Thursday, May 23, 2019

Ditch the trey

Or at least move the lines back. Steph is great, for sure, but this piece from FiveThirtyEight helps explain why the game has become a little less fun to watch, because the palette of shot selection has become much more limited.




Saturday, May 18, 2019

Reading roundup

I guess it's been a while. Von besser zu lesser...

Sand
Wolfgang Herrndorf
Le Carré meets Nabokov– with a little Kafka and Elmore Leonard thrown into the mix– in this very well-written, darkly funny, and harrowing literary thriller. It's 1972, and our nameless hero has come-to after a blow to the kopf, and finds himself stricken with amnesia and in the thick of some very nasty business, somewhere in North Africa. Amnesia is a plot device best used sparingly if at all, but Herrndorf pulls it off with bravado. A great entertainment, exquisitely translated by Tim Mohr.

A Long Way from Home
Peter Carey
A typical shaggy-dog tale from Carey, following an oddball threesome on an early cross-country auto race through Australia in the 1950s. Carey's parents ran a GM dealership in the same place and time as the novel's starting line, and he seems to know of what he writes. Funny and splendidly written with vivid, likable characters, the story picks up speed through the first two-thirds or so and then suffers a flat tire or two toward the end as it takes a political turn. Still, a good read.

Elizabeth Costello

J.M. Coetzee
Efficient, chilly and beautifully crafted, it is a novel of ideas and writing. The title character stands in for Coetzee, a person you'd only want to know on the printed page.

Sanshirō
Natsume Sōseki
Sōseki's The Gate is one of my favorite novels... a book in which not much really happens. In this wistful coming-of-age story, even less happens, if that is possible. That doesn't mean it's a better book...

Ride the Pink Horse

Dorothy B. Hughes
Hughes wrote noir but never stuck to a formula. This feverish, surrealistic tale– a revenge story featuring a sympathetic but not very bright protagonist in a southwestern town– is not as good as her masterpieces, The Expendable Man and In a Lonely Place, but it holds your attention.

Innocence

Penelope Fitzgerald
A literary rom-com a la Fitzgerald, set in Italy in the 1950s. Gramsci puts in an appearance. A decent read, but not my favorite of hers.

Troubles
J.G. Farrell
A grand old hotel in Ireland crumbles as the English dominion over Ireland crumbles, along with a way of life. Well executed, I think, but it did not keep me awake.

Berlin Game
Len Deighton
Le Carré aside, I don't read much spy fiction, and I'd never read Deighton, considered one of the masters. This is a pretty good yarn with a nice twist, but I won't be running out to read his oeuvre, as I have with Mr. Le Carré.

Semiosis
Sue Burke
On an alien planet, the fungi communicate and compete and are pretty smart. Would you trust them?

Vast 
Linda Nagata
This novel does a pretty good job imagining a version of human existence–if we can still think of them as humans– millions of years in the future. The problem is characterization. And sci fi without good characters is– frankly– bad fi.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

“We are and will always be a values-driven company"

"Sasan Goodarzi, the CEO of Intuit, says the company’s efforts to make its free tax-filing software harder to find on Google were part of the software giant’s commitment to educating taxpayers."
In an 11-minute video sent to Intuit employees, Goodarzi said the company was trying to help consumers by steering them to “educational content” instead of TurboTax’s free filing website. 
The company promised the IRS it would offer a free option to tens of millions of taxpayers earning less than $34,000. 
Responding to our reporting, which shows that Intuit, H&R Block and other for-profit tax software companies were steering low-income customers to their paid products, Goodarzi said the company’s marketing practices “had been misinterpreted to signal that we were trying to hide the product we offer in the IRS program. That is inaccurate.” 
“Our choice around search was intended to be [in] the best interest of taxpayers so they were more fully informed about their options and could choose what they felt was best for them,” Goodarzi said in the video, which was marked “Intuit Confidential” and was sent to staff on May 3.
The story and links to ProPublica's ongoing investigation can be found here. One of my favorite installments dug into the HTML code and showed how the customer steering sausage was made. Perhaps Intuit's good intentions were indeed "misinterpreted," but it is noteworthy that since the story appeared Intuit has changed the code on its Free File page.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 87

For Cinco de Mayo I put on Vicente Fernández... quite a crooner, but I must admit I like my Mex seasoned with a little more Tex... Freddy Fender... While we're at it, stir in a little rockabilly, Cajun, and LA punk... mmm... perfect... Los Lobos.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Us

Rave reviews and the precedent of Get Out– which was truly something new under the sun and a great entertainment as well– gave me high hopes for Us. It's worth a watch, but kind of a letdown. Neither as scary nor as funny as expected, it's a pretty conventional horror movie dressed up with some undercooked "meta" themes. The acting is ho-hum, except for Lupita Nyong'o of course, who seems to be enjoying herself and eclipses everything and everyone else anytime she is in the frame.

I'd forgotten about Hands Across America. Good times. Jordan could have made more of that. I also learned that if I ever get a smart speaker ("Ophelia" in the movie, hee hee), it's important to enunciate. The consequence of failing to do so in the movie becomes a kind of a stupid joke, although also an opportunity to beef up the soundtrack and to remind us how good Ice Cube was back in the day.

The greatest mystery in the film is where you can find a waterfront house like that place within driving distance of Santa Cruz. Maybe Seattle? Long day trip.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Free college for all?

Kevin Drum brings a few facts to Elizabeth Warren's proposal to eliminate (public) tuition and most student debt. I think his sympathetic skepticism gets it just about right.