Recommended Reading!

If you enjoy extremely well-written urban fantasy, with interesting and well-developed characters; if you like werwolves, vampires, the fey, mystery, and lots of action – you owe it to yourself to check out the excellent books of Patricia Briggs.

Several years ago, I had read the first two books in her Mercy Thompson series, “Moon Called” and “Blood Bound”, and enjoyed them very much. At that time, those were all the books available in the series, and I went on to other things. Then a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across a new Mercy Thompson novel. So I checked into it, and I happily discovered a number of new books in the series. Plus, a whole new series set in the same universe, called the Alpha and Omega series!

I enjoyed these books so much, and came to love the characters so much, that I have, well, devoured them on my iPad:

In the Mercy Thompson series:
Moon Called
Blood Bound
Iron Kissed
Bone Crossed
Silver Borne
River Marked

In the related Alpha and Omega series:
Cry Wolf
Hunting Ground
Fair Game

These are the books I’ve read in the last 17 days. Since I had already read the first two, I started with Iron Kissed, read all the rest in both series, and then started over again, re-reading the first two. Doggone it, I’ve caught up with Patricia Briggs again, at least on these two series. However, I see that she has written a number of other books, so I’ll have to check some of them out, next. Probably the Hurog series next, so I can figure out why she named her website thus.

I’m not going into a description of the actual stories here – you can find a general description of her books on her web site, Hurog (www.hurog.com) and on her books page.

Excellence is where you find it. These are excellent!

-Popgun

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A Big Thing!

Ha! Yesterday on Easter Sunday, our granddaughter Taylor read a book to me, for the first time. Up to now, it was the other way around.

And our grandson Tanner has graduated to the big swings on the swing set.

I am very proud of both of them! It does my heart good to see them doing so well.

-Popgun

Posted in Current Events, Grandkids, Stories | Leave a comment

Easter

Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. It looks to be a beautiful day, here, come Sunday.

Today I’m going to mow again, so tomorrow the yard will be as nice as it ever gets. Our yard was a cow pasture for many years before we domesticated it. It’s been under my care for the last 40 years, and now it looks like a mowed cow pasture.

So, we’ll be all set for Easter eggs and other outdoor fun. We always look forward to time with our family, which is precious. You only get so many hours on this earth, and the best of them are spent with family.

But the main thing about Easter is the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. No Christian ever has to fear death. That bully has been put to rest by Jesus. If you love Jesus, you have nothing to worry about.

That’s why I sometimes say “I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of nearly dying.”

I’m not in any hurry to go, but when my time comes, I’m all in. I expect Heaven is going to be a pretty great place to be. And it is Jesus who gives us this assurance – on Easter.

So remember – it isn’t just about Easter eggs…

God bless you every one!

-Popgun

Posted in Current Events, Grandkids, Philosophy, Religion | 1 Comment

A Nice Weekend

Texas Grandma and I had a really nice weekend. The weather was beautiful.

Saturday morning we set up a bunch of tomato plants in big pots, and Saturday evening our oldest son and his family came over for supper and a visit. We had a great time. I love the harmony that our family has, that seems to be lacking in many other families. It does my heart good to see love in action.

Sunday Texas Grandma and I went to church with some friends at a small, traditional local church. It seems like there were lots of nice people there, and one lady in particular knew most of my kinfolk on my father’s side.

The opening prayer featured the word “Father” at least 27 times by my count. The gentleman apparently didn’t want there to be any doubt about Who he was talking to.

The singing was nice, right out of the Baptist hymnal, but I do have to say that a full 60% of the songs were about death. Seemed a bit depressing to me, even though the songs were also about resurrection. But the people were friendly and it was a good experience overall.

-Popgun

Posted in Current Events, Grandkids, Humor, Religion, Stories | Leave a comment

More Fun with Apples – the new iPad

I started with the first-generation iPad, and loved it. That iPad was a life-altering experience, because it actually changed the way I do things, in a big way.

I quit buying hard-copy books, thereby saving trees, space, some money, and the foundations of our house (yes, I read a lot). I ditched my various HP calculators, replacing them with the excellent PCalc program, iPad version. (You can read a funny story about PCalc here).

Blessings of the iPad include the fact that most iOS software is way cheaper than desktop computer versions. This is true of games and books as well. With iBooks and the Kindle program on there, I’m covered for reading material.

I carry around the 6800 plus pictures of my family to bore and annoy my friends and relatives. I use it in my job for countless bits of information. I play games on it. Anywhere. I have ALL my music on it.

The desktop or laptop computer still has its place. But the iPad has usurped about 80% of that functionality.

So, now; the new third-generation iPad.

Well, to be honest, it’s not a life-altering experience for me this time, but only because I’ve already owned one. From the perspective of already being a convert, the new iPad (hereafter referred to as just iPad) is a very nice upgrade of the old version. I bought the 64 MB Wi-Fi only version, just like I had before. I have a Verizon 4G hot-spot that handles my portable needs, and at home and work I’m bathed in Exede12 internet on WiFi. So I’m covered just fine without a built-in 3G/4G LTE experience. The only benefit I might get from that would be the true GPS functionality; but I have that on my iPhone.

The processor is significantly faster than the first iPad’s. I understand it’s not a huge leap from the iPad 2, but things now happen with noticeably more enthusiasm than they do on the old iPad. Which is really saying something since I wasn’t disappointed with the old one.

I understand graphics performance is supposedly radically better, as well; I was not prone to watch videos on the old one, but I got on iTunes Store and downloaded and watched the “Celtic Woman – Believe” SD version (a bit over a gigabyte download), and watched it last night with the earbuds from my iPhone for sound, and it was truly awesome. Much sharper picture than on the HD version playing off my DVR. I could see the hairs on the hand of the drummers, and see the brand names on the cymbals and drums; and that was not even the HD version of the video. The HD version file was between 3 and 4 GB in size, and for some reason, you can purchase the SD but only rent the HD version, in the iTunes store. Go figure.

All graphics on the new iPad are noticeably better. Icons, text and other art are more detailed, photos are beautiful and very sharp, if they started out life at a high enough resolution to begin with. I have a 27” iMac at work that has a beautiful screen. This iPad screen packs about 80% of the pixels that huge 27” iMac does.

I like it!

The reviews online tell me this one is a bit heavier and thicker than the iPad 2, but for me it’s a fair bit lighter and thinner, compared to the first generation iPad.

I’ve seen some reports online about the iPad running hotter than previous version. While this is true, it is also a non-issue. It does not get hot. It does get warm. Not a problem, not even noticeable unless you have a basis for comparison. Put your mind at ease on this subject.

The new iPad has cameras front and back, for taking pictures and doing FaceTime. I haven’t had the opportunity yet to test FaceTime, but I expect it to be a step up from FaceTime on the iPhone 4. I have played with the camera some, and while it does make a big camera, it makes a really big viewfinder, too. About those cameras; iPad comes with the PhotoBooth program. Hand it to a kid, and he/she will be entertained for hours. It’s a hoot for all ages.

As a book reader, it is just like the first generation iPad except noticeably sharper. Not that the iPad 1 was bad, but you notice the difference.

It may be my imagination, but I think they have improved the glass in some way that helps with fingerprints. I’m noticing (and cleaning) fingerprints a lot less on the new iPad.

I bought the 64GB version, because that is what I had before, and it was almost half full. Since I moved all that information over to the new iPad, I am starting out with it half full. I expect the higher definition graphics files related to the new screen will take up more space, as well. One thing about an iPad or iPhone; you can’t add storage. So if you bottom out the storage space, you are buying a new device. Go big to start with and don’t worry about it. An extra $100 or so now may save you $700 or $800 later. Of course, your mileage may vary.

One other thing about storage space; notice the video file I downloaded above. The SD version of that movie was over 1 GB. If you want to use the iPad as a movie player, and you want to store them on the device – well, you do the math. Probably 50 or 60 movies and you’re done. HD movies, maybe 20? Fortunately, I probably will never have more than three or four, as I am only interested in keeping exceptional videos such as the Celtic Woman concert I mentioned above.

One feature of all the iPads is that they feel to me like I’m walking around with a delicate pane of glass. It is almost like jewelry. You watch where you set it down to avoid scratching it. So I bought the Apple cover for the front (in leather), and I bought a separate BlueLounge cover for the back. I like the magnetic Apple cover; no comment yet on the BlueLounge cover since I have only had it a few hours.

I have not thoroughly tested the battery life, but it seems to be about the same as the old iPad, depending on what you are doing. It does take longer to charge, but it’s not a problem; I put it on the charger at bedtime, and I have another charger at work if I need it.

The advent of the original iPad felt like the transition from slide rules to pocket calculators (yes, I lived through that – I’m old). The new iPad feels like moving from the first four-function electronic calculator to one of the Hewlett Packard programmable calculators (again, yes, I’m old). It’s no longer an incredible new experience – but it is significantly better!

The new iPad is an evolutionary improvement that I can say is worth the investment if you have a first-generation iPad, or especially if the iPads are completely new to you. If you have an iPad 2, it’s really close to the same except for the incredible new screen, so that is a judgement call.

All this, and I haven’t even touched on just how much pure fun it is to use the thing!

I’m glad I upgraded. I like it!

-Popgun

Posted in Computers Etc., Current Events | Leave a comment

Fun with Apples

I have a 27” iMac at work, and I love it. It’s the first computer I’ve ever had custody of, that I need to clean with a squeegee.

wpid-imac27-2012-03-14-17-34.jpg

I tend to have a lot of windows open, too. What is shown is one of six virtual desktops. I use them all.

-Pop

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The World is a Dangerous Place

I was contemplating the emergency brake light in my truck, and thinking about it the other day. When I was a kid, my first several cars didn’t have one. Instead, you were supposed to be bright enough to check the brake before you drove off. You didn’t need no stinking light for that.

Shucks, thinking about the best (push) lawn mower I ever had; you could leave it running and walk away from it. In fact, it ran until you intentionally killed it, and to do that you used a screwdriver to short out the spark plug. (I’ll never forget the day my Dad taught me how to do this. He liked to have fell on his butt laughing when I shocked myself. The jerk.) I was just a bit taller than the handle, and had to lean into it to push it. I could actually see the blades from there. I did not mow wearing shorts. OSHA would have pooped in their pants. Best lawn mower I ever had, I remember it fondly.

Oddly enough, I never got hurt, even though OSHA thinks we are all idiots. Instead, I developed competence.

I ran all kinds of farm equipment with questionable or nonexistent safety features. We went through several tractors, like the Model C Farm-All, that had no roll cage, for instance. If you flip one of those, you have seriously screwed up – so you make doggone sure you don’t flip them. This is called competence.

The first time I ever saw a ladder that had a label affixed to the top step, that said “THIS IS NOT A STEP”, it really cracked me up. I mean, I know what they were trying to say, but that step looked exactly like the one below it. It was a step. Idiots. They’d have done better saying “BE CAREFUL AND DON’T FALL” instead of “THIS IS NOT A STEP”.

I’ve owned cars and motorcycles that you could start while they were in gear. I’ve owned and ridden motorcycles that you could engage the clutch while the kickstand was down. You know what? It was never a problem. Shucks, on my (current) truck you actually have to have your foot on the brake, or the blooming thing won’t start!

They think we’re a bunch of incompetent idiots.

When I was young, we were expected to have something that seems to be in short supply these days. It was called, back then, “common sense”. Ever heard of it?

Oh, there are a few rules you should teach your kids. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  1. Don’t point the gun at anybody. Ever.
  2. Be careful around machinery of any sort.
  3. Never get under anything that can fall on you.
  4. Don’t run with sharp objects like scissors or knives.
  5. Be aware of who is behind you if you swing a stick. It might be me. And if you hit me, I will be annoyed.

And so on.

And let’s think about driving safety. There are all sorts of safety devices on cars these days. When I started driving, cars didn’t even have seat belts. Now they have seat belts, air bags, more air bags, 5 mph bumpers, and safety interlocks out the kazoo – and cars cost four times what they did in 1970.

Between all this safety gear, and Hollywood’s car-chase scenes in movies, you have a generation that thinks they can’t be hurt. It’s the wrong approach.

If you want a safe driver, put a 4” razor-sharp spike right in the middle of the steering wheel, pointed at the driver’s chest. I guarantee you that you will have a safe driver! (Please note that this is not a serious proposal – but it would work!)

I guess the point of this monologue is that not all risk is bad. A certain level of risk is required, to generate healthy, self-reliant, competent people. Without that controlled level of risk, you generate people who think the universe is an inherently safe place, and who grow up not understanding that there are consequences to their actions.

Therefore, allow your kids to do things, and take certain controlled risks; and let them suffer the consequences. And they will grow up to be competent, intelligent adults – as ours did.

I’m proud of that.

-Popgun.

Posted in Current Events, Humor, Stories | 3 Comments

Exede12 Internet Service – Review

Yesterday, we were lucky enough to be the second installation of Exede12 satellite internet service in our area, at least by our installer. The first installation was the company’s own, so ours is the first in the wild, so to speak. Our installer was “Arc Satellite Systems” of Longview, Texas.

First, a bit of background. Our home, in East Texas, happens to be in a semi-dead spot as far as land communication goes; too far from the nearest station for DSL service; fiberoptic ends one mile from our place; land-based radio service does not reach here; and the only choices available for us are dial-up (ha!); satellite; and Verizon 3G.

We’ve been on several satellite systems in the past, and always found it wanting; advertised speeds of 1.5 mbps down, actually averaging perhaps half that, with HughesNet [1] most recently. Verizon 3G is what we’ve been on for a couple of years, doing all our internet on MiFi 2200 hot spots that are intended to be for portable use. Speeds are slightly better than HughesNet, though not consistently. They do have the advantage of being portable. AT&T – ’tis to laugh! Only if you stand in the right place[2]!

These slow internet speeds have been an annoyance and a thorn in my side for the last few years, because I know that just up the road you can get significantly better service, and it really ticked me off that we couldn’t get it here, noway, nohow.

Now, comes Exede12. It isn’t available everywhere, but bless my soul, it is actually available here. Exede12 is a satellite service like Wildblue and HughesNet, but Exede12 employs a new satellite that is capable of much higher bandwidths.

Exede12 has three package levels, all operating at the same speeds, but you get to pick your bandwidth requirements. They are 7.5, 15, or 25 GB per month. The speed is (up to) 12 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up. We went with the 15 GB plan. [3] You can jump to the next level if you need to.

We have a number of internet-capable devices, which I planned to connect via Wi-Fi, so I ordered an Apple Airport Extreme Wi-Fi base station, which arrived Friday.

The installation by Arc Satellite went very smoothly considering that this was only the second installation of this system by Jimmy, the technician. I knew I was near the top of the list so I was expecting somewhat of a learning curve; but it went very well. From start to finish, installation took about three hours, with a roof-mount system.

Next came setting up the Wi-Fi network. I’ve done this before a few times, but I do have to say that Apple makes it really easy, if you read the instructions beforehand. It took about 15 minutes start to finish. Everything is on Wi-Fi except Texas Grandma’s computer which is Cat-5 cabled to the Airport Extreme. The Exede12 modem is, of course, also connected to the Airport.

I spent 30 seconds each telling the two iPhones, the MacBook Pro and the iPad which network to look at, and Windows 7 recognized the new connection without difficulty. Five devices and a hot spot, up and running in 15 minutes; amazing. I love Apple. (I used to love Windows….)

Now, as to performance:

I tested using InternetFrog.com. Therefore, your mileage may vary. Different on-line speed tests will give you different results.

Before installing Exede12, I ran three tests using my Verizon Mi-Fi hotspot on my MacBook Pro:

Verizon MiFi

Run #1: 0.48 Mbps Down, 0.91 Mbps Up

Run #2: 1.35 Mbps Down, 0.79 Mbps Up

Run #3: 0.57 Mbps Down, 0.87 Mbps Up

Averages: 0.80 Mbps Down, 0.86 Mbps Up

After connecting to Exede12, I immediately ran similar tests using the same computer:

Exede12

Run #1: 8.24 Mbps Down, 0.33 Mbps Up

Run #2: 9.47 Mbps Down, 0.4 Mbps Up

Run #3: 7.99 Mbps Down, 0.4 Mbps Up

Run #4: 8.22 Mbps Down, 0.26 Mbps Up

Averages: 8.48 Mbps Down, 0.35 Mbps Up

As you can see, the download speeds are way better (more than ten times better!) with Exede12, but the upload speeds – not so much. However, download speeds affect your perceived experience far more than upload speeds.

I have to say that the speeds as measured by InternetFrog (in the test runs above) do not match the promised speeds – but I didn’t expect them to. Having experienced satellite services before, that “up to” phrase in their advertising is something they take very seriously. Having said that, I did do spot checks during the afternoon, and have seen a few random tests with much higher speeds. I just ran the InternetFrog mobile test on my iPad, and got speeds of 12.65 / 0.85 and 16.11 / 0.86 in consecutive tests, for instance. So all such testing should be taken with a grain of salt, and you will get different results on different testing sites and on different devices. And I should note that some runs do exceed the promised 12 Mbps speeds, so they’ve already fulfilled their contract – something HughesNet failed to do.

Subjectively, browsing is much, much faster with Exede12. You can actually watch a video without waiting for it to start and stop. Pages on many sites just appear on the screen, rather than “painting”. There is always going to be a bit of time when your page request goes out to the internet, and gets processed and sent back. This system helps a whole lot with the “sent back” part of that equation.

I do have one nit. The Exede12 modem has a series of four blue LED’s on the front that, in normal operation, sit there and blink on and off. When the room is dark, that is going to be very annoying. A bit of duct tape may be in order…

I had been holding off on an operating system update, knowing Exede12 was coming, so I ran OS X software update. The file size was 1.36 GB, and it downloaded in 12 minutes. This calculates out to 15.5 Mbps download speed (for a single file download). This is actually a better test of the system performance than the speed tests above, because once the file starts downloading, you are pretty much testing pure download performance.

This identical operation on the Verizon system would have taken something over two hours, by past experience.

The download speeds on Exede12 are consistently an order of magnitude better than I have experienced on any other system. I am a happy camper.

One other thing. Kudos to the folks at Arc Satellite Services, who were nice, polite, and professional. If you are in East Texas and interested in Exede12, call them at 903-663-1390 and tell Mallory, who handled my many phone calls, that Brian said howdy. Good people, there. [4]

-Popgun

[1] With HughesNet, advertised at 1.5 mbps downloads, we averaged around 800 mbps; and never saw the 1.5 mbps advertised. False advertising, in my opinion, and it really seriously ticked me off, charging me for more than I was getting. I cancelled their contract after a few months and went to Verizon 3G. Before HughesNet, we were on StarBand, and DirecPC (which became HughesNet). We have WildBlue at work, so I am familiar with it, as well.

[2] At least, here at our home.

[3] The Verizon plan we are on limits us to 5 GB per device, and we have two of the devices. I’ll be canceling these, as their contracts are fulfilled – soon. Which will totally offset the cost of Exede12.

[4] The author received no compensation or consideration for this plug.

Posted in Computers Etc., Current Events | 2 Comments

Another Quote of the Day

Robert A. Heinlein said, in the “Notebooks of Lazarus Long”:

“Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria.

The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.

The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.”

Speaking for myself – I’m a surly curmudgeon…

-Popgun

Posted in Current Events, Humor, Philosophy | Leave a comment

Random Quotes of the Day

Wandering around the net, I snagged a few quotes I happen to like. Many of them are gun-related, but I like the philosophy presented by all of them:

‘‘Four out of five politicians surveyed prefer unarmed, ignorant peasants.’’ — Unknown

‘‘It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.’’ — Justice Robert H. Jackson

“A shoot-out is better than a massacre!” – David M. Bennett

“The gun control extremist has at least two things in common with the Islamic extremist. He has a willingness to die for his fundamental beliefs. And he has the sanctimony to demand that others go with him.” – Dr. Mike Adams

“Know guns, no crime. No guns, know crime.” – Ralph Lauretano

“In the larger sense, however, the personal ownership of firearms is only secondarily a matter of defense against the criminal. Note the following from Thomas Jefferson: The strongest reason for the people to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against the tyranny of government. That is why our masters in Washington are so anxious to disarm us. They are not afraid of criminals. They are afraid of a populace which cannot be subdued by tyrants.” – Jeff Cooper

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and passed on … or we will spend our sunset years telling our children’s children what it was like in the United States when men were free.” – Ronald Reagan

“I am concerned for the security of our great Nation; not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within.” – General Douglas MacArthur

“An armed society is a polite society” – Robert A. Heinlein

“Cogito, ergo armatum sum: I think, therefore I am armed.” – Anonymous

-Popgun

Posted in Guns and Self Defense, Philosophy | Leave a comment