Monthly Archives: July 2012


by Marilena Mexi
Translated from the original Greek by George Maroudis

Antara is a compelling story that has more the feel of a fable or fairy tale than that of your average mer-novel. This aura does not mean that it isn’t as good as a regular novel; It is the feeling of a fable that makes Antara different and therefore enjoyable.

In the Greek language, Antara means, among other things, disturbance or turbulence which perfectly describes the situation on the large island of Aster. The name of the island  comes from the only kind of flowers that will grow there; Asters. Set in medieval times, Antara deals with the two peoples who inhabit the island: The humans who live on one side of the island where the aster flower takes on a dark red hue and the merfolk who live on the land and under the waters of the opposite side of the island. Both of the disparate populations had lived in both mutual respect and friendship for  years until the day when enormous waves swept the island causing a great loss of life amongst the human population. Since this disaster was caused by ocean waves, the humans assumed that the merfolk were behind it all and their friendship quickly turned into bitterness and hate.

As the story opens, the merfolk are ruled by Asteria and her grandfather, Azarus. It has been five years since the great disaster and their seer has foretold that it will return once more in a few weeks. The ruling council must decide how to warn the humans and avoid the great loss of life that will accompany the event. This will not be easy as there is great hatred amongst the humans for the merfolk and the humans have been carrying out a pogrom on them ever since the disaster. Simply walking in and advising the humans that they’d better seek higher ground is not an option. Amidst their deliberations, it is learned from the seer that there is a woman on the human side of the island who  has a deep affection for their king, Orestis,  and a great respect for the merfolk as well. Inasmuch as she sits on the royal council of Orestis, it is decided that perhaps he is wrongly influenced by his other advisors and this woman is able to see the goodness in the king. With the next iteration of the disaster less than a month away, it is decided that Asteria and a companion will travel incognito to the humans’ side of Aster and try to get close enough to Orestis to appeal to his better nature and warn him of what is to come. It won’t be easy and Asteria has not counted on one thing; Falling in love with Orestis.

The author, Marilena Mexi, is as good an artist as she is a story-teller and she has added a series of her works to illustrate the book. No matter how one may feel about the story, the illustrations are worth the price of the book. Those readers who use versions of Amazon’s Kindle that do not support colour would do well to install the company’s Cloud Reader on their PC or MAC so they may fully enjoy these wonderful drawings.

As good a read as Antara may be, the book suffers from its translation from the original Greek to English. While George Maroudis may have done a credible job in translating the story, it should have afterwards been turned over to an editor who is used to working with books in English. As it is, there are typos, dropped letters, dropped words and sentence structures that probably worked well in Greek but less so in English. It is usually my practice to lower my rating on books that are afflicted with an inordinate amount of errors in spelling, grammar, sentence structure, etc. as all these sins detract from the pleasure of reading the story; No matter how good or intriguing that story may be. At the end of the day, the execution is just as important as the story itself.

That being said, I will give reducing Antara‘s rating a miss since it was written originally in Greek and the translation to English was done by a friend of the author rather than herself. Other works from other authors will not be as lucky in this regard.

Although I would not count Antara as Young Adult fiction, it is nonetheless YA friendly and could be recommended to older YA’s. While there is some violence in the story line, it is no worse than what is to be found in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Adults who can relate to the fantasy genre will enjoy this book just as much.  Antara is a book that is meant to be enjoyed by all who may read it.

My Rating:

by Marcus Rowe

Mermaid Memoirs is one of those rare gems that you stumble upon accidentally. In my case, I was on goodreads.com updating my progress with the book I was reading at that time when an ad for a  hitherto unknown book showed up on the page. I followed the link to amazon.co.uk – it’s where I go to buy printed British books as I hate the Americanised versions – and then had to go back to amazon.com because when you buy a Kindle version, it has to be from the Amazon site for your country. With that bit sorted, I made my purchase and set about reading.

Mermaid Memoirs tells a poignant and often heart-breaking story of love and rejection. Jude and Sara had been married for almost six years when he brings up the idea of starting their family. Sara is not quite as keen as Jude but, in the end, she agrees to start trying. There follows a series of three pregnancies – all of which miscarry – and each one is of  a shorter duration than the one before it. At that point trying to start a family comes off the table.

On the evening of their 6th wedding anniversary, the couple are swept up in the romance of their celebration and sleep together without a thought  for the potential consequences. As luck would have it, Sara falls pregnant and this time it sticks. A routine prenatal scan turns up the possibility that the bones of the foetus may not be developing as they should and the spectre of a deformity is raised.  After a bit of agonising, Sara settles on continuing the pregnancy.

The following months are not easy on Sara and neither is her labour. Jude is the first to see his newborn daughter and discovers that she has a single deformed leg. It’s a bitter pill but he loves her just the same. Sara, however, is another matter. She immediately rejects the child, refusing to name it as she wants to place the baby for adoption as soon as possible.  Jude names the child Macy and by the time Sara ends her stay in hospital, she has somewhat grudgingly accepted motherhood.

Jude is more a mother to Macy than Sara is and loves her unconditionally. After a number of years, Sara cannot cope with Macy being almost the sole focus of Jude’s life and walks out on their marriage. In hopes of containing home schooling and baby sitting costs, Jude decides to enroll her in a nearby school. This only lasts a number of months before Jude withdraws Macy because of the bullying she has to endure on a daily basis due to her deformity. As a result, Macy spends the rest of her academic career studying from home.

On a Saturday’s outing to the sea, Macy places her deformed leg in the water to see what it feels like and discovers that the leg has been replaced by a mermaid’s tail. On subsequent seaside outings with her father, the two are observed by a merman who informs Jude that her place is really with the inhabitants of an underwater village and not on land. The caveat is that she can never return as the mer-folk are afraid of humans and worry that she might betray the location of their village.

Jude agrees that it probably is for the best and reluctantly sends Macy to live with her own kind. She loves the new-found freedom of movement but soon runs afoul of her new neighbours as they taunt and bully Macy because she once lived with humans. Macy has now experienced rejection both on land and sea as she finds that the mer-folk are just as bad as the humans they hate and fear.

Mermaid Memoirs is a wonderful story though like a diamond in the rough, it wants a bit of polishing. There are some dropped letters and words which the reader may be inclined to overlook as this book is self-published by Mr. Rowe. The only really annoying bit is that he repeatedly uses the collective noun, mermaids, to refer to the villagers – both female and male. The mermen may simply take this gender reassignment as a compliment but at times it can be confusing to the reader.

This book is definitely YA-friendly though young American readers should be aware that since Mr. Rowe is British, he naturally uses words, grammar, idioms and colloquialisms more often found on the east side of the pond which the inexperienced may find a bit off-putting.

There are a number of plot-threads left hanging at the end of Mermaid Memoirs but readers need not be alarmed. Marcus Rowe plans to publish a sequel in October of this year. Mermaid Memoirs is only available as an e-book at Amazon.com.

My Rating:

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Kindle – US Kindle – UK

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Read a sample of Mermaid Memoirs

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by Tracy Deebs

Tempest Unleashed stands head, shoulders and tail above the debut book in the Tempest series; Tempest Rising. This is no implication that her first book is not an enjoyable read – which it is – but rather, that Ms. Deebs really seems to have hit her stride with the second novel.

As the story opens, it has been 8 months since Tempest swam off into the sunset with her Selkie boyfriend, Kona, and in that time she has learned quite a bit. For starters, the Queen of the mer-clan that Tempest belongs to is not the frail, kindly old lady that appears in the latter half of the first book. Appearances are deceiving and Queen Hailana has turned out to be a scheming, conniving, and manipulative person for whom no deed is too dark if the safety and future of the clan is at stake. In short, she is the mermaid version of Don Corleone.

Tempest also learns that her late mother was often Queen Hailana’s enforcer as well as her advisor. In other words, she was a cross between Luca Brazi and Michael Corleone. This gives a whole new perspective on the term “Sleeping with the fishes.”

Finally, Tempest has learned that aside from taking over the franchise after the Queen’s (un)timely demise, she is also the Queen’s advisor and whipping girl who seemingly cannot do anything right. Tempest is not too sure about the Queen business but she does have a score to settle with the evil – is there any other kind? – sea witch, Tiamat, over the death of her mother.

Tempest is glad that she has chosen the life aquatic but cannot realistically leave all of her past behind. Though her ex-boyfriend, Mark, has moved on to court a cheerleader and Tempest has moved on with her new boyfriend, Kona, she cannot say a final farewell to her family. She can also not say farewell to burgers from In and Out but that’s another part of the story.

Tempest is making a surreptitious visit to La Jolla to check on her family even though Hailana has told her that the cause of many of Tempest’s troubles and shortcomings is her inability to finally close the door on her life on land. Tempest still has a trouble calculating her arrival times and winds up off La Jolla, CA in the wee small hours of the morning. Dawn comes and she surfaces to have one final glimpse of her house. In doing so, she sees him – Mark, her old boyfriend – and discovers that things aren’t quite as dead and buried as she thought. Mark sees Tempest out in the ocean and it is readily apparent that he has not moved on as she had hoped.

Thus, the stage is set and Tempest Rising takes the reader on a roller coaster of danger, emotions and action. Much of mer-fiction is written with a primarily young adult female audience in mind. There is more than enough action in this story to attract YA males – at least those who are secure in their masculinity. Overall, Tempest Rising is a YA-friendly story. The battle scenes can be a bit violent but they are simply part of the action and this reviewer can assure readers that there are no mermaids tied to the railroad tracks in advance of the 9:15 train from LA. There is action, adventure and – of course – romance in Tempest Unleashed which should make the story quite appealing to Young Adult readers. While Tempest Rising could have easily been a stand-alone book, Tempest Unleashed leaves the reader begging for more.

My Rating:

Since 7/13 of this year, The Parsons Rant has been experiencing some configuration issues, the cause of which is unknown. We are working to resolve them as soon as possible. In the meantime, direct links to posts and pages may or may not work properly. Simply go to howardparsons.info and navigate from there. We apologise for the inconvenience.

You may or may not have noticed that this past week-end marked the 1-year anniversary of the last Space Shuttle flight. When Discovery touched down at the Kennedy Space Centre on July 21, 2011 it was the end of an era. No more NASA Space Shuttle programme. Ever since the days of the Gemini space programme NASA has been using musical selections to wake the in-flight crew for another day’s work in space.

So, what were the last songs used for the last shuttle flight? Tech Republic has the answer. Enjoy.

You have to have been hibernating or living in a time-warp  not to have heard the news; There’s been another mass shooting and it came a day before the 1-year anniversary of the horror in Norway. I am only going to say two things about the event itself:

  1. I grieve for those killed and wounded; Especially the two guys that died trying to protect the lives of their wife/girlfriend.
  2. Hanging’s too good for him!

What I am going to rant about today is what has transpired in the wake of Aurora, Colorado.

To put everything in perspective, let’s go 13 years back in time. Right next door to Aurora is Columbine. In 1999, two wankers – with a capital “W” – managed to kill 13 people and injure – in one way or another – 24 more. They subsequently committed suicide. In response to the horror, J.C. Penney made a bold move by banning the sale of all merchandise related to Comedy Central’s show, South Park.

It didn’t work because in 2007,  Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and injured 17 others. Although Cho was clearly off his nut, he was nonetheless a legal gun-owner. As a response to the massacre, the calls – both loud and numerous – came for an end to bans of firearms from college campuses. The theory was that if enough students had been packing heat, Cho would have been despatched post-haste. There was no estimate of how many students would have been killed or wounded by the crossfire. To bolster their argument, they cited the fact that the University of Utah allows students to carry weapons on campus. I cannot speak to that environment but I can attest to the damage inflicted upon South Hall at N.C. Wesleyan by drunken students. Allowing these testosterone fueled inebriates to carry firearms is unimaginable.

In 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 29 others. I don’t remember anyone calling for a ban of firearms from military bases but there were the usual post 9-11 demands that Muslims should be deported or at least banned from military service.

Now, in 2012, we have 12 dead and 58 wounded in Aurora, Colorado. In the wake of the movie theatre massacre, some theatres and possibly theater chains have banned people from wearing costumes to movies. In response to published accounts that AMC was one of the chains instituting the ban, the management put forth that they were only banning weapons; both real and fake. We can all relax now that light-sabres won’t be allowed on the premises.

I’m not sure why anyone would want to wear a costume to a movie but the fact is, the S-F-B who perpetrated the Aurora shooting wasn’t in costume save for his joker-esque red hair. Does that mean we should ban all gingers for safety’s sake? There have also been calls for metal detectors at movie theatres. You won’t have to worry about them buzzing due to the change in your pocket because – given the price of tickets & popcorn nowadays – you won’t have any. Neither of these proposed bans would have worked in this case because the S-F-B walked in like any other fan of the Caped Crusader and then stepped out through the emergency exit to lock & load and put his gear on.

A Texas Congressman opined that the problem was that there were not enough guns in the theatre and if the movie-goers had come heavy the gunman would have quickly gunned down. In an interview, Michael Bloomberg – mayor of the New York Nanny State – said that the congressmen’s idea was remarkably stupid; One of the few times I’ve ever agreed with hizzoner.

So what do we do at this point? Gun bans? Norway has extremely strict gun laws & yet the “perp” was able to obtain the necessary weapons to do the job. In all the cases I’ve cited, the killer or killers suffered from emotional or mental instability to some degree. Locking up all people exhibiting signs of mental instability would have the knock-on effect of incarcerating most political candidates; No necessarily a bad thing considering Michele Bachman.

Whatever the solution, it definitely does not involve banning costumes from movie theatres. The solution will, however, call for common sense; A commodity in short supply nowadays.

 

Whether you’re ready or not, another release of Microsoft Office is in the offing. Tech Republic recently posted a slide-show giving consumers a first look at Office 2013. Yet another new version. Yet another reason to open your wallet. If you’ve just installed Office 2010 on your system then you most likely will be good to go for a while and can wait until Office 16 or 17 arrives. If you’re using Office 2007, it may be time to upgrade and if you’re still using Office 2003, it most definitely is time to upgrade and pony up big bucks for the privilege.

But why should you have to spend so much for the ability to read, edit and create Word documents or Excel spreadsheets?

As it turns out, you don’t. Enter the LibreOffice suite, a set of productivity tools that are 100% compatible with Microsoft Office and are free, Free, FREE.

C|NET offers a highly positive review of Version 3.4 as well as a download of the software and Infoworld calls Version 3.5 “The best Office Killer yet.” If you’re wondering how you’re going to read or create MS Word & Excel documents, the LibreOffice suite is capable of saving files in the various MS Office formats (*.doc, *.docx, *.xlsx, *.xls, etc.) as well as reading them.

The only thing that the LibreOffice suite does not offer is an analogue to Outlook.  If you’re contemplating a move to Linux thus saving scads of cash in operating systems, hardware, etc., there is Evolution – another freebie – that can serve as an excellent replacement of Outlook. There is an experimental Windows port of Evolution available but this project has been an on & off thing for a number of years now. The blog for Win Evolution has not been updated in over 2 years though the latest download is, as of this writing, less than a year old. If you’re committed to Windows, there are other substitutes available such as  Mozilla’s Thunderbird or the Opera e-mail client. There is a review of 11 FREE e-mail clients on About.com.

Returning to the topic at hand, LibreOffice is available on the following platforms:

  • Windows
  • Mac: Intel or PowerPC
  • Linux (deb): x86 or x86_64
  • Linux (rpm): x86 or x86_64

For Windows or Mac users, this is a way to experiment with your business tools before telling Microsoft or Apple to buzz off.

So, whether you’re sticking with Windows, OS X or moving to Linux, there are definitely some good substitutes for Office 10, 13 or whatever. By the way, did I mention that they are FREE?

The 7-inch tablet has been somewhat of a read-headed stepchild in the mobile computing world. Samsung had the 7-inch Galaxy Tab a few years ago and there have been a series of 7-inch also-ran’s from other manufacturers; Well known and less so. Of course, there are the Kindle Fire and the B&N Nook that have gained a fair amount of popularity though both are reading-oriented and focused on their respective corporate eco-systems. The popularity of these devices has been, overall, somewhat limited simply because they are not iPads.

Indeed, the late Steve Jobs looked down his bespectacled nose at the 7-inch form-factor  pronouncing them unworthy and unable to provide the full iPad experience. In the post-Jobs world, there have been a series of rumours that Apple has a 7-inch iPad in the works but, so far, none of these rumours have borne fruit. Perhaps the Nexus 7 will serve to help 7-inch tablets really take hold . . . even though it is not an iPad.

On my recent road trip to Albany, NY I took along my 10-inch HP TouchPad. It was great to have this device with me but it required me to use, for an extended period of time, a gear-bag larger than I’m used to carrying. The bag was great for toting the tablet but it’s bulk made it a bit impractical for anything else. A 7-inch tablet would have fit nicely into my standard gear-bag.

For more on Google’s Nexus 7, read this article on ZDNet. There is also a slide show containing pictures of the Nexus 7 and screen shots of the Android “Jelly Bean” OS.

Microsoft announced yesterday that Windows 8 will be released on October 26th. The software giant’s forthcoming Surface tablet will probably be released on or before that date. Waiting too long after October 26 to release Surface will jeopardise potential holiday sales as the annual shopping season begins in early November and goes full tilt the day after Thanksgiving.

PC users who currently run Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7 will be able to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $39.99. This will be in the form of a download-able ISO file that can be burned on to a DVD or USB drive and then used to boot from and install the upgrade on your PC. It would be advisable for users to learn how to adjust their BIOS setting so that the PC will first search for a boot source on either CD/DVD  or USB before going to the internal hard drive. The upgrade price is only good between October 26, 2012 and January 13, 2013.

You may or may not know it but your PC is a dust magnet. Desktop machines have it worse but laptops are far from immune to this problem. Consider that your PC naturally creates an electric field. You have cooling fans for the power supply, CPU and the video card (if applicable) which serve to push out hot air and bring in cooler air from outside the machine. Finally, your desktop is usually a tower or mini-tower which is quite often on the floor beside or under your desk. No matter how well you keep your house clean, there’s still going to be dust down there; fodder for a hot and hungry PC.

Laptops are not nearly as bad since they usually sit on top of your desk rather than the floor but the same principle applies. Unless you live in a totally clean house, there’s going to be dust in the air.

Tech Republic has a slide show illustrating what can happen when a PC is left uncleaned. So, what do you do about it?

  1. Call a PC professional like Dr. Data and let him – or her – sort this out for you.
  2. Take care of the problem yourself.

If your choice is # 2, the first thing you’ll need to do is to pop in to an electronics store or a hardware store like Lowes and pick up one or two units of canned air. (If your machine is anything like those in the slide-show, you  might want to consider picking up a case!). Next, take your machine outside or into the garage and remove the cover/side panel. If you’re using the garage and your machine is as dusty as the ones in the slide show, you might want to consider cracking the garage door and using a box fan to pull the dust away from you and the PC.

Once you’re all set, take your canned air and blow the dust out of the machine and away from you. Use a liberal amount of air to clean the PC as a couple of cans cost much less than a new power supply. Depending on how many expansion cards you have, you may want to remove them and blow the dust off separately.  Here’s a tip: Be sure to use a glove  on the hand you’re using to blow the dust out as that can is going to get awfully cold awfully fast. Once you’re sure that you’ve reached every possible nook & cranny with the canned air, re-seat the expansion cards – if any – and replace the cover/side panel.

Because of the way they’re build and where they are used, laptops usually don’t have problems as extreme as the towers in the slide show. Nonetheless, dust can still accumulate around the cooling fan and vents. Take the canned air and lightly blow around the fan & vents to remove the dust. Extreme cases may require removing the cover to your laptop. Only do this if you absolutely know what you’re doing. Otherwise, call Dr. Data or somebody like him.

One final tip: Use the canned air to remove cookie crumbs and other gunk from your keyboard.

 

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