Sunday, April 06, 2014

Latest review at Black Gate

My latest review is up at Black Gate. This month, I'm reviewing E. Catherine Tobler's Gold and Glass. Here's a sample:

The Egypt of Gold and Glass has a mystic resonance, especially as we see it from Eleanor’s perspective, to whom Egypt is more home than the Ireland where she was born. The power of Egypt’s ancient history and mythology provide a strong foundation on which the author builds her own mythos, of gods and magic lingering in a world of airships and mechanical horses. One in which Eleanor’s own connections, to the Lady, and to the ancient Egyptian gods, are sure to play a pivotal role.
I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Android Wear

Pretty, isn't it?
A while back, I talked a bit about what I wanted in a smartwatch. I was looking at a number of them, including the Pebble, the Sony Smartwatch 2, and the Samsung Gear. But after the dust had settled and I'd read all the reviews, none of them really worked for me.

Well, it's a new year, and smartwatches have another chance to win me over.  There's a new iteration from Samsung, with not one but three successors to the Samsung Gear.  There's the Pebble Steel. And I'm certain Sony will have a new iteration of its smartwatch. But what I'm really excited about are the Android Wear devices.  The picture above is the Moto 360, which is beautiful.  I currently have, and really like, the Moto X, and I'd be interested in seeing whether they can manage the same sort of innovation in a smartwatch.  We do know that it accepts voice commands, via Moto X, and that it uses Google Now type cards to push relevant information.  But these are more features of Android Wear rather than of the Moto X in particular.



The video above does a fairly good job of advertising Android Wear, but I should add a caveat. These are all things that Android Wear could do, with the right apps. It's not at all clear that Android Wear will do all those things, or that anyone's made any of those apps.

Aside from the Moto 360, LG has also announced an Android Wear watch, which they're calling the G Watch. HTC and Samsung are also expected to announce Android Wear watches.

So will this tempt me into getting a smartwatch this year? There are a few criteria that have to be met before I'm willing to buy a smartwatch:

  • Price. I'd prefer not to spend more than $200, and I definitely don't see myself spending more than $300 on a watch.
  • Size. It needs to be comfortable to wear.  Already, the Moto 360 looks rather large. Maybe I can accept that size with a round form factor, but I'd really like to see something smaller.
  • Battery life. This is a big one. The Samsung Gear claims 24 hours of battery life, and that's not good enough, I'm afraid. 24 hours usually means that with heavy use, there's a good chance that the battery will run out before I go to bed, and while I can tolerate that in a phone, that's unacceptable in a watch. I'm looking for at least 48 hours claimed battery life, which I'll accept as lasting all the way through a day. And, of course, longer is better.
  • Interface. Does Android Wear actually work like it's supposed to? I'll have to wait for some reviews to know how well it actually does.
Fortunately, there are a number of Android Wear smartwatches on the horizon, so there's a good chance that if the one that looks good now disappoints, one of the others will satisfy me.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Black Gate Review online

I've now posted my latest review at Black Gate. This month, I'm reviewing Wil Radcliffe's The Tragic Empire, the second book in his Noggle Stones series. I reviewed his first book a little over a year ago.  Here's a taste:
The Tragic Empire takes place a few months after the events of the first book. Martin Manchester is settling in as the king of Willow Prairie, establishing alliances with the nearby realms of dwarves, ogres, and other folk. The goblin Bugbear serves as Manchester’s diplomat while pursuing his own investigations, with a particular interest in discovering what force was behind the Shadow Smith, the villainous mastermind of The Goblin’s Apprentice. To that end, he’s allowed himself to be thrown into an Áes Dána prison, in hopes of finding access to the their archives, which contain works dating back to the Coranieid Empire. After a tricky escape and some fancy diplomacy, it seems that Bugbear may get what he wants, until the US Army attacks the Áes Dána.
The author assures me that his next book will have more distinctive villains, one of my niggles with this last one. Read the whole review for more.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Short stories

I've come to the conclusion that I don't really like short stories all that much.  Yes, that surprised me too, considering that I've written, and published, a bunch of them, in such places as Daily Science Fiction, Nature Futures, and Black Gate. But the thing I realized is that I don't read short stories for pleasure.  I generally only buy anthologies or fiction magazines if I'm either trying to sell them a story or I want to support them, and then I'll read a few stories, but rarely do I get all the way through.  I don't follow short story authors, or buy their collected stories.  I want to like short stories more, but I always find myself drifting toward longer works, novels or even novel series.  I guess that most short stories just aren't long enough for me to really get attached to the characters, and I prefer stories where I can get to know the characters, where there's room for them to breathe and develop, and I don't feel like I really get that from short stories, with the rare exception of a series of stories about the same set of characters (which I find I do enjoy).

So what does that mean?  Despite my modest success selling short stories, I'm probably never going to be a really successful short story author if I don't actually like short stories. And, in fact, the stories I've had the most success selling are either short, funny stories--more like blog posts or Cracked.com articles than short stories, in fact--or really long stories, novelettes or novellas or even serial short novels. And I think perhaps I should focus on my strengths.  I'm not going to say that I'll never write and try to sell a short story again--when story ideas come, I need to write the form that fits them.  But most of my ideas, and most of what I want to write, are novels.  It's the fiction I love to read, and it's the fiction I should be writing.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Black Gate Review

My most recent review for Black Gate, this time of E. Nathan Sisk's Sorcerer Rising, is now online.  A small taste:

Sorcerer Rising falls firmly into the fantasy noir tradition, most akin to the Harry Dresden books. It has the cynical first person narrator, down-on-his-luck and regarded with suspicion by his peers, trying to make his way in the world while retaining a modicum of self-respect (and usually failing). However, Virgil is not a Harry Dresden knock-off. For one, while Harry’s a powerhouse, even when he’s overmatched, with a host of skills and a ton of power, Virgil’s something of a magical weakling. The Brand has taken away his knowledge and the incident which led to it has taken away most of his power. He gets by on a host of tricks, including a magical shotgun named Abigail. The lack of knowledge and power forces Virgil to rely more on his wits and on his familiar, Algernon, a separate part of his own mind with a knack for processing information unhindered by the filter of a superego.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Best remote control ever?


Recently I purchased a Logitech Harmony Smart Control, and I have to admit, now that I've got it set up, that it is probably the best universal remote I've ever used.  It consists of a remote and a hub.  The remote uses RF rather than infrared signals, so it doesn't require line of sight.  The hub produces both Bluetooth and infrared signals, to control my television, my soundbar, and my PS3.

What's really useful is the ability to define activities.  An activity is a macro for things such as listening to music and watching movies. By pressing a single button, you turn all the relevant devices on, and set them to the right settings.  For example, if I hit the movies button, it will turn on the PS3, the soundbar, and the television, and switch the soundbar and the television to receive input from the PS3.  The volume controls will control the soundbar, the play, fast-forward/rewind, and pause and stop buttons will control the PS3.  And all this is set up automatically, via a pretty simple online wizard at myharmony.com.  You can do more complex controls, including assigning individual buttons on the remote (which I had to do to manage the shape buttons for the PS3 remote), or building more complex macros to run, but the automatic set-up runs pretty well.  One thing that I find very nice is that while it takes some significant steps to turn off the PS3 (starting with pressing and holding the PS button, going to the turn off system option, and then confirming turning it off), the hub includes a macro which does all that.  So I can just push the Off button and not worry about turning my computer off.

There are a couple of caveats.  Set up is not as straight-forward as I made it sound just a moment ago.  The online wizard works pretty well, but the instructions that come in the box with it don't make it at all obvious what you have to do to get to that point--they make it sound like you plug the hub in, download the app to your phone, and then you're at the wizard.  They leave out the part where you have to plug the hub into the USB port of your computer, so you can set it up to use your WiFi, and then you can start the wizard.  That's a very important piece of information that's not on the Getting started documentation at all, as far as I can tell.

Second, if you want to do anything more complex than just the standard wizard, it's a bit of work.  Like I said, you can control individual buttons in the remote, or even macros, but macros are a whole other level of effort that I still haven't tried yet.

It also doesn't always behave as expected. By default the Smart Control turns off any equipment you're not using when you switch activities--but there are times I want to pause a show I'm watching, switch to the computer I have attached to my television, and then come back to the show without having to restart the PS3 and find my last point.  You can turn that off under the devices menu, but it took me several times before it finally started working, and I'm still not sure why.

Finally, if your television or soundbar automatically turns itself off when not in use, then there's no way for the Harmony remote to know that fact, and it may think it's turning the device on when in fact it's turning it off, because the remote control is out of sync with the device.  It's probably a good idea to turn the power-saving mode off.

Overall, though, I really like the remote.  It's made things much simpler than juggling three remotes, which is easier for me and easier for my wife, who rarely uses the set-up and thus isn't as familiar with how it works, to figure out.  It also lets me control things with my smartphone, but I haven't found that as useful as the remote that comes with the Harmony Smart Control hub.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Boots

And I'm back to fashion blogging. Actually, it's been a month, so it may be a little surprising that I'm back to blogging at all.

In my ongoing efforts to acquire decent rain gear, I've moved on from coats and hats to boots.  I have waterproof hiking boots, but since they're hiking boots, they don't cover more than my ankles.  That's fine, most of the time, but in Boston, occasionally I have to trek through snow more than a few inches thick.  In addition, the hiking boots aren't that warm (they're designed for summer hiking), and they aren't a lot of protection to my lower pant legs.  So I decided that some tall, waterproof boots would be a great help in my goal of staying warm and dry in cold and wet weather.  After some shopping around, I decided on these.

They're the Muckboots Artic Sport Mid Outdoor Boot.  Mid, as opposed to High, means that they're 12 inches high instead of 15.  Arctic is the model designed for cold weather, specifically -40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  That sounds like it will work for Boston cold.

One annoyance is that they don't come in half sizes.  Instead, they're supposed to stretch to cover an extra half size.  So men are supposed to round up their size to the next whole number (8.5 to 9, for instance), which suggests that the 9 is actually designed as 8.5, and stretch to 9.

They arrived today, and they're even bigger and clunkier than they look.  Which is fine, since that's what I was after.  They feel a little large, but not too bad.  We'll see what I think once I've had a week to break them in.


Saturday, December 07, 2013

Batman as a Video Game

Recently I've been playing the Batman Arkham games.  I hadn't been much interested in them at first, since they seemed like fighting games, and I'm not a great fan of those.  But Humble Bundle was offering them as a deal, and I got them both (plus a bunch of other games), for $10.  They were definitely worth the price.


The Arkham games do involve a lot of fighting--Batman frequently solves problems with his fists.  But they're primarily action adventure games.  If you're not familiar with the genre, these are games where the goal is generally to figure out how to get from point A to point B, which is complicated by labyrinthine maps, including unjumpable ravines, insurmountable doors, and the occasional enemies.  So you have to figure out the way around each of these barriers, and get where you're going.

For this sort of genre, Batman is probably the best protagonist of the famous superheroes. There are some lesser known ones who could do as well, but if you're going to pick a famous superhero to base this sort of game around, you don't want Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, or even Flash. There are a lot of reasons why:

  1. Batman is human. When it comes right down to it, Batman is a vanilla human, with all the strengths and weaknesses of the species.  He can't fly, or break through walls.  Barriers that wouldn't challenge Superman require some effort on his part.  And enemies who would be insects to Superman are very dangerous.  Yeah, Batman can fight his way past a dozen goons armed with wrenches and knives, but his suit isn't bulletproof enough to make facing armed guards head on anything other than foolhardy.
  2. Batman has a lot of gadgets. This is why Batman is a superhero, rather than just a vigilante.  His superpower is his money. (That, and his mind and body are honed to implausible perfection.) But that affords him all sorts of useful tools he can use to overcome the aforementioned barriers. Since the days of Castle Wolfenstein (and, yes, I'm lumping first person shooters in this genre--they're fairly closely related), the key to games of this type is the upgrade. Whether that's picking up a better gun or some other type of technological gizmo (and since Batman doesn't use guns, it's the other type), every time you pick up a new toy, you get better. You can take on stronger and more dangerous enemies, and in this game, you can get past different type of barriers, whether they're mines, walls, locked doors, or water.  For Batman, the two most important gadgets are the ones you start with: the grappler and the cape.  Both of these work much like they did in the Batman movies. The grappler allows Batman to grab hold of higher ground and drag himself up, and his cape functions like a cross between a glider and a parachute.  He can't fly, but he can glide long distances, and use the grappler to grab hold of ledges and gargoyles.  You can navigate most of the city without ever touching the ground.
  3. Batman is sneaky. As I mentioned in the first point, goons with guns are dangerous to Batman.  So how do you fight them? By being sneaky. If Batman can sneak up on an enemy, he can take him out before he can raise an alarm.  He can do that by hiding either above or below, on the gargoyles (which seem like a rather common architectural theme in Gotham), below floor grates, or in the shadows scattered around the room.  From there he can take down armed enemies before they see him coming.
  4. Batman has a colorful cast of villains. Good villains are critical to a game of this type.  The main ones in this game were Ra's al-Ghul, Joker, and the Riddler.  Joker is Joker: crazy, and hatching bizarre plans, and he's the main one Batman has to deal with in these two games. Ra's is different.  His plans are more subtle, and it's harder to figure out what he's up to. The Riddler has the most interesting role, though.  He makes puzzles and scatters them throughout the city, which Batman needs to solve.  This actually serves an important purpose, adding a lot of little point A to point B puzzles to the game, and significantly increasing its length.  In the second game, I got all the way through the main plot without getting even halfway through the Riddler's puzzles (fortunately, you can continue to play after the main plot ends in an attempt to resolve those puzzles, and the other sidequests--some of the sidequests don't seem to trigger until after the main quest is done).
Take all that, and consider what this sort of game would be like with Superman as the main character.  A goon with a gun is no threat to Superman, as bullets just bounce off.  No door is much of a barrier, as he can simply break through it.  And since he can fly, if he can see the location of what he's trying to get to, he can get there.

So it's pretty obvious that Batman was a much better choice for this game, and I've found playing him to be quite enjoyable.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Regulations and sunset provisions

I haven't posted on something like this in a while, but I figure folks may be getting tired of the clothing posts, and it's something that's been on my mind lately, so I thought I'd share. The US Constitution was designed with the idea that laws should be hard to pass--that's why they have to go through both houses of the legislature and the president before they're enacted.  The system of regulations bypasses this safeguard.  Regulations aren't passed by Congress.  Instead Congress authorizes the executive branch to make the rules that it then enforces.  Now, aside from the question of whether that blurring of the Constitutional division is problematic in itself, there's the problem that all the incentive in these regulatory agencies is to create regulations, not limit them.

As Tyler Cowen puts it in his New York Times column:
Many regulations, when initially presented, can sound desirable. The problem is that, taken in their entirety, excess rules divert attention from pressing issues like the need for innovation and new jobs.

Michael Mandel, an economist at the Progressive Policy Institute, compares many regulations to “pebbles in a stream.” Individually, they may not have a big impact. But if there are too many pebbles, a river’s flow can be thwarted. Similarly, too many regulations can limit business activity. When the number of rules mounts, it can become hard for a business to know whether it is operating within the law’s confines. The issue is all the more problematic when federal, state and local constraints all apply.
...
What we need today is the selective pruning of bad regulations. Cost-benefit studies are a good idea, but they tend to be done when we have the worst possible information about the effects of regulations — namely, before the regulations are passed. Furthermore, cost-benefit studies may look only at some of the largest regulations, and not the general problem of regulatory accretion over time.

Better bureaucratic incentives are needed. Agencies are now motivated to generate regulation after regulation, because those are the formal assignments set before them. One possible step forward would be to require agencies to submit plans for retiring some fraction of their regulations over the next few years, and to reward these agencies for seeing this process through.
While that's a good idea, I'm wondering if something more drastic isn't needed. Perhaps what we need is a requirement that all regulations come with a sunset provision, so that they will expire in a number of years.  Such a sunset provision could be applied retroactively by law--all current regulations expire 15 years from their start or 5 years from the date of the sunset law's passage, whichever comes later.  That will give regulatory agencies time to propose and implement new regulations as the old ones expire, which will require them to review their rules and decide which ones they should keep.

In addition, any new regulations must have a sunset provision of no more than 2-5 years (personally, I prefer two, but it may be that five is more workable).  This is too short on its own, which is where we put Congress back in the loop.  Congress can extend the sunset provision on any regulation by ten years, but not by more than ten years, so that any existing regulation will have to come up for review every ten years.  I imagine this will happen in an omnibus bill of all the regulations proposed by the regulatory agencies.  Most of the regulations will pass, but there will always be some that will be removed, or changed, in the amendment process. That's as it should be. The advantage here will still go to the regulatory agencies, since it's harder to remove and change regulations than to put them all in the proposed bill in the first place, but at least Congress will have some say, which will make regulatory agencies more accountable to the elected representatives of the people.

What's needed is some way to prevent regulatory agencies from just reinstating the same regulations as soon as they expire, and thus bypassing Congress.  A provision that a new regulation substantially the same as an expired regulation cannot be instituted for at least five years might help with that.  It can be left to the courts to decide what qualifies as substantially the same. Or some measures could be spelled out in law: for example, the same rules, just with different, or even stricter, numbers, is not substantially different.

So, would this work? Would this help clear away some of the old, ossified regulation while making sure that Congress has more of a say in the rules that do apply?  Or would it be an unworkable mess? Is it politically feasible, or would the groups interested in preserving the current regulatory regime quickly overpower the movement for such a law?  Certainly, I don't think the regulatory agencies themselves are looking for more Congressional oversight, and I'm not sure that any president would agree with allowing Congress to take away much of his influence.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Coats

In addition to a hat, I also recently acquired a coat.  Or to put it more accurately, I bought the hat because I had bought the coat.

I had wanted a trench coat for a while, something that would do a better job of keeping the rain off than my current rain jacket, which does a decent job of keeping the rain off my upper body, but my pant legs usually get soaked, no matter how big the umbrella.

Kristin and I at Niagra Falls.  I'm wearing my old rain jacket here.
This became an issue when we were in England.  I had neglected to pack my rain jacket, and it was supposed to rain on the day we were planning to go to Stonehenge and Old Sarum. So the night before we stopped at a Debenhams department store about 15 minutes before it closed to find a rainproof jacket.  I wanted a long overcoat, but in the time we had we couldn't find one that was sufficiently rainproof, so I ended up getting this performance jacket instead:

Kristin and I at Stonehenge. I'm wearing my new jacket and my old hat.
Fortunately, it didn't actually rain that day, so I didn't have to put up with being wet from the thighs down.  I was still glad I had bought the jacket, as it came with a nice, thick fleece linking, so it was considerably warmer than the outerwear I had brought with me.

But when I got back, I decided to take another stab at the coat I wanted, and this time I found it on Amazon, as you can see on the left.  While in the picture, this trench coat looks like it goes down to the knees, even the short fit reaches my calves. I think I'll chalk that up to a benefit of being short, rather than a disadvantage.  It claims to be rain repellent rather than rainproof, but it seems to be good enough for the rain I've faced so far. It also comes with a zip-in liner, though it's not as warm as the one with the performance jacket.  However, the trench coat is cut large, as it's supposed to be worn over a suit, so I can wear the performance jacket's fleece liner under this coat and its liner, and the combination is quite warm.  I selected the color loden mainly because I didn't like the tan color, and while I did like the black, I figured I'd be wearing it a lot while walking in the dark on the Boston streets, and I'd prefer not to be invisible to cars.  Unfortunately, the color I selected cost extra, though I see that it's already $20 less than what I paid a little over a week ago.

The combination of the new coat and the hat was pretty effective at keeping me dry when it rained on Thursday, even without an umbrella (though I was wishing I had worn my waterproof hiking boots). So I've decided that it's a worthwhile purchase. It is, however, quite a production to put on, so I may not wear it so often when it's not raining, when the performance jacket will be sufficient.

Ready for the rain. Or perhaps to investigate crime on the mean streets of Boston, noir-style.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hats

I recently acquired a new hat.  Now I'm not usually one to accessorize, but I consider hats to be a necessity.  First, because winters in Boston are cold.  And secondly, because my optometrist tells me my eyes are overly sensitive to light, so I like to wear a hat with a large brim.  Now, of course I have a winter hat, but like most such hats, it has no brim.  And I have a wide brim hat that I wear on hikes in the summer, but it is designed with the exact opposite of warmth in mind.

So I recently acquired a new hat, with warmth in mind.  This one: the Tilley TTW2 Tec-Wool hat. It's decently warm, has a brim, and even has earwarmers.  Now, the earwarmers aren't quite as warm as I'd like, but they, and the hat, are wind proof, so they keep my ears from getting too cold.  And the hat looks pretty nice too.
Me in my new hat.
The earwarmers, which look a bit silly, but definitely help.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bath

After Salisbury, we went to Bath.  There are two main tourist attractions in Bath: the old Roman Bath, built on a natural hot spring, and the Thermae Bath Spa, that also draws from the hot spring.  There are other things as well, of course.  It's a nice, old town, with restaurants and museums.  I particularly liked this bridge:
Google Goggles tells me that this is the Pulteney Bridge.  It's lined with shops on either side. Google didn't recognize Kristin, but I think that's a good thing.
There are also some famous, and scenic, neighborhoods:

The Royal Crescent, in Bath. Also, the back of Kristin's head.
The Circus in Bath.  That's Kristin to the right.
But the baths--ancient and modern--were the main reason we went.

The ancient baths are the best preserved Roman baths in the world.  They were built on top of a natural hot spring, and thus have a very unusual Great Bath--a large pool of hot water:
The Great Bath, with tourists.  There was a roof in ancient times.  It's open to the air today.
They also have the more typical baths from the Roman era: the caldarium, which was the hottest bath and more of a sauna, though it did sometimes have a small, hot pool; the tepidarium, or warm room, which usually didn't have any water; and the frigidarium, or cold pool.

The Caldarium, or rather, the stacks of tiles that held up the floor.  Hot air ran through this area (called a hypocaust) to heat the room above.


The tepidarium, or warm room

The frigidarium, or cold pool.
We also went to the modern day Thermae Bath Spa.  We figured that this was as close as we could get to the experience of the Roman baths. There's a large warm pool, several saunas, and a warm, rooftop pool.  There was no cold pool, and to be honest, the warm pool was more characteristic of the special setup at Bath rather than the typical Roman path, and of course, everyone was wearing swimsuits, but it was the best we could do.  They didn't let us take pictures inside, so you'll have to check out the Thermae Bath Spa website to see what it looks like inside.

After Bath, Kristin and I went back to London for a day, and then on to home in Boston, where we're currently recovering from jetlag.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Salisbury

We spent Thursday through Monday in Brighton for the World Fantasy Convention. As most of that time was spent at the Con, going to panels and parties and the Dealer's room, and I neglected to take much in the way of pictures, I'll just skip to the next part of the trip: Salisbury.

One of the neatest things about our trip was the hotel we were staying in.  It was built in the 14th century, and we were staying in one of the suites in the older part of it:

The suite in Salisbury
Kristin in the hallway outside the suite

An old door, with gryphons.
The construction of the walls of the inn, underneath the white plaster.  This is, I believe, wattle and daub construction.
We went to Salisbury because we wanted to see Stonehenge and some of the other historical sites in the area. Stonehenge proved to be less exciting than I had hoped. Pretty much the only thing to do there was to walk in a circle around Stonehenge (without getting too close), and take pictures. And frankly, after you've taken a picture from every conceivable angle, there just isn't much left to do. There's a free audio guide, but the only plaques are numbers to use on your audio guide. Personally, I hate audio guides, and would rather have something to read, but as that wasn't an option, I kind of regret not taking the guide. In any case, here are some pictures from Stonehenge:

Stonehenge
Stonehenge again.
Yet more Stonehenge
The heelstone at Stonehenge.

We also went to Old Sarum. This is the original town that Salisbury grew out of, which dates back to an Iron Age hill fort, later used by the Romans and then the English kings. However, the secular authorities of the castle at Old Sarum got into a feud with the Bishop of the Cathedral in Old Sarum, and the bishop requested, and got, permission to build a new cathedral, well away from the town of Old Sarum. A new town grew up there, and as the English monarchy used Old Sarum less and less, New Sarum became Salisbury, while Old Sarum died. But, pictures:
Leading up to the location of the old castle
The view of the remains of the tower and castle from the wall
The remains of the Old Sarum cathedral.
The new Salisbury Cathedral can be seen in the distance.  It's the tallest church spire in England.
After looking at Old Sarum, we visited the Salisbury Cathedral, and saw what was built after the old Cathedral was left behind:
The view of the spire from the cathedral's courtyard.

Inside the cathedral.

Also inside the cathedral.
A model of Old Sarum, including the old cathedral, inside the Salisbury Cathedral.
Update: (11/8/2013): Added a picture of the Heelstone, which I couldn't find before.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

New Review up


My latest review is up at Black Gate. This month, it's The Nameless Dwarf: The Complete Chronicles by D.P. Prior.  To quote myself:
I have a soft spot for dwarves. I consider elves over-used Mary Sues and I could go another decade or two without reading another story about fairies, but give me short smiths with beards and axes who drink too much and I’ll keep reading. Which brings us to this month’s self-published book: The Nameless Dwarf: The Complete Chronicles. This wasn’t a book that the author submitted to me by my normal process: I’ll get back to those next month. This time, I actually bought the book from Amazon for actual money, because hey, it was about a dwarf.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

London Holiday

Kristin and I are in the UK for the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton.  The convention starts tomorrow, and in the meantime, we've been in London doing the tourist thing.  Being who we are, this has meant not Big Ben and the Tower of London, but the Science Museum, the Classics wing of the British Museum, and Verulamium near St. Albans.

We're staying in a hotel room which is very modern, but rather small:
Kristin on her phone in the hotel room

The very narrow bathroom
All the lights in the hotel room appear to be LEDs, from the ceiling lights, to the stars overhead, and the blue highlights and the television accents:

Blue highlights and star-studded ceiling

The television has a nice glow behind it.
And, of course, there's a collection of inputs for the television, in case you want to show something through HDMI, VGA, RCA, or any other connection.
Connections for the television.  I'm using the USB to charge my phone.
I'm afraid that I didn't take any pictures at the Science Museum, which is too bad.  There was a fairly nice exhibit on steam power, with a huge, working steam engine.  I'm sure all the steampunk writers at World Fantasy would enjoy it.

Kristin and I were focused on the Roman exhibits at the British Museum.  I have more pictures than is practical of that part, but here are a few:

Cooking utensils in the ancient world

A body chain, one of the few examples of this Classical type of jewelry

Weapons!

The Portland Vase
I took a lot more pictures, of a lot of different things, mostly for reference in my writings.

We also went to Verulamium, which was one of the big Roman towns in the early years of Britain's induction to the Empire.  They had a pretty nice museum as well.  Much smaller than the British Museum, and very kid friendly with a lot of annoying multimedia presentation, but there were some interesting items, including the reconstruction of a number of rooms to try to show daily life:

Preparing food in a "middle class" kitchen

A door latch--I've been trying to figure out how exactly it worked

A hearth for preparing food
There are also a few excavation sites nearby:
Part of Verulamium's wall

What's left of the theater

A mosaic floor with a hypocaust--an underground heating system
Today, we went to see St. Paul's Cathedral.  They wouldn't let us take pictures inside, but we were able to take some outside:

The front of St. Paul's, distorted since I was using the panorama mode of my phone.
The dome
A picture from the top of the dome,  looking down on the towers in the first picture.  It required climbing a lot of stairs. 
That's all for now.  Tomorrow, we're heading for Brighton and the World Fantasy Convention.