Wednesday, November 30, 2011
As usual, just some interesting stuff I've seen on the internets lately:
Posted by Mark on November 30, 2011 at 08:09 PM .: link :.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
It's a meme! About books! Here goes:
Posted by Mark on November 27, 2011 at 01:35 PM .: link :.
Friday, November 25, 2011
The Silent Return of Friday is List Day
So I just plum forgot to write something on Wednesday. In all fairness, there was a holiday and I had other things going on that day, but really what happened was that the cluck struck 1 am before I remembered that I normally post something on Wednesdays. This might be the first time in 6 or 7 years that this has happened. I must be getting forgetful in my old age. Anyway, I decided to resurrect the Friday is List Day style post to make up for my earlier negligence. This was a quasi-meme started by my friend Roy several years ago. He has since stopped blogging and quite frankly, I never partook in the Friday is List Day thing in a regular fashion anyway. So I wouldn't expect any more of these in the near future, but hey, enjoy it while you can:
Or maybe a not so random (though still semi-random) list of recent musical listening:
Well, perhaps not exactly silent. One of the great strengths of film is that it is a visual medium and a lot of information can be communicated simply by the framing and movement onscreen. The introduction of sound in the 1920s and 30s has lead to an atrophying of visual storytelling, as we usually end up with long strings of dialogue and exposition (and, gasp, voiceover!) that could just as easily be accomplished visually. Sound itself isn't a problem, but I'm coming to find a lot of movies that I hate (and even some that I generally like) are sullied by poor (and unnecessary) dialogue. Simply removing half of the dialogue would be a big improvement. So in the below movies (which will never get made), imagine that it would have lots of sound, just not any real dialogue (or, at least, very minimal dialogue).
Actually a tough list to put together, but I'm trying to choose beers that are unique and interesting, yet widely available (while I'd love to recommend obscure, hard-to-find wonders like Devine Rebel or Sierra Nevada ExPortation, that's not really the point - it's unlikely you'll be able to find those, and I know it's frustrating to see folks recommend stuff like that). So here goes:
Well, that's all for now. Hopefully I won't forget to post on Sunday.
Posted by Mark on November 25, 2011 at 02:13 PM .: link :.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Adventures in Brewing - Beer #6: Bottling
The Christmas beer was in the fermenter for two weeks, so it was bottling time. Fermentation started quickly, lots of bubbles in the airlock for about 4 days, after which, things trailed off quickly. The biggest question with this brew was the spices and damn, this smelled great. The cloves were probably the most prominent of the spices, but it seemed well matched to the rest of the beer. That being said, I wanted to get some more cinnamon out of this, so I chucked a few cinnamon sticks in the bottling bucket to give it some extra... cinnamonity? And the finished product did indeed seem to display a little more cinnamonitivity. My guess is that the spiciness will fade in time, so this will probably be nice and complex by Christmas.
Final gravity was 1.014, which was a hair lower than expected, but that's a pleasant surprise. If my calculations are correct, this will bring the beer to around 6% ABV, which was my exact target. I gave it a taste, and it seems pretty good. I don't really have a feel for how non-carbonated beer will taste once it's carbonated, but this seems right. Nice spiciness, good body, seems like it will be good stuff. The appearance is a very pretty dark amber color.
Not sure what's next. I'm saving the dubbel for the summer and since it's winter, I'd like to make something that requires lower fermentation temperatures. An IPA (single hopped Simcoe?) or maybe a British ESB of some kind (my nutty idea is to get me some bergamot oil and make an Earl Grey British ale, maybe even using some tea in the initial steeping phase.) Funnily enough, a lot of Christmas beers say that they get better with age, so I might even want to make next year's Christmas beer now, and age it. Or something. I was also thinking that it might be time to get a secondary fermenter, which would allow all sorts of fun stuff like dry hopping and oak aging (and bourbon oak aging!)
(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on November 20, 2011 at 08:21 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Weird Movie Synopsis of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we saw a tale of Elephant vengeance. Against Nazis. This time, courtesy of my friend Dave, we've got a touching story of bovine mutation:
"In this unsettling chiller, a genetic experiment intended to boost bovine fertility goes awry when one of the cows spawns lethal mutant offspring."Short, but sweet. Does it surprise anyone that this is a film that is available on Netflix streaming? I thought not.
According to Dave, this movie is actually much more well-made than the premise might lead one to believe. I guess we'll just have to see about that, won't we? The movie is called Isolation, and IMDB has rated as a rather hefty (for this kinda movie) 5.9 rating from 2500+ users.
Posted by Mark on November 16, 2011 at 08:21 PM .: link :.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Neal Stephenson wasn't particularly successful early in his career. I imagine having trouble for a few years is rather common amongst successful authors, and obviously Stephenson has gone on to establish himself as a big name, especially in the nerdy science fiction community. But, as he snarkily wrote in his author bio on my copy of Snow Crash:
His first novel, The Big U, was published in 1984 and vanished without a trace. His second novel, Zodiac: the Eco-thriller, came out in 1988 and quickly developed a cult following among water-pollution-control engineers. It was also enjoyed, though rarely bought, by many radical environmentalists.While writing Snow Crash, Stephenson started looking into other options. Because who would want to read a book where a hacker/pizza delivery boy/cyber-ninja researches Sumerian mythology and linguistics theory? In an old interview, he comments on his career thusly:
I was writing Snow Crash about the same time my uncle, George Jewsbury, and I started talking about doing collaborations. The rationale behind that was, clearly, I may be able to limp along indefinitely, writing these little books that get bought by 5,000 people, but really it would be smart to try to get some kind of serious career going. We had heard somewhere that Tom Clancy had made like $17 million in a year. So we thought, 'Let's give this a try.' The whole idea was that 'Stephen Bury' would be a successful thriller writer and subsidize my pathetic career under the name Neal Stephenson. It ended up going the other way. I would guess most of the people who have bought the Stephen Bury books have done so because they know I've written them. It just goes to show there's no point in trying to plan your career.Indeed! I actually rather enjoyed the Stephen Bury books, and they actually presage Reamde in their thriller genre roots. But Stephenson has gone on to write impenetrable books that have become quite popular amongst a certain type of geek (i.e. me). Unfortunately, this presents something of a problem. Long time readers of this blog know that I'm a huge fan of Stephenson, but in reality, I've never actually met a person that really loves his books (the online world is another story). This makes it quite difficult to recommend my favorite novels to other people, because I generally know they're not going to like it (I generally settle on Snow Crash as a recommendation, but there are things about that book that often don't go over well with normal folks). In particular, Cryptonomicon (which is my favorite novel) seems to polarize readers. Shamus describes the phenomenon best:
In fact, I have yet to introduce anyone to the book and have them like it. I’m slowly coming to the realization that Cryptonomicon is not a book for normal people. Flaws aside, there are wonderful parts to this book. The problem is, you have to really love math, history, and programming to derive enjoyment from them. You have to be odd in just the right way to love the book. Otherwise the thing is a bunch of wanking.Similarly, The Baroque Cycle (basically a 2700 page prequel to Cryptonomicon) is not a series for normal people. The subjects are similar, but weighted differently. Much less programming, and much more history and monetary theory. Anathem probably appeals to folks who love Philosophy and/or Quantum Physics, with some linguistics thrown in for fun. The common factor with all of this is that Stephenson's books aren't particularly accessible to mainstream audiences. Thus it's hard to find a way to introduce people to his work.
Enter Reamde, Stephenson's latest and most accessible novel. Well, accessible for folks who don't mind reading 1000+ page novels. Ironically, this accessibility seems to have garnered the only real complaints about the book. Which isn't to say that people don't like the book. Reviews seem to be overwhelmingly positive, but the one thing that comes up again and again is that it's "just a thriller." It is not a novel that plumbs the depths of technology or philosophy, nor does it wrestle with big questions the way a lot of Stephenson's other works do. For my part, I finished it a few weeks ago and find myself thinking about it often. This isn't to say that I think there's something profound going on beneath the surface, but who knows? Maybe a second reading will unearth something more. But then, I don't really need it to be a profound life-changing book. It's a page-turning thriller written with wit and humor, and I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Stephenson's fans will certainly not be bored. Despite the fact that many seem to enjoy the inaccessibility of his earlier novels, I do think there are plenty of Stephensonian digressions that will keep fans interested. Take, for instance, "The Apostropocalypse", wherein one of our main characters explains how two writers he hired to provide background material for his video game argued over the semiotics of fantasy naming conventions. The video game itself is rather cleverly designed, and Stephenson spends a lot of time describing its mechanics, allowing him to delve into geography, monetary theory and the practice of gold farming in MMORPGs. Stephenson even addresses how this game came to compete with World of Warcraft by catering to the Chinese market. Later in the novel, there's an interesting digression into how great circle routes work. These are things that Stephenson excels at, and there's certainly a lot to chew on here. He's taken standard genre tropes and overlaid his own style, ultimately elevating this book from much of its competition.
The basics of the plot itself are rather straightforward. Richard Forthrast is one of our primary characters. He was a draft-dodger who figured out a way to cross the Canadian border undetected, parlayed that knowledge into marijuana smuggling, then turned legit serial entrepreneur. His latest venture is a fantasy MMORPG video game called T'Rain, and it's become quite successful. He's hired his niece, Zula Forthrast, to work for his company. As circumstances would have it, Zula ends up getting kidnapped by Russian mobsters who are afflicted with a virus from the game (this virus has locked up the mobsters' monetary livelyhood). Pissed off to no ends, these Russian mobsters want Zula to help find the virus writers (no doubt Chinese kids) so that revenge can be exacted. Along the way, we run into a lively cast of characters, including a group of Jihadis (who eventually become the main villains of the novel), a Hungarian hacker, a Chinese mountain-girl, the Chinese kid who wrote the virus, an MI6 agent, and, of course, a badass Russian security consultant. The terrorists want to kill lots of people, and most of the other folks want to stop them. Typical thriller stuff, I guess, but done with more nuance than you'd normally expect.
As characters go, the Forthrast clan, Iowa natives, will strike most Stephenson fans as being familiar. Not quite Waterhouses (from Cryptonomicon/Baroque Cycle), but Richard certainly leans in that direction. The Forthrasts also bear a resemblance to the family clan in The Cobweb. Sokolov, the Russian security consultant, is more of a Shaftoe kinda guy. This isn't to say that the novel is completely derivative of Stephenson's earlier novels - there are plenty of wholly new characters, and I generally enjoyed most of them. Depth seems to be reserved more for the Forthrasts, Richard and Zula, while the others are more surface-level affairs, but they're generally a likable bunch. And they're all pretty damn competent too. Indeed, most of the time, they're downright Sherlockian. Take this quick sequence, in which Sokolov deduces what's happening from very little information:
Sokolov retrieved his spare clip and other goods from the wreckage now strewn around the conference table, but paused on his way out of the suite to shine his flashlight over the dead man's face. He was ethnic Chinese.Thought processes like these are peppered throughout the book, and our intrepid heros and nefarious villains are all pretty damn good at this form of deduction.
The book does start off a bit on the slower side, and you're not really sure where it's going until about 50 pages in, when things kick into high gear and don't really let up for about 600 or so pages, and even then, there is only a brief respite as various characters are maneuvered to the ultimate showdown. And there are a lot of concurrent storylines being maintained here, much moreso than Stephenson's recent work. He may not have been shooting for profundity when writing this novel, but he sure amped up the complexity, to the point where calling it "just a thriller" doesn't do it much justice. I'm not a particularly accomplished thriller reader, but I from what I have read, this is far more complex and adroit than I would have expected. And it's funny too.
She picked up her phone, navigated to the "Recent Calls" list, and punched in Richard Forthrast's number.And then there's this bit, from perhaps the funniest chapter in the book:
How could your cover be blown in Canada? Why even bother going dark there? How could you tell?After which we get to witness a hysterical chain of emails with two spys basically berating one another while getting actual espionage work done. Great stuff.
There were perhaps a couple of times where the MMORPG side of the story seemed a bit incongruous, like maybe Stephenson was writing about it for its own sake rather than advancing the story, but he manages to tie it all together by the end. Stephenson sometimes gets dinged by folks for his digressions and his endings, but this is a tight novel, and the ending is an epic gunfight ranging over a hundred pages (or maybe even more). There's even a chapter of wrapping things up. Another minor complaint is that Stephenson seemed to go to extreme lengths to get his characters romantically paired up. Actually, I didn't really mind it, but at the same time, I did find it a bit odd in at least a couple of cases (Alex mentioned that it may be a preemptive strike against fan fiction authors who would pair the characters up, but if that's the case, then I actually kinda hate it. I think it's really just that Stephenson likes his characters and wants to see them together...)
Ultimately, it's a fantastic novel and I loved it. This should not surprise you, as I tend to love all of his novels, but as a longtime fan of Stephenson, it is really nice to be able to point to a book that anyone could read and enjoy without being scared away by weird SF tropes, mathematics, obscure history, detailed monetary theory, existential philosophy, the creation of a new vocabulary that is similar, but not quite the same as ours, etc... There's enough Stephensonian digressions into obscure topics that it will give a new reader a nice introduction to Stephenson without drowning them, and I appreciate that because while I love Snow Crash (the book I used to recommend as a place to start with Stephenson), it's got a few things that seem to turn off "normal" people. As for the accessibility issue, I don't really get that as a complaint. No, the book hasn't changed my life, but few do, and I don't think all art needs to be like that. Indeed, artists often overreach when they try to shoehorn "profound" into a story that doesn't need it. And this story doesn't. What it needs is action and thrills and laughs, which are present in abundance. It's an excellent book, and a good introduction to Stephenson. For those who aren't scared of long books, that is...
Update: Otakun comments with some interesting MMORPG perspectives.
Posted by Mark on November 13, 2011 at 01:33 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Usually I feel bad about doing these so often, but I haven't done one for almost two months and I don't have much time tonight, so here are some links to interesting stuff:
Posted by Mark on November 09, 2011 at 09:47 PM .: link :.
Sunday, November 06, 2011
Adventures in Brewing - Beer #6: Spiced Christmas Ale
I really wanted to start this beer earlier, but due to a variety of factors1, I didn't get to this until now. All I really knew is that I wanted a winter warmery type of beer, which is pretty damn vague. My local homebrew shop owner was very helpful, despite my lack of preparation here. We discussed a bit, talked about Anchor's Christmas Ale (which, granted, changes every year), and eventually settled on a dark red ale with my choice of spices added at the end of the boil. I'm actually pretty happy with the recipe - it sounds really good. Now to find out if it will taste good!
Beer #6: Spiced Christmas Ale
November 5, 2011
1 lb. Crystal 40 (specialty grain)
2 oz. Roasted Barley (specialty grain)
3.3 lb. Golden Light LME
3 lb. Amber DME
1 lb. Golden Light DME
1 oz. Northern Brewer (Bittering @ 8.6% AA)
1 oz. Hallertau Hops (Flavor)
1 tsp Irish Moss
1 tsp Bitter Orange Peel
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Coriander
2 Cinnamon Sticks
3 Whole Cloves
Wyeast 1056 - American Ale Yeast
Nothing super unusual here, though there are only two hop additions. The reason for this is that the aroma will be derived from spices rather than hops. Speaking of spices, I have no idea what I'm doing. Everything I've ever read about spices indicates that it's very easy to overdo things. So I'm deliberately attempting to keep it down2. Looking around at some other recipes, I see people adding about 0.5 oz. (or more) of spices to beers, which works out to 3 tsp. I'm trying to do less than that (though it's difficult to tell with cinnamon sticks/whole cloves, but I'm using slightly less than most recipes I've seen), which will hopefully leave me with some spicy goodness without overwhelming the beer.
Not wanting to go in completely blind, I tried making a couple cups of spice tea (i.e. hot water and spice) using two different spice mixtures. I completely overdid the Nutmeg, which overpowered the other spices, so I cut that down in the recipe. But otherwise, it smelled pretty great. Of course, this doesn't even come close to approximating the final product I'm hoping for, but it seemed like a useful exercise. Alright, enough preamble, let's get this party started!
Steeped the specialty grains in 150° F - 160° F water for around 20 minutes, drained, sparged with another half gallon of water, and put the lid on to bring the wort to a boil. Once there, added the 3 pounds of Amber DME, stirred like crazy for a while, brought it back to a boil and added the bittering hops. Here starts the clock. 30 minutes into the boil, added the rest of the DME and LME. This brought the boil to a standstill, so I took some extra time to get it back to boiling (which took 5-10 minutes). After another 10 minutes, I added the flavor hops. 5 more minutes, added the irish moss. With about 3 minutes left, I started adding the various spices, removing from heat just when I was finishing with the spices.
Moved the pot to the ice bath to cool it off, brought it down to about 90° F, strained the wort (removing most of the spice and hops) into the fermenter, topped off with about 2.5 gallons of water, mixed it up real good, and took a sample and hydrometer reading. The wort was still about 75° F, so I had to wait a bit to get the temperature down (I moved it out of the kitchen, which was pretty hot at this point, and it cooled off after about 25 minutes so that it was in the high 60s). Not sure if the extra time sitting out in the open will be good for it, but it was definitely too hot to finish. I pitched the yeast, put the top on the bucket and installed the airlock. The temperature in my closet is in the mid 60s, which is perfect for this. Done.
Original Gravity: 1.060. Assuming 75% attenuation, that should bring me down to 1.015 and about a 5.9% ABV. I'm actually hoping for slightly higher attenuation (and thus a dryer beer with slightly higher ABV), but either way, this should be pretty good.
So I'm looking at two weeks in the fermenter, then bottling, and at least 2-3 weeks bottle conditioning. This will bring me to early/mid December, which is just in time for some Holiday celebration. Indeed, it should be peaking right around Christmas and New Years (though it may peak later).
I don't think I overdid it with the spices. I could clearly smell them in the finished product, but it didn't seem overpowering. I guess we'll see what happens after the fermentation. My guess is that it will become even less potent after the yeast has its way with the wort. Worst case scenario, if the spices aren't coming through, I'll throw a cinnamon stick in the bottling bucket to give it some extra oomph. But from what people say about these kinds of spices, I should be fine.
So there we have it. Not sure what's next. I've wanted to make a Belgian dubbel since I started (about a year ago), but winter is not the time for that. I should really make something that requires lower fermentation temperatures. I'm thinking perhaps an Simcoe single-hop IPA (or mixed hop IPA).
1 - And by variety of factors, I mean that I was lazy.
2 - But then I found that I had some leftover bitter orange peel from my saison, so I added a tsp of that too. I still think I'm under most other recipes when it comes to spices...
(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on November 06, 2011 at 12:15 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
6WH: Week 6.5 - Speed Round and The Big Day
It's hard to believe that Halloween has already come and gone. These 6 weeks of horror movie watching seem to go faster every year (and hitting up Fantastic Fest probably accelerated things this year as well). Well, as usual, I haven't written up all of the movies I've seen this Halloween season; perhaps it didn't fit with a given week's theme, or perhaps I just didn't have much to say about it. Whatever the case, I typically do a quick roundup of them all during the last week of the marathon, so here goes:
Posted by Mark on November 02, 2011 at 06:28 PM .: link :.
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in November 2011.
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12 Days of Christmas
2006 Movie Awards
2007 Movie Awards
2008 Movie Awards
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6 Weeks of Halloween
Arts & Letters
Computers & Internet
Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
Philadelphia Film Festival 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival 2009
Philadelphia Film Festival 2010
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Security & Intelligence
The Dark Tower
Weird Book of the Week
Weird Movie of the Week
Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.