4 & 5 Star SciFi and Fantasy Reads of 2016

Here is my annual post to list the top rated (by me) books I read each year.  For 2016, these include both books I read and listened to, as well as, novellas, short story's and re-reads.  I pulled this info from my Goodreads profile.  Needless to say, all of these are highly recommended.

5 Star:
The Last Mortal Bond (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #3) by Brian Staveley
The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Rook The Checquy Files #1) by Daniel O’Malley
A New Hope: The Princess, The Scoundrel and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken

4 Star:
Blood Song (Ravens Shadow #1) by Ryan Anthony
Tower Lord (Ravens Shadow #2) by Ryan Anthony
Queen of Fire (Ravens Shadow #3) by Ryan Anthony
Firstborn by Brandon Sanderson
Calamity (Reckoners #3) by Brandon Sanderson
Marauder (The Shoal Sequence #4) by Gary Gibson
Shattered Spear (The Lost Starts #4) by Jack Campbell
Bold (Kris Longknife #14) by Mike Shepherd
At the Sign of Triumph (Safehold #9) by David Weber
De Oppresso Liber (Hayden War #6) by Evan Currie
The Bands of Morning (Mistborn #6) by Brandon Sanderson
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold
Son of the Black Sword (Saga of the Forgotten Warrior #1) by Larry Correia
Secret History (Mistborn #3.5) by Brandon Sanderson
Into the Dark (Alexis Carew #1) by J.A. Sutherland
Warrior King (Odyssey One, #5) by Evan Currie
City of Blades (The Divine Cities #2) by Robert Jackson Bennett

What am I looking forward to in 2017? Same questions as last year: where is the Song of Ice and Fire #6 Winds of Winter, The Kingkiller Chronicle #3, Gentleman Bastard #4, and The Stormlight Archive #3?  Already finished and loved Babylon Ashes (The Expanse #6) on January 1, 2017.  Looking forward to The Lost Metal (Mistborn #7), City of Miracles (Devine Cities #3), and anything by Joe Abercrombie.

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4 & 5 Star SciFi and Fantasy Reads of 2015

Here is my annual post to list the top rated (by me) books I read each year.  For 2015, these include both books I read and listened to, as well as, novellas, short story's and re-reads.  I pulled this info from my Goodreads profile.  Needless to say, all of these are highly recommended.

5 Star:

  • Nemesis Games (Expanse #5) by James S.A. Corey (Audible)
  • Half the World (Shattered Sea #2) by Joe Abercrobie (Audible)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (Audible)

4 Star:

  • Half a War (Shattered Sea #3) by Joe Abercrombie (Audible)
  • The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (Audible)
  • Stonefather (Mither Mages # 0.5) by Orson Scott Card (Audible)
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Audible)
  • Leviathan (The Lost Fleet:Beyond the Frontier #5) by Jack Campbell (Audible)
  • Ruins (Pathfinder #2) by Orson Scott Card (Audible)
  • Shadows of Self (Mistborn #5) by Brandon Sanderson
  • Originator (Cassandra Kresnov #6) by Joel Shepherd
  • Firefight (Reckoners #2) by Brandon Sanderson
  • Hell's Foundation Quiver (Safehold #8) by David Weber
  • City of Stars by Robert Jackson Bennett
  • Unrelenting (Kris Longknife #13) by Mike Shepherd
  • Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson

What am I looking forward to in 2016? Calamity (Reckoners #3), The Last Mortal Bond (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #3), The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn #6), Sharp Ends (First Law #7), Death's Bright Day (RCN Daniel Leary #11).   And where is the Song of Ice and Fire #6, The Kingkiller Chronicle #3, Gentleman Bastard #4, and The Stormlight Archive #3?

4 & 5 Star SciFi and Fantasy Reads of 2014

I forgot to post this last year.  So here it is.

 

Here is my annual post to list the top rated (by me) books I read each year.  For 2015, these include both books I read and listened to, as well as, novellas, short story's and re-reads.  I pulled this info from my Goodreads profile.  Needless to say, all of these are highly recommended.

5 Star:

  • Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card (Audible)
  • Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archive #2) by Brandon Sanderson (Audible)
  • The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive #1) by Brandon Sanderson (Re-read) (Audible)
  • The Emperor's Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1) by Brian Staveley (Audible) - My review here
  • Dorsai! (Dorsai Series #1) by Gordon R Dickson (re-read) (Audible)

4 Star:

  • Skin Deep (Legion #2) by Brandon Sanderson (Audible)
  • Coming Home (Alex Benedict #7) by Jack McDevitt (Audible)
  • Imperfect Sword (The Lost Stars #3) by Jack Campbell (Audible)
  • Half A King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie (Audible)
  • The Magician's Land (The Magicians #3) by Lev Grossman (Audible)
  • What Distand Deeps (Lt. Leary #8) David Drake (Audible)
  • The Thousand Emperors by Gary Gibson (Audible)
  • In the Stormy Red Sky (Lt. Leary #7) by David Drake (Audible)
  • The High Druid's Blade (Defenders of Shannara #1) by Terry Brooks (Audible)
  • Final Days by Gary Gibson (Audible)
  • Operation Shield (Cassandra Kresnov #5) by Joel Shepherd (Kindle)
  • Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman (Audible)
  • To Honor You Call Us (Man of War #1) by Paul H. Honsinger (Audible)
  • 23 Years on Fire (Cassandra Kresnov #4) by Joel Shepherd (Kindle)

 

What am I looking forward to in 2015?  Follow up to The Emperor's Blades, Defenders of Shannara #2, Cassandra Kresonov #4.

Apple Watch First Impressions

I have used the Apple Watch for a week now and wanted to share my first impressions and observations.  Not going to review specific features or how to's, but just things I have noticed.

First, it is a nice looking watch.  I received the 42mm Stainless Steel model and when I opened the box, my first thought was that it is smaller than expected.  The watch face was smaller and the thickness was thinner than my expectation.  No, I did not go into an Apple Store to view one or try one on before ordering and receiving mine.  My expectation was a big pillow shaped watch.   It is much sleeker than expected.

Screen is amazing.  So clear and bright.  Love the OLED.  The user interface takes a bit of time to get use to.  Thus all of the Apple demo's on their site.  It is not intuitive.   You have to learn new ways of doing things (buttons vs. swipes, etc..).  But it does get easier to use each day and slowly becomes second nature.

Not sure about the utility of most of the apps that can be used from your iPhone.  Certainly not going to read Yahoo News on my watch.  My advice is to select the option to "NOT" install all the apps during setup.  Only install the ones you really want to use as you need them.  That said, some are more convenient on the Watch than on the phone. Checking status of Apple orders on my iPhone Apple Store App requires a lot more work than checking on the Watch.  My package tracking app is quicker and easier on the Watch as well.

Some frustrations has been getting my calendar onto the phone (does not want my Work Outlook Calendar for some reason) which seems to pick and choose at random and receiving appropriate notifications on the watch.  Everything looks set up correctly but it is not working consistently.  Rebooting both phone and watch did help a little.  Even a wipe and start over did not fix the issue completely. Now am syncing one way from Outlook to Google Calendar.  Still a work in progress.   Which brings me to the biggest problem...

Notifications is frustrating since on both my Pebble and Fitbit, it worked perfectly.  In fact, on my Fitbit, I would get the notification there before they popped up on the iPhone screen!  This should be the simplest, most basic thing to work... and it seems hit and miss on the watch.  Some may come 30 seconds after the notification on the phone or not at all.  Over time it seems to be getting better, but still a few issues. What I do like with Messages and notifications is based upon the content of the message, it provides one touch answers.  For example, my wife sent a message asking if I wanted the usual or something new from a restaurant for a to go order.  When I selected “reply”, the first two options to send where “the usual” and “something new”.  One click of “the usual” and response done.

Another big issue is I have 2 Apple ID's.  A main ID that I use for most everything, and another just for iCloud.  The watch will only allow me to use the iCloud ID.  It does not give you the option to put in the username for the ID I want to use, it just pulls it from your phone (I guess) and wants the password.  I have found no work around.  I even deactivated iCloud on my iPhone and reset the watch and installed again.  No change.   I tend to believe this is the source to my calendar and notifications issues?

The watch also seems to be affecting my battery on the iPhone more than expected.  That may be from me in the Watch App customizing everything over and over.  But I will keep an eye out.  But the battery on the Watch itself seems pretty good.  One day it ran for 15 hrs and was still around 40% left, even with fitness activities on the Watch used that day.  

Other abnormalities that have started since pairing the watch with my iphone.  When using some bluetooth headphones, they loose connection all of the time. Coincidence?  I did not have that problem before. 

I can only hope that Apple will fix some of these issues.  I am prepared for them as I know I was getting a 1st generation product and would be a tester.  It was expected.

Has it or will it replace my Fitbit?  Yes and No.  It will replace the Surge, but because the watch can not be used while sleeping, I will go back to a simpler Fitbit model.  I love the Fitbit sleep tracking and alarm feature to wake me in the morning (no noise!).  Also I am so invested in the data from the Fitbit, it is difficult to quit cold turkey.  So yes, I will be one of those nerds with both.

First Impressions - Fitbit Surge

I received the Fitbit Surge on my Birthday and have been using for 1 week now, so wanted to share my first impressions.  I feel I am a Fitbit "expert user" as I owned the original Fitbit (still in my drawer) from December 2009 and have owned and used every version since except for the Zip and the New Fitbit Charge & ChargeHR.  My favorites have been the Fitbit One and the Fitbit Force (my most recent version prior to the Surge).  So basically 5 full years of wearing a Fitbit nonstop.

Past blog posts:

 

Form and Style - The Surge is basically a double wide Force or Charge without the band clasp issue.  It is a watch band type clasp which has been needed for a while.  Unfortunately the new Charge  still has the clasp mechinism that does not hold, but the ChargeHR 'does' due to the heart rate monitor.  For that reason alone (the watch style clasp) you will want the ChargeHR over the Charge.  Trust me. 

 

The band on the Surge may not be replaceable and is of a material that does not feel it will last long.  There are two screws at each end at the base, but I do not know if it allows a change.  The Surge fits at an angle on your wrist for easy viewing and is comfortable enough to wear all the time, even to bed.  The Surge instructions did recommend moving to the other wrist at night when you sleep as well as keeping it loose in normal wearing, but tightening when excercising for better heart rate readings.  It has 3 buttons, one on the left which is the main "return" button and two on the left for navigation and selecting inputs based upon the screen.

 

And true to form with Fitbit, another new proprietory charge cable.  Ugg.

The Surge does show the time and date all of the time and you can turn on/off/auto the backlighting.  But using this as a watch does not seem to work as every time I look at it to see what time, I see the number of floors I have walked instead.  It will also get notifications from your phone so you know when you get a phone call or text message.  However, the amount of data it shows regarding text messages is minimal.  The buzz on the Surge just sends me to my phone.

As with my Fitbit Force, I can browse quickly through steps, miles, cals, floors, with the additional heart bpm.  Other new additions are specific activities: Run, Exercise, Alarms, and Settings.

  • Within Run, it has Free Run (GPS,Heartrate), Treadmill run (Heartrate), and Lap Run (GPS,Heartrate)
  • Within Exercise, it has Hike (GPS,Heartrate), Weights (Heartrate), Workout (Heartrate), Elliptical (Heartrate), Spinning (Heartrate), and Yoga (Heartrate)
  • Within Alarms, you can view all of your alarms you have set and turn them off and on.
  • Within Settings, you can turn notifications off and on, Set backlight options (on/off/auto), shutdown your fitbit, view regulatory info, view version, and set heartrate options (on/off/auto)

Where is Treadmill?  Maybe use Elliptical instead.  Where is cycling with GPS & Heartrate? I guess you can use Run or Hike and change to Cycling on the Website?  Well, maybe, maybe not as the Edit function for a recorded activity on the website is very limited.


Last thoughts.  If indeed the Charge and ChargeHR are just updated Force, I would probably go with the ChargeHR over the Surge.  The GPS does not seem reliable or that useful(heck, I have a phone with GPS, a Garmin with GPS also, do I need another?) and the "watch" capabilities suck.  I would just rather wear a watch for the time and a Fitbit for the tracking.  Plus, you save a lot of money.

Update 12/16/2014 - Still does not work as a watch. Hardly ever see the time when I look.  Just steps or stairs.  Also stopped syncing via App on Mac or iOS today.  Put in an issue with Fitbit.  Will not use Bluetooth to connect to iPhone for music either.  Thinking Bluetooth may have died...

Update 12/27/2014 - Still having syncing issues.  Can not get it to sync via Mac.  Dongle installed and working but does not see the Surge.  Have tried on multiple dongles and have tried to reset as a new Fitbit.  Still can't see.  Issue with iOS on my iPhone 6 Plus continues as well.  Have to reboot phone to get it to recognize the Surge.  Had none of these problems with Force.  Very unsatisfied.  Fitbit support is next to useless this time.  They have always been very attentive in the past.  This is really making me want an Apple Watch.  Goodbye to Fitbit forever?

5 Stars for The Emperor's Blades

Wow.  This is really a good story and good start to a possible great series (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne).  It has the Wheel of Time + Game of Thrones + Malazan feel of greatness.  For me, the best new Fantasy since The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

I can not recommend this book enough. The characters are well thought out, the world building is epic in scope, yet the details are clear and the story absorbing.  I have been wanting to find another Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, George RR Martin, and Robert Jordan.  And I have found him in Brian Staveley.

If you like your fantasy to have a vast world with a rich history, characters with real human flaws, excellent story arc and good old fashion action, you will love this.

Hurry up The Providence of Fire.

2014 - My Year for AquaBike

As much as I like running, an Achilles injury 3 years ago ended that dream.  I have rested, strengthened, rehabbed and the best I can do is run about 1/2 mile at a time without pain.  That is not going to help me much.  So I walk mostly on my 4.5 mile route with about 1.25 of it running.

I have added swimming once a week (2500 meters) for the past 1.5 years, and have been riding my bike.  I recently finally made the change to a real road bike vs. my hybrid.  So it seems that an Aquabike would scratch my competition itch.

aquabike.png

Since both swimming and biking are low impact sports, my knees should also not give me issues.  This is a good sport for those of us that have impact related injuries and are getting older. 

To give me time to prepare, looking at the local Aquabike races coming up I have found that the Baldwin Park Tri is the closest and looks to be about my speed.  It is a .75 km (750 meters) swim and 12 mile bike.

Since my swims are usually in a pool, it is hard to come up with a goal in open lake swim.  If in a pool, I would be looking at 8-10 mins. So maybe add 5 mins for lake = 15 mins max?  For the bike I am hoping to break 40 mins.  With the transitions I should realistically hope to break 1 hour total?  I hope?

Let 2014 begin!

Specialized Roubaix vs. Roubaix

Unfortunately, I am a victim of the SRAM recall.  Since my bike (2014 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Sport SRAM Disc) is only about 6-7 weeks old, this news hit me hard.  I was planning on riding a lot over the Christmas - New Years holidays, and was told to  "STOP RIDING" immediately.  I contacted the store in which I purchased the bike asking for any alternatives available to keep me riding.  Luckily I purchased at a very good store, as they gave me an option to have a loaner until such a time as I can ride my bike again.  Thus they provided a brand new 2014 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Expert for my use.

Roubaix SL4 Sport SRAM Disc

Roubaix SL4 Sport SRAM Disc

So the positive from the recall is my ability to review 2 new 2014 Roubaix bikes and compare the SRAM vs. Shimano world.

Visually, the frames of the bikes look identical.  Both are SL4 FACT Carbon, but the Expert is 10r Carbon vs the Sport SRAM is 8r Carbon.  The difference means the Expert is slightly lighter and stiffer.  I could not tell the difference in reality.  The major difference is the SRAM components vs. Shimano.  Depending upon your own biases, this may or may not make a difference. The Shimano Ultegra is 11 speed vs. 10 speed SRAM, and the Ultegra components are a higher priced and premium components. The SRAM does provide hydraulic brakes for a reasonable cost (but also a recall).

Roubaix SL4 Expert

Roubaix SL4 Expert

Their are quite a few minor differences, many of which are the Expert has size-specific parts (i.e. lower headtube) where the Sport SRAM are standard size regardless of the bike size.  The handebars, wheels (due to SRAM Hydraulics), tires are also different.  

The last and significant difference is the seat post, as the Expert comes with the S-Works CG-R FACT Carbon w/Zertz.  This was the one component that the bike shop said that "once I ride with the seat post, I will want to spend the $200 to upgrade my carbon post on the Sport SRAM". Great, it is a sales opportunity for the shop as well.

For a spec list with differences, see the spreadsheet I created at http://sdrv.ms/1ij53Gy

So now on to my experience.  I dropped off my Sport SRAM at the shop so they could prepare the Expert for my use.  When I picked up the Expert it was prepared with all of my additions (Garmin, cages, bag, pedals, etc...) including my aftermarket stem and larger saddle.  With the saddle, they also used the seat post from my Sport SRAM.  Therefore I did not get the S-Works CG-R FACT Carbon w/Zertz in my test AND I will not have to spend $200 to get one on my bike!

S-Works CG_R FACT Carbon w/Zertz

S-Works CG_R FACT Carbon w/Zertz

I can't really say after a number of rides on the Expert that I can say there really is a big difference.  The ride felt comparatively smooth and fast on both.  It certainly does not feel like the difference I felt when I moved from Aluminum to Carbon as a frame.  I really felt no difference of ride.  I "heard" a difference since the Shimano has the ratcheting sound while coasting and prefer my silent SRAM.  Some people do like the ticking sound - it is an alarm to tell you to start pedaling!

Where I did have a big difference was in the shifting methods between the SRAM and Shimano.  SRAM uses the single/double shift method on the shifter (single for shift up and double for shifting down)  and the Shimano uses the brake itself for shifting down and the shifter for shifting up.  It did take a little to get use to it.  I found I shifted more accurately with the Shimano method since both up and down are single shifts, so I did not overshift shifting down as I did with the SRAM method.

There was also a difference in braking as the SRAM hydraulic disc felt stronger and quicker than the Shimano rim based brakes. The only negative i have to disc brakes is that it is easier to remove and install the front wheel on a rim based system than the disc system.  This only would affect those that remove the front wheel often for the auto bike carrier as I do.  Disc are also heavier then rim based, but this is not important to me.

So, do I like one more than the other?  Not really.  Both felt about the same.  Maybe if I got to sit upon the Expert's seat post I would feel differently.  But the $900 price of the Expert over the Sport SRAM is a bit steep and to me and not worth the money.  I am sure those that are Shimano centric, or like the size specific changes, or look for every ounce less, will think it well worth it.  I am just not one of those people.  If money is no object, you can get the best of both worlds with the Expert Ultegra D12 Disc at $6800 or go ALL OUT with the S-Works Roubaix SL4 Red DIsc for $8500.  Too bad I did not get one of those as a loaner.

That said, the SRAM recall does damper any enthusiasm I have for the Sport SRAM Disc.  For "bang for the buck" it is hard to beat if it did not have the recall.  I prefer a bike with disc brakes, and hydraulics are one of the reasons I selected the Sport SRAM.  Soon I should have my bike back with mechanical disc brakes to hold me over until SRAM provides the new hydrolic ones.  So I still do want my Sport SRAM Disc back and to give the Expert back to bike shop.

4 & 5 Star SciFi and Fantasy Reads of 2013

I am making this an annual post to list the top rated (by me) books I read each year.  For 2013, these include both books I read and listened to, as well as, novellas, short story's and re-reads.  I pulled this info from my Goodreads profile.  Needless to say, all of these are highly recommended.

Books.PNG

5 Star Reads of 2013

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (Reread) - Audible
Ringworld by Larry Niven (Reread) - Audible
A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time, #14) by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson - Audible (MY BOOK OF THE YEAR)
Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time, #13) by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson (Reread) - Audible
The Sword of Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks (Reread) - Audible
Old Man's War by John Scalzi (Reread) - Audible

AMoL.jpg

4 Star Reads of 2013

The War God's Own (War God #2) by David Weber - Audible
Nova War (Shoal: Book 2) by Gary Gibson - Audible
The High Lord (The Black Magician Trilogy, #3) by Trudi Canavan - Audible
Stealing Light (Shoal: Book 1) by Gary Gibson - Audible
The Gate Thief (Mithermages, #2) by Orson Scott Card - Audible
Unfettered (Short Story Collection) by Shawn Speakman - Kindle
Straken (High Druid of Shannara, #3) by Terry Brooks- Audible
Empire of Light (Shoal: Book 3) by Gary Gibson - Audible
Oath of Swords (War God, #1) by David Weber - Audible
Shadow of Freedom (Honor Harrington, #14) by David Weber - Audible
The Six Directions of Space by Alastair Reynolds (Novella) - Kindle
War Maid's Choice (War God, #4) by David Weber - Audible
Empire (In Her Name: Redemption, #1) by Michael R. Hicks - Kindle
Steelheart (Reckoners, #1) by Brandon Sanderson - Audible
Red Country by Joe Abercrombie - Audible
The Human Division by John Scalzi  - Audible
The Last Dark (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, #4) by Stephen R. Donaldson - Audible
Skirmishes (Diving Universe, #4) by Kristine Katheryn Rush - Audible
Indomitable (Shannara, #3.25) by Terry Brooks (Short Story) - Kindle
Thousandth Night by Alastair Reynolds (Novella) - Kindle
The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card (Reread) - Audible

Books2.PNG

So what am I looking forward to in 2015?  Well I did not get The Doors of Stone as promised in 2013, Words of Radiance, Like a Mighty Army, The High Druid's Blade, and many more!

The Black Magician Trilogy

Instead of reviewing each book in this trilogy individually, I decided to complete all 3 books and then do a single overall review.  It was the story itself that caused me to do this, as after reading the first book, I had mixed feelings and felt it was to soon to make a decision regarding.  Overall It was just OK.  I am not seeking out the second trilogy.

bmb1.jpg

<SPOILERS>

The series focuses on a Sonea, a young poor orphan slum girl from the wrong side of the tracks (walls) that learns she has magic and follows her as she develops into a young women thrown into the mechanizations of the Magicians Guild, higher society and higher magic.   


The first two books in the series seem to be more adolescent novels than adult.  The first half of the first book is about Sonea on the run from adults (Magicians) thinking they all want to kill her, and the second half is about bad adults trying to set her up for a fail to prove their superiority due to wealth & status.  It was an essay on the prejudices and bigotry of the rich and privileged against the poor.  Basically the moral of the story is that the rich and privileged will become worse than the underprivileged to prove their superiority.  Other than that, when I finished I thought "what is this really about?".  I had no idea, so no review because I committed to reading all three so I kept going.


The second book seems to be only about Sonea being teased and abused by other children while the adults do nothing.  It is stalking, harassment, physical and mental abuse driven by one (again) rich and privileged student.  That is really all their was for a majority of the book.  The secondary arc in this book is a story about the Magician Dannyl coming to grips about his sexuality.  Bringing this in as a plot point seems only for the purpose to provide more moral questions than just class war.  But does not seem to really help the overall story. Yes there are some developments in the two arcs that moves towards a darker and greater story involved, but it is very far in the background.  Again I finished this book and thought "why is this moving so slow?"


I knew there had to be more than just these teen angst and class/culture war stories.  Something else was going on and just hints are given in the first book and expanded in the second.  You finally get a slight view of darker things happening.  So I held off on my review.  That said, the first two books did have a lot of character development, but the plots were frustrating.


bmb3.jpg

Once I started Book 3, it explodes.  Really.  It takes two books to set up everything?  Would I say it was worth it?  Probably not (OK, no).  But the 3rd book takes off early.  The overall plot is revealed, a back story withheld is suddenly known, all of the tidbits slowly released in books 1 & 2 collapse into a stronger and more powerful plot.  What was hidden is revealed and we can finally get on with a worthwhile plot.  It is non-stop action which leads to a satisfying completion.  


That said, there are still annoyances.  The arc involving Dannyl really can be removed from the whole series as his personal struggle accounts to nothing in the 3rd book.   A lot of the books writing was devoted to this issue for no real reason other than adding more moral and ethical questions without plot affect.

I really loved the last book.  Really did not like the first two.

 

Fitbit Flex - Almost Ready for Primetime

I have been a Fitbit user since December 2009.  I owned the original Fitbit, then the Fitbit Ultra, then Fitbit One, and now the Fitbit Flex.

 

Now that I have been using the Flex for about a month, I thought it would be a good time for a full review. 

I have loved them all and Fitbit has continually upgraded and bettered the product with each release.  My hope is the Flex is no exception.  It is finally the "wear and forget" Fitbit.  No longer do I forget to put it on, lose it in the yard, run it through the washing machine, etc….  You put it on your wrist and you are done.  Wear it while working out, sleeping, showering, ….always.

But with this advance, there are a few concessions.  Starting and stopping the sleeping mode is frustrating.  Not counting stairs (and Fitbit not giving you a way to add manually) is disappointing especially since the last Fitbit (One) did this so well.  The lack of status detail other than lighted dots on the  Fitbit itself is quite an adjustment down from the One.

Finally is the frustrating quirks similar to those I had with the original Fitbit.  For example, waking up in the morning and trying to stop the sleeping mode only to have the Flex not reacting to anything you do.  Having to plug it into a computer to  get it to light up and be useful again, and loosing all of the sleep data from that night. Makes me want to return to the Fitbit One.  But I am trying to hold out and continue with the Flex.

I get the feeling that the Flex is a start over, and not a continuance of the previous models.  Thus it has the version 1 issues.  Buyer beware regarding the Flex.  Let me introduce you to the Fitbit One.

The Wheel of Time, Book 14, A Memory of Light, The End

This is not necessarily a book and author review, but a personal review of my reactions and thoughts after finishing the last book of The Wheel of Time. If you are looking for an intellectual book review or how great Robert Jordan is, go read the reviews at Tor.com.
 

About this book, A Memory of Light specifically: 
How bittersweet to finally end the series and to have no more Wheel of Time to come. It seems like the story would never end and I would be experiencing it forever.  Part of me wishes for that.
Wow. Wow. Wow. I have never read a book with so much happening so fast.  The first two books of A Memory of Light Trilogy (The Gathering Storm - book 12 and Towers of Midnight - book 13) both moved at a terrific pace vs. many of the other books in the series.  I seem to remember one 800 page book in the series that no one even moved. Maybe not.  But the final book was insane in pace & action.
What I found interesting as I read the final book is as I have been with many of these characters for over 20 years in my life watching them grow and change, I thought I had a good grasp on each character and how much they each meant to me.  But it was only while reading the last book that you learn truly how much they mean to you or whom.  In my case I was surprised.  I got a little emotional at 3-4 points through this book, and all of them where in relation to Lan.  I have always liked Lan's character, but did not feel he was the one I connected with the most until my reactions in reading this book.   I was surprised. I was amazed.
I am also astonished with how many of the loose threads (pardon the pun) are wrapped up.  It was a satisfying end to a great journey I began when Eye of the World was released.  The series had it's ups and downs, its beginnings and endings, its fast pace and miserably slow pace.  The amount of characters that we came to know and love (and literally grow up with).
<SPOILER> The only question I have is regarding the five original primary characters from The Two Rivers, is why the character that does not survive.  Why not let them all?  What not more of them dying in The Last Battle?  Why that one?<\SPOILER>
If you have "read" the series, I do say it is worth the money and time (about 1 billion hours) to "LISTEN" via Audible books as well. I have done this and highly recommend.  You will not regret it.  If you have not read the series, then listen. 

 

4 & 5 Star SciFi and Fantasy Reads of 2012

I thought it would be good to list the top rated (by me) books I read in 2012.  These include both books I read and listened to, as well as, novellas, short story's and re-reads.  I pulled this info from my Goodreads profile.  Needless to say, all of these are highly recommended.

 

5 Star Reads of 2012

Legion by Brandon Sanderson (novella) - Audible
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread) - Audio CD
The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson (novella) - Audible
Foundation by Isaac Asmimov (reread) - Audible
Firebird by Jack McDevitt - Audible
The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson - Audible (MY BOOK OF THE YEAR)
The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordon (reread) - Audible
Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordon (reread) - Audible
 

4 Star Reads of 2012

City of Ruins by Kristine Katheryn Rusch - Audible
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey - Kindle
The Magician King by Lev Grossman - Audible
Star Wars: Darth Plagueis by James Luceno - Audible
Becalmed by Kristine Katheryn Rusch (short story) - Kindle
Polaris by Jack McDevitt - Kindle
Seeker by Jack McDevitt - Dead Tree
Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch - Audible
Echo by Jack McDevitt - Audible
Invincible by Jack Campbell - Kindle
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay - Audible
Redshirts by John Scalzi - Audible
Gabriel: Zero Point by Steve Umstead - Kindle
The Blade Itself by Joe Ambercrombie - Audible
Before they are Hanged by Joe Ambercrombie - Audible
Last Argument of Kings by Joe Ambercrombie - Audible
Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey - Kindle
Gabriel's Return by Steve Umstead - Kindle
An Officer's Duty by Jean Johnson - Kindle
Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold - Audible
A Civial Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold - Audible
Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold - Audible
First King of Shannara by Terry Brooks - Dead Tree
Spin the Sky by Katy Stauber - Audible
Swarm by B.V. Larson - Audible
The First Confessor by Terry Goodkind - Kindle
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold - Audible
 

 Overall, my 2012 reading was fantastic.  Started and caught up on a lot of series, both those I started in the past and new ones.  I am really looking forward to 2013 with so many must reads coming out (A Memory of Light, The Republic of Thieves, The Human Division, Abaddon's Gate, The Doors of Stone, and many more!).

 

Plea to Audible Regarding iPhone App

I have been an Audible member since 2004 (prior to Amazon owning), I have listened to approximately 125 books.  I wish it was easy to pull that data (as well as the total time), but your library is listed by part, by book.  For example, Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordon & Brandon Sanderson is 5 parts.

 

I have been listening on my iPods since the iPod Mini in 2004.  Overtime the listening experience has improved from running software and connecting to iTunes, playing through music App, to the Audible App.

The Audible App allows you to download directly from your iPhone (wi-fi only), full access to your library, listening stats, badges, and most recently they have added Whispersync so you can listen and read on a Kindle the same book.

There are other features such as a “More Books” link in the toolbar that just takes you to a page that says you can buy books at Audible.com (really?) and a News link which I have found not to be useful.- WORTHLESS FEATURES.

The listening stats provides the number of titles in your library (mine says 170), total time listening in total, monthly, daily or today, a Badge collection (I have earned 7 of 15 badges), and your iPhone listening level from Newbie to Master (5 levels).  As good as all of this sounds, it is fundamentally flowed in how it is designed.  It stores this information on your phone, not the cloud.  Thus if you ever have an issue with the App (which you will as you will see later), one of the ways to correct is to uninstall and reinstall.  This process wipes all data (I am currently only at Novice listening level due to this).  Which means all the Stats are meaningless.  Especially to those that use it a lot since you are more likely to have an App bug/error that means reinstalling. – WORTHLESS FEATURE as is.

 

My first request to Audible is to sync the data to your profile online.  Provide the true ability to track your Library (problem in first paragraph) and listening.

As I noted earlier, books are broken up in parts to “make the download easier”  (Audible’s reasoning).  But what this does is makes the listening experience difficult.  Listening without issues should be Audible’s primary focus, not downloading easier (what does that even mean?).  How is it difficult?  When you come to the end of a part, it “sometimes” will automatically start the next.  That “has” been a feature, but one that seems to rarely work.  For a long time it was NOT a feature.  Now when I get to the end of a part it does not go on to the next, instead I get a screen that pops up that says …..


Of course I AM logged in.  I have even logged out and logged in and still the same message at the end of the next part.  It is SO FRUSTRATING.  If I was not logged in, I could not get another book and download.  And I have no problem with that.  From pas experience,  I am sure if I contact Audible regarding, I will get one of two responses:

  1. We are aware of the bug and are working on the fix as soon as possible.
  2. Please uninstall the application and reinstall.

As to number 1, I get this response to often.  My second request to Audible is to fix the bugs quickly, not quarterly as has been what I have seen.  But better testing = < bugs!

As to number 2, sure that sounds simple, except it breaks all of your STATs features!!!  Really?  Break another feature to fix a feature?  Really?

I have yet to use the most recent feature addition (whispersync between Audible book and Kindle book).  I typically do not spend the money to have a book both on Audible and Kindle (how many people actually do this?).  If the Kindle version came free with the Audible version, then maybe I would.  But to buy a book twice for this “convenience” seems useless. – WORTHLESS FEATURE

My third request is that Audible either fix these worthless features or pull them and focus on keeping a stable, user friendly experience.  It is about the Books, not the App.

I use this App because I WANT it to work!  The potential for me is great.  Much better than having to sync with iTunes and play with the Music app.  
Please Audible, your my only hope.

Garmin Swim

I recently started back to swimming (it has only been about 25 yrs) and I originally used my Garmin 910XT   for my weekly swim, but the result was not satisfactory.  See Blog post here
 

I recently purchased the Garmin Swim and wanted to provide the intial results of using it for the first time this morning.  Overall, I was satisfied with the Swim.  It is much smaller than my 910XT and you hardly notice you are wearing while swimming.  I was suprised by it's accuracy during my swim.  It only provided a mistake on my last 50 yrd backstroke "float" as 100 yrs.  It was correct at the turn as I looked, so it thought the last 25 yrds was 75 yrds.  So out of a 2500 yrd swim, it reported 2550 yrds and the only mistake happened at the very last lap. You can see my results here.
 

Starting and Stopping the watch during my 100 yrd and 50 yrd sprints was a bit cumbersome.  I thought I paused after one of the 100's, but did not catch it until it was time to start for the next.  The pausing and starting probably adds about 5 seconds per due to starting the watch before and pausing the watch after you touch the wall.  I would like it to recognize when you start and stop via an accellerometer.  But of course if you stop during a swim to adjust your googles, it would think you are stopping one swim and then starting another.  So I am unsure of the best way for this to work.
When I uploaded the data via Garmin Connect, it did provide the wrong day and time (August 28 vs. Sept 4). Not sure why this happened but I have seen others state the same.   I manually changed it after. 
Also I could not get the data to upload to other sites that connect to my Garmin (RunKeeper and Daily Mile)  even though both sites accept swim data. RunKeeper would only pull my Garmin 910XT data and Daily Mile allowed me to select the Garmin Swim, but stated that there was no new data.
So overall it has some minor issues that hopefully will be worked out.  I will post if the date and time issue continues after my next swim here.

 

Return to Shannara Universe

I read the original Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks in the early eighties and immediately was captivated by the story and land.  I kept up with the series through the 90’s (read the original trilogy multiple times) and trailed off around The Voyage of Jerle Shannara books in the early 2000’s

Sword_of_shannara_hardcover.jpg

Now the series covers almost 2600 years of history beginning in 1997 in Illinois (see timeline at end of post), I decided it was time to read the series once again, chronologically.  Although the Shannara series actually begins with The Word & Void Novels,  I decided not to read those as they are contemporary fantasy and that is not a genre I really like (I reserve the right to change my mind).  I did read a detailed synopsis of these novels before embarking on The Genesis of Shannara post apocalyptic beginning of Shannara which takes place around the year 2070 in/around Washington state.

For a full list of the series (28 total: novel, novella, short story, graphic novel), I have created a spreadsheet:

https://1drv.ms/x/s!ApBbYfaBop8phGSJQoUDG5rOowMv

Probably the most interesting question of the series is how the Northwest US/Southwest Canada becomes the world of Shannara.  Speculation abounds on forums with people using Google Earth to try and find the hidden valley from Genesis of Shannara.  Regardless, I am looking forward seeing the transition happen even if I do not know specifically where it is on a map today.  Will I find out where Paranor (or the Four Lands) ends up related to the valley that Hawk led the people after the apocalypse?  I don’t know as yet.  Is the start of the Shannara line actually the union of the Knight of the Word Logan Tom and the elf Simralin?  What happens to Hawk when he returns to the valley?  I have so many questions after reading the Genesis of Shannara & the Legends of Shannara

legends.png

Will there be more coming after The Dark Legacy of Shannara?  The biggest gap in the history is between Legends of Shannara and First King of Shannara (about 1000 yrs).  That would seem a likely spot if Terry Brooks continues.  Graphing a timeline shows the pre-original series timeline is wide open for more.

shannara timeline.png

I can’t wait to finish and hope for more!

Update

on 2012-09-12 00:10 by Will Bostwick

After reading The Legends of Shannara, there is no return of the Hawk even though his return is discussed quite a bit.  What is missing between these novels and The First King of Shannara is the founding of the four lands, the first war of the races, the founding of The Druids and the building of Paranor.  This era is begging for a series of books or two.  Not sure why Terry Brooks has focused recently on the time at the end of the series in the future.

Adventures with Garmin

I purchased a very expensive Garmin GPS watch(Garmin Forerunner 910XT) near the end of April 2012.  The reason I purchased was because the device was waterproof and could be utilized for running, biking AND SWIMMING.
After my first swim with the watch (2 weeks after purchase), it filled with water. (http://flic.kr/s/aHsjzdT13f).  Thus my adventures with Garmin support begins.
I first eamiled Garmin support and waited.  After 24 hrs with no response other than the automated receipt of issue, I called Garmin phone support and got a RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization) but had to ship them the device before they would send the replacement.  A process of WEEKS!  I only had the watch for 2 weeks and now I would be without for 2 weeks. At what I paid for it, I was not happy and told them this. I use it almost everyday and sold my old Garmin Forerunner (now evaluating the Garmin Fit iPhone App).  Garmin did send me a UPS shipping label by email.
The same day I tweeted the pictures on Twitter regarding the watch failure and was contacted by their "Social Support" team (@Garmin) to see if they could help.  I let them know that I had already called phone support and was getting the exchange but was dissatisfied with the amount of time this would take.  Social Support stated a way I could get it quicker and they could do it.  I emailed them and said OK, lets do it.  Then silence. 24 hours or more until they emailed me asking for a time to call me.  I guess I get one email a day.  That is the limit.
Ugh, what should have been done at FIRST CONTACT is taking days to complete and if Social Support would only email me once a day, this would take another week to complete.  Again, back to why I was not happy.  These guys work at the slowest pace possible.  Even when they are trying to fix the problem of taking to much time.  I am getting dizzy.
So once again I called phone support to speed things up.  They stated they do not offer the opportunity to send a replacement first unless the person contacting asks or complains.  I did state originally when I called Garmin I was not happy with the 2 week turnaround.  I guess that does not count as complaining.  The support person seemed not happy that the Social Support told me of this option.  They took my info and said a new Shipping label will be sent to me and the replacement watch will be sent out within a day or two.
We shall see............
Stay tuned.

Best Burger in Orlando Area

Everyone has their own version of what they think is a perfect burger.  Mine is from my own grill.  But what you like is probably different that what I like.  

But what is there in Orlando regarding great burgers?  To me, a great burger is a thick burger, fresh made buns, flame grilled or flat top makes no difference, fresh greens and good cheese. 

Bacon never hurts.

Here are a list of the places that have potential and as I visit and eat, I will update on how good the burger was to me.

1 burger is poor and 5 burgers is excellent.

Order of top 4 so far: 1. Graffiti Junktion, 2. Fiddler's Green, 3. Crooked Spoon, 4. Pine Twenty2, 5. B&B Junction