Nifty maps

The Weather Channel has some really cool new interactive maps that overlay current weather information (including animation) on top of Microsoft Virtual Earth maps. Being able to dynamically change the map while the live radar and/or satellite information is being displayed is possibly one of the best uses I have seen yet for the new Ajax style map products.

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While I’m thinking about books

Does anyone have any thoughts about GuruLib, Shelfari, and LibraryThing?

So far I think GuruLib has both the best feature (list books borrowed from a library using information pulled directly from the library’s database) and the absolute worst interface. OMG does it suck.

Shelfari OTOH has a really beautiful and, more importantly, functional interface but lacks a good way to mark books that you have read but do not own. Adding the item to your “Reading List” does not count.

LibraryThing’s interface is right about the dead center between the polar opposites of the other two and I cannot find any way to list books that I have only read but do not own.

I could swear there was a fourth site that does similar things to these three, but I can’t seem to remember it. Any pointers to similar sites or comments about these would be greatly appreciated.

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Bitter sweet return

I know what I will be doing on the afternoon of March 3rd: East Lake Library Grand Opening

I am really happy that the building is finally completed and am looking forward to using the facility. What I am not looking forward to as much is how the current financial troubles in the Minneapolis Public Library system are going to effect how and when I can use that facility.

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Recent Reading: A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

I’m not going to say much about “A Dirty Job” by Christopher Moore. People who like Christopher Moore will like “A Dirty Job”. People who don’t like Christopher Moore will not. If you don’t know if you like Christopher Moore be warned that Mr Moore takes his whimsy very seriously and as long as you can keep up with his introduction of impossibility you should do just fine. While not nearly as surreal as Robert Rankin they inhabit nearby universes, neither of which is your own.

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Recent Reading: Dark Cities Underground by Lisa Goldstein

I finished “Dark Cities Underground” by Lisa Goldstein yesterday, and I’m still having some trouble figuring out exactly what to say about it, but I think I need to say something.

To begin with, I really adored the idea behind this book. While it isn’t entirely original, it is a very nice twist on several similar ideas seen in books by Jasper Fforde, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Robert Rankin and is related in many ways to movies like “Stranger than Fiction”. It is a sort of meta-fiction where the line between fiction, mythology, and the real world is a sometimes elusive thing. If you are like me and enjoy that blurring of reality the basic premise of “Dark Cities Underground” is worth looking for despite the problems of the narrative.

Oh, the problems of this narrative.

For the record: I am not one that needs a lot of depth to my characters. I’ve been reading and enjoying mediocre SF and Fantasy for long enough that as long as the story or idea is good the characters can be borrowed from the front of a high sugar cereal box and I’m just fine with that. I do however have my limits and the lack of depth in Ms Goldstein’s characters is pretty amazing. I think that it might be possible to argue that this lack of depth could be appropriate for the meta-fiction context by placing simplistic characters in a blended world of fiction and reality except that my personal definition of meta-fiction involves putting realistic characters in that blended world where the edges of fiction and reality are vague. Without good characters my suspension of disbelief just can not kick in, and I end up writing a paragraph about how I didn’t like the characters.

Cardboard characters themselves would not by themselves inspire such caution about recommending this book to friends. The plot, or more specifically the author’s use of the Plot Stick of Doom, is where I get reticent to even mention this book. If you have ever watched classic horror or SF movies before George Lucas got into the industry you would be hard pressed not to have noticed the obvious strings, models, and primitive blue screens that were the state of the art until the late 1970s. If you have ever watched an episode of Star Trek and noticed that “rock” is Styrofoam or an episode of Doctor Who and the plethora of bubble-wrap costumes, you will have some idea of how subtle Lisa Goldstein is with plot. If you don’t like books that are telegraphed early and often you will not like this book.

Despite all of that I kind of liked it. Despite the flawed narrative the very interesting core idea is explored very well and in decent context. I still don’t think I can call it a good book, but it might be worth reading.