Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery

I enjoy graphic adaptations of classic novels and short stories. Admittedly, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. This is an instance of the adaptation working, very well.

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”: The authorized Graphic Adaptation is a lovely and perfectly horrifying adaptation of the 1948 short story. The book was scripted and illustrated by Jackson’s grandson, Miles Hyman. Hyman does an excellent job of staying true to the original feel of the story with haunting, deep images that evoke genuine emotion. The words on each page are sparse, letting the artwork communicate much of the story. This is a wonderful use of a different medium to project the same message and creepiness of the original and required true translation skills. Hyman succeeds. There is a rhythm here that is controlled and which builds from mysterious to worrisome to absolutely horrifying. Fantastically done! If you enjoy the genre, this is worth your time.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Fewer Reviews from Me

Amazon has banned incentivized reviews, meaning it is now prohibited to post a review of a product that you received for free or that you received payment for writing.

I’ve seen this coming and I agree with it in principle. From a practical standpoint, it won’t affect me greatly as my review queue is down to only one book and I’ve not been requesting nor receiving books to review for a while.

I will continue to review stuff I buy, both here and on Amazon, when I find something really exciting. I may still review free books on this blog, and as always, if I am reviewing a book that I received for free, I will put this note at the end of the review: Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

Starting a New Job

Starting today, I’m very excited to be working as a technical writer for Canonical. It is a thrill to be able to earn money while learning and writing about something that I am already passionate about: Ubuntu.

Some readers of my blog may not know this: Canonical is the company that provides support and resources to help the open source community make Ubuntu and promote its use across a multitude of devices and use cases.

A Blind Willie Johnson cover

I don’t think I have mentioned my YouTube channel on this blog. It is time. I recorded a couple covers of Blind Willie Johnson songs this week as my most recent contributions. In this video, I mention a really cool collection of covers that I supported on Kickstarter a few years back that was released just recently. Check it out with this song, the links I provide from it, and please know you are invited to also check out any of the songs I have recorded. (I also take requests from time to time, although there is a queue and it takes me time to learn songs I don’t already know…)

Fighting Shadows


Fighting Shadows is set in Morocco. It is a fictional account that tells the story of one young man’s attempt to find justice after receiving a brutal beating during a political protest. Set against the backdrop of the Arab Spring throughout North Africa, the book attempts to demonstrate in narrative some of the reasons why the uprising never took hold to the point of revolution or civil war, like happened other countries such as Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt.

The story begins on that fateful day, February 20, 2011, starting with Farid and his participation in a protest in the town of Sefrou. The reader is taken on a journey that touches on the delicate balance of power in a country that rails against a history of control and abuse of power by the government while also fearing the rise of Islamist fundamentalism should that power be toppled.

The novel ably and clearly demonstrates the fear many citizens feel, whether their fear is centered on the local police, on the national security forces, or on the government’s secret forces. The book describes problems with bribery and corruption, but it also describes good people standing up and trying to fight against it. The real question is how effective those fights are or can be. This book does not give a definitive answer, but does an excellent job of asking questions that should be asked.

I have written a small amount; about these issues in the past, but not much. I lived in Morocco for 7 years and hope to visit again. I have friends who live there, a few expats and far more Moroccan people. I have no interest in stirring up trouble for myself or for them. At the same time, if we don’t question what we see and ask questions about what could be done, nothing can ever improve, in Morocco or anywhere else.

Fighting Shadows does not prescribe a specific remedy, but does a very good job of illuminating the problems that exist. Anyone interested in the politics and people of the region will find that the book helps frame questions that need to be worked through as Morocco and the Moroccan people look toward the future. Will the future be based in fear, whether fear of the Makhzen or of the Ikhwan, or will the future be ruled by hope, and if so, hope in what?

Note: this is a self-published book. Often, I find that self-published books deserve closer scrutiny than manuscripts that have gone through the more rigorous editorial and publication process with a publishing house. It is because I found this book to NOT have most of the common weaknesses of self-published books that I decided to post about it. My guess is that the only reason that a large publisher wouldn’t print this is because they may have felt the market was too small for the book to earn out. The content is of high enough quality to deserve your consideration.

No disclosure needed. I bought this book and thought it was worth sharing with you.

Two Python Books

I like Python. I like its internal consistency. I like its design that all but ensures there is one right way to write almost anything and that any good Python programmer can figure that way out and use it. I have reviewed several Python-focused books and expect to do so in the future. So, this review will not be about the language itself, but about how well each of the two books included cover the language and provide interesting use cases.

There are two books in this review: Learn to Program with Minecraft: Transform Your World with the Power of Python and Python Crash Course.

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Learn to Program with Minecraft: Transform Your World with the Power of Python presents a fun use case with Python. It covers how to install Minecraft, Python, Java, the Minecraft API, and a single-player Minecraft server called Spigot to allow you to take advantage of Python to do things to your Minecraft world. One thing to note is that installation is only covered on Windows and Mac OSX. The book also covers using the IDLE editor with Python, the Python shell, and all the basics of the language within the book-long use case of making modifications and improvements to your Minecraft world. Topics covered include variables, expressions, operators and basic mathematics, strings, booleans, if/then/else statements, loops, functions, lists and dictionaries, files and modules, and the basics of object-oriented programming. Good stuff. The text is presented with full-color examples and beautiful graphics throughout. The writing is clear and easy to follow.

Python Crash Course takes a different tack. The audience is similar, mainly young people who are just starting their coding journey. However, the approach is more generic in application and perhaps more detailed in what it covers. As with the other book, the examples are project-based, but not focused on interacting with one specific software product. You get all the same basics as the other book, but with extended coverage (to be fair, it has nearly double the page count). The projects in this book are interesting and cover a broader set of topics: you get multiple chapters each covering one game project, one data visualization project, and one web application. I also like that in this book Linux is covered alongside Windows and Mac OSX, although the Linux install examples use APT, wish presumes the use of Debian or Ubuntu or another Debian-derivative. Not a problem for me, but I would have liked to seen that called out.

I liked both of these books. If I was focused only on interacting with Minecraft and modifying my game, the first would be my preference. For all other use cases involving learning Python, the second book is superior and the one I recommend.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

Slashdot Effect

The Slashdot Effect isn’t what it used to be (or maybe I’m not terribly interesting…possible). This blog was linked to from the beginning of an article a couple days ago. On Thursday, this blog had 178 views. On January 26, 2009, we had 7,120 views, which is the highest number recorded since I switched to WordPress and my stats were reset, mostly because StumbleUpon listed this post. Before that, back in 2008 we had more than 20,000 visitors in one day when I posted this.

The Manga Guide to Physiology

I’m re-using this first paragraph introduction from the last review I wrote for a book in this series:

This is one of several atypical educational books that use graphic art to help teach difficult concepts or illustrate the action and another wonderful entry in the “Manga Guide to…” series that I have been reviewing.  I keep requesting review copies of each title in the series as they come out, and I have yet to be disappointed. This is an impressive series that consistently makes very difficult academic topics more interesting and a little easier for students. I would not consider these a replacement for a textbook, and neither would the publishers of the series, but every book that I have reviewed from the series would make an excellent supplement, especially for the struggling student.


The Manga Guide to Physiology tackles all of the main points of a typical Physiology 101 course that might be taken by a college freshman. It does so with clarity, with precision, and surrounds the academic details with an enjoyable narrative that makes the information much easier to absorb. In fact, I would go so far as to say the story makes the subject matter move from difficult, but interesting, to enjoyable. This is done by giving a context to the subject matter that the reader can relate to.

Kumiko Karada is a freshman nursing student who is struggling. She is failing her physiology class and has one chance to pass. She must do exceptionally well on a makeup exam. This is a daunting task, made easier with the help of Osamu Kaisei, an assistant professor in the Department of Sports and Health Medicine. It turns out that Osamu is also a gifted teacher who is preparing his course syllabus and materials for the same class that Kumiko is failing. The two work together to help Kumiko learn what she needs to know.

Topics covered in the book include all the main systems: circulatory, respiratory, digestive, kidneys and renal, the brain and nervous, musculoskeletal, endocrine, and also details like body fluids, cells, genes, and reproduction. The information is accurate, up-to-date, and clearly presented. The topics are first introduced within the narrative, but gaps and additional details are added at the end of each chapter. The chapters are each based on a specific system.

Studying physiology? This book won’t replace your textbook and doing your homework, but it has a very strong chance of helping you overcome the fear and intimidation that are often associated with these complex topics. Like the other titles in this series, I recommend this book highly.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.