failing like never before


Debroah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy

I used to pick books by their cover. In the days before smart phones and readily available internet book reviews, my best determinant for a book's quality was the flashiness of the cover and the catchiness of the title. But now with a smart phone always in my pocket, I can instead rely on "expert" reviews for assistance. Some list of highly rated books had Debroah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy near the top, so when a trip to my local library revealed an entire shelf filled with multiple copies of the trilogy, I checked out the lot. My "expert" opinion of the trilogy, here, is mostly spoiler free.

Enter the women...
Diana Bishop is an Oxford educated PhD and Yale history professor, who is highly respected in her field of study and amazingly brilliant. Because her hobbies include rowing, running and yoga, she remains fit and eye-catchingly beautiful despite approaching middle age. She is also, of course, a (super) witch of unusual talent and strength, despite her attempts to forgot her witchy heritage. Bishop is clearly an all around exaggerated and cooler version of author and USC history professor Debroah Harkness (who received her PhD from well respected, but nonetheless uncool cow college, UC Davis).

Enter the vampire...
Matthew Clairmont is (about) 1500 years of age, fabulously wealthy (thanks to hundreds of years worth of accumulated riches), astonishingly brilliant and unnaturally well-educated (since he spent his unnatural lifetime accumulating degrees in various subject areas) and of course, broodingly handsome (because all vampires are HAWT). Clairmont has that bad-boy vibe, with a bloody and messy past (what member of the un-dead doesn't) hidden beneath a gentlemen's veneer. But his best characteristic is his deep love and undying devotion for his one true love, Debroah... I mean, Diana Bishop.

With Earth! Fire! Wind! Water! and Heart!...
The star crossed lovers Bishop and Clairmont must use their combined powers and a little help from their magical and non-magical friends to embark on a twisting adventure of self-preservation and a quest to save the world from evil.

Although the All Souls Trilogy thankfully avoids true Twilight levels of creepiness, it clearly possesses all the right elements to follow in the wake of the very profitable teen vampire novels. One of the most notable similarities being an unrealistic romance between a blandly awesome Mary Sue and her vampire Darcy, that goes from zero to fanfic faster then Hermoine Granger can raise her hand. A little sprinkle of creepy night time voyeurism and a dash of B.O. sniffing is even thrown in for good measure.

Although occasionally fast paced, the trilogy is generally slow moving. Too much time is spent describing the layout of a reading room at an Oxford college and the mechanics of requesting books. In the time it takes to describe Bishop's early morning run I could have just taken my own morning run. Add in numerous flashbacks, time jumps, side plots and ancillary characters, and the story is a lurching, disjointed slog-fest desperately in need of a therapist.

Taking the advice "write what you know" true to heart, Harkness plays to her strengths and litters the trilogy with historical tidbits and by the second book, we start to see quite a bit of historical fiction involving the likes of Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. But Harkness overindulges, and excessive in-depth descriptions of all things 16th century England are endless, contributing little to an already dragging plot and only succeed in stoking the enthusiasm of history buffs on the hunt for historical cameos.

All novels suffer deficiencies. A Twilight lover might find it in their heart to ignore the flaws of this trilogy. And make no mistake, this is a series meant to endear itself to the same people who enjoyed Twilight. For someone like me, the moment I started to see Twilight connections my guard was up and every word that followed faced a deeply prejudiced reader. I still finished the trilogy, with a generous helping of speed reading, because I hate to leave a book unfinished. When I turned the last page and everything was tied up in a nice pretty pink bow, and all the heroes were holding hands and singing kumbaya, I breathed a sigh of relief.



My Bag

Below, is a list of all the items that I kept in my Timbuk2 messenger bag at all times.

  • hemp shoulder bag (for groceries)
  • ear plugs
  • ear buds
  • zip-lock bags
  • hand sanitizer
  • deodorant
  • sunblock
  • e-book reader
  • sunglasses
  • reading glasses
  • bike light
  • business cards
  • band-aids
  • tissues
  • pens and pencils
  • notebook
  • cell phone charger (for outlet and car)
  • USB memory stick
  • loose change
  • toothbrush

Basically anywhere I went, I took that bag with me, carrying all the aforementioned contents. It was essentially my purse, and with it, I was ready for any situation the world could throw at me. I never had to worry about packing for a trip or being an hour away from home and wishing I had my cell phone charger. Earlier this year, when I was given short notice that I had to fly to LA, all I needed to pack was a change of clothes. When I decided to go to the beach on a whim, I already had sun-screen ready to go. But because of the sheer amount of crap that I carried I found I could not carry the bag for an extended amount of time without my should hurting. This should not be any great surprise.

So in light of that, I've changed to a more minimalist carry along, eschewing everything except for my reading glasses and whatever essentials I know I will need. For example, now when I go to work I only carry my reading glasses, gym clothes, and laptop.

Of course, now I am completely unprepared for my everyday trials. Last Sunday I was in San Francisco, when a pebble in my shoe caused a cut on my heel and I was forced to duck into a drug store to buy some band-aids, a situation that could have been avoided if I had had my messenger bag stocked with band-aids with me (or if I had just taken the pebble out earlier). I foresee many more such instances should I continue in my minimalist carry-along lifestyle.

Clearly, the only solution is to work out more until my shoulder doesn't get as tired as quickly.



Despite some early attempts, I have never found micro-blogging to be my "style." Possibly because I lack the ability to come up with short, pithy statements on the fly, or simply because I never had enough friends on Twitter to make it worth my while. But on occassion, I've seen or thought of something that would have made a great Twitter post. Such as:

  • the old Asian man I see in the mornings wearing a faded, neon t-shirt with the words "Super Fresh" on it
  • a guy rubbing deoderent on his groin in the gym locker room
  • Charles Xavier works at my company (his legal name is literally, Charles Xavier)
  • while driving home, a truck tailgated me on an empty 4 lane freeway at 5:30 AM
  • a lady shopping at Walmart wearing bright pink fluffy slippers
  • apparently a lot of people think it's OK to clip their fingernails on the train

When I was thinking about writing this post, I thought I would have a much longer and more interesting list. Sorry guys.


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We Return Again

Lately, I've started to realize that my vocabulary is shrinking and that my ability to succinctly express my thoughts is diminishing with it. It's the weirdest thing, to find yourself reaching for a word, to know the meaning of said word, to have some weird visceral muscle memory of what that word should feel like rolling of your tongue, but then find yourself completely at a loss. I think part of the reason behind this is that I don't read as much anymore. The only books that I read last month, were comic books and young adult fiction (which strangely, was a genre of books that I almost entirely skipped over in my youth). Most of the things that I read at work are the poor, misshapen productions of foreign born engineers, that require several minutes of mental gymnastics per sentence to be properly understood.

But I think at least some part of my language woes stems from my lack of frequent, lengthy writing, with which most of my life was marked by until I graduated college. The solution then, I think, is to reinvest my time into blogging. I know that I was never the most regular of bloggers. Throughout college and high school, I often bemoaned my dearth of free time and attributed my infrequent blogging to it, and sadly, now that I actually have free time after work or on the weekends, I choose to waste much of my free time reading reddit. But a return to even my pre-real-world blogging regularity would be an improvement over my annual posts (it's been exactly one year to the day since I last posted). And let's face it, reddit is a horrendous waste of time.

So we'll call this fifth of May my return to blogging. (Hopefully)

Also, on another note, I have a project in the works to make a simple, static HTML blogging platform, and then ultimately move my own blog off of wordpress.

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Things I Spend My Money On

I find my credit card statement extremely humourous. Most of the charges are for food (in terms of monetary cost, the majority of that is from eating out), and the rest is gas and the occasional random crap from Amazon (thank you Amazon Prime). A stranger looking at my credit card bill might assuming I was eating for a family of four.

For example, my crazy Friday night yesterday, involved watching one co-worker lambast and ridicule Gandhi in order to raise of the ire of an Indian co-worker (which resulted in us being even later then 'Asian-late' for dinne), followed by us ingesting giant bowls of noodles along with various side dishes, including thousand-year-old-egg, various kinds of tofu, and beef and tendon. After that we went for some boba and continue to discuss the merits of Blizzard games and of course the unpopular Mass Effect 3 ending, because that's what all the cool kids do these days. I finished my evening by going home, eating chocolate, and crashing happily full. All in all, a fairly typical night.

I've decided some time ago that whenever I go groccery shopping, I should try to buy the oddest combination of 2-3 items possible. Last month I did decently well, with a box of 50 cookies (for 5 dollars!) and 2 onions. Today, I did not fare nearly as well; I purchased a bag of meatballs and 1% milk (which thankfully did not come in a bag). I've considered buying items I have absolutely no need for, just to fulfill my weird desire. But then common sense grabs hold of me (with her big man-ish hands), and I remember that I cannot afford that luxurious 99 cent bag of veggie chips (because apparently potatoes are not vegetarian enough?) on my meager engineer's salary.


So That Was New

If this blog was a child I would be in prison for gross negligence. During my absence, a few interesting things of note have occured. Firstly, my apartment building burned down several months back. Which has lead to me discovering three new things:

  • I should have gotten renter's insurance.
  • Exposing a hard drive to high heat, dropping a roof and bucketfuls of ash on it, and then dousing it with water, will do nothing positive for said hard drive's longevity.
  • Eating pizza and relaxing in front of the dying coals of your burning apartment is a great way to meet the neighbors.

And now, a few pictures.

view from the kitchen

I consider myself lucky, all things considering, in that I (nor anyone else) was not hurt in the fire, and having not owned too much, I lost relatively little. Now as far as potentially life altering events go, having my apartment burn down barely noted as even a slight blip in my day to day life. The day after the fire, I was buying a new toothbrush and some clothes at Target, by the end of the week I had a new place to stay and was allowed to pick through the remains of my apartment, and within a month life had returned mostly to normal, save for the fact that I only owned one pair of jeans.

Although my hard drives gave up the ghost in the fire, the non-moving components of my desktop, choking in ashes, bravely survived for a few more weeks of operation before finally surrending to death with a high pitched squeal. So I salvaged what I could from "wolfgang" and built myself a new computer, based around an Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5, and named it "phoenix" (because it was reborn from the ashes). My trusty IBM x61s (aka 'archpad') also fell victim, although I was still able it's recover the hard drive. In a nice turn of events, I used the fire as an execuse to buy myself a gloriously large 27 inch monitor that now bathes my room with more light than the sun, and a mechanical keyboard (very) vaguely reminiscent of the IBM model M.


The ipad… and Other Fail News

I stopped by Best Buy on my way to the grocery store to have a quick look at the much lauded Apple ipad. My opinion summed up in one word:



  • shiny
  • long battery life
  • more portable then a typical laptop


  • almost impossible to achieve a reasonably fast typing speed on it
  • shiny (which results in fingerprints and glare)
  • does nothing that my laptop can't do
  • can't do a lot of things my laptop can do
  • costs $150 more then the refurbished laptop I just bought
  • closed platform
  • wide-aspect movies look weird on a 4:3 screen
  • back-lit screens are not ideal for reading books
  • development work for the ipad must be done in Objective  C
  • less portable then a Motorola Droid or Nexus One (or even an iphone)

In other fail news:

A week ago, I got a big batch of images that needed to be resized and displayed on one of the websites that I manage. This required that I crop and resize each photo so that it be exactly the correct size to be displayed on the site, a time consuming and quite laborious task. So I figured I could probably whip up a script with Python and ImageMagick to help automate the process, with idea being that my program would allow the user to simply highlight the "relevant" area of an image and then the program would crop and resize it to the correct size.

I ended up having to use wxPython to do all the GUI type stuff, which meant I had to spend some time learning the ins and outs of GUI programming seeing as how my experience with that kind of stuff is fairly limited. So for the past week, I've been spending about an hour a day learning wxPython and knocking together a sort of program to make my life easier. Today, I looked at my image resizer program and realized I had created some of the most god-awful code ever seen by mankind.  It was basically 100+ lines of uncommented and completely unintelligible spaghetti code.

I threw my monster out and did the cropping and resizing by hand, which ended up taking me less than an hour.

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Back to School

Last quarter was probably my worst quarter ever. So of course, I have resolutely set out to change my habits and turn my academic performance around. Of course, its only the second day of school now, but I think my first day of class was exciting enough to deserve some blogging.

This quarter is momentous as it marks the first time in a year that I have enrolled in a non-engineering course. In this case, I'm currently enrolled in a statistics and a math class (among other classes). So the thing that astounded me upon first walking into my statistics classroom, was that there were girls in my class, more specifically, there were a lot of girls in the classroom (around 50%). This is in stark contrast to most of my engineering courses, where a classroom that is 20% female is considered to have an unusually high female to male ratio. I've had an electrical class with 14 guys and 0 girls, and a computer science class with 19 guys and 1 girl. Walking into my stats class, I felt as though I had entered another realm.

My first day proceeded to get more and more interesting. I spent fifteen minutes sitting in what I thought was my computer architecture class, before I realized that I was in the wrong class. Checking my schedule, I realized that my computer architecture class is on Tuesdays and not Monday (on the plus side, I was in the right room). Too embarrassed to push my way through the five people obstructing my path to the aisle, and walk out during the middle of class, I sat through the rest of the lecture, growing more and more confused about automata theory (a subject I was totally unqualified to understand).

But on the home front, I discovered that one of my roommates had left a pan of some sort of cooked food in the fridge over winter break, which meant that it was nearing almost four weeks old. So of course, the unidentifiable contents of the pan are now sporting a pretty coating of green and white mold. I stated how disgusting it looked and told my roommate that he should probably throw it out. Whereupon, he removed it from the fridge and placed it in the sink. The pan has since migrated to the countertop, and it appears that the green mold is now starting to outstrip the white mold (Go Green!). As of noon of today, the pan and its contents were still sitting on the countertop. Some part of me finds it extremely revolting, but another part of me is fascinated and wants to take pictures. I've decided to just not look at it until he throws it out.