Read - Finished Reading: Blue Lightning (Shetland Island, #4) by Ann Cleeves (Minotaur Books)
Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez brings his fiancée home to Fair Isle, a birder's paradise, where strangers are viewed with suspicions and distrust. When a woman's body is discovered at the island's bird observatory, the investigation is hampered by a raging storm that renders the island totally isolated. Jimmy has to find clues the old-fashioned way, and he has to do it quickly. There's a killer on the island just waiting for the chance to strike again.
This didn’t have quite as slow a start as some of the others.
 
A painful but solid ending. Best of the series so far, though perhaps because of knowing the characters so well now.
 
The ending was a bit of a gut punch even though I’d seen much of the end of the tv series, though I don’t think that Fran figured in any of it and Cassie was played as a teenager rather than a 6 year old. The writing was solid enough to rush us through some action pieces that might not have otherwise played out as logically looking back at things in a more quiet manner. In particular several characters could have blurted out some facts in the final minutes to prevent additional deaths.
 
Again Cleeves leaves us in just an interesting spot in the closing paragraphs to push us to read the next book.
 
Rating:
Read - Finished Reading: White Nights by Ann Cleeves (Minotaur Books)
The electrifying follow-up to the Dagger Award-winning Raven Black. In this second thriller of the highly acclaimed Shetland Island series featuring Inspector Jimmy Perez, the launch of an exhibition at The Herring House art gallery is disturbed by a stranger who bursts into tears, then claims not to remember who he is or where he comes from. The next day he's found dead. Set in midsummer, the book captures the unsettling nature of a landscape where the sun never quite sets and where people are not as they first seem.

Brief Review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well tied up after l after laying things out so beautifully. Bigger on character than actual plot though, so it moved pretty slowly until about 60% of the way through.

I think I actually liked this better than the first one, though it does help to have some more background on the characters for having read both now. Definitely very carefully and well structured little mystery.

Read - Finished Reading: Go Jump in the Pool! (Macdonald Hall, #2) by Gordon Korman (Scholastic)
When Bruno and Boots learn that Macdonald Hall is about to lose some of its best students to its arch-rival, York Academy, because the Hall doesn't have a swimming pool, they go on the warpath, determined to save the school. But their fundraising schemes turn to hilarious chaos!

Brief Review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Somehow classic that after going through all the trouble to raise money for a swimming pool that one of our heroes can’t even swim.

Read for pure entertainment.

Read - Finished Reading: Raven Black (Shetland Island #1) by Ann Cleeves (Minotaur Books)
Raven Black begins on New Year’s Eve with a lonely outcast named Magnus Tait, who stays home waiting for visitors who never come. But the next morning the body of a murdered teenage girl is discovered nearby, and suspicion falls on Magnus. Inspector Jimmy Perez enters an investigative maze that leads deeper into the past of the Shetland Islands than anyone wants to go.
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brief review

Entertaining enough. I may have ruined it by watching the series first (though I missed this episode somehow.)

There’s a pace here almost as slow as that of the television show and perhaps one that may mirror the pace of life on a small island separated away from the general business of the world.

A generally well crafted mystery here, though there were bits that were guessable. Seemed an odd plot feature to have one person discovering all the bodies though I’m not sure if it added to the mystery of the story in any way, at least for me.

Read - Finished Reading: The History of the English Language by Seth Lerer (The Great Courses)
Sixteen centuries ago a wave of settlers from northern Europe came to the British Isles speaking a mix of Germanic dialects thick with consonants and complex grammatical forms. Today we call that dialect Old English, the ancestor of the language nearly one in five people in the world speaks every day.

How did this ancient tongue evolve into the elegant idiom of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Twain, Melville, and other great writers? What features of modern English spelling and vocabulary link it to its Old English roots? How did English grammar become so streamlined? Why did its pronunciation undergo such drastic changes? How do we even know what English sounded like in the distant past? And how does English continue to develop to the present day?
rating:
Definitely worth multiple listens. There’s a lot of depth and nuance here and Lerer does a great job of not only relaying the history and events, but ties it together in broader themes while still showing the art of the multiple subjects he’s covering.
Replied to Moon+ Reader Pro (play.google.com)
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☆The key features:
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☆Standard functions:
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• 24 customized operations (screen click, swipe gesture, hardware keys), apply to 15 customized events: search, bookmark, themes, navigation, font size and more.
• 5 auto-scroll modes: rolling blind mode; by pixel, by line or by page. Real-time speed control.
• Adjust the brightness by sliding your finger along the left edge of the screen, gesture commands supported.
• Intelligent paragraph; indent paragraph; trim unwanted blank spaces and lines options.
• Keep your eyes health options for long-time reading.
• Real page turning effect with customized speed/color/transparent; 5 page flip animations.
• My Bookshelf design: Favorites, Downloads, Authors, Tags; self bookcover, search, import supported.
• Justified text alignment, hyphenation mode supported.
• Dual page mode for landscape screen.
• Support all four screen orientations.
• EPUB3 multimedia content support (video and audio), popup footnote support
• Backup/Restore options to cloud via DropBox/WebDav, sync reading positions between phones and tablets.
• Highlight, Annotation, Dictionary (Offline or Online, support ColorDict, GoldenDict, ABBYY Lingvo, etc.), Translation, Share functions all in moon+ ebook reader.
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FAQ: http://www.moondownload.com/faq.html
 
This is a fantastic reader app, almost with more options than one could potentially use. I specifically upgraded to the pro version in hopes for better highlights and annotation export. Sadly the HTML export version doesn’t seem to work with any of the multiple apps I tried to share it to. I would have expected a simple file with a .html extension with html based markup including the date and timestamps of the content, however the best I seem to be able to do is basic text export. Perhaps a future update will fix this?
 
Read - Finished Reading: The Celtic World by Jennifer Paxton (The Great Courses)
When you hear the word “Celtic,” which images come to mind? These days it could easily be Braveheart, kilts, leprechauns, and St. Patrick’s Day. However, since the surge of interest and pride in Celtic identity since the 19th century, much of what we thought we knew about the Celts has been radically transformed. From the warriors who nearly defeated Julius Caesar to Irish saints who took on the traits of Celtic deities, get to know the real Celts.

In The Celtic World, discover the incredible story of the Celtic-speaking peoples, whose art, language, and culture once spread from Ireland to Austria. This series of 24 enlightening lectures explains the traditional historical view of who the Celts were, then contrasts it with brand-new evidence from DNA analysis and archeology that totally changes our perspective on where the Celts came from. European history and culture have been profoundly affected by the Celts, from the myth of King Arthur to the very map of the United Kingdom, where the English confronted the peoples of the “Celtic Fringe.”

With a wealth of historical expertise, Professor Jennifer Paxton, Director of the University Honors Program and Clinical Assistant Professor of History at The Catholic University of America, guides you through each topic related to Celtic history with approachability and ease as you unearth what we once thought it meant—and what it may actually mean—to be Celtic. Professor Paxton’s engaging, often humorous delivery blends perfectly with the facts about the Celts to uncover surprising historical revelations. The ancient Celts are very much alive in the literary and artistic traditions that their descendants have both preserved and very deliberately revived. All facets of Celtic life, past and present, are addressed by Professor Paxton, who demonstrates a masterful knowledge and carefully separates fact from myth at every turn.

Brief review

I loved the first 3/4ths the most for their density and my lack of general familiarity. The end was a bit less dense and went to quickly. Overall this was a great introduction with a lot of cultural sensitivity and nuance. I really appreciate some of the modern coverage and overview which is sometimes difficult to find without a lot of additional political baggage.

Perhaps I missed it in the introduction, but it would have been nice to have a bit more of Dr. Paxton’s personal background. It wasn’t until late in the series that she mentioned growing up in Ireland and being “forced” to learn Irish in school. A bit more on her background and biases would have been nice to have, though generally her love for the subject and her general objective balance seems to shine through.

She did a particularly good job of highlighting some of the cultural highlights rooted in falsehoods or popularized writing which isn’t historically correct. She seems to give a lot of balance to prior historical research and broad views versus more current scholarship.

Read - Finished Reading: Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles Over Authentication by Bart D. Ehrman (Great Courses)
In the first centuries after Christ, there was no "official" New Testament. Instead, early Christians read and fervently followed a wide variety of Scriptures—many more than we have today.
Relying on these writings, Christians held beliefs that today would be considered bizarre. Some believed that there were two, 12, or as many as 30 gods. Some thought that a malicious deity, rather than the true God, created the world. Some maintained that Christ's death and resurrection had nothing to do with salvation while others insisted that Christ never really died at all.
What did these "other" Scriptures say? Do they exist today? How could such outlandish ideas ever be considered Christian? If such beliefs were once common, why do they no longer exist?
Rating: 4
Listened to audiobook version primarily via Libby

Brief review:

Clear concise story with some excellent history and comparison of early Christianities. Unstated, but there are lots of parallels to the diversity of beliefs in Christianity today. There are lots of interesting things within the “lost” sects which still lived on through cultural spread despite the disappearance of the original groups.

Review of Typlog as a turnkey platform for IndieWeb as a Service

Yesterday I ran across a tweet in the IndieWeb chat announcing that Typlog, a hosted website/blogging platform, now supports Webmention.

I looked at their website, and it also looks like they support a few other IndieWeb building blocks including WebSub and RelMeAuth by leveraging Twitter and GitHub. (The developer indicated they supported IndieAuth, but I highly suspect it’s just RelMeAuth, which is still a solid option for many IndieWeb tools.) 

Having just put together a Quick Start IndieWeb chart that includes services like micro.blog, i.haza.website, and pine.blog, I was immediately intrigued. This new platform (proprietary and not self-hostable, but very similar to the others) looks like a solid looking little platform for hosting one’s personal website (or podcast) that includes some IndieWeb building-blocks.

It’s got a 7 day free trial, so naturally I spun up a quick website. With just a few simple defaults, I had something pretty solid looking in only a few minutes with a pleasant on-boarding experience.

I’ll note that some functionality like importing content from WordPress, Tumblr, Ghost, or a podcast feed requires an actual subscription. Once you’ve finally subscribed, there are instructions to set it up to use your own domain name. However, most of the basic functionality is available in the trial. Another important indie feature is that it has a built-in export using JSON format, so that one can take their domain and content to another service provider if they wish.

It looks like it’s got a ton of common useful features! This includes support for podcasting, password protected posts, scheduling posts, membership posts, and integrations for Stripe, CloudFlare, Google Analytics, and MailChimp among many others. The platform is built with some basic and beautiful page templates and prefers to have markdown in the editor, but seems to work well with raw HTML.

They also allow adding custom code into <header> and <footer> so it should be straightforward to add support Microsub to one’s site using a service like Aperture so that you can have (feed) reader support.

Unfortunately it looks like there’s no Micropub support yet. I suspect that Typlog would be quite pleased to have a number of posting applications for both desktop and mobile available to it by adding this sort of support.

Also on testing, it looks like while the platform supports incoming Webmention, it doesn’t seem to be sending webmentions to links within posts. (Perhaps they’re batch processed asynchronously, but I haven’t seen anything yet.)

The platform seems to do really well for posting articles and podcasts and even has a custom template for reviews, but all of the user interface I’ve seen requires one to add a title on all posts, so it doesn’t lend itself to adding notes (status updates) or other indie-like posts like bookmarks, likes, or simple replies. It has a minimal built in h-card, but it could be expanded a bit for sending webmentions.

The pricing for the service starts at a very reasonable $4/month and goes up to $12/month with some additional discounts for annual payments.

In sum, I love this as another very indy-flavored web hosting service and platform for those looking to make a quick and easy move into a more IndieWeb way of hosting their website and content. While services like micro.blog and i.haza.website may be ahead of it on some technical fronts, like pine.blog, Typlog has a variety of different and unique features that many are likely to really appreciate or wish that other services might have. I imagine that over time, all of them will have relative technical parity, but will differentiate themselves on user interface, flexibility, and other services. I could definitely recommend it to friends and family who don’t want to be responsible for building and managing their websites.

One of my favorite parts of Typlog is that the company building it is based in Japan, where I’ve seen a little bit of development work for IndieWeb, but not as much as in portions of Europe, America, or Australia. It’s been great seeing some growth and spread of IndieWeb philosophy and platforms in Asia, Africa, and India recently.

And of course, who couldn’t love the fact that the developer is obviously eating their own cooking by using the platform to publish their own website! I can’t wait to see where Typlog goes next.

★★★★☆ Brief review of Ungifted by Gordon Korman

I think Amazon had a review that said if you’re a fan of Louis Sachar, you’ll love this book by Gordon Korman. I think that Korman has been writing great stuff for so long that it’s really more appropriate to say that if you love Gordon Korman, you’ll probably like a lot of Louis Sachar.

Like all Korman’s books, this one has a lot of heart. It wasn’t quite as laugh out loud funny as some of his other efforts, but it’s definitely got some great humor.

Typically I don’t like narratives that are told from multiple viewpoints, but Korman manages to pull it off incredibly well by starting each chapter with a title that uses an “Un-word” followed by the narrator and their IQ score. As a result we also get a much more nuanced picture of all of the characters which are incredibly well done.

As one of the “smart” kids growing up, I wish this book had been around to have read then, but it’s still great now and everyone is sure to appreciate it. While the protagonist is a boy, I really appreciated that there was lots of great female representation here.

Brief review of This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! by Gordon Korman

Brief review of This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! by Gordon Korman (Scholastic, November 25, 2014)

Rating:

** spoiler alert **

Knowing that this was his first book and written when he was still a very young teenager, I didn’t expect a whole lot from Korman. Given that I’ve enjoyed so many of his other books, I should have held him to much higher standards as he always seems to be able to deliver!

The balloon arriving at the school was a bit deus-ex-machina, but it played out so well both plot-wise and even comedic-ly–even tying in the flag incident at the start of the story–that who could fault him?

Checked into Patti Cakes
Ugh… The clerk at the counter coughed directly into her hand immediately before taking out a bag and serving me a pastry (fortunately at least using tongs). I’m sure this was after helping the prior customer at the cash register, handling their payment, and not bothering to wash her hands at any point. What a public health nightmare! Some inexpensive disposable rubber gloves could be a welcome addition for people serving and running the register.

The final kicker was that the apples in the pastry were severely overcooked and had almonds hidden inside instead of obviously decorating the top.

Pastry at this level and price needs to pay way more attention to the details.

Not sure I can revisit again, which is sad because its an otherwise nice local pastry shop.

👓 Lost in Math | Peter Woit

Read Lost in Math by Peter Woit (math.columbia.edu)
Sabine Hossenfelder’s new book Lost in Math should be starting to appear in bookstores around now. It’s very good and you should get a copy. I hope that the book will receive a lot of attention, but suspect that much of this will focus on an oversimplified version of the book’s argument, ignoring some of the more interesting material that she has put together. Hossenfelder’s main concern is the difficult current state of theoretical fundamental physics, sometimes referred to as a “crisis” or “nightmare scenario”. She is writing at what is likely to be a decisive moment for the subject: the negative LHC results for popular speculative models are now in. What effect will these have on those who have devoted decades to studying such models?
I love that he calls out the review in Science.

🎞 The Circle (2017)

Watched The Circle (2017) from STX Entertainment
Directed by James Ponsoldt. With Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Ellar Coltrane.
A woman lands a dream job at a powerful tech company called the Circle, only to uncover an agenda that will affect the lives of all of humanity.
Even more interesting to watch this after the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal. It was sad to see the simplistic surface level only analysis of ideas in the film though.

Watched via Amazon Prime on big screen television through Amazon Fire Stick.

Rating: 

🎞️ What If (2013) CBS Films

Watched What If (2013) from CBS Films
Directed by Michael Dowse. With Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Megan Park, Adam Driver. Wallace, who is burned out from a string of failed relationships, forms an instant bond with Chantry, who lives with her longtime boyfriend. Together, they puzzle out what it means if your best friend is also the love of your life.
A cute enough movie. I might suggest that this is a slightly new flavor of romantic comedy flavored by a dash of the Millennial generation. It took a bit to get past the melange of accents of the characters to realize that the story was set in Toronto, but in general there were some reasonable performances by all involved. The plot was a bit too vanilla and no one really took any chances to up the ante of the concept which could have made this much more memorable. In general, it was entertaining enough to sit through once, but I wouldn’t give this a second screening.

The dreadful release date gives me more of a clue why I’d never heard of this. I suspect it’d have done better as a limited release in the Spring or late Fall instead. This wasn’t a great movie, but was better than it’s box office performance indicated. The studio left some money on the table with this one.