Saturday, October 20, 2018

Next Career Move

I suspect this may mean less book reviews (though I currently have reviews written through 12 December).  This summer I reviewed a bunch of books, and then dropped to every other week to help stretch out the fact that I've slowed down my reading a lot as fall hit...

The company I work(ed) for has been planning a division sell-off for most of the year.  Weeks after that division spin-off into Private Equity, I was notified that my last day will be 29 October.  The last time I was laid-off, it was similarly driven by a corporate action.  Upper management had been talking about a flatter organization, and cutting out management levels, so I was well prepared mentally.  I actually expected that I would take it much worse than I did, but I think I already had the attitude that this is just what happens to my job when there's a corporate action.

I have about 15 years of management experience in IT and Software, so the first phase of my looking for a job will be to try to find a Software Manager position (since this is my longest, most relevant, and most recent experience).  If that doesn't go well, I'll open up to IT management roles as well.

Anyway, if you know me and you know of an opening that I might be good at, feel free to send me a note.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

[Book] Bloodline by Claudia Gray

Book cover
I realize that I've read and reviewed a lot of books that I don't really like.  This review isn't that.  I liked the book, Leia; Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray so much that when I found out she had another book in the Star Wars universe, I bought it right away. I really like to keep these reviews spoiler-free, and if I really enjoy a book, I actually have a much harder time writing about it, because - well - everything I enjoy about a book seems like a possible spoiler.

As per the cover of the book, this book happens "In the years before Star Wars: The Force Awakens".  This book starts at a slower pace than Leia, but unlike Leia, this book is bridging a lot of history after the Battle of Endor, and it really sets the stage for The Force Awakens.  The first half of this book is mostly driven by politics, most of the scenes take place in the Galactic Senate chamber.

Wait, keep reading!  I know that if I read the above, I'd have never even picked up this book.  Here's the thing, the author kept it interesting, and more important ... relevant to the plot!  All the political infighting is what gets Leia herself to head up an investigation that gets her both out of the senate and into some real action.

Also, just like Leia, this book has lots of characters show up from movies and other stories.  There were less of these than in Leia, but still, C3PO is present throughout, Han Solo and Chewbacca show up, Snap Wexley shows up, too.

If you have not seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, then the part below the cut could seem like a spoiler.  Also, that is another reason why politics were so important to this story.  Without the detailed politics, there would be a major plot hole.  I'd go so far as to say that this covers some plot-holes in The Force Awakens.

Read this book if you liked The Force Awakens.  Also read this book if you wanted to like The Force Awakens, but felt it seemed too disconnected from the rest of the Star Wars history.  Read this book if you want to hear Leia's voice clearly (Claudia Gray clearly gets the Leia character very well).  On the other hand, if Star Wars isn't your thing (that's okay), then it's possible that the references and history won't mean anything to you.  Myself, though, I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

[Book Spoiled] North American Lake Monsters

The book, North American Lake Monsters, is a collection of short stories that I reviewed <<< LINK here >>>.  Read that first, without it, this will have little context.

Seriously, the following is absolutely full of spoilers, and I don't want to hear about it.  Well, for the stories that I actually like, I still try to keep them a little spoiler free, but the first story ... that one I lay out ALL the main points.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

[Book] North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud

Book cover
North American Lake Monsters is a collection of short horror or at least suspense stories.  One short, The Monsters of Heaven, won the Shirley Jackson Award, and this book is on its third printing.

Several of the stories introduce a monster, but the monster itself is inactive ... in one case, already dead, leaving these stories to be more about the evil we bring with us where the monster is just a catalyst or even excuse for some all-too-human transition into bad behavior.

I'm still pretty new at this, but it feels that; to be honest about this review, I have to take a minute to talk about me and where I come from.  I was around a lot of drug abuse in my younger years, and maybe this leaves me with little patience or even empathy for a person who brings their own evil, using something external as an excuse.  There are many stories that centered around this, and those just left me feeling uncomfortable, and sad.  Not horrified, scared, or even worried.  When I recognize these patterns at the beginning of the story, then I already have my guard up.  I cannot empathize with these characters.  The turns, in these stories, felt like the inevitable.  I say this with the highest compliment I can muster: I recognize these patterns, they ring true to real life, which means that the bored tropes of my own experience with the worst traits of humanity may indeed make wonderful fodder for those unfamiliar and seeking horror.

Even so, some of the stories in this book feel like a premise has been introduced, but not fully explored.  All short stories can feel this way, but -- reading over my own reviews -- I have little patience for when a story lacks a full narrative arc, and there were some stories where I felt like I read a promising chapter one, leaving me cold.

Inside here, I disliked these stories: You Go Where It Takes You, S.S., The Monsters of Heaven, North American Lake Monsters and The Good Husband.

This story was interesting, but not great: Wild Acre.

Read this for The Crevasse, Sunbleached and Way Station if you find this collection on sale.  As I note above, maybe the rest of this is exactly the kind of thing a horror fan might look for.  At the same time, so many of these stories introduce something very strange or very interesting, steer the story around and away from that thing, while the short format doesn't allow those things to be expanded upon.  Overall, I don't recommend this book.

I'm actually quite tempted to do a spoilers version of this review to explain more on each of these stories from my perspective.  Leave a comment if you are interested, or would rather I leave it spoilers completely off this blog.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

[Book] Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Book cover
Since this is a non-fiction and educational book, I'm not going to worry about inadvertent spoilers as I usually do with fictional, or even narrative true-stories.  This book does have a narrative flow, better that a lot of the fiction books I've already reviewed, but it is the narrative flow of a documentary, moving from subject to subject, building knowledge.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the top science communicators alive today.  And this book, physically small, is only about half the reading of another book with the same number of pages.  It took me about a week to complete, and I definitely read non-fiction books much, much slower than I read fiction.  This is as close to a page-turner of a non-fiction book as I've read since I read the Quark and the Jaguar, around 7 years ago.

This book starts with chapters titles that invoke biblical parallels.  Chapter one, The Greatest Story Ever Told, covers the big bang, introducing Plank and leaving me with many, many questions about the speed of light and how it's rules applied to the earliest moments of the universe.

The book then covers Isaac Newton's discoveries about gravity, and specifically the universality of gravity throughout the solar system, but thankfully avoids describing calculus itself.  Moving back to the forming of the early universe, it covers the Cosmic Microwave Background and its origins.

The next three chapters cover the space between galaxies first establishing the basics then introducing us to Dark Matter and then Dark Energy.  At the point where I was reading about these, my questions surrounding the limitations on the speed of light were still reeling in my head, and all this measured "extra" is a lot for my little brain to take in.

Chapter seven, The Cosmos on the Table, explores the stellar origins of the elements (those of the Periodic Table), which for me was a very welcome break from the abstract.  Though not repeated in this book, it reminds me of the Carl Sagan quote, "We are all made of star stuff."

The next two chapters talk about Spheres and Invisible light.  The stability of spheres as well as how rotation has a tendency to flatten a sphere into an oblong spheroid seems meant to explain the general shape of galaxies.  Invisible light is a useful introduction to the instruments of modern astronomy beyond the visible-light telescope, including how each was discovered and how they are used.

Between the Planets, the 10th Chapter, tries to put into perspective how little the constituent parts of our solar system are in comparison to the Sun while Chapter 11, Exoplanet Earth, explores what our planet would look like from other stars and what methods might be used to figure out that there is life here.

In the 12th and final chapter, Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective, Tyson clearly shows that he is a disciple of Carl Sagan, linking the study of the Cosmos to the importance of stewardship of our tiny and fragile planet, while fostering a hopeful view on what we could accomplish.  This is a very good round-up of the book.

Overall, I recommend this book if you found this review itself to be interesting.  If, on the other hand, you generally find space to be an invitation to sleep, then it's okay to skip.  I am glad I read it.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

[Tech/PC] VirtualBox, Windows 7 and a new CPU

As I've done from time to time, this blog serves as a bit of a bench-notes of what I did.  However, maybe someone else hits the same problem, and finds my blog via search.

About a month back, the new nVidia 2080 Ti card was announced.  I decided to hit up eBay to see if anyone was selling off a 1080 Ti, and I was not disappointed in the price drops.  So, I upgraded my graphics to the 1080 Ti.

Similarly, Intel just dropped the new 8th Generation of Core i7 processors.  Last weekend, I upgraded my system from a Core i7-6700k CPU to a newer i7-7700k.  Now that the 8th gen 8700k is out, the 7700k became more affordable AND my existing motherboard already supports it.

I was hoping it would be more noticeable in actual use.  My benchmarks are slightly better as I expected.  I have - though - life extended this another year or two into the future.


VirtualBox & Windows 7 (which I run for work reasons)

When I started my Windows 7 virtual machine, I got a notification from the Operating System that some Windows Updates would stop being delivered because Windows 7 doesn't support my CPU.  Knowing that VMs can fudge this data, I went searching.  After pages and pages of VERY complex commands, I found a comment from 2010 pointing at experimental "Processor Templates".  With all VirtualBox components shut down, I ran the following:

cd '\Program Files\Oracle VirtualBox'
.\VBoxManage.exe modifyvm "Win7 x64" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-6700K"

Restarted the VM and everything is happy again.


VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Xeon X5482 3.20GHz"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-2635QM"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-3960X"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i5-3570"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-5600U"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-6700K"


Current PC Spec

Intel Core i7-7700K Kaby Lake Quad-Core 4.2 GHz LGA 1151 91W BX80677I77700K Desktop Processor
GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Turbo 11GD, GV-N108TTURBO-11GD
ASUS WiFi Dual Band Wireless (Intel AC 8260 chipset)
SAMSUNG 950 PRO M.2 512GB PCI-Express 3.0 x4 Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) MZ-V5P512BW
CORSAIR Vengeance LPX 32GB (4 x 8GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 2133 (PC4 17000) CMK32GX4M4A2133C13
ASUS Z170-A LGA 1151 Intel Z170 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.1 USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard
CORSAIR HXi HX750i CP-9020072-NA 750W ATX12V / EPS12V 80 PLUS PLATINUM Certified Full Modular Power Supply
Corsair Carbide Series 100R Silent Edition CC-9011077-WW Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case ATX (not included) Power Supply
Noctua NH-L12 120mm & 92mm SSO Bearing PWM Fans CPU Cooler
Noctua NF-S12A PWM 120mm Case Fan
Samsung SSD 850 EVO 2TB (Added mid 2016)

Original Parts replaced from 2015 November build

EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 06G-P4-4991-KR 6GB GAMING w/ACX 2.0+, Whisper Silent Cooling Graphics Card
Intel Core i7-6700K 8M Skylake Quad-Core 4.0 GHz LGA 1151 95W BX80662I76700K
Intel 7260HMWDTX1 Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 (Died April 2018)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

[Book] Leia, Princess of Aderaan by Claudia Gray

Book cover
This book is a Star Wars story.  It takes place during Leia Organa's 16th year.  I would like to say that familiarity with the Star Wars universe isn't absolutely necessary, but I cannot be sure of that.  It is, at its base, an exhilarating and sometimes sad, coming of age story, where we see Leia grow from a teen who thinks she's all grown up, to a woman who knows she isn't quite there.

I will warn that there is a LOT of Star Wars style galactic politics in this book.  There are many examples of the Empire creeping further and further into totalitarian rule, and - given the present climate of politics in the USA - some of that can be a bit hard to read.  It is important to the overall story, informing both Leia's choices in this story, but also foreshadowing the choices she will make later in her life.

This story has castles, swamps, mountains, oceans, space-ships, action, danger, spy-craft and romance, and a pretty good mix.  I laughed out loud a few times, and I cried once.

For the Star Wars fan, we get to see Leia meet Grand Moff Tarkin and R2D2 for the first time.  We get to see her form a friendship with Mon Mothma.  We get to see Leia use the Tantive IV without her father for the first time.  We get to really experience some of the personality of Bail and Breha Organa, and the beauty of Alderaan.

I try to keep these reviews from spoilers.  Anyone familiar with the Star Wars movies will be able to automatically know where some plot-points are headed.  I really want to talk about what happens in this book because I just finished it, but I may have said too much for some already.

I really enjoy this book, and I felt invited into the worlds it described easily.  Of course, I'm also aware that I grew up with the Star Wars movies, and I also enjoyed Rogue One and the other recent Star Wars films, so my easy enjoyment with this book may not be true for everyone.  If you don't know or like Star Wars, maybe this book isn't for you.  If, like me, you enjoy the franchise, and especially if you wanted to know a lot more about Leia, then read this book.