Smuggler’s Tales by Nathan Lowell

Milk Run by Nathan LowellSmuggler’s Tales is in the same universe as Trader’s Tales and includes some of the same characters but is told from Natalya and Zoya’s point of view. I read these on my Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Unlimited.

Smuggler’s Tales includes

Mr. Lowell, or should it be Dr. Lowell, has done such an amazing job building out this universe and by giving us 3 more books from a different perspective is wonderful. There is more action in these stories than in the Trader’s Tales, but the tone remains the same.

Trader’s Tales by Nathan Lowell

quarter share by nathan lowell

This is the first series of book that I read on my new Kindle Paperwhite. These books are available to purchase from Amazon as ebook, audiobook, and paperback versions. Instead of buying each book individually I subscribed to Kindle Unlimited to read them all.

Trader’s Tales includes the books

  • Quarter Share
  • Half Share
  • Full Share
  • Double Share
  • Captain’s Share
  • Owner’s Share

These books follow the life of Ismael Wang and his antics between the stars. I REALLY like these books; they are exactly what I was needing when I found them. They are not full of action, violence, fantasy, war, or death. They do not make up a sprawling space opera that spans centuries nor do they contain deep technical details about how people are able to live in space.

To me these books are a window into a world where cities in space are the way things have been for a long time. Where people work hard to be the people they want to be or need to be but struggle with all of the things that get in their way and either rise to the occasion, try to ignore them, or get crushed by them. The characters are all very believable and I have fallen for Ishmael and his friends. I look forward to reading more about the lives they lead and where they end up.

Don’t get these books if your looking for a ton of action, but if you are in the mood for a good adventure story this may be the story you are looking for.

Studying for the Amateur Extra Exam

I found myself floundering a bit after passing the General exam. I had been in “study” mode for a few weeks and not having anything to study left me feeling… odder than usual. So I decided to start studying for the Amateur Extra exam, why not?

So far I have read the ARRL Extra Class License Manual cover to cover. I found it much harder to read than the Technician or General manuals, not because the content is more complicated or detailed, but because the writing and editing are not up to the same quality as those other manuals. There are many errors and many passages that are written in ways that confused me.

Now I am on to reading and listening to the The Fast Track to Your Extra Class Ham Radio License by Michael and Kerry Burnette. You may recognize the title and authors from the book I used to study for the General exam, but this is for the Extra. I really enjoyed the General book, both on the Kindle and on Audible so decided to stick with them for the Extra.

This time I have also purchased The Fast Track to Mastering Extra Class Ham Radio Math  along with the recommended Texas Instruments TI-30XS. Statistically, memorizing all of the formulas and being able to do all of the calculations is not necessary to pass the test, but I have decided it is something I would like to learn. There was a time in my life that I really enjoyed math, let’s see if I can rekindle that flame.

The Fast Track Ham website https://fasttrackham.com/ is also a great help with a handful of videos to help explain some more of the math and practice exams for each chapter of the books. I really like the way the “by chapter” practice exams build upon the previous chapters. That works well for me.

And to round out my studies I am also using HamStudy.org website by SignalStuff to do even more practice exams. I really appreciate how HamStudy allows you to work through all of the exam pool and use flash cards to find your weaknesses and concentrate study time on them.

My plan is to take it slowly and learn the material well and hopefully take the test sometime in November. Wish me luck.

Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne

Iron Druid Chronicles at Audible

This was my third or fourth listen to the Iron Druid Chronicles on Audible and my first time to listen to the entire series in one go. All 9 novels as I have not gotten the 10 short stories available but may get them at some point.

In general, I do not recommend listening to so many books in a series one-after-another, it can lead to burnout and reduce the enjoyment from a series of stories. But I really enjoyed this listen all the way to the new book Scourged.

Luke Daniels is just as great in the last book as he was in the first book. His ability to create a strong audible differentiation between the different characters really brings them to life and highlights their different personalities.

Kevin Hearne does an amazing job creating characters that have different drives, goals, and personalities. From the gentleness and anger of Granuelle, the gruffness of Owen, and the lustful scariness that is the Morrigan, they are all wonderful characters. Atticus and Oberon are my favorite characters of the stories, but Owen and Orla are close seconds.

The book Scourged, the 9th, is meant as the last in the series (there is already a short story being touted as book 9.5). It is a good ending to the series and well worth your time.

I highly recommend the entire Iron Druid Chronicles series, although you may not want to listen to them one-after-another, maybe takes some breaks in between.

Mechanical Keyboards

If you read my review of the 2016 MacBook Pro you know how much I dislike the keyboard on it. Along with that I have been reading Norman Chan on Tested.com, co-workers, gaming sites, and “computer experts” talking mechanical keyboards and how wonderful they are, my interest was piqued.

My goal for a keyboard is for it to be comfortable and to give a reliable amount of feedback for my not-so-fast touch typing. I don’t need it for “gaming” or a crazy amount of n-key rollover. Just something solid, reliable, and comfortable. I would have loved to build a keyboard kit with all the soldering and programming that entails, but I have other things I would rather be doing. So I spent months shopping and comparing every mechanical keyboard I could lay my hands on.

I eventual bought a Corsair K-something-or-other. I quickly figured out that the keyboard required software installed on the computer to work. That is a no-go for me as they keyboard will be moved from Mac to Windows to Linux and I want it to work the same way no matter what it is plugged into. I researched a bunch more keyboards and found that most of the popular ones require software, usually only available for Windows, to do more than act as a basic keyboard.

Then I took another look at the Cooler Master series of keyboards, turns out all of its features are programmed and stored directly on the keyboard. That means your settings and macros are stored and usable even when you switch the computer it is plugged into, exactly what I was after.

Cooler Master MasterKeys keyboards come in many variations, no back-light, white or blue back-light, RGB back-light, also Cherry MX switches in Blue, Brown, Red.

I chose a Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro S, with RGB back-lighting, Cherry MX Blue switches, in a TenKeyless (TKL) design for home use and for the office I chose the exact same keyboard but with Brown switches.

Size

I generally like full-sized keyboards with number pads, but at work I have been using an Apple Bluetooth keyboard for the last 7 years or so and have gotten used to it. When I went looking for a mechanical keyboard I discovered there are 3 typical sizes.

  • Full-Sized – This is the usual keyboard with the number pad
  • TenKeyLess (TKL) – Everything is where it would be on a full-sized keyboard but with the number pad cut-off
  • Compact – A lot like a laptop keyboard with no number keys and the arrow keys are usually below the left-hand shift key
  • Gaming – Usually a keyboard similar to a full-sized one, but with additional macro and media keys knobs and switches

I chose a TKL size as I don’t really feel the need for the number pad and I like the extra space it leaves on my desk. Having that extra space for the mouse is great.

Switches

For my home computer I wanted to go all in with the clicky-clicky of Cherry MX Blue switches, but for the office I went with the Brown switches which do not make the click sound. I then did a blind, or rather deaf, test and determined that the Blue and Brown switches in the Cooler Master keyboard are exactly the same with the exception of the click.

With both keyboards I tend to “bottom-out” the keys, which adds a lot more noise to my typing. I have found the solution to be some inexpensive O-ring switch dampeners that have made typing quieter with the added feature of shortening the throw of the keys.

RGB Backlighting

I need back-lighting so that I can see the keys in darker environments, I don’t really need the RGB and the fancy features that come with it, but I do get a kick out of having the keys light up bright purple when I touch them. Fun, but not necessary.

Ergonomics

Wow, these keyboards are tall! I find it impossible to type on them without a wrist rest. I like the Glorious Gaming Wrist Pad in Full Size. I tried the TKL version, but found it to small as my wrists, especially the left one, sits outside the width of the keyboard. The firmness and height of the wrist rest is exactly what I needed. Ergonomically a keyboard should tilt slightly down and away from you and not up and toward you where your wrist are bent stressing out and leading to carpal-tunnel issues. With my old keyboard I was able to attach supports to the front of the keyboard lifting it, the Cooler Master keyboard is so tall that I don’t think lifting the front would be a very good solution.

At some point I may build a mechanical keyboard from a kit just so that I will have more control over the angle and height it.

Keycaps

I bought some fun keycaps to replace the “Cooler Master” OS specific keys and the escape key with Portal characters. Love them!

Other Options

You can build from a kit, you can build from parts sourced from all over the world, you can buy a ready-made keyboard like I did and customize it with different keycaps. You can get a keyboard like the Planck that has fewer keys but may be faster for a dedicated typer after a transition period. You can even get keyboards that are just a grid of keys for assigning macros to, and not just for gaming, you could create macros to type things for you that are typed often.

Rating

I really like the Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro S RGB keyboards, both the Blue and Brown switches are exactly what I was looking for.

Neverwhere [Adaptation] by BBC Radio

DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS VERSION OF NEVERWHERE!

I love Neil Gaiman’s writing, and I have loved every Neil Gaiman audiobook and dramatic performance I have heard until this one.

This version of Neverwhere is overproduced with sound effects and over acting that make following the story almost impossible. I am shocked by the positive ratings it has received on Audible, so apparently someone likes it.

Read or listen to the unabridged story first then maybe give this one a try, I got it as a special offer on Audible for $1.95 but even at that price I feel like I was ripped off.

From the publisher:

A BBC Radio six-part adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s best-selling novel, starring James McAvoy as Richard and Natalie Dormer as Door.

Beneath the streets of London there is another London. A subterranean labyrinth of sewers and abandoned tube stations. A somewhere that is Neverwhere….

An act of kindness sees Richard Mayhew catapulted from his ordinary life into the strange world of London Below. There he meets the Earl of Earl’s Court, faces a life-threatening ordeal at the hands of the Black Friars, comes face to face with the Great Beast of London, and encounters an Angel called Islington.

Adapted for radio by the award-winning Dirk Maggs, this captivating dramatisation features a stellar cast including David Harewood, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Anthony Head and David Schofield.

Contains over 25 minutes of additional unbroadcast material, including extended scenes, bloopers and outtakes.

The full list of narrators includes: James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, David Harewood, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Anthony Head, David Schofield, Bernard Cribbens, Romola Garai, George Harris, Andrew Sachs, Lucy Cohu, Johnny Vegas, Paul Chequer, Don Gilet, and Abdul Salis.

©2013 AudioGO Ltd (P)2013 AudioGO Ltd

I rate the story of Neverwhere a 10 out of 10 but this production of it is a 2 out of 10. Read or listen to the unabridged version.

The Monster Hunter International Series by Larry Correia

There are currently 4 books in the Monster Hunter International series and each one is as great as the last. This was my second time listening to all 4 of the audiobooks. Really it was my first time listening to them consecutively, man what a ride.

Book 5: Monster Hunter Nemesis is coming out in July and is available for pre-order now, I expect to listen to or read it as soon as it comes out.

These books are full of action but unlike so many others there is a lot of character building and depth. Both the protagonists and antagonists get a real chance to shine.

I rate the Monster Hunter International series a 9 out of 10 and recommend them to anyone looking for a science fiction/fantasy series full of action.

Search Engine Optimization: Your visual blueprint for effective Internet marketing by Kristopher B. Jones and Jim Boykin

SEO BookLooking to hone my SEO skills I poked around inside of Safari Books Online for just the right book to show me the light.

I have been building web sites for 17 years now and know a fair amount about how the search engines work. By "Search Engines" I mean Google of course, as most of the others have fallen to the wayside. But I have not actively studied SEO techniques in a long time and I figure now is the time to brush up.

I really liked this book, it is 336 pages of no-nonsense advice and direction on the why and how of SEO including a lot of relevant information that the other books have left out.

From the publisher:

Your visual, step-by-step guide to search engine optimization, from an Internet marketing expert

Techniques and best practices for search engine optimization are constantly evolving. This visual guide to SEO is fully updated with information on the latest and most effective ways to move your website up in the search engine rankings. Internet marketing guru Kristopher Jones, a frequent keynote speaker at interactive marketing conferences, explains all the key concepts in a visual format so you can see how they work and what to do. Learn about keyword generation, internal linking, URL structure, content creation, using social media, and more.

  • More than 70 percent of businesses today have websites; search engine optimization is a vital factor in growing a business by gaining new customers while increasing business from existing customers
  • This two-color book is the only guide to search engine optimization that is presented in a visual format
  • Presents search engine marketing principles including keyword generation, on-site optimization involving website structure, internal linking, URL structure, content creation, off-site optimization, social media optimization and more
  • Author is a popular keynote speaker and panelist at interactive marketing and technology conferences
  • Search Engine Optimization: Your visual blueprint for effective Internet marketing, Third Edition helps visual learners master and maximize SEO techniques.

I rate this book an 8 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about search engine optimization and pay-per-click search engine advertising.

I read Search Engine Optimization: Your visual blueprint for effective Internet marketing on Safari Books Online using their app on my iPad.