Jan 26, 2006

The Wheel of Time -- The Eye of the World

Wheeling Round and Round

Finished Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World and it was a whopper. The story itself is 782 pages. Not the longest I've read, but remarkable because the whole book is nothing more than a setup, even a leaflet, for the rest of the series. And wheels within wheels: almost the whole of the book is a setup for the last couple of chapters, where it really gets exciting.

The book as a whole is a long journey, a long series of hair-breadth escapes, interspersed with threatening dreams, drawn out but at the same time picking up more and more pace, until the explosive ending. The ending makes you want to go out and get the next book pretty much immediately.

But that's not the first thing that struck me, by far, while I was reading it. That would be the similarities to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Here are a basic few:
  • Two Rivers = The Shire
  • Tam al'Thor = Frodo, brings back `ring' (either Rand or the sword, or both, depending on how you look at it) from his adventures abroad
  • Fellowship sets out on quest
  • Mischievious Mat Cauthon = Mischevious Pippin Took
  • Moiraine = Gandalf
  • Lan = Aragorn
  • Sauron = Ba'alzamon
  • Fades hunting our `hobbits' = Ringwraiths
  • Trollocs = orcs
  • Padan Fain = Gollum
  • Journey to Blight = Trip to Mordor. Pack light, heroes! :-)
  • Children of the Light capture Perrin & Egwene = Faramir's gang captures Frodo, Sam & Gollum. OK, this is stretching it a bit
  • Green Man = Tom Bombadil, only sadder
  • Green Man = Ent
  • Egwene sounds like Éowyn
Um, am I forgetting anything?

Anyway, I do appreciate that there are definitely big differences. Jordan writes in more modern prose, with more short, sharp sentences for dramatic effect. Short. Dramatic. And he avoids, for the most part, Tolkien's rambling descriptions of this valley here, that nook and cranny there, that seem to go on for days. Oh, and a blessed avoidance of accented characters in names. But they're more than made up for with a liberal dose of apostrophes. Check out the names of some of the main Trolloc tribes (and I've thrown in their roots in monster names): Ahf'frait (afreet), Al'ghol (ghoul), Bhan'sheen (banshee), Dha'vol (devil), Dhai'mon (guess this one), Dhjin'nen (djinn), Ghar'ghael (gargoyle), Ghob'hlin (again, guess), Gho'hlem (golem), Ghraem'lan (gremlin).

But I digress. There is the One Power, a mystical force which comes from the True Source of the universe, drives the eternal Wheel of Time, and empowers a few chosen individuals with great power but at the risk of death and/or madness. But then again, it's like Tolkien's One Ring where it gives you power against the bad guy but the price is high. The real revelation is the turning of the Wheel of Time, where apparently the ages come and go and come again; nothing new ever happens. Civilisations rise and fall, and fall some more, in the eternal battle (you know the one, Good v Evil). Mankind continues to lose science and technology because it just can't get a firm foothold on the Earth before it's all toppled away again. Bleak outlook, really. But then I've heard there are thirteen books in this series, each one presumably as fat as the first. With that kind of length, what else could Jordan be doing but telling the story of the liberation of humanity from the yoke of the Wheel? Guess I'll have to find out. But it's what I would do.

Jan 22, 2006

New style, cont.

After a lot of high-flying coding trying to get cookies to work (to
remember which user has seen which posts and/or comments) and at the
same be compatible with Internet Explorer, I've decided to BAD (Bypass
All Difficulties) and just show the posts and comments by default,
letting users hide them if they want. Code is so much simpler, and at
the same time IE users get to at least read the posts, even if they
don't get the cool clicking and hiding/showing effects.

Jan 19, 2006

New style

After what seems like an eternity with the old ready-made style, have finally gotten down and dirty with Blogger's internals. The inspiration was Gmail's message display interface, which also led me to suggest such an interface for the next version of Thunderbird in the website maintained by the developers, here. Also led me to thinking about how to implement something like it with HTML. Plucked up some courage reading up on JavaScript, the DOM, and CSS, then gave it a try; rather aborted results can be seen here.

Then realised that Blogger's template system provides pseudo-HTML tags which automatically pull blog posts and comments out of the Blogger database -- so basically we have this big database of items which we can pull out and display, rather as if they were emails. Of course, they're a little more complicated than emails (because each post can have one or more comments), which leads to some code complexity; but on the whole it was surprisingly easy. Guess I have XML/CSS/JavaScript and their amazing expressiveness to thank for that.

One thing to note though is that the site doesn't work very well at all on Internet Explorer, even the version 6 that I have running on this XP Service Pack 2 machine. Tried a perfunctory hack to solve the problem, but hasn't worked. Oh well, will tackle it later, I guess. Meanwhile, I recommend all my beloved viewers (anybody out there? :-) use Firefox or Opera, the two best browsers available today.

Jan 12, 2006

Thunderbird rocks

Set up Thunderbird to handle my Gmail account as well as the ISP-provided POP3 account. Works great and, what's more, allows me to sign and/or encrypt outgoing messages with Thunderbird's Enigmail extension which gives Thunderbird OpenPGP support.

Also set up the BDComics RSS feed (Tools > Account Settings..., then Add Account...), making it a hell of a lot easier to navigate all the great comics links put up there.