Mar 242014

Once You're Lucky, Twice You're GoodSarah Lacy Hensley’s Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good provides another view into the entrepreneurship in the Silicon Valley from Launch Pad.

It takes a longer view, and concentrates on just a handful of companies and their founders.

The author very occasionally lapses into hero worship, but mostly this is a distanced take on the subject. Though namedropping is unavoidable, it quickly gets tedious.

Some interviews subjects and positions are familiar, and in most cases the years since publication have changed the covered companies significantly.

Learned quite a bit, especially on how easy it is to get screwed by investors and shareholders.

But I would have wanted to read more about the not-so-successful companies, too. And of people who are not part of the obviously powerful insider clique of the Valley.

Mar 232014

The Beer BookThe Beer Book shows off Dorling Kindersley’s high production values.

The book is nicely laid out, but hopelessly uneven.

The multi-author approach shows wide gaps between the regions. Some are boring and little more than regutgitated marketing brochures, whereas others actually contain interesting tidbits about the countries, breweries and their products.

Strangely enough, the more tradition-laden a country is, the more boring the chapter.

Hence it’s no surprise that United States, as the flag carrier of inspired craft brewing gets the most readable section. They’ve clearly got one of the better authors and the wildly imaginative brewers get proper exposure. As a contrast the chapters on Germany and Czech republic are genuine snoozefests.

I expected lots more on history. Of both the drink and its producers. Like important breweries now gone or merged. Now they are haphazardly referenced in the per-brewery entries, and a holistic approach is absent.

And I certainly expected even more on beer styles. The coverage is sparse and uneven and again, there is not even a list of commonly agreed beer styles and variants.

Homebrewing is also left out, which is odd, since the barrier of entry is low indeed.

As a moral bonus, Finland fares decently in the main body of the book, though obviously the selection covers the boring mainstream euro lagers, too.

Mar 232014

I’ve referred to the old Battlestar Galactica theme song already (this time without the lengthy spoken intro, though):

Another personal favorite is MacGyver, whose intro captures the essence of eighties action television:

And Buffy does the same for noughties:

Hill Street Blues is the theme song I’ve likely heard the most times:

But the top position goes to Angelo Badalamenti – his Twin Peaks theme song still sends shivers up and down my spine:

TV Thursday #27: The best theme song

Mar 182014

Brother Firetribe logo

Brother Firetribe, the domestic band with the most awesome pun as its name, is about to release their third album: Diamond in the Fire Pit.

Since they are moving from one record company to another, they do not have a functional web presence at the moment.

Their debut was as perfect an homage to 80s as it gets, and the sophomore album wasn’t bad by any means.

So I’m definitely looking forward to their third outing.

Mar 182014

Lies of Locke LamoraEvery once in a while something so good comes up that inevitably causes rampant gushing and attempted indoctrination of friends. The debut novel of Scott Lynch, Lies of Locke Lamora, is one such book.

The first story in the Gentlemen Bastard-sequence operates on two narratives – describing the early years of the protagonist and an ambitious con that he runs, respectively. Locke Lamora is indeed a criminal mastermind, whose adventures bring to mind the best con and heist movies, there isn’t that much to compare in the realm of literature.

The plotting is imaginative, the milieu pleasantly low-magic and low-cliche, dialogue regularly reaches Whedonian heights and all in all the book just refuses to let go. The city of Camorr has a long and variously unpleasant history, which is mostly shown, not told. And that remains true across the book – instead of spouted exposition the descriptions of the world and its inhabitants are weaved into the story, not nailgunned to its side.

The characters come off the pages well-rounded, and Lynch isn’t afraid to bump them off when the laws of drama require a sacrifice. One key character is referred to almost in passing, certainly foreshadowing a much more important role in the planned future volumes.

An extremely impressive debut, imaginative across multiple axis. And a debut that creates a whole new genre: heist fantasy (in which there sadly isn’t that much competition).

The sequel arrived quickly, but the third volume didn’t, it took almost six years to get published. And in the weeks before it arrived, I re-read the preceding novels. This was as good as I remembered, and like the best of cons, it reveals a lot more on the second reading.

Mar 182014

ParantajaBought Parantaja as a chance purchase from the semi-annual crazy days-sale. The noirish dystopia was interesting, the book was on the thin side and the Johtolanka-award was an indication that this ought to be better than pulp.

The advertised dystopia turned out to be more than just a thin veneer. The world has crashed and flooded, and Helsinki is no longer a nice place to be (those who can are migrating up north).

The 200-ish pages turn quickly, since the plot packs a punch, too. It’s a bit predictable, but that’s not a sin in my books. The characters are built with both depth and baggage (improbable connections, but that’s par for the genre).

There’s plenty of hallmarks of the genre: desperation, things continuosly spinning out of control, deadlines to achieve the impossible, opposition that gives no quarter.

And obviously there’s big problems in the collapsing civilization, but that’s scenery, like Casablanca, not something to be corrected by a handful of amateurs.

Overall Parantaja emits a Children of Men-ish vibe. This would be an awesome movie in right hands, and an absolutely terrible in wrong hands.

Parantaja was much better than anticipated, and will certainly keep an eye open for the author’s other books.

Mar 172014

The Launch PadThe Launch Pad is Randall Stross’ book on life in the Y Combinator, the most celebrated accelerator in Silicon Valley. Y Combinator has launched quite a few major success stories during its eight years of existence: Dropbox and Airbnb being the most famous of its crop.

The author spent a cycle of acceleration with a bunch of companies, and provides insight into what the quarterly program expects and provides to the companies.

Lesson #1 from the book is that Y Combinator clearly invests in teams, not products, as several of the selected nascent companies undergo severe pivoting during their stay in the accelerator.

Launch Pad tells plenty of war stories – both of the companies undergoing acceleration during Stross’ tenure as well as of the seeder’s and its earlier members’ histories.

The proceedings seem unusually restrained, there are no massive rifts or other struggles described. Which is hard to believe considering the pressures the teams operate under.

The most interesting company utilized as an extended example is MongoHQ whose product is used by multiple of their stablemates.

The Launch Pad is unashamedly American and Californian – while there are foreign members, they are pretty much exceptions to the unwritten rules. Sadly, there’s nothing of similar magnitude and usefulness available domestically.

The retrospect at the tail end of the book is interesting – the stories on the companies evolution and success beyond the closure of their acceleration round proves that nothing is ever guaranteed in the world of startups.

This was the first book by Randall Stross I read, and as the text was lively and entertaining while not too distant from the technical facts, I’ll definitely try out his other books, too.

Mar 162014

Rabbit ReduxConsidering how much I liked the original Rabbit novel, it took quite a while before moving on to the sequel.

Rabbit Redux happens a decade later than Rabbit, Run. And things certainly have changed during the intervening years. Where the Harry Angstrom of the original was a self-centered git who couldn’t either commit nor accept anything but the best, he’s now stuck in a dead end-job.

The stolid existence is shattered by a very sixties action – his wife leaves. Very publicly.

Obviously shaken, his life gets more and more complicated by the pages turning. The plot veers towards improbability on several occasions, but the actions of a domestically shellshocked man are hard to estimate.

The framing historical events, especially the moon landing, are pushed to the forefront a lot more aggressively than in the original. But unlike a lot of period pieces, it never crosses the annoyance-threshold. The themes of the era: free love and black power are rubbed in forcefully.

Rabbit doesn’t run nearly as well as he did ten years before, but I will nonetheless pick up the third volume in the sequence.

Mar 162014

Muumit ja Olemisen ArvoitusI approached Muumit ja Olemisen Arvoitus as an explanatory book, fully expecting it to dissect the characters, themes and subtexts of the Moominvalley stories.

Which it doesn’t.

For the most part the book concentrates in applying classic existentialist philosophers thinking to the Moomins.

Interesting, no doubt, but not what I came for.

Fulfilled my Kierkegaard-quota by page 30, fortunately the book wasn’t a thick one.

Mar 162014

Apocalypse CodexIn the fourth Laundry novel, Apocalypse Codex, Bob Howard continues his bureaucracy-plagued work against horrors beyond time and space.

Though as this part is set in United States, the domestic pencil pushers remain in a lesser role.

Apocalypse Codex has a titillating premise: a television evangelist up to no good. Combined with a pair of interestingly crafted sidekicks, the protagonist takes on the preacher with extreme prejudice.

The scariest bit is left undescribed. Or left to the readers to visualize. And squirm.

The Modesty Blaise in disguise-assistant will return in the future – she’s too much of a character / plot device to ignore.

There’s nothing truly new in Apocalypse Codex, it follows a proven formula and executes its plot entertainingly.

Mar 162014

Fuller MemorandumThe main reason behind re-reading the Laundry novels before embarking on the newest in the series was the sad realization that I had little recollection what happens in volume three. Fuller Memorandum is a complex novel, and one of its main plotlines shakes up the organization severely.

The book is again darker than its predecessor, and the fact that it is told in seriously past tense lends gravity to the proceedings already from the prologue.

However, the weariness of the protagonist has affected the author, too, since at times the text does not flow as smoothly as it could, and it occasionally feels strained. Especially with the rather tired exposition through letters-scheme feels long-winded, and the multiple converging lines of investigation are probably realistic but on the surface a bit confusing. But the bright parts outshine the not so good easily – the secret history of the Royal Air Force and the related initial exorcism as well as the pyramid scenes are easily worth the price of admission.

A solid sequel to Jennifer Morgue and and an even foundation for future volumes.

Mar 152014

Jennifer MorgueThe second Laundry book, Jennifer Morgue is a real novel and as such quite an improvement over the first installment in the series.

This time Bob Howard is up against a Bond-supervillainesque adversary, obviously with a Cthuloid twist to the character.

Sadly, some of the more technological exposition has acquired a scarily condescending, almost userfriendly-like vibe. But apart from that (fortunately absent in the other parts) both the text and the dialogue are vastly improved from Atrocity Archives.

The occult agency remains fascinating, and this tale proves that there’s both depth and variety in it. At times the obligatory Bond girl feels a lot more complex and entertaining than the protagonist.

The short story Pimpf is included in the book, it packs far less punch than the main event, but is moderately entertaining in itself. Were I a MMORPG-player, its impact would probably be quite a bit bigger.

Mar 142014

Muumilaakson MarraskuuThe last of the Moomin books, Muumilaakson Marraskuu was even more of a disappointment than the previous novel in the series.

This time the whole Moomin family is absent, and the house is occupied by a motley crew of variously damaged misfits.

The soul-searching motif is even stronger in the last volume, but the roles of unknown characters who couldn’t even live together was hard to comprehend as a child.

On a re-read some three decades afterwards the book is far more interesting.

The melancholy of the fall pervades everything, and the missing Moomins are the Godot-class plot device that everybody expects to fix their particular maladies: loneliness, obsession, delusion are just some of the struggles the characters face.

As the november is the darkest and bleakest month in Finland, it is an excellent frame for the characters lost in themselves and/or the world.

This is not an easy book (apart from its length), but it does form a nice capstone for the Moomin-saga.

Mar 142014

How Would You Move Mount Fuji?How Would You Move Mount Fuji? covers the surprisingly interesting topic of recruitment puzzles.

Puzzles that are mostly used to check whether a candidate is able and willing to logically present the chain of thought towards an answer. While a lot of the tasks covered are indeed Fermi problems, there’s plenty of other logical and illogical questions to answer.

The puzzles are the meat and bones of the book, the history and psychology of the question as weeding factor form an introduction to the choicest parts.

When Google headhunted me for a job in Zürich back in 2008 I had a few questions lobbed at me during the interviews. None of them were familiar from the book, though. Nokia’s approach, on the other hand, was the traditional “what’s the next symbol in the series”.

Recommended if you’re interested in puzzles, but unlikely to give much of a hand in getting recruited.

Mar 122014

Professor Drøvel's HemmelighetI would pay good money to get to experience again the masterfully nonsensical weirdness of Professor Drøvel (and the rest of the Dal Brothers’ shows. As an impressionable nine year old the first two series (no idea if any more was ever shown in Finland) left permanent scars on my soul.

The 2010 box-set seems to be available domestically, though without subtitles in other languages than Norwegian, it would be tough act to understand.

TV Thursday #25: Best in foreign language