Saturday, July 19, 2008

Eastern Standard Tribe

It's been close to 3 years since Brian Dunn gave me a couple of books that he'd just read: Eastern Standard Tribe and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, both by Cory Doctorow. The other day I realized that they're not keepers for me, so I pulled them off the shelf to put in our bye-bye books box. (Books in that box sometimes get traded for credit at one of the used books stores around here, sometimes given to the second-hand store, sometimes given to the local public library for their "holiday reading" section from which anyone can take books permanently.)

First, I profusely praise the author for releasing his works under a Creative Commons license that allows for free redistribution. That's really cool, and for that he deserves lots of credit (and support by purchase of physical books such as Brian did!).

As I flipped through my copy of Eastern Standard Tribe, I found some notes I took on hotel note paper, and chuckled at my fussy copy-editor side. The notes:

  • Fixed width font fi ligatures
  • EST = GMT-5, EDT = GMT-4 ([wrong] several times)
  • Lexis-Nexus
  • p. 67 London = noon, Toronto = 6 am?

To address those in turn: It is really annoying to read computer output, email, etc. in fixed-width fonts but see ligatures that (1) are quite unlike what you see in a fixed-width font on a real computer terminal, and (2) break the uniform spacing of the font and mess up the alignment of the rest of the line. It's certainly more genuinely problematic in technical books, where I frequently see it as well, but it's annoying enough in a book of fiction published by Tor, who I'd expect to know better.

Lexis-Nexus: Yeah, it's just spelled wrong, consistently. It should be LexisNexis. Perhaps it was intentional to avoid using a trademark, but I kind of doubt it.

But most significantly, in a book that's all about time zones, I sure thought I must be crazy, because the time zone differences seem to be calculated wrong! Please comment and explain how I'm wrong if that's the case, but there were numerous times that Eastern Time was mentioned as 6 hours earlier than London, but by my calculations, it is only 5 hours earlier, and only 4 hours earlier than Greenwich Mean Time (which doesn't change for daylight saving time aka summer time).

Yes, I'm a pedant, but shouldn't that really be right in this book? Toronto is in the same time zone as New York etc., right? I really hope I'm wrong about this.

As to the story itself: It was enjoyable, and it was just the right length (longer would've been a waste, and I love it when authors don't pad stories). But the story seemed really unbelievable to me. The idea of people forming tribes based on their particular 1-hour time zone struck me as fairly absurd. I work from a home office with people from all time zones in the United States and a few elsewhere. While the difference in time between California and New York (3 hours) is indeed noticeable, the difference between, say, Kansas and Idaho or Virginia on either side (1 hour) barely registers.

People seem to be getting more accustomed to working across timezones, not less so. Either there needs to be more nuance, or, more likely, the premise just doesn't really work. For me, anyway. As long as I set that fundamental problem aside, it was an engaging read.

Down and Out's premise was even more problematic for me. The whole story seemed a little absurd. Deadly serious themes revolving around ... Disneyland? Again, I'm probably a sub-ideal reader for this, since I'm not interested in much Disney, ever, much less futuristic post-scarcity Disney. But like the other book, it was paced well, and short enough not to annoy.

I'd like to read other fiction by Cory Doctorow and see if it has more staying power for me. I've enjoyed his essays unreservedly.

Links (including free downloads):

3 comments:

  1. I actually never managed to get through Eastern Standard Tribe myself. And I thought that the brilliant part of Down and Out was its brevity... I hear his new one (Little Brother) is good -- but, you know. bkd

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  2. Hey Jon, Actually, that should be right for EST/EDT: $ date Mon Aug 4 12:07:30 AKDT 2008 $ date -u Mon Aug 4 20:07:33 GMT 2008 AKST = GMT-9, or 9 hours earlier than GMT. It's DST now, "spring forward, fall back," so add one, and AKDT = GMT-8 which pans out. So: AKST = GMT-9 PST = GMT-8 MST = GMT-7 CST = GMT-6 EST = GMT-5 ...and then add one for DST. So, I'm going to deduce that Toronto is Central and it was not DST in the plot. Wild about the ligatures. I've never seen that.

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  3. Jack, I started following that same line of reasoning as I read the book, because I thought there'd be no way the time zone would be messed up in it. But Toronto is in Eastern time: http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/city.html?n=250 and is either 5 or 4 hours from GMT/UTC. So I think my question stands, but thanks for giving it a shot!

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