Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ed's Mini Book Review - Feed by Mira Grant

Zombies, zombies, zombies, nomnomnom! Zombies are in the air and the monster du jour nowadays especially with the success of The Walking Dead TV show on AMC. With that in mind, and my lover for zombie fiction, we add another to growing litany of zombie books. This time out, the highly rated, Feed by Mira Grant. I plucked this little diddy from NPR's list of top 100 Thrillers and, I think, it was the most recently written book on the list.

The setup is a little different than many zombie books but a little reminiscent of World War Z. Set about thirty years in the future, after a zombie outbreak, the world is recovering and has found a new normal. Zombies exist and are a way of life and some parts of the country have been overrun and lost the the zombie hordes. Most of the country is safe however and life goes on. So does technology and the news. Major news outlets have lost much of their credibility due to their reluctance to report on the outlandish concept of a zombie outbreak when it all started. Emerging from this and greatly enhanced by advances in technology, are the freelance reporters that strap on cameras, report and write the news themselves and count the hits (or ratings) their sites get.

From this, the plot begins where we find a brother and sister team, along with their friend. Tackle the news from three distinct angles. Their lives changed when they are tapped to follow and report from the campaign trail of a presidential hopeful. But, strange things are afoot at the Circle K. They begin to uncover a fiendish plot and soon find themselves becoming part of the story instead of just reporting on it.

From this you can see the double meaning of Feed as a title. The zombie world is more of a back drop and this book is really a commentary on news and the media and politics and corruption than it is a zombie book. Initially, that was one of my gripes as well. I was all like "Where are the zombies?". But it's not that type of book. This is more of a political thriller and for that it works just fine.

It's a little long and drags a bit but there is a good shock/twist near the end that works well unlike the reveal of who/what is behind the goings on with the conspiracy. Overall, a solid read but not as great as I would have hoped being on NPR's list and all. There will be a sequel and I'll probably give that a read too so this one did the trick on that end and will get my to pick up the next installment.

My Grade: B-

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ed's Mini Book Review - Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

Cover of "Pirate Latitudes: A Novel"Cover of Pirate Latitudes: A NovelMy second recommended book is Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton. This one is one that a friend of mine was thinking pf picking up and suggested it to me to read/review. Incidentally enough, this is my first Crichton book, though I had The Andromeda Strain on my read pile before this suggestion came about. I'll probably get onto that one after the holidays.

For the most part, I didn't like this book. Maybe because I was picturing the characters from Pirates of the Caribbean all through the book but probably not. Perhaps knowing that this was found after Michael Crichton passed, but it did feel like a book that wasn't quite finished, wasn't quite polished enough especially for a writer of Crichton's stature. I was expecting a rollicking adventure to do the impossible against the most vile of villains. Swarthy characters and exotic scenery filled my mind as I readied the book and early on, the build up promised that as well. Arrr, talking like a pirate I was, preppin' for pirate booty and adventure on the high seas. Unfortunately, we don't really get it. What we get is really a travel story, the high seas part, more to do with the time to get to the objective and the time to get back. The characters are stale and fairly one dimensional. No real plot twists of note. Just downright flat. Oh, and just for good measure, let's throw in a sea monster. A what?!? Yeah, I was thinking the same thing too.

The main plus for the book is that it is a fairly quick read so the curious type my want to give it a whirl. I recommend you pass.

My Grade: C-

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Monday, November 8, 2010

NYLA Conference 2010

Broadway in Saratoga Springs, New YorkImage via WikipediaHi ho out there. Is it snowing? Eh, in any event, I just got back from the annual New York Library Association conference in Saratoga Springs and wanted to say a few things about this years' outing.

First , I'll get the shameless self promotion out of the way. I took part in the SMART division of NYLA session called Flash Talks. They put out for a call for people to do presentations on fun and exciting ways their library is using technology. Catch is that the presentation has to be in the 20x20 PechaKucha style which is 20 PowerPoint slides all set to 20 seconds each as to keep the presentations moving. I decided to give it a try and settled on the idea of doing a presentation on audience response devices (iClickers).

After the first presentation, which was a combo presentation award that someone won, which was on hardcore cataloging, creating a script to batch load multiple records for weeding and some other stuff that went way over my head, and hearing that a presentation after me was going to be on cloud computing, I started to get nervous that talking about iClickers was going to be a little low-tech for this crowd, of which I knew no one. Well, the presentation went well with some well timed jokes thrown in to lighten the mood, and from then on I was known as 'the clicker guy'. The crowd ended up being a mix of tech people and some instruction people interested in tech and they were able to relate to some of the points I raised with using the clickers to keep students into the lesson especially in one-shot sessions that we do here. I even got some people asking me for more information about the clickers after the session. And on top, someone raised the idea of me doing a full session on iClickers at next years' conference. (And thanks to those that helped me out with this)

A big thought that I came away from the conference with was that there were more than a few sessions that I went to where I thought either, any of us could have run that session I was just in and some of the sessions were just on how that library tackled a particular issue instead of, what I was expecting, a review of multiple ways that issue could be addressed. For instance, I went to a session on library programming on a budget. What the presenter did was really focus on how they ran a program there on a budget and not on multiple ways or programs that could be done on a budget. Maybe that was just my preconceived expectations getting in the way.

A big draw for me for this years' conference was that Michael Stevens, who I follow on Twitter (and more about that in a bit) was doing a double-session entitled The Hyperlinked Library. I'll link to the slides from his presentation but I will point out that it's a large file, something like 400 slides, but well worth going through. Instead of pigeonholing a 400+ slide presentation into a few sentences, I'll let you check it out and see what you take from it. I highly recommend you do so even if it takes a while. It was my favorite session of the conference. Visit Tame the Web for the presentation.

Throughout the conference I was Tweeting using the #NYLA10 hashtag so those not at the conference could follow, and I gained a few followers from that, including Michael Stevens who put up a screenshot of the NYLA follow screen during his session. Ah, the power of the Tweet.

Some other random thoughts:

  • there was a session on embedded librarians and how one small college decided to change their library orientation sessions to online videos using Camtasia and I thought, wow, that sounds familiar.
  • EBSCO has a new service called EBSCO Discovery Service or EBSCO Integrated Search which is similar to products like Summon.
  • For emerging tech trends check out Gartner's top 10 tech trends for 2011
  • Firesheep is a Firefox add-on that steals cookies over wi-fi
  • Search Flickr for awesome and horrible library signage
  • Cloud computing is the next big thing (or it might be the big thing already.
That's all for now. If I remember more or find more notes, I'll update.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ed's Mini Book Review - Dead Men's Boots

The third Felix Castor outing, Dead Men's Boots, keeps the momentum going on the series of which I was, quite honestly, ready to drop after the first book, The Devil You Know. Felix 'Fix' Castor is an exorcist who uses music, and more specifically a tin whistle, to perform his exorcisms and as we have learned through the series thus far, every exorcist has there "thing" when it comes to doing what they do. This is an important point which I will get too in just a bit.

The basic plot goes like this, Felix is tabbed by a friend of his to explore the death of her husband who was a fellow exorcist. She thinks things that strange things are afoot at the Circle K, and of course, they are. One thing that bothers me a smidge about this series is that plot lines always seem to be linked no matter how far removed them may seem. For instance, during the mess with his looking into the death of a fellow exorcist, he takes a case, and guess what? It's linked to his dead friend, who by chance also used music to bind and dismiss spirits, a drum which makes things convenient for Felix.

That being said, I liked the book even though, as typical with the series, it goes on for a little too long. There is enough action and enough of an intriguing mystery, to keep you interested, and in my case, wanting to see how the various story lines inevitably come into one. Add to it that Felix Castor is just one cool bloke. I still am at a bit of a loss that he hasn't become more of a cult character in the genre like Harry Dresden or Joe Pitt.

When I was done with this book, I was very much looking forward to the next Felix Castor outing, which to me, is in it's most basic form, a major component in liking a book.

My Grade: B

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