Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Small Magics" by Ilona Andrews

Small MagicsSmall Magics by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For anyone who has read and loved the Kate Daniels universe, this book is a must read. "Small Magics" by Ilona Andrews contains five wonderful short stories; three of them are set in the Kate Daniels universe and two are in new magical worlds. This author duo strikes again with stories that draw you in until the last word.

"Questionable Client" marks the beginning of Kate and Saiman's relationship. Saiman needs a bodyguard and Kate needs money. She keep him for getting killed (obvious, since he's in following books) and Saiman becomes fascinated with the woman who politely turns him down.

"Retribution Clause" brings all new characters, starting with Saiman's cousin Adam. If you haven't read "Magic Strikes" (Kate Daniels series book 3), this story contains one significant spoiler. I'll say no more.

"Magic Tests" brings Kate and her adopted daughter, Julie, to a new school in Atlanta. A student is missing and Julie has 24 hours to find her. For those who like to read stories in order, this comes after "Magic Slays".

"Of Swine and Roses" finds a young woman on a horrible date with a neanderthal chasing a pig. It's seriously funny - I almost fell out of my chair laughing. :-)

"Grace of Small Magics" introduces a new magical universe that I keep hoping Ilona Andrews will write more stories in. Magical families, revenge, duels, secret societies, and competitions to the death - this story has it all plus great characters and a new way to approach magic.

Even if you own one of these stories, it is more than work the money to buy this compilation to get all the stories. You won't regret it.

I give "Small Magics" 5 stars out of 5.

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Book Review: "Grave Illusions" by Lina Gardiner

Grave Illusions (Jess Vandermire, #1)Grave Illusions by Lina Gardiner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Grave Illusions" by Lina Gardiner introduces us to an alternate universe with vampires hiding in the shadows, a somewhat vanilla vampire world with no overt magic, no werewolves, and no zombies. Jess Vandermire is a cop who turned into a vampire, learned to cope with her condition, and became a cop again. She now leads a special ops unit that tracks and kills rogue vampires.

When I first read about this book, I was extremely excited. I love vampire books, the various flavors of vampirism, and unusual situations that different authors create to test out vampires. I also like a good romance, and "Grave Illusions" held the potential for an excellent romantic vampire murder mystery.

Alas, but the book doesn't quite measure up. John Britton stands up as a three-dimensional character, with Jess running a close second. But the rest of the people are not well defined; more than two-dimensional but not quite fully formed. The narrative also starts out rather slow, and takes about a third of the book before the pace picks up.

As for the plot, I wouldn't say Ms. Gardiner left plot holes, more like plot gaps. I found places where the narrative missed details that made the flow of the words stutter. For example, at one point John and Jess are talking in an office when Jess hears someone outside. Suddenly, John's taking his jacket out of an SUV without leaving the office. Too much of the intermediate action is implied, leaving plot gaps.

But the story has a lot of potential, and I intend to read the sequel to see if the pacing problems work out now that the universe is established.

I give this story a 3.5 stars out of 5.

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Happy Halloween!!!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Book Review: "Skin Game" by Jim Butcher

Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15)Skin Game by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Skin Game" by Jim Butcher sees Harry Dresden working another assignment as The Winter Knight, only this time Mab wants him to work with Nicodemus Archleone - the head of the Blackened Denarians and one of Harry's personal nemesis.

This novel redefines Dresden's relationships with the people he almost left behind. From Karrin to Butters to Michael, Dresden learns to rely on his friends and trust that he can contain the Winter Mantle. He even begins a real relationship with his daughter, Maggie.

But the real joy in this book is the action. Mr. Butcher packs comedic action, dramatic action, treacherous action, Parkour in Hades, and enough back-stabbing that you almost need a tally sheet to figure out who is sided with whom. And the action is held together with genuine character interactions. I felt Butter's hesitation as he wondered if Dresden succumbed to the Winter Mantle; I laughed when Dresden learns that Bob discovered Internet porn. But mostly I hung on to the edge of my seat because for the vast majority of the book, Dresden is forced to work nicely with his enemies. I delighted in the machinations as Nicodemus and Dresden attempt polite conversation; I wept when Dresden had to leave his daughter for a virtual suicide mission.

From the beginning to the end, I had trouble putting this book down. I give it 5 stars out of 5, and recommend it to fantasy lovers everywhere.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review: "Henchgirl" by Rita Stradling

HenchgirlHenchgirl by Rita Stradling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Henchgirl" by Rita Stradling brings to life an alternate world where dragons live and breed with humans to create dracons. Backed by their dragon parents, dracons control over 80% of the world. The protagonist, Dakota Kekoa, is a 16-year-old dracon who works for her grandfather as a type of enforcer. Dakota's mother is a selfish alcoholic who drinks or spends every penny she gets her hands on, so Dakota works to support her mother, her sisters, and herself.

Ms. Stradling immerses her readers in this new world from the beginning. I can feel the heat of the islands where Dakota lives, hear the hate speech from the full-humans, and understand the dread of being accidentally turned into a vampire or werewolf. I want to bitch slap those who are rude to Dakota, and yell at her mother for letting her daughter shoulder the responsibility of taking care of the entire household. If you let it, this story will suck you in and hold you to the edge of your seat as Dakota muddles her way through visiting dignitaries and the vanishing of one of her true friends.

"Henchgirl" is clean in term of no grammatical or spelling errors. But more than that, all the details line up. Not once did I hit an inconsistency that can pull a reader from the narrative. Instead, I lost track of time while reading.

I give this book 5 stars out of 5, and recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy books.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Wordless Wednesday: Headline News

Just Because You're The FBI Director...

...doesn't mean you can turn your wishes into fact through random announcements.  In fact, you need to show more integrity and more honesty because of your position, and respect the power of your position, not abuse it.

What am I talking about?  Last week James Comey, the Director of the FBI, made a few radical statement based on his opinion of a situation.  To paraphrase the man, he said that YouTube and the viral videos of police have caused a rise in crime nationwide, because local police feel afraid of being recorded.  This makes no sense, if you think about it.  How would "meek" police cause more crime?

What really bothers me is that Mr. Comey acts as if this is true, even though he has no evidence to support his statements.  And because he's the FBI director, I know that some people will believe him.  The position carries with it authority on the subject of crime, and Mr. Comey seems to be using that authority to slam people who record police interactions.  This year, more police officers have been investigated and found guilty for inappropriate behavior then that past few years combined, a fact partially due to the evidence collected by bystanders when a police officer gets out of control. But instead of brainstorming how to solve the problems in the police departments, Mr. Comey wants to stop the recording.

Of course, this is the man who admits to secret flyovers of Americans, using drone technology to secretly and illegally collecting cell phone conversations.  I don't think that American rights mean much to him.

"Comey-FBI-Portrait" by Federal Bureau of Investigation. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Book Review: "Nirvana" by J.R. Stewart

Nirvana (Nirvana Series #1)Nirvana by J.R. Stewart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

"Nirvana" by J.R. Stewart presents a dystopian society with corporate overlords, a secret rebellion, and a planet severely scarred by human activities. Larissa Kenders, call her Kenders, is the protagonist here, struggling at first to define her place in the world, and then to find her supposedly dead lover, Andrew.

This is a good book with aspirations of greatness. The set-up for how the human race managed to screw up the world is plausible enough to be scary. Kenders comes across as a real person as she moves through the story. But the other characters lack that certain depth to make them completely believable. One of the main antagonist sounds as if he's twirling his mustache through some of the scenes. Also, some of the details are either mismatched or just plain missing. For example, Kenders finds some secret information which she hides. Later, she gives the hidden information to someone without ever going to retrieve the information. I found this type of problem throughout the book; nothing that is story shattering but definitely interrupting to the narrative.

If you skip over the details, this is actually a light, fluffy dystopian read.

I give it 2.5 stars out of 5.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Review: "The Shadow Revolution" by Clay and Susan Griffith

The Shadow Revolution (Crown & Key, #1)The Shadow Revolution by Clay Griffith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Shadow Revolution" by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith tells a tale of magic and mystery in a steam-era civilization. It's London, during a time of steam-powered contrivances and magic called aether. Most people don't believe in magic, but it's not secret; it's just not talked about as a current event.

Four characters function as the protagonist. Simon Archer and Nick Barker share rooms and go around, quieting helping out in situations where a bit of magical intervention is needed. Simon is a scribe - he writes down words or runes and then activates them to control his magic. Nick does a bit of everything when it comes to magic, though throwing fireballs seems to be his favorite go-to attack. Lady Kate Anstruther is an accomplished alchemist and head of Hartley Hall, a few hours outside of London. She divides her time between her dog, her sister, and her experiments. Malcolm MacFarlane is a renown Scottish monster hunter. He carries specially made guns, silver ammunition, and a bad attitude.

"The Shadow Revolution" is overall a decent story. The characters, their motivations, and the plot have been used before, so I wasn't surprised by any of these story elements. When saves the book from the "been there, read that" heap is good old-fashioned storytelling. The Griffiths spin a solid tale about men, women, werewolves, mad scientists, and human foibles. None of it stands out as amazing, but none of it is rubbish.

Overall, I give this book 3½ to 4 stars, and recommend this to anyone looking for a quick steampunk read.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Wordless Wednesday: Morning Rush Hour

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: "Dragonflies" by Andy Straka

"Dragonflies" by Andy Straka presents a world in the near future where drone technology has evolved without the necessary social rules to guide its usage. The book begins with a military operation going horribly wrong because of faulty intelligence.  The two main characters, helicopter pilot Raina Sanchez and  soldier Tye Palmer, meet here as Tye rescues Raina from a crashed helicopter.

Fast forward, and the two characters are working together to stop a crooked politician.  Interestingly, while Tye does the ground work, it's Raina who is the more important person here as her flying experience lets her work with the minuscule drones.

While this book is classified as science fiction, I wonder if it should just be considered a thriller because the technology here might already be available.  I know it's more than a little disconcerting to think that our government might have to ability to send insect-sized drones around to spy on whatever they want, but considering how much miniaturization has occurred from the 1960s until today, this is a real possibility.

In terms of strict writing, "Dragonflies" is clean - no grammatical errors, no misspellings, believable dialogue, and  coherent paragraphs.  The only problem I ran into was what I perceive as a problem with the plot.  Spoiler Alert - Don't read on unless you don't mind learning a bit more.

Tye and Raina learn that this politician has a hidden camera in his son's dorm room, or can assume this because said son date raped a woman and his father has the entire episode in a video.  So it makes sense to assume the camera is still there, still working, and still broadcasting back to the father, right?  Well, Tye confronts the son in his dorm room and doesn't follow the script laid out.  A few minutes alter, all hell breaks loose as the father's men try to interfere, a key event to what follows.

As Tye walks into the room, I sat here thinking, "What are you doing?  You're going to tip off the man that you're not really working for him!"  When the confrontation failed, I felt justified in my concerns, and I also felt that someone who is an intelligent as Tye would not have made such a mistake.  It was a big enough discrepancy from Tye's normal behavior that I had trouble getting back into the story.

Overall, if you like thrillers and can overlook some plot devices put in to move things along, you will like "Dragonflies".

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:

Rules for Being Human

  1. You will receive a body.  You may like it or hate it, but it is yours.
  2. You will learn lessons.  You are enrolled in a full-time, informal school called life.  Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons.  You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid.
  3. There are no mistakes, only lessons.  Growth is a process of trial and error experimentation.  The "failed" experiments are as much as part of the process as the experiment that ultimately "works".
  4. A lesson is repeated until it is learned.  A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it.  When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.
  5. Learning lessons does not end.  There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons.  If you are alive, there are lessons to learn.
  6. "There" is no better than  "here".  When your "there" has become a "here", you will simply obtain another "there" that will, again, look better than "here".
  7. Others are merely mirrors of you.  You cannot love or hate some thing about another person unless it reflects to you something that you love or hate about yourself.
  8. What you make of life is up to you.  You have all the tools and resources you need; what you do with them is your choice.
  9. The answers you seek to life's questions lie inside of you.  All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.
  10. You will forget all of this.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review: "Two Ravens and One Crow" by Kevin Hearne

Two Ravens and One Crow (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #4.5)Two Ravens and One Crow by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Two Ravens and One Crow" by Kevin Hearne can be read as a standalone story or as part of the Iron Druid series. If you want to read it in the series, this book comes six years after "Tricked", which means about halfway through Granuaile's training as a druid. The Morrigan shows up and demands Atticus accompany her on a journey that will return him in about two weeks, if he returns at all.

Kevin Hearne outdoes himself in this short story. On top of an intricate plot that augments the overall Iron Druid story arc, Hearne expands the characters of Atticus, Morrigan, and a few surprise guests as well as developing new dimensions in the relationships between Atticus and Granuaile, Morrigan, and one particular surprise guest. Also, we learn that the Morrigan is more self-aware than we know, that she's a strange sports fan, and that she values the friendship she has with Atticus.

If you're already a fan of the Iron Druid, you need to read this short story; it's information is imperative to the story. If you're not a fan yet, this short story contains spoilers for previous books, but otherwise it's a great introduction to Atticus and his strange life.

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Book Review: "Rock Redemption" by Nalini Singh

Rock Redemption (Rock Kiss, #3)Rock Redemption by Nalini Singh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Rock Redemption" by Nalini Singh guides the reader through the broken relationship between Noah St. John, guitarist for Schoolboy Choir, and Kit Devigny, friend to the band and a promising actress. If you've read either of the other books in the Rock Kiss series, you know that demons from his past chase Noah through life, and he goes through women like a hot knife through butter.

This is a romance novel, so from the get-go you know that the protagonists, Noah and Kit, will overcome any obstacles and be a couple by the end. What makes "Rock Redemption" a good read is that Ms. Singh crafted a wonderful story that draws you in and lets you care about the characters. You root for Noah to find the courage to talk to Kit about his past and the strength to let go of said past to embrace the future. You worry about Kit and her stalker, wondering who would attempt to terrify her so much.

An side note here - I love the stalker story arc. Kit refuses to let some maniac control her life while simultaneously taking necessary precautions (e.g. security guards), showing backbone and common sense. Plus the reveal of the stalker was not what I expected - I love properly done story twists!

If you like romance novels that have wonderful writing, believable characters, and a realistic plot, I recommend you read "Rock Redemption".

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Freaky Friday News: October 16, 2015

And the Winner is...  Santa Claus!!!

Santa Claus, the man formerly known as Thomas Patrick O'Connor, won a seat on the city council of North Pole, Alaska, this week.   Mr. Claus ran as a write-in candidate, and received 58 votes to capture his victory.

Mr. Claus is a cancer patient, and he wants to set up a marijuana medical dispensary in town.  He also advocates for children's rights.

Congratulations, Santa!

Courtesy of Santa Claus

How Not To Put Out a Fire

Earlier this week, an unnamed man in Clay County, Missouri tried to burn trash in a field.  Only, he didn't clear out enough space so the brush caught fire.  To put out the unintended fire, he decided to do something unusual - he drove over the flames.

In his minivan.

Filled with ammunition.

It didn't work out well.  The van's tires caught fire, then the flames reached the ammunition, and began to randomly set off the bullets.  After the police and fire arrived, both groups waited a safe distance away from the minivan until the ammunition stopped firing.

The lesson here:  Don't drive over a wildfire with a minivan filled with ammo.  It just doesn't work out well.

Playboy Removes Nude Photos from Magazine

In a strange turn of events, Playboy magazine announced this week that they will not be publishing full nude photos as of March 2016.   Basically, the publishers realize that someone looking for porn can find just about anything for free on the Internet, which explains the downward trend in magazine subscriptions.  So they're planning on making a new "PG-13" version of Playboy.  The new layout will still have a (clothed) Playmate of the Month, fiction, celebrity interviews, investigative journalism, and other content that will hopefully draw in more subscribers.

Personally, I was quite surprised when I first heard this news.  I mean, Playboy has become an iconic symbol for sexual freedom in America.  But I completely understand the reasoning; I just think it's ironic that the sexual freedom created by Playboy is now putting the company out of business.

Cover of the first Playboy in 1953

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fact or Opinion: It Doesn't Matter As Much As You Think

What are the facts? Again and again and again - what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” -- what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!

- The Notebooks of Lazarus Long, Robert A. Heinlein

With the plethora of knowledge accessible with a simple google, many people assume that the masses will avail of said knowledge when making important decisions, such as which candidate to support in the voting booth, which car to purchase, whether or not to use vaccinations,...

Sadly, this is not true.

According to several studies published this year, the majority of people unconsciously filter out information that doesn't support their view on a topic in which they already have an established stance.  One of the studies, which involved vaccinations, tried several methods to reassure parents that vaccines are not only safe, but necessary for society in general.  The parents who already decided against vaccinations not only seemed to miss the "vaccines are safe" message, but doubled down on their rejection.

The question this brings to mind is - why?  Why do people disregard plain evidence, choosing to believe folklore over logic?  Let's be honest here; the places with the lowest vaccinations rates are now showing recurrences of diseases that we had previously thought eradicated, such as measles and whooping cough (pertussis).

But this problem goes farther than vaccines.  When the Iran Nuclear Deal was announced, several people announced their opinion on the deal, proudly stating that nothing would change their minds.  In debates over gun control, the two sides stand opposed, unwilling to even listen to the other side.

Since when did being closed-minded and uncompromising become something to brag about?  Do they not realize that they sound like tired toddlers?

Of course, I think the current batch of politicians promotes this type of not-thinking, because it allows them to spin outrageous stories that gain more traction than if people questioned what they hear.  For example, remember the sadly large group of "Birthers" who swore that Barack Obama wasn't an American citizen?  Mind you, we have safe guards in place to ensure that every candidate meets the requirements for presidency.   But these people would rather believe the entire Democratic party was maliciously pulling the wool over the nation's eyes then admit President Obama is an American citizen.

Now, I admit I have my own opinions on events and news.  And I will argue my opinions to anyone who wants to have a real discussion (i.e. no trolls).  But if you can come up with reasonable information or evidence that contradicts me, I will change my mind and my opinion.  I see no shame or embarrassment in being mistaken, only in being blindly stubborn.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Mass Shootings - Not A Gun-Control Issue

Over the past few years, there have been a plethora of mass shootings in movie theaters, schools, and wherever else a person felt like they needed to make a statement.  For the most part, I don't comment on these occasions, partially because of the already outrageous amount of media attention on the event and partially because I never really had anything to add to the public discussion.

But after hearing about the mass shooting last week and all the discussions about gun control, I think we need to rethink the problem.  I don't see gun control as the answer to mass shootings.  Most of the people obtained their firearms legally, and I don't see the need to punish 99.9% of the people to maybe stop one shooter.

The problem is the media attention.  If a person is feeling blue and wants attention, all he or she has to do is grab a gun and start shooting everyone for instant fame.  Suddenly, his name will be mentioned at least once an hour, every hour, for days on end.  Everyone knows all about the shooter's life, from infancy to death.  People might even make a movie about what happened.

For someone who feels so alone, overlooked, left out, or abandoned, creating a mass shooting seems to be the answer, the solution to those negative feelings.  Dying during the incident might even count as a bonus - you can live on in infamy.

So how do we stop the mass shootings?  I think the answer is easy.  Stop publicizing when one occurs.  If someone shoots up a school in Macon, Georgia, then no one outside of Macon needs to hear about it on the news.  The media needs to stop naming the people responsible for the shootings, need to stop listing the number of dead and injured, needs to stop making each incident into headline news.

It's the same philosophy as with children.  All children need attention.  They crave positive attention, will settle for negative attention, and cannot stand being ignored.  The shooters have not found a source of positive attention and will happily settle for the negative media attention.  If we ignore the shootings, we remove that source of attention.  No attention equals no reason to become a shooter.

The question is, can we stop the media from publicizing each mass shooting?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Freaky Friday News: October 9, 2015

20-foot long Reticulated Python
Just in Time...

Last Monday, the police in Newport, Kentucky (a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio) rescued a man who was being crushed by a nonvenomous snake.  Thank goodness we now have a medical code to describe what happened; otherwise who knows what chaos would be unleashed on our hapless medical billing systems.

Elvis is Back!

That is, the king cobra called Elvis.  Living in Orange County, Florida, Elvis escaped his owners about a month ago.  This resulted in a local elementary school temporarily suspending outdoor recess and a lot of people jumping at noises.  

Yesterday, a woman noticed a hissing sound coming from underneath her clothes dryer.  Animal control technicians came out and found the 10-foot long snake hiding back there.  It took two special tongs, a cat carrier, and a soft-sided carrier to get the snake back home.  Hopefully, he won't be leaving the building anytime soon.

Man Burns House Down Playing Minecraft

Vote Santa Claus 2015

Next Tuesday, the town of North Pole, Alaska will be holding an election for a city council seat.  And guess whose trying to win?

Santa Claus!

The man, whose legal name is actually Santa Claus, is campaigning as a write-in candidate.  The impetus behind his political aspirations?  He wants to make medical marijuana legal.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Friday Funny

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Are Great Apes "People", too?

Baby Chimpanzee
Growing up, I remember thinking about animals and wondering if they talked to each other, what they thought about, and if they all lived together somewhere in a hidden place with no humans around to kill them.  And I LOVED watching "Dr. Doolittle" (the older movie, not the Eddie Murphy one).

As I grew up, my interests changed, but I still like learning about wild animals.  I wrote a paper on African elephants; I watched "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom"; I listened as scientists made discovery after discovery about the amazing abilities of dogs and dolphins.

In the past several years, we've learned that humans are not the only self-aware creatures on this planet.  Dogs, dolphins, whales, octopuses, and great apes all recognized themselves in mirrors and act in ways that astound me.  Certain types of dogs can remember over 1,000 different toys and then pick out a new toy in the group.  An octopus can watch another octopus solve a problem, learning the solution through observation.  Bonobos, a type of great ape, can make hot tea using a stove and know how to game the system to get what they want.  All great apes can learn to either use sign language or use interpretive devices to "talk" to their human friends.  In fact, adult great apes have the same problem that adult humans do - we learn vocabulary but have problems learning new grammatical rules.  And baby great apes learn the same way baby humans do, only lacking the necessary throat muscles to make words the way we do.

Bonobo Mom and Baby

So why do we still treat animals as if they are dumb?  Why do we expect animals to react on instinct alone, as if they don't have the ability to adapt or change?  We know better than that, at least for some animals.

Disclaimer:  I am not a vegetarian.  I eat pig and cow and I think that they are delicious.  This is not a ploy to get people to stop eating meat.

Part of the answer is hubris on our part.  We, the humans, rose to the top of the food chain through our larger brains.  Now we seek to rule all of those below us, even if no one thinks of it that way.

Another part might be legal.  Can you imagine what would happen if animals gained legal rights?  Not only would all the research facilities have to change how they approach any study that involves animals, but what happens to the zoos and circuses?  What about all the parks or tiny wildlife attractions that use animals as a type of bait to get people to visit them?

How would our society have to change if we acknowledged animals as sentient beings with basic human rights?

Silverback Gorilla
Standing Tall

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Would You Get Crushed by a Snake Twice?

A Green Anaconda - the world's largest nonvenomous snake
I hope not, but if you do, the latest batch of medical codes has you covered.

Medical codes - those crazy numbers that appear on the paperwork from your doctor, letting the insurance people know that you have a 320.8 and a 719.0 for today's visit.

In the United States, we have several systems of medical codes, including the International Classification of Disease, a "standard diagnostic tool for epidemiology, health management and clinical purposes" according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  The WHO and the CDC work together to create revisions to these codes, which began in the late 1890s.  The latest release, ICD-10, has been used on death certificates in the United States since 1999, but it was only last Thursday that doctors' offices and hospital were mandated to use the newest codes in their diagnostic work.

What does this mean to you?  Nothing in the short term (unless you're in medical billing).  But long term, these new codes will help the CDC and WHO track trends such as where antibiotic resistant bacterial show up the most.

But the new codes are kinda funny because they try to account for everything that a person can do to get hurt/injured/infected, including getting crushed by a nonvenomous snake not once, but twice.

Here are some of the unique new codes:

  • Bitten by an orca 
  • Bitten by a shark
  • Crushed by a nonvenomous snake
  • Bitten by a squirrel
  • Burned by water skis that are on fire
  • Spacecraft explosion injury
  • Spacecraft fire injury
  • Unknown spacecraft injury, e.g. a space toilet falling on your head and killing you
  • Bitten by a pig
  • Struck by a pig
  • Poisoning by caffeine, assault
  • Toxic effect of venom of caterpillars, assault
Seriously, how can a caterpillar assault you?

Several of the new codes come with instance modifiers; for example, "Bitten by an orca" comes in  
three varieties:
  • initial encounter, 
  • subsequent encounter, and 
  • sequela.   
Therefore, ICD-10 has three codes for bitten by an orca, depending on how many times you've been bitten.  (This begs the question, who gets bitten by an orca more than once?)

Also, for codes that relate to venom or poisoning, the codes contain modifiers related to cause.  So for "Poisoning by caffeine" has four codes for:
  • accidental (unintentional)
  • intentional, self-harm
  • assault
  • undetermined
Alex Gomez' hand
This past summer, two different men found a rattlesnake and decided to take a selfie with the snake. One, Alex Gomez, picked it up, snapped a shot, then tried to reposition the snake to lay around his neck.  The rattlesnake, having enough photos for the day, bit the man on his thumb.  The other man, Todd Fassler, did the same thing, only he got bitten in his arm and needed all the antivenom available from two hospitals to live.

Truly, I don't blame the snake in either case.

But I wonder, in the new ICD-10, are these incidents classified as accidental, intentional, or assault?  Because no one intented to get bitten, which leans towards accidental.  But both men definitely picked up a rattlesnake, an intentional action.  And the snake intentionally bit them - does this count as assault?

Wordless Wednesday: Cool Treehouse Credit

Credit:  Mike George/The Sun Chronicle 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday Funny

Freaky Friday News: October 2, 2015

Welcome to Freaky Friday News, the Rock Edition!  

Why do I call it that?  Because this week, everyone rocks!

John Oliver Rocks!

"Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver tackles current events with truth, sarcasm, and a willingness to not only think outside the box, but to actually go outside the box.  This week, Oliver discussed the refugee crisis happening in Europe.  During this segment, we meet Noujain Mustaffa, a sixteen-year-old girl from northern Syria who needs a wheelchair because she has cerebral palsy.  Ms. Mustaffa acts as a translator for people because she speaks nearly perfect English, learning the language by watching "Days of Our Lives".

Hearing this, John Oliver contacted the show, told them about Ms. Mustaffa, and asked them for help with not only focusing attention on the plight of the refugees, but also to create something specifically for this special girl.  "Days of Our Lives" responded by having her two favorite characters reunite (the man was supposed to be dead), discuss the refugee situation, and mention Noujain Mustaffa by name.

John Oliver includes the clip at the end of his refugee segment, and I must admit I almost cried.  It is wonderful to see so many people work to make one girl happy.

U.S. Judge George H. King Rocks!

For the past 80 years, Warner/Chapell Music claimed to own a copyright on the song, "Happy Birthday to You".  While they never even tried to enforce the copyright for private use, movies that used the song had to pay copyright fees, to the tune of about $2 million a year.

Several artists filed a class-action suit against Warner/Chapell claiming that they did not own a valid copyright.  After researching the history of the song, last Tuesday Judge King ruled that Warner/Chapell does not own a valid copyright, making the song part of the public domain now.


Belgium Scientists Rock!

As the problems with climate change and pollution grow, several scientists are looking for new ways to create fuel, including a group of scientists in Belgium.  These people are studying panda poo for clues on how to use plant waste products, such as corn stalk, to create second generation bio-fuels.

Yes, I said panda poo.  Panda are genetically carnivores, but due to circumstances have adapted to eating bamboo.  The problem comes because panda's don't have an herbivore's digestive tract.  For example, cows have four stomachs; pandas have one.

So how do these black-and-white guys digest their food?

These scientists speculate that the panda has specialized microorganisms living in their digestive tract that break down plant material.  By collecting and studying the panda poo, they're hoping to identify the microorganism.

Go, Panda Poo!

Mealworms Rock!

Engineers at Stanford University, collaborating with researchers in China,  published a pair of companion studies this month about mealworms eating Styrofoam.    

Currently, the United States generates approximately 33 million tons of plastic trash annually, which includes 2.5 billion foam cups.  Most of this trash becomes pollution in our landfills and our oceans.  But what if we could convert plastics into biodegradable waste and carbon dioxide?

Enter the mealworm.  The larvae form of darkling beetles, the researcher fed a group of mealworms only Styrofoam for an entire month.  The worms not only survived, but thrived as well as the control group that was eating bran.  In the end, about 47.7%  of the plastic became CO2, 49.2% became fecal matter, and the rest was used to sustain the mealworm.

This study shows that we might have a way to contend with the massive amount of plastic in the Pacific Ocean, as well as all the plastics in our landfills.

Credited to Yu Yang

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Book Review: "Hell Bound" by Andrew P. Weston

Hell BoundHell Bound by Andrew P. Weston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Update: The book is available for pre-order right now on Amazon Kindle, and will be release on October 31, 2015.

"Hell Bound" by Andrew P. Weston delivers snarky, humorous, deep-delving fun through a narration reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Weston created a new version of Hell here, one in which the various rings reflect real world places, in which Dom Peringnon rules the crime underworld of Perish (Paris) with his 2nd in command, Al Catraz, in which Red Riding Hood aka Red Cap aka Strawberry Fields works as a special investigator, and in which the edges of Hell are illuminated by the light of Paradise.

The protagonist, Daemon Grim, acts as Lucifer's Grim Reaper in this universe. Grim hunts down bad guys both in Hell and on Earth, delivering these rotten souls to Hell for their punishment. In fact, the story begins with Grim on earth to retrieve the soul of a serial killer. Upon returning to Hell, the Undertaker, the man in charge of reassembling and reassigning souls, tells Grim that one of the souls he was supposed to retrieve is missing. This sets up the entire story, as Grim chases down one lost soul and discovers a conspiracy that might end Hell as he knows it.

I loved reading this book. In fact, I had trouble putting my Kindle down to do things such as laundry and dinner. Weston sneaks in humorous references everywhere, usually in the names of people and places. Also, the interweaving of the story was absolute genius! While most of the story was told from Grim's point of view, Weston also includes sections from other character's point of views (I can't tell you who, though, because of spoilers!) The narration flows smoothly from one character to another, and I never felt lost.

The only problem I see is that this book won't be available until March of next year, and who knows when a sequel will be available.

I give this book 5 stars out of 5, and recommend it to teens and adults who like a great story.

View all my reviews

Death of a Murderess

Kelly Renee Gissendaner - Age 46
From the Georgia Dept. of Corrections

Wednesday morning, just before 12:30am, the state of Georgia executed their first woman this century, Kelly Renee Gissendaner.  Eighteen years ago, Mrs. Gissendaner convinced her lover, Gregory Owen, to murder her husband, Douglas Gissendaner.  Mr. Owen then turned state's witness and signed a plea bargain.  He received life without parole in exchange for testifying against Mrs. Gissendaner.

Now, we know that Kelly Gissendaner is guilty as charged.  She has since admitted her actions and apologized for her behavior.  There is no question about that.

But I still wonder, is execution the right answer?  What do we as a society gain from her execution?

Supposedly, punishments such as imprisonment and execution act as deterrents, convincing people that it's better not to commit a crime.  Yet time and time again, studies show that these punishments do not act as deterrents at all.  Why?  Because most people don't think that they will get caught.  If they thought that they would get caught, they either wouldn't do the crime or (more likely) change their plans so as not to get caught.

That begs the question - what is the purpose of executions?

Morally, killing another person is wrong.  It doesn't really matter if it's Kelly Gissendaner killing her husband or the state killing Kelly Gissendaner.  Killing is still wrong.

Legally, there is no reason to execute people.  Executions don't act as deterrents.

Financially, executions cost between 2 and 10 times more that life without parole, even if the person lives decades longer in prison.

Kelly Renee Gissendaner - at the time of her arrest in 1997
So why then do we still execute people?

I have no answer to this question.  Logically, society should lock someone like Mrs. Gissendaner up with no parole, instead of hurting so many people with the execution:

  • The Gissendaners had three children, who now are orphans.  
  • Douglas Gissendaner's remaining family has been hurt as well.  Still screaming for revenge, the Gissendaners have been unable to accept his death and properly grieve for 18 years due to the looming execution.
  • Whoever performed the execution now has the blood of a woman on his or her hands, regardless of the legality of the action.
Many Western countries have done away with the death penalty as their society have grown more mature and realized the futility of the punishment.  

When will we, in the United States, realize that, too?

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...