I make music sometimes! This was one I put together for a class, my Intro to Music Technology class that I just wrapped up recently.

From the program notes I wrote:

This was composed for the Introduction to Music Technology class, as the first major project, with a focus on the style of synthesizers that were first popularized in the 1980s. It’s a collaboration between myself and my roommate Ehren – I set up the session with the synthesizers and harmonic structure I wanted, and then left the room. This gave it a bit of an improvisatory feel – though I did move one or two of the notes around afterwards, to keep it from going from ‘improvisatory’ to ‘unsure.’
The end result reminded me of the dark, gritty science fiction movies that were popular in the 1980s. I think of Blade Runner as the authoritative piece of dark, gritty 1980s science fiction, so I chose a name from the lore of the film: the Voight-Kampff Test is what’s administered to find out if the subject is a human or replicant.

“Cara Mia Addio”

This was a short paper I wrote about the titular song for a class on music technology, which I said at one point I might post. Here it is!
I’ve made two changes: the transitioning of my citations from a “available in my notes but not visible otherwise” to “accessible by all,” and the addition of this note.

I chose to partially ignore the “no YouTube videos” part of this assignment, because I felt that the video was an important part of the song. They were created together, after all, as part of an even larger multimedia project: Portal 2, one of the top-selling games made by one of the world’s most famous video game companies. The compositional arc of the game as a whole is fascinating: Valve’s in-house composer, Mike Morasky, wrote almost the entire soundtrack for the game1 while working closely with their programming teams. Though the soundtrack was eventually rendered down to a still form for the release of Songs to Test By, within the game they’re procedurally-generated MIDI, with pre-set starting points that are then algorithmically developed to match the gameplay in a way that’s almost guaranteed to be unique to the player. (Morasky once stated that one of the pieces only repeats itself every 76,911.3 years, roughly.)
“Cara Mia Addio” was not a procedurally generated song, though the exact method by which it was made did rely on MIDI audio. In the studio, Morasky gave McClain2 the music he’d written for the turrets to sing and a melodic line for her, and asked her to improvise the words. The resulting melody, based on what she referred to as “my terrible Italian” became the Turret Opera. Morasky edited that recording to ensure that it didn’t sound too human – the ‘singer’ within the game being a robotic gun-turret – and then fed the backing sounds into the game engine itself.
That’s what I found most interesting about this – though the scene was rendered as a video file, not running live on the game engine,3 it was built within the same game engine that ran Portal 2, Source. Valve’s in-house animating tool, now released to the public as Source Filmmaker,4 provides deep control of every aspect of the game engine. Morasky (and, presumably, some of Valve’s animators) used sounds that had already been implemented in the game engine to provide all the voices save the melodic line. If I had to guess, I’d say that the system running animation queues was based on MIDI, as that’d be the easiest way to sync the visuals with the triggered sounds.
And a final note on those triggered sounds: all of the ‘turret voice’ effects were based on McClain’s voice, meaning that she sang the full chorus and solo of the song. Quite an impressive range.

  1. A single song, “Want You Gone” was composed by Jonathan Coulton as a call-back to the piece he wrote for the first Portal, “Still Alive”.
    “Exile Vilify” was written and recorded by The National, though based on early materials given to the band by Valve, in order to match the scene in which the song would be played. 
  2. The game has very few voice actors involved – the main character, in a manner characteristic of Valve games, never speaks. Off the top of my head, there are only two other characters with repeat appearances, GLADoS and Wheatley. (A few other minor characters have lines, but nothing more than a couple of words at a time.)
    McClain, by contrast, voices GLADoS, a character who moves from ‘narrator’ to ‘ally’ to ‘antagonist’ and back fluidly, as well as providing the sounds that would be edited into the audio for all of the turrets throughout. 
  3. Citation: http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3118268 
  4. Citation: https://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Source_Filmmaker 

Los Angeles Against the Mountains

So, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’m doing a bit of traveling this summer. The first trip was down to Los Angeles, because that’s the only place where you can go to get an Austrian Visa-D, if you live on the West Coast.1

Anyhow, while I was there I was able to meet up with a family friend and take some pictures out in Santa Monica. There’s a conference center there, the Serra Retreat Center, and it’s got some awesome views. Take a look, and feel free to click on any of these pictures to see them in a larger size:

One of the things I wanted to do while I was in LA was look at the mountains. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do since I read the essay after which I titled this post: Los Angeles Against the Mountains.

I read the essay for an English class I took, fully expecting to hate it – I have an inherent dislike of anything that’s intended to be ‘literature.’ I was wrong: the essay was a fascinating look at an aspect of Los Angeles that I’d never considered. Long story made incredibly short, the mountains over LA are unstable, and the city has to deal with flooding that gets turned into pseudo-pyroclastic flows by the amount of rubble put out by the mountains. It’s a wonderful read, and I highly recommend it.

  1. Because heaven forbid we be able to turn in a stack of paperwork and get our fingerprints taken anywhere less than a thousand miles from home. 

New Paint

You may have noticed that things look a bit different around here. Well-spotted, it’s a bit of a big change.
It’s because, once again, I’m changing up what I’m using this blog for.1 The ‘daily tech posts’ thing was fun for a while, and I’m still leaving that as a thing that I might do, but it’s not the core idea. I do still enjoy the book reviews, even though I haven’t had much time for reading lately,2 so those will likely continue.
But this year is going to be weird, folks. I’m writing this from Louisiana,3 and did a bunch of the coding for the new look in Los Angeles.4 The rest of my summer, I’m spending here in Louisiana, working on some interesting research at Louisiana State University.
I’ll be home for about two weeks, during which I’m going on two different vacations to two very photogenic locations.
And then I hop on board a plane and fly to Austria, where I’m studying abroad for the entire fall semester.
When that comes to an end, I’m spending a couple weeks doing the whole ‘European tourist’ thing, wandering around the Continent, finding pretty things to take pictures of.
Spotted the theme yet? Well done. It’s photos: I’m gonna be doing a lot of photography in the coming months, and I wanted a look for the site that could really bring that to the forefront. This new one does that pretty well, if I do say so myself.5
So, that’s that: a fresh coat of paint for the website, getting things looking pretty.6
(I was planning to have this post go a lot longer, but since I’m now tethering to my phone, I don’t want to spend the amount of time it would take to properly upload the photos I was going to post, so I’ll just make that another post later in the week when I have actual internet access.)

  1. It’s a good thing I don’t make too many promises about what it’ll be; the core idea is “I use it for whatever I feel like posting on the internet,” and I’ve stuck with that pretty well, I think. 
  2. More on that later. 
  3. In a hotel whose wifi is some of the worst I have ever used. It’s… spectacularly awful. 
  4. The hotel there had much better wifi, which I was supposed to pay for but didn’t. Somehow I wound up in a rewards program, I’m unclear on what all that consisted of, but I got fast internet for free, so I’m happy. 
  5. And, since I did a lot of the code myself, I’m able to do a lot more tweaking to it than the last one. Expect things to keep changing, because I can never leave things alone. 
  6. Normally I’d ask what people think, but I haven’t actually had time to get the comments box put back together, so… tweet me, I guess? There are so many social networks, there’s a myriad of ways to get in touch with me to express your opinions. 

The Indomitable Ten

Okay you all know by now that I am obsessed with superhero media. It’s, like, my Thing. So when I saw that there was an anthology of superhero1 novellas out? I jumped right on that.
So, as I usually do for anthologies and other collections, I’m going to break it up into a series of short reviews.

My Big, Fat, Accidental Superheroine Wedding

Autocorrect doesn’t approve of ‘superheroine’ but it does approve of ‘superhero.’ Sexist.
Anyhow, this one was a little weird – it was very much focused on a specific subculture, one that I know next to nothing about. In that, it was a bit hard to relate to, but I think that’s okay- like, oh no, however shall I deal with media that doesn’t revolve around me, a white male? So yeah, I’m fine with that part. The actual superhero content of it was a bit odd, though- the main character is basically a deity, after she and her fiancé both wound up in an accident in the Large Hadron Collider that left them able to control their bodies at what appears to be an atomic level. And they’re on the run from the government. Which makes for an interesting story, overall, but I dunno, something about this one just didn’t click for me. Oh well, it was still interesting, and the ending scene was a really good one.

The World, My Enemy

This was a delight to read. It had hints of some of the non-Discworld Terry Pratchett stuff, in the way it looked at the world, and oh man did I love it.2 The main character is an Austrian super-genius, trying to be a super-villain, and… kinda sucking at it. He’s a very millennial type of villain – tons of support from his parents, a lot of potential, and just… not using it at all. And the other characters that make up the setting, from the Nemesis figure to whatever-the-girl-is3 to the cowardly boss- they’re all wonderful, executed delightfully well. It’s a silly little story and I absolutely love it.

Summer of Lob

This is actually the reason I bought this book- I adore Richard Roberts’ Please Don’t Tell My Parents… series of books, and I saw through his twitter that this book featured a novella set in the same universe. And it was everything I wanted – a short, sweet story, following Bull in his younger days. As a bonus, it gave the background for one of the characters I wanted to know more about, and introduced a few more who I’d also like to see more of. Basically, this alone made the book worth buying to me, and the rest was a nice bonus.

Weeper of Blood

I’m assuming this was part of a series, because there’s way too much setting for it to be a standalone short story. To the point that I’m still unclear on some of the stuff – things about the various characters were hinted at well enough that I’ve got an idea, but the world itself is a mystery – is it an alternate timeline, or set in the future, or what? It was really hard to tell, and I’d like to read more to find out.
The story itself was pretty good- a little sad, definitely, but a nice ‘redemption’ arc present as well, so I did like that. I definitely want to see more of this world, get a bit more of the background, though, because I have so many questions.

Seven Seconds

File this one under “have to read more.” Like, I actually just took a break from writing this so I could go google the author and find out if he’s written more.4
There was absolutely everything I want in a superhero story: an interesting main character, and a look at what people with superpowers do if they’re not being superheroes. Plus a superhero team that went insane and became villains, some high tech gadgetry being used, and a wonderful concept of superpowers that give the story its title. Another one in the category of “I would recommend buying this book on the merits of this story alone.”

Friend or Foe

Oh my god I am so confused. I really can’t tell from reading it if this one is part of a series or not- like, the amount of questions I was left with afterwards makes me want it to be, but it was written in such a way that it could believably be a standalone that was supposed to leave the reader with questions. If that was the goal, boy did it ever work. The whole thing basically takes place in the aftermath of a Final Showdown sort of fight, with only allusions to what actually took place there. The way it switched back and forth between two characters was pretty interesting – clearly, one of them was the villain, but not in a very strong way. It was more of a… misunderstood genius, kind of thing, though with a touch of willing sociopathy, so I dunno. It was interesting but a bit aggravating at times.

Night Stalker: A Tale from the Tome of Bill

I wish I could say I liked this one, because the story was kinda interesting, but I didn’t. It felt like it was written by the kind of person who tries to defend the whole “Spider-Woman butt in the air” pose: that’s to say, delighting in that gamer-nerd stereotype, “I live in my parents basement playing WoW all day” sort of humor. The main character spends a while complaining about being “friendzoned.” Blah.

Goon #3

This made me think of Code 8, a cool little short film. They’re the same sort of setting, to the degree that I could pretty reasonably believe one inspired the other. Basically, a world where something like the Superhuman Registration Act of Marvel’s Civil War5 passed, and now the superhuman folks are living with the aftermath. Yeah, there’s some superheroes, and they’re distinctly following a legal process created around that idea: but there’s also regular people who got ground under the wheels of bureaucracy. The main character spent a couple years in prison after “robbery with a deadly weapon.” Which, yeah, a reasonably jail sentence- except for the fact that the robbery was him holding his hand in his pocket so it looked like he was holding a gun. The ‘deadly weapon’ was the fact that he’s got super-strength. The fact that he never mentioned that to the person he was robbing apparently never came up in the trial, or didn’t bother the people sentencing him at all.
Which is a wonderful touch, because there’s people like that in the real world, people who get ground down by the way the system works. And I love that sort of sad realism in superhero content.6

The Incident on Orion

This one was somewhat reminiscent of Invincible, a fun little comic that I read a while back. Basically, it’s the ‘superman’ type hero, except Krypton hasn’t exploded. Instead, Krypton has, as was bound to happen with a society of supermen, become the seat of a sprawling galactic empire.
In this one, as with Invincible, it’s a bit of a vicious one – survival of the fittest was heartily adopted by that empire, and you wind up with people fighting for their right to live in the empire. And once they’ve earned that, they set out to annihilate everyone that stands in the way of that empire, even if ‘standing in the way’ is defined as ‘within 10 light years of somewhere we might want to be one day.’ Basically, gleeful genocide.
There’s a lot of Roman Empire present in this, both in naming and in the way the mythology interacts with the characters. It was really interesting to read, a sort of sad and hopeful tale. I think I’d like to read more.

Sinergy: Immortal Sin

Strange and interesting. The superpowers are a lot lighter a touch here, they still distinctly present. What was more interesting was the backdrop: there’s an Order, it’s apparently been around for a couple thousand years, and it’s somehow affiliated with the catholic church, or christianity as a whole? I’m still a bit unclear. But it was a cool mythology, definitely, and I want to see more of it, because I do love that ‘ancient order’ kind of stuff.
The story itself was… really sad, actually. I think a single character had a ‘happy’ ending, and that was “woke up with no memory of any of this happening, twenty minutes outside of Prague, with nothing but their passport and a plane ticket,” so… not a super happy ending, at that. Still, interesting.

And there we go, that’s the book reviewed. I quite liked it, and would absolutely recommend it. Go read it.

  1. Well, superhero and supervillain. Super-being? 
  2. If you ever see “Lost Terry Pratchett novel found; it’s about superheroes” in the news, find a way to tell me gently because I might have an aneurism from how excited I’d be about that. 
  3. Certainly not a love interest- somewhere between ‘best friend’ and ‘motivational speaker,’ I suppose? 
  4. He has, and I’m going to read it sometime soon, I hope. 
  5. The comic book version, not the movie version, which I still haven’t seen, so if you try to tell me spoilers I will have you executed
  6. It’s so much better than the ‘realism’ of movies these days, where they think that making everything dark and gritty makes it more ‘realistic’ somehow. Y’all have entirely missed the point, Hollywood. 

Short Stories About Tiny Tasks

I have no idea how this wound up on my Kindle. I’m just gonna assume it’s because it was free?
Anyhow, it was a bit of a weird read. It’s from what I mentally refer to as the “deep archives” of my Kindle- stuff that I downloaded a long time ago in a burst of “oh my god I’ve got nothing to read” and then forgot about. The weird bit is how clearly dated it is – it felt more dated than books I’ve got from 200 years ago do.
Technology is hard to write about, because it gets obsolete so fast. And when you’re writing for a blog,1 you’re writing for now, not later, so a lot of the historical context of what you’re talking about can be ignored. But if you make a ‘book’ out of those posts, without editing anything to add that context back in… well, a lot is missing.
So, yeah- a short review for a short book. It was an interesting look at the brief ‘crowdsourcing’ thing, but I think we’re pretty well along into the downward trend of that one, now that AI is good enough. Yay, future.

  1. Context: the book is composed of a bunch of blog posts from the Microtasks blog. I think that’s the name of the blog, at least. 

A Soul for Trouble

This book just didn’t quite know what genre it wanted to be. It was almost a romance novel, but the fantasy setting and storyline was a bit too well-developed for that. But it’s also not quite a fantasy novel, because there was a good bit more romance than you get from that. But hey, pushing the boundaries of genres is what makes things fun, so I’m not really complaining.1
So, down to the normal business of my book reviews: trying to explain the plot without actually spoiling anything important. The titular character, Trouble (her real name is Arden, but as literally everyone in the book will tell you, ‘Trouble’ is more accurate) is a Main Character. Not precisely the term she’d use for herself, but she’s a blonde-haired blue-eyed orphan girl living in a town of brown-haired brown-eyed Generic Background Characters. Then a crazy old guy shows up, followed by a Tall Dark and Handsome stranger. With a pet wolf. Trouble establishes herself as a Strong Independent Woman as well as a Nice Person, and gives the crazy old dude some food, since he’s just stumbled into the inn where she works and all. Part of a brief conversation later, he’s killed, and his dying breath is the titular Soul.
At which point I’ll turn down my sarcasm a bit, because it actually got interesting after that. The Soul isn’t the old guy’s soul – it’s the incorporeal Loku, a character best described as “I’m aware that Loki is in the public domain, but Disney owns Marvel now so I don’t want to risk a lawsuit.”2 He’s the local god of chaos, and about a “we refer to them as the Ancients” ago, he tried to end the world. The mages of the neighboring country3 worked with the rest of the gods to stop that, with the end result that Loku’s body was destroyed and his soul became an immortal people-possessing… green cloud? Dev, the Tall Dark and Handsome guy – actually an elf, we find out – from earlier was supposed to be protecting Crazy Old Guy, and is the capital-P Protector. Or is it Guardian? Whichever.
Of course, all this explaining doesn’t happen for a while – what actually happens after Old Guy gets a cursed dagger to the back is a rather cinematic fight scene – Trouble collapses, Dev grabs her, and then suddenly there’s zombies everywhere. At which point Dev, being entirely reasonable, burns the building down4 and runs the hell away. Because, y’know, fighting a necromancer is hard enough when you’re not carrying a collapsed pretty girl.
From there, it’s a fun little romp across this fantasy kingdom, spending more time on the character relationships than it does on the fighting. Which was kinda cool, actually – like I said, blending genres can be a good thing. I mean, yes, the amount of unresolved sexual tension in the book is ridiculous, and there’s a few scenes where I was like “either write the sex scene you clearly want to write or gracefully allude to it having already happened, this is getting ridiculous.” But language-wise there’s nothing that would shock, like, the average high-schooler.5
So yeah, pretty good book! As of my writing this, I think it’s free on Amazon, so go for it.

  1. Well, I’m complaining a little bit, but if I ever stop complaining you can reasonably assume that I’ve died. 
  2. Hey, I said I’d turn the sarcasm down a bit, not that I’d turn it off. 
  3. The one that isn’t stupid and weird about magic. 
  4. Technically, I think the wolf did it – he’s a Fire Wolf, with the ability to… burst into flames. And the super-imaginative name of “Cinder.” Dev, you are a 300-year-old elfin mage-knight. How are you still so unimaginative. 
  5. Don’t show any of it to a middle-schooler, though, if only because the sound of their scandalized giggling will make you want to punch something. 

A theory on how the EmDrive works→

MIT Technology Review:

That leaves an important puzzle—how to explain the seeming violation of conservation of momentum.
Today we get an answer of sorts thanks to the work of Mike McCulloch at Plymouth University in the U.K. McCulloch’s explanation is based on a new theory of inertia that makes startling predictions about the way objects move under very small accelerations.

I’ve been trying really hard not to get excited about the EmDrive. Why? Because it should be impossible, and the fact that it keeps working feels like I’m being led on. I don’t want to get attached, because the way it appears to work is something that would fix a lot of the things I hate about the way the laws of physics work.
Basically if I allow myself to believe in it, if it gets disproved it will crush me, and so I’m trying to do some preventative maintenance against it.

My problem with HealthKit

This is, in a sense, a follow-up to my big “how I use HealthKit” post from… almost a month ago, now.1 One thing you might note is that I’m now referring to HealthKit and not just Health.app – there is a bit of a difference, though largely a semantic one as Health.app is basically just a GUI dropped on top of the HealthKit database. It’s more of an ‘Apple preferences’ thing – “HealthKit” is a developer term, while user-facing references should all be to “the Health app” or something similar. Ah, Brand Guidelines.
That said, I’ve got a problem with HealthKit. Namely, the complete and total lack of iCloud sync. This wasn’t really something I’d thought about until recently, when, following a six-hour stint in the Apple Store, the Genius Bar had me do a complete reset of my phone. Not a “restore from backup,” a full factory reset, install it as a new device. Which would’ve been fine, considering how very pervasive cloud computing is these days – all of my apps are easy enough to download through the App Store, and I can sync all of my music back from my laptop. Documents take a bit of time to load up, but they’re all in somebody’s cloud.2 Passwords are more annoying, if I can’t have them recover from the iCloud backup, but I know all my passwords, and Authy has a nice cloud-recovery feature that means wiping a device won’t lock you out of your accounts.3
And then I pulled up the Health app to verify that Workflow was writing data properly.4 And I was rather dismayed to find that all of the data was gone. That’s a year of water data – going back to when iOS first allowed water intake to be stored. Two years of footsteps and flights climbed. Just shy of two years of overall nutritional intake. Hundreds of Workouts. The one that was most annoying was the two months of Activity data from my Watch – I was working on a 30-day streak, and I’d almost made it to a perfect month! All those filled rings, gone. Heartbreaking.
But, for me, this is all really just an inconvenience. Sure, it sucks to lose that much data,5 but it’s not life-threatening or anything.
Except Apple had, a few days before I went to the Apple Store, announced CareKit. It’s a big turning point for Health, because now instead of just being a personal-use sort of thing, all that data that the iPhone and Apple Watch automatically collect, and anything people enter either manually or through third-party apps- all that data can be put to good use. Doctors can have apps that allow them to monitor their patients, and, in the primary use case CareKit gave, provide post-op care in an intelligent way.
Which means Apple suddenly has a huge problem. Because, in my experience, the solution to every iOS-related problem I’ve had has been “wipe the OS and install from scratch.” Which translates to “all of your data can be recovered – except the Health data, which is securely stored on only the phone and thus goes away. And suddenly you’re telling people “you can either fix this problem with your iPhone and potentially die because your phone can no longer figure out the proper post-op care regime, or you can just live with whatever’s wrong with your phone.”
Somehow I really doubt that’s the user experience Apple wants people to have.

Now, since I hate to be the sort of person who comes up with a problem without offering a solution, I’ll take a whack at how to fix this. It doesn’t seem too hard, right? Just throw the Health data into iCloud, and Bob’s your uncle, right?
Well, not quite that simple. At the scale of iOS and Apple, nothing is simple. There’s two big problems with just syncing to iCloud.
First, privacy: in the wake of the collapsed FBI suit against Apple, privacy is a Big Deal at Apple. iCloud isn’t nearly as secure as the iPhone itself – the default method for getting into an iPhone, with a warrant, is to get the phone to back up to iCloud, and then Apple downloads the backup and hands the data to law enforcement. And yes, that method would’ve gotten law enforcement into the HealthKit data store before, but I can’t shake the idea that Apple would want iCloud as a whole to be a lot more secure before they’d start advocating that people store something so personal as health data in their cloud.
The second big problem is usage patterns. For someone like me, putting Health data into iCloud is no problem at all – I’ve got an Apple Watch, an iPhone, and a MacBook. No potential conflicting data there.6 But what about people with multiple iPhones? If two phones pick up motion events at the same time, but have different datapoints for that time, which one is correct? Not an insurmountable problem, but a problem to be aware of, at least. The other big deal with usage patterns would be people like my grandparents – my grandma just recently got a new iPhone, and Grandpa got the old one as a hand-me-down.7 They’ve shared an email address since they first got one, something like fifteen years ago. And now they’re sharing an Apple ID, and thus an iCloud account. There’s no good way to deal with multiple people sharing an iCloud account if you’re trying to sync Health data, unless you just give up on the idea of syncing it and instead have a per-phone cloud-based data store, at which point you’re basically just doing regular backups.
It’s a bit of a knotty problem, I’ll admit. But Apple has the resources to fix it, and I’d argue that it’s something they absolutely need to do if they’re going to be as serious about health (and Health) as the launch of CareKit seems to indicate they want to be.

  1. Seems more recent than that; strange. 
  2. I store files in a heavily-boosted free Dropbox account, a paid OneDrive account, a couple of different FTP servers, a Creative Cloud account, and on a massive pile of external hard drives I keep in my dorm room, all run through a USB hub to a WD MyCloud NAS with ‘cloud access.’ Lots of clouds happening around here. 
  3. That, by the way, is why I switched from Google Authenticator to Authy – a GA update removed all accounts stored in the app, and I barely managed to recover all of the accounts I had TFA enabled on. It was a close shave, and I immediately ditched GA as my token-generator. 
  4. I use Workflow to quickly log the amount of water I’m drinking – two taps (“drank water”, “24 fl oz”) vs “open Health.app”, “open Water”, “tap ‘add’”, “type in a number”, “tap save.” 
  5. My HealthKit data store was in the 50 megabyte range, if I’m remembering properly. Considering how space-efficient SQLite is, especially with rigorously structured data like all the HealthKit data stores are, that is a lot
  6. Well, there is in terms of Apple Watch vs iPhone Motion Coprocessor, but all that is (rather clunkily) handled in the Bluetooth sync between the two devices, so it’s not really a problem. 
  7. His prior phone was a Motorola Razr, and text message from him (switching off at random between raw-ABC entry and T9) were always delightfully incomprehensible. 

Playlist of the Month: April 2016

Oh man I need there to have been more of April, I’m not done with things yet.
5AM – Amber Run
I Need My Girl – The National
Your Hand In Mine – Explosions In The Sky1
On Your Knees – Matthew Mayfield
Team (Lorde Cover) – Matthew Mayfield
Midnight – Lane 8
You Can’t Save Me – Johnny Stimson
But Now A Warm Feel Is Running – Fhin
House for You – LOYAL
Maps For the Getaway – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
I Feel The Weight – Miike Snow
Smoke Filled Room (Acoustic) – Mako
Afterlife – XYLØ
SCRAM – Mogwai
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – XYLØ
Fat Man – Mogwai
America – XYLØ
Lou Lou – Albin Lee Meldau
Communicate – The Dunwells
Black and White Movies – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
Tangle Formations – Explosions In The Sky2
Disintegration Anxiety Explosions In The Sky
I’m Not Right – XY&O
Hallucinations – dvsn
Logic of a Dream – Explosions In The Sky
Flare Gun – Woodkid
Dusk Talks – Woodkid
Sorry – LISS3
Tracker – Woodkid
Que Te Mate el Desierto – Woodkid
Weak Force – Mogwai
The Infidelity of Language – Steve Benjamins4
Solitude – M83
Infinite Orbit – Explosions In The Sky
Are You a Dancer? – Mogwai
Land of All – Woodkid5
I’ve Fallen For You – Tom Redwood
Wilderness – Explosions In the Sky
Jump – Woodkid
The Ecstatics – Explosions In the Sky
Bitterness Centrifuge – Mogwai
Shoot Them Down – Woodkid
We Know Where You Go – Blue October
Hey Now – The Dunwells
Break Ground – Blue October
Driver – Blue October
Heart Go Bang – Blue October
Houston Heights – Blue October
Home (Tim Palmer Mix) – Blue October7
Jericho – Westerman8
Cara Mia Addio – Aperture Science Psychoacoustics Laboratory910

  1. The “Friday Night Lights” variant. 
  2. Oh man I am so happy about this album 
  3. Note: this link is to the explicit version. 
  4. I just really love that name for a song. 
  5. This whole soundtrack is pretty great, actually. 
  6. This was hilariously hard to find the Amazon link to – their database apparently isn’t unicode-safe. Weird. 
  7. I’d call this my favorite song off of the album so far, but I am so excited about this album. I love Blue October. 
  8. Soundcloud link, as I couldn’t find it on Amazon. Which I’m not happy about – Soundcloud doesn’t allow artists to monetize very easily, while Amazon is just like “sure, we’ll sell your stuff for a small cut.” 
  9. I wrote a paper about this song for a class – might publish that here, actually, it was pretty interesting. And it’s just a delightfully weird song! 
  10. This one’s free to download – you can get the entire soundtrack off their site! 

The Vampire of Northanger

I almost didn’t wind up reviewing this one. Which, as per my weird set of rules about writing reviews, is a way of saying I almost didn’t wind up finishing this book.
I’d actually started writing a sort of review in my head, because Bryce Anderson is an author that I quite like – he wrote The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl, a book which I loved, and we’re actually mutual followers on Twitter. So, at about 10% of the way through the book,1 when I was almost to the point of giving up on it, I was quite sad. “I wanted to like this book,” the post explaining my failure to read it would’ve begun.2 At that point, I had nothing really wrong with the book – it just wasn’t the sort of thing I enjoy reading. I was kept there by two things, foremost of which was the introduction to the book. Again, normally I don’t read introductions, but as I started to skim past it a few things caught my eye, and I read a random paragraph of the introduction, realized it wasn’t the sort of introduction I’m normally wary of, and went back to read the whole thing. It’s a hilarious piece of work: the ‘description of the writer’ bit makes mention of the fact that the introduction was written by someone who is paid “a handsome living” by the endowment of a chair at school that no longer exists. “As a public service, he can often be found on the current grounds of the former school, laying traps for feral students and attempting to educate whomever is ensnared. He assures us the process is entirely humane.”
The second thing keeping me there was, again, loyalty to a writer who I know to have proved themselves admirably in the past.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to write that “I have failed at reading this book” post, because the book picked up quite well from there – it was a bit of a long, slow start, but then, I enjoy everything Diana Wynne Jones has written, and her books have a plot diagram that looks like a wide sawtooth: a long, slow build to a beautiful crescendo, which takes place ten pages from the end of a 400-page book.
The Vampire of Northanger had a rather similar structure, I could say, and did the same sort of thing once past that initial 10% “I can barely go on” mark: I found myself unable to put down this book which I’d been barely able to hold up before. The exact turning point, I can demark quite easily: the introduction of Emily. He’s a lovely character, a dog made into a bit of an incompetent hellhound, and it was at this point that I realized the book wasn’t going to be just a Jane Austen novel with the backdrop slightly changed.3
And from there, the book was off. I’ve a phrase stuck in my head, which was planted there when a friend asked what I was reading, then set upon looking for reviews: “a delightful, violent romp through supernatural England.” That’s pretty accurate, if I do say so myself, and I wish I’d thought of it first, but alas.
(Here, I’ll point out how visibly my writing style has been impacted by spending so much time reading a book in the more Victorian style; the voice in my head is speaking with a rather snooty Oxford accent at the moment, and I can hear it sniff with disdain every time I try to use a modern colloquialism. Hopefully this fades soon.)

So, my final opinion on the book: a slow start, which I’ll ask the reader to power through, after which you discover a lovely adventure novel, with a good bit of mockery coming from the narrator, mostly directed at the kind-to-the-point-of-naïve4 protagonist. The other characters are delightful, once they get into the stride of the story, and perhaps my favorite bit of the whole thing was in the very end of the book when the protagonist finally figured out the blindingly obvious secret and basically sat down and said “well, I’m dumb.”
Seriously, it was quite a good book. Go have a read.

  1. Thank you Kindle, for telling me precisely how much of a book I’ve read 
  2. Like I said, normally I don’t acknowledge books that failed to hold my interest long enough for me to read them, but I felt I at least owed that much to Mr. Anderson. 
  3. To my readers who enjoy the writings of Jane Austen: I don’t mean to insult her, I’ve just come to terms with the fact that the style of her writings are not the sort of thing I enjoy. There are, I’m sure, a good amount of people who would love to read “a Jane Austen novel with the backdrop slightly changed.” This is not quite the book for you. 
  4. Yes, I’m aware that ‘naive’ and ‘naïve’ are just alternate spellings for the same word: nonetheless, I think the second looks better, and I just enjoy having excuses to type an umlaut, okay

The Iron Wyrm Affair

For some reason, AutoCorrect thinks that I’m somehow managing to mistype ‘warm’ as ‘wyrm’ and I’m rather curious about what kind of keyboard my laptop thinks I’m using.
Anyhow, this book was delightful. I’ll admit to a good bit of suspicion at the beginning, because it opened like it was going to be the most blatant Sherlock Holmes rip-off in the history of time. Fortunately, I was disabused of that notion very quickly: Archibald Clare, though still very much a Sherlock Holmes figure, is just one of a number of people with similarly logical minds. In this version of Britain, such genii1 are common enough that they have a classification – mentath – and a registration system by which they are recommended for various jobs. Interesting, I thought.
And then it got better, because Emma Bannon, as it turns out, is Prime: the highest level of sorcerer in the land, and a delightful character at that. Throughout the entire I book, I cannot think of a single moment where I was urging her to do something different than what she did. Which, with me being the reader, means she can come across as a bit brutal on occasion. But hey, she gets the job done.
The two stand at the beginnings of a grand mystery. Before the book began, Bannon had begun investigating the deaths of several registered mentaths; as Clare is unregistered, she doesn’t tell him (at first) that he’s the last unregistered mentath in London.2 Every other unregistered mentath has been rather brutally murdered. Whoops!
The plot was intriguing, and toeing the line of ‘too complex’ – I could follow most of the time, though I’ll admit to having been a bit lost amidst all the local politics once or twice. Still, it all came clear enough in the end, in a series of scenes that would make for a beautiful cinematic.
What I really loved, though, was twofold:
First, the relationship between Bannon and Clare. It’s distinctly not Sherlock/Watson in flavor – Clare is obviously the Sherlock figure here, but Bannon neatly sidesteps being Watson by dint of being the Big Dog of the two: she’s the one ordering Clare around, serving both as protector and master, in a way. And the entire matter of heteronormative bull was also neatly sidestepped: Clare, a being who prides himself on sheer logic, doesn’t seem to bother with attraction to people, and Bannon has her own romance going on outside of the pair. Do you know how happy it makes me to see a book feature a male-and-female-duo as lead and not have them wind up making out? So happy.
Secondly, the world building in this book was phenomenal. To the point where I was starting to wonder if I’d missed something and this was, like, the nineteenth book in the series. It’s an alternate history, and a rather unique one – there are mentions of an Age of Flame, when dragons ruled; hints of Arthurian legend having actually happened; Britain is named for Britannia, a fascinating immortal ruler-spirit that uses the acting Queen as a Vessel; and plenty of old magics being used to do interesting things. There was a ludicrous amount of effort put into the world building of this whole thing, and it made it amazing. I feel safe assuming that the author has a notebook3 full of history and rules of magic and whatnot somewhere; but though it exists, very little is shared with us. “Show, don’t tell” must’ve been carved into the desk on which she wrote- the ‘end notes’ consist of a one-page excerpt from Clare’s briefly-mentioned monograph on observation4 and a short list denoting the levels of magic users, with a couple brief footnotes that make it seem like something taken from a textbook rather than the explain-it-all appendix to a novel. And yet it works: while I certainly started off confused, by the end I felt pretty comfortable with what the layout of the world, the rules and all that, were. Sure, there’s numerous mysteries left over, but it doesn’t feel like the book is taunting me, it feels like I’m a slightly-more-informed-than-average citizen of the world, knowing just enough to realize that there’s a world of mysteries still out there.
And I love that sort of thing, it has very thoroughly captured my interest. Though I’m trying to avoid buying any new books at the moment, as I’ve got a ten-page list of backlog to work my way through,5 I just might have to pick up the next one in the series right now. You’ll see soon enough if I managed to control myself.

So, that’s my review: glowing with praise, absolutely in love. Go get the book.

  1. Why yes I did just use the correct pluralization of ‘genius,’ thank you for noticing. 
  2. Or rather, Londinium – one of the interesting things throughout is the slightly-different names of things. I’ve got some Thoughts on the matter, which I’ll go into later. 
  3. Or ten. 
  4. Yes, he’s Sherlock Holmes, we get it. 
  5. Plus some rereading I want to do, because I’m like that. 

Halo: Nightfall

I’m gonna be honest with y’all, I didn’t finish this one. Not something I normally do with Halo media, but I’m bad at movie-watching to start with,1 and this one had lots of creepy worms. I quite enjoyed the setup, and figured out after a bit2 that this is Spartan Locke’s backstory, which was kinda cool. Having it be live-action, and still featuring a couple Sangheili? I quite liked, and I think the visual effects were handled well.
That was actually one of the weirder things about this, for me – I had no idea this was a thing until a couple days ago, and it seemed like a rather big-budget sort of thing for Microsoft to not have advertised at all. Then again, I don’t think Google’s ad algorithms are smart enough to link what I post on here with my viewing habits elsewhere, so probably they have no idea that I’m a big ol’ Halo nerd, and that’s why I never get Halo ads on YouTube.3
So I liked the first half of the movie or so, but then the worms showed up. Conceptually, and in writing, I enjoy the Lekgolo species, I like the idea that the massive Hunters are actually weird hive-mind things. It’s just so cool. But seeing the worms on their own? Eurgh. They’re creepy.4
The real reason I even bothered to write up this review – usually I don’t bother, for stuff I don’t finish, which is why you never really see me posting hugely negative reviews – is because of a single little joke I wanted to work in here. It’s the explanation of why I think worms are creepy, in fact.
It’s because I know that, one day, worms are gonna be one of the big contributors to the decomposition of my body. And for some reason, they all look like they want to get that started ahead of schedule.

Does that count as a joke? It’s hard to type out the tone of voice I’m going for in my head, and I think that’s more ‘morbid’ than ‘funny.’ Oh well, so is half of my sense of humor.
So… if you’re not freaked out by worms like I am, go watch the movie! It’s pretty good, well-made and all that. If you have an existential horror of worms, then… really don’t watch this movie. Your choice.

  1. I need a minimum of, like, 1.25 things to be doing at any given time, and a movie counts as, like, .125 or something. I dunno, trying to make math out of ‘movies can’t hold my attention well’ is hard. 
  2. Also contributing to my lack of attention: I watched this while ‘working,’ and even when there’s no customers, a pool is loud
  3. Except when Halo 4 came out, but I’m pretty sure that at that point Microsoft had bought every ad slot on the site, so that doesn’t really mean much of anything. 
  4. I think all worms are creepy, to be honest. It’s the one downside to when it rains – all the worms are out on the sidewalks and stuff. 

Halo: Shadow of Intent

Good lord, I thought I was done with all the Halo books but then I found another one I hadn’t read yet.1 So I’ve got at least one more of these things to write.2
This was another of the interwar-period books, following some ex-Covenant folk. On one side, a Prelate, roughly the Covenant equivalent of a Spartan.3 On the other, the Half-Jaw, an old warrior who sided with the Arbiter in the mess of post-Covenant Sangheili politics. Seeing the mess that was Sangheilios, the Arbiter sent the Half-Jaw and his ship, the sole remaining assault-carrier in the Sangehili navy. If you’re in the middle of a morass of a civil war, you don’t want the under-staffed, under-defended Big Gun being right nearby and easily accessible to anyone who might want the power to glass half the planet.
The book felt deceptively short, to be honest – I was going to describe a bit more of the plot, but I realized that was easily halfway through it already, which is going a bit beyond my ‘no spoilers’ rule I try to abide by. More of a novella than a novel, I suppose.
That said, they managed to get some good character development in – the Prelate has a tragic backstory going on, explored through a couple (nightmarish) dream sequences, which gets worse over time. Rather sad, really, but I suppose that’s what happens in war. The Half-Jaw, on the other hand, is an old warrior, nicknamed for the injuries he received in the Covenant civil war, and wants nothing more than to be able to rest. Not really an option when you’ve got a Prelate trying to kill you, though. Poor guy.
There’s a bit of a Forerunner artifact involved, because of course there is, but it doesn’t really get explored very well – the part of me that always wants to know about Forerunner tech and history was quite annoyed about the lack of explanation on what exactly it was, but oh well. I’ll live.
Now, if I’m remembering properly, this being such a short book also meant it was pretty cheap, so go ahead and give it a read.

  1. It was already on my Kindle and everything. My roommate is making fun of me for having “the least unhealthy addiction ever.” 
  2. I say “at least” because at this point I might go back and reread the ones I’ve got as actual paperbacks and do re-read-reviews of them or something. It’s all an excuse to read more Halo books, I’ve gotta be honest. 
  3. Prelates are, apparently, retro-genetically modified San’Shyuum, so closer in relation to Spartan-IVs than anything else, I suppose? They’re also, notably, some of the only members of the Prophet race to be able to walk under their own power, and are actually impressively good fighters. 

Junior Scientist Power Hour

I’m calling this a book review, since I read the comic in a book.1 But it’s also a webcomic, which is how I found out about it. Not directly, though – Abby Howard was my top pick on Strip Search, the Penny-Arcade backed web reality series that took the ‘America’s Got Talent’ style show and did it for webcomics creators.
She didn’t win, unfortunately, but the show did get her a lot of attention, and she leveraged it quite well to put together a kickstarter to fund the creation of her second webcomic, The Last Halloween,2 which I’ve also been reading and enjoying. Now, I remembered backing the Kickstarter, but I thought I’d backed at one of the digital-only levels. Then I got a box in the mail, and found out I apparently went for a higher tier! Now I have a book, what fun. I can throw it at people when I feel like they really need to read this comic.
And I expect to do a lot of book-based assault because JSPH is wonderful. It’s silly, sometimes spooky, and nonsensical in the best way.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about it, you guys. There’s no overarching plot, and usually my reviews involving picking those apart and talking about why I liked/didn’t like them, and without that I really don’t know what all to talk about.
Go read it! It’s FREE, y’all.

  1. Well, okay, I also read it online first, but I read it as a book just now so… hush. 
  2. I’m not going to review that one for the sheer annoyance of dealing with the ‘Halloween to Hallowe’en’ autocorrect I’ve got set up. What? Switch that off? Don’t be ridiculous. 

Halo: Last Light

I didn’t even realize I’d made a Halo pun in the start of one of my other posts about all these Halo books, but referring to all these book reviews as a “flood” of posts totally is a Halo pun. Whoops.
Anyhow, this one just absolutely took the cake as my favorite Halo book ever. Which is saying something, considering that, as of now, I think I’m only one book shy of having read all of them.1
So, why was this one my favorite? Because the main character was so interesting. Inspector Veta Lopis is introduced as the best criminal investigator2 on the colony of Gao. Her task of the moment: find out who the serial killer is that’s been murdering tourists in the massive Montero Cave System. Unfortunately for her, the UNSC is also on site, having rolled in with an entire battalion as an ONI research task-group works on tracking down… something. Most people think it’s the source of the ‘miracle cures’ that have been cropping up in the caverns lately, which suits ONI just fine – they don’t want anyone to realize that they’re looking for an active Forerunner ancilla.3 Which is cool, because I love me some Forerunner tech. We also got a cool look at a Lifeworker Huragok, though why one was present in the ancient Forerunner base I have no idea.4
But why I loved it is that, for the most part, the book remembered that it started out as a murder mystery. Sure, some ex-Covenant show up and people start shooting at one another, but all throughout Lopis refused to lose sight of her goal: identifying the murderer.
(As a murder mystery, I thought it worked pretty well – there were a lot of different suspects I came up with, including a few that neither the Inspector nor the UNSC thought up.5 There were one or two very obvious ‘taunting you with knowing who did it but not saying it yet’ moments, but for the overall thrill of the chase I’d say they earned one or two.)
And the part that had me making excited noises as I read the book was the inclusion of a few Spartan-IIIs. I’d kinda forgotten that they could be back, since the last time I saw them was at the end of Onyx, with them being locked up in the Shield World. Except that wasn’t the last time I saw them, because one of the books featured Dr. Halsey helping to crack open that shield world and begin exploring, and they had the help of the Spartan-IIIs there while doing that. Onyx was the one I’ve read several times, though, so that’s what stuck in my mind. Seeing the Spartan-IIIs again was a nice little bonus, like, oh yeah, some of the characters I like actually survived the Human-Covenant War.6
And oh dearie me, the way those children interact with Lopis? It was heartbreaking. Keep in mind, they are literally children – there are two surviving members of the first class of Spartan-IIIs, and they serve as parental figures for the rest; other than those two, the eldest of the Spartan-IIIs is still too young to drive legally. They’re teenagers, and instead of going to school and having awkward Prom experiences or whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing as a teen, they’re entering their tenth year of being super-soldiers, killing the enemies of the UNSC.
And then they meet Lopis, and she finds out just how young they are, and she’s different. Because everyone else sees them first and foremost as Spartans, as untouchable super-soldiers purpose-built for war. But she sees them as kids, and she stands up for them. By the end of the book, they’re all calling her “mom.” It’s somewhere between ‘touching’ and ‘heartbreaking’ and I adored it.
That’s really what I want out of all of my media – superhumans, be they Spartans or superheroes, just trying to live their lives. Everyone wants to be normal, to fit in – and while most people don’t ‘fit in’ just because it’s inherently impossible to do so, these sorts of folks don’t fit in because they are the Übermensch. They’re stronger, faster, better than everyone else – but they still have problems.

Basically, I loved Last Light, and I am begging Microsoft to make sure we get to see Lopis and the IIIs again.7 I want it more than anything else in the world.
Go buy this book and read it. It was wonderful, and I want to make it clear that there’s demand, because economic forces rule us all.

  1. Not including the comics – that’s a project for… sometime after I graduate, when I start having enough disposable income and space to buy physical books again. 
  2. I’ve said the word ‘investigator’ too many times in my head already, it doesn’t sound like a word anymore. This doesn’t bode well. 
  3. This book included the word ‘ancilla’ so many times. I’d call it egregious, but I think the whole existence of the word ‘ancilla’ is – it’s just an AI, folks. You didn’t need to make up a special word for it just because it’s a significantly better AI than what anyone else has. You’re also referring to it as an Archeon-class, so having multiple words to point out that it’s fancy is just excessive. 
  4. Another thing I noted is that, while the ancilla itself went into a deep sleep mode roughly 100,000 years ago, the Huragok itself apparently didn’t and spent the entire time awake and wandering around the base, doing the Huragok version of being bored out of its mind. Poor thing. 
  5. One of them was ‘the MJOLNIR armor on its own, being controlled by hackers or something’ which vaguely came up, but only in the way that it’s possible to freeze a Spartan in the armor, not actively control it. Dang. 
  6. To be fair, Cortana and Dr. Halsey are probably my favorites and they both survived, but the Spartan-IIIs are nice because they’re only mildly sociopathic, instead of the ‘taken it to the point of pride’ level that Dr. Halsey’s at. 
  7. Spoiler warning

    The book ends in a way that made me shed a (metaphorical) tear of joy – Lopis and her IIIs getting to stay together as a family. A messed-up, ONI-sanctioned family of ultra-violence-using investigators, but a family nonetheless. 

Halo: Hunters in the Dark

And we’re back with even more Halo. A side note: I realized sometime while I was reading this book that I’ve never played Halo 5, and that I didn’t even know what the plot of it was. There’s a good reason I didn’t really care about Halo 5, though, which I might turn into a separate blog post at some point.
Anyhow, Hunters in the Dark. It’s another interwar book, though a bit of a precursor1 to the Human-Forerunner war to come. There was also a nice hint of follow-up with what happened to the UNSC Rubicon, the ship that Guilty Spark stole at the end of one of the Forerunner Trilogy books. I kept hoping for more on that, but I apparently haven’t gotten to the correct book and/or game for that yet, so oh well, I guess I’ll just keep reading.
This one follows a mixed group of Sangheili and Spartans, with the addition of Olympia Vale before she becomes a Spartan and a pair of human doctors. And, my favorite, a Huragok. I love the Huragok, they’re so delightfully weird. Based on comments throughout this book and the last, they’ve gotten very rare throughout the galaxy in the aftermath of the Human-Covenant War, and I’m really hoping that ONI or someone has an ongoing project to help them repopulate a bit. They’re kinda incredibly useful resources, and as far as I’m aware they can reproduce without too much work.2
Anyhow, the plot of this one kicks off with Luther Mann and Henry Lamb, the two doctors mentioned earlier, exploring Zeta Halo. There, they find an active countdown, which shortly thereafter leads to the discovery that the Halo array has been activated. Again.3 They realize that the signal came from the Ark, and start working to get the portal at Voi4 up and running again. Which is where the Sangheili come in, bringing the Huragok with them.
From there, it gets proceedingly more mysterious, and we never actually get answers as to what all was going on on the Ark. Sure, a lot of it could be explained by who the Bad Guy ended up being, but Drifts, the Huragok, made a few references to a third party messing around with the systems of the Ark, and I’m quite curious as to who that was.5
This one was a good read, though, I think I liked it more than New Blood. There wasn’t nearly as much flashback, and though the progression of time got a little nonlinear at times – mostly because one character’s storyline was revealing things a lot faster than the others’, and the author was trying to ensure that both plots would be interesting – but never did the sync get off by more than, oh, 12 hours or so. Quite manageable, and like I said, an interesting read.

  1. Get it? Precursor? Like the- oh, nevermind. 
  2. If I’m remembering right, it’s basically a matter of giving two or more Huragok access to enough raw materials, both biological and otherwise, to build a new one. They then connect and upload sufficient data for the new Huragok to become sapient and a useful tool. 
  3. Somewhere an ONI AI drops its head into its hands and starts calculating how expensive it’d be to just blow up all of them. (Back of the envelope math says: surprisingly, not that bad – it only took the overloading reactor complex of an early-model Frigate to do it in Combat Evolved, which means the things can be snapped with only, like, a couple H-bombs. Wouldn’t even need antimatter warheads!) 
  4. Why it’s referred to as being at Voi when it’s, like, five hundred times bigger than Voi and stretches all the way to the much-bigger city of New Mombasa, I don’t know. 
  5. Based on the timeline, I figure it could be Cortana, a local copy of 343 Guilty Spark, the Didact, or the Librarian. Or a Gravemind. There’s quite a few options there. 

Playlist of the Month: March 2016

I’ve decided that, for some of these things, I’m going to include links to buy the songs1 – make it a bit easier for y’all to find the songs, if you’re interested, and throw a bit of support to the artists.2
5AM – Amber Run
Shiver – Amber Run
I Need My Girl – The National
Forgiven – Millesim Remix – Wolf Colony3
Trusty And True – Damien Rice
Your Hand In Mine – Explosions In The Sky
Hymn for the Weekend – Coldplay
Just My Soul Responding – Amber Run
Elysium – Mendum
On Your Knees – Matthew Mayfield
Team (Lorde Cover) – Matthew Mayfield4
Midnight – Lane 85
Summer Heart – Pretty Haze
Fire – Jack Garratt
You Can’t Save Me – Johnny Stimson
Ghost ft. Patrick Baker (Lane 8 Remix) – Lane 8
But Now A Warm Feel Is Running – Fhin
Haven, Mass (B-Side) – Bon Iver
Canyon Moon – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
House for You – LOYAL
Maps For The Getaway – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness6
Animal – The Dunwells
Your Call – Duck House
In the Air – Star Slinger Remix – Ten Fé
We Were Happy Once (feat. Bess Rogers) – Anya Marina7
Man Of Lies – Blueneck
Broken Fingers – Blueneck
Father, Sister – Blueneck
I Feel The Weight – Miike Snow
Back Of The Car – Miike Snow
Monster – Mumford & Sons
I Will Wait – Mumford & Sons
Hopeless Wanderer – Mumford & Sons
Little Lion Man – Mumford & Sons
Ghost feat. Patrick Baker (Lane 8 Remix) – Lane 88
Smoke Filled Room (Acoustic) – Mako9
Klara (Theo Kottis Remix) – Lane 8
Afterlife – XYLØ10
SCRAM – Mogwai11
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – XYLØ
Fat Man – Mogwai
America – XYLØ12
Lou Lou – Albin Lee Meldau13
Communicate – The Dunwells14
Lucky Ones – The Dunwells15
LA Love Song – XYLØ
She Whispers – The Dunwells
Tzar – Mogwai
Smoke Signals – Hotel Garuda16
U-235 – Mogwai18
Will You Wait For Me – The Dunwells
Sunlight (Jody Wisternoff Remix) – Lane 8
Ether – Mogwai

  1. From iTunes or Amazon Music, as those are the two stores I ever use- I used to use Google Play, but haven’t since I switched to iPhone. And I’ve got a Thing against Spotify. 
  2. The exact metric by which I’ll decide which ones to link is “randomness with a bias in favor of less-popular groups.” And a good bit towards “new to these lists,” as well. 
  3. Fun story: while trying to verify that this was the correct version of the song to link to, I accidentally hit ‘play’ and iTunes started playing a totally different song while the Amazon sample was playing. “This is not at all the right remix,” I thought, before realizing what I’d done. 
  4. “I’d normally never listen to Lorde, but I’d listen to an album of you doing Lorde covers.” – someone complimenting me when they heard me singing along to this. Thanks, friend! 
  5. This song is so calm, it’s up there with “Your Hand In Mine” in my favorite songs to listen to when I need to defuse a bad mood. Or diffuse it. Either way. 
  6. The first few times I listened to this song, I was biking, and what with the wind and all that I couldn’t quite hear the lyrics right, so I spent a while thinking this song was about planning a heist. 
  7. For some reason, this song reminds me of a lullaby that I’d listen to as a child. Which is weird, considering how depressing it is. 
  8. Why yes, this is the second time this song is on here – one version is the Soundcloud rip (sorry!), and one version is from the actual album. 
  9. Another one my roommate gave me, I love this song. 
  10. Things I’ve learned today: how to type an uppercase Ø. Shift+option+o, for those wondering. Leaving out the shift gets you the lowercase ø.
    Interesting note about this: you can’t type that character into the Amazon search field. 
  11. This whole album is all ‘nuclear history’ references and it makes me so happy 
  12. Why yes, I am linking to multiple songs off this album. I’d’ve linked to ‘Afterlife’, as well, but Amazon only has the explicit version and I have very strange ideas about what level of censorship it’s necessary for me to have on this here blog. 
  13. The only thing I don’t like about this song is how dang short it is. I want mooooore. 
  14. This song is basically how I respond whenever my friends complain to me about their relationship problems. “JUST COMMUNICATE” 
  15. For some reason, my laptop saw fit to change ‘Lucky’ to ‘Luckyy.’ … Okay? 
  16. This one reminds me of that song. “If our love is tragedy,” yadda yadda. If you lived through, what, 2012? Yeah, I think that was the year. Anyways, if you lived through that year, you know this song. 
  18. Get it, because uranium isotopes? heh, I have a weird sense of humor. 

Health.app and me

I wasn’t the healthiest of children. I drank soda all the time and regarded sports with the sort of distant horror that a housewife feels for a dead rat a servant mentions cleaning up.1 Running, to my mind, was something that could happen to other people.
But such things can’t last forever, especially if you spend middle school getting strangely obsessed with mortality statistics. I didn’t so much make one concerted effort to be healthy as I’ve made a sort of slow, ongoing one. There were a few big moments in this, and a surprising amount of them were related to Apple’s Health app.
The first two weren’t directly linked, though, and we may as well go in a chronological order.

1: Swimming

My mother, bless her soul, kept trying to get me to like sports. She was on the “don’t let Grey die a young, unhealthy death” team. It took her a while to get me to swim, and by that point she’d gone through all the other school sports.2 Why it took that long to get to swimming, I don’t know – she was a swimmer in high school, quite liked it, put a lot more effort into it than I ever did.3 Eventually she got to swimming, and I actually kinda liked it. I stuck with it through the last couple years of middle school and all of high school, at least.4

2: Water

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure where in the chronological order this one falls, but I’m pretty sure it was in this spot.
Y’see, in the “when I was a kid” category is “I drank a lot of soda.”5 This one isn’t attributable to my mom – she didn’t want her kids drinking caffeine, if she could avoid it, and any diet soda was Off Limits.6
My dad, on the other hand? Big fan of soda. So whenever I was at his house, I’d drink a lot of the stuff.
And then, at some point, I started to get interested in the nutrition information on stuff. And boy howdy, soda has some interesting numbers in there. All sorts of sugar, surprisingly numerous calories, and nothing of any value.
So one day I just stopped. I didn’t drink soda anymore. Sometime after that, I stopped drinking milk, but that’s unrelated,7 milk is healthy stuff. And now I only drink water.8
At some point last year, and here’s where Health.app comes in, I started keeping track of how much water I was drinking. Mostly because I like data for data’s own sake, but this was after #3 was a thing, so it fit into the stuff I was already doing. At first I was using that weird plant app to keep track, but oh god did I hate the design. It was clunky, didn’t seem to have any good way of tracking how much water you should be drinking behind the initial setup number, and it was clunky. I’ve said that twice, but it’s something that I really dislike.
Then the iOS 99 beta came out, public access, and it added the water metric to the HealthBook data store. So I dropped the crappy plant app and just started doing manual data-entry, which was only barely harder than the stupid plant thing.
Nowadays, I’m using Workflow to make the process even smoother, but I’m still not quite satisfied, and I may wind up making a project out of this. It’d be a good way to learn the HealthBook APIs. And the Apple Watch APIs, and the Today Widget APIs, and the Force Touch APIs. Basically I’d use it to learn full-stack iOS app development, why not?

3: Food

You’re expecting me to talk about how I started eating healthier in here, which sorta happened? A little bit, occasionally. It’s an ongoing project that the dining hall doesn’t make any easier. But no, that’s not what I’m talking about.
Y’see, when I was registering for classes for the first semester of college, I did a really good job of planning. I made sure I’d have a few minutes in between all the classes to get from building to building,10 plotted out the courses I’d be taking so they’d be the best way to get myself on track for all four years, and all in all had a nice setup for myself.
Then the first day of classes hit and I realized I’d forgotten about meals. I ate lunch once a week11 for that entire semester. It got to the point where I was legitimately concerned that I was going to starve myself, so I downloaded one of those dieting apps and started using it exactly wrong – making sure I was meeting a minimum of calories, rather than staying below a maximum.12
And then the semester ended and I just kept it up. If anyone asks me for a reason, I open the Health app, show them the page of graphs that is the Dashboard, and tell them that I like graphs.

4: Apple Watch

Over Christmastime I wound up with an Apple Watch. It was a mix of factors, including family members who gave me money in lieu of presents and some strong hints towards the Apple Watch,13 my sister shouting ‘YOLO’ at me, Best Buy having a good sale, and my taxes-and-budget stuff working out positively. Plus a touch of “I want to develop for iOS at some point, and WatchOS is part of all the app ideas I have at the moment, but I need to know the paradigms first.”14
Apps aside, though, the big thing that the Apple Watch has over my old Pebble is fitness tracking. It links up with the M-series chip in my phone, and supplements it with a second set of gyroscope data and a heart rate sensor. Plus some onboard processing that I can use if I want to go out for a walk or bike ride or something15 and not lug my phone along.16
And there’s the Activity app, the foremost fitness feature of the watch. It has been remarkably effective on me, which I found rather impressive. There’s the Stand Hours ring, the innermost, which ensures you spend at least a minute of at least twelve hours a day moving around. Which wasn’t too hard, considering the whole ’50 minutes of class and then walk to the next class’ schedule I’ve got going on.
Then there’s the Exercise ring, aiming for 30 minutes of ‘vigorous exercise’ a day. I put that in quotes because I’m unsure in what definition of ‘vigorous’ Apple is using. And ‘exercise,’ at that: usually I can fill this ring on walking around alone.17
And then there’s the final one, Active Calories. This is the one that’s had the biggest effect18 on me. All of them had a bit of an influence – give me a gamified system and I can’t resist trying to win. I have an overwhelming desire to fill all three of those rings every day.
The Active Calories ring started off fairly easy.19 But then it started to ramp up, because that’s what it does when you keep filling that ring. The goal is now almost twice what it was when I started, and I’m still overshooting it pretty consistently. Which has forced some changes in my life – I’m finally taking advantage of the gym on campus.20 Almost every day, I go down to the equipment room and ride one of the stationary bikes for a while.21 I’ve had a variety of sources of input all saying “go use the gym,” ranging from my own mind pointing out that it’s part of my tuition that I’m not taking advantage to my roommate who enjoys going to the gym to the various ‘dieting’ apps I’ve used.22 None of them worked. And then I got an Apple Watch, and suddenly I’m going to the gym every day just so I can fill a little red ring.

So that’s where I am, at the moment. I’m not a fitness buff, by any means.23 But I’m living a fairly healthy life, and I’m still working on improving. Who knows, maybe this time next year I’ll come back to this post and have another item or two to add.

  1. Don’t get me wrong, this is still my opinion on sports, but I’ve stopped being so vocal in my disregard for them – why ruin other people’s fun? 
  2. Except football. That one was a non-starter. 
  3. She’s the reason that I know how to prevent and/or deal with ‘hair turning green’ problem that crops up if you spend too much time in the chlorinated water. 
  4. I don’t swim in college, but I do teach swim lessons and lifeguard and stuff, so the pool is still a big thing in my life. And I’m taking scuba classes now! It’s cool. 
  5. Or pop, or cola, depending on where in the US live. 
  6. A mix of the unknown-bordering-on-carcinogenic properties of the artificial sweeteners and the fact that thy all just taste gross to her and me both. 
  7. The story there functionally consists of “I’m a Choir Nerd and milk makes your vocal chords less vocal chord-y, basically.” 
  8. And occasionally a hint of PowerAde, but that’s only because the water spigot in the dining hall is also the PowerAde spigot, and it takes a bit of time to clean out. It’s always accidental- I’ve referred to the resulting combination as “naturopathic ass-water.” 
  9. I think? Might’ve been 8, I can’t recall. 
  10. With mixed success- I didn’t realize how far the math building is from the music building, but oh well. 
  11. Technically including weekends, though only because the dining hall only serves brunch on weekends, and I’m too lazy to walk anywhere off-campus to get food. 
  12. It’s a good thing I started paying attention to that, because the way I’d been going I actually was slowly starving myself, based on the FDA’s caloric intake statistics. Whoops. 
  13. Which, to be fair, I’d been dropping strong hints about since it came out, so, y’know. 
  14. That one hasn’t worked out right yet, actually – my Apple Watch is mildly defective, doesn’t actually run any third-party apps. That’s why I haven’t done a review yet – I’m holding off while I work with Apple Support to get it fixed. The main slowdown there is me, because I haven’t had time to actually sit down and have the long phone call with them that’s necessary to get a replacement authorized. 
  15. Running is still in the “something that can happen to other people” category. 
  16. Because, y’know, an iPhone is so much work to carry around. 
  17. To be fair, I am an aggressive walker. 
  18. Or is it ‘affect?’ Dammit, why hasn’t the English language fixed this stupid affect/effect thing yet 
  19. Well, no, it didn’t, because when I first set up the watch I was like ‘sure, I’m a fairly active person’ and set it on that and then miserably failed to fill that ring for the first week. The next week, the Watch took pity on me and set it back down to the ‘barely not a couch potato’ level. 
  20. I still don’t use the weight room, because all those heavy things combined with my lack of knowledge about lifting strikes me as a great way to injure myself. 
  21. I like the stationary bike because it’s low-impact, a good calorie burn, and I can read or watch YouTube videos or whatever on my phone. None of that ‘paying attention to where I’m going’ nonsense that a real bike has. 
  22. I went through a couple – I started with Lose It!, but I found it to be too opinionated towards the whole ‘losing weight’ goal – which, I suppose, makes sense, considering the name. Now I’m using MyFitnessPal, which I like a bit better. It’s not as opinionated, and it integrates a bit better with HealthKit, as far as I can tell. 
  23. Nor can I be described as ‘buff’ at all, a play on words of which I am far too proud

Halo: New Blood

The flood of Halo books continues!
This one was a lot of flashing back. Like, two chapters of “this is what’s going on now,” and the whole rest of it was flashback. Buck,1 as it turns out, has a propensity for storytelling.
That story meanders quite a bit, because while he has a propensity for storytelling he’s got even more of one for going off on tangents. As it turns out, he’s now become a SPARTAN-IV, one of the new group that were created in the lead-up to Halo 4.2 And that’s sort of what this whole book is – an interwar period, a look at what the UNSC was doing in the immediate aftermath of the Covenant War and before the Didact showed up and started ruining things again. Which was a pretty cool bit of territory to play with, one that I don’t think we’ve really seen before in the Halo series. One of the core ideas of the games was that you’ve got the Covenant, these scary xenos,3 to provide a Big Bad Enemy that we don’t have to feel guilty for killing. But without the Covenant, humanity’s own mess of fighting amongst themselves came back out to play. It never really ended during the Covenant War, it just got put on hold – even ideologically antithetical enemies can put their differences aside when they’re faced with mutual obliteration at the hands of a third party.4 And so, in that interwar period, the rebellion against the UNSC and the UEG springs back to life, and all the troops that’ve gotten so use to that no-gray-areas war with the xenos are suddenly thrown back into the moral gloop that is a colony-vs-empire war.
And that’s something that, like I said, hasn’t really been explored in the Halo canon very much. Sure, the origin of the SPARTAN-II program was as a force for fighting against those rebels, and we’ve been through one or two missions there, but never with even a moment spared for their ideology – they were portrayed just as ‘terrorists.’ Which is fitting, considering how brainwashed all of the SPARTAN-IIs were; it’s even acknowledged in New Blood that one of the key reasons they were abducted and put into the program at the age of 6 was so that they’d have that sort of undying loyalty to the UNSC. The SPARTAN-IVs are all adults, converted into superhumans after they’ve been serving in the UNSC. And they’ve already formed their own opinions – they poke at their orders a bit, don’t obey quite as blindly, and in a couple notable cases, they actually side with the rebels. They’re not the point-and-shoot weapons that the SPARTAN-IIs were, but there’s more of them and it’s less likely to feed the rebellion when people find out about them and how they’re made.5
The fact that this one was such a gray area like that, though? It made it a much more interesting read. Depressing in places,6 but definitely interesting. Give it a read, especially if you want to find out more about the SPARTAN-IVs.

  1. The sergeant from Halo 3: ODST and a SPARTAN-IV in Halo 5, if you’re wondering why I’m acting like that’s a name that should be familiar. 
  2. Fun fact: I just now realized that Halo 5 has been out for a few months. I’m way more invested in the multimedia project that is Halo than I am in the video game series. 
  3. The term “alien” gets too much use in politics nowadays, so I’m going with “xenos” as shorthand for extra-terrestrial non-humans. 
  4. Imagine how the Cold War would’ve gone if Martians had shown up during the Cuban Missile Crisis and started laying waste to the entire planet. 
  5. Because, seriously, imagine the PR disaster that ensued when the Office of Naval Intelligence finally had to reveal that the SPARTAN-IIs were created by kidnapping children and brainwashing them and then testing a bunch of geneva-convention-violating surgeries on them. 
  6. There’s nothing more aggravating than having a playable character die at a point in the game when you can’t control them – you can’t help but feel like if you were in charge you could’ve done something different, you could’ve saved them. Cutscene deaths are stupid, and so are book-sequel-deaths. Which could be more of a spoiler if I gave you any idea of who died, but I won’t.