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Originally published at Am I the Only One Dancing?. Please leave any comments there.

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Cool friends who make stuff

I have been so busy today completely reorganizing and categorizing the site (look, see? much easier to navigate, more relevant categories. Really nifty, if I say so myself) that I don’t have time to write a real post. So instead, I’m going to introduce you to my cool friends who make stuff. If you like it, please buy it, and support small business.

This post was originally spawned by filkertom (Tom Smith) who writes and performs filk songs (no, not folk, filk — they are based off science fiction and fantasy, done in a folk song style). What he linked to wasn’t actually his (oh, the stars, the STARS! and the link plays music, too,) but in payment for pointing me to it, I’m linking to his buy stuff page at his website. Making music costs time and money. Please buy his stuff or subscribe to his streams. And I dare you to watch this video without laughing:

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Originally published at Am I the Only One Dancing?. Please leave any comments there.

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Help to use RSS-feed

I got a shock the other day when I discovered that despite being one of the older and easier ways of finding things on the web, more than half of regular internet users polled didn’t know what RSS was, let alone how to use RSS, and less than 20% use it regularly (and darn it, I can’t find the source that shocked me. Help please?)

How to Use RSS

RSS is really simple to use. In fact, two thirds of ‘RSS’ are ‘really simple’, and the whole thing is ‘really simple syndication’. You can even use it inside Facebook, though honestly I can’t recommend that any more, now that Facebook has decided that it knows better than you do which of your friends and pages you really want to see. (More on that later).

It’s a huge time saver, and available in mobile as well as large formats.

Imagine for a second that you can put together your own magazine of your favorite sites on the web, automatically updated for you every time there is a new post, and attractively arranged for you to read on your choice of dozens of different formats. There is no need to imagine – that’s what RSS is.

This is how to use RSS:

  1. Choose a feed reader (that’s what you call the magazine). The most popular one is probably Google Reader, but there are lots of others out there, most of them free. Pick one that suits you and set up an account. I like Google Reader because I’m already signed in to Google most of the time anyway, can be adjusted by a ton of various browser extensions, and has built in a feature called ‘Reader Play‘ that makes it feel even more like a magazine.
  2. How to use RSSStart adding feeds. Feeds are updates to your favorite blogs and websites that will now be automatically be delivered to your reader. Do you see that nifty orange and white icon up in the top right hand corner of my website? (The one that looks just like the one to the left, there.) That’s an RSS icon. Click on it, and it will invite you to add my feed to your reader, and give you choices as to which reader you use. A second click confirms your choice (it’ll navigate you away from here, so be sure to come back).Look for more feeds. Most websites have a feed, but not all of them are nice enough to make sure that their orange and white RSS icon is easy to find. So you can download extensions for Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome to make it easier.
  3. Read RSS on your phone or tablet. I use an Android app called NewsRob on mine to read my Google Reader account, which is synced between my phone, my tablet, and my computer. It has a free version, but I like the benefits of the paid version enough to have upgraded. There are lots of others for Android and Iphone around as well.
  4. A word of warning: If you use an RSS feed reader on your work computer, your IT department will see it as you browsing hundreds of websites, not one. You really don’t want to be in the position of explaining to your boss that you’re just skimming headlines looking for articles to read on your break (even if its true). I bet you can guess how I learned that one.

So why not Facebook? Don’t get me wrong. I like Facebook. I think, on balance, it’s more helpful than not despite some jerkishness on the part of Zuckerman et al. But Facebook started, in spring of 2012, to decide for you which of your friends and pages are valuable to you, on an algorithm that isn’t close to perfect. It had two purposes in this.

First, it was trying to ensure that you saw first the articles you wanted most to read – your closest friends, your favorite pages – but second, it was increasing revenue for itself.

It is now significantly more expensive for advertisers to use Facebok. It used to be an ‘organic’ way to discover new pages, where you just kind of ‘naturally’ picked them up. Now Facebook deliberately makes it harder for you to find new pages, and the owners of the pages need to pay Facebook for the privilege of making it easier to find them.

I don’t blame Facebook for wanting to make a buck. They’re not in it for charity, after all. But speaking as someone trying to get people to read my website, they are now a very expensive option, rather than an inexpensive one, to let people know about my site.

RSS doesn’t exactly advertise my website or anyone elses’, but it does make it really simple for people who already want to read it to find the new articles I post nearly every day. Really simple syndication – and yet most people who are on the web haven’t figured out how to use it on a regular basis.

Oh, and if you’re curious, my own RSS feed of other peoples’ stuff is fed to the left hand column on my site pages (‘below the fold’ a bit), listed as ‘blogroll’, and the most recent couple of articles are linked on my curated life page (which, unfortunately, is glitchy because of the app used to set it up. Looking for better. Help?). Feel free to add any or all of them to your feed. Happy reading!

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Originally published at Am I the Only One Dancing?. Please leave any comments there.

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As you may have noticed in the past, I have a love/hate relationship with Laurell K. Hamilton‘s work, particularly with her Anita Blake books. She is capable of amazing storytelling and truly human expression of love and the challenges of complicated relationships, as well as rollicking sex scenes and well crafted mysteries. She does not always deliver on that promise, but in Hit List, she has.

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Originally published at Am I the Only One Dancing?. Please leave any comments there.

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Blood, Bones and Butter in the window

Blood, Bones and Butter in the window (Photo credit: Marisa | Food in Jars)

When I put e-books on my library hold list to read and review, I am sometimes completely unaware of what I’ve just ordered. This was very much the case with Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton. I thought I had ordered a cookbook to browse through. Instead, I had ordered a memoir by a cook (a chef, really).

Happy, happy mistake. This is a meandering memoir full of foodie-licious details of French and Italian cooking and the sort of personal details that make you either want to put the book down for a moment to absorb what you have just read, or plow forward.

I read this, coincidentally, during a weekend devoted to making peace with my family of birth. Hamilton, too, describes such an event, and like mine hers was a fraught mixture of success and failure. Mine, however, is unlikely to be set down as a memoir, certainly not one as mouthwatering as hers.

I identified with the craziness of her childhood life, the mistakes of her young adulthood, the settled certainty of later choices and then the even later questioning of that certainty. I grew to care about the character even as I sometimes judged her as harshly as I judged myself.

Throughout reading it, I badly wanted to hand it to 15 year old overthinker to enjoy, but realized even with the impulse that he needed more life experience to truly appreciate this book, even with his love of cooking and dream of being a chef someday.

This was not, for me, an easy book to read. It was, however, fascinating and heartbreaking and full of truth in both its lurid ugliness and beauty. I hope someday to whip up a concoction this complex and delicious, and suspect, sadly, that I never will.

 

Wow, did that get poetical. Deal with it, folks. That’s how the book made me feel.

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English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My public library hasn’t seen me much lately, mostly because I’ve been using their ebook service rather than walking the half mile to the brick and mortar building. Some comments, and then the list of books with brief ratings/reviews.

1. Some publishers for whatever reason make their Kindle books only accessible through a wired connection. This flat pisses me off, not only for me, but on behalf of the many people who don’t have access to a wired connection. As a result, whenever possible I have been downloading books through the Overdrive application as Adobe Epub books whenever possible.
2. Adobe’s customer service is awesome. When I misunderstood how their device registration worked and accidentally set up too many devices with their DRM service, I used their tech support chat and it took less than five minutes (once a tech was available) to reset my device usage.
3. Ebooks are a great way to read at the gym. You can make the print huge if you need to (to overcome the effect movement makes on the ability to read) and you don’t bust the book spine holding the book open.
4. The library e-book service at my library is seriously understocked while simultaneously being seriously overstocked with trash reading. Every month they add more, but not nearly enough non-fiction, and not nearly enough of some of the good older fiction that is starting to be re-released as e-books but not yet copyright free.
The Books

Beauty and the Werewolf (Mercedes Lackey) From the 500 Kingdoms Series, this was a refreshing take on the fairytale trope, good enough that I reserved two more from the brick and mortar library. ****
Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New GirlieGirl Culture (Peggy Orenstein) A decent analysis of the Princess culture and its effects on American girls. A bit dry ***
Cover of
Cover via Amazon

Darcys & the Bingleys: Pride and Prejudice Continues (Marsha Altman) One of the good Austenalia books. I really liked the way the Darcy and Bingley families evolve in this author’s imaginations, and she did a good job of getting into Austen’s voice. ****

Dragon’sTime (Anne McCaffrey) Eh. If you like the Pern stories, this is okay, but it’s just more of the same. **
Dreaming of Mr. Darcy (Victoria Connelly) A lot of fun as a modern woman buys a place in Bath and meets a man that makes her Austen fantasies come true. Not the best, but a good one. ***
Fable: Blood Ties (Peter David) Ew. I forced my way through this, but it made me feel slimy. Unlikeable characters with too much cardboard in the mix. *
Cover of
Cover via Amazon

 

His Majesty’s Dragon [Temeraire] (NaomiNovik)  Really interesting take on the Napoleonic Wars if dragons had been in the mix. Feels almost more historical than fantastical. ****
Hood [King Raven Trilogy Book 1](Stephen R. Lawhead) Robin Hood in Wales? It works. Read it. ****
Inheritance (Christopher Paolini) More of the same. Too many derivative names, overly flowery language, characters based on a teenaged boy’s idea of women rather than on how real women would act, but a compelling story nevertheless.  ***
 
Cover of
Cover of The Iron Daughter (Harlequin Teen)

The Iron Fey Series [The Iron King, Winter's Passage, The Iron Daughter, The Iron Queen, Summer's Crossing, The Iron Knight] (Julie Kagawa) If you love fantasy, particularly YA fantasy, you will love this. It has elements of the classical mixed with elements of the new and fresh. I only hope that Kagawa gets around to giving the Trickster his own book (and his own true love). *****

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Michael Pollan) A well written and insightful commentary on the business of food. Pollan deserves his reputation. ****
Oryx and Crake: A Novel (Margaret Atwood) Margaret Atwood is a great writer and thinker, and this is yet another example of her genius. A fable with elements of today that like in her other books are just too real to be comfortable, you won’t be able to put it down. *****
Unbroken: A World War II Story ofSurvival, Resiliance, and Redemption (Laura Hillenbrand) This got a lot of buzz, and deservedly so. Hillenbrand does not shrink from the unpleasantness and ugliness of her subject as well as the redemption mentioned in the title. ****
Utterly Charming (Kristine Grayson) This is not a serious read, but it is enjoyable light romance of the ‘Prince who ain’t all that’ variety. ***
 
Winter’s Bone: A Novel (Daniel Woodrell) This is high literature. Compelling and atmospheric and with characters that make your heart ache. *****
World War Z (Max Brooks) If you like zombie stories, you’ll love this. How does a global fight against zombies succeed? Very carefully. Compelling. ****
WWW Trilogy [Wake, Watch, Wonder] (Robert J. Sawyer) This is amazing and underrated. What if the world wide web woke up, and became sentient?  What if its primary motivation in life was curiosity and friendship? Makes me think of Heinlein and Spider Robinson. Loved it. *****There are a few I returned without noting, and I’m not including my brick and mortar finds here, but this should give you a taste. 

 

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