September 25, 2014

September 25, 2014

Things I’ve Read: My Salinger Year

Of all the city/industry combinations pursued by young people with a dream, New York/publishing is one of my favorites. I myself considered it*, because reading eight or more hours a day sounds pretty much ideal. Though I obviously ended up going a different way, no trip to Manhattan is complete without a walk past Houghton Mifflin, Random House, and the other great publishing houses in Midtown. (Also, a cupcake. But that is neither here nor there.)

Joanna Rakoff, the author and main character of this thinly-veiled memoir, finds herself as an assistant at an unnamed agency in the mid-90s. The job of the agency is to represent authors in negotiations with publishers, lawyers, and fans. The job of the assistant is to take dictation, process fan letters, and type. A lot. On a Selectric, because the unnamed agency takes a pretty dim view of modern technology.

(As someone who actually did learn to use a dictation machine in college, I took great delight in Joanna’s confusion at the peddles. I got my comeuppance when she was trying to figure out how to turn on the Selectric, though. I been there, girl. I feel you.)

Though I’m tempted to compare this book to The Devil Wears Prada, the similarities really end after “workplace memoir set in NYC publishing.” Sure, there’s a boss, but she’s not overtly hostile a la Miranda Priestly. Joanna never has to run personal errands—it’s all business. And while the book does include a fair amount of drama with Joanna’s so-wrong-he’s-right-but-really-he’s-just-wrong-dump-him-already socialist boyfriend, the focus is really on her relationship with a different man: J.D. Salinger.

As you probably know, Salinger was the author of The Catcher in the Rye. And a giant recluse. unless you lived in Cornish, New Hampshire (and even then), you weren’t likely to hear from him. Thus Joanna’s job, as assistant to the agent who represents Salinger, is a (tenuous) conduit to one of our great modern authors.** Salinger is a catalyst for Joanna, both personally and professionally. It is in dealing with him, and his fan letters, and all the other trappings involved in client work, that she confirms what she wants to be (a poet), where (Brooklyn), and with whom (not socialist boyfriend).

I’m a sucker for a good bildungsroman, and J.D. Salinger isn’t a bad quasi-mentor. Not by a long shot.

* It came in third, after DC/government and Chicago/journalism. Podiumed!
** Personal opinions of Salinger’s work aside, you can’t deny his impact on 20th century American literature. Me myself personally, read The Catcher in the Rye once and didn’t really care for it. File under things everyone but me loves, along with The Princess Bride and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

September 18, 2014

September 18, 2014

Resistors

I’m in the middle of reading a short story collection about the takeover of humanity by technology (Robot Uprisings, edited by the guy who wrote Robopocalypse). And while that concept remains fiction—FOR NOW—I’m more convinced than ever that humanity’s days are numbered. It’s less a matter of “if” than of “how.” There are a number of possibilities, some abrupt and others gradual.

- Technology becomes self-aware without humanity’s consent. In one story, a Roomba used by government coders in their classified workspace escapes, docks with a networked charging station, and uploads world-changing information. A ROOMBA, you guys.

- Technology becomes self-aware with humanity’s consent. Imagine if Rosie one day decided to kill the Jetsons. Breakfast with a side of death.

- Tiny tech, banding together. One story involves nanbots invented to clean up nuclear waste. Another has dust-sized robots that “infect” a smart house and turn it against its owners. Regardless, robots work much better together than people ever could. I suspect it’s because we get so angry when we’re hungry.

So now I’m looking for—and seeing—the signs everywhere.

Just today, some people were trapped for 20 minutes in a Metro elevator when a “random” “power surge” shut the elevator down. An almost brand-new elevator. Egad.

Yesterday, TheBoy told me about a problem he had with some code at work. He tested and tested. Isolated the line that was causing the problem. Verified that the line was in fact correct as-is. Tested again and found that IT WORKED.

For those of you concerned about such things, think carefully before strapping computers to your wrists, wrapping them around your foreheads, and splicing them into your houses and cars. (Though I myself personally am too cheap to do any of these things, I do dislike people on principle. It’s a start.) Also, don’t take it personally the next time your phone/computer/sexbot mysteriously and randomly malfunctions. It is neither mysterious nor random. It is an opening gambit in the robot wars, which humanity is likely to lose.

Have a nice day!

September 15, 2014

September 15, 2014

The State of the TV Schedule: Fall 2014

Though summer television is still going, fall shows are starting to trickle in. Boardwalk Empire showed us that even Nucky had a childhood. Only Connect remains as inscrutable as ever despite moving to BBC2. Ken Burns has 14 hours of Roosevelt goodness ready to pour into your eye- and earholes.

I say BRING IT ON. My plan of action:

Monday
Scorpion

Tuesday
NCIS
New Girl
The Mindy Project

Wednesday
Modern Family

Thursday
Scandal
How to Get Away with Murder

Friday
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Shark Tank

Sunday
Madam Secretary
Boardwalk Empire
The Newsroom

I’m most anticipating How to Get Away with Murder—can Shonda pull off another Scandal? I’ve liked Viola Davis since Doubt, so I think she can do great things with good material.

On the other hand, I think Modern Family is starting to show its age…natural with any show featuring kids. Idea: Mitch and Cam adopt another Asian baby.

Scorpion (or as TheBoy corrects me, “closed tag Scorpion”*) could be something, despite the presence of Katharine “I Prefer Husbands” McPhee. It’s got Robert Patrick, and that has to count for something.

What will you be watching?

*Honestly, I don’t remember exactly what TheBoy calls it. Closed Scorpion? End Scorpion? Only one of us is a computer scientist. GUESS WHICH ONE.

September 8, 2014

September 8, 2014

Lucky Number

In preparation for the District Trivia finals, I’m studying a number of lists. Gemstones, moons, trophies, and other random objects are starting to merge together? What’s the traditional present for a 40th anniversary? A Stanley Cup made of emerald and named Phobos? I think?

At least a recent XKCD showed me that I’m not alone. The strip itself is great, and the caption is even greater. Behold (click to enlarge): 


A lot of good trivia to parse here. How many do you know?

Snow White’s Dwarfs
Doc
Grumpy
Happy
Sleepy
Bashful
Sneezy
Dopey

Ranks of Biological Classification
Kingdom
Phylum
Class
Order
Family
Genus
Species

Continents
Asia
Africa
North America
South America
Antarctica
Europe
Australia

Deadly Sins
Wrath
Greed
Sloth
Pride
Lust
Envy
Gluttony

Seven Layer Dip (n.b. This one seems to vary.)
Refried beans
Guacamole
Sour cream
Salsa
Cheese
Black olives
Lettuce

OSI Model of Computer Networking
Physical
Data link
Network
Transport
Session
Presentation
Application

Wonders of the Ancient World
Great Pyramid of Giza
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Statue of Zeus at Olympia
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
Colossus of Rhodes
Lighthouse of Alexandria

Days of the Week
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday
Sunday

Seas
Arctic
North Atlantic
South Atlantic
North Pacific
South Pacific
Indian
Southern

Seven Sisters Colleges
Barnard
Bryn Mawr
Mount Holyoke
Radcliffe
Smith
Vassar
Wellesley

Colors
Red
Orange
Yellow
Green
Blue
Indigo
Violet

Pleiades
Maia
Electra
Taygete
Alcyone
Celaeno
Sterope
Merope

Habits of Highly Effective People
Be Proactive
Begin with the End in Mind
Put First Things First
Think Win-Win
Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Synergize
Sharpen the Saw

Seals of Revelation
First Seal (White horse)
Second Seal (Red horse)
Third Seal (Black horse)
Fourth Seal (Pale horse)
Fifth Seal (Souls of martyrs)
Sixth Seal (Great earthquake)
Seventh Seal (Seven angels)