July 27, 2010

The ABCs of Curling - Y

illum_y is for Yellow, a common identifying colour for curling rocks. At one time, curlers owned their own rocks, and brought them to the rink for each game. Everybody's rocks were different, and one became familiar with the way one's rocks behaved on the ice. Different stones would go farther, or stop sooner. They might curl more, or less than other people's rocks. As the game evolved, and rules became more universally standardized, and clubs accquired their own buildings and facilities, privately owned rocks fell by the wayside. A friend of mine recently mentioned to me that he has one of his grandfather's old curling stones propping open a door in his house in St. Catherines.

The goal of any modern curling club is to have all of thier rocks behave the same way on the ice. In reality, that turns out to be something of an impossible dream. There are just too many variables involved, and miniscule variations in the texture of the running surface can result in dramatic differences in how far a rock will travel, or curl. Most icemakers will spend a not insignificant amount of time throwing all the rocks in the club, and trying to pair up - or 'match' - identically running rocks to make sets of eight that will be at least similar to each other during game play. This is an exhaustingly laborious undertaking, and as such, most clubs rocks will be matched in only the most rudimentary manner. And that doesn't even take into account the fact that a rock's behaviour might change over time as it's running surface wears.

At large national and international curling events being contested by the best teams in the world, exceptional care is taken to ensure the curlers are playing with the best possible rocks. The Canadian Curling Association keeps a set of top quality stones that they transport around the country for use at major CCA sanctioned events. Before, say, the Brier national championship, the stones will be carefully matched so the players can have the best possible experience on the ice. With all this care, the players still find minor differences between the rocks, and will often swap rocks around in throwing order based on how they believe they will behave under different circumstances. During the course of the week at one of these events, as teams play on each different sheet of ice, using each different set of rocks, they will meticulously chart the performance of the stones. Should they reach the finals, they will be allowed to select any of the rocks from across the rink to assemble a set of eight they like.

At most organised bonspiels, rock colour is preselected for the teams before they go on the ice. During regular in-club league play, however, the team who is throwing first as determined by the coin toss will usually select whether to throw blue or yellow rocks. Regular club curlers will often have their own opinions which colour rocks are better to choose on any given sheet based upon prior experience. Of course, during the off season, the rocks might be stored without handles, and reassembled in a different order the next year. Or, the running surfaces might be retextured at some point, which changes everything. Each team starts a new year in club curling having to suss out the rocks all over again before they come to a conclusion, like: "on ice two, don't take blue!"

<- Start at the beginning.

July 23, 2010

100 SF books everyone should read...

Kelly points out a list, at Bookstove.com, of 100 Science Fiction Novels Everyone Should Read. They don't give any commentary on these books at all. They just say, "hey, you should read these." As with all such lists, it is highly subjective. There are books on this one I'd probably leave off, and books I've read that I think should be here. What are your thoughts?

Taking a cue from Kelly, I've emboldenated the ones I've read, and added commentary here and there.

1. The Postman – David Brin
2. The Uplift War – David Brin Of course, this is the third book of a trilogy, so if you want to pick up some Brin, I wouldn't start with this one.
3. Neuromancer – William Gibson Big fan of Gibson. Highly recommended.
4. Foundation – Isaac Asimov
5. Foundation and Empire – Isaac Asimov
6. Second Foundation – Isaac Asimov ...and the multitudinous sequels and prequels - I have seven Foundation Series novels.
7. I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
8. The Long Tomorrow – Leigh Brackett
9. Rogue Moon – Algis Budrys
10. The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
11. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury I'm pretty sure I've read this one, but I don't really remember it at all.
12. Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
13. Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke My grade ten english teacher passed copies of this book out to the class, and told us to read it for an upcoming assignment. He never mentioned it again.
14. The City and the Stars – Arthur C. Clarke
15. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
16. Armor – John Steakley
17. Imperial Stars – E. E. Smith On this list? Perhaps as an example of Golden Age Science Fiction pulp novels, but important? Good? No, I wouldn't say so.
18. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley I've tried to read this several times, but have bounced off (as Kelly puts it) the antiquated writing style.
19. Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
20. Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card
21. Dune – Frank Herbert
22. The Dosadi Experiment – Frank Herbert I'm a fan of Herbert, but I think Dune is probably representative enough for this list. Not sure why such an obscure example of his work appears here.
23. Journey Beyond Tomorrow – Robert Sheckley
24. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
25. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
26. Valis – Philip K. Dick
27. A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
28. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick Hard to believe I've never read any P.K. Dick. I should do something about that. Having said that, is his work really important enough to rate five inclusions on this list?
29. 1984 – George Orwell
30. Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
31. Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
32. The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells
33. The Time Machine – H. G. Wells
34. The Island of Doctor Moreau – H. G. Wells
35. The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells
36. A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller, Jr.
37. Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank
38. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
39. A Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne
40. From the Earth to the Moon – Jules Verne
41. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne
42. Old Man’s War – John Scalzi Again, not sure why this one's here. I mean, it was a pretty good book, but I wouldn't call it excellent, literary, or important.
43. Nova Express – William S. Burroughs
44. Ringworld – Larry Niven I've read just about everything Niven's written. Yep, a fan.
45. The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournell
46. The Unreasoning Mask – Philip Jose Farmer
47. To Your Scattered Bodies Go – Philip Jose Farmer
48. Eon – Greg Bear
49. Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton
50. The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton
51. Lightning – Dean Koontz
52. The Stainless Steel Rat – Harry Harrison
53. The Fifth Head of Cerebus – Gene Wolfe
54. Nightside of the Long Sun – Gene Wolfe
55. A Princess of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs
56. Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson
57. Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson Another author I really have to read.
58. The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
59. Solaris – Stanislaw Lem
60. Doomsday Book – Connie Wills And another.
61. Beserker – Fred Saberhagen
62. Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
63. The Word for World is Forest – Ursula K. LeGuin
64. The Dispossessed – Ursula K. LeGuin
65. Babel-17 – Samuel R. Delany
66. Dhalgren – Samuel R. Delany
67. Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
68. The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
69. Star King – Jack Vance
70. The Killing Machine – Jack Vance
71. Trullion: Alastor 2262 – Jack Vance
72. Hyperion – Dan Simmons
73. Starship Troopers – Robert A. Heinlein
74. Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein
75. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
76. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
77. More Than Human – Theodore Sturgeon
78. A Time of Changes – Robert Silverberg
79. Gateway – Frederick Pohl
80. Man Plus - Frederick Pohl
81. The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham Lots of people seem to have studied this book in high school. I didn't.
82. Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement
83. The Execution Channel – Ken Macleod
84. Last and First Men – W. Olaf Stapledon
85. Slan – A. E. van Vogt
86. Out of the Silent Planet – C. S. Lewis Here's a classic I should check out.
87. They Shall Have Stars – James Blish
88. Marooned in Realtime – Vernor Vinge
89. A Fire Upon the Deep – Vernor Vinge
90. The People Maker – Damon Knight
91. The Giver – Lois Lowry
92. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
93. Contact – Carl Sagan Saw the movie, but haven't read ths book.
94. Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
95. The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
96. Battlefield Earth – L. Ron Hubbard Yeah, I really did. Take my advice: don't.
97. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain
98. Little Brother – Cory Doctorow I've read other Doctorow, but this one's pretty new.
99. Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Jack Finney
100. Planet of the Apes – Pierre Boulle There was a book?

Well, looks like I've read 40% of these titles. I was doing really well on the top half of the list, but fell off a bit on the bottom half. Author's I think probably should have made this list:

Cordwainer Smith
Roger Zelazny

What do you think?

July 20, 2010

Fionavar Tapestry Character Test

This has been sitting in my Test Journal since April 24, 2007. I never published it here before because I didn't think anyone would be interested. Activity here being what it is, however, I thought I'd dig out some old stuff just to let everyone know I'm not dead or something.

I'm Paul Schafer!
I'm Paul Schafer!
Take The Fionavar Tapestry Character Test today!
Created with Rum and Monkey's Personality Test Generator.

You are Paul Schafer, the Twiceborn. You are a private person who values self-control but inspires loyalty in your friends. You expect much of yourself and are willing to push yourself to your limits, both physically and mentally. You may have a fondness for tree-houses.

So, WTF? The Fionavar Tapestry is a fantasy trilogy by Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay of which I am very fond (the trilogy, I mean - OK, and the author, too). If you haven't read it, the quiz results will be somewhat meaningless to you. Also, if you haven't read it, I recommend you do so. It's rather good.

July 12, 2010

Monday Stealing

I ripped this off from Kelly, who, apparently, ripped it off from somewhere else (as it was meant to be ripped). I'm not a big quiz kinda guy, but this one fed right into my own personal sense of misanthropy and self-superiority. You probably shouldn't read it.

1. Lindsay Lohan was recently sentenced to 90 days in jail. What do you think her future has in store for her?

Who cares?

2. What is the biggest fashion "don't" that you would like to police?

Who cares?

3. How should we punish sites that lure us in with "read this" and take us somewhere where we are first greeted by a pop-up and then a series of click throughs to actually read the meat of the story?

Be smart enough to not click on the lure link in the first place. I mean, c'mon, they're pretty damn easy to spot, you know. Also, who cares?

4. What is the most you will do to post a comment on a site? At what point is it not worth posting a comment?

I usually balk at signing up for some proprietary commenting system that isn't widely used. I mean, I have a Blogger (Google) ID, an AOL ID, a Wordpress ID, a Yahoo! ID and a Typekey ID. If your blog uses some other sign-up required system that I've never even heard of before, I'm unlikely to make the effort, 'cause, you know, who cares? Unless, of course, I need to point out how stupid you are, or something.

5. If you purchase something online and you are charged for postage, is it still reasonable to charge for "shipping and handling"? What exactly does "shipping and handling" entail?

"Shipping and handling" is just another scam way of inflating the profit on your sale. I just add it to the purchase price in my head and then decide if I think it's still a good deal. Ebay users who charge it deserve to be shot. And, to carry on the theme, "who cares!"

That's all.

July 01, 2010


In my recent inactivity and inattention, I have let my blogiversary pass unmarked. This past Monday was the sixth birthday of Aurora Walking Vacation. What, you're skeptical? Please allow me to present my evidence.

As you were.