Goodreads Quick Review: Redshirts

Redshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At first glance, Redshirts looks like an obvious parody of the Star Trek red shirts. Specifically, the poor nameless extras whose only purpose is to die horribly at the hands of whatever threat the important crew officers encounter. And…well that’s actually the entire point. Literally.

This book is what happens when the red shirts become self-aware. For as it so happens, the red shirt heroes soon realize that they actually are part of a science fiction TV show narrative that exists in the real world. A not-unlike-Star Trek narrative where the Captain, Science Officer, Lieutenant, and so on always survive the most dangerous of ordeals time and time again while the ensign red shirt are left to perish.

What follows is a hilarious and crazy-awesome adventure whose sheer mind-screwiness plays basketball with the timey-wimey ball of Doctor Who fame. Suffice to say, if you are a Star Trek (original series) fan or a lover of lighthearted science fiction, you will enjoy this book. A few words of literary warning: this book is *extremely* dialogue-heavy. If you like your conversations broken up with consistant action, you may get annoyed as the book moves on.

Bonus points for having a brilliant ending, and I mean “the last two pages” kind of brilliant. Plus, given the overall comedic scope, the final epilogue sequence is inexplicably heartwarming. Grab some tissues beforehand. Scalzi ties everything together, beginning and end and everything beyond, through the skillful words of a veteran writer.

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Goodreads Quick Review: Broken Strings

Broken Strings
Broken Strings by Nancy Means Wright
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Intrepid everyday heroine Fay Hubbard pursues the elusive Skull-Man, out to murder the puppeteer group for performing offbeat endings to popular children’s stories. Every time she gets close to finding the killer out, another twist or murder throws a wrench into the mystery. Hubbard also has three foster children and a beloved goat, but of course she doesn’t mind putting them all at risk while she pursues a ruthless killer with her desire for truth and justice.

In other words, this is your bog standard murder mystery novel. The gimmick here is that puppets are involved! A puppet-sty;e killer *should* make for a (horrifyingly) cool mystery, but the magic of puppeteering is constantly muddled by a diverse, yet unnecessarily large ensemble cast competing for screen time. Wright clearly demonstrates the ability to write complex characters, a key formula in murder mysteries. Unfortunately, there are simply too many character strings attached to the intrepid detective.

I really wanted to like this book, and I saw a lot of great potential with the puppet mystery. But complex characters are not always interesting, and I struggled through to the end hoping for a satisfying twist that never occurred.

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Improving the Add to Cart Button

Last October I posted an infographic detailing the importance of a webstore’s add to cart button. David Max from Perception System recently expanding on the infographic with additional formatting details and statistics for 2014 . Sometimes the smallest details lead to the biggest sales.

Check out the infographic below (Source: Perception System Blog):

Add-To-Cart ButtonCourtesy of Perception System

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Despite the contractual obligation of my age group to embrace social media, I’m not a big fan of Twitter. Immediacy is nice and all, but Twitter is too fast and too immediate for my tastes. Stop looking at your feed for five minutes and five-hundred posts pass you buy in the blink of an eye.

Despite my annoyance of twittering around, I admit the hashtag feature is nice. The feature is also #heavilyabused and #wronglyused. This article from socialmediatoday sums up my thoughts nicely. Just like any form of communication, if you do not put serious thought into the five w’s then your Tweets will fall on deaf computer monitors.


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Millennial Avoidance

I came across a post today from the writer of TranscendingBorders mentioning that she deleted all of her social media outside of her blog. About two weeks ago I attempted something similar, albeit less dramatically, in taking a temporary break from Facebook. I still have my account, and I’ll return to it eventually after I finish my little Facebook-avoidance experiment.

Like many millennial Facebook users, I spend way too much time being nosy and following the exploits of my friends in lieu of doing something productive. So during my free time, whenever I get the urge to visit Facebook, I turn on my Kindle, write for this blog…basically exercising my creativity. I also apply this to other random internet distractions like YouTube. Fortunately I’m not a heavy Twitter or Tumblr user.

What have I learned so far? That I spend way too much time on Facebook.

In the past week and a half I finished the book I was reading, got through two more, and written some blog material. Not a bad start, although writing will soon turn to wedding planning (I popped the question last December!)…and writing about wedding planning, but more on that later. I am not trying to say Facebook is evil as it turns 10 years old, but sometimes you need to step back and re-examine how you spend your time. The results may surprise you.

Ironically, all of my blog posts and Goodreads activity shows up on my Facebook. Even though I haven’t been checking in, my Facebook d stays active.

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The Computer Programming Humanities Major

When I first played with Excel in High School, I noticed an interesting little code feature tucked away in the macro section. People with experience in Basic programming can set up basic codes to perform macros and automated functions. Having at the time just completed a Visual Basic class I considered this to be a valuable tool to explore later on.

Then eleven years passed…

…and fast forward to last week when I found myself needing to perform a big spreadsheet edit. Put simply, for a column in a list of product rows I needed to insert a “Y” if the product in the row was over a certain dollar amount, and a “N” if it was less. Performing this task manually was a problem considering the spreadsheet consisted of over 16,000 rows.

After consulting the great and mighty Google I failed to find an obvious solution. Fortunately one tech help page suggested to someone with a similar problem to write a macro. I realized I could do something similar to automate the process.

Although I never got past basic Java (recursion killed me) before committing myself to the humanities, I remembered enough to come up with a basic If-Then statement which, after some tweaking, solved the problem nicely. Trying to remember Basic programming took some time, but it was much faster then trying to manually edit the spreadsheet myself.

Moral of the story? Having the “tech” in Technical Writer pays off.

For the record, the code I wrote is below. I’m pretty sure it was more complicated then necessary, but it worked!

Sub PriceCheck()

Dim Cell As Object

For Each Cell In Sheets(“mdd1”).Range(“AN2:AN16860”)

If Cell.Value > 500 Then

Cell.Value = “y”


Cell.Value = “n”

End If


End Sub

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Goodreads Quick Review: Mass Effect: Ascension

Mass Effect: Ascension
Mass Effect: Ascension by Drew Karpyshyn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Whereas Mass Effect: Revelation established itself as an effective prequel to the video game trilogy, the second entry into the series falls squarely into side-story territory. Although Mass Effect: Ascension provides an effective introduction to the Illusive Man and the Quarian’s Migrant Fleet, both playing major rules in Mass Effect 2 and 3, no big steps are made to advance the plot of the games. A sensible decision, considering the myriad choices that can influence and shape each run through the games. Establishing the smallest ripple of canon through these choices would create a tidal-wave of fan outcry over say, the fate of the council after the Citadel invasion. Even the name of Shepard is avoided, perhaps to avoid accidentally assigning the hero a canon gender or any physical details.

With many potential story branches to avoid tripping over, the novel wisely continues the story of a 1st novel-exclusive character Kahlee Sanders (Anderson at this point is too ingrained in the games to be usable in a novel). This time around, Kahlee is putting her alliance background towards training purposes, as she helps an autistic biotic girl who, go figure, happens to be Cerberus’ little biotic pet project. Naturally Kahlee doesn’t want this sweet innocent girl to become a pawn of an evil human supremacy group, and what follows is a pretty standard run away from bad guys adventure.

While the first novel had the benefit of opening readers to the wonderful universe of Mass Effect, by this point the reader is virtually required to be a Mass Effect fan, as major plot points from the first game are briefly mentioned in passing with little context. Yet this provides one of the more endearing benefits of the novel. Great detail is taken to avoid inconsistencies with the rest of the Mass Effect universe, and the attention to even the smallest of species notes makes it clear that the Mass Effect creators played an active role in the development of the story.

Although Mass Effect: Ascension will only appeal to bibliophilic Mass Effect fans, they will be rewarded with a decently written science fiction adventure which earns its spot in the franchise.

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Goodreads Quick Review: The Etiquette of Engagement and Marriage Describing Modern Manners and Customs of Courtship and Marriage

The Etiquette of Engagement and Marriage Describing Modern Manners and Customs of Courtship and Marriage, and Giving Full Details Regarding the
The Etiquette of Engagement and Marriage Describing Modern Manners and Customs of Courtship and Marriage by G.R.M. Devereux
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I came across this little piece while browsing wedding-planning tips on my Kindle. The book fancies itself a modern-day guide for the bride and groom (with a slight preference directed at the former) written by someone who grew up writing with the Bronte sisters or Jane Austen. Put simply, this a wedding planner designed like a 200-Level English Literature survey-style college course.

Tips are given throughout every phase of the engagement, from the proposal to after-wedding advice. A few sections also cover weddings in other countries which, although interesting, tend to slow down the narrative. Including the international tips in a separate appendix at the end of the book would have worked much better.

Although written with a British audience in mind, a good amount of the material applies equally well to American audiences. Unfortunately, if you won’t touch Pride and Prejudice with a 10-foot pole you may find the flowery wording too difficult to follow. The writer clearly holds some knowledge about the marriage process, and this knowledge is dispensed with thought-provoking quotes certain to cause debate in book clubs everywhere.

For the low cost of $0 it was a nice quick read (just over 100 pages), but I wouldn’t recommend shelling out shillings for it.

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Goodreads Quick Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this tribute to all things 80’s, Wade, an everyday soon to graduate high school geek living in a dystopian world (albeit somewhat light for a dystopian setting), plunges into a virtual reality MMORPG that is literally the single most popular thing on the planet. Aided on and off by a small group of online users he doesn’t truly know (or know to trust), he fights an evil corporation and attempts to solve a reality bending puzzle devised by the game’s dead creator, who was a bit…eccentric. Oh and naturally enough power to alter the world lies in the balance.

Yes, this is a review of Ready Player One, not Dot Hack. Unlike Dot Hack, the plot here makes sense.

As is typical for dystopian fiction, an inordinate amount of time is spent establishing just how terrible the world has become. The book starts off slow and sluggish, perhaps intentionally slow given the overall theme. Stick with it though, as once Wade navigates a replica of the classic Dungeons & Dragons Tomb of Horror’s module and duels the demilich within to the classic arcade game Joust (complete with original game cabinet) the book zooms right along and rarely loses momentum.

No seriously, that actually happens, and that’s only about a quarter of the way into the book (pun intended). Insert more quarters to continue, for the plot only gets crazier from there. I don’t want to say much more due to spoilers but I will give praise to one of the more creative uses of giant monster fights. Pacific Rim was child’s play compared to what happens later on.

One more coin pun: the last quarter of the book is very well done. You’ll have a hard time putting it down at the final stretch.

Don’t worry niner kids and beyond, most of the constant 80’s references are immediately explained. Given their importance to the plot and the sharp writing, these references never get distracting, and there are plenty of unexplained 80’s easter eggs for the keen reader to spot.

You can judge a good book based on how seamlessly you can picture the world you dive into. Get lost in the Oasis, you won’t be disappointed. As for me? I’ll be truly disappointed if there is no sequel.

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Goodreads Quick Review: Mass Effect: Revelation

Mass Effect: Revelation
Mass Effect: Revelation by Drew Karpyshyn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mass Effect: Revelation was released before the first Mass Effect game came out, and appropriately so. This novel provides an excellent introduction to the Mass Effect universe, and I highly recommend reading it before starting the games. Although you won’t really miss anything if you skip the novel, conversations in-game with Anderson pretty much spoil the plot of this book. The book also provides a great deal of backstory for both Anderson and Saren, two notable characters in the Mass Effect universe.

On the bright side, this novel provides a shining beacon of hope for video game novels. Proof that they can be written well anyway, as most hold poor writing quality. If I were to rate this book in comparison to all video game novels I would give it a perfect 5 stars. However I am judging this book based on its merits in the sci-fi genre. A perfectly serviceable entry, but nothing truly noteworthy.

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