Jan 212014

Taivas + Helvetti cover

Taivas + Helvetti is a book of finnish entrepreneurship, by finnish entrepreneurs.

The twenty-one stories in the book cover the spectrum of self-driven business – from small fry to big fish, from flashy success stories to tragic failures.

The book starts off with Mikael Hed from Rovio, and never reaches the same level of all the pieces just falling right in the later pages.

The individual stories are brief, most clock in at less than ten pages.

As stated, the subjects vary wildly, some tell a single essential case of business history, others ramble on through the author’s personal experiences.

And personal’s indeed a good word to describe the book, the authors do not hesitate to reveal ugliness inherent in business nor do they shy away from their previous failures.

A quick read, with a worthy plan behind the book – for every volume sold, another is given to a graduating student. They may not all be sparked by the spirit of business, but every interested party counts.

Jan 212014

Inferno coverDan Brown returns with yet another civilized treasure hunt in Inferno.

This time the scenery is different – the main part of the novel happens in Florence.

And also the plotting is vastly different – the protagonist starts off with amnesia and there’s plenty of uncertainty shoved down readers’ throats.

But some things never change:

Exposition occurs frequently, and oftentimes is barely masked.

There’s a vast conspiracy behind the scenes.

And Robert Langdon stumbles across a damaged yet brilliant woman.

The pacing is obviously rapid, and the in-media-res start to the book kickstarts the proceedings even faster than expected.

The tourist board of Florence must be rubbing their hands with glee, the author devotes pages upon pages on describing the unique properties of the city and its history. And quite right, too – after all, the city is absolutely packed with Medici-originating art and well-preserved buildings. And while some of the construction seems to be on the fantastic side, at least the secret passage between the Uffizi Galleria and Palazzo Pitti exists, I’ve walked its dusty length on a scorching day.

The plot concerns ancient secrets used to unravel a modern mystery. A mystery which requires the trademark treasure hunt approach – moving from a piece of artwork to a poem to a building.

The author travels on familiar ground for most of the journey, but at the resolution he manages to pull a duo of rabbits out of the top hat. I expected a far more conventional conclusion to Langdon’s fourth adventure.

Better than expected. Algorithmic, energetic and occasionally enlightening – that’s pretty much par for the course. But the subtext in Inferno was surprisingly well handled (and probably cause for quite a bit of concern on the publisher’s side).

Jan 102014

The Catch

I haven’t seen a sports show worth watching.

Which is odd, since I actually belong to the minority that likes american football and used to follow NBA, too.

But it’s more about the lack of time, not the lack of shows.

I haven’t seen a single episode of Friday Night Lights, considering that I regard Any Given Sunday as one of Oliver Stone’s best films, the DVR that ate the first four episodes has lots to answer for.

And since I’ve been an Aaron Sorkin fanboy for ages, his Sports Night definitely would be worth catching. I fiddled with the box set once, but decided against it for some obscure reason.

TV Thursday #17: Sports

Jan 082014

Earth coverUpon purchasing David Brin‘s Existence, I decided to re-read his earlier homeworld in peril book, Earth.

Earth is a book from 1990. At that point one of the main themes of the book, ubiquitous network access and unavoidable surveillance felt outlandish. Now, reality has surpassed the fiction. Our web is infinitely more malleable than Brin’s, though his take on preference-based news aggregation is still unmet (and he predicts spam and many other forms of SMTP-carried virii). And obviously the combination of CCTVs, video-recording capable phones and Youtube have rendered the world already to quite a different place.

In contrast to the neatly imagined world, the actual plot of the book pales. Not that it’s in any way bad, just unexpectedly calm – a world-shattering calamity fails to raise any significant panic. The use of multiple viewpoints is done well, characters come and go, some are forgotten for great lengths and some are lost to the events.

There’s plenty of sense of wonder.
There’s nostalgia for a better, simpler time.
And there’s plenty of ideas (such as Helvetian War, new quasi-religious groups, enforced settlement of wilderness) in the well-developed milieu that entire books could be based on.

But it’s far from perfect. The characters are hollow for the most part. The final conflict culminates in a terrible virtual reality battle where the already rather strained suspenders of disbelief painfully snap.

Nonetheless a worthy read, both as a picture of the future and of the past.

Jan 082014

Mr. HankeyThe best christmas episode ever is not a Doctor Who one, nor a very Christmassy Ted.

Nope, the best christmas episode is the only piece of television during which I have had to request to pause the show and stand up on account of being acutely worried that I would rupture a couple of vital inner organs otherwise.

And that piece of absolute mirth and joy is Mr Hankey, the Christmas Poo off the first season of South Park.

TV Thursday: Christmas!

Jan 082014

Hodor shirtI used to be a dream customer for merchandizers, buying shirts and books and magazines and barely canon-related comic books. And yes, two bottles of Tru Blood, too.

Started off innocently enough with a X-Files shirt given as a birthday gift and went nuts from there.

Lately, though, things have been more sparse. A single Doctor Who t-shirt is the only one in the last year or so.

HBO’s store in New York is obviously a financial nightmare.

Haven’t bought more than just one Game of Thrones-shirt – Starks, obviously – the pictured one would be a nice companion to that.

TV Thursday #15: Merchandized

Jan 082014

Kaiken Käsikirja coverEsko Valtaoja peaked with his debut book, the awesome Kotona Maailmankaikkaudessa. The followups have been increasingly lacking, and the newest, boldly named Kaiken Käsikirja is no different.

Inbetween occasional bits of insight and science, the author rambles on and on on various topics.

In a book attempting to be a manual for everything that’s not a bad thing per se, but the plot teeters on being lost on multiple occasions, and several chapters are just plain boring.

When the book’s good, such as when attempting to explain relativity and quantum theories for laymen, it’s very good; but when the author embarks on morality and religion, the going turns choppier – opinions instead of facts are not so interesting. And often the deepest messages, such as the importance of questioning authority, are almost hidden in the verbose chaff.

I’m sure Valtaoja is a good scientist and probably a jolly good beer-drinking buddy, too – somehow the combination just gets on my nerves. Though he does not condescend, the prospect of a bearded scientist dude smirking is occasionally too hard to ignore. Since the book is short, clocking in just north of 200 pages, it is by necessity shallow. And that necessitates glossing over occasionally humongous pieces of information. Spotting those regions is not that hard (especially when quite a lot of space is lost on footnotes in parentheses), and they give the impression of a lazy author, barely willing to exercise himself with just morsels of his knowledge.

I expected more. And came off disappointed. Once again.

Jan 062014

The Best Software Writing I cover

I’ve liked Joel Spolsky’s writings a lot. While I’ve never used Fogbugz, his role in setting up StackOverflow/StackExchange and Trello is enough to guarantee access to paradise – especially the former is a true lifesaver.

Sadly, the first and only volume of collected writings edited by him is nowhere near the standard established in the blog.

Of the twenty-eight pieces quite a few are completely irrelevant, outdated or just plain uninteresting.

And the few quality ones are not enough for the price of admission.

The anthology severely lacks focus, and oddly enough the least technical pieces (how to work with geeks) are among the best in show.

A moral bonus point for inclusion of explanatory footnotes.

I should have picked up a volume of his greatest hits instead. Or better yet, not have spent any money at all.

Jan 062014

I seem to be approaching pre-middleage with gusto – I find the the weekly Nyt supplement mostly boring and uninteresting.

Occasionally they hit home, though.

The Christmas issue’s “50 Bands in a Picture” is a great visual riddle.

50 Finnish Bands in a Picture

This is just a small slice of the whole image, but there’s plenty to puzzle over.

With a quick glance at least the following are identifiable:

  • Jormas
  • Stone
  • Teddy & the Tigers
  • Bogart
  • Absoluuttinen nollapiste
  • Giant Robot
Jan 062014

I’ve been a spineless Mauri Kunnas fanboy pretty much as long as I’ve been aware of him. Initially familiar through his Nyrok City comics, thereafter through his annual childrens’ books.

Piitles was advertised as a labour of love. The prospect of the author’s all time favorite band getting the Nyrok treatment sounded too good to be true.

Which it was.

This isn’t actually that good a graphic novel. The story covers the band’s early days, and is mostly true to life. Which means that there’s plenty of getting started difficulties and angst and the fun bits are rather few and far between. Though occasionally Kunnas’ love and skill of absurd shines through undeniably. But mostly his love for the band and desire to do them right prevails.

The art is pretty throughout the book, and the main characters well recognizable, though occasionally it feels like a rush job.

I learned quite a bit about the Beatles prehistory. I just am not sure whether I was looking for a lecture from a dedicated presenter as opposed to a jolly good time with a comic book.

So, bitten by prejudices, I came off disappointed with Piitles.

Jan 062014

Tabu Logo

Most of the great finnish television shows are firmly in the comedy genre: Tabu, Pasila, Kummeli (the early seasons), Julmahuvi.

So the few non-comedic standouts remain at the top even after a few decades: Neil Hardwick’s Musta Tuntuu and Pakanamaan Kartta, as well as the thoroughly limited series Tuntemattomalle Jumalalle.

Nonetheless, the daring and the wide variety of Tabu takes the top position.

TV Thursday #14: Best domestic