Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tiger by the Tail by John Ringo and Ryan Sear

It all begins so simply, with a training mission for some of the Keldara warriors replacing the many lost in the battle against the Chechen insurgents. Mike Jenkins and his chief of staff, Adams, have chosen as their final exam the task of taking back a freighter from a group of pirates near Malaysia, then destroying their home base. All of this goes relatively smoothly, except that his team takes captive a "prostitute" being abused by the pirates, and discovers a locked case full of motherboards designed to control nuclear power plants in the pirates' treasure.

Though it takes Mike a while to figure it out, it seemed obvious to me before it was revealed in the book that the prostitute, Soon Yi, was a secret agent in deep cover for Chinese intelligence, tracking down the stolen motherboards for her government. After Mike contacts his friends at the highest levels of the U.S. government, he is asked to find out where the motherboards were going, ultimately, and get that information back to U.S. Intelligence. So begins the adventure through Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and other fun places in the Far East. Mike's team takes on gangsters, the police, a rogue Chinese general and even the military forces of a sovereign nation.

Plenty of graphic action, both military and sexual. Sear's addition to the writing team seems to add a bit more "documentary" style to things - each time Mike's team lands in a new locale, we get a couple of pages of background on the country, city or political unit, and there seems to be more detail about the capability of various weapons used by Mike and others. Not the best novel in the series, by a long shot, but not as poor as some reviews would have you believe. Hold out for the paperback before you spend the money.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

Back when I first started reading Banks' novels twenty five years ago, the proper response were I to mention his name would be "Iain who?" Now, it seems, his works are widely appreciated, and I believe I heard that Hydrogen Sonata is up for a Hugo Award and appeared on the New York Times Bestsellers list. By the way, doesn't Hydrogen Sonata sound like a new "green" vehicle from Hyundai?

I begin to remember why I stopped reading Banks, aside from the fact that I just lost track of his releases over time. His books flat out take time to read, to digest, to process. They're filled with rich detail, innovative future technology, cultural extrapolations, delicious sarcasm, glaring irony, and all sorts of distinctive little artistic touches.

A race called the Gzilt are about to Sublime - to give up their physical existence in the Real, and join all the previous races that have gone onwards, after accomplishing everything their race set out to, into another dimension, beyond striving. There's a slight problem, however, when a courier from the remnant of a race that sublimed long ago arrives to deliver a message that may shake the very foundations of the Gzilt's racial history and delay their tightly scheduled and choreographed exit. The courier is destroyed by an element of the Gzilt military before it is allowed to officially convey its message, and the game is on!

An ad hoc group of Culture ships gets wind of the attack and decides to intervene, or investigate, or perhaps instigate...tough to tell, exactly; they seem to function like most committees. A former member of the Gzilt military, Vyr Cossant, is summarily drafted by the security services to use her unique acquaintance with (perhaps) the oldest living member of the Culture to ferret out the nature of the message that was to have been delivered. She has made it her life's work to master the Hydrogen Sonata, a particularly difficult and not particularly lovely composition written for the antagonistic undecagonstring (or elevenstring), and has had herself surgically modified to have four functional arms and hands in order to play it properly. For some reason, known only to Banks, the elevenstring gets dragged along on all of her subsequent adventures and mishaps, much as she'd like to leave it behind, perhaps at the heart of a collapsing star somewhere or when.

I can't begin to describe all of the extremely interesting and inventive things Banks has done in this novel. It is filled with many different types of beings and intelligences, backstabbing conspiracies and explosive space battles, quirky ship Minds and hapless sophonts caught in its plots. Even if you've never read any of Banks' Culture works before, this one will stand quite solidly on its own. Any ties to previous works seemed to me to be quite unnecessary to enjoy it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Delays

Sorry no post early today. I'm buried in the latest Iain Banks Culture novel, and will post a review when I finish.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Bloodcircle by P. N. Elrod

In this third book in the Vampire Files series, Fleming and Escott use their latest leads to track down the fate of Jack's old lover, who turned him, Maureen. They find that she left a phone number where she could be reached in an emergency, belonging to an old neighbor, and that neighbor, in turn, leads them to the household of Emily Francher, wealthy spinster socialite, and her gentleman friend, Jonathan Barrett.

Barrett is wary of the duo when they arrive and begin asking questions, but he claims that he only saw Maureen briefly when she was escaping her sister, and that she spent the night at the Francher mansion, then left by cab the next morning without saying a word to him or anyone else. She has not been heard from since.

This story doesn't completely satisfy Jack and Charles, so they hang around town continue to make inquiries from the townsfolk, and Jack takes a sneaky reconnoiter around the place the following evening, eavesdropping on Barrett, Emily, and her ward, Laura, who seems to have a young woman's crush on Barrett, even though he and Emily are obviously lovers, and the couple have taken steps to bring Emily "life" after death.

When the pair take a ride with the cab driver who drove Maureen away from the mansion that day, they put him in serious danger, and shortly afterwards Jack stumbles upon the scene of a brutal attack on the poor, innocent fellow. Jack, himself, is blindsided when the attacker returns while he is trying to help the cabbie, and beaten so badly that the locals mistake him for truly dead, and he has to be rescued from the morgue by Charles before an autopsy is performed.

It becomes fairly obvious where this is all leading early on in the story, but our friends have to play the whole game to its bitter end.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lifeblood by P.N. Elrod

In this book, we take time off from our regularly scheduled gangster programming to bring you some blasts from Jack's past that have returned to haunt him once more. While Jack is on an expedition to the old family homestead to bring back some more sacks of his native earth (to sleep on), he notices that he is being followed. When he confronts his pursuers, he finds out that they are a couple of fellows from New York City who know that he is a vampire, and are determined (a la Van Helsing) to slay the foul beast (Jack).

Unable to convince them of his general good will and honorable intentions, he tries several times to dissuade them non-violently, but they continue to pop up at the least convenient moments throughout the story.

Upon his return to Chicago, Fleming receives a message from an old woman, Gaylen, who turns out to be the sister of the vampiress who changed him (Maureen). The old lady fills in the blanks for him - and us - on how Maureen lived, died and became a vampire, but can shed no further light on Maureen's fate after her sudden disappearance.

Eventually, these two apparently disparate plot threads come violently together when Bobbi is kidnapped and one of the vampire hunters killed by Gaylen's allies, who demand that Jack turn them into vampires so that they, too, may live forever.

Bloodlist by P.N. Elrod

Bloodlist is the first in Elrod's Vampire Files series, which takes place in the late 1930s around Chicago. The tale begins on the shores of Lake Michigan, where we find our protagonist, Jack Fleming, being run down by a small-time gangster. He "survives" the attack, and we very quickly discover that the reason is that he is a vampire, recently turned. It's only about two-thirds of the way through the book that we get most of his back story - he had a love affair with a vampiress named Maureen, and exchanged blood with her, which left him able to rise again when he was tortured to death by gangsters just a few hours prior to the beginning of the story. His memories of his death are repressed, to begin with, but we eventually get the flashbacks that make things clear.

Fleming, while breathing, was an investigative reporter in New York. One of his informants, just before being inconveniently murdered, gave him a coded list full of information that several rival gangsters are willing to kill for, and Jack spends most of the story blundering about investigating what might have been in the list that was so important. Very early in the game, he makes the acquaintance of Charles Escott, a former actor who is presently employed as a private agent (P.I., in modern terms). Escott worms his way into Fleming's confidence and investigation, and the two of them rapidly become good friends, though it takes them some time to admit to it.

It's always interesting to compare which myths of the total vampire mythos make it into each author's interpretation. Elrod's vampires aren't affected by garlic or crosses, though Fleming thinks that perhaps those who are actually "evil" might fear the crucifix - Fleming, himself, calls his parents when he thinks of them, and sends home money to help them through the tough times of the Depression. No bat or wolf shape is available, but forming into a mist that can seep through cracks in the walls or even more solid walls is a handy thing for a vampire turned investigator. Fleming becomes violently ill when he consumes normal food or drink, but he's not limited to taking blood from humans, a trip to the Stockyards seems to tide him over, though he discovers that the "kick" from human blood and the orgasmic pleasure involved for vamp and victim are far superior to the blood of our four-footed friends.

So, in this novel, the scene is set in Gangsterland Chicago,  sidekick Escott befriended and glamorous moll Bobbi won. The first round of battle eliminates a layer of the Mob, and Jack begins to deal with the consequences and responsibilities of his new powers. We also get to meet some semi-permanent friends and allies in the underworld of Chi-town.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Getting old

So, my wife and I are talking about buying some new towels, and we want some nice fluffy ones that soak up moisture well, and will also be durable and last us a while. For our wedding, almost 30 years ago, we received a couple of sets of towels that fit all of those criteria, but we're not sure who bought them for us, or what brand they were, or where they might have been purchased.
I say, since our wedding was held in our hometown, Lewiston, and most of the people attending lived there, "Well, they must have bought them in Lewiston. That limits it to JC Penney, Sears, or maybe Bon Marche (small town)."
My wife says, "They might have ordered them off the Internet."
Dead silence...

Friday, January 18, 2013

Red Cell by Richard Marcinko

 
After the first Rogue Warrior book, Marcinko decided to try his hand at fiction, with himself as the hero. Ahh...even more fictional than the first one.

The story begins in Japan, where Marcinko has a contract to test the security systems at an airport. While he's skulking about, he surprises some North Korean nationals breaking into a crate of nuclear weapons components, and terminates them with extreme prejudice. This stirs things up with his Japanese special forces buddy, Tosho, as well as some of his old contacts with the Navy. Following the trail may lead to some very high places back in Washington, D.C., but, of course, Marcinko is undaunted.

His next gig is to help the CEO of a potential defense contractor and his team of tech-weenies get ready for a war games scenario on the estate belonging to a former SecDef, Griffiths (who is, amazingly, one of those people back in DC who Marcinko suspects of being involved with the weapons smuggling). The team's training exercises and the game, itself, are very amusing, as one of Marcinko's rules of warfare seems to be "cheat whenever possible".

After the successful conclusion of the competition, Marcinko is drafted back into the Navy, in charge of his old Red Cell counterterrorism team, which has fallen on hard times, now that it's run by bean counters instead of real warriors. To bring them up to speed, he runs some more security testing on the naval yard at Seal Beach, where he encounters even more evidence that nuclear arms are being smuggled by someone with powerful connections.

The novel eventually winds to a not very surprising conclusion, with some good murder and mayhem along the way, filled with all the details Marcinko's real world experience can provide. The plot, unfortunately, is not all that gripping. We can only hope his narrative skills improve somewhere down the road in this series.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

No, They Can't by John Stossel

 I feel more and more, as I read Stossel's books, that I'm just part of the choir to whom he's preaching, you know? He's nearly as big-L Libertarian as Ron Paul, without nearly the nutty pronouncements, though. About the only things I still disagree with him about are legalizing recreational drugs and same-sex marriage. As a matter of libertarian principles, I understand and believe he has the right of it, but as a practical matter I see some serious consequences to both of these actions - and when Stossel criticizes big government, one of his pet gripes is the government's failure to consider all of the unintended consequences of their laws, policies and regulations.

I finally gave up on placing sticky notes beside the especially piquant passages, as it rapidly became too many to reasonably discuss in a timely review here. I saw a phrase  in a blog online this morning (no idea whom to hat-tip, sorry) that catches the flavor of something that Stossel doesn't explicitly state here - that government should be responsible for "policing" businesses, not trying to control them - and likewise with individuals. There are some things, like fraud, theft, assault, and more serious crimes, that it is the proper business of government to police and prosecute, but when a local, state or federal government instead begins to intrude into matters beyond those in which actual, prove-able harm is caused, it's a slippery slope to Orwellian times.

On a subject near and dear to my heart (and anyone who hangs around me long enough will hear me rant about it) - the shallow nature of what the media feeds us all these days, Stossel talks about how he had an expose prepared about Canadian health care, and how it related to the upcoming legislative battle over Obamacare.

"But then my report was delayed (by ABC). Michael Jackson died, and I was told that 20/20 obviously needed to do the entire hour on that. The following week, 20/20 aired an interview with Michael Jackson's sister. The following weeks, 20/20 covered his drug abuse, his music, his friends, his influence on America, where his money went, and so forth. 20/20 never found the time to run my hour on the downside of Obamacare."

and,

"The same week that the House approved the stimulus plan and jobless claims hit an all-time high, 20/20 devoted our whole show to 'Seduction: Why Him? Why her?'"

It seems far more important for all of our media outlets to keep us updated on the latest celebrity scandal than that we actually be informed about things that truly matter. Don't get me started.

On the subject of whether government can, or cannot, do anything to "fix" the economy, Stossel basically states that the only positive thing it can do is to stay the heck out of the way. Nearly everything else that big government does ends with unforeseen effects - rarely positive. He talks quite a bit about the modern applications contrary to Bastiat's "broken window" theory. The Keynesian economists who seem mostly to be in charge of our economy today think that government spending stimulates the economy, but they - and we - fail to consider what the result of allowing people to make their own decisions about how to spend their money would have been, had it not been taxed away from them to be spent by our all-wise overlords.

A quote I really liked,
"Since government services are funded through the compulsion of taxes, they have no market price. Without market prices, we have no way of knowing the importance that free people place on these services."

On the tragic burst housing bubble,

"At 20/20, at the peak of the boom, I was embarassed to anchor shows that my boss called 'real estate porn.' Porn, because people love to look at elegant houses and fantasize...In one, a promoter gave advice like, 'you can't get rich if you're a renter'... I didn't protest, but I should have."

I never understood, while this was all happening, how people could be convinced that the exponential rise in housing prices could continue indefinitely. Once the average home price exceeded the amount that an average working family could reasonably afford, according to all of the time-tested formula - used by banks for decades - it was only a matter of time for the house of cards to come tumbling down.

The phrase, "you can't get rich if you're a renter" also intrigues me. Having been a homeowner for a couple of decades, myself, I can tell you that your primary residence is not really, in general, a big moneymaker. If...IF...you're invested in real estate as a business, and can buy low and sell high, swooping in to pick up distressed properties, etc., you can probably make money at it, or if you're acquiring rental real estate over the long term, doing all your due diligence, you can make money that way, too. But when you buy a home where you can live and raise your family, a) you're limited as to how easy it is to take advantage of market swings - remember, you still need a place for your family to live when you sell your home, and if its price was up, anything nearby is probably up by the same percentage, so you're going to have to roll your "profits" right back into the new place. And let's not even talk about the true cost of maintenance over the long haul, plus the interest on your mortgage, taxes...

This is not a game for amateurs.

Stossel firmly believes that private industry, especially small businesses, do a far better job of serving the public than do our "public servants."

"They (New Yorkers) are shocked when I tell them that most of our subways were built, not by government, but by private companies...When the private company proposed raising the subway fare to 5 cents, the politicians said, 'Outrageous!' They forbade the increase and took over the subways. They promised to improve service and hold down fares. They did neither. Despite raising the fares to what is now $2.25, they still managed to lose money every year. Taxpayers fund them with billions in subsidies. If New York City had left the trains in private hands, maybe our subway would be more like Hong Kong's clean, efficient, and profitable one.

Yes. The world's only profitable mass transit is privately run."

Another thing that Stossel mentions in passing in a long section on health care, that happens to be another one of my pet rants, is those who confuse or conflate "access to health care" with being able to "afford health care". I won't even get into whether the latter is often a perception problem instead of a real one - though I will mention that I knew lots of young healthy folks who refused the $35 a month employee portion of their health insurance premium offered by a company that I worked for for nearly a decade, because they thought it was too expensive - and these were highly skilled manufacturing workers, not Wal Mart minimum-wagers.

"The truth is, almost al people do get health care, even if they don't have health insurance. Hospitals rarely turn people away; charities pay for care; some individuals pay cash; some doctors forgive bills. I wish people would stop conflating the terms, 'health care,' 'health insurance,' and 'Obamacare.' Reporters ask guests things like, 'Should Congress repeal health care?' I sure don't want anyone's health care repealed."

And in the category of "things that make you say, Hmmm?"

"It is no coincidence that the biggest push for more food regulation came at a time when Congress obsessed about the rising cost of medical care. When government pays for your health care, it will inevitably be drawn into regulating your personal life...Where does it stop?"

On bloated campaign spending,

"It is shameful that leftists let their hatred of corporations lead them to throw free speech under the bus. There is a smarter way to get corporate money out of politics: shrink the state. If government has fewer favors to sell, citizens will spend less money trying to win them." (emphasis mine)

Stossel tears into the educatin mess, and the trillions of dollars that have been thrown away in futile efforts to improve student performance. He feels at least part of the answer is in charter schools. I did a little research on a website - Global Report Card -  that tracks the ranking of every school district in the U.S., with respect to the rest of the world, and found the results very interesting. First, as you might imagine, some of the most wealthy areas of the country have the best schools, though it doesn't appear to necessarily be the result of higher per-pupil spending. I suspect that wealthy professionals tend to have the mobility to migrate to areas where their children's educations are likely to be great, and they also are probably very vocal consumers and actively influence local school boards. The really interesting thing was that in one of the top areas in the country for reading scores (Maricopa County, AZ) four out of five of the top performing schools  were charter schools. That area also appeared in the top 50 for Math quite often. This bears further reading and research to find out exactly what's going on in Phoenix and Tempe, I think.

A quote from the CEO of a very successful charter school.

"I don't do no teacher evaluations. All I do is go into a class, and if the kids ain't working, your ass is fired."

LOL. Short and to the point, if not perfectly grammatical.

The head of a pre-K education advocacy group says,

"We don't want to just focus on IQ scores. We want to look at how children are doing in their social and emotional, their noncognitive development."

Stossel replies, "Give me a break. If the huge government program can't perform the basic (and measurable) educational task of raising math and reading scores, why should we give the central planners more money because they promise to improve the kids' 'emotional development'?"

There's lots of great stuff in this book, and all you libertarians and conservatives out there ought to enjoy the heck out of it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Another Fine Myth

No, not the marvelous book by Robert Lynn Asprin...just another semi-debunking by yours truly. I've read, several times, articles by frugal folks that claim that you need to unplug all of your appliances, TVs, computers, etc., even while they're not powered on due to the whole issue of "phantom power". Phantom power appears to be the consumption of power by the circuitry of devices when they're in a standby state, without being fully powered on. If you unplug those appliances, you'll save lots of money, they claim.

A little background - first, I live in a state where we have pretty cheap power, generated mostly by hydroelectric means, so YMMV if you live in New York or California. Second, even if there were some amount of phantom power being consumed, I'd be willing to put up with it for the convenience of having some things always ready to power on, and we all know it's a real pain to have to reprogram the clock on your microwave, VCR and everything else in the house that has one, so the cost savings would have to be pretty large, as a percentage of my total power bill, for me to make the change.

I bought a little device at Home Depot last weekend called a Kill-a-Watt, which measures the power consumption of any device plugged in to a 120V electrical outlet. You can program your per-kilowatt-hour-cost (look at the rates on your most recent power bill) into it, and it will automatically calculate the hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or annual costs of the device - based on 24x7 usage. Unfortunately, it has no way to monitor the 220V appliances around the house, like my dryer, furnace, oven and water heater, as I suspect those are the big draws to begin with.

My total average monthly electric bill is $120 - higher in summer and winter, lower in spring and fall.

Here's some of my results:

The charger for my cordless drill, which I leave plugged in all the time, and which has a glowing green LED. Total Cost per month $0.

An entire group of charging devices for my wife's and my cell phones, bluetooth headset, Nook e-book reader, and Zune music player, plugged into a single power strip. Total Cost per month $0.05.

My wireless printer/scanner/copier on standby. Total Cost per month $0.38.

A dorm room fridge that used to belong to my son, that we keep soft drinks cold in, in the pantry. Total cost per month $1.42.

40" Flat Screen TV, Cable Box and BluRay player with WiFi. Total cost per month $2.29.

A 60W bulb in a light fixture on an end table in the living room. Total cost per month $3.11.

Two computers and all the peripherals in our home office. Total cost per month $3.93.

The refrigerator in the kitchen. Total cost per month $8.00. Now we're getting somewhere. By the way, the freezer out in the garage was drawing no power at all - but it's the middle of winter and about twenty degrees Fahrenheit anyway. I need to check it this summer.

The biggest draw is the block heater for my diesel pickup truck. Total cost per month $47.10. Good thing I've got it on a timer, so it only runs four hours early in the morning, which takes me back to around $8 per month. I read somewhere the other day that I could cut that down to one hour, but I'd hate to wake up and find out that wasn't long enough, and the truck wouldn't start.

I forgot to write down the result of running the washing machine through a couple of loads, but it was minimal; even less than a light bulb for a month's worth of laundry.

My conclusion is that phantom power is not as much of a big deal as they are claiming. It appears to be about the same amount as leaving one 60W bulb burning all day and night. Perhaps not the most thrifty of behaviors, but it's not going to make a big difference in your power bill. I'm pretty certain the best bang for the buck can be found in:
  • having a reasonably new energy efficient heating and cooling system installed in the first place, using a programmable thermostat to regulate temperature efficiently, and perhaps keeping the temperature just a little lower in the winter and higher in the summer than you'd really love to.
  • Keeping the water temperature setting on your water heater set in such a way as to ensure you have sufficient hot water for personal needs, while not keeping it too hot all the time.
  • Using your clothes dryer as little as possible.
  • Not forgetting to turn off the oven or (if you have an electric one) stove after you're finished cooking or baking.
  • If you do have lights that you leave on all night, for security reasons, or just to keep you from running into things, it might be a good idea to put them on an appliance timer - usually about $6 at the hardware store - to keep them from staying on during daylight hours when you're forgetful.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Midst Toil and Tribulation by David Weber

I am a huge fan of David Weber's writing. I doubt there are very many of his novels which I have not read, and I own copies of almost all of them. Yet it was a struggle, despite how much I've enjoyed the Safehold series, to push on through to the end of this one. It seemed to me that to "get" what was going on, you'd need a huge hex map of Safehold, and lots of little counters to represent each of the armies and their forces involved in the tale, as well as having your "cheat sheet" handy to keep track of the major players (though Weber does include a list of all characters at the back of the book) and what has happened in the past several novels to each of them.

The major threads of the story here seem to be, first, the plight of the Republic of Siddarmark and its people following the attack of the Sword of Scheuler which destroyed much of the food supply for the nation just before winter, as well as committing horrendous atrocities upon the "heretics" (aka Reformists). The Empire of Charis (Caleb, Sharleyan, Merlin and friends) is determined to do everything they can to get desperately needed relief supplies to the general populace and to reinforce the Siddarmarkian army with all the military personnel and supplies that they'll need to stop the imminent invasion by Mother Church.

Second, after being rescued from assassination by Clyntahn's agents, Princess Irys and Prince Daivyn of Corisand are welcomed by Caleb and Sharleyan back in Charis. Despite the fact that King Hector, their father, was an enemy of Charis, they are treated with the utmost respect, and it is hoped that they can be turned into Charisian allies in the near future.

The ongoing development of technology which doesn't technically violate the Proscriptions of the Church plays a major role here, as it has for most of the series, and Charis continues to enjoy a significant advantage in the machinery of war and commerce over its enemies, but the total numerical advantage of a great population and economy are difficult to overcome, especially when the Inquisition's spies are busily stealing the inventions nearly as fast as they are appearing. I suppose the suspense of the story couldn't be dragged out nearly as long if this didn't take place, but it's a bit annoying, you know?

Another annoying thing is that Weber will quite often introduce new characters, with a full backstory attached, and you never know whether to pay close attention to them, because they'll last for several books, or maybe the whole series, or whether they're going to just be around for this particular skirmish - dying horribly, or perhaps a few skirmishes, still dying horribly, but giving us a perspective on a bit of local strategy for a time.

For the most part, however, Weber's writing is engrossing, as always, and I'm still strongly committed to finding out what becomes of the Empire of Charis over the long haul.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Rogue Warrior by Richard Marcinko

As I read things by and about Special Forces, Richard Marcinko's name kept popping up, so I finally put his first book, purportedly autobiographical, on reserve at the library. Marcinko was one of the driving forces behind the formation of Seal Team Six, which has gained (unwanted?) fame recently for the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Marcinko joined the Navy as a young man, and wangled his way into UDT training, then BUDS, and ended up being deployed to Viet Nam as a newly minted ensign in charge of a platoon of SEALs. He seemed to have the time of his life leading missions against the Viet Cong there, and provides some pretty good tales of his adventures. He never did have much respect for most officers, especially administrative and rear echelon types (his terms for them are a little less polite), and he really was quite an a**hole, if everything he says in the book is true. He's definitely the kind of man you want to have your back when it all hits the fan, but I'm not certain I'd like to hang around with him under ordinary circumstances - he generally liked to start trouble, just for fun.

I was reading a section of the book where he tells about his team doing security testing of other Navy installations, and I kept having this deja vu feeling. Then it came to me - in The Weapon, by Michael Z. Williamson, there's a scenario where Chinran and his special forces are training, and they do almost exactly the same things to some unsuspecting regular forces bases. I wonder if Williamson read this book, and it all stuck in his subconscious somewhere, or if he might have been involved with the original caper, somehow.

I'm sure that Marcinko sanitized his stories for the book a little bit, and there's probably plenty he's not telling, but this book is definitely "adult" fare, anyway. Enjoyed it enough that I put his second book on reserve.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Around the Web

Trent, at The Simple Dollar, posts a list of the top six personal finance books on his Essential Bookshelf. All very good, but when I saw the post title, I thought, "Dang, I should called my blog The Essential Bookshelf."

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle

After reading the second in this series, I realize that there's really not a whole lot of mystery in Mayle's mysteries, but they sure are fun anyway. If you've read any of his other works, you know he's a huge francophile, and the love shines through in the way he describes all of the wonderful meals and glasses of wine that Sam Levitt and his allies enjoy while pursuing the latest caper.

Sam gets a visit in L.A. from the fellow who was both the culprit and ultimately, the victim, in The Vintage Caper, M. Reboulle, the billionaire with the most amazing wine cellar ever. Reboulle was so impressed with the acting job and scam that Sam ran on him to recover the stolen wine that when he needs a front man for a project he's working on in Marseilles, developing a prime piece of shoreline, he decides he must have Sam's talents on hand. Never one to turn down an all-expense-paid trip to Provence, Sam and his girlfriend, and erstwhile employer, Elena, jump on Reboulle's private jet and fly off to near paradise.

Reboulle's arch enemy is the chairman of a committee which will decide which of three developers' plans will be selected. So he feels he cannot allow any hint of his involvement with the potential project to leak out, and asks Sam to pretend to be the American representative of a Swiss construction firm and to make all of the presentations to the committee. One of the other firms is run by a rather unscrupulous former British bookie, and he and his thug employees are not above a little attempted murder and mayhem when it comes to influencing the decision. Things get a little bit tough for Sam and Elena and their friends for a while, but sneakiness and a good con seem to do the trick every time.

By the time you're through, I guarantee you're going to want to head to France to do a little private investigating of your own.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dresden Files Plot Summaries

I was out on Tor Books' web site and found these wonderful "reviews" of the Dresden Files books. They're completely full of spoilers, so if you're reading the series for the first time, I wouldn't recommend them. However, if you're catching up after a long hiatus, they're great for remembering what has happened before in the series, when Butcher is not writing them fast enough to suit serious fans.

#1 Storm Front
#2 Fool Moon
#3 Grave Peril
Summer Knight #4
Death Masks #5
Blood Rites #6
Dead Beat #7
Proven Guilty #8
White Night #9
Small Favor #10
Turn Coat #11
Changes #12
Ghost Story #13
Cold Days #14

Timeless by Gail Carriger

A couple of years have passed in the Parasol Protectorate time stream between the last novel and this one, which has allowed the situation to develop a bit, and to reveal what some of Alexia and Connal's daughter, Prudence's, supernatural abilities are - she "steals" the attributes of other supernaturals, leaving them effectively mortal until sunrise or until her mother touches her, whichever comes first. This can make her quite a handful to deal with - imagine the terrible twos with the strength, speed and reflexes of a werewolf. For the most part, however, her adopted father, Lord Akeldama, and her two natural parents appear to be dealing with things successfully.

I have to note, here, that Lord Akeldama's terms of endearment continue to crack me up. A couple of examples were "my darling chamomile bud" and "my little periwinkle". And, for one of the werewolves, hes uses something like "my fuzzy darling."

An uproar begins when the beta of Maccon's old clan arrives in town after a journey to Egypt and is shot to death, passing while under the care of Floote, Alexia's butler. Coincidentally? Alexia is summoned to Alexandria by the eldest of vampires, Queen Matakara, for unknown reasons. To keep things amusing and interesting, Alexia and Connal are accompanied by Ivy Tunstell and her family and entire acting troupe, and Madame LeFoux, the mannish inventor.

There's lots of action in this book, some comedic, some serious. Perhaps vampires only behave in convoluted fashion by their nature, but it seemed to me that the trouble that Alexia and Connal experience in Egypt could have been avoided by Queen Matakara simply telling Alexia what she wanted from her as soon as she arrived, and making the necessary arrangements with her people ahead of time, rather than encouraging the chaos that took place.

Alexia and her friends learn a little bit more about the activities of her father, discover the nature and origins of the God Breaker Plague, and we learn a bit more about the pitfalls of immortality.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Sports Illustrated Football: Defense by Bud Wilkinson

This is, of course, the companion volume to Wilkinson's book on Offense, and I must say that I found far more points in this book that helped me to understand football better than before. In fact, I was watching one of the bowl games and pointed out to my wife one of the things that the defense "keys" on to decide how to counter an offensive play. One would think, though, that experienced camera people would know about this, too, and wouldn't end up filming a spot on the field where nothing important was happening so often, but...I suppose not.

"...(linebackers and secondary men) must 'read' or 'key' as the ball is snapped. These terms mean watching one or two offensive players whose movement at the start of the play usually indicates the type of play to be run...
1) Offensive linemen downfield means the play is a run.
2) Offensive linemen pulling out either ot the left or right indicates that the play is going in that direction.
3) Offensive linemen drop-stepping back to execute a pass-protection block indicates that the play will be a pass."

On avoiding being "juked" or faked out,

"Most running backs have excellent balance and an uncanny ability to fake with their head, eyes, shoulders, arms and even legs. But it is difficult to fake with the belt buckle. Even O.J. Simpson will be where his belt buckle is."

Is his belt buckle in the slammer these days?

One of those things that seems obvious, but which I often hear from color commentators before the game,

"It is one of football's truisms that the team controlling the line of scrimmage wins the game."

On the topic of "swarming to the ball" which seems to be a sign of an effective defense,

"It is an essential of team defense that all linebackers (and linemen) pursue the ball when it is in the air, regardless of their distance from it. If they stop their pursuit, they become mere spectators."

I have this problem in racquetball some days.

I'm definitely going to see if I can find some more recent books by Wilkerson - they're making me a far better "consumer" of football. Unfortunately, the season is almost over...long time to wait for the next.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Do Unto Others by Michael Z. Williamson

Our favorite mercenary band from Ripple Creek has been given what would appear to be a plum assignment, guarding a rich heiress to an offplanet mining fortune, Caron Prescott, as she finishes up her engineering thesis on Earth. But more than one entity wants either to kidnap her, kill her, or incapacitate her in some way, and the attacks on her person escalate to the point where the place that seems to be the most secure is on her family's mining planet of Govannon, so Alex, Aramis, Jason and Elke and their friends transfer there as soon as she is done with her final exams.

Things seem quiet at first, but our friends are so wonderfully paranoid about protecting their client that they begin to acquire and stash weapons, supplies and (for Elke) explosives, and to plan ways to escape and evade attackers. As the latest addition to the management team of the mining consortium, Caron spends much of her time visiting the various facilities, learning about how operations are proceeding. She misses the signs, but someone is agitating the miners, and the workforce is a powder keg about to explode, seemingly unrelated to the attacks from outside.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop, the suspense builds nicely, and we begin to get an idea about who is really responsible for the attacks on Caron. It all comes to a head when her father is killed in a "mining accident" and the crew from Ripple Creek decides to protect Ms. Prescott at all costs. A great running battle scene ensues, and Elke finally gets to blow things up, nearly to her heart's content.

There's an interesting passage which is either about how the "evil capitalists" create wealth for all through a trickle-down effect, or perhaps it's about how technologies developed for our space race benefit society, or maybe even a little of both:

"This wasn't just a mine, it was a research facility, a resort, a peek into the future of space habitats, and might solve several problems with all human settlements, including pollution, starvation and resource depletion. The Prescott family had certainly earned its trillions. Far from being evil capitalists, the family were contributing massively to the future of the human race. They'd developed several entire industries, and created hundreds of refinements of others, not to mention being the vanguard of development of the mining and smelting techniques...The frothing socialists who hated the wealth simple couldn't, or didn't want to, understand that they benefitted directly from all this development, which only came about because Bryan Prescott was willing to stake his existing fortune on a bet some decades back."

More good action, and we get to know the Ripple Creek operators a bit better, too.