Category Archives: Books


Virgin Vices: Cocktails

A few weeks ago, based on a Boing-Boing review, I picked up a book called Kiddie Cocktails.


This is a book of cock­tail recipes con­tain­ing exclu­sively vir­gin cock­tails. I got it because I some­times get a lit­tle tired of fizzy water from the Soda Stream, even if I have five dif­fer­ent kinds of bit­ters to give it a lit­tle fla­vor. And I totally love the color and pre­sen­ta­tion of fancy tiki drinks; I just don’t want to drink one every night.

On my own, I’ve messed around with using car­bon­ated water to make fun non-alcoholic drinks. The one I like the most includes orange juice and a few drops of vanilla extract. It’s a liq­uid cream­si­cle. I thought I’d see what drinks the pro­fes­sion­als came up with.

Making a vir­gin cock­tail is some­times as easy as using the non-virgin recipe and sim­ply delet­ing the alco­hol from the mix. Other times, it takes a lit­tle more swiz­zling of ratios or sub­sti­tute ingre­di­ents. And some­times a vir­gin recipe is totally made up, not sourced from any alco­holic drink. This book starts with the clas­sic Shirley Temple and Arnold Palmer, then pro­gresses through clas­sic cock­tails, trop­i­cal drinks, punch­bowls, desserts (lots of ice cream-based drinks), and cus­tom con­coc­tions of the author’s own design. Everything is described, explained and well-tested.

Although I really enjoy the sen­ti­ment behind the book and a few of the recipes, I must admit that the major­ity of the drinks are not for me. Most of them (even out­side the “trop­i­cal” chap­ter) are based heav­ily on fruit juices or sim­ple syrup. Although I enjoy a sweet cock­tail on occa­sion, my tastes tend to lean toward the savory. I like mar­ti­nis (vodka and gin), absinthe, char­treuse. As much as I love the look, I don’t often go for tiki drinks. Sugar fre­quently leaves me with stom­ach aches.

That being said, I still do rec­om­mend this book. Even if they’re not all my favorite recipes, it’s nice to have them avail­able when enter­tain­ing guests. Could you find sim­i­lar recipes on your own on the web? Yes. But it’s so con­ve­nient hav­ing them all together in one vol­ume. Plus the art­work is fun. It’s good to leave out for vis­i­tors to paw through. The ladies at the Powell’s check­out counter all wanted to buy the book based on the art­work alone. And if you’re not already a cock­tail per­son, the open­ing chap­ter does a great job at walk­ing you through equip­ment and tech­niques.

Stay tuned tomor­row when my reviews of vir­gin vices con­tinue. I will take a look at e-cigarettes.

Posted in: Books Food


My recent comic reads

Yesterday I asked about Iron Man comics and stated that I like the new Hawkeye, but that I had pre­vi­ously never got­ten into “super­hero” style comics. So which comics do I like?

LeagueThe thing that started it all was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie on the hori­zon. It looked like a great mix of Victorian sci­ence fic­tion (a.k.a. “steam­punk”) and alternate-history, weav­ing together the sto­ries of a hand­ful of fic­tional char­ac­ters of the era. I thought it would good to give it a shot; to be famil­iar with the source mate­r­ial before view­ing the film. I bought it. I read it. I really enjoyed the book. In fact, each page is packed so full of inside ref­er­ences that I found and book­marked a com­pan­ion web­site that went page-by-page through the book and high­lighted all the ref­er­ences. Sadly, it was a Geocities site that is long gone, but Notes on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #1 seems roughly equiv­a­lent. The movie? I know that a lot of peo­ple hated that film, but I actu­ally enjoyed it.

V_for_Vendetta-WatchmenLather, rinse, repeat for V for Vendetta and The Watchmen. Although I had never been into comics, myself, I have always been sur­rounded by friends who are into them, some more than oth­ers. I’d heard friends talk about how cool both were since way back in high school. Based on the book/movie dif­fer­ences in Gentlemen, I decided I had to read these two before the movies.

So my comic book ini­ti­a­tion was via movies, and exclu­sively Alan Moore. Oddly enough, I saw From Hell with­out first read­ing the comic. I should prob­a­bly put that on my read­ing list.

ScottPilgrimNext up was another movie: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. It took me a while to get into the style of the comic and to iden­tify cer­tain char­ac­ters because many were styled sim­i­larly, but I really liked it by the end. When it came out, I really enjoyed the video-game-ness of the movie.

Long_way_home_tpbNow, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics? I couldn’t get into them. The comics start off after the final tele­vi­sion sea­son, but I only got a few issues in before I lost inter­est.

FablesI picked up the first two issues of the Fables series and enjoyed what was there, but I guess not enough to go back and pick up more? That’s about as far as I got.

More recently, I heard about Locke & Key from The Incomparable pod­cast. To quote the Amazon descrip­tion: “Locke & Key tells of Keyhouse, an unlikely New England man­sion, with fan­tas­tic doors that trans­form all who dare to walk through them, and home to a hate-filled and relent­less crea­ture that will not rest until it forces open the most ter­ri­ble door of them all!”

Locke & Key is a story about modern-day char­ac­ters, but it’s also about a spe­cial house and magic keys that were both passed down gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion since the Civil War days. You end up with amaz­ing flash­backs to not just the par­ents of the kids who know occupy the house, but to other eras, all the way back to when the keys were first made. This also affords the authors to write some side-stories with totally dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters, but a famil­iar set­ting with famil­iar (as well as new) keys.

sagaI was fully ready to not like Saga. After hear­ing Merlin Mann talk about it for months on his var­i­ous pod­casts, I wasn’t sure it was for me. And I was get­ting tired of hear­ing how awe­some he thought it was. But a few weeks ago, The Incomparable did a full show on it, which left me intrigued enough to look at the first issue of the first vol­ume dig­i­tally. And, you know what? It really was pretty awe­some.

I’ve heard Saga described as Star Wars meets Game of Thrones. It is com­pared to Romeo & Juliet and Lord of the Rings. Those are sort of right, and it does have enough sex and boo­bies to qual­ify for the Game of Thrones com­par­i­son, but it’s really just its own thing. There are two war­ring races in the galaxy. The ones with wings have mas­tered tech­nol­ogy, the ones with horns have mas­tered magic. The winged lady is a prison guard, the horned man is a pris­oner of war. They flee together and have a child (some­thing that was pre­vi­ously thought impos­si­ble between their races). Some bounty hunters — The Will and his com­pan­ion Lying Cat and The Stalk, who is a freaky crab/spider woman — are hired to go after them as well as Price Robot IV.


The series isn’t over yet. There are two trade-paperback vol­umes out and a sin­gle issue beyond the sec­ond vol­ume. This is one where I bought the paper­backs and, instead of wait­ing for the next paper­back like I usu­ally do, I went ahead and bought the next issue dig­i­tally.

Hawkeye-2And finally, Hawkeye. I talked about it yes­ter­day when ask­ing about Iron Man.  This is the first “super­hero” comic I got into. This is due, in part, to Merlin Mann rant­ing about it.

So, gen­tle reader: Which comics do you like? Which ones do you think I would enjoy?

Posted in: Books


Your Iron Man Responses

Hawkeye-2I don’t really con­sider myself a comic book per­son, but I do have occa­sional stretches where I will get into comics for a few weeks before drop­ping back out of them for months. Recently, I picked up a copy of the new Hawkeye series by Matt Fraction. In fact, I picked up the first issue on Comixology to try it out and had fin­ished the series a day later.

As you may or may not know from The Avengers movie, Hawkeye was the guy with no super­pow­ers — no super-healing, no super-speed, no super-strength — just a pale­olithic stick and string. This series cov­ers his life when he’s not being an Avenger. He’s not sav­ing the world in epic ways, but he is help­ing peo­ple and doing good in smaller, more every­day ways. And occa­sion­ally calls Tony Stark over to help him set up his Tivo.

This got me think­ing about the other Avengers. I really like Iron Man in the var­i­ous movies he’s in and thought I might try out a comic. I see that Comixology has a lot of Iron Man and I am sure there is even more out there that isn’t in the app. In fact, there is so much of it that I have no idea where to even begin. Most of the comics I read are con­tained story arcs with a spe­cific start­ing issue. The super­hero stuff spans decades — gen­er­a­tions, some­times. Where do you even begin. So I asked the Lazyweb.

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Thanks to @HiddenPeanuts, @technoweenie, and @CurtisCChen, I will take a look at Invincible Iron Man first (bonus: by Matt Fraction, whom I am already famil­iar with due to Hawkeye), fol­lowed by Iron Man: Extremis.

Thanks, every­body!

Posted in: Books


A monogrammed cube for you

I read Douglas R. Hofstadter’s book “Gödel, Escher, Bach” years ago.  Although a few chap­ters have latched them­selves to mem­ory, I’m sure I have since for­got­ten most of it.  The cover, though,  has stuck with me the longest.  It con­sists of some blocks under spot­lights, the shad­ows of which spell out “G E B.”  (Though look­ing back at it now, and after hav­ing tried to set up a sim­i­lar photo, I have to won­der if the shad­ows were pho­to­shopped in.)

2013-02-24 17.19.02When I was more into wood­work­ing, I thought that I might make a cube with my ini­tials.  That never hap­pened.  I got a 3D printer and thought that might be a fun lit­tle project.  It has since taken two years to hap­pen.  The thing that kicked it off?  Thingiverse’s Customizer.  This is a way for a designer like myself to upload a spe­cially pre­pared CAD file that exposes cer­tain vari­ables to the end user.  These vari­able para­me­ters then get UI knobs that let any­one with a web browser twid­dle set­tings and view the results in real­time in a browser.  It makes things really easy and requires no soft­ware on the end user’s part.  They plug in the val­ues they want until the pre­view looks good and the sys­tem gen­er­ates the 3D file that they down­load and print.

I decided I would make my own user-tweakable Monogram Cubes using the Customizer sys­tem.  (Full dis­close: part of the moti­va­tion stems from Thingiverse run­ning a Customizer con­test to win the new Replicator 2.  Customizer and down­load the model early and often!)  Generating a cube is now really easy: just open the Monogram Cube in Customizer, select some ini­tials and a font, down­load, and print.




There are two type­faces you can choose from. “Blocks” yields bet­ter results, but is more styl­is­tic and block-like. It reminds me of some dis­play type­faces from the 20s and 30s. It has smaller over­hangs and is eas­ier to print. “Alternate” results in more con­sis­tently letter-like, less styl­ized results, but has more over­hangs and is harder to print. It also has a few more incom­pat­i­ble let­ters.

Note that cer­tain let­ter com­bi­na­tions don’t work well, espe­cially with the “alter­nate” type­face.

Many let­ters you select, depend­ing on which face they are on, will have over­hangs that will require a raft with sup­ports. You might be able to skirt around this with cer­tain con­fig­u­ra­tions of let­ters (for exam­ple, if only one of the three let­ters has big over­hangs) by rotat­ing on the X or Y axis or even flip­ping the whole block upside-down.

Find it on Thingiverse:


Posted in: Books Code MakerBot


My favorite book, back in 1983

While rewatch­ing Super 8 the other night — a monster-movie film about kids mak­ing a mon­ster movie, with a feel very sim­i­lar to Goonies — I remem­bered a book I had back in 1983 or 1984. Although I had not thought of it in years, the title, “Lights! Camera! Scream!”, and the cover art cen­tered around a cylon-like robot clicked into men­tal focus as if I had just looked at it yes­ter­day.

At the time I received the book, I think I knew a cou­ple of the con­cepts, such as using stop-motion to ani­mate a story or even using it to go from man to wolf­man a few frames at a time. There was also a lot that it taught me, like basic sound edit­ing and story fun­da­men­tals.

I remem­ber spend­ing sev­eral... hours? days? weeks? that sum­mer using my father’s Super-8 cam­era to ani­mate my Star Wars At-At toy walk­ing around the house.

photo credit: Flickr user lux­u­ry­luke

I dug out that old book the other night.  Looking at it as an adult, it seems a bit campy and cheesy in places, but also fairly infor­ma­tive.  The core con­cepts are great, but There are entirely too many words devoted to non-movie things like turn­ing your bed­room into a cool edit­ing room with the req­ui­site “Keep Out” sign on the door and design­ing movie posters for your film.  But, then, as a kid I’m sure those are the sug­ary desserts com­pared to the meat-and-potatoes of the film­ing and edit­ing.

These days, a sim­i­lar book would shed the chemical-film-based cam­era in favor of some­thing dig­i­tal — a hand­held or web­cam, likely.  A razor blade and tape would be replaced by iMovie or Windows Movie Maker.  Using brushes to paint on top of the devel­oped film gets kicked out and replaced by Motion or After Effects.  But the core con­cepts — using 24 pic­tures per sec­ond to do fun and cre­ative things — are still exactly the same.

This pic­ture, in par­tic­u­lar, reminded me of the kids (or maybe younger ver­sions of them) in the movie Super 8:

Posted in: Books Dear Diary Movies

Two great authors and a lecture

Since get­ting the Kindle a few years ago, the amount of time I devote to read­ing has sky­rock­eted. In that time, I have read a lot of great stuff, a few hor­ri­ble things, and reac­quainted myself, through reread­ing, to famil­iar yet for­got­ten works. In that time, a cou­ple of new (at least, new to me) authors and texts rose to the top of my favorites list.

I first heard a Ted Chiang story two years ago, not on the Kindle, but via pod­cast. Due to time con­straints, I do not lis­ten to Escape Pod any­more, but I highly rec­om­mend the pod­cast as a source of free scifi short sto­ries in audio­book form. I was churn­ing through sev­eral episodes of Escape Pod while doing yard work. I vividly remem­ber that when Ted’s story “Exhalation” started up, it was so amaz­ing and engross­ing that, with­out real­iz­ing it, I put my yard work on hold. I sim­ply stood there, lis­ten­ing, until I became self-conscious of just stand­ing there and wan­dered over to the shade to sit down and lis­ten prop­erly. It was just that good.  At the time, it was nom­i­nated for a Hugo award, which it later won.  I do not want to say too much about the story itself, but I will say that I found it highly rem­i­nis­cent of H.G. Wells, Marie Shelley, and E.A. Poe in the way it com­bines sci­ence, dis­cov­ery, and human nature in a con­vinc­ing world set­ting. I highly urge you to lis­ten to “Exhalation” at Escape Pod, read it online, or buy the short story col­lec­tion it first appeared in. It’s a quick listen/read and I promise that you’ll at least get some­thing from it.  He has a few other Nebula and Hugo award sto­ries that I plan on read­ing shortly.

I am not sure where I first heard of Connie Willis. I believe her novel “To Say Nothing of the Dog” was tan­gen­tially men­tioned by some steampunk-related arti­cle. The set­ting is Victorian England with a very light­weight, yet com­pelling, time-travel back­drop to the story. It has a good amount of dry com­edy, both sit­u­a­tional and with word­play, rem­i­nis­cent of a Jeeves and Wooster story, yet I can­not cat­e­go­rize it as com­edy. Overall, it is about his­to­ri­ans in the future trav­el­ing to the past, cre­at­ing an acci­den­tal para­dox and try­ing to reverse it, but I can­not cat­e­go­rize it as scifi. There is the mys­tery of the Bishop’s bird-stump, yet it is not a mys­tery novel.  It defies cat­e­go­riza­tion, yet brings together so many cat­e­gories I enjoy.  This book also won a Hugo award, and I can­not wait to read her recent Hugo win­ning novel pair “Blackout/All Clear”.

It now turns out that these two authors are com­bin­ing forces to give an online lec­ture (or, if you are into mar­ket­ing tech­nol­ogy, you might know this style of infor­ma­tion dis­per­sal by the hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble name “webi­nar”).  The Time Travel Lecture is later this month and can be watched live online or down­loaded after­ward.  There is a cost involved (£15) so I am still waf­fling on whether it is worth the price.

While the lec­ture itself is some­thing to take under con­sid­er­a­tion, if you have not yet read any­thing from these authors, you should check them out post-haste.

Posted in: Books


The more I stare at the spines of the books rest­ing, untouched for years, on my wall of shelv­ing, the more I real­ize I may never open them again. As more and more of them become avail­able on iDe­vices and eRead­ers, I tend to reac­quire the titles in dig­i­tal for­mat.

Part of me is sad about this. Leather(-like) bind­ings, gilded edges, beau­ti­ful heavy tomes—all gone. Part of me is happy that I can carry an entire wall of books in my back pocket and instantly search them all at once.


Posted in: Books Pictures


WikiPub 1.1

This is just a quick note to point folks to the 1.1 update of WikiPub.  This is an incre­men­tal update that adds two options:

  • By default, the WikiLeaks cables are split apart into sep­a­rate ebooks, one per year, instead of one mono­lithic book.  The size of the sin­gle book made some read­ers slug­gish.  There’s an option to gen­er­ate the one giant book, if you still want that.
  • There is a new exper­i­men­tal option for con­vert­ing the mono­spaced font into a pro­por­tional one.  It works for about 99% of the text, but because of the way the orig­i­nal pages han­dle para­graphs (usu­ally line breaks for line wrap­ping within a para­graph and dou­ble line breaks as para­graph sep­a­ra­tors, but not always) , the logic to reflow para­graphs can some­times hic­cup.  Don’t com­plain too hard if you find two para­graphs mag­i­cally stuck together.

More infor­ma­tion is on the project page and please direct your com­ments over there, too (i.e. com­ments are dis­abled on this post, so that all com­ments about the soft­ware can be found in one cen­tral loca­tion.)

Posted in: Books Code Projects

moleskine on ipad

My reverse iPad/Moleskine hack

I have seen plenty of “iPad Moleskine hacks” out there that all boil down to attack­ing a Moleskine with an X-Acto blade and insert­ing your iPad inside, ren­der­ing the Moleskine’s qual­ity as being a blank book use­less.  The DODOcase is a pro­fes­sion­ally made iPad case that has per­fected the Moleskine-like look.  I really like the style of the DODOcase, but I like the wedge shape that you can fold the offi­cial Apple case into much, much more.

As I read both fic­tion and non­fic­tion, I like to have a blank note­book at hand.  This is espe­cially true for elec­tronic books, where you can’t just make notes in the mar­gins.  Well, I guess, tech­ni­cally you can — you click and hold on a word, select the pop-up option to add a note at that loca­tion, then type in a text-only mes­sage with the on-screen key­board, then save it.  It offers hardly the speed or flex­i­bil­ity of jot­ting a quick list or draw­ing a more elab­o­rate dia­gram.  The goal of a well-designed ebook read­ing device is to fade into the back­ground so it is just you and the words.  When you have to fid­dle with the inter­face to write a note, it has failed.

I have thought long and hard of var­i­ous ways to solve my need for writ­ing notes with­out hav­ing to carry around a sep­a­rate note­book.  My best thought, were it not for the iPad’s glass screen, was to attach a notepad or sev­eral sheets of paper to the inside front cover with a binder clip.  Of course, binder clips being metal and the iPad being glass, I don’t think this idea would work too ter­ri­bly well in real­ity.  My next thought was to slip some small pages or index cards back behind the iPad and the case.  The Apple case looked like it would work well for this because it’s like a rub­ber enve­lope that the iPad slides into.  Unfortunately, the enve­lope is too deep and the paper gets lost deep down and is hard to fish out.

It turns out that Moleskine makes tiny blank books, about the size of 3x5 cards.  (For what it’s worth, these are in the “gifts” sec­tion of Powell’s, not the “blank books” sec­tion.)  One of these will fit per­fectly behind the iPad in the Apple case and are thick enough to not get lost down there, but thin enough to not get in the way.  I have found the ones with the black cov­ers are a bit thin­ner than the ones with the brown card­board cov­ers and there­fore fit a lit­tle bet­ter.

Posted in: Books Dear Diary Gadgets

The Twitterverse answers my comic book question

question blockAs a kid, I never got into comic books all that much. I sus­pect that the only comics I ever read were the free Whiz Kids comics from Radio Shack.  Seriously.  When the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie was on the hori­zon, I picked up the graphic novel upon which it was based.  I love Victorian scifi as well as steam­punk and the comic (ahem, I guess they’re tech­ni­cally called “graphic nov­els”) did not dis­ap­point.  The allu­sions to exist­ing lit­er­ary works were so plen­ti­ful that some­one even made a study guide (I’d link but it seems the book­mark is to Geocities and now defunct).  [UPDATE: it looks like reoc­i­ties holds the geoc­i­ties con­tent, so it’s still avail­able online if I change one let­ter in the URL.]  The movie itself — well, I can­not say I was as dis­ap­pointed as oth­ers, but it could have been a bit bet­ter.

I did the same rou­tine for V for Vendetta and The Watchmen and think I ended up appre­ci­at­ing the films more for hav­ing read the source mate­r­ial.  After a marathon watch of sea­sons 1 through 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I picked up the sea­son 8 comics (the TV show got cut, but the story con­tin­ued in comics).  It had some great moments, but also a lot of “meh.”  Based on the hype for the Scott Pilgrim movie, I did the same for that comic.  I found it dif­fi­cult to first get into (there were a lot of char­ac­ters and they were drawn very sim­i­larly), but it grew on me.  I await the final issue, which should be out any day now.

I find that ear­lier in the evenings and on week­ends I like read­ing texts that are a bit more brain-food, but just before bed that comics (er, graphic nov­els) work best.  Given that I fin­ished the last of the comics on my read­ing list, I asked Twitter where I should go next.  The answers that I received I’m repeat­ing here so that I can refer back to them later.

  • @RobMagus sug­gested check­ing out a vari­ety of comics from Vertigo.  Knowing noth­ing about that, I checked Wikipedia and noted “Y: The Last Man,” about which I had pre­vi­ously heard good things, but had since for­got­ten.  It’s first on my list.
  • @ryanbrownstar sug­gested Cerebus by Dave Sim (and now that I think about it, I seem to recall @greenhiker men­tion­ing it last year).
  • @ThaJinx sug­gested Flight, Daisy Kutter, Paper Biscuit, Maus (the first of a cou­ple — and also one I vaguely remem­ber being told about in the past), Bone, and Asterios Polyp.
  • @MikeyJ (also a comic new­bie) sug­gested Sandman, which I remem­ber friends in high school (?) talk­ing about in the past.  I’ll have to look into it, but from what I remem­ber, it might be too dark for non-high-school-me.
  • @diszaster sug­gested Hellblazer and sec­onded both Sandman and Maus.
  • @misuba sug­gested The Invisibles.

And there you have it.  This post is for me to refer back to just as much as it is for you to learn from.  If you have any other sug­ges­tions or refine­ments on these ones, please feel free to leave a com­ment.

Posted in: Books Dear Diary Questions