hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Archive for December, 2015

End of the Year Post 2015

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 31, 2015

I wrote this blog post quite early this morning and didn’t post it. I wasn’t sure about it. Since then, I’ve reread it twice and have had second thoughts about posting it. I usually post an End of Year post on the last day of the year, but this one is too depressing, too negative. I don’t think I want to be a downer for my readers. Nonetheless, I’ve decided to post it after all, although I’m not sure it’s a great idea. It does, however, describe my year, which is my intent. If you’re not interested in reading a depressing or negative post, feel free to skip this one. No hard feelings. If you’re interested at all, feel free to read it though. Hopefully 2016 will be better for me/us and hopefully all of you will have a good 2016. Happy New Year!

 

On the last day of each year, I write a year in review post. Here are the links to the 2014 Year in Review blog post and the 2012 End of the Year blog post. I had a lot going on in both years. If you read them, you’ll note I had some health problems, particularly last year. Well, I’m about to write an abbreviated post for 2015. It’s abbreviated because this year was largely a personal disaster due to hideous, nightmarish health and pain problems and I/we didn’t really get to do very much at all.

In January, my mother celebrated her 85th birthday. Although she’s had a couple of bad falls this year with broken bones, she still is relatively good health and living alone in a condo in Knoxville, TN.

In February, I developed severe back pain to accompany my head and facial pain, out of the blue. It took time, but over the course of the year, I sought treatment from my orthopedist and a rheumatologist, as well as physical therapists. It seems I have spinal stenosis, degenerative disk disease, massive osteo-arthritis throughout my entire body, and a broken tailbone. They’re recommending surgery to remove my tailbone, probable spinal fusion surgery, and down the road, two hip replacement surgeries. My pain has been at about a 9.6 out of 10 level every day this year and virtually no pain medication helps.

About the same time, my head pain increased and got worse. My Trigeminal Neuralgia was joined by at least one, perhaps two, other types of head pain, which I have been trying to have diagnosed and treated all year, with little help. My two types of head and facial pain have been at a 9.6 out of 10 level every day, virtually all day all year long with virtually no relief from any pain medication. Any pain medication that used to be helpful is no longer useful. I now have three new diagnoses for additional types of head pain disorders, all three of which can be extremely painful, one of which is supposed to be the most painful condition known to mankind. I don’t know. My wife and I are convinced there’s another undiagnosed condition that has yet to be treated, since I’m responding to no treatment.

Since this spring, my longtime insomnia has worsened. I am averaging about three hours of sleep a night and am now, in fact, waking up and getting up between 11 PM and 12:30 AM. It sounds insane, but it’s true. That means I go to bed early, but I still get only two to three hours of sleep. I also can no longer successfully nap. I started falling asleep at red lights while out driving, and in chairs sitting up, and at doctor’s offices, and at church dinners, and my wife and I suspect I may have narcolepsy so I have an appointment with my sleep doctor in a few weeks to discuss this.

During the spring, somehow I was able to get to some of the concerts I was able to buy tickets for 2014 Christmas for my wife. Because of my health problems, we unfortunately had to blow some off and waste that money, but we did get to see Lewis Black, Weird Al Yankovic, The Who (which was awesome), and Barry Manilow, which was pretty much the highlight of my wife’s life. We blew tickets to Chicago and a Pittsburgh Penguins game. Oh well. We had good times.

In April, we celebrated our second wedding anniversary. It was pretty low key. It feels like we’ve been together for so much longer than that. We have a wonderful relationship and I’m very lucky to have Gretchen for a wife and best friend. April is also Gretchen’s birthday and so that was pleasant, although she’s not thrilled about getting older. I keep telling her she looks and acts infinitely younger than she is, looks at least 10 years younger than other women her age. I think she knows that intellectually, but still is annoyed with aging. I think she’s still sexy as hell. She always will be.

In July, I started going to a new neurologist who I didn’t like personally very much, but who, to his credit, did try some new things. He’s an egomaniac, but then many doctors are, I suppose. He’s given me a couple of Botox injection treatments so far and has tried a number of new medications on me, none of which have helped, but at least he’s trying.

Also, in July my head pain got even worse, if possible. Since I’m up 21 hours a day on average, it became 21 hours of pain a day, every day, without break. At a near 10 out of 10 scale, which combined with my back pain made life nearly unendurable. I applied to get into Vanderbilt’s Neurology Headache Clinic, which has a good reputation, thinking that after nearly six years of treatment in Chattanooga and only getting worse, I need to go elsewhere if I’m going to get better. July was also the second anniversary of my father’s death. It was a sad occasion.

I had my birthday in September. I suppose it was low key, as I remember nothing about it. This fall has been largely a blur, due to my pain status. I’ve been super focused, while also at the same time, largely oblivious. If that makes any sense. I particularly enjoy September and October because of sports. You have college football, the NFL, baseball, hockey just starting, college basketball just around the corner. It’s pretty awesome. I enjoyed watching my Pirates make the playoffs for the third straight year, watching my Tennessee Vols have a frustrating but ultimately successful 8-4 bowl year and my UCLA team have a winning bowl year, my Steelers have a injury-plagued year in which they still have a minor chance of making the playoffs and the hockey season, in which we paid for a year of NHL Gamecenter Live, in which you can watch any game you want – not on national TV – live for a one time set price. So I get to watch my Penguins quite often. If only they were playing up to their expectations and potential. It’s been disappointing so far. Of course, the UT Lady Vols are doing well so far, but they’ve had so many injuries, they’ve only been able to dress seven players lately, so it’s only a matter of time until they start losing many games and the men’s Vols basketball team has a great new coach, but not much talent while my Long Beach State team is having a rough year getting beat up by major teams like Duke.

In October, I finally got to go to Vandy. I was instructed to bring my medical records, so I spent two weeks and hundreds of my own dollars getting them, Gretchen took a vacation day, we drove six hours two ways, went to Nashville and met with a doctor who didn’t even want to look at my records, said they weren’t important, didn’t want to discuss my background with me, spent perhaps 15-20 minutes with me, prescribed a useless migraine medication for me, said I needed Botox immediately (so they scheduled me for three and a half months away) and, when Gretchen asked if we couldn’t just get this done in Chattanooga, reacted angrily and said it had to be done there. We left pretty ticked off at what waste of time and effort that was. I haven’t canceled my next appointment there yet, but I will. There’s no point in going. Meanwhile, my mom has stepped up to the plate and said she’ll pay for me to go anywhere to help get me fixed, cured, whatever. So, I’ve been researching Mayo, Johns Hopkins, the Cleveland Clinic, UCLA, etc. So far, Johns Hopkins would be convenient because that’s where Gretchen’s family lives, but Mayo seems most impressive by far. I’m not going to pursue it just yet though. Want to exhaust things here in town first.

In November, we traveled to Maryland to visit Gretchen’s parents, sons, and friends. It was a difficult trip for me health wise, but she had been wanting to go for months and we hadn’t been up there for a year and a half, so it was time. And we had a good time over Thanksgiving. It was good to see everyone. We also celebrated our one year anniversary of getting our kitten, Ace, who has become Gretchen’s baby. He’s now about 16 months old, and Henry just turned 10 years old, which is unreal because I can remember when he was just a month old, but they get along much better now and Ace is calming down a little bit finally. But just a little bit. Ace is also the most social, codependent cat I’ve ever seen in my whole life! He needs to be with people like nothing I’ve ever seen. He needs to be held. When we went to Maryland, we hired petsitters to come to the house twice a day to help mostly Ace. Henry is pretty independent and I’ve left him by himself for a good three days or so, but Ace couldn’t take even one day, I’m sure. It’s kind of sad. Cute, but sad. Nonetheless, we love them both and they add to our lives tremendously.

This month, we celebrated our five year anniversary of when we started dating. That’s always an exciting occasion for us and fun to remember. We also had a very subdued Christmas, which was somewhat anticlimactic. My pain was so severe and I was on so much pain medication, it was virtually impossible for me to function at all. My mother drove down from Knoxville to be with us on Christmas day and we exchanged a few gifts, nothing like last year. We couldn’t put up our tree this year like we’ve done in the past because of Ace. He goes wild. We put up a mini-tree we bought, with some lights and ornaments. That was destroyed the first night. We put up an old ceramic tree with plastic lights I’ve had for decades, but Gretchen thought better of it, so she got a little wooden tree with a string of lights and that was our tree. We didn’t even put presents out until the night before because Ace would destroy them. We try to control him, but we really can’t.

One year-long note. Early this year I was forced to drop my Obamacare and start using my Medicare I got last year when I went on disability. I had no idea how that would change my life. It’s been a nightmare. Medicare Part D is a freaking nightmare from hell! With Obamacare and BCBS, my monthly medical bills came to roughly $400 a month. With Medicare, I was quickly paying up to as much as $2,800 a month in medical bills, almost all of it prescriptions. One of my prescriptions alone had a co-pay of $800! That’s fucking insane! That total is more than double my disability check. How the hell am I supposed to pay for that? And I have no choice. As long as I’m on disability – and there’s no way I can work – I have to be on Medicare and as long as I’m on Medicare, I’m stuck paying thousands a month for medical/prescription bills. It’s unfair and cruel and I resent it like hell. It’s practically ruined my life even more. Thanks for the added stress, government. Thanks for practically bankrupting me. Appreciate it.

Well, I guess that’s about it for 2015. It was truly a horrible year. Probably worse than 2011, perhaps. I don’t know that 2016 will be any better, but I’m hoping it will be because we intend to aggressively pursue medical treatments for my back and head and solutions and ways to diminish and end my pain. I don’t know if that’s possible or reasonable, but dammit, we’ve got to try. My wife, meanwhile, has her good job, although without insurance, and Obamacare just doubled her premium, so we can no longer afford it, so that’s just great. So she’s actually thinking about looking for a new job next year, which would mean leaving her nice, cushy job that’s so great otherwise. Pity. I hope anyone reading this has a pleasant New Year and a wonderful 2016. Cheers!

 

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A Review of The Doublecross Program

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 31, 2015

The Doublecross Program (Star Risk, #3)The Doublecross Program by Chris Bunch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was somewhat disappointed with this book and that surprised me. I really like Chris Bunch and I really liked the first two books of this Star Risk, Ltd. series, so when this one seemed to be sub-standard, it was a real surprise and, as I said, a disappointment. Basically, M’chel Riss and the Star Risk, Ltd. mercenary team are hired by one planetary system to train and lead its armed forces against a neighboring planetary system, only to double cross them and go to the other system for the same deal. And back again. And so on. It’s an entire book of double crossing. And it doesn’t really endear the group to me, I’ve got to say. I mean, I know they’re mercenaries, but still, have some ethics in how you do business. If you have a contract, do your damn job! I thought better of these people.

The thing that makes Chris Bunch books good is not only are they action packed military sci fi novels, but they’ve got intrigue, and plenty of it. There’s a mystery and it’s a good one. And there are plot twists and you wonder how the heck the protagonists of his series’ are going to escape whatever predicament they’re in. That was the case in the first two books of this series, as well as all of the Last Legion books. Not so with this book. It’s plenty action packed. A lot of tension, I suppose. Perhaps. Maybe not. I mean, you know your heroes probably aren’t going to be killed off, so really, how much tension is there? So, in this case, the book seems to be mostly a straight ahead military action novel. No real intrigue, no real mystery. No wondering who did what, who’s going to do what. No real wondering how they’re going to escape, other than how they’re going to either end this war or get away from it, which is frankly anti-climactic and when it does “end,” it is anti-climactic. And for once, they actually don’t conclude their job, technically. It’s a fairly dissatisfying ending to a dissatisfying book. I’ll be starting the fourth book in the series in a little while. I have hopes that it will be an improvement and will return the series to its normal status of excellence. Because this is not typical Chris Bunch. If you’re reading this series, I guess you might want to read this, but it’s not essential. I don’t think you’ll be missing a lot by not reading it. And frankly, if you’re not reading the series, I see little point in reading it, although it can be read as a stand alone book. Whatever the case, not recommended, sadly.

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A Review of Orr: My Story

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 30, 2015

Orr: My StoryOrr: My Story by Bobby Orr
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Well, this book was a massively huge disappointment! For years, I had heard about how great Bobby Orr was, one of the greatest hockey players of all time. Some even said the greatest. He was a little before my time, so I never got to see him play and I know virtually nothing about him, other than he played for Boston and is in the Hall of Fame. So, I put this book on my Amazon Wish List and my wife got it for me for Christmas. Imagine my surprise when I opened it to find him writing that he wasn’t going to write about his career (basically) in terms of stats, honors, awards, anything. He says that’s all in the record books, that’s all in the history books, it’s all there. Well … yeah, that’s why I wanted to read this damn book, asshole! To learn about why you were apparently the best player of all time, the best defenseman of all time, the best scoring defenseman of all time, the youngest player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame. I wanted to learn about the Hart Trophies, the Norris Trophies, the Stanley Cups. I wanted to know something about you and your career. Is that so bad? Is that so unusual? Shouldn’t you be the damn source for this?

But noooooooo! Not Orr. He doesn’t like to talk about individual honors. He could care less about them. Says they’re really team honors and even more than that, a reflection on everyone who’s ever influenced that person, such as their pee wee coaches, etc. Yep. Okay.

In this book, he devotes an entire chapter to his parents and his upbringing about the time he was eight years old in a small town in Ontario, Canada. There’s really nothing special about them. They didn’t really do anything special for him. They didn’t even attend many of his games. Frankly, I don’t know how they influenced him at all. I have no idea why he even wrote this useless chapter.

Other chapters are about his pee wee playing years with his buddies in elementary school, about what a poor student he was (seems most good hockey players were for some reason), about how he essentially dropped out of school at age 14 to play hockey, about how he signed his first hockey contract at age 14 with the help of his parents, about how he played in the juniors for four years and then made the Bruins at age 18. He writes next to nothing about his rookie year, except to describe his first goal, the team had the worst record in hockey, and oh yeah, he won the rookie of the year award. No big deal, right? Nothing else. It’s like it never happened. He writes more about his roommates.

The next chapters are about continuing seasons and how the Bruins improve. He has injuries, but the Bruins finally win the Stanley Cup. At least he mentions that. During this time, he must have been doing something somewhere to merit inclusion in the Hall of Fame at age 31 since his career was so incredibly short, but nowhere does he mention how many points he scored or what awards he won or anything relevant at all. Nothing. Why the bloody hell read this shithole excuse for a hockey autobiography? Well, I’m not finishing it. I’m halfway through and I’ve had enough. If I wanted to read about his views on parenting, I’d have Googled that and looked for a book on that topic. Instead, I wanted a book on the HOCKEY PLAYER Bobby Orr, you know, someone who played hockey, apparently quite well. It doesn’t exist in this book. What a damn waste. I’m embarrassed and ashamed that my poor wife wasted her money on this pile of crap. I hope I can get a decent amount for it at the used bookstore when I sell it to them. This is without a doubt, the WORST sports biography I have EVER read! Most definitely not recommended, ever.

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Annual WordPress Report

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 30, 2015

Here are my 2015 WordPress blog statistics. Some interesting things. Thanks to all of you who have visited my site and who have commented as well. I hope to see you in 2016!

https://hankrules2011.wordpress.com/2015/annual-report/

 

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A Review of The Watchman

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 29, 2015

The Watchman: The Twisted Life and Crimes of Serial Hacker Kevin PoulsenThe Watchman: The Twisted Life and Crimes of Serial Hacker Kevin Poulsen by Jonathan Littman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve long heard about Kevin Poulsen, but didn’t know as much about him as I did about another early hacker, Kevin Mitnick, and I wanted to learn more, so this book was great. And it just so happened that it was by one of my favorite technology nonfiction authors, Jonathan Littman, who also wrote a book on Mitnick that is also quite good. Mitnick may be more infamous, but Poulsen was possibly better. It’s debatable, but regardless, Poulsen was one of the early old school hackers to take complete control of the phone system and change the way America and law enforcement looked at hackers.

Poulsen started out, like so many of the early ones, phone phreaking in his early teens and graduated into hacking. He early on learned the innards of Pac Bell, first by dumpster diving, then by social engineering, then by phreaking. By his late teens, he probably knew more about the phone system than any non-phone employee in the world, and more than many phone employees themselves. Unfortunately, he of course, got into legal trouble and had to get a “real” job, so ironically, he got a job with SRI, a major defense contractor, where he got a security clearance and worked with top secret military information. Also, ironically, his young boss was another (former) phreaker who started to encourage Kevin to resume phreaking and hacking and together they started engaging in criminal activity, going to Pac Bell switching centers and picking locks and breaking in, stealing manuals, passwords, souvenirs, phones, accessories, switches, and everything else. Kevin eventually got COSMOS manuals, which gave him total access to everything in Pac Bell’s systems, so that he could create new phone lines, new switches, could wiretap anyone he wanted from anywhere, could place calls from dozens or hundreds of untraceable locations, etc. He broken into TRW to scam credit reports, the DVM, the FBI, Pac Bell Security, etc. His buddy Ron, who’d already been busted for hacking/phreaking, grudgingly helped him at times. However, he started spending so much time at night out doing criminal activity that he was neglecting his really important defense job, that they fired him. However, he landed at Sun Microsystems, which would have been really cool if he could have stayed there. Except he got arrested. And released on bail. And went from Northern California to L.A. There, he and Ron met a strange so-called hacker named Eric Heinz, among many other names (Justin Peterson was another). He figures prominently in the Mitnick book. He was an older hacker who looked and acted like a celebrity rocker, hanging out in Hollywood clubs, driving a Porsche, having sex with different girls, usually strippers, every night, recording the acts, usually bondage, and he was a violent criminal – who also knew how to hack, to a certain degree. He wasn’t as good as Kevin, but he wanted to learn and he was eager to help Kevin, so they formed an uneasy partnership and off they went breaking into Pac Bell switches at night. By this point, Kevin was so brazen that he made himself Pac Bell IDs, uniforms, stole a Pac Bell van, drove to their headquarters in LA, walked in, knowing he was wanted, signed himself in, walked to the Security department after hours, broke in, and made copies of all of the memos and documents about him and his partners, hundreds of pages, and walked back out. When the Pac Bell security personnel finally tracked him down with the police and the FBI some time later, they were shocked at finding their own “secure” documents in his place. He also found out who they were wiretapping and wiretapped them back.

Here’s something he did that was a little sleazy. He had always justified his actions as simply innocent old school hacking, harming no one, searching for information and knowledge. However, at some point, he became aware of a group of 50 dead phone lines and voicemail boxes attached to LA escort Yellow Page ads. He went into COSMOS, snagged all the lines for himself, making them untraceable, set up the mailboxes, found a pimp/partner who had the girls, set up an escort ring, and became an digital pimp. He never saw the girls or the pimp. He just liked the challenge and I guess he made a few bucks from it too. However, what he’s most famous for is fixing, not once, but twice two radio station call in competitions with the DJ, Rick Dees, where they were giving away a $50,000 Porsche. He and Ron rented a seedy office, got eight phones, set up eight phone lines attached to the radio station, ran them into his phones, and when the three songs were played in order and the phones started ringing, at some point, the callers all got busy signals and Kevin and Ron were the “right” callers and won their cars. They also won other deals, like $10,000 in cash and trips to Hawaii. Another biggie is when Kevin was featured on the TV show, Unsolved Mysteries, at the request of the FBI. While it was being aired, all 30 phone lines to the show went down for the duration of the show while the FBI sat there and fumed. They knew what had happened and who had done it.

Eventually Kevin and Eric had a bit of a falling out and Eric got especially careless. Kevin was cocky and got a little careless himself. Arrest. He was facing two federal indictments in northern and southern California, one of which would have netted him 100+ years in prison, the other of which would have given him 37 years in prison. The headlines were brutal. The charges were insane. Espionage. Breaking into military computers. Military networks. The implication that he had been wiretapping the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco. Not proven. Classified military documents. Well, he has security clearances and that was part of his job. Idiot prosecutors and FBI were too stupid and too eager to send him to prison for life to actually look at what he had actually done or not done. When it was all said and done, most of the charges were dropped, virtually all of the serious charges, and he served about five years in prison. This was in the early 1990s, even though his hacking career began back in the very early 1980s. I don’t know what happened to him between when he got out of prison and now, but I do know that now he’s a respected security “expert” and journalist. He’s an editor for Wired Magazine and recently wrote a book called Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground, which I read just a month or two ago. It was well written and quite interesting. So obviously, he’s come a long way and more power to him. He had a lot of growing and maturing to do and he seriously had to pay his debt to society. It appears he has.

For me, this book is probably worthy of five stars, but I’m not certain if it’s outstanding enough to actually merit five stars. It’s a tough call. It’s at least a four star book. It’s interesting, well written, detailed, tension filled, easy to understand (for the most part), and well documented. And I don’t really know how it could have been improved. So to be honest, even though I’m not certain it’s a five star book, I don’t see how I can’t give it five stars. I just don’t see how it could have been better. It was an excellent book. So, five stars and recommended if you like to read histories of old school hackers and hacking.

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A Review of The Infinite Battle

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 26, 2015

The Infinite BattleThe Infinite Battle by David Bischoff
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I couldn’t finish it. I couldn’t even ever get into it. It just seemed a little too forced, a little too ’80s, a little too Battlestar Gallactica, a little too dorky to me. It’s like the author was trying too hard to be sci fi cool and didn’t quite pull it off. He should have eased off the transmission just a touch.

The book had potential. When her beloved super scientist brother Cal Shemzak is abducted by the mysterious Jaxdron aliens, with whom humanity has been at war for some five or more years now, super cyborg agent, blip ship pilot, feisty Laura Shemzak talks her way onto a very top secret spaceship for the purpose of finding him. Only to to be attacked and boarded by pirates while on the way to that ship. She attacks the pirates, holds one hostage, demands the pirate captain take her where she wants to go, and is pretty much laughed at. The captain, one charismatic yet annoying as hell Tars Northern, in charge of the Starbow, a pretty awesome ship, and his bizarre crew of humans, aliens, and robot pirates/mercenaries, may or may not help her.

Okay. I can partially buy that, I guess. But since the pirates were just taking freight off Laura’s ship, why couldn’t she have stayed on that ship and continued to her destination to pick up her super ship to go off in search of her brother? Why hijack a group of ultra-dangerous pirates and ask them to take you to another location just cause you need a quick ride? That seemed odd. And Cal. His character seemed a little too stereotypically one dimensional for my liking. Immature, naive, brilliant, no real depth, coward. Pretty unlikable. And their society of “Friends.” Haven’t we seen such cultures portrayed relentlessly in sci fi books and movies throughout the decades over and over again until it’s become quite tiring? Something a little more original might have been preferable. And frankly, the incest thing threw me just a bit. Trust me, I’m no prude and God knows I’ve read enough Heinlein (and even de Sade) to have seen the worst, but many male sci fi writers are freaking perverts, I’ve discovered over the years, and to write of these siblings’ love as though it were proper and good and balanced and healthy and as though society was the sick entity for looking down on them for their incestuous relationship… Well, that’s just a little bit too much for me to swallow. I can handle a little taboo to some degree, but to be so ho hum about it strikes me as odd. Finally, Laura. She was a super agent for the Federation. She could go anywhere, do anything. She had the training, the hardwiring, the cybernetics. And yet she could go off at a moment’s notice. Wouldn’t you have thought they would have done personality profiles on their agents and psychological testings? Wouldn’t you have thought they would have “conditioned” their top agents they’ve invested millions or more in to ensure they wouldn’t fly off the handle and go rogue? To see Laura go nuts when she learns of her brother’s capture and insistence upon personally going off into alien territory to rescue him without aid is incomprehensible.

Frankly, not much about this book makes much sense. Laura constantly takes stupid risks, is a reactionary, usually for no good reason, seems nearly as immature as her brother, and neither protagonist seems particularly likable to me, at least not enough to finish the book. I’ve read the 10 Goodreads reviews and was surprised to see several positive things said in the four and five star reviews, but noted the book as a whole as a sub-3.5 rating. That’s probably being generous, in my opinion. If handled well by a decent author, this book had the potential to be okay, I think. Not great, but okay. But it wasn’t. And as a result, I think it’s largely a waste of time. Not recommended.

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