29 February 2008

Grandly grand, centrally central

My co-worker Jason alerted me to a brand-new telephony beta service,. Thanks Jay-fi! Although I'm not a certified bell-head (which was a term used for the lifers at the phone company when I worked there), I am fascinated by telephony, have done some minor switch programming and follow the industry news. Grand Central is the most intriguing new service to come out in a while - it is very similar to an old offering I remember Ameritech made, which required a special docking station for your cell phone which then allowed you to take advantage of least call routing. (More historical info is available from Wikipedia's Grand Central entry; for a more detailed walkthrough of the tool itself see Consolidate Your Phones with GrandCentral from Lifehacker.) I signed up yesterday, and finished my configurations today. I found the following features to be the neatest:

  1. Clicking the button below will send you to v-mail, which is then available on a web interface for me to play back, forward, post here, or whatever!

  2. I set up a number which will now ring to the multitude of devices myself and my husband own, and I can give that number out to people who need to reach our household, and not any particular one of us (e.g. the PTA, utility company, vet's office, etc.)

  3. I no longer have to scramble to find a particular phone that is ringing; either of my cell phones or my home land line will ring and I can answer it.

  4. I'm screening calls now; if you call and don't have your caller id name id'd, then you'll be asked to record your name before the call is routed to me. Take that, telemmarketers!

  5. I can use a rudimentary economizing methodology for my inbound telephone calls, and answer inbound calls to my cellular number on the land line when it is advantageous for me to do so. I can also check my voice mail on the web, instead of using my cell minutes or incurring a local phone charge to do so.

  6. I'm not using it this way, but if I wanted to provide a convenient local number to a group of friends in a different area code so that they could reach me with a local call to that number.

  7. It is easily reversible - if I don't like the service, I can bail and go back to my old methods easily.

Note to self: I have to check out some old 2600 issues and see what they have to say about this.

Follow up post: Grandcentral

25 February 2008

A dance with dragons is really coming soon!

Today I buckled down and pre-ordered George R.R. Martin's next book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Somehow, having an order number makes it seem much more likely that the book will actually arrive someday. I've been passing time at towerofthehand.com and westeros.org reading all kinds of quasi mathematical (r+l=J ?) and philosophical theories about the books. aDwD is due out, per Random House, by 9/30/08. But dear George has said never to believe any date other than those he publishes on his site, and he hasn't put one out there yet.

21 February 2008

Djust Djonesing for Djinni

If you've read any of Janet Evanovich's stories about Jersey girl/bail bondswoman Stephanie Plum (such as One for the Money), but missed the sparkle of the supernatural in those tales, check out the first book in the Weather Warden series from Rachel Caine - Ill Wind (Weather Warden, Book 1). Caine's protagonist, Joanne Baldwin, resembles Evanovich's Stephanie Plum in all the wonderful superficial ways that matter. Hip clothes, fast cars, energetic libido - these two could be good friends if they ever met up. But where Stephanie relies on quick thinking and dumb luck to avoid catastrophe, Joanne has a different approach - she relies on her paranormal control of the weather. Similarly, Stephanie reaches out for help from time to time to a cast of characters who are capable and deadly, but still this side of normal. Joanne runs with a different crowd - Djinnis, for whom the term 'life expectancy' has no meaning to their immortal perspective.

Rachel is brought into a complex plot involving those in the highest echelons of her organization of weather wardens and an unspeakable, unsavory affliction. There is only one known cure, and she finds that morally repugnant. (And it is to the author's credit that this is never written out as her motivation, but is instead presented in slow, careful pieces along the course of the story through the protagonist's choices.) Rachel is on a quest to discover an alternative cure.

The use of djinnis instead of the by now ubiquitous vampires found in so many books of this genre was much welcomed; and the development of these djinni characters was what I most enjoyed about the story. Also noteworthy is the author's internet site, where I found a sample chapter available: Chapter 1. Try to ignore the creepy automaton mouse tracker girl.

18 February 2008

Audiobooks of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

I have been waiting and waiting for dear George's next book to come out and thought I'd best refresh my memory on the characters and places before it did. (See my prior post, A Storm of Waiting for further thoughts on my travails). Unfortunately, I have more than an hour in the car daily on my regular commute so I'm becoming friendly with audiobooks. The first audiobooks for the Song of Ice and Fire series were narrated by Roy Dotrice and he is just perfect; his range is incredible and transports one into the story in the way of great dramatists, making you loose the barrier between your thinking and the story as it unfolds. In the narration, Mr. Dotrice is given no easy task - he has to encompass a multitude of characters, from a nanny a century old to a wary old smuggler. This is does elegantly, exquisitely, and unobtrusively. At the end of each book, I was ready to applaud. I restrained myself, and lived through the rush hour with both hands firmly on the wheel.

Any other narrator would be profoundly challenged to meet Mr. Dotrice's feat. John Lee, the narrator for Feast, seems unaware that there is a challenge. He pronounces character names differently from one chapter to the next (is Cersei "Sir-say" or "Seer-see"? I can forgive screwing up a minor character, but Cersei's a key character), and has characters from hugely divergent regions of Westeros speaking in the same tones, with no accent or diversity. Worse yet, Dotrice had established precedents for pronunciation "Da-Naer-is" as an example, vs. Lee's "Dan-air-is" and the precedents were not honored. In fairness, perhaps Mr. Lee was not given sufficient time to prepare for the role, and certainly he was going to be nitpicked by a bunch of nitpickers like myself who have combed over the books again and again. But I do recall that craftsmen have the ability - responsibility, perhaps - to turn down work they can't do well, given the constraints a client may impose.

I sure do hope as they look to turn these books into a movie that the producers can reflect back upon the excellent work that Dotrice did for the audiobooks - heck, maybe even cast him as narrator in the movie. But I'd be quite happy if they could simply review the beauty of Dotrice's work, and learn the lesson of the cost of the switch to another narrator.

To listen to Lee's recording, check out this narrative of a scene regarding three Citadel students A Feast for Crows:

For comparison, here is a clip of Dotrice's reading of the beginning scene with the night's watch in A Game of Thrones (note how he so well represents the brash lordling, the naive commoner and the old timer):

If you're over the top in outrage, check out the online petition “A Feast for Crows” Deserves Roy Dotrice!