social & scholarly communications, mixing it up

Scientific publisher Springer has been doing several things lately that make me sit up and pay attention. Providing DRM-free PDF files of their ebooks is one, and now I see they are providing rather useful bits of scholarly information in a rather social media format.

Springer Realtime gives currently trending topics and downloads for content they are serving out to subscribers around the world. The only thing that’s missing is a way to embed these nifty widgets elsewhere, like on subject guide pages.

2009 reckoning

Once again I attempted to read 50 books in a year, and once again I failed. Well, actually, I pretty much gave up on it early on, so it’s no surprise to me that I didn’t get there. Anyway, here are the books I read last year (I read a lot more than just books, but these are all that I’m counting):

  1. Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life by Brian Raftery
  2. Vulcan’s Forge by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  3. Vulcan’s Heart by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  4. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book One: Exodus by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  5. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book Two: Exiles by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  6. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book Three: Epiphany by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  7. Slurp: Drinks and Light Fare, All Day, All Night by Jim Hensley, Nina Dreyer Hensley, and Paul Lowe
  8. Of Mule and Man by Mike Farrell
  9. The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education by Maya Frost
  10. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
  11. I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago by Hape Kerkeling
  12. Libyrinth by Pearl North
  13. Kilimanjaro: A Photographic Journey to the Roof of Africa by Michel Moushabeck & Hiltrud Schulz
  14. Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino
  15. Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi
  16. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

My pleasure reading was mostly Spock, and all of the non-fiction was either for review or for a book group discussion. This weekend I went through my bookshelves and pulled about 80 books that I’m either selling or trading away because I haven’t read them yet and will probably get them from the library if/when I ever get around to reading them. The nice thing is that in the process of doing this, I was reminded of books I’ve wanted to read for a long time but have forgotten I have them sitting on my shelves already.

One book down already for 2010, and hopefully more to follow it. In fact, I think I’ll go start on The Ghost Brigade right now.

prince caspian

I saw the new Prince Caspian film last week, and thanks to a timely warning from my sister, I did not read the book beforehand. I recommend that anyone who hasn’t seen it yet do the same. The film adaptation is great fun and stays true to the message of the book, but it isn’t the same as the book. Personally, I think the changes they made with for the film make it a more interesting film than if they had simply taken the accounts of the book and put that on the screen.

Afterwards, I re-read the book for the first time in ages. It has been my second favorite of the Narnia books, tied with A Horse and His Boy and beat out by Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Reading it now, as an adult, I am not as entertained by the book as I once was.

scion’s blood

The second book in the Chronicles of Firma trilogy leaves this reader eager for the final chapter.

My review of Scion’s Blood by Pat Nelson Childs was published on Blogcritics late last night. I’ve had it sitting on my review pile for a while, but between the move and other things demanding my attention, I didn’t get to it until this weekend. The rain canceled my softball game on Sunday, so after I got home from RavenCon, I put everything else on hold and started reading. It was a great way to wind down from the activity of the con.

…after the first eight chapters or so of re-introducing the characters and setting the stage for what is to come, the story moves along at a steady clip, hardly pausing for a breath until the end. And that breath catches in the throat as the final cliffhanger hints at what is to come in the third book. Firma is safe, for now, but Rokey and his companions still have much more to do.

#14

Enigma by Michael Jan Friedman

This book tied up the loose end known as Dikembe Ulelo. Friedman has been dangling that one since the first book in the series, and I wondered when he’d finally get around to the explanation. Turns out, it’s a crucial point in the plot of this book.

Admiral McAteer makes an appearance again, but this time he’s a part of the action instead of off plotting somewhere. He’s still out to get Picard and has arranged for a review to determine if Picard is fit to be a captain. This is not resolved by the end of the book.

The mini story arc in the book closes nicely, even though there are still a few unresolved problems/questions. But, Friedman then does something that I find immensely irritating: He adds a cliffhanger. Sure, the reader might be concerned that Picard is going to have a rough time, but we all know how that eventually works out. On the other hand, Friedman has left another main character in a deadly and dangerous predicament. Stay tuned…. for the next book.

Thankfully, I already have it on my bookshelf. If I did not, I think I’d be particularly perturbed.

#1

I’m starting over on the 50 Book Challenge. Last year I read 23 books. This year I hope to get closer to my goal. To assist in that, I’m trying to change the way I read books.

For most of my life, reading a book meant reading the book cover-to-cover in one go. I don’t have the time or energy for that anymore. My body won’t let me read until dawn and still function at work. So I stopped reading because I didn’t have the hours set aside to do it.

Now I’m trying to keep a set sleep schedule: 10pm-6:30am. I need eight hours of sleep in order to be fully rested, and this gives me enough time to dink around in the morning before going to work (as I am doing right now). This means that if I want to read, I have to do it before 10pm and stop at or around 10pm. I didn’t know if I had enough discipline to put down a book when the time came, but I was able to do it with the first book of 2007, so I’m hopeful.

The Empty Chair is the fifth book in Diane Duane’s twenty-two year long tale of the Romulans. The first four books (My Enemy, My Ally, The Romulan Way, Swordhunt, and Honor Blade) have been collected and published in an omnibus entitled Rihannsu: The Bloodwing Voyages which was released last month along with The Empty Chair. I have been eager to read this final book ever since I finished the cliffhanger Honor Blade in 2005, and I was quite frustrated with my local bookstores for not carrying it. However, I was able to pick up a copy during my holiday travels.

The plot is complex and well-executed, but as with most Duane books, it isn’t as much about the plot as it is about the characters. She is one of few authors who writes Kirk so sympathetically that he doesn’t come off as an arrogant ass. I have particularly enjoyed the character development and insight into Rihannsu (Romulan) culture that this series of books has provided, and The Empty Chair neatly brought everything full circle to end the adventure with sufficient closure.

It’s much longer than the other books, clocking in at 421 pages (mass market paperback). I suspect that Duane would have preferred to split it into two novels, since there are a few minor plots that were not fully played out, and the ending battle seemed a bit rushed and anti-climactic compared to other events in the book. However, it is still a satisfying read.

Any interested readers should pick up copies of the previous books first before tackling this one. Although it can stand on its own, there are many references to previous events, and it would help to know the details and the weight they carry. Even though I have read those books in the past couple of years, I found myself struggling to remember exactly what happened and who was involved.

I’d like to go back and re-read the entire series without the long gaps between books, but that will have to wait. I still have 276 unread books in my house that await my attention. Sigh.

#21

by Diane Duane

I finally made myself read this book, despite being a bit intimidated by the 446 pages. I should have known that it would be an enjoyable read and not seem to be nearly that long. Diane Duane is a word weaver, and a very good one. This book is part of the Errantry universe that began with So, You Want To Be A Wizard. It wasn’t until I was well into the book that I realized there were others that came before it. However, Duane has set this one up to stand on its own, so while I suspect the reader might have a broader picture of wizardry in general by having read the other books first, it doesn’t detract from enjoying this one.

The main characters are New York cats that also happen to be wizards. Their job is to maintain the worldgates that are located in the New York subway system. Something is interfering with the workings of the worldgates and it’s up to Rhiow and her team to find out who and how to stop them before they open the gates to allow the sentient dinosaurs from ancient days to pass through to modern Earth.

The story is well-told. Read it, and you won’t look at cats in the same way you did before.

battlestar galactica: the end

As much as I would like to, I cannot watch any more of the Battlestar Galactica episodes. On Sunday, over a week after I watched the miniseries, I finally was in the right mind frame to watch episode one. It was good, and not nearly as tension-filled as the miniseries, but I could not shake the dread I felt at the thought of having to go through all twenty-three episodes of the first two seasons.

Ever since I was a young child, I have been easily frightened by visual images. I have overcome my fear of the Ghost of Christmas-Yet-To-Come; a fear that began around age six when I first saw Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. However, I still carry other visions that get the adrenaline pumping just from thinking about them. For fifteen years I had trouble using the toilet at night due to a scene from Stephen King’s IT that I stupidly attempted to watch. Even now the paranoia kicks in on occasion, and I have to remind myself that these things aren’t real and I’m safe.

So, you can see why I try to avoid watching scary movies or viewing disturbing images. These things stick with me for too long.

The trouble with Battlestar Galactica is that I am interested in the characters and the story arc. I want to know what happens, but the Cylon element is just too scary for me. Walking alone to my car on Sunday evening, I could almost imagine that a Cylon was right behind me with its red eye sliding back and forth. I knew then that I had to stop watching. It is just too much.

I have been very impressed with what I’ve seen of the series. I can see why folks like it so much. The future technologies seem much more realistic and related to current technology than those presented by Star Trek, for example. I just wish I could watch it, too. But, I know what’s best for me, so I’m stopping now. However, I do plan to read the episode summaries on the Battlestar Galactica wiki. Even though I won’t be watching any more, I still want to know what happens.

battlestar galactica

Holy freakin’ cow that was intense!

I’ve been hearing folks rave about how great the new Battlestar Galactica series is. Without a television (by choice) I haven’t been able to watch, but when the opportunity came to review the DVD set for season 2.5, I decided to jump in and watch all of the preceeding episodes, including the miniseries that served as a three hour pilot.

Holy freakin’ cow that was intense!

I knew the basic premise of the show before watching it. Humans created robot/android type things called the Cylons to be mechanical slaves. The Cylons became self-aware and turned on the humans. After a war, an armistice was declared, and for forty years it seemed like that was the end. Then the Cylons came back, stronger, and nearly destroyed all of humanity in one day. Only 50,000 humans remain, protected only by Galactica. They are looking for a new home that is safe from the Cylons.

Nothing I had heard or read prepared me for the reality. This is not the old Battlestar Galactica with it’s 70’s and 80’s science fiction sensibilities. This is for modern viewers who are not afraid of androids that look like “walking chrome toasters.” This miniseries had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. In fact, my muscles are still tense and I’m thinking I’ll need to watch something light and fluffy now if I’m ever going to fall asleep.

I’m scared of these Cylons. Mommy!

#13

Wow. It’s been well over a month since I last read a book. I am so far behind on this fifty book challenge!

I knew I needed to read something the other evening, so I selected something relatively short and entertaining. Crisis on Centaurus by Brad Ferguson fit the bill. It’s a Star Trek novel set in the original series. I found the 1960s/1980s perspective on computers to be quite amusing. The Enterprise computer has experienced a malfunction that causes problems all over the ship. Before they are able to go to a starbase for repairs, they are sent to Centaurus to aid in the recovery from a huge matter/anti-matter explosion that wiped out the capital city and killed thousands of people. The tension builds steadily throughout the story, but the resolution is abrupt and unsatisfying. It seemed to me that the author had a much fuller story that got cut down in the editorial process. Too bad, because he had some interesting subtext with some of the minor characters like Chekov and Sulu.