Friday, September 23, 2016

Windows 10 and other observations

Deciding to take a long weekend, I've been noticing my PC has been trying to complete the latest Windows 10 update, an actual upgrade to the much-maligned "anniversary" version.

Windows 10 doesn't let one completely stop updates, alas. So I let it run. For hours.

In truth, it started earlier this week, botched out, and then restarted last night. It completed an hour and a half ago and then took another hour to install all the new crap and then finally boot up.

So far, so good, but I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And really tired of these ginormous updates from Microsoft.

I get enough of that every time I boot up my Ubuntu box.

Had a biergarten lunch in honor of the Oktoberfest season and autumn. The only other people around were parents looking to chat and have a pint while their kids ran around like maniacs.

Of course a pair of rugrats had to play a few feet from me. The kids were weirdly-fascinated by me while simultaneously being a bit shy (which is fine with me). Kids make me nervous. I hate the piercing sound of a child's crying, so I'm always a bit on-edge when kids are around. Inevitably, one will fall and get a little scrape or bump and then the banshee wail will cut right through my nice buzz from my beer and damage my calm.

So when I see kids doing dumb things, sometimes I'll say something. The mothers of the kids were paying some heed, but also distracted by the rare opportunity for grown-up conversation. One mother called out for the kids to stop climbing on rocks near me. The kids ignored her. After a moment, I noticed one rugrat was making headway on an unstable climb, so I called out that the kid should stop. Wide-eyed, the wee bairn stopped, stepped down and exchanged an uneasy glance with the other anklebiter. The mother, a bit bemused, thanked me and noted that the kids will probably listen as I said something.

Perhaps I look properly scary. That thought pleases me.

I'm burning through "The World of Ice & Fire" by George R.R. Martin. A gorgeously-illustrated history of Westeros, it's proven to be entertaining reading. Martin is a prolific madman, I'll grant him that. Just wish he'd finish up the damn series...

Monday, September 19, 2016

Vegas Baby

Just got back from a weekend in Las Vegas.

No, I'm not going to talk about what I did there. What goes on in Vegas... well, you know.

Still, I came back with some observations I feel like blogging about.
  • It's hot as fucking hell in Las Vegas in September.
  • There's a lot of douchebags in Vegas.
  • There's some excellent restaurants in Vegas.
  • There's a shocking shortage of good beer in Vegas. Oh, it's there, but hard-to-find.
  • It's impressive to think of the sort of engineering and planning that went into making a speck of desert into a playground.
  • It's hot as fucking hell in Las Vegas in September.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Book: "Nightblade" by Ryan Kirk

I'm not going to lie to you. "Nightblade" by Ryan Kirk is about ninjas. Except that the 'N' word is never uttered in the book.

So I finished "Nightblade" the other day. Today I started on book two (which tells you a bit of what I thought of book one). I've been trying to figure out why I loved "Nightblade" so much but disliked "Keeper of the Eye" so much.

Both have a protagonist who is a born badass. I guess I just liked the point-of-view scenes offered in "Nightblade" that made the hero's journey less-obnoxious.

I guess I should rewind a bit. "Nightblade" is about three people in a not-quite-pseudo-Japan land known as the Southern Kingdom. Ryuu is a boy orphaned at an early age and adopted by Shigeru, a badass who saves Ryuu and trains him to be an utter and complete badass of all badasses in a land with a fair number of badasses. Moriko is born with a similar badass ability (they call it "the sense" in the books) and becomes a different kind of badass. And poor Takao, a beautiful girl sold into prostitution for her father's debts. Yeah, you see how that's going to go.

"Nightblade" is a solid, entertaining tale of three young people caught up in a seriously fucked-up life situation due to circumstances beyond their control. Turns out two of them have superpowers. And bad stuff happens.

I'm not inclined to get more detailed. Honestly, if you've watched any kind of ninja story about the protagonist being a gifted badass who lays waste to all other badasses, you know this tale.

For all that, Ryan Kirk does a fantastic job with both his characters and his narrative. Amazon's recommendations have almost redeemed themselves by how much I enjoyed "Nightblade". I didn't even hesitate to get the other two books in the series.

I'm just praying he doesn't go Anthony Ryan on me and flame out after book one, but I'm into book two ("World's End") and it seems solid thus far.

There's parts of "Nightblade" I did not enjoy, truth be told. There's some horrific stuff that happens to characters who do not deserve it. I found some scenes a bit stomach-wrenching for my tastes. Still, overall I enjoyed the series enough that I'll read the other two books. I'm invested now.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Book: "Dark Run" by Mike Brooks

I switched gears in my reading material and went sci-fi to read "Dark Run", book one of the "Keiko" series by Mike Brooks.

I wasn't disappointed.

"Dark Run" tells the tale of the crew of the freighter Keiko, a home for all sorts of dangerous misfits who are led by the fast-talking Ichabod Drift. When Drift's past comes back to haunt him, the crew of the Keiko find themselves enmeshed in politics and having to figure out how to get revenge and stay alive.

"Dark Run" reads like a mix of "Firefly" and Ocean's Eleven. The protagonists are your classic mix of misfits: the grifter, the hacker ("slicer" in this world), the assassin, the tough guy, the merc, the hotshot pilot, the brilliant engineer. You know the selection.

While the cast and plot are familiar staples, Brooks does a great job of telling a fairly fresh story that I found entertaining and engaging. Caper science fiction. Hard to go wrong with that. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Way to introduce buzzkill

I'm a moderate fan of "Star Trek". I'm not a raging Trekkie (sorry, Trekker) but I enjoy the show. I'm partial to the original series from 1966, myself ("TOS" to purists) though I've enjoyed the mid-seasons of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and even a bit of "Deep Space 9".

I have opinions on "Voyager" and "Enterprise" that are not entirely (or even remotely) complimentary.

That said, I found myself momentarily jazzed to hear that there was a new TV series in the works. I even watched the teaser for "Star Trek: Discovery" and found myself a bit excited.

Then I found out it's a prequel. Not just a prequel, but a prequel to TOS.

And now the buzz is gone. The interest faded to naught. I find it hard to imagine how I could give less of a shit about this show.

Why? Prequel.

Prequels are generally lazy crap to try to milk money out of tried-and-true stories. If I were to be totally honest, I'd have to say I have the same utter lack-of-interest for the upcoming Star Wars spinoff, Rogue One. I don't really care about filling in the blanks in past narratives. Not to the degree that I'm going to see some huge dramatic presentation.

Prequels suffer from one major flaw: they lack dramatic tension. In "Discovery", we know the Federation is going to come out on top of any conflict because we've seen Kirk and company do his thing. If they don't, it's an alternate timeline and that means time-travel lazy sci-fi writing. Yawn. Been there.

For Rogue One we already know the rebels get the plans to the Death Star. I don't give two shits about new alphabet-spaceships used by the Rebellion in an effort to sell more toys. I don't care that they have some rag-tag band of cliches to stand in the Empire's path. I already know the Death Star gets built, blows up Alderran, and gets a proton torpedo enema courtesy of Luke Skywalker.

It's depressing to see so much time and energy dedicated to playing in safe sandboxes when there's so much interesting storytelling out there. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Knuckle-dusting and box-cutting: the JHO Knives NUG

While perusing my usual morning assortment of random websites, I came across mention of the NUG by JHO Knives. I availed myself of purchasing the satin version because... shiny.

It arrived today.

I really, really like this.

The NUG is a solid, fun little combination tool and self-defence accessory. As a knife (as in something you'd use in a knife fight), it's not really much. It's more an impact tool to help deliver a punch (to break a window or a jaw or whatever). I suppose one could pop the tiny knife out to supplement that, but I'm not convinced it would be worth the effort in a fight. Seems to me I'd be lucky if I had time to get the damn thing around a finger in a fight. Deploying a tiny knife... yeah, probably not the sort of escalation I'd opt for.

That said, the knife is a handy, tough little blade. The site claims you can cut nearly anything with it. I wouldn't be surprised. With the knuckle-grip ring, it's pretty easy to deliver force without the knife slipping.

The opening action of the blade is surprisingly-smooth and the blade itself is tiny and discrete enough that it probably wouldn't freak people out when it's deployed to open a box or cut a string.

I have to say I really liked the packaging the NUG came in. Classier than most knives.

It's not going to replace my DPX HEST, but it's certainly going to have a place in my pockets.

My very heavily-burdened pockets... hm...

Anyway, I'm very pleased with this purchase. I'll be keeping an eye on JHO Knives in the future.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Book: "Keeper of the Eye" by Mark Shane

The third of my latest batch of "BART books", I just finished "Keeper of the Eye" by Mark Shane.

I'm starting to question Amazon's recommendation system and the sorts of people who leave five-star reviews.

"Keeper of the Eye" appears to be the freshman novel of Mark Shane, based on a quick Google search.

It tells the story of Michael, a handsome carpenter who is secretly a super-powerful magic user, instinctively-brilliant swordsman, and heir to the throne of some land with a forgettable name and of Falon, a beautiful (of course) super-efficient assassin who can drain a magic user of his or her power and/or life.

And there's a wizard named Max and a bunch of other utterly-forgettable side characters.

There's also a LORD OF DARKNESS trapped behind some magical barrier, evil warlocks who want to free said evil being, and gloating villains.

Oh, and there's a magic sword. Because fantasy.

I'm being snarky, of course. Many fantasy novels have some or all of these tropes. It's fine. Fantasy is escapist. Nothing wrong with having the tropes.

Done well.

So that brings me to "Keeper of the Eye". Imagine if you took "Once and Future King", "Wizard's First Rule", a bit of "Blood Song", and a sampling of pretty much every other fantasy novel you can imagine, then put them all together in a blender. Then you overdid it on the trite dialog and tropes.

There you have it.

"Keeper of the Eye" isn't really bad. It's an okay read. Fun in parts, with its overly-competent hero who is humble and self-doubting to the point of being ridiculous.

Then it starts to steer into really bad. Falon, the heroine, appears early on and is attached to the obligatory quest. Then she essentially merits the odd mention for about a third of the book, mainly screaming or glaring. The next thing you know, Michael and Falon are suddenly, jarringly, inexplicably from sniping at each other to in love.

Again, you read and see these tropes a lot, but normally they're done a bit better. This was just painful.

From there... yeah. I have to admit I was disappointed in this book. It was an okay read interspersed with just ridiculously-awful tropes and cliches.

I have time slated later to use whiskey to kill some brain cells.

Next up is either "The Waking Fire" by Anthony Ryan (as I try to see if he redeems himself after the awful sequels to "Blood Song") and then switching to sci-fi for a bit.