Marisa says I look much younger with a trimmed beard. I asked how old I looked and she paused a moment and said, "38."
Marisa says I look much younger with a trimmed beard. I asked how old I looked and she paused a moment and said, "38."
Donald Trump is being sworn in as president today. Some people are happy. Some people are not. Some people are just confused. I think Trump himself has realized that Presidents don't just appear on TV and lie about stuff, like oh... there never having been a concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial:
Later, he laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery and attended his Lincoln Memorial inaugural concert, saying that one had never been held there before even though many similar events have taken place in front of the iconic seated statue of the 16th president.
In fact, you have to govern! And that means figuring out who is going to do what. I can't imagine the amount of work that goes into a Presidential Transition, and it seems neither can Mr. Trump:
Since his election on Nov. 8, Mr. Trump has had little interest in the minutiae of his transition, saying it was “bad karma” to get too involved, according to a person who spoke with him at the time. At one point, he wanted to halt the planning altogether, out of superstition, the person said.
His lack of understanding of the task at hand, and his clear lack of intellectual curiosity are the things that really worry me about a Trump presidency. I feel like he'll be governing from his seat of his pants and that's no good.
I will say, however, that while I disagree with the VAST majority of Trump's goals... I do like a few of his promises (which he won't do). I'm all for spending money to:
That's about all I agree with, though I wouldn't mind a better version of the ACA... I'm not sure the Republicans will deliver on that.
I read 75 books in 2016 (I thought I had read 76 but Goodreads counted a book that I hadn't read in 2016, that sassy website).
The Sparrow by Mary Russel Doria
A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers, #2) by Becky Chambers
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1) by Becky Chambers
The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2) by Liu Cixin
Woman with a Blue Pencil: A Novel by Gordon McAlpine
Slade House by David Mitchell
Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2) by V.E. Schwab
Anatomy of Evil (Barker & Llewelyn, #7) by Will Thomas
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson
Stiletto (The Checquy Files, #2) by Daniel O'Malley
Zero K: A Novel by Don DeLillo
Necessity (Thessaly, #3) by Jo Walton
The Yard (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, #1) by Alex Grecian
The Devil's Workshop (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, #3) by Alex Grecian
The Harvest Man (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, #4) by Alex Grecian
Lost and Gone Forever (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, #5) by Alex Grecian
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Lady Cop Makes Trouble (Kopp Sisters, #2) by Amy Stewart
The Privilege of the Sword (Riverside, #2) by Ellen Kushner
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Trials (The Red Trilogy Book 2) by Linda Nagata
Night Life (Michael Cassidy, #1) by David C. Taylor
Staked (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #8) by Kevin Hearne
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Strangler Vine (Avery & Blake, #1) by M.J. Carter
The Steel Remains (A Land Fit for Heroes #1) by Richard K. Morgan
Acceptance (Southern Reach, #3) by Jeff VanderMeer
Updraft (Bone Universe, #1) by Fran Wilde
The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1) by N.K. Jemisin
Linesman (Linesman, #1) by S.K. Dunstall
Alliance by S.K. Dunstall
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Singer from Memphis (The Athenian Mysteries #6) by Gary Corby
Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand
The House of Shattered Wings (Dominion of the Fallen, #1) by Aliette de Bodard
The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey
The Black Country (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, #2) by Alex Grecian
Four Roads Cross (Craft Sequence, #5) by Max Gladstone
Dark Run by Mike Brooks
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales
Throne of Jade (Temeraire, #2) by Naomi Novik
The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese
The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay
The Zig Zag Girl (Stephens & Mephisto Mystery, #1) by Elly Griffiths
The Cold Between (Central Corps, #1) by Elizabeth Bonesteel
A Night Without Stars by Peter F. Hamilton
Look to Windward (Culture, #7) by Iain M. Banks
Blind Justice (Sir John Fielding, #1) by Bruce Alexander
Our Lady of the Ice by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Daggerspell (Deverry, #1) by Katharine Kerr
In the Land of Giants: A Journey Through the Dark Ages by Max Adams
Swordspoint (Riverside, #1) by Ellen Kushner
The Fall of the Kings by Ellen Kushner
Hell Bay (Barker & Llewelyn, #8) by Will Thomas
Murder at the 42nd Street Library (Raymond Ambler #1) by Con Lehane
Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe
The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires, #1) by Jim Butcher
Dr. DOA (Secret Histories, #10) by Simon R. Green
Hour of Judgment (Jurisdiction, #4) by Susan R. Matthews
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Wolf Star (Tour of the Merrimack, #2) by R.M. Meluch
Dead Man Walking (Ishmael Jones, #2) by Simon R. Green
All Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park
Manhattans & Murder (Murder, She Wrote, #2) by Jessica Fletcher
Raising Caine (Tales of the Terran Republic, #3) by Charles E. Gannon
Surrender, New York by Caleb Carr
The Myriad by R.M. Meluch
I read lots of books from a variety of publishers, but here's the top three:
Tor Books: 8
Del Rey: 4
G.P. Putnam's Sons:4
I got to wonder about the author gender breakdown of the books I read in 2016, and it is pretty good:
I didn't make an effort to read any particular kind of author's work, and I don't plan to. I read whatever strikes my fancy, but I think these numbers are telling me that I'm hearing about more books written by women, which Im all for!
Thanks to my handy Fitbit I know that I walked over 10,000 steps each day in 2016.
My lowest step day was 11/18/16 (10,001 steps) and my highest was 10/18/16 (23,476 steps in Ireland!).
In total I walked:
Not too shabby!
Oh, and you can click on the graph above to see it bigger, if you're interested in such things.
I like me some books, and I usually end up at Amazon to find out more about a book or another.
Library Extension alerts you if any book you're looking at on Amazon.com or BN.com is available from the library (either physical or ebook, assuming your local library offers ebooks). This has saved me lots of money, since you can add a hold with a few clicks right from Amazon.
Go forth and borrow books!
I love gadgets, but I hate charging them. I contain multitudes.
This year marks a turning point in my charging life; I kicked individual chargers to the curb and picked up two multiport chargers. I'm never looking back (expect for this post).
On the left in the image above is the Anker PowerPort 4 which I keep plugged into a powerstrip next to my bed. I plug in my Apple Watch charger, an iPhone charger, and a microUSB cable for charging either my Kindle or Fire. It is fantastic. And when I travel I just unplug it, wrap the cables around it, and pop it into my backpack. This way I don't forget any charging cables or adapters.
On the right you see the PowerPort 5 USB-C I have affixed to my sidetable in the living room. I use it to charge my iPad Pro, iPhone, Kindle/Fire, and best of all: my MacBook. This allows me to keep a computer charger in my bag and not clutter up the living room.
Lest you think I tested a boatload of chargers before getting these, I didn't. I did, however, read this Wirecutter article.
This Christmas I spent a few days in Austin with Marisa's family celebrating Christmas. One of my father-in-law's presents was a night out to see Rogue One (with myself and Marisa, of course!).
Being in Austin I wanted to check out an Alamo Drafthouse since I've heard many good things about this, and I wasn't disappointed. It is clear that the folks who run this chain love movies.
Instead of a bunch of inane ads before the previews they played old Star Wars toy commercials and YouTube videos. The seats were comfy, and you could order booze/food (I had a pretzel).
Thumbs up, Alamo Drafthouse.
The one bad thing I can say about this particular movie watching experience is that the sound was turned up a little too much. It was super loud, which I didn't mind myself but Marisa had to cover her ears a couple of times.
This year I got myself an iPhone 7 Plus, which meant I needed to retire my super cool iPhone 6 Plus Lego case (man, that case is awesome). I am holding out hope that a new iPhone 7 Plus Lego case will appear at some point, so I didn't want to spend too much money on a case.
This case isn't going to garner any compliments from anyone, frankly, but it is a cheap, well made case.
SEPTA is a word that triggers strong reactions from Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians in general. People outside of Philly are annoyed that they have to help pay for public transportation for folks in a city they don't live in (Thanks, PA!). Philadelphians aren't thrilled with SEPTA's general lack of... being good.
I don't envy SEPTA though. The system is pretty large and has a puzzling array of options including:
I, as it happen, am a nearly daily trolley rider. I've been on the trolley almost every weekday for the last decade. And for the last decade nothing about the experience has really changed. Sometimes you get on the Christmas Trolley, but that's about it.
‘Tis the season for the Christmas trolley. pic.twitter.com/E2KmggRrds— Scott McNulty (@blankbaby) November 28, 2016
I've been buying, and using, tokens to get on the trolley for ages. I even have a cup on my desk full of tokens, just so I don't forget to grab 'em on my way out (though I do often forget to reorder them when my supply dwindles).
SEPTA has slowly been rolling out a card based payment system called SEPTA Key. When I heard that there was a brief beta period where one could get a SEPTA Key with Travel Wallet (i.e. load up a card with money and use it instead of tokens) I got me to the SEPTA retail location and bought one.
This thing is both great and not so great, but I still really like it. The Key card is contactless, so you just hold it up to the fare reader, it beeps, and you get on the trolley. Simple? Yes. Fast? No. The readers on the trolley seem to be pretty slow... so I always hold up the line a little bit as I wait for the approval bing.
I do like that I can just pop the card in my wallet and I don't need a pocket full of tokens. Plus, when I reload the card I just tap it at a pay station, select how much I want to put on it, and pay with my Apple Watch. Very nice.
At the moment you can only pay for one ride with a Key card, so if you are looking to pay for multiple people on one ride you'll still need dumb old tokens.
Here's a fun fact about me: I have a podcast that's all about Star Trek. It is called Random Trek, and I think it is pretty fun. iTunes reviews say, "Great concept that doesn't really pay off!"
Thanks to the podcast I get to talk to lots of people about Star Trek AND watch a bunch of Star Trek. In honor of my podcast I'm going to list my 5 favorite episodes of Star Trek that I watched for Random Trek. Now, this doesn't mean that these are my favorite episodes of Random Trek: I love all Random Trek episodes equally.
Here's the list, in no particular order:
That's a lot of great Star Trek!
Now, I know I said I didn't have favorite episodes of Random Trek, but if I did I think I would have to pick Episode 100. That was a special episode in which I had listeners submit questions. It was great to hear from people who enjoy the podcast.
He likes them, and says:
Fundamentally, earbuds deserved to be treated as individual objects, not tethered together. That’s the premise of the AirPods as well as several other wireless earbuds of this type. Each earbud is its own separate entity, so you can stick one or both in your ears and truly say goodbye to dangling wires.
I haven't used the AirPods, but based on my usage of my current set of Bluetooth earbuds (a pair of discontinued Jaybirds)this fundamental idea behind the product means I won't ever be buying a pair for myself.
That wire between the two buds allows me to rip them out of my ears and just drop them. They dangle from my neck without me having to worry about putting them somewhere.
"But, Scott, how often do you actually do that?"
Everytime I use the darned things! Generally, I'm rocking the JayBirds when I'm working out. I get super sweaty and at the end of the workout I just want the damned earbuds out of my ears where they are acting like tiny dams for the sweat that has dripped all over my ears (gross, right? But it is the truth!).
That wire is a feature, not a bug. Oh, and the little control lozenge on the wire allows for me to change the volume of my iPhone even when I don't have a network connection (the AirPods rely on Siri to do this, and if you don't have a network connection Siri doesn't work). Magic!
So I won't be buying AirPods, because they don't meet my needs. And that's ok, not every product is designed for my use cases (if they were a lot more things would be available with orange as a color option).
I write about Newgrange being my favorite stop on our trip and suddenly everyone is talking about it! First Jane Smiley visits and now some archeologists are saying that the most distinctive feature of Newgrange (the whole light/solstice thing) might only be 50 years old (i.e. it was created during the reconstruction of the site).
As a bonus I've embedded a 3D model of the passage/tomb of Newgrange so you can pretend that you've visited.
When it became clear that my Airport Extreme was on the way out (RIP, Airport Extreme) I had to decide if I should just get another one or opt for a different WiFi router. Being the clever consumer that I am I sensed Apple's lack of commitment to their AirPort (and I was right!) so I went for something new and exciting.
I did what I always do and went to the Wirecutter and bought the WiFi router they recommended for most people. For whatever reason, when I set that router up half of my devices stopped working. So I returned it and bought the router the they recommended if you wanted all the bells and whistles (assuming that it was the lack of bells and/or whistles that was the stumbling block). Sadly, that router also ended up creating a network that some devices wouldn't connect to (though different devices this time). I should point out that I don't think the Wirecutter is wrong to recommend these routers; I have my network configured in a slightly odd way which I am sure is the real culprit.
After I returned the second router, and set the AirPort Extreme back up, I decided to go with Netgear's Orbi. At this point I had read a lot about it, but it wasn't actually available for purchase.
As soon as it became available I bought an Orbi (well, two Orbis in one package) and I am very very happy with it. I plugged it in, rebooted my Comcast router and everything worked right off the bat.
Sure, it is a little expensive but this router is easy to set up, it is super fast, and best of all both Orbis sport ethernet ports.
Now, this isn't a highly technical review or anything like that. I just like the Orbi and it is doing a great job!
I suppose I should explain what the heck the Orbi is. It is one of a new generation of WiFi routers that use a mesh network to create one wifi network using a few routers that you place throughout your house. The mesh network allows the routers to talk to one another, and make sure that your entire house is bathed in sweet, sweet WiFi.
The main reason I went with the Orbi is not only does the main Orbi (the one you connect to your internet connection like a traditional router) sport 4 ethernet ports (a WAN port for plugging in your internet and 3 LAN ports for ethernet cables to your stuff) but the satellite Orbi (the one you place in a different room to extend the network further) also has 4 ethernet ports. This allowed me to simplify my home network by getting rid of an ethernet cable I had running into the den and a few dumb switches to boot.
At this point I should say that Netgear did have an issue where some of their routers had a serious vulnerability. They've released an update, but the Orbi didn't have this vulnerability. And best of all the Orbi automatically updates its firmware, so you don't have to try and remember to do it manually (as if anyone does that!).
The web admin interface is pretty nice too:
It seems I have 23 devices on my network at this moment:
But is it fast? I ran a couple of speed tests from my MacBook and it is pretty darned fast.
Speedtest by Ookla says:
The Xfinity speedtest reports:
And Fast.com (Netflix's speed test) agrees:
There are other mesh WiFi routers that offer more software features, but I'm glad I went with the Orbi because all I wanted was a network that was easy to setup and fast enough for all our streaming needs. The Orbi covers that easily.
And just to close the loop, The Wirecutter agrees with me! What a nice little coda, huh?
It seems as though I'm not the only writer who visited Newgrange this year. Jane Smiley, a better and more successful writer, did as well and wrote about it for the New York Times (I just wrote about it for my blog):
Newgrange is a popular destination, and tickets are first come first served. It is called a “passage mound” or “passage tomb,” but what is it really? If we are lucky, what we get when we visit an ancient site is a sense of the intelligence that designed and built the structure even if we might not understand what belief system they were acting under. Indeed, perhaps Newgrange is a giant calendar, a giant clock, a giant belief system, built without mortar, lost and present at the same time.
I've read 73 books so far this year, and I'm hoping to squeeze in a couple more to hit 75 which would make this year my most productive reading year since I've been keeping track.
How exciting for me!
But I know what you're thinking: what's in this for me? I'm glad I had you ask that, rhetorical reader. I'd like to share with you some of my favorite reads of 2016.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik is a fairy tale of sorts with a wizard unwittingly getting wrapped up with a girl who is more than she seems. Based on that sentence alone you probably aren't running off to buy this book but let me know you this: it is great. Very well written with an interesting world and characters that feel real this book is a must read.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is a scifi novel in which not too much happens, but it is a fun ride. Space ships, lots of aliens, peril, and AIs are sprinkled throughout. I'm reading the sequel now and it is just as much fun.
Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen is just the book for you if you ever thought to yourself "I wonder what would happen if animals evolved into spacefaring races, populated the galaxy, and discriminated against Fants (elephants that is) because they don't have fur. The answer is a compelling story with a dash of spiritualism.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles details what happens when your country changes around you and you become a drift in a history you helped to create but can't understand. The entire story happens over the course of decades in a hotel in Moscow. Sounds thrilling, right? But it is very compelling. In fact, I devoured this entire book in 2 sittings.
Zero K by Don DeLillo doesn't really have a story. The characters aren't fully realized, but the relationship between the two main characters is like a character itself. And DeLillo is just a damned fine writer. Perhaps the greatest living American writer, and this novel is beautiful.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley feature a mechanical octopus. Need I say anything more? It also plays with the narrative, which I enjoy, and is well written.
Scotland Yard's Murder Squad by Alex Grecian is one of those series that just sucked me in. I read all 5 books in a row over the course of a month. Now, I do think that the cover style for the last two novels is unfortunate, but don't judge these books by their covers!
Marisa and I had the good fortune of being able to spend a little over a week in Ireland this October and it was a fantastic trip. We ate well, stayed at very nice hotels, and saw a number of very cool things.
One stood out to me though: Newgrange (seen above).
I hadn't heard of Newgrange until I started researching places to visit near Dublin (we only spend one night in Dublin so I figured we should see something on the way out and Newgrange was it, though it is about an hour outside of Dublin). Newgrange is a passage tomb, and they think that neolithic man used it to store the ashes of people and to perform certain rituals on the solstice. In fact, it is constructed in such a way that the chamber inside this massive mound is in complete darkness all year except for the solstice. At dawn the sun slowly creeps up the passage and lights the chamber. You can enter a lottery to actually experience it, though they don't guarantee a cloud free day!
While we were in Dublin Marisa and I marveled at all the buildings that are older than our country. Living in Philadelphia one gets used to living with history, but visit any European country and you realize just how new to the scene the US is.
All of that pales in comparison to the feeling one gets when you're standing in a chamber that people created 5,200 years ago.
While we didn't visit during the solstice, they do simulate it for each tour. You squeeze/crouch your way into the chamber. Gather around with 15 or so folks and the tour guide asks, "Is anyone afraid of the dark?"
She then turns off the lights and you're in complete darkness, surrounded by tons of dirt and stone and the quiet breathing of a few other people. Slowly, the "sun," or in this case an LED light, dawns and light edges into the chamber. More and more of it is revealed in the simulated solstice light and you're transported back 5,000 years. It was quite the experience.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 bluetooth headphones are fantastic, and if you've read any stories about the best noise cancelling headphones you already know this.
I mention that because I'm not breaking ground here with this opinion, but these things are really good. How do I know that? I bought a pair for myself and when they arrived I let Marisa try them out. She immediately said, "where's my pair?" and that's how I ended up buying 2 pairs of these expensive headphones this year.
Setup is easy, the noise cancelling really works, and they sound good. They sound good to me, I should say. I'm not an audiophile, but if you are chances are you aren't using bluetooth headphones anyway!
If you fly often you should really buy yourself a pair of these things. We took them on our flights to and back from Ireland and they were a dream.
I'm going to tell you a little secret: I buy a lot of tablets but I haven't really figured out where they fit into my tech life.
The Amazon Fire HD 8 has solved the dilemma: tablets are for watching TV shows at the gym. This Fire is fast, pretty sturdy, and best of all: cheap. Whenever I brought an iPad to the gym I worried about dropping it and breaking it. With the Fire if I break it, I can just get another. They're cheap!
If you have Amazon Prime and are looking for a speedy tablet to watch Prime Video on (I download shows to my Fire so I don't have to depend on my gym's spotty wifi) then the Fire is for you
You'd be surprised at how often I'm asked which Kindle people should buy for their loved ones. The answer is simple: the Paperwhite (without ads).
Why the Paperwhite?
If you're looking to splurge I'd say the Oasis is your best bet. The screen is just like the Paperwhite and the Voyage, but this thing is super light. I mean, like crazy light (especially without the battery cover). It lasts forever, and the cover is fun to click on and off.
All that's great, but the biggest reason to get the Oasis over the Voyager has a big impact on the reading experience: page turn buttons. The Voyage has areas that are kind of like buttons. You squeeze them and the page turns. They're better than not having any buttons but the Oasis' actual buttons are far superior.
Then the Kindle is right out, isn't it? This seems like an edge case, but if that's the edge your loved one lives on get them a Kobo aura H20.
I like many of Kobo's interface touches more than what you'll find on any Kindle (shocking, I know), and being able to take a bath with your ereader without putting it in a plastic bag is pretty great.
Why don't I recommend a Kobo over the Kindle if I love it so much? Getting books on the darn thing isn't hard, exactly, but it is much harder than the process on the Kindle.
I had high hopes for the nook line, and I actually quite like the Nook Glowlight Plus, but I can't recommend them as gifts. Why? Because I get the feeling that Barnes and Noble isn't going to be keeping them around for much longer. I could be wrong, but I wouldn't want to saddle anyone with an eReader without a store.