A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Archive for May, 2013

Xanga: The Passing of an Era

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 31, 2013

I first started blogging in early 2004 on Xanga, a blogging site where it seemed like everyone I knew had a blog. I was living in Knoxville TN and literally every person I met had a Xanga blog. Everyone went by their usernames. I blogged daily, for years. I enjoyed it immensely and found quite a few friends on the way — including my wife, Gretchen. At one point early in the last decade, Xanga allegedly had over 40 MILLION users and was the biggest blogging site on the Internet. Then things started to unravel. I started noticing one friend after another simply disappearing from Xanga, some offering no goodbye at all. Boom, they’re just gone! Many migrated to Facebook, which I think has been the big Xanga killer. Many others went to Blogger and some to WordPress, others to TypePad and other blogging sites. I quit blogging on Xanga about three or four years ago, as I was heavily into Facebook and most of my friends had fled Xanga. It depressed me to even go to that site. However, after a year or so away, I found I really missed it, so I returned to Xanga, intent on blogging once more. To my dismay, I knew almost no one at all. Gretchen was still there. So were a few other friends. But by and large everyone I knew was gone from Xanga. Now Xanga has a nice feature called blogrings that allow bloggers to join groups of people based on common themes, like blogrings for Steeler fans or Bipolar people or poetry lovers, etc. I belonged to a number of blogrings and decided to join some more in an effort to make new Xanga friends. So I did. And shortly, to my dismay, I discovered they were all dead. Some rings would have 800 members, but only three updated. No one else did. Everyone had disappeared without deleting their Xanga accounts. They were just ghost town blogs. I got discouraged, so a couple of years ago, after exploring different blogging sites, I started this one here on WordPress. It’s not the same as Xanga. I really miss the old blogrings where people were active on them. Here you have to rely on tags to find other blogs. It seems like such a pain in the ass. But I like the look and feel of WordPress blogs and I like what you can do with them, so I’ve been pretty happy. My only disappointment is I often feel like I’m just writing for myself. On Xanga, a post would generate 10 or 20 or 30 comments. Here I get none. I have 163 followers and only one of you comments at all. Some people “like” some of my posts, for which I’m grateful, so I know my posts are being read by some people, but it’s not the same as Xanga.

Strangely, just a couple of days ago Gretchen asked what would happen if Xanga died. We talked about how much she’d miss it and her friends there. So, imagine our surprise when today Xanga posted this: http://thexangateam.xanga.com/773587240/relaunching-xanga-a-fundraiser/. It basically states that they can’t stay in business. The only way they can is if they migrate to, of all places, WordPress and Xanga members have a month and a half to come up with 60 grand to help with the migration. Otherwise Xanga will be shut down. We don’t think Xanga stands a chance at raising 60K in 6 weeks to keep it going on WordPress. How would that work anyway? Would URLs be “xxx.xanga.wordpress.com”? Would WordPress just incorporate Xanga into its system? It’s not explained in Xanga’s press release. I also want to know what’s going to happen to my domain I bought through Xanga — bukowski-rules.com. Will that just disappear into thin air?

Gretchen and I are sad, cause it’s the passing of an era. This is something we’ve talked about a lot over the past couple of years — how Xanga seemed to have fallen behind the times, how they didn’t have an app (they do now), how they were late to the party, how they didn’t fight back against Facebook. They liken themselves to MySpace and LiveJournal in their press release, so it sounds to me that they’ve already given up the fight. It’s a real shame, because it used to be such a great place to write and meet like minded people, as well as others. And they crapped it all away, refusing to upgrade, refusing to adjust, refusing to acknowledge basic changes in the blogosphere. It’s a real pity. I’ll miss you, Xanga.

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A Review of Vulcan’s Hammer

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 30, 2013

Vulcan's HammerVulcan’s Hammer by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Philip K. Dick’s Vulcan’s Hammer was a good, quick, and entertaining book to read. Published in 1960, it envisions a world run by the Vulcan III, a Skynet-type computer that oversees all of the world, its governments, and citizens. (There were two previous iterations of Vulcan — I and II.) Only the Unity Managing Director, Jason Dill, has access to this computer. Early in the book, a regional director named William Barris becomes suspicious of some things, particularly as there is a populist uprising amongst Luddites and social parasites instigated by self named Healers. Why hasn’t Vulcan III issued any proclamations on the Healers over the 15+ months they’ve been revolting against Unity? Is Dill withholding information from the computer for some obscure reason?

This is one of Dick’s most straightforward and “sci fi” books he wrote. There are lasers and flying cars, super computers taking over the world, and little flying killing “hammer” robots. The plot is fast paced, so character development takes a back seat in this novel, but that’s okay — it’s an enjoyable book anyway. Dick’s paranoia is ever present, although not drug-fueled (thank God!), and people who don’t obey societal dictums are taken to the feared Atlanta, where they undergo forced psychotherapy. Egads! Heh.

Barris becomes suspicious of Dill and flies to Geneva to confront him, where his suspicions are confirmed — Dill has been holding back from the Vulcan III. He’s doing this because the Vulcan II, still in operation, has warned him that III has become a living entity and may become uncontrollable — which is exactly what happens. Civil war occurs, the Healers try to take over, Vulcan III starts operating on its own, and everything becomes crazy. In this novel, there’s war, there are murders, there’s sexual intrigue, there’s technology, there’s mystery — shoot, there’s a little bit for everyone. What isn’t here is Dick’s oft-used dealings with alternate realities, and I was a bit taken aback by that. Doesn’t every Dick novel deal with alternate realities? Apparently not. This book actually reads like one of his excellent short stories and at 166 pages, is close to being one. Is this work Dick’s finest? No. Are we satisfied with the ending? Perhaps. Is this still a bit of enjoyable escapism at work? Most definitely. Heartily recommended for Dick fans, sci fi fans, and people who appreciate reading speculative fiction.

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A Review of Queen: The Complete Works

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 29, 2013

Queen: The Complete WorksQueen: The Complete Works by George Purvis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! This was exhausting to read and it had to be exhausting to write. This is the most comprehensive reference book I’ve ever seen relating to a rock band, or any musician for that matter. It’s amazing how much information is contained in this book. As the blurb on Goodreads says, “Georg Purvis’s meticulous, session-by-session, song-by-song, album-by-album, tour-by-tour record of the band’s progress is the complete reference source that Queen fans have been waiting for.” No kidding. This book details every album, every song (even unreleased songs), every tour and set list, every side project and solo efforts of the members of Queen. It’s unbelievable! Now, I’ve been a big Queen fan since the mid ’70s, so I’m biased. Someone who’s not a fan probably wouldn’t get much out of this book. And even though I’m giving it five stars, there are some weaknesses. Redundancy is a big one. There are only so many descriptions one can read of the same tour for North America, Europe, Japan, Australia, and South America with maybe three song changes in the set lists before boredom sets in. And I don’t care as much about all of the side project and solo work of the band members, so reading about Roger Taylor’s adventures with his band The Cross was uninteresting to me. But each song — are you kidding me??? That is research, my friends! The author of this book is a Queen fan, but also a strict critic who pulls no punches with songs he considers to be weak or bad. He also reports many of the reviews the band received, both good and bad. I learned a lot in reading this heavy 475 page book, and at times, it was highly enjoyable. But, as I mentioned, at other times it was drudgery. One thing the book lacked that surprised me was commentary on the album cover art. I would have enjoyed reading about that and am disappointed it’s not in there. There’s commentary on the videos, so why not the album art? However, I can get past that. I’ve read a lot of Queen books and have many more to read and while it often seems there’s not much more I can learn about the band, a book like this comes along and you realize how much you don’t know at all. It was a lengthy process to get through this book, but I’m glad I did. Recommended for any Queen fan.

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A Review of Time Out of Joint

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 29, 2013

Time Out of JointTime Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint. I tell ya, he rarely disappoints. In this novel, he’s his paranoid self, delving into alternate realities, but the beauty of this book is that it feels more “innocent,” I guess — much less like his later drug crazed paranoid freak show novels (which I still enjoy). This book was written in 1958, published in 1959, and I think it shows a fresher Dick at work, one who hasn’t been addled by psychosis as in the ’70s and later.

The story revolves around Ragle Gumm (odd name, eh?), who lives with his sister and brother-in-law in a small 1950s town. He makes his living solving difficult newspaper puzzles, for which he is paid, and because of which he has become famous. He has won every puzzle, every day for years. So, the tension to keep on winning is getting to him.

Everything seems reasonably normal until we get a hint of “differentness” while the family is playing cards with their neighbors, the Blacks. Vic, Ragle’s brother-in-law, goes in the bathroom and tries to pull the string to turn on the light, panicking when he can’t find it, flailing around. He soon realizes there’s a light switch on the wall, but KNOWS there was a string, even though no one else can relate. Ragle, too, starts experiencing odd goings on, with things disappearing only to be replaced with pieces of paper with words on them describing what they just replaced, like a soda stand. There aren’t any radios in town — just TVs — but when Vic’s boy constructs a radio using a crystal, they overhear people talking about Ragle and the plot gets crazy.

Ragle starts to realize all is not what it seems, especially so when he tries to leave town, only to get hunted down and returned to his house with his memory largely wiped. Late in the book, he and Vic compare notes and realize something is very wrong, so they try and make a run for it, using a stolen 18 wheeler. They get out, find another town, and find out they’re actually in 1998. 1959 is a farce. They’re living in a make believe world. And it all centers on Ragle and his puzzles, the importance of which we discover toward the end of the book.

The end of the book, like so many of Dick’s novels, seems a little rushed, a little too tidied up without the careful thought that went into the writing of the entire novel. Nonetheless, it’s unique and interesting, and it left me wondering why it had taken me so long to discover this entertaining novel. Many reviewers compare this book to The Truman Show film, and I can certainly see why. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but suffice it to say, the paranoia is valid, the alternate reality almost believable, and Dick was truly a visionary. Authors today can’t compete with what he was churning out 50 years ago. This is a short novel, at only 256 pages, and it took me less than a day to rip through it. I couldn’t put it down, even with a somewhat slow opening to the book. I heartily recommend this to, not only Dick fans, but to anyone who likes speculative fiction, as there’s not really too much pure “sci fi” in this book — anyone can enjoy it. Pick it up; you won’t be disappointed.

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A Review of Sum It Up

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 27, 2013

Sum It Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in PerspectiveSum It Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective by Pat Summitt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pat Summitt’s new biography is fascinating to read. I first started gaining respect and admiration for the former Lady Vol coach in 1985 when I first started attending the University of Tennessee. By then, she had already established a first class women’s basketball program, building it from virtually nothing. I was a happy student there when she won her first national championship and as most people know, she went on to win more basketball games than any other men’s or women’s coach ever — 1098, to go with 8 national championships, second only to UCLA’s John Wooden. She did this over a 38 year period during which time every one of the hundreds of young women who played for her graduated — a 100% graduation rate over 38 years. That might be the most impressive record of all.

Pat Head Summitt was born and raised in a small Tennessee town on a farm, raised by a stern, strict father who told he her loved her just once in her entire lifetime — after she had won a national championship at age 43. She had three brothers and had to work her butt off on the farm, in school, and in basketball. She was an Olympic silver medalist in 1976 (the Russians had a 7’2″ center that 5’11” Pat had to guard and the Russians won). She coached the 1984 women’s team to the gold medal. Her book gives detailed accounts of her interactions with many players, some famous, others less so. It was fascinating to gain some locker room insights into the actions of these young women I’ve watched on the court over the past 25+ years. She also talks about other coaches, almost all of them in glowing terms. It’s interesting to see how she treats UConn’s “evil” coach, Geno A. She’s generally good to him, but she does address her breaking off the seasonal rivalry between UConn and UT in some detail (not enough though), but insists that their relationship has been repaired.

Naturally, nearly everyone knows she was diagnosed with early onset dementia, leading to Alzheimer’s, a couple of years ago. I remember exactly where I was when I heard that announcement. I was in my car waiting for my then-girlfriend, now-wife in downtown Chattanooga. When I heard, I just started bawling, as did probably everyone in the state of Tennessee. It’s a real tragedy to hit someone so young and so prominent and who has impacted so many people in so many wonderful ways. She doesn’t shy away from addressing this topic in her book; indeed, it’s central to the book’s theme. She insists that you can still live a somewhat productive life with dementia and is determined to do so for as long as possible. To help her, she has her son Tyler, a young man who I watched grow up over the years. Now’s he’s an assistant coach with Marquette’s women’s team. He’s been a real help to Pat and it’s obvious she’s grateful. While she can’t remember a lot of things anymore, like numbers and plays, it’s obvious she remembers her players and coaches — all of them — and how much of an impact they made on her and her life. It was touching to read of her relationships with many of them. Of course she was known for being stern (like her father), and for her infamous death stare, but she did love the girls in her own way and wanted them to be the best they could be. It’s also a testament to Pat’s success that 74 of her former players went into coaching. If that’s not success, I don’t know what is!

As sad as I am about Pat’s condition and her future, this book was a joy to read and it was actually pretty inspirational. I recommend it for any Tennessee fan, any women’s basketball fan, any sports fan, actually just about everybody. I think everyone can draw something from this book. I loved reading it and even though it’s over 400 pages, I tore through it in a day and a half. Strongly recommended.

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Penguins’ tidal wave washes away the Sens

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 25, 2013

Penguins’ tidal wave washes away the Sens – Cross Checks Blog – ESPN.

The Pens looked great last night in skating to a 6-2 victory, winning the series in five games. Now it’s on to the conference finals against, probably, the Boston Bruins, although they still have to beat the Rangers. Let’s go Pens! All the way to the Stanley Cup!

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