New (to me) Books

I was on vacation, and so I bought some books. Well, I bought about 28 books or so. Hey, most of them were used (and the new ones were from independent bookstores, so that's cool.. right?).

10 of those books cost me $2. Marisa and I went into Bull Moose Music and saw a bunch of mystery bags filled with themed books. I had to pick up a sci-fi and Star Trek bag because I'm me!

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The Star Trek bag had:

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If you'd like to buy them for yourself here are some links to Amazon:

And here's the sci-fi haul (which included a bonus Star Trek novel!):

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I've read a few of these (noted with asterisks) still, $1:

And here's a picture of all the books I bought in my travels. I'm not going to bother linking to all these books because I'm a lazy, lazy man.

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Vermont and Maine

Over the last two weeks I've been on vacation (hurrah for working at a University!). Since Marisa had some book events scheduled in Vermont and Maine she suggested I come along, and a vacation was born!

Sadly, over those two weeks I also had to finish the draft of my latest book (details, details). However, it worked out well since while Marisa was out being famous I could write, write, write (also, thanks to my trusty laptop I could write and edit while we were driving).

Our first stop was the Ben and Jerry's Factory tour:

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I like this motto:

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The Flavor Graveyard is where late lamented flavors go to die.

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The spoils of the tour! Honestly, the tour was fun but it lasts about 15 minutes and you don't see much. But they do give you a free sample.

Then it was off to Montpellier to visit the Vermont State House:

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Ethan Allen, famed for his fine furniture.

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Lincoln. Our tour was lead by a Vermont State representative. Who knew?

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Every governor gets his portrait on the wall of the State House. When this one of Howard Dean was unveiled it was dubbed "L.L. Dean":

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Back to the Bed and Breakfast which was right on the water:

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Then we scoped out Brunswick, ME and visited an indie bookstore:

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And Bull Moose where I bought two mystery packages of books (one marked Sci-Fi and the other marked Star Trek) and got 10 books for $2:

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Returned to the Bed and Breakfast. This place was great, and we had lovely conversations at breakfast. Two old ladies who have been friends for over 50 years have vacationed together here for the last 12 years. Crazy!

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Our dinner views:


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Lobster dip:

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I could have gotten a lobster roll here, or two full lobsters but I opted for the lazy lobster tails. They were great:


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I couldn't resist:

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The next morning included delicious donuts from Frosty's:

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Then it was off to Portland. As we drove to our hotel we passed this place:

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I thought to myself, I wouldn't want to eat there! But Yelp told me that Three Buoys had a great lobster roll so we went there for lunch. Yelp was not wrong:

We went to Eventide Oyster Company for a much more upscale dinner:



The lobster roll was fine, but this ice cream sandwich was really good:


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When in Portland you're super close to L.L. Bean's flagship store which is gigantic and open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We decided to check it out around 10pm:

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I purchased both of these items.

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I did not purchase this:

When in Portland you have to see a lighthouse. On our way to the lighthouse I had my first Tim Horton's doughnut. It was fine.

This is Fort Williams Park:

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A great time was had by all, and I kind of want to move to a cove in Maine or anywhere in Vermont.


Podcast appearances

When you host your own podcast (Random Trek, you should listen!) a funny thing happens: people start inviting you onto their podcasts.

I suppose it makes sense, really. When I think about inviting someone onto Random Trek I skew towards people I know will be able to hold up a conversation, so having podcasting experience is a good thing. Now, some might say, "But, Scott, you've been on the Incomparable forever! Shouldn't people have invited you onto their podcasts based on that?"

No. Why not? Well, I don't talk a whole heck of a lot on most Incomparable episodes that I am on. So, as a host looking for potential guests I wouldn't consider me either based on those appearances.

Anyway, a couple of people have been foolish enough to invite me on their podcasts as of late:


The other funny thing about having a podcast is that people ASK to be on it. This is something that has never even occurred to me, to be honest. I listen to a fair number of podcasts and I don't think I've ever emailed/contacted the host and suggested I be on (well, other than Your Daily Lex, but that suggestion was a joke which came true. I'm on episode 3!).

I don't think there's anything wrong with it; it just isn't something I would do. Maybe I should be emailing people asking to be on their shows!


Random Trek

Rt250I had this crazy idea: I should do a podcast in which I would be joined by a guest (a single guest) and discuss a random episode of Star Trek.

I know what you're thinking, "That doesn't sound too crazy." Well, here's the thing, if I'm best known for anything in the world of podcasts it is my silence. I'm not a naturally chatty person and since most of my podcasting appearances involve panel discussions I can sometimes fade into the background. The idea that I should host a podcast and be joined by only one other person seemed daunting to me (I thought the random Star Trek part was a pretty good idea right from the start).

I did what I do whenever I have a crazy idea: I told Marisa about. Since she has had at least three non-consecutive successful conversations with me about a variety of subjects she didn't think the idea was crazy. In fact, she encouraged me to do something about it.

That's the other thing about my crazy ideas: they usually stay ideas. I don't think I'm alone in this tendency. Sadly, for me, I'm also a classic over-thinker. I think about stuff for a long time before doing anything (you can ask Marisa about this too!).

Emboldened by Marisa's support of the idea I thought about it some more. I pondered who would be a good first guest for awhile and the answer became clear: Jason Snell.

Jason, in addition to being a huge Star Trek fan, is a doer. I figured if he was into the idea the likelihood of it actually becoming a thing would be greatly increased.

Jason did, in fact, like the idea and in turn motivated me to actually do something about it. I registered a domain, I got a Twitter account, and then I thought about it some more.

Now, as I was pondering the podcast Jason launched The Incomparable family of podcasts (The Incomparable, Not Playing, Total Party Kill, and teevee). Random Trek had found a home.

Now you can listen to the first episode (you totally should) and I'm very excited about the whole thing.

Look for new episodes of Random Trek every Thursday for the next 680 weeks or so (assuming there isn't a new Star Trek series released over the coming 13 years).


My Hugo reading strategy

Hugonoms

John Scalzi posted his Hugo reading strategy, so I thought I'd post my plan of attack this year.

As in past years, Jason Snell is forcing me to read all the Hugo nominated novels (ok, he isn't forcing me but we have entered into a strange pact wherein we both read all of them and talk about them on the Incomparable with others who generally lack the fortitude to read all the works. Listen to 2013, 2012, and 2011. Also, I can't believe this will be the fourth time we're doing this!).

This year is an odd year for the Hugos (my friend Barry points out that I say that every year, but this year I mean it). Since the Hugo nominations are open to anyone with a WorldCon membership, wacky things can get nominated given an author's popularity.

Now, I should say that given this is how the Hugos are set up I have nothing against any author for rallying the troops and getting themselves on the ballot. Kudos to them, I say! However, it doesn't mean I'm going to read everything that's nominated (more on that in a moment).

The other oddity this year is the nomination of an entire series as best novel. That's wacky, and I won't be reading all 14,000 Wheel of Times books.

Here are the nominated novels, some thoughts about them and if I am going to actually read them:

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie - Not only did I read this book already, but I was one of the people who nominated it. Given that this is the only book on the list I've read thus far I can't say I will definitely vote for it, but I'm probably going to vote for it. I spoke about it on an episode of the Incomparable if you'd like to hear some learned opinions about the book from my fellow panelists.

Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross - Mr. Stross is an author whose books I've purchased but I don't think I've ever actually read. I didn't even know this book existed, so I don't have an opinion about it. I am glad to see I was wrong in thinking it is a sequel. It seems as though it is a standalone book in a loose series, so I'll be reading it and probably voting for Ancillary Justice.

Parasite by Mira Grant - Oh, Mira Grant. I actually figured that this book would be nominated because Grant's audience REALLY likes her work. I REALLY disliked her Newsflesh series but hope springs eternal. I might like this version of her one voiced characters facing zombies better. But if someone drinks a Coke and pokes something with a stick I might just stop reading and walk away.

Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia - This is a controversial nomination because Larry posted a list of works on his website and suggested that his readers vote for them. I have nothing against that tactic given what the Hugos are, though I do find it a bit ingenious that Larry spins it as an experiment to see if the voting was rigged to keep politically conservative authors off the ballot. Anyway, I don't really care about that but I do care that this book is the 3rd in a series and I haven't read book 1 or 2. I am probably going to skip reading this book because of that (and not because of the so called controversy surrounding it, I have no trouble separating the author from the work).

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson - If I were a betting man I'd put my money on this series to win. That being said I attempted to read the first book in this series long ago and couldn't get through it. It won't get my vote, and I have no plans on attempting to read it.

There you have it, since absolutely no one asked me about the Hugos but NOW YOU KNOW!


15 recent book purchases

Kindlebooks

I like to read, though I seem to acquire books at a far faster rate than I can ever hope to read. The Kindle hasn't helped this at all, though now the books take up less space (I still buy physical books too, though).

Anyway, here is a list of the last 15 books I've purchased for my Kindle. I'll include a quick thought about the book if I have read it:


Chrome answers the question, "Where the hell is that sound coming from?"

MenubarThe invention of the browser tab radically changed the way I browse the Internet, mostly for the better. I now often have two or two browser windows open with upwards of 25 sites open.

One of the downsides of having multiple windows with multiple tabs open is that sometimes one of those sites starting playing music/sound and you have no idea which one is responsilble.

Chrome, my browser of choice, has recently added a little speaker icon to any tab that is currently playing audio. This makes me so happy that I should probably take a good look at my life. A small, small feature which has made my browsing much, much better.

Thanks, Google. You're still kinda creepy, but your Chrome team is doing good work!


Manage Your Kindle gets facelift

I'm a big fan of Amazon's Kindle (as you all know). I'm less of a fan of Amazon's management tools for said Kindle, all found at Manage Your Kindle.

If case you haven't used Manage Your Kindle before (and I'm willing to bet most Kindle users haven't) it allows you to delete ebooks, send them to particular Kindles and even download a book to your computer and transfer it to your Kindle via USB.

Here's what it used to look like (and still does in Chrome for me):

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The design isn't very exciting, but that's not my main issue with the old MYK site. You couldn't perform actions on multiple books, so if you wanted to delete 3 books from your library you had to click on the drop down for each and then click delete. I don't have time for 6 clicks!

The new version makes that a thing of the past, and looks much nicer (at the moment I'm only seeing this in Safari):

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A lovely gird of your book covers is displayed by default. Click on a book and it gets a little green check mark. Click on another one, and another check mark appears. Then you can click on one of the action buttons and have that action apply to all the selected items. Magic:

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Amazon has also made it easier to find details about your Kindles by displaying all of your them along the top of the page. Clicking on one Kindle allows you to deregister it (if you want to have someone else use it with their Amazon account), your Kindle's email address (you did know you can email documents to your Kindle, right?), and the type and serial number.

It is also now much easier to turn off Special Offers (i.e. ads) on your Kindles that sport them, just by clicking a link and paying a few bucks:

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Well done, Amazon!


Best tech upgrade: our livingroom

Bb13I watch a lot of television and I don't mind saying so. TV has a bad reputation, but there are plenty of great things to watch (and plenty of not so great things... I watch my fair share of vapid TV as well, and I like it!).

We've had a perfectly fine setup for awhile now. A 42 inch HDTV connected to a home theater receiver with an Apple TV and Bluray player attached to round out our options. The whole setup was fine, if a bit fiddly. You had to change inputs on the TV and switch the inputs on the receiver if you wanted to watch Netflix via the Apple TV and then switch to another set of inputs for the Bluray player.

This isn't the biggest deal in the world, of course, but it was a bit of a pain. I purchased a fancy Logitech universal remote that would do all the switching with the press of one button, in theory. Sadly, it worked about 70% of the time. This drove Marisa crazy, and I wasn't too thrilled with it myself.

I longed for one box to rule them all: be my DVR, Netflix box, and Amazon Instant box. I've often considered a TiVo but none of the models really seemed worth it until the TiVo Roamio Plus.

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We've had the TiVo for 3 months now and I never want to go back to those dark days before the TiVo was in our lives (and Marisa even likes it!). It makes watching Netflix a breeze, and the Guide is great. I also enjoy the fact that the TiVo just goes out and records shows it thinks we might enjoy (and sometimes ashamed of what it thinks I like to watch!).

The only issues I have with TiVo are minor: it doesn't support Amazon Instant video, just rentals (though I hear there might be some news about added support soon) and some of the screens aren't in HD which boggles the mind.

Now that we had a new fancy TiVo my mind starting to think about the TV attached to it. It had served us well, but there was a line across the top of the screen that could only be seen from a certain angle. Now, I never watched TV at this angle but it was one of those things that can't be unseen once seen. It bothered me, but Marisa thought it was silly.

Thus began the great campaign to convince that we needed a new TV. Things were going poorly, I must admit, until Marisa's royalty statement arrived. A new TV was in order, and I knew just the TV to get: Panasonic VIERA 50" Plasma.

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This one of them fancy smart TVs with 3D (which is kinda neat, but more annoying since the TV seems to get easily confused about what a 3D signal is and alerts us far too often that 2D content is 3D).

The picture is fantastic, and while it is larger than our old TV it is much lighter which is nice.

Now that we had a lovely new TV and a wonderful TiVo our setup was streamlined a bit, but we still had that cumbersome receiver. I asked Joe, my AV go to guy, what I should replace our home theater with and he said to go with a sound bar.

That settled it, and I picked up a Sonos Playbar which was lovely. But I missed surround sound, so I bought 2 Play:1s. And then I had a chance (thanks to my friend John) to pick up some Sonos gear at a discount so I bought a SUB. I am now living the Sonos dream, as depicted on their website:

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Sonos stuff is pricey, but it is a breeze to setup and so easy to use. Plus, it sounds pretty darned good to me.

Overall, 2013 made for a gigantic upgrade to our home theater setup. And best of all: Marisa likes it and can easily switch between all of our different media options.

Score one for the inevitable progress of technology.


Best Gadget I don't use: Chromecast

Bb13I'm celebrating all the things I liked in 2013 with a series of posts I'm cleverly calling 2013 in Review. Click that link to see all the entries.

I'm a bit of a gadget hound, and I've bought a bunch of them over the course of 2013. Some I love and use everyday, others not so much.

ChromecastThe odd duck of the group is the gadget that I love yet have no real use case for: Google's Chromecast.

The Chromecast is a $35 doohickey which you plug into an HDMI port on your HDTV. It connects to your WiFi network and then you can stream a variety of things from your computer/smartphone/tablet with a couple taps.

Setup is simple, it works like a charm, and I would recommend it for anyone looking for a simple way to stream Youtube videos of Maru or Netflix to their TV (especially if that person is an Android user).

If I love the Chromecast so much why don't I marry it? Or at least, why am I not using it regularly? Well, I'm already married and my TiVo has replaced the Chromecast. The TiVo trumps the Chromecast for me because it does live TV, records stuff, streams Netflix, and allows me to throw a YouTube video on my TV all without having to change sources (it is also much, much more expensive than the Chromecast so there's that).


Bookstores aren't for talking


Yesterday, along with the rest of Philadelphia's populace, I was out doing some last minute holiday shopping. I went to several stores, as you do, and found some great presents for my loved ones.

Somehow, I found myself in a used bookstore (this one, if you're curious) browsing through the science fiction novels. Now, when I'm in a bookstore, or generally any place, I'm not looking to interact with other people. I'm just there to look at books, dude.

As I was looking at the books a guy walked up, and started checking out the same shelf of books. This is a common occurrence, so I did what you do: stepped back so the gentleman could have more books in his field of vision. We stood side by side in silence, as is my preference. But I sensed this guy wanted to talk to me.

"Are you looking for a good science fiction book," random dude asked me.

Since I was in a bookstore looking at the science fiction section this was a pretty safe bet.

"Sure," I said though I have been taught never to talk to strangers.

"Have you read anything by Greg Bear? Eon is really good. He got some stuff wrong about the future since it's one of those books where the future he was writing about is our present, but he did predict iPads. Didn't see the fall of the Soviet Union, though."

Book wisdom dispensed he walked off into the mystery section and proceeded to talk to himself loudly. At least I assume he was talking to himself, though as I type this now it seems at least possible that he was continuing to talk to me since we were only separated by a bookshelf. I didn't talk back though, since he couldn't see me which I consider a clear signal that a conversation is over (if I ever close my eyes while you're talking to me in person now you know why).

Long story short, I bought Eon because why the heck not? Plus it sounded pretty interesting and it only cost $3.


iMessage forever

Iphone Over the last few weeks I've mulled over the options for my next smartphone. I pretty much settled on the Moto X as Scott McNulty's Top Next Smartphone for a number of reasons. I read the reviews, checked the specs, and even visited Best Buy to see how the Moto X felt in my hand. All of this research really got me to thinking about the series of choices which lead me outside an AT&T store in downtown Philadelphia a few Friday mornings ago waiting in line to buy my next phone: an iPhone 5s.

It was the apps, right?

Conventional wisdom goes something like: once you've used an iPhone for a while you're locked in because of all those sweet, sweet apps you've bought. It is true that I've purchased a nontrivial number of apps of the years and I was loathed to "lose" that money.

Being a fairly logical fellow I figured I should take an inventory of which apps I actually used on a regular basis to make sure I wouldn't miss anything running with the Android. I was shocked at the answer. It would seem that I spend the vast amount of my time using my iPhone to surf the web, check email, and tweet.

That's pretty much it, and I accomplish most of that using either stock apps or free apps. All the other apps I've purchased are nice but I hardly ever use them.

The few additional apps I do use (Evernote, Kindle) are big names available on every platform imaginable so they wouldn't hold me back. They're even available on Windows phones, for goodness sake!

Android is just icky

Nexus 7I've used a number of Android devices over the years, and it wasn't a very pleasant experience. iOS and the iPhone were light years ahead in every aspect. This all changed when Google's latest Nexus 7 appeared in my life. The Nexus 7 showed me that Android has matured, and it is pretty darned good. For the first time ever I could imagine myself using an Android phone every day without wanting to claw my eyes out (or toss the phone into a nearby body of water).

Despite the non-suckitude of modern versions of Android I still bought an iPhone for one simple reason.

iMessage for you, sir.

Apple iOS 7 Messages 2Over the last few weeks my lovely wife has had to navigate the choppy waters of my smartphone decision with me. She's sat quietly as I explained all the cool things the Moto X does, and my reservations about iOS 7 (most of which have evaporated now that I've spent time with iOS 7). She nodded her head and said she didn't really care what phone I used as long I was happy. Awww.

Then it happened. She was texting with her sister when she looked up at me and said, "Wait. If you get an Android phone will I be able to send you iMessages from my Mac and iPad?"

She was so sad at the thought of having to send me regular text messages, like a Visigoth, that I quickly realized that it wasn't the apps, or the design, of the lickablity of iOS that would keep me on the platform: it was how seamlessly iMessage had established itself as a critical way of keeping in touch with my wife that would keep me from switching.

I use iMessage countless times a day to text my wife random pictures, a random emoji of a little dancing lady, and sometimes to tell her important information. Of course I could still do these things from an Android phone but it wouldn't be as seamless, and I'd have to up my text messaging plan.

iMessage was the reason I bought myself an iPhone 5s, despite my wandering eye. Luckily, this is one sweet phone so it isn't as though this is a selfless act. Part of me, though, still yearns to try out an Android phone full time. Perhaps when Apple releases a version of iMessage for Android. I mean that's worked out so well for Blackberry.