Gearing up

Aaaaaannnnnnd we are back. Again.

When I finally got over having pneumonia all the time, I thought, great, now I’ll be able to get stuff done and also start writing. But it didn’t quite turn out that way, thanks to a number of things, one of which is the constant shuffling at the NOC. They’d like it very much if we moved over to Jax2, which is the shiny new area they’ve built out. I’m trying to stop saying “the only problem with that is…” because it sounds rather like I’m valuing problems more than solutions. So, the solution to that would be to physically move all the servers and assorted gear from Jax1 to Jax2. Our racks, the ones we own, cannot go there – we’d be using their racks (for free) and we’d still have a cage to ourselves, just as we do now. We’d remove our racks from the NOC entirely – they would join the ones already in my shed here at the ranch, and would be destined for craigslist, I imagine. The logistics need to be worked out on that.

Circling back to the main point: there are going to be some changes around here. I spent much of 2018 dealing with about a billion things that slipped into Todo Lake while I was busy being sick. That impacted other things, like the bees and the gardens: neither thrived. I also got virtually no writing done.

After this all bled into 2019, I made a decision: either I was going to write – which I’ve wanted to do since I was quite young – or I was not. And if I was not, I was going to stop talking about it and thinking about it, and just go on with the rest of my life. It is not an easy conversation to have with yourself, believe me. But I decided that yes, writing was something I really, really wanted to do: both prose and poetry, the latter of which sustained me through high school boredom.

How do we prioritize writing over everything else I have going on (except the business; that of course has to stay, as it’s what pays the bills)?

By brain dumping absolutely everything that needs to be done in all the non-writing areas of my life, no matter how large or small they are, no matter how much or little time each task will take. And then, going over the lists and knocking out items from Todo Lake. What do those dumps look like? Like this:

This is two pages, just for the biz, of two columns each. I have lists for other areas: bees, chickens, gardens, home. The idea is to run through the lists and start knocking things out: if I run across something that will take five or ten minutes, and I’m in a position to do that something, the goal is to go ahead and do it at the moment, instead of saying “I’ll do it at x time” or allowing that five or so second of decision making pass and allow the chore, whatever it is, to be punted along down the road.

Obviously, not everything will take just a few minutes to do. But if there is something I estimate will take 15 minutes or more, or is a multi-day item (rolling out some administrative scripts to all servers, for instance, would probably be a multi day activity), doing X numbers of servers each day until they are all completed.

I’ve given myself the month of February to cross off as much of this as I can. On March 1, the writing takes priority, regardless of how many items are still floating in Todo Lake. Those will then get done by and by.

There are some things, though, I’ve decided to start early.  One is that I deactivated my primary facebook account over two years ago, and have just a personal facebook profile that now manages my author facebook page (since publishers want you to have a “platform”, ugh) and the biz page. I’ve also kicked myself off my personal twitter account this week: no going on twitter for any reason, including to look at links other people send me.

Two is to post on this here blog every day. I’ve had streaks before, but this particular exercise is to do it regardless of how I feel, what else is going on, if I “don’t have time” (there is usually some kind of block of a few minutes or longer to put something up), or if I don’t have anything in particular to say. Even if I just type in the date and the time, that will be enough. The goal: to simply make sure I can commit to it. After all, writing novels takes that kind of commitment.

Three: read 100 pages of a book every day. Any book, any subject. The goal: to keep up my reading habits. Not terribly difficult, since i love to read. The danger of this is settling in to read and then not stopping to do the other things I want to get done.

Four: meditate for ten minutes a day. The goal: mindfulness and stress relief. The secondary goal for this is to bump that to twice a day. I plan to start small, for five minutes a day to begin, because I know it will take practice to get my brain to stop yammering away when it should be still.

I hope all of you are pursuing whatever it is you want badly to do. Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

Where Angels Fear – book review

Thanks to NetGalley and bookouture for the advance ebook copy for review.

According to the tag, this is book five in a series featuring “Detectives Kane and Alton”. I’ve not read the previous four, but I’ll have a comment on this in a bit.

There’s a serial killer on the loose, picking off targets on a stretch of road with little to no cellphone coverage, and not enough traffic for witnesses to be a factor. As the book opens, the prologue has two young women stopping to see if someone whose car has its flashers on needs an assist, as a blizzard is moving in. But the “stranded” motorist isn’t as stranded as they appear, and attacks the girls. The driver gets a whack with an axe, and the other girl flees into the snow, spending the night out in the freezing cold.When the morning comes, she finds that her friend the driver has vanished.

The book then pops over to Sheriff Jenna Alton suffering from a cold or virus, and Deputy Kane in the same house, caring for her. It is not clear what their relationship is just from that series of scenes; I suppose this is something explained in the books previous to this. This is the point where the first couple of problems I have come in.

First, the tagline calls Kane and Alton “detectives” but their titles are Deputy and Sheriff, respectively. This may seem like a minor point, but I selected this based on them actually being detectives, not people with other titles who happen to investigate crimes detectives would ordinarily look into.these things. The second (again, probably only an issue to me), Alton is higher ranking than Kane, so why is her name not first in the tagline?

On we go into the story, where the next problem crops up: the info dump. Kane is injured and walks with a cane, and w get about a half page of telling us what happened to him. A little further in, we have had about a dozen people introduced since the prologue. Too many!

The story moves on in a rather straightforward and at times tedious manner. There’s a tidbit that pops up that also strains credulity: the Sheriff was apparently an agent who helped bring down a cartel, along with Kane, and was basically sent into witsec. An undercover agent given a job of being a Sheriff, a high-profile job, regardless of how small the area is?

As the story goes along, the bad guy makes an appearance, doing fairly nasty but also a little too work-requiring: does the guy not have an actual job?

I had a lot of trouble getting through this. The characters, while interesting, were not terrible deep. There was also an absolutely annoying habit the author had during the dialogue sections: the characters were always doing something and talking. Nobody ever just said “said” or “replied” or “asked”. They smiled or shrugged or raised an eyebrow or glanced or gaped or rubbed their chin or grimaced or stood or waved their hand or did (something) in consternation, like frowned or knitted their brows, or lifted their chin as an example. In one paragraph, the main character shook her head, sighed, shrugged, and glanced. They can just say something to say it without an associated action. It really took me out of the reading.

We then have another abduction (actually two) and get scenes of what the bad guy is doing to the people he’s taken, and why he’s taking them.Things pick up from here as the chase is on, but then one of the deputies does something that would be very silly, given that we now know the guy he’s talking to has to be a suspect in the kidnappings and murders. The fight scene between the deputy (Rawley) and the bad guy is, I think, the best part of the book.

Overall, the plot is okay, and holds itself together well enough, and the readability is fine, too, if you can get past all the things people do while they’re talking, instead of just talking, and the number of characters dumped in at once at the beginning. However, this did not keep me interested enough to go back and read the previous entries in this series.

Two stars out of five.

A Matter of Will – book review

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas&Mercer for the electronic advance copy. This book is slated for release this summer.

Before I go in, a side note: this is an uncorrected proof. I’m not sure if whoever edits these titles reads the feedback, but please, for the love of anything you hold holy, correct the instances of “shelf company” to “shell company”. I’ve never read anything else by this author, so have no comparisons to earlier works of his.

Will Matthews is a not-so-successful broker (or “wealth manager”) at a finance company – so unsuccessful that he gets dumped on by his boss on an almost daily basis and worries he will be fired at any moment. Enter Sam and Eve, who he meets at a hockey game. Before he knows what has hit him, Sam is sweeping Will off his feet, taking him to lavish dinners, tuxedo-required parties, and parking tens of millions of dollars with him for investing. He basically buys Will a ten million dollar apartment, and makes him sign off as a director of or participant in various shell companies.

Meanwhile, Gwen is a young attorney added to the team defending a Hollywood star, who has allegedly killed his wife. Will and Gwen meet up via a dating app, have a dinner, and another date. They wind up as a couple – it’s true love for both of them.

There’s no real way to go through the rest without spoilers, so I’ll leave it at: everything is not as it seems, and soon after that, Will and Gwen have to start thinking about their very survival, both professionally and personally.

The good: it’s easy enough to read. The author doesn’t wander off into incomprehensible jargon associated with his own profession (law) when some courtroom/lawyer scenes come up. Will is given a fairly good backstory. There’s some infodumping, given as dialogue instead of a wall of text.

The bad: I’m sorry to say I found it to be a weird mashup of The Firm and Wall Street and When Harry Met Sally. Will is so naive as to be implausible, and apparently it doesn’t sound any alarms to him that some random guy he meets wants to invest a fortune with him. .Even worse, the first 50% of the book is very dull throughout this. Not once does Will question anything, and the first half is just Will and Gwen going about their respective businesses.. It looks like the author couldn’t decide on what kind of book it should be, so included everything, and that swamped the entire book. Also: using the actual John Yoo in this? Not good.

The remainder of the book involves some murders, a bit of cat and mouse, and asks the reader to believe that the kingpin of a gigantic criminal organization would tell even the new nominal leader of it about plans, the evidence being held over their head, or allow that person to remain alive, knowing that person is not all in and is hesitant about roping in another young broker, among other things. We then get swept over once more to the legal bit playing out on Gwen’s side, which does nothing for the story. She, too, winds up appearing to be a tad too naive, and the ending is simply far too convenient, wrapping up all the details.

If this book were by an as yet unpublished author, and they submitted it as it is, that author would remain unpublished. It would be fine as a plane or beach read, but I would not recommend it.

Feeding

Generally, the meaties are well-behaved as they run to the feeder each morning.

From time to time, there will be a little squawking at one another if they can’t quite figure out there’s an entire area available and choose to try to muscle in on an existing arc of the circle there.

Sometimes, their laziness is so pronounced, they may choose to sit and just eat what the others are knocking out of the trough, like the meatie at seven o’clock here:

In the end, though, they all get to eat, and boy, do they eat.

The layers seem to be settling into a routine of an afternoon nap. For three days straight when I’ve headed out in the afternoon to check them, they’re all under the front of the coop near the ramp.

I can’t fault them for that – i deem naps a Very Good Thing.

At some point this coming week, I will get some hay into the nesting boxes at the back of the coop so they can start getting used to being in them. I’d prefer not to have to chase eggs everywhere when they begin to lay.

For both sets of birds, starting tomorrow, they will diverge from their feed type. The meaties will get a feed specifically for meat birds, and the layers one specifically for them, although I expect, now that they are out and foraging that they will eat less feed.

Another no-rain day here at the ranch. I guess Mother Nature is giving it some time to try to shrink some of the puddles that are still around so she can refill them.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Review: Desolation Mountain

Cork O’Connor and his family are back in Desolation Mountain, the newest release in the series by William Kent Kreuger. A plane carrying a senator and her family goes down in Tamarack County. Cork and son Stephen – who has had the same, recurring vision about an eagle being shot out of the sky by a young boy and an egg falling from it – end up at the crash scene. Various locals, including two tribe members who were the first to report seeing the plane go down, and Sheriff Marsha Dross and her people are at scene, but told to either go home (in the case of the locals) or back to their station (in the case of the local law enforcement). The official government entities, spooky quasi-government entities, and a private investigator known to Cork but with a hidden agenda are all present. Then the locals who were at the scene start vanishing and Cork realizes there’s more afoot than meets the eye. He, Stephen, his son-in-law Daniel, and some other men start their own investigation, racing to find the truth and the abducted locals.

I’ve noticed of late that a number of the books I’ve read seem to be written with an eye toward the big screen. I don’t know if it’s just me or that really is the case, but this seemed to be yet another one, in my eyes. A convoluted story, a bunch of characters, spooky military people: it could easily be adapted for the screen.

At stake in the book is the reopening of an iron mine in the area, with half the locals against it for the obvious environmental reasons, and the other half in favor for the obvious economic reasons. It’s clear that Very Big Interests want it opened, and that’s probably why the plane was shot down.

But none of it makes sense – except Stephen’s recurring vision, which he relates to Henry, the Ojibwe midi who is his mentor. I’m going to put the next part in spoilers.

 

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS…

 

The vision opened the book, and as soon as the plane went down, I connected the dots. It wasn’t particularly difficult to understand the egg was the flight recorder and the boy an actual boy who witnessed it. It was, as usual, nice to watch Cork & Co. run around, putting everything together, getting into run-ins with the military people, etc., but it wasn’t as an immersive experience as previous books have been.

It also strains credulity to think the media, both domestic and foreign, whouldn’t have been all over this event. But in the book, you’d think they barely existed: they weren’t crawling all over the mountains, they weren’t camped out in a situation room set up by the local SO or FBI or NTSB. Nothing. In addition, the cheesy, mean, mission-centered military guy and his equally rigid and seemingly psychopathic bitch of a second in command were just over the top.

And that bitch brings up another issue I’ve also been noticing more lately: in books like this, or Steve Hamilton’s Dead Man Running, the women are not characters in the same sense that Cork (in this instance) is: they exist to be ball-breaking parodies of their tough guy male counterparts, or victims of crimes, or to hang around and do things like cook meals or take care of people, or as a means to give information so the author doesn’t have to info dump. This book has them all. It doesn’t bother me in the sense of “I’ll never read another book by this author” way, but it does bug me. And there was no mention at all (not that I recall) of Cork’s other daughter. Not even a call after seeing the news?

I’ve been wondering when Kreuger was going to kill off Henry, and I suppose the ending of this book means that will be coming sooner rather than later. That’s too bad, as he’s become such an essential part of these stories that I’m not certain they can be as good as they are without him in them as a grounding point.

 

END OF SPOILERS…

Overall, if you’ve read to #16, you’ll read this on at #17 – it’s almost an inevitability if you’re anything like me. Perhaps you’ll like it more than I did, and I hope you do.

Moderately recommended.

Pasture day!

The meaties went out on pasture after their second week in the brooder, for a couple of reasons. First, they are eating machines, and often crowded out the layers for awhile at each refresh time. Second, by that time, they were already twice the size of the layers, who are not bred to pack on so  much weight in a short period of time. Third (and these items are in no particular order), to be frank about it, their poop really, really stinks. I suppose this is a byproduct of an animal specifically bred to gorge itself. But they are gaining size nicely, and will be ready for processing the first week of October, if we stay on track.

In any case, I moved the layers out to the chickshaw last week, and kept them locked up in the coop for a few days so they would understand this was now their home. Monday, I set up the poultry fence – kind of misnamed, really, as it’s designed to keep predators out, not chickens in, given that they can fly and sometimes even remember this fact – closing in their chickshaw and an area around it, and let them out on the grass.

One of the black ones that has been my pal since they were in the brooder was, of course, the first one to take those first steps down the ramp and into the great outdoors. Once they all got out, they acted just like chickens do: they roamed around  (not far from the chickshaw, though) ate some grass and whatever else was there, tried to do a little dirt bathing without a lot of success.

We’ve simply had too much rain for that, so I’m going to get them a tub for inside the chickshaw, with sand (and DE mixed in) so they’ll have somewhere for a dirt bath.

I popped out there about half a dozen times today, to make sure they were all still alive and inside the fenced off area. At one point today, I let the dogs come out, too. While Mickey, my big, goofy border collie didn’t really care all that much about them, Einstein, my other dog, did. He’s a terrier mix, and assumed the hunter pose, one leg raised, body taut, when he realized those things smaller than him were something he wanted. Although I warned him away, he stuck his nose on the energized fence and got a quick lesson that these birds were not for him.

In a few months, these girls should start laying. For now, they need to get used to being out in the day and in the coop at night, safe from the critters that roam in the darkness.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Review: Dead Man Running

I’m going to be in the minority here, but I really did not enjoy this book.

It is a bit of a departure for Alex McKnight, heading out of Paradise, MN because a serial killer wants to talk to him – a serial killer unknown to him either by sight or name. Martin Livermore promises to lead the FBI and local authorities to proof of his crimes, but only if Alex McKnight is there. Once there, it’s clear that while Alex does not know Livermore, Livermore knows plenty about him, from his minor league baseball days to his work as a Detroit cop and the incident that caused him to leave the force and return to Paradise.

OK, that’s fine – sometimes you have to go along with the premise to get into the story. Sometimes it pays off. This time, however, it did not.

Probably spoilers ahead, so….

HERE BE SPOILERS

That investigators get in deep with criminals of all sorts is not a newsflash. But this one simply became more and more unbelievable as the book went along. There are also some of the usual cliches/tropes, which we’ll get into.

Livermore leads various law enforcement personnel (and Alex) into the desert in Arizona, and subsequently through what amounts to a small canyon. Alex has his doubts about the whole thing, but of course, the FBI guys say they have to go through with it, even if they are still suspicious that Alex knows something about Livermore when he says he doesn’t.

The team gets shredded by armaments Livermore has embedded into the wall of the small passageway/canyon thing. But not Alex. Just before everything fires, he’s taken to the ground by one of the FBI agents because Livermore stops, turns around, and looks at him. Said look apparently is enough for the suspicious FBI agent, who effectively saves his life, taking him out of the line of fire, while getting killed himself.

We then go on to hit all the usual tropes: Alex goes to the scenes of the various killings, picks up on and interprets the supersmart killer’s codes or symbols, supersmart killer playing not just the long game, but the looooong game, having picked out Alex as his ultimate target years ago because of something that happened decades ago, bringing back Alex’s ex-wife into the picture to act as bait, etc.

Speaking of the ex-wife, the whole book is devoid of women except as victims in the main story. They are either already dead, killed while the supersmart killer plants clues for Alex to follow so Alex ends up either tripping a napalm(!) trap that kills one woman or sleeping in a room below where supersmart killer has merrily drilled through the floor above Alex’s hotel room so he gets covered in the woman’s blood as supersmart killer tortures and kills her, or a current victim (the ex-wife).

From the outset, it was difficult to put aside disbelief. As each woman dies, or after Alex stumbles across another clue, it got harder and harder.

Alex is also not himself in this book, compared to all the previous ones. In this one, he’s laser -focused on tracking down the killer. That’s fine, and would be completely believable if he wasn’t such a bumbler without a lick of sense at times, which is how he is in all the previous books. He does get shot at and injured a couple of times here, so at least that is somewhat in tune with the previous books, but that isn’t enough. Here, Alex is dour, and apparently able to grasp the psyche of a serial killer he’s never met and knows nothing about, unlike the FBI, who can’t seem to figure things out if he isn’t there.

The end: let’s talk about that. I know people get obsessed by things or people. But getting obsessed with a person you met, once, decades ago, barely spoke to? That’s the connection between Livermore and Alex: he’s pissed off because Alex married Jeannie, claiming Alex “stole” her because she wasn’t immediately enamored by Livermore when he spoke a few words to her when they were thirteen and she was sitting on the dock at her grandparent’s house. That’s is – that’s the “twist”, such as it is.

Livermore abducts Jeannie, ties her up n an elaborate fashion. Alex shows up, and instead of taking appropriate precautions, knowing what he’s dealing with, just walks right into the Livermore house. He gets knocked out and then handcuffed to a sink via the plumbing under it. Livermore, of course, plans all sorts of tortuous things for Jeannine when she doesn’t act the way he wants. Conveniently, he leaves Alex handcuffed to the sink and takes her down to the basement, where he stores the bodies and bones of his victims.

Naturally, Alex manages to get loose, stumbles down to the basement, and thanks to help from Jeannie, who manages, somehow, to stab Livermore in the back just as he’s about to kill Alex, strangles Livermore with the handcuff chain as he turns to Jeannine, the knife sticking out of his back.

END SPOILERS

And that’s it. That’s the end. Alex goes back to Paradise, fields a call or two from Jeannie. I suppose this means she’ll be popping up in another book. If she does, her fate will probably not be a good one.

This book had none of the humor of the previous books in this series. It started dark and got darker, and the usual characters only make an appearance in the beginning and at the end. We’re left with a completely different Alex hauling himself around chasing a serial killer who is, of course, smarter than anyone else, ever, and leaves no forensics except those he intends to leave.

Not recommended, unless you always read every book in a series.

Calling the season

It’s official: I’m calling it a season in the gardens.

For the fourth year in a row.

This does not make me happy. On the other hand, in previous years I was going through yet another bout of pneumonia. This year, it was just a sinus infection – but recovering from it took a month and a half. That month and a half is arguably the most important time for the gardens, as it took over May-June. If you get behind right there at the beginning of the real season, it’s likely you will never catch up, and indeed I did not. The plants I’d managed to transplant suffered, the plants I had yet to set out remained in their flats far too long, and the weeds absolutely strangled everything.

So as I looked at the gardens as I mowed today, despite that little voice telling me that yes, I could in fact get that next round of tomatoes planted and have them bear fruit as the calendar season closed out, I realized it simply was not going to happen.

Instead, what I’m going to do is just put the rest of the plants out of their misery and pull them for the compost heap (which, I might add, has a very thick layer of pine shavings and chicken poop on it now). And then: pull the weeds. Go to battle once more with the wisteria, which is well on its way to taking over the entirety of the east to northeastern corner of the front gardens. Take the metal sides off the rows and just have them as regular raised beds. Scoop all the rubber mulch out of the walkways in the gardens (and figure out what the hell to do with it all afterward). Lay down the commercial weedbarrier in the walkways, the same weedbarrier that covers the frames as they are right now, which is effective, although inevitably there will be weeds wherever there are holes in it, like where holes have been cut to do plantings or where the landscape staples puncture it. Get the cover crop seed in place so it can establish before we go into “winter” (I have half a row already germinated and really thick; the buckwheat came up first and has delightful little flowers on its tops.) Check all the grow light fixtures and toss the dead ones, order new ones.

There is more, of course. There is always more. There are still chickens to take care of (and one set to butcher around the first week of October) and bees to maintain. But when the list looks a bit overwhelming, I just take a deep breath and think: one step, then another. It can be done.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Review: Bad Blood

I’ve been a user of GoodReads in a half-assed kind of way of the last several years. I read – a LOT – and sometimes it just felt like a bother to put the books in so they could be rated.

That was before Amazon bought the company.

Now that they have a handle tool to connect to your Amazon account to pull in all the books you have purchased, unless you get a book via another means, rating something you’ve read via a purchase or Kindle Unlimited is much, much easier.

Not so easy was getting my Amazon account linked with the primary GR profile I had set up. Because over the years I would forget that I had set one up, I’d create another. In the end, I wound up with three GR profiles, and none of them would connect to my Amazon account.

But thanks to the efforts of Sofia C. in their support department, I was able to get my accounts merged AND get Amazon linked to the one profile I now had. Sweet!

Of course, this comes with another round of rating things, and I realized when looking at the list of purchases (or Kindle Unlimited reads), that it was going to take awhile to do the ratings, for two reasons: one, because there are just so many of them. Two, because the details of the ones I’ve read relatively long ago have faded a bit from the brain.

I’d like to do reviews, but that takes being organized enough to put my thoughts down in a coherent way that the review would be worthwhile, and there would be quite a number of them to write. I may do it, maybe not, but I figured I would go ahead and a drop a review here of Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (not an affiliate link) by  John Carreyrou.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am a sucker for a well-written business book, especially if the book is about an implosion at a company. For instance, I have read many books about the collapse of Enron, and books about the failures of Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns during the housing bubble crash, and about the failure of AIG, something thought impossible.

In Bad Blood, Carreyrou, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal takes a look at Theranos, the management team of which promised to be revolutionizing the way blood tests were drawn and processed, via their proprietary system of sliding pipettes of miniscule amounts of blood – gathered from a fingertip lancet – which were then put in a cartridge and then slid into a box for processing by the machinery in that box.

Carreyrou does a terrific job of using firsthand accounts from people inside and out (mainly out) of Theranos and describes the rather toxic environment it must have been to work there: paranoia, suspicions, blatant lies from management, and probably a dash of psycopathy thrown in. Remember: these devices were supposed to work to give people information about their health. As the book makes abundantly clear, and as people who had been at Theranos make clear, the boxes didn’t work, and never had worked to do all the tests the founder and CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, told everyone who would listen that they would. Toward the end of the book, he switches over to first person, describing how he put the pieces of the story together for his article.

It is a bit difficult at times to keep up with all the people introduced in the book, but don’t let that deter you if you’re interested in reading accounts of businesses torpedoing themselves because of their vaporware.

Overall, I would give it five out of five stars.

If you’re not interested in business-related books, I hope you are reading something.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Reflections on gardening, cooking, and life