Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

2312
2312
by Kim Stanley Robinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wrote what I thought was a nice review of this book and then the Internet ate it.

Which I think actually speaks to some of the themes of this very novel: humanity before technology and all that.

But, in this case, technology won and I’m far too upset to try writing it again.

But, for future readers, I’ll sum it up: the sci-fi parts of this book were brilliant. Robinson paints a future that is so tantalizingly close that it’s agonizing we haven’t achieved it.

But the plot and characters were weak and perfunctory.

So while this book is well worth a read from for the inspiration and hope it gives for our future, it’s not such a great novel.

The Internet has been aflutter recently with news of a massive attack against WordPress blogs: one good resource might be this article at Ars Technica.

The gist of the attack is that automated scripts are hammering at WordPress blogs that use the default names like “admin” for the administrator user. Since blogs which have changed their admin user name aren’t at risk, the security advice going around at the moment is to make sure you’re not using “admin” as a username (as well as making sure that you have strong passwords for all of your accounts, of course) [EDIT: Hmm. It seems you can’t change a username once it’s been created. I’m sure there’s a plugin for that, but I haven’t studied it enough to give advice one way or another. Still, at least this will let you know if you’re at risk so you can go set stronger passwords to those accounts!].

But I host a lot of WordPress sites on my server (17 right now) and I don’t even have logins for all of those. So I needed a way to see what usernames each of the blogs on my server use.

So I wrote a script. This script will scan a root folder and look for wordpress blogs. It will then use the database credentials for each blog to log into mysql and look for the usernames that can log in. It will then tell you what those usernames are.

Since it seems like this script could be useful to folks other than me, I’m making it available in my public Mercurial repository. In the process, I went ahead and added a couple other scripts that I’ve written which you might find useful.

The direct link for the “Audit WordPress Blog Credentials” script is http://hg.jameswilliams.me/sysadmin_scripts/file/tip/wp_audit_blog_credentials.sh. You’ll find a link to download the “raw” version of the file on the left-hand side of the page.

I’m sure more scripts will make their way to this repository as I find things I need to automate (that aren’t particularly specific to my situation).

I hope this is useful!

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Q & A (Star Trek The Next Generation)Q & A by Keith R.A. DeCandido
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I was growing up, I read more than any kid in my classes: and it was almost entirely licensed fiction: Star Trek and Star Wars mostly. Even today, I still maintain quite the collection of these books, even though I rarely indulge.

These days, I prefer more original works (though I still happily do most of my reading in the speculative fiction genres). The limitations of licensed novels are both stifling and well known: the individual author has no power to grow or change the main characters or world. Every story must end in the same place that it began. Perhaps the author can introduce new characters or locations that are allowed to have an arc: but they must be necessity not impact the characters that the reader actually cares about.

You can get some decent adventure stories with that setup but it’s tough to find anything much deeper. Yet, there’s still a bit of room in my heart for the occasional bit of licensed work. Sometimes, it can be fun to go on another romp with beloved characters: especially when they’ve been off-screen for a decade (and off of television for far longer).

Some romps work out better than others, though.

In a lot of ways, this book was set up in the worst possible position. It’s licensed, so right off the bat, the author has to tread carefully with regards to the license-holder. It’s set within the expanded universe, so characters have moved on or died — and those that remain seem to have laughably stagnant careers. And then there’s the entire conceit behind this particular novel: it’s going to answer a universe-and-tv-series-spanding question about just what the show’s most beloved rogue has been thinking all this time.

It’s a tall order.

In a lot of ways Q & A succeeds. It’s a fast and enjoyable read. It brings back all of my favorite characters and lets me spend a little time with them. It even ties up all of Q’s shenanigans into a nice cohesive (if a bit implausible) bow.

But I think the mere fact that it’s facing such a tall order is the book’s downfall. It has to spend time with all of the major characters (even if they’re off the ship), it has to introduce readers to the new characters that are being used to extend the life of the expanded universe franchises, it has to create a universe-spanning threat, it has to resolve that threat, and it has to wrap up a decade’s worth of Q’s exploits . And it has to do all of that in under 300 light-reading pages. Jiminy.

It doesn’t really manage all of that. That’s not much of a criticism: I don’t think it *could* have managed all of that. And there is definitely something to be said just for the fact that it *tried*. More authors should aim so highly, especially in the field of licensed novels where the impulse is always to recycle the same old cliches again and again just to cash a check.

It’s this book’s ambition makes me think that it wasn’t a callous attempt at cashing in; unfortunately, that evidence is entirely circumstantial. The bulk of this book is shameless fan-service. It largely consists of characters saying “Do you remember that time we…” before recounting the plot of a favorite episode or the narrator saying something like “He hadn’t seen that look since…” before recounting the plot of a favorite episode.

It’s basically a clip-show in novel form. And those clips take away both pages and pacing from actually telling the story of the book. It’s no wonder that the main plot feels rushed and ultimately unfulfilled when so much time is spent recounting events that we all saw on television (because who would read a Star Trek book if they weren’t already fans?).

Ultimately, I award this book a lot of points for aiming for the stars; but its execution just could not even begin to match its dreams.