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...the stuff with the certain "je ne sais quoi", art, style
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10 February 2011

Archäologie gucken

Nur ganz schnell

Diese Tage und nur noch für sehr kurze Zeit kann man echten, leibhaftigen Archäologen bei der Arbeit zugucken. Aber nur ganz schnell. Die Strecke der U-Bahnlinie 1 (ΗΣΑΠ, grüne Linie) zwischen Monastiraki und Thision wird gerade eingleisig geführt, weil sie nach mehr als 100 Jahren erneuert wird. Unter dem deaktivierten Gleis haben die Bauarbeiten wie erwartet einen Haufen archäologischer Funde zutage gebracht.

Wenn man also in Monastiraki einsteigt und sich auf der (in Fahrtrichtung) linken Seite ans Fester stellt, kann man den Archäologen bei der Arbeit zuschauen. Ein Teil der Arbeitsfläche ist mit Plastikplanen abgedeckt, aber nicht alles. Am Montag sah ich Mauerfundamente, etwas was wie Kanalisation aussah und einen Brunnen. Wer sich dafür interessiert kann für den (neuerdings um 40% auf 1.40€ erhöhten) Preis eines Tickets 1 1/2 Stunden lang zwischen Monastiraki und Thision hin- und herfahren, es gibt sicher noch mehr zu sehen!

Posted by betabug at 12:42 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
28 February 2011

Πωλείται... ή ανταλλάσσεται με όνειρο

Ποίηση σε μικρές αγγελίες

Την τελευταία εβδομάδα που ο Πάνος έψαχνε για φακό για την Nikon του, κοιτάζαμε τις αγγελίες στην "χρυσή ευκαιρία". Εδώ και καιρό με διασκεδάζουν αυτές οι αγγελίες. Πρώτα είναι οι τιμές: είτε τις πιο πολλές φορές είναι πολύ χαμηλές, αλλά το πιο συχνό είναι να είναι πολύ ψηλές. Ειδικά ό, τι είναι πιο παλαιό από το 1960 θεωρείται αμέσως "συλλεκτικό" και αποκτάει παραμυθένια αξία.

Έχουμε και μερικές αγγελίες του στυλ "πωλούνται 5 φωτογραφικές μηχανές, τιμή 120 Ευρώ". Ναι, χωρίς όντως καμία επιπλέον πληροφορία. Στην ίδια κατηγορία βρίσκεται και η πολύ πετυχημένη αγγελία:

"ΦΩΤΟΓΡΑΦΙΚΗ μηχανή χρώματος ροζ, Kodak, με το cd της"

Την όποια δεν την πήρα, οπότε μόνο γαλάζια μηχανή μου ταιριάζει. Πολλές αγγελίες που πουλάνε πολύ παλαιές ψηφιακές (2.3 Megapixel anyone?) τις βλέπεις και κουνάς το κεφάλι σου. Ναι, βεβαίως, πριν 5 χρόνια δώσανε καλά λεφτά για αυτό, αλλά νομίζουν όντως ότι θα πάρουν 30 ή και 50 ευρώ σήμερα;

Το πρώτο βραβείο με είσοδος εντελώς στον τόπο της ποίησης πήρε αυτή η αγγελία:

"ΦΩΤΟΓΡΑΦΙΚΗ μηχανή, από Ρωσία, καινούρια, πωλείται ή ανταλλάσσεται με δίσκους βινυλίου ή κιθάρα"

Η μόνη απάντηση που μένει σ' αυτό είναι ένα χειροκρότημα.

Posted by betabug at 12:30 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
26 July 2011

Cory Doctorow's Little Brother

Rise up, stand up

Yesterday I went out and bought an ebook reader. It's one of these things with an "electronic ink" screen, which were all the rage a few years ago and are going out of style a bit already. The market for these things in Greece is really dried out, I found only a few brands in stores and I wasn't going for the bigger and more expensive units with wifi and lots of features I don't need. I got a bare bones thing (I'll maybe write more about it another time). I filled it with lots of classic's from Project Gutenberg and then I went and downloaded - for free and legal - some books from Cory Doctorow.

The first one I've read from head to toe on the ebook reader is "Little Brother". I had read another one of Cory's books on my laptop screen a few years ago and the "electronic ink" screen is really much easier. The reader is also easier to hold than a laptop computer, it weights only about 150 grams.

"Little Brother" is a book that's been said to be for younger readers (no idea what term is official and acceptable for that). It didn't came over as a "youth book" to me. Maybe it's not twisted to the 17th degree of psychology, but it's no simplistic read either. I skipped over some of the technological explanations, stuff I already knew. The only thing that screams "young readership" to me is the happy ending. Man, I which life was that easy.

What really got me moving with this book was the similarity of the "slightly into the future" world of the book to our reality right now here in Greece. With us it's not the "terrorist scare", but rather the "financial crisis" scare.

But only too fresh are the memories of me being gassed at a peaceful demonstration. Only too close do the feelings of being humiliated, tracked, "occupied" by the police forces resonate in my breast. I haven't been arrested, but a coworker of a friend has been, only a few hours after we'd taken a break at their office. At the time of his arrest we were only a few meters away in a crowd of people who got attacked and beaten by a large group of motorcycle police. (Some of them then went on to drop tear gas into a subway station nearby.) Our friend's coworker was on a bicycle, on his way home. As far as I had understood, he hadn't even taken part in the demonstration.

So I went through the pages of "Little Brother" like on fire. What gripped me - besides a good told tale - was to look forward for what solution the author would propose. Was there really a new idea out there? Would there be some magical "click" that he'd take technology to, to give the people the upper hand again? Sadly, not really. All the use of technology is nice and dandy, but in the end the nice happy end comes with the cavalry riding in at the last moment.

Posted by betabug at 21:12 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)
30 October 2011

Making Things

"Makers", by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow may be most renowned for the way he got his books into people's hands: Not by convincing a big publisher to move him into the market, but by giving his books away for free, for anyone to grab from the Internet. In the process he has sold some real, paper, paying books as well. In the past I had read some of his stuff, on the laptop. Some I liked some I didn't. When I got my ebook reader, I went and grabbed a bunch more of his stuff. One stuck out so much, I started to recommending it to friends: Makers.

This is a good read, more than 400 pages long. There are a few sympathetic protagonists, real people in my world. There is a plot that moves on, not in a single arch, but in a twisty maze that goes and re-invents itself a couple of times. Most of all though, there is a message: That it might become possible for people to again make things. Well, we software people actually do get to make things and there are even some real-world people out there who still make things, but most people just go to jobs.

Even we software people make illusionary things, virtual stuff, or as I used to say many years ago, we move pixels on the screen. Doctorow's "Makers" is about people reinventing the cottage industry, the "build it here" world, where ideas meet production, meet people and their needs. There is a great thing where our protagonists learn that these businesses have to start over, reinvent themselves every half-year or so. The plot of the book basically reflects that, going further than just that one step into the future. There's also a hint at a bunch of interlocking small companies, working together on various projects, connected or not - something I've been looking at and working with lately. It's not the main theme and it's overshadowed by a fragrance of big corporation, but no matter.

This is no children's book, there are no easy solutions, not everything would work out just like that. There is a big portion of wishful thinking there, but things are complex enough to resemble a real world, no easy happy ends. Most of all I find it inspiring, and I find it deeply to be recommended.

Go grab it and read it, for free on whatever device fits or on paper from your book shop.

Posted by betabug at 18:58 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
30 December 2011

Bloody Xmas Reading

Stieg Larsson's Millenium II and III

There were few family obligations this christmas, so I was able to do, what the holidays are actually there for: Slack and read and stuff myself with chocolates. In fact, I started the program early. On the 22nd I had bought tome II and III of Stieg Larsson's "Millenium Trilogy" ("The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest"), having read the first one some while back ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"). So for a few days and excluding a season's invitation, I was glued to a soft seat, reading on. Now these books are what George Orwell termed "good bad books"...

Let me explain with my own words, since it's been some years that I read Orwell's definition and I might not get his definition just right. These books are "bad", because they're not real "literature" - I could have been reading some Tolstoy instead, neither are they teaching me anything worthwhile, and even though they attempt to be a social critique and point at several things that go really, really wrong in society, they ultimatively fail in their critique (IMHO; I'll try to explain below).

In Orwell's opinion though, some books are "good", despite being in the "bad" book category. The outer "good" is mostly based on what I'd call readability, being able to get lost in the book. Enjoy the read, even if the book doesn't have a real message or even if it's some soap opera bollocks. To me, the "Millenium Trilogy" books belong in this category, I didn't want to put them down.

They're also bloodthirsty as hell. Again exphrasing my own humble opinion, the "swedish crime fiction" genre is a huge ripp-off of a series of books from Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Sure, Sjöwall/Wahlöö built on generations of other crime fiction, but here we're talking about certain elements that are in all the big swedish crime stories these days. For example, the protagonist who is around 50 years old, often has a cold, etc. He invariably has an interesting sex life (at least at some point), this is Sweden after all. Usually he's a police officer, but in the case of the "Millenium Trilogy" he's a journalist.

Now in one of Sjöwall/Wahlöö's books, the crime is awfully brutal and bloody (The Abominable Man - Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle, 1971). As far as I understood it when I read those books as a kid, this was done to show the exceptionality of the scene, to stick out. The other books have murders (hey, they're crime fiction!), but often in simpler shades. Now it seems all the swedish crime fiction copycats picked up the "bloodiest, brutalest crime" thing as if it's one of the other standard parts of the "recipe". Probably everybody has to turn up the notch even further, so they stick out even more than all the others. So, we end up with a guy who gets nailed with his feet to the floor alive and then sliced up with a knife in these books. (To hardened crime fiction readers, that's probably pretty tame.) I'd complain about lack of realism here, but there isn't any in crime fiction.

Instead of realism, what I like about these books is the development of the characters. There are a lot of sympathetic things in those characters, you've got some real heroes, some traits of unreal superheroes, some more or less average people. I think I could get by with no deaths in that book at all and still enjoy the read. Oh there is some "hacking" in the book too. Especially in the beginning it tends to get explained in a way that makes it believable or almost believable. Towards the end it turns a bit into a superhero hacker thing: Klick, box open. Anyway, yes, admittedly, the hacker angle was of interest to me.

Now about the social critic aspect of these books, apparently that's been hiped to the roof. Sure it's there, with a drop out heroine who has problems to trust just about anybody, with exposing the rich and corrupt, with fighting the secret police. But in the end it's the system that works despite all this and fixes things. Sure, the system fixes it only after our heroes kick its nose into the little smelling heap it left on the carpet, but still without the system turning around our heroes would be dead and forgotten. I'm not buying that part, sorry - and it spoils the social critic thing with me. It's not so much that it lacks realism (because it doesn't work that way), but that it cops out of really criticizing society's and the system's faults. If you want to show me what's wrong, don't fake it out with a happy end and if you want to show me how to fix things, don't tell me the cavalry will ride in and save the day.

Posted by betabug at 18:51 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
19 June 2012

Airplanes now with "integrated literature consoles"

ebook on plane
Bookeen ebook reader on plane

On my flight to Switzerland I was reading with the ebook reader. After a while I got bored holding it in my right hand, then my left hand, then back to the right hand... The table was too low to place it comfortably, so I had to find another solution.

Good for me that airlines these days have "integrated literature consoles" in the backside of your front seat. These integrated consoles are of the "bring your own ebook reader" variety, but apart from that they work fine. How do they work?

The result is a very relaxed and healthy reading posture, due to the ergonomics of having the reader nearly at eye level and having your hands free.

Posted by betabug at 16:27 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
29 May 2018

Zeichen- und Klappstuhl

Klappstuhl MABEF aus dem Künstlerbedarf

Eines meiner kleinen Hobbies ist das Zeichnen oder Skizzieren. Hier auf Naxos natürlich bevorzugt im Freien. Olivenhaine und hübsche weisse Häuschen sind bevorzugte Subjekte. Wenn man beim Skizzieren schnell genug ist, braucht man sich nicht hinzusetzen. Wenn es eine passende Steinmauer gibt (und man geprüft hat, dass sich da keine Skorpione verstecken), kann man sich auch hinsetzen - vorausgesetzt, der Standpunkt passt zur gewünschten Komposition.

Die bessere Variante wäre es, einen Klappstuhl mitzunehmen. So ein Teil hatte ich in der Zeichenschule schon mal, aber nach so vielen Jahren ist es natürlich schön verschollen.

Also habe ich vor ein paar Wochen ein schönes Geschenk erhalten. Einen Klappstuhl der Marke MABEF in Holz und Leder. Es ist eine Dreibein-Konstruktion. Leicht genug für einen Zeichen-Spaziergang, aber viellicht nicht das richtige für eine Bergtour wo jedes Gramm zählt. Die Sitzposition ist angenehm... man sitzt ja nicht stundenlang auf dem Ding. Zur Haltbarkeit kann ich noch nichts sagen.

Aber auch mit dem neuen Klappstuhl... ich zeichne im Moment auch nicht mehr als sonst. So ist das mit den kleineren Hobbies, da gibt es immer erstmal alles mögliche andere, bevor ich daran denke das Skizzenbuch und den Klappstuhl mitzunehmen.

Posted by betabug at 17:45 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
28 June 2018

Tasting the bitter coffee of the Nebula Humble Bundle

It's more of a mixed bag

Some years ago, when I lived in a shared appartment, one of my flatmates was an Italian with high culinary aspirations. But he was also a bit thrifty. So one day he went to a discount super market and bought a bag of coffee of their house brand. It did not take him very long to find out that what he bought was total rubbish and basically not drinkable, of which he complained loudly to me. I basically told him: "What did you expect from a bag of coffee for 1.50 Euro? Just throw it away and buy something better." But no, he insisted on finishing that bag of coffee, drinking all the bitter and foul tasting black fluid he produced with it.

Last month I came across a "Humble Bundle" of science fiction books. In case you don't know the "humble bundle" thing, it's some organization that sells bundles of software (mostly games) or ebooks, the buyer can set the price, and everything over a certain amounts goes to charity. Obviously the quality of the products in the bundle can vary quite a bit. In any case, I wanted something to read and was open to try my luck. The bundle was called: "Super Nebula Author Showcase 2018 presented by SFWA!"

I didn't look too close at the description - and actually I can't link to the description of this bundle, since it seems that they don't keep historical content. The only description I can still see from their blog is "Nebula: Not just the daughter of Thanos. The Nebula Awards bundle is back with another shining compilation of some of the best speculative fiction ever published."

In any case, based on the title, what I thought I would get was some new science fiction books. Basically the stuff that people submitted to the Nebula awards in 2018. That wasn't really what I got. The first surprise was that there was a lot of "Fantasy" amongst the books. Instead of space faring, laser wielding alien races, I got dragons and elfs shooting magic arrows. Ah well, it said "speculative fiction" there in that description, I should have paid closer attention.

The books weren't all from 2018 or even recent either. In fact there are titles going back to 1972. I guess that's what the words "ever published" were referring to. In hindsight, I'm not complaining about that, since the older ones are some of the best ones that I've read so far. John Brunner's "The Sheep Look Up" had me confused totally as to when it was written and what timeframe of possible future it was meant to play. The level of destruction of nature and the details of that seemed to hint to something a few years of from now, but then there were no personal computers or digital photography etc. Turns out it's from 72, but he hit the nail on the head quite often. Not an easy read, the kind of book that has little structure and not really any protagonist, likeable or not. At first I found it really depressing and wanted to quit it many times. In the end I still found it really, really depressing, but I was glad I had read through it.

I'm not really complaining about the inclusion of "Fantasy" titles either. I think the book I liked best so far (I haven't read all of them yet), is Ursula K. Le Guin's "Power". This is some kind of "young adult" book, which basically means it has a nice ending. It also has a likeable protagonist, much in difference to Mr. Brunner's book. There are some depressing spots, but the end makes up for it. Really recommended, to the level that I'm planning to go and find more of her books to read.

So where does the "bitter coffee" analogy comes in? There are a lot of books in there that seem to be some kind of installment-based, serialized content. You get the first book, and from the start it's clear that they will just set up the stage so that you will go and buy the rest of them. That first book does not even have a real story arch. Some of those books are barely at the level of fanfic. "The Silent Strength of Stones" (by Nina Kiriki Hoffmann) is one such example. It's utter, total rubbish. This is where I continued to drink the bitter, ill-tasting fluid, just to find out where it will end up. Turns out it's "we set up this magical fantasy world, now go out and buy more installments". At least there are no vampires - though I guess with the rate of having to invent new characters and "magic" to make up for the lack of storyline, that might come up too in a later book. I'm not going to find out.

Some others of the books (that I haven't read yet), are even declared as "So and so (Season 1)", written by a bunch of authors. I blame the "netflix culture" of serialized content on this one. These people don't seems to be interested to write a book that has a message or tells a complete story. They don't want to be Hemingway giving you the tale of this old guy who goes out sailing. What they want is to do the next thing like those serials they watch on their computer, endlessly spinning some meaningless blabber on. Oh, and it should have cool magic stuff, like this other serial they watched.

I will continue reading the books in the bundle, but I will only do short tastings of the more bitter fluids, discarding those books that are utter crap from now on. I am not under any obligation to finish up a bag of cheap coffee.

Posted by betabug at 10:37 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
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