hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Archive for April, 2014

A Review of Pittsburgh Steelers: Men of Steel

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 19, 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers: Men of SteelPittsburgh Steelers: Men of Steel by Jim Wexell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was really excited when I got this book. It was supposed to have chapters that were stories about some of the more prominent Steelers and I was excited to read about Jack Lambert, Mean Joe Greene, Hines Ward, and others. However, the first half of the book was crazy. It focused on players from the 1950s, most of whom played one to three years with the Steelers and who had no impact on the team whatsoever. I have no idea what the author was thinking when he did this. Some examples: Pat Brady, a punter from 1952-54; Ted Marchibroda, a quarterback for four years; John Lattner, a running back from 1954 who gained 237 yards; Len Dawson, the famous quarterback who spent three years with the Steelers, throwing a whole 17 passes during his time with them; and on and on. Now, why in the world waste half a book on people who made no contribution to the team??? It makes no sense. The author thought they had good “stories,” but they really didn’t. It’s sad. This book could have been good.

On the plus side, Wexell does write some chapters on some more recent Steelers who didn’t get much press, but did make contributions such as strong safety Donnie Shell, from the late 1970 Super Bowl teams. He was a Pro Bowler many times and should have made the Hall of Fame, but didn’t. It was interesting to see what he, and the others, did after retirement and where they are now. Shell has worked for the Carolina Panthers for years now, but I remember him as the player who intercepted more passes (51) than any other strong safety in history. I wore his number, 31, when I was growing up playing football. Other forgottens include wide receiver Louis Lipps, who was great but whose career in the 1980s was cut short by injuries, offensive lineman Tunch Ilkin, cornerback Dwayne Woodruff, strong safety Carnell Lake, one of my all time favorite players, sack monster and outside linebacker Kevin Greene, who should also be in the Hall of Fame and who always gets close as a finalist in voting. I don’t think he’ll get in though, even though he holds the record for most sacks from a linebacker, beating out Lawrence Taylor.

However, another disappointment with the book was that it was written in 2006, after Jerome Bettis’s Super Bowl win. But it was updated in 2011. I knew that, and I thought it’d be a great idea for the author to update all living Steelers’ info that he had written about. However, he didn’t do that. He only added two players: Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward. (Why not Troy?) Honestly, this book could have been so much better and it should have been. The author didn’t do it justice. He chose players unwisely and didn’t update info when he could and should have. Huge mistakes and that’s why I’m only giving it three stars. Indeed, I don’t know if it even deserves that. Not really recommended.

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A Review of Ex-KOP

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 18, 2014

Ex-KOP (Juno Mozambe Mystery #2)Ex-KOP by Warren Hammond

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a good sequel to a good first book. It’s a hard boiled detective story set in the future on the planet of Legarto. Juno Mozambe, an ex-cop who was a dirty enforcer while he was on the force and who was the protagonist of the last novel, is back, now as a type of private eye. His young ex-partner, Maggie Orzo, is a detective trying to get a promotion. Her new partner, Ian, is a first rate asshole, and I mean mega-asshole. The weird thing about Ian is that just a couple of years ago, he was a puny, perpetually frightened boy working in the prison. Now he’s big and ripped and has an attitude. He’s taken over as alpha male in the department and he has a crew of cops willing to do anything he says. And he’s much dirtier than Juno ever was.

The book starts out with a murder. Apparently there’s a serial murderer on Legarto, but it’s not being publicized in the media. Only the cops know about it. And Juno. This first one (which is actually the 13th murder) takes place on a boat with flesh eating bacteria doing the job. Ian basically kicks Juno off the boat and things start. Another murder has also been committed. A couple were killed by a laser whip and their hot, young daughter has confessed and is scheduled to be executed in just a few days. The problem is, Maggie thinks she’s innocent. So she hires Juno to help her prove it.

Meanwhile, Juno has troubles at home. His wife tried to commit suicide and is locked up in a hospital bed, waiting for a new spine (she threw herself from a bridge) to be grown offworld and waiting for Juno to find the funds to pay for it. The problem is, she still wants to die.

As Juno starts poking around, he starts discovering inconsistencies. He goes to the prison to interview the girl and when he leaves, Ian and his crew show up and rough him up, breaking his fingers on one of his hands while telling him to mind his own business.

Ian has a hot girlfriend, Liz. Ian summons Juno to a bar where he waits to strike a deal with Juno to spy on Maggie in order to eliminate her promotion and get it himself. Juno agrees, but tells Maggie and doubles back on Ian, feeding him information that makes Ian think Juno’s doing a good job, but when in reality he and Maggie are working against Ian.

An offworlder named Horst is also involved. He runs a travel agency on Legarto, seemingly for tiger hunts, but in reality, for sex. Oh, and snuff films. And getting to participate in making the snuff films by executing prisoners on death row privately. It’s pretty sick and the author does a good job at getting it across to the reader. Indeed, there’s lots of sick stuff in this book — the kinky sex, prostitution, snuff films, incest, and more. It’s easy to get grossed out. You have to have a hard stomach in order to read this book. It’s gritty and it seems realistic — the author is very good.

As Juno and Maggie race against time to get Ian and save the girl, things are happening frantically and you have to really keep pace. It’s a real page turner and, as a result, a quick read. My only complaint — and it’s a big one for which I thought about eliminating one of the five stars I’m’ giving it — is that big, bad Juno-the-enforcer from the first book becomes a weak, pathetic pussy in this book, easily pushed around by Ian and his crew. It’s kind of hard to believe. Juno toughens up as the book progresses, but I found it hard to swallow. Still, I enjoyed the book. Apparently there’s a third one in the series and I’ll have to get it to read. If it’s like the first two, I’ll definitely enjoy it. Recommended, but not for the faint of heart.

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Baltimore Trip

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 18, 2014

Well, Gretchen and I made a nice trip up to Maryland and back a few days ago and I thought I’d write a little bit about it. Last Thursday, after work we headed out on the road from Chattanooga up to Abingdon VA. It took about four hours. We stayed at the Alpine Motel, a retro motel that was somewhat decent. The next morning, we ate breakfast with our friends Chris and Stephanie. It was really good to see them.

It should have taken six hours to get up to Columbia MD, our destination. It took nearly nine. Traffic was the worst I’ve ever seen in my life. About 30 miles south of Roanoke, we got stopped by a wreck and sat still in traffic for an hour. That really slowed us down. Of course, the Virginia cops were out in full force, as always, so you can’t speed there to make up time. When we got to DC, we hit mega-traffic, which continued into Maryland and all the way to our destination. It took HOURS to get through that traffic, and it was in the middle of the afternoon, not during traffic hour. Weird.

We finally arrived at the Sheraton Columbia Town Center Hotel, where we’d be staying. We were on the fifth floor, and it was very nice. (I wrote reviews of many places on Trip Advisor. You can find them here.) The room wasn’t the biggest I’d seen, but it was plush and clean and we liked it. I’ve had to deal with bad insomnia for years, often getting up at 1 or 2 AM (like this morning), but the bed was so comfortable there, that I was able to sleep in until 8 every morning. It was awesome!

Friday night, we went to a restaurant called Clyde’s and met Gretchen’s parents there. We had a lovely meal and it was good to see them. Then we went back to the hotel and had drinks at the bar there before turning in.

Saturday we got up and went to Eggsplantation in Ellicot City to meet our friend Cindy for breakfast. I had pancakes and bacon and it was delicious. The place was nice, but pretty expensive. We looked at Cindy’s new car after breakfast, before gassing up (gas was so much more expensive there than in Tennessee) and heading to downtown Baltimore. We went to the Walters Art Museum. I have already written a review about it, so I won’t say much, but we enjoyed ourselves a great bit. It was free to get in, which was cool. We particularly liked the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman exhibits, as well as the medieval exhibit. It was cool seeing a mummy. When we left, we went to a quirky area of town called Hamden. It had tons of shops and restaurants and reminded me of Atlanta’s Little Five Points or L.A.’s Melrose Avenue. We parked and wandered around. We went in a little, extremely overcrowded used bookstore, but didn’t find anything we wanted. We ate lunch at a place Gretchen has talked about for years — Cafe Hon. It flat out sucked! The food was terrible and the service was worse. I gave it a really bad review on Trip Advisor. Gretchen was especially disappointed.

After we left Hamden, we drove back to areas Gretchen used to live in to check them out. It was nice to see parts of her history. Later, we went back downtown. We found a bizarre little parking area in an alley behind a building for $20. We thought it was a pretty good deal, cause all of the parking garages were full and we were going to go see a ballgame that night and it was fairly close to the ballpark. More on that later.

We walked to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area. It was crowded, probably because it was such a beautiful day, but it was pretty neat. They had street performers, some pavilions with shops and restaurants in them, an old submarine you could tour, the World Trade Center, where you could go to the 27th floor to look out over the harbor, and more. We spent some time wandering around there before finally starting to head over to the ballpark. Outside the park, I bought a nice Orioles cap and it looked and felt pretty good. I did it even though I’m a Pirates fan. Heh. We arrived at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and waited for Gretchen’s two boys and a girlfriend to show up. It looked like a beautiful stadium. I had bought tickets online before we went, so we had sweet seats behind 1st base in the 24th row. They were shockingly expensive though. The kids finally showed up and we went in to find our seats. The stadium was beautiful, as advertised, but the seats were incredibly uncomfortable. I don’t know what midget designed that stadium, but I’m of average height, and my knees were jammed up against the seat in front of me and I had no leg room. There were essentially no rows. If people wanted in or out, virtually the entire row had to get up and get out to let them in or out. It was stupid. I was so damn uncomfortable. But it was a nice night for baseball. The Orioles were taking on Toronto. Unfortunately, it was a dull game and Gretchen and I left with Baltimore up 1-0 in the top of the ninth inning. Surprisingly, we found out later, Toronto hit a homer to tie it up and Baltimore finally won it in the 12th inning. So we started looking for our car. And we couldn’t find it. It was horrible. We walked those streets for miles and I got terrible blisters on the bottoms of my feet and my shins hurt and we couldn’t find my car anywhere we went. We stopped and asked for directions, but after more than an hour of this and after having covered seemingly every street within miles, we couldn’t find that little back alley parking spot. We started getting really terrified. We were in a big, strange city late at night with, frankly, gangs of possible thugs wandering around doing who knows what. We were really worried. Just as Gretchen was about to call the police, we found a building she recognized and went in that direction. We found another. Finally, I spotted the alley and our car and we headed for it in great relief. We were pretty panicked by then. It felt great to get in that car! We finally got out of there, made it back to the hotel, and hit the bar where I slammed some tequila shots and Gretchen had some Southern Comfort. Boy, what a day!

Sunday was Gretchen’s birthday party, the reason for the trip. It was her 50th, which is big, so we had invited family and friends to her parents’ house and she was pretty excited. On our way, we stopped to pick up the gluten free birthday cake I had ordered last month. Thankfully it was ready and it turned out great. It was really good. We got to her parents’ and chatted before people started arriving. Her parents laid out a spread and we toasted Gretchen with champagne. There were people there we hadn’t seen since our wedding last year, so it was nice to see everyone. Gretchen opened presents and she got quite a haul. She did well. Heh. The party lasted from about 1 til about 7 or later, so when we got back to the hotel, we were kind of tuckered out from the day. That didn’t stop us from hitting the bar, of course.

Monday we went to Annapolis with her parents. On the way, we passed the NSA and I was SO very excited. I wanted to go tour their museum — they actually have a museum — but we didn’t have time. Oh well. Annapolis was pretty cool. I had wanted to go on a tour of the Naval Academy, but because of my blisters, we couldn’t do it — I couldn’t walk far. Downtown was old and historic and we enjoyed wandering around. We ate lunch at Carrol’s Creek Cafe, which wasn’t too bad. We had a bizarre old server who entertained us. We went back to our hotel in the afternoon and although we were supposed to stay another night there, Gretchen and I decided to head out early because it was supposed to rain all day Tuesday and get colder and we didn’t want to drive far in that weather. We went a different way this time, without that much traffic, thank goodness.

We drove further than we intended, about six hours all told. We spent the night in a Holiday Inn Express in Salem VA, right outside Roanoke. It was a great hotel room! We were really impressed. It was a king size suite and it was huge. All that room. Unfortunately, the bed was too hard for me, so I woke up with a sore back. Oh well. The breakfast was great though. They had a pancake machine that made great pancakes in two minutes. I love pancakes, so I was elated. They had lots of room, many tables, unlike many hotels, and a lot to choose from. We felt like it was a good deal.

We left Salem Tuesday morning about 9. And it did start to rain. Visibility was pretty poor for a good part of the way, with poor Gretchen driving, and shockingly, 50 miles east of Knoxville, it started snowing!!! It was 84 just two days before, and even when we started out that morning, it was 65 there in the mountains. And now here it was snowing. Crazy. Gretchen drove through the snow, but at some point we had to stop for gas and I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It was COLD gassing up the car! We finally made it home after about six hours or so. Our cat Henry was glad to see us and purred all night. We had lots of mail. My mom had gotten our mail and fed Henry each day, which was nice of her. She’s about ready to move back up to Knoxville in a couple of weeks, so we won’t have her to do that for us anymore. Don’t know what we’ll do the next time we have to travel….

Well, that’s it. It was a good, but exhausting trip. Unfortunately, Gretchen — and maybe me too — came down with something and has been sick ever since. Hopefully we’ll both improve quickly. It was nice to see Gretchen’s old stomping grounds as well as family and friends. Maybe we’ll make it back sooner next time. Sorry I didn’t post pics. I reserve the right to do so in the future. Heh.

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Road Trip!

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 11, 2014

We’re in Abingdon VA on our way to Maryland. We’re going to celebrate Gretchen’s 50th birthday with her family and friends. We’re also going to run around Baltimore and catch an Orioles game.

Last night, we stayed in a retro motel called the Alpine Motel. Sparse but comfy. I’m going to post a picture. Cheers!

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A Review of The Forever Drug

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 9, 2014

The Forever Drug (Venture Silk, #2)The Forever Drug by Steve Perry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This sequel to Spindoc was just as good, if not better, than its predecessor. It was action packed, it read quickly, it was exciting, and it had just enough sci fi in it to justify it as a sci fi novel. Once more, Venture Silk is in the thick of a crazy spy game, this time with his new live-in love, Zia, the master spy. At risk is a new wonder drug concocted on the planet E2, which enables someone taking it to live for 500 or a thousand years or more. As a reward for her achievements on Earth (in the last book), Zia is administered the drug, but Silk is not. Interestingly, one of the side effects is developing telepathy. It makes for some fun scenes. You can tell Perry knows something about guns. Silk is followed and attacked, so he decides to buy a gun, and gets an 8 mm that shoots non-lethal darts. The darts being shot his way, though, are poisoned and quite lethal. A spy is sent from Earth to recover this wonder drug, meanwhile, and decides to take Zia as his prisoner/wife and to reverse engineer the biology of the drugs given her. He also decides to kill Silk and to turn on his handlers and head for another planet to sell the secret of the drug for a king’s ransom, as well as taking it himself so he can live forever — with Zia. Like the first book, there’s a lot of sex in this one, but I was more prepared for it this time and didn’t feel so much like a prude. Although I’ve never seen an author so taken with the term “mons” in my life. I’ve honestly never seen it used in a novel before…. Silk learns to take care of himself in this story, from taking martial arts classes to spying on the spies after him. You see, not only do he and Zia have to watch out for the Earth-based super spy, but other shadowy ones are after them too. It’s explained toward the end of the book, and I have to say that I wasn’t thrilled with the explanation, but I’ll take it anyway because the book was so fun to read. If you haven’t read this series, obviously start with the first one, but read this book because you’ll likely enjoy it. Recommended.

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A Review of Dr. Futurity

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 7, 2014

Dr. FuturityDr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not a bad book by Philip K Dick. An early one, and therefore a little more linear than his later works. Although, truth be told, toward the end of the book it can get a little convoluted, so it was occasionally hard to follow.

Dr. Jim Parsons gets into a car wreck and is thrown 400 years into the future. He is nearly immediately run over by a young driver, who stops to pick him up. Parsons is confused when he can’t understand the young man, and this could have been difficult, but Dick took the easy way out by telling us Parsons gradually started picking up the language and everything from that point on is in English.

Parsons is taken into San Francisco and sees the streets teeming with young people, all looking alike, with Native American looks and features. He enters a meeting in a warehouse, where the occupants are attacked and he successfully saves the live of a wounded girl. Only to be arrested. You see, in this world, death is glorified and institutionalized euthanasia is enforced around age 30. He’s sent to a prison camp on Mars, but escapes and winds up on a planet where he finds a plaque made out to him, giving him instructions on how to operate the space ship. Weird, I know. It’s actually explained on the last page of the book.

Parsons comes across a tribe of these people whose murdered leader is kept frozen in the hope that he can be restored to life. Indeed, these people are the ones responsible for bringing Parsons into the future in the hopes that with his medical knowledge and equipment, he can bring this man back to life. Turns out he died with an arrow to the heart. This group obviously knows about time travel and had gone back to the 16th century to kill Sir Francis Drake and get rid of all colonizers to establish a Native American society that would last to the present time and beyond. During one of these trips back, this leader was killed.

Parsons travels back in time to witness this and discovers that the man responsible for sending him to a Martian prison is posing as Drake and is there to kill Corith, the leader. However, to Parsons’ horror, he confronts Corith to warn him of his impending doom, only to kill him himself in self defense.

Much more time travel takes place and this is when it gets confusing. At some point, there are four time travel ships at Drake’s beach with four groups of people observing Corith die. All from the future, but appearing at different times. Parsons wonders which version of himself he’ll encounter. He tries to find Corith another time to kill him again, so that when Corith is revitalized, he won’t point to Parsons as his killer. Confusing, I know.

At the end, the female leader of the group, Corith’s daughter Loris, shows him their two grown children brought about by the one night Parsons and Loris got it on 19 years previously. They ask if he wants to stay with them, but he elects to return home to his real wife and there the story ends.

This is a book about free will, if anything. It’s not overloaded with numerous concepts like some of Dick’s other works, but it’s a good read nonetheless and I read it in less than a day. A must for Dick fans and recommended for others.

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