February Books

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Started 20 January
Finished 20 February

Only one book completed this month, which would be pretty dire, except that this is quite a long read. It also took me a while to settle in to the story. Not being Chinese, the whole setting was, well, "different". I did spend a while wondering how the story was going to develop into a science fiction novel, but it did and it is well worth persevering. This is the first in a trilogy and I look forward to reading the other two books, although I shall take a break between them, I think. I have long been a fan of epic space novel series, so this should be right up my street. Having said that, it is at times pretty bleak and I believe the last book might be even more so.

At the time of writing, I am still on February's Kindle First book, with March's unopened. In addition, a friend introduced me to the works of another author, so I have a queue of his books, plus I discovered my friend had written some books, so one of those is now in the queue (the others are for children).

I really need to escape into the world of the written word more. Life is a bit tense at the moment and when I feel like this I tend to stop reading, which is probably the opposite of what I should do.

Middle-aged rebel

Today I did something that, when I was younger, I swore I would never do; I got a tattoo. Go me!

It's a very simple one - a yin-yang symbol, on the inside of my right wrist, in a place that can be hidden by a long-sleeved top. For work, you see.

I have been thinking about this for some time now, and then I had a dream, in which I had this tattoo, so I realised the dream. I do have a leaning towards the philosophy of the Tao Te Ching, so having a permanent symbol I could look at easily made sense to me. I can now glance at my wrist and be reminded of the importance of balance in my life - an opportunity for a brief re-focus or a moment of meditation

The tattoo of this symbol is also, well, mostly, in remembrance of my Mum, who passed away 2 years, 5 months and 13 days ago (yes, I'm still counting). Those who know me, and who knew my Mum, would say: surely a Welsh/Celtic symbol of a some kind would be the thing to go with? Well, yes, however this tattoo reminds me of a holiday we had in Brussels, some 16 years ago now. We were wandering around and found ourselves outside what must have been a fairly upmarket jewellers. In a prominent place in their window was a yin-yang, made of the most stunning glass. One side was obsidian black, with a clear dot and the other was the reverse. Both the clear and black glass were very nearly perfect. The thing must have been 4" tall and around 8-10" diameter. We stared at that piece for ages; we were speechless in the face of its beauty. It was a shared moment, too, both delighting in the same thing. Now, a treasured memory,

The Guardian

I have today taken out membership of The Guardian. I know, I'm not their normal demographic, being politically a little more to the right, usually. That said, "the right" as it is today doesn't represent my political views, either. Far from it. So, here I am, pretty much unrepresented by any political party in the UK.

Aside from all that, I have been making conscious decisions to support things that I think are worth it,as I am fortunate to be in a position where I can. I pay for the hosting of this blog which is an absolute bargain, as it includes multiple blogs, a social media feed, to-do lists and, at some point, a notes facility. All this from an independent provider. I have changed my RSS provider to Newsblur, a paid service, but one which does exactly what I want, at a reasonable price. This week I added Pinboard to my suite of subscriptions. I support a podcast network that I listen to a lot and I also support a blog I particularly enjoy. I hope to support another one, too, just waiting for an annual subscription rather than a monthly one. Currency conversion charges, what can I say...

To sum up, all this made me decide that I needed to support The Guardian. In a time when everything is owned by someone who wants to put their spin on things, playing to the fears and prejudices of one group or the other, I think I owe it to them to pay for what I read.

Plus, crosswords! Back in the day when I didn't have more work than I could possibly get through, a colleague and I used to do the Guardian crossword every day.

January Books

Lexicon by Max Barry

Started 27 December
Finished 3 January

I enjoyed this more than I expected to. I started reading it a year or so ago, but gave up fairly quickly, as it plunged me into a world too unfamiliar and confusing. On the second attempt, however, I stuck with it and found it was worth the effort. It begins as rather a dystopian sci-fi novel, but evolves into more of a thriller/action novel, where the sci-fi elements seem to take second place behind the action. That or I grew accustomed to things.

The main premise is the power of words to persuade, beyond what we currently understand. The novel follows the story of two characters, one who is selected to train in the art of "persuasion" and one who, we learn, appears to be immune to these powers. The two stories come together as the book progresses. This didn't seem to me to be at all contrived and the storytelling was nicely paced, keeping me interested throughout.

The Winter Over by Matthew Iden

Started 4 January
Finished 11 January

Ok, actually I finished this around 3am on 12 January, during one of my less successful slumber periods. When this came up on January's Kindle First list it was an easy decision for me; it is set in Antarctica, somewhere which fascinates me, as I'm sure it does many people.

A group of scientists and staff are about to see colleagues depart, leaving them there during the long months of perpetual darkness - the winter over period of the title. The base is newly-run by a private company. A body is found in the snow and things start to go wrong. It seems that some of the staff are possibly not as mentally stable as they ought to be to endure the dark months. As time passes it becomes clear that this was no accident…

I enjoyed this book, although I felt it rushed to the end slightly; a little more suspense would have been nice. Overall, it's a good read and more than a little thought-provoking.

Containment by Christian Cantrell

Started 12 January
Finished 19 January

I wasn't sure quite what to expect with this book. I've had it for a while and never started it. On the whole, I enjoyed it. It's a good old-fashioned life in space tale, but with a twist. I grew up reading Asimov, Heinlein and the like, so this is my preferred type of science fiction. This novel centres around a group of human settlers on Venus, but all is not what it seems. As I read, I was looking forward to the end of the book, with, presumably, the final reveal. Unfortunately it just stopped. Yes, other characters were going to discover the truth - I assume. I was aware this is supposed to be the first book in a series so I read up about the second book and apparently that doesn't continue the story at all. I found myself with too many outstanding "why" and "what next" questions to be satisfied with this book. I enjoyed reading it very much, but I think the ending let it down, almost like the cliff-hanger end of a tv episode, only to find the next is about completely different characters. I may keep an eye on reviews, to see if the third book ties things together. As it stands, I doubt I'll get book two.

Every ending is a new beginning…   

Or so they say.  This morning my little corner of the internet was buzzing (sort of) with the announcement that App-dot-net (I won’t put a link here, given the circumstances) would be closing down soon.  For those of us who have stuck around, this is it.  We have always known this day would come, since the announcement in May 2014 that there would be no further development from the owners and the network would be put into a form of hibernation, just ticking along.
 
In the time since, people have stuck around, drifted back to Twitter, or found other places to hang out.  Gradually they have dropped their subscriptions down to the free tier – something I had planned to do at my next renewal, which is moot now as the lights will have gone out before then.
 
Since joining ADN I have met quite a number of people who I enjoy chatting with online and I think a lot of us are still in touch on other social networks – failing all else, Twitter is still around.  I value the connections I have made using the service; my life has been much enrichd by the conversations we have had – and still continue to have.  People there have encouraged me to have a blog, have helped this n00b with setting up her domain records to point to her blog hosting and myriad other things. I even, at one point, dipped my toe into CSS, purely so I could replace a dark blue theme with a much nicer purple.  Easy, you say?  ‘Twas more than enough for me.
 
For my part I mostly use 10 Centuries Social and I have this blog (plus a couple of others) hosted there.  I don’t see that changing.  However, being part of the ADN community has allowed me to learn more about the internet in general (I was never really interested before, having grown up without it).  Not that I can profess to understand all that much, to be honest.  I occasionally consider using my Raspberry Pi as a dinky web server, just for a bit of fun, but pretty soon I come up against the need for some kind of dynamic IP service, which seems to cost rather too much for something that’s just a bit of fun!  Still, I have some domains (some unused) and some blogs – baby steps.
 
I have backed Manton Reece’s Kickstarter for a decentralised social network and micro-blogging tool called micro.blog.  As much for the book as anything.  I think it means that I can post from my blog to his social network.  Mind you, I can publicise my blog posts at 10 Centuries, or Twitter even; I choose not to, as I doubt anyone would really want to read my ramblings.   I’ll be interested to see what develops from this. It might see this blog site having more short posts to go over to his site, or I might utilise a different domain for that. I’m not entirely sure, to be honest.  I have kind of got used to this username, but I think I’d like this blog to remain as a home for longer pieces of writing – can I choose which posts go out into the world and which don’t?   Unfortunately, having chosen this username on Twitter many years ago, I find that a lot of domain names aren’t available for it, yet it’s a username I have in a number of places.   I have Mydnyghtrose but I’d like to keep that more to the craft side of things. I could always use one of the domains I have that are actually in my own name.  That would be brave of me…  I can always pay to have a hosted service over at micro.blog – but as I already have one, why do that?  Much pondering to be done and probably advice to be sought from other people.
 
I have dipped my toe into Mastodon and Pnut  recently as well.
 
Suffice it to say that I am easy enough to find in other places on the web:-
 
Hazardwarning on Twitter, Plurk, 10C, Mastodon and Pnut
MydnyghtRose on Instagram and Twitter

So, thanks ADN, it has been fun (although I shan't miss the constant auto-correct to AND).

December books

Hope's Peak by Tony Healey

Started 2 December
Finished 15 December

I found myself irritated by this book from the start, purely because it is written in the third person, present tense. It just feels wrong to me. At times it felt like the book wasn't well edited, at least in the Kindle version.
"Harper isn't surprised to find it fairly empty when Harper walks in, shaking off her umbrella". Odd.
That said, the book grew on me as I got further into it, despite the jarring use of present tense. The characters started to develop and become more familiar. However, the ending was a bit of a shock and let me feeling a bit cheated. It felt too soon in what, I assume, is to be series of books to have this kind of ending. Would I read more by this author? Probably not.

A Fatal Thaw by Diana Stabenow

Started 15 December
Finished 16 December

This is my third Dana Stabenow book and I do enjoy them. This is the second in a lengthy series centred around an Alaskan investigator. I might work through them all in time - I caught up with all the Joe Pickett series by C J Box, so there's no reason to suppose I won't do the same here.
The depiction of life in Alaska doesn't pull any punches, Stabenow doesn't shy away from the less tourist-friendly aspects of life. Mind you, she doesn't do the natural beauty of Alaska any disservice, either.
In this novel, one out of multiple murders turns out to have been committed by someone other than the main suspect. Our investigator figures it out early on and leads the reader to her conclusion, explaining why she had to take action. The final chapters depict a thrilling chase in the mountains.

So Sure of Death by Dana Stabenow

Started 17 December
Finished 27 December

This is the second book in the series centred around Liam Cunningham, a state trooper in Alaska. It builds on the relationships of the first book well and I wasn't able to guess whodunnit in either of the murders. Dana Stabenow's books are easy to read, but they are also decent enough thrillers to make me return to them when I want to go to a familiar place, with familiar characters.

As I reach the end of the year, it's time to review my progress over 2016. I have read a total of 33 books. Not bad, could do better. My worst months were January and May, when I read only one book. I don't know why this was the case in January, but in May I was away visiting friends for some of the time, so probably too busy to have early nights curled up with a book. My best month was March, during which I read five books. Most other months seem to result in two or three books read. It would be nice to get through more, but I don't want to make it a target to achieve, or put pressure on myself; that would destroy the whole point of reading for relaxation. That said, I have quite a backlog of unread books on my Kindle…

I think I will continue these monthly posts and who knows, I might get round to posting some more in 2017. I have plenty of ideas, I just seem to run out of time to implement them.

November Books

This month started well, but after my second book I lost interest in reading again. I started a couple of books, but stopped each of them after a few pages. This loss of interest has coincided with an increase in insomnia and general anxiety symptoms. At least I have a barometer for how I'm feeling: as long as I'm happy to end my day with my nose in a book, then I'm doing ok. Let's see if I can pick things up again in December.

Ocean of Storms by Christopher Mari & Jeremy K Brown

Started 1 November
Finished 4 November

This was my choice of book from the November Kindle First program. I am generally wary of books which list two authors, but the story synopsis intrigued me.

The first part contained short, time-stamped sections, jumping between parts of the story. It did a good job of setting the scene, but felt a little disjointed - the sections could have been longer. However, it helped to convey the sense of urgency though.

Once the story settled in, it was more evenly paced, moving from space, back to earth & then it became a more traditional adventure story. By no means a classic, but fun.

Poisonfeather by Matthew Fitzsimmons

Started 4 November
Finished 13 November

I don't think I enjoyed this as much as the first book in the series, but it was still entertaining. It became more entertaining as it went along, but the sub-plot seemed to overtake the main plot, which left me feeling slightly unsatisfied. I think somewhere along the line I missed the point, somehow.

Conklin All-American

I'll admit it, I bought this pen on a whim. About a week ago I purchased my first Iroshizuku ink, the Fuyu-Gaki (Winter Persimmon). I figured it would be warming and cheery in these Autumn days and I was correct. I loaded up my TWSBI Eco with it, partly for the 1.1mm stub to give the ink a chance to shine, but also because it's a demonstrator. Yes, the ink did look lovely, sloshing around in the barrel and it contrasted nicely with the black of the Eco. However, it's not my favourite pen/nib, plus it didn't match, so I started looking around.

Unfortunately (for my bank balance), I rather like having inks tone with my pens. Here are a few of my chosen combinations.

• Black Parker 45 - Parker black ink
• Caribbean Green Parker 61 - Diamine Misty blue
• Pelikan M205 amethyst - Diamine Bilberry
• Edison Collier antique marble - J Herbin Lie de Thé
• Pilot Décimo in pale purple - Diamine Twilight
• Pilot Capless carbonesque blue - Cult Pens Deep Dark Blue
• Kaweco Ice Sport orange - Diamine Chocolate Brown. However, this pen lives with my Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter, which is brown outside and orange inside. Well, anyway, I think the two go well together.

I knew I could find an orange pen - the Pilot Capless Trend, one of the Deltas, but ££ ouch and £££ ouch. I hadn't really noticed the Conklin All-American before. I was aware of the Durograph, which hadn't made me stop and look twice, to be honest. Then, in my searches for "orange fountain pen" this one appeared. It looked nice, the price was pretty reasonable (around £75 in the UK), furthermore it looked to be a good size. It appeared to be similar in size to my beloved Edison Collier and that proved to be correct. The Conklin is slightly fatter and the Edison sightly longer. Otherwise, very similar.

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The Conklin was duly ordered at the weekend from Cult Pens and it arrived today.

The box is very smart, with a nice soft cushion for the pen, in a slightly suede-type fabric. The pen comes with a converter, plus a couple of short standard cartridges to get you started. I believe the converter screws in, but I haven't taken it out to check. Also, the pen can take full-size cartridges, but again I haven't checked. Unlike some pens, this has metal parts, so no eye-droppering (not that I do that).

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I ordered a medium nib, as I didn't want anything too fine, the better to show off the ink. At this price point I expected a decent nib and I got one that is more than decent. The nib is quite distinctive, with its crescent-shaped breather hole.

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It's glassy smooth, which I know some people won't like, but it is really nice. Ink flow seems fine right out of the box. So far, I am very pleased with this purchase and I would recommend the pen to anyone who wants a larger pen, but doesn't perhaps want to spend too much. It represents pretty good value for money. The All-American is also available in Old Glory, Tortoiseshell and Yellowstone colourways, should bright orange not really be your thing.

The pen has gone straight in my Lihit Labs Smart Fit pen wallet, along with my Parker 45, my purple TWSBI AL, light purple Pilot Decimo, my Edison Collier and my Pelikan M205. Basically, the pens I like to keep close at hand. My main everyday pens, a Pilot Capless Carbonesque Blue and a TWSBI 580 live with my travellers-style notebook.

October Books

Before You Leap by Keith Houghton

Started 4 October
Finished 6 October

A quick read, and entertaining. Slightly clichéd in places, but a rollercoaster ride with a couple of twists I really didn't expect. I like a thriller that surprises me, and this did. The book starts near the denouement (or at least what you think might be) and then leads up to that point. Except that what you expect to happen, doesn't, followed by a final twist at the end. A better book then I expected, to be honest.

A Taste For War by Jack McDevitt

Started 6 October
Finished 27 October

I picked up this book on the recommendation of some friends on social media. It's the first in a series about Alex Benedict, an antiquities dealer who, in this case, gets involved in the mystery surrounding an historic battle, missing people and a missing spaceship. The story is based in the future, with the main characters investigating events a few hundred years earlier, but still very much in our future. This is the kind of science fiction I enjoy. Nothing too fantasy-based, rather, it's a good story based in a different time. Having grown up on a diet of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein, this book was very much to my taste. It started slowly and I had some doubts, but I was gradually drawn deeper into the story and the central mystery. I have a couple of other books in the series and I look forward to reading them. This is an author that is very definitely on my watch list.

The Girl In The Ice by Robert Bryndza

Started 28 October
Finished 30 October

I hadn't expected too much from this, although some of my friends on Facebook had "liked" the author's page. I picked this one up for £0.99 on Amazon, deciding to give it a go. There were a few proofing errors in the kindle version - "discrete" when it should have been "discreet", but not as many as in some books.
I found this a quick read, although it did entail a few late nights, as I wanted to find out what happened in the next chapter. So, in my opinion, suitably paced for a thriller. Set in London, the locations were familiar to me and the plot had enough twists and turns to hold my interest, but not so many that it felt forced or implausible. Yes, it's the first in a series about a detective and, yes, it's a variation on the maverick cop theme, but the central character was sympathetically written and there was enough meat to the back story to make sense of her attitude. I enjoyed the book and another author goes on my "read more" list.

My Workflow

Recently I have been reviewing my workflow for both work and personal tasks.

A couple of years ago I tried the digital-only approach, which worked pretty well - for a time. I made notes on my ipad using Bamboo Paper and a stylus. Great, notes could be really temporary, erased and written over. However, this entailed a lot of zooming in & out on the page and really just didn't feel quite right to me. I stuck with it, though.

In addition to taking notes, I used Notability to annotate documents and make typed drafts/notes. I still use Notability, but not as extensively as I used to. I think it's a very capable app, but unfortunately it's not cross-platform, so restricts me to the iPad.

For general to-do lists and basic projects I used ToDoist. When it came out, it really impressed me, so I paid for a premium subscription, which got me labels, reminders and emailing tasks. Without a reminder option, a task app isn't a great deal of use.

To store stuff online I used Evernote. I also used Evernote to draft, and then publish, my blog posts, until something changed and Evernote proved to be more of an annoyance than a help. I paid for an Evernote subscription, too, having had a free trial for a while. I didn't need a lot of the features, but I liked the passcode lock on mobile devices, which was only available on a paid plan at the time.

Time passes… and my approach has altered. I think I was just never entirely comfortable being digital-only. Quite possibly this is as much an age thing as just a me thing. I tried out the Traveler's Notebook and it clicked with me. I was never an ardent Filofax user, even though I had several over the years. I never had an A5 one and it was while I was contemplating one of those that I came across the Traveler's Notebook. I fell in love with the flexibility of the system and my workflow reverted to a paper-based one. I have always found that I remember things better when I write them down. I found some online printable TN inserts that really worked for me, for my task lists and monthly planning. I also created my own week on one page calendar, printed it out and bound it into a booklet, which meant I had most things in one place.

I have been an Office 365 subscriber for a number of years and have seen the Onenote product improve significantly, so I started to use it, to see how it compared with Evernote. Generally, I prefer it, although I refuse to install Outlook just to use reminders. I didn't make much use of them in Evernote, but the approach to them in Onenote is annoying. I also found that the ToDoist reminders were a little unreliable and, to be honest, I never really liked their allegedly intuitive system. Nothing wrong with a calendar and repeat options, in my book.

Recently, Evernote announced a new pricing structure which represented a significant increase to me. I considered dropping down a tier, or going free, but the new device limit is unacceptable to me, removing the flexibility of the whole system. I use both Android, iOS and Windows, so these changes made Evernote an expensive option. Plus, it's still horribly green everywhere (not even a nice green). The upshot is that I will be ditching Evernote completely and going all-in on Onenote. It's still not quite as good as Evernote, but it's good enough and doesn't cost me extra. I am in the process of exporting all my notes and cross-checking for duplicates. Evernote won't be renewed, and the mobile apps will be deleted, although I may keep the desktop version for a while longer.

I will still use Notability and also iThoughts, where they are the best tools for the job.

After I found out about the Evernote situation it then turned out that the annual ToDoist subscription was going up £3. Not exactly unaffordable, but necessary? No. I was using the app less and less, thanks to my return to analogue. So that dropped to free, losing me labels, tasks by email, and reminders. In reality the only issue was the loss of reminders/alerts. I used the iOS Reminders app, but that necessitated my being in the vicinity of the iPad, which isn't always the case. Today I have reinstalled Google Keep on my phone, and downloaded the iOS app. I'll see how it goes, but hopefully it will be sufficient for my needs. If not, then a calendar appointment might work. More detailed/reference tasks are kept in my 10 Centuries account.

In summary, I have reverted to an analogue process, now in a new TN-style notebook from Tough-old-boots, backed up by a Leuchtturm A5 notebook for work projects, which is housed in my Roterfaden Taschenbeglieter. I have not renewed ToDoist (£21.99 saved) and I won't be paying for Evernote when that comes up for renewal (£44.99 saved). These are being replaced by paper + Google Keep and Onenote. The bonus is that I get to write things by hand more, using my beloved fountain pens.

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