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Raccoons

!markdown

I didn't get a photo, but there were like four raccoons climbing up into a tree on the other side of that house to the south of ours.

I really hope that:

* A: they don't start fighting any of the cats in the neighborhood
* B: they don't follow Frankie and figure out how to get into my fucking room

\>:( the wonder of nature!

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How to Push-Start a Bike

Basically, you turn on the ignition, put it in gear (I'm told 2nd is smoother, but you kind of have to know how it feels before you can pull that off? 1st is jerkier, but easier to do), put on the choke if it's cold, pull in the clutch, and wheel it (preferably down a slight slope) as fast as you can.

Once it's going about 8mph, let out the clutch all at once, like thwack, and hopefully the engine will catch. Be ready to haul the clutch back in a bit to keep it from dying.

I was originally going to jump-start it, but I got on YouTube and looked this up while Ruth was packing some boxes, and I was like "eh, that looks doable."

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Don't break the chain-tweet

!markdown

Chain-tweeting a mid-length anecdote is bogus, but I do it anyway because Twitter is where the people are, so now I'm out of practice at writing up short shit that would have been a fun little LJ post back in the day. Alas.

Well, be the change you etc. etc. etc., so here's a thing I chain-tweeted earlier.

I learned how to push-start a motorcycle today!

I also learned something else, which is that there is a _good_ time to learn how to push-start, and a _bad_ time. It turns out that even a tiny (300lb) bike gets incredibly heavy the fifth time you wheel it back up the hill?! WHO KNEW.

The root cause here is that my battery was seven or eight years old, so now the bike is in the shop waiting for an ordered battery and an opportunistic oil change. Should have it back in a day or three.

Bonus slapstick: My bike has a fussy neutral sensor, which I'd forgotten about because it usually isn't a big deal. But after I first nailed the push-start, I parked to go grab my helmet and jacket, and the safety interlock killed it as soon as I put the kickstand down, so I had to immediately do it AGAIN. D:<

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iCloud Music Library Ate my Balls

!markdown

If you want to try that free Apple Music trial, you should know that there are two components to it. One is safe (I think), and the other one has a solid chance of destroying data and garbling your music library. When it asks you to enable "iCloud Music Library," DON'T.

I did NOT know this, because it presents it to you like there's only one decision to make, so I got hosed.

Here's how it happened, I think. I use iTunes on a main computer (home) and a secondary one (work). I enabled iCloud Music Library on the second computer first, because I had to update my OS anyway and I was at work when the update came out. When I enabled it on my home computer, it:

- Deleted my ratings for every song that existed in both my home library and my work one.
- Duplicated a bunch of playlists, with some of the duplicates being zombie copies that kept coming back when I tried to unify them.
- Possibly some other stuff I didn't find out about yet.

iCloud Library has some other problems too: a bunch of the songs that my home library made available at work ended up being the wrong version of the song, and the way it tried to combine playlists was a complete opaque mystery. But none of that matters, because I disabled it, made note of music I'd added to my home library in July, then reset my entire library to June 28 with a Time Machine backup. I will probably never turn that shit back on, and will probably not pay for Apple Music once the trial is over. Don't delete my fuckin' work. >:|

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Reviews: Slow River and This One Summer

!markdown

## Nicola Griffith — _Slow River_

June 28

It was really hot out, I didn't have the juice for anything but sitting around and reading, and I wanted some near-future non-dudely sci-fi with a lot of grime in it. And sewage treatment definitely counts as grime. (So does child abuse, so be ready for that.)

I liked this a lot. It was well-written, lurid, and unusual. And also extraordinarily '90s, but in a subtle and actually really kind of refreshing way! Hard eco-fi is coming back, mark my words.

TANGENT. What are we all thinking about the term "feminist SF" these days? Me, I'm reluctant to bring it out unless a work is _about_ gender in some significant way, largely because I get annoyed when I see it applied to fiction that has nothing in particular to say about gender but which happens to be written by someone with allegedly feminist beliefs. Is that sensible? Bogus? ...Well, I think the real answer is "no one cares about Nick's imaginary shelving system," but I was pondering it anyway, because I originally started writing this snippet by saying I wanted some near-future _feminist_ sci-fi with grime, and on further consideration I wasn't sure whether I'd class _Slow River_ as feminist SF or not! It's about a lot of stuff, but is it specifically a feminist book? I... don't think so? But maybe? Also, it won a Lambda award and who the hell do you think you are.

So I punted and changed that first sentence, because actually I hadn't particularly been looking for deep gender thoughts in the first place and mostly just wanted something with low dudeliness values. Solving classification problems by moving specificity to somewhere else in the system.

## Jillian and Mariko Tamaki — _This One Summer_

Comics. June 13

This comic reads like a repressed or forgotten memory suddenly re-emerging in full fidelity — lifelike weight and detail, rendered alien and dreamlike and more than a little menacing by its discontinuity with what must have come before and after.

I don't mean that as metaphorically as you probably think I do; something about the _forcefulness_ of Jillian Tamaki's observation and rendering, especially involving her... I dunno, sense of air and height — honestly made me feel like my memory was being interfered with. Left me kind of queasy. Could just be me, though; total recall void where prohibited, events remembered for you wholesale are not packaged for individual retail sale.

Anyway, it's really good. Disconcerting. It's supposed to be kind of alienating, because a lot of what it's about is that point at the start of adolescence where your sense of self starts to dissolve and — if you're lucky — you start to sense the danger that it might re-cohere into something you don't actually like. It's also about a bunch of really gnarly gender stuff, and has a merciless tendency to linger on moments of embarrassment or cruelty.

It's not a downer of a book; it's also about the small moments that make up a friendship or a family, and about the weird flow of time on vacation. Stuff like that. But at its core, it's dark and weird, and, like I said before, threateningly familiar.

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Re-read: The Rescuers

!markdown

## Carla Speed McNeil — _The Rescuers_ (re-read)

Comics. June 25.

Ruth just read this (I pushed a bunch of _Finder_ on her after she enjoyed _Dicebox_), and talking with her made me really want to re-read it.

I can't remember what I said about it when I first read it, but this is very possibly the best book in the _Finder_ series.

It might also be the worst jumping-on point. The whole point of _Finder_ is that it's demanding and builds aggressively on prior context, but _The Rescuers_ is on another level entirely. A new reader can understand what's going on if they pay attention, but I think the heart of the story is about how _inevitable_ every shitty turn of events was. And that's the sort of thing you puzzle out afterwards, filling in blank after blank with what you remember from before.

_The Rescuers_ is a tragedy, or maybe more like three to seven tragedies. It's about some events surrounding a botched kidnapping based loosely on the Lindbergh Baby case. There's no particular catharsis, and the story ends with a literal disintegration of the narrative: one endless page crumbling into ever smaller panels, fractally mimicking the failures of communication and connection that made any real resolution impossible.

It's bitter and cynical as hell, and unfailingly humane and generous as it breaks almost every character. Good fuckin' shit, easily the best dead baby comic of the aughts.

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Things I Read: Maria, Marla, Breq

!markdown

## Imogen Binnie — _Nevada_

May 8

This was very good and I'm still thinking about it. It's bold and weird; a short, intensely uncomfortable book with an abrupt and inconclusive ending. (Well, sort of inconclusive. You can see where it's going.)

I got this from Brook, and her take was that the central tragedy is Maria's self-confusion and hubris, and how badly she fucked things up with James. Brook figures James is definitely trans, and could have gotten on track to figure out their gender stuff, but that Maria handled things so incompetently that she set them back, maybe decades back. Me, I felt like I was seeing the edges of a deeper, broader pessimism that I'm having trouble articulating. Like maybe the book is about doubting that self-knowledge is transferable _at all,_ and that the project of categories is so fundamentally flawed that finding better categories just gives you new and inventive ways to cause harm.

Well, I'm painting it like a downer, and like I said I'm still thinking about it, but I enjoyed reading it all the same.

## Ann Leckie — *Ancillary Justice*

May 9

This was pretty much as good as everyone says it is. Liked it a lot, looking forward to the sequel.

I feel like I've talked enough about it IRL that I don't have a lot more to say in a review? Lemme see what I've got.

* The Macguffin in the book's climax is a bizarrely random music history joke, so Leckie clearly has my number.
* The faceted POV stuff in the Justice of Toren scenes was really well done. Tricky shit.
* A lot of the most interesting stuff about the world comes out between the cracks of the larger stuff. Likewise with the stuff about gender; the big noisy thing is how the Radch's language doesn't mark gender in any way, and there's a narrative conceit that the story is translated from Radchii into a language that does mark gender, so Breq decides she doesn't give a fuck and just tags everyone as "she." But there's a lot of interesting nuance to unpack once you get used to that. For example, Breq isn't fully human; she's an artificial mind constructed by the Radch. Could she be worse at guessing gender than an average citizen, and might that be a purposeful part of her construction? Dunno; I haven't decided.
* I like some of the little touches that mark Breq as not quite human. Like, she doesn't get bored.

## T.A. Pratt — _Spell Games_ (Marla Mason 4)

June 7

I like these books quite a lot, and it's hard to put an exact finger on why. The prose is all right, I guess, and they're reasonably inventive for that "-and-the-kitchen-sink" brand of urban fantasy. Usually it's the characters that elevate a book like this, if it's gonna be elevated, but I think they're also hovering somewhere around "good enough" — there's a decent mix of types, but no one has a huge amount of interiority, and they mostly maintain a cartoonish sort of resolution, with bold lines and bright colors.

But after a few confused attempts to explain these to friends, I think I have it: the Marla Mason books win because they follow through on their swing. Consequences happen, are not what you expect, and _persist._ Shit happens, and it's highly entertaining.

## T. A. Pratt — _Broken Mirrors_ (Marla Mason 5)

June 8

And there aren't really any redshirts in the series; if Pratt needs a sacrifice, he'll prefer to burn an interesting character who's been around for three books. Or four or five of those, in this case.

This book marks a decent almost-end for the story. There are more of them, which I'll probably read at some point, but they're clearly Season Two; this closes off Season One, and I was pretty satisfied with the outcome.

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Things I Read: Gods, Chairs, Stars, Daemons

!markdown

## Terry Pratchett — *Small Gods* (re-read)

Mar 19

It was excellent when I was 20, and it's excellent still. A triumph of handling big ideas in a comedic mode, and also a triumph of handling big ideas in a fantastical mode, never mind the general hardness of the fantasy+comedy row w/r/t _any_ kind of hoeing, much less hoeing at this level and with this material.

## Matthew Bogart — _The Chairs' Hiatus_ (comics)

Mar 31

I was drinking beer and texting Ruth about this comic (along with photos, which, y'all can just [check out the free online version](http://www.matthewbogart.net/the-chairs-hiatus-part1/) for visuals), and I think I'll just let two of those texts make up the meat of the review here.

> This book has good confidence in its shots. The sort of panel sequence that's secure enough in the usage of the tools at hand that it's easy to read and yet you feel smarter for reading it.
>
> A lack of redundancy, a burly parsimony.

## John Green — _The Fault in Our Stars_

April 12

I found a copy at the Wave, and Ruth encouraged me to move it way up in the stack.

This book has a delicious sour-sweet clarity. It would have been so easy to corrupt a story like this with sentimentality and crud (and I've seen that so many times), and Green managed to keep not doing that right out through the end.


## Daniel Suarez — _Daemon_ and _Freedom_

May 4

Via my sister, who recommended these with caveats.

A two-part technothriller about a mad genius who causes a cyberapocalypse so he can posthumously restructure society. The characters are embarrassing paper dolls, the prose is slack at best, and it gets quite didactic in the back half.

But guess what, I was in the mood for something that didn't ask for a lot of emotional or aesthetic investment, with a relatively interesting plot and not much else. So I enjoyed this just fine!

Also, as far as cyberapocalypse thrillers go, it was actually very clever, showing a _much_ better understanding of current technology than the norm. And, up to a point, a better than normal understanding of _social_ technology. (e.g., your hacking skills don't have to be magical if you can afford to hire insider saboteurs at a generous wage and can punish defection with violence.)

It lost me a bit in the second book. The ongoing cleverness of the central conceit got sacrificed for the political program and the plot, and the centralization necessary to make the daemon's second-stage faction-based social systems work kind of put the lie to the decentralization that helped it survive and consolidate in the first book. And about said political program: once I realized it basically boiled down to "Reddit and WoW save the world," I was kind of out.

But man, how seductive is the idea of being able to just straight-up execute a corporation? I won't lie, I was into that.

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Books: Stranger, some Borges, two Wells

!markdown

## Martha Wells — *Stories of the Raksura vol. 1*

Feb 13

Yay, more Raksura funtimes!

Okay, these novellas don't really stand alone, and are basically deep cuts / fanservice for people who dug the three Raksura novels. But that's me, so... cool. By the way, have I mentioned you should totally read *The Cloud Roads?*

## José Luis Borges — several stories, including Tlön, Pierre Menard, and Forking Paths

Feb 7

I'd forgotten how creepy "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" actually is. Especially this time, when I realized that the character who kicks off the story about a parasitic fictional world subsuming the real one is [Adolfo Bioy Casares.](http://roadrunnertwice.dreamwidth.org/512235.html) ???!!!!!!!

## Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith — _Stranger_

Jan 27

Isaac and I have this ongoing conversation about apocalypticism and post-apocalypticism in fiction. I'm usually wary and kind of grumpy about it, and he loves it and thought I was being ridiculous, so we had to go around the table a few times until I could explain that allergy coherently.

Isaac's points are all legit: stakes are important in adventure stories, and a hostile environment is a solid way to raise the stakes. The memories of a world in collapse offer interesting perspective on the pre-collapse world, revealing its underlying bizarreness in ways that a contemporary setting can't. Stuff like that. I love that shit too! But there are basically two reasons I'm always _initially_ leery about post-apocalyptic stories.

First, it's the vehicle of choice for annoying gun fantasies. Society collapsed so NOW, FINALLY, we can have an Important Story about Armed Men, who were totally right about human nature! Don't want. (I'm not even gonna say this is the most common failure state of the genre, just that it takes up enough space that I start out skeptical.)

Second: this is a bit more nebulous, but I think the more _complete_ a fictional dystopia is, the more likely I am to find a sermon instead of a story. In this, I think hyper-regimented control societies (very popular in YA and middle grade since the '90s at least) and 100% anarchic post-apocalypses are two sides of the same coin. These worlds have a tendency to be badly, cartoonishly incomplete, because their inhabitants have to act really unnaturally to maintain them in the required state.

I guess both of those point in the same direction: I demand that any post-apocalyptic world have a lot of interesting stuff to do for people who aren't badass warriors roaming the wastes. Like, you can still have all the main characters be down for wasteland funtimes! But the setting needs to include regular people doing what regular people do — banding together, building stuff, worrying about trivialities, having feuds, having ambitions, fucking up.

You must presuppose that the lives of people doing something other than shoot motherfuckers are interesting and have value.

Uh, **anyway!** _Stranger_ passes that test with flying colors. The walled town of Las Anclas was an awesome setting, I liked the ensemble cast and their multitude of conflicting ambitions, King Voske's empire-building made an excellent threat, and I will totally read the sequel.

## Martha Wells — _The Wheel of the Infinite_ (re-read)

Mar 1

I'd forgotten most of what happened in this one, and I ran across the ebook while copying everything to my kindle, so I gave it a quick re-read.

I’d forgotten how weird the denouement was! I was remembering it as a plot I've seen before from Wells (undead spirits from another world ruin everything), and it definitely starts going there, but then it takes a hard left turn into a problem arguably *even worse* than vampires from the ghost dimension? Rad.

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On Lightweight Markup Languages

There is an eternal, elemental conflict between ​transparency​ (being able to look through the markup and see the content) and ​clarity​ (being able to tell WTF the markup is supposed to do). It is a law of nature, and will never be resolved.

The reason Markdown succeeded in the first place was because, in a particular limited domain of objects, it struck almost the correct balance between the two, bringing the speed and comfort of transparency without sacrificing enough clarity to completely ruin you. RST and ASCIIDOC failed to limit their domain, and their hubris made them fucking unusable. (Try reading through the source of a Sphinx site sometime, Jesus H.)

The way to use Markdown without hurting yourself is to recognize when you're about to exit that domain and resort to HTML or a templating language of some kind. (Also, ignore Gruber's spec and try to stick to a pessimistic subset of Commonmark.)

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