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Archive for June, 2013

Windows 8.1 widens gap with older PCs

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 27, 2013

Review: Windows 8.1 widens gap with older PCs – Yahoo! News.

“So, instead of bringing back a familiar environment, the revived “Start” button is mainly just another way of directing you to the new one.”

That seems to defeat the purpose, doesn’t it?

I have a Windows 8 machine and I don’t understand the fuss. The Start screen is intimidating at first, and I think it’s a bit overrated, but you can get your old Desktop screen with one touch, so what’s the big deal? And you can get to all of your apps from that Desktop screen, so again, what’s the big deal? If you don’t like the Start screen, simply use the Deskstop screen and you’ll be OK.

The app store, however, is just silly. There’s aren’t enough apps, and especially enough good apps — and free apps — to justify its existence. Well, I guess it needs to exist, since that’s how I’ve gotten several apps, but I’ve had to purchase most of the programs that I use and download them from Amazon or Microsoft (ie, MS Office 2013), so there’s that.

I got a touchscreen computer cause I think it’s the wave of the future and I didn’t want to regret not getting one two years from now. But I think I may have jumped the gun, since I tend to use my mouse most of the time. At some point, using touch may be mandatory, but for now, it’s not essential.

I kind of like Windows 8. I think it’s Microsoft’s biggest jump in its operating system since they created Windows and moved people from DOS (the good old days). It’s not a bad concept. Microsoft just needs to iron out some kinks and get people used to it.

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Letang is worried about his future with Pens | ProHockeyTalk

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 27, 2013

Report: Letang is worried about his future with Pens | ProHockeyTalk.

I’d sure hate to see him go, but he had a miserable playoffs and there are reportedly some good, young defensemen coming up behind him. We got rid of Gonchar a few years ago for the same reason. Maybe it’s time for Kris to go. Pity.

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Toby’s Losing Weight!

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 25, 2013

Check out Toby, our hefty cat who’s on a diet. Poor thing’s actually losing weight. Isn’t he a cutie? His brother, Henry, is on the same diet and needs to drop a couple of pounds too. Toby’s down to 21.2 pounds now. Keep it up, you little cat!

Toby's losing weight!

Toby’s losing weight!

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A Review of Permutation City

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 25, 2013

Permutation CityPermutation City by Greg Egan

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I know Permutation City is well thought of. I know it won a major award. I know it’s got over 1700 ratings on Goodreads with a 4.07 average (out of 5), which is pretty good. And I tried, I really did. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I made it through 122 pages and gave up. I found it boring, slow moving, dead, with flat characters, and a plot that’s just rubbish. It’s *supposed* to be a kind of cyberpunk novel where people create Copies of themselves before they die, so their digitized lives continue on forever while they (sometimes) die and yet strangely also sometimes are alive to view their Copies hard at work inside a computer world. I must admit to feeling rather stupid, because I just didn’t GET the book at times. For instance, are the people dead or not? And how does one make a digital copy of themselves anyway? That’s never explained. It’s my primary complaint with cyberpunk novels. One I couldn’t finish two months ago called The Heaven Virus involved downloading yourself to a computer chip. How exactly is this accomplished? This book is considered by its readers to be a “hard” sci fi novel. Surely, a hard sci fi writer can come up with a compelling explanation for this process, right? Wrong. The major failing of most cyberpunk novels for me. The thing I hated about this book is, I’m not a biochemist, nor do I ever want to be, yet a third of the novel deals with creating a virtual reality-kind of new world via biochemistry, and it was BORING to read about petri dishes and atoms and all that blah, blah, blah. I couldn’t find one likeable character in the novel either. It’s a boring and distasteful world Egan creates here, and I will probably take some flak for not shoveling heaps of praise on this book like everyone else in the universe, but I thought it was just not very good. And pretentious. Egan hides his lack of plot with philosophical discussions of reality and what constitutes reality, and it’s deep for some. To me, it was rather fluffy. Like a college creative writing paper someone turned in for a grade. It got its good grade, but I wasn’t the teacher grading it. The only interesting thing about the book for me was Egan’s anticipation of cloud computing some years before it became a reality. That’s about it. I’ll probably sell my copy to a used bookstore. I have no use for it. Some people will obviously like this book, but I can’t recommend it at all. Very disappointing….

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10 Greatest Steelers

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 24, 2013

This weekend I watched a program on the NFL Network on the 10 greatest Pittsburgh Steelers of all time. It was apparently a rerun from 2010, but it was still good. But I have a beef with their list. I couldn’t believe some of the players on the list and not on the list! First let me say that coming up with such a list is virtually impossible, because there are so many Steelers in the NFL Hall of Fame. Whittling it down to 10 just doesn’t seem fair. You’re going to leave some deserving players off the list. And what about the great Steelers who aren’t yet in the Hall of Fame, like Jerome Bettis? Don’t some of them deserve to be on the list? Anyway, here’s the NFL Network’s list of the top 10 Steelers of all time:

  1. Joe Greene
  2. Terry Bradshaw
  3. Franco Harris
  4. Rod Woodson
  5. Jack Lambert
  6. Mel Blount
  7. Troy Polamalu
  8. Hines Ward
  9. Lynn Swann
  10. Jerome Bettis

OK, wow. Talk about the immortal Hall of Famers left off the list ! What about the greatest center to ever play the game, Mike Webster? What about possibly the greatest outside linebacker ever, Jack Ham? Both Hall of Famers? What about the second greatest center ever, Dermonti Dawson? Hall of Famer. What about Hall of Fame wide receiver John Stallworth? It almost seems a crime to separate him from Lynn Swann. I mean, they were a matched pair. They complemented each other so well. Stallworth actually had the better season and career stats. What about some of the old timers like John Henry Johnson and Ernie Stautner, both Hall of Famers? And what about Ben Roethlisberger, who has won two Super Bowls and is breaking Terry Bradshaw’s records? Wouldn’t you think he belongs on the list over Troy Polamalu, who’s been injury prone?

I have two major complaints about players on the NFL Network’s list. First, I don’t think Troy belongs on it at all. Maybe top 20 Steelers, but not top 10. He’s still playing and while he was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year one year, he’s not yet a Hall of Famer. You can’t leave Jack Ham off the list for Troy. Second, I can’t believe you would list Rod Woodson at #4!!! Over Mel Blount, the best cornerback of all time??? The player the NFL forever changed the game because of? Until 1978, defensive backs were allowed to hit wide receivers anywhere on the field at any time. Mel Blount beat up so many wideouts, they changed the rule to just the first five yards, which is where it’s been ever since. They called it the Blount Rule. And he still went to Pro Bowls after the rule change. He finished with 57 career interceptions too, in addition to being a fierce hitter. Even Rod Woodson said on the program he doesn’t deserve to be placed over Mel Blount. That should say something. And besides, Woodson never won a Super Bowl with the Steelers! He won as a Raven in 2000, and took the Steelers to one Super Bowl which they lost to Dallas. I’m not sure I would even have him on the list of the top 10 Steelers, especially over Webster or Ham.

Here’s my list:

  1. Joe Greene
  2. Jack Lambert
  3. Terry Bradshaw
  4. Mel Blount
  5. Franco Harris
  6. Jack Ham
  7. Lynn Swann
  8. Hines Ward
  9. Mike Webster
  10. Jerome Bettis

See? Mine’s much better. LOL! Mean Joe Greene comes first because he changed the face of the team, from a losing team to a Super Bowl winning defense, anchoring the line and changing the game with his unusual stance from which he decimated opponents. Lambert comes next, closely, because he’s the best middle linebacker in history. He was the fiercest, meanest, nastiest, biggest hitting linebacker in history. Pittsburgh wouldn’t have won four Super Bowls without him in the middle. Terry comes next because he’s the only quarterback to win four Super Bowls, he won two Super Bowl MVPs, and he’s possibly one of the biggest “money” quarterbacks of all time. I mean, he could really win the big games. Great quarterback who didn’t put up the big stats because the game was different when he played. Blount comes next because he’s the greatest cornerback in the history of the game. Franco comes next because when he retired, he was the second leading rusher in NFL history, only behind Jim Brown. He’s still high on the list with over 12,000 career yards. That’s certainly worth something. Ham comes next because he’s possibly the best outside linebacker to ever play the game. Swann comes next, although I have mixed feelings about it. He never put up great stats. I’m not even sure he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. But he was a major big game player and won huge games for the Steelers and will always be one of the best loved players in Pittsburgh history. Hines Ward comes next because he’s a sure Hall of Famer down the road. He finished as easily the all time leading wide receiver in Pittsburgh history with 1,000 career receptions, which is 8th best in NFL history, and 86 touchdowns. He’s also a Super Bowl MVP. Definitely deserves to be on the list. Webster deserves to be higher than 9th, but as an offensive lineman, he couldn’t put up the big stats like the others, so it’s hard to measure him against the others. He’s the best center to ever play the game, went to I believe nine Pro Bowls, and is sorely missed with his death of a few years ago. Hall of Famer. Bettis comes in at 10 because he finished his career as the leading Steeler rusher in Pittsburgh history, breaking Franco Harris’s record. He’s got the single season record for rushing too, I believe. When Jerome retired after winning a Super Bowl, he was the 5th leading running back of all time, I think. It’s an absolute crime that he hasn’t made it into the Hall of Fame yet. I’m pretty sure he will, but he should have by now.

So that’s my list. It hurts to leave players like LC Greenwood and Donnie Shell off the list, Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene, Carnell Lake, definitely Stallworth, Andy Russell, Big Ben, and so many others. They’re all deserving, but if it’s the top 10, you have my list. What would your list look like?

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A Review of INXS: Story to Story

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 23, 2013

INXS: Story to Story: The Official AutobiographyINXS: Story to Story: The Official Autobiography by Anthony Bozza

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, this is the “official autobiography” of INXS, so it’s somewhat filtered, I’m assuming. That said, it’s pretty well researched and fairly well written, although the author is an obvious fan boy and makes INXS out to be pretty much the greatest band of all time, which annoyed the hell out of me.

It was enjoyable to read about the band’s beginnings in Australia, when they were high and middle school students. How they played the pub scene for years, all around the country, sometimes three shows a night. They certainly paid their dues. Their manager was an apparent asshole, but a visionary and he had a plan to turn these boys into successes, something he ultimately did.

I first heard INXS circa 1981 when I somehow got my hands on an import LP with a post-punk song called “We Are The Vegetables” on it. I loved it and have been following the band ever since, enjoying Shabooh Shabbah and The Swing to Listen Like Thieves and Kick. I sort of lost interest as the ’90s rolled around and they released X, which did fairly well, but it was their last really decent selling album.

It was interesting to read about the international tours they went on. They played America, opening for Adam Ant and blowing him off the stage. Eventually he would have nothing to do with them. They opened for the Go-Gos, and in Europe, for Queen, which I think would have been cool. They also headlined at clubs to build a greater following. Of course they had MTV to thank for introducing Americans to the band, with the channel’s heavy rotation of their music videos.

I learned something I didn’t know about the band. They were as into hardcore partying nearly as much as Zeppelin! I mean sex, drugs, rock and roll. Trashed hotel rooms, groupies, coke and booze. I had no idea. Some of the band members were married or had girlfriends, but the others took advantage of the opportunities such touring afforded them.

Listen Like Thieves was really their first American hit album. I still listen to it a lot. But they hit it really big with Kick, which was nominated for a Grammy. I was in college at the time, circa ’88 I think, and I remember camping out for concert tickets in Knoxville with some friends and going to the show. It was great; I really enjoyed it. High energy. We all had a blast.

That was the pinnacle for INXS. At the time, they were probably as big as U2 and REM, ie, the biggest bands in the world. Everything seemed great for them. However, they had been touring for so many years that they just got tired out and took some time off before regrouping to record X. Also, something happened to them in Australia that was rather odd. They had always been local boys made good in the press, but now that they had gotten so big internationally, they were trashed in the press, as though they were too good for the locals, which wasn’t the case at all. However, their reputation in Australia never really recovered, which is a shame.

I didn’t know that Michael Hutchence was such good friends with U2’s Bono. They spent a lot of time together and probably influenced each other a great deal. I also didn’t know that the members of the band lived in England, France, and Hong Kong, as well as Australia. The distance eventually drove a wedge between the band members. Pity.

Everyone probably remembers the occasion of Michael Hutchence’s death. I was horrified and felt really badly for his family and the band, just for the way in which it was portrayed. The author doesn’t really tell us whether Michael Hutchence’s death was a suicide or an autoerotic accident, but he does indicate that the rest of the band members remain unsure, themselves, of what exactly happened to Michael. The band members really have differing opinions of what happened. One thing that could have led to a suicide was an accident he had in Denmark, when a taxi cab driver beat him so severely that he was in the hospital for two weeks and permanently lost his sense of smell. He also got a brain injury that caused him to become angry and violent. He would lash out at people for no reason. It wasn’t entirely his fault. It’s just a shame that it happened like that. Toward the end, he had hooked up with Bob Geldoff’s ex-wife and they had had a daughter. You would think this would have stabilized his partying, but he was hooked on heroin by then, as well as other substances, and was in a deep depression. That said, the last day of his life, he seemed to be in a good mood as the band prepared to record a new album. He died at 10 AM the next morning in a hotel room.

The writing in the book is straightforward and probably honest, but it’s certainly not challenging. Rather like reading People magazine. One thing that irritated me about the author, as I’ve already noted, is his willingness to fawn over INXS like they were the greatest band ever. Listen to this:

“…in 1988, it [Kick] spurred every major label to seek out and sign some kind of slinky, sexy, romantic, rock and rhythm-and-blues band. They found them all all right, crap or not, from the Fine Young Cannibals to General Public to Faith No More to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Fixx. INXS put punk, funk, soul, and rock together better than those bands could ever hope to, for one simple reason; INXS could and still can play them into oblivion.”

Wow. Seriously? OK, I can agree on Fine Young Cannibals and Faith No More, both good for one or two albums, and who cares about General Public? But The Fixx put out some good albums, and they’re still producing music, putting out a decent album which I bought just last year. And most importantly, the Red Hots? Seriously? I’ve read about the Red Hots and I really doubt if INXS was an influence on them. Shabooh Shabbah was released in 1982, one year before the Red Hots formed. And the Reds had it from the beginning. If anyone was influencing anyone else, it was the Red Hots. THEY had punk, funk, soul, and rock down much better than INXS did or more any other group, for that matter. Also, let’s talk stats. INXS sold 35 million albums and never won a Grammy. The Red Hots have sold 80 million albums and have won 7 Grammy Awards. ‘Nuff said. Don’t go overboard in your idealizations, Mister Bozza. It’s stupid and unfounded.

Aside from my annoyance with the author’s constant praise of the boys in the band, it wasn’t a bad book to read, and as a fan, I enjoyed learning some things I hadn’t formerly known about the band. If you like INXS or just dig ’80s music at all, you might like reading this book. Cautiously recommended.

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Five Sentence Fiction — Stalker

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 23, 2013

When he found out I was a writer, he clung to me and refused to leave me alone. Whenever I saw him coming at the Coffee Plantation, after that, I’d duck out a side door. One day he cornered me before I could escape and told me a story about how he knew the band members from Ministry and how he could show them my work and they would use it in their songs. Man, I really wanted to believe him on that one, but how could I? He hitched a ride from me and I drove him down to central Phoenix, letting him off at the art museum, hoping I’d never see him again.

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New Issue of Ray’s Road Review is Out!

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 21, 2013

The new Summer 2013 of Ray’s Road Review is out today! Read poetry by BZ Niditch, William L. Alton, Robert Joe Stout, Paul Brucker, and Lyn Lifshin. There’s also a book review on a book of poetry by Mark Jackley. Don’t forget about the fiction and nonfiction too. Read and submit. Thanks!

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Our Ghosts

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 20, 2013

I’ve written about our ghost we’ve named Zachary before. I now have an update. It appears that we do indeed live in a haunted house and we may have multiple ghosts. The paranormal team we got to investigate our house came by two nights ago with their evidence. The stories they told were unusual and the audio and video evidence they collected was also unusual — and convincing.

First, even though the temperature in the house was set at 74 degrees, they found spots in the house where it read 92 degrees, for no apparent reason. Then, they experienced total and utter silence for awhile. That’s odd, because we live near train tracks, near the airport, cars are always driving by blasting their radios, there are animals outside, and they should at least have been able to hear the electricity humming. They heard absolutely nothing. They said it was eerie. Now, EMF readings are very important in ghost hunting, and they had EMF measuring equipment. Our EMF baseline was 0.1. (It should be between 0.0 and 0.3.) Then it went up to over 20 when they started investigating! That’s a crazy figure, apparently. “So what’s a ‘normal’ EMF level in your average home? Depending on which sources you consult, they range from 0.0 mG to 0.3 mG, with anything above a 0.7 mG being considered unhealthy, to anything above 2.0 mG being considered too high and unhealthy.” That’s from their website. Ours was over 20.

The team started hearing lots of noises, walking in the hallway, voices, and they spotted many shadows in the rooms — moving shadows. And they got one on video!!! When we met with them, they gave us a DVD of six audio clips and showed us several video clips. The audio clips are of a man saying “Bye. On the dirt. No.”; odd breaths; a woman saying “30”; a man saying “Get the hell out”; an older woman saying “85”; and something that sounds like growling. The video recorder caught a man swearing, a woman wailing or moaning, a shot of a tripod-mounted camera in our kitchen bobbing slightly, and a shadow passing on the hallway wall. Don’t believe me? Here are some links:

So, what do you think about that? It sounds like there are two women and two men. One of the male ghosts spoke directly into the microphone. It was bizarre. The paranormal team is going to come back in a couple of weeks and conduct another investigation, but this time we’ll be a part of it. We’re hoping to ask the ghost(s) questions. People have asked about our getting rid of them. We’re not sure we want to. We’ve been living here 22 months without incident. They haven’t been violent or rude. We are not really scared. We just want to know what they want, how we can co-exist with them. I don’t dare tell my parents, who are very religious, or they’ll think it’s demons and will want to do a house cleansing. I don’t think it’s demons, personally. My only concern is Gretchen. She seems much more attuned to them than me. She’s seen a shadow. She hears male voices. She hears noises at night (and even during the day), like someone walking in the hallway. I rarely hear these things. In fact, I got up twice last night in the quiet of the night so I could observe such sounds being made, but nothing. It was disappointing. I guess we’ll just wait and see what happens with the second investigation. It’s kind of exciting and kind of creepy at the same time.

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A Review of Ubik

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 18, 2013

UbikUbik by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Ubik was a wild ride, even by Philip K. Dick’s standards. Or perhaps a better way of putting it is the book meets the high standards he creates for his works, and then some!

As the book begins, we meet Glen Runciter, head of the world’s top anti-psi agency (to combat all of the psi organizations that have arisen now that it is 1992 — heh!), located in New York City. He confers with his late wife, Ella, who is dead and buried in a Swiss moratorium, where she is in a suspended state of “half life,” through “cold-pac” — something like our cryogenics. The world’s top psi’s are disappearing, and Runciter wants his wife’s opinion on what to do. She thinks they should advertise more.

We then go off to met Joe Chip, Runciter’s top man, who is dirt poor and in debt. A Runciter scout has brought a young woman named Pat by to meet Joe. Pat has an unusual ability to nullify events before they even happen. Her psi tests are off the charts, and Joe marks on her report that she should be watched, that she could be dangerous.

Runciter has a visitor from a businessman with a business on Luna (the moon?), in need of immediate anti-psi help. Runciter agrees to overlook some typical preliminaries, since it’s an emergency, and soon he’s leading Joe, Pat, and nine others to Luna to save this company. Where they’re sabotaged. A bomb goes off in the room in which they’re gathered and Runciter takes it the worst. He’s pretty much dead, and the team rushes to get him into cold-pac in the spaceship so he can be saved and consulted with his wife. Joe starts planning on how to get back at their enemies from that moment forward. And from that moment forward, things start unraveling. It gets really Dick-like as alternate realities are discovered and time moves backward. Joe starts receiving odd messages from Runciter while members of the team start dying off, decomposing quickly. Soon the surviving members find themselves back in 1939 in Des Moines IA — Joe has to get there by bi-plane. They’re there for Runciter’s funeral, but by now, Pat is under deep suspicion for being behind this, plotting with their enemies, and Joe’s really ticked. Soon the reader doesn’t know who is dead and who is alive!

I won’t give away the ending, but I’ll just let you know that it’s a typical Dick mind-f*** which is immensely satisfying while still being a bit confusing. It’s a lot to swallow at once. Ubik rears its head at the beginning of each chapter in the form of an unusual ad for an unusual product, and Ubik plays a real role at the end of the book, but it’s a bit mysterious at that. Suffice it to say that it’s a miraculous spray can that is Joe’s only way to stay alive.

Dick’s eye for minutia is especially good in this novel as he highlights magazines from 1939 (real ones), early cars, etc. And this book is a fast paced thriller too. I read it in less than a day. I couldn’t put it down. No wonder Time magazine chose it for inclusion as one of their “100 best English-language novels!” No argument there. I don’t know if this is my favorite Philip K. Dick book, but if not, it’s close. It’s got the usual PKD themes like unreliable and alternate reality, time running backward, precognition (Minority Report, anyone?), telepathy, paranoia, hallucinations, and even spirituality. It’s got a fantastic ending. It’s a great introduction to Dick, if you’re unfamiliar with him, and if you’re a fan, it’s a must read. You won’t be able to put it down. Highly recommended.

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