Author Topic: EP215: Mr. Penumbra’s Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store  (Read 39893 times)


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Reply #75 on: April 26, 2010, 05:34:15 PM
I didn't like this one as much as I felt like I should have.  Some reasons:

1.  Google name-dropping.  Okay, so there's a Google bookscanner, but overall, I thought the inclusion of Google as a major plot point was kind of weak, just name-dropping to get attention.  Likewise the description of the outlandish Google campus was weird, and odd, but didn't really matter in the long run, it just struck me as fluff.

2.  As a software engineer it bugs me when writing computer programs is a vital part of the story, yet it's written like the writer has done no research, not even talking to one software engineer, giving her a copy of the story to read and asking her "Does this sound stupid?"  This plagues me even on fun TV shows like Alias, where they run into a computer security system and say things like "1024 bit encryption?  This is going to be hard.   Really hard.  This could take me all afternoon."

That was the case here.  I groaned when the girl fixes the unexplained bug in his program in the time it takes him to drink a cup of coffee.  Yeah, she's a code geek, but it takes time to get familiar with another person's code and coding style, particularly when he just wrote it himself on the fly and not subject to any kind of code review or coding standard, she's never seen the program nor any of his code before,  .

The foray into data visualization was interesting, until it became clear that what the story meant by data visualization has very little to do with what it means in programming terms.  If you're modeling the pattern of weirdoes grabbing books off the shelf at a bookstore, you do NOT create a 3-D model of the store to model this.  That's just silly.  Especially when she enhanced his program by putting a nice woodgrain on the bookshelves, and the fact that it only looked like a face when viewed from the counter, so he had to move the viewpoint to there.

And the fact that they could find a face by graphing all these weirdo variables, as though those have a single and obvious graphical representation.  It sounded to me like it would just end up as a random set of scribbles, and the set of scribbles would vary widely if someone else had tried to graph the same thing.  If there was an apparent face there, then it's more likely to just be like those visions of the Virgin Mary under overpasses that look to me like any other water stain.

3.  If the problem wasn't meant to be solved by data visualization, what was the point of all the sales to create the visualization?  Did those old dudes REALLY have nothing better to do with their immortality than to choreograph their book-buying and odd-accessory swapping just so some new recruit can have a test?  Considering it's a test that no one but a complete nut-job would ever solve?  These guys really need a hobby!  If that's the only thing I could think of to do with my immortality then I may as well just die at a normal age to give myself some more purpose. 

So... it was an interesting idea, but the nitpicks piled on nitpicks and overall it just didn't work for me.

kilgore trout

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Reply #76 on: May 01, 2010, 04:15:35 AM
Fabulous, worked on all levels.


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Reply #77 on: October 04, 2012, 08:06:01 PM
I'd just like to take a moment to give my congratulations to Robin Sloan on his recently published novelization of "Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore."
Nearly crapped myself.
Can't wait to listen to the audiobook.


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Reply #78 on: October 13, 2012, 05:04:29 AM


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Reply #79 on: October 13, 2012, 04:45:13 PM
This was among the first 20 episodes of escape pod that I heard, and has proven to be one of the most memorable as well. I'm so excited to read the novelization, it's alrealy on my kindle for an upcoming long flight! :)

Wilson Fowlie

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Reply #80 on: October 31, 2012, 11:38:30 PM
The Canadian tech/life radio show Spark interviewed Mr. Sloan about the book this week.

Note: The opening intro by the host is very loud and distorted - which is really unusual for them - but don't be put off by that; the sound is much better in the interview proper.

"People commonly use the word 'procrastination' to describe what they do on the Internet. It seems to me too mild to describe what's happening as merely not-doing-work. We don't call it procrastination when someone gets drunk instead of working." - Paul Graham


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Reply #81 on: June 22, 2021, 06:23:53 PM
I enjoy this story. I just listened to it again last night as I work my way towards creating a final "best episodes in my opinion" list.

I don't usually listen to the intros and outros, although sometimes I do and find them interesting. However, I made the mistake of listening to a few seconds of this episode's outro, and it made me angry.
Asserting that doing something online has no cost is just wrong. Leaving aside the societal and environmental effects, which I'm sure could be argued over ceaselessly, it costs money to buy a computer, or smart phone, or tablet, to keep it secure and updated, and to pay for access to the data through your phone bill. Even if you use a library computer, it costs the library and you indirectly (through taxes.)
Don't get me wrong, there are many great things about having access to the online world, and I am online for several hours a day, many of them happily, but it is not cost-free, directly or indirectly. I know several people who simply can not afford to join the online world. That's really all I wanted to say, but I feel strongly enough about the incorrect assumption that the online world is free to want to say it. Online life is not free,
It has a cost.

Anyway, the story is still on my list of possible best episodes.