Monday, January 30, 2006

Google Toolbar Beta

Google has once again improved their product. Google Toolbar Beta is now available for download. Looks pretty much like the same old thing. Biggest thing for me is the GMail and Blogger button. Makes it easier for me to see and post.

Friday, January 27, 2006

PDF-417 Barcode on CSI

Being the CSI junkies that we are, we enjoyed last night's episode. But I felt like a nerd because I knew what a 2D barcode was. I see them everyday on tax returns. But I never knew it was also called a PDF-417 Barcode. I guess television can be educational.

The Truce At Bakura Review

The Truce At Bakura
by Kathy Tyers

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Finally, something with substance.

I’ve been going back through the books in my collection chronologically (in the Star Wars timeline, not our timeline). And I’ve finally hit something worth while.

The Truce At Bakura takes place right after Return Of The Jedi. Luke is still struggling with his bone calcification due to severe exposure to electrical currents (talk about the Emperor’s Bones!). So Luke and the classic crew of characters, Han, Chewie, 3PO, R2, and Leia, intercept a communication from deep space meant for Palpatine. The Bakura system is in trouble, under attack by an outside force.

Enter the Ssi-Ruuk (pronounced <see-ROOK> in Basic), an evil reptilian race bent on enteching the galaxy, courtesy of a pre-arranged plot with Palpatine. The Ssi-Ruuk speak some bizarre language that sounds like bird calling, thus earning them the nickname Fluties (not to be confused with your morning cereal) by the alien-hating Imperials running the planet.

So Luke and company head out to help the desperate Imperials. In the process, the Ssi-Ruuvi plot to capture Luke, Luke’s infected with an odd lung-devouring parasite, Han and Leia still haven’t quite made a commitment to each other, 3PO is still annoying, and R2 warbles and tweeps in an attempt to gain a starring role.

In the end, a decent read with the classic characters doing what they do best, beating the Imperials, saving the galaxy, and surviving to fight another day. The book had a decent pace and had enough of the expected to traps, plots, and counter-plots to keep the reader enticed.

Available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

Mom meets Franco Harris

Wow.  It’s just before noon and my mom called.  She’s headed to Kenosha today for a quilt show.  Thinking it was an emergency, I was a bit tentative in answering the phone.  But I knew I would have to answer.  Fortunately, the first thing she said was that it wasn’t an emergency.

And it was good news.

She just shook the hand of Franco Harris.

He apparently had just finished a press conference at the airport (which was all decked out in Steeler colors of course).  She took pictures during the press conference and of his statue and all the decorations.  Can’t wait to see how they turn out.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ploughman King Review

Ploughman King (Ploughman Chronicles #2)
by Kurt R. A. Giambastiani

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 4 out of 5

In the years after Ploughman Son, we see that Alain has risen in powers political and magical. But inside he’s still carrying the tack to the stable with hands caked in dirt. A part of him will always be a ploughman’s son.

Wrdisten, the ever faithful second fiddle, was the true standout in the story. Be it my preference for secondary characters or Kurt’s writing, Wrdisten made the story. Switching from friend to advisor, fighting alongside Alain then in front of him, servant to equal. There was a lot of quality content and situations to work with. There were many great dialogues between him and others (and not just Alain and Bronwyn).

Which leads to the mysterious Bronwyn. While I’m sure Kurt has no plans at the moment to continue the Ploughman Chronicles, he did set up a few story lines that could easily be used in a third book. She had a bit of a curtain drawn around her history from the start, but we can now see there’s more behind there. Lots more.

I’ve obviously focused most of this on the three main characters and there is a reason. While reading Ploughman King, I was severely distracted with life and other projects. So the plot, pacing, setting, and the rest of the literary jazz doesn’t really stand out. I had even debated devoting the time to a review knowing I’d run the risk of a lower quality review.

In the end I decided that some things didn’t matter. How did the Fey get into the Summerland? What is the Veil and how was it carved on Alain’s chest? These questions and many others began piling up during my reading. But it all boiled down to the people, the characters. That’s where the story was. That’s where I’d find my review.

Just beyond the veil of questions, lay the answers.

Available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

Steelers wear white! - Steelers stick with their 'away' jerseys

Looks like the Steelers have decided to wear their away jerseys for the big game. In keeping with my superstitious ways, I'll be wearing my white Polamalu jersey.

The AFC is considered the "home" team in even-numbered years (thus the Steelers in 2006). By wearing their white jerseys, they'll be going against tradition. This has only been done three times in the past. The Cowboys in 1979 (who lost to the Steelers), the Cowboys in 1993 (who beat Buffalo), and the Redskins in 1983 (who beat Miami).

Monday, January 23, 2006

Happy Birthday MacGyver

Today is MacGyver's birthday. Born in 1950 in Minnesota, Richard Dean Anderson went on to become quite the popular actor. From MacGyver to Stargate SG-1 to General Hospital.

And I'll admit right now that I am a bit of an RDA junkie. In fact, I watched the Season 4 episode Gold Rush of MacGyver today during lunch. Just can't get enough.

So RDA, here's to you. Ever since I found out you rode your bike across Canada at the age of 17, I've seen you as a hero. Something this world has little of.

Here's a link to a site I frequent for the latest news on RDA. -Richard Dean Anderson Web Site

Hard Merchandise Review

Hard Merchandise (Bounty Hunter Wars #3)
by K. W. Jeter

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

The madness is finally over. While this series went from good to bad to worse, I decided to give Hard Merchandise an extra half a point for the simple fact it tied up the loose ends. Something this series had plenty of.

We finally see the end of the Bossk-Fett war, though I still think there’s something else there we haven’t learned about yet. We find out Neelah’s true identity, a member of the Kuat royalty and sister to Kuat of Kuat’s new head of security. We find out what Kuat of Kuat was planning, to frame Prince Xizor and bring about the destruction of Black Sun. Too bad he only got half of it. Dengar finally gets what’s coming to him. His mate wagers on him surviving the Fett partnership and wins, thus allowing them to pay they debt and start fresh. Kud'ar Mub'at, well, he’s dead. Sort of. But who cares about creepy space dwelling spiders anyway.

After reading this series, I now know how many of Fett’s captives felt sitting in the hold of Slave I. There is no way to escape your immenent doom and there’s a complete lack of control over your destiny. You’re just like all the other hard merchandise stuck in a cage waiting to be turned over to some slimy Hutt who will make you choose your death. Fight the Rancor or read this series.

Either way, you're screwed.

Available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Quote the Raven nevermore. - 57 years of mystery: Who visits Poe's grave? - Jan 19, 2006

Might as well start using that Blogger link in IE (I know, I'm a little slow in starting). Thanks to kurt for the link.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Slave Ship Review

Slave Ship (Bounty Hunter Wars #2)
by K. W. Jeter

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 2 out of 5

It’s getting harder to stomach the drivel I read. Well, it’s not all drivel. But sometimes I feel like that’s what I’m reading.

With Slave Ship, Jeter continues the story of Fett in dual timelines. One being around A New Hope and the other around Return Of The Jedi. While the “now” and “then” is a different writing technique, it does take some effort to keep the separate storylines, well, separate. Fett continues to be fleshed out as do many of the other characters (including Prince Xizor, Darth Vader, the Emperor, Dengar, and other minor players).

Along with the extra flesh, there’s also some history thrown in. While it’s trivial for most Star Wars readers, a few of the die-hards will enjoy the schemes of Kuat of Kuat (as in Kuat Drive Yards) as well as those of Prince Xizor (that Black Sun guy with bad body odor).

Overall, a slow read. Or a fast one if you skipped a lot of the so-called drama. Very little action, very little dialog, very little…..everything. Not the best Star Wars book I’ve read, but also not the worst. Just closer to the later than I’d prefer. Hard Merchandise is next and I can only hope it’s not as hard as this one.

Available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mandalorian Armor Review

Mandalorian Armor (Bounty Hunter Wars #1)
by K. W. Jeter

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 3 out of 5

Boba Fett yet again survives certain doom. When we last saw the best of the galaxy, he was being sucked into the Sarlacc’s gullet. This story shows how he survived and how he got there.

While Boba Fett is a great survivor, few people know how well he does at planning for the worst. In flashes back to the past (back when he joined the Bounty Hunter’s Guild) and in scenes from the present (just after he gets dumped into the Sarlacc Pit), the reader sees how strong he is and how far in advance he plans. And how honorable he truly is.

And while the main story is about Boba Fett, there are also some other main characters that develop nicely. Primarily Bossk, the Trandoshan bounty hunter (he’s the one with scales and claws) and the human bounty hunter, Dengar (he’s the guy in bandages). While Bossk is Fett’s sworn enemy, Dengar is a bit of a fence-sitter. Bossk has some serious anger issues and wants nothing more than to take them out on Fett. Dengar though, is a bit of a different story. He appears to have just as much honor as Fett, but yet still wants to preserve his hide and sells information about his survival.

Fett survives the Sarlacc. Dengar saves Fett. Add an unknown female character, a pissed-off reptoid bounty hunter and stir. Flavor with a hint of the Emperor, Darth Vader, and Prince Xizor. Bake for a few hours and presto, a glimpse of Fett’s life.

Available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

Friday, January 06, 2006



One license plate (VA tags: TK-42ONE)
with Frame (Pittsburgh Steelers)

What an interesting day. Started my usual 45 minute commute in my usual groggy fashion. Flipping between the radio and my latest Star Wars audio book just to stay awake, I apparently lost my license plate (along with the frame and screws).

So I cruise on my merry way until I neared the La Grange area of Route 3 (aka - the big horse). As I pass the big horse, a lady driving next to me honks and starts pointing at my car while saying something. Thinking I have a flat tire, I promptly pull over. Thinking about how nice it is to find somebody actually doing a good deed, I wasn’t over-concerned with the flat tire. I knew I could make it to a gas station and fill up with air or, in a worst-case scenario, use my spare “tire.”
As I got out of the car, I checked for a possible ambush (that paranoid side of me still can’t trust people). Seeing none, I walked around the rear of the car and checked my tires. All had air, albeit a bit low in some of them. Nothing that would warrant a full-fledged honk and wave-down. Walking back to my door to drive away, I saw it.

No license plate.


My custom plate was missing!


So I hoofed it back towards home to turn around and drive back to work slowly while looking for my plate. The only thing I could think of was that she saw it fall off. But, there is a chance that she saw it earlier and now didn’t see it. We had been playing a bit of “I pass you, you pass me” along the way. So driving a nice, legal 55 mph, I headed back towards work, seeing nothing but trash, trash, and more trash. Nothing that looked like my plate (except that case of beer).

So I called the local Sheriff’s office, who was kind enough to make a report with all pertinent info. An officer even called me back to get more details and agreed to report it as “lost” so if I should happen to find it, I would be pulled over with guns drawn.

As of 1600 hours today, there’s still no sign of my plate. But my wife was kind enough to call and say that she had found my Steeler frame. Maybe they’ll win Sunday after all. Seeing as it was found closer to home, there may be a glimmer of hope left that I can recover my plate without wading through the morass of DMV and trying to re-issue my recently renewed tags.

A little side note to add to the mystery, about a half mile after I pulled out of the house, the Sheriff’s Animal Control Officer pulled out behind me. Further evidence that I likely had my plate at that time. Or evidence that he wasn’t as clear-headed as he should have been and proof that he may need to slow down instead of nearly running my wife off the road. But that’s a whole other rant.
On the way home, I found my license plate (despite my wife and father both driving right by it). From the info I’ve gathered, I appear to have lost it the night before. The tag was found about a half mile to a mile from the road I live on (on the left side of the road as I come home). The plate was found right at the intersection on the right side (sitting about a foot from the edge of the pavement). So making my left turn then accelerating, I think the plate would have fallen off there perfectly. Thus explaining how the frame wound up further down the road (as in the frame fell off first, then the plate).I’ve now secured both plates (and frames) on both cars with anti-theft bolts that are a good half-inch longer than the stock screws. Maybe I won’t get screwed again.
Available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Underworld Review

Underworld (The Last Of The Jedi #3)
by Jude Watson

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Slightly better than the previous titles in this series, Underworld is still just a kid’s book. Ferus and Trevor travel back to Couruscant to battle the Empire and even have a brief encounter with the big bad guy himself, Darth Vader. During their trip back to the city-planet, they meet up with the “Erased,” a group of insurgents that do their best to fight the Empire. Essentially the un-developed Rebel Alliance. They make several trips into the Jedi Temple, blow up stuff, and generally escape danger.

Ferus and Trevor are beginning to develop as characters, but the story is too short to make a large amount of change. Ferus is beginning to show more developed Force skills and Trevor, well, he just grows on you. Kind of that feisty street-kid we all take sides with.

As to the series, it looks like there will be yet another book coming. Vader has some competition with Malorum, who has Ferus left in a cell awaiting shipment to a prison planet and execution. Guess we’ll have to wait for Death On Naboo due in April.

Available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

Monday, January 02, 2006

First Review for 2006 - The Rebel Dawn

The Rebel Dawn (Han Solo Trilogy #3)
by A. C. Crispin

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 3 out of 5

Another year gone, another book read (or listened to), and another review written. And now, another series finished. The final book of the Han Solo Trilogy takes the reader right up to the first scenes from A New Hope (specifically, the Mos Eisley Cantina where Han and Chewie meet Obi-Wan and Luke).

Now for me, the ending was the best. It ties up some of the loose ends and brings the reader to the beginning of A New Hope, where the whole story started (meaning the Star Wars story started when A New Hope was released). It also gave the reader an excellent view of where Han started, why he treats Leia the way he does, and how he’s developed such a great attitude toward the galaxy.

The down side to the book is the lack-luster action, character creation, and dialog. Most of the action is, well, very much like the original trilogy movies. Same for the dialog. They work for the movies because that’s where we hear them first. In the books, it’s more like recycled lines and battle sequences. As to the character creation, well, it just wasn’t there. Some of the better characters created in the first book either disappear or hardly show up in the second and third book. Plus the characters weren’t all that exciting to be around. And while I learned more about the Hutt reproductive cycle than I’d care to, there was plenty of devious double crossing.

Another average read from another average series. Great for learning about Han’s doings before A New Hope, but not enough to get too excited about.

Available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions