Category Archives: Opinion

New 3DS

Yes, CNET, Mario can protect Nintendo from mobile

New 3DSA January 15th CNET blog post by Nick Statt asks the question: How many people really need a specialized handheld game system in the age of ubiquitous smartphones?

My answer? Any mobile gamer that isn’t solely a casual gamer.

Smartphones are great. They make it easier than ever to stay connected to whatever it is you love. Sports scores on the run? Check. Face time with the family when you’re away on business? Check. Phone call with your friend to hear the latest misadventures of the unintentional innuendo guy at work. Check.

See? Great stuff.

Ask anyone who has a smartphone, and uses it as such, how they feel about their battery life. I’m a pretty regular to moderately light user of my phone and by the end of the day my phone battery is in the single digits.

Take note of your smartphone battery and then play Subway Surfers or something for twenty minutes. Did you see a double-digit drop in battery life? Games require a lot of screen-on time and a lot of touch interface. Those things come at a cost to the battery. If your phone keep tabs on the battery, and what’s using it, you may find screen time to be right up there in terms of what’s using that battery life up. This is probably truer the larger your phone screen is too.

It may be no big deal for your Nintendo 3DS to die before the end of the night, but I’d wager you’d be significantly more put out if your phone / messaging / gaming device / camera / GPS / touch-to-pay wallet died.

So yeah. Your smartphone is perfect for an occasionally game of Bubble Witch Saga or Trivia Crack. How is it going to respond to a longer session of Final Fantasy VI? That game was developed for the Super Nintendo. It’s a RPG, which are well known for requiring lots of time and lots of level grinding. This isn’t a casual, ‘pick up and play’ game. It’s a ‘hunker down’ game. It’s a ‘let’s dedicate some time’ game. Your smartphone isn’t the ideal platform for that type of game, and battery life is probably one of the most significant reasons why.

Your casual gamers are probably going to be fine on their smartphones, but were casual gamers ever picking up Nintendo handhelds for the express purpose of playing a game for 5 minutes and putting it away? Maybe. Maybe I just don’t know that type. It’s possible.

I’d argue though that those of us who want lengthier play times, more substantial games and to still be able to receive a call or text message are going to want to hang on to our Nintendo DS’s.

Image of PS Vita, Smartphone & Nintendo 3DS

Link to CNET’s article: http://www.cnet.com/news/nintendo-3ds-midlife-crisis-can-mario-protect-it-from-mobile/

Review: The Word Exchange

The Word Exchange
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon is a book that I have very mixed feelings about.
Let us start by imagining a world where our cell phones anticipate what we need before we need it. We begin to wonder what our grandparent’s birthday is and it springs to life with the information we need. All it required was a thought. That word on the tip of our tongue appears on the screen just before we need it so you can complete your thought without missing a beat. If you can imagine that, then you can imagine the power and obvious desirability of the technology in this book.
The Word Exchange is an online marketplace where words are bought and sold. Did you forget the definition of a word? Have the definition instantly available for mere change. A quick micro-transaction and viola, the word you intended. But we get pretty familiar with the words we use, don’t we? What if we became so dependent on technology that our brains no longer stored memories as efficiently since we have these nifty devices reading our thoughts and providing the data we seek?

The Word Exchange pulls a very clever trick here. The characters in our book write definitions for the NADEL, a dictionary. Their vocabulary is spectacular. I had to use the ‘word lookup’ feature of my Kindle Paperwhite frequently, especially during the first quarter of the book. It provided an incredibly unsettling feeling that maybe this dependence on technology is already happening to us. Maybe we are already forgetting these words that were once a part of our language.

This trick, in my opinion, was only clever because I was able to very quickly grab a definition. If I was reading a paper copy, I don’t think I would have spent the time looking up words. Although perhaps it would have been sufficient to drive a different point home. That point being that if we’re not using this language, we lose it. If it isn’t saved somewhere, it could be gone forever.

On this premise the book succeeds.
Then comes the Word Flu. The Word Flu is an illness that strikes and presents much the way the flu does that we’re familiar with. High fever, nausea, vomiting, etc. However, the Word Flu also presents in such a way that words in your vocabulary are replaced with others. Often times nonsense.

Since a condition of my early readers copy is that I not share any text, I will prepare my own example.
“Why is everyone oxbowing at me,” she wondered. “I did remember to kaneek my pants, right?”
And this example also serves to make one of the points of The Word Exchange. Words are powerful. They are functional. Is everyone looking at her? Is everyone shoving her? Did she remember to wear her pants? Or zip her pants? Words disappearing is problematic for society.

It’s also problematic for the reader. At least for this reader. I read to disappear into a story. I was never able to comfortably settle into The Word Exchange. These breaks would snap me back to reality while I considered what was actually trying to be said.
This is one of those instances where I think the author was making a point but that it also worked against them. The mechanic is beautiful and works. Unfortunately it works to a fault. I found myself hating to read this book.

The books pacing seemed glacial until about the halfway point. From there it seemed to accelerate to a snail’s pace. I think the author or editor must have known that because they occasionally dropped hints that certain parts of the story would pay off later. An example might be something like, “And I’d learn soon that it wasn’t so cut and dry.” They had to keep dangling a carrot. I considered walking away repeatedly and only the obligation to the review kept me hanging around. But I was miserable finishing.

The characters were good enough, I guess. Our character lead Anana was likable enough but also capable enough that I never really feared for her all that much. I guess that makes sense though since much of the danger was presented toward people she cared about, and not necessarily directed at her. Also, despite her being in near constant motion it seems like she’s more a victim of circumstance rather than actually moving the story forward. Honestly it feels like most of the book is just happening to her, she’s not manipulating her circumstances at all.

As for the other characters, Anana seems to care about them but I never saw enough to share in her feelings. I really found myself even struggling to care about anyone beyond her. Even when they set the stage for a romance, I couldn’t care less.

So I guess that’s probably enough. The things that work in the book work tremendously. I get the idea that in the future the Word Flu could really disrupt us due to our growing dependence on technology. I get the idea that words are powerful and losing even some of them could be disastrous. The story itself though, the meat and potatoes of The Word Exchange were just meh.

This one was a hard one for me, folks. And it kills me to dislike a book that executes its premise so well. But here we are.

Good alnox, my friends. Gritbaugh.

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Review: Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing
Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing by Steven Luna

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing is proof positive that Steven Luna is not a one-trick pony. His Joe Vampire books are paranormal (emphasis on the normal) books that mix mundane day to day tasks like office work with the unexpected challenges of life as a vampire. And boy is that Joe Vampire sarcastic. Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing is not. It’s sincere, heartfelt and while ‘Joe’ made you laugh, ‘Songs’ just might make you cry.

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing is about 17-year-old Tyler Mills who lost his Mom six months ago. He lives at home with his father who stands in polar opposition of everything Tyler stands for. Tyler is a creative, musical prodigy with dreams of supporting himself on music. Dad is a practical, hard-working mechanic. Dad is roots, while Tyler is wings. It’s a water and oil combination that becomes combustible once Tyler discovers one of his late-mother’s journals with a secret that turns his world upside down and threaten to destroy what remains of his family.

Going much further into the book would only serve to spoil what are some pretty surprising revelations, so I’ll spare you that. What really stands out to me is how well Steven Luna writes a 17-year-old boy; with all of the attitude, frustrating certainty of the world, and piss and vinegar that 17-year-olds display. Tyler is at once likable and a bit of an asshole. He jumps to self-righteous conclusions and sometimes finds that he’s made mistakes that he’s reluctant to admit to anyone but himself. In short, his character flaws should be all too familiar to anyone who’s been there or is currently living with a teenager themselves.

Another thing that really comes to the surface is loss. Make no mistake, this is as much the story of Tyler’s loss of his mother as it is his coming to grips with what her secrets mean. In between the butting heads with his old man he must encounter and deal with this very fresh loss. There is a small part in this book that really kicks me in the gut having lost my dad just shy of two years ago.

“It feels like I’ve been broken and pushed back together in the wrong shape. Like there’ll always be something in me that doesn’t fit together the right way anymore.”

In some ways Ty’s journey is familiar to parts of my own. And that ability for a message within the book to transcend the story – revealing a truth – is what, in my opinion, makes a memorable read. This book is going to stay with me for a while.

Thanks Steven for sending me an advanced readers copy. I guess I’m supposed to disclose that I’ve been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I wasn’t asked to love it. I was only asked to read it and tell y’all what I think, and I have. I really enjoyed it. And I think you will too.

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Review: Buried in Angst

Buried in Angst
Buried in Angst by David J. Pedersen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Angst returns and life has not been the sunshine and roses he might have expected after realizing his dreams of becoming a hero of Unsel. In saving those he loved he was forced to separate himself from his magic sword Chryslaenor and it’s killing him. Literally.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a stranger shows up from a recently destroyed coastal city and trouble looms. It soon comes to Angst’s attention that the elements themselves have gone to war. Couple this with his sword being stolen, a friend going missing and the fact that he’s dying and things are bound to be more.. Angsty.

And this title holds especially true in the sequel. While the first book of the series had a lighter tone, the sequel presents a more somber tone. When you consider everything happening to Unsel, Ehrde and even Angst, I suppose that is to be expected. I can’t remember too many laughs, I read a pre-release copy of the book and it’s been a short while but I can remember being very much taken by the story as it rolled out.

It’s a darker fantasy novel than the first book but still satisfying. It’s even better than the first, which is high praise given how much I enjoyed Angst. If you were only interested in Angst due to the comedy, you’ll be disappointed with Buried in Angst. But if you grew to care about Angst, Heather, Victoria, Rose, Tarness, Hector and Dallow then you will be happy to reunite with old friends and learn what has come to pass and what new adventure awaits.

There will be times along the way when you despair for these characters. There will be times when you question what you know. And then you’ll reach the last page and wish to all that is good and holy that Angst 3 comes sooner than Angst 2 did because Buried in Angst ends in a cliffhanger. I can’t wait for the next book. Pedersen has done it again.

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My Take: Kindle Paperwhite

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Let me begin with the caveat that this story is unfinished. It’s a work in progress and I’ll post additional details on my blog as the story continues and (hopefully soon) concludes.

I recently bought a Kindle Paperwhite. It was my first Kindle. I was a staunch Barnes and Noble NOOK guy. Is that a NOOKer? In any case, I got tired of defective charging cables. I got tired of customer service giving me the runaround. I got tired of being told to go purchase things with my own money and then mail in receipts for a refund.

I just got tired, alright?

I decided enough was enough and that I had to at least give Amazon a chance to wow me. And in some degrees they have and in others they’ve done so for the wrong reasons.

When I ordered my Kindle Paperwhite on November 3rd, I was told I could expect it on December 24th.

Happy Christmas Eve to me.

To my wonderment and delight, it arrived on November 20th. I was super excited but my enthusiasm was tempered pretty fast. I noticed there was the shadowing that I had heard others mention. Basically it looked like the screen wasn’t purely white, it looked like there were darker spots on the screen, like a shadow. Nothing big. I could deal. It wasn’t exactly as advertised, but it would do. But then I noticed something else.

There was a pinhole in the screen. Not a top layer because it was smooth to the touch but on a sub-layer of the screen and it allowed light to shine much brighter through that tiny hole.

You know how when you get a crack in your windshield how sometimes the sun hits it just right and it magnifies the light right toward your eyes? It’s sort of like that. I mean it’s not blinding like the sun, but it is a bit of a distraction. When I’m reading in that area of the page my eye always catches on it.

I called Amazon and they were very apologetic. They offered to send me a second device. They even sent it two-day delivery. I was impressed.

And then I got that device. It was worse than the first. It was pretty white, but it had three larger holes where the light came through. I called Amazon and again got someone great. They apologized and sent another device. I asked if I could hold onto my first while we worked it out and they said absolutely I could. I was pleased.

Device number three came 2-day delivery just like device number two. Another good experience. I opened the box. This one had terrible color and it had a pinhole of light too. In a different place on the screen but still there nonetheless. I called Amazon and got a woman this time who was nowhere near as nice as the first two I dealt with. She wasn’t mean or argumentative by any measure but she seemed uninterested and just going through the motions. The first two people I had dealt with seemed like they genuinely enjoyed their job, so she just paled in comparison is all.

Device number four came 2-day and it was the worst yet. It was like half the screen barely lit while there were still the light holes, also in a new place.

This time I was frustrated and took to Twitter and said: “Latest @amazonkindle Paperwhite is 2-tone. White on the bottom, brown on the top. Fourth Paperwhite is the worst one yet. So disappointed.”

I sat down to watch TV with the family when I got a call on my cell phone. It was Kindle Support. They indicated that they saw my Twitter comment and they were once again apologetic and offered me a couple of options. I could return my Paperwhite for a full refund or I could try another replacement. I told the guy that I want the Paperwhite, so please send a replacement. He said that he was hoping I would say that.

I got Paperwhite #5 in the mail yesterday while I was at work. When I got home I opened it and found that it was better than the last one. It had the same pinhole my first one does but it was far into a corner. I could live with that but when I went to turn the brightness up on it I found that it was already at its brightest setting. It was what I’ve affectionately coined a Kindle Paperbrown.

And that’s where I’m at currently.

Props to Amazon for issuing me Paperwhite after Paperwhite without friction. It’s a pain that I have to drive to the UPS Store to drop off my bad units, but I guess it’s better than them just telling me I should return my Kindle and be done with it. B&N has done that to me before. And I was in store next to a friend when the manager said it to him too regarding his NOOK Tablet. I also give Amazon props for calling me. I’ve never once complained about a situation and had that company contact me by phone to see how they can help. It’s just an amazing testament to how seriously they take their customer service. Well done.

So Amazon, I really want a Paperwhite that is pristine. I want one that is actually white when turned up. I’ll understand if there is a little shadowing. It’s not truly what was originally advertised with the whole “perfect uniformity of light” but I’m a reasonable guy. However, I cannot tolerate the pinholes of light. What do you say, Amazon? I’ve had four refurb’s now. How about a new unit?

To be continued…

Update 1: Amazon representative tells me that he is pretty sure they have been sending me new units all along. I doubt this since there have been “R”’s on the UPC AND they don’t come with the paper flier that my brand new one did. In any event, Paperwhite #6 is on its way.

Review: @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers

@WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers@WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers by Kevin S. Kaiser

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

@WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers is to NaNoWriMo participants what water stations are to distance runners.

This summer my wife pulled me into her world of running. She signed us up for a ton of 5K’s, an 8K, a 10-mile and a half-marathon. There were times in each of those longer events when I felt like I had enough. I felt like I needed to stop running. I had to slow. I saw the distance that was still in front of my goal and I was disheartened. But a voice in my head urged me forward. “Just one more water station. Get to the next station, get some water and see how you feel then. But make it to that station!”

This will be my first NaNoWriMo but I get the impression, based on my time in the NaNo forums and talking to past participants, that NaNoWriMo is a lot like distance running. You’ll have days when the words spill from your fingers effortlessly, these are the days when you feel strong and you just KNOW you are your personal best. But then there are days when nothing you write seems to work, or worse, the words just won’t come at all. You find yourself behind the pace you’ve determined for yourself and you’re ready to walk or quit all together. You are tired. You are worn out. You need encouragement. You need one more water station. You need Kevin Kaiser’s @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers.

This book isn’t a tutorial on NaNoWriMo. It doesn’t teach you strategy, tips or tricks for getting to 50,000 words. It isn’t an introduction to the Traveling Shovel of Death nor does it introduce you to the mysterious Mr. Ian Woon. That book was written by someone else. This book is about water on your brain. Wait. No. It’s about water for your soul. It is the guy on the course who has clearly ran 100 half-marathon’s in his life who slows next to you and tells you “head up, it’ll help your breathing and keep you running longer.” @WriMo is the guy who pats you on the back and says “you’re doing great, keep it up.” @WriMo is your water station at each mile.

The book is split into 30 separate readings. Each day has a new message to help you on your journey. There is advice on how to start (set a schedule, find a place to write and eliminate distractions), a manifesto to remind yourself that YOU ARE A WRITER. Are you a U2 fan? There is a story about lessons you can learn from Bono. And one of my favorite features of the book is that each chapter has a quote appropriate to the craft. There are quotes from Stephen King, James Patterson, Neil Gaiman, even Steve Martin.

I think I’ve gone on long enough. I think you get the picture by now but there is one more thing I want you to know about @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers. 100% of the profits from the book go to The Office of Letters and Lights (OLL), the non-profit organization that encourages creative writing in adults and young people alike. OLL’s Young Writers program supplies 2700 classrooms with free posters, stickers, workbooks and lesson plans. Not bad, huh?

So if you are a participant, or know a participant, do yourself or them a favor and help a fantastic cause along the way. Pick up Kevin Kaiser’s @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers.

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