August 28th, 2007

_Magic Study_, Maria V. Snyder

Arrived today from Amazon. Yum.

Yelena has a last name, a family, and a whole new set of problems as she travels south with Irys and the fellow orphans rescued in _Poison Study_. She's got enough to eat (and she isn't cold at all!) in the south, but intrigue follows her wherever she goes. After a very abbreviated visit with her mother and father, she sets out with her older brother, who hates her, and is either really stupid or really corrupt. Or something else tangled that will need to be straightened out by the end of the book.

Snyder presents a host of contrasts for Yelena and the interested reader: chosen family vs. biological; the north's meritocratic system with guaranteed minimums vs the south's lack of a safety net and looser set of rules; a world of uniforms which reflect one's job vs. a world in which one's clothing reflects family/clan, gender and fashion. Neither world is prepared to accept Yelena as she is: one would kill her outright for her magic, the other suspects her for her kind of magic and her divided loyalties. As she attempts to create a place for herself, she inevitably forces change in all the worlds around her, shaking things up and making trouble everywhere she goes.

Moon Man and Kiki are the standout background characters this time around. Lots of fun. I'm looking forward to the series continuing. So far, Snyder is doing a pretty good job creating an extremely powerful mage with very well-defined limitations. That's tricky to do, and I'm interested to see if she can continue to find that balance. Having Dax around keeping track of how much she's pissing everyone off is both entertaining and helpful in displaying that balance.

Best of all, the truly fabulous T character from _Poison Study_ reappears in this volume; the interaction between Yelena's developing magical abilities and that character help illuminate both characters and the magical system. Slick.

can you find the US on a map?

There's this extremely lame bit of video making the rounds (I saw it on Countdown, but the blogosphere is going nuts with it) from a beauty pageant in which a contestant flounders in answering a question that starts by saying, "Recent polls have shown that a fifth of Americans can't find the US on a map. Why do you think this is?" Now, it's never pretty to see someone blow the answer to a question, but in this particular case, I didn't pay much attention because I got all hung up on the question and started yelling at the TV (my husband and my toddler -- they are soooooo tolerant) that there's no way in hell that's true.

And it isn't true. While they don't cite their poll, there's really only one they can be talking about, the National Geographic-Roper Geographic Literacy Poll, which was run in 2002 and again in 2006. In 2002, 89% of Americans could locate the US on a map. in 2006, 94% of Americans could locate the US on a map.

Blowing this question is like having trouble answering this one while on national television: "Recent polls have shown that the sky is green. Why do you think this is?"

Sky. Not. Green.

Come on. We may be stupid, but we're not that stupid. Altho the person writing the question is that stupid, if they think that 89% or 94% is somehow like 80%, or if they think the viewing audience isn't going to notice and complain.

FWIW, I found that poll on my own, altho other bloggers found it before me:

_The Dip_, Seth Godin

Aimed squarely at middle management and/or marketers, Godin's written a skinny little book with a simple idea, a lot of bad examples and no research to back it up. Let's just ignore the examples and the lack of research and go straight to the simple idea.

Success in a meaningful sense lies in The Big Score: the short, fat head, not The Long Tail (this is not the guy you go to for advice on Life/Work balance or setting up a lifestyle business). Success is about intelligently deployed stamina. There are essentially three situations one might find oneself in: a cul-de-sac (dead end job), approaching a cliff (exploiting something that's about to go away due to patent going away, format change, supplanted by something slightly worse but much cheaper, etc.) or Dealing With The Dip. Perhaps his best example of The Dip is learning to snowboard. Starting is easy. Getting to good at it is hard. The payoff of being good is substantial, because most people who start realize this whole falling down and getting up thing sucks and further, is exhausting to the core muscles of the torso. There are three ways to deal with a dip: anticipate it and decide it's not worth it, run into it and give up part way through, paying the penalty and getting no payoff, or (anticipate it and) get through the Dip and get the payoff. Godin advocates avoiding the middle choice.

That's basically it. Reading the page with more or less that summary is why I bought the book. If only the rest of the book had been additive. Unfortunately, as short as this book is, it's about 5 times longer than it should be. Possibly more.

Beyond that simple idea, the rest of what he has to say either doesn't make much sense, is provably wrong in some crucial way, only weakly supports his thesis or is more or less mindless rah-rah encouragement. Which is a pity, because the central idea is a _really good one_ and deserves better than this. If someone knows of another book that covers this Idea (possibly as part of a larger discussion of human motivation, competition, stamina, etc.), I'd be willing to give it a try. Especially if it covered politics, artistic performance, etc. rather than being so tightly business/job/marketing focussed.

If you want my copy, let me know. If I don't hear from anyone, I'll probably list it on TitleTrader in September.