Carl’s Geek Notes

November 20, 2014

Book Review – Serenity: Leaves on the Wind

Filed under: Uncategorized — Carl @ 6:09 pm

4.5 stars. Where the previous Serenity graphic novels filled in storylines here and there, Leaves on the Wind continues the plot from the end of the movie. The story is engrossing, a logical continuation of the events after leaving Miranda.

The strengths of the comic are the same as the show: strong characters that the reader feels at gut level and razor-sharp, witty dialog. The comic could have succeeded simply by resting on the laurels of Joss Whedon fandom, but wisely, it does not.

The artwork leaps off the page, typically being bold outline and solid color fill. Scenes are beautifully drawn with attention to background detail. Some frames, especially some when several characters are seen from a distance, could have benefitted from a bit more facial detail–shading is used effectively, but nuance of expression is lost.

A separate short–chronologically between the end of the movie and the start of the main story–is at the end. As with most of the Serenity shorts, it is a satisfying and enjoyable vignette offering more depth into the ‘Verse.

November 17, 2014

Book Review – No Dogs in Philly

Filed under: Books, Reviews — Tags: , , — Carl @ 9:39 am

4.5 stars. An imaginative blend of cyberpunk, crime noir, and the metaphysical, No Dogs in Philly is an exciting and compelling read that kept me equally entertained and intrigued. The main character, Saru Solan, is a private detective in an amped-up and wrecked-out future version of Philadelphia. She is hired by the other-dimensional Gaespora to save a blue-eyed girl who is being sought by the vampiric Feasters–and the fate of the world rests in the balance as she avoids the clutches of hordes of connected and controlled elzi, a group of cruel and efficient killers ruthlessly slaughtering all blue-eyed girls, and the numbing yet comforting music of the UausuaU that leads to oblivion.

Andy Futuro sinks you into his strange yet familiar world with the shock of a sudden dunk in cold water. Don’t worry, things will resolve shortly; just accept the bizarreness of his creation and know that explanations are forthcoming. I’m appreciative of the fact that he mainly avoids infodumps (the exception is a longer conversation with the Gaespora, which really couldn’t be presented contextually any other way). The plot moves along at a rapid pace, with few wasted words and a page-turning intensity.

The strength of this book is the tough-as-nails protagonist Saru. She is written with razor wit and burning intensity, and her actions and decisions are believable. Saru is one of those characters who makes an instant impression and will stick with me for a long while.

I also liked the blend of technology and the mystical. Futuro’s mythos of interconnecting universes is believably rooted in both science and religion, and presented in a way that shows how different characters’ perspective gives them a different view of the universe.

No Dogs in Philly is a creative and fascinating novel, both eminently satisfying and leaving me hungry for more.

Review copy kindly provided by the author.

Book Review – The Book of Memory Gaps

Filed under: Books, Reviews — Tags: , , , — Carl @ 9:00 am

1.5 stars. The good is that the artwork is an instantly likable ink wash reminiscent of Edward Gorey. The bad is that there is no substance at all with which I could connect. This short book (the Kindle version has only 42 locations!) covers 14 characters who suffer from memory loss. Each character has a small portrait picture, a few sentences discussing the effect of memory loss on their lives, and a larger picture that illustrates their story. While the author conveys sadness in each vignette, there is no real understanding of the tragedy of memory loss.

The book is also described as “hauntingly funny.” I fail to see anything funny about any of the stories, unless one chooses to make a mean-spirited joke at the expense of the characters.

Not for me, I’m afraid.

ARC kindly provided by NetGalley.

November 14, 2014

Book Review – Shutter Volume 1: Wanderlost

Filed under: Books, Reviews — Tags: , , , — Carl @ 8:33 am

Shutter, Vol. 1 combines a fast-paced, action-filled story with absolutely beautiful full color artwork for an extremely enjoyable read. The book shows what a good first volume should: hints of a rich backstory, things transpiring that are consequences of that backstory, and threads of events unfolding that are far deeper than what the author reveals at this point.

The dizzying cast of characters and whimsically malevolent beings (assassins riding a triceratops! ghost ninjas! feline humanoid killers!) adds a sense of fun to the story. This is one of those comics where it’s best to accept what’s going on and enjoy the ride.

My only complaint is that many frames seemed excessively wordy; some sharp editing would give it more flow and make the story snap a bit more. And then it had the temerity to end right at a good part, leaving me wanting more! Great debut of a series, I will look forward to the next volume.

ARC kindly provided by NetGalley.

November 13, 2014

Book Review – Kinski

Filed under: Books, Reviews — Tags: , , , — Carl @ 6:45 pm

Travelling salesman Joe finds more than he bargained for when he encounters the little black Labrador puppy Kinski on a business trip. He’ll go to any lengths to be with Kinski–regardless of moral or personal consequence. Quickly becoming a noir crime drama, the story drew me in despite the dirty deeds done (albeit for ostensibly noble reasons).

“Kinski” is an interesting story on multiple levels. On the surface, it’s a heartwarming animal story meshed with a hardboiled crime tale. Deeper down, it is a character study of how we face not getting our way and issues of right and wrong. This is a tale that I can’t say that I enjoyed–it’s a bit too penetrating for that–yet I am certainly glad I read it, and “Kinski” is a story that I will remember.

The artwork adds quite a bit to the story. Bold ink lines merge with delicate shading and well-placed graphic arts elements to create gripping imagery that is also subtle and aesthetically pleasing.

ARC kindly provided by NetGalley.

November 12, 2014

Book Review – Strong Female Protagonist

Filed under: Books, Reviews — Tags: , , , , — Carl @ 10:20 pm

3.5 stars. Alison Greene is a superhero who’s given up the crime fighting and glory of “Mega Girl” for a normal life–college, family, and friends. She continues to struggle with her past, especially with how others treat her and look to her for help.

Several things work very well in “Strong Female Protagonist,” chiefly the thoughtful and satirical take on normal superhero tropes. The focus on the effects of her actions and her place in the world shows a loving awareness of the genre, mocking it through taking it oh-so-seriously. Author Brennan Lee Mulligan clearly likes his material sufficiently to poke fun at it from time to time.

A few aspects make the story less effective for me. The writing is fairly heavy handed when it comes to morality and politics and the reader is rarely left to draw their own conclusions as to the themes of the story. I also did not care for the pages set in reverse type with black background, which were difficult to read. Occasionally long narrative passages and infodumps interrupted the story flow. That probably worked well in web comic form but is much more intrusive in the collected story. There is also neither an overall story arc nor a definite resolution, again probably due to its serialized publication.

I enjoyed the black and white artwork and its strong lines. Artist Molly Ostertag lays out the pages with excellent flow. Each page ends with a comment, which was sometimes enlightening, sometimes annoying, and usually snicker inducing. The e-book ARC was grainy in spots with compression artifacts. I assume that the print or final published e-book format will improve upon this.

Despite dealing with weighty themes, “Strong Female Protagonist” does not lose the sense of fun crucial to the superhero genre. Characters and relationships are engaging; I was especially drawn to the Patrick (who seems to have all the best lines). A solid graphic novel with a believable premise and identifiable issues, enjoyable and thought provoking at the same time.

ARC kindly provided by NetGalley.

November 20, 2009

Windows Drag & Drop not working

Filed under: Computers, Windows Administration — Tags: , , — Carl @ 8:17 am

My Windows XP Pro computer developed an interesting problem… Drag and drop stopped working.  I couldn’t move emails between folders, change desktop icon position, tear out a browser tab, etc.  After a bit of searching I found a fix for it, based on this MS article:

KB274696

The basics of the article are correct; however, the steps are incomplete for XP.  Here’s an updating of the instructions:

  1. Start->Run, type dcomcnfg, enter.
  2. Expand Console Root->Component Services->Computers->My Computer.
  3. Right-click My Computer and choose Properties.
  4. Go to the COM Security tab and click Edit Default… under Access Permissions.
  5. Verify that both System and Interactive are listed with Allow Access. If either are missing, add them by clicking Add.
  6. In the List Names From box, make sure that the local computer name is listed.
  7. Type interactive or system as appropriate (mine was missing Interactive).
  8. Click OK.
  9. Make sure that Allow is checked on Local Access for both users.
  10. Click OK.

Mine immediately started working without a reboot.

March 11, 2009

iPhone Review

Filed under: Computers, Gadgets, Internet, iPhone, iPod — Carl @ 11:02 am

I’ve now had the iPhone for nearly two weeks and thought I’d provide a review of it.  I upgraded from a Treo 700p (Palm OS) on Sprint service to an 8 GB iPhone 3G.

The iPhone definitely shows its Apple heritage–sleek, rounded, and modern.  The form factor is perfect–it’s easy to hold either while looking at it or talking on it.  I like the weight of it; it’s not unwieldy but definitely has enough heft to feel substantial.  It is thin enough to very comfortably slide into a pocket, and I don’t snag it on things when it’s in my belt holster like I did with the Treo.

The iPhone interface has an attention to detail and usability that is unmatched among developers today.  The way the phone interprets flicks, taps, drags, etc. is unbelievable.  After just a few minutes’ practice, I have not had any gesture misinterpreted.  And the zoom in/out gestures are so sensible and ideal for the iPhone.  Apple’s interface has me seriously considering building my next computer as a dual-booting Hackintosh.  It’s easy to make computers and applications complex; making them simple without being dumb requires brilliance.

The downside of the Apple heritage is the sense of elitism that is nowhere more apparent than in the glossy iPhone.  My touch mars it with fingerprints as if I have sullied this piece of genius engineering by daring to use it.  I find myself continually polishing to remove the traces I have left.  (I did find some DLO screen protectors–$20 for 5 protectors at Best Buy–that keep it much cleaner than in its native state.)

The lack of tactile feedback while typing took some time to get used to, but now is no issue at all.  The auto-correct feature seems to take care of 90%+ of fat finger mistakes.

The screen is bright and clear and shows off photos very well.  I’ve loaded some favorite pictures on it and it’s handy as a quick photo gallery.  The camera on the iPhone is quite usable for snapshots–not on par with my Canon DSLR, but not bad either.  Video looks great–I’ve been showing off the iPhone by playing the intro to Top Gun and everyone is wowed by it.  Anamorphic video gives very high resolution display and is quite watchable.

AT&T coverage is substantially better than Sprint’s in my area.  My cell phone was virtually unusable at my house unless I stood near the front door or went upstairs.  I have not had a single call drop or outage spot with AT&T.  I also like the way the iPhone stays on AT&T’s data network all the time.  My Treo would have to periodically reconnect to the Power Vision network, causing a delay.

Another nice feature of the iPhone is the way that it automatically switches to WiFi when I’m at a known network for the best data speed.  This is seamless and other than the annoyance at having to switch between the alphabetic and numeric keyboards on just about every digit when entering the hexadecimal WiFi keys was no problem to set up.  I have seen a couple of times when the phone is on the 3G network when I was close enough to reach out and touch my home WiFi router.

A good deal of my data usage is email.  I quite like the email app on the iPhone–especially that it is IMAP compatible so it manipulates the mail directly on the server.  My two complaints are relatively minor.  Sometimes it spends inexplicably long showing “Connecting” when checking email and there’s no way to cancel this and re-start like I could on the Treo.  Also, it would be very nice if email could be displayed in the landscape view; some emails (especially HTML-formatted ones) are almost unreadable because of the side-to-side scrolling required.

I have found a couple inexplicable omissions.  The iPhone cannot delete only a single recent call or text message–you can clear the entire list but not just one entry.  There is no speed-dial function to call a number with one button press, it’s a couple of levels away from the phone keypad screen.  A double-click of the home button can be configured to go to the Favorites but I’d prefer that it go to the keypad.

I would also like some better application screen management.  It’s easy to get cluttered screens and a pain to organize them.  (I also find that apps are a pain to manage in iTunes.  Let’s hope a fix is on the way.)

My biggest complaint is that there is no way to quickly page up or down with one hand.  There is not enough accuracy in scrolling to do this; I find that I have to scroll very slowly while watching the line that I just read, and I can only do this by holding firmly in one hand and dragging with the other.  Otherwise I have to visually re-acquire the line that I was reading and that definitely disturbs the continuity.

The true “killer feature” of the iPhone is the App Store in iTunes.  There’s such a variety of programs available in the App Store that it’s mind-boggling.  Shazam uses the iPhone’s microphone to take a sample of music that is compared to an online database and identifies the song.  The Google app for iPhone has speech-recognition searches.  Google Maps can use the phone’s pseudo-GPS to give directions.  The Facebook app for iPhone lets you do practically everything you can from a full-size computer.  There are accelerometer-based levels, sports score applications, exercise program trackers, internet radio, e-book and Amazon Kindle programs, planet and star  trackers, the complete works of Shakespeare, and games, games, games, games, games, and more games.  And I have the feeling that we’ve only seen the tip of the App iceberg!  What’s more, you can browse and download the apps without a computer.

In a word, the iPhone is awesome.  It exceeds any expectation of mine about what a portable computing device can be.  Well done, Apple!

December 8, 2008

Run a SQL UPDATE command and return the number of affected records

Filed under: C#/.NET, Computers, Programming, SQL Server — Tags: , , — Carl @ 9:29 am

I wanted a quick way to run a SQL UPDATE command and return the number of affected rows in .NET.  Here’s the code to do it:

int RecordCount = 0;
string SQL = "UPDATE MyTable SET MyField = @MyNewValue "
    + "WHERE MyKey = @MyKey "
    + "SET @RecordCount = @@ROWCOUNT";
SqlCommand MyCmd = new SqlCommand(SQL, MyConn);

// Use an out parameter to get the number of rows affected
SqlParameter RecordCountParam = new SqlParameter("@RecordCount", SqlDbType.Int);
RecordCountParam.Direction = ParameterDirection.Output;
MyCmd.Parameters.Add(RecordCountParam);

// Add the query parameters
MyCmd.Parameters.AddWithValue("@MyNewValue", MyNewValue);
MyCmd.Parameters.AddWithValue("@MyKey", MyKey);

// Run the query
MyCmd.ExecuteNonQuery();

// Check the number of records affected
if (Int32.TryParse(RecordCountParam.Value.ToString(), out RecordCount)
{
	// Do Stuff Here
}

December 4, 2008

Recommendations wanted: solar charger

Filed under: Gadgets, iPod — Tags: , , — Carl @ 9:42 am

I’ve been looking a bit at solar chargers as a gift recommendation for Christmas.  I have yet to find the ideal one, so I thought I’d ask for input.  Here are the specifications that I would like to see:

  • Has internal, user-replaceable battery for storing power
  • Indicator of current charge level and solar “strength” level
  • Can charge internal battery from USB or sun, I already have a combo 12VDC/120VAC to USB adapter that would be an ideal partner for this feature
  • Has place to charge 2 AA or AAA batteries (note that a clever design could make these the internal battery)
  • Has either a clip or lanyard hole to fasten to backpack
  • Reasonable size/weight, probaby in the 1/2 pound range (minus batteries being charged) and in the “deck of playing cards” size range (which implies that the panels are foldable, I think the Solio design is nice for that)
  • USB output, pretty much any gadget I want to use can charge from that
  • No non-detatchable cords

Any recommendations?  Thanks!

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