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We're still in the waiting room. Tired, hungry, and bored. The pediatrician thought it might be appendicitis and sent us here. Sebastian threw up about 90 minutes ago and feels much better...but we can't leave.

AND as I was writing this, they moved us into a room.

Hospital

May. 15th, 2012 07:42 pm
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Pulling in to Hasbro Children's Hospital now.
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Shadows in Flight (Shadow, #5)Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I don't like Orson Scott Card. There was a time when he was a gifted writer, but that was decades ago. And I'm rather glad of that, I must admit, because his homophobia and religious bigotry offend me.

But Shadows In Flight isn't as bad as most of his recent books have been. Yes, it has the usual "genius" children talking to each other in "shocking" ways; Card seems to find them irresistible. There's even some of Card's trademark child-on-child violence, which makes me wonder just how badly screwed up his head is. But for once he doesn't take it too far.

This is no Ender's Game or Songmaster. It isn't even A Planet Called Treason. But it's readable and not annoying, which is a big improvement over Card's other work this millennium.



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The Horse-Tamer (The Black Stallion, #14)The Horse-Tamer by Walter Farley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


First, a note: I will never try to use my Nook to write a book review again. I had written quite a long review - not easy on the Nook's touch-screen, which is not well-laid-out and lacks a number of conveniences which are standard on other Android devices - only to make the slightest mis-touch and lose EVERYTHING. That's incredibly annoying.

That said, The Horse Tamer is part of Walter Farley's Black Stallion series, and it's both charming and memorable. Bracketed by short passages featuring Alec, Henry, and the Black, it's actually a historical novel; Henry's story of his older brother, who tamed horses in the days when horses were the standard mode of transportation. Henry himself plays a small but substantial part in the tale.

Unlike most entries in the series, it's not a racing story. But the story of "problem" horses and how to help them is quite fascinating, as well as exciting. I first read this book as a boy, and it has stuck in my head ever since. I'm glad to be able to buy it for my own son, and for the chance to read it again. It includes the original black-and-white line drawings, which are charming. I strongly recommend this book. One caveat, however: the Nook edition has been formatted with HUGE margins. Even when the text is manually set to the smallest margin size, the margins are nearly as large as the text itself - which means that in portrait orientation, each line of text is only a few words wide. This is somewhat awkward.

I assume that the publisher did it because the book is SO short, only 100 pages. With reasonable formatting, it would have probably been closer to 70 pages long, even with the illustrations - and they may feel that it would be difficult to charge a full-novel price (even a low one) for what is probably only a novella. But it's a really fine story, and any fan of Walter Farley, the Black, or horses would be wise to pick it up. Strongly recommended!



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Three Men in a BoatThree Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Three young Englishmen decide to spend a fortnight boating on the Thames for their health.

A classic of English humor; I'm quite dismayed that I hadn't discovered it before now! It's one of the funniest books I've read in a long time (and I've read many funny books). I found myself laughing out loud quite often, and couldn't resist reading sections of it to my wife - even though I know it's not the sort of thing she cares for.

It's astonishing that a book written 123 years ago should feel so modern. I hadn't realized that such dark humor had been invented back in 1889!

The occasional turns into more somber and lyrical prose are a bit jarring at first (they're quite reminiscent of The Wind in the Willows, which was published 19 years later), but you soon get used to them. And the serious passages are quite brief, just sufficient to cleanse the palate (so to speak) before the next comic gem.

The illustrated EPUB edition at Project Gutenberg is excellent and, of course, free. The illustrations are well-formatted, clear, and enhance the text. If you appreciate humor, you have no excuse for missing this book!

Incidentally, I "found" Three Men In a Boat via Robert A. Heinlein's Have Space Suit-Will Travel. The protagonist's father is a fan. I'd read the book (Heinlein's that is) a dozen times before, easily - but I always assumed that Three Men in a Boat was fictional. For some reason while reading Have Space Suit-Will Travel out loud to my son, I found myself wondering if Three Men in a Boat was real; and Wikipedia soon set me right.

I'm glad it did. And now, on to Three Men on the Bummel! I've already downloaded it from Project Gutenberg.

Oh, I almost neglected to mention: there's an audio book of Three Men in a Boat, read by Hugh Laurie. A perfect choice, of course. It can be found in sections on YouTube, or, I presume, it can be purchased. But I must say that I laughed more when reading the book then while listening to it. I'm not quite sure why!



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Shoeless JoeShoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I picked this up used at the library's permanent book sale for a buck.

Add it to the very short list of books which aren't as good as their movie adaptations. A lot of the speeches were improved by much pruning for the movie, and the plot was cleaned up a good bit, too.

The book is okay, and I can see that for some it might really "click". But to me it just doesn't quite work. The whole thing felt forced to me, a too-deliberate attempt to create a classic (not unlike The Polar Express, which was annoying as a book and loathsome as a movie). Peter S. Beagle is able to create a far more authentic magical feeling in his books; fans of Shoeless Joe might appreciate Beagle. They might like Jack Finney, too. Both are considerably more deft stylists than Kinsella.

And frankly, if I were J.D. Salinger I'd have sued the crap out of the author.



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I haven't been pleased with Barnes & Noble's Nook Color. The book selection is relatively poor, and the prices are relatively high. Which is why I have been utterly delighted by Baen Books.

Not only do they offer a large selection of classic science fiction books for free, but they have a surprising number of books by classic and modern SF and fantasy authors for very reasonable prices. For example, they have quite a few of the Heinlein juveniles - which, I've been told, have often been out of print in recent years - for $5-$6 each. And they're well-formatted, have nice e-covers, and are available in many useful formats (including epub for the Nook and Kindle format too). What's more, they're not restricted by DRM, so you can download them to multiple devices.

I respect the hell out of a company that doesn't treat their customers as potential thieves. And so I've picked up a bunch of books from them for Sebastian, including most of the Heinlein juveniles as well as James H Schmitz's The Witches of Karres - a classic, and one of my favorites. Plus quite a few others! They can even be read online, on a computer, laptop, or tablet.

Most of their books are in the four to six-dollar range. I wish other ebook publishers had as much sense as Baen! But as it is, Baen has already gotten a lot more of my money than Barnes & Noble has. Or will, for that matter.
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Skype is in a war of sorts with Google Voice. And today, I discovered that Skype had taken my system hostage as a prisoner in that war.

I used to be able to use my Google Voice account to call any phone in America for free from my Gmail home page; just type in a phone number or the name of a contact and I'd be connected, with a clarity that actually stunned some of the people I spoke to. Apparently Google Voice uses some sort of astonishing new sound-processing algorithm.

And then recently I installed Skype, since several friends had urged me to try it. Today I tried to use Google Voice to call my parents in Massachusetts. I typed "Dad" in the Google Voice box...and instead of his home and mobile numbers appearing, they appeared with Skype icons surrounding them along with a dollar sign. When I hovered over the numbers, I was told I would be making a "low cost call with Skype".

Now, just to be clear: the call should have been free, via Google. Instead Skype blocked my ability to make that free call, and tried to force me to pay them for it. As far as I'm concerned, that's stealing.

I tried to find a way to make the call WITHOUT using Skype. No matter what I did, Skype wouldn't allow me to do that. I shut down Skype; when I went back and tried to call with Google Voice, Skype immediately restarted itself and invited me to pay them if I wanted to make the call.

I began to seriously consider uninstalling Skype. I have a temper, but I don't think anybody would take it well when some company takes over something on your own system and basically holds it hostage. Boiling with rage, I began to research a solution.

It wasn't easy to find, but I found it. The problem was an add-on that had apparently come bundled with Skype. So I had to go to the Windows Control Panel, choose Add/Remove Programs, and then removed the program called "Skype Click to Call". Mind you, I wasn't told that the goddamned thing would be installed when I installed Skype, and I damned well wouldn't have installed it if I'd known that it was replacing my option to make free phone calls with the requirement to pay Skype for those same calls.

But Skype, here's a message for you: I will never spend a penny on any of your services, EVER. I'll use the free stuff because my friends are on it. But otherwise, you can go screw yourselves.

Cuts

Feb. 28th, 2012 04:48 pm
bobquasit: (Default)
Why aren't cuts or lj cuts working any more?

Baby

Feb. 15th, 2012 10:26 pm
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This is Baby. His given name was "Little One", because when Teri first got him, he was so small that he could fit in her hand; he was a tiny kitten.


But somehow he acquired the name "Baby" instead, and that's how I was introduced to him. Perhaps he got that nickname because of his temperament; he was the mildest and gentlest cat I ever met, and I've met many of them. He never bit, or tried to claw, or in any way evinced even the slightest sign of bad temper ever. He even put up with all sorts of indignities from the small red-headed creature who entered his life when he (Baby, that is) was about eight years old:
 

It seemed more than anything that Baby wanted to be a mother. He would lick and clean the other cats in the house tenderly and lovingly, even though they soon tired of it and would try to bite, claw, or fight him. But he never really fought back. He just kept trying to take care of them.

The only time he reverted to his feline nature was if there was a mouse in the house. Then, he was all cat. Although the other cats in the house were younger, faster, and in one case had all their claws, it was always Baby who managed to catch and kill the rare mouse that dared enter our house...unless we were able to rescue the mouse and deport him to safer climes (that is, far down the street).

We did not think that Baby would stay with us as long as he did. The vet told us early on that he had a fairly bad heart murmur. But for all his meekness, he was a cat with a fierce will to live, and to eat, and to sleep on Teri's lap. He stayed with us until he was eighteen years old, gentle and loving to the end. We miss him, and we will never forget him.



"They did not love him for his glossy coat,
nor his white shirt front and white paws,
nor his great green eyes, no, not even for the white tip to his tail.
They loved him because he was himself."
                                                                         -The Fur Person

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Snow's coming down again today - 3-5 inches, they say, but I think it's going to be more like 4-8. Sebastian went out back to play while I did some early shoveling.

I told him that we'd reward him if he wanted to do some shoveling. "How?" he asked.

"Well...with money, I guess!"

"How much?"

"...what do you think would be fair?"

"Fifty dollars!"

"What?!? But I already did most of it!"

"Thirty?"

"That's pretty steep! I don't know..."

"Twenty? I need enough to buy a Hex Bug."

"I'll discuss it with your mother," I said, rapidly retreating.

I'd been thinking more in the $3-5 range. The snow is really light...a couple of inches of dust, so far.
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Since everyone at the LiveJournal panel was positive about Dreamwidth, here I am!

I wonder how it will work out?

Dinner

Jul. 18th, 2011 12:06 am
bobquasit: (Sebastian Riding)
Tonight Sebastian asked me to have dinner with him. He set us up in the dining room, which is unusual. Teri was having dinner outside on the new picnic table with a friend, but Sebastian and I were staying inside because the little boy from the yard behind ours will not let us alone if he sees us.

It was nice having dinner with my little guy! He's so cool. I'm very lucky.
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While re-reading the Harry Potter series and watching the movies, I was struck by the ways in which J.K. Rowling's style resembles that of Agatha Christie. They share an intensely English, insular outlook - and rather a nationalistic, even racist one.

This is most evident in Rowling's portrayal of the two "visitor" schools in the Triwizard Tournament. Beauxbatons is a caricature of the French, at least as many older Britons perceive them: superficially attractive, concerned mainly about appearance (although to her credit Rowling did make an exception to that point later in the series, when Fleur surprises Mrs. Weasley by not breaking her engagement after Bill is badly scarred), and ultimately light-weights in every way (except, perhaps, in the field of romance). The movie accentuates this by representing the Beauxbatons student body as almost entirely female, and throws in a gratuitous mass-ass-wiggling scene which is simply ridiculous.

Likewise, Durmstrang is a heavy-handed parody of Russians and East Europeans in general. Virtually all male, sullen, buzz-cut, large, taciturn, and given to violence; the personification of the racist fantasies of some angry, graying old Briton, and an old-fashioned one at that. If they weren't school-age, I'd imagine Rowling would have made them drunks, too!

I almost wish that Rowling had included Americans in her books. Dame Agatha would doubtless once again have provided the template: quaint accents out of a 1930s western movie, combined with exaggerated New England ones from the 1890s. Ridiculous Biblical names like "Hiram", "Ezekiel", and "Jedediah". Poor taste in virtually everything. Far too much money than is good for them, and a propensity to throw that money around thoughtlessly. Ignorance combined with overweening arrogance. And I'd bet there'd be at least a touch of over-reliance on technology or its magical equivalent, as well - with a good solid comeuppance in the end, as our plucky British heroes prove that old-fashioned spunk and stick-to-it-iveness are the qualities that really matter when the chips are down.
bobquasit: (Bad Sam!)
After unending hours in live chat, and on the phone, and with technicians remoting in to my system, my ESP All-In-One Printer/Scanner/Copier still crashes every time I try to scan. The latest joke is that they are going to send me a CD of their software. Given that their level-2 technician remoted into my system and personally uninstalled the software and then downloaded it herself and reinstalled it, I am trying to understand why this would help. How could a CD version be MORE up-to-date than an online version which is available to their own technicians?

I used to love Kodak, no lie. They made rock-solid high-speed duplicators, back when I was running the copy center of a large law firm. And I appreciated their recent honesty policy about toner, which is why I recommended them to so many people. But now? I'm getting really, really pissed off at them.
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The phone rang today.

"Hi, this is Tom from [I forget the company name]. How are you?" He was very friendly-sounding and smooth. I'd never spoken to him before.

"...um..fine, thanks! How are you?" This was already starting to feel weird.

"I'm doing great, thanks! I'm calling to let you know that we're looking for an advertising house in your area, and you're qualified for a free wireless home security system."

"...we already have one."

"Great! Is it activated? Because the offer applies to activation too. We can set up a contract - "

"No, we're not interested in taking on another financial obligation, thanks - "

"I'm sure that once you discuss the plan with one of our specialists you'll find that it's very - "

"No, we're just not interested, so thanks but - "

"Just state your first and last name clearly so that the specialist can contact - "

He's still talking, but I've finally lost my temper. Still, I manage to be polite.

"NO! Please put us on your do-not-call list. Put us on your do-not-call list. I have to go now, goodbye!" CLICK.
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A very nice weekend. On Saturday we took Sebastian to a penguin class at the zoo - he got to see them and draw them. I picked up a cap at the gift shop that actually fit my head, for a wonder.

Later, Sebastian and I drove up to Boston. We got choreg and lahmejun from a couple of Armenian markets in Watertown, then went over to my parents' place.

We had a nice family get-together at my sister and brother-in-law's new place (they have a harpsichord, which sounds amazing - I played the one song I know, and it came out great) and then drove home.

It was pretty late, but Sebastian stayed awake through the drive. He'd read the first Harry Potter book all the way to Boston, and finished it on the way home.

On Sunday we went to Foxwoods with Teri's mother. I hung out with Sebastian while they gambled. We went back and forth several on some people-movers (like the ones they have in airports). Then we spent some time at the arcade. After dinner at the Hard Rock cafe, we headed home.

I was pleased with myself tonight. Sebastian was watching a live-action Scooby Doo that he's seen before, but I insisted on a family movie night; we had Mary Poppins from Netflix. Neither he nor Teri had seen it before, and in no time he was laughing and laughing. Teri really liked it too, although she fell asleep before the end. Now Sebastian is interested in reading the Mary Poppins books.

Now everyone is asleep. My computer is still in the shop (I hope it will be ready tomorrow), so I'm going to sleep too. Good night!

Posted via LjBeetle
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The Chameleon Corps and Other Shape ChangersThe Chameleon Corps and Other Shape Changers by Ron Goulart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Ron Goulart is one of the four funniest science fiction writers in the world (the other three are Fredric Brown, Robert Sheckley, and Keith Laumer, if you were wondering). And in The Chameleon Corps and Other Shape Changers he's at his hysterical best. There are many lines here which have stayed in my head and amused me for over thirty years now.

The book itself is divided into two sections. The first five stories are about the adventures of Ben Jolson of the Chameleon Corps. Esoteric treatments applied at a young age have given Ben the power to alter his form at a moment's notice; he can impersonate anyone, as well as objects of his own general size, flawlessly. Problem: he'd rather sell pottery than be a secret agent. But you're not allowed to quit the Corps.

So Jolson finds himself being sent to one hot spot after another throughout the Barnum system of planets, carrying out odd, sometimes bizarre missions for a government that often seems a lot like ours - given to hypocrisy, greed, idiocy, and sudden tragic bursts of realpolitik.

In that, it's rather like the CDT of Keith Laumer's Retief series, albeit considerably less broad. But Goulart's style is considerably more modern-feeling than Laumer's, with more of a 1960s (and, oddly, 2010s) feel. And Jolson is not the superhuman figure that Retief is, for all his powers. Retief saves the world despite its idiocy; Jolson can't be sure that what he's saving is better than the alternative, or even that he's necessarily saving anything. He's just trying to get the job done and survive.

But oh my god, the stories are funny. Jolson often has to impersonate eccentric characters, and Goulart gives them personalities and verbal quirks which are absolutely hysterical - mother of goats, would you question my word? When you reach the end of the fifth story, you'll wish there were more. And there are, I believe; there was at least one Chameleon Corps novel, I think, as well as (possibly) more stories. In any case, much of Goulart's work is of the same quality: just as funny and enjoyable.

The last six stories are not connected to each other, and tend to be a little darker. But they're still very funny and very memorable. This is one of those outstanding collections of clever, jewel-like short stories that's a real treasure for anyone who loves science fiction and/or humor.

So why isn't it in print any more?


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A moment

Apr. 24th, 2011 11:06 pm
bobquasit: (Sebastian Riding)
Tonight Sebastian thanked me for reading and singing to him every night for all these years.

I thanked him for giving me someone to sing and read to.

Portal

Apr. 20th, 2011 10:35 pm
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A couple of days ago the closing song "Still Alive" from Portal popped up on my main Pandora station. I liked it so much that I looked into buying the game. Best Buy didn't carry it, according to their website. Game Stop did, and had it available as an instant digital download - for $20, plus a mandatory $3 surcharge for being able to download it again (if it got erased) for 18 months from the date of purchase.

So I went directly to Valve, the company that makes Portal, and downloaded it for $9.99. Game Stop are crooks!

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