More books then expected

UkazooMarisa and I had to go to a wedding yesterday. Now, I'm not the most social person in the world (shocker) and I'm even worse when I don't know many people I am supposed to socially interact with. At this wedding there would be almost no one I knew, other than Marisa, but being the good husband I was happy to accompany my lovely wife. She sweetened the pot, however, by promising me a visit to the Plymouth Meeting Mall during the 2 hour break between the ceremony and the reception.

A trip to some random mall generally wouldn't result in a placated Scott but this mall is home to an outlet of Ukazoo Books which sells both new and used books. I figured I would give myself a limit of $10 and see what treasures I could find (a favorite past time of mine).

We had no idea how fortuitous our timing was because it would seem that the Plymouth Meeting Ukazoo location is closing, and they were having a big clearance sale. Of course I'm sad to see any independent bookstore close, but that is balanced out by my insatiable desire for MORE BOOKS. I was struck, as we entered the store, by a certain melancholy which I last felt visiting the Borders that used to be in Center City Philadelphia during its last days of operation. The shelves are pretty bare, the staff is milling about trying to figure out what to do next with their lives, and I'm there looking for some cheap books like some sort of readerly vulture.

Anyway, not only were they closing (sad face), but we were visiting on the last day they were open (happy face). My plan to spend only $10 was thwarted by the particulars of their clearance sale: $5 for as many books as you can stuff into a brown paper bag (they provided the bag).

Let me tell you, when you're paying $5 for a bag of books your selectivity takes a hit. Marisa and I managed to find 35 books that piqued our interest, and crammed them all into one bag. 14 cents a book? Why not!

Out of the 35 I take credit for snagging the following 12 books:

  • Murder, She Wrote: Margaritas & Murder: I find Murder, She Wrote entertaining, and this whole series of books has lots of fans. Why not give it a try for a few cents?
  • Homegoing: I haven't read as much Pohl as I should (I don't think I've read anything by him, to be honest). Plus kangaroo like aliens? You know that's going in the bag.
  • The Undersea Trilogy: You can't judge a book by the cover, but that's what I did with this one.
  • Visible Light: Another great cover that I couldn't resist.
  • The Skinner: I've been meaning to read some Asher, and the cover describes this as "Dune meets Master and Commander."
  • The Forgery of Venus: Marisa and I both think we've read The Book of Air and Shadows, so it makes sense to get this one.
  • Medicus: An ancient Roman doctor detective? Duh.
  • The Catch: A Joe Gunther Novel: I've read another of Mayor's books and found it entertaining (and it allows me to more fully flesh out my fantasy of moving to Vermont).
  • Company: Max Barry is an amusing author.
  • Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story: I might own this already, but for a few cents why not get another one just to make sure.
  • Shampoo Planet: Douglas Coupland isn't my favorite writer, but I appreciate what he tries to do with his work.
  • Space Vulture: Another great cover, and this book was co-authored by a priest.

Marisa picked up a slew of books, which I shan't list here (though I might read a few of them over the next couple of years.


Binge Viewing: TV's Lost Weekends - WSJ.com

Becky pointed out this WSJ article about TV Binge Viewing on Twitter, and it hit home with me. Oddly enough I just started watching the first season of Breaking Bad via Netflix earlier this week and finished it last night. Seems I'm not alone:

"Breaking Bad" is high on the list of TV shows that drive the most compulsive viewing, according to Netflix number-crunchers. Some 73% of members who started streaming season one of "Breaking Bad" finished all seven episodes. Seasons two and three were longer—13 episodes each—yet the completion rate jumped to 81% and 85%, respectively.

I plan to spend a good part of the weekend watching Season 2 (though when Marisa isn't around since Breaking Bad is one of those shows that I like that is TIM: Too Intense for Marisa. Other TIM shows include The Walking Dead and Dexter).


Even more recent acquisitions

Just the other day I listed my recent book purchases and it is already out of date. On Sunday I headed down to Washington, D.C. to assist Marisa with a canning demo at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market. The demo lasted for a couple hours, and while I enjoy supporting my lovely wife she didn't need me lurking about the entire time.

Luckily, there were bookstores to checkout in the very near vicinity.

Kramersbooks

It would seem that Kramersbooks is an institution in DC, and one that I had been hoping to visit for some time. A while back I happened to be in DC for a week attending some training. During the evening I would rush back to my hotel and work on a book I was writing at the time, but I plotted taking some time off to explore this lovely bookstore. Finally, the day I had decide to visit Kramerbooks was upon me. I had finished my training for the day, and stopped by my hotel to unload some stuff. Just as I was putting my bag down a terrific downpour started and lasted the entire evening. Needless to say I stayed in, and the bookstore had to wait until last weekend.

I bought three books:

Second Story Books

I hastened back with my new books and was alerted to the fact that Second Story Books, a used bookstore, was just across the street from the Farmers market. I headed over and bought:


Recent additions to my library

Over the course of the last few weeks I've found myself in a variety of situations in which I had the opportunity to purchase some books. If you know me I rarely turned down the offer to buy myself a book or two (in any format that I can get my grubby little hands on), so I thought I would share a list of books I've recently added to the Blankbaby Manor Library and from whence they came.

Raven Used Books

Marisa and I spent a few days visiting with our friends Becky and Eric in Northampton, MA. I always enjoy our visits because Becky and Eric are good people… and Northampton is home to a few very nice bookstores. Raven Used Books has a great selection of used books at reasonable prices, though I only ended up purchasing one book this time around (plus a t-shirt):

  • This Alien Shore: I read the Coldfire Trilogy and quite liked it (years and years ago though so I have no idea what they were about) so I thought I would give this book a try.

Broadside Books

Broadside Books, just down the street from Raven Used Books, is a fantastic independent bookstore. I know there are differing opinions about whether one is obligated to support independent bookstores or not but I feel like I should buy a book or two whilst I'm there. Now, I'll only buy a book from the store if they have something I want (obviously) and if I feel like the store is worth supporting. Broadside certainly is, so I picked up a book there:

Odyssey Bookshop

Marisa is a published author now (buy her book) and she's put together her very own book tour (I've found that few people care to meet the geek behind their favorite tech books, so no tours for me). One of the first stops on the tour, and the secondary reason for our visit to Northampton, was at the Odyssey Bookshop. Marisa's demo and signing was a huge success (they sold out of her book!) but sadly my shopping wasn't as successful.

The bookshop has two levels. Marisa's demo was on the second floor so as we walked in I scoped out what looked like a pretty good science fiction section. However, I was there to help with the demo and take pictures and not browse the wares. By the time the demo was over the store was closed, so I had to limit my purchases to a few books I saw on the second floor:

  • Just My Type: A Book About Fonts: Who doesn't like fonts? This book is very well designed and I look forward to reading it.
  • Maisie Dobbs: I'd never heard of the Maisie Dobbs series but the description hooked me.
  • A People's Guide to the Federal Budget: Becky, who hosted us in Northampton, helped write this book and I like to support my friends whenever I can (yes, friends, this is a passive aggressive reminder that you should feel free to purchase my books!). Plus it is probably a good idea to know how the Federal budget works and stuff.

PennMOVES

I work at Penn (specifically the Wharton School) and I really enjoy it. I tried the whole corporate thing at Comcast and I just wasn't cut out for it (I totally told them it was me not them… but I think it was a tiny bit them too). There are many benefits to working at a University: lots of time off, being surrounded by smart people, and a lovely setting. Also, the students leave every summer and in their wake are many nice possessions that they've cast off. Penn, being home to many smart people, realized that instead of having the students throw away all the crap they don't want to haul home with them why not collect it all and sell it, and give the proceeds to GoodWill? Thus PennMOVES was born, and thus why I was awake at 7am on a Saturday and in a rather industrial building at 8:30am wading through a thicket of people.

The PennMOVES price list mentioned that all books were a dollar a pop, which excited me. I made a beeline to the books room only to fine that many professional book resellers had beaten me there. How did I know they were book resellers? They all had iPhones with scanners attached to them and were scanning every book they could find. The ones with high resale value were tossed into bags and the low resale books were tossed back onto the pile.

I wasn't interested in the high value books (i.e. textbooks) I just wanted some cheap novels, however, I worried that there wouldn't be much overlap between my reading interests and those of the average Penn student. I rummaged around the books for 30 minutes or so and managed to find a very good haul (and it only cost me $12):

  • On Writing: Stephen King's classic take on writing. Marisa already had a copy but for a buck why not?
  • The Man Who Invented the ComputerI like computers and I like Jane Smiley. This book is a slam-dunk.
  • The King's Peace: I am generally over fantasy but Jo Walton is one of those authors whose books I buy even if I am not interested in the genre (plus the price worked in the book's favor).
  • Cosm: It would seem that many Penn students who leave books behind aren't into science fiction, so I felt the need to buy whatever scifi books I found. Benford won out on this one (though he'll not make a cent off this transaction).
  • The City and the Stars: I haven't read all that much Clarke (2001 and some of the Rama books about cover it), and this seemed like an interesting book (and it was written at a time when a short novel was ok. Now everyone needs to write at least 400 pages).
  • The Door into Summer: A Heinlein time travel book with a wacky cover. Sold.
  • The Complaints: Ian Rankin is one of those authors whose work I want to read but I haven't gotten around to it.
  • Kosher Chinese: I like Chinese food and I'm married to a Jew.
  • Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Picked this one up based on the name alone.
  • Tastes of Paradise: This seemed like something Marisa would like, and since she was off looking at other tidbits in the sale I picked it up for her.
  • The Iron Lady: Having recently watched the movie of the same name I was intrigued by the book.
  • Murder for Christmas: I'm trying to educate myself in the mystery genre so why not read some stories by a master?


Amazon

Yes, I realize how ironic it is to list all these books from rummage sales and independent bookstores and link to Amazon, but I also buy my fair share of books at Amazon. In fact, for some reason Amazon sent me a $37 gift certificate which I blew on the following Kindle books:


A look inside the New York Public Library

NewYorkPublicLibraryLogoI'm a New Yorker at heart, even though I haven't lived in New York for several years. When I conjure up an image of a public library the image I see is the New York Public Library's main branch with the iconic lion statues out front.

That's why I enjoyed reading Charles Petersen's two part (part 1, part 2) story about how the NYPL is attempting to transform itself to meet the new needs of their patrons. It is such a huge organization, and many people assume the library is dedicated to one thing: books. Nope. Any library you visit isn't just a collection of books, but rather a repository of information staffed with people who make it their life's work to help you sort through it all.

Anyway, you shouldn't be wasting time reading this when the first part of Charles' great article is waiting for you.


Don't be guilty at the library

Library Cards

People pirating books piss me off, but I love the library (in fact I was just at the Free Library of Philadelphia yesterday (proof) where I checked out three books). Sometimes I do wonder, though, if I should buy a book to support an author I like instead of making use of the library. The problem is, if no one goes to the library then in these days of budget cuts the library closes (heck, even though library usage is up some libraries are closed!).

Luckily N.K. Jemisin, author of the wonderful Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which was discussed on an episode of The Incomparable, assuages my guilt thusly:

It really, really, really helps me to be in libraries. Not all traditionally-published books get that privilege; most self-published books certainly don’t. So if you’re feeling at all guilty over checking my stuff out from your local library — don’t. Consider: you’re helping to keep me on their “buy” lists, especially in these days of rampant budget cuts, which means several hundred (if not thousand) additional sales for me.

Piers Anthony on using a tablet

I'm a tech guy, but I really try and emulate the mindset of a non-technical person when I'm writing, since they are my audience. That's why I find this quick review of a Polaroid Android tablet from Piers Anthony's Newsletter so fascinating. Piers, a successful and prolific author, isn't technical at all but his wife bought a $100 tablet. He's using it now and likes it, but you can just read this thoughts yourself:

My Sony Reader expired just as I was about to read the foregoing novel. That gave my wife a pretext to shop for something she had had her eye on, and we got a Polaroid Android Tablet Computer on sale for a hundred dollars. As I like to put it, I'm an old codger from another century, and slow to catch on to newfangled dinguses, but I rather like this one. Its Adobe Reader handled the .pdf manuscript, oriented the page to be upright regardless of my orientation; sometimes as I let the device tilt the page would spin around to re-orient. I can show the pages as they are, in assorted type sizes, or have them reformat and wrap to remain always on the page. The print is beautiful, easy to read. But I am unable to jump to my place in the book, or to return directly to the beginning when I complete it. So I had to page backward through the 373 page manuscript, one page at a time. This gets old fast. It does hold my place if I keep it in ready mode, but loses it if I turn it all the way off to save power. It will play songs, and I can read with musical background; it seems to have a fair roster of popular songs to start with, and we added more. But it can be a federal case to make it stop playing, and we have not found out how to make it play our added songs. It acknowledges their presence, lists them, but won't actually play them, instead playing only its own songs; it seems to think they are on the Internet. Would it be too much to ask that you be able to play a listed song by clicking on it? Or that there be an On/Off switch? If there is a Hell for programmers, it may have an On/Off switch for the tortures they undergo—that doesn't work. It will handle WiFi, but as yet I have not caught up with that 21st century stuff. So it's a novel experience, and I like it despite its frustrations.

I don't know what I would use a tablet for if I didn't have Wi-Fi.


Joe Weisenthal vs. the 24-Hour News Cycle - NYTimes.com

I love writing, but this profile of a financial blogger just sounds awful. Working all day in the text mines, looking for Fool's Gold:

Some of what he writes is air and sugar. Some of it is wrong or incomplete or misleading. But he delivers jolts of sharp, original insight often enough to hold the attention of a high-powered audience that includes economists like The Times columnist Paul Krugman and Wall Street heavies like the hedge-fund manager Douglas Kass and the bond investor Jeff Gundlach.

Dreaming of a better Kindle Fire - TechHive Beta Blog

It is no secret that I'm a fan of Amazon, and of their Kindles more specifically. It is often assumed, for one reason or another, that if you like a company that means you can't be critical of anything that company does. This is probably most commonly seen amongst Apple aficionados (and I think that some of the Apple press do give the company a pretty wide berth on many, many issues) but the same can be said for any company.

Just because I like the Kindle Fire (I wrote a bestselling book about it too which you should totally buy) doesn't mean the product can't stand some improvement. My internet pal, and yours, Jason Snell makes some great points on Techhive:

The Kindle Fire is definitely a first effort. I’m reminded of the original Kindle, which was intriguing and yet horribly flawed. After a couple of iterations, Amazon got the Kindle in shape. It can do the same with the Kindle Fire, especially if it emphasizes its two strongest points: a small size and a low price. With some tweaks to the hardware (volume buttons!) and continued software refinements, including better support for multiple Amazon accounts, the Kindle Fire’s future can still be bright.

The Kindle Fire's biggest flaw, if you ask me, involves physical buttons but I don't miss the volume buttons as much as Jason does. The location of the power button, however, is just plain dumb. I long for a sliding button like Amazon had on the second and third generation e-ink Kindles (though the 4th gen Kindles switched to a normal pushy button, which I am not a fan of). Turning on/off or putting a device to sleep shouldn't be something you can do accidentally.


Hugo Awards 2012

Hugos2012covers

Ever since the Hugo Award nominees for 2012 were announced I can't tell you how many people have asked my opinion about them. Ok, I can tell you: zero. However, I won't let a silly number like that stop me from sharing with you, my Internet friends.

This is one of the first years I've read a majority of the Hugo nominated novels before they were announced (3 out of the 5 beforehand) mostly because of my participation in the Incomparable book club (listen to the episode where we discuss 2011's nominated novels). Since the nominations have been announced I've managed to read the other two novels (I owned one and the library provided the other).

Now, last year I read almost all of the nominated novels, with the exception of Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear (two novels that were considered as one for some reason). I bet my hat that The Dervish House was destined to win since it was the best novel I had read in a long time (I was also fairly certain that Feed's inclusion was some sort of clerical error).

I tell you all of this so you can get a feel for my track record. Last year not only did Connie Willis walk away with the award (she's a great writer, and since I haven't read her novels as of yet I can't say with certainty that The Dervish House was a better book, but I'm pretty sure it was) but Feed, which I hated, managed to garner more votes than The Dervish House.

That ain't right folks.

With all of that in mind, here are my thoughts about the nominated novels this year (here's the full list of Hugo nominees this year):


  • Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor): This year's The Dervish House. A great book that is basically about a young girl who loves reading and happens to see fairies. Jo Walton is an amazingly talented writer and if she doesn't win the Hugo this year I'll think the thing has been fixed. The only problem I see with Among Others' chances is that while the book is about science fiction (check out this Pinterest board that lists all the novels mentioned) it's really a fantasy book. Sure, some fantasy novels have won but the Hugo is, at the core, a science fiction award. Plus, I want it to win and that is the kiss of death for any nominated novel.

  • A Dance with Dragons, George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra): Here's the deal, this book is fine. It isn't the best installment of the series, but it is satisfying for those who keep plugging along with the books. If you were to start reading The Song of Ice and Fire (a.k.a The Game of Thrones) series with this book you'd have no idea what the hell was going on, and I doubt you would care. That being said Mr. Martin has two things going for him this year: The Game of Thrones is a legitimate cultural phenomenon. It has emerged from the ghetto of genre and has been embraced by the mainstream (I was at a birthday party for twin toddlers the other and one of the parents of an attending child told me her mother has read the whole series). That's some powerful stuff. Second: Martin has been nominated 4 times before in this category (3 out of those 4 times for previous installments in the Song of Ice and Fire) and he hasn't won once. The voters might decide it is time for George to get the award based not on this novel, but on the series as a whole thus far. I won't be too upset if George wins, but it'll be a shame since Jo Walton deserves the little rocket ship.

  • Deadline, Mira Grant (Orbit): This was the last novel on the list I read (I just finished it a few hours ago) because I hated (really hated) the previous book in this series, Feed. Deadline is slightly better than Feed, but it is still a bad book. I honestly have no idea how Deadline ended up on the ballot, but clearly lots of people are into it. I found the first 100 pages to be awful, the rest of the book is just meh, and the "surprise" ending is both incredibly predictable and really undercuts a very powerful part of the first book.

  • Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey): Oh, China Miéville. He's an inventive writer, and Embassytown is a fantastic novel (in that it is full of flights of fancy). I thought it a very interesting rumination on the nature of truth and language, but as a novel it was a little thin. The writing is spectacular, but the plot is pretty run of the mill. I enjoyed reading it, and I would recommend it to other fans of China Miéville, but I don't think it should take the prize this year.

  • Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey (Orbit): Funny thing about this book, which I read after it was nominated: I bought it many months ago and attempted to start reading it over the summer but stopped after the first 10 or so pages. Oddly, the big twist that makes you want to keep reading happens about 15 pages in, so I really should have stuck it out on the first go-a-round. This is the most traditional science fiction novel of the bunch, and it is a fun read. I'm a little puzzled as to why it was nominated since I don't think it does much to expand the genre but sometimes a novel just needs to be a good read and Leviathan Wakes certainly has that in spades (and I love the minor plot point involving Mormons).


Generally, I'm a novel kind of guy but John Scalzi rounded up links to all the nominated short stories this year so I decided to read them. They are all worth your time to read, especially since you can read them for free, but there was one that really stood out to me.

Here are my thoughts, and my pick:


  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”, E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld): This lovely, and beautifully written, story about some warmongering wasps expanding their empire gets my vote. Great writing which feels like it belongs in a literary fiction magazine which might turn some people off but worked for me. I choose not to linger on the fact that Yu is a recent college graduate (damned talented young people) and won't let that make me spiral into a depression about my own (nonexistent) fiction output.

  • “The Homecoming”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s): A great story about a young man visiting his ailing mother and estranged father and experiencing that wonderful tension that you get when visiting parents. Oh, and the son has voluntarily had his consciousness transplanted into an alien body which complicates things just a bit.

  • “Movement”, Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s): This one didn't do too much for me, though I can see how other folks would really like it. The main character is a autistic girl who only becomes truly functional when she is dancing.

  • “The Paper Menagerie”, Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction): This story came in a close second for me, just edged out by those darned cartographer wasps! A story about cultural assimilation, a parent's unconditional love, and how awful kids can be without even knowing it. Add in some animated paper animals and a wonderful story is born. How can you go wrong?

  • “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”, John Scalzi (Tor.com): This is a parody of fantasy novels, and it is funny though I have a hard time believing there wasn't another non-jokey short story out there that could have been nominated. That said, it is fun.


eBook covers

3 Kindles walk into a bar...

This article on The Atlantic and Chip Kidd's TED Talk about the importance of book covers got me to thinking about, of all things, eReaders.

Specifically the fact that every eReader I've used (and I've used many) displays some sort of image when it is "sleeping." Amazon even sells Kindles that show ads when the device isn't being used.

Why not display the cover of the book currently being read on the device when it is sleeping? I love book covers, and I miss seeing them when I'm reading something, so why display them?

This would have to be an optional setting, though, because one of the great things about eReaders is that you can read super trashy novels in public and no one ever knows (not that I would do such a thing).


Write about books

Hey there Blankbaby readers (reader?), I have a question for you. I've been doing lots of reading the last couple years (20 books so far this year) and not so much blogging (obviously).

To rectify this situation (and attempt to make some sweet, sweet Amazon affiliate money) I'm going to write about the books I'm reading. The question is: should I do that here on Blankbaby or on the reading blog I started long ago called Scott's Reading List (which you probably didn't even know about)?

Sound off in the comments!

Also, how do you like the snazzy new design? Pretty sweet, huh?


iPad 3 review

People who say they iPad doesn't get uncomfortably hot are living in denial.

via hello.typepad.com

I've had a simliar experience with my iPad 3 so far. The heat isn't really an issue, but it is noticable. Perhaps some units have some misappiled thermal paste or something (I don't even know if there is any thermal paste on the processor in the iPad, that's just a complete guess).

Anyway, I like my iPad 3 but I still like my Mac (and Kindle) more.


10 Cool Things You Can Do with Your Kindle Fire

My dear, dear publisher, Peachpit, asked me if I would be interested in writing an article for their website about the Kindle Fire. I, of course, was interested and wrote 10 Cool Things You Can Do with Your Kindle Fire:

Did you know that you can email documents, load your own content, and sideload apps with the Kindle Fire? Scott McNulty, author of The Kindle Fire Pocket Guide, offers a list of ten cool things he loves about the Kindle Fire.

Go ahead and read it, dude!


The Kindle Fire Pocket Guide is now available

Hey cats and kittens, the day you've been waiting for is upon us (well, it actually happened yesterday but I was busy taking the day off): my latest book, The Kindle Fire Pocket Guide, is officially available for sale in hardcopy!

To celebrate I thought I would give away some copies of the book to Blankbaby readers/followers. I have 15 copies of the book to give away, so leave a comment on this post by January 24th to enter. If more than 15 people comment then I will randomly select the winner, and if less than 15 people comment everyone wins (if exactly 15 people comment the universe will implode).

The book covers the basics from using the web browser, buying media from Amazon, and more advanced topics like side loading apps and filling your Kindle Fire up with non-Amazon purchased content (you can do it!).

All that I ask from the handsome/lovely people who win a copy is that you leave a review on Amazon after you've read the book. Just share how you felt about the book: good or bad (though I think this book will be a boon to any Fire owner).


It is really hard to feel bad for a billionaire

But George Lucas strikes me as a little sad in this great NY Times article about his retirement (of his own choosing). For example:

“Why would I make any more,” Lucas says of the “Star Wars” movies, “when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?”

I know people give Lucas crap for endless fiddling with his movies, but I admire him for sticking to his vision (good or bad) and self-funding it.

Good on ya, George!