Copy of 4 & 5 Star SciFi and Fantasy Reads of 2017

Here is my annual post to list the top rated (by me) books I read each year.  For 2017, 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:

  • Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (Alcatraz #1) by Brandon Sanderson

  • Gateway (Heechee Saga #1) by Frederick Pohl - reread

  • City of Miracles (The Divine Cities #3) by Robert Jackson Bennett

  • The Sunset Warrior (The Sunset Warrior Cycle #1) by Eric Van Lustbader - reread

4 Star:

  • The Little Ships ( Alexis Carew #3) by J.A. Sutherland

  • We Are Legion (Bobiverse #1) by Dennis E. Taylor

  • For We Are Many (Bobiverse #2) by Dennis E. Taylor

  • All These Worlds (Bobiverse #3) by Dennis E. Taylor

  • Starship Mage: Ominbus (Starship Mage #1) by Glynn Stewart

  • The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by N.K. Jemisin

  • The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2) by N.K. Jemisin

  • The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1) by Genevieve Cogman

  • A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarer's #1) by Becky Chambers

  • Death's Mistress (Sister of Darkness: The Nicci Chronicles #1) by Terry Goodkind

  • Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

  • Pilot X by Tom Merritt

  • Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson

  • The Tale of the Wicked (short story) by John Scalzi

What am I looking forward to in 2018? Same questions as last year: where is the Song of Ice and Fire #6 Winds of Winter, The Kingkiller Chronicle #3,  and Gentleman Bastard #4?  Already reading Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive #3).  Next is Persepolis Rising (The Expanse #7), Shroud of Eternity (Sister of Darkness: The Nicci Chronicles #2).

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?

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.

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. 

 

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.

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

Deathstalker Space Opera

Back in the 1990's I read the Deathstalker series by Simon R Green.  There is also a prequel series and a sequel series as well. 

It is a classic Space Opera that takes place in a vast Empire led by a evil Empress with lots of different aliens. It is one of the most entertaining scifi series I have ever read.  It is not a serious Science Fiction series, but taking the best of space opera to the extreme.  It starts fast and never slows down.  Each character is larger than life with unbelievable battle skills. 

What makes it perfect sword and laser is that the the "laser" guns are powered by energy cells that need 2 mins to recharge (why is discussed in first book).  So one shot then you must fight with swords.  But this is only the beginning.

deathstalkerseries  

There are 3 types of enhanced soldiers (Wolflings (part man/part wolf), Haden Men (Cyborgs) and Dead humans with artificial blood (not zombies), large starships & space battles, Clones, ELF's (ESP'er Liberation Front), battle drugs, deadly aliens, deadly plants, deadly planets, a deadly Arena, and it goes on and on and on and on.  I can not express enough the insanity of this series.  It is so much fun!

I suggest starting with the Deathstalker series first, and then if you want some more background on a few characters, read the prequels.  And if you still love it and can't get enough (like me), then read the sequel series.

Prequel Series Twilight of the Empire:
    Mistworld (1992)
    Ghostworld (1993)
    Hellworld (1993)


Deathstalker Series:
    Deathstalker (1995)
    Deathstalker Rebellion (1996)
    Deathstalker War (1997)
    Deathstalker Honour (1998)
    Deathstalker Destiny (1999)


Sequel Series:
    Deathstalker Legacy (2002)
    Deathstalker Return (2004)
    Deathstalker Coda (2005)

Once you have read the series, yes, the name of my website is taken from these books.  Have fun!

Resize Boot Camp Windows Partition

On my MacBook Air, I installed Windows 7 via Boot Camp in a 36GB partition which I have filled quickly.  I wanted to increase the partition size to 50GB if possible, but without having to completely wiping, repartitioning, and reinstalling Windows.  How do I do this?

Note: Before trying anything, be sure both partitions are fully backed up!

My first thought was via Disk Utility, in which it allowed me to shrink the OS X partition which creates a 3rd partition in order to increase the Windows partition, but Disk Utility would not allow me to increase the Windows partition.  So I booted into Windows and via Disk Management, tried to extend the Windows partition to the newly made empty partition, but it would not allow as well.

So I went online to see what others have done.  The vast majority used a Mac program called WinClone that clones Windows and then through wiping and repartitioning, to restore Windows on the new increased partition.  Winclone Actual success with this process looked 50-50 based upon what I read, and WinClone is no longer supported and does not work with OS X Lion.  A modified version of WinClone to work with Lion was available, but it did not look stable enough based upon comments by users.

My Next search looked for actual programs that could resize a Boot Camp partition and was led to an application called CampTune by Paragon Software.  It does cost $19.95, so the you have to weigh the “cost vs. effort” to determine if you want to purchase.  You also have to recognize that even this software may not work and you could end up reinstalling both OS X Lion and Windows 7 in new partitions if something goes wrong.

create-partition-for-windows

What this software does, is create a Start Up CD/DVD with a minimal copy of Windows and their Software utility which gives you some options to Install Windows, backup, restore, resize partitions and other tools.   I resized my Windows partition to 50GB, it went through the process in about 20 minutes.  I rebooted into OS X to be sure that partition was still working correctly.  I checked in Disk Utility and indeed the partition for OS X was now 68GB and the Windows partition was 52GB.

I then rebooted into Windows without issue.  Checked in Disk Management and it was now showing 49GB as the Windows partition.  Interesting how each OS gives me slightly different sizes.  I am satisfied and all is working as advertised.  Impressed at how easy it all worked using CampTune.  I do recommend.

The Omen Machine

Warning: Some spoilers

I have read all of the Sword of Truth books by Terry Goodkind as they have been released and was pleasantly surprised that a new book continuing the adventures of Richard and Kahlan was to be released.  I felt the series ended very well in the last book Confessor and felt it complete.  I have to say that after reading the new book The Omen Machine, I still feel the same.  It should have stopped.

 

I am not sure what specifically about this book that led me to feel this way.  My favorite characters are all back, but they seemed changed.  Is it that I am remembering them in a different light?  I do not know, but found myself thinking during the reading that I just want to get it done and over with.
The power of the previous books was the grandness of it all, the adventure, the travel, the new and exciting twists and turns and here in The Omen Machine you feel stuck in one place with a bunch of stupid characters.  Not stupid as in useless, but stupid as in brainless.  And the most sad is Zed.  He is reduced to either not believing what Richard says or repeating what Richard says back to Richard.  A smart, powerful character minimized to a shadow of who he use to be.  Everytime Zed spoke, my eyes rolled in my head.  Sad.
Another disappointment is that with 11 previous books, that there would be some reference to the experiences in which they have had to make decisions now.  We are but products of our past experiences.  However, it is like the previous adventures did not happen other than the "war is over".  With all that has happened to them previously, why would they ever not take something seriously, especially if they have a "feeling".  And all the conversations of doubt was mind numbing.  And it was really strange that the whole affair with Kahlan forgetting all and the aftermath of what happened in the 3 Chainfire series are not even hinted at.  This book takes place right after those books!  It is like it never happened to Kahlan.  
Overall I feel let down.  I will continue to read the series, but the excitement and grandness has been lost.
I gave The Omen Machine 3 stars on Goodreads.

 

 

Ice, Fire and Dragons (with Spoilers)

Beware, spoilers ahead!

Adwd1
I read the George RR Martin's first 4 books of A Song of Ice and Fire as they were published, so it has been a long time since I have even thought of the books since the last book was released/read in 2005.  Not until both the new HBO series and news of the next book in the series (A Dance With Dragons) being released had me thinking once again about the Stark's and the Lannister's. Strange that I think of the series as the "Starks and the Lannister's" as they may have been the focus in the first book or two, but no longer.


My memory was a bit shady as the books are extensive and the number of characters is mind numbing, but I did remember the first book pretty well, Bran's fall, Jon Snow going to the Wall, and of course, Eddard's death.  But somewhere between the years and other 3 books, my brain added stories and lost some stories since 2005.  For some reason I thought Jon Snow left the Wall in search of his real mother in Dorne and that Lady Melisandre died by fire.  Those that have read the first four books obviously know neither are true, but somehow these crawled into my brain and remembrance from those books. Strange what the mind remembers and what it makes up.


So I decided to take a dive back into the series both to prepare for the TV show and the new book.  My avenue was to re-read via Audible books all four books before A Dance With Dragons was to be released in July.  Unfortunately, I did not take into account how many hours each book would be.   I fiinished the first book by the start of the TV show in April 2011 and the second book by the release of A Dance with Dragons, both of which books I seemed to remember the most accurately.   It was obvious that the 3rd and 4th books are the ones I was having trouble with (besides remembering the the Red Wedding) which is interesting since they are the most recent books.  One would think it would have been the other way around, that I remember the early books, but not the recent books.  That may say something about this series.

Asoiaf

Therefore I went to the web to find chapter by chapter synopsis of both A Storm of Swords and A Feast of Crows (I have since found a more detailed chapter by chapter synopsis).  While reading these summerized versions of each chapter, the "what has gone before" slowly returned, as well as the "why" I could not remember.  Less so for A Storm of Swords, A Feast of Crows was just not engaging to me.  I was not emotionally attached to most of these characters therefore not feeling connected with the decisions that the characters were making or the caring about the outcomes.  And I was missing so much of the other characters not included that are my favorites.

Adwd2Thus the newly released A Dance of Dragons would by my savior.  More of Daenerys whom I loved more as the series progressed, Tyrion and his honesty(yes, I said honesty), Jon at the Wall (I just can't get enough of this!),  and my favorite character of all, Arya.  Please, no Sansa (I just can't comprehend her) I prayed.


Now that I have finished A Dance of Dragons, did it re-ignite what I felt with A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings?  Or was it just a continuance of the A Feast of Crows and monotony of bad characters making stupid decisions and the ramifications of such (ie. Cersei).

Adwd3<sarcasm>

First, Let's focus on the title "A Dance of Dragons". I do not remember any dragon dancing but I do remember:

  • Theon is George RR Martins Bitch
  • The Taming of Daenerys
  • The Misadventures of Tyrion
  • The Fat Men Across the Narrow Sea
  • Weddings-R-Us (with more to come!)
  • The Storm of Lost Ships
  • The Knives at Night

</sarcasm>

Now on the book itself, what I immediately liked was the book began right after A Storm of Swords and caught up to the A Feast of Crows about two-thirds of the way through the book.  This may confuse some people and finding some of the earlier stories from a different perspective a bit confusing.  I enjoyed it as it went back to a time in the story that I was still somewhat engaged with the characters and this portion of the book really focused on the the big 3 (Daenerys, Jon and Tyrion). Please note, I realize that any criticisms coming may in fact be wrong as I do not know the future of the story.  All my opinions are based upon the books to date.


Cersei returns at the convergence point, but please George, just put her out of her misery.  She has become a characature of herself that I no longer care about in any way. Am I to have some emotion or connection with her now that she is humiliated and weak? I do not care about her any longer, or have cared for about 3 books.  This may be just me.


The emergence of long 'lost/supposed dead' characters that have not been in the series at all previously seems a way to make changes the "easy" way.  Although in most cases I did like the new characters, a part of me could not help but feel a bit let down.  It seems like the process is to kill off the old characters and bring in new to advance the story.  Fine.  I guess that is real life.  I just don't read fantasy for real life.  Unfortunately, the story did not reveal anything that I wanted revealed, and only left more threads unsolved with more mysteries.  The forums are ripe with peoples predictions and who they think is Jon's parents, Tyrion's parents, etc…


My favorite characters:

  • Jon - Although there was a good portion dedicated to Jon, not much moved or changed of significance that I did not expect other than the final scene.
  • Daenerys - All I can say is that she was the focus, even in other POV chapters, and her strength was taken from her and made weak in this book.  Made me sad.
  • Tyrion - I think everything but death happened to him during his romp across the narrow sea.  He was fun to follow, but it seemed like he did move forward in character, but in significance to story.
  • Arya - although she only had a few chapters, I was rivited.  I want a book of nothing but her story!  I am on the edge of my seat anticipating how her story will develop.
  • And thank you for a very little of Sansa.


In the prologue, bringing Varys back and exposing his spiders may be the only real reveal in the book.  Makes me wonder when Arya will join them.


I could give my thoughts a feelings chapter by chapter, but this blog post has gone on long enough.   To sum it up, I did give it 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, mostly because it reignited my love for the series, even with its weaknesses.  I look forward to the second series on HBO and the sixth book.  I must have an ending…. Even if it is in ice or fire.

My New Life with Microsoft OneNote

I know I am a late comer to Microsoft OneNote, and I can not say what has taken me so long.  Regardless, I do use it everyday now and wish I could also use on my Macbook Pro, iPhone & iPad.  But alas, no.

 

So I focus on my work life, since it is Windows based.  I keep all of my "Notebooks" on a network drive so that no matter which Windows computer I use, I have access to all my Notebooks.  And since it keeps a local copy, even if I have no network, I can still use.  And to be a little meta, I am writing this blog post in OneNote.   Integrate Windows Live Writer and it would be just that much better.



For work and business purposes, note taking during meetings is taken to a new level.  The ability to Tag enhances my workflow so much, I wonder how I lived without it.

 

 

It is very well integrated with Microsoft Office, especially Outlook.  It allows inserting and attaching supporting documents, pictures, audio, video, screen captures, etc… with each note.  You can also share the notebooks via SharePoint for collaboration purposes. 

 

My current "Notebooks" are Meetings, Personal, Projects, Conventions, Acquisitions, and HRIS.  I can drag and drop stuff from one Notebook to another.  Link items between them and add shortcuts.

 

As stated earlier, there is no real multi-platform analog that I have found.  Evernote is what comes to mind for most people, and is similar in many ways and is very workable. 

 

 

I use it, and I know people who rely on it as much as I rely on OneNote.  My perspective of Evernote is more a repository of miscellaneous stuff, pdfs, scans, receipts, etc… more a way to organize a junk pile than a productivity powerhouse.  I can only pray somehow Evernote will become OneNote compatible.  Not sure if Microsoft will allow such a thing, but the ability to use Evernote on my iPhone and have the info show up in OneNote could be a great solution.  Evernote does allow for a OneNote2007 import, but I am using 2010 and would miss to many of the OneNote features to use Evernote exclusively.  Maybe I will give it a try just to see…

 

Stay tuned for possible follow-up.

Note Taking Applications

As part of my ongoing attempts at organization for life and work, I have tried to tackle To-Do List (see prior post from December 2008) and am now reviewing note taking applications, some of which also contain To-Do abilities.

The initial list of contenders I chose are:

My needs for this are an easy to use application no matter what computer I am using (Windows, Mac, Linux), not matter where I am, is secure, easy to manage the content, fast to access, and pleasing to the eye.  I do not necessarily need an application that installs on all clients, thus the cloud applications I have selected above, although Evernote does provide an native client.

 

evernote

Evernote is the most well known of the online note taking applications.  Notes are only the beginning of what Evernote can do.  It is a place for all of your ideas you come up with, things you like with access from any device you use.  Capture and Organize everything is Evernote’s rule.  It may be the only application in this that recognizes and indexes images and PDF’s.

Visually, Evernote is very mature and provides the ability to create notebooks for different needs.  You can keep everything private or you can share specific items & notebooks.  Tagging is key to Evernote  and successfully utilizing all of it’s potential.

Evernote restricts by the amount you may upload per month for free (40 MB).  You can add via Evernote plug-in for both IE and Firefox, emailing to a private email address they assign,  importing from Google Notebook, and via Twitter.

There is also a $5 month premium account that adds SSL transfers, priority image recognition, no ads, monthly upload to 500MB, access to notebooks offline for iPhone and iPod Touch users, and more.

Evernote also provides downloads for Windows, Mac, iPhone+iPod Touch, Android, Palm Pre, Windows Mobile and Blackberry.  All devices will sync and work together with one account (if you have that many phones and computers).

My only complaint is that my workflow and Evernote’s seem to not mesh well.  Thus the Evernote interface is not intuitive for my purposes for me.  I have been trying to use Evernote for over a year and it has just not caught on for me yet.

  4half

 

mynoteit

 

MyNoteit is an interesting application.  It is also a free offering, but does have Google Ads included on the pages.  It is set up specifically for those that are in school as it has Courses and Assignments by default.  They provide external links regarding Term Papers and Learning Management Software.  The site did render a bit slower than expected and the interface is not as intuitive as I would like.  It does provide a to-do list along with the note taking, assignments and bookmarks.  Messaging also looks to be within the MyNoteit environment to help with groups and collaboration.  I did not see anything regarding a storage cap.

Overall, MyNoteit does not look to be the best product for my needs, but may be good for students in school, especially if they are working in teams and like to share assignments.

2half

 

ubernote

UberNote reminds me of Evernote.   It seems to be a direct competitor, using much of the same types of interaction.  There is a Firefox toolbar you can install that allows clipping and bookmlarking, as well as, UberClip which adds entire web pages directly into UberNote.  There is also a Netvibes widget, iGoogle gadget and user specific email address you can send items directly to your UberNote. Other methods of getting info into UberNote includes Twitter and importing of your Google Notebook and exporting to a an HTML backup.

Similar to Evernote, tagging is a big componant of UberNote and it also provides a task management section.  There is a mobile version that you can use on your smartphone as well.  They are working on a premium version that will provide more file space (can not find how much they give you now), secure connections and encrypted notes.  Overall I like what I see in UberNote, but am unsure if it would replace Evernote for me.

3half

 

springnote

Springnote allows you to login using OpenID if you so desire.  Springnote provides a very clean interface, dashboard and 2GB for free.  You can have both Personal Notebooks as well as Group Notebooks for collaboration.  Springnote is interesting as it is based upon wiki technology.   When creating a Personal Notebook, Springnote creates a Bookshelf, Meeting Notes, Monthly Calendar, Monthly Schedule, Personal Profile, To Do List and Web Clippings by default.  You can create your own pages as well.   Bookshelf is an interesting addition for me as I am an avid reader.  You also have an Inbox and Comments section, both of which look to only be for within Springnote environment.  Within the setting section, you can turn off comments if you have a public page, back up your full notebook and change your profile image.  Exporting to your blog can also be configured here and they identify Typepad, Moveabletype, WordPress, and Blogger.   I run my blog on SquareSpace and it set up without issue.  They also have a plug-in page wiht all plug-ins developed by Springnote and not the community.  They also have what they call “Mashups” which include an iPhone App, a Messenger bot which allows you to add to your Springnote via Googletalk and MSN.  It uses XHTML and has Open API.  There is also an Open Source project for the Springnote editor at Xquared.

Overall I am very impressed with Springnote and can actually see myself using.  I looks like it could replace a number of specific apps I currently use.  All I would need is a paid version with more storage as well as secure usage.

4

 

google

Google Notebook was abandon by Google (stopped development and no new users), but if you are in the Google world already you may want to check it out.  It provides you with a barebones notebook application.  Similar to other Google applications, they make it simple.  You can creates different notebooks, use labels similar to tagging, and share for collaboration.

You may find Google Documents a better experience if you want stronger collaboration and tools. 

2half

 

fruitnotes

I can tell just from the logo, FruitNotes is very Web 1.0.  Not going to be high on the design and visual appeal.  But how is it to actually work in?  What it provides that is unique is the ability to record phone voice notes.  It provides you with a US or UK phone number to do so.  You can also upload photo and videos and tag your notes.

You can share your notes or publish to “your” blog.  However, “your” blog is a blog on their site and not really “your” blog.

What is amazing is that this is “beta” and the footer of every page says “2007 FruitNotes.com”

I struggle with this one.  It just never looks right on the screen, the fonts are awful, calendar seems to be from 1995 Microsoft Access.  Not for me.

1half

 

notefish

Notefish tagline says “Revolutionize your Web Research”.  You save information you find on the web into a Notefish page for organizing and/or sharing.  Similar to Google Notebook, Notefish has a simple interface with little advanced organization available.  You can color code your notes and tag notes. 

Plug-ins are available for both Internet Explorer (Windows only) and Firefox.  Very simple, very plain.

2half

 

zoho 

Zoho Notebook is apart of the Zoho office products which includes Zoho Writer, Zoho Sheet, Zoho Show, Zoho Wiki, and others.  You can sign up using your Google Account, Google Apps Account, Yahoo or Facebook. 

If you use any or all of the Zoho applications, it is well integrated and easy to switch between them.  They do provide plugins for both Firefox and Chrome and the ability to import your Google Notebook.  Zoho Notebook is the most like an application that happens to be online.  You can add new notebooks, spreadsheet pages, writer pages, web pages and others to notebooks.  It supports images, audio, video, RSS, etc… as well.  You choose which notebooks you share.  It is really focused on content creation more than the other notebooks reviewed here.

The forums for users look to be robust.  They are working on a mobile version, but none yet.  My big issue is the lack of subfolders for how my brain organizes.  It also does not have some of the advanced features from Evernote like OCR nor does it have task lists like Springnote.

And have I mentioned the Skype integration?  Yes, it has this.

3half

 

Let me know if you are using something I missed and I will check it out and update this post!

Cross Platform Syncing

I am finally sick of JungleDisk & .Mac or MobileMe (I am up for renewal).  Jungledisk does not have native syncing abilities and seems to have trouble on my Macbook staying active when I change from Wifi to EVDO and back it does not like to re-mount the drive.  It is also difficult to update my music and picture files from computer to computer.  For example, when I upgraded a music track from DRM to non-DRM in iTunes, I had to manually replace it on each computer and on the online storage.  It is good for back up of each computer separately, but not for keeping one back up to use on all computers & share.


Dropbox Web Interface

I do use Dropbox, and would love it to be my one solution for everything, however, it has only one paid option for 50GB max.  Also, the files that are synced must all be in the My Dropbox folder on every computer. I would love a solution similar that would work on Windows, OS X, and my iPhone, as well as, not tied to a specific sync folder.  Thus I came across SugarSync. It has multiple paid options, thus I can upgrade as more space is needed, is accessible and managed from the web, windows, mac or iPhone, and you identify which folders you want to keep synced.


SugarSync Web Interface

Others I have tried or found are MobileMe - which just did not work,  Mozy - which I found cluncky on my Mac and lacking in sync like I wanted, Windows Live Mesh - worked well but only has a 5GB option currently.

There is a good chart comparing free online storage/sync solutions on Lifehacker here.

Pricing for Dropbox and SugarSync are as follows:

Dropbox = $9.99/mos or $99/yr for 50GB ($0.20/GB per mos)
SugarSync = $2.49/mos or 24.99/yr for 10GB ($0.25/GB per mos), $4.99/mos or 49.99/yr for 30GB ($0.17/GB per mos), $9.99/mos or 99.99/yr for 60GB ($0.17/GB per mos), $14.99/mos or 149.99/yr for 100GB ($0.15/GB per mos), and $24.99/mos or $249.99/yr for 250GB ($0.10/GB per mos).

Bottom line, I will use both for different reasons.  I will use the Free 2GB Dropbox for quick file sharing between computers and SugarSync as my online backup and sync of music, pictures, documents, etc...across all computers and iPhone.

If you have a good solution for you that is different, let me know!

Update - With SugarSync you can stream you audio as well.  This includes your iPhone.  Full access to all my music on the iPhone is excellent.



Pushing Ice

Every once in a while I come across a Science Fiction or Fantasy book with a tale that sticks with me far beyond the norm.  Usually I am not even aware of it until some time has passed.  It was this way with Alastair Reynolds book "Pushing Ice".  It has been over 3 years since I have read it and it still resonates with me.  I am typically a series reader for the depth and breath of epics novels versus a stand alone book reader, and Pushing Ice happens to be a stand alone book.

In all fairness, I love everything by Alastair Reynolds, and feel the Revelation Space universe is once of the best ever written.  However, Pushing Ice is an independent book outside of his normal writings, and yet, is written in such a way that is is as grand, vast and epic in scope as all of the Revelation Space series.  And that feat in one book is why this tale still stays with me.

The book starts out far in the future, and to explain the genesis of this future, it goes back to early in human space exploration when we are still within our own solar system.  It is here on Rockhopper, which is a spaceship that mines ice, that the real story begins.  While the Rockhopper is mining ice, one of Saturn's moons leaves orbit and heads out of the system.   Rockhopper is the closest ship to investigate and begins to pursue the moon towards the edge of our system....

I will not go further as I do not want to spoil the book for any who have not read.

The book has great character development and really explores human interactions and psychological issues under many types of situations.  And the vastness of the story in regards to time and space is very unexpected and how it deals with things that are sometimes difficult it imagine or grasp is excellent.  It left me wanting more from this universe, but well satisfied.

The Saga of the Seven Suns

One of the funnest Science Fiction series I have read in a long time is The Saga of Seven Suns by Kevin J Anderson.  I has all of the vastness and energy of a true Space Opera.  It has lovable hero's and easy to hate villains.  I highly recommend it if you want to dive into a seven book series with lots of twists and turns.  It is a great ride (read)!