Thomas Covenant – Unbeliever

I finished.

Last week, after reading through my many Melbourne journeys for work and many weekends over coffee, I finally closed the tenth volume of the Thomas Covenant series. And to be frank; I am feeling a little relieved to be done.

This series of books revolves around Covenant; on paper the most unlikeable antihero imaginable. Filled with self-loathing, anger and numerous anti-social traits. An author, diagnosed with leprosy, wife lost, child taken, universally feared and despised.

The stuff great stories are made of, clearly.

I vaguely recalled reading some or all of the series when I was much younger, which prompted me to give them another comprehensive shot since the last book was only released in 2013.

The first three books in the series are a trilogy released from 1977 to 1979, and they are unambiguously great, albeit somewhat bleak and challenging in parts (note: trigger warning for rape if you decide to read it). But I would strongly recommend not to read beyond, because the second trilogy and the last four books are increasingly fainter copies of the original. Which is a shame, because after the first three books I really wanted the remaining seven to be of the same calibre.

The first trilogy has a very memorable list of characters; Lord Foul (the antagonist) has some wonderfully evocative and malevolent mono/dialogue, the Lords struggling to recover past knowledge without despair,  the Haruchai warrior race with a very demanding personal ethic. And Covenant throughout balancing his struggle with self-loathing, uncertainty whether his experience is even real, and transcending his own limitations for a growing investment in the people he wrongs along the way.

Even knowing about “clench racing” (look it up!) and noticing the tic more as a result didn’t diminish the strength of the storytelling.

The great thing about the second trilogy is that it cleverly uses the fact that time flows faster in his fantasy alternate reality than in our real world to have 10 years in Covenants life put him 3000 years into the future in this alternate reality. A chance to create a completely new setting for the world, a new challenge, a new iteration of the struggle with lord Foul. What diminishes it though is the fact it turns into ever more fantasy-travel-porn… gratuitously labouring from one side of the world to another to get object X to challenge foe Y in increasing order of challenge. Grinding is no more fun in books than it is in WoW.

Add to this the fact that he has a somewhat painfully whiny companion in Linden Avery along for the ride. I understand what she is for, and intellectually the exploration of her personality is interesting enough… it just doesn’t make for very entertaining or relaxing reading in any other way than as an intellectual exercise.

And this is where the last four books become ever more dreary. For starters Covenant doesn’t appear until the third book at all; it’s all Linden all the time, crumpling into herself in despair over the challenges in front of her, setting herself progressively less lofty goals until she basically dooms the world when she brings back Covenant. It feels like her role was more to drive the story to such a deep crises as to challenge Covenant sufficiently to fix it all again. Add to this a veritable constellation of bad guys all trying to do them in at the same time for differing agendas, and add more travel-porn into the mix, and it feels like the only person to whom the story must have been enjoyable was the author.

The only reason I didn’t give up before the end?

I was morbidly curious to see how the author was going to get himself out of the knots he was setting up. Yes. I meta-read, not so much the story as the author. Also… spoiler: Deus-Ex, a million times. Ugh.

In short: I heartily recommend the original trilogy… just pretend nothing else happens after it. Lord Foul is defeated. He never recovered from the damage done by Covenant. You’ll save yourself several months of increasing agony.

Learning and Other Curves

I have turned my 365 earnings and my birthday present from my parents into an Adobe CS6 Master Suite. I am now the proud owner of All-Things-Adobe to further my creative future. Now I just need to learn how to use it all.

The installer barfed icons for 16 new products onto my Windows 8 Start screen.
They all range from complex to nigh-on-incomprehensible.
I need some training.

I had hoped to start learning today, but the day got away from me a bit. I had to get up early to make my 7:30am massage, which was both nice and horrible at the same time.

Then my day got both better and weirder at the gym. Apparently it was the third anniversary of the gym and there was an 80s Aerobics theme on. Meaning all the staff/instructors and many of the guests had dressed up in various short-shorts, lycra, and garish bright colours.

It wasn’t entirely an unpleasant sight.

I do think I let it go to my head, or out of it. I worked harder than I normally do, and now my legs don’t feel my own. I hope I have enough reserves for Yoga, because Thursday Yoga didn’t turn out so well… they had forgotten to substitute a sick instructor so they improvised at the last moment with someone who wasn’t quite up to the task.

By the time I finished my Saturday ritual with some reading at Michel’s I was already 7 hours into my day. And I’ve frittered away another 3 hours since with the Internet. I better get going with some real work and chores now, or I’ll feel horribly guilty tomorrow.

Day 297 – Beginnings

69 – 100 Best First Lines from Novels

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and so does a novel.

I think I’m getting really good at beginnings, but my middles could use some work, and sometimes I just don’t know how to stop. Stopping is tough; ideally I should stop at the point where the writing ends, but I think I often go well past that.

Good middles probably require revision. I’d like to blame the hectic schedule of one post a day for a total lack of revisions on my part, but I think it is also a level of laziness. I have what it takes to do revisions. I do them at work all the time. Agonising over the right tone and content of an email. Some paragraphs get re-written and replaced a half-dozen times before finally materialising as I intend them. Not that it takes particularly long either; I do all my agonising very quickly and efficiently.

I really have no excuse, other than a certain level of laziness and burn-out.

So far, the toughest part of this writing challenge has been trying my best not to re-tread the same ground too much. I’m sure I will have doubled over some terrain more than was called for… but I do not have a particularly good memory, and I really couldn’t tell you what I talked about more than a few posts ago without actually reading my own blog.

And there have been a few tough days.

Sick days. Mentally drained days. Bored and uninspired days.

Pulling a post out of nothing on one of those has made me question more than once whether I should just call off the rest of my challenge. More than once I’ve told myself that getting to 150… halfway… 250… surely is enough to prove the point. I can just stop and it’ll be just like I did an actual 365.

And although that’s true on one level. It’s also completely untrue on the same level.

And I’m just too stubborn.

Once I start something I have an almost obsessive need to finish it. I have listened to some terrible music, watched some terrible movies and read some terrible books all the way through, simply because I couldn’t bear to give up. There has been exactly once that I stopped reading a book before I finished it. And I won’t shame it by naming it.

And there it ends.

Day 282 – Novel

84 – 100 Best Novels

I like reading.
I used to read a lot more than I do now.

My routine used to involve reading a few chapters every night before falling asleep. More than once I have seen the light go on again outside when I hadn’t slept yet. The most seductive thought ever is “one more chapter won’t hurt; it’s not that late yet, and you really want to know what happens next, don’t you?”

I think work and life have conspired to deprive me of that routine. I cannot complain about what has taken the time instead, but still… I miss the reading.

Most of the reading I do at the moment happens when I am waiting for a plane, on a plane, or in Melbourne after dinner by myself in the hotel room with 2 hours to kill between 10pm and midnight. When all you have is a book, reading is what you do. Mostly.

I really love my Kindle as a vehicle for my reading. My love of reading has always seen me carrying too many books around in the past. The number of times I’d pack 3-4 hefty books on a holiday “just in case”… only to never open more than a few chapters of the first one…

With a Kindle that problem disappears. I have essentially my whole library with me if I want to.

But every upside is a downside in disguise.

I have read Ice and Fire for a while now. Without my pre-sleep routine of reading a few chapters, it has been a long slog getting through the books. I also made the mistake of purchasing the first five volumes in a single e-Book… so that percentage counter in the bottom has gone painfully slowly.

But I am winning. 95% now. Not long.

And then what?

I’m not quite sure what to read next. It has been so long since I’ve had to choose a book to read, that I cannot recall what books I have been excited about in the last two years.

The list in the link at the top might give me some ideas.

Although it’ll be a cold day in hell when I’ll actually be interested in reading Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead. They are educational, but not in a good way.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually read Catch-22, or Lord of the Flies, or The Catcher in the Rye. Maybe now is a good time. I may have to be a little careful about which classics I read after each other though. I wouldn’t want to give the NSA the wrong impression, now would I?

It’s been some time since I read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. That might be a good one to intersperse the other titles with. That’ll cover the next 2 years at least.

Day 250 – Shouldered Burdens

I’m glad the state I woke up in was not indicative of the remainder of the day to come. I’ve gone from extremely uncomfortable, to almost bearable. If I don’t move my neck too fast and sit nice and upright I could almost fool myself into believing everything is fine.

I will however be a good boy and take it easy a little while longer. I’m itching to get back to the gym, but if anything Saturday has shown how fragile this recover is so far.

Today I’ve kept to easy tasks. My main accomplishment for the day was to clear off my entire desk and re-organise my technology so that it all fits nicely. Now I just need to get rid of the QNAP TS-409 that has done faithful duty for 7+ years. Even though it was in no way failing, it was no longer living up to my needs and expectations.

The 870 PRO so far is doing a great job at impressing. I’ve installed the latest version of Plex on it, as well as on my laptop and my phone. And I’ve started ripping some of my media onto the drive to have a play with it. I’m impressed with how slick the integration and interfaces have become. Last time I considered Plex was 2-3 years ago, and I moved on to XBMC for the living room. It probably was the right choice at the time, but now… this is so much better.

I can’t go too far overboard with the ripping yet though, because I only have about 3TB of usable space in the 870 at the moment. I purposely only got the bare essentials space-wise so that I can wait out any price-drop in 4TB drives later this year when the 5TB models will finally arrive. Once that happens I should be able to load up the 870 and start filling 28TB of storage with all our media for instant-on access from all our devices. It amazes me a little how long it has taken for this particular future to arrive in a ready-to-go product.

I guess with all the tech-stuff out of the way, I can get back to making a dent in my reading; Ice and Fire has waited for my return for too long, and I have a Matthew O’Reilly waiting for me since Christmas. I am current with all my Podcasts at the moment, except for one Nerdist that I paused because they were going into Bioshock Infinity spoilers… which is the other area I need to re-invest some time in; I have a truckload of games waiting for my attention. I’m only halfway through Bioshock I. And that’s the only embarrassment I’m prepared to admit to right now.

Oh god, and software development.
I have long in-depth posts that have been rattling through my brain for too long.
And an intense itch in my fingers to make a dent in my Web Development projects.

My next break is over Easter.
I think I should plan to stay home and Do Things.

Day 194 – Today and Tomorrow

Today didn’t start in a very timely fashion; it was well past 11am before I even picked up my mobile from the bedside to check what the world had been up to in my absence. Alas, between the hours of 3am and 11am, apparently everywhere has been boring, so I didn’t miss much whilst unconscious.

My normal Sunday routine involves Yoga and then an extended period at Michel’s with my Kindle. Not today. Today I slept through Yoga. But that’s no reason to give up altogether.

By noon I was sitting in the not-sun outside Michel’s. Apparently a cool overcast Australia Day deters everybody else from doing the same, so I didn’t have much company outside. As usual, I sat at a table along the window with the opposing chair pushed in enough to rest my feet upon. Setting this up caused me to bump the chair into the window and Steve did look over, but I don’t think he realised it was me. No harm done though, so it doesn’t really matter.

There is something very relaxing about sitting in that specific spot near the entrance to the shops. I’ve always been good at tuning out background noise, and helps me focus on my reading somehow. And as a bonus, between chapters I can watch the people as they come by on their shopping errands.

I sat through two mugs of cappuccino, about 5 chapters, and a good 2 hours. This involves a lot of leg-exercise as well; if I do not keep re-adjusting which leg is resting on the opposing chair, I end up with wicker-shaped indentations on my legs that take forever to settle down again. Which probably isn’t healthy. I think?

The only reason I didn’t end up staying longer is that Dana started clearing the outside chairs and tables around me; I should have realised Australia Day means closing early. And I feel that good patron-etiquette at that stage calls for finishing my chapter and making room for the staff to do their jobs.

After returning home I spent some time on the PC. That always flies by. I cannot readily say what I actually did, but I can conclusively say that I achieved nothing. This strongly suggests I spent time on Facebook, Wikipedia or Steam.

The most productive part of my day consisted of watching Sherlock with Abbey. Not so much because of the show itself, but because I did the laundry and hanging while watching. I enjoyed the latter two episodes better than the first. It also means I’ve now fallen back in that pit of despair called waiting-for-the-next-season-to-come-around-in-another-48-weeks.

It is both bliss and absolute cruelty that they make only 3 episodes which they then air in 3 consecutive weeks. I wonder if this is on purpose.

The rest of my evening has been consumed with tomorrow. Or rather the planning of tomorrow; causality was in no way harmed by my actions.

I recently sold some hardware that had gathered dust, and now I must make good on the shipping that eBay requires of me. So, I have a list of all the addresses I need tomorrow morning first thing. Hopefully I can get through that very quickly.

Because after that I hope to get to Wet’n’Wild early enough to secure a parking spot near the entrance. They do not let you bring your own food in, but they cannot stop me from having an Esky in my car and ducking out for lunch and snacks as needed. So I have my bag packed for a visit there… and I still have a gym class booked that I may or may not go to at 5pm, so on the chance that I do, I’ll have to pack my gym gear as well.

So, odds are that tomorrow my post will go somewhat as follows: woke up at 8, went shopping, filled Esky, posted stuff, drove to Wet’n’Wild, spent day in sun and on slides, went to gym, aching after Nikki’s class, collapsed in front of TV, rushing this post sorry.

If I weren’t too stubborn to break my remaining 365-rules, I should really write the post now and set it on a timer. How would you ever know the difference?

Day 187 – Ripping and Curling

Today I:

  • Slept in, ignoring my phone several times
  • Went to Michel’s to read a few chapters over coffee
  • Had coffee and an apple slice
  • Read 2 chapters of Ice and Fire
  • Played some Storm
  • Assisted in the removal of the bathroom ceiling
  • Assisted in the covering of a bathroom wall
  • Went to Wet’n’Wild, apologising to Holly for the delay
  • Learned that the 3 slides with originally the Purple rafts were closed due to an excess of water (not joking)
  • Climbed up and slid down the T5
  • Discovered the Bombora was closed indefinitely due to 4 spinal injuries today; Holly was distraught (over the slide closure)
  • Climbed up and slid down the Half Pipe
  • Climbed up intending to slide down the Typhoon, only to learn it was out of order, and sliding the Breakers instead
  • Floated in the wave pool
  • Floated around the lagoon several times
  • Climbed up and slid down the Curler
  • Climbed up and slid down the Double Bowlseye
  • Climbed up and slid down the now-re-opened Typhoon
  • Floated some more in the wave pool
  • Showered, left, got chips and went home

I must try a Fast Pass sometime, because there were people lapping us many times while we were queuing for some of the slides. One day filled with slides and total exhaustion. Maybe to celebrate the end of summer?

Day 171 – Contemplating Holidays

Holidays have a habit of flying past.
I don’t like the sound that particular “deadline” makes as it whooshes by

And there are plenty of things I’d like to do (more) of over my 3 weeks off:

  • The projects in my sidebar
  • A trip down the coast at the beach
  • More photography
  • More/different gym classes
  • More Wet’n’Wild
  • More time with (new?) friends
  • More reading
  • More writing
  • … and then some

I don’t think I have enough time for all of it. But I should make sure I fit in a decent mix of everything. I want to avoid ending the holiday feeling there are too many things I completely didn’t touch on.

I think I should put together a “balanced diet” in my activities to neither end up with a sugary entertainment high and subsequent crash, nor an over-self-improvement hangover.

Day 135 – X-Ray Vision

I was really tired all day today. It’s entirely my fault; not getting to sleep before 2am is really not conducive to a productive day. I think I faked my way through most of it well enough though.

There’s one thing I don’t do well though.

Have you ever read a sentence three times in a row?
Have you ever discovered you still did not know what it said?

I was reviewing a two-page document today to give feedback and comments on the substance. First time through it took 10 minutes to read, and when I opened an email to give feedback I realised I didn’t know a word that was in the document.

When I recognise my eyes focusing through the page, I know that it’s happening. It also occurs when I’m trying to finish one-more-chapter-of-reading on the Kindle before falling asleep, when my brain has already switched off.

It took immense willpower to absorb the surface layers of the document.
I think I managed to leave the impression I might have absorbed it all.

But I still feel bad.

So, I’m writing this post early. I’m going to sit down with a sandwich and some Newsroom. And then I’m going to sleep early tonight, because I really don’t like this super-power.

Day 117 – Stretching

Yoga

I allowed my phone to distract me for longer than I should have let it this morning in bed. By the time my brain started doing the sums on the time required to get out of bed, through a shower, out to the gym, it was 9:45am.

My class starts at 10:30am.

Oh, and I decided to grab a small coffee along the way to wake up.

Luckily, by 10:33am I was in place on my thin mat at the front of an unusually full class that hadn’t quite started yet. Not my favourite spot, but it was of my own doing.

Today was an exceptionally good class. I find I always come out wonderfully stretched out. I credit the instructor, because she always knows when there is a little more reach left in me, and she adjusts us like we’re unruly furniture. Today my warrior got a little extra attention and I found a whole batch of muscles in my side, hip and hamstring that could use some more attention.

It’s an amazing feeling when I think I’m at the limit and she finds another inch or two of give that I wouldn’t have believed was there.

After a class like that, sitting is my favourite activity.

Reading

Which is what I did on the way back home. At a little table with a cappuccino and a sausage roll, with my trusty Kindle in tow.

I do most of my reading on Sunday afternoon after Yoga and to/from/during trips to Melbourne. Everything else just seems to consume my days any other time. Which should make this coming week a good one for The Game of Thrones.

My reading time today stretched on a little longer than it should have though. I was too engrossed in my chapters to take much note of the weather turning. I was under cover so the drizzle and rain just didn’t directly impact me.

After a couple of hours though it started getting a bit chilly, the swirling breeze getting cooled by the falling water, and brushing past the side of the building I was sitting next to.

When I decided I should head home I had just started another chapter though… and I have a really hard time abandoning a book in the middle of a chapter. So I zipped up the front of my hoodie, and stubbornly read my way through, admittedly shivering a little by the end.

I got another coffee as I left to warm me up. This is also when I learned there is such a thing as a cheaper refill. I’m not sure it’s healthy for me to know this.

And then I rushed home to have a nice hot shower.

Programming

Stretching my brain with my little personal project consumed the rest of the afternoon. I had already worked out the concept on paper, so it was long overdue to actually get started with some work (especially with the coming week in Melbourne it’ll be tricky to make progress during the week).

I had assumed I was going to have to find a library for RSS/Atom for C# to make it work. But I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Microsoft has a handy SyndicationFeed built right into the system, which seems to be just the ticket so far.

I don’t want to try to load my feeds on page accesses, so I need a background process to load the raw data for my application. I was familiar with approaches from PHP applications based on having a URL that a timed job somewhere else hits in lieu of a timer loop, but that seemed too hacky.

So far it looks like the recommended approach is to use a Timer object started from application start-up. I’m not sure why it feels wrong; it’s probably the idea of putting something stateful into a web application that just intrinsically sends my hackles up. But recommended it is, so the solution it also is for now. I can always separate this logic into a service running somewhere separately, which is probably the Right-Way-tm to do this.

Footnote

Now, please, have some sweet German baked goods lest I eat them all myself…

Stollen; usually in form of a big loaf, but Aldi also does bite-size.
Stollen; usually in form of a big loaf, but Aldi also does bite-size.

And let me dedicate this song to the day… that’s how it works, right?

spotify:track:6RDMoA86XmfIyFGWmm9TkJ

Also worth looking up on YouTube for a clip involving Fraggles.