Friday, May 29, 2009

Before you Quit Your Job, Robert T. Kiyosaki

Mr. Kiyosaki is the author of the "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" series, and while I got a lot out of the first book, I've avoided the sequels in his series simply because I felt that many of them might just be milking the first, very solid ideas of the core book. I also often got the same feeling from the sequels to "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Steven Covey. However, because I've been conisdering starting a business lately, I decided to give this book another look.

There are 10 lessons in the book, each of which is in 10 chapters. The basic formula of each chapter consists of a personal anecdote, a series of lessons or principles based on the main lesson, a summary, and then a 'distilation' by his partner Sharon Lechter. I found the lessons in the book useful, and as someone who is going to start a business (well another one since technically the Gaming stuff was a business, even if it was an abominable failure) I found their advice helpful.

Some criticism I've heard on the book is that he's light on specifics and heavy on slogans. While there is some of that, the point the book makes is an excellent one. Which is to say, enteprenurship is a skill, just like learning to ride a bike or use a computer. And you have to fail a lot, which means you have to be WILLING to fail a lot, and the way you look at the world can't be the same as it was while you are drawing a steady paycheck from your job.

As someone who is about to enter this world, I feel that these lessons are invaluable. There is nothing malicious in them, indeed there is a genuine benevolent desire to educate as many people as possible in this way of thinking. Of course, I can already tell there are some things I'm not going to agree with Mr. Kiyosaki on in his other books, such as his belief in the Gold Standard (I read it on another one of his books that I got from the library) but of the two books I've read, I think they are very very useful.

Essentially, his mission in creating the Rich Dad books is to make the world a better place. He also talks about the importance of a mission. On the surface, that might seem like meaningless corpspeak. I can certain identify someone who has been in sales by the 'corporaty' quality of their voice almost all of the time. And while there is a bit of that in Mr. Kiyosaki's narrative, there is also a stark resonance of truth. He helps you ask yourself tough questions that you need to be prepared to answer before you leap off of a cliff and take that step forward, while at the same time ENCOURAGING you to leap forward and take that risk.

I found the book to be extremely helpful, but it is primarily useful to those who truly want to start a business in my opinion. It is most useful to those who have no experience being an entrepenur, but have already made that leap in their minds that that is what they want to do and need a bit of help with specifics. It is not a how to guide on how to start a business, but rather a how to guide on how to change your world paragidm to think like people that make serious money at business, while at the same time not become a money troll who lives for nothing else.

Death Masks by Jim Butcher

The fifth book in the Dresden series has Harry fighting the powers of Hell, in not only a battle for the fate of Chicago, his own hide (as usual), the fate of everyone he cares about (a bit new this time) but also the foreshadowings of one of the more interesting internal conflicts that he has to deal with. One of the characters of the book, as a price for their aid, forces Harry to ask himself WHY it is that he does what he does, and while he has to think about it, it is the ultimate answer that helps define the character.

The larger question of the book, what do we do with power when we have it, doesn't seem that prominent compared to the usual amounts of massive action, wanton destruction and extrmely clever lines of dialog. However beneat that, there are larger themes going on, some of which become more appearant reading the books for a second time. Thus, in addition to being Urban Fantasy, the Dresden books manage to be Noir as well; shades of gray with the implication that there also still things that are all black and all white. Grey means a bit more when it really can be gray and it is known that there are extremes.

In some ways, Death Masks feels like a transition between the first few books and the later books, though of course that's a bit like saying link 5 instead of link 6 in a chain is a major transition point. Still, I liked it a great deal.

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

The fourth series in the Dresden Books details a bit more about the nature of Fairies in the Dresdenverse. It also ups the ante in the perils that he faces, from simple cases that will ruin his life, to the potential long term health of the world. In short, it is a logical step from the last book, in which Harry took a step into a much larger world. We also learn a bit more about the politics of the world and the city at large.

I generally liked the book, though I admit I liked Grave Peril slightly more. I think it was because, as much as I liked this book, Grave Peril was a quantum leap forward, and actually involved loss and sacrifice for the main character. I like it when actions have conseuqnces. I consider it the hall mark of a good story. Its one of the reasons I like Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams. Not only is it hard for me to predict what's going to happen, but when you look back at their work, its clear that they've got a plan in mind, which means that they have a set of rules, and they stick by them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Movie: Elizabeth the Golden Age

Its a two hour movie, that appearantly had a lot of cuts to it. I liked it, but it lacked a certain...something...that its predecesor lacked.

The main focus of this movie was the relationship between Elizabeth and Sir Walter Reighleigh. I loved the acting...and the sets were awesome, I just think the script in this case needed a lot more work. As a viewer, I cared about Elizabeth the most, which is good because the movie was about her, but the villains in the story in this case were...almost cartoonish. Now, historically speaking some people act cartoonish, but it just didn't grok so well in this case.

I think the real problem was that the movie was just historically accurate to be mostly historically accurate, while not actually going far enough in completely hacking apart history to rearrange and arrange things to make the story better. Sometimes when making a dramatized occurance of history, you need to be willing to distort things a little bit more. I know that's supposed to be bad, but since we're telling a story, I personally think anything is fair game as long as you stay true to the original spirit of what happened.

I think the movie Asoka (A boliwood film on Jennifer's queue) does a far better job of this, while at the same time retaining an astonishing amount of the actual history on a figure that we know historically a lot less about.

Movie: Angels and Demons

Right. The interesting thing about this movie and the Da Vinci code is that the first book was Angels and Demons and the second book was the Da Vinci Code. Conversely, the first movie was the Da Vinci Code and the second movie was Angels and Demons.

This works well in some ways and not so well in others. In the books, the truly fantastic things of the Da Vinci code draw in the main character because he is specifically sought out as a result of the actions in Angels and Demons. In the movie (I haven't read the Angels and Demons book) it seems far more plausible to me that the Vatican is going to call this ONE GUY from out of nowhere to deal with this problem given the semi accidental happenings in Da Vinci code.

Of course, the real problem I have is that, given the magnitude of the revelation/main reveal at the end of the Da Vinci Code, you'd think that the world would be substantially changed in Angels and leasts superficially. But it isn't. It is true that in the book and the movie, the implication is that it will eventually be a chance to come to light, but that it would be a slow quiet one...and yet....we are led to believe that the mere existance of this threat to the Catholic church is so dire that they would risk sending an assasin to kill prominent french leaders if it got out.

I find the plot of Angels and Demons a lot more plausible. However, I like the 'mystic symbols/side show discovery channel' aspect of the Da Vinci code a lot more. Granted, there might be more of that in Angels and Demons the book, but then again the Da Vinci code became a run away best seller and Angels and Demons did not. There certainly isn't ANY of the scholarly interesting stuff in Angels and Demons that I found that interesting. Of course, it is true that they mention things like 'this church or that' but it was a lot harder to believe that it wasn't just something the author made up out of thin air....hard to say why.

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

The main plot of this book is that something is disrupting the boundaries between the spirit world (The 'nevernever') and the real world, letting all kinds of dead things come through. As usual, there is a hell of a lot going on, but as usual Butcher manages to coordinate it all very well. The thing I really like about these books is that because he uses very understandable laws of magic, the mystery element of things works very well. The ultimate 'who dun it' in both cases follows a logical pattern.

And yet the thing that I really like about this series is that while there is a formula, by the end of the book Butcher takes that formula, crumples it up in a tiny tin foil ball and tosses it out the fiftieth story window to make a nice impact on the concrete below. Harry's actions have consequences, and I LIKE consequences because consequences are what happens when a character matters.

Its why I stopped reading comics except in graphic novel form, because no one stays dead, and another writer can completely undo anything that the previous writer has done. Now, it is true that in the real world change always happens and nothing ever lasts, but then again, in the real world, people stay dead. In fact, in all of the books I've read so far by Butcher, dead people have stayed dead, which given a world in which time travel is theoretically possible (its one of the laws of Magic not to muck around with time) in either the Dresden books or the Codex Alera books I have yet to see him bring someone back to might happen, but it certainly won't be the revolving door it is in a lot of series.

(Note: Obviously vampires and ghosts are back from the dead, but they stay that way.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

Writing Urban Fantasy isn't easy these days. The formula has become rather predictable. In fact, that's the main reason I've avoided the genre entirely myself as an author hithertonow. It pays well, and books that do well in this field can be quite successful, but I mean, how many different ways can you write about vampires, fairies, mages and werewolves?

Well, in this book, Jim Butcher found a way. Basically, he takes a random grab bag of about six different kinds of werewolves and half a dozen types of vampires, weaving the different types of cinemea and mythology into a believable mix. When an author makes up a setting, they can sometimes fall into the trap of "the Seven Stones of Power" or the like, in the sense that it seems more like a role playing game setting designed to make as many character selection options as possible available in chargen. On the other hand, sometimes a world can seem awfully...empty. The real world has hundreds of different cultures, religions and languages that all conflict with each other, which is why the real world often comes up with ideas that an author couldn't conceive of in their wildest dreams, despite being able to ignore things like the laws of physics.

Butcher's setting really sings. It fits quite nicely between the semi-formulaic intro book, and the 'all hell breaks loose' of the following book. He gets a few allies, advances a few relationships, and sets the foundations for his own destruction at a later date. In short, I suspect that Butcher didn't even know how good of a foundation he was laying for his later books when he wrote it.

The book is basically about a series of murders Harry has to solve for his Police contact, which happen to involve obviously canine involvement. He has to navigate through several different suspects and figure out which is which. That, on top of everything else, makes it particularly interesting, since it has an actual mystery that follows its own rules quite well.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

This book is the first of the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher.

This is the second time I've read them, and they're quite good. I've started reading the books from scratch again in anticpation of the new one, Turn Coat, that has already come out. The basic book is about a private Wizard for Hire, Harry Dresden that does private supernatural consulting for the police to pay the bills, and private cases in his spare time. These two lines of work collide, as a crazed magician begins using forces beyond their control to wreak havok on Harry and everyone else in his life. He has to confront the Mafia, Vampires and even his own side in the form of a vengful 'Gaston' like character called Morgan.

The books are an astoningly fast read, especially given the sophistication of the setting and the plot. Inside of the action packed pace he manages to cram significant character development and introspective drama. The pacing is almost perfect, and you can see why it became as successful as it is.

Having seen that, you can also see Butcher's progression as a writer as the plot is a slight bit formulaic (albiet only for about four books) and Harry is a touch bit more charismatic with the ladies than one might expect. But that all quickly gets flushed out and rectified in the later books. I highly recommend it, but then again I would if I was bothering to read it a second time.

X-Men Origens Wolverine - Mediocre at best

I saw the original X-men with very low expectations. I was pleasantly suprised and it turned out to be a fairly good movie. Not the best, but a good, solid super hero movie. Two was excellent and three was just sad, a shadow of what it could have been.

Four is a place holder movie. Four is the movie that they could have made if they'd had a decent script, descent effects budget, added in another 40-50 minutes of film and decided to have some real guts. It has things that geeks that know the continuity well like I do will pick up on, including the Striker subplot and highly obscure stuff like Emma Frost having diamond skin, but all of these things are not significant parts of the story. The script itself is....bleh. In some ways it is a solid character development, showing the growing rivalry between Logan and his psychotic brother Victor, but none of the characters are really fleshed out (except MAYBE Striker). They set things up for a Deadpool movie, but the things that are cool about Deadpool the character are woefully lacking in the Deadpool of this film. He is kind of smart alek but....still.

Basically, it is obvious to me that this is the Movie Fox made so that they could keep the rights to the x-men. They set things up in such a way that if they truly wanted to make it a trilogy, they could, with a new team/Generation Next aspect of things, but they didn't really set that well up either. So it was neither an homage to geeks (ala Watchmen) nor was it a cult movie (ala Buckaroo Banzai or Evil Dead or Ghost Rider) nor a Summer Blockbuster/Tentpole Movie (ala Iron Man, Spiderman or the like), but sort of a middling attempt to do something between all three on the minimum budget they could justify and not get sued for Marvel for just trying to hold the copyright.

And Hugh Jackman does a darn good job with the material he's given....which isn't good.

The Inn at Crystal Cove in Winthrop, MA

In Ireland we enjoyed the bed and breakfast experience far more than corporate hotels we stayed in. The Inn at Crystal Cove is about 10 minutes out of the way because you have to take back streets to get there, but the view is utterly fantastic and it feels like a European Bed and Breakfast place (of course, it has a kitchen instead of providing breakfast) but it is still an amazing experience.

The almost complete lack of corporate logos everywhere in Winthrop was also extremely refreshing.

If you're going to Boston, and you want something besides the typical corporate hotel, I could not recommend it more.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

First Review - Robin Hood Season 3

So according to the Wikipedia article, Series 3 of the BBC "Robin Hood Series" has a replacement for Maid Marion called "Lara Pulver, as Guy of Gisborne's sister Isabella."

Really? Really? BBC, you think that's a good idea?

Taking a thousand year old myth, or even a THOUSANDS year old story and shaking it up a bit can be creatively brilliant. If you'd killed Maid Marion off, it would have been tragic, but creatively bold. Bringing in...ANOTHER CHARACTER in a formula that is as old as the story itself....not so much. In fact, it is quite frankly television at its worst (OK, not quite true, most reality television is worse but still.)

I learned to be wary of this kind of crap after the end of the second season of Ballykissangel, in which one of the characters we most liked dies, and changes the entire dynamic...oh who am I kidding, they do the same stupid thing. We lost interest, but at least I could UNDERSTAND it. Television shows have been doing this kind of thing for a long time, and while it is a classic sign that they have Jumped the Shark, its not always the case. Sometimes a death can do a lot to improve a show. Sometimes it is only a temporary distraction. It depends on the show.

Robin Hood is not a show where you want to kill of Maid Marion. Not unless you're incorporating magic or its a comedy. I have absolutely no interest in seeing Series 3, and I am gleefully removing it from my Netflix queue.