52Frames – 2022-02 – Hello from…

Night photography of a row of trees in the fog. The street light give a yellow hue to the tree "tunnel".

The theme for this week’s 52Frames was “Hello from…”, which is usually interpreted as “take a picture from around where you are this week”. I titled mine “Hello from… the fog!” – we had glorious fog yesterday evening, and I went for a short walk to clear my head fairly late in the evening. When I left home, I considered taking a camera with me, and decided against it: it felt like my phone and the gigantic amount of automatic processing would do a better work than I would trying to stabilize things in these kind of circumstances. I think it was the right call: I played around with and without the night mode, and I got a few cool shots, including this one – taken with the night mode.

52Frames – 2022-01 – Self-portrait

Self-portrait; a woman wearing a Doctor Who swirly t-shirt standing in front of a black background.

It’s a tradition: the first week of the year in the 52Frames project is “Self-portrait”. This year, the extra challenge (which I claimed) was to use Rembrandt lighting. So, for once, I knew I had to setup proper studio lights before I started, so I did that:

A photography setup showing a camera on a tripod, a high bright light on the left and a lower dimmer light on the right.

The setup didn’t require much adjustment / takes: I did raise the camera more than it was in the first takes, and I also dimmed the left light compared to what it initially was. I also learnt to pose myself by facing slightly the dimmer light, which worked better than the initial takes where I didn’t have that consideration.

Edits were somewhat less straightforward than desired, because the black background (… the curtains in that room 😉 ) are slightly reflective, and the initial version was a bit distracting.)

And, there we go, first shot of the year – we’ll see where that goes 🙂

Some #balisebooks

Spoiler Alert / All the Feels – Olivia Dade

Contemporary romances set in the world of a successful TV series… and the fanfiction around it.

Spoiler Alert and All the Feels are both set around the same fictional TV series called Gods of the Gates, in which the male protagonists of each book are both actors and best friends. In Spoiler Alert, Marcus is also a closeted fanfiction writer – and he meets April, who’s a cosplayer in that universe. In All The Feels, Alex has some PR issues after picking a fight in a bar; he’s assigned a minder, Lauren, to make sure that he doesn’t hurt the reputation of the production any further.

I loved both books, and I enjoyed seeing these two romances bloom at roughly the same time and seeing references to the other book in both books. I laughed out loud many times, and the handling of the fanfiction element was absolutely great. I also got a lot of warm fuzzy feelings when it came to the main characters starting to accept themselves and making real progress along the book – especially since I could identify pretty strongly with one of them.

Leviathan Falls – James S.A Corey

The last book of The Expanse series yields a very satisfying ending.

There’s always a bit of anxiety involved with starting the last book of a series that one loves – will the series end in a satisfying way that gives closure and a proper goodbye for characters that have existed in one’s mind for a few years at least? I’m happy to report that Leviathan Falls is absolutely in this category. The world presented in the first book evolved a lot during the few decades spanned by the books, and yet still feels very consistent. We started with some people, met new ones, lost some along the way, got emotionally involved with a lot of them… The Expanse, to me, is much more of a “character” series than a “plot” series – not that the plot is lacking (far from it), but I’m far more involved in the characters than in the plot. And in that regard, the ending was very satisfying to me. I still have a few novellas to read in that universe – this will probably happen this year; and I also still have a few episodes of the series to watch (I love the TV series as well!); in any case, I’m happy and grateful for the hours I got to spend with these books.

Across The Green Grass Fields – Seanan McGuire

Another book of the Wayward Children series – it has HORSES! Or, well, close enough.

Many of the Wayward Children stories follow the same narrative device: a child finds a door to another world and spends a few years there. In Across the Green Grass Fields, Regan loves horses, and “her” door leads to a world full of centaurs, unicorns, kelpies and other equine species. I very much appreciated the exploration of the world and of the social conventions of Regan’s world and, as usual with this series, the whimsy of the world and the delight of the language make it a pleasure to read. I was a bit disappointed by the ending, which felt a bit rushed to me, but I was still happy to have read this installment of the series.

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals – Oliver Burkeman

Life is short, task lists WILL take all the time you give them – what to do with that?

In Four Thousand Weeks, Burkeman develops the sobering idea that time management is an illusion and that there is absolutely no way of “getting everything done” – partly because the “things that need to be done” will fill up the void anyway. He finds that liberating – since there’s no way to make it so that you will DO ALL THE THINGS anyway, give up, prioritize, and do what you can – if there is not enough time for you to do all the things that you must absolutely do, then your perception of what you must absolutely do is wrong, not the other way around.

I liked the book a lot and it feels like it has a lot of interesting/challenging things to say, but that I’m not necessarily ready to hear them yet because my brain goes into an anxious loop of “I… do agree with everything you’re saying, but I REALLY DON’T WANT TO, and I really don’t know what to make of that, and ‘now what'”. That said, it was for sure interesting food for thought and it did give me ideas and insights about how I could try to make my days work better – not because it gives plans for that in any way, but because it allowed me to take a step back and see the problem differently (… we’ll see how that goes 🙂 ). I would definitely have enjoyed it more if not for my own anxious relationship with time which made that book pretty challenging for me – but this may well be a re-read later down the road.

52Frames – 2021-52 & 2021-53

Close-up of popcorn

For the two last challenges of year 2021, I went for the “lazy” option – not being home and not having my proper computer to edit decided that for me, essentially.

For the 2021-52 challenge, the theme was “Combine Three Challenges” – I went for three themes that went well together, namely Details, Texture and Fill the Frame, and made a picture of the bowl of popcorn in the kitchen.

A green field, blue sky with a lot of plane trails and light clouds, bright sun.

The 2021-53 theme was “Break the rules”. My first idea was to do a tongue-in-cheek picture of a “No photography allowed” sign, but it would have meant actually making and setting up the sign, and I got a case of the lazies. We went for an afternoon walk, and I purposely snagged that snapshot – breaking both the rule of “don’t shoot directly at the sun” and “don’t put your horizon line in the middle of the picture”; I also broke the meta-rule of “don’t upload 52Frames from your phone” 😉

And with that, I have finished 53 out of 53 pictures in 2021, finishing 52Frames for the second year in a row – let’s see if we can get a third year in a row!

52Frames – 2021-51 – In The Middle

Two hands pulling on a green therapy band held by a pull-up bar in front of a door.

It’s Sunday evening and I have two things to do: my 52Frames, and my physio. I decided to combine both and take a picture of my physio; obviously, I got taken by “but I need more light” and “but the composition is not right” – which means I have now done my 52Frames, but not my physio yet.

The theme was “In The Middle”, so I went for a centered, hopefully reasonably symmetrical composition. It turns out that the lamps in our corridor are NOT centered compared to the door, which was making the shadow (even) more awkward than it is on this picture. Hence, I present you the “behind the scenes” of this shot, also called “The Things You Do For Art”:

Selfie with a Lume cube held on my head thanks to a Gorillapod.

For a “quick shot”, this still involved a tripod, a timer, two lights (including the one on my head – the other one to light my arms from below). I’m not entirely satisfied with the composition, which is sloppier than I’d like, nor with the focus, which could have a longer depth and probably a better focal point. But, it’s 22.30 on a school night, and trying to get a completely clean shot under the conditions of being both the photographer and the model is… probably the best I can do for this shot at this time 🙂

52Frames – 2021-50 – Black&White Minimalism

The theme for this week’s 52Frames was “Black&White minimalism”, with an extra credit for “Portrait”. When putting these two things together, I knew I wanted to go for something where only the face/elements of the face would be visible. My initial concept was to try to have something where the only visible elements would be a few face features, blurring the rest to white – but it felt kind of hard to pull off. (I might still play with that idea later, but that was not for today!).

Conversely, adding the hands to the portrait feels like it adds something to the composition, compared to not seeing them at all, while keeping with the “minimalist” theme.

Anyway, I took pictures of myself in front of a dark curtain, with a single right pointing at my face (I’ll admit that editing the picture was a bit tough as long as I still had remanent spots in my eyes ;)) and that’s the picture for this week.

It’s Advent of Code again!

Yup, for the 7th year in a row: it’s Advent of Code time!

Advent of Code is an advent calendar of programming puzzles. Every day of December until Christmas, you get a new puzzle and a piece of the yearly story in which you need to help the elves save Christmas because Santa is in trouble! In the previous years, we’ve repaired the snow machine, the clock that guides the sleigh, the printer that prints the nice and naughty list, time itself, we brought Santa back from the edge of the Solar System, and we tried to take some vacation last year but it was complicated. It seems this year we need to fetch the keys to the sleigh that got dropped in the ocean by a clumsy elf…

The format of the puzzle is a problem and an input (there’s a number of different inputs, assigned randomly (as far as I can tell) to all the users); the solution (typically a number or a short character string) is what matters to prove that you solved the problem. This means that you can solve it with any language you see fit… or even no language at all. There’s a guarantee that all problems can be solved within 15 seconds on 10-year-old hardware, but it may require some more significant work to get there.

I love Advent of Code. The puzzles are interesting and the difficulty ramp up is usually great, the story is whimsy, and it’s good fun. There’s a competitive aspect to it: there’s a leaderboard for the first 100 people to solve the puzzle, and there’s a “private leaderboard” feature on the website that allows to compete with friends or colleagues. I found it a great way to stretch my coding muscles and practice another language.

This year I decided to solve it in PHP: I’m still learning the language (which I’m now using in my daily professional life), and if previous years are to be believed, I’ll probably learn more than a few tricks – looking forward to that! I’m publishing my (ugly) solutions on GitHub as I go: Balise42/AoC2021.

The first day is easy… who’s in? 🙂

#balisebooks – Let’s talk about books again

So. Books. I like books. I like blogging about books. I haven’t blogged about books this year at all, for reasons. I’ve had a few paragraphs ready for a couple of books, so I may as well publish these, even though they’re not representative of what I liked best this year. But, at least y’all get a bit of content, and I feel like I’ve caught up with my Balisebooks duties before restarting with a fresh start 😉

Midnight Blue-Light Special / Half-Off Ragnarok / Pocket Apocalypse – Seanan McGuire

In the second, third, and fourth book of the InCryptid series, the cryptozoologist Price family continues protecting the cryptids that need it, and getting rid of the dangerous ones.

In Midnight Blue-Light Special, Verity learns about an impeding purge of the cryptids in New York by the Covenant of St. George, Price family’s old archnemeses… who believe the Price family to be extinct. Verity, as a cryptozoologist, would really like to avoid that, and starts warning and making plans with the local cryptid population. Oh, and her boyfriend is part of said Covenant of St. George, which makes things somewhat more challenging.

In Half-Off Ragnarok, we leave verity and New York and join her brother Alex in Ohio. Alex works as a zoo-keeper / basilisk breeder, which goes smoothly until the first death of someone who has seemingly been turned to stone. Alex investigates, with the help of his grandparents, while trying to keep the details of what’s happening from her non-cryptid-aware girlfriend.

In Pocket Apocalypse, we stay with Alex who, this time, has to go to Australia, because Australia has a werewolf problem, and werewolves are not native to Australia – hence, problem. I found this book maybe somewhat less enjoyable than the previous books: the setting and cryptid universe felt less original. I still chuckled a few times, and the Aeslin mice were still there, so we’re good.

This is still a very enjoyable series: I love the characters and the universe, and I’m looking forward to the next adventures in the Price family and their families of hyper-religious talking mice.

Random / Wolf – Alma Alexander

Alma Alexander takes a scientific take on weres and shifters.

I heard about Random in a Big Idea feature on Scalzi’s blog; the idea of a werewolf story where “The science is as good as it gets” enticed me enough to put the trilogy on my to-read list.

Random is the first book, in which we follow Jazz, who’s a random were. Random weres don’t have a fixed form, and instead take the form of the closest animal when they first change. Jazz also lost an older sister when she was very young.

In Wolf, the second book, we follow the story of Jazz’s brother, Mal. Mal becomes a wolf and, as such, gets claimed by the local wolf pack. We follow his story as he continues exploring his family’s mystery and studies the science and genetics of what it means to be were.

All in all, an original were take – which ends up being almost irrelevant to the family history and secrets – I’ll probably read the third book at some point.

Harrow the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

The story from Gideon the Ninth continues in a very confusing but impossible-to-put-down sequel.

Well, this was a mindfuck and a half. This is the second book of The Locked Tomb, taking place shortly after the events of Gideon the Ninth. The story is told from the point of view of Harrow the Ninth, who learns the skills her Emperor needs of her… in less than optimal circumstances. This was honestly one of the most confusing books I ever read, while being absolutely excellent and enjoyable. I’m very confused, but in a good way 🙂

The Locked Tomb feels pretty demanding to read, which I know will make me hesitant to start the next book; at the same time, I know it will be worth the read!

The Last Graduate – Naomi Novik

As El’s last year of Scholomance proceeds and graduation approaches, the school seems more and more intent on… something.

A Deadly Education was one of my favorite books of 2020 and its sequel was one of the books I was most looking forward to this year. The Last Graduate picks up exactly after A Deadly Education, and it’s El’s last year at the Scholomance. And, in that last year, you essentially prepare for the graduation slaughterfest. Which… happens, with a number of twists and turns that keep you on your toes for the whole book, while also enjoying El’s snarkiness and grumpiness. I loved The Last Graduate at least as much as A Deadly Education, and I really can’t wait for the third book.