Head On Over to Blogspot

This was just a temporary home for the blog. To read current posts, head on over toΒ  http://brycesramblings.blogspot.com/ Thanks for reading!

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Thoughts on Technology

Another blog entry bleed over from my  library blog. I write about technology advancements on Tuesdays, and I had some thoughts that I thought some of you might be interested in, as well. Here’s the post:

The past week or two have been big ones in terms of technology updates. It all started last week with Apple’s announcement of iPhone 4, the latest version of their hit smart phone. This new iteration comes complete with a higher resolution screen, a front facing camera (making video phone calls possible), a high resolution camera on the back (for HD video and picture taking, and the ability for multitasking (running more than one app on the phone at the same time). In addition, Apple brought its popular ebook app (iBook) to the iPhone (it was previously only available on the iPad). Of course, the impact this will have here in our neck of the woods isn’t too terribly big. iPhones, of course, only work with AT&T, which isn’t a carrier out here. What’s the point in having an expensive piece of technology if it’s unusable? My personal dream is for Apple to ink a deal with Verizon, at which point I’d switch my current cell phone over to an iPhone. There were rumblings that such a deal might be in the works, but alas, it was not to be.

One might wonder what sort of steps Mantor is taking to prepare for the rush of people using smart phones to access our content. Well, let me answer that question with some statistics. In the past year and a half, we’ve had over 130,000 visitors to our library website. Of those, 35 came from a smart phone or an iPad. That might as well be 0, as far as percents are concerned. The fact of the matter is that the smart phone revolution hasn’t moseyed its way up here to Western Maine yet. When it does, we’ll be ready–have no fear. I’d love to develop a mobile web page, for one thing–but until I see usage that warrants me devoting a chunk of my time to doing it, I just can’t justify the effort.

Moving on.

In a different vein, this week is the Electronics Entertainment Expo, also known as E3. It’s the biggest showcase for new and upcoming video games. Big names like Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony reserve some of their biggest announcements for this venue. This year promises to be the year of motion sensing, with Microsoft and Sony both launching new motion sensing peripherals to their gaming systems. Think of it like the Wii, but more refined. What does this have to do with libraries? In the near future, not so much (besides the possibility of libraries hosting game nights that use these video games to draw in new users). In the long term, possibly a great deal.

Allow me to explain. Think of most sci-fi movies you watch. They often have some sort of advanced technology for interacting with computers and information. Whether it’s using your whole body to maneuver through files (ala Minority Report) or speaking to the computer to get it to do what you want (ala Star Trek), people in the future don’t use silly things like mice and keyboards to interact with technology. Imagine a library where you tell it what your research question is, and it assembles all the needed resources and delivers them directly to you. Or maybe a library where you can browse the shelves from your seat, using your hands and eyes to virtually move through the stacks.

I’m not sure how much of that is realistic. So much of this motion capture and voice activated technology is so new, I think a lot of applications are being developed for it that just don’t make sense. Think of the early days of motion pictures, when people would go to the theater to watch a film of a train. No plot, no action–just a train chugging along. These people could just as easily have gone to the train station and watched a real live train in person–arguably a better experience, and free to boot–but the technology was so new, it was cooler to watch a train on film. Time went by, and we no longer have people staring entranced at filmed trains.

What I mean is that often when a new piece of technology comes out, we use it for things that make little sense. There are cases where using a pen and paper is much more reasonable than using a laptop. The same will apply to motion capture. Why should I have to stand somewhere and flail about with my arms and legs when I can accomplish the same task with a single mouse click? See what I mean?

In any case, I’ll be following these advancements closely–so you don’t have to. πŸ™‚

Heard about something that you’d like my opinion about? Think I’m off base on something I’ve said today? Tell me about it! What technology are you looking forward to?

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I received some money as an inheritance from my grandfather a bit ago, and since I got it, I’ve been trying to decide what to do with it. Should I use it to buy something physical–a new sofa, or something like that? Or maybe put it toward a family experience–a trip somewhere, perhaps? After much hemming and hawing, I decided to invest it, which is something I think my grandfather would have heartily approved of. My first inclination was to put it all into a single stock, but after speaking with my financial planner brother, I decided that was a bad idea, and I ended up opening a Roth IRA. Why did I do this? For a couple of reasons.

  • First, there was a minimum amount required to open a Roth IRA, and this minimum amount happened to be the exact amount I had inherited, thus making it so that the inheritance really truly allowed me to do something I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
  • Second, Roth IRAs are non-taxable when you start to use them at retirement.
  • Third, you can withdraw the principal (not the interest) at any time, penalty free.

I put the Roth IRA into an ETF, which is another something my brother suggested. What kind of ETF? An international EFA. I debated trying to figure out what all the letters meant, but in the end I decided to go with my brother’s recommendation. After all, he does it for a living. I’m just a librarian. I’m not planning on touching that money for the next thirty some odd years or so. Who knows how much it’ll be worth by then? The idea of being able to use it years later and still remember my grandfather at that point . . . that appeals to me. Thank you, Grandpa!

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Book Reviews: Catching Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Catching Fire (Hunger Games, #2) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this book, and I thought it was a great followup to Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins does a fine job extending the problems and challenges that were yet to be solved from the first book. However, it didn’t quite have the same OH MY GOSH THIS IS SO AWESOME feeling as the first book. The problem is, I can’t really get into why it lacked that feeling without spoiling the book for readers, and I firmly believe that spoiling this book would be wrong. Thus, I can’t really critique it effectively.What I will say is this: if you liked the first book, you must read this one, as well. I think you’re pretty much contractually obligated to. And if you read this one, you’ll need to read the next one, as well. If I had to compare this series to a film series, I’d say right now it’s coming off as the Matrix. The first one was mind blowingly good. The second one was good–but overhyped. I’m not saying Catching Fire was overhyped, but . . . it’s not Hunger Games.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millenium, #3) The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I think the highest praise I can give this book comes in the way I read it: in a single day, staying up until 3am–on a work night!–to finish it. It really is that good. Larsson’s characters are all compelling, and the conflicts they find themselves in compel you to keep reading–to find out what happens next. This is something I wish I could do a better job of as a writer–making my plots good enough that putting the book down is not an option.

If I had one complaint about the book, it would be that it lacks a tad in the realism department, although most of that is centered on the gripe I had from book two in the series, where the characters started seeming a tad superhuman to me. (Lisbeth particularly started seeming like the Terminatrix at the end of book two.) Some of that carries over to this book, but Larsson does the wise thing and starts using realistic approaches to solving the problems.

In the end, I was wholly satisfied with the book and the series. It’s not for the faint of heart–definitely chock full o’ bad language and violence–but it’s a great book. Very tragic that Larsson died before any of us got to see how good a writer he really was.

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Leatherman Surge

I’m a Leatherman junkie. I freely admit it. Since high school (maybe even before–I can’t remember), I’ve always had a Leatherman attached to my belt. Why? Well, why not? You never know when one of these little puppies is gonna come in handy. Like the time I was in Germany and wanted to use the phone, but I couldn’t because the phone card slot already had a card stuck in it. I whipped out my Leatherman, got out the pliers, and took out the card. Problem solved. That sort of thing happens all the time to me–not being stuck in a German phone booth, but rather seeing a need for a Leatherman and being able to fill that need right away. Certainly at my current job, it comes in handy. Yes, even as a Librarian. Anyway–I use it all the time.

My first Leatherman was the Super Tool.This beast accompanied me through high school, then went off to Germany with me. It introduced me to the wonders of a Leatherman. Pliers, knives, files, screwdrivers, wire cutters–it had everything I could think of, and for years, we were happy. But then, something changed. New Leathermen started coming out. Leathermen that had scissors. Leathermen with blades you could open up without having to unfold everything else. Leathermen with easily locking and unlocking blades. I admit, I added a second tool to the fold: the Wave. I didn’t completely abandon the Super Tool (I still use it sometimes, since its sheath is more discreet), but the Wave became my go to tool. I built lawn furniture, dismantled closets, fixed sound systems and more. Its knives were so easy to get to, and those scissors–while not ergonomically ideal–were great for snipping loose ends. I didn’t think I’d ever give up my Wave.

Until tragedy struck, in the form of the security line at the Philadelphia International Airport.

As you all know, I hate flying. (Can I trademark that phrase yet?) When I know a flight’s coming up, my insides clench, my stomach roils, and a sheen of sweat covers my palms for days in advance. I stop thinking rationally. I’m no fun to be around. This last vacation down to Florida was no different. In my flight-induced panic, I made an error I’d only made once before in my life: I left my Leatherman on my belt. In fact, I didn’t even realize my mistake until I’d gone through the metal detector the third time, and it kept beeping. Do I have a metal plate in my head? I wondered. Did the government install a tracking beacon? And then it hit me: I still had my Wave. Once, when I flew from Cairo down to Luxor in Egypt, I’d made this same mistake. They apprehended my deadly Wave, and I thought it was gone forever. But on my return to Cairo, I was reunited with it in joyful bliss.

Philadelphia doesn’t roll like that.

My Wave was taken from me, and I shall never see it again. Let us all have a moment of silence for my Leatherman Wave, no doubt gracing the belt of some greedy little aviation security worker these days.


Thank you.

Time moves on, as time is known to do. I still had my Super Tool, but it wasn’t enough for me. I needed that easily accessible blade. And those scissors! So what did I do? I got a third Leatherman: the Surge. And we loves it, yes we do. My precious. The scissors are better. It has interchangeable screwdriver bits. Replaceable saw blades. Bigger knives! A ruler on the edge! Easy to lock and unlock everythings! A compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time! I’ve already taken a door out of a frame, worked on a sick computer, sliced open numerous bags, and more.

I look forward to many happy years. Thank you, Leatherman!

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Way Too Busy Wednesdays

It’s Wednesday again, and I’m swamped. So in honor of yesterday’s election, I just wanted to link to an election-inspired poster we can all agree with. See you all tomorrow!

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iPad Review

I wrote the review for my library blog and thought you all would be interested in reading it, as well. Enjoy!

As some of you know, I purchased an iPad about a month ago. This was by no means an easy purchase for me. The things aren’t cheap, after all ($499 for the base model), and I don’t exactly have money growing on trees out back. However, I really really really wanted one, and I was able to scrounge up enough to cover the cost. Even then, I debated in Best Buy for quite some time. Was I buying into the hype too much? Would I regret spending the money? I’m quite the gadget junkie, and I didn’t want to look back a month later on my purchase and wonder why I’d been so stupid as to fall for the advertising. Even with all that hesitation, I took the plunge and bought one.

It’s now a month later, and I feel like I’ve used the thing long enough to be able to accurately review it.

The short answer (for those of you with short attention spans and no desire to read a long review) is that I love it. If I’d known then how much I would use and love my iPad, I wouldn’t have hesitated a moment in Best Buy. Anyone on the fence should stop hesitating and start getting out their wallets. End of short answer.

The Long Answer

If you’re still with me, I assume that’s because you’re very interested in hearing the nitty gritty details about the iPad, and what my take is on all of them. Have no fear, dear reader–all your questions shall be answered.

Perhaps the biggest question my wife had for me before I bought my iPad was “What will you use it for?” I now know the answer: everything. I use my iPad multiple times a day for a variety of reasons. Allow me to demonstrate:

Surfing the Web
Really, there’s no comparison to the surfing experience you get on an iPad. It’s like you’re holding the internet in your hand, and that makes it feel like a much more interactive experience. Web pages are big enough to read without needing to zoom and scroll all over the screen (like you need to do with an iPhone). The loading times are fast, and the control intuitive. What don’t I like about the web experience? Well, obviously there’s the omission of Flash–Apple and Adobe are having a bit of a spat right now about Flash (a piece of software that allows websites to be more interactive and, well . . . flashy. It’s used quite a bit by many different sites.) Apple says it’s buggy. Adobe says it’s fine. In the end, it doesn’t matter what Adobe says–it’s Apple’s sandbox, and if they don’t want Adobe to play in it, they don’t have to let them. Do I miss flash? Not really. With the single exception of homestarrunner.com, I have yet to have gone to a site where I couldn’t use my iPad.

No, I haven’t given up all my print books yet, but I’ve put the ereader app Apple includes with iPad to the test (iBooks) to see how it runs, and I have no complaints at all. It’s easily legible, you can adjust the brightness, font style and size at will, and it’s a breeze to navigate through the books. Better yet, it passed the “Sleepy Test” for me. I read before I go to sleep each night, and I had heard from some people that reading from a screen would never let me get tired in the same way reading from a printed page will, since the screen is lit up and firing light into my eyes all the time. Hogwash. I got tired just fine, thank you very much. It really felt no different than reading form a book–and that’s the highest compliment I can give it. When the technology is good enough for you to forget you’re using it, you know you have a winner.

You can stream Netflix from your iPad. It does so effortlessly. You can also interact with your queue and see everything on your account. The screen is big enough for the wife and I to watch together. If you’re a Netflix streaming junkie like myself, this alone is huge.

They look amazing on the iPad. Up until now, I’ve always felt guilty that I haven’t been printing more of my pictures. I take great ones, and they stay on my computer. Now I don’t have to print them–I have them in my hand to show people whenever I want. This is an experience that was good on the iPhone, but great on the iPad–just like having a small picture isn’t as good as having the same one, bigger. Make sense? Plus, the iPad can double as a digital picture frame. You set it up, and it’ll cycle through the pictures on it. Love it.

Oh yeah–it plays music, too. Did I mention that?

Since the iPad can run iPhone apps as well, you have all the iPhone apps you love, and more. I have an imdb app, a calorie counting app, weather app, comic book apps, news apps, cookbook apps, finance apps, a Facebook app, espn app, word puzzle apps, game apps–and I use them all. This has in many cases eliminated my need to check something on the web–I can just pull up the appropriate app and have the info I’m looking for more quickly than I’ve been able to get to it before. A complaint I do have is that many of the iPad apps have inflated prices, it seems. They have the same functionality as their iPhone counterparts, but they cost five times the price? For better graphics? No thanks. I buy the iPhone app and run it instead.

Video Games
Games on the iPad are plentiful, with many free options that are great, and paid ones that don’t break your bank. When you’re used to shelling out $60 for a game, and then find you can get the same amount of fun out of one that costs $1.99 . . . you start going for the $1.99 option. I’m considering just asking for iTunes gift cards for my birthday, then using them to buy apps and games I love.

Board Games.
This is huge for me. Board game companies are starting to migrate toward the iPad, and that just makes sense. Carcassonne and Small World and Settlers of Catan are already there, each for $5. It’s also got your more standard fare, like Scrabble or Boggle. Games that can cost $30-$50, now just $5? And I don’t have to set them up and worry about losing pieces? Love it. I can’t wait for more to follow.

The Battery
My iPad charge lasts forever, or at least it seems to. Until now, I’ve always felt like I needed to ration my battery life–regardless of what device I was using. I knew in the back of my mind that if I used _______ too much, I’d be out of juice, and then I couldn’t use ________ until I plugged it in again. Not so with my iPad. It lasts 10 hours–and that’s 10 hours of constant use. I can go days without recharging it, even when I’m using it quite a bit on those days. That’s lovely. I adore the iPad battery.

All of this amounts to one remarkable thing: I’m using my laptop a whole lot less. If I want to check something online, my iPad can be up and running in a fraction of the time it takes my laptop to rouse itself out of hibernation. I don’t have to worry about the battery dying on me, either–and that’s a huge plus, as I’ve said before.

I can now just open my iPad and check my email–and respond to it–easily and quickly. This is an equivalent experience to email interaction on my iPod Touch.

The onscreen keyboard is fairly easy to use. It’s not perfect, but with some practice, you get the hang of it. I’ve written my journal on it so far, but I haven’t put it to the test and done any really long writing on it. I have a feeling that might get frustrating. However, it comes equipped with Bluetooth, so you could hook an exterior keyboard up to it, if you desired.

There aren’t many for me to speak of. I would like to have a camera on it somewhere–ideally two, like the iPhone 4 will have. A USB port would also be nice (although if you buy an iPad camera connection kit, it gives you a USB port with limited functionality). But really, this is getting nitpicky. I mean, expecting one device to literally do everything is a bit much, isn’t it? In the end, I am 100% satisfied with my purchase. I don’t consider myself to be an Apple fanboy–my laptop and desktop both run Windows, not OSX–but I appreciate what Apple has done. Actually, it’s what they’ve done with the iPod and iPhone–took an existing technology and made it irresistible.

So what are you doing? Go out and buy an iPad today! Got any more questions for me about them? Ask away. Disagree with something I said? Correct me. I’d love to hear what you all have to say.

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Since all the house work we did on the garage last fall, we’ve had four separate piles of scrap wood littering our lawn. Not little piles, either. They seemed to grow over time, as we piled fallen branches and added other pieces of scrap here and there. I kept putting off the fire, worried it was going to be too long and take too much time.

It took a while, certainly, but only five hours of hard work. Friday I headed to the fire department and picked up a permit, and then when I got home, I lit the biggest pile on fire and took the other piles over to it. The flames got pretty high–probably about seven feet or so at times. Looking back on it, I would have liked to have the fire a bit further from my house. There was one panicked moment when I saw flames trickling over toward the garage, but the hose took care of that. πŸ™‚

In any case, the piles have magically disappeared, and it’s wonderful not to have to stare at them when I drive into the garage each day.

Wish I’d done it sooner.

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Book Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Let me start by saying I’m a sucker for Salem. Any book that has the witch trials as a part of it is going to earn an extra bit in my rating, just because it’s something I’m interested in. (Just as any book that is primarily a romance will score lower for me–I don’t like the genre.) Why do I like Salem? A part of it has to do with the fact that I’m related to a witch. Or an accused witch, at least. Giles Corey refused to enter a plea when he was accused. Since according to law at the time, he couldn’t be tried until a plea was entered, he was tortured until he would. The torture? They laid him down in a field, placed a wooden board on him, and stacked heavy rocks on it until he broke down. Oh yeah–and they only let him eat rotten bread and stagnant water. He never broke down, though. His last words? ‘More weight.’ Yeah. I have cool ancestors.

Anyway, so with that disclaimer, on to the review. The book seesaws between the present day and Salem witch trial times. Much of it rests on a developing mystery, so I don’t want to really get into the plot to much. If you’re looking for summary, look elsewhere. I enjoyed the book for the most part. I think without my Salem-leanings, I’d give it three stars. With them, I raised it to four (out of five). What worked for me? The historical accuracy of the novel. Howe makes a lot of effort to portray things as realistically as possible. The characters were well done, and the descriptions clear and vivid. I particularly enjoyed how well minor characters were pulled off, each of them seeming to be real people, not just parts brought in to fulfill a role the author needed filled. That’s a tricky line to walk without letting minor characters take over the book, and Howe walks it well.

What didn’t work? The ending fell apart for me some. A book that rests as much in mystery as this one does will succeed or fail primarily based on the resolution of that mystery. The resolution left me with a meh feeling, which was disappointing. It wasn’t bad, per se–but it certainly wasn’t mind-blowing. Some of the characterizations at the end fell apart, as well.

(Pet peeve of the book? Howe’s portrayal of librarians. The woman seems to have had her share of bad run ins with my profession, and she doesn’t paint us in too bright a light. We’re not all stuffy self-centered shh’ers, Ms. Howe!)

In any case, if you like mysteries, historical novels, witches or grad students (the main character is a history doctoral student), this will be a good read for you.

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Giving Buffy a Second Try

Denisa and I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer last night. We’d tried this before, but didn’t get past the first four episodes or so. It just wasn’t enough to hold our attention, and we gave it up. However, enough people who I know and respect swear by this show, and I’d heard since that it improves in later seasons–that it took some time for the show to really get its feet under it. I can appreciate that, so this time we skipped season one and went right on to season two. Got through two episodes last night. The first one was underwhelming, but I really want to give this show its fair shot, so we kept at it. Episode two was much better. Funnier, more story to hold it together, and generally a more fun time. Where the first episode was a two star outing flirting with one and a half stars, the second episode was easily two and a half, maybe three.

Enough for me to start to see what people see in the series. We’ll keep at it.

Honestly, I’m not usually so forgiving with something I’m watching or reading. If a book doesn’t hold me by the first fifty pages, it’s gone. There are too many other books out there for me to read. With a movie, I’m more tolerant. Rarely will I turn one off, just because I know that in another hour or so, it’ll be all over anyway, so why not give it its shot. A TV series is a huge time commitment, and since they’re episodic anyway, I can put one down just as easily as I can put down a book. The fact that I’m sticking with Buffy as much as I have this far is a testament to how much word of mouth can do for a piece of art. Well, that and the fact that we both loved Firefly (a TV series created by the same guy who created Buffy)–so, word of mouth and quality of other works by the same creator.

I’ll try to keep you posted on what I think of the rest of season two.

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