I heart Amazon Music

I've given up on using Apple's large scale web services long ago (this includes, but is not limited to, iCards, iCloud, and Apple Music). I get most of what I need in these areas from Amazon.

Looks like Apple managed to get international man of misery (I kid, I kid) Joe Steel to take a look at Amazon Music, and he likes it!:

Sour Note:

Amazon Music is like, ‘Hey bro, you probably just want to listen to music. The lyrics are pretty sweet, so I’ll leave them here if you want those too, bro.’ and I’m all like, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know it could be like this.’ and Amazon Music is all, ‘Totes.’

X-Ray lyrics are pretty cool on the app and even more fun on the FireTV.

Seems like a small thing, but at $325 a meal you're paying for it

I've wanted to go to Per Se ever since I worked next to building which it is in, but it looks like it isn't what it used to be:

Wine glasses sat empty through entire courses. Once, the table was set for dessert so haphazardly that my spoon ended up next to my water glass instead of my plate.

Marisa knows I don't mind paying for good service, but I get very upset when I'm paying for great service and I get OK service. I can get that kind of service much cheaper!

My Favorite Books of 2015

2015 was a pretty rough year here at Blankbaby Manor which impacted my reading. I try to read at least 52 books a year, and I did't quite make it but I got close!

In 2015 I read 51 books (though if you follow me on Goodreads it appears as though I read 49 books. I read an omnibus edition of 3 novels in one, so I counted that as 3. Goodreads counts it as 1).

For some historical perspective, here's my book numbers since 2011:

2011: 46

2012: 53

2013: 73

2014: 58

Not my worst year, but very far from my best (I have no idea why I was able to read so much in 2013!).

I did read a number of very good books, and here are the ones I would recommend you read (note, these are Amazon affiliate links. You can probably find most of these books in your local library too, but then I don't get any money):

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Ken Liu is a very talented short story writer (and translator), but I wasn't sure if that would translate into being a great novelist. Well, "The Grace of Kings" didn't disappoint me. I will admit that I'm fascinated by fantasty/scifi books which are roots in non-western traditions so if that isn't your thing this book isn't for you.

Having this book grounded in traditions that aren't familiar to me gave it an added level of otherworldliness (which mostly speaks to my lack of knowledge about eastern traditions).

This book features two men who overthrow an empire and then struggle with what to do with the results. There are mechanical sea monsters, airships and more. Plus it is all written with Ken Liu's lyrical prose.

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

When I'm not reading science fiction or fantasy I'm usually reading a mystery and "Girl Waits with Gun" is a great one. I mean, it is kind of a mystery but mostly it is a retelling of a crazy true story.

The main characters are the Kopp sisters are unique believable characters who border on ridiculous but never stray past the line.

The novel starts with a carriage being sideswiped by a car and goes from there. Lots of fun, and an interesting snapshot of a particular time in American history when technology and society were at a tipping point.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

I love the idea of parallel universes with select people being able to move between them, and that's at the center of this novel. There are several versions of London and the main character is one of a few how can travel back and forth.

People aren't supposed to bring things back and forth with them, but it happens with unforeseen circumstances. A great read, and quick too!

If superheroes are more your cup of tea check out Vicious by the same author. I liked it very much (though not as much as this one).

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

This was probably my favorite fantasy book that I read in 2015. Now, it isn't for everyone because it is pretty brutal. The ending isn't satisfying if you're hoping for a good ending, but Baru is a great character and I thought the world building was very well done.

It reminded me very much of K.J. Parker, and that's a big compliment!

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Aurora is fantastic, and I'm pretty sure it'll be nominated for the Hugo. A clever tale of a generation ship falling apart with an interesting conceit. You should read it. Plus, this time around the main character isn't totally awful (until 2312, which I liked but can see how others might not).

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

I imagine somewhere the pitch for this book (which is soon to be a TV series) was something like, "Imagine the Game of Thrones only on the Mooooon!"

That gives you the flavor of the book, kind of, but undersells it. McDonald has been writing YA novels for a few years and I've read them. But I'm glad to have him back writing "adult fiction." This book is the start of a series and I look forward to reading the rest with great gusto.

Also, the opening scene of this book is just perfect.

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

Generally, I don't re-read things but I suggested we discuss The Foundation Trilogy on The Incomparable and other folks agreed (listen to the podcast).

I was a little worried that I wouldn't like the Foundation Trilogy anymore. I read it when I was in high school and it is pretty much responsible for my love of science fiction. Good news! I still love these three books, and if you haven't read them you should. Now. Go. Read them! Every library in the world probably has copies (not to mention used bookstores).

A world of technology, but I don't use email

Now, I'm no politics junkie, but I am a tech junkie. Here's a story about Philly's City elections chief planning to cash in on a pension plan.

People are upset because he never shows up at his office, or bothers to vote. That's not cool, but surely Clark can stay connected with a computer, smartphone, and an email account. Hmm, perhaps not so much the computer or email:

Clark said he does not use email and has no city-issued cellphone, but uses his personal phone to check in with his staff. He also reiterated his defense of working away from the office, saying, 'As an elected official, you get called to do different things. You're not just sitting at the desk. This is a world of technology; I'm always in communication.'

I guess he calls his office a lot? And talks to whoever in his office gets the emails that should be going to him but don't because he doesn't use email?

A world of technology, indeed.

Old Man McNulty

OldmanmcnultyRecently I've had two experiences that make me question my boyish good looks:

  1. My mom was in a physical rehab place for a few weeks in October, and so I would visit her fairly often. They served dinner there at about 5:30, which is when I would arrive if I visited right after work.

    Now, keep in mind that most of the patients there (i.e. all of them) were over 60 years old.

    This particular evening visit I was seated with my mom, and a few of her friends, in the dining room. It was me, my mom, a lady, and an older gentleman patient. The gentleman got tired of waiting and sort of walked off. One of the worker who was handing out the food came over to the table with a tray for the man. She looked at me and said, "Henry?" (the patient's name, though not really. Respect HIPAA, people).

    I assured her I wasn't the elderly gentleman in a wheelchair she had mistaken me for.

  2. I was headed to catch a Long Island Railroad train in Penn Station the other day. The track for the train I was getting was at the bottom of a long flight of stairs. At the top of the stairs was a woman, in her 50's, with 4 suitcases. As I was approaching two guys ahead of me offered to help her with one piece each. That left her with two pieces, so I offered to help her with one. She agreed and I grabbed a bag and carried it down.

    She met up with a group of her friends at the bottom of the stairs and started chatting with them. I boarded the train, and started to read my book.

    The woman, with her friends, boarded the same train car as me and sat down several rows ahead of me. The woman I helped started to talk about how amazed she was that strangers had helped her out. "Those two guys just came up and offered to help me with my bags! And then that old guy took the last one!

    It took me a second to realize I was the old guy in that story.

Papal Vacation: Rehoboth Beach

Given the forecast of millions of Papal pilgrims Marisa and I decided to head the heck out of town last weekend.

The week before the Pope's visit it looked like we made the right call given the signs we were seeing in our neighborhood:

Papal vacation

Papal vacation

Papal vacation

So we packed our bags:

Papal vacation

And headed to the beach:

Papal vacation

And looked at the ocean:

Papal vacation

We visited a couple of random stores, one of which had this interesting model:

Papal vacation

We saw a dolphin:

Papal vacation

And tried on some hats:

Papal vacation

Papal vacation

Sadly, we missed the yacht rock:

Papal vacation

But we did see the super moon:

Papal vacation

Papal vacation

And found some interesting soda:

Papal vacation

And had some almost butter:

Papal vacation

Running progress 2

Runscott5 months ago I posted that I was trying to get back to being able to run 3 miles in 30 minutes on the treadmill. Then, a funny thing happened. I had to run outside for a screen shot for my latest book (which I'll blog about later), and it wasn't awful.

I've shifted to running outside almost exclusively now (though it is rough in the summer, so I still hit the treadmill from time to time.. I plan to tonight!). I haven't hit a consistent 10 minute mile outside yet, in fact, I'm pretty far from it. However, I have been concentrating on distance over time. What does that mean?

It means I ran 7 flipping miles on Sunday! Which is crazy.

Even crazier? It didn't totally suck.

Overlooked Series

Kevin Hearne, author of the Iron Druid books, wrote a great post listing some underrated series of books for adults. He wrote this in reaction to having his own series of books listed on this Buzzfeed list of underrated YA series (which lists a bunch of stuff that isn't YA).

I love this idea, and it has inspired me to create my own list of underrated series, one of which appears on Kevin's list (he has good taste!).

The Iron Druid Chronicles

I'll start off listing Kevin's series: The Iron Druid Chronicles. I'm not generally a fan of Urban Fantasy, it isn't my bag. However, Atticus O'Sullivan, the ancient Druid who is the last of his kind, is a lot of fun to read about. And his dog is fantastic (this makes sense if you read the books).

Ok, these books aren't literary gems but they aren't meant to be. They are fast, fun reads. All I can say is that I read one in a couple of hours and then bought every single available novel right afterwards and devoured them all.

Books in the series:

The Glamourist Histories

Jane Austin with a touch of magic is how I describe Mary Robinette Kowal's The Glamourist Histories. That's true of the first book, though the later entries in the series have a heck of a lot more action than you'll find in an Austin book.

Jane and Vincent, the main characters, are glamourists (they can create illusions, and do so for installation in manor houses and the like) who are very much in love and end up in many interesting situations. These situations include everything from encountering Napoleon's army to being fleeced in Venice.

Sadly, the final installment of this series is coming out this month. I'll read it and look forward to what else Mary Robinette Kowal has in store for us.

Books in the series:

The Athenian Mysteries

I'm a sucker for a period mysteries series, and Gary Corby's The Athenian Mysteries fit the bill. Set in ancient Greece, the books follows Nicolaos who has a knack for solving mysteries but has trouble making a living out of it. Pericles is sort of his sponsor, though they have a fragile relationship. Oh, and did I mention Nicolaos has a young brother by the name of Socrates? Yeah, that Socrates.

Once again, these books are fun, light, quick reads that always entertain.

Books in the series:

The Paradox Trilogy

Rachel Aaron, writing as Rachel Bach, wrote a damn fine trilogy of scifi books called The Paradox Trilogy. Devi, the main character, has some sweet power armor and dreams of serving her King. Those dreams don't work out as she had hoped, but she does get to encounter some "monsters" and fall in love.

I enjoy the fact that these books feature a strong female protagonist who falls in love, but isn't super happy about it (it is very complicated, as you'll find out when you read it). Also, did I mention the sweet power armor? It is pretty sweet.

The books in the series:

Engineer Trilogy

I've said time and again that K.J. Parker books are great. The Engineer Trilogy follows an engineer who is exiled for creating things that are out of spec, and he get his revenge. A lot of revenge.

This is a fantasy series, but there isn't any magic to be found. There is a lot of blood, gears, and betrayal. This isn't a lighthearted read, but man is it compelling.

The books in the series:

Six Colors: How TiVo Roamio reached its potential

I love my TiVo (as I've said once or twice on this very blog). And I would seem Mr. Jason Snell is also loving his:

My family and I watch many YouTube videos on the TiVo, and all of my Netflix viewing these days is via the TiVo.

I enjoy flinging YouTube videos from my iPhone/iPad onto my TiVo so I can show Marisa Maru's latest hijinks (oh, that silly Japanese cat). And the Netflix app is good too, though I tend to use my Fire TV for streaming video (via Amazon Prime).

Comm Badges


I couldn't resist them (get it?). And they were cast from the original molds used for the props on TNG, DS9, and Voyager.

Marisa was disappointed that they don't beep when you tap them. I had to break it to her gently: they add those sounds in post-production.

Wrong on the iPhone 8 years ago, twice!

For some reason this tweet of mine from 8 years ago is making the rounds of a few folks on Twitter:

I was totally wrong, and oddly enough I tweeted that out shortly before I left Philly for the Macworld during which Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone:

And I was wrong again about the iPhone:

Ok, technically I've bought way more than one iPhone since then so I suppose it is correct.

Also, anyone else remember when you would tweet in the form of the answer to the question, "What are you doing?"