Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Review: "Divine Misfortune" by A. Lee Martinez

Divine MisfortuneDivine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you could actually talk to the gods? I have, and that's why I read "Divine Misfortune", the story of how two ordinary people change their life with the contractual inclusion of Luka, the God of Luck and Fortune.

I am a fan of A. Lee Martinez other books, because I like how he creates worlds. This book proves to be no exception; Mr. Martinez presents the reader with a believable world in which anyone can log into Pantheon.com and find their own god or goddess. The author assembles the relationships between humans and gods or gods and gods, the quirky legality of the follower/god contract, and the discussions about the problems with living eternally into a book that is both funny and thoughtful.

I like how the gods have the same problems as the humans in terms of learning how to be better people, handling break-ups, and moving on after a crisis. Gods simply have more time to learn about themselves, and more time to really screw up their lives.

I also like how the humans teach the gods that humanity and being human isn't such a handicap. Sometimes it takes looming death to make a person realize the beauty and value of life.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Devil's Advocate: Support North Korea

With all the rhetoric flying around about North Korea these days, I think it's time to look at more than just our side of the story.  So, playing devil's advocate, I now throw my support behind North Korea and their efforts to be a nuclear nation.

For the past fifty years, North Korea survived in the shadow of tens of thousands of American military units in South Korea, including about 30,000 troops right now.  Instead of a peace treaty, North Korea settled for an armistice even though the people there want a real peace treaty.  When they try to advance themselves technologically to protect themselves from the aggressive language and gestures of the West, the US uses the UN as a newspaper to hit North Korea on the head, like an errant puppy.

North Korea wants respect from the rest of the world and they want the right to determine their own fate.  How is that any different from the rest of us?

The United States has detonated over 1,000 nuclear bombs, but then has hissy fits when North Korea detonates three.  The United States invaded Iran with no provocation, creating the rumors of weapons of mass destruction to justify the illegal invasion, then proceeded destroy the Iraqi infrastructure.  Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians died in the invasion, and there were no weapons of mass destruction.  After 10 years, the country still has not recovered.   Now the US harangues North Korea about their way of life and their nuclear ambitions, going so far as both questioning the stability of the current leader while increasing their military presence in South Korea.

And you wonder why North Korea sees the US as an active threat?

The answer to this situation lies in the United States treating North Korea with respect, letting them become a nuclear nation and fostering relations built on economics and trust.  When North Korea's economy depends on trade and outside countries, they will be less and less motivated to begin military actions and more motivated to continue economic relations.  But someone needs to make the first move towards peace.

Do you think the United States can deflate its ego enough to take that step?

Book Review: "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After all the hype, the movie, and the discussion about the series, I finally read "The Hunger Games", and much to my surprise, I discovered that I like this book.

I like the future portrayed here - a central government that continually punishes the outlying provinces, called Districts, for their rebellion years ago. I also like the subtle romantic plot and the interactions between characters. But most of all, I like Katniss.

The reader sees and understands this world through the eyes and thoughts of Katniss, and the author uses her both as a believable storyteller and as a protagonist. I love how Ms. Collins uses Katniss' thoughts to give the reader information about the world, but in a believable way. No information dumps here. I also love how Katniss transforms internally throughout the games, playing along to save her district and sister but still rebelling against the cruelty of it all.

I look forward to reading where the author takes this next.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Netiquette Primer: Tell Your Own Story

I like hearing a good story or two, as do most folk.  But just like real life, when you are writing online you need to remember to tell your own story.

I cannot stress the importance of this.  Unless you have been asked to help disseminate information on someone's behalf, such as the status of a person in surgery, what you post needs to be about you, your actions, your thoughts, your opinions, and your behaviors.  Yes, you can mention other people, but only in relation to you.

While in real life, telling another person's story is considered gossip, the consequence online is more severe.  Every time a name is mentioned online, that person's digital footprint grows.  So if you gossip online, you not only expand your digital footprint but also the other person's digital footprint.  Parents are particularly bad at this, as we tend to want to either brag about our kids' latest accomplishments or get sympathy for their latest growing stage (such as the terrible twos).  But every story we post about our kids creates a digital footprint for them and might cause them either embarrassment or humiliation as they grow older.

To illuminate this point, let us assume that a mother calls her toddler a "honey badger" online because he is going through a particularly stubborn phase, going so far as to write "Honey badger don't care" as a caption under the toddler sleeping someplace other than his bed, or making a face at the camera while pouring milk over his head.

Said toddler knows nothing about this, but what happens when he grows up?  What will he think when he sees these pictures and captions?  What will his friends think?  Chances are he'll get teased at least a little bit over postings he didn't approve of.  And, taking this a bit farther, what if his teachers learn about this?  How long will this toddler need to explain behaviors he had that predate his living memory?

Sadly, kids everywhere are developing digital footprints via their parents' blogs, status updates, and comments.  And remember, the Internet is forever.  So these footprints will follow these kids into their adult lives.

But parents and kids are only one source of not telling your own story.  I read people complaining about their significant others, and I wonder if they would say these things to their partner's face.  I wonder how many relationships are ruined because it's easier to tell a bunch of strangers what you feel instead of telling the person who needs to know.  I wonder how many friendships end because a private comment gets posted in a public forum.

So remember, tell your own story, and let other people tell their own.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Book Review: "Frost Burned" by Patricia Briggs

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson, #7)Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Patricia Briggs released "Frost Burned", the seventh book in the Mercedes Thompson-Hauptman series, Tuesday of this week. I read the entire book that day, and I'm still flying high from happiness.

The book begins with Mercy taking Jesse, her new step-daughter, out Black Friday shopping at midnight. They get into a car accident, try to call for a ride, and discover that the wolf pack has been kidnapped. From there, Mercy runs around trying to keep Jesse safe, find and rescue Adam and the pack, unravel the mystery of why the bad guys kidnapped her pack, and clean blood out of the back seat of the local Vampire Queen's Mercedes AMG that Mercy "borrowed".

Ms. Briggs pulled this story together well, with a logical twist to the ending, believable character development for all the major players, and excellent supporting characters. Ben, the London wolf with a seriously messed up childhood, gets to play hero for a bit, and Kyle proves that you don't have to be a werewolf to be tough. Stefan shows up to help out, and Mercy helps him get more back to normal. There's even a crossover character from the Alpha and Omega series!

I love how a few of the chapters switch from Mercy's point of view to Adam's point of view. I'm not certain how the story would work otherwise, because the reader would have to hear Adam explain what happened to Mercy instead of living through the events with him. I think this also signals that Adam is as much the protagonist of this story as Mercy, and I hope Ms. Briggs continues with this in the next book.

Overall, I love "Frost Burned", and I recommended this book both to anyone whose read this series and to anyone who loves urban fantasy.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Netiquette Primer: Part 2

Second Rule:  Don't abuse the caps-lock key, the bold function, or the italics function.

Text typed in either a large font or in all capital letters is the equivalent of yelling or screaming at a person.  Bold works to bring emphasis to a word or sentence, but becomes shouting if your entire comment is in bold.  Italics become hard to read if too many words are in italics.

Remember, moderation is the key to emphasizing your text.

Third rule:  Stick to the topic of conversation.

I cannot tell you how many times I've been involved in an online conversation when someone butts in and begins to rant about something other than what we're discussing.  First, while I like a well-thought out rant, I prefer if people join a conversation instead of just ranting.  Second, if you have such a strong opinion about a topic, write a blog post or begin your own conversation thread.  But it's rude to hijack someone else's thread for your conversation.

Fourth rule:  The Internet is forever.  So are any posts, comments, or pictures that you upload.

The Internet is comprised of several computers that act as servers, routers, and bridges throughout the world.  This distributed nature means that once you put something out there, you cannot delete the content with any certainty that there is no copy laying around somewhere.  Therefore, it's better to err on the side of caution when posting online because a flaming vent, while provides a temporary outlet for your anger, will come back to haunt you when you least expect it.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Freaky Friday News: March 1, 2013

It's been awhile, but here is your Freaky Friday News for the first day of March.

Microsoft Mania

In a manner similar to last year, Microsoft's cloud service, Azure, went down about two weeks ago, all its services off-line in a most peculiar way.  But while the cause for last year's outage was simple carelessness on Microsoft's part... who am I kidding?  They were careless again.

Last year, Microsoft forgot to re-register the domain name for Azure.  This year, Microsoft forgot to renew their SSL certificate for the website. (Note: An SSL certificate is needed to create secure connections between two parties online.) The best part is that Microsoft is its own certificate authority, so they didn't even need to interact with a third party.  They only needed to renew their own certificate. *bangs head against the wall*

And this month will be no better, as the EU announced that they will be fining Microsoft for not following a court order to provide their European customer a screen to choose which web browser they want to use.  There has been no announcement as to the amount of the fine, but it can be up to 9 billion dollars, an amount even Microsoft won't sneeze at.

Alert!  Java Bug! Alert!

Yes, today a security company, FireEye, announced that they found yet another previously unknown bug in Java that is also currently being exploited using to take over your computer.  This bug effects the latest and greatest versions of Java, so even those who through their constant vigilance maintain the absolutely most current code still are vulnerable to this particular abuse.

Once again, I beg you to disable Java in your web browser.  If you need instructions, simply read my other post and save yourself!  Save your computer!!  And possibly save the world.

Five-Year-Old Boy Makes a Mistake

I wonder about our news sources when a five year old boy making a simple mistake gets so much attention.  This child, who I am neither naming nor linking to anything with his name in it, asked his parents' permission to download and play a free game on their iPad.  The parents, busy entertaining guests, unlocked the iPad and then left the boy to his own devices.  Innocently, the boy began to play his game, and followed the in-game prompts to buy add-ons that make the game more fun.

He spent £1,700, or roughly $2, 552, in about 10 minutes.

The mother discovered this expenditure the next day, freaked out, blamed the boy (who cried and cried and was told to hide before his father got home), and then tried to get Apple to refund the money.  After three days of back and forth, Apple refunded their money.

But here's the part that rubs me wrong.  Apple and the iPad have built in features that allow parents to disable in-app purchases.  You can easily find the information by googling for "iPad parental controls", then clicking on either the official Apple support page or an even more detailed description on how to enable parental restrictions on About.com.

So essentially the boy did not make a mistake; his parents did.  Only they blamed him for the purchases and Apple for allowing it to happen.

And if that wasn't enough, the parents gave an interview to a British newspaper about the whole incident, publicly embarrassing and humiliating their son by blaming him for their carelessness.  They even provided a picture of him looking distraught.

What kind of selfish, moronic, thoughtless, self-aggrandizing egomaniac sidesteps their responsibility for their own mistakes by publicly reprimanding their own child for those same mistakes?

Freaky Friday News: Unicorn Licenses

Los Angeles County Gives a Young Resident a Unicorn License Last month, a resident of Los Angeles county, Miss Madeline, sent a handwritte...