Book Review: Finder

Finder by Suzanne Palmer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a really fun read. A fun, light sci-fi adventure following Fergus Ferguson as he finds himself caught up in adventure too large for the likes of him while at the same time only solvable by him.

There is nothing heavy or overly sciencey about this book. It is almost like a pulp fiction novel, putting the sense of fun ahead of any sort of realism. The cast of characters is just as enjoyable as the main character, with people who inevitably end up loving and hating Fergus at the same time. Think of a Han Solo or Rick O'Donnell and everything around that notion. Humor mixed with dumb luck.

If I had any critique of this book, it would be the almost innumerable amount of Deux Ex Machina situations with Fergus and his endless bank account somehow always pulling out ahead. It could have very easily made the book an "eye roller", but somehow Suzanne Palmer is able to make it work and still have the reader rooting for our self deprecating hero through each misadventure. If you can let that go and let the story take you for a ride, you almost have to enjoy this book.

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Ridelog: 10-27-18


Probably the last ride of 2018. A nice long one up to the Galena are for lunch in New Diggings. Quite the offroad area up there. Lunch was at the Saloon. Basic brat burger with a can of coke. The parking lot was filled with ATV and offload vehicles. Weather was on the chilly side, but overall a good time. 

Music Listening: AAC - Paul Oakenfold: Mount Everest

I haven't picked up a "DJ" mix album in years. In fact the last one I picked up was Oakenfold's live from Oslo. I can't recall how I came across this album, but this has been on my play rotation for the past couple of months now. This is another great DJ mix that mixes Oakenfold's classic "Chill" sort of vibe along with the deep electronic beats. 

The construction of this album is what it really makes it such a unique experience. The album not only has the traditional live DJ mix, but it also has all of the individual songs in their "original" format, which includes several non-electronic songs. This allows you to listen to all of the songs individually. The album ends with two one hour live mixes which were performed by Oakenfold on Mount Everest 

Overall a great album of you are looking for some of that classic Oakenfold chill/dance vibe. 


My New Favorite iOS App - Momento

https://momentoapp.com

This past week I have come across a new favorite app, that is now sitting on my iPhone. Momento was featured this past week with several apps in one of Apple's daily lists. Momento caught my as a private journaling app that has a really clean interface and the ability to automatically import content from your social media. 

I like the idea of a private journaling app at lot to just capture quick things throughout my day. The added benefit of the social integration makes that even easier because my Facebook, Instagram, etc. posts can automatically find their way into the app, which makes it ideal for weekend and vacation adventures. 

What is particularly cool about the social media import though is that it will actually bring in content that you are tagged in from someone else. If a family member tags you in a photo and posts it on Facebook, it will capture that automatically. Even cooler still, is that it is smart enough to see all of those tags across different social networks and identify those people or places. So you can then go in and find your spouse for example , and find everything, going back years with photos and posts with her. 

Another great feature for just looking back on your journal is the "One this day" feature on their calendar. You click on it and you can see every entry for that day/date going back years. It is sort of cool, but also freaky that Facebook has content back to 2008.

This app has filled two holes for me. I was a big fan of Flavors.me, which was a personal landing page website that aggregated all of your social media into one place. It was a great tool that really should have a replacement online. This doesn't replace that for a public profile, but offers a lot of the same features for private use. 

The other app it replaces is Foodspotting. I loved Foodspotting and it was my goto app for taking my food photos. Unfortunately it hasn't really been updated in years and while Instagram and Foursquare can serve that purpose for public usage, having something for private food tracking that can tag people and places is nice to have. Evernote Food unfortunately never got a replacement app. 

So I would highly recommend people check this out if they are looking for a great app to have a quick and small personal journal.  It is also a very affordable app to ranging from free to about $4 depending upon what you want to do with it. 

October 2017 - Videogaming (Gone Home)

I finished playing the game Gone Home last night and I have to now recommend this game for everyone to play. It is one of the most emotionally impacting video games I have ever played and also perfect for a rainy, overcast October. 

The game is extremely simple and only takes a couple of hours to play. You find yourself in the front porch of your family's new house. There is a storm raging outside and there appears to be no one home. Over the course of the next couple of hours you will progress through the house to find diary chapters form your sister along with notes about your Uncle who used to live in the house. 

I won't spoil the magic of these passages, but the game has a beautiful atmosphere and perfectly told story. There are moments where your own imagination will get the better of you, but you should just keep going forward for the story. This won't "scare you", I promise. 

https://gonehome.game

DM'ing My First Dungeons and Dragons Session

This past Friday I had the opportunity to be a Dungeon Master for my first session of playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Go ahead...Chew on that....Yup, it is the same D&D that you saw stereotyped when you were a kid. 

I always had a fascination with D&D. I was a nerd at heart growing up and I almost certainly would have played D&D as a kid if my friends played it. A few years ago I got my first taste of roleplaying when I decided to try out Pathfinder when visiting the Wandering Dragon game shop in Plainfield. 

Pathfinder is an RPG system much like D&D. I played a few times at the shop, but it sort of fell by the wayside when there weren't a lot of people organizing games. 

D&D came around about three or four weeks ago when a group in Elmhurst was looking for some people to play. I jumped in and went to the first session. Unfortunately, the DM who was supposed to lead the session never showed up and the three of us who were there were left wondering what we wanted to do. Luckily the Elmhurst library happened to have the D&D 5e starter set on their shelves so I popped it open and we dove into trying to do that first game on a whim. I found that I enjoyed the session while reading through it. 

And that is how I found myself a couple of weeks ago volunteering to lead a regular session on Friday nights in Elmhurst. 

I was nervous all of last week. I only had about two days to try and figure out what the heck I was supposed to be doing. I had papers and print outs and books and all sorts of paraphernalia crammed into a book bag.

The night started last Friday and we were away. I couldn't tell if I had enough stuff with me. Did I print up the right sheets? Did I bring the notes I needed? Did I have too much stuff? 

Thankfully the group we played with was pretty good.  Everyone had the same idea of just telling a story and having a good time. The night turned out to be a success and Megan even jumped into the fun and had a good time. 

Friday night ended with a huge sigh of relief and I think everyone had a good time. My first DM experience was a success. I think I may end up doing more of this. 


Légère Artificial Clarinet Reeds - I'm Never Going Back to Cane

Anyone out there who is a woodwind player knows the nightmare that is having to deal with reeds. They are expensive and finicky. You are lucky if you get a couple in a box of ten that are good. At one point I used to be one of those individuals who would sit there an sand my reeds, tweaking them to try and get them to be better. It was a pain and it honestly never worked. 

I have had my eye on various artificial reeds now for a while. Reviews are mostly positive about them, but you always see purists who just won't have anything of them. I noticed that someone in my section was playing on a Légère reed a few weeks ago and she said she loved it since she picked it up. That was it for me after dealing with another night of a sub-par feeling Vandoren. 

I ordered a Légère the very next day. It was not cheap, around $30 on Amazon. When it arrived two days later I put it on my clarinet and the difference was noticeable right away. It was immediately responsive when playing and I knew right then and there that I would probably never play on a cane reed again. Why had I waited so long to get one of these? 

Now, playing on the Légère does feel a bit different than a traditional reed. First off, the surface is incredibly smooth and my bottom lip was initially sliding all over the place. The overall reed characteristics are also different than a normal reed. The tone is for the most part excellent, but if you aren't careful with your embouchure, the open holed notes like the middle G, A and Bb can sound very "plasticy". The rest of the notes above the break and in the low register sound great though and with a little bit of careful playing the open tones sound fine as well. 

I initially had some trouble playing the high register notes well above the staff, like the high E, F and G. I think I may have been biting down on the reed too much, causing it to stop vibrating. I think most of that will just come with some time on the reed. 

I'll also have to see how long the reed really lasts. Will it last a year? More? Less? We'll see, but I am super pleased with my initial impressions.  

Alternote - My New Favorite Writing App

As some of you who have been following me know, I like to do some writing here and there. I have done Nanowrimo twice in the past few years and both times I successfully completed the 50,000 word goal on both attempts. I won't be competing this year, because I would like to actually finish the two previous novels that I wrote for it. 

So for my writing I have been using Evernote. Many people use Google Docs, Word or even some specialized writing apps like Scrivener. I have liked using Evernote. It is a super clean and simple interface and I was able to keep my writing notes and the writing itself all together in one location. Evernote has some basic text formatting, but that is really all I need for writing. All of the bells and whistles that Word has just aren't necessary. Evernote's desktop application presented two major issues for me when writing. The first, it did not have a "night mode" in the app. Everything is white and it made working on a document in the evening really stressful on the eyes. Second, was that the management of the text size was a bit cumbersome. I like to work in a minimized interface and at times having the text nice and "big" on the screen helps to keep me focused. 

Over the past month or so I have been doing some testing on an alternative. I settled on an app called Ulysses, which I had demo'd for a few weeks. It had just about everything I wanted, including the customizable night mode and some other features. It wasn't perfect though as the text was justified to the left in the minimal interface and it was also $35. Not crazy expensive, but not cheap either. 

Just when I was about to pull the trigger on Ulysses though I found an app called Alternote. It is basically an alternative app for Evernote which happens to have all of the features I was looking for. Even better was that I was able to sync just the notebooks I wanted to (my writing notebooks) to keep the workflow efficient. 

A couple of other nice touches are that it shows me the word count right on the bottom right of the screen, and the text size can be adjusted with a slider if needed. Best of all. It was $7 on the app store. 

If anyone is looking for a nice writing app, and you are using Evernote, or if you just are looking for an alternative Evernote client on Mac, give this app a look. 

2016 Pumpkin Pie Ride

Fall is here and it is time for the Pumpkin Pie ride out in Ottawa Illinois. This is the second year that we have done the ride, but this year Megan had a true road bike. The weather could not have been better. It was about 65 degrees and overcast and we did the 45 mile ride. Megan did great and we had a really fun time. This is definitely going to be a regular ride for us.