Monday 22 September 2008

Fiction review: Urban Shaman

Urban Shaman  (Book 1 of Walker Papers) Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I've been sampling a bit of urban fantasy lately and this is the best I've found - or at least the one that matches my particular tastes best. There's an endorsement from Jim Butcher, one of my favourite authors, on the cover that says, among other things, that the main character is likeable, and she is (in contrast to some other urban fantasy main characters I've been reading recently, Marla Mason being the main one that comes to mind). She's strong, courageous and has a clear moral centre, but is also flawed and aware that she is going to have to deal with her flaws and that it will be painful.

The other thing I liked was that the story is redemptive. The main character sets out to heal the villain - not destroy him. We could do with more of that.

Well told, with a good touch of humour that isn't overdone. I recommend it.

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Friday 12 September 2008


So. Upcoming elections.

Not the US ones, no, let's not go there, they're becoming just another branch of the entertainment industry now like everything else in the US. The NZ ones, which have just been announced as taking place on Saturday 8 November. (The announcement was turned into the start of campaigning, too.)

By the way, there's been a real turnover in world leaders lately, hasn't there? First Helmut Kohl, then they started falling like flies: Jacques Chirac, Tony Blair, John Howard... people who'd been around for years. George Bush, one way or another, come January. Even the dictators who've ruled for decades - Fidel Castro's gone. Saddam Hussein, of course. Rumour is that Kim Il Sung isn't well. Mugabe's days are, hopefully, numbered.

And the way things are going, if the NZ PM counts as a world leader, she's going to be another casualty. The Labour Party failed to take the hint at the last election from their very reduced majority that people were sick of being overtaxed and overlegislated and having their opinions ignored, and barring a really major screw-up by National or some act of total heroism by Labour, they're going to be out and National will be in.

Last election, the National leader was Don Brash, whose economist's personality and inspired "Let's turn the clock back 30 years!" message just didn't resonate enough with the electorate to make National a viable alternative to what we, rather reluctantly, had. Now it's John Key, or "Mr Keys" as my mother always calls him. He's her local MP, and she can't stand him - reckons he's egotistical and self-serving, a hollow man. He's a politician, so she's probably right, but that's not how he comes across on TV, so he remains electable. In fact, he sounds reasonable, sensible, doesn't do the usual National-in-opposition thing of simply criticising the Government at every turn - has even agreed with a lot of their policies, which is a new tactic. Like I say, barring startling events he's almost certainly going to be our next PM.

Which lands me up against the vexed question of who to vote for, again. The question, as always, is, "Who represents my views least poorly?" Last time I voted Progressive, because of Jim Anderton's anti-drug policies (and much good it did - they lost their second MP and he got in on his electorate seat, like he has for donkeys' years, through three changes of party).

For the sake of any non-New Zealand readers, NZ has an MMP (mixed member proportional) electoral system, which means everyone gets two votes. You vote for someone who is standing in your local electorate, who also belongs to a party, and whoever gets the most votes in each electorate goes into parliament. But you also have a party vote, which is counted nationally, and the number of seats a party has in parliament is topped up so that it matches the proportion of votes that party got overall.

It's not quite that simple; if the party wins more electorate seats than they would get in proportion to their party vote, they don't get them taken away, and you have to get at least 5% of the total party vote or an electorate seat or else your party doesn't make it into Parliament. You pre-announce a list of candidates, and anyone who doesn't win an electorate seat but is high enough up the list to be included goes into Parliament as a list MP.

So I have two votes. One for MP for New Lynn, my electorate. Currently this is David Cunliffe, who I have to say for someone so apparently obsessed with his own smiling face has done a good job in his portfolios - especially health, which needed a proactive shakeup. I don't expect that he'll go out, it's a pretty solid Labour electorate (he's number 8 on the party list so he'll be in regardless, but he'll likely win the electorate), so a vote against him is just a throwaway anyhow. I probably will vote for someone else because it goes against the grain to vote for a Labour candidate even if it makes no difference. Don't know who, though.

Then there's the party vote. The trouble is, this time round I want to vote strategically, because I'm expecting a major swing to National and I don't think being able to govern alone would be good for them (or us). So I want to try to vote in someone who has some possibility of reigning them in and making them listen to other points of view, which is what MMP is really good for.

So, not Labour or National, obviously. I'm keeping up a proud family tradition, inherited from my parents, of never voting for the two major parties, even though both my grandfathers were very involved in the early years of the Labour Party (when it was working-class and proud of it, and so were they). Even in the First Past the Post years when a vote that wasn't for National or Labour was always wasted, my parents voted Social Credit, despite the fact that it was kind of a joke party with an economic policy nobody could understand. (Not a deliberate joke, like the McGillicuddy Serious Party, which one of my old friends from school stood for once. One of the other sort.)

I agree with the Greens on the importance of the environment, and I'd vote for them - if they didn't have such bizarre radical policies on everything else. Seriously, they're trying to save a planet they don't even live on.

New Zealand First is a spent force with the inquiry into Winston Peters, their leader, and whether he did or didn't accept dodgy donations. Wouldn't have voted for them anyway, I've never liked his bluster. Expect to see the back of them this time.

Progressives, it'll probably go the same way as last time, Jim Anderton will win his electorate and they won't get enough party vote to get a second MP. Since they probably wouldn't go into government with National they would otherwise be a good choice, especially as I agree with most of their policies. Pity.

United Future live up to their name - "We're so centrist!" "How centrist are you?" "We'll support whoever gets into Government!" So not much counterbalance there. To be fair, they have got Labour to give some concessions to them on some issues, but I don't think they would push National too hard on not screwing the electorate over, since they haven't done so with Labour to any detectable degree.

Act, no help there, they're natural allies of National if they even get back in.

Which, apart from some parties which aren't in Parliament yet and are unlikely to be at this election, leaves the Maori Party. I'm seriously considering voting for them this time. I respect Pita Sharples, their co-leader, I hear good things about him - he's an elder at the local marae - and I think they're genuinely working for the betterment of their people and doing so in a sensible way. I also like the way that they consult with their constituency before adopting policy, a marked contrast to the main parties. Problem is, last time they won most of the Maori electorates (which, since I'm not Maori, I can't enrol in) but got a low proportion of the party vote, since a lot of people split their vote - electorate vote for them, party vote for Labour. If that happens again, a party vote for them is probably a throwaway.

Maybe it needs to be Progressives after all.

Thursday 4 September 2008

Rode Podcaster USB microphone

I just spent rather more than I'd planned to on upgrading my microphone, from a $50 Audio Technica lapel mic (still a reasonable piece of gear, it's Audio Technica after all, but definitely low end) to a Rode Podcaster. It's the USB version of their Broadcaster product.

Damn, this thing is quiet. And by "quiet" I mean "lacking in background noise", not "low-gain". I'll be getting much cleaner audio out of this, I think, for my hypnotherapy recordings, podcasts and videos.

I just recorded a few words in Audacity and played them back through my laptop speakers, which aren't exactly top-of-the-line. When I'm not speaking, you hear... nothing. Just as it should be.

I haven't tried it through GoldWave yet - that's the application I use for recording, it's got a couple of nice features that Audacity lacks, though one of them that I used a lot with the other mic was noise reduction. I suspect I won't be doing that quite so much now.

I did consider a Snowball, which I hear good things about all over the Net and which is somewhat cheaper, but this review at Emusician mentioned that the Rode was specifically designed for spoken voice, and when I went on TradeMe a guy was selling one second-hand but basically unused for a much discounted price. Turned out he lived just up the road from me so I picked it up same day.

I just got a mic stand delivered (also bought through TradeMe) and set it up. You wouldn't want to use this mic without a stand. It's bigger than I expected, about 20cm long and a good 4cm in diameter (plus apparently it can pick up noise if it's hand-held). I'll be recording in a carpeted basement on a concrete slab, so I probably don't need the optional shockmount to eliminate noise.

I'm just glad I'm not a Freudian, given the shape of the Rode vs the Snowball.

Life Leverage: my new nonfiction project

Over at Hypno NZ I've just announced Life Leverage: Simple techniques to improve your health and wellbeing.

The project is a book-and-CD combo, with the hypnotherapy tracks on the CD supporting the changes that the book talks about making.

I've created a mailing list where you can sign up for updates on this and my other hypnotherapy-related projects, such as audio recordings and videos. The idea is to assess demand so that I can decide what kind of a print-and-distribution model to adopt.

If health is a topic that interests you, please take a look. I try to stay on the scientific end of the health advice spectrum and make sure that my recommendations are well supported, but at the same time treat human beings as human beings and not squishy machines.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

City of Masks storygame at Nerdly Beach Party

If you're in the neighborhood of San Simeon State Park on Friday 19 September, my storygame based in the same setting as the City of Masks novel is set to be playtested at Nerdly Beach Party.

Thanks to Nancy (Faerieloch) for facilitating this.

Review: Nightlife, by Rob Thurman

Nightlife Nightlife by Rob Thurman

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A good one for Jim Butcher fans. This is urban fantasy, a little darker and scarier than the Dresden Files perhaps, but comparably well-written and entertaining.

Cal (short for Caliban) is the son of a monster and a Gypsy fortune-teller. His half-brother Nico is a martial arts genius who protects him and tries to raise him right. With the help of the puck Robin Goodfellow (now a car salesman in New York) and a cute teenage psychic, they confront Cal's darkside family, who are very motivated to ensure that human history never happened.

Rob Thurman does a great job of the narrative voices and writes a thrilling, fast-moving and action-packed plot.

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