coComment – Cas’ first thoughts

Well, I finally got me an invite. I went from having no invites whatsoever at midnight last night, to having ten when I checked my mail this morning! The codes people kindly sent me, but that I didn’t use (well, there’s only one of me!) can be found at the end of this post. Please feel free to use one!

There’s not much I can say about this that hasn’t already been said. Simply put, it is a third-party way of keeping track of all the comments you make across various blogs (currently only on the big six platforms – Blogger, MSN Spaces, MySpaces, TypePad, WordPress, Xanga).

I’m a great believer in ‘conversation’, as opposed to one-way broadcast communication, and consequently the release of coComment into beta over the weekend got me excited beyond all common sense.

I’ve had it set up most of the day now, and am still getting to grips with the finer points, but the following are my current thoughts (in no particular order).

I’ve managed to replicate Josh’s problem with regards the ‘more articles from this blog’ – clicking on such a link for a Bright Meadow comment takes you to TechCrunch’s blog page – blog 277. Nor, it seems, am I the only one. Lots of the articles on the TechCrunch page are not, in fact, from TechCrunch.
In the time it took me to write this post (with break to watch ‘Corpse Bride’ and go to the supermarket), the above problem seems to be fixed. If you are curious, Bright Meadow is now blog number 636.

It still seems to be unable to pick up the title of the individual posts, but according to the help forums, this is a WP issue down to the sheer customizability of the themes! (Mildly ironic). They’re working on fixing it.

I’m using the Greasemonkey script to make things run that little bit smoother – lovely, because I don’t have to remember to click the bookmarklet (I used it a grand total of two times with the bookmarklet before switching to Greasemonkey). On the whole, I have nothing against bookmarklets, but I only have so much real estate in my toolbar, and with RSI rearing it’s ugly head again today, the fewer clicks I have to make with the mouse the better!

The “adding this comment to the blog” box doesn’t always disappear once the comment is added, forcing me to refresh. I have a sneaky feeling this might be because of a clash with my comment-preview plugin, because I haven’t noticed this behaviour on blogs without this functionality. Just in case it is this plugin that is conflicting, I’ve disabled it for now. Let me know if you all really want previewing back, because coComment is currently more important to me.

Occasionally, the ‘expand’ option gets stuck, and it refuses to collapse a comment-stream. No biggy, I just hit ‘reload’.

And one last niggle – you can’t cmd+click to force “view articles from this blog” to open in a new tab. You have to right click or ctrl+click to open up the context menu and do it from there (I’m on a Mac). All the other links you can cmd+click on, just not that one.

A non-bookmarklet option for if I was commenting on a blog and I wasn’t on my own computer?

The coComments box in my sidebar isn’t picking up new comments.

At the moment, only comments made by registered coComment users show up on the coComment page, so you don’t necessarily get the full comment-picture. They are working on an “integrate” tool which will enable all comments made, regardless of who makes them, to show up on the coComment page. This would be lovely, especially considering the limited number of coComment users.

If people are interested in getting coComment for themselves, I would suggest hightailing it off to the coComment website and registering your interest by submitting your email addy in the box provided. They got back to me within a few hours.
Option two is to go to Laurent’s blog and ask him nicely. He got back to me again in a few hours.
Option three is to use one of the codes below. Now, I can’t actually remember which one of these I used, so you’ll just have to do a bit of trial and error. I don’t have the volume of traffic of Scoble et al, so I imagine these should remain good for a little while at least.
Option four is to trust in the serendipity of the Internet. Contrary to expectations, people do read and comment on other peoples blogs, even little ones like this one. You never know who is reading 🙂

These ones have been lurking on another blog for most of the day, so might not still be valid:

These ones should be ‘fresh’

Thank you again Laurent and everyone who got me a code, or who pointed out where I might find a code. I’m having great fun playing with this 😀
coComment, comments, conversation

Askimet redux

One small issue I have with Askimet so far – it doesn’t tell you which post the spam is associated with. Not that I need to know this, but I am curious.

Review of John Wyndham: assorted works

John Wyndham
The Kraken Wakes
The Chrysalids
The Midwich Cuckoos
The Trouble With Lichen
[rate 5]

I’ve said over and over how great John Wyndham is an an author, which is why it saddened me so much when I reviewed “Stowawy to Mars” and it left such a very bad taste in my mouth. So, in order to restore the balance, I bring you Wyndham at his best: “The Kraken Wakes“, “The Chrysalids“, “The Midwich Cuckoos“, and “The Trouble With Lichen“. I’d also bring you “Day of the Triffids” but I seem to have mislaid my copy so haven’t read it recently enough to feel sure of reviewing it.

The Kraken Wakes:
The ostensible plot, of aliens trying to take over the world from deep under the sea, can be more or less put to one side, if not ignored in its entirety. Wyndham follows Wells in “War Of the Worlds” and never explicitly reveals where the ‘alien’ threat has come from, leaving you to make up your own mind, as it should be. Moving away from the alien causation, you have here an allegory for global warming, and a biting comment on the idiocy of the Cold War, and weapons of mass destruction. Themes include, but aren’t limited to the traditional Wyndham cannon of ‘fear of the other’, apocalypse, and benign military.

The Chrysalids:
The plot lays the ground for that of “A Canticle For Liebowitz“, and many others. You have, once more, the post-apocalyptic world, fear of the unknown, religious fanaticism, and racial tensions (the only black people are only found on an island of ‘deviants’). This is one of the more overtly sci-fi books that Wyndham wrote. It is set in the unidentified future (most of the other are in the near-present) in a post-apocalyptic world gone to hell in a hand-cart, where ‘mankind’ survives in a few small pockets including Newfoundland. Any genetic deviations are a sin against God, and destroyed the instant they appear, even children. So what happens when the deviations don’t have any physical manifestations, but are purely mental? Their scripture doesn’t define what is normal for the mind so, is telepathy a gift or a curse?

The Midwich Cuckoos:
Most people know this story from the film Village of the Damned. A small rural town suffers a ‘day out’ and wakes to find all the women folk impregnated… Nine months later lots of golden eyed children are born and start to cause all kinds of mayhem.

The Trouble With Lichen:
Immortality is just around the corner, apparently, as the result of a rare lichen. This is one Wyndham’s books that doesn’t resort to aliens in order to get the plot off the ground. Based totally in believable (at least believable in 1960) science this novel addresses how mankind my cope if they were faced with the possibility of immortality, or at least a vastly extended lifespan. One of the first books, to my knowledge, that addresses what might happen if people really could live to 300 and the social upheaval that would ensue. Asimov does similar, at around the same time, with his Robot Series (Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, Robots of Dawn etc, leading to the Foundation series) but sets it firmly in the fantastical future.

Some general points:
Love Wyndham. Always will, hence the five mug rating for all of them. Here are few random observations I’ve made on this latest read through.

There is a repeat plot device of the outsider-reporter to whom events don’t totally happen. They are invariably reports from after the events (looking back, hindsight), and attempts to assume the authority of historical narrative. A way of gaining our trust as an impartial observer, but at same time displaying the unique knowledge of the insider. Yes, as a device it is fairly obvious, but it works for him.

Women are, if not the main character (as in “The Trouble With Lichen“), then married to the main character, and shape what happens. Very much a partnership. In Kraken, it is the wife who realises that they may need to quit London in a hurry and lays in supplies. In Cuckoos, it is the wife who manages to keep the village calm. The women don’t seek the fame, and frequently outsiders assume that it is the men who have done the work, but the men themselves don’t claim any of the glory, and make it quite clear to the people that matter that it was the women who did good.

The theme of the military as good, there to help. Undoubtedly a relic of WW2. Quite a marked difference to the sinister and evil overtones that the military is painted with in most modern literature.

As an aside, there is also at least one Holmes reference in each book. More a little nod to Connan Doyle‘s creation.

Amazing that on page 187 of Cuckoos, Wyndham in 1957 basically summarizes the plot of Independence Day and every other major sci-fi book and film since. Not sure if that’s a sign of how visionary he is, or how little pulp sci-fi has changed in the last fifty years.

Review John C. Wright: The Golden Age

The Golden AgeJohn C. Wright
The Golden Age
The Phoenix Exultant (The Golden Age volume 2)
[rate 3] and [rate 2] A great start, sadly disapointing end

These were another impulse loan from the library. Basically I am working my way through the sci-fi/fantasy shelves and these were next. I found book one, The Golden Age mind-blowing. Original and full of new ideas. His take on the digital future is one that, whilst not brand-spanking new (rather similar in tone to Appleseed by John Clute, though not quite so brain-strainingly odd) is still different and fresh. It defines a futuristic civilization almost parochial in its outlook, being one of the few X-Century novels where the Einstein’s light-speed barrier has not been circumvented, leaving humanity constantly looking inward, trapped within their own minds as much as the solar system.

Throughout The Golden Age you follow the fate of Phaethon (still not worked out how to pronounce it) as he realises the reality his living in is false, the result of a culture-wide amnesia, springing from some unspeakable deed he had done in the past. You struggle, as he does, to make sense of events, and to fit his fractured reality into what really happened. But, as you progress further in, you come to realise that perhaps what ‘really’ happened will never be known. You are forced to confront the nature of subjective and objective reality. It really does feel like a body-blow when you discover, along with Phaethon that everything he believes about his life is false.

The end of The Golden Age left me wanting more, so I straight away started on The Phoenix Exultant, which was possibly a mistake. It just doesn’t fulfill the promise of the first book. Perhaps because I know there’s another whole book to go after this one, or whether the central premise of not trusting your own perceptions is now well established, but this has nothing new for me in it. Instead of rooting for Phaethon, you want to bash him about the head with a baseball bat for being so stupid. The one (yes one) female character is about much use as a chocolate teapot. And she’s supposed to be the strong version of one of the characters (characters can exist in multiple versions and bodies at the same time). The rest of the society is patriarchal and misogynistic to a fault. The threat of an external civilization seems shoe-horned in to give the author a reason to write book three. All in all, a huge disappointment. It is blatantly obvious that Phaethon is going to overcome the odds and be reinstated as the hero he feels himself to be, so why drag it out so long?

I haven’t been able to find book three (The Golden Transcendence) at the library and I am not going to even spend 70p on requesting it from another library.

Review of Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon

CryptonomiconNeal Stephenson
[rate 5] Definate definate desert island book. Gar!

To say that Cryptonomicon is as important as Neuromancer by William Gibson isn’t, in my view, an understatement. Both books share themes that are genre busting and, like Neuromancer, Cryptonomicon has suffered because no one knew how to really market it. How do you classify a book that, amongst other things, is a historical detective story spanning 8 decades, a book about the invention of the computer, about code breaking, the birth of the CIA, Nazi gold, the Japanese invasion of Manilla, has mention of D&D, Imelda Marcos, crosses three generations, and has a love story intwined in it as well?

As might be guessed from that rather broad spectrum of themes, Cryptonomicon is not a small book (918 pages including appendixes and footnotes) *1* Whilst this is a book coming from a base of cyber-culture, it isn’t science fiction. It steadfastly does not go beyond technology as is now, rather looks back to how we got here.

Stephenson is an author who’s work I always enjoy reading, but who has improved with each book. There are recognisable characters from his other works in this book, and he continues his love affair with Far Eastern culture first detailed in Snow Crash, but unlike that work he doesn’t loose it in the last quarter of the book. The tension remains till the very last page and what I love is that it just ends with no attempt to indicate what happens to the characters.

Pretty much the entire cast of Cryptonomicon’s characters appear in Stephensons next work, the Baroque Cycle, which explores the same themes of power, information, secrecy, money, and war, but in the 17th/18th centuries. Stephenson doesn’t do things by halves – the Baroque Cycle comprises three books all over 900 pages long – but I challenge you not to like an author who gets a ‘Lawrence Prodding Stick’ into a book essentially about computers, or the word ‘bop’ into a historical novel set in the 1700’s.

*1*Got to love a novel with appendixes and footnotes 😀

Review of Stella Gibbons: Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm (Penguin Modern Classics)Stella Gibbons
Cold Comfort Farm
[rate 5] Drain the well, there’s a neighbour missing!

So you have spent your teenage years reading the classics, possibly voluntarily, but more likely being forced to for some English class. How do you rebel? Read Cold Comfort Farm. A beautiful, funny, poigniant, deeply twisted book lampooning entire genres. Set in an unspecified period that bears a striking resemblance to the 20’s/30’s, the characters include the heroine with a talent for organising who plans to ‘live off her relatives’, the best friend whose collection of brassieres is desired by a museum, Aunt Ada Doom who saw something narsty in the woodshed, cousin Seth the farmhand who hankers to be in the movies, his mother Judith who has an incestuous fixation on him, and her husband Amos who’s sole ambition in life is to go round the country preaching in a Ford van. I challenge anyone not to have at least a snigger as Gibbons sends up (among others) Hardy, Austen, the Bronte sisters, Lawrence, Coleridge, et al.

Not much more I want to add about this book. The film staring Kate Beckinsale and Ian McKellen is a damn good adaptation and worth watching.

Review of F. Scott Fitzgerald: Tender is the Night

Tender Is the Night: A Romance (Penguin Modern Classics)F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tender is the Night
[rate 4] I’m not sure if I would recommend this book or not. Fitzgerald is an important author and it does detail the between-war period beautifully with a lyric, depressive, twist, but at the same time I can think of books I would rather read. Bit like Schindler’s List – you’re glad you’ve stuck with it, but one would hardly say it had been a party. Put it this way, it won’t be in my Desert Island list, whilst Cryptonomicon, Pride and Prejudice, and Cold Comfort Farm would be.

I am not totally sure what the fuss is about Fitzgerald. I finally got around to reading the Great Gatsby a few months ago, and finished Tender is the Night just after Christmas after talking to a Fitzgerald-fan (she made it sound good) and, whilst I enjoy his stuff, I think I must be missing something. I did like this though: a great view of 1920’s expat culture in Europe if nothing more. The ending though, I do like Fitzgerald’s endings.

The book is split into three sections, each one populated with the same characters, but seeing them from different angles. Without giving too much away, by the end the characters you think are going to top themselves are doing great, whilst the main protagonist is a washed up heap of scum. Love it!

I made the mistake of reading the introduction, written by a scholar who completely deconstructs the entire book, pulling out the major themes (or what he feels are the major themes) which, ok, is what he was paid to do, but having just read the book and quite liked it, I didn’t want to then read about how it is totally about incest. Looking back at it now, sure, there’s a fairly incestuous undertone, but it is one thing to accept this about a book, and quite another to have your nose rubbed in it.