Nov 27

Have to share a most excellent review…

I don’t often post these (but when I do, I prefer Dos…ah, never mind). Had to share a really complimentary review of the Gabriel trilogy I just saw on Amazon. Yes, it’s a bit of crowing, but I’ll take the heat. I’m flattered and humbled, and gosh darn it, proud of my editing. (A little shout out to Jennifer Gracen for her editing goddess skills…) And a very nice closing compliment to the quality of self-published work out there, because contrary to popular opinion, there’s a bunch.

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 11.03.07 AM

This series had me hooked from start to finish. This is one of my favorite SciFi series indie published or not. I should note that I was so into the first book after only 20% or so that I immediately purchased the other two without regret. Also, this review was written for the omnibus addition Gabriel’s Journey. It applies whether you buy the books separately or together in one volume.

I am no reviewer and hate spoilers, so I will just list the qualities that had me so riveted to this story all the way through.

1. The author clearly knows his craft. The quality of writing and inventiveness of the plot never wavered. Descriptions were clear without rambling endlessly and the action scenes put me right in the thick of it. In other words, suspension of disbelief and ease of visualization were, for me at least, effortless. I also really liked the characters but was grateful that I did not have to sit through endless character introspection and angst. Life provides enough of that as it is. Unexpected twists were also done well.

2. I found the science to be very interesting and believable (albeit fictional). I enjoyed it’s role in the story throughout the series. No Star Trek “science” here. From maneuvering a ship in space to advanced weaponry, I was never jarred out of the story with nonsensical pseudo science.

3. This is military science fiction and while I am not a soldier (was in the sixties however), I was impressed with the tactical descriptions of special ops warfare. The main characters are very competent soldiers indeed without being super heroes who are immortal, invincible and invulnerable all at once (as in so many other books). They make mistakes and pay for them like the rest of us.

4. Finally, the editing. In my large format copy of Dune (an all time favorite novel by Frank Herbert), I found over 15 errors. In the Gabriel Trilogy I found less than five (two of those debatable). Great editing for no matter the publishing method. Kudos to Steve Umstead who has not only provided us with an excellent series, but cares enough about his readers to get it right. Thank You!

A bit of proselytizing before I close this:

In the last decade or more I’ve noticed that professional publishing has gone down hill quite a bit. Typos, grammatical errors and spelling have suffered as the publishing houses race to greater profits at less cost. I bring this up because Indie publishers have taken a big hit (deservedly so in many cases) for editing errors while the publishing houses have been allowed to skate. I am a very big fan of Indie publishing and have been noticing a marked improvement as time has gone on. Both in quality of writing and quality of editing. While there is plenty of bad stuff in both publishing worlds, I believe Indie publishing is coming into it’s own. With the outright price gouging that the big publishers are resorting to and the lack of quality and availability of their work (try to find a complete SciFi or fantasy trilogy at B&N) it is my hope that Indie authors and E-books will become the new normal. I think the big publishers are shooting themselves in the foot with their mercenary practices. Time will tell.

Much appreciated, J. Kirwan. Much appreciated.

steve

 

Oct 13

Finally got around to watching Pacific Rim. My thoughts…meh…

pacific_rim_ver12_xlgOkay, when commercials for Pacific Rim first hit the airwaves, I thought it looked silly (I was probably right, but I’m getting ahead of myself). It kinda looked like Transformers meets Cloverfield meets Independence Day (I was very right, but again I’m getting ahead of myself).  I resigned myself to not watching it, but then when it came out, my Twittah was abuzz with like-minded folks (or at least who I think are like-minded) who seemed to enjoy it, if for nothing else than the absurdist entertainment value. So I thought I’d wait until DVD time, and last night I sat down and watched it.

Verdict? Entertaining, looks great in HD, wasn’t necessarily a waste of two hours of my very valuable (ahem) social life, had some cool tech, but really an average movie overall. But my biggest takeaway, what I can’t get out of my head, was the incredibly difficult time I had suspending my disbelief and hearing the echoes of plot holes in my head. And I’m usually very good about that when it comes to big, blow-em-up flicks. Just so I can clear my conscience, I’m going to list a few of the doozies even my 13 year old was scratching his head over.

Warning: There Be Spoilers Ahead

1 – In one of Pacific Rim’s mid-act battles, when the kaiju are surprisingly taking the upper hand on the jaegers, Gipsy Danger (the protagonist jaeger of sorts; I’ll hereafter refer to the machine itself instead of the pilots) is heavily damaged and about to bite the big one, plasma cannon down and so on, when it pulls out a weapon of last resort, a giant sword. Like it was a second thought, “oh wait, we have this giant sword left, hope it helps”, and without so much as an overused television SHRINNNNGGGG sound effect, the kaiju is dispatched. My immediate reaction: “WHY THE HELL DIDN’T THEY START WITH THAT?” I mean, it makes for great drama, but…WHY? And the very end battle, this same sword bifurcates a Level 4 kaiju. In one swipe. Shouldn’t all the jaegers have a sword? Maybe TWO?

PACIFIC_RIM_30SHT_SWORD_INTL_ONLINE

2 – The plan is to drop a fairly big (1.2 megaton) thermonuclear device into the breach to seal it, so Striker Eureka straps it onto its back and heads into battle, hoping to do the drop and save the world. Battle goes awry (no way!), so Striker decides to sacrifice itself, detonate the device, kill two kaiju, and allow Gipsy Danger to jump in and self-destruct its own nuclear power plant instead. So this big boom happens, underwater, just a few miles offshore from Hong Kong. Like, within sight of the beautifully lit skyline. Yes, it was deep, but wouldn’t this big ol’ pressure wave do something above? Like, maybe wash away the east coast of China with a massive tsunami, or at least half of Hong Kong? (Disclaimer: I am not an oceanographer or nuclear scientist, so I may be wrong about this…just looking at it from the surface, no pun intended.)

3 – Giving Max Martini a ridiculously bad Australian accent. He’s played essentially the same character (hard ass military dude) for a decade plus now; why make him struggle through this role sounding like a drunk Crocodile Dundee with marbles in his mouth?

4 – Requisite goofball scientist character shows that the kaijus are clones, identical DNA, essentially being grown. But at the end, one is pregnant. Why? Did the kaiju high council suddenly think that was a better way to clear a path to owning Earth? Hey, forget cloning, it’s too easy and predictable. Let’s let them fool around in the back of a kaiju car, steaming up the windows, yeah! Or was it just a convenient (yet predictable) way to get rid of a terribly-underused Ron Perlman?

5 – Who installed the giant Cuisinart food processor in the COCKPIT? What is this, Galaxy Quest?

pacificrimpeoplechopper

6 – Several of the kaiju show quite a bit of dexterity and leaping ability, not to mention brute strength and size. So our defense after they got too powerful to stop with giant rockem sockem robots was…a WALL? A wall that takes years to build, and that the next kaiju broke through in an hour? Did they have some special concrete they were using they thought would be better than titanium clad, nuclear powered Transformers with plasma cannons? Shouldn’t they have made the wall with millions of those frickin’ swords?

7 – Did Pacific Rim have to pull SO MUCH from other movies? Isn’t anything original anymore? Leaving out the obvious Transformers and Cloverfield stuff, this was almost Independence Day 2: Underwater. When the marshall was giving his “today we are canceling the apocalypse” speech, I fully expected him to follow it up with “this is our Independence Day!” Or maybe Gipsy Danger smoking a cigar, flashing two fingers at the under-breach overlords, and saying, “Peace!” One thing they did leave out: the Statue of Liberty, which is always the last place to be when global disaster strikes (since it’s always destroyed, just for movie posters I guess). But I suppose that’s because this was Pacific Rim, not Atlantic Rim. Just you wait for the sequel…

pacific-rim-independence-day-aliens

8 – And just to wrap it up, a quick line of dialogue. The last half hour or so of Pacific Rim was destruction porn as kaijus and jaegers pretty much raze Hong Kong to the ground. Skyscraper after skyscraper, vehicle after vehicle, street after street, gone. Crushed like ten Avengers movies. So after a ‘victory’, the marshall says to everyone that “this is no time to celebrate, we lost two crews.” TWO CREWS? You just lost a million Hong Kong inhabitants, man, a quarter of whom you squished under titanium jaeger feet! I get it, you have a responsibility to your command and your people. But maybe, just maybe, give a little shout out to those hundreds of thousands of corpses first.

Okay, thanks. I feel much better. And Pacific Rim was a watchable flick. Good effects (easier to follow the battles than Avengers, that’s for sure), good editing and sound, meh acting, loved the term “neural handshake”, some holes. But watchable.

steve

Oct 10

And just like that, I’ve been put in my place. Another new Chromebook announced, and it’s…what I expected.

Patience has never been my strong suit, I’ll be the first to admit. So when HP announced the new Chromebook for 2013 this week, I was underwhelmed, to say the least. How could they possibly release an all-new device with last year’s tech and still call it new, plus at a higher price point? I still don’t know HP’s reasoning for that, or Google’s for that matter, but late last night I stumbled across another announcement.

I’ve never been one to shirk  criticism or responsibility, so I’ll take my impatient lumps. Both on Google+ in a discussion with Alex Williams, and in yesterday’s post in a couple of comments with Joel Pomales, I expressed my doubt that any other 11″ model would be introduced, at the same or close price point, that would be any better. I thought they’d leave the HP as the entry level and go up from there, and I’m not in the market for an expensive Chromebook (oxymoron). Lo and behold, Acer, the creators of last year’s DOG Chromebook (heavy, terrible battery, slow HD vs SSD), went and shut me up:

Acer Chromebook previewed at IDF forward angle_678x452

Now this is what I expected. The Acer, now sporting a 16GB SSD (larger would be better, but the point is the Cloud), has significantly better specs than last year’s model, and improves on the Samsung quite a bit:

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 11.45.53 AM

The biggies I complained about yesterday? Pretty much taken care of, and they stuck with a $249 price point. A solid state drive, 4GB of RAM, a Haswell-based Celeron (albeit a slow one) vs the ARM chip, a very nice 8.5 hour battery rating, and they shaved its weight down to 2.76 pounds (still a touch heavier than the Samsung and HP, but close). Oh, and HP’s brilliant idea to eliminate the SD card slot, HDMI out, and USB 3.0? Acer puts them back in.

This merits serious consideration for those of you who can use a Chromebook. It’s not an everyday workhorse by any means, but if you have that niche use capability (like me: writing, email, web research, the Twittah), this looks to be a faboo value. And I dig Chrome OS. Stable, quick, easy to use, constant updates, secure (nothing stored locally so theft isn’t a concern), virus free, and so on. There is actually very little I can’t do “web based” (my one loss is Dreamweaver for web design, but I’ve actually been able to screen share from my Chromebook into my Mac desktop to do it – like webdesignception).

WAIT. As I’m typing this, a thought just occurred to me… my current Samsung Series 3 (with an Exynos ARM chip, basically a mobile/tablet processor) is set up to dual boot into Ubuntu Linux from the external SD card. Scrivener, hands down the best writing tool out there, has a flavor that runs on Linux, but NOT on an ARM chip. Now I wonder – would this model, once Ubuntu is installed on the SD card, run Scrivener? Scrivener on a Chromebook? As in, SCRIVENER ON A CHROMEBOOK? Oh, you had me at Haswell…

steve

 

Oct 09

So much for upgrading to a new Chromebook after a year. Very disappointed in the new model…

I must say, I’m very disappointed in the new Chromebook announcement this week. I’ve owned the Samsung Series 3 since last fall and love it, but was hoping in a year they’d come out with one a bit more powerful with some extra doo-dads. And when I heard the rumors a few weeks ago, I was psyched. But then they release the “all-new” Chromebook 11 by HP, which:
stacked-chromebooks- Uses the same Exynos processor as the Series 3
- Has the same onboard 16GB SSD as the Series 3
- Has the same RAM as the Series 3…meaning it’s going to have essentially the same performance as last year’s Chromebook. It’s also listed at a fraction less than last year’s in battery life, but then also:

- Eliminates the SD card slot (no more dual boot Ubuntu from a card, or plugging in a card full of photos from my camera)
- Eliminates the HDMI out (so no more easily plugging into my LCD TV; now I’d need a micro-USB to HDMI adapter)
- Eliminates the USB 3.0 port (not that I’ve ever taken advantage of it, but seems to be quite the step backwards)

It does apparently have a better screen (IPS), but from all accounts, it’s much glossier (read: sun/light glare) than the Samsung’s matte screen, with the same resolution. Oh, and it can use a micro-USB cord to charge it. Well, okay.

With using all of last year’s technologies and removing ports and using a less capable battery, it must be quite a deal, right? Uh, nope. It’s $30 more than the Series 3 ($279 vs $249).

I love using my Chromebook. It’s absolutely perfect for writing. I don’t need a new one, but I would have happily scratched up another $250 this year for a whiz bang upgrade to it, especially if it made a difference in performance or storage. Guess not.

Oh wait, I can order it with one of five colored lines on it.
*sigh*
steve

Sep 19

My first impressions of iOS 7…and please keep in mind I don’t do impressions.

ios-7-logoI don’t often do product reviews – never actually, since an ill-fated Nook review where I was testing out posting a WordPress video and found myself turning Nook pages on-camera to some nice laughs – but I figured I’d sit down and write up my initial thoughts on the all-new, latest-and-greatest thing since sliced bread: iOS 7.

I will preface this by saying I’m a huge Apple fan. Not a fanboi, per se; you won’t find me camping out in front of an Apple store, or making an unboxing video, or commenting online responding to vitriolic Apple-haters. No, just a fan of the technology, the synergies between software and hardware, the build quality, the resale values, and the innovation. Up to a point.

Apple has, in my opinion, been at the forefront of innovation. Say what you will about “Windows CE had that”, or “they stole that from Android”, or “Xerox invented the mouse”, or “my old Atrix had a fingerprint sensor”, or “I still use my Zune every day”, and so on. Apple puts things together well and makes them work, and in the process has created three brand new product categories where nothing but a mishmash existed before (iPod, iPhone, iPad). And the stuff just works. But now that I’ve seen the iPhone 5s/5c announcement, and have spent a half a day with iOS 7, I only have one word to describe Apple’s 2013:

Underwhelming.

And this is coming from an Apple fan. I’ve owned a Mac since 1986 (my portable computer in college was a Macintosh SE FDHD I dragged to the Student Center for projects.) I’ve owned every model of iPhone save the iPhone 3G (went right to the 3GS back then). And I actually require all of my employees to use Macs, or they won’t get any tech support from me (my home is Windows-free – and no, I’m not referring to glass).

After a 2012 that saw the iPhone 5 released (which I did get; I was eligible for an upgrade and wanted out of my 3.5″ screen) that was a very nice upgrade, notably for the size and build, 2013 left me…wanting. Incremental at best, the new iPhone 5s/c series really blew me away with how little changed. In an age of intense competition, Apple seems to be falling behind. The iPhone 5c was theoretically a low-cost model to break into emerging markets, but at $549 unlocked (only $100 less than the 5s) that’s not going to happen. And the iPhone 5s bumped the processor to an A7 with 64-bit architecture, which most software can’t even take full advantage of yet anyway. Same size, same screen, same in most areas. This is probably the first year in 5+ that I have zero desire to upgrade. I’ll wait for a 6, or whatever is next. Again, this is coming from a huge Apple fan. (Oh, and the other 2012 product launch? The iPad mini. Crazy successful in terms of sales, but a more expensive/lower resolution device that was a direct response to the Kindle Fire, Nexus 7, and the like.)

But in any case, on to iOS 7. After rather impatiently waiting for Apple’s activation servers to allow me to activate it yesterday (2+ hours; what, didn’t Apple know they were releasing a major upgrade?), I got it up and running. First impression: visually stunning. Very clean, smooth, professional looking – much more so than the various skeuomorphic looks Scott Forrestal and his crew had been piecing together (why did one app have faux leather, one green felt, one grainy wood, one chrome?) But when Craig Federighi (man, has he come into his own now) called it “an exciting new beginning”, and others in Apple have said it’s the biggest improvement since the original iOS, I expected…more. More functionality, more features, more usefulness. More than just a facelift. But I’m not seeing it.

design_functional_gallery2

Siri is still a novelty (though I admit, it’s nice to reply to a text while driving via voice). Notification Center still could use some work (I’d like to do something with those notifications, not just see them and have to launch the app). Camera filters? Don’t get me started on why I DON’T screw with my 8 megapixel photos I worked hard to get, overlaying BS frames and grainy looks. AirDrop looks like it’s on the right track for file sharing. But those are ancillary.

There are three (in my opinion and for my everyday use; YMMV) major functional changes in iOS 7 over iOS 6:

  1. Control Center: swipe up from the bottom of the screen to gain access to most used Settings, like wifi/Bluetooth/Do Not Disturb on/off, music player, brightness, and the flashlight (which has hundreds of flashlight app developers screaming bloody murder – and why are there so many flashlight apps in the first place?)
  2. Multitasking in “Card” format app switcher: double click the Home button to see a visual carousel of most recent apps and what their last state was versus just the app icon
  3. Automatic App Updates: the App Store now downloads updates in the background and presents a “recently updated” list when launched

So if these are uber-helpful, why do I still call this underwhelming? Simple: I’ve had all three on my Nexus 7 since late last year. Swiping down in Jelly Bean brings up Android’s version of the Control Center where I can turn wifi on and off – and by the way, also launch the wifi settings app so I can choose a different network, something Control Center doesn’t do. Google Play apps update when I’m not looking. And the app switcher is something I had taken for granted as necessary, so much so that I had installed a jailbroken app on my phone to get the same function.

I honestly expected a lot more from iOS 7, for all its hype. Again, it’s visually stunning and adds some nice (necessary) features, but I can’t shake the feeling it’s still playing catch up. There’s really nothing in it that I can’t also do from my Nexus tablet with a software that’s pushing a year old.

UPDATE: For some reason, Apple decided to remove the ability to delete a message in Mail by swiping from left to right, the “right swipe”, and now it’s left-swipe only. NO IDEA WHY, as right swipe now does nothing. After six years of deleting emails by swiping right, they removed that function, only to replace it with…nothing? Someone explain that logic to me…I’m annoyed.

Now all of that being said, iOS 7 is much smoother than Jelly Bean, and owning the respective companies’ flagship devices for a year and using them day in, day out, I can say that with confidence and experience. iOS just works, where Jelly Bean still has plenty of hiccups, pauses, timeouts, force quits, and so on. And Android is still missing some things iOS has had for a while (hello, badges). iOS is much easier to use with far fewer issues.

But I was expecting a big leap in functionality and features. I don’t think I got either…

steve

 

 

 

P.S. Wait, one other thing, and it’s the greatest improvement in iOS EVER: I can now put Newsstand in a folder. BE GONE!

 

 

Sep 12

My little announcement regarding “publishing” and “contract”

Here’s my teaser tweet from last night:

While “contract killer” would make for a very interesting announcement, it’s not that. As a friend pointed out online, I’ve already got two jobs – I don’t need hitman as another one.

Not that I’ve got people waiting with bated breath, or any type of breath, but it’s fairly big news on my end. As many of you know, I’m self-published and happy to stay that way. I’ve got a long-time business owner background, so maintaining full control, full decision-making, and full royalties (disclaimer: as full as Amazon, BN, Apple, et al pay; no publisher/agent/marketing cut) is extremely important to me. Extremely.

I have absolutely zero interest in signing with a publisher. Zero. Keeping my work “in house” so to speak is a no-brainer to me. Formatting the ebook/paperback, designing (or hiring a designer – big plug for my man AJ Powers and his work on the Gabriel series), editing (or hiring an editor – big plug for my girl Jennifer Gracen for her editing goddess skills), and promoting the book(s) are all right up my alley. I can’t imagine outsourcing those facets of the book I can do myself, and in many cases, feel I can do better than someone else who’s handling X number of other authors and won’t give my work the time and effort it deserves.

But there is an aspect of publishing that is a bit outside my skill set, and it’s an aspect that’s been on my project list for the future: audiobooks. So with all that being said above, here is the official announcement:

I’m excited and proud to say I’ve signed with Podium Publishing for the audiobook versions of the entire Gabriel series (books 1 through 3, plus prequel), and they’ll be hitting Audible.com in the near future.

aud_logo._V383473417_How did this happen? I will say, it was a bit out of the blue. I certainly wasn’t seeking a publisher; audiobooks were on my project list to do, but admittedly in the far-future section. Podium found me through a referral of a referral, read book 1, contacted me, and after a long conversation, offered me a contract. Ordinarily I take unsolicited business emails with a grain of salt (especially if they say “Dear [%&NAMEHERE&%]), but James at Podium was very convincing and professional, and they have several very well-known authors in their audiobook stable (most notably Edward Robertson, whose Breakers series is excellent, and Andy Weir, whose book The Martian was just picked up by Random House and signed for movie rights). Robertson had excellent things to say about Podium, which is probably what tipped me over the edge, and yesterday the contract was signed.

Podium has the ability and technology that I simply don’t have right now, and may never get to. My focus is the writing part, and while I again have zero interest in ever signing with anyone for the paper/ebooks themselves, the audiobooks are another story. I know I’m giving up potential royalties versus doing things in house, or even hiring a narrator and keeping it mostly in house, but this is an opportunity and a growing outlet that I’m not going to be able to get to anytime soon. Podium gives me the ability to get professional audiobooks out there well before I’d ever get to them.

Stay tuned (hey, an audio pun!) – the process has just started, but I’m looking forward to it.

steve

Sep 07

Finally found the Holy Grail of writing in Google Docs on the Chromebook…

My writing buddy...

My writing buddy…

I’ve been using Google Docs on my Chromebook for writing since, oh, day one. Day one of my Chromebook days, that is. My tech ADHD always has me jumping around from device to device, from app to app, but I do try to do nothing but write on the Chromebook so that somewhere deep inside me, my brain knows that by me sitting in front of that particular device, I should be writing.

I’ve always been a devotee of Scrivener, but nothing like that exists web-based or Chrome App-based, so I’m relegated to simple text documents. Google Docs is a natural for the CB, since it’s fully integrated and synced, and the offline mode works just fine for those rare times when I’m either (a) on a plane without wifi (scary thought) or (b) in heavy solar flare activity where neither local wifi or my iPhone hotspot work. And GDocs works just fine, with one exception: that sucker bogs down when the document gets too long.

It had gotten to the point where I was writing individual Docs for each chapter just so I didn’t have to go through the pain of loading the document and scrolling down to the bottom of 30,000 words to pick up where I left off. Unlike a standalone text editor (Word, etc.) GDocs ‘starts over’ at the beginning of the doc each time it’s opened. And the Chromebook, an ARM-based lightweight laptop (basically a tablet with a keyboard), doesn’t have the guts behind it to power through the scrolling. I had resorted to dropping a bookmark at the beginning of each chapter with an ad-hoc table of contents on page one so I could jump to where I left off. Silly stuff.

The magic of the Interwebs pointed me to the Holy Grail. Microsoft Word and its equivalents have end-of-document key combinations, like Shift-F5, or Command-Page Down and so on. The Chromebook has neither F keys or a Page Down key, so nothing was working. Until I stumbled across a Google Groups post from a John McFarlin that shone the light as follows:

____________________________________

MOVE TO TOP OF DOCUMENT
ctrl + search key + left arrow

MOVE TO END OF DOCUMENT
ctrl + search key + right arrow
____________________________________

MOVE TO BEGINNING OF LINE (move left)
ctrl + alt + up arrow

MOVE TO END OF LINE (move right)
ctrl + alt + down arrow
____________________________________

HIGHLIGHT A LINE WORD BY WORD
ctrl + shift + left (or right) arrow

HIGHLIGHT ENTIRE DOCUMENT
ctrl + shift + search key + left (or right) arrow
____________________________________

DELETE CHARACTER BY CHARACTER MOVING TO RIGHT
alt + backspace (replaces DELETE key)

CAPS LOCK
alt + search key, to turn caps lock both on and off

____________________________________

And so my life just became much easier…

steve

Jun 26

Wow…my 13 year old is boarding a plane tomorrow with the Philly Boys Choir…to PARIS.

Hard to believe, but the day is finally here. Two years ago when my son Evan was accepted into the Philadelphia Boys Choir as a cadet, we knew each summer the choir traveled to some amazing destinations. Just in the past few years they’ve gone to China, the Baltic states, the Grand Canyon; they’ve sung for Pavarotti, Julie Andrews, presidents and prime ministers; they’ve had experiences that will last a lifetime. We couldn’t wait until he had his opportunity.

Two years went FAST, man. We’re spending the day packing his suitcase, then tomorrow dropping him off in Philly to board the bus for JFK airport. From there he flies to Paris via Reykjavik, and will visit the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, take a boat cruise on the Seine, visit Normandy Beach, and sing in such places as the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Literally unbelievable, I’m still coming to grasps with it. Yes, THAT Paris. In France. Europe, even.

Am I nervous? No – Evan’s got more stamps in his passport than most US adults, I’d venture to say. One of the benefits to being in the travel industry; my kids are very experienced travelers. I’m sure Evan will be giving advice on how to pass through airport security properly, how to board the plane, and where to find the restrooms in foreign airports to the other kids. Crowded airports, long lines, rude & harried travelers – nothing will faze him.

I’m a bit anxious at not flying with him, I’ll admit. That’s a very rare occurrence. Not that I’m superhuman and can shield/protect/save him if something goes wrong, but it’s a father’s inherent job; my mission in life, as it were.

Here’s a shot of him as a cadet, borrowing the famed red blazer for a performance when he was allowed to sing with the full choir.

photo

Now he has his own blazer. His own singing career, so to speak. And his own trip to Paris.

I’m jealous. I’m excited. I’m thrilled. But most of all…you guessed it…I’m proud.

steve

 

Apr 24

The Royal Gibraltar Regiment performs…INSIDE the Rock

An absolutely stunning show last night in Gibraltar. The Royal Gibraltar Regiment performed in St. Michael’s Cave INSIDE the Rock, surrounded by stalagtites, stalagmites, and dripping water through the limestone above. Easily the highlight of the trip so far. Just…stunning. Hope my quick iPhone pics do it justice.

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Apr 19

First time traveling without a Mac. My plan is as follows:

Those of you who “know” me (inasmuch as anyone knows anyone online – I could be an 85 year old great-grandmother of seven, for all you really know), know that I’ve been a diehard Mac/iDevice user for quite some time. And while that’s still the case (I live in, and will always live in, a Windowless house…get it?), I’ve modified my “mobile” usage over the past year.

I’m jumping on a plane tomorrow (well, walking slowly so as not to alarm TSA) to Spain for an 8-day business trip, and for the first time since my pre-laptop days (right around the time the mammals rose up) I will be traveling without a Mac of any sort. This is a BIG step for me. With the lone exception of a one-night trip to Milwaukee last year (which totaled less than 30 hours away) when I brought only an iPad, this trip will be Mac-less for the first time.

homepage-promoAs sad as this may sound, I’ve been preparing for this Mac-less trip for a while, knowing how my mobile habits were changing. And now, for the first time since those mammal days, I don’t even technically own a Mac laptop. The trusty MacBook Pro is now in the extremely capable hands of my son Zack, who will surely put it to great use. I am now down to the eclectic mix of:

  • Main computer: Mac mini (running dual-core i5 processor @ 2.3 GHz, 8GB RAM, added in a 256GB SSD drive – smoove)
  • Laptop: Samsung Chromebook (installed Ubuntu on SD card, so it dual boots to either Chrome OS or Linux…muahaha)
  • Tablet: Nexus 7 (completely replaced my iPad 3 – just much more portable & convenient)
  • Phone: iPhone 5 (I haven’t moved away from iOS, but I am curious to see the next Nexus phone…)

On this trip, the latter three will be joining me. No Mac at all. Weird. But what I’ve done is set myself up to be completely Mac-less on a mobile basis.

I’ve switched my business emails over to GMail – matter of fact, I now have five different email accounts feeding into it, so the Chromebook easily handles it. With Chrome OS, you can’t “install” apps – everything is web-based, and I’ll be the first to tell you there ain’t no decent web-based IMAP service for email.

I’ve got all email accounts running into K-9 Mail on the Nexus tablet, meaning I have a true separate IMAP system for each one when needed. I’ve also got movies and books, of course.

And finally, the iPhone is jailbroken, so I am able to create a wifi hotspot wherever, whenever (even in Spain next week). Meaning even if I’m running the Chromebook in Chrome OS (as opposed to the LInux side, where I can use LibreOffice, Gimp, etc. even when offline), I am able to fully use the web-based stuff.

I’ve even got an app for the Chromebook called Code Anywhere, meaning I can log into my business’ website via FTP, change HTML code, and reupload. My biggest fear to being Mac-less on the road was losing the ability to use Dreamweaver to change web pages, but Code Anywhere works in a pinch.

So now my out-of-office work is done on those three devices. Which on a side note, combined cost less than the MacBook Pro…hell, the Nexus plus Chromebook total cost was the same as a base wifi-only iPad…and they weigh less!

And it should work just fine…right?

steve

 

Apr 17

Welcoming back Robert Swartwood to the Author’s Cafe with his new release, Walk The Sky (and a book giveaway)

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How about a little Western to spice up your work week? I’m happy to “reintroduce” a good friend who has been here before (though before I had that cool little bookstore/cafe image above), Robert Swartwood. Author of horror, suspense, and thrillers (including one of my favorite reads, No Shelter, with the butt-kicking Holly Lin) has dipped his toes into a Western genre for his brand new release, Walk The Sky.

Check out Robert and his work on his site, follow him on Twitter for some off-the-cuff food remarks. Plus he’s got some swag to give away, so read through and leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Ladies and gents, Walk The Sky:

One of my favorite genres is the Western.

And I say this as someone who hasn’t watched nearly as many Westerns as he should.

In fact, considering the amount of Westerns out there, I’ve probably seen only a handful.

But for some reason it’s still a favorite genre.

Yes, there are tropes that seem to constantly pop up — the anti-hero, the cavalry, show down at high noon, and wanted posters, just to name a few — that our understanding of life in the “old west” is probably nothing like what it was really like to live back then.

Still, the setting seems to make for great storytelling, or at the very least, exciting storytelling.

Walk the Sky, a short novel I co-wrote with the late David B. Silva, is a subgenre of the Western: the Weird Western. It starts out as a typical Western — two men on the run from a posse — but then quickly veers into supernatural territory.

It was great fun to write, but also challenging, as we tried to stay true to the time period.

A lot of the Westerns you see on TV nowadays take liberties with the setting and characters and even weapons. Originally there was a scene in Walk the Sky where a jar of gumballs falls off a table and shatters, sending a scatter of them everywhere. A friend who read an early draft did some research and found that gumballs hadn’t been invented during the time that the novel takes place. It wasn’t a big problem — we easily changed gumballs to penny candy — but still it was something we initially overlooked.

Another thing we needed to research were the weapons used back then. When we think of Westerns, we immediately think of six-shooters and Winchesters, but many of those guns weren’t invented until the early 1900′s, and as Walk the Sky takes place in 1875, we needed to be conscious of which weapons that were featured (we didn’t, for instance, want to feature a gun that wasn’t invented for another three years). Sure, we could easily have fudged the weapons to make them work, but it was important to us to keep the setting and time as realistic as possible.

And that, I think, is one of the reasons I enjoy the Western genre so much. Nowadays there’s just so much technology that it makes it almost too easy for the good guys and bad guys. But back then, there were no cell phones or computers or Internet. If someone was in trouble, they couldn’t easily send out a text message. It helps ramp up the suspense. And it also helps us remember a time when we didn’t take all our technology for granted.

ABOUT WALK THE SKY:

Things are bad for Clay Miller and George Hitchens.

For starters, they’re on the run from a posse out for blood. Then, as they ride through the Utah desert, the two come across the crumpled body of a young boy on the brink of death. The boy can’t speak, but it’s clear he’s frightened of something nearby. When asked what’s got him so scared, the terrified boy writes three letters in the dirt …

DED

By nightfall, Clay and George are tied up in jail. They can’t move. They can’t speak. They can do nothing but listen to the boy, outside, screaming for his life.

Yes, things are bad for Clay and George.

And they’re only going to get worse.

Walk the Sky is available in paperback and on Kindle (US and UK) at a special introductory price of 99 cents.

Enter to win a free copy of the paperback at Goodreads.

What’s your favorite Western, either book or TV show or movie? Let us know in the comments section by Friday 4/19 midnight EST, and Robert will gift five copies of the Kindle edition to random participants.

Many thanks, Robert, and much appreciate the kind giveaway. Wanna win an e-copy of Walk The Sky? THEN DO WHAT HE SAYS.

steve

Apr 11

My son and Philadelphia Boys Choir are performing at Carnegie Hall today. Yes, THAT CARNEGIE HALL

UPDATE: Photo (actual one, not the stock photo of a piano I found on Google) at the bottom!

Another in a long line of Proud Dad posts. My son is boarding the bus, along with 60+ other Red Blazered young men, on their way to Carnegie Hall for a performance today. (Before you ask, yes – I tried the “how do you get to Carnegie Hall line…it’s lost on today’s youth).

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I couldn’t be more proud, or floored. Yes, THAT Carnegie Hall. Wow…just, wow. I wonder if he, at 12, has any idea how amazing this is? Probably not…but that’s what the Internet is for, right? Posterity, man – that’s why I do this.

steve

UPDATE: Photo on scene!

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Apr 08

Kicking off “Author’s Cafe” on the blog with an interview with Leah Petersen, author of Cascade Effect

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I’m proud to introduce a good friend (though that may be presumptuous of me – she may hate my guts for all I know…) I’ve had the rare privilege of meeting in person. Yes, real flesh and bones in a world of bits and bytes. Leah Petersen is a talented author, an outspoken supporter of fellow authors, and a very entertaining Twitter follow (especially if you hate your day job – she’s got some great one liners).

I read her debut novel, Fighting Gravity, last year (review here), easily one of my most enjoyable reads of the year. Truly great storytelling, hard to put down, and I attribute that 100% to the characters she created. Those characters are back for another story, picking up where the first left off. Cascade Effect (The Physics of Falling, Book 2) was released last week, and Leah was generous enough to stop by the “all new” Author’s Cafe to chat about it.

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CE_cover_series-194x300SU: Pretend this is Twitter. Sell me (and the readers) on Cascade Effect in 140 characters or less.

LP: Jake survived exile & an execution order. Now he’s back with his emperor, and the assassination attempts are the least of his problems.

 

SU: Cascade Effect is a sequel to Fighting Gravity, a self-contained story that left off with a bit of a hanger that led naturally into another story. Was this planned, or was FG supposed to be a standalone?

LP: Fighting Gravity was written as a standalone, but changes in the editing and revision process with my publisher ended it quite a lot earlier in the timeline than I’d planned. At that point I had to decide whether I simply wanted to let their story end at a different point in time than I’d planned, or write a sequel. I ended up writing a sequel.

 

SU: I found FG to be a fascinating blend of science fiction, romance, and class/nobility. Does CE maintain that same mix, or did you go more in-depth into one area versus the others?

LP: I like to think all elements are still strong and in a good balance, but as is the nature of sequels, I was able to get more in-depth about the society itself, the class issues, their history, and more details about how that specifically impacts the classes day-to-day.

 


SU: One of the central themes of both stories is the marriage of not only a ‘commoner’ with a noble, but also between two men. The latter is obviously a hot button issue in recent years with a lot of progress towards acceptance. Did this influence what you wrote originally, or was that relationship something you always wanted to put to paper? 

LP: The same-sex relationship was never a deliberate plot device, just something I realized was going to happen when I really started to set down the story. Once I was writing a world where homophobia was one of those archaic ideas from way-back-then, the marriage was a natural progression. But I’m sure I must have been unconsciously influenced by the issue being so much in the public consciousness, I started writing the first book shortly after Prop 8 passed in California. And once I realized how intrinsic it was to the story, it was deeply satisfying to NOT address the issue. At all. No one comments on it in the story because no one cares. They are prejudiced against Jake for a completely different reason.

 

SU: Jacob Dawes rose from the slums to the palace in FG. How does he continue to grow, whether positively or negatively, in CE? Give one aspect, without giving away the story, of course.

LP: Jake’s very often (OK, pretty much always) selfish and short-sighted. In Fighting Gravity, he’s largely acting from a position where he has no power, and as self-destructive as his actions end up being, it doesn’t usually have the potential to affect anyone but him. In Cascade Effect his situation has completely changed, and his obtuseness has the potential to affect millions, even billions of people, of all classes of society. The only thing to do there is either learn to be less selfish and short-sighted, or make colossal screw-ups on a galactic scale. So, no spoiler, but either he learns to grow up a bit, or the whole empire comes crashing down.

SU: Are there any plans for a follow up? Will this become a trilogy, or more?

LP: Yes, there’s a third coming. I plan on torturing Jake one more time before I let him be.

 

SU: Last but not least, take as much time/characters to describe the overall story arc you’ve put together for Jacob and the emperor, and why readers will enjoy it.

LP: A reviewer said this was a story that convincingly put the prince and the pauper in bed together. I love that way of putting it because, at its heart, this is a love story. But it’s also a story of just a guy, with all his flaws, who gets pulled out of the dregs of society, the worst of circumstances, and thrust into the world of privilege, power, and prestige–where no one wants him. Until the emperor does. Then everyone hates him even more. It’s the story of how Jake deals with prejudice and discrimination and not only changes himself, but the world around him when he refuses to accept the labels put on him and others like him. And how he deals with the cost to himself for doing it.

 

 

A big thanks to Leah for taking time out of what I can imagine is a very busy launch week. Do yourselves a favor, folks. Visit her site. Follow her on Twitter. And most of all, take a look at Fighting Gravity (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Goodreads) for the first in this series, then Cascade Effect (Kindle, Goodreads, other outlets coming soon) to pick up the story of Jake and Pete as it moves forward.

steve

 

Apr 06

And NOW baseball season has begun (a Proud Dad post)

Thought I’d put up a quick post about the true start of baseball season for me: my son Evan’s opening day. (Plus I wanted to try the WordPress app on the phone).

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I hustled him out of his Philadelphia Boys Choir practice (yes, another Proud Dad plug) just in time for the game.

His pitching line for his one inning:

1.0 IP, 3 K, 0 BB, 0 R

Three up, three down, end of inning (insert Good Morning Vietnam reference here).

Looking forward to a great season. At least it’s warm out…finally!

Update:He struck out with bases loaded. I’m disowning him.

Apr 06

My TweetDeck filters – some sanity and organization reclaimed

Though I bounce between TweetDeck, HootSuite, and even the Twitter app on my desktop, some new filters I’ve implemented on TweetDeck (not available on the other two) have made it much easier for me to stay sane and clean up my lists. Without further ado:

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I’ve eliminated most of the #ff listings on Fridays (though my other devices still get notifications…), the automatically-generated robot newspaper Paper.li (I admit, I had one a couple years ago, until I realized how useless and self-aggrandizing it was), the social network of teens and sushi photos worldwide (my thoughts on that here), and “I just ousted Bob as mayor of the mens restroom on 5th and Broad” posts.

Yeah, I’m probably pissing some folks off out there by ignoring certain types of tweets. And I’ll get ignored back by some, I’m sure. But damn I feel better…

steve

P.S. Can’t wait tell you guys I finally dumped Facebook…

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