Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Fires of Heaven (Wheel of Time 5) by Robert Jordan

Book cover
I am already inside the story and it is getting harder and harder to analyse individual books. All I can say is that, again, there are a lot of incredibly condescending and arrogant people, mostly women, which are presented as indomitable based on looks or appearance or prestige, yet with not a shred of usefulness. I was reading this book and I was finding myself daydreaming of what I would say to such an annoying individual. What I find even more disturbing is that a lot of times the superiority of one's opinion was demonstrated via violence. Educational violence, mind you, switching, bottom beatings or pinches, meaningless and hard chores, but still violence and hardly acceptable to me.

Rand and Mat go together in The Fires of Heaven, but their contact is almost not existent and Mat is always trying to get away. What happened to their long time friendship? It evaporated in Jordan's writings. Perrin has saved the Two Rivers, but then married and stayed there, as if the world was saved and there was nothing to be done about it. Eqwene is with Rand as well, but more Aes Sedai and more arrogant by the minute, her relationship with Rand abandoned since subjected to the conscriptionary methods of both Aes Sedai and Wise Ones. A horrid character, if you ask me. Morraine is even more mysterious and useless as in the previous books, except for the end, where she does something heroic, but kind of dumb. Rand is getting "hard", but still suffers the people around him as he could do nothing about them. A prisoner of his own small village upbringing, he seems a sad sorry character, as remote from heroism as a dung beetle is from a professional dancer.

Interestingly enough, I found the Elayne and Nynaeve story arch a lot more satisfying. Complex, reasonable and thrilling. That until they voluntarily return to the Aes Sedai, where they have to again suffer all the humiliations an Accepted is supposed to suffer to gain "character". A new female Forsaken appears, Moghedien, but not nearly as interesting as Lanfear, who is present in this book, but terribly inconsistent. The ending of the book also annoyed the hell out of me, since I believe her outburst was completely out of character.

All and all, as interesting and captivating as the others in the Wheel of Time series, but suffering from a kind of character sublimation, in which the story is being carried by people that don't act like themselves. Book 6 is on the way.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What the hell is SOPA?

All this opposition to these new American laws that are being discussed SOPA and PIPA has become a kind of spam that covers the real issue of what these laws are all about. Certainly there is nothing in the title that says anything remotely useful. Here is a TED talk lasting only 13 minutes that explains what is what:

Also, you might be interested in one of our own Romanian comics, Pidjin, who are explaining it nicely in graphical form. They are very funny and inspired in general, but the SOPA bit was brilliant.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shadow Rising (Wheel of Time 4) by Robert Jordan

Book coverIt seems that Robert Jordan is balancing the odd books of the Wheel of Time series series with the even ones. The first and the third books were kind of black and white, little grey in between, all good characters fighting the evil. Now, the second and the fourth seem to be more ambivalent. Does that mean that the fifth will be again a bipolar epic battle? I'm ready to find out! [grin]

In The Shadow Rising there are four different main stories that have little to do with one another, all happening simultaneously. There is the Rand arch, going to Rhuidean to fulfil the prophecies, accompanied by Mat, Eqwene, Moraine and the Aiel; there is Perrin, going back to Two Rivers to protect it from Ordeith, Whitecloaks and hordes of Trollocs; Elayne and Nynaeve are hunting Black Ajah; finally, the White Tower itself has some major problems.

The book was certainly entertaining, although not particularly deep. A lot of complex characters are relegated to doing cliché work, like Thom, for example. A large part of the book is focused on Perrin, while Mat is all but ignored. My favourite character Lanfear appears from time to time, too. Rand does weird things, making us wonder if he has lost his mind or just has a plan, but neither his companion nor the readers know what that might be. I liked the Egeanin bit of the girls story, but I can't tell you more for fear of spoiling it. Some really flashy and important battles are being carried out by different characters, although they are more literary show than substance, as battles go.

All in all, a reasonable continuation of the series. I think I am safe by now in saying that Wheel of Time is addressed to adolescents and will probably not evolve to something further to the end of the saga. Still fun, though.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

First season of Pioneer One ends

Series posterI've previously written about Pioneer One, the show that is produced almost entirely from donations and is distributed free on the Internet. Its first season contains 6 episodes and I have just finished watching it. As I was saying before, the series is cheap as dirt, but people have managed to use an intriguing story and ingenuity to make a decent production that I enjoyed watching.

Not only I love the idea of these "free" movies, where people actually make the effort to pay only if they liked them (and are that kind of people), but I see it as a seed for greater things. On their site, the people at Pioneer One are promising a second season, this time financed by sponsors that would have liked the first. It is an interesting hybrid that is being born: a crowd-sourced first season, that people must like or it wouldn't happen in the first place, and a more classical method of financing the rest, but based on that first bit of work. No one will escalate it to intergalactic space wars with lots of special effects. Like a film production with a soul.

I am looking forward to what they will do next, both heroes of the series and makers, heroes in their own way.

Update February 2016: Well, They have released a "webisode", which means they didn't quite manage to get the sponsors or something else happened. Just in case they do anything, you might want to subscribe to the Pioneer One YouTube channel.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Video asteroid history for the last 30 years

I have been interested in the asteroids in the Solar system lately and, while perusing the vast amount of data that is now on the Internet on the subject, I've stumbled upon a video of the number of asteroids humans have discovered in the last 30 years (1980-2010). It is a simple bird's eye view of the Solar system, with the planets and the small objects we knew at the time to exist, together with a highlighted view of the objects we were seeing from the Earth at any given moment.

You should watch the video full screen and a large resolution, as the objects are pretty dim. If you only see the highlighted object, you should increase your video brightness or gamma settings. Enjoy!

The video is from Scott Manley's YouTube page, and there are more interesting asteroid videos there as well. I urge you to see them. The ones I enjoyed best I will include below.

Density Of Asteroids in the Orbital Plane of the Solar System

Asteroids In Resonance With Jupiter

Asteroid Belt - Edge On View

And as a bonus for watching this far, my own simple simulation of some of the asteroids an comets in the Solar system. You will need a Html5 browser and a reasonably fast computer. The speed is reasonable on my slow computer and insanely fast on my other. Change it to fit your own parameters.
Asteroids in the Solar System

Post 911 Terrorism post

This is the 912nd post, see? :) And it is about terrorism.

It has just occurred to me that Anonymous, the hacker continuum that has humiliated security and financial companies and even governments, has the structure that would allow a terrorist organization to survive. Look at Al-Qaida: a news article described how the death of Osama bin-Laden has alienated the financial backers of the organization. Well, yes, it makes sense, because Al-Qaida is (and will always be) a corporation. Terror is a means to an end, not the reason for the existence of the group. The point of this top-to-bottom led movement is to gain support; ideological and political would be nice, but money would do even better. When power and money are concerned, people always tend to organize in a hierarchical fashion, thus the US strategy of targeting the leaders rather than the drones. It's funny that these feared terror kings of the East have not thought of going the same way against their enemies corporations, but let's not give them ideas.

Now look at my friends at Anonymous: their purpose, more or less, is to have fun. They don't really have leaders, only more or less involved individuals, doing their part as they see fit. I've previously found similarities between Anonymous and Ghost in the Shell's the Laughing Man, but it goes further than that. There were studies into the reasons why people are happy and motivated and the result was that money is only a motivation for repetitive non creative tasks, while for intelligent creative tasks the motivation comes from a job well done. So here we have a peer-to-peer network of people, motivated by a job well done, the perfect organization model for free happy people.

I know it does show similarities with communism, but the main difference is that communism was supposed to be a closed, self sustaining system, while "anonymism" is like a parallel system, based on hobby, like playing a complex multiplayer online game. You don't earn your money out of it, you earn your freedom, motivation and self-esteem, which are more important for an individual. The problem with this model from a terrorism standpoint is that terror doesn't motivate anyone. You might hate someone to really enjoy doing a great job harming them, but it is a method doomed to fail in the long run. Who has ever heard of flourishing organizations based on hate (except ridiculous super-hero movies)?

Oh, I have many more connections in my head right now, with the software piracy epidemic, for example, and the (futile, in my opinion) attempts of governments to regulate the Internet. The same conflict between corporation (as a larger concept, including churches, governments, Al-Qaida and all large top-down organizations) and the individual is linking all of these. And from all of these, the model of peer-to-peer sharing of time and passion for a common cause seems the only one which preserves individual freedom inside a group. And besides, I've added so many keywords in this post that I am sure some US security group is going to read it, I don't want to give them ideas either. (Hi, guys!) Anyway, I am sure that even CIA agents go home and play an online game from time to time and may even partake in software peer-to-peer piracy and could even feel like individuals from time to time ;)

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Dragon Reborn (Wheel of Time book 3) by Robert Jordan

Book coverThe Dragon Reborn relapses into the problems of the first book in the Wheel of Time series: there are good or bad characters, light and dark and the only true unknown (and most exciting as well) is Lanfear. The rest of the book is how all the characters level up dramatically to the point that none of them can pretend to cling to their small village roots. Rand is the Dragon, Perrin is a wolf, Mat is the reincarnation of a Manetheren hero, the girls are the most powerful girl power users in centuries, etc. If anything, the losers of this book are Loial and the Aes Sedai with their Warders, as it seems none of their long life, experience and training matter in the face of ta'veren-ness.

That doesn't mean that the book is not interesting, quite the opposite, it is certainly more epic, although in the same way the other two were (I am beginning to see a Pattern, heh heh) as the pressure builds and builds towards an ending that feels rushed. It's like sex after too much foreplay: is that it?

The bottom line is that Robert Jordan's series has captured my imagination, with all its clichés and great prophecies and noble heroes. I did hope for something more complex, but then again, life is not like a book and there are level-downs as well. There is still a chance the next book will be as intelligent as it is flamboyant, though.