books again

A re-read: Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksennarion is a simple, fun fantasy trilogy that starts with Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, in which a young (this isn’t obvious, is it?) sheep-farmer’s daughter runs away to join a local duke’s mercenary force. Good pacing and well drawn characters keep the story going, even though the things don’t really begin to move until halfway through the book. It’s obviously drawn from Moon’s own experiences in the modern military (to wit: different weapons and battlefields, but the same type of people). This is light fantasy; magic is thankfully rare and the world is not thick with elves and dwarves and hippogryphs and dragons.

There is a two-book prequel to Deed, starting with Surrender None. I liked the first book, but never finished the second, but Surrender is still worthwhile reading.

I have to admit disappointment with Charles Stross’s latest installment in his modern fantasy, The Clan Corporate. Perhaps I should have re-read the first two books just to get in the mood, but it seems like TCC doesn’t move at quite the pace of the prior two books. Is this a deliberate Zelazny-class slow-down where, taken to extremes in even later books, it will take a character four chapters to cross a room? I certainly hope not. While it is fun and easy to read entertainment, and by no means a waste of time, I’m hoping things will pick up. (Stross’ Glasshouse will be out next week, we shall see…).

Alistair Reynolds is in his late 30s and has published an enormous amount in the last four or five years. I can’t say that I liked it all; Revelation Space was neat, if ponderous, but I didn’t make it through Chasm City (it starts out well, then gets off track to the point where he appears to be channeling one of Richard Morgan’s characters from the Altered Carbon universe — by the way, another set of fairly okay techno-detective novels). Reynolds’ latest, Pushing Ice, is well done, and I finished it in about a week (or, about average for Life With A Toddler). It’s predictable, but not totally so, and for once I don’t resent seeing the clearly indicated pre-drilled holes where the sequel will be bolted on. Ice is worth a read.

The New Super Mario Brothers on the DS-lite has been consuming too much of my time the past couple of days. The DS-lite is a class act, by the way; more on this later.

Here’s a book I don’t own, and hope I never do: Conducting the Programmer Job Interview: The IT Manager Guide with Java J2EE, C, C++, UNIX, PHP and Oracle Interview questions!

Where to begin? Even a fast read in the bookstore made me pale.

This is supposedly a book about hiring top-notch engineers. Instead it’s a really great way to scare away talent. If you read this and it makes sense to you, and you use questions from it, you will not have top talent working for you, you will have it running away screaming from the interview. This book is a real gobbler.

There is a set of sample interview questions, and they are terrible, ranging from trivial (“How do you end a comment in C”), to mildly wrong (regarding correct declaration of main), to hilariously and incredibly confused:

Q: What would you say someone is doing if they are calling “mmap()” followed by “sizeof()”?

A: They are trying to get the size of a file.

Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Make it stop hurting, please.

Glancing at the other questions, they look about the same (I didn’t spot anything glaringly wrong, but I did see a lot of “What variable should be set to do X in order to configure Y in WebMumble 7.61 for IETF compatibility with mode 3 SDFG?” type questions, things that someone competent should be able to find in twenty seconds, and if you find that a candidate has memorized such garbage, it’s probably a bad sign). It’s really clear that the author had no expertise in the areas covered, but simply skimmed some books and made up questions with little or no research or technical review other than “It looked hard when I riffed through the Sam’s book in the bookstore’s coffee shop.”

And: If you think your next candidate is smart, you might want to ask them what they think of this book…

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