SigSpace - Review en Review: The Death of a Car <p>This review will be slightly longer than normal, owing to the fact that I'm actually reviewing a whole bunch of different things. The scores are at the end.</p> <p><u>Executive Summary</u>: A pickup truck murdered my beloved 1988 Toyota MR2. The insurance company totaled it. I found a 1987 MR2 in much better condition and bought it. In between, I was treated very well by everyone involved.</p> <p><strong>Part The First: Clash of the Titan</strong><hr><br /> On a Wednesday morning, I stopped by the mail building to get the company mail. I usually just leave the car running and run in for about 20 seconds to do this. As I was getting back in my car, I noted with irritation that my left taillight was out. Shall I replace it this afternoon, I wondered? No, it can wait. I am eating dinner at Mom's house. I shall do it tomorrow.</p> <p>In retrospect, I probably would have been insanely irritated if I had replaced the bulb.</p> <p>On Thursday morning, I drove my hour commute to Camp Murray, contemplating all the while the many minor things that my car should have, starting with an oil change and ending with a viking funeral. New latch for the moon roof. New seals for the trunk. Brakes, possibly. Some new belts, probably new spark plugs, and almost certainly a new air filter. Paint, obviously. A replacement for the bent rim that caused the car to wobble horribly at 25 mph. Also, I was noting some intermittent pinging, even with the plus gasoline. Just how much was I going to spend on this thing, anyway?</p> <p>Slightly bummed from this mental wheel-spinning, I decided to stop by Vic's for coffee. Vic's is the only place on Camp Murray you can get coffee; as such, it could be terrible and still do a brisk business, but it's actually pretty good and reasonably priced. I park across from the entrance (not in the line of spaces right in front of the building) and go in to order a 20 oz Americano. The gentleman ahead of me gets his coffee and heads outside. I make small talk with Vic.</p> <p>*crunch*</p> <p>"Oh dude," quoth Vic. "That guy just backed into the little red car."</p> <p>Sigh. "I'm going to need my coffee before I go look at that."</p> <p>Sure enough, by parking across from the entrance, I placed my car in just the perfect location to be murdered by a 2004 Nissan Titan.</p> <div align=center><a href=""><img src=""></a></div> <p>The left light cluster is left dangling, and the metal around it is crunched in a bit, too. It doesn't look <em>that</em> bad, but given the age of the vehicle and the difficulty of getting parts, I knew I was looking at a potential car-killer.</p> <p>The driver was very apologetic; he "just didn't see" my car. I have another photo where you can more easily see how the top of my car is still lower than the top of the <em>bed</em> of the Titan. We exchanged insurance information, and then he left for his meeting, almost hitting another car on his way out. I took pictures, picked up shattered plastic, and went back inside to put more sugar and creamer in my Americano.</p> <p>I was not terribly upset. Annoyed? Yes. Angry? Not really. Nobody was hurt. Nobody was shooting at me. It just wasn't that serious. You can't have 500 million cars running around this country without them occasionally overlapping in time and space.</p> <p><strong>Part the Second: Releasing the Hounds / Insurance Adjusters</strong><hr><br /> I delayed calling USAA, the insurance company for both vehicles. I didn't want to deal with it and I had lots of other things to do. However, it needed to happen, so at 1500, I called and reported the accident. I had his insurance policy information on hand, and they asked a whole bunch of questions. They were very professional and sympathetic, even laughing weakly at my weak jokes. The call took 10 minutes.</p> <p>They called back at 1640. The other driver had been contacted and accepted fault. They made arrangements for me to bring the car to a shop (suggesting one when I had no particular input) and had a reservation for a rental car. I could drop off the car the next morning at the shop and then Enterprise would pick me up.</p> <p><strong>Part the Third: Letting me down gently</strong><hr><br /> I slept in on Thursday morning, since Precision Collision didn't open until 0800. They were kind and sympathetic. Yes, it was tragic, and no, they really don't make cars like this any longer and that's a shame. 36 miles per gallon? Really? Wow.</p> <p>The adjuster came out to look at my car and immediately got that expression on her face. You know the one. The one that the doctor gets when he has to tell little Emily that grandma isn't going to wake up. That was the look she had. I could tell she was searching for words, so I saved her some time. "You're going to total my car, aren't you?"</p> <p>"Well..."</p> <p>For those who haven't gone through this, the repair shop does up an estimate and sends it to the insurance company, which then decides whether it is cost effective to fix the car or whether it's better to declare it a total loss. If it's going to be a close thing, the insurance company might send another set of eyes to look at the issue. I'm sure there's more complexity to the issue, but it's mostly under the hood.</p> <p>They called Enterprise, which sent someone to pick me up and bring me back to their lot to get my rental car.</p> <p><strong>Part the Fourth: Wheeled Titanic</strong><hr><br /> Stephanie at Enterprise was also quite sympathetic. She rushed me through the paperwork and was quick and professional throughout. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but she got me the damage waiver coverage on the rental at no charge, which was cool. Alas, the only thing they had available on the lot was a <a href="">2009 Chrysler Sebring</a>. This is a very nice, very comfortable car that I utterly detested on sight; driving it didn't generate any more positive feeling. I will say that it had a pretty great audio system, but it's about 17 times the size of my beloved MR2, and it felt like I was taking up two and a half lanes. However, I was at least on the way to work. Also, it would prove to get about 30 miles to the gallon, and that's not bad.</p> <p><strong>Part the Fifth: Waiting around</strong><hr><br /> Meanwhile, my wife had already been looking on Craigslist for another MR2--just in case. Why? Because my wife is awesome. Most wives would make me replace my MR2 with a 4-door sedan because I'm a responsible parent and stuff now, but my wife is the coolest. Several tantalizing possibilities presented themselves, but we were waiting for the estimate and then the verdict from the insurance company.</p> <p>The estimate came that afternoon: $1,337. Ouch. The verdict didn't come until the following Thursday, so in the mean time I drove my land yacht (with good tunes) and searched Craigslist compulsively in the evenings.</p> <p><strong>Part the Sixth: Value is relative.</strong><hr><br /> USAA decided that $1,337 was too much to pay for a 1988 Toyota MR2 of dubious value, so they totaled it, giving me $2,287. <em>Sweet.</em> I had meanwhile scheduled a 4-day weekend, so I had time to go car shopping.</p> <p>[Also on Thursday, I called Enterprise to find out if I could get a smaller car, but all they had was a Dodge Avenger. No thanks.]</p> <p>About this time, a guy living in Maple Valley named Bill decided that he was going to get rid of his garaged silver 1987 5-speed Toyota MR2, mostly to make room for his new ungaraged Mini Cooper (blue with racing stripes). He posted this car on Craigslist, offering a free 1977 Ford Courier to the purchaser of his MR2. 40 minutes later, I responded, and within a few hours we'd set up a showing on Saturday afternoon (so my brother/mechanic/smart guy I know) could look at it.</p> <p>Somehow my parents got involved. I think it was so we would have enough drivers in case we took the Courier, too. The four of us drove over in my wife's Subaru. The short version: although it needed a few odds and ends, the car was a VERY good deal. The Courier was more than a little scary, and we respectfully declined.</p> <p>Cash switched hands. Titles were signed. Bill was a little disappointed that we wouldn't clear up his Courier infestation, but still happy to send the car to a new home--enough so that he inexplicably knocked $100 off the price.</p> <p>We discovered a few minor deficiencies in the first five minutes of driving it homeward, however, which somehow escaped detection during the test drive. <ol> <li>The brake lights didn't light up, although the driving lights did. <li>The driver's side power window was a little fidgety; we drove home with the window 1/2" down. <li>World's Worst Windshield Wipers. <li>The fancy Kenwood stereo would only play Abba.</ol> <p>We solved the last one at the gas station, fortunately.</p> <p>Halfway home, we realized that the t-top was slowly leaking icy water onto my brother's jacket, which absorbed about half a gallon before it all soaked through at once, eliciting the most amazing screams.</p> <p>Triumphantly, we stopped for dinner at the Big Apple Diner in Chico, outside of Bremerton. I don't know why I look at the menu; I almost always order the corned beef hash, which is fantastic.</p> <p><strong>Part the Seventh: Making Adjustments</strong><hr><br /> Title, insurance, bridge toll transponder: lots of little things to do. Expensive, some of them. A 15a fuse fixed the light issue. A good deal of fiddling resolved the Abba issue (yay iPod) and also enabled the Bluetooth so my phone calls route through the car stereo (helpfully pausing the music). I figured out a temporary workaround for the window. New wipers (on sale!). More air in the tires and a cheap car wash. My car is ready to commute.</p> <p><strong>Summation</strong><hr><br /> A Titan killed my car. The insurance company hooked me up with a rental (that I hated, but not their fault) until they decided to pay me for my car: specifically, two and a half times what I originally paid for my car <em>six years ago</em>. I then used most of this money to purchase another, similar but much cleaner and prettier car, and after a long weekend of not very hard work, I'm ready to drive my new car to work. I should total my car every year.</p> <p><u>2004 Nissan Titan</u>: Great for killing MR2s, but watch that spoiler, since it will punch out a reverse lamp. Poor visibility to the rear and apparently some control issues. 4 out of 752 smashed beloved MR2s.</p> <p><u>USAA</u>: Friendly, quick, and helpful on the front end, though I could wish they'd made a decision a little sooner. They sprung for a large rental; no skimping. Not their fault I hated it. 11 out of 13 proof of insurance cards.</p> <p><u>Precision Collision</u>: Friendly, sympathetic, and quick. We had the estimate same day. They also helped me remove my personal effects from the murdered vehicle, and were appropriately somber at the occasion. They didn't actually fix my car, so I can't judge that, but if I needed it done, I would probably go there first. 46 out of 52 demolition derbies.</p> <p><u>Enterprise Rent-A-Car (Bremerton, WA)</u>: I hated their car, but they tried. And the stereo was truly kick ass. They also didn't bat an eye when I chose to ruck march home instead of accepting a ride. 17 out of 19 fifty-ton sedans.</p> <p><u>Craigslist</u>: You have to sort through a lot of people who are just dreaming ($7k for a non-turbo '91? Please.), but overall pretty helpful. Still can't find any Cortinas, though. 1 out of 1 misclassified personal ads.</p> <p><u>1997 Silver MR2</u>: Time will tell. But it surely does clean up nicely.</p> <div align=center><a href=""><img src=""></a></div> <p><Strong>Vendors</strong><hr></p> <li><a href="">Vic's Espresso and Eats</a> <li><a href="">USAA</a> <li><a href="">Precision Collision</a> <li><a href=";bid=004&amp;cnty=US">Enterprise Rent-a-Car</a> (Auto Center Blvd, Bremerton, WA) <li><a href="">Craigslist</a> <li>Big Apple Diner <a href="">[review]</a><br /> automotive Review Tue, 02 Feb 2010 08:15:28 +0000 sig 672 at Review: Boker Cop Tool <p>I recently realized that the last knife I had bought was my <a href="">CRKT M-16ZSF</a> back in Kandahar. (Mine looks like the picture, but has the <em>Operation Enduring Freedom</em> label on the blade, which is quite rare; even in Afghanistan, most knives have the <em>Iraqi Freedom</em> label.) I paid $32 for it at the PX, got halfway back to the compound, and turned around and bought another one for my buddy Matt. It's been my daily carry knife ever since. (MSRP is something obscenely higher than $32, but eminently worth it. It's still my favorite lock blade.)</p> <p><em>However</em>, it is technically illegal to carry in a number of places, particularly King County, owing to the blade length. I might be able to talk my way out of trouble, but it <em>looks</em> dangerous. It doesn't help that it flicks open at a glance with a satisfyingly snappy <em>whick!</em> sound, or that I keep it pretty darned sharp, though its primary use is to slice the occasional bagel and open letters.</p> <p>All of this, in combination with the fact that it's been over two years since I bought it, clearly indicates that it's time for another purchase.</p> <p>I wanted something more appropriate for daily carry--not overtly threatening, yet still useful in case I need to flip someone's breathing switch. As a bonus, I have developed a new irrational fear of being trapped in a burning vehicle, so a strap cutter would be ideal.</p> <p>Wilson Tactical makes <a href="">the perfect knife for my needs</a>. However, they make it in a $140 package--that's a no go on single-income E-6 I-also-need-to-buy-diapers-and-ammo budget.</p> <p>Apparently a lot of other people thought so, too, because lo and behold, Boker licensed the design, used 440C instead of D2 steel, changed the grip to a more conventional handle (instead of the parachute cord wrap, which I hate anyway) and gave us the <a href=",2,&amp;a=02BO300&amp;p=&amp;pp=0">Boker Cop Tool</a>.</p> <div align=center><img src=""></div> <p>I love this knife.</p> <p>Pluses: <ul> <li>Sharp <li>Shiny <li>Sits well in my hand <li>Very solid feel <li>Designed for prying--this is normally the first thing that voids your knife's warranty <li>Strap cutter doesn't get in the way <li>Comes with the dangly cord thing that Wilson Tactical makes, which I immediately removed and put on my keychain.</ul> <p>Minuses: <ul> <li>Comes with a sheath clearly designed more for cops than soldiers; it doesn't stay on a web belt well at all, and it doesn't have any kind of retention except for friction. The shape of the knife is such that you cannot find MOLLE gear sheaths of any kind that will work with it. I would LOVE to be able to mount this sideways on my belt on the front so I could reach it while seated and wearing body armor, but it won't happen with this sheath. Still, if you wear a police-style gear belt, this is a non-issue. <li>A regular sharpening stone is clearly right out for any but the prying edge, which isn't really sharpened. I have a little sharpening rod I keep in my miscellaneous stuff pouch in my left thigh pocket, and that should work just fine. <li>Not being an opener, I can't open and close it *snicksnick*, *snicksnick*, *snicksnick* for three hours at a stretch during briefings, which is great for unnerving the instructor and the first sergeant. <li>Made in Taiwan under license to a German company.</ul> <p>That's pretty much it, though. I love this knife. If I can modify an existing MOLLE sheath somehow, I am golden. In the mean time, it sits inside my waistband on the back, which (mostly) keeps it where I can reach it during the day.</p> <p><font color="red">Update!</font> I just discovered that the strap cutter "corner" works perfectly as a bottle opener. SWEET.</p> <p>6 out of 7 burning Humvees that don't have Sig trapped in them.</p> <p>Sig</p> Review Weapons Fri, 06 Feb 2009 21:19:43 +0000 sig 650 at Review: The Weapon <p>I first read Michael Z. Williamson in Afghanistan. One of the many books on my now deceased PDA was <a href=";pf_rd_s=center-41&amp;pf_rd_t=201&amp;pf_rd_i=1416521186&amp;pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&amp;pf_rd_r=12J6JV4DVQEG45ZRW1AB" rel="nofollow">Freehold</a>, a thoroughly entertaining story about a war between the monolithic UN (now running all of Earth) and a small independent planet-state full of really pissed off individuals. They're all armed. It's great fun, if rather grim. (I'm not a big fan of the UN. The UN of the future (as painted by Williamson) is depressingly believable.) Anyway, the story is told through the perspective of a UN refugee who flees to the planet Freehold and then assimilates into the society, eventually leading forces against her former state.</p> <p>I next read Williamson in collaboration with John Ringo in <a href=";s=books&amp;qid=1233810654&amp;sr=1-1" rel="nofollow">The Hero</a>, an excellent book set in the latter's Legacy of the Aldenata universe. This book takes place many years later than most of the books in the series, and is a war fought on a much smaller scale; one of the Amazon reviewers called it a character study, but since I skipped out of ENG 105, I'll take his word for it. I enjoyed it greatly, and it may actually be more accessible than the main series for someone just interested in sampling the universe. You can find it in free ebook form <a href="" rel="nofollow">here</a>, courtesy of the authors, Baen Books (their publisher), and the nice gentleman at who mirrors the CD-ROMs.</p> <p>I do blather on so.</p> <p>One of the key elements in the end game of <em>Freehold</em> was the massive destruction and chaos caused on Earth by Freehold's special forces troops. This brings us to <em>The Weapon</em>, the tale of the training and eventual employment of the SF soldier who masterminded the Earth campaign.</p> <p>The main character is almost an SF archetype, rather than a character. He's good at everything, insanely talented and trained in every military talent known to mankind--this takes approximately three weeks--and only occasionally tortured by doubts. The Freeholder SF machine is as unbelievably well-resourced and well-run as the UN military is realistically jacked up and handicapped by political correctness. Much of the book comes off as a sort of military daydream/fantasy--"How would I build and train an SF soldier if I had nothing but resources and political backing?" The actual engagements leading up to the war are a little more believable, as political realities frequently force the protagonist to conduct warfare with one hand tied behind his back--being the super awesome badass that he is, this is doable.</p> <p>The last third or so of the book is where it gets to the Earth campaign planning and execution. It's pretty dark, not the least because the characters (and hopefully the reader) fully grasp that most of the casualties will necessarily be noncombatants. Especially if you've read <em>Freehold</em>, you'll have a pretty good idea of what happens. The last bit is a grim, lone struggle for escape and survival when the protagonist is not at all certain that he a) wants to survive or b) <em>should</em> survive. On a general story level, this is the grimmest and most depressing--there's no happy ending here. On another level, though, this is where we really get to see what the character is made of, and he's oddly at his most likable when he's filled with self-loathing and regret.</p> <p>Despite the grim nature of the tale (which does, after all, end in a billion+ body count) it's kind of a fun book. I admit to being entertained by a fantasy in which the uber-trained, uber-clever, uber-armed hero kills the bad guys by the gross, and for the same reason that I like stories with happy endings--too often in real life, the bad guys win.</p> <p>Good violent fun. A little on the grim side. I will re-read it when next I'm feeling super misanthropic and angry about our foreign policy wonks kowtowing to the UN and EU. Tomorrow, maybe.</p> <p>5 out of 7 orbital kinetic strikes on population centers.</p> <p>Sig</p> Book Review Thu, 05 Feb 2009 05:59:03 +0000 sig 647 at Review: Expelled <p>I'm not in a reviewing mood, but I definitely wanted to bring this to the attention of those who might miss it. I would have been one of them but for the lame TDY I was on this week, during which I spent a great deal of time in my hotel room watching television.</p> <p>Ben Stein's new movie <a href="">Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed</a> is already being <a href="">mischaracterized</a> and <a href=";sa=X&amp;oi=news_result&amp;resnum=1&amp;ct=result&amp;cd=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNEPhEl4Jx4Fmi_BW-VlouIAF6-vTQ">parodied</a>. It's not a movie that purports to debunk Darwinism, nor to prove Intelligent Design or Creationism. The purpose, stated again and again, is to show how honest debate is being stifled to prevent any theory that deviates from the Darwin line from even being discussed. That's not the scientific method that I learned in high school. It's a little closer to the journalism that I learned in my half a quarter within the communications department in college.</p> <p>The criticisms in the Boston Globe article boil down to complaints that it was marketed and screened toward friendly audiences and not with massive press screenings, that some of the interviews were done under false pretenses (to make the Darwinists look bad), and that one scene where Ben Stein speaks before a crowd was staged.</p> <p>The first point is pretty ironic on the face of it, as one of the key points of the film is that the scientific establishment--aided and abetted by the mass media--is keenly interested in squelching discussion of the topic. Gilsdorf (the writer of the Globe article) basically accuses the filmmakers of marketing the film toward people who would be interested in seeing it, and not courting an audience they know will be hostile. Color me surprised.</p> <p>As for the second point, I have no doubt that the filmmakers were less than forthright about their purposes in talking with Dawkins and the other prominent Darwinists, but no theatrical lighting tricks are necessary to make Dawkins look like an unhinged lunatic--just listen to the man talk. I will look into this further on some of the critical response sites, but I'm not terribly impressed by this argument. Again, if the whole point is that the community is not willing to discuss the issue, you're not going to get very far by openly demanding to discuss the issue.</p> <p>As for a staged crowd scene, ummm... So? He was speaking before an auditorium audience who sat listening spellbound as he began speaking, and gave him a standing ovation at the end of the film. Not having read anything about the film prior to seeing it--I'd only seen the 7.5 minute <a href="">super trailer</a>--it was still quite clear to me that this was a staged crowd. You occasionally do theatrical things when making a movie, even a documentary. You can study this in your local community college if you are interested in learning more. I do not believe that such a staging enhanced or reduced the credibility of its thesis--it was simply to give some sort of hopeful conclusion to the movie.</p> <p>You'll note that none of these criticisms really address the point of the film. Some of them rather support it. I'm not going to speculate on the fact that the official movie web site has been timing out on me all morning.</p> <p>I was apprehensive that the movie would go from the quest to find out whether suppression of non-Darwinian theories was occurring in academia would somehow morph into trying to prove Intelligent Design; this was not the case. The conclusion of the <em>friendly</em> scientists was simply this: it sure would be nice if we could discuss this rationally.</p> <p>Anyone interested in the state of science in America today really ought to go see this film. Anyone who believes that science is nonpolitical REALLY ought to go see this film.</p> <p>I give it 9 out of 10 DNA-seeding space aliens.</p> <p>Sig</p> <p><font color=red><strong>Update:</strong></font> I have been perusing some of the other reviews that people are giving this movie. Many are simply foaming at the mouth without ever addressing anything about the film at all. Others are critical of the same points that I've already mentioned, though they go into some greater detail. For what it's worth, I tend to agree that doing interviews under false pretenses (that is, the subjects thought they were being interviewed for a somewhat different sort of film) was rather unethical.</p> <p>However, even the most organized and formal criticism at <a href="">Expelled Exposed</a> makes use of some heavy straw man argument tactics. Several arguments that Stein never made in the movie are thoroughly debunked. Wow. Congratulations. You get an ArCom.</p> <p>I'll keep reading, but it's discouraging. The movie seems to inspire a lot of vitriol, but not much in the way of reasoned discourse.</p> Film Review Sat, 19 Apr 2008 16:46:13 +0000 sig 578 at Review: Transformers <p>My review isn't going to be a whole lot longer than <a href="" rel="nofollow">Scott's</a>.</p> <p>Any time the computer guys or military leadership guys are talking, on screen, or talking while on screen, do yourself a favor and stick your fingers in your ears while humming <em>Stars and Stripes Forever</em>.</p> <p>If you do this, not only will the film make just as much sense, but it will be the most awesomest thing you have ever seen in your entire life. ROBOTS! FROM SPACE! FIGHTING! The humor is pretty thick and occasionally corny in the beginning, which helps mask a) how silly the plot really is when you think about it, and b) the fact that the first 20 minutes do not in fact have ROBOTS! FROM SPACE! FIGHTING! at all. Once it gets going, however--look out.</p> <p>Purists will no doubt complain because Bumblebee is now a largely mute Camaro instead of a chatty VW Bug--one of many character changes--and the core story was altered radically from the comic books in order to simplify things. Purists: keep in mind that the original comic books were designed solely to sell toys, whereas the modern film is designed solely to entertain Sig. Since it utterly succeeds, you should totally shut up.</p> <p>One of the many features that impressed me was the thought they put into what 20-ton ROBOTS! FROM SPACE! FIGHTING! would actually do to a modern urban landscape--it's impressive. Any time you blow up a city, you have Sig in the audience cheering. [<em>Independence Day</em> started to fail horribly when it stopped blowing up cities.] In this movie, they break stuff. A lot of stuff. It's totally awesome. Plus there's a robotic decapitation <em>and</em> a robotic dismemberment. Sweet.</p> <p>It's unfortunate that you do have to ignore a good 15 minutes of "computer hacker" and "military leadership" dialogue in order to enjoy this movie to the utmost--it's kind of like any time Anakin was on screen during Episode I, only not for as long. [Episodes II and III, too, now that I think of it.] It is worth it for the robots, though. I mean, c'mon--<em>ROBOTS! FROM SPACE! FIGHTING!</em></p> <p>Theatrical release: 8 out of 10 ROBOTS! FROM SPACE! FIGHTING!<br /> No-hackers-or-military-officers Special "Sig" Edition: 14 out of 10 ROBOTS! FROM SPACE! FIGHTING!</p> <p>Sig</p> <p>[Update: <a href="" rel="nofollow">ArsTechnica</a> explains it well: "The tech-geeks in the audience will be driven crazy by some of the 'hacking' scenes, and that's a testament to how good the movie really is. When you can forgive the giant alien robots and accept them as real and focus on the terrible use of computers in the movie, they've done something right."]</p> Film Review Thu, 05 Jul 2007 04:34:12 +0000 sig 514 at Review: The Runaway Robot <p>I read a lot. I used to read <em>a <strong>lot</strong></em>. Like oops-it's-daylight-again-guess-I'll-finish-this-chapter-and-go-to-school a lot. The hard thing about reading very fast is keeping your brain fed--there weren't many books in my parents' house that I hadn't read when I left for college, even the Louis L'amour westerns. The good thing was that I could generally re-read books; to me, it's not that different from watching a much-enjoyed movie again, though I'm told some people don't do that, either.</p> <p>Given the sheer number of books that I've read (or had read to me) over the 29 years of my life, a lot of them slip through my memory. I will recognize a title, sometimes, but not be able to tell you much about the book until I read a few pages and refresh my memory. Perhaps it is this fading that lets me re-read so many books.</p> <p>But I kind of doubt it, really, because I've been known to re-read books that I know VERY well. I read Tom Clancy's <em>Red Storm Rising</em> three times in a row when I was in the 6th grade--it didn't hold up quite so well when I read it last year, but I still remembered plot, characters, and even some dialogue.</p> <p>What's the point? Shut up. I'm still pontificating.</p> <p>My stepbrother John's first wife Tracy got me started on adult science fiction when she lent me <em>Starship Troopers</em> one evening, on the theory that a reading child was a non-annoying child. I was instantly hooked. I went on to read most all of Heinlein's novels and a good many of his short stories and essays. In high school, I discovered Asimov through the <em>Foundation</em> trilogy and then side-stepped into his Robots. Wow. I've read every one of his robot stories that I could find, including the lame tie-ins with the <em>Foundation</em> storyline.</p> <p>So what was the best robot story ever? None of the above. It's Lester Del Rey's <em>The Runaway Robot</em> (1965), published by Scholastic Book Services for 50 cents. It was in a box of Mom's childhood books when I was a kid, and it is the Best Robot Story Evar.</p> <p><img src=""></p> <p>Sorry for the size, but this was the only picture online that I could find; maybe I'll scan my precious, precious copy later for your edification. But probably not.</p> <p>This isn't actually a review. I'm not going to tell you about the story at all, since other people have <a href="">already done a fine job</a> of it. But trust me--this book is far superior to any other robot book in the universe, and your kids will have an inferior childhood if you don't find them a copy. Make sure it has this cool cover, and not the lame one that the linked review has.</p> <p>Many thanks to Mom and Pop for finding me one on eBay for my birthday.</p> <p><em>The Runaway Robot</em>: 11 awesome runaway robots out of 10</p> <p>Sig</p> Book Review Wed, 21 Mar 2007 04:12:32 +0000 sig 466 at Review: The Break Up <p>OK, so I don't really keep up on movies. I'm not even sure how old this one is, but on the recommendation of one of the MASINT guys, I borrowed and watched it last night.</p> <p>I can see where a lot of people would enjoy this. Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Anniston are both decent acting-type-people, and they do some fairly amusing things. Supporting cast, particularly Vincent D'onofrio (butchered that horribly, I bet), were also quite good.</p> <p>Unfortunately, relationship-gone-bad movies are rather painful for me to watch and relate to. I'm one of the four people on the planet without a "psychotic ex" story. I met the girl, stalked her for over a decade, married her, and lived happily ever after. Ergo, I don't have a lot of patience or sympathy for characters who say and do really stupid things to hurt each other, nor do imploding relationships amuse me overly much. This movie was more like a teaching tool (i.e. what not to ever do in a relationship) than entertainment.</p> <p>I give it 4 broken hearts out of 10.</p> <p>Sig</p> Film Review Sat, 30 Dec 2006 06:48:12 +0000 sig 406 at Underworld Evolution <p>When I say I'm "bored" at Kandahar, that means I have no official duties and have a lot of time to decide what I want to do. This is often the same as being "bored" on a hill, except that in the latter case, my decisions about entertainment are limited to things like "Do I pile the rocks over here or over there" and whether to wash socks or a t-shirt with my daily water ration.</p> <p>Here, I watch movies, catch news, read the paper, take showers (!), check e-mail, and (best of all) drink coffee. Much better options.</p> <p>So last night I borrowed Underworld Evolution from my assistant team leader because I felt like watching something gratuitously violent with gaping plot holes. Mission accomplished! (Don't get to say that too often around here.)</p> <p>I enjoyed the first film, which had most of the same features as this one, although I thought the plot held together a little better. And to be fair, many of what I consider to be "plot holes" may in fact be "areas of mystery to be explained in a third movie." That annoys me, but since I do it in my own writing, I can hardly in all fairness complain when someone else does it.</p> <p>But life isn't fair, so I will bitch. STOP DOING THAT. I DON'T WANT TO WAIT ANOTHER THREE YEARS TO FIND OUT YOUR LAME SOLUTION TO THE MYSTERY.</p> <p>Ahem.</p> <p>The most notable thing about this film was the sheer number of impalements of people and their various body parts. Every ten seconds, somebody was getting stabbed by something--a knife, a pole, a beluga whale. It was rather on the icky side.</p> <p>The second most notable thing was that there was a rather explicit vampire/vampire-werewolf-hybrid sex scene--they both looked like normal people (only prettier), but I was following the plot so I know they're not. I'm not a big fan of sex scenes in film; it's generally enough to strongly suggest that "yes, these people are going to be touching eachother in naughty places," and then we can move on to the next action sequence or plot point--maybe even some character development if there's time.</p> <p>This one was notable because--as I found out watching special features--Kate Beckinsale (probably misspelled; the vampire chick) is the director's <em>wife</em>. Now who does that? Seriously. How horribly stressful on the part of the poor shmuck who has to be the male love interest in the film. Why do people submit their marriages to stress like that? And why are we surprised to Hollywood marriages last an average of 12.7 minutes?</p> <p>Anyway, film was reasonably entertaining by stuck-in-Kandahar standards, but that whole film-someone-else-pretending-to-have-sex-with-your-wife thing really bothers me, although I grant it is external to the film. I wouldn't have watched it at all, more than likely, but SarahK on <a href="" rel="nofollow">IMAO</a> recommended it during one of the old podcasts I was listening to the other day.</p> <p>I give it 7 bloody impalements out of 10.</p> <p>Sig</p> Film Review Sun, 15 Oct 2006 03:26:22 +0000 sig 377 at Dragonforce: Silly name, good band <p>Does anyone else remember when was cool?</p> <p>Back before the dawn of time, circa 1999, it used to be that you could go to and find all sorts of independent, unsigned, or just wannabe bands that you’d never heard of and you could download a few tracks they put up. Some might have a song or two—others might have a few songs from every album.</p> <p>I found a lot of good stuff this way. <a href=>Blind Guardian</a> had enough songs posted to fill a CD, and I’ve been a CD-buying and concert-going fan ever since I bought <i>Nightfall in Middle Earth</i> and listened to it on repeat play in the car. For about a year. (Don’t believe me? Ask Sunbeam.). I own a few Nightwish albums based on songs I found there. A speed/thrash group called Deep was compelling enough based on the two or three songs posted that I bought <i>The Reach of Envy</i> direct from their website—I had a hand-written “thank you” on the receipt from the lead singer. I can’t find any mention of them anywhere now, alas; the same goes for another Texas band, Riot Act, whose “Judged by Jury” still gets stuck in my head even though I lost that MP3 at least 4 years ago.</p> <p>What was my point again? Oh yeah. You could find obscure bands and listen to their music and support them, and none of them have I ever heard on the radio. I don’t know what is like now, but last time I checked it was a heavily ad-infested mainstream musical sewer pit. At least, I couldn’t find any good metal bands.</p> <p>One of the almost-forgotten bands that I sort of enjoyed but never ended up supporting with my money was a group with the improbable name of Dragonforce. Seems like it was something else prior, but that conflicted with another band, and they had just changed it, but maybe I am confusing them with someone else. I was just legal to drink in 1999, after all.</p> <p>Anyway, they were (and are, it turns out) a speed metal band of the classical persuasion—apparently, no one told them that the 1980s were over. It’s all there—random nonsensically vague songs about dragons and fire and swords, high wailing vocals, and really tight riffs at a ridiculously fast tempo. That should be restated—I have never heard any group play this fast this well. Or even just this fast.</p> <p>That’s part of their appeal. The other part, for me at least, is that they are such <i>happy</i> songs. I don’t know how else to describe it. Major key, very fast, riffs that are somehow friendly. <i>Happy</i> metal. Go figure. Unbelievably catchy tunes, too, and without the vulgarity that too often ruins a perfectly good metal song.</p> <p>The high wailing vocals were a bit of a problem, however. At a few key points, they were um, not quite there. I’m enough of a metal head that I could overlook this, mostly, but it drove my wife about ten kinds of insane. Catchy and happy tunes weren’t enough if the singer sounded like he was hitting the high notes only with the aid of a tennis ball to the groin.</p> <p>I never quite got around to buying their stuff, but I never really forgot them, either.</p> <p>Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I was discovering the evils of the iTunes Music Store firsthand. Looking for more new music to bring back with me to the edge of nowhere in Afghanistan, I stumbled across… “Nah, it couldn’t be the same band. But who else would use that horrible name?”</p> <p>And so it was. The songs I had listened to in 2000/2001ish were now listed on their first album, <i>Valley of the Damned</i>, and it must have done alright because there were two more albums, the latter of which with the cheery, happy title of <i>Inhuman Rampage</i>. I listened to the samples of the songs I could still hum and discovered that they had been seriously overhauled—rerecorded probably, remixed, certainly. Not quite as gritty as I recalled from before, but still unbelievably fast. Best of all, the vocals seemed improved and on key.</p> <p>And a steal at 99 cents per song.</p> <p>I ended up purchasing the first and third albums; I now deeply regret that I did not buy the second as well, as they have had remarkable staying power on my daily playlists since I left home. There’s a truly dreadful ballad (“Starfire”) on the first album; everything else is a keeper, the kind of songs you don’t mind getting stuck in your head. This is a good thing, because I can't overstate how catchy some of these tracks are. The third album shows more complexity, a more mature voice (with a greater acceptance of human male limitations), and a ballad that doesn’t suck. Both are best experienced with a good set of headphones, or better yet a stereo with good bass response and no neighbors.</p> <p>I recognize that the metal-listening Sigspace-reading demographic is really really small (Sig himself being perhaps 1/3 of that demographic), but I felt like sharing and I’m in the middle of Afghanistan—it’s not like I have a lot else to write about. Maybe next I’ll write a review of fly strips and an evaluation of their efficiency in this climate.</p> <p>Anyway:<br /> <i>Valley of the Damned</i>: 8 out of 10 wailing guitars.<br /> <i>Inhuman Rampage</i>: 9 out of 10 thundering bass lines.</p> <p>Sig</p> Music Review Thu, 05 Oct 2006 17:16:04 +0000 sig 373 at Red Rabbit <p>Tom Clancy novels were some of the first real adult reading that I enjoyed. I read (and reread, and reread) <i>The Hunt For Red October</i> when I was 12, and several others (particularly <i>Red Storm Rising</i>) received a similar treatment as I discovered them.</p> <p>However, as time went by, the stories became more and more implausible to my increasingly jaded eye. Jack Ryan the intel analyst who ends up in the middle of operations and somehow comes out on top I can believe—Jack Ryan the intel analyst who does it again and again and AGAIN and somehow ends up President is very hard to swallow. The last book of the series that I really enjoyed was <i>The Sum of All Fears</i>--let’s not talk about the movie.</p> <p>To be fair, certain other of the characters were pretty interesting and had books which focused more on their exploits--<i>Without Remorse</i> featuring the adaptable and very scary Mr. Clark was grim but enjoyable. But in general, I just kind of gave up on Clancy’s fiction.</p> <p>I’m telling you this not because you are likely to be fascinated by my changing reading tastes over time (although perhaps you are), but so that you may understand where I’m coming from when I decided to read <i>Red Rabbit</i>, a paperback from 2003 featuring a younger Jack Ryan from the mid-80s—after <i>Patriot Games</i> but before <i>Red October</i>. I didn’t pick this book because I had a deeply felt need to rejoin the Ryan story arc—I picked this book because I hadn’t read it yet and nothing better presented itself.</p> <p>Let’s digress a bit: What makes a Tom Clancy novel (of the classic persuasion) fun? First, they tend heavily toward explaining (and utilizing) technical things; whether it be submarine propulsion systems or nuclear weapons treaties, Mr. Clancy has a way of explaining things that appeals to the inner geek. Second, there is a wide cast of characters all moving toward their own purposes and setting events into motion by their interactions—the process is like a train wreck sometimes, and sometimes it’s the hero’s job to stop the train. Third, the pacing starts slow, but hundreds of pages of character development and fateful decisions and mysterious actions which only gradually reveal their significance generally culminate in the last 1/3 of the book being rather exciting—I think the phrase is “page turner.”</p> <p>It’s easy for me to define the qualities that make up an entertaining and enjoyable Tom Clancy novel because they were all AWOL in <i>Red Rabbit</i>.</p> <p>I wanted to like this book, but it really feels like a throwaway gap-filler. On every page is a reference to events or characters from another book—perhaps people who aren’t important yet, but will be. There are also just plain silly things to show the reader how insanely clever and wise and prescient the hero is—buying Starbucks stock, for example. I guess I'm supposed to read that and think, “Ha, how clever, he bought Starbucks back before they were big. Starbucks is a real company. Wow, this book is super realistic.” Even if I didn’t hate Starbucks, I would still find this device insulting.</p> <p>The cast of characters is not very big, and very few of the “minor” characters have anything like development. The pacing is just bizarre. There are three successive chapters in which the KGB head is doing nothing but thinking about how he ought to respond to a crisis. There is no new information given to him or anything in between—it’s just like the whole thing was being dragged out to fill space.</p> <p>Perhaps this was because the Grand Evil Plot turned out to be So Incredibly Lame.</p> <p>Particularly objectionable was how Ryan somehow ended up involved in operations <i>twice</i> on pretexts that not even the characters could really believe. Even so, the pacing managed to somehow keep these operations from being exciting. I had to re-read a few paragraphs because I found myself scanning over what turned out to be the climactic action sequence.</p> <p>There are things to like about this book, I’m sure, but having just finished, I couldn’t tell you what they are. A sideplot about Ryan’s doctor wife adjusting to British socialized medicine was abandoned without resolution—I’m not sure what it says about me that I found this fairly interesting and was annoyed not to learn how it came out.</p> <p>When held up to the standards of classics like <i>Cardinal of the Kremlin</i>, it becomes apparent that publishers are now just printing any old piece of crap that comes off the word processor with TOM CLANCY written on the front. I’m sorry, Tom: I love your earlier work and the nonfiction I’ve read, and I would be happy to gush about it given half an opportunity, but this book blew chunks and someone ought to have told you that before.</p> <p>One more thing: the protagonist whose codename in the book is “Rabbit” is named Zaitsev, which means (if I recall correctly) “rabbit.” Brilliant. I’m amazed at the cleverness.</p> <p>I give it 3 out of 10 bunnies. At least one of those is because it's a really long book and killed most of a day in a very boring place.</p> <p>Sig</p> Book Review Thu, 05 Oct 2006 17:13:44 +0000 sig 372 at