Monthly Archives: August 2012

For those of you left wondering as to what happened last week, my wife and I decamped for our annual pilgrimage to Virginia Beach. The weather was not perfect as there was a low pressure system sitting off the Carolinas. This meant  that we had a somewhat stiff breeze and partly cloudy skies coupled with the cooler temperatures that were already in effect when we hit the road.

Nonetheless, we had a pretty good time doing as little as possible aside from scarfing pizza, sleeping and sitting out on the beach. The water was rough for a good part of the time but there were still some opportunities to go for a swim – or pretend to in my case since I have all the aquatic skills of a rock.

 

Whilst we were enjoying the sun – or the clouds – I had the opportunity to watch those pulchritudinous mermaids who are more commonly known as the distaff contingent of the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service. Up at our end of the beach – also known as the quiet end – the lifeguards were being put through a daily training programme which consisted of such activities as swimming along the shore for 5 or 6 blocks, exiting the water and running back down the beach where they would rinse and repeat. The sight of red bikinis and pony-tails jogging by was more than enough to keep the blood circulating for a few more days, at least.

 

 

Judi seemed to enjoy herself – at least there were no repercussions from my paying close attention to the above mentioned mermaids – and we had ample opportunities for strolls along the boardwalk and wading in the surf. There was even a bit of reminiscing – which shows you just how old and decrepit I am – about Pat Boone’s cover of the 1931 hit – no, I am not that old! – Love Letters in the Sand . Judi even added her own contribution to the nostalgia.

Looking to the future, we decided to improve our accommodations for the forthcoming iterations of “Beach Week”. One of the things that recommends this place is a tiki bar that actually knows how to make a lime daiquiri. Back in the day, this was the most common – and quite often the only – version of this drink to be had. Sadly, the decline in traditional values has led us to the point where most bartenders have no clue as to how one concocts anything other than the strawberry version. Indeed, the only two places I know of here in the Old Dominion that can make a decent lime daiquiri is this place and the Aberdeen Barn in Charlottesville. But, I digress.

 

 

 

Starting in 2013, we will be staying at this place known as the Ocean Beach Club:

If you’re expecting me to resume my usual schedule of rants and book reviews, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. Although the review queue contains four books at the moment and there are a fair number of things like Windows 8, tablets, and the impending end of civilisation as we know it to rant about, I am off to the family estate tomorrow morning to spend 3 days on stuff like installing three-prong outlets in an 83 year-old house. Fun, fun, fun. I should be able to rant about something or other on Fri.

by Amber Garr

A staple of romance fiction is the “arranged marriage”  – often set up without the consent of at least one of the parties – and usually involves the female being forced/required to marry:

  • Her mortal enemy
  • A much older man who is usually quite well off, financially
  • The village idiot
  • All of the above

The female responds to her impending doom by running off with:

  • Her one true love
  • A boy from the wrong side of the tracks
  • The village idiot
  • None of the above

In Amber Garr’s romance thriller, Promises, we meet Eviana, a 17 – going on 18 – year old mermaid who has been put in this predicament . . . but with a twist. In Eviana’s case,

  • Kain, the man to whom she has been promised since childhood is close to her age
  • He is quite attractive and quite the catch
  • His family is very well off  but then, so is Eviana’s
  • He genuinely loves Eviana though she thinks that he deserves someone much better
  • Eviana is in love with a Selkie named Brendan who is about three years older and works as a bartender

There are a few more facts upon which this tale – and indeed the whole series – revolves around:

  • Both Eviana and Kain are next in line to be the leaders of their respective families, a fate that does not appeal to Eviana
  • Arranged marriages are common within their species as the number of merfolk in the world is quite small
  • Eviana and Kain are expected to both lead and breed
  • Selkies, on the other hand, can only mate with humans and then they hang around only long enough for the pup to be born. The child is then kidnapped by the Selkie parent and raised on their own until the age of 16 when the now adolescent Selkie is shown the door.
  • Eviana – as well as Kain – is catapulted in to the adult world of merfolk without quite all the information that necessary to function in this new environment

 Promises deals with the consequences of such actions made both for and by the characters. Eviana has been promised to Kain for years and while Kain is looking forward to becoming her husband and mate, she only has eyes for Brendan. Kain will bend over backwards for Eviana and though the thought pains him, he promises her that she can still see Brendan after they tie the knot. Brendan has promised Eviana that he will take her away from all this and Eviana has promised Brendan that she will go with him.

And so it goes. Kain is left at the alter in California when Brendan and Eviana flee to the East Coast the night before the wedding where they hope to start a life together. Of course, things don’t go quite as planned for the runaway couple. In fact, things go seriously wrong for them several weeks into the venture and rapidly go downhill from there, shifting from romantic intrigue to action,terror and danger. Along the way, Eviana discovers that there are other beings in the water besides merfolk and selkies; Beings that will impact her future.

Promises is a book that cannot be compartmentalized. In other words, it is not a stand-alone novel in the way that the books of a number of other series are.  It relies on the subsequent books in the series to give it meaning; Not that this is a bad thing. Instead, it leaves the reader wanting to know what comes next as the opening book in any series should do.

In books like Promises, there is always a certain amount of magic. Indeed you can’t have mermaids without a bit of magic, but how much there may be after crossing that threshold is up for grabs. Magic should be used to expand the story and make it both interesting and exciting. All too often, the magic is used as a crutch to aid a limping plot line. Fortunately, Ms Garr has not done this in Promises. The story line of this novel would not exist at all without some judicious doses of magic along the way. Magic is what makes Promises believable . . . or as believable as any Young Adult fantasy novel can be.

While there is nothing  in the story that is unfriendly to young adult readers, the action scenes can be a bit intense and violent. For that reason, this reviewer feels that Promises is more suited to older YA’s. The only concrete criticism that this reviewer has is that the Kindle edition of this YA novel wants for a bit of proof-reading. While I have run across other examples of YA fiction whose grammatical and syntactical sins are beyond measure, the fact that there are mis-used words at all  detracts from the experience and pleasure of reading. Despite this short-coming, Amber Garr has created a real thriller that leaves the reader eager for the next installment.

My Rating:

OK. I admit it. I’m a Geek and Geekie things amuse me. It’s no accident that Jim Parsons is my brother . . . No, not the one from Big Bang Theory . . . Jim Parsons, the Amateur Radio geek who is well on his way to establishing  Ham radio contact with every patch of land on this planet. Yes, he’s done Antarctica!

Well, anyway, I regularly check out Tech Republic’s Geekend postings and today there were a couple of good ones:

  1. What Science Fiction Movies are better than Star Wars?  My absolute favourite is on this list and it was made in 1951!
  2. What inside joke is hidden in the wheels of the Curiosity Rover on Mars?  I’m still blown away by that photo of the parachute descent take by the Mars Orbiter!
  3. Ten stupid things people have said.  You can probably think of additional examples. I know that I can!!

Here’s a quick post for those of you with a Scots bent. The Scottish Register of Tartans now has a Facebook page.

The purpose of their presence of Facebook was stated in the e-mail announcing the launch of this page:

“We hope to use the page to engage with all those interested in tartan around the world, to have discussions and to share our love of tartan. We would invite you to visit and (hopefully) ‘like’ the page.”

So be a good lad or lassie and stop by http://www.facebook.com/ScottishRegisterOfTartans to give them a “like”.

Of course, you can can always go to http://www.tartanregister.gov.uk/index.aspx to register a tartan, search the registry for something that interests you or sign up for their mailing list like I did. You can also see a few of my favourites like:

Google’s entry into the tablet market – the Nexus 7 – has been available for about a month now and some good reviews are starting to come in. For example, TechRepublic’s tear-down of the Nexus 7 revealed that it has an overall edge in hardware when compared to Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

Then there are positive reviews like this one posted on ZDNet which describes the Nexus 7 as a road warrior’s best friend. All good.

And still others – whilst knocking the “Ice Cream Sandwich” release of Android – admit that the Nexus 7 is a stable device that gives good performance. This particular plaudit appears to be based on the fact that the Nexus 7 is running the later release of Android named “Jelly Bean” rather than the older “Ice Cream Sandwich” release. This begs the question: “Is Android’s success on the Nexus 7 due to the fact that the hardware has been developed to the exact specifications of the same outfit that created Android in the first place?” This may be the very reason why Apple has been so successful with its Mac, iPhone and iPad.

Of course, the Nexus 7 has had a few minor quality issues like the screen being improperly glued to the body of the tablet. Things like this are more a production problem with the manufacturer – Asus – rather than a true design issue. This kind of problem is much easier to correct than a design failure.

And finally, there is the “Backyard Camping” commercial for the Nexus 7 that shows off the tablet’s abilities in an everyday setting. This will – hopefully – lay to rest the misguided notion that since only Apple can produce a really good commercial, the company is the only one that can produce a really good tablet/phone/computer.

At present, Apple holds roughly 65 % of the tablet market with Samsung holding a mere 7.5 % and Amazon’s Kindle Fire owning around 4 %. The forthcoming release of Microsoft’s Surface tablet may change the dynamic somewhat. While it is not to be expected that scads of iPad users will abandon the device for Surface, it may very well serve as the tipping point for widespread corporate adaptation of tablet technology.

Meanwhile, Barnes and Noble has dropped the price of the Nook by $20.00 in anticipation of Amazon’s next iteration of its Kindle Fire. As the Tablet Wars continue, $200 seems to be the pricing sweet spot for 7-inch tablets; At least the basic models of 7-inch tablets which have 6 or 8 Gigabytes of storage. If your needs are simple – like browsing, e-mail, and the occasional YouTube video, then the basic model will probably be all you need. If you needs require additional storage, then naturally the price will increase. Google’s Nexus 7 is priced to fall within that target range.

At this stage of the game, determining who will be # 2 to Apple’s iPad is mainly a wait-and-see strategy. Nonetheless, Google’s Nexus 7 could be a real contender; Especially in the 7″ category.

I remember back in the day – and I won’t say which day that was – when motherboards used to come with a manual; A manual which was thick enough to come in its own miniature two or three-ring binder and usually wasn’t read in one sitting. As time went on, that manual shrank to the size of a small pamphlet, then a leaflet and then it disappeared altogether for the most part. Part of this was due to the growth of the web. Why spend beaucoup bucks printing a manual when all the information you needed could be published for free on the web. This worked great until the company making/supplying the motherboards went out of business, was swallowed whole by another company, or moved the website and didn’t tell anyone – particularly you.

At the same time, things like printers, etc. were supposed to be getting more and more simple to install. The novel-sized paperback that accompanied the device was reduced to a large sheet of paper that  graphically instructed you as to what had to be plugged in where and which button(s) had to be pressed. If you needed more information, simply go to the web. Then there are the installation CD’s that would do most of the work of setting up and configuring the device for you after you answered a few simple questions like “What is the capital of North Dakota”. As (un)helpful as the installation CD’s were, users eventually found that the best approach was to go to the manufacturer’s website and download the latest version of the installation software since it had usually gone through several updates since it was originally burned to disc and packed in the box with your device. The only downside to this approach was trying to figure out just which software applied to:

  1. Your device
  2. Your OS
  3. Your motherboard’s chip-set.

Long story short; Devices and software have supposedly become more consumer friendly and easier for the average Joe to install/configure. Those of us in the business know that isn’t always the case. ZDNet offers this saga by David Gewirtz which tells you that utopia has yet to arrive.

Enjoy!

The following was passed along to me by Jack Compton of the Hoos Hoo chapter of BNI here in Charlottesville. This should give you something to start off your week-end.

Spread the Stupidity
Only in This Stupid World
………do drugstores make the sick walk all the way to the back of the
Store to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front.

Only in This Stupid World
……..do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries, and a diet coke.

Only in This Stupid World
……….do banks leave vault doors open and then chain the pens to the counters..

Only in This Stupid World
……….do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and put
Our useless junk in the garage.

Only in This Stupid World
………..do we buy hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in Packages of eight..

Only in This Stupid World

……….do they have drive-up ATM machines with Braille lettering.


EVER WONDER
Why the sun lightens
Our hair, but darkens  our skin?

Why don’t we ever see the
Headline ‘Psychic Wins Lottery’?

Why is
‘abbreviated’ such a long word?

Why is it that
Doctors call what they do ‘practice’?


Why is lemon juice made
With artificial flavor, and dishwashing liquid made with real lemons?

Why is the man who
Invests all your money called a broker?

Why is the time of
Day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

Why isn’t there
Mouse-flavored cat food?

Why didn’t Noah
Swat those two mosquitoes?

Why do they sterilize the
Needle for lethal injections?

You know that Indestructible black box that is used on airplanes?
Why don’t they make the whole plane out of that stuff?!

Why don’t sheep
Shrink when it rains?

Why are they called
Apartments when they are all stuck together?

If con is the opposite of Pro,
is Congress the opposite of progress?

If flying is so Safe,  
why do they call the airport the terminal?

by Tera Lynn Childs

This is the third installment in Ms Childs’ Fins series which is not to be confused with Ashley Knight’s Fins Trilogy. In case you’re late to the party, here’s a quick sketch of what happened in book 1 –Forgive My Fins– and book 2 – Fins Are Forever:

Lilly is an 18 year-old mermaid living on land and attending high school. Her full name is Princess Waterlily of Thalassinia  and she was sent by her father, King Whelk, to live with her human aunt for a year and attend school in order to get an idea of how humans live. Terribly homesick, she’s about to hit the Bimini Road for Thalassinia when she gets a glimpse of this human boy and becomes fixated on him. Her crush is so bad that she begs her father to let her complete high school so she can be near this boy who barely knows that she exists. Here ultimate goal is to kiss the guy a month or so before graduation and drag him home to meet Daddy. Ms Childs’ vision of mer-life is not unlike that of Brenda Pandos in her wonderful Mer Tales series. All it takes is one kiss from the mer-person of your dreams and you’re on your way to growing fins. There is no telling how the crush might feel about this. After all, Lilly is just a bit of background noise to him.

Well, as luck would have it, Lilly kisses the wrong guy; The boy next door who has been trying to get Lilly’s attention via the time-honoured method of being annoying. Once this happens, Lilly’s plan is complicated by her need to de-bond with the boy next door whom she later discovers – much to her chagrin – that she really loves. The Thalassinian royal house is goverened by a set of obscure and arcane laws that seem to complicate  her life at every turn and she has to do a bit of mer jigery-pokery in order to keep her position as Princess and keep the guy that she really loves.

The whole story arc takes place in the weeks and month before graduation. This installment takes Princess Waterlilly up to and through graduation. In the meantime, she has to:

  1. Try & secure aid for a neighbouring kingdom suffering from the effects of global warming
  2. Deal with mer-sabotage of human oceanic endeavours in order to force them out of the water
  3. Avert a war between neighbouring kingdoms
  4. Throw cold water on a plan to attract human attention so that they may – hopefully – get the people on the surface to stop polluting the oceans
  5. Deal with being bitten by yet another arcane law. In this case, it’s the boy next door who does most of the suffering.

The usual cast of characters – both above and below the waterline – appear in Just For Fins. We are also reintroduced to Astria, Venus and Piper, a Greek chorus of young mermaids that reminds one of the three “popular girls” in the GEICO commercial.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Knjf3ABPc0E[/tube]

There is a good bit of character maturation in this installment as Lilly’s annoying younger cousin takes on a more rational and grown-up attitude. In other words, she starts to care about something other than herself. Amazingly, so do the girls in the afore-mentioned Greek chorus. Lilly’s human boyfriend Quince, demonstrates that he will take on almost any test in order to keep her.

The end result of all this is a very funny and sweet story. Young adult females – at least those into aquatic fantasy – will love Just For Fins. So will adults. As usual, Ms Childs does a wonderful job of telling her story with a mixture of humour, love, and – of course – drama. It is a joy to read a book with no dropped, misspelt or misused words. In fact there is only one place where this reviewer feels that the story falls short.

In the story, Lilly decides to forgo college because there are no courses that will help her as the future ruler of Thalassinia. Her human boyfriend has a construction job lined up after high school so he won’t need college either.

Don’t need college? Really?? While it is true that courses on mer-politics are usually not on the curriculum of most human institutions of higher learning, there are things like behavioural science, sociology, administration, international relations, etc. and etc. where the general principles could be applied to her unique situation. As for Lilly’s human boyfriend, will he want to be a construction worker for the rest of his days? Probably not. He may want to form his own construction company or focus on some of the more technical aspects of construction. In that case, some college courses would help him enormously.

Yes, Lilly and her boyfriend are just characters in a story but Ms Childs does her target audience a disservice by implying that education can be a waste in some particular situations. Education is never a waste and I would have hoped that Ms Childs would have included a subtle message to that effect in Just For Fins. It would have been much better for Lilly to say that she & her boyfriend had decided to take a gap year or two in order to get their feet on the ground before pursuing further education – whether general studies, technical or whatever.

Just For Fins appears to be the end of this particular story arc. Ms Childs does not, however, close her story with a sense of finality and there is the possibility that a new story line could begin by focusing on Quince’s adjustment to life with Lilly or their making a home both above and below the ocean waves. Throw in those community college courses that they’re going to need – whether Lilly believes it or not – and yet another arcane Thalassinian law to run afoul of and Ms Childs has the fodder for at least one more novel with perhaps a bit older target audience.

Whatever Ms Childs decides to do, these three novels are a wonderful adventure. If the series continues or not, this reviewer finds himself hoping that somehow, somewhere, there is a mermaid named Lilly.

My Rating:

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s rant concerning the sudden unpopularity of the name “Metro” comes word that one possible cause of all this pussy-footing is that Redmond has run afoul of a trademark  belonging to Metro AG, one of Microsoft’s European retail partners. If the information posted on ars technica is correct, the German retail giant has threatened Redmond with litigation in order to defend its trademark. With Microsoft’s track record in EU litigation, it is easy to see why they would suddenly do an about-face. It’s also easy to see why Metro AG would want to distance its self  from the forthcoming turkey of an Operating System.

But wait, there’s more!

In the week since Microsoft released Windows 8 to manufacturing, copies of the final build of the OS have been popping up here and there on the web. Most folks don’t have access to these final builds but the few that do are reporting that as part of the last-minute tinkering with the nascent Son of Vista©, Microsoft has severely crippled the user’s ability to boot Windows 8 directly to the desktop and bypass the start screen. At the same time, these folks are also reporting that Stardock’s Start8 still works with the RTM build. Since Start8 also includes an option to bypass the start screen & go directly to the desktop, it will be interesting to see if that bit can still deliver the goods. Read the full report from ZDNet.

Finally . . .

Simon Besson from ZDNet reports that the reason for Microsoft ditching the start button is that hardware technology does all of that for you now so there’s no need for “Start”. Well, DUH! This may indeed be the case but Dr. Data has a number of clients who are still quite fond of their old, low-tech keyboards. Mary Jo Foley from ZDNet says that Microsoft is planning to roll out  keyboards & mice that are optimised for Windows 8 in the coming weeks. Holy Cuppertino, Batman! What an opportunity to bleed even more cash from customers! The idea of shifting exclusively to Linux looks better and better every day.

Windows 8 was released to manufacturing on Aug. 1st of this year and, over the preceding months,  had gained a somewhat well deserved reputation as a dog due to the much maligned Metro interface. Well, a funny thing happened last week. Microsoft started acting like it was 1984 by erasing the name of a party official who had fallen out of favour. In this case, the party official was named Metro.

Microsoft has claimed that Metro was simply a code name like “Longhorn” or “Afton” to be used in the development and testing phase. The company has insisted that its forthcoming operating system should rightly be known as Windows 8 and that we should pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Dr. Data’s immediate response was “Balderdash!”

He was not the only one. On Friday, ZDNet’s Ed Bott published a blog post explaining why he agreed with Dr. Data. Among the things Mr. Bott noted was that there was absolutely nothing in any public reference that indicated that Metro was a code-name. You can read the rest of the evidence yourself on ZDNet.

What Dr. Data is wondering about is why Microsoft would do this.  Is Redmond having nightmares of old OS blunders? (Instead of Jacob Marley, it’s Vista & Bob!) Is Redmond concerned that there is too much negative press about Metro and dropping the name is a way – in the short run – to throw the press and the public off the scent? Is Microsoft concerned that there are too many workarounds – like Start8 – being developed so users can make the OS function how they want to rather than how Redmond wants it to. Has Microsoft finally listened to the howls of indignation from consumers and has made a few subtle changes so desk/lap top  users don’t have access their OS in the same way a tablet user does?

OK, Dr. Data could go on and on suggesting things like an alien abduction of Steve Balmer. What Dr. Data does want to say was that he – and most other people interested in stuff like this – saw and played with the consumer preview of Windows 8. Nonetheless there were a number of months between the time that preview was  made available and the Aug. 1st RTM . There is no telling what Redmond could have done – or not done – with the interface during that time. This is a mystery worthy of Holmes and Watson that will only be revealed on October 26th.

By the way, the butler did it.

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Dr. Data has PAD - Pipe Acquisition Disorder

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