Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Month: January 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Kate Novak – The Wyvern’s Spur

The Wyvern's Spur (Forgotten Realms: Finder's Stone, #2)The Wyvern’s Spur by Kate Novak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More of a 3.75 out of 4. Not quite on the same entertaining level the first novel was, and that’s primarily the fault of the character Giogioni Wyvernspur, who spends the first 75% of the book a well-meaning doddering fool. In the end, when he mans up as such, things get moderately better.

The character of Flattery, the villain of the piece, is intriguingly written too – he’s a nasty piece of work, even resorting to hitting women, not something I expected to see in a D&D novel. Congratulations to Kate Novak for making a genuinely unlikable character.

As with the first book, Olive Ruskettle is the most well-rounded character here, morally and ethically ambivalent, though he rings true in the end. I enjoyed her knowing and cynical take on things.

Congratulations also for making an entertaining D&D novel where there’s almost minimal adventuring. All of the books in the Forgotten Realms series have been picaresque adventures. Not this one. The action mainly takes place inside and a few miles around Giogi’s manor house, and it works. There’s no need for a-roving I will go here.

Overall, a slightly weaker effort than the book before it, but it’s among the better non-Salvatore Forgotten Realms novels I’ve read.

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Effective water economics

Another piece I did for Environmental Economics in Uni


For millennia, it could be argued that most people have thought of water as a perpetual and free resource. Possibly, only those who live in dry and/or desert locations would have put some sort of true cost of water and its availability. A price on water doesn’t necessarily have to be a financial one (Asafu-Adjaye, 2005). Fresh water has been declared in some quarters a finite resource, or at least a non-renewable one.

Some parts of the world have societies that have learned to put a price on their scarce water by adopting novel means to collect it. For example, the people of El Tofo in northern Chile use mesh net collectors to capture fog (Bridgman, Dragovich & Dodson, 2008). Rainfall in this part of the world is extremely scant, averaging close to 1-2mm a year. Figure 1 depicts several of these collectors.

In other parts of the world, fresh water is an abundant, and occasionally troublesome resource. The frequent flooding of the Ganges in Bangladesh or the mudslides of the Philippines and Central America are examples of the abundance of fresh water in certain locations of the world where it can become problematic. So, the price of water can be viewed in not only monetary terms.

For the longest time, water was generally seen as a free and eternal resource, particularly to those who had it in abundance, i.e, those who lived in temperate, sub-tropical and tropical rainforest areas. Although this view is generally changing, many still see water as a natural bounty. Most of the world’s water is in the ocean and while it cannot be used for most living purposes, widespread desalination is beginning to occur. Diamonds are a rarity, and by nature a scarce item everywhere they are found.

Life as we know it cannot exist without water. Plant life requires water for its food generation via photosynthesis (Reese et al, 2010) and without plants, most life on Earth would not exist. Without water added to the environment, there would be a great loss of life across all organisms with very catastrophic results. Water has been rightly described as the backbone of life, and it is one of the necessities for all life, along with food.

As said earlier, water is unevenly distributed across the world. It is intrinsically difficult to value something that is a rarity in one location, yet abundant (or super-abundant) in another. So while water may be valued as a scarce commerce in a desert nation or location, it may be seen as a free resource where it is commonplace, as in rainforest lands. It is this factor of uneven distribution that makes the valuing of water difficult. Water also crosses international frontiers, which further adds to the complications of valuation.

Integrated Water Resources Management was first formalised by the United Nations after the Mar del Plata global water conference in 1977 (UN, 2014). It was becoming clear to society that without proper management, water resources were being over-exploited especially across international frontiers. An excellent example of what occurs when water resources are not managed effectively or of they’re overtly exploited is the Aral Sea in Central Asia, which was allowed to dry up due to inflow diversion for agriculture.

References

Asafu-Adjaye, J. (2005). Environmental Economics for Non-Economists (2nd ed.). Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co.

Bridgman, H., Dragovich, D., & Dodson, J. (2008). The Australian Physical Environment. Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press

Reece, J., Taylor, M., Simon, E., Dickey, J. (2012). Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

United Nations. (2014). Integrated Water Resource Management [web site]. Retrieved 14 May, 2014 from http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/iwrm.shtml

Can the market work effectively as a way of managing the environment?

A short environmental economics piece I did for uni


For the market to be effective in a way of managing the environment, the environment needs to be seen as a product that is saleable, something that has both appeal to the consumer and be profit-oriented to the seller. Currently in Australia, the present Coalition Government is mooting the repeal of the various carbon taxes introduced by the previous Labor Government (environment.gov.au, 2014). This could be argued as a “poor sell” of trying to market an environmental issue to the public, irrespective of its benefits. It could also be argued that the various carbon taxes were regressive in nature, as they impact upon low and middle income earners (Tahir, 2013).

However, the emissions of carbon dioxide by business and individuals can be seen as a “tragedy of the commons” (Hardin, 1968). One example in the New York Times put it that when Arthur goes for a drive, Zelda suffers (Dubner & Levitt, 2008). So while a tax on emissions is currently seen as burdensome by the present Coalition Government, there is the issue that people and business will continually (and innocently) contribute to ever-increasing emissions. So in summary, the environment can factor into the market, so long as the “bottom line” is not affected.

It is relevant due to the plethora of finite resources that humans depend on for their daily needs and wants. A good example as illustrated in Figure 1, is the production of palm oil in Indonesia. Vast swathes of rainforest in Borneo are being clear-felled to make way for African oil palms (Elaeis guineensis). Figure 1 depicts the exponential rise in harvesting and export of this commodity – at the expense of its rainforests and all organisms that depend on it.

As mentioned in question one, indirect taxes such as the GST are considered regressive taxes due to their perceived impact on lower and middle income people (Tahir, 2013). Prices for most commodities and services rise with only a few exceptions for basic food items, some health services and tuition fees (ATO, 2014). In Australia’s case, personal taxes were lowered and a host of sales taxes and tariffs were abolished in an attempt to offset the addition of the GST. The upshot is, neither demand nor supply were affected overmuch as there was a zeroing out effect.

The environment can be included in the markets by making it attractive to buyers. This can be achieved with such ventures as ecotourism – visiting national parks and areas of notable scenery, purchasing ecologically sustainable products that are attractively packaged (for example, brightly decorated clothing made out of sustainably grown hemp, figure 2) or educating society in the benefits of buying products and services that are demonstrably “environmentally friendly”, such as solar water heaters, compost bins and “fair trade” products such as farm-grown coffee.

References

ATO (2014). When to charge GST and when not to. Retrieved 14 March, 2014 from http://www.ato.gov.au/Business/GST/When-to-charge-GST-(and-when-not-to)/

Environment.gov.au (2014). Repealing the carbon tax. Retrieved 14 March, 2014 from http://www.environment.gov.au/topics/cleaner-environment/clean-air/repealing-carbon-tax

Dubner, S., & Levitt, S. (2008). The Not-So-Free Ride. New York Times. Retrieved 14 March, 2014 from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/magazine/20wwln-freakonomics-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2

Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162(1968): 1243-1248.

Tahir, A. (2013). Think tank: GST is a “regressive tax”. Free Malaysia Today News. Retrieved 14 March, 2014 from http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2013/10/26/think-tank-gst-is-an-additional-tax/

Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis – Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Dragons of Autumn Twilight  (Dragonlance: Chronicles, #1)Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alrighty then, this was a fun and painless read. Of course, it was completely non-challenging as far as literature goes, but that’s not the point, and rarely is the point for this kind of work. This is entertainment, and entertain it did, which is why I’ve awarded it four stars rather than three. Naturally, it was extremely derivative of another fantasy story a few people may have heard of, and the characterisations were sourced from central casting.

Despite this, it was written with verve and an obvious love for the land, times and culture of the world the book is set in. In saying so, there was a certain amount of grey room syndrome here, as playing the Dragonlance modules beforehand may have been a given. From the narrative, it’s clear the reader was meant to have some familiarity with Raistlin, Sturm, et al, before delving into this book, despite being the first in the series.

All in all, I liked this story, for all its “me-tooism” and stock characters and situations. It flowed well, and it rarely sagged or got bogged down. Sure, I’ll read the rest of them.

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Philip K Dick – Martian Time-Slip

Martian Time-SlipMartian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a landmark work! You know, this is another novel I swore I’d read but no, I never have until now. Well, I’m absolutely elated that I did get around to reading it, as this is a keystone member of the SF oeuvre – union cronyism and corruption, infidelity, mental illness, autism, greed, capitalism, land speculation, racism, ableism, indigenous land and cultural rights – it has it all. And all of this in a work of science fiction that was written in 1962. 1962! The topics Dick touches on here are just as relevant today and apart from dated references to voice recorders and other 60s technology, this book could well have been written now.

The book challenges the notions of reality arguably better than any other work I’ve read – science fiction or otherwise. Those sections where Arnie plays his messed-up version of Mozart are both stark and off-putting. Arnie Kott himself is a real piece of nasty work and everything you’d expect in a corrupt union boss (is there any other kind I wonder?). In fact, there’s not a character out of place here, from the indecisive and cowardly Dr Glaub to the mysterious yet touching Manfred Steiner, he of the titular time-slips.

As the cliche goes, it all comes together. This is equally the best work of Dick’s I’ve read along with The Man in the High Castle.

Oh yes, gubble gubble!

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Critical review – exegesis

An essay I did for uni. This is an exegesis for the story posted here.


My story is a pastiche of two separate previously published works, the novella The Time Machine by the English author H. G. Wells (Wells 1895) and The Outsider, a short story by the American author H. P. Lovecraft (Lovecraft 1926). The text I used for The Time Machine is the British Heinemann edition which differs textually from the American Holt edition (Bergonzi 1960).

The story is a pastiche in the sense that it imitates the style and form of these two stories, as well as the themes inherent in them (Greene et al. 2012). As such, it is also a work of writing back, a form of intertextuality. The moods I wished to convey in the story were alienation from society at large, sundered romance, and the deep oppressive landscapes that were common in Gothic horror fiction. With the 4000 word draft, I explored differing viewpoints, first and third person, and with Wells’ character of Weena I used both techniques, where for the Outsider, I remained in first person for his entire narrative.

One experiment I used was to convey Weena’s first person narrative in italics, but with advice from the assessor, I deemed this approach to be unsuccessful. Likewise, shifting tenses from past to present with Weena’s different viewpoints also did not work effectively in the story. I struggle with tenses in the course of my writing in any case, and this extra piece of literary flair added a level of unneeded complexity. So, in the final draft, I shifted all the tenses to past and removed the italics.

In creating the pastiche, I needed to look at what the strengths were of both stories. The Time Machine can be read as a socio-political discourse on the differences between the working class and the privileged who live off the former’s labour. The Outsider is a story that posits the existence of a lonely being, what English author William Hope Hodgson termed the “abhuman”, used first in Hodgson’s novel The Night Land to describe those who live in complete separation from normal human society (Hodgson 1912). This is to say the Outsider ordinarily dwells beyond all human contact and companionship, and indeed in Lovecraft’s story, when he encounters other people, they react in fright and flee from him as if he is something grotesque.

My Outsider was written with similar intent. He is a nameless entity who exists as an abhuman, separated from any lasting or meaningful contact. I stress meaningful here as his meeting with Weena is more enigmatic for him than any other emotional aspect in the end. He questions what and who she is, but eventually accepts she is something transient traversing his world. One of the keystone characteristics of Lovecraft’s writing was that he purposefully left many things unexplained, frequently using words such as “unmentionable”, “inexplicable” or “indescribable” (Smith 2011). Therefore the Outsider, what he is and what he may represent is mostly up to reader interpretation through allusion and mood, something I believe I have achieved with my story.

The character of Weena is not so nebulous. Wells describes her and her core nature solidly in The Time Machine and speculates on the evolutionary history of her race, the Eloi (Wells 1895). He depicts her and the Eloi as simple-minded hedonists however Wells goes beyond this modest type analysis with Weena once the Time Traveller rescues her. He states earlier in the novella that the Eloi have a distinct lack of interest in him after initial curiosity (Wells 1895, pp. 41-42) yet Weena remains a faithful companion until the end, sleeping in the crook of his arm.

This possibly indicates that the latent humanity in the Eloi has been awakened, and the desire for on-going love and attention goes outside of any hedonistic need. In several places through the novella, the Time Traveller puts Weena before more urgent concerns. In fact, one scholar suggests that Weena almost derails the novella (Sayeau 2005) by distracting the Time Traveller from his quest to restore his machine and leave her time.

Perhaps then Wells was inhibited by mores and self-censorship to want to go beyond the child-like clinging nature he imbued her with. I have gone some way to redress this lack of adult feminine character by giving Weena a voice. She is in love with the Time Traveller, whom she names the “Tall Man”. It is a new and wondrous experience to her and when the Time Traveller apparently abandons her in the forest fire, she feels heartbreak and rage at his supposed betrayal. She further laments that she and the Time Traveller never connected at a romantic level due to them misinterpreting each other.

Her character at this point ties in with that of the Outsider as they are both people who are figuratively and emotionally lost. One of the key points the assessor made with the draft was the two stories needed to be tied in together more effectively and with my edits for the final draft, I emphasised the abject loneliness each of the two characters felt trapped in dark worlds they did not understand. I stressed this characteristic as it is one of the hallmarks of Gothic fiction (Gamer 2006). Where the Outsider’s loneliness was something he knew he was fated to have, there was a momentary need for companionship when he saw Weena.

Her loneliness derived from being outside of her comfort zone, away from the river and the huge decrepit building she called home. In the Outsider’s world she had an opportunity to go somewhere else, a choice not possible to the Outsider. He understands then, or at least theorises, that his world and hers are polar opposites. Unlike the Time Traveller, the Outsider perceives Weena to be an adult and thinks of her as a woman by the story’s end. Accordingly, he believes his own world to be an invention of his psyche and Weena’s presence to be symbolic of things denied to him.

In summary, this story was difficult to write and revise as my sympathies lay with the character of Weena. There was no emotional detachment in her nature like the Outsider possesses. She is deeply emotional and empathetic, and readily hurt and confused by the new feelings the Time Traveller placed upon her. In the end they were not that dissimilar, as there was nothing else like them either in her world or his. They were both outsiders.

References

Bergonzi, B 1960, The publication of The Time Machine 1894-5, The Review of English Studies, vol. 11(41), pp. 42-51

Gamer, M 2006, Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception and Canon Formation, Cambridge University Press, UK

Greene, R,  Cushman, S,  Cavanagh, C, Ramazani, J, Rouzer, P, Feinsod, H, Marno, D & Slessarev, A (eds) 2012, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Princeton University Press, New Jersey

Hodgson, W 1912, The Night Land, Eveleigh Nash & Grayson, London

Lovecraft, H 1926, The Outsider, Weird Tales, April

Sayeau, M 2005, H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and the “odd consequence” of progress, Contemporary Justice Review, vol. 8(4), pp. 431-445

Smith, P 2011, Re-visioning Romantic-era Gothicism: An introduction to key works and themes in the study of H.P. Lovecraft, Literature Compass, vol. 8(11), pp. 830-839

Wells, H 1895, The Time Machine, William Heinemann, London

Arthur C. Clarke – The City and the Stars

The City and the StarsThe City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another book I thought I’d read already, but no…

Well, this is typical Clarke really: big ideas, sense of wonder, driven characters, yearning, advancement, eyes to the future with a fondness for times past, subtle digs at religion, no villains in sight, science with a mystical bent.

Really, this is very good like practically everything else Clarke wrote. It didn’t connect with me as much as Childhood’s End or Rendezvous with Rama did…there was an aloofness in this book that was all-pervasive. As much as I sympathised with Alvin, I couldn’t equate with him in any way. He’s a transhuman character for all of his questing nature, and just as alien. Hilvar is more like us, but Clarke seriously expects us to believe that after a billion years, his kind of human would be practically the same as we are now, apart from telepathic powers? Plot-holes in a Clarke story? Say it isn’t so!

But…it’s all good, except for that sense of detachment.

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Rafaela is her name

Linux Mint 17.2 – Rafaela to give her proper name. This posting is about the Cinnamon version.

Over time, I periodically install and experiment with various free operating systems, the most significant of which is Linux. I’ve played with a few others too, like Haiku which is interesting, but not a serious replacement for commercial systems like Windows.

There is something appealing about a complete operating system that is totally free – and that’s free as in gratis. Most distributions of Linux come completely unencumbered by any kind of financial outlay. You download them, burn the ISO to USB or DVD and off you go. The procedure is covered in great depth elsewhere so I won’t go into it here.

The distribution I’m using currently is Linux Mint 17.2 Rafaela. Of all of them I’ve tried it’s this one that is what I consider to be the complete package or the real deal so to speak. It has everything I need – or practically everything – out of the box.

Most of the reasons I’ve reverted to using Windows are needed applications ones. Lately, I’ve had to use Microsoft Word and Excel (and sometimes Powerpoint) for university. As much as I admire LibreOffice, there remain a few serious lost in translation issues between it and Word when using the .docx format. Alas, university doesn’t “do” the .odt format.

Games are another reason, probably the primary one. Linux’s game support is getting better all the time, but it’s nowhere near a serious competitor to the Windows platform yet. At the time of writing this, I don’t own a modern gaming computer so this point is moot. Still, I’m enjoying a lot of older and cross-platform stuff on my Linux desktop (which also runs Mint 17.2).

Mint desktop

Mint 17.2 desktop

17.2 got a near perfect review over at Dedoimedo – a site I often keep track of for Linux news. I’m in concurrence with most of the review. One of the features I like greatly about this distribution is how everything works out of the box. I’ve used a few distros in the past where apps simply wouldn’t start up, or certain fundamentals wouldn’t work – like networking. Mint 17.2 just works, as Apple fans are wont to say.

I love the Recent Files feature (seriously, why can’t all distros have this?), the neatness of the menus and the bottom panel and how everything meshes together.

The upshot of this brief paean? I’ll be using this distro for the foreseeable future. However, just one minor nitpick – I wish there was a music playing app that had the layout/functionality of Winamp or MusicBee. I use Banshee and while it’s very good, I don’t think it or any of its Unix-based kin come close to Windows music apps.

Kate Novak – Azure Bonds

I’ll preface this review by saying that Curse of the Azure bonds is the only Gold Box game in the Forgotten Realms series I haven’t played. I own it, so I should rectify that…

Azure Bonds (Forgotten Realms: Finder's Stone, #1)Azure Bonds by Kate Novak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great fun and it’s one of the better D&D books I’ve read. The ending was vaguely familiar to me and I was wondering if I’d read this book before, maybe when it was released. It’s hard to say, as I don’t generally forget books that I’ve read. Either way, it’s fast-moving and entertaining and doesn’t suffer the saccharine and soppy moments the Ed Greenwood books do. And despite characterisation not being the strong point of these D&D stories, there was something obliquely appealing about the characters of Alias and Olive Ruskettle.

Very good. Bring on the sequels.

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David Haden – The Time Machine: a sequel

The Time Machine: a sequelThe Time Machine: a sequel by David Haden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Short and fairly sweet. This author approximates Wells’ voice adequately, though he also pays homage to the 2002 Guy Pearce film with an all-knowing virtual librarian. He also integrates the so-called “lost chapter”, The Grey Man, into the story.

With this all said, I was acutely aware reading this novella that this was not Wells’ work. It’s not where he would’ve taken the story had he been of a mind to craft a sequel, at least I don’t think so anyway. He was less interested in the fate of Weena than he was in the fate of humanity, but quite naturally, these sequels by other hands have all made the attempt to rescue her from the fire with varying success.

Does this sequel by another hand succeed? Well, read it for yourself. For a dollar on Amazon you can’t go wrong, just don’t expect anything stunning or extraordinary in any area.

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