Monthly Archives: July 2008

review

So for no other reason than jotting some ideas down and killing some time, I’d thought I write a review of a book I read some months ago, The Ruins by Scott Smith.  It’s quite a popular piece of work, judging by the fact that it has recently been made into a movie which I haven’t seen nor will choose to, as I felt it would be too easily butchered by those in Hollywood who would just as easily turn an intriguing psychological work of horror into one of those campy, contrived third-rate productions one would watch on the Sci-Fi channel Saturday morning while working out the kinks from a heavy night of boozing.  You know the plot…group of intrepid, young, and virile post-adolescents take a trip to some cabin or remote wooded destination, start to get their groove on, so to speak, until they are disrupted by some awful mutated mecha-gecko content to play with their emotions just before it picks off the group one by one in a glorified gorefest.

That’s how close The Ruins can be modified into the above scenario.  Thankfully, Smith does a pretty good job of making this story semi-believable, at least in terms of the human element.  First and foremost, this is a horror story, set in an increasingly popular location for writers and directors alike, namely Central America (Mexico, specifically).  Under the best of intentions, as well as a desire to adventure before their days of careerdom begin, our naive group of turistas soon find themselves in the jungle gradually wondering why it is they decided to do this thing they are doing.

Yes, there is a little bit of gore, but not in the way one would come to expect from such a tried storyline, and without a whole lot of action.  The most captivating aspect of this story is the gradual decline of any positive outcome for the group (something which the members gradually come to realize), magnified by the similar psychological effect on each member.  A sense of primal desperation is the underpinning force, guiding action vs. ethic in a moment-by-moment excruciating pace in which turning back is never an option.

My major problem with the work is the introduction of a particular plant that aids in the decline.  A little disappointing, really, because I thought it was unnecessary and a little overboard.  The more realistic option for me would have been to concentrate on the local village folk, whom Smith deliberately understates and therefore mystifies.  It’s a similar device to Cormac McCarthy’s sparse use of language, character depth, and exposition of cause and effect; apart from the main characters, their silent behavior is more horrifying than the obvious villain.

I enjoyed the book.  It is an elaborate step-by-step progression of bad choices and the consequent regret, neuroses, and paranoia derived from them.

search engine overload…or overlord?

Seems like search engines have been springing up all over the place.  Soon enough there will be needed search engines to search search engines (oh wait…we already have those). In any case, the emergence of new breed of mechasearchers has me intrigued whether or not Google might be spreading itself a bit too thin with all their gizmos in development.  I’m curious about the avenues that these particular developers are taking so that they just might be the one to slay the great Goog.  Three current avenues are particularly intriguing.

Preserve what little humanity we have left with ChaCha

ChaCha is a company that is building on the idea that it is not so much the technology that is delivering your indexed content as it is the humanoids manipulating the technology.

Thus Spake Zara-chacha:

ChaCha is conversational, fun, and easy to use. Simply ask your question like you are talking to a smart friend and ChaCha’s advanced technology instantly routes it to the most knowledgeable person on that topic in our guide community. Your answer is then returned to your phone as a text message within a few minutes.

Not that it’s necessary to use a live guide as their search engine works perfectly fine, but hooking a live one can be helpful especially if you’re not near a pulsing box of pixellation and you have your phone with you.  Texting your searches seems like all the rage, but mind you, standard rates may apply.

Make it sound as human as possible with Powerset

Taming the beast is the aim of Powerset, the beast being the search technology that cannot understand our queries.  So like ChaCha, there is nothing wrong with us, but that blasted speech sytnax that computers simply can’t understand.  Powerset writes it out for us:

Powerset’s goal is to change the way people interact with technology by enabling computers to understand our language. While this is a difficult challenge, we believe that now is the right time to begin the journey. Powerset is first applying its natural language processing to search, aiming to improve the way we find information by unlocking the meaning encoded in ordinary human language.

So with the intent of not having to resort to technical, complicated search strings, Powerset wants our search results directly related to the flow of our informal speech patterns.  In its infancy, Powerset currently indexes only articles submitted to Wikipedia, though containing several viewing options, references, and citations one would expect from a typical wikipedia entry.

Index early, index often with Cuil

And then there’s Cuil. Apparently created by defectors from the great Goog, these two have started their own search engine, and though like Shaquille O’Neal running a not-so-fast break, it’s definitely gaining momentum. So much so that it boasts possessing the world’s biggest index:

The Internet has grown exponentially in the last fifteen years but search engines have not kept up—until now. Cuil searches more pages on the Web than anyone else—three times as many as Google and ten times as many as Microsoft.

Rather than rely on superficial popularity metrics, Cuil searches for and ranks pages based on their content and relevance. When we find a page with your keywords, we stay on that page and analyze the rest of its content, its concepts, their inter-relationships and the page’s coherency.

Then we offer you helpful choices and suggestions until you find the page you want and that you know is out there. We believe that analyzing the Web rather than our users is a more useful approach, so we don’t collect data about you and your habits, lest we are tempted to peek. With Cuil, your search history is always private.

Very interesting claim as well that Cuil has no interest whatsoever with collecting user data or the habits thereof and indexing by popularity.  In any case, Cuil certainly intends to raise the stakes.

Three different philosophies, three different search engines.

LibraryThing’s OSC

I’ve been meaning to write something about LibraryThing for awhile; it’s a very cool site that brings together people who share an interest in captivating stories. How to find them, those who read them, the ways we catalog and organize them, and simply appreciating them.

LT is self-described as “the world’s largest book club”. That may be so, as it is undeniably a social networking site connecting readers and librarians and publishers the world over. The vast amount of members connecting through the interesting libraries, friends, groups and comment options to which one can subscribe enable limitless interactivity with members and their representative collections. This would be LibraryThing’s strength.

LT is countering this strength by embracing a new challenge. It is seeking to replace, gradually, the Dewey Decimal System by developing a scheme called the Open Shelves Classification, a modern, collaborative, and free organization of published works. Certainly it is an ambitious, long-term project requiring great innovative thinking, though it’s not meant to be the end-all-be-all solution for classification but rather simply a newer, better method to be replaced by future classifiers.

I have no doubt that LT will summon the people power to think out and deliver such a lofty goal; indeed, I think it should be attempted in the old tried-and-true interest of simply seeing if it can be done. I do have, however, a slight pinch of skepticism which I admittedly cannot yet find the source. Maybe it’s because LT has got such a good thing going already. Is it trying to be everything for book fans too quickly? Has it developed a strong enough membership of librarians/organizers/catalogers/OCD-ers to lend sufficient and adequate input for achieving such a goal? Can being too collaborative actually prevent the OCS from taking flight?

Since this is an experiment, I suppose that my questions will be buried within the OCS pudding that will eventually manifest itself. All in all, I like the audacity LT promises with itself in simply being an experiment. I think that’s where where the success is seen…asking questions and seeking answers…not necessarily the answers you want to see, either. See, librarians can be scientists too…right?

review – lust lizard

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove – Christopher Moore

This is the fifth book I have read by Christopher Moore. It was a good choice after reading Blood Meridian, as it cleansed my system of the willies precipitated by the deep philosophical ruminations so often sponge-bathed in the sweat-distilled bloodstains upon the dry desert floor, or on the equally weatherworn dusters of those among us who would kill in the face of opportunity and not think twice.

But enough of such prior ill vibrations. This particular book, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, is a typical offering by Christopher Moore, a giant among current pontificators of all things gonzo. Take one part psychiatrist with an overdose in conscience, the town constable whose “Sneaky Pete” and victory garden are his only best friends, another part the local pharmacist with an overly eager taste for the cetacean variety, a mega-mechanized bar owner itching to grease her own wheels (literally speaking), and an aging actress past her prime of defending the Outland for aspiring Warrior Babes the world over. That should be about enough, except for the pinch of a Nat’chal bluesman looking for work, and a dash of gigantic sea beast looking for love being the fuse for havoc erupting in the unsuspecting hamlet of Pine Cove.

As one can tell, this is a tale where the sum of its parts is truly greater than the whole, or however the phrase goes. Even Moore describes this in the prologue, whereby Pine Cove serves as the powderkeg ignited by three seemingly separate, mutually exclusive occurrences . Such is the style of Moore, a writer who with a talent for both the whimsical and noir can consistently whip up something so humorous, bizarre and at the same time strangely believable, that a sloth of a reader like myself will finish the novel faster than a shark smelling newly dumped chum in the ocean. I get too caught up in the parts to even hypothesize how the whole will conclude itself; yet it always seems to happen, and it’s just a fun time floating throughout the whole experience.

There is a bit of cultural commentary treading just below the surface in this story. The plot revolves around drugs, and our decisions and indecisions to take them (or not), whether they be prescribed, OTC, or illegally obtained. It underscores the grandioseness of the sea beast’s shenanigans in this nutty town, but Moore does pose the scenario, from multiple points of view.

I’m not sure it’s my favorite book from Moore, but it’s every bit enjoyable as his other books I’ve read. Quite funny, quite weird, quite entertaining.