Alpha Lyra

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So far Alpha Lyra has created 13 entries.


 Recently I went to a science talk about chocolate–how it’s made, its chemistry, its health effects, etc. This was an informal talk held in a local pub, so I got to munch on fish & chips at the same time!  The speaker was a scientists who works for Theo Chocolate, a Seattle company that makes […]

By |December 17th, 2010|MyBlog|2 Comments|

Black Blade Blues–lesbian blacksmith, anyone?

 Black Blade Blues, by J. A. PittsWhen I skimmed the blurb for this book, I miscategorized it. I read that it was about a blacksmith named Sarah who winds up with a powerful magical sword, and I assumed it was traditional, secondary-world fantasy. But no! It’s urban fantasy, set in the modern world.For many […]

By |June 21st, 2010|MyBlog|0 Comments|

Starcross: If You Don’t Read YA, You’re Missing Out

 Starcross: A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel, and Curious Hats by Philip Reeve (YA science fiction) If you loved Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker series and lament the fact that there is no spiritual successor to those books, this Philip Reeve series comes closer to that than anything else I’ve […]

By |February 23rd, 2010|MyBlog|3 Comments|

Will Publishing Companies Survive the ebook Revolution?

  If you’re not up to date on the Macmillan/Amazon kerfuffle, go read John Scalzi’s hilarious rant on the subject. It summarizes what happened pretty well. I spent my software career working in electronic publishing, which gives me some perspective on this situation. I’ve been out of the industry for a while, so much of my knowledge is out of date. However, I have a good overall sense of the business. This kerfuffle has led me to think some more about the future of the publishing industry, and what role companies like Macmillan (traditional publishers) are likely to play in it. Question #1, What is a publisher’s value-add? Before I look at that, I have to answer question #2, Why do we care about a publisher’s value-add? We, and by we I mean readers, care because we pay for that value-add. When I buy a traditionally published book, I am paying 3 different entities, not counting middlemen. A percentage of my money goes to the retailer (e.g.,, Barnes & Noble), another percentage goes to the publisher (e.g. Macmillan, Random House), and another percentage goes to the author. While I don’t know exact numbers, my impression is that the retailer gets the largest share, followed by the publisher, followed by the author.  Here I have to bring in self-publishing, because it’s my belief that self-publishing and the growing ebook market are very closely related, in that as ebooks replace paper, self-publishing will become more viable, and it represents a threat to traditional publishing. When people self-publish, they cut out the publisher’s percentage of the take, because there is no publisher. The take is split between the retailer and the author. The author has a choice of pricing his book the same as a traditionally published book and taking a larger cut for himself, or using the savings to undercut the market and price his book lower.  Given the financial advantages of self-publishing, why do most authors opt not to do it? Because having a traditional publisher is well worth it. The publisher provides value-add.  What’s the publisher’s value-add? […]

By |February 3rd, 2010|MyBlog|5 Comments|

Blizzard’s Great Social Experiment: Dungeon Finder

 Blizzard has made a simple but profound change to dungeon running in World of Warcraft. In many ways, it’s a good change. It makes the game more accessible and more fun. But it has a downside. It’s having a negative impact on game culture. To explain the change, I will need to give you a brief explanation of dungeon running. Don’t worry, it will only take me a paragraph. Dungeons are areas in WOW where a group of 5 people work together to kill 2-5 “boss” monsters, each of which drops loot. Each piece of loot that drops can be picked up by only one player in the group. To determine who gets it, WOW brings up a little box where you select “Need” or “Greed.” Generally, you select “Need” if the item is something your character can use (e.g. cloth armor for mages, plate armor for paladins) and is better than what you already have. If you don’t need the item, you select “Greed” with the intention of selling it. Once everyone has made their selection, WOW rolls the dice. If anyone chose Need, WOW will roll the dice for them first. The highest Need roll wins the item. If nobody chose Need, WOW rolls the dice for those who selected Greed, and the highest Greed roll wins. So, key point: If you select Need, you automatically win the roll over anyone who selected Greed. Got that? Okay. In the olden days (by which I mean a year ago), you had to assemble your 5 people for the dungeon manually. Someone would sit in a major city and use the chat channel to recruit people for a group. It was tedious. You could spend more time recruiting your group than running the dungeon. Blizzard improved on this by adding a “looking for group” list you could add yourself to, and this helped a lot, but group assembly was still a slow, manual process. Then, last month, they added the Dungeon Finder. The Dungeon Finder is revolutionary in the MMO world. No more manual assembly of groups! You bring up the Dungeon Finder, select the role you are qualified to play (tank, healer, or damage-dealer), and select a dungeon. Wait about 60 seconds, and WOW builds a group for you and teleports you directly into the dungeon. No more sitting in town spamming the chat channels! No more tedious travel to reach the dungeon! Pick your dungeon, wait a minute, and bam, you’re there and playing.  […]

By |January 8th, 2010|MyBlog|3 Comments|
  • Hunger Games
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    Inexpensive last-minute gifts for the book-lover or game-lover on your list

Inexpensive last-minute gifts for the book-lover or game-lover on your list

 Looking for some last-minute stocking stuffers? Try these geek-tested choices: For teenagers and adults, The Hunger Games and its sequel Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. These may be the most intense books you ever read. They’re set in a dystopian future America. A teenaged girl named Katniss is randomly selected to participate in an annual […]

By |December 23rd, 2009|MyBlog|5 Comments|

World of Warcraft and Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy

  Last night I babysat a friend’s 10-year-old daughter at my house. I have two sons, no daughters, so my house is full of boy stuff. And kids get hard to entertain when they reach the tween years. She was kind of bored. She listened to her MP3 player, noodled around on my piano, pulled out some of my old toys and played with them. I finished my evening chores and booted up World of Warcraft. She came over to watch. I was playing my shaman, doing a quest where I had to identify traitors in a keep. I have this orb I can use to find the traitors. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an orb like that in real life? After I find a traitor, guess what I do? KILL him, of course! The friend’s daughter watched with mild interest as I executed my McCarthyist mission. Then I shifted my character into wolf form, and she perked up. “Whoa! How did you do that?” she asked. I showed her the ability. She asked if the class you choose to play affects what things you can change into. I said yes and told her the druid was the ultimate shapeshifting class. I logged in my druid and showed her how I could turn into a bear, a lion, or a bird that can actually fly. Then I showed her my shaman’s ability to summon spirit wolves, and my priest’s rideable white dragon.  Well, that was it. She wanted to play herself. I let her create a new character on my account. Originally, she wanted to make a druid, but there are only two races available for druids, tauren and night elves, and neither appealed to her much. Then she clicked on the blood elf and gasped, “She’s so pretty!” Forget the druid–she wanted to be a blood elf! I steered her towards the hunter class because clearly she liked animals, and a hunter gets to choose any animal in the game to be her pet. “Do they use bows?” she asked. I said yes, they did, and apparently that was a selling point, because she decided on the hunter. While the the WOW population is mostly male, the game has been very successful at luring in women gamers. A lot of the reason for that is that the game is social and cooperative. But Blizzard also gets a lot of mileage out of other details, like companion animal fantasy. I enjoy many aspects of the game, but there are two things in particular that really lift my spirits. One is summoning my shaman’s wolves: […]

By |December 1st, 2009|MyBlog|4 Comments|

How to Save the World

 Want to save the world? Here’s how to do it: become a champion of women’s rights. Check out this NY Times article, The Women’s Crusade.  Some particularly interesting quotes from the article: “The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that […]

By |September 17th, 2009|MyBlog|6 Comments|

The Time Traveler’s Wife

 The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of my all-time favorite books. So when the movie came out, I was all excited, and then it started getting lousy reviews. Uh oh. What do you do when one of your favorite books gets turned into a movie, and all indications are […]

By |August 31st, 2009|MyBlog|3 Comments|

Rape and Romance Novels

  Check out this article: Why Young Readers Don’t Like Romance Novel Rapists. It’s talking about romance novels of the 70’s, which often involved “forced seduction” (a.k.a. rape) of the heroine by the hero. Apparently young readers tend to mock these novels now, a fact which romance novelist Moriah Jovan laments. But I think it’s a good thing. Below the cut, I’ll discuss why I think such novels were appealing to readers in the 70s, why they are less appealing today, and why I think that represents progress. This post might not be safe for work. Question #1 is why rape fantasy is appealing to women at all. Despite some rapists’ claims that “she asked for it,” I will state the obvious: women do not want to be raped. So why does rape turn up so often in female sex fantasies? Two reasons, to the best of my knowledge (this is a subject it’s hard to get much information about): […]

By |July 24th, 2009|MyBlog|12 Comments|