Review: Max Gladstone: Three Parts Dead – 4 stars

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Three Parts DeadMax Gladstone: Three Parts Dead

There is that time of the year when you get a book hiatus. All the favorite authors are busy re-charging or typing feverishly new masterpieces and you have absolutely nothing to read. No new werewolf stories. No spunky witches hunting evil interlanders. Sookie Stackhouse not getting into trouble with fey. Dresden is having a short vacation.

I get desperate, I admit. So, I tried Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. I have never seen until now an attempt to link together magic and, well, lawyers (which was surprising as I expected something akin to an urban fantasy). And it kinda works. Main character is a spunky female Tara that dared to defy power-hungry authority figure. She suffers consequences but gets invited into a very powerful lawyer nercomacy firm that solves problems of people whose deity has died. Slightly convoluted plot, elements of a detective story with somewhat predictable ending and pleasant after-ending bit.

Liked: the setting and how everything comes together in this version of the universe. Tara’s boss is interesting. Plot twists are mildly interesting.

Not liked: narration is a bit slow. Okay, maybe not a bit — first part is rather slow, but I managed to get through it. There are many referrals to old events that could have been included in the story to spruce it up a bit.

Overall not bad. Not sure if I’d want to read a sequel, if there’s ever one.

Can this be? Google Fiber in Austin!

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So, local news station KVUE has confirmed that Austin will be picked for next Google Fiber deployment. Can this be? My wish back from 2010 is finally coming true?

I certainly hope so. Every additional city where Google expands to will show that it’s possible to provide reasonably priced internet access without lying about per-byte-billing and with great speeds. Even those who chose not to get it will benefit, as I am sure Time Warner Cable will conveniently bump up speeds and reduce prices “just because” (while denying any impact from potential competitor).

I hope the service will arrive in Austin soon.

p.s. it might also explain the reason Time Warner Cable has sent me a letter recently about “extending the promotion” and how they have bumped speeds for some plans (of course that could be a coincidence)

T-Mobile: Un-carrier with somewhat better prices

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T-Mobile uncarrier plansLooks like T-Mobile’s new “uncarrier” plans are now live. And it’s a good thing. Kinda.

First, the good part:
– no more contract. If you want a “discounted” phone, you have to just finance it, and add to monthly payments. This was always the worst possible aspect of US cell phone service — you used to get contract no matter what. And if you didn’t want the phone — too bad, just sell it on eBay or something.

– unlimited data. Kinda. They say that speed will be downgraded to “2G” after included allotment is used up. Better than overages for sure.

– unlimited minutes and texts. No explanation needed, this is pretty much “the thing” now — everyone offers it, though at different prices.

– mobile hot spot is now standard. About time. There’s really no reason why regular carriers charge extra $20 for mobile hot spot — you’ve already paid for the data, so it shouldn’t matter how exactly you are using it.

Now the bad part:
– unlimited minutes and texts. Yes, it’s both good and bad. There used to be plans with less minutes but more high-speed data — no more. I think it was Verizon that started the trend of making all minutes unlimited, wether you want it or not. Not everyone needs tons of minutes, so now there are less options.

– plan charges you 20c for every international message (see here for details). While it’s better than, say, Sprint charging you for both incoming and outgoing international text, still, MVNO that use the same T-Mobile network but also include international messages in price.

– price is somewhat too high. Again, looking at MVNO (for example, Solavei or Simple Mobile or even Go Smart Mobile which is owned by T-Mobile) you can get all the same things but for less, especially if you already have a phone. Most of the MVNO give you more data at overall same or less price ($45 for something that includes 2Gb+ of high speed data).

credit approval may be required — I suppose for phones only? Doesn’t really say.

– those pesky taxes and fees. Specifically: “Regulatory Programs Fee of up to $1.61 per line/month applies. Taxes approximately 6–28 percent of your monthly bill”. In other words, the real price will be up to $65.61 ($50 + $1.61 + $50*0.28). With true pre-paid you get maximum of sales tax/USF fee, which is generally less. And no “regulatory” fee.

Overall, it’s a step in the right direction. Tiny, tiny step. Hopefully more steps will be taken soon, such as bigger variety of voice plans, and cheaper data.

p.s. Of course if you go with MVNO you probably won’t get LTE data for a while, but given how limited T-Mobile’s LTE network is, it probably won’t make any difference.

Review: Psycho-Pass/サイコパス anime (4 stars)

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It doesn’t happen that often, but every once in a while I run into nice new anime. Lately there’s been a lull, but finally I stumbled on Psycho-Pass. Futuristic story about the society, where artificial intelligence system Sybil is providing, essentially, all guidance for everyone — where you should study, what job you should take, etc. It’s all done thanks to monitoring and reading people’s psychological state. Based on that, the system assigns you a “crime probability coefficient” and psycho-pass color — the higher your coefficient is, the cloudier your psycho-pass becomes (and more people obsess over it). And more dangerous for society you are considered to be. As your hue changes, you get assigned therapy or medical intervention, but sometimes nothing helps and people flip out.

Series follows a group of Enforcers — criminals who are considered to be incurable and have detective-handlers, who control them. Each one is equipped with the Dominator — special gun connected to Sybil. If the target is considered to be well-behaved, the gun won’t fire. For high “enforcement” cases it shoots paralyzing impulse, and higher — kills.

A rather interesting premise. From one point of view, everyone in society believes that Sybil is always perfect, and accepts job, training, everything dispensed based on their hue. On the other hand, how come there are still criminals? And worse, along the way, the story reveals even more disturbing cases where criminal isn’t considered to have high crime coefficient so… can’t be shot. Plus other side stories tell what happens when, for example, a close friend gets whisked away for having cloudy psycho-pass. And, of course, “forbidden romance”.

Four stars — some detective stories are rather interesting. World is painted gradually, with more and more interesting details added.
Romance side, unfortunately, a bit predictable (okay, up to 13th episode, I don’t know what will happen next). It makes me think of Death Note in terms of plot getting more and more twisted. Plus back-stories of characters are gradually revealed.

Warning for those, who might be upset about some rather bloody scenes (well, it’s futuristic anime with smart guns, after all)

Series are available on Hulu for free Psycho-Pass

Ingress invite received. Now what?

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IngressAh, the sweet scent of exclusivity… Do you remember when Google was giving away invites to GMail? How about Google Wave? Now it’s Ingress, the New Hot Game that everyone wants.

Of course I wanted an invite too, given how everyone was excited about hacking the portals, establishing the fields, capturing minds (or freeing people’s minds, depending on if you’re on the Enlightened or Resistance’s side). Slick commercials warm up the interest even more, so yes, I did send a request for an invite.
It took more than a month, which, judging by reports from other users, is about right. Unfortunately I got a bit jaded during that time. I’ve read a bunch of articles, I’ve browsed Ingress communities (there are many of them on Google Plus) and it all gave me a rather large expectation of actively playing here and there. But when activation finally came…

Well, I’d say it’s a great game if you live downtown. And totally empty ghost-town with a few crickets chirping here and there if you are in the boonies in suburbs. When the whole point is to interact with “portals” and, essentially, do the “capture the flag in the area” type of activities, but there are no portals nearby, interest wanes pretty fast.

I mean yes, if I drive for half an hour to the northern part of town, people say there’s a portal there. And many more downtown (they have statues there in addition to restricted parking and one-way streets, McDonald’s doesn’t qualify for the Enlightened’s interest) but instead of a casual game that you might flick on while waiting for your food at a restaurant, this becomes “go there to play” activity type of thing, which is not what I want at this time. I already have a game that has “portals” everywhere — it’s called Foursquare 🙂

Application-wise, the Ingress is alright, but a bit awkward. Menus are not standard, and application doesn’t like hardware menu button on my Galaxy S II. Rendering is pretty fast. No, you don’t get Virtual Reality view with half-transparent windows overlaying view of the street (that would be cool though). It’s a map with dots and portal icons. But you can’t zoom out beyond a certain point (or at least I couldn’t do it, it allowed to zoom out a bit and then to rotate the map) so I don’t know where exactly other portals might be. Driving through the town while staring at the screen to try to find a portal? That’s a recipe for disaster, no thanks.

Beyond original training missions, which I completed on the first day, nothing new has popped up yet. So, I guess, it’s time to uninstall it and, perhaps, come back later, when some more content appears.

I wish there was a way to pass along my invite to somebody else, who would be more actively hunting down portals and feel a bit more emotionally envolved with Resistance or Enlightened…