Four Max Carrados Detective Stories

As I wrote earlier, I was going to read Bramah and Sheckley over Christmas, which I have. I also suggested that Bramah’s Kai Lung may have influenced Terry Pratchett; but I read a book from that other series of Ernest Bramah, so I won’t be able to compare the authors. Yet.

Max Carrados is yet another soldier in that large army of super-detectives that was so popular during the late 19th and early 20th century: Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, Hercule Poirot, The Thinking Machine, Bill Clifford, and of course the granddaddy of them all, Dupin.

The four Carrados stories are neither better nor worse than their contemporaries. If anything, the story type is starting to grate a little. Still, great escapist stuff.

Max Carrados is, like Poirot and Holmes claim to be, a consulting detective. They listen to your story, and then, solely based on what you told them, the mud on the gold watch you inherited from your father and the fact that the queen’s stable boy has a cold, solve your “case” using nothing but deduction. Carrados is “aided,” so to speak, by his losing sight in his younger years, sharpening his deductive facilities. (Father Brown’s deductive facilities are aided by extreme bigotry.)

Ernest Bramah, Four Max Carrados Detective Stories, 6/10.

(Bill Clifford, by the way, is like Sherlock Holmes a parody of these types of detectives, written by Dutchman Godfried Bomans, and unfortunately won’t return to the public domain for a long time to come.)

Hill Street Blues

As a young teenager I loved Hill Street Blues, and as an older teenager St. Elsewhere even more so. Seeing afternoon reruns nowadays the shows look seriously dated. But still, now and again I catch a glimpse of what I liked so much.

For instance, Frank Furillo has no time to talk to his ex-wife Fay, who wants to share her joy of having found out the baby she is expecting is going to be a girl. Then tough, hard desk-sergeant Phil Esterhaus, who has all the time in the world, and who also wants to be seen as the thinking empath, steps in and asks her all the right questions to enable her to share that joy. It has that insincerity in it that grown-ups have, and the lack of shame in showing it that seems like the lack of shame children have through inexperience, but is of course quite the opposite: lack of shame despite experience.

Either Esterhaus is tough, or he is touchy-feely. One of them is an act. And Fay knows it, because she plays the same game for pretty much the entire series. (Which is why she is one of those rare characters that you love to hate. Name some more in the comments please.)

I am probably not explaining it right, but it brought back some way of looking at the world that I lost somewhere while growing up, and could not even remember until something like Hill Street Blues reruns came along.

And what I liked back then about that scene was that grown-ups (embodied by the show’s writers) were capable of seeing that they were acting the way they were.

On reviews

There is this great film database that invites visitors to leave reviews, but on their terms and using their interface. There are also several book databases that invite you, again, to review books at their site ([1], [2], [3], and [4], for example), but with similar problems, and with the added complication that the conscientious reviewer (that would be me) needs to keep track of what he posted where, and make sure he posted it everywhere (assuming that not one of the sites claim an exclusive license).

So I decided to start posting my reviews here. Advantages as I see them:

  • I can license the reviews the way I want to.
  • I can edit a review if I like.
  • I can prevent a review from being edited if I like.
  • I am no longer restrained by silly rules such as IMDB’s “ten lines minimum” (for any given definition of “line”).

This blog’s software may not be eminently suited for handling reviews, but as it happens it is a damn sight better than the aforementioned “specialized” sites, and what I don’t like I can change. (In all honesty, I am sorta chummy with the developers of at least two of those sites, so I could probably help change things over there too.)

Now if only Technorati allowed one to search for a movie title with the tag “review”. Does it?

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

I downloaded this new series of people being forced to give up smoking, and how each of them is coming to terms with that. Battlestar Galactica (the new series) gets many things wrong, but it also gets many things right, and in the end that’s what counts.

There are a lot of movies and series that try and tie in to my childhood memories of Good TV. All of them try and recreate the feel of the old show; Battlestar Galactica, on the other hand, tries to create the feel that somebody who watched the show as a child, but since has grown up, would like. That means things have seriously changed. But they have changed for the good: if you liked rebellious Starbuck as a young boy, you’ll love Starbuck now you’re a grown man.

Score: 7/10.

(This review is based on the miniseries, the first season, and the first four episodes of the second season.)

Book review: Defensive Design for the Web

Defensive Design for the Web deals with preventing common interface design mistakes on e-commerce websites. It shows real world examples of websites getting it wrong and other websites getting it right. By presenting these examples side by side, the reader immediately gets to see why something works (or why it does not).

Read the rest of this review at evolt.org.

Afraid to read

There are many books that I started reading but never finished, because I got bored. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was among them. (Borrowed from the local book mobile when I was 8 or 9 years old. The librarian had been unwilling to lend me large books before, convinced that I would not finish them. Boy, how I would have liked to have proved him wrong on this one too.)

The book that sported the protagonist I was named after: De Bruiloft der Zeven Zigeuners (The Wedding of the Seven Gypsies) by Aad den Doolaard. Super sugar sweetness; I could not bear more than two pages, even though my father had kept the book for 18 years to give to me on my birthday.

However, recently I stopped reading a book because it was too good, too exciting. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is a thorougly convincing story about a disfunctional family, about how we cannot get away from those who torture us, about how meanness can be dispensed in tiny portions, not to be protested against, yet have far-reaching effects. About the holes we dig for ourselves.

I would like to get back to this book, because it seems one of the greatest works written in the English language. Yet for now, I want to keep the thorougly convincing account of pettiness at bay, and the feelings it evokes in me.

The frightening might of copyright

Copyright in the USA has devolved from a device protecting diligent authors from greedy, anti-societal middlemen, to a device ‘protecting’ these very same middlemen from the citizens. This may not be apparent yet to many people, because American law doesn’t mention these middlemen yet — certainly not as beneficiaries, as the most recent Dutch copyright law does.

Lawrence Lessig’s book Free Culture, published March 2004 by Penguin, describes the devastating consequences this development may have on the growth and proliferation of American culture. I don’t agree with many of his conclusions, and oppose his adoption of the propaganda language used by the evilest of middlemen (‘property right’ for ‘copy right’, ‘theft’ for ‘infringement’ et cetera), be they congressperson, publisher or lawyer, but he means well.

Where the book really shines is in the long list of shocking examples of where copyright has stifled free speech and prohibited many, many things that were perfectly legal (and ethical!) before. From the inventor of FM radio, who killed himself when the middlemen refused to license his patents, to the small children who got ‘prosecuted’ (the term used by the middlemen) for not licensing MP3s, the book perfectly illustrates how a weapon against publishers has fallen into exactly the wrong hands.

When it comes to copyrights in the US, I tend to agree more with Richard Stallman, who better differentiates between the values at stake. When file-sharing is deemed illegal, that is not wrong because of some obtuse, three-chapter long series of intermixed arguments of what’s good for innovation and of what property really means. It is simply wrong because sharing is a right value. The law should recognise that as soon as sharing becomes an endangered species.

So when Lessig proposes the Public Domain Enhancement Act, he does something right: he helps preserve culture. As webmaster of a website about abandoned text adventures I appreciate that very much, because many of these games can no longer be legally owned. However, he skips the many other problems involved by giving the likes of Sony and Disney the power they’ve currently got.

In the end, though, I cannot blame Lessig for attacking only the problem that is closest to him. His essay is an intelligent, yet passionate one, that should be read by anyone who is concerned about where this world is heading. The consequences of a dictatorial copyright regime influence the entire world, and are far-reaching: from news channels no longer reporting the truth to small children turning criminal for doing good.

Free Culture can be bought at any bookstore worth its salt, and is downloadable in many, many formats (from spoken to written text, and possibly in several languages) from its companion website at http://free-culture.org.

Edit: when I wrote this review I used to publish my book reviews on third party websites. Later, I decided I would keep all my reviews under my own control. In August 2006 I added this entry to the books and review categories, and removed the phrase “(book review)” from the title.