Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Day in the Life with Android (Part 5)

This is Part 5 (albeit published much later than I had originally anticipated) in my continuing series in which I share how I use my Google/ASUS Nexus 7 tablet on a day-to-day basis. Part 1 covers my hardware accessories and business apps; Part 2 focuses on a variety of utilities; Part 3 deals with social media and related apps as well as ebook readers; and in Part 4 I review most of what is left -- a combination of utilities, news apps, and apps that didn't fit in the previous three posts, excluding audio-video and related apps, which I have reserved for this post.

As I mentioned in the previous entry in this series: "...what would an Android device be without at least a few games, some tunes, and a movie or two."

In Part 2 I talked about "cloud storage" services -- necessary because the Nexus 7's storage capacity is limited and the device has no card slot. [Note: If you read Part 2 previously, please read the update I posted on 02/26/2013 regarding a strong warning about Bitcasa cloud storage; and in place of Bitcasa, I have recommended Box cloud storage.]

But what do you do when you have no wireless access to those cloud storage services, and yet you need access to your documents and spreadsheets, as well as books, music, and movies, say, for that long plane ride, or the hotel stay where there is no free wireless?

You use the Nexus Media Importer app and a micro USB On-the-Go (OTG) cable. The Nexus Media Importer uses the N7's micro USB port, the same port used for charging the device. Just as the app says, this is for importing (and streaming) to the N7 only. You cannot move/save files from the N7 to the USB device.

The cable needed must be described as a "Micro USB OTG to USB 2.0 Adapter." The one I use (pictured here) is the T & S Electronics Micro USB OTG Cable, which cost $10.00 on Amazon. An online search, even on Amazon, will find cheaper cables, but I went with this one because of its design, the lifetime warranty, and because the company is located in the US (Los Angeles).

As with the Google Chrome browser, or all Google apps for that matter, Google Calendar syncs across all devices. If I set up a calendar appointment on my PC, it shows up on the N7, and vice versa. When I schedule an appointment, I always set up reminders to be sent to me via email and the Android notification bar.

If you keep up on tech news then you may have heard about the iPhone fiasco when Apple decided to do away with Google Maps and go with their own map app. (The fiasco cost a couple execs their jobs at Apple!) I recall reading an alert put out by the Australian travel bureau, I believe it was, warning tourists that an iPhone map error could be detrimental to travelers. With Google Maps, I can map out my destination, including driving directions, and then do a screenshot1 of each so that I have access to the information on the N7 when there is no wifi available, like in the car.

ESPN's ScoreCenter for Android is ideal for tracking favorite sports and teams. I'm not much for sports, but I do follow a few college football teams, and local NFL and MLB teams. With ScoreCenter, you can track a multitude of sports, from Autoracing to MMA, and even Cricket! The app's "holo" design has recently been updated for the Nexus 7 and looks great. You can set up to receive notifications after each inning or quarter, for example, and receive news notifications for breaking sports stories.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Soul of a Novella: Brandon Sanderson's The Emperor's Soul

The Emperor's Soul
The novella is a rather intriguing literary work: it is too long to be considered a "short story," and yet it is too short to be categorized as a novel. Many authors thrive at novella-length stories, but, alas, there are few markets for work of this length.

I've been quite fortunate to have worked on some extraordinary novellas, including: Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds, the first entry in Golden Gryphon Press's limited edition chapbook series, and later published by Ace Books as a hardcover double entitled Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days; Lucius Shepard's Louisiana Breakdown (out of print) won the 2004 International Horror Guild Award for best long fiction, and was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award that same year; "The Concrete Jungle," included in Charles Stross's The Atrocity Archives, won the 2005 Hugo Award for best novella; and After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress, currently a finalist for the Nebula Award.

Which brings me to the subject of this blog post: novella The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson, published by Tachyon Publications (as is the previously mentioned Nancy Kress novella).

When I read this year's Nebula Awards nominees, I was surprised -- and disappointed -- that The Emperor's Soul wasn't on the list. When I worked on this book last year, copy editing the manuscript and then proof reading the final layout -- I was awestruck by the story's premise (courtesy of
When Shai is caught replacing the [Emperor's] Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.

Shai is given an impossible task: to create--to Forge--a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days while trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood.

The Emperor's Soul is set in the same world as Sanderson's earlier novel Elantris, but the novella stands completely on its own. And the writing itself is brilliant.

Brandon Sanderson was the Author Guest of Honor at BayCon 2012, held annually here in Santa Clara, California. I participated on a panel with Brandon, entitled "The Top Ten Rookie Author Gaffes," at 10:00AM on Monday morning. I was impressed with Brandon's style and natural camaraderie with the audience. He possesses a great deal of knowledge and writing skill, and is quick to share this with the attendees. He is definitely "paying it forward," even meeting with attendees after the panel has ended in order to continue the discussion.

I realize it is too late for the Nebula Awards, but the Hugo Awards nominations are still open (at least for another 12 days), and voting for the World Fantasy Awards remains open until May 31, 2013. I ask that you consider Brandon Sanderson's The Emperor's Soul, in the novella category.

Tachyon Publications has reactions to the novella from Library Journal,, and Fantasy Book Review, among others; and has a review by Stefan Raets and an excerpt from the book itself: I will post the Prologue here, with a link at the bottom to the full excerpt on

But one more thing: If you have already purchased the book -- or plan to purchase the book -- the author will send you a free copy of the ebook. All you need to do is send him a scan or photograph of the receipt, or even a photograph of you holding the book to receive your free ebook. Details can be found on Brandon Sanderson's website.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

This is not a still from Blade Runner....

"A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies! A chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure!"

On January 19 (now you see how far behind I am on blog posts!) I was reading through my blog and forum feeds when I came upon this photograph on the Philip K. Dick blog Total Dick-Head. Little was said about the photo, other than "that's not a still from Blade Runner" and it's "the smog in Beijing, and some crazy building." I shared this photo on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter, with what little information I had.

Aside from a couple "likes" and such on G+ and FB, nothing came of my posts on those two sites. But, Twitter was something else altogether....

I used the #PKD hashtag on my tweet, and that really got people's attention. Retweets and comments were coming in as fast as I could read them, over the course of days. Some of the retweets were in German, Spanish, and Russian, as well as character sets I didn't recognize.

I received a tweet from @spenap (Simón P.) informing me that the original source of the photo was the Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) blog. Simón also noted that the photo had been posted to Tumbler, and then picked up by Gizmodo. As he was kind enough to include a link to the WSJ blog in his tweet, I immediately checked it out.

This photo was among the "Photos of the Day" for January 14 on the WSJ blog, and is credited to ChinaFotoPress/Zuma Press. The caption under the photograph reads:

AIR OF MYSTERY: Haze obscured the Pangu Plaza Office Building in Beijing Saturday. Beijing on Sunday issued its first-ever 'orange' fog warning, an alert to the elderly, children and people suffering from respiratory disease to stay indoors and limit exposure to the pollution.

I later received a tweet from @nntd, stating "I took this pic." I replied, hoping to get clarification and/or confirmation, but received no response. But I will assume she/he is the photographer. The name associated with @nntd is in a foreign character set and thus only shows up in my twitter feed as three square symbols.

A brief search led me to the Gizmodo blog post. There are more than 40 comments, including one from "Settings" that includes a photo of this same building, from a different perspective, taken on a clear day:

According to this and other comments, these buildings are referred to as the dragon building, which, from the air, evidently looks like a dragon.

But back to my twitter feed: Just a few of the tweets I received in response:

Kyle Baker (@kbaker): That's the Beijing I remember while there. Eery resemblance. Beijing can be quite nice on clear days, though.

@mangochutney: it [the smog] only gets this bad when they power up the coal-fired power plants outside the 3rd ring of the city.

@mangochutney: the amount of soot that accumulated over the course of 2d on my closed balcony was scary.

Richard Lai (@richardlai): I'm in Beijing right now and I can confirm that the air is still very bad. Brought a couple of N95 masks along.

This whole twitter experience was really quite fascinating. To date my tweet has been retweeted 2,470 times, and that's not counting all the dozens of personal responses I received. I remain amazed....

I'll close with one last photo -- a cityscape -- and this is a still from Blade Runner, courtesy of Dan North's Spectacular Attractions blog:

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... Time to die."
~Roy Batty, Blade Runner

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A warning to college profs from a high school teacher

Warnings from the Trenches

A high school teacher tells college educators what they can expect in the wake of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

By Kenneth Bernstein

You are a college professor.

I have just retired as a high school teacher.

I have some bad news for you. In case you do not already see what is happening, I want to warn you of what to expect from the students who will be arriving in your classroom, even if you teach in a highly selective institution.

No Child Left Behind went into effect for the 2002–03 academic year, which means that America’s public schools have been operating under the pressures and constrictions imposed by that law for a decade. Since the testing requirements were imposed beginning in third grade, the students arriving in your institution have been subject to the full extent of the law’s requirements. While it is true that the US Department of Education is now issuing waivers on some of the provisions of the law to certain states, those states must agree to other provisions that will have as deleterious an effect on real student learning as did No Child Left Behind—we have already seen that in public schools, most notably in high schools.


Let me end by offering my deepest apologies, not because I may have offended some of you by what I have written, but because even those of us who understood the problems that were being created were unable to do more to stop the damage to the education of our young people. Many of us tried. We entered teaching because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of the students who passed through our classrooms. Many of us are leaving sooner than we had planned because the policies already in effect and those now being implemented mean that we are increasingly restricted in how and what we teach.

Now you are seeing the results in the students arriving at your institutions. They may be very bright. But we have not been able to prepare them for the kind of intellectual work that you have every right to expect of them. It is for this that I apologize, even as I know in my heart that there was little more I could have done. Which is one reason I am no longer in the classroom.

This is one of the most devastating/condemning essays on the state of the contemporary American educational system that I have ever read. I am a credentialed teacher, by the way. I first leaned about this essay via Hacker News, pointing to a link on The Washington Post, from which I snagged this blog post's title: "A warning to college profs from a high school teacher." As of this posting, The WP column has more than 2,300 comments.

The essay's original publication was in the January-February 2013 issue of Academe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors. You will want to check out the dozen or so comments on this site as well.

Either link, this is a must read for all educators, parents, community workers, politicians -- hell, all Americans.

Thank you, Kenneth Bernstein, for your service to education.