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Keep Your Passwords Safe December 6, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in DIY, how to, information management, lifehack, Memory, Other.

I just read this post on Lifehacker today and was a little surprised how few people keep passwords the same way that I do. Aggregated from an interview with Bruce Schneier at the Freakonomics blog (New York Times) it advises that you write down your passwords. He has some sort of password generating and encrypting program that he also uses, and I don’t have any idea what that’s all about, or why anyone would need such a thing. Over at Freakonomics they like the counterintuitive nature of the advice, I guess. But I agree with the idea in principle.

I have worn quite a few different hats at work in the last five years, and so, like many people, have literally dozens of passwords that I have to remember, and another couple of dozens that I use in blogging and my personal stuff. I write them down, but can usually remember them without referring to the written versions. And I have no fear that the written versions will be used by spies or snoops, because they are encrypted with my own system.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Come up with some sort of mnemonic trigger for your password. My Netflix password might be the title of my favorite movie, for example. Say, Casablanca (which is not my favorite, but has the advantage of . . . well . . . not being my favorite and being one word long.)
  2. Then come up with a two or three digit number that has no particular significance for you, but which you will remember to use in all of your passwords. How about 892? Commit to always putting the 8 after the first letter and the 92 just before the last, for example.
  3. Decide to use some odd, yet consistent method of capitalization. Commit, for example, to capitalizing the second-to-last letter of each password.
  4. Integrate all three of the above into a password: c8asablanc92A.

My Amazon.com password might be the name of a book that I bought from them and hated, which will become o8ddthoma92S.

Now, write down all of your passwords, but do not write down the algorithm that converts them into the actual passwords. On a slip of paper, or with a sharpie on your wall or desk, your forehead, write Netflix: Casablanca. Write Amazon: Odd Thomas (you’ll know that there should be no space in the actual password, of course.) Any luck and it will look more like a shopping list than a bunch of passwords.

Digital Signatures March 27, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in DIY, how to, lifehack, Memory, Other.

I took something to the post office a couple of weeks ago and when I paid for whatever it was with my debit card the postal employee asked me for my “digital signature.”  I was a little confused, but I picked up the weird stylus thing and prepared to sign something pressure-sensitive, assuming that she misunderstood and thought I was charging it as credit.  “No,” she said, “your digital signature.  Your pin number.”

“Oh,” I said.  “I’ve never heard them called that before.”

“That’s what the Postmaster wants us to call them,” she apologized.

Driving back to work I was thinking about the differences between handwritten signatures and these four-digit codes, which brought to mind all of the passwords we are plagued with these days, and by “we” I mean us people who are in the blogosphere. 

Pins are like signatures because they, in combination with the numbers on the physical card, are unique and identifiable.

Unlike signatures, however, they are so plain.  And in this age of personalized ringtones and the ability to choose to dress in combinations of clothes from any era, they seem so mass-produced.  When I was a senior in high school I changed my signature so that it didn’t really look all that much like my name anymore.  But it was interesting-looking and very distinctive. 

I lost my debit card last month and I called the bank and they issued me a new one, with a new pin.  They told me that I could change the pin whenever I want.  But I suspect that doing so would make it easier for other people to guess.  So I decided to keep it.  But I personalized it as an attempt to memorize it quickly, nonetheless.  Here’s how:

I associate all numbers with consonants according to the following, standard (yes, people all over the English-speaking world use this same one, and I don’t know where it came from) scheme:

  • 1=T or D
  • 2=N
  • 3=M
  • 4=R
  • 5=L
  • 6=Sh, J, Zh, or Ch
  • 7=K
  • 8=F or V
  • 9=B or P
  • 0=S or soft C

So that the new pin immediately formed a couple of distinctive, easy-to-remember words in my mind, because you can vary the consonants a little (Nos 1, 6, 8, 9, and 0) and you can vary the vowells considerably, leaving them out or putting them in to make words or names.  I chose the most distinctive and repeated it a couple of times and can never forget it.

So it is a little more like a signature to me.  But I realized that nobody else could ever marvel at my cool pin number, ’cause that would defeat the purpose of the thing. 

Oh, well.  Just as I was leaving the post office the postal worker told me that the postmaster wants them all to call pencils “graphite dispensers.”  I laughed, but I don’t think she was kidding.  That’s like calling a rifle a “hot lead dispenser.”  Doesn’t say much about the function of the object, does it?

Textbook for the School of Rock-Introductory Preface January 29, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Education, Memory, narrative, Other, postmodernism, Rock.

The week before Christmas my son and I got “The School of Rock” from Netflix, and after I prescreened it I watched it with him.  We don’t play much rock music in the house, partially because I can only really do one thing at a time.  Playing loud rock music (’cause if it ain’t loud, what’s the point?) with a 9-year old in the house is actually two things, since he would have to play with the dog at the same time, or whistle along with it, or talk about it, or pace.  But he seems very interested in rock now that he has seen the movie.  So when I take him to school in the morning, about a ten-minute drive, he asks for another lesson, which I give him, a blasting CD and commentary afterward, a short quiz.  The school commute has become a rolling school of rock.

I guess my own musical education is pretty typical of most consumers of rock in my age group, in that I had four guitar lessons, which came free with my first guitar, an incredibly crappy Les Paul knock-off made by Memphis (all of the rigidity of an actual Gibson Les Paul, without any of the sustain, solid electronics, or prestige).  I was a pretty strange 18-year old, and instead of asking the lanky, long-fingered, long-haired guitar teacher to teach me some ACDC (where is the little lightning-bolt symbol on the keyboard, dammit?) I asked him to teach me some theory.   It never occurred to me that there was no rock theory, or that this guy might not know it.  At any rate, he taught me how to tune the thing, as well as three very different moveable jazz chord forms, barre chords, the blues scale, and a couple of other things, mostly by accident.  And then the lessons were over and I was on my own. 

Consequently, much of my knowledge of rock is stuff I have made up in my head, stuff I have interpreted incorrectly by watching rock videos on MTV, concert movies, going to actual concerts, listening to the radio, doing some reading.  What I like about rock, though, and its history, is that this is the way most people experience rock.  You go to a concert in a alcoholic daze, sit in a pot-fueled haze and you really can’t tell truth from apocrypha anyway.  So that’s what I’m giving him, myths that are better, more dramatic, than the ugly commercial reality of the actual business.  And I fit them together in a narrative, which reshapes and warps what little is left of its relationship to the truth.

We aren’t going in chronological order in these lessons.  It gets a little confusing, but that’s the postmodern world, pal.  “No,” I tell him, “the Brian Setzer Orchestra, a 1990s group, re-envisioned the music of the 30s and 40s; it was Setzer’s first group, the Stray Cats, a 1980s band, that re-envisioned the music of the 1950s.”  And we aren’t going thematically either.  So it may be confusing to put these lessons online.  But that’s what I will probably end up doing.  Check this space for lesson one soon.

Introduction to Radical Constructivism IV January 17, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, Constructivism, Education, lojban, Memory, Other, Philosophy, postmodern, postmodernism, science.
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Postulate Number II: Verbal and nonverbal communication is the most frequent and important way that adult brains acquire information.

According to studies of daytime activities of representative adults and teenagers in the United States, we spend from 20-45 percent of the day working or studying, 4-15 percent of the day talking, eating, or daydreaming at work, 9-13 percent of the day exposing ourselves to media (television and reading, mainly–does not include going to a cinema), and 4-12 percent of the day talking or socializing.  Assuming eight hours of sleep (well, you could take better care of yourself) we spend anywhere from six hours, forty minutes (6:40) to fifteen hours, eighteen minutes (15:18) engaged in communication.*  Those of you with jobs that entail less physical work and more talking, writing, reading and other sorts of communication, and this probably includes most of the people reading this, spend more than that.

This constant communication forms the world in which we spend not only the time actively engaged in it, but much of the remainder as well, as our self-talk, coming now from our minds but originating in countless past conversations, television shows, books, movies, advertisements, shouted insults, lectures, blogs, memes, interrogations, beatings, affairs, jazz riffs, hate mail, spam, the lyrics of Oingo Boingo songs, jingles, warning flags, spankings, gestures, and such bathes us in a constant stream of images and words–messages. 

This communication, more than anything, even more than the physical constraints which seem to keep you from, say, flying to the moon or sinking to the Earth’s molten core, is the world in which your brain lives most of its waking hours.

[To reinforce Postulate Number I for this specific and important way in which our brains acquire knowlege: This allows an amazing amount of potential for misunderstanding.  Partially, this is a feature of our language, any language (except Lojban, about which the jury is still out).  Partially, I think, it may come from the belief that one can reason objectively about this world of language.]

Postulate Number I: The process by which we acquire knowledge is limited, hobbled, and distorted by a number of things.

Postulate Number II: Verbal and nonverbal communication is the most frequent and important way that adult brains acquire information.

*Finding flow : the psychology of engagement with everyday life, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, pp 9.

Books–The Necronomicon October 25, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Memory, Other.
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This one, purchased at Crow Bookshop, in Burlington Vermont, is apparently by someone who called himself The Mad Arab, or so I am led to believe.  I first became interested in The Necronomicon by reading the works of H. P. Lovecraft, who refers to the book’s writer as Abdul Alhazred.  I didn’t ever expect to see the book itself, because Lovecraft claimed that there were only one or two copies in the world, and many others claimed that it never existed.  The book itself is much more interesting in Lovecraft’s novels, partially, I think because of his prose style and instincts for mystery and horror.  The editors of the issue in my possession (copyright 1977 by Schlangecraft, Inc., and printed as an Avon Paperback) do not claim to know the name of this Mad Arab.

At any rate, the editors claim that this book is in the tradition of a grimoire, a book of spells for a sorceror, and that you should be a pretty accomplished magician to attempt any of them without the requisite background knowledge.  Indeed, they claim that they were visited by poltergeists and had horrible things happen to them while they merely edited and typeset the thing.  More recent sources about all of this stuff disagree (and here, too), concluding that it is more of a history, and perhaps complete balderdash.  So I guess that’s how I’ll have to read it. 

Even as a history there are some things that trouble me about this work (well, duh, right?)  First there is the matter of Alhazred’s motivation.  If this is a history, starring Alhazred and the weird mythos of demons and old ones, etc., then I should be able to understand Alhazred’s motivations.  And he tries to explain them in his introduction, claiming that he “learned the names and properties of all the demons, devils, fiends and monsters listed herein, in this Book of the Black Earth.”  And he “learned of the powers of the astral Gods, and how to summon their aid in times of need.”  These, you’d think, are good things to know, although they are somewhat vague.  I mean, it’s not clear what needs Abdul would have.  Did he need more goats?  He claims that he did not marry, so if he needed a wife or whatever, he did not use their help for that.  So much of the things he learned seem to be unpleasant.  Is it just my modern sensibilities and outlook, or is it a mixed blessing to learn “of the frightful beings who dwell beyond the astral spirits, who guard the Temple of the Lost, of the Ancient Days, the Ancient of the Ancient Ones, whose names [he] cannot write here”?

Mr. Alhazred, according to the book’s editors, wrote this all down at a time when things were not going well for him.  And they claim that he was consumed by these forces and didn’t get to end the book in the traditional manner, signing it with his name and the names of his ancestors.  Indeed, this seems to be the tone of the work, as Alhazred claims that “the Maskim nip at [his] heels, the Rabishu pull at [his] hair, Lammashta opens her dread jaws, AZAG-THOTH gloats blindly at his throne, KUTULU raises his head and stares up through the Veils of sunkun Varloorni, up through the Abyss, and fixes his stare upon me . . .” 

He starts the work by noting how he first came upon this strange knowledge, and it is a riveting and weird story.  But again, there is the problem of motivation to deal with.  He is sleeping in the desert near a rock and is spooked by some strange sights and noises.  Then he rolls into the grass, thinking that it could be robbers.  He sees a weird sight, some people in hoods performing a weird rite near the rock, and the rock rises up.  He screams and one of the hooded figures runs after him.  But he apparently interrupted something in their ritual, and all of these figures are consumed, or possibly melted, by something.  He decides he must find out more about this stuff.  Why?  I am interested in finding things out, but I guess I like to think that much of my self-education tends towards the utilitarian.  If I can’t figure out how to use something, to make my life better, or someone else’s life better, I tend to forget it anyway.  So it seems like a waste of time to learn it in the first place. 

Possibly this is how Alhazred met his end, attempting to remember trivial arcane rituals (although out of self-preservation he might have been more careful, I suppose).  He writes “My fate is no longer writ in the stars, for I have broken the Chaldean Covenant by seeking power over the Zonei. . . . The lines of my life have been obliterated by my Wanderings in the Waste, over the letters written in the heavens by the gods.  And even now I can hear the wolves howling in the mountains as they did that fateful night, and they are calling my name, and the names of the Others.  I fear for my flesh, byt I fear for my spirit more.”  Well, why were you seeking power over the Zonei, then, Abdul?  I really do want to know. 

Next Up: At the Mountains of Madness, by H. P. Lovecraft

Books–Making Comics (IV) October 19, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, Books, Cartooning, Memory, My other blog, Other.
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I guess I should mention here that McCloud is on tour with his family and blogging about the tour, and he has a nice website as well.  Anyway, his sections on facial expressions, body language, and emotion are the ones I have learned the most from in this wonderful book.  But again, the ones that I have found validating and the ones I find myself thinking about the most are concerned with rhetoric and consciousness. 

One of the primary difficulties everybody faces, and one that is getting much worse because of the internet, is the simple fact that we are drowning in information.  If you don’t find yourself constantly struggling to filter out superfluous information, you are doing it unconsciously. 

So to gain an audience, whether it is in some sort of writing at work, or performing, or gaining and keeping friends, you have to make sure that you don’t send too many messages that you don’t intend to broadcast, because these increase the ratio of noise to signal.  And they make everyone’s information management problems more difficult.

Think, for just a second, about how many Web 2.0 technologies exist only to help us to filter our information more effectively.  Bloglines (or other RSS reading mechanisms) allows us to take weblogs that may have radically different facades and make them appear more uniform so that we can extract the actual content from webposts, rather than getting distracted by the appearance of that post and that blog.  Google and other search engines filter out sites when we are looking for information.  Flickr sets up tags so that we don’t have to (mostly) look at thousands of pictures that we are uninterested in.

Or think about this:

“[I]t is possible to process at most 126 bits of information per second, or 7,560 per minute, or almost half a million per hour.  Over a lifetime of seventy years, and counting sixteen hours of waking time each day, this amounts to about 185 billion bits of information.  It is out of this total that everything in our life must come–every thought, memory, feeling, or action. ”  —Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1990.

Or take it from Scott McCloud:

“Your readers are humans, just like you and me, and we all sort information in the same way.  Every day our five senses take in an overwhelming amount of information, yet we quickly sort out what we care about from the chaos and direct our attention toward it.  And at the end of the day, it’s the flow of selected moments that we remember–and all those other sensations are left on the cutting-room floor.”

So you are engaged constantly, as the day progresses, in creating a narrative of that day, a flow of events that makes enough sense to you that you will remember it as a story. 

For Csikszentmihalyi, this constant decision-making process is called “attention.” 

“Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work it is dissipated.  We create ourselves by how we invest this energy.  Memories, thoughts, and feelings are all shaped by how we use it.  And it is an energy under our control, to do with as we pleasse; hence, attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.” Flow, pp. 33.  (This forms a part of the context for my other blog, in case it wasn’t obvious already).

McCloud’s advice about how to get rid of extraneous information from cartoons and how to think about composition in this medium is a better, more helpful guide to rhetoric in any medium than I have seen in books posing as guides to rhetoric.  And part of the reason he gets these messages across so forcefully is that he does it visually (a big part, too, is that he is passionate about the importance of this stuff.)   Whether you are constructing a comic book or making sense of your day, McCloud is in invaluable explainer.

I might have more to say about McCloud as I continue to ponder this book.  For now all I can say is, in the words of Patrick McDonnell’s cartoon dog(?) character in Mutts: “I bow to your wow.”

Books–Making Comics October 15, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Cartooning, Memory, Other.
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Making Comics, by Scott McCloud, is as brilliant as every says it is, of course.  I read his first (non-fiction) book some years ago and was clotheslined by it.  This one is, I think, even better.  I am going to slice this review thing into several different posts, because there is a lot to talk about in this book. 

First thing, and most obvious, is that I’ve wanted to draw a comic strip for many, many years.  It goes all the way back to junior high school, in fact.  I was relatively new in the (no longer) small city of Folsom California.  I met two fellow trumpet players in the band and we became great friends for more than a decade.  I have since lost touch with both of them, since they never seemed to feel the need to keep up what became in 1992 an increasingly long-distance friendship.  I hear about them periodically through other friends with whom I half-way keep in touch.

At any rate, both of these guys could draw.  And I could not.  One of them drew really cool superhero-type people and later became even more proficient with his art.  The other one had unbounded talent.  He could do caricatures, he could come up with plot-lines on the fly.  He was extremely smart and funny.  He never did anything with that talent, though.  I think that I am one of the few people who really got a glimpse of what he could do.  It’s not that I think he wasted his life because he could have made a living at drawing, illustrating, cartooning, whatever.  He certainly could have.  But it is a shame that he did not at least show his work to more people.  With the new free hosting of blogs and websites, he could have a huge audience.  He could make the world a slightly better place. 

I’m not going to name him here, but I will show you one of his pieces, created during the 50 minutes of a chemistry class, somewhere around the time that Reagan was shot.  The idea is stolen from a Saturday Night Live bit, if I remember correctly, a Canadian musical version of Alice in Wonderland called Nannette in Fantasticland.  The people are recognizably friends of ours and people in classes with us, or band.  I cannot recall which one was supposed to be me.  But I married Nannette.  I am a lucky guy.

nannette-med.jpg Click on this stupid thumbnail to see the picture. 

Anyway, McCloud’s book has piqued my interest in starting a comic strup once again.  And this time I’m going to do it.  It will be in this blog, I think.  And that’s anywhere near the end of what I have to say about McCloud’s book.  So stay tuned for that.

Books–The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time October 5, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Constructivism, Memory, My other blog, Other.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Mark Haddon–And we continue with this string of very positive reviews.  This book is unbelievably good, and for a large number of reasons.  First, it is smooth story-telling, well written and engaging.  Then there are the themes. 

The narrator is autistic teenager attemting to solve a mystery, which is that somebody killed his neighbor’s dog with a pitchfork.  He is extremely skilled at mathematics, and there are interesting explications of such things as The Monty Hall Problem, and chaotic population behavior over time (for which see the chart I created this morning based on the equation he gives in the book, below). 


The population density looks like it is going to stabilize in that weird problem, but I ran this out to t=60 and it looks wildly different.  And the equation is incredibly simple, not like wrapping your head around cellular automata (yes, I know this stuff is supposed to be simple, but try explaining it to a non-mathematician). 

Anyway, the book, to me, right now, is about how most people in positions where they do most of their work writing or thinking or at a computer are what a character in Douglas Coupland’s latest book Jpod calls “high-functioning autistics.”  Perhaps I am some sort of mental hypochondriac, but I found endless parallels between the way I think and the way this teenage autistic Brit thinks.  Particularly (and Coupland draws some pretty convincing parallels to tech workers) periodic feelings of sensory overload:

“I see everything.

That is why I don’t like new places.  If I am in a place I know, like home, or school, or the bus, or the shop, or the street, I have seen almost everything in it beforehand and all I have to do is to look at the things that have changed or moved. . . .

But most people are lazy.  They never look at everything.  They do what is called glancing, . . . And the information in their head is really simple.  For example, if they are in the countryside, it might be

  1. I am standing in a field that is full of grass.
  2. There are some cows in the fields.
  3. It is sunny with a few clouds.
  4. There are some flowers in the grass.
  5. There is a village off in the distance.
  6. There is a fence at the edge of the field and it has a gate in it.

And then they would stop noticing anything because they would be thinking something else like, “Oh it is very beautiful here, or “I’m worried that I might have left the gas cooker on,” or “I wonder if Julie has given birth yet.”

But if I am standing in a field in the countryside I notice everything.  For example, I remember stnding in a field on Wednesday, 15 June 1994, because Father and Mother and I were driving to Dover to get a ferry to France and we did what Father called Taking the Scenic Route, which means going by little roads and stopping for lunch in a pub garden, and I had to stop to go for a wee and I went into a field with cows in it and after I’d had a wee I stopped and looked at the field and I noticed these things

  1. There are 19 cows in the field, 15 of which are black and white and 4 of which are brown and white.
  2. There is a village in the distance which has 31 visible houses and a church with a square tower and not a spire.
  3. There are ridges in the field, which means that in medieval times it was called a ridge and furrow field and people who lived in the village would have a ridge each to do farming on.
  4. There is an old plastic bag from ASDA in the hedge, and a squashed Coca-Cola can with a snail on it, and a long piece of orange string.
  5. The northeast corner of the field is the highest and the southwest corner is lowest (I had a compass because we were going on holiday and I wanted to know where Swindon was when we were in France) and the field is folded downward slightly along the line between these two corners so that the northwest and southeast corners are slightly lower than they would be if the field was an inclined plane.
  6. I can see three different types of grass and two colors of flowers in the grass.
  7. The cows are mostly facing uphill.

And there were 31 more things in this list of things I noticed but Siobhan said I didn’t need to write them all down.  And it means that it is very tiring if I am in a new place because I see all these things, . . .”

And he has a lot to say about those who go through life thinking they are “normal.” Example:

“Mr. Jeavons, the psychologist at the school, once asked me why 4 red cars in a row made it a Good Day, and 3 red cars in a row made it a Quite Good Day, and 5 red cars in a row made it a Super Good Day, and why 4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day, which is a day when I don’t speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don’t eat my lunch and Take No Risks.  He said that I was clearly a very logical person, so he was suprised that I should think like this because it wasn’t very logical. 

I said that I liked things to be in a nice order.  And one way of things being in a nice order was to be logical.  Especially if those things were numbers or an argument.  But there were other wyas of putting things in a nice order.  Ant that was why I had Good Days and Black Days.  And I said that some people who work in an office came out of their houses in the morning and saw that the sun was shining and it made them feel happy, or they saw that it was raining and it made them feel sad, but the only difference was the weather and if they worked in an office, the weather didn’t have anything to do with whether they had a good day or a bad day.”

Books–The Diamond Age, or a young lady’s illustrated primer October 3, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Memory, Other.
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Another by Neal Stephenson.  And I actually finished this one Sunday, October 1. 

This is also a re-read.  The first time, though, I was doing something like three books a week, minimum, for graduate school.  And it came out in paperback in 1995-6, which was a time when I was still attempting to impress my professors and maintain a 4.0 average.  So I guess I didn’t pay that much attention.  Stephenson writes lucidly and it is possible to enjoy his books without getting too wound up in the plots.  Indeed, this work is so rich in themes that interested me at the time (social thought and possible future societal structures, nanotechnology, education, etc.) that I completely missed some of those that I find more interesting today (social thinking, nanotechnology, parallel processing, intuition, the wisdom of the crowds, and something that didn’t exist in the mid-1990s, Web 2.0).

I try to avoid plot summaries, but will try to construct one here that doesn’t give away much.  Society has continued to fragment.  Many successful people react to the breakdown by forming their own societies and adopting stringent moral codes.  Relationships between these disparate groups are mediated by a worldwide economic protocol.  A very powerful member of one of the most powerful of these, the Victorians, is disgusted by the way his kids turned out.  They don’t think subversively, they were beaten down by their strict Victorian upbringing.  They will never be the kind of entrepeneurial pirate that he respects.  So he has someone create a powerful book (the primer in the title) to lead his granddaughter along a more subversive path.  The designer of the book makes a copy for his daughter (stealing), and it is, in turn, stolen.

Traditional Chinese society at this time is suffering under the yoke of economic hierarchies maintained by others, and the cultural system that comes with it (cultural, technological and economic imperialism).  They use the theft of the book to gain leverage on its designer and attempt to secure his help subverting the existing order. 

So that’s the idea, but the whole thing is bound up with the story of a waif whose brother stole the book and her surrogate mother, an actress who interacts with her through the book.  The result is an engaging meditation on the power of narrative and a good read. 

Books–Anansi Boys September 27, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Memory, Other.
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Niel Gaiman rules.  Just finished reading this one this morning.  Anansi Boys is your typical book about a guy who finds out that he is a god, rather late in life, and that knowledge leads to all sorts of eerie and troubling plot complications and an eventual happy ending.  I really liked this one, to the point where it made me wonder why I didn’t like American Gods.  I can still remember quite vividly sections of that book.  And the characters were very memorable, too.  But by the end I had trouble following the plot. 

Now that sort of thing, my inability to remain interested in a complex narrative, has not really troubled me in quite a while.  Many of Terry Pratchett’s books, particularly those featuring Rincewind, leave me behind.  But that doesn’t detract much from the experience.  I’ll chalk it up to my training as an economist during the Reagan Era, where complexity was only good if it was of the mathematical sort. 

Oh, and in the final sequence of events the villain (we’re back to Anansi Boys here) is a Tiger, which brings to mind weird comparisons with The Life of Pi (see below), and the Complete Calvin and Hobbes (where the cat is both a trickster and the capricious six-year-old’s superego.)