Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Incarceron" Book Review

Incarceron, written by Catherine Fisher, poses an interesting concept of a living prison that is capable of reacting to the actions of the inmates, as well as communicating with those that will listen.

The story circles around Finn, who may or may not be the long lost crown prince; and Claudia, the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, engaged to be married to the remaining prince. They live in a world not too different from another's. Finn is stuck in the true prison of Incarceron and Claudia, in the gilded cage of the Outside. The Outside is frozen in an earlier century, ironically through the use of technology (called Protocol) and advancement in anything is forbidden.

There are a number of interesting twists that if it were a movie, might come across like a cross between Matrix and Labyrinth. Incarceron is a very cold and mechanical place, contrasted by the organic facade of the Outside. Definitely worth a read. It's pretty well written and has lively enough characters. Admittedly, their roles aren't that original, but Fisher doesn't let that get in the way of the story.

The next book in the series is Sapphique. If I get around to it (my to-be-read-list is rather massive... >.>), Incarceron was good enough that I would give book two a try.

My library is directing the book towards the teen audience, though I would be willing to suggest it for early tweens (Amazon suggests 12+). The text is clean and if I remember correctly, there was no graphic violence.

Stars: 4/5
-main characters could've had a more original twist, but it doesn't hinder the story.

Purple Yam Fries

I recently found a love of baking potato chunks in the oven, marinated with a bit of cooking oil, salt and herbs; a trick I learned from a friend of mine. Since then, I've been experimenting the process on other root vegetables, namely yams, sweet potatoes, Japanese yams, and purple yams.
The batch before last, contained purple yams. I had the vague notion that they might also be good as baked fries. Today, I tried it and oh...were they! They're a nice balance between potato fries and yam fries. They're not as sweet and have more of the lumpy texture of potato fries.

Because of their original purple color, this is definitely one of those treats that tastes better than it looks.

If you want to try it out for yourself, here's how to do it:

To give you an idea of how much there is, the plate in the picture is a little larger than a salad plate and kind of bowl-shaped.

-Set oven to preheat at 400 F.
-Take 4 medium sized purple yams and wash and scrub them.
-Peel and chop them into 1/4" or so fries. You'll end up with some smaller ones from the edges. That's ok. Just toss them in the bowl with the rest. You just don't want all of them too small or they'll singe.
-In a large bowl, coat the yam fries with a high temp suitable cooking oil of your choice. I used grape seed oil and gently turned the fries by hand.
-Line an appropriately sized cookie sheet with foil (or if you don't mind cleaning, I suppose you could leave it bare). My yams laid out in a single layer took up a whole 17.25" x 11.5" x 1" sheet.
-Lightly sprinkle with salt if you like.
-Bake for 30 minutes, rotate the cookie sheet 180 degrees and bake for another 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of your fries and how crisp you want them.

Note: the rotation may or may not matter. My oven is gas and tends to be hotter in the back, hence why I choose to. I didn't cook as much when we had an electric oven, so I don't remember if that was the same issue or not.


Friday, December 30, 2011

"The Singer's Crown" Book Review

"The Singer's Crown" by Elaine Isaak. (Also posted on the Amazon listing, where you can read the synopsis).

This was something that had been catching my eye for a while at the library and finally decided to check it out. I think this is one of the faster reads I've had in a long time. Possibly under 24 hours spread across three days.

It starts out kind of dry, but usually I try to give a book a few chapters to get warmed up before giving up and in this case, I'm glad I did.

If you like light-hearted fantasy stories like The Princess Bride; full of cult high fantasy stereotypes and predictable arguments, then you might want to give this a try. It's not quite as funny, but it's amusing. The princess is bratty and childish to expectations, but the prince is smitten with her anyways. There are schemes and plots layered one on top of another. Some of it is cheesy and Disney-esque, but it's a fun story. It could be better, but it's not bad.

I've seen some reviews describing the story as a romantic fantasy. I wouldn't really call it that, unless you call Princess Bride a romantic fantasy as well, which it is and it isn't. There are also opinions on the maturity and supposed lack of manliness of male characters. . . The main character is 18 at the close of the book. Boys will be boys. Has someone not figured this out yet? He's also a boy who's been snipped and passed along as property time and time again when his previous owner finds a better use for him, with only one consistent companion for most his journeys. It's not exactly a lifestyle that nurtures a confident go-get-em manly man ready to take on the world. I personally didn't question the actions of the male characters. Strength in a male character does not require an iron fist, nor is it effeminate for them to show a soft side.

The biggest con: the characters more or less all talk alike and thus are rather flat.
The biggest pro: the story itself is very intriguing and has a few interesting twists to make up for the con.

Text is clean, PG level violence (when it does show up, it's not graphically described), no modern cussing.

Recommendation: try your local library first, but it's worth a read through if you enjoy the genre.

Stars: 3/5

Friday, May 13, 2011

PS3 Remote Control

So, I was on the fence about whether or not to get the Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-Ray Disc Remote
(linked in the name, but it's showing up weird...) as I have two already for the tv and cable and am short on space. As a result, I decided to try to find out how to use the controller that came with the my PS3 as a remote instead and see how that went before buying the remote. Didn't find a whole lot, so I pieced it together by experimentation.

Decided not to buy the remote as all the features I really need are available with the controller. I wrote them all down for quick reference while I'm still getting used to it, but really, if you can learn button sequences for a game, this is easy as pie (AND there's no stop button to worry about, for those griping about it! ;) ).

Here's the list that I made if you want to try it out for yourself before you decide on what you want/need. I have this posted in a couple other places, incase you run into duplicates and are wondering. :)

Triangle- options menu
X- Play/pause. Stops fast forward/rewind actions and begins play.
Square- DVD menu
O- quit/cancel menu

R1- skip forward chapter
R2- fast forward
L1- skip back chapter
L2- rewind

Right arrow- fast forward
Left arrow- rewind
Up/Down arrow- nothing

Select- chapter info
Start- play/pause
PS- quit menu

Left stick- fast forward or rewind, moving left and right only.
Right stick- pull in any direction to hold pause. Release to play.

Arrow keys and left stick can be used to navigate menus.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Acid tests, dude!

Ok. Not that kind of acid. Hydrochloric acid to be exact....I used it to test for zinc in bird toys and metal for potential use for bird toys....Urgh. Sleepiness. Watch the vids and you'll see. I also have more detailed blurbs in the comments. Included in this batch is a rough vid on making tube toys with non-toxic glue, and a short discussion on macaw food.

Later, I'm hoping to do a separate vid on making the glue.

And...I still have yet to actually do something to the sketchbook. =_= I have ideas, just haven't gotten to them yet.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Sketchbook Project 2011

So for any artists out there who don't yet know about the Sketchbook Project, pop over to the Art House Co-op and check it out. You have till Oct. 31 2010 to order your sketchbook and it needs to be sent in by Jan. 15 2011.

Quoted from the site: "It's like a concert tour but with sketchbooks.
Thousands of sketchbooks will be exhibited at galleries and museums as they make their way on tour across the country."

I put in my order on July 23rd, was notified that it was sent on the 27th and today, the 30th, my package showed up in the mail!

The package contained a barcoded and themed (I chose nighttime stories. There's a whole list of them at the time I ordered mine) sketchbook with fresh cream coloured pages, a hardcopy of the info for the Sketchbook Project and a participating artist's library card for the Brooklyn Art Library. The library card's front, has a clip of the Sketchbook Project banner and is marked with 2011 Participating Artist.

Ok! Now, to make stuff!

And for anyone on Deviant Art, I will also be posting my documentation of the project to my account there as well.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Did I mention that I like plants, too?

Oh dear. I've found new ways to continue an old obsession of mine: collecting plants. Usually these are uncommon and exotic varieties such as my crown of thorns Euphorbia and Stapelia carrion flower plant, or just plainly interesting specimens like the creeping nightshade now crawling around the yard or the moss I sporadically (no pun intended) plopped into otherwise empty looking pots that were left around the yard.

Anyhow, I just discovered The Fern and Mossery, a blog on terrariums and moss. Found it while seeking inspirations for making my rather sad looking orchid terrarium look better (I have a bad habit of browsing the sad reject orchids on the clearance shelf at hardware stores for the challenge of reviving them). Mostly it's set up to just for function, but doesn't look all that nice. It's a 12"w x 24"l x 17"d glass tank that was the former home to my long deceased rats (it wasn't a terrarium then. Really!) so it has a lot of potential. I just haven't done anything inspiring with it.

I did come across some nice inspirations though, while browsing The Fern and the Mossery.
12 terrific terrariums (and oh, are they!)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The joy of setting up

-parrot related tutorial videos


Still working on setting up the blog, discovering new things I can tweak (yay for free customization!) and figuring out timing on various projects I have going on.

Presently, I have a sculpture that should be done soon that will be making its first appearance on my Deviant Art page. Also, I've been planning out some more tutorial videos (I have all of one, so far on my tutorial playlist, linked in the side bar on the right).

Upcoming topics:
-answering two questions from a viewer (how I set up my parrot's cage and what sort of cheap parrot food is out there)
-more toy making videos
-addressing proper perches
-potentially toxic materials and options
-I'm considering one on grooming basics, but only if my baby can get comfortable with the camera at close range.

These couple days I've been prepping for some of the vids. Mostly this includes gathering notes and materials together so I'm not hunting for stuff while I'm recording. I've also been trying to plan out the videos a little better. I realized after a few test shots that I consistently exclude some points that I'd wanted to make for the sake of trying to keep the videos short. So, what's going to happen now, is that I'll mention some key topics in a general vid and then link over to more detailed discussions. I'm hoping this will maximize the viewer's time so that they can get the overview, but at the same time, I'm not having to bore some folks by making them sit or fish through the detailed blurbs.

"Boneshaker" review

Another review duplicated from the Seattle Steamrats mailing list, originally posted March 1, 2010.

Just finished Cherie Priest's Boneshaker the other night.

It's interesting. Starts out a tad slow when the story is still
backtracking and up past the introductory portion through the
Outskirts of walled Seattle. Once inside the city though, the pace
picks up, so keep at it! It also becomes much more fascinating when
you have the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack on repeat while
reading the bits after the story moves into the walled city. ^.^

Going to tell a bit of the's first couple chapter stuff so
no yammerings on me tossing spoilers.

Story is centered mostly on Briar and Ezekiel (Zeke) Wilkes, mother
and son. They live on the Outskirts of the now walled-in downtown
Seattle which consist of the Pike, Denny Hill, Pioneer Square to
waterfront areas (the Smith Tower is an airship dock. ^.^), where most
remaining inhabitants now live due to the Blight that's made the
downtown area uninhabitable. Zeke has known all his life from the
accusations and teasing of other kids, that his father, Leviticus Blue
was at fault for causing the Blight gas after driving the Boneshaker
machine under a good portion of Seattle. However, his mother refuses
to tell him, her co-workers or neighbors the truth one way or the
other, so he goes to find his own answers. And there begins the
journey. :)

And for those who've never cracked open the book before, here's an
interesting detail....ALL the text is brown. I quite like it. Easier
on the eyes. :)

"The Somnambulist" book review

This has been transferred from the Seattle Steamrats mailing list where I originally posted this on March 6, 2010, so if someone comes across that, this post isn't plagiarized. To date, I have posted only two copies of this review. Just a heads up, there are steampunk references as the Steamrats list caters to the subculture, to which this review was originally directed at.

So...The Somnambulist. The title is a tad misleading. Do not even
begin to think of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which is what I did,
when I took interest and started this book. The interpretation is
poetic at best, as the character known as The Somnambulist, does not
sleepwalk AT ALL and nor is the content of the story surreal enough to
evoke a sleepwalking-like state of thinking. Simply put, while it
wound up on the Library Journal's "steampunk" list, it really isn't
when you compare it to other works in the genre. It's a modern
Victorian mystery/fantasy. The only steampunk element is a device
towards the last few chapters of the book that is mentioned a few
times before the story ends.

As for the rest of the book, it's a slower read, but an interesting
story. The author, Jonathan Barnes, has a very distinct love (no pun
intended, for those who've read it and get it) for large and uncommon
vocabulary to the point where most characters loose any individual
distinction and development as they all sound very educated regardless
of their apparent class. I don't know how much of this single voice is
due to him writing from the perspective of a third party narrator or
that he just wants to show off his vocabulary. This is great if you'd
like to expand your vocabulary, but not so much if you want some
mindless reading before bed (though I did read it as such).

There are some loose ends in the story such as why certain characters
were chosen to do certain tasks before falling off the edge of the
pages, though again, this might have something to do with how heavily
driven the story is by the narrator. The narrator talks to the reader
at the beginning and then sort of disappears and you forget about them
through the story until the end and it makes for an interesting detail
particularly when you get to the end.

So, read the book if you'd like. Read it for the modern Victorian tale
that it is, for it's vague Gothic horror elements, it's Sherlock
Holmes-ish mystery. But whatever you do, don't read it thinking it's
steampunk. You will be sorely disappointed.