Category: Article

My Three Cents: On Adult Coloring Books

January 16th, 2016 — 7:05pm

I’ve been blogging in one place or another for the past decade, so my opinion is automatically worth more, right? Right?? 

Over the Christmas holiday, Amazon’s top selling “books” were adult coloring books. This distresses me because A) Amazon has a category issue; I don’t consider a coloring book to be a “book” in the same way I don’t consider a book of sudoku puzzles to be a “book”, and B) adults have turned to something so simple as a means of creative entertainment.

Before I get into the meat of this, I’ll preface by stating I’m no literary snob. While I prefer certain books over others, I think there is just as much literary value in James Joyce’s Ulysses as I do Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight. Reading material is supposed to entertain first and foremost. If it manages to teach, enlighten, and encourage conversation, that’s wonderful, but it’s first purpose is to entertain. If a book can’t do that, it fails before the reader has even picked up it.

Today’s diatribe, however, isn’t actually about what constitutes a book and what doesn’t. My gripe is that grown people are choosing coloring books over alternatives for a creative outlet.

Coloring gives people an opportunity to be creative without any of the necessary talent that goes into drawing or painting or even writing something from scratch. Coloring provides a sense of accomplishment that is normally reserved for those who have spent years honing a craft, which troubles me greatly. Rather than put forth the effort necessary to practice drawing or painting or dancing, adults turn to the coloring book because it is quick and easy.

If I’ve griped about anything throughout any of my blogs, it’s that I find most facets of adulthood to be difficult, so I fully understand the difficulty in finding the time to practice the skills needed to have a true creative outlet. I’ve had a piano in my apartment for 7 seven years, but I can hardly tinker anything familiar on it, and even after a brief stint of attempting piano lessons, I’m still no good at reading base clef. I’d love to take up painting, and after a random morning at home and watching a Bob Ross episode on PBS, I may still try again, but as many others often find themselves saying, “I just can’t find the time.”

Most adults could find countless options for a creative outlet, but the ones who don’t put everything else ahead of that need. While I can understand the stresses of work, spouses, children, cleaning the house, keeping up on laundry, maintaining the lawn, remembering to call Grandma on her birthday, and so forth, everyone can carve out time to work towards a creative outlet, but few do using many of the aforementioned excuses. What truly perplexes me is that the same people who can’t seem to find the time to practice writing poems or practice drawing, still somehow find a block of time to sit and color in an adult coloring book.

Coloring within the lines requires little creative effort. Creating the actual designs that go into coloring books, however, requires months or years of effort. In a society constantly looking for the easiest routes to success, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that people opt for the simplest path.

So, why do I complain that grown folks are opting for coloring books? I don’t look down on the exercise as a means of mental calm. I understand that it can be quite soothing, but so can many other creative outlets. I can’t get past the first few stanzas of Moonlight Sonata on the piano, but after a little tinkering with a tune found in a beginners practice book, I have a harmonious simple tune that I can play by heart when the moment warrants it. While working on any “major” writing project can bring its headaches, sitting down to create a new story from the beginning just because I can do it is more freeing than anything else I experience in life. A hectic life needs a method of calming the mind, but there’s nothing that suggests that that method has to be as simplistic as the adult coloring book.

Everyone needs a creative outlet. Whether it be writing, dancing, photography, learning, or (in the case of my mother, with whom I discussed this post in the midst of writing) applying customs law in creative ways, everyone needs a creative outlet. One doesn’t even need to be exceptionally good at said outlet either. Like I said, I can hardly read base clef, but it doesn’t stop me from playing the one song that I can play on the piano. I may never get published, but it doesn’t stop me from writing whatever I want whenever I want.

Creative outlets provide a mental calm in a hectic life and past the elementary school years, one can do far greater and better things to achieve that mental calm than pretend to be artist while filling in lines created by others. Stop taking the quickest, easiest routes towards a sense of accomplishment and put forth just a little effort. No one will hang the completed coloring book page from a 30-something on the fridge, but they may find delight in an original creation.

There’s a very real possibility that I’m missing something fundamental in the adult coloring book, but then…this is still my three cents on the issue.

1 comment » | Article, Rant

My brief flirtation with LibreOffice

November 4th, 2013 — 3:07am

I’ve not written here in ages, but it is time for another review.

In my zeal to have full computing capabilities available in the thinnest, lightest form, I bought a Mid-2012 MacBook Air back in January. Initially, I was in love with the thing despite being staunchly anti-Mac since middle school, but when I began to utilize it for “real” work, I started to remember why I have always claimed that I hated Macs.

As an aspiring author, I write all the time and all writers who don’t wish to waste forests of trees and rivers of ink need proper word processing software. The de facto has been, throughout my lifetime, Microsoft Office Word and, despite disliking what Microsoft has done with the product line in the past six years, I’ve come to depend on Word like I depend on Firefox. So, in using my new Mac, I sought out Mac Office 2011, thinking that since it was Microsoft-produced, I would have the best option for document compatibility and “ease” of use.

Mac Office 2011 sucks in ways that would require a completely separate domain, server, and blog to explain entirely. To put it succinctly, Mac Office 2011 contains everything that you dislike about Office 2010, with none of the familiarity, and none of the features available in Mac OSX since Snow Leopard. What irritates me most is that Microsoft could have easily ported Office 2010 to Mac OSX without hardly deviating from the original product, but they refused. Note, that the blame for Mac Office’s lack of usability and general crumminess lays with Microsoft, not Apple.

With Mac Office acting barely usable, I sought other options for word-processing on the Mac. Pages was a possibility I considered right up through the last two weeks, when Apple made drastic changes to their iLife products. I tried Pages through iCloud in Safari, but gave up within ten minutes as I could not find simple a word count utility and nothing about the application brought any familiarity. Additionally, Apple insists on keeping all of its users within its “walled gardens,” which does not trouble me on iPhone/iPad because of the multiple workarounds, but is intolerable with a full laptop. Apple refuses to allow Dropbox integration with its apps, thus everything I’ve carefully organized and used with Dropbox on multiple platforms, operating systems, whatever, is unavailable to me when trying to use Apple’s Pages. Here the blame rest entirely on Apple and it was here that I began to once again mumble to myself, “I hate Macs.”

As neither Apple nor Microsoft could offer me what I wanted, I turned once again to LibreOffice. I say “once again” because I’ve experienced this application several times in the last decade with mixed results all placing me back into Microsoft Office’s slow, bulging, buggy arms.

Back when was whole, I found gross incompatibility with Word documents, few of the fonts available in Office, difficult to use features such as Word Count, and corrupted files upon going back to Office. I later tried LibreOffice when it was first forked from OpenOffice and still found that it was not anything close to Office’s usability and quit once again. Some time even later, however, I began to play with using Ubuntu and LibreOffice, installed with the operating system, was attempted again before I gave up and finagled Wine and Office 2007 to work relatively well together.

With my fifth or tenth or so attempt at LibreOffice, I was determined to make this application work for me as both Apple and Microsoft had spectacularly failed me. I installed LibreOffice 4 on both PC and Mac and spent an hour tweaking Writer on each operating system to make it as close to Office 2010 as possible.

My initial impression this time around was moderate joy over how LibreOffice had improved over the years. Built-in Word Count utility, default fonts from MS Office, and perfect Word doc compatibility through Windows, Mac OSX, and Ubuntu. At last! I had hit the jackpot! Then, I began to melt into the fictive dream and write like normal…

First came even more tweaking and searching and further tweaking to counter app deviations that were not immediately obvious. Then, I had to resign screen space in Windows and Mac OSX to some immoveable toolbars. The final straw, however, came with Autocorrect.

Writing in a plain text word processor provides straight apostrophes and quotation marks that, lacking the technical term here, do not have “curves” that are typically used in writing drafts. I have no issue with this, but I cannot stand a mix. Either all of the marks in a document are plain text and straight or all have “curves,” but a mix of the two completely throws me when I’m writing. I found myself paying closer attention to whether LibreOffice’s Autocorrect was automatically correcting these marks than on my actual writing and, even after triple checking Autocorrect settings, I was often forced to stop in the middle of prose or dialogue to adjust what LibreOffice called a grammar issue due to Autocorrect failing.

I also use ellipses when I write. A lot. I’ve remained conscious of it, but when I need to use them, I need them. LibreOffice’s Autocorrect includes switching three periods … to an ellipses, which is a very specific character that looks similar, but is functionally different in word processing. The problem is that unlike MS Office, LibreOffice does not take into account Autocorrect “wildcards.”

For example, three paragraphs above this text, I used a word and followed directly with an ellipsis, “normal…” In MS Office, the three periods directly following a word is auto-corrected in the same manner as it would be if it was typed “normal …” with a space between the word and the ellipsis. LibreOffice does not do this. To LibreOffice, “normal…” becomes a grammar issue that I have to stop and correct because the Autocorrect does not recognize that, despite coming after another character with no space between them, three consecutive periods should be automatically corrected into an ellipsis.

These may sound like minor trifles to an average user, and they very much are. To a high school kid writing a two-page essay on The Scarlet Letter, these aggravations would hardly be worth mentioning. To a writer, these minor trifles completely disrupt the flow of thought, which renders the application unusable.

Often times, when seeking to write with no distraction or interruption of any kind, I will utilize Microsoft’s Notepad application just to get down my thoughts without regard to grammar, redlines under spelling issues, or paragraph, spacing, and font. Ultimately, I have to take whatever I write in a blank atmosphere and add it to a true word processor to make the proper literary adjustments and continue writing from there. That word processor must include a Word Count and page number utility, it must be compatible with Microsoft Word’s formatting, and it must enable one to write without the need to pause the writing experience to fix what the application should be able to do on its own.

A word processor should be able to correct simple errors, like “teh” for “the” and three consecutive periods for an ellipsis, without the writer’s intervention and sadly, LibreOffice is still not quite there.

It could be argued that after several months’ use, I could grow accustomed to these differences, but I see no reason to force myself to ignore problems that should not exist in the first place. Were I further along in my programming knowledge, I would hack the application myself or even be so bold as to make the specific recommendation that the LibreOffice team focus on perfectly mimicking Office’s simple functions before adding all the bells and whistles.

I suppose no application will ever meet the expectations of everyone all the time, but I’ve never had to return to Microsoft Office with such dread since I began using Windows 95 versus the old typewriter my mother let me play with as a child.

1 comment » | Article, Rant, Writing

91-Books – Lost Tribe of the Sith series

August 20th, 2010 — 2:44am


The Challenge!
The Review:

😀 – The Force is strong with this one.
🙂 – I’d read it again.
😐 – Meh…
🙁 – I have a bad feeling about this.

Lost Tribe of the Sith by John Jackson Miller
My rating for the series as a whole: 😐 – Meh…
Precipice: 😐 – Meh…
Skyborn: Between 🙂 and 😐
Paragon: 🙂 – I’d read it again.
Savior: 🙁 – I have a bad feeling about this.

I decided to review all four books in one set since the e-books were so short. It was difficult to come up with a complete rating for each one since one book was on the low side of “Meh…” and another was almost a four-star effort, but I stand behind my shrugging humph as I think upon what I have read.

While I liked some better than the others, the series fell a little flat for me, both in mechanics and in general storyline. What bothered me the most was that there was not a proper balance between “show versus tell” throughout the entirety of the series and, while “show versus tell” is something with which many writers suffer, I came into this series expecting far more from a seasoned author like Miller.

Right from the start, I was thrown into a completely unknown landscape with very little to help me grapple with what I was being told and that, more than anything, brought out my old skepticisms about science fiction literature. A part of me feels like any reader should be able to pick up any book about the galaxy far, far away and should instantly be able to fall into the novel without little to no background knowledge. With Precipice, there were several times in that first chapter where I had to keep backing out of the novel on my Kindle to make sure I was reading the first book in the series. I was completely lost!

Granted, my Star Wars knowledge is limited, but I honestly thought I needed some kind of Star Wars concordance by my side to help me understand what I was reading. Perhaps it is just because I am still fairly new in this journey of mine, but I think that strong storytelling about this universe should assume only a few things: 1) That the reader has at least watched some of the films and 2) Even if the reader has not seen the films, he or she at least knows that there are Jedi and Sith, there is the Force and that lightsabers come in several colours and can cut everything. Unless the novel explicitly picks up after another series, there should be few if any assumptions made.

In Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, was it helpful to have watched or have read the novelization of Episode 4? Of course! That’s why the cover had “From the further adventures of Luke Skywalker…” in bold letters at the top. The reader knows going into the novel that if the name Luke Skywalker does not ring a bell, he or she is going to miss a lot of the novel.

I also equate this idea to reading The Lord of the Rings. Is it helpful to have read The Hobbit and have some understanding of who Gandalf is and what hobbits look like? Of course! Yet, Tolkien does not jump into the story assuming the reader has read what was actually a prequel of sorts to his masterpiece. If I sound like I’m ranting a bit, it is simply out of the frustration of not having any idea what was happening for close to a full chapter and one of the longer ones in the novel, at that. I knew next to nothing about who I assumed was my protagonist, names were being dropped left and right to the point that I was truly turned off by what I read.

Honestly, imagine watching Return of the Jedi without ever knowing a thing about Star Wars and picture the opening scene. Two random robots are walking in the middle of some desert, you have no idea who they are, where they are or why the little one beeps instead of talks, and the one that is talking keeps referring to some guy named Luke and something else about a princess. Even the opening scroll would not help you get far and the rest of the film would make no effort to explain anything to you. This is acceptable in ROTJ because it is a part of a trilogy so assumptions can be made. I had nothing to help me understand whether or not Lost Tribe of the Sith was a part of another series, I was thrown a lot of names in those few pages and, thus, I was frustrated.

My frustrations were also deepened by how the novels flowed. Far too much detail went to facts that did not make a difference by the end of the series, whereas characterization were, in most cases, left to basic summaries.

In Precipice, was it really necessary to read about every single muscle Korsin flexed as the Omen crashed on Kesh? Did the reader really truly need to see each facet of Keshiri life before getting on with the rest of the story? Likewise, why was the reader simply told about the history between Korsin and his brother instead of allowed to see a part of it before their jump to hyperspace and the eventual crash? This is where the balance between “show versus tell” comes into play. Far too many scenes in the novel were shown when they could have quickly been told and vice versa. In my eyes, if the author was going to spend eons describing what could be summarized, then the novellas should have been great epics of detail from every character down to the last sparkle of the rocks on Kesh.

Once I moved past the initial shock of being thrown into a novel with a back story I may never learn and the long spans of description that came to nothing in the end (seriously, several thousand words were spent on the crash alone and it made not one bit of difference how the ship crashed in the end), I did enjoy many aspects of the series that caused me to think of the Sith on a deeper level and encouraged me to continue with the novels on my list.

As I said earlier, the beginning caught me off guard, like a Chemistry mid-term on something the professor never covered in class, and there were several times in the novel where I was shouting to myself, “Let’s get on with this! Somebody bring out a lightsaber!” That initial boredom was quickly overshadowed by the Sith themselves.

The idea of “pureblooded” Sith was completely new to me and utterly fascinating. These red-skinned people had somehow interspersed with humans and other species creating other Force-sensitives, but in a sense, not as attuned to the dark side as a pure-blood Sith would be. The only part that dampened my new-found intrigue with the Sith were some of their conversations.

“‘What’s the third choice?’
Gloyd’s painted face crinkled. ‘There isn’t one. But I figured it’d cheer you up if you thought there was.’
‘I hate you.’
‘Great. You’ll make someone a fine Sith someday.'”

Some of the discourse between the Sith sounded almost ordinary and just as balanced as the Jedi, albeit in a slightly more sarcastic light. I had always imagined that the Sith were a mysterious and magical sect so bereft of the normalcies found in non-Force sensitives that they were barely capable of holding almost jovial conversations like the above quote. This view has also been reinforced by what I had seen in the films and in Clone Wars. I suppose, however, that this runs with the idea of what Anakin was screaming at the end of Revenge of the Sith; the Sith are just as “normal” as anyone, depending on a certain point of view.

The idea that the Sith ran in a gamut of shapes, sizes and colours was the complete “Oh wow!” moment in the book. Again, the films leave one with the perception that any Force-sensitive being is human since it takes a humanoid form to hold a lightsaber and, ergo, master the Force. I was delightfully surprised to “see” the array of Sith colour; from the pure-blooded red Sith, to every other colour in the rainbow. It was like viewing the world through John Lennon’s Imagine, but then brought back to your senses by the fact that they all carried “evil-coloured” lightsabers.

Further fascinating for me was the concept of something as basic as drug use in the GFFA. Korsin’s brother is an addict and I found myself sympathizing with his plight, regardless of the fact that I have had no similar experiences in my own life. That said, I also find that the more I read, the more the GFFA begins to mirror real life, but in a manner that makes the characters appear simultaneously down-to-earth and still like the wayward warriors they are.

In the end, though, the Sith did live up to what I expected Sith to do and I had to hold back a cold laugh at the callousness of the protagonist in the last chapter. What I enjoy most in an anti-hero like Korsin is whole-hearted evil and cruelty. It does not due for a villain or the protagonist’s character to be wishy-washy or grey. What Precipice confirms (at least for me) is that the Sith are evil, but some are clearly more evil than others.

By the time I came to Skyborn, I had imagined I could not be shocked again by another onslaught of information I did not understand, but once again, I was proven wrong. Within the first few hundred words, I was wondering if I was reading a story within the same series. The beginning of Skyborn was packed with so much mundane detail that I was certain that The Lost Tribe of the Sith was just a collection of short stories that were in no way interconnected. Of course, by the end of the second chapter, I finally saw the connection, but much of the second book of the series left me a little muddled.
Since I was unable to see how Adari and her Keshiri people related to the Sith, I found myself, again, wondering when the author was planning to get on with the actual story. Like in Precipice, detail upon detail was lain upon the reader, this time about the purple-skinned Keshiri and their view of the world, when much of this could have been summarized rather quickly without hurting the story.
When considering the novel on whole, Adari’s characterization frustrates me almost as much as my initial confusion in Precipice.

“Adari had never felt shame for all those hours she’d spent searching the creek beds, or for finding more interest in the shards of a shattered stone than in her children’s first words.”
Initially, I was not intrigued by Adari as a protagonist. She did not reach me on a “womanly” level or otherwise and I think what made this most apparent was the description of her love, or lack thereof, for her children.

Adari had her children simply because it appeared to be the appropriate thing to do and had no love for them. Even the Sith love their children, so what does this say about her? I cannot see her apathy towards her children as a more masculine quality either. It just feels fake and unbalanced. I am one of the last people to stigmatize the role of women in literature, but I have rarely seen the aloof mother done properly where some kind of vice was not involved and, even in Moth Smoke, one of my favorite novels, the author was discussing a woman who cared for little outside of herself. Adari obviously cares about rocks, but she just disregards people.

Adari is presented as more level-headed that the rest of the Keshiri, but lacks the outright selfishness necessary to make her behaviour to her children and her people believable. That is not to say that a lack of a maternal instinct is tantamount to selfishness, but for something that is so ingrained in womanhood, there needed to be more than just a few lines telling the reader that Adari did not love her children or motherhood.

Adari’s heresy trial, while somewhat amusing with its Scopes Monkey Trial meets Star Wars storyline, has incredibly little to do with the actual plot. Her chief “prosecutor” is given a plethora of detail and back story, but Izri Dazh plays no part in the overall story.

“‘But you know that all that is Kesh came from the Skyborn,’ Izri said, jabbing his cane in her direction. ‘Nothing can be born of Kesh anew!’
She knew; every child knew. The Skyborn were the great beings above, the closest thing the Kesh had to deities.”

Most of the first chapter was downright boring. Seriously, this was my Kindle note from this part of the story:
Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith #2: Skyborn (JOHN JACKSON MILLER)
– Note Loc. 104 | Added on Tuesday, August 10, 2010, 06:38 PM
this story just got a million times more mundane. really? we are just reading about a darwinesque stone trial? even when described in the context of another world it has been done so many times it is simple and inane.

I suppose Izri plays the Dr. Zaius in the story, but he shines brightly for a long while before fading into inconsequence.

This is not to say that Miller could have summarized everything about the Keshiri by saying, “All folks down in Tahv-ville believed in the Skyborn a lot, but Adari, who lived just north of Tahv, did not.” but all the detail just became overbearing.

What would have made an incredible story would have been to make it one complete novel, where the first chapter showed the reader what was happening to the Sith, the second chapter discussing Adari and the Kesh, the third including more information about the Sith on Kesh and so forth until Adari meets the Sith, bringing the two parallel stories together.

I could not help but notice, however, the glaring dig at religion Miller inserted into this story and, while I would like to see his ultimate point being that science can break down anything in the universe into matter, energy, space and time, a dig is still a dig no matter how annoying.

What I did enjoy was when Adari met the Sith. Miller did an outstanding job of presenting how the Sith would appear to someone who knew of nothing outside of her terrestrial bounds and this was where the overflowing detail was finally put to good use. The reader got to “see” the Sith precisely how Adari saw them which helped paved the way for the third and, in my opinion, the best novel of the series.

The second half of the novel is what kept me drifting between two ratings for the whole book. While the first half was drab and grey, the second was full of life and colour, much like in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy steps out of her Kansas home into the beautiful land of Oz; the two halves are like night and day. By the end of the book, I found myself, again, wishing that Miller had made this one continuous story.

While I found the italicized trips into Seelah’s memory a little heavy-handed, I think Miller did a good job with the memories and with the third novel altogether.

There was more of a balance between “show versus tell” in the third than in any of the others and, even though, Miller did include irrelevant details in this book as well (again the memories), the details did not distract one long enough to wonder where the author was going with the book.

At this point, the groundwork has been laid and all that is left is story. I did find it difficult to believe that the Sith were still earnestly attempting escape after fifteen years on Kesh, but their actions were exactly what I had expected of them; a lack of justice for the voices of the weak and a complete sense of power and control. Fascinatingly enough, the one I had thought who would feel the most comfortable overpowering a Force-lacking species, was the one most anxious to still leave the planet.

All this notwithstanding, Paragon was far from perfect and some of the same questions I had about the ability to “see” using the Force while watching ROTS, sprang up in this story as well. In ROTS, I found it amusing (for lack of a better word) that the Jedi, who could sense the slain souls of fallen Jedi half a galaxy away, could not sense a Sith lord sitting just a stone’s throw away from them, i.e.: Yoda sits directly across from Palpatine in the beginning of AOTC, but other than simple mistrust thrown at any politician, there is no sense that Yoda senses a real disturbance in the Force. In Paragon, I see marked similarities, though on a smaller scale.

Ravilan, a red Sith and from my limited understanding, a pure Sith, should have been able to “feel” or interpret the Force with far greater accuracy than any of the humans around him. Why Ravilan could not see or sense Seelah’s murders on a Force-limited planet like Kesh is just mind-boggling. As soon as I had read that Seelah oversaw all births, I assumed she was doing something naughty and this intuition was without anything that came out of her past memories; this was based solely on her character in the past two books.

Adari’s character seemed a bit shunted to the side for the greater part of the story and I could not help feeling slightly betrayed considering the amount of time spent on her in the previous book. I also did not like, or perhaps I simply did not understand, the end and Adari’s newfound desire to return the Keshiri lifestyle back to its roots. In hindsight, this was just the beginning of what would become a truly mundane end to the series.

This novel was what almost brought the entire series down a complete notch for me. There are so many issues that I could probably take up the remainder of my blog space complaining about it, but instead, I will focus on characterization.

Adari Vaal began as the wayward heroine to the series and, robbed of what could have been an incredible rise and a fantastic level of depth, Adari’s character was left lifeless and bland. There were several points in Skyborn and Paragon that Adari seemed to have some promise, but in the end, she was simply wasted.

What caught my attention most in Skyborn, infuriated me most in Savior. Skyborn presented the reader with an Adari who was the heretic, the mother to children she barely loved, and the geologist who would rather spend her time examining rocks than interacting with her own people. How and when and, better still, why did she develop these feelings of patriotism about her homeland and her people?
I was at no point struck with the sense that Adari particularly cared for her own people and Korsin’s fascination with her throughout the second and third books gave the perfect setup to have Adari either run away with the Sith should their help arrive or overthrow Korsin to set herself up as the supreme leader of her people. Good God! She had ample opportunity!

She reunited the Skyborn with the Keshiri; Adari could have, should have, claimed herself queen/empress/Skyborn Elect/whatever over her people and, if she harbored some understanding of injustice, why not use her newfound power to overcome the Sith and bring her people into a Kesh Age of Reason? The Keshiri are so numerous that they don’t have a number to count their population. Surely, amassing an army devoted to their Keshiri-Skyborn could have helped take down the Sith. I am not saying it would have been easy or bloodless, but anything would have been better than what came of Adari in the novel.

Adari’s plan was comical in its inanity. What it proved was that she had learned nothing from spending twenty years amongst the Sith. She had spent years in their inner circles and, even if she was not Force-sensitive, she surely could have learned enough about the Sith and the ways of the dark side to come up with a plan better than what was presented. Were the Sith not a resourceful people? Could they not, knowing that food and shelter were just a ways off, have fought and clawed their way back to the mainlands eventually? She spent a minimum of ten years drawing up plans and the idea to “strand” the Sith was best someone with inside knowledge could create? It is unthinkable!

Adari’s character had so much promise and yet it was all for naught. Even worse were the open questions that will never receive answers. Why devote an entire novel about a single character and her view of her world only to have her dissolve into mediocrity in the end? Why would a character with such spirit and so out of sync with the rest of her people, even want things to go back to the way they were? The reader was told a million times that Korsin thought the world of her, but why? We were not shown anything out of the ordinary about her other than what was given before her encounter with the Sith and yet, somehow, we are left to decipher what specific actions of Adari endeared her to Korsin. I just can’t stand it when great characters are just wasted; it is like they are brought to life with a real purpose, but laid to rest never realizing their full potential. I may not have been able to immediately associate with her, but Adari’s character had great potential to become like the Sith, yet the antithesis of them at the same time.

What was probably most disappointing about the last book and the series as a whole was that the series did not leave me feeling like I was further enlightened in the Star Wars universe. There are likely other series I kicked off this list since Lost Tribe of the Sith made the cut in my first glance that would have been far more gratifying, but it will be a long while before I even get to them.

Unlike with the first two books on my list, I don’t feel like I have learned anything significant from the series. Since I was reading about completely foreign characters who were not developed as well as they could have been, I felt nothing when reading about their deaths or banishments. There was nothing more than a, “Okay…I guess it’s over, now.” when I got to the end. Actually, it was more of a “He’s going to end it like that?!?!?” but either way, I was not pleasantly surprised as I had been with the last two. It was evitable though; there was no way I would be able to read 91 books without coming across a few that did not settle well with me.

Oh, well…Onto Darth Bane: Path of Destruction!

Truth be told, I have already started Darth Bane: Path of Destruction and am loving every minute of it, which is what made it so difficult to come back to these, but on I trek! 🙂

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91-Books – Splinter of the Mind’s Eye

August 5th, 2010 — 8:20pm


The Challenge!

😀 – The Force is strong with this one.
🙂 – I’d read it again.
😐 – Meh…
🙁 – I have a bad feeling about this.

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster
My rating ~ : 🙂 – I’d read it again.

The Review:
The novel, the first true instance of the Expanded Universe, felt like a complete lesson in Star Wars for me. Only two novels into the Star Wars universe, I already see the underlying story in a clear and bright light. So many things I had never considered sprang to mind while I was reading and when I got to the end, it seemed as if I had come out of the book a little wiser.

It was not until the scene where Luke was attempting to get Leia to appear less regal that it occurred to me that Leia was actually a princess and often behaved like one would expect a wealthy monarch to behave. In the films, she came across as simply bold, but the novel gave me a little more insight into that boldness.

Likewise, there were parts that, while pulling me out of the fictive dream (though, at no fault of the author), expanded my thinking about the characters/inhabitants of the Star Wars universe.

“‘I am told this mining is an expensive venture. The Empire is smart enough to save where it is able,’ he concluded with pride.
‘That probably extends to your pay and retirement,’ the Princess ventured maliciously.”

Even while reading “Episode 4” and gaining some insight on the idea that all or most of the Alderaanians actually perished in the first full test of the Death Star, I never considered the day-to-day folk that interacted with, or were part of the Empire; that they would have normal lives and even think of things like a salary and retirement.

Intriguing me further is what happened to all the people who had remained loyal to the Empire after Episode VI. Going beyond that even has me wondering about the people who possibly sided with the rebels before and during The Clone Wars, but then decided to “play it safe” and remain loyal to the Empire during the next rebellion, again finding themselves on the losing side. I suppose that is why I’ve got this great reading challenge, but still, I am intrigued.

Most striking in this novel, using my knowledge of the prequels, was how much Luke and Leia model their parents and how their personalities differ from what one would expect. Leia is often quick to anger and has an absolute surety in herself that goes beyond being raised a monarch and, by contrast, Luke is far calmer throughout all of their hardships and surprises. Leia’s personality reeks of her father, while Luke encompasses all of Padme’s rational and sensible, albeit sometimes passive, calm.

Just when I thought I could not be further intrigued, the idea that since Leia was the one who obtained the most of her father’s personality and spirit, would she have made the better Jedi of the pair if they had been trained simultaneously? I have to admit, she appeared rather powerful being able to somehow withstand one of the most powerful sith lords that had ever lived with no training in the Force. It just makes me wonder…

All of this pondering and wondering aside, I enjoyed the novel on whole. The underlying story of trying to find a crystal that could enhance the Force came across as fascinating, though it made Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha manga appear far less original for me. The new world was a treat to discover along with more of the Empire’s dealings and simply a wider view of how the people in the galaxy far, far away interacted with one another. All this notwithstanding, there were some parts that confused or disappointed me.

The mechanics of the novel were far different from the first; the sentence structure was far more jagged and broken, perhaps creating some misunderstood rhythm, but the change was definitely noticeable.
Parts of the story also seemed a bit rushed to me, especially Halla’s character. Halla’s appearance came across as far too easy and, while a part of me believes I think this way because my knowledge of the prequels, but the characterization just seemed off-balanced. It reminded me of reading Christopher Paolini’s Eragon for the first time and how the mythology he presented felt like he was just trying too hard to come up with something original.

In fact, even by the very end of the novel, I still did not trust Halla as I was not keen on our protagonists trusting this person who had come out of the blue with all this knowledge and a pension for help at no cost. I would have liked to see some more distrust coming from Luke, especially after their separation.

When Halla describes herself as simply ambitious, I started to suspect as ambition feels like a very un-Jedi-like quality and, as he knew virtually nothing about her, I wondered why Luke had not bothered to ask more questions.

Obi-Wan had mentioned that Vader had helped hunt down and destroy the Jedi after turning to evil, so why hadn’t the question come up about how Halla managed to escape Vader for so many years and, better still, why did Luke never questioned whether Halla was good or evil when he understood she was Force-sensitive? Vader was Force-sensitive, was he not?

There were also a few places were the characters seemed to contradict themselves, most notably Luke. In the beginning of the novel, Luke discusses some of his studies on Tatooine and his lack of interest in zoology, “only the stars.” Much later, however, Luke pulls an entire alien language out of almost nowhere, which means he must of brought his head out of the clouds for long enough to study languages and culture, i.e.: anthropology.

While zoology and anthropology do not fall hand in hand, in my eyes, if Luke was as focused on the stars as he had earlier said, he would not have been able to pull the language of the Yuzzem from past studies at the opportune time.

It sounds to me that Luke would have been just as interested in the ecology of other planets as with their cultures. It is like describing snow to someone who has never seen it. The listener is entranced with something the storyteller would find very simplistic. I imagine it would be the same with Luke; learning about all the flora and fauna of other worlds would preoccupy his time when he was trying to get off the sand-ridden Tatooine.

“The universe is full of dead people who lived by assumption.” (Best quote ever! ^_^)

I would have liked to see Grammel’s character expanded more. There was just so much potential with him, but we only got to chip the surface of what appeared to be a very deep character. From his initial descriptions from Halla to his final demise, I had hoped more would come of the character and, from the way he was written, a part of me wonders if more details of Grammel had been included in an early draft of the novel, but were shed by an editor.

What completely caught me by surprise was the outright violence of the novel.

“Luke refastened the heirloom at this belt as the four of them ran for the front of the building, leaving confusion and blood in equal amounts behind them.”

I am still unsure whether the violence gratified or disgusted me. On one hand, I am unaccustomed to getting a full dose of anything more than mild PG violence from Star Wars and, since reading something always makes it far more acute for me, I experience the violence to a greater degree. The higher detail of violence comes across as so foreign it is distasteful, but on the other hand, it enriches the story and truly brings it alive in front of my eyes.

What leaves the matter further muddled is that when compared with what I have seen in the films and Clone Wars, the violence is not really that bad, but it is only when I read such depictions that I think about exactly what happened. That is, thoughts of, “Whoa, that soldier is not just dead…he’s dead.” spring to mind to make the whole experience more real for me, which, again, can be both bad and good.

“Mostly parted in sleep, her lips seemed to beckon him. He leaned closer, seeking refuge from the damp green and brown of the swamp in that hypnotic redness.”

Luke and Leia’s…um, relationship, was rather interesting to read. Strange as it may sound, for the majority of the novel, I found it easy to forget that Luke and Leia were siblings as they wandered about Mimban. In fact, at times, I was so entrenched in Luke’s mind that it almost possible to forget that the mild sexual tension between them could have been perfectly normal…almost.

There were also points where I was simply amused by how close Foster came to the complexity of the emotions coursing through Luke and Leia. They both “feel” something and they (or at least Luke) think it is some kind of romantic love because they simply don’t know any better, which brings me to something I touched upon in my review of “Episode 4” and I know I will bring up again.

“‘He’s near, very near.'”

Towards the latter end of the novel, Luke picks up the “disturbance in the Force” and knows that it is Vader, which intrigues me to no end.
The scene was very creepy, though a part of me is romantic enough to believe that part of the reason Luke feels Vader’s presence so strongly is because they are father and son, meaning that George Lucas could have possibly had an idea of where the whole story was heading at the time of Episode 4, which leads us into Leia’s foresight:

“Leia inhaled in terror, her eyes widening. ‘No, not him again, not here.'”

Out of all beings in the universe, her mind jumped to Vader. Why? Why not Essada himself since she apparently goes into shock anytime anyone refers to him? Better still, why not think of something in regards to the jewel they are seeking? Hadn’t she been the loudest opponent of the expedition to find it and was she not distrustful of Halla, even at this late point in the novel?

These questions and more were running through my mind as I read and, while I suppose I was literally reading too much into it, several scenes in the novel seemed very much like they were a glimpse into Episodes 5 and 6.

There was one thing about the novel that I can honestly say I did not like, though it was more of a constant ideal or thought pattern than any singular event.

“‘Using energy weapons on primitive sentients,’ she muttered in outrage.”

I was a far cry into the novel when I simply could not overlook the ideas of “primitive” versus “civilized” any longer. Throughout the entirety of the novel, and most often through Princess Leia, was the subtle discussion of the primitive species on Mimban and how they were uncivilized in comparison with their visitors. Perhaps my ideals are more “modern” from growing up in the 90s, but I find it a bit far-fetched for any one or entity to determine what amounts to being civilized.

A culture rich in differences does not make it uncivilized or necessarily primitive and, likewise, a culture ripe with technology is not necessarily civilized or advanced; just different.

It reminds me of reading Anna and the King of Siam and reading as Anna Leonowens disregarded the Siamese people as simple and akin to primitives since their culture was nothing like that of the English. That titular character can be forgiven of her ignorance, but as there did not appear to be any of the same redemption from that line of thinking in this novel, I am unwilling to afford Princess Leia the same courtesy.

Somehow this unapologetic description of the native Mimbans dates the novel for me, as I cannot imagine a writer of this new century so boldly declaring a culture sad and primitive; it maintains a pre-Civil Rights and pre-Women’s Lib feel to it.

A part of me wants to pass off these sporadic claims as coming from Leia’s relatively sheltered and slightly spoiled upbringing, but she was not the only speaking or behaving in such a manner. The Imperials thought in this same manner, as did Luke and it was only Halla who first noted that the Coway considered them (Luke, Leia and Halla) to be the primitives, though this was not until close to the end of the novel.

Leia’s disgust with Empire’s dealings with the native Mimbans does not exempt her from a similar line of thinking. The same thought process that allows the Imperials to laugh at the “greenies” as they perform the most menial jobs for just a drop of liquor is the same thought process that goes into deciding what “like us” and civilized and what is not.

Those thoughts were almost…uncivilized.

Despite ringing declarations of what was civilized and what was not, there were parts of the novel that I simply adored and often brought a smile to my face.

“He rapped another of the growths, was rewarded by a totally different ring. They exchanged smiles, and then the cave was filled with crude but sprightly tunes as the natural chimes sang under their hands.”

Some scenes of the novel were downright wonderful and the above was no exception. Their experience in the cave right up to the point that they met the natives was incredibly well-written and, at times, so picturesque that I often wished there was a film made of this novel as well.

“‘I am afraid your slow-witted companions will no longer be able to help you or anyone else, Skywalker.'”

As always, Darth Vader stole the show for me and brought the novel from a close “Meh” into a definite re-read.

Cold, callous and simply evil to the end, Vader brought the Force back into focus and, from his toying with Leia and then Luke to his not-so-complete demise, he was exactly what I had hoped to receive from a “new” Vader appearance. Equally gratifying was that there were few inconsistencies with the character I have grown to love from the films.

I can accept just about every move he makes and everything he says as the last scenes seem to fall in line with what I “know” about the character. He is “devoid of any spark of humanity” just as he appears in the films and, while I still wish the irony of Vader removing Luke’s arm in Episode 5 as Luke had done to him could have somehow made it into the films as well, Vader’s character as a whole left me fully satisfied.

What I got most from the novel, however, was a great appreciation for Princess Leia.

In all the years of watching the films, she had always seemed just a really cool character, but with nothing of the depth of Luke or Yoda or especially Vader. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye allowed me to really “see” Leia as a complete character with a full, unwavering personality and history.

Her snarky running commentary, her proud and patriotic sureties, her desire to defeat absolute evil and, of course, how she beat the crap out of Luke after he slapped her in the bar. Leia’s character was so very well-defined and well-drawn in comparison with my first experiences with her that I think I might have found the novel generally satisfying even if Vader hadn’t made an appearance.

Foster’s first original foray into what would be known as the Expanded Universe was the complete treat to read and, now, I am primed to continuing delving further into this literary world. The excitement was not as thrilling as “Episode 4’s” novelization, but it was still a delight to read. I must say that it is rare for me to go into a novel with extraordinarily high expectations and, despite not living up to my ideal, still find it enjoyable enough to want to experience it another time. Splinter was not my blockbusting jaw-dropper, but it was still a great ride.

Next up: Lost Tribe of the Sith #1: Precipice

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91-Books – Episode IV: A New Hope

July 19th, 2010 — 11:52pm


The Challenge!
The Review:

😀 – The Force is strong with this one.
🙂 – I’d read it again.
😐 – Meh…
🙁 – I have a bad feeling about this.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope by George Lucas/Alan Dean Foster

My rating ~ 😀 – The Force is strong with this one.

I have to begin by explaining that I had my doubts going into this. From a young age, I had the idea of the science fiction novel as a genre as being full of poor writing styles and being likened closer to flash fiction than anything significant driven home in most, if not all of my English classes, so when I first began reading, it was with pursed lips and a skeptical brow. I came to find, however, that my initial assumptions were correct: Mrs. Whatever-her-name-was’s tenth grade Literature class was not the be all and end all of fiction and science fiction is not necessarily “bad.”

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed my first real foray into the Star Wars Expanded Universe and my first film novelization. Alan Dean Foster’s writing style took some time to grow accustomed, but once I got a feel for the rhythm of novel, I was able to fall into the fictional world easier each time I began reading. The beginning did start out a bit slow for me since I was not really sure what to expect or how to re-visualize what I reading.

The first few chapters went by nauseatingly slow, even with the first descriptions of Vader, as my mind tried to figure out what it was reading. The memories from watching the film began to fight with my own mental images as one side of the brain said, “I think Tatooine looks like this” while the other side said, “But this is how it really looks!” Once that hurdle passed, I still found myself just wanting the novel to get on with it to the point that I was halfway through it and wondering if I had really bit off more than I even wanted to chew. The only thing to really keep me going were the small details that were either changed from the films or left out entirely.

The novel started to pick up speed, however, once Han Solo hit the scene; there was just something about his character that was very “readable.” All of his quotes seemed all the more quotable in writing and he was the one character who seemed livelier on the page than in the film.

I really enjoyed how Luke’s movements were described during the lightsaber training aboard the Millennium Falcon and also how Kenobi described the elusive and magical nature of the Force. For a brief moment, you begin to fully fall into the fictive dream about how the Force works.

I did not, however, feel fully engaged with the novel until we (Luke, Han and Ben) saw what had become of Alderaan. The destruction of Alderaan was far more profound when described in writing. It was almost as if one could feel the magnitude of what happened far more when one is within the collective conscious of Han, Luke and Ben. I cannot count the number of times I have watched Episode IV, but it never really hit me until I read the novelization, that the entire planet, that is, an entire population, ecosystem and way of life was destroyed in an instant and, it was not until this point that Empire appeared as heinous as the film’s characters had been telling me.

“And while he would have preferred the company of equals, he had to admit reluctantly that at this point, he had no equals.”
What brought the novel from “Meh” into the realm of “I’d read it again.” and beyond were just a few lines of Vader’s thoughts. The one thing missing from the original film was little to no insight on Vader’s thoughts apart from dialogue, which I am unwilling to cite as a true flaw in the film since I am not sure how one is really supposed to convey subtle unspoken emotion through an opaque mask. I will concede they managed to get it done towards the very end of Return of the Jedi, but nothing in the vein of the above quote can be executed on screen without the help of a voice-over. It is not until one can “hear” Vader’s thoughts for some magical, grandiose scheme or the flat out notion that he knows he is the greatest of his kind that one fully realizes how sinister he is and, in hindsight, how far he has fallen.

“If he had miscalculated the degree of arc in their swing, they would miss the open hatch and slam into the metal wall to either side or below it. If that happened he doubted he could maintain his grip on the rope.”
The bridge scene with Luke and Leia was very gratifying and it was at this point in the novel that I could finally appreciate the purpose of a film novelization. For once, my imagination and my memory were not struggling for omnipresence. With a clear image of what had happened, my imagination filled in any gaps that may have been missed and the excitement increased as I got to focus on the moment instead of both re-creating the mental image from scratch and the focusing on the prose.

There were two points in the novel that simultaneously had me glad I could envision the scene purely as written and could also draw from what I had previously watched; the first being when Vader and Obi-Wan meet and the second when Luke is asked if wanted a new Artoo before the battle.

The exchanges between Obi-Wan and Vader were just splendid and, even if I did not have knowledge of all their past history together, I still got the sense that there was a far greater story between the pair than even the characters were letting on at that point.

When Luke is asked if he wanted another R2 unit in the novel, I could appreciate what I read, forgetting that I ever saw the prequels, but having the images of Artoo as a “friend” of Anakin Skywalker from the prequels and from Clone Wars made the question and answer pull a smile to my face.

Chapter Twelve held the entirety of the Battle of Yavin and it was INCREDIBLE! The action was intense and I loved every minute of it. I had to let out a sigh of exhaustion when I finished because I was so absorbed in what I was reading. The dialogue and prose were even perfectly paced to match the excitement I experienced from the film.

It was at this point in the novel that philosophical questions started to bounce in my head, particularly: What else in life have I been missing? If science fiction action could be this gratifying, what other completely awesome things have I disregarded? What greater things could I be experiencing at that very moment?!? Fortunately, the novel’s action kept me from pondering on any of this for too long and I was able to get through the remainder of the book. 🙂

“‘I met your father once when I was just a boy, Luke. He was a great pilot. You’ll do all right out there.'”
As I said earlier, I truly enjoyed reading the novel, but I did have a few disappointments with it that brought me out of the fictive dream, the first of which being the interlude with “Blue Leader” prior to the battle.

This character, described only as “older” and “war-worn,” and his dialogue with Luke left me with so many questions that I had to put down the book for a moment and tear through my memory in a wild attempt to place him somewhere. How did Blue Leader know Anakin was a great pilot? If he was “older” then how young could he have been to not only have been old to enough to be “war-worn,” but also young enough to meet Anakin as a boy and know he was a great pilot? Did he fight in the Clone Wars? If so, how did he not know, or at least see fit to mention, that Vader and Anakin were one in the same?

I feel that there is some explanation I have yet to uncover because I am just starting this journey and have barely perused the comics, but I know an answer must exist other than, “Whoops! Foster wrote this before anyone knew how far the expanded universe…expanded.” which leads me to another point…

In traversing about the Star Wars universe, I have heard theories and counter-theories regarding if Lucas had the entire story of Anakin Skywalker in mind at the time of ANH or not. Reading this now definitely makes me wonder. There were scenes that leaned towards the idea that Lucas did have a master plan in place, such as Han and Luke discussing Leia. It is not experienced to the same degree in the film since we do not have any insight to Han’s thoughts, but the novelization alludes to “something” between Han and Leia in that very scene.

Also, the dialogue between Obi-Wan and Vader sounded as if it had been written fresh from watching the last hour of Episode III. On the flip side, there is the above issue with Blue Leader which leaves many questions unanswered for me, at least for the meanwhile. I also wonder if maybe the edition I have has been “updated” to account for later changes in the EU, but if that is the case, why leave all the little kisses between Luke and Leia?!?

My only other slight disappointment with the novel had to be the description (or lack thereof) for Princess Leia. When I hear phrases like “indescribable beauty,” I cannot help but roll my eyes. How am I supposed to imagine something when the author tells me it cannot be described? It is like telling a long story and stopping every few minutes to say, “Well, man, you had to be there.”

Even in a novelization, things as basic as eye and hair colour are just plain necessary. While I understand the necessity of keeping a protagonist as blank as possible to fit every type of John Q. Everyman out there, the “damsel in distress” should give the reader some kind of imagery. I did, however, really like the prologue from Leia which gave a lot of insight on Jedi and the Republic, which could have benefited the films (but then there would have been little need for prequels and then where would we be?)

All in all, I was quite pleased with A New Hope. It started out a little rocky as it battled through my own prejudices, but it pulled a beautiful story out of my initial experience and helped me enjoy what I had already loved to an even greater degree.

Next up: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. 🙂

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My 91-Book Challenge

July 15th, 2010 — 12:11am


In the past three months, in between working a little, mentoring a little, and editing Wookieepedia a little, I had been pondering on what, if any, Star Wars items I could see myself collecting.

At first, everything I saw looked completely overwhelming to the point that I could not see anywhere to dip my feet into the collecting pool or even where the best place to simply take a great plunge was. There were key chains and figurines and 10-inch R2’s just waiting to be chosen as well as beautiful prints, hats, busts, Obi-Wan Kenobi boots and those ever-covetous Anakin Skywalker lightsabers. Zounds! The options!

Simply put, I had no idea where to begin (though my ‘lil Vader hoodie is en route as I type).

Even my fail safe love of books left me at a loss when I took a good look at the lengthy list at Wookieepedia that shows all the different novels that made up the EU. I know I counted at least a hundred, without even including the youth novels and non-fiction works out there as well, and quite a few of these were out of print.

All this notwithstanding, I have loved literature since I was a kid and, if my own sense of self-satisfaction cannot be met through the unlikely goal of obtaining every single novel of the expanded universe, I can certainly satiate my pseudo-collecting desires by at least attempting to read as many of those said books as possible.

I now battle my long held stigmas of science fiction literature to learn about the Rule of Two and Yuuzhan Vong, about Naga Sadow and Admiral Thrawn, and to finally learn what happened just before the end of the Clone Wars and just after Anakin Skywalker redeemed himself.

The written word has always fascinated me and so I see the books of the EU a fitting method of cementing Star Wars into my life, (fanfiction will probably follow suit as I have started making notes on my very first one).

I had begun reading A New Hope about a month ago since it preceded even the first film and I will continue with the Splinter of the Mind’s Eye since it was the very first foray into the EU. From there, I will delve into the Lost Tribe of Sith series since those books are already itching to be read on my Kindle, but the remaining 85 will move in, more or less, this order:

Episode IV: A New Hope – Review!
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye – Review!
Lost Tribe of the Sith: Precipice – Review for all 4!
Lost Tribe of the Sith: Skyborn
Lost Tribe of the Sith: Paragon
Lost Tribe of the Sith: Savior

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction
Darth Bane: Rule of Two
Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil
Darth Maul: Saboteur
Cloak of Deception
Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Rogue Planet
Outbound Flight
The Approaching Storm
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Republic Commando: Hard Contact
The Cestus Deception
The Hive
Republic Commando: Triple Zero
Republic Commando: True Colors
MedStar I: Battle Surgeons
MedStar II: Jedi Healer
Jedi Trial
Yoda: Dark Rendezvous
Labyrinth of Evil
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
– I am anticipating this one more than any other novel as I have heard amazing reviews of the book from both Star Wars fans and otherwise.

Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader
The Paradise Snare
The Hutt Gambit
Rebel Dawn
Death Star
Star Wars Galaxies: The Ruins of Dantooine
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
– Both anticipating and dreading this one. Novelizations can be almost tedious in comparison to their respective films and, with this being one of my favorite films of all time, I am not sure the novelization will live up to my standards.

Shadows of the Empire
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
The Mandalorian Armor
Slave Ship
Hard Merchandise
The Truce at Bakura
The Courtship of Princess Leia
Tatooine Ghost
Heir to the Empire
– I am intrigued by the Thrawn Triology as these books began what started the river of EU books that followed in the past two decades. That said, a part of me thinks that there is no way these can live up to the hype I have placed on them.

Dark Force Rising
The Last Command
Jedi Search
Dark Apprentice
Champions of the Force
Children of the Jedi
Planet of Twilight
Before the Storm
Shield of Lies
Tyrant’s Test
Specter of the Past
Vision of the Future
Survivor’s Quest
Vector Prime
– I have been shaking with anticipation to start the New Jedi Order series since I first caught an article about the Vong on Wookieepedia. Out of the whole mix, I think I may enjoy these the most.

Dark Tide I: Onslaught
Dark Tide II: Ruin
Agents of Chaos I: Hero’s Trial
Agents of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse
Balance Point
Edge of Victory I: Conquest
Edge of Victory II: Rebirth
Star by Star
Dark Journey
Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream
Enemy Lines II: Rebel Stand
Destiny’s Way
Force Heretic I: Remnant
Force Heretic II: Refugee
Force Heretic III: Reunion
The Final Prophecy
The Unifying Force
Dark Nest I: The Joiner King
Dark Nest II: The Unseen Queen
Dark Nest III: The Swarm War

Anyone who perused the list may notice that there were whole series I decided to skip and this was intentional. I spent hours skimming through summaries to choose what I thought would interest me the most. I am not sure if this master list is even doable, but that is why I called this a Challenge! instead of my Life-Long Reading List. That said, I am sure there are a few gems I might have missed based on summary since poor summaries can be made about fantastic books, but this is the challenge I have presented to myself and I am going to run through this list heartily.

The goal is also review each one I complete, but I will satisfied if I can just get through the list. I suppose delving into the comics will be the next step in my mental collection, but that is a topic for another day.

Wish me luck! 🙂

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iPhone vs. Android; Apples and Oranges

June 19th, 2010 — 2:58pm


(Pun fully intended)

I keep hearing all this fuss about Android and how it’s gaining ground on iPhone and how it has surpasses iPhone sales and how it’s the saviour of all things in smartphones and blah, blah, blah…The problem is that when pundits are comparing iPhone and Android, they are not comparing like things. It is the same as comparing ALL Apple computers with the Ubuntu operating system; it’s not the same thing.

What IS a fair comparison would be solely comparing the operating system, like comparing Mac OSX and Windows 7. There are pros and cons about both operating systems, but the point is that a comparison can only be made when like things are compared. The analogy between iPhone and specific phones that run Android operating systems would be more adequate, but you rarely hear about that. This is because there is no other phone that comes close to iPhone in sales or usability.

The argument between Android and iPhone would make more sense if it was between the Droid and iPhone. If people were buying more Droids than iPhones, that would be something worth argument. But in fact, no phone is currently outselling iPhone, so we can argue all we want about operating systems, but the average consumer doesn’t care. Most people just want a phone to work and look nice doing it. So, rather go on and on how about Android is so much better and gaining so much ground on iPhone, let’s compare the actual phones, iPhone 4 and Droid Incredible, to see how the phones compare to the base consumer and put to rest some of this unwarranted iPhone-bashing.

iPhone 4 and Droid Incredible
iPhone 4 Droid Incredible
Carrier: AT&T Carrier: Verizon
OS: iPhone OS4 OS: Android 2.1
Screen: 3.5in 960×640 resolution Screen: 3.7in 480×800 resolution
Storage: 32GB Storage: 8GB, up to 32GB microSD card
Front Camera: Yes Front Camera: No
Rear Camera: 5MP 1.75 micro, flash Rear Camera: 8MP with autofocus, dual flash
FM Radio: No FM Radio: Yes
Weight: 4.8 ounces Weight: 4.6 ounces
Removable battery: No Removable battery: Yes
Adobe Flash: Never Adobe Flash: Flash Lite
Apps: Over 215,000 apps Apps: Over 70,000

(Sources: and

Before I get into any comparison, I must say this before anything else: I can’t stand Apple and I hate Macs. I say this lest anyone think that I am one of who I refer to as the Apple-loyal who will buy anything that comes from Apple. For me, a Mac is stifling in ways that make doing anything on a computer a chore not worth doing and, while something that is supposedly simple and easy to use has a market, the Mac reeks of asinine and mindless computing that allows people to become victims of their own mediocrity. As a company, Apple defy every part of capitalism that intrinsically allow them to hold one of the most desired stocks of the past decade…but they still make some great products.

I’ll say this also: I have no intentions in perusing the differences between Android and iPhone OS4. This is because an average user would have no idea which is which unless someone told them and the goal here is stress that one must compare specific phones and their abilities rather than an entire phone versus just an operating system.

AT&T vs. Verizon
Our family were long-time users of Verizon (I have had a cell since age 14 and at age 25, I’ve still got the same number), yet we are all now on AT&T. This is solely because of the iPhone; if there were no iPhone, we would still be with Verizon, but I imagine the world would be a sadder place. That said, we had only been with Verizon throughout its numerous name changes (anyone remember Cellular One?) and its rise to become the largest carrier in the US, so I cannot say that we tried AT&T’s service and then went with Verizon because we had had enough. We stayed with Verizon because we had always had Verizon and I imagine that many long-time Verizon users are in the same position; the service was so good, there did not seem a reason to switch. Those who had made the switch, many times, did so out of anger (because any company can make you angry enough to up and leave) or price (because Verizon is bloody expensive) and many of those went back to Verizon in the end because in basic cell phone service, they really are the best.

All this not withstanding, the service received with AT&T and iPhone has not been that different from my Samsung Whatever and Verizon. Very few, if any, calls are dropped and places where I am unable to pick up a signal on iPhone are the same places I was unable to pick up a signal on my Verizon phone. My point is simple: both AT&T and Verizon are large enough to provide similar coverage.

One major topic the media loves to touch upon is AT&T’s “failing” network in large metro areas (your New Yorks and San Franciscos), but I digress…there are far more iPhones floating around a single network than there are Droids, Evos, Blackberrys, etc., each on different carriers. iPhone users are also typical in using more data than their counterparts on Verizon or Sprint, so it makes me wonder if anyone has done any true analysis has been made to see if Verizon would have any more success handling the same level of traffic if they, and they alone, had iPhone. The problem is that unless Apple decide to move completely from AT&T, no one can tell if another carrier could do better than AT&T, which is why I imagine Apple are not keen on switching any time soon. It is simply unfair to say that AT&T’s service is garbage when no other carrier has had to handle the bandwidth that iPhone users gobble monthly and, let’s not forget that if AT&T were at the low the level the media is proclaiming, two years after the first iPhones debuted, AT&T would have seen a major drop in customers as people decided, “No phone is worth this service!” People haven’t, which is worth noting; the iPhone is worth putting up with any perceived or imagined tiers of service.

Lastly, I will throw in this often overlooked, but somewhat important piece of the pie. The Verizon network will not allow you to use voice and data simultaneously. This means, if you are lost in a thunderstorm, you run off the side of the road and need to call the police or just AAA to come help you, when it comes to answering the question, “Where are you?” it is going to take the presence of mind to look up where you are prior to making that call because there is no way the Droid will let you remain on that call and take a look at Google Maps. Bringing the situation a little closer to home, you and a friend across town are trying to meet up for a movie, but need to find movie times. Using a Droid, you will have to end the call, find the movie theatre and times and then call again. Using an iPhone, means you can put your friend on speaker as you peruse the different theatres, films and times and coordinate everything on the same call.

Before I am called far too Apple-biased by neglecting the fact that voice and data can be used simultaneously on the Droid with a WiFi connection, let’s examine the rationale of WiFi vs. 3G. WiFi is not new; the technology has been around at least for 10 years and for 7 years on a large scale. For some reasons, however, having a phone with access to the Internet solely via a WiFi connection was not enough to spark a smartphone industry. This is because, despite the cry that WiFi is everywhere, it isn’t. Yes, if I go to Panera, I can use their free WiFi as I eat my lunch, but I still have to switch to and log into it. Going back to the lost in a thunderstorm example, if one is out in the middle of nowhere, can you honestly rely on finding an accessible WiFi signal, and by accessible, I mean not just a signal, but signal that will not require a password? It took 3G, that is a data connection accessible from virtually anywhere, for the smartphone to take off and that is why iPhone owns the Droid in this aspect. This is not to say that this is a Droid limitation, but it is a Verizon limitation and it is also why I snicker any time I hear someone say the phrase, “Well, I hear iPhone is coming to Verizon soon.” I am certain that Verizon will correct/amend this issue in their network in the future, but it does leave me to wonder if Verizon, too, will feel the same snags as AT&T in the network.

Size, resolution and weight
Smartphones, by and large, are roughly the same size and shape, with small differences measuring in parts of an ounce or in millimeters. The thing is, most people are simply unable to look at two items and see a difference of .2 inches or feel the difference in .2 ounces, so differences that are so small become almost insignificant anywhere, except on paper. What the eye is likely to notice, however, is a difference in screen resolution. The problem is that the iPhone and the Droid have very similar resolutions, to the point, that one would really need to study the devices to see that the iPhone has the better resolution. I mention screen size and resolution and phone weight, simply because these are factoids thrown in almost all directions, but matter relatively little when it comes down to using a phone. The iPhone has a prettier display than any other smartphone on the market, but despite this people either don’t care or don’t care enough to let something like resolution define which phone will suit them. Is my bag somehow unbearable because I’ve got an extra .2 ounces of iPhone hanging in there? Will a Droid user’s eyes somehow deteriorate faster than an iPhone user’s because of 160 square pixels of resolution difference? Not likely.

One can purchase an iPhone with 32GB of storage and that’s all it will ever have. One can purchase a Droid, for $100 less, with 8GB of storage, but can increase the storage to the same 32GB. Now, I know that I cannot readily consider myself a casual consumer, but in many instances I see many techie devices in the same light. I have digital camera and I bought some random size storage card for it a few years ago, but I haven’t upgraded that card since I bought the camera and don’t see that happening any time soon. Obviously, a camera is far different from a iPhone, so let’s look at it from another view. I recently bough a laptop after researching and shopping for weeks on end. I chose one with a large memory, but not more than I knew I was going to need for the laptop and knew full well, that should I run out of room, I had a tera drive sitting nearby to transfer select files. Close to a year later, I have yet to transfer anything to the tera drive and have not worried about increasing my laptop storage.

I give both scenarios to help paint the picture for a smartphone consumer. For most people, a smartphone will be something to carry music, videos and pictures, something to send and receive e-mail, check Facebook, watch a couple YouTube videos, surf the web anywhere in the world and play mobile games. What will create the least hassle for this smartphone user: choosing only select albums to add to said phone, moving photos or videos to a computer or hard drive to make room for more apps or…having to go out and, not only purchase, but have someone install more storage in said phone, in addition to eventually need to choose between albums, move photos and videos to a hard drive? Most people (and I declare this legitimately) have no idea how to upgrade storage on a basic PC, so to go about doing the same seems an unnecessary chore and let’s not forget that the new storage cards are not going to be given away for free. If one is stuck between multiple choices, one will nearly always choose the option that is easiest; this is not laziness or inability to understand the complicated. The desire to do what is easiest is an evolutionary ideal for all sentient life and even force in the universe!

It is also worth mentioning that even if one were to increase the Droid’s storage to the same 32GB of the iPhone, that extra 24GB can only be used for music, videos, photos, etc. No apps or app data can be stored on that extra 24GB you have available. While, at first, I am unable to imagine myself filling more than 8GB on apps, it is slightly disillusioning to know that I would not be able to have an app on my phone, not because I no longer have a page to place it, but because the phone will simply not hold anything more. Let’s not forget that filling 8GB is not outside of the realm of possibility for someone using their iPhone in the same vein of Nintendo DS or PSP. A page of 16 large games can dig very far into 8GB and, with OS4’s folder system, the 176 app limit balloons to over 2000. Suddenly, that 8GB limit becomes a stifling limit that keeps one from using their phone the way one would like, especially if someone asks the question, “What will I use more often? Going through my 5GB of pictures or playing Final Fantasy? Watching a movie I’ve seen twice before or using that giant Matthew Henry commentary each week?”

I have a 32GB iPhone 3GS and have just under 10GB left. I have had to be very specific with my music, ensuring that every song is on at least one playlist to ensure nothing is sitting around just taking up space and I have added videos sparingly. That said, I still have 1278 songs (out of a 3800 strong library), 203 photos, 124 apps (taking up a little more than 2GB), 5 movies, 45 TV shows and 273 iTunes U movies on my phone with room to spare, and I consider myself an iPhone power user. An average user may not come close to any of this, so 8GB may be just fine, but…in the guise of doing what is easiest, why buy a Droid Incredible for $299 with 8GB when one could get an iPhone 3G with the same storage for $99?

Having used iPhone 3GS for months, I can honestly say the camera is garbage. The iPhone 4, however, will bring a 5 megapixel camera with a flash and better focus, not to mention video capture tools right on the phone. Droid Incredible, however, will bring an 8 megapixel camera with dual flash and will undoubtedly be the better of the pair. Several months ago, the camera barely mattered as I could take (and can still take) great photos of me and my friends and move on with my life. Recently, however, I have started a Project 365 and taking photos is a daily task, during which the iPhone’s camera inefficiencies become glaringly obvious. That said, most camera phones have garbage cameras because it is meant to be a phone/Internet browser/mini gaming device first, and a camera in a secondary or tertiary sense.

The camera on a phone is meant to capture all of life’s little moments on the go and the average user may weigh the great camera that comes with the Droid Incredible an iPhone deal breaker if image-snapping encompasses the largest portion of his or her life. To make things a little more convoluted, iPhone has what Droid Incredible does not: a front-facing camera. Why is this necessary? Because trying to take a picture that includes the person holding the camera with the iPhone is unbearably difficult and they usually come out looking like this. A front-facing camera, and it’s potential to bring a Jetsons-style video phone to the average user, is equally a game changer back in iPhone’s direction. If taking pictures is the focus of your life, however, I would still go out and spend money on a nice Canon or Minolta and stop trying to take Pulitzer images with a phone.

FM Radio
I include this under the same guise that I included the resolution and weight, because if I were to miss this, I am sure I would appear even more Apple-biased than is acceptable. In a generation where MP3 players are the norm and XM Sirius is a household name, where does this leave general FM radio? Many radio stations that haven’t been gobbled up by Clear Channel have gone under as a sign of the times. It is fair to say that anyone thirty years old and younger listens to very little radio, if at all, and as the MP3 player and XM Sirius gain further penetration into older generations, the time spent with the radio will reduce further in the US.

I cannot remember the last time I turned on the radio in my car and I don’t think I even have a basic radio anywhere in my home. This is not because many listeners don’t want to listen to the same six songs over and over again or that listeners have no desire to listen to inane chatter from radio personalities or that no one wants to listen to three songs and ten minutes of commercials. Or…perhaps it is and that is why many people are flocking to Internet radio like, Pandora, or cheap subscription radio like Sirius or foregoing radio at all to making full use of MP3 players. The problem is that the radio is no longer the only method of discovering new music. Between MTV and innovations like buying songs heard through a Tap Tap Revenge game, music can be discovered in any one of a million ways and, on top of everything else, if one wants to hear baseball, football, basketball, hockey, whatever games, there are dozens of apps in the app stores of any smartphone to satiate any need.

I present all of this to say one thing: Does it really matter if a phone has a FM radio?

The iPhone has 7 hours of talk time and the Droid has 5.2 hours of talk time. Honestly, I could end the discussion there. Simply put, the iPhone battery is larger, stronger and does more things for a longer amount of time.

What is most often cried by Droid users is that iPhone fails due to its lack of a removable battery, but when one is discussing a phone with a general consumer, the subject of removable battery just makes the matter far more convoluted than necessary. Yes, one could purchase an additional battery, but then the convenience is lost. I, and many others like me, will simply refuse to carry something extra just for the sake of it, especially during those college years, when leaving the house for a night out means taking the phone, the keys and a credit card. An extra battery just defeats the purpose of simplicity that a smartphone is supposed to bring. One must also consider the real purpose of even needing a removable battery.

My last phone had a removable battery and the only time I noticed it was when I dropped the phone and I had to spend an extra five minutes finding the back case and the battery on top of putting the darn thing back in the correct way and hoping the phone was damaged beyond repair. To anyone who uses the subject of removable battery as a deal breaker for iPhone, I suggest one consider the subject of an iPhone battery pack, like the Mophie Juice Pack, like the one I’ve got. Instead of having something else to carry and lose, the juice pack adds that little extra boost for power users while encasing the phone. Even better, when one gets low enough on power, the juice pack will switch on automatically taking an iPhone with a blank screen to 75% power on its own charge and, if that was beautiful enough, the juice pack charges simultaneously with the iPhone, meaning you never need to take off your case or juice pack. Going back to the example of being lost in the thunderstorm and awaiting help, imagine the difference between flicking on greater battery life with an iPhone juice pack, versus rummaging through the car in hopes that you remembered to bring along that extra battery for the Droid.

Adobe Flash and Apps
This has been discussed to the point that I am not sure it even warrants further discussion at this point…but that won’t stop me from going there nonetheless.

Flash Lite will be available on the Incredible which is great, to some extent, but let’s not forget that this latest line of phones is the first to truly encompass Flash. The iPhone created a smartphone market in 2007, but it is not until 2010 that mobile devices see a working version of Flash. A part of me wonders why there was all this screaming about a lack of Flash for all these years when no phone had Flash until now. It was not like one could access a Flash-only site on Blackberry and not on an iPhone previously. All mobiles lacked Flash; the only difference between iPhone and the rest was that Steve Jobs has declared, rather defiantly I may add, that Flash was antiquated and unnecessary, and thus, the need for discussion.

As a designer and a coder, I find a Flash-less world absolutely deplorable; as an iPhone power user, it really is not that big a deal. As a designer, the idea that the Apple-loyal are proclaiming HTML5 as the saviour of the Internet is more than just far-reaching. HTML5 is not even final yet and we are still fighting with IE6. Until we can be rid of IE6, no one can solely embrace HTML5 and all its possibilities, so why is there all the talk about the end of Flash?

That said, the lack of Flash on iPhone is, indeed, garbage because I cannot watch Hulu or stream via Netflix or visit Flash-based sites, but for the most part I rarely notice a lack of Flash to the point that I wonder if those crying the loudest about Flash actually use it on a Droid on a scale large enough to even warrant the complaint.

Most of the sites I visit that rely heavily on Flash are designer or artist showcases. Yes, it would be absolutely grand if I could follow this webcomic while away from home, but considering that iPhone is not meant to be a full PC, or Mac, away from home, I have found ways to do without Flash while I am sans computer and most of that comes through the App Store.

I will say this since the emphatically anti-Apple side of my psyche cannot keep quiet, the lack of Flash on iPhone has nothing to do with the phone’s capabilities, but simply Apple’s resistance to customization and, God forbid, competition to the App Store. If iPhone has access to Flash, developers no longer need to develop specifically for iPhone as well as other phones or platforms. A developer only needs to adjust an app for better accessibility on iPhone and Voila! most of the work is done with no need to prostrate oneself before Apple, Inc. Apple has created the cash cow to defeat all cash cows and, like any other monopolistic company, it wants nothing to do with anything that may interrupt that flow. The only reason Micro$oft allows Windows to play nice with other browsers like Firefox is because of anti-trust laws and with Apple’s recent SDK changes and now its decision to have all ads through iAds, it running down the same road as Gates/Ballmer.

In all honesty, though, most websites are designed to viewed on a computer monitor, so the mobile experience has always been a bit lacking in one vein or another. I hate to admit it, but there are always going to be things that cannot be done on a phone, no matter how smart it is until we halve the size of a nanochip and increase its power tenfold. I do not aim to be one of those iPhone supporters who make the claim that “you don’t need” Flash to browse the web, but I have no qualms in mentioning that anyone expecting to have a complete computer away from home is really in need of a Skype + netbook combination rather than an iPhone or a time machine to teleport eight years into the future to obtain such a wonderful device.

The lack of Flash does touch every power user of an iPhone (a family member even got mad at me after I apparently “neglected” to mention the lack of Flash prior to his iPhone purchase), but Apple have done their job so perfectly that, “There’s an app for that.” is ingrained in the minds of all smartphone users, iPhone or otherwise, to the point that the term “app” no longer refers to an application (i.e.: Micro$oft Word, Mozilla Firefox), but specifically something that is added to a smartphone. When something is not specifically available through Safari, the next instinct is to find what one wants through the App Store (that same family member found an app for the same Flash site he was trying to access a week later) and, so, Flash on iPhone becomes an almost non-issue.

The wide plethora of apps in the App Store make the iPhone ideal when compared to any other smartphone on the market and this is the only time where comparing the iPhone with the Android operating system comes into play. I will admit that there are tons of apps in the App Store that are simply worthless, but there are just as many worthless for Android as well. What is so special about iPhone and the App Store is that both are owned directly by Apple. While this would normally would stifle the market, the closed system of the App Store makes what is so infuriating about a Mac, absolutely ideal for a phone.

The apps in the App Store are made for one specific phone, whereas Android apps are made for the operating system. It is akin to buying a custom made suit versus buying off the rack. Anyone can create anything that is meant to be purchased off the rack which gives a wide flavour of options, but when something is made specifically for you, nothing else can compare to it. There are no apps that are meant to take specific advantage of the Incredible’s hardware over the Evo’s hardware, but every App Store app must be specifically catered for the iPhone. It is worth mentioning, however, that with the inclusion of Flash Lite on the Droid will open all of the Flash, web-based applications to the device, making up for the more than 100,000+ app difference between the App Store and Android’s app.

No, iPhone does not have Flash, which does make doing some favorite things, such as watching streaming videos, a bit problematic, but with so many workarounds, it is not so noticeable that it bricks the iPhone. The masses are not going to flock from iPhone to the Incredible or the Evo because they can now see all those dancing Flash ads in their phone web browser; there is virtually an App Store app for every major Flash application, so one can legitimately stand with the Apple-loyal when they cry, “You don’t need Flash on iPhone!” Now, the iPad…is a subject for another article.

If I’ve seemed overly biased towards iPhone, you are right, I have. The reason behind this is not that I am part of the delusional Apple-loyal who would buy elephant dung if it had an Apple logo on it, but because many techie pundits make the unfair comparisons to iPhone without looking at the phone as a complete unit. The iPhone 4 is cosmetically beautiful and is the kind of thing that one could give to someone from a generation that used rotary phones without needing to send them to special class to teach them how to use it. Usability of the iPhone is what makes it a brilliant piece of technology and, so all of this discussion about how the Android OS surpasses iPhone is all for naught. Let’s also not forget that if Apple were to allow iPhone on Verizon as well as AT&T, there would be little to no competition left for iPhone.

I could go on for the rest of my life about the usability of iPhone or the experience of playing music or videos on iPhone or how developers for Nintendo and Sony are now considering the iPhone and iPod Touch as competition to the Nintendo DS and the PSP, but I won’t. All I can really say is that I have yet to have someone with a Droid or a Blackberry to Wow! me out of my shoes with what their phone can do, yet I daily Wow! strangers on the street with my iPhone…that was even before iPhone OS4.

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The iPad…still unimpressed

May 12th, 2010 — 2:53am

With my iPhone’s glass cracked, I ventured on a trip to the Apple store. I had been avoiding this for a while to keep my adoration for iPhone from pushing me into purchasing a MacBook or something worse. Lately, the major cause for stay had been because of the “magical” iPad.

I’ll say this first: I read every article and blog regarding iPad right up to and immediately following its announcement. I was enamoured with the possibilities that could be concocted in the, as yet, unnamed Apple tablet-type device and I was expecting to be among the throngs who would purchase the device within its first month. I mention this now to reassure anyone that I am not simply Apple-bashing; I am speaking from the heart.

I’ll say this as well just to reiterate the point: I’ve owned some kind of “iProduct” since 2003. From my 20GB iPod, to my 160GB iPod Classic, to my 32GB iPhone, I feel like iProducts are a part of my iLife and I’ve loved every single one of them. Again, when I read every article that held an inkling of what was to come from Apple, I knew I was going to love it. When I held it in my hand, however, I found nothing akin to love.

My trip to the Apple store brought me face-to-face with the iPad, upon which I have shown nothing, but disdain from the day it was announced. I was unimpressed by the interface, the lack of anything truly new for the world and then, there was the name. From looking at the specs, looking at images and reading article upon article about the iPad, I, one who had been so enamoured with iProducts, could not see its purpose and viewed it as anything, but magical.

Time has allowed some changes to come to light for the iPad, but again, I am still unimpressed. The iPhone OS4 will bring multi-tasking to both iPhone and iPad (which is a major step forward for the device), but that which made the iPhone a work of beauty does not work on the iPad.

With the iPhone, for the first time, everyday people had access to a PDA-like instrument that looked cool, did not attempt to replicate a full computer, was easy to use and fit right in the pocket or purse. To coin their own phrase, “It just works.” The iPad does not bring anything new to the game. “We” have already grown accustomed to the iPhone and “our” expectations are much higher when it comes to “magical” products. For the price of an average, full laptop or even a low-grade desktop, users are given an iPhone-like product, without the benefits of iPhone’s size, iPhone’s 3G, iPhone’s camera and iPhone’s phone, without the readability of the Kindle it attempts to replace and without the usability of a simple laptop. To be honest, if Apple had just come out with a MacBook with a touch interface, I would have been camped out in front of the Apple store the night before release. The iPad is just not what it should be.

The iPad attempts to fill the proposed void between smartphone and laptop, but that’s why there are netbooks which play movies, play music, create documents and, if the right developers took the initiative to bring it to another level, can be used as e-book readers, all for the same cost of the iPad which is bigger, in some cases heavier, and does not employ all the features of the current state of the Internet (the Apple vs. Flash “thing” has been done a million times already). In truth, the iPad is something that fills the “gap” between smartphone and netbook, but who can really justify that for $500?

All of what I’ve said so far, I said (or screamed, whatever) before holding the iPad and seeing what it could do. Tonight, I’ve had the opportunity to hold the iPad in my little brown hands and I still stand by everything I said prior to ever seeing it face to face.

The first thing I noticed was that the iPad is very pretty, but lots of things are pretty and pretty does not equal useful. My first thought was that it was no different from what I already had on my iPhone. Games are little prettier on a bigger, shinier screen, but not having something that fit in the palm of my hand dampened the experience and I found myself trying to figure out a way to hold the darn thing comfortably before finally giving up and just resting it on the table. And, if you don’t think close to two pounds is heavy, go to a bookstore and hold a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The US version weighs about two pounds…now, it’s like you’re holding an iPad.

Speaking of books, after viewing a few sites on the iPad, I meandered to iBooks and was, again, unimpressed. I had been told that iBooks was the ultimate Kindle-killer for months, but there was a definite difference in the experience from when I first held a Kindle and when I first held the iPad. The Kindle disappears into your hands and, because there is no backlight shining directly into your eyes to the point that it could be used as a separate lamp, your eyes do not tire after a few minutes of staring at the screen. The iBooks app will not “disappear” in front of you and I can’t see any serious reader (and by serious reader, I’m talking about people who read, at the very least, a book a month, but really closer to a book every week) choosing an iPad over a Kindle or Nook or anything else with e-ink as a e-book reader. I’m, literally, just not buying it. The page turning “effect,” while cute at first, actually takes second place behind the Stanza app which was already free on the iPhone and I found myself marveling more at the image of a book in front of me than the words on the “page.” A Kindle shows a reader words and with a click, new words appear on a new “page,” and this comes without any bells and whistles to distract from the reading experience. As I had been saying since January, the iPad is a crappy e-book reader.

So, here I sit, smiling triumphantly that I was not blown away by being in the presence of the iPad, but also deeply disheartened by my lack of love for the device. I had honestly hoped that by holding it and playing with it for a bit, that I could catch the Apple fever and re-live what it felt like to see an 4th generation iPod for the first time, or an iPod with colour or the iPod touch or that very first iPhone commercial that literally (and I do mean literally) made me drool. Alas, I was as unimpressed as I was the day I first learned of the name. At least this way, I suppose, I can sleep a little better knowing that my skepticisms were not unfounded.

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Why do people love music?

March 4th, 2008 — 2:17am

Removing the sad song from the blog that I had originally added after Edrith had died got me thinking: Why do I love this song?
{Fukai Mori (Deep Forest)}

  • I have no real relations to J-Pop and hardly anything to the Japanese culture outside of Sailor Moon and InuYasha. I cannot understand a single word of it and the English transliterations of the lyrics make no sense to me. And speaking of English lyrics, English version of the song is nearing terrible. So, why on Earth do I love, no obsess over this song?

    I suspect it may have to do with the fact that it was the second ending them for InuYasha; a theme that showed images with a focus on Sesshoumaru, over whom I have been very OCD, but i don’t think that is it. InuYasha introduced me to the song, but I loved it before I became enamoured with Sesshoumaru. Which makes me think about this song:
    {Shinjitsu No Uta (Song of Truth)}

  • Again, I don’t understand one word of it, but I love it. The big difference here is that when I became OCD over Fukai Mori, I went through and downloaded every theme song of InuYasha. In this case, however, I had no images of Sesshoumaru leading me to the story, I just heard the song and adored it. Mind you, once I heard it on the anime, I was jubilant, but only because I already loved the song. I guess I could say that I just happen to love Do As Infinity, which I do, so i guess that may discount my underlying theory, but what about this song?

  • Again, I have a song in Japanese and though there are a few words here and there in English, I still don’t understand 90% of it and yet, I love it. I adore the song and it almost moves me like Aaliyah’s “I Care 4 U” or The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I loved the song before I heard it on InuYasha, long before and this one is not by Do As Infinity. So, now I present my real question: What makes people love music?

    This subject has always fascinated me in regards to instrumental music, but I had always brushed of the idea as simplistic due to the lack of lyrics, meaning that everyone could understand the music and therefore love it. My introduction to InuYasha brought me J-Pop and brought about loads of questions. It’s not like I am totally enamoured with J-Pop and every song I ear. Far from it, but there are songs that just sound good. Take the theme from Bleach. What intrigued me even to watch a little of it was the song. Interestingly enough, once the anime changed themes, I lost interest.

    Here’s another piece of a crazy puzzle. Mos Def, on his album “Black on Both Sides,” there is a song Rock N’ Roll . Most of the song is very hip-hop, but the end of it breaks into mosh-pit worthy thrashing. I like the song up to that point, but why? I love rock music, revel in it, sometimes I prefer it to “my own” cultures hip-hop and definitely over rap, but I don’t like the rock music of that song.

    I have a theory: What separates humans from the other animals is not just our intelligence, but our ability to use that intelligence to create. Since we create, there is something as yet undiscovered in our brains that loves a certain aspect of music that exists outside of nurture, culture and politics. That is how someone can appreciate Bach, Tupac and Do As Infinity on the same iPod.

    Nurture, culture and politics, as much as we hate to think it, shape who we are as human beings Nurture being are close environment, the place where eat, slap, spend most of our time away from the world, culture being farther from us, but represented by a community; this is what tells us that we are an “us” and everyone else is a “them,” culture tells you that that a black American likes rap music and a Southern white American likes country or bluegrass. In other words, culture sucks. Politics is what keeps culture in line. Politics is what makes it seem odd that a white Scandinavian can find fascination in the soulful music of Jill Scott or that a black American can find solace in the seemingly nonsensical words, since she can not understand them, of Japanese rock music. Music breaks all three of these moulds in a way that even literature or visual art cannot. Since music has this remarkable ability, it allows me to ask the question, what gives music its appeal? Why does the song “American Pie” seem to transcend time? How can Chopin’s music still elicit emotions centuries later?

    I wish I knew. I wish I had an answer, but I doubt my finite human mind can truly grasp such ideas. I suppose, for now, my shuffled playlists of John Williams, Jill Scott and The Strokes will simply have to suffice.

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