Saturday, April 28, 2012

mystic river

Dennis Lehane is a horror story writer.

Say what you will, but I've read a couple of his stories now, and about half way through this one--as my stomach rolled with a discomfort that only terrors left better unnamed can cause--when I said to myself, "self, Dennis Lehane is a horror story writer."

Lehane must dig down deep into the things that scare people, way down deep inside himself, and then drag that stuff up and onto the page. And he does it constantly. Lehane's not talking about the boogie man, a slasher that won't die, or a catacomb of vampires* descending on your town. Lehane is talking about the real stuff that could happen to any of us. The kind of things that wake you up in the middle of the night, wanting to weep.

I suppose some would say that talking about things like this is healthy. Better out than in, and all that. But man! sometimes its hard to read.

Regardless of how much they make you squirm and trigger your gag reflex, these stories are tight. Lehane can weave a very tricky story, with very real characters. Obviously he's a very observant writer, and brings that to both his character's, and his sense of place, which almost becomes a character in the story itself. The feel of these old neighborhoods, what they mean to people, and how they can influence their decisions, becomes a critical part of the storyline. Mystic River is no different.

I may take a break from Lehane for a while, but not forever. Lehane is too a good a writer for me to give up on. Its just too dark down there where he's writing for me.

Yeah, read this book.

* Yeah, that's my collective noun for vampires. Whachu think?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

magician king

The Magician King is Lev Grossman's follow up to The Magicians and continues to follow the main character from the first book through this next stage of his life. You can take a look see at how I felt about the first book and then compare it to this one, but I'm hoping that the ultimate reason that this one is more lukewarm is because there is more to the story and that this volume is merely the middle-book, and therefore is somehow required by the gods of trilology to have that slightly lost, infill feeling to it.

While the ending of the The Magicians made it pretty clear that there not only could be a sequel, but that there probably was a sequel in the works is not much of a spoiler, but after finishing this one its not so clear that this is a trilogy in the making. Of course, a little digging 'round the innernets may shed some light, but don't click here unless you want to learn more than you bargained for. that's right spoiler haters; I'm talkin' to you.

So, on to The 'King. Now don't get me wrong here, I liked it. But there does seem to be something about the middle books in series that tend to make them less stellar when stood up next to the initial and the ultimate volumes. I understand that there is some business that needs to be taken care of; some nest feathering and accounting that has to go on. And it happens to the best of them. The Two Towers for example, is not the best of the three LOTR books, right?

Some other examples where I've pointed this out:
Heretics of Dune (book 5, or the middle book in the second trilogy)
Dune Messiah (book 2) yeah, I'm looking at you, Frank Herbert

Well, based on my quickie look through my past blog entries, it seems I've just compare Lev Grossman to one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time. Yer welcome Lev, and there goes my theory. Back to the review!!!

Grossman has done us all a service here, and cleared up one of the shockers from the first story, but of course I'm not going to tell you which one. And has helped to fill in some of the blanks in the original story that we were left to wonder about, but not all of them. And of course, he's gone and added some new ones for us to wonder about and hope that he will decide to get back to us with another installment.

See? This is what I get for giving up my tried and true method of trawling through the used books at the library book sale, and reading a new book. A book in a series that isn't yet complete! So now... that's right, I have to wait, like the rest of the suckers. Right, and I ain't getting near that Song of Ice and Fire - George R. R. Martin stuff until that man is done!

The story was fun, and the writing is very good, just like the first one. Grossman has created some very interesting characters, and developed them is ways that I couldn't foresee. He continues to poke his finger in the eyes of he predecessors and a way that is both funny and loving. good trick The narrative in this installment is non-linear, and therefore a little jerky, but it does what it needs to do and it does make for some cliffhanger-iness within the story. I burned through this book in no time.

Yeah... read this book. But maybe don't hurry, Lev's got some work to do. Who knows, maybe he'll write seven of them.*

* That's the number C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling wrote in their series!** hmmmm...
**Now if he changes his name to L.V. Grossman or something, I guess we'll have to worry.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

nerax 2012

Ah NERAX, old friend. We had a great time this year at NERAX! The new digs at the American Legion Hall down near Union Square were pretty nice. A little larger, not quite as crowded, and a little bit of parking to be had in the lot outside. Altho, come on Somerville, was there a special on one way street signs at the public works fair?

The New England Real Ale Exhibition celebrated its sweet 16 this year, and if you didn't get over there yesterday for one of the two Saturday sessions, you've missed it. I went over on Friday night after work and sampled a few of the ales. Prices were again the same as last year. $15 advance ticket same at the door but less waiting, for the first time with a $5 deposit for a glass. I grabbed my favorite 20 ounce Imperial Nonic glass, and sipped quarter pints. The glass is silkscreened with the NERAX logo on one side, and the Harpoon logo on the other, and marked for quarter and half pints along the side. Half pints were $2.00.

At 6:19, about 10 minutes after we got inside, some poor devil dropped his glass, with general shouts and groans of commiseration from the entire room. Oof, its a hard world brother. yeah, I wrote the time down in my notes, cuz I can.

NERAX reported on Friday night thusly: "You could walk right in to be greeted by 61 beers and ciders, 37 American and 24 British." Red Bones barbeque was also on hand with he sandwiches. I had the pulled pork. My notes are sketchier this year, as I was having a great time blabbing, but here are the beers I tried:

Summer Ale - Geary's, Portland, Maine (ABV 6%)
I went right for the Geary's when I saw it because I love their ale, and always had it when I stayed on the beach in Maine. I didn't like this one as much because of the wheat, which I'm not a fan of. It has a beautiful butterscotch gold color, a mild aroma and almost no head, just a few stray bubbles at the edge of the glass. An even bitterness and a sourdough bread dough hint wafting from deep in the glass as I drank. There was a clean, bitter finish that ended on that wheat taint that I'm not so fond of. One sip of Stew's first choice hurried me to the end so that I could try:

Finest Kind - Smuttynose, Portsmouth New Hampshire (ABV 6.9%)
I didn't recognize the name of this IPA, but a quick search made it clear that this is simply Smuttynose IPA. You know the one with the two old duffers on the label. DEEP grapefruity hoppiness on the nose, medium yellow color and a light, bubbly head. Mouth-filling, eye-popping citrus hops that smolder in the mouth for days. This beer is unfiltered, but was well settled when tapped. If there weren't so many more to try, I would have stopped right here.

Cwrw Tri - Cerddin Brewery, Bridgend, Wales (ABV 4.5%)
It was time to head over seas. I can write it, but I can't say it: Cwrw Tri has a bright, brown bread color and a thick, airy head with bread and cranberry aromas on the nose. I have to say, drinking quarter pints means lost of room in the glass for the nose. Medium body brew with bright fruity highlights, refreshing tangy caramel sweetness, and a super-clean finish with satisfying lingering of hop bitters and smoke. While I blabbed, I let the last sip sit in the glass and warm up. Not wanting to miss a drop, and drank it down and was surprised with pleasant coffee flavor. Nice trick!

Flagraiser IPA - Somerville Brewing Co. (Slumbrew), Somerville, Massachusetts (ABV 7.5%)
Good ol' Slumerville! This was the strongest ale I had Friday night. Flagraiser is dedicated to the January 1, 1776 raising of the flag on Prospect Hill, and is decidedly American: big and bold. Kickass hop bitterness of biting limeskins. Almost too much. Almost. I thought I'd had the citrusy hopped up beer of the night with the Smuttynose, but no. This one had a lasting bitterness in the mouth, but surprisingly balanced with a background maltiness.

Explorer - Adnams, Southwold, Suffolk, England (ABV 3.7%)
Fresh oranges on the nose! with eggy batter notes. A mouth-filling softness, that is both vibrant and taunt with slight bitterness. Very smooth. Tropical fruit flavors and a pale, blond, wispy head. I also got some tart watermelon flavor toward the end. Lots going on in this, my last brew of the evening! What a way to finish things; another great night at the NERAX.

Thanks to American Legion Post 388 for putting us up. See you all next year!

Click here for my NERAX 2011 post
Click here for my NERAX 2010 post

Thursday, April 12, 2012

molecular cell magazine cover

I just did the cover art for Molecular Cell Magazine!
[cue nervous, excited jittering; like a twelve-year-old at their first dance]

A few months ago, Dr. Dafne Cardamone the awesome scientist asked if I would prepare a high resolution graphic that would help represent the ideas in her scientific paper concerning the identification of the role of a particular protein with a cell, for publication in the scientific journal, Molecular Cell. So I was like... g' yeAH!

Heady stuff. But I am a science geek.

Dr. Dafne's idea--which she worked out with the other super-geniuses with whom she works--was to express the duality of the roles this protein GPS2 has depending on what part of the cell its working in, ergo Castor and Pollux. The twins, baby! Similar but not the same. see, I said super-smaht, right The Castor and Pollox images we used are actually a contemporary marble sculpture by Bozena Krol Legowska. Il tuo scultura è bella, signora.

I'm excited to have been asked to participate and I'm very excited that our cover art was chosen. It was truly a collaborative effort. Cheers to Dr. Dafne, Dr. Perissi and Signora Legowska.

Congratulations! to Dr. Cardamone and the team of scientists who did the research and put this paper together, on the publication of your research, and my personal thanks to you all for the opportunity to help with the artwork: M. Dafne Cardamone, Anna Krones, Bogdan Tanasa, Havilah Taylor, Laura Ricci, Kenneth A. Ohgi, Christopher K. Glass, Michael G. Rosenfeld, and Valentina Perissi.

[Do you need some artwork for your scientific paper, or anything else? Send me a note philipfobrienjr [at sign] gmail [dot com] and let me know how I can help - Philo]

Sunday, April 8, 2012

age of innocence

Edith Wharton writes about what she knows, I guess. The book jacket states that she was born in New York in the late 1800s, was married early in the 1900s and by 1913 had moved to Paris, divorced her husband, and set about writing some of the best fiction of the time.

I can only speak for myself but based on what I've read of hers (only this one) I would have to agree. The lady can write a story. In the introduction--which I skipped, then scanned afterward--Paul Montazzoli compares Wharton to her friend, Henry James. I can see that. Wharton seems to delight in the thorough examination of a character: a study, one could say, similar to her friend's Daisy Miller: A Study, or Portrait of a Lady.

The Age of Innocence is a carefully painted portrait of a young man who both enjoys a privileged life as a member of New York's exclusive society, and is trapped by its rules and etiquette. Wharton seems to rail against the strictures that she as a young woman in New York, must have had to deal with and ultimately escaped to Paris. She draws society as an almost mindless swarm; moving in concert to an unspoken set of rules like a brightly colored company of parrots, or pact of lemmings.* Unspoken, simply because it would be bad form to speak of such things!

Its was the underlying tension, just barely visible below the surface that really struck me about this story. Wharton torqued the tension up until it sang. But not that high-pitched, keening wail that so many stories have. This is that low F note, way over on the piano that tolls like a bell, or that thrilling organ note that can shake a church to its foundations.

Yeah. That's some tightly-laced stuff you've got there Edith. I'll keep an eye out for more.

Read this book.

* Collective nouns! Love 'em! A company of parrots I found at the link given. Pact of lemmings? I made that one up.** Its sure to be adopted in a flash.

** Further investigation has unveiled one source that not only has a collective noun for lemmings, but its actually a suicide pact of lemmings. [scooped!] I like mine better. They don't kill themselves on purpose, but they do hang together pretty tight, and can die in groups. And I think 'pact' refers to that without stepping outside the reality of the matter.*** Go figure.

*** Plus; 'suicide pact'? That's two words! How many collective nouns are two words? Let me see... ? Ah, none. That is so made-up. But, you know, not as good made-up as my made-up, which is one word. And good.
Suicide pact [p-tooey!] No subtly.

Monday, April 2, 2012

what's next at the library

Knowledge media is ubiquitous, complex, and growing at a pace that outstrips the most hardened and voracious philomath. Yet libraries continue to be our gateways to information, news, and reading material, in what is referred to by many as the most democratic institution ever conceived.

Image: School of Athens, Raffaello Sanzo, at the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City.

But with so much information available online, and the first computer savvy generation now filling in the lower tiers of the economy here in the States, what else can libraries do to remain relevant, while also continuing to provide services they have traditionally provided for their patrons?

I've put together a small sampling of the interesting things going on in libraries, just to get the ball rolling. The limit of what libraries can provide in the future, is really only limited by our collective imagination, but we need to want to go there, and we need to be the ones to keep that ball rolling. There are too many naysayers who would have us all believe that libraries are no longer relevant, if only because they haven't been to the library in 30 years*, and they have no idea what librarians are up to.

How to videos... at the library.
Need to know the best way to find scholarly articles for your term paper? Don't quite remember how to format a bibliography? Curious WHY doing your research at the library is BETTER than doing it on your computer at home? Talk to the folks at Coastal Carolina University's Kimbel Library, or just take a look at their in-house produced videos. really. clickey-click and take a look. fantastic stuff.

That's right. They are generating the content at the library to help their students use the library more effectively, and do better in school. you know you can right-click to open linkage in a new tab, and keep this window fresh and intellectually stimulating, right?

Fab Lab
So, you think you might like to make something at the library? Video? Podcast? Or perhaps a 3-dimensional printer would be more helpful? That, and much more is available at the Fayetteville Free Library Fab Lab in Fayetteville, New York.

Known by other names such as hackerspaces or tech shops, fab labs give folks the tools to create physical content at their library. Fayetteville Executive Director, Sue Considine, sees the library's stated mission to provide free and open access to ideas and information, in simple, but powerful terms: "...our philosophy is that libraries exist to provide access to opportunities for people to come together to learn, discuss, discover, test, create."

You've invented the next million dollar widget. Now go to the library and build it!

Fab Lab open house on April 14, 2012. Go get 'em Sue.

Guitars in the library
Patrick Sweeney, Branch Manager of the East Palo Alto Library, in Cali, had a dream: provide guitar lessons for anyone who wants to learn. Interested, but maybe you don't have a guitar? No problem, the library will lend you one. Volunteers teach the lessons, which happen pretty much every Saturday.

The guitars hang on the wall, labeled and cataloged, and each has a RFID tag. You can take one for 8 weeks, renew online, bring it back when you're done. They've got like, 6 of them!

Gando Library
We know libraries build community, and communities build libraries, but it isn't always as hands on as in Gando. Gando Village, in Burkina Faso is the home of architect Diébédo Francis Kéré, who now practices in Berlin. Local labor, local materials, and community assistance make for a library that will serve the village needs, provide a way to improve lives and will be maintainable due to the skills the villagers learned building their own library.

What can you do with a clay pot?

iPads for Preschoolers
What can a 2-year-old learn with an iPad? How to draw, colors, alphabet... you name it. In Houston, Texas that's just what they're doing letting toddlers fool with iPads.

Sandy Farmer, the youth services manager at the Houston Public Library, says this: "An iPad is interactive. You touch it, you turn it and it does things. Kids understand this very well. There are tons of apps out there for young children — alphabet, colors, maps... It's an opportunity for kids to sit down and learn in a unique way."

What's Next?

As I said in an earlier post, public libraries are ours. And what they will become is up to us. As library patrons, as librarians, and even for folks like me, who in our other lives, actually design public library buildings.

What else can we do? Good question. And there are lots of smart folks working on that. The Pew Research Center, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, started a 3 year, $1.4 million research project at the end of last year, as part of Pew's Internet & American Life Project.

Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries and Special Initiatives, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says, “As technologies advance, people in our communities increasingly rely on digital information to find opportunities to improve their lives. We must make sure public libraries, which are critical community technology hubs, keep pace with that change and give patrons access to the resources they need.” And I'm right there with you.

In the meantime what can we do in our own libraries? Today. Right now.

What new ideas are coming to fruition at your library? What dreams do you have for what is possible at the library?

Please post your ideas below.

* These are the people that are standing up in town meetings all across America, and voting against libraries, and library funding! These folks obviously don't understand that you can't learn everything there is to know with a Google search and a couple of clicks through Wikipedia!