, since I got a nice tiny little camera for Christmas, so I’ll actually carry it around in my pocket and take pictures.
  • I’ve also got some stuff to post about my Dell Mini, minimal Linux distros, VM’s, and other such hackerish things.

I think that’s it for tonight – I’m headed off to Cold Wars this weekend, and I need to figure out what I want to play (lots of zombie games this year, with a bit of other interesting topical things, like BSG and such).

Anyway, have a Socks:

Socks!

Socks!

Singularity

| February 22, 2009

I recently finished the podiobook of Singularity.

The story, overall, is very good. I like the science and political intrigue aspects of it, and while someone with more physics than I would likely find fault with the science, it worked for me. This is likely the result of him actually talking with physicists about the subject of the book and, if I remember correctly, having several professors at MIT read the draft manuscript and comment on it. I do wish, however, that he had not fallen into the same traps as so many authors regarding such mundane things as computers and firearms – especially since Mr. DeSmedt’s biography reveals him to have been a “computer programmer and system designer” at some point in his career. Specifically:
  • Firearms:
    1. Reference is made to “the smell of cordite”. Cordite is obsolete and is no longer used in modern ammunition.
    2. Glocks don’t go click on an empty chamber. When empty, the slide will lock back. So, Marianna would know she was empty.
  • Computers:
    1. The hacker Mycroft talks about how good his worm is in that it doesn’t do naughty things like delete files and get itself noticed – it just phones home every 10 minutes seeing if it is needed. Guess what? That’s supicious!. If you’re a secret government agency, I’d hope that your border firewalls check outgoing connections and look for things like that.
    2. The worm also installs a telnet server, as evidenced by the target’s desktop showing up on Mycroft’s screen. Yeah, except telnet doesn’t work that way, nor is it encrypted. SSH would have been a much better choice here.
    3. (This is probably a more general question about literature) Why do all of these reclusive hackers not have any guns? I mean, if I lived in the hills of North Carolina, one of my pasttimes would likely be shooting things. This is the same issue as when Bruce Willis and the Mac guy land on Kevin Smith’s front yard in Die Hard 4 – dude has a generator and a ham radio, but no guns? WTF?
Those criticisms aside, as I said, I actually did like the book – enough so that I named my netbook Mycroft, following my tradition of naming computers after hackers in literature, as well as donating some money through podiobooks (I look at it as “I would have bought the book, and want to support the author, but don’t feel the need to buy a book I’ve already listened to on the iPod”) and subscribed to Doctor Jack’s Soapbox Seminars, a collection of physics related talks from the real life counterpart of the character in Mr. DeSmedt’s book. I also notice that Mr. DeSmedt lives in PA. If you happen to be a wargamer, and happen to be attending Cold Wars this year, and happen to read this blog entry, drop me an email (email address is in my user info) – I usually bring enough beer to share.

Book stack update

| January 29, 2008

Finished:

Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower, Stephen King This is the final Dark Tower book, and it ended well. However, it lacks the charge one gets from reading the first three books. As these books were written, the author has aged, and the simple fire and passion of a young man has given way to the self-reflection and deep thoughts of an older man. As such, the later tomes become more contemplative, and this is no exception. Frankly, I am disappointed – not because of the book, but because the tale is done. To an extent, the story was better when we left our heroes rocketing towards possible doom aboard a senile old monorail. However, one must remember that there are other worlds than these.

Politically Correct Guns, Alan Gottlieb This was just funny. The typesetting was rough, the use of clip-art was garish, but the quotes, stats and figures just illustrate how.. special.. the anti-gun machine is.

  • = denotes new addition

Currently Reading: The Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery, Massad Ayoob Serenity Found, Jane Espenson Betty Crocker's Kitchen Gardens, Mary Mason Campbell

Currently on the stack: The Official Handbook of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Mark W. Smith Supreme Court Gun Cases – Two Centuries of Gun Rights Revealed, Kopel, Halbrook and Korwin Straight Shooting – Firearms, Economics and Public Policy, John R. Lott, Jr. America Fights Back – Armed Self-Defence in a Violent Age, Alan Gottlieb and Dave Workman The Past Through Tomorrow, Robert Heinlein The Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present, Howard Zinn The Underground History of American Education, John Taylor Gatto The Falcon Banner, Christopher P. Lydon Sigil of the Wolf, Christopher P. Lydon The Lion's Pride, Christopher P. Lydon Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy, G. Gordon Liddy The Door Into Summer, Robert Heinlein Tomorrow, The Stars, Robert Heinlein The Rolling Stones, Robert Heinlein The Number of the Beast, Robert Heinlein Great Issues in American History, Volume II – From the Revolution to the Civil War, 1765-1865, Richard Hofstadter. Great Issues in American History, Volume III – From Reconstruction to the Present Day, 1864-1981, Richard Hofstadter and Beatrice K. Hofstadter The American Political Tradition and the men who made it Richard Hofstadter SAS Survival Handbook, John “Lofty” Wiseman On Killing : The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Dave Grossman On Combat, Dave Grossman Serenity: The Official Visual Companion, Joss Whedon

Book stack update

| October 29, 2007

(Note, I've started tagging these, so you can look them up at http://mattcaron.livejournal.com/tag/book+stack)

(* = denotes recent addition)

Currently Reading: The Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery, Massad Ayoob Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower, Stephen King Serenity Found, Jane Espenson*

Currently on the stack: The Official Handbook of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Mark W. Smith Supreme Court Gun Cases – Two Centuries of Gun Rights Revealed, Kopel, Halbrook and Korwin Straight Shooting – Firearms, Economics and Public Policy, John R. Lott, Jr. America Fights Back – Armed Self-Defence in a Violent Age, Alan Gottlieb and Dave Workman Politically Correct Guns, Alan Gottlieb* The Past Through Tomorrow, Robert Heinlein The Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present, Howard Zinn The Underground History of American Education, John Taylor Gatto The Falcon Banner, Christopher P. Lydon Sigil of the Wolf, Christopher P. Lydon The Lion's Pride, Christopher P. Lydon Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy, G. Gordon Liddy The Door Into Summer, Robert Heinlein Tomorrow, The Stars, Robert Heinlein The Rolling Stones, Robert Heinlein The Number of the Beast, Robert Heinlein Great Issues in American History, Volume II – From the Revolution to the Civil War, 1765-1865, Richard Hofstadter. Great Issues in American History, Volume III – From Reconstruction to the Present Day, 1864-1981, Richard Hofstadter and Beatrice K. Hofstadter The American Political Tradition and the men who made it Richard Hofstadter SAS Survival Handbook, John “Lofty” Wiseman On Killing : The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Dave Grossman On Combat, Dave Grossman Serenity: The Official Visual Companion, Joss Whedon