Here’s a thought

dollar signSometimes, we forget what we could have had for free. I just talked to a business associate who lost her semester-long research writing due to a computer hard drive issue. Even the Geek Squad couldn’t retrieve her data. And, like many of us, she had access to cloud storage at school, included in her fees. Had she merely saved it a few times along the way, she wouldn’t have to start from scratch. Sad….

Recently, I read a short article in Market Watch about freebies that we might forget we have. Take a look while it is still available. Which one(s) have you forgotten?

Printing in the digital age

For ages, I have used a couple of older HP printers. Back when computers were a “new” thing, hubby loved (and I do mean loved) his dot matrix printer. I finally convinced him that we needed a printer that would keep up with our ever growing computer power, and we bought our first HP ink jet. New found love….

Many printers down the road, we were making do with our oldies but goodies until the cartridges got crazy expensive. After doing quite a bit of research, I took a leap of faith into a newer Epson “Eco Tank” printer with wireless. Of course, after having to be tethered to a USB cord, we are loving the convenience of wifi printing. But, in the long run, I hope to love the ink tank more. The Epson ET 3750 has the “workforce” label attached, primarily due to an upgraded print head and a document feeder. I hope we like those features, but I am replacing a color laser that we used for volume printing and an ink jet all in one that I used for pictures, scanning, and single copies. The cost per page is supposed to rival the laser, and as this model has auto duplexing, it should cut down a bit on paper use as well. The warranty is 2 years with product registration, and I hope it lasts longer than that, of course.

Set up was longer than the 20-30 minutes that some reviewers reported, but not bad. Filling the ink tank, charging the print head, and completing the ink fill was a chore that took longer than anything. Print quality is pretty good with text and only so so for pictures. (I usually use Walmart or some other photo finisher for pics that I put in frames, however.) The speed is better than our old ink jet and rivals our older laser.

If you don’t print often, then a printer like this will be a waste of money, but I was spending $20 per ink jet cartridge (for a total of $80) for the old ink jet, plus about $85 per toner cartridge (for a total of $340) for the laser. As the Epson ET 3750 is supposed to replace both printers, this looks to be a good deal. Wireless is just a perk!

Dust World— review and commentary

Dust World, by B.V. Larson, is the second book in a series he calls “Undying Mercenaries” because of some nifty alien technology that allows dead soldiers to be reborn via genetic encoding of a clone body. While I enjoyed this story, I didn’t find it nearly as dramatic as the first book in the series, Steel World. Basically, this is the continuing adventures of James McGill, a young man who joins up with Legion Varus in the first book. As this entry in the series opens, McGill is at home on leave, and is rather bored with his earthly existence. After having faced fierce adversaries and been born again a few times, lounging around the house is bound to get old, I guess.

Anyway, before long, McGill is recalled by his Legion Varus leadership, and his training and adventures continue. The book has plenty of action, but some of the characters remain a bit flat. Military fiction tends to suffer from stereotypes, and this novel is no different. The brass is bad, the guys in the trenches are good: yada, yada.

(spoilers beyond)

Basically, the action in this novel pits the legion against fellow humans, as they are members of a lost colony. This colony is a big problem for Earth, as colonization is against Galactic Law. Now that Earth has forcibly joined the Galactic Union, and the mercenaries of Legion Varus are sent to deal with this long lost colony. The frontier planet is inhabited by colonists who have adapted to the harsh environment. The colonists seem to have perfected some particularly damaging nanites, which they use to enhance their primitive weapons. Every time one of the legion is knifed, he or she dies a dramatically painful death. Of course, the legion is supposed to bring back these troops, but there is a problem.

These colonists have enough sense to attack not only the legion but the machine that spits out regenerated soldiers. As the action on this planet proceeds, the machine is damaged and all of its techs are dead. Therefore, if the remaining troops can’t revive the machine, those who die on this planet will be permanently dead. McGill has his hands full as he tries to fight these fellow humans, but not kill them, and he needs to get that machine back to work. Negotiations do take place, but there is treachery on both sides. McGill does make things happen, but it is never easy.

All in all, this is an entertaining entry in the series, and I recommend the series to fans of military fiction, science fiction, and (especially) space opera.

Son of Justice— a quick review

Son of JusticeEli Jayson is a recruit, struggling to get through basic training, just like many others. But, he has knowledge of military matters far beyond his fellow recruits, because his real name is not Jayson, it is Justice, which is the name of the supreme commander of Allied Forces, and Eli’s father. Having grown up in his father’s shadow, Eli may be the perfect soldier, or not. But he must succeed or fail on his own, for as Eli Jayson, he isn’t getting any special treatment.

That’s just a summary of the opening of this novel, Son of Justice, which is the beginning of a trilogy by Steven Hawk. I’m a fan of military fiction, and the “recruit grows up fast” plot line is hardly a new one, but Hawk does a reasonably good job of blending traditional story elements with fresh insights into both how the military mind thinks, as well as building his sci fi universe. As this is the opening of a series, he must also lay the groundwork for the rest of his trilogy as well as keeping the action flowing to entertain his readers. I rather liked this book, as the author manages all those tasks fairly well.

Often, such beginning of a trilogy books suffer from the cliffhanger ending, but this yarn stands alone quite well, so readers who want to sample Hawk’s writing can read this one without being roped into other purchases.

From a Distant Star— quick review and commentary

From a Distant StarThere are many themes in science fiction, and the one about an alien who is trapped on earth entering a host body isn’t exactly a new plot line. However, in this young adult novel, Karen McQuestion taps into the “kids dealing with big stuff” storyline that seems to be popular right now. (Think “Stranger Things” on Netflix or even Stephen King’s, IT! on the big screen.) Anyway, I didn’t find it difficult at all to get into this book and stay with it until the end. The main characters, Emma and her cancer stricken boyfriend Lucas, are believable, engaging, and their exploits are entertaining. Emma is particularly well drawn, and she is the point of view character for most of the novel.

I’m not a big fan of young adult fiction, but I genuinely believe that the most creative stories these days are found in that genre. Publishers, large and small, are not prone to take any chances with fiction intended for adult audiences, but they are more open to new authors and new ideas in YA fiction. This has been true for quite a while, and this trend plays out on the big screen. The Harry Potter novels were quite successfully adapted to film, as were the Hunger Games novels. The Divergent Series is another YA science fiction series that made it to the big screen. Even Twilight and its sequels begat movies.

Probably From a Distant Star won’t be the basis for a Hollywood block buster, but it would make a dandy film for the folks over at the SyFy channel. In the mean time, readers can find it in various formats, from $4.49 for the Kindle ebook to $10.95 in hard cover.

Hollar— and great customer service

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Mostly, I intend to write about writing, but real life does get in the way of that, and this post is about the fabulous customer service I got from an online “dollar store” known as Hollar.com. When I ordered from them for the first time, I got several items to try, and a puzzle to share with my family, who are (just like mom) big fans of Star Wars. Let me be perfectly honest— the price for the 100 piece puzzle was $1. But, when the group effort was finished, one piece was missing. Hubby laughed at me and had some disparaging remarks about my being cheap enough to order a $1 puzzle. He is right about me being cheap, however.

Slightly annoyed, I whipped out my iPad, took a picture of the 99 piece puzzle, posted it as a comment on the Hollar Facebook page. Within a few minutes, I had a couple of responses from concerned folks at Hollar. They asked for the order number, and when I replied via FB messenger with it, they assured me that I would get a new puzzle. I was expecting (maybe) a credit on my next order, but they said the item was in stock and would soon be on its way. Kudos, right?

A few days later, I got the box, which was bigger than expected and heavier, too. Curious, I opened the box and there was another boxed Star Wars puzzle. Below it, heavily cushioned, was a very nicely framed Star Wars puzzle, with a missing piece, along with a personal note explaining that they, too, didn’t like missing pieces. Hubby, who had brought the box from the post office couldn’t stop laughing, and I was so pleased with the item that I immediately hung it.

Nowadays, people love to say that almost all companies have “customer no service” rather than treating people right. Obviously, Hollar.com has a different philosophy, as well as a great sense of humor. Needless to say, I will be visiting the site again, because such great customer service deserves a second chance.

Go check out Hollar.com. Really!

Weight loss apps— my experience

scaleI guess the subtitle is Weight Watchers vs. My Fitness Pal, as those are the only two I have used enough to review in a meaningful manner.

Quite a long time back, I went to Weight Watchers and lost a goodly amount of weight, but I didn’t reach any goal. My thought at the time was that I had learned so much that I would be able to maintain my loss, and for a time I was somewhat successful. Fast forward a decade plus, and I was shopping the big girl’s section, which wasn’t much fun. Also, I became seriously concerned about the health effects of carrying so much extra weight around.

So, I joined Weight Watchers again, and wow, had things changed. Everyone was using the “app” and the meetings were half as long as before, because things were so high-tech. But, the core principles are the same: foods are assigned points, based on both calories and how “healthy” they are, and users are assigned a point target, based on certain individual criteria. Instead of looking up point values in a book, as we did before, the app can assist, even allowing users to scan a bar code on a package. (I don’t use that feature much, because fresh foods like blackberries and tomatoes do not have bar codes.) Anyway, the program works, and I lost even more weight than I did the first time, albeit over a longer period of time. (Maturity sucks.)

As I was losing, hubby lost quite a bit, too. He and his doctor were happy with the change, so hubby decided to go “all in” on weight loss, but he was not about to pay for it. So, he decided to try the “My Fitness Pal” app, as the basic version is free, and it works quite well. Since I do most of the cooking, he was always asking me for assistance in recording his food intake, which weight loss programs call “tracking,” so I ended up doing both WW and MFP for a few months. I’m currently still at my goal weight, which means as a lifetime member, I can use the WW app for free, but instead I am using MFP.

Both apps are very good, but for losing weight and learning how to do that, I would certainly stick with the WW app. By weighting (pun intended) certain foods, the app not only tracks users, but steers them toward healthy eating habits and better portion control. One excellent feature of the WW app is the recipes, which help users come up with a healthy recipe for whatever ingredients are entered. So, if I see pork tenderloin on sale, I can open the app and summon several healthy recipes right on my phone or iPad. However, the nutrition reports offered by the MFP app does a much better job of showing excesses or deficiencies in what I’ve been eating. For instance, I’ve been using MFP to help me keep up with how much protein I am eating, as I am a serious carb lover, and I might eat too many carbs and too little protein without those handy reports.

In our high tech world, it is quite easy to eat too much and move too little, so apps such as Weight Watchers and My Fitness Pal are very helpful.