Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ethan Frome

Just got finished reading Ethan Frome (Edith Wharton, 1911). Enjoyed it a lot.

As in the other stories I've read by Edith Wharton, we see a character with lots of conflict. The inevitable prospect of a loveless life, as contrasted with the fantasy of an unattainable love object. And that love object blocked by not one, but many, many barriers -- moral, economic, social, etc. What I really like about Wharton's stories is how clearly she lays out the utter impossibility of the protagonist's situation on many levels.

The particularly interesting thing about this read is that I don't think I had the experience that Wharton meant me to have. The book is structured as a story within a story. The framing story is a first person narrative by a visitor to Ethan Frome's town, some 25 years after the main action takes place. The rest of the story is a 3rd person limited omniscient narrator from the point of view of Ethan, himself. Now, unfortunately (or not), unbeknownst to me, the framing story is laid out in the introduction. I am ashamed to admit it, but I rarely read introductions, and never at all before reading the story. An introduction usually has too much information about the story, so that if I were to read it first, it would spoil the suspense for me. However, in this case, the introduction is not an introduction in the usual sense, and actually forms a part of the narrative. As a result, I blithely read the entire rest of the story, and enjoyed the whole thing until I got to the last half of the last chapter, where all of the sudden we're back in the framing story in the first person with some unknown "I". I was terribly confused. I wondered whether the free online version I had just read was poorly edited, and missing some text. I did a little research, and that's when I figured out that I should have read the intro, and promptly went back and read it. I get it.

I hate to second guess an Edith Wharton, but frankly, I think I liked it better as a novel the way I read it. I don't believe that the tension I experienced at the end of the story would have been there, had I known from the introduction a few critical facts about the outcome. Perhaps it is my ignorance, but I don't really see that the framing story is buying very much except that it makes it possible to confirm Ethan's tragedy from an independent point of view. It's not just Ethan whining -- it's true: his life was rotten; even the neighbors think so. Personally, I don't think that's necessary, but maybe I'm missing the point.

This is the third book I've read by Edith Wharton, after The House of Mirth and Age of Innocence. I think I still like The House of Mirth best.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A wonderful read!

Just finished reading The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, winner of the 2008 Man Booker prize.

The writing is amazing.

One would like to call it funny except for the fact that it is so incredibly dark and tragic.

It is written as a first-person, sort of epistolary novel, a collection of "letters" from self-styled entrepreneur Balram (Munna) Halwai to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. In these letters, Balram offers advice to the Premier, based on his experience in his own rise from son of a rickshaw puller in a small town in India ("The Darkness") to successful businessman in Bangalore. Let's just say this is no Horatio Alger rags to riches story...there are bodies on the road.

Adiga describes in vivid detail some of the forces at work in modern India, that shape the lives of millions of marginalized people: family, class, corruption, modernization, caste. He has few kind words for any of them.

This is probably the best book I've read in a long time. But don't read it if you are not prepared to squirm a little.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Some thoughts on writing

Just saw two wonderful quotes from Erica Jong today:

No one ever found wisdom without also being a fool. Writers, alas, have to be fools in public, while the rest of the human race can cover its tracks.


Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.

I suspect these two are not unrelated.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bad Mouth Your Boss or Co-worker? How about your employees?

This seems like such a Bad Idea that I'm surprised that Time even bothered to report on it, and that, too, in as neutral a tone as it did.

Essentially, there is a new website, Unvarnished (which I am NOT going to link to) that encourages you to post "anonymous" reviews of your boss or co-workers. Which boils down to anyone reviewing...well...anyone, since there's no possible way for Unvarnished to verify that the person you claim is your boss actually is. (Or, for that matter, that you are who you claim to be, though you are required to identify yourself with a Facebook account.)

The site claims to be an epinions-like way of submitting information about people you work with:

Unvarnished reviews are community-contributed, business-focused assessments of professional performance.

To help reviewers be honest and candid in their reviews, Unvarnished obscures the identity of review authors. This lets reviewers share their true, nuanced opinions without fear of repercussions.

At the same time, to ensure that reviews are of the highest quality, and maintain a helpful, business-focused approach, Unvarnished provides a suite of tools to allow the community to rate and moderate reviews.

How do I hate this? Let me count the ways.
  1. Risks to the reviewer:
    How anonymous is this really? To make a review useful, one would have to add enough detail that it would be pretty easy to identify the reviewer. Not to mention clues offered by writing style. Most people "give themselves away every time they open their mouths" (to quote Henry Higgins), even if they think they are posting anonymously. And what's all this business about linking to Facebook? (Actually, to tell you the truth, my guess is the Facebook bit is mostly so that the Unvarnished people don't need to deal with all the adminstrative hassle of managing accounts, but I digress.)
  2. Risks to the reviewee:
    What prevents anyone with a grudge about your work from writing any nonsense about your work? Having an argument with your boss/employee/annoying person in another group about whether it is legal to perform some action? Wouldn't go out with someone at work? Wouldn't work an 80 hour week? Do you wear perfume they don't like (and they never had the guts to tell you in person)?
    While we're at it, what prevents anyone in the world from writing any nonsense about your work? Disgruntled neighbors? Annoying ex-boyfriends? Here's one that I bet you wouldn't think of: extortionists. Apparently there's a bit of a cottage industry in Second Life of virtual mobsters gaming the ratings system of unsuspecting users. And that's just Linden Dollars. Think of the USD value you could extract for professional reputation or psychological despair.
  3. Risks to the review reader:
    Given the above: can I believe anything I read on this site?
  4. Risks to the organization employing the reviewee:
    a) What confidential information may be divulged in a review?
    b) Do you really want your organization's dirty linen aired in front of customers or other parts of the organization?
    c) What does this do to morale within the organization?
Many comments on the article have noted that this is a law suit waiting to happen.

I am half tempted to sign up for access, just to see how much damage you could really do, if you had it in for someone. But I am also paranoid about these sorts of things, especially the bit about hooking it up to a Facebook account. So maybe not.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Interesting summary of security issues

Yes, I know...I'm behind.

I have a long post about my CISSP in production (actually...see below...since I started it earlier, but finished it later, it's the next one down), but in the meantime, I wanted to post an interesting article I saw today. It's about some of the more serious IT threats we are likely to face in the near future. It's chock full of really interesting statistics and anecdotes. It may sound a little technical, but don't worry about the details. I find the bits on insider fraud and social networking particularly interesting.

Enjoy! And sleep tight!

And, as Annapurna might say...MUUUUHAAAHAAAA!!!!!