Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Movie Review: Les Miserables

1. Short review: 

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: Anne Hathaway's stunning performance of "I Dreamed a Dream." Others have sung it better, but no one has performed it better.

2.2. What I did not like: Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe trying to sing.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Everyone.

2.4. Is the movie appropriate for children to see? Yes. There is death, filth, cruelty, violence, and suicide but no on-screen sex.

2.5. On the basis of viewing this movie, will I pay to see the sequel? I cannot imagine a sequel to Les Miserables.

2.6. Rating and the plot in a nutshell:

2.6.1. How I rate movies:
-- I want my money back.
-- Worth a rental, not more. 
-- Worth first-run theater price once. 
-- I will pay first-run theater price to see it again. <-- Les Miserables

Running time: 158 minutes.

2.6.2. The plot in a nutshell:
     The earliest we could get tickets was the day after Christmas. The theater sold us advance tickets for a matinee show on the 26th. As it happened, I caught the  1998 version starring Liam Neeson on cable Christmas night. There are major differences between that version and this, but I knew the plot going into the theater. Thus, it was easy for me to follow the action, and I could enjoy the music.
     Les Miserables is an opera. It is billed as a musical because Americans consider opera high-brow entertainment and avoid it, but they will pay to see a musical.
     I gave a link to the plot of the novel above (and here again) and here is the plot of the new movie. I have nothing to add. 

2.7. Other:

     Anne Hathaway's portrayal of Fantine is outstanding. Others have sung "I Dreamed a Dream" better -- including Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent -- but no one has performed it better. If this performance does not win Anne Hathaway an Oscar, TANJ.
     Universal gives a taste of the audio in this trailer:

  As strong as the audio is, with the video it is stronger.

     A couple of notes:
     Anne Hathaway campaigned for the role of Fantine. Skinny to start with, she lost 25 pounds to better project herself into the role of Fantine.
     The sequence in which she sings "I Dreamed a Dream" was shot in one take.

2.8. Links:
IMDb review
Rotten Tomatoes review

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

eBook Review: McGuffey's Eclectic Spelling Book et alia

William Holmes McGuffey, McGuffey's Eclectic Spelling Book

Product Details

  • File Size: 149 KB
  • Print Length: 152 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004TRTFK6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars (6 customer reviews)
  • Price: $0.00 (FREE)
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 1 out of 5 stars -- I hate it. If I could give it 0 stars, I would.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  Nothing.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Should be a walk in the park but it is a mugging in an alley.

2.2. What I did not like: The lack of illustrations. The original had illustrations. In place of each is now a barren statement of [Figure].
The terrible formatting. The formatting was so bad that it made the book unreadable.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: For the original, the audience is esoteric historians and homeschoolers. For this version, only masochists need download it.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  No. A thousand times "NO!"

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? No.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     There is no plot. McGuffey's Eclectic Spelling Book was used as a grammar school textbook in the 19th century in the US.
2.7. Other:
     I also downloaded and perused the following:
McGuffey's First Eclectic Reader, Revised Edition;
McGuffey's Second Eclectic Reader;
McGuffey's Third Eclectic Reader;
McGuffey's Fourth Eclectic Reader;
McGuffey's Fifth Eclectic Reader; and
McGuffey's Sixth Eclectic Reader.
     One and all suffer from the same faults as the Spelling Book: They lack illustrations and the formatting is so bad as to render the book unusable.
     In spite of this, I highly recommend McGuffey's books -- just not the Amazon Kindle versions. Instead, go to the Gutenberg Project and download the PDF versions. Do not waste your time downloading another version. Get the PDF versions.
     I added a bonus book: McGuffey's Eclectic Primer, Revised Edition.

2.8. Links: (All links to the Gutenberg Project.)

2.9. Buy the book: I shall not give you a link to McGuffey's Eclectic Spelling Book on Amazon. You deserve better. Use the Gutenberg Project links above.

Monday, October 15, 2012


     Still recovering from the disasters of September.
     I installed Ubuntu 9.10 from a CD. As part of the installation, it partitioned my harddrive, left Windows XP in the lower partition, and installed Ubuntu Linux (UbLinux) in the upper partition.
     I immediately upgraded to Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx. I chose not to upgrade to Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin. (What is a pangolin, anyway? Some kind of anteater? Who is the short-bus genius who came up with that name?)
     Why did I not choose 12.04?
     Because I had chosen it before and did not like it. Let me tell you why.
     The most important thing about any computer program is not what it does. The most important thing about any computer program is the user interface. That is, can you navigate to and use what it does?*

     Here is a screenshot of 10.04:

     It has a task bar at the top. From left to right, the first three positions are drop-down menus. The Sound & Video menu is open.
     Next comes a group of shortcuts to fire off applications like Firefox. You can unlock any of these from the Task Bar and move it to another place on the bar.
     On the far right is the date-time display and the off switch.
     In the bottom bar, displays tell you what is running. At the far right is Trash.
     Simple. Elegant. Intuitive.

     Here is a screenshot for 12.04:
Ubuntu 12.04 LTS
     Note the absence of drop-down menus. Instead 12.04 gives me a side-bar filled with icons. I recognize the Firefox icon but no others. The top task bar is bare of shortcuts. The only things on it that I recognize are the date-time display and the off button.
     12.04 seems to be driven by a tie-in to Ubuntu One, some kind of Linux Cloud. I have heard about Cloud computing. As I understand it, the Cloud lets me store my files off my computer on someone else's drive space. Where the sheriff does not need a warrant to access them.
     No thanks.
     But leaving Ubuntu One to one side -- and I shall -- everything I want to use, everything I want to navigate to is now hidden. 12.04 forces me to play Hide-and-Seek with all the applications, files, and games I want to access. Not gonna do it.
     I come from Texas. We have a saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. 10.04 was not broke. 12.04 does not fix it.
     Okay, geeks -- yeah, you guys who designed 12.04. IMO Ubuntu 12.04 is a monstrous
     Go back to the basement. Throw out the 12.04 screen design. Return to the 10.04 screen design. And next time you short-bus geniuses decide to change the Ubuntu interface, ask me for permission first.
* Who am I to make such statements? Well, I am a writer now, but I used to be a computer systems analyst specializing in the man-machine interface. That is, I have some experience with interface design and layout.
     There may be something to 12.04 that I don't get, but if I have to use that verfluchte interface to get to it, it is effectively not there.
     I keep thinking of this, wondering what I missed. I conclude that if I missed anything, it is not my fault. It is the designer's fault for cobbling together an interface that diverged so radically from Ubuntu's historical interface as to render all users' previous experience with the Ubuntu interface obsolete and thus make the interface unusable.
     I stand by my statement. 12.04 is a FAIL. Shoot the designers pour encourager les autres.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


     This is the tale of my experience with Shareaza. 
     September was not a good month for computers in my home. My Compaq Presario C500 died. The soup I spilled across the touchpad likely had something to do with that. The replacement SONY VAIO lasted 5 days before its internet connection failed, just enough time for me to order a replacement through eBay.  I bought a refurbed hp 6730 from heyheyca, and I recommend him: 5 stars in all four categories. 
     The 6730 arrived Tuesday morning, and I spent the afternoon connecting to the internet. heyheyca gave me a choice of operating system -- Microsoft's Windows XP or Vista -- and I chose XP. I once had Vista. Can't say enough bad things about it. For the first time in more than a year, I am running a Windows operating system. When I run Windows, I feel anxious. (I plan to install Ubuntu Linux (UbLinux) tomorrow.) 
     Shareaza is an example of why I feel anxious when I run Windows. 
     I spent most of yesterday clearing out my inboxes, but I had one other task that caused me to delay the installation of UbLinux. My wife commanded me to burn a music CD for a neighbor boy. (Guys, when your wife asks you to do something, that's a command.) Just one track. The problem was that I did not have the track. So, to purchase a download, I googled it.
     The first item to come up in my Google search was Shareaza. 'Free!' it said. 'Legal!' it said. I was skeptical of those claims, but I decided to try it. The only way I could try it was to install it. So I did. 
     Big mistake. Huge. 
     I installed Shareaza and searched its listings for the track I wanted. Shareaza had many videos of performances of the song. It seemed to have many audio tracks, too, but I sampled them all and found them all to be the same hip-hop remix. Disappointed, I googled again, linked to another site, and soon had the track I wanted. I burned the CD for the kiddie, tested it, and went back to clearing out my inboxes. 
     I work with both Firefox and Chrome browsers running and switch between the two. The first time I switched to Chrome after I installed Shareaza, I noticed a new tab open: Shareaza. I did not open it. Shareaza did. I closed the tab and switched back to Firefox. There I noticed that Shareaza had changed my default search engine from Google to Shareaza. I had other things to do, so I went back to clearing out my inboxes.
     There I was, minding my own business, when a little window popped up in the lower right-hand corner to tell me that vander1221 was visiting my hard-drive via Shareaza. "Hmmm," sez I. For a few minutes I tried to see what business vander1221 had with my hard-drive. Nothing bad seemed to happen, so I gave it up and returned to clearing my inboxes. 
     Later, the same window popped up with another name in it. Someone else was visiting my hard-drive via Shareaza. "Hmmm," sez I again. I did some research.
     Turns out Shareaza is a peer-to-peer network. When you join, you invite others to share your files. How that makes for legal downloads I don't know, and I earned a law degree. 
     Matters got worse. 
     I switched back to Chrome and found -- wonder of wonders -- that the Shareaza tab had returned. Persistent little devil. I closed both browsers and restarted them.
     Chrome came up with an extra tab: Shareaza. Evidently the little devil had written itself into my 'Tabs at Start' list. Firefox came up without my regular tabs. Instead, there was only one: Shareaza. This devil was out of control. I made a decision: Shareaza delenda est. 
     I looked for an uninstall.exe in the Shareaza folders without success. I turned to Google for 'uninstall Shareaza'. The first site listed was singularly unhelpful. The second site was a forum whereon a frustrated user wrote about his failures trying to uninstall Shareaza via the Control Panel. I gleaned enough from this to have a go at killing Shareaza on my computer. Here it comes:

How I uninstalled Shareaza. (How to uninstall Shareaza.)
1. I closed all applications, and I mean all. 
2. I clicked the START button (aka the WINDOWS key). 
3. From the START menu, I selected 'Control Panel'.
4. In the Control Panel window, I double-clicked the 'Add or Remove Programs' icon. . . . and I waited while 'the list was populated.' 
5. I selected Shareaza and clicked the 'Remove' button in the lower right-hand corner of the 'Add or Remove Programs' window. 
6. A warning popped up to tell me that Shareaza could not be removed because it was running or 'resident in memory'. (Note those last three words.)
7. I got a drink and mulled over the situation. This was the same problem the kid on the forum had. I decided.
8. I hit the START button.
9. I selected 'My Computer' and opened it. 
10. I searched my C drive until I found the Shareaza folder. 
11. I clicked on the Shareaza folder and hit the DELETE key. 
12. When my operating system asked if I really wanted to delete the Shareaza folder and all its contents, I clicked 'YES'.
13. The operating system returned a warning that access was denied. This surprised me, because I was in administrator mode. I had access to everything
14. I got a stiffer drink and mulled over the situation anew. I decided. 
15. I hit ctrl-alt-delete keys. This brought up the Windows Task Manager. 
16. In the Windows Task Manager, I clicked the 'Processes' tab.
17. I scrolled down until I found the Shareaza process.
18. I highlighted the Shareaza process. 
19. I clicked the 'End Process' button in the lower right-hand corner of the Windows Task Manager window.
20. I clicked the START button. 
21. From the START menu, I selected 'Control Panel'.
22. In the Control Panel window, I double-clicked the 'Add or Remove Programs' icon. . . . and I waited while 'the list was populated.' 
23. I selected Shareaza and clicked the 'Remove' button in the lower right-hand corner. Success. Shareaza deleta est.

     I hope you learned something from my pain. My father had a saying: Experience is not just the best teacher. It is the only teacher. My corollary: It does not have to be your experience.

     I recommend against Shareaza. I found it to be a greedy devil that gave me nothing worthwhile, gave away files I paid for, threatened to give away work that I created (and thereby debase my copyright), and led a mutiny against me for control of my computer. If you read my tale and decide to install it anyway, good luck with that. At least you know how I killed Shareaza. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

eBook Review: Fighting the Flying Circus

Eddie Rickenbacker, Fighting the Flying Circus

Product Details

  • File Size: 2858 KB
  • Print Length: 382 pages
  • Publisher: LeClue22 (February 8, 2008)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0013NXB6S
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars (9 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $2.99
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  The pictures. The first-hand account.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Should be a roller coaster but it reads more like a walk in the park.

2.2. What I did not like: Lack of detail for September and October 1918.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Air combat buffs. History buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book?  Yes.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     There is no plot. Fighting the Flying Circus is an edited memoir. It was pieced together from Rickenbacker's (EVR) war diary and his letters.
     EVR's story mirrors the story of the United States Air Service in WW1. He wrote of flying Nieuport 28s on patrol without guns; then with one gun to a plane because they had not enough to equip every plane with two; of many pilots shredding their top planes in dives.
     EVR spent June, July, and August in the hospital recovering from an ear operation. He returned in September to find that his group had not downed many Boche during his absence and that the Nieuports had been replaced with Spad XIIIs.
     EVR wrote of Frank Luke's comet-like fighting career. He ended with Luke's disappearance. When Fighting the Flying Circus was first printed in 1919, the USAS had not received the story of Luke's last fight nor the location of his grave.
     Fighting the Flying Circus contains details about guns jamming and using incendiary ammunition to ignite German balloons.
     I was pleased with the photos in Fighting the Flying Circus. These included photos of EVR, his squadron mates, observation balloons, and the Hannover CLII that EVR brought down.
     About a quarter way through the book, I said to myself, "I think this was ghostwritten." It was. The ghostwriter of Fighting the Flying Circus was  Laurence La Tourette Driggs. The Aerodrome has a short piece about him. Search for the write-up by Ira Silverman.
     In the appendices at the end of the book, there is a table of Rickenbacker's confirmed kills. The list in Wikipedia echoes this list. I found it better than EVR's list at the Aerodrome. Together, the two lists seem comprehensive.    
 2.7. Other:
     This is a later edition. It includes appendices that detail EVR's accomplishments after the war, such as the fact that he was presented the CMoH by President Herbert Hoover in 1931.

2.8. Links: 

2.9. Buy the book:  Fighting the Flying Circus

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


     My wife has discovered YouTube.
     I am sure you think, "Yeah, welcome to the party. You're late." That's true, but it fails to take into account that my wife is a Luddite. That she visits YouTube is akin to finding Amish on Facebook.
     She nagged me about the amount of time I spent on my computer. To distract her, last Christmas I bought her an iPad. About a week before Christmas, I brought it home all gift wrapped and presented it to her.
     "What's this?" she asked.
     "Your Christmas gift. Merry Christmas," I said.
     "Oh, goody!" she squealed and tore into it. She's never been one for that open-your-gifts-on-Christmas-morning tradition.
     Once she got her iPad unwrapped, she turned it over and inspected it from all angles. She looked at me and asked, "What is it?"
     "It's an iPad."
     "Oh." She had heard of iPad. Who hasn't? "What's it do?"
     "Whatever you want."
     "How does it work?"
     "I dunno. It's your machine, not mine. If you need help, read the manual."
     At the mention of 'the manual', she gave me that don't-be-stupid look. Husbands out there know what I mean. So I added, "Or you could go to the Apple store and ask one of their geniuses."
     So she did.
     To all appearances, the genius she talked to was the one who went to school in the short bus. When she came home, all she could do with her iPad was take photos and videos. But that was more than enough.
     From Christmas to Saint Valentine's Day, her all-consuming hobby became using the iPad to make videos.
     She never learned to record programs on TV (told ya she's a Luddite), so at first she tried to use her iPad to record the Doctor Oz Show while she was away at work. God be thanked, this failed.
     Next she became a reality TV cinematographer and drafted me to the role of her subject. Everywhere I went, she followed with her iPad. Me at my computer. Me walking to the store. Me shaving. Me on the toilet. Everything I did, she videoed. She found these videos hilarious. Since she still had not cracked the code on how to use email or Facebook, she shared these videos with others by running around the neighborhood forcing friends to watch. Soon the neighbors grew wise, and she ran out of audience.
     (On the bright side, she lost interest in that demon spawn of Oprah Winfrey, Oz. God be thanked again, Oz dropped out of my life.)
     About this time, I considered buying an iPad to use for writing when away from my computer. I knew the keyboard on the iPad's screen would not suit me, so I got an iKeyboard. When it came, my wife videoed me opening the package. Curious little minx that she is, she asked what it was. Rather than tell her, I wrested her raison d'etre from her fists and attached the iKeyboard. I called up the notepad and demonstrated how it worked with the on-screen keyboard.
     That was the last time I used the iKeyboard.
     The iKeyboard became hers. Definitively hers. I did not have an iPad; she did. Ergo, I had no use for the iKeyboard; she did. Ergo, res ipsa loquitur, the iKeyboard belonged to her.
     The iKeyboard phase lasted a long time. For months she wrote notes on her iPad. I don't mean she wrote a book or even a short story. No, she wrote notes. Shopping lists. To-do lists. Honey-do lists. Other lists that are to this day incomprehensible to me.
     In late June, we ate at Carne do Brasil, the churrascaria owned by my friend, Ibo. I saw Michel Telo on a DVD there and downloaded his performances on YouTube when we got home.
     My wife wanted in on this. I told her she needed to connect to the internet to get these videos on her iPad.
     Her: "How do I do that?"
     Me: "I don't know. It's your machine. Go ask the geniuses at the Apple store."
     I inferred from the look on her face that her last dealing with the Apple geniuses had left her with less than a stellar appreciation of their abilities. Instead, she called my internet provider. Over the phone, my ISP talked her through the set-up and internet connection for her iPad. (Seems we have WiFi in home along with the coax cable that runs to my computer.)
     I came home to find her gleefully playing Ai se eu te pego. The next day she downloaded other YouTube videos. She learned to stream American Idol and Britain's Got Talent and other singing videos. She drove me nuts playing one blues singer over and over and over again.
     Then she found the dog videos on YouTube.
     I'm not talking cute puppy videos. No. I'm talking dog-humps-cat videos. Interspecies sexual encounters. (No, I am not going to link you.) She finds these hilarious. ROTFLHAO hilarious.
     I have told her that this is not a big deal. Dogs will hump anything. When I was a kid, we had a neighbor lady who kept a piss-ant furry lapdog. For the better part of a summer, he mistook my left leg for his long lost love. No matter, my wife still watches Dachshunds abusing Persians.
     So for the nonce, my wife amuses herself with perverted YouTube doggie porn. Well, on the bright side, it ain't Oz.

Addendum: Gangnam Style

     Perverted doggie porn is so yesterday.
     My wife found the video Gangnam Style. ROTFL. No, really. She laughed so hard she could not stand up. Then she watched parodies of Gangnam Style. Then videos of people watching the video of Gangnam Style.
     As I lay in bed clicking through the channels, she played Gangnam Style and insisted that I get up and dance to it. Much to my regret, I did. Her response? ROTFL.
     How do I feel about Gangnam Style? Could be worse. Could be Oz.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

eBook Review: The Law

Frederic Bastiat, The Law

Product Details

  • File Size: 94 KB
  • Print Length: 60 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1419168878
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Misbach Enterprises (June 1, 2008)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001B5VPXY
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled 
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars (158 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $0.99
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 3 out of 5 stars -- It's okay.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  Quotable remarks.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Neither. It is a polemic

2.2. What I did not like: Bastiat, like Marx, throws around theory without empirical basis. I prefer Bastiat to Marx, but I want historical references to back up the claims.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Libertarians.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book?  Yes.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     There is no plot. The Law is a polemic.
     The gist of Bastiat's argument is 1) gov't's proper scope is limited and 2) the purpose of the law is justice; more precisely, the purpose of the law is the prevention of injustice.
     Bastiat gives these as bald assertions. No matter how much you agree with them, they remain nothing more than hypotheses unsupported by empirical evidence.
     For instance, Bastiat asserts that providing schools and education is not within the purview of gov't. I disagree. States have an interest in the education of children in order to produce loyal citizens. Texas discovered this the hard way during the Korean War: a disproportionate number of soldiers from Texas defected to the Chinese. In response, the Texas legislature mandated that all schools that receive state money -- and in Texas, that includes private schools -- must teach the history at every grade level. This teaching continues through the first four semesters of college. The Texas legislature has been pleased with the results.
     As for the law producing justice, in my experience, even a good law can be perverted to bad ends. The solution is to select good men to govern; that is, to enact and to execute the law. The problems are 1) how do we select good men and 2) who defines 'good'.
     In the end, Bastiat got me to think about my principles, but he gave me no new thoughts.
 2.7. Other:
     The Law is a long pamphlet. It was published in 1850, the year Bastiat died.
     The PDF download from the Foundation for Economic Education is free.

2.8. Links: 

2.9. Buy the book:  The Law

Monday, August 13, 2012

eBook Review: He Walked Around the Horses

H. Beam Piper, He Walked Around the Horses

Product Details

  • File Size: 103 KB
  • Print Length: 22 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004TPUIS6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled 
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars (2 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $0.00
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  The writing. Piper wrote well.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? An entertaining walk in the park.

2.2. What I did not like: Does not apply.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Science-fiction fans. H Beam Piper fans.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book?  Yes.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     There is no plot. There is an introduction, police reports and other letters describing a peculiar incident at a Prussian inn, and some correspondence between His Britannic Majesty's government officials and His Prussian Majesty's government officials.
     The story is told of Benjamin Bathurst, a British diplomat posted to the court of Austria in 1808, who disappeared in the courtyard of a Prussian inn. Piper suggests that he slipped into an alternate universe and that his appearance with his dispatches in this alternate universe -- with its alternate history -- caused much consternation among the Prussian bureaucracy. The puzzle and their attempts to solve it are given in official reports and other letters. Later, when Bathurst is shot and killed trying to escape custody, the bureaucrats both Prussian and British happily agree to let the matter drop.
 2.7. Other:
     First published in 1948 in Astounding Science Fiction, the predecessor to Analog.
     This is one of my favorite science fiction stories. I read it in print years ago. I read the Gutenberg version before I discovered it is also available from Amazon.
     The Gutenberg version has one error: Location 230 -- gaol vice goal; the Amazon version contains the same error at Location 196.
     The Gutenberg version has illustrations. The Amazon version does not.

2.8. Links: 

2.9. Buy the book:  He Walked Around the Horses

Sunday, August 12, 2012

eBook Review: Have Spacesuit Will Travel

Robert A. Heinlein, Have Spacesuit Will Travel

Product Details from Baen's Books

Published 6/12/1987
SKU: 9781416505525
Ebook Price: $6.00

1. Short review:  (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  The writing. Heinlein wrote well.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A thoughtful yet scary roller coaster.

2.2. What I did not like: Does not apply.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Science-fiction fans. RAH fans. YA.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book?  Yes.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell <<SPOILERS>>:
     Plot summary at Wikipedia
 2.7. Other:
     This story was first serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1958. Scribner's & Sons released the hardback that same year.
     This was the last Heinlein juvenile -- what we call YA today.
     Have Spacesuit Will Travel is included in the collection linked to. It is a bargain: six Heinlein novels for $6.

2.8. Links: 

2.9. Buy the book:  Have Spacesuit Will Travel

eBook Review: Murder in the Gunroom

H. Beam Piper, Murder in the Gunroom

Product Details

  • File Size: 303 KB
  • Print Length: 176 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0084CFHC2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars (9 customer reviews)
  • Price: $0.00

1. Short review:  (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  The writing. Piper wrote well.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A thoughtful roller coaster.
Free and worth the download.

2.2. What I did not like:
     The formatting. There are no breaks between chapters; that is, chapters do not start on new pages. Chapter headings are sandwiched in with the text, thus:
with monotonous regularity. I've jeeped through a couple, myself, to interrogate the surviving ex-defenders. It's all in having the guns and armor to smash through with."
Humphrey Goode was sixty-ish, short and chunky, with a fringe of white hair around a bald crown. His brow was corrugated with wrinkles, and he peered suspiciously at Rand through a pair of thick-lensed glasses
     The promotion for General Semantics stuffed in the middle. It broke the flow of the story and added nothing.
     The confusion of characters. Piper gave Rand at least a dozen suspects and added a supporting cast. I lost track of who-was-who and who-knew-what and where-he-was-when. I just read through to find out whodunit.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Hard-core mystery fans. H Beam Piper fans.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. The manner in which the murders were committed -- gunshot and bayonet -- are graphically described but no more so than you see on CSI, and the description is as clinically detached as one in CSI.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book?  Yes, but this was Piper's only mystery; that is, there are no more.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell <<SPOILERS>>:
     Detective Jefferson Davis Rand is retained by Gladys Fleming, the trophy wife of the late Lane Fleming, to inventory and liquidate her dead husband's extensive gun collection. He asks for and she agrees to a fee of $5,000, more than the median annual income at the time. After Fleming leaves his office, Rand confers first with his secretary and assistant and then his lawyer. These conversations exist just to let Rand bring up the known facts about Fleming's death and to show that Rand infers that Gladys Fleming paid him an exorbitant sum ostensibly to dispose of her late husband's gun collection but clandestinely to investigate his murder and catch the killer.
     Allegedly Fleming mishandled an antique pistol and shot himself. Rand, an expert in antique firearms, quickly points out the inconsistencies in the official story.
     To cover himself, Rand talks with 1) Humphrey Goode, Fleming's executor and neighbor, to get his authorization to do what Fleming's widow has hired him to do. After a lengthy discussion which gives more details, Goode authorizes Rand to inventory and sell the collection.
     Rand stops to talk with 2) Stephen Gresham, another gun collector and the lawyer and negotiator for National Milling & Packaging, a corporation that is trying to take over Fleming's company, Premix. More details. 
     Rand moves to Rosemont, the Fleming estate, to inventory Fleming's collection. Along the way, he stops at the shop of 3) Arnold Rivers, an antique arms merchant who offered Gladys Fleming $10,000 for the entire collection. From Rivers's assistant -- Rivers is at lunch -- Rand buys a pistol like the one Fleming had in his hand when he died. Rivers comes in and tries to get the pistol back from Rand, but Rand keeps his purchase. When Rivers finds out that Rand is authorized to liquidate Fleming's gun collection, he raises his offer to $25,000. Rand refuses.
     At Rosemont, Rand meets 4) Walters, Fleming's butler (Q: How are butlers in detective mysteries like Brazilian soccer stars? A: They have only one name.); 5) Geraldine Varcek, Fleming's dipsomanic daughter; and 6) Nelda Dunmore, Fleming's nymphomanic daughter. While perusing the collection in the gunroom, Rand meets 7) Carl Gwinnett, an antique arms dealer. Before dinner, Rand meets 8) Fred Dunmore, Nelda's husband and a Premix company VP. At breakfast, Rand meets 9) Anton Varcek, Geraldine's husband and another Premix VP.
     Numbers 1 - 9 above all have reason(s) for wanting Fleming dead. Well, maybe the girls don't. Walters is a suspect, because the butler is always a suspect.
     Rand goes sleuthing. Rivers gets ventilated by bayonet. Rand receives an incredible amount of cooperation from the police. Rand and the police bust Walters for stealing guns from the collection and selling them. Rand puts an assistant of his, Ritter, in Rosemont as the temporary replacement butler. Ritter's real purpose is to guard Rand's back. Rand sets a trap, and Rand and Ritter gun down Fred Dunmore when he tries to shoot Rand.
     Long, long wrap-up in which all is explained.
 2.7. Other:
     This is a short novel (176 pages). Well, short by my standards.
     Piper was a gun enthusiast. This book is thick with details about collectible firearms. Most of it went over my head, but Piper made the pertinent details stand out.
     Piper wrote his protag, Rand, as a disciple of Korzybski's General Semantics. (I thought I had a copy of Korzybski seminal work Science and Sanity on my Kindle, but a quick check through Calibre did not discover one. Silly me. A quick check of Amazon shows it is available only in DTB.) In the middle of the book, Rand launches into a paean to General Semantics. This paean did not serve the story and did not advance the plot.
     Jefferson Davis Rand. Ayn Rand. Get it? 

     Robert L. Piepenbrink and MamaSylvia wrote good reviews at Amazon. 

2.8. Links: 

2.9. Buy the book:  Murder in the Gunroom

Friday, August 10, 2012

eBook Review: 102 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes

Bob Mayer, 102 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes

Product Details

  • File Size: 276 KB
  • Print Length: 101 pages
  • Publisher: Who Dares Wins Publishing (March 15, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003CN5OEO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 (3 customer reviews)
  • Price: $4.99

1. Short review:  (Amazon rating: 4 stars out of 5 -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  Much useful information. 
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Neither. Non-fiction.
$4.99 and worth it.

2.2. What I did not like: The book shows its age. A significant fraction of the 'solutions' addresses concerns pertinent to traditional press submissions.  

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Writers.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book?  Yes, but already I have a number of books on writing by Bob Mayer.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
Does not apply.
 2.7. Other:
     My criterion for determining the worth of books that purport to advise writers is this: If I learn one thing I did not know before, the book has repaid me its purchase price. 102 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes met that criterion and then some.
     If you are a writer, this book is worth the money.

2.8. Links: Bob Mayer's Blog 

2.9. Buy the book: 102 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

eBook Review: Lawyers of Mars

Pam Uphoff, Lawyers of Mars

Product Details

  • File Size: 199 KB
  • Print Length: 85 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Naked Reader Press (May 23, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0052FG78W
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: none (no customer reviews)
  • Price: $1.99

1. Short review:  (Amazon ratings: 3 stars out of 5 -- It's okay.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  The line-level writing. Uphoff can write. 
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Kind of a roller coaster.
$1.99 and just worth it.

2.2. What I did not like: I am not a fan of aliens in science fiction, because most writers do not write aliens well. After the first quarter of Lawyers of Mars, I thought Ms Uphoff might prove the exception. Alas, it was not to be. Throughout the rest of the tale, the Martians acted like humans in lizard costumes.
     The cover. (See above.) 

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Science fiction fans.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book?  Odd, but yes, I will.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     Xaero L'svages defends Blozolli C'dasl in a Martian court on a charge of sabotage. She wins a verdict of 'Not Proven' (shades of Scottish law). 
     Freed, Blozolli goes back to doing whatever it is that Blozolli does. Xaero returns to her law firm, and finds herself encumbered with the appointment as protege  of her cousin-nephew Raelphe (I was never clear on which or if the relationship were both; complex customs these Martians have for begetting child). She sends Raelphe to track Blozolli. Raelphe finds trouble. Xaero runs to his rescue, and begins sleuthing around the less reputable quarters of the city. 
     Xaero stumbles into a plot to replace the Martian crown prince with Blozolli. She frees the prince and together they foil the plotters grand scheme to, I dunno, do something bad to the Martian environment and to the Martian royal family.
 2.7. Other:
     This is in fact a novella (~21,000 words).
     I do not care for aliens in science fiction. A writer who writes aliens well is rare. Ms Uphoff did not succeed. She spent a good portion of the first quarter of the book describing the Martians. They are lizards with tails, frills, and so on; and they have at least four sexes: trumale, pseudomale, trufem, and pseudofem. I wanted the sexes and the physiology of the Martians to be vital to the resolution of the story. Did not happen. The Martians had human motivations, human foibles, human desires. Halfway through the tale, they became humans in lizard suits, and they stayed that way.
     The protagonist, Xero, acted more like a detective than like a lawyer. The story starts in a courtroom and ends in a chase.
     Based on the evidence in this story, I am convinced that Pam Uphoff can write well. Even the best writers swing and miss. I shall look for another work by Ms Uphoff and give her another chance. 

2.8. Links: Pam Uphoff's Planet 

2.9. Buy the book:  Lawyers of Mars

Sunday, August 5, 2012

eBook Review: Lone Star Planet

H. Beam Piper, Lone Star Planet

Product Details

  • File Size: 181 KB
  • Print Length: 88 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004UK0GKK
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars (2 customer reviews)
  • Price: $0.00

1. Short review: 

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  Piper's satire. 
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? It tries to be a roller coaster, but most of the action happens in a courtroom, so it is a walk in the park threatening to become a roller coaster.
Free and worth the download.

2.2. What I did not like: Nothing. Once I got into the over-the-top satire, it was all good.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Science fiction fans. H Beam Piper fans.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. There is killing, but it is not graphic.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book?  Yes.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     Stephen Silk, one of the Solar League's spies, finds himself appointed the Ambassador to New Texas to fill the vacancy left by the late Silas Cumshaw. Some inhabitants of New Texas killed Ambassador Cumshaw. Silk is to investigate Cumshaw's death and determine if the aggressive z'Srauff -- whom the Solar League suspects of planning to invade New Texas -- had a part in the murder. It becomes apparent to Silk that many who sought his appointment hope that this will get him killed, too.
     During his journey to New Texas, Silk familiarizes himself with the local political situation, with his personnel, and with the side-arms the League provided him. On New Texas, everyone goes armed.
     Soon after his arrival on New Texas, Silk finds himself locked in the Court of Political Justice. "[T]he defendant, Wilbur Whately, is here charged with political irresponsibility and excessive atrocity in exercising his constitutional right of criticism of a practicing politician." The defendant killed S. Austin Maverick, a practicing politician. The trial is not to determine if Whately killed Maverick -- that is stipulated -- but to determine if Whately acted 'excessively'. The Court of Political Justice puts the victim on trial for the crime of introducing to the legislature 'An Act for the Taxing of Personal Incomes, and for the Levying of a Withholding Tax.' Except there is no trial. What it amounts to is President Judge Nelson sua sponte takes judicial notice that Maverick put up such a bill. The judge frees Whately, pronounces that he himself would have killed Maverick had Whately not beaten him to it, and adjourns the court to go to the barbecue being given in honor of Silk's arrival.
     (I found this quite humorous. It amounts to codification of the famed Texas defense "Your Honor, the deceased needed killin'.")
     A couple of days later, three men -- Switchblade Joe Bonney, Jack-High Abe Bonney, and Turkey-Buzzard Tom Bonney -- are brought to trial in the Court of Political Justice for their part in the murder of Ambassador Silas Cumshaw. Judge Nelson allows Silk to enter into the proceeding as an amicus curiae. Silk presents evidence that the Bonney brothers acted as pawns of the z'Srauff. He then asks Judge Nelson to dismiss the action because Cumshaw was not a practicing politician within the meaning of New Texas law. (Silk does not want ambassadors subject to New Texans' acts of political dissent; that is, murder.) Judge Nelson agrees, frees the Bonney brothers, and hastily adjourns court. Silk guns down the Bonney brothers. 
     The Fleet of the Solar League intercepts the z'Srauff invasion force and destroys it. Silk marries a New Texas girl, goes native, and "is still active in politics on [New Texas], often in opposition to Solar League policies[.]"
 2.7. Other:
     This is in fact a novella (~22,000 words). The story was first published under the title A Planet for Texans. It is a stand-alone story and separate from Piper's Terro-Human Future History series and from his Paratime series.
     Authorial credit is also given to John Joseph McGuire. When I compare Lone Star Planet to other Piper stories, I believe McGuire may have written most of the story. It does not read like Piper's other work.

2.8. Links: 

2.9. Buy the book:  Lone Star Planet

Saturday, August 4, 2012

eBook Review: Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army

Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army - Volume 1 Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army - Volume 2

Philip H. Sheridan, Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army

Product Details (Volume I)

  • File Size: 393 KB
  • Print Length: 534 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Public Domain Books (March 27, 2005)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000JQU87A
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars (1 customer review)
  • Price: $0.00 


Product Details (Volume II)

  • File Size: 359 KB
  • Print Length: 522 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Public Domain Books (June 1, 2004)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000JQU87K
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars (1 customer review)
  • Price: $0.00
1. Short review: 

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  History that you cannot get anywhere else, especially Sheridan's coverage of the Franco-Prussian War.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Mostly roller-coaster, but we know how the ride ends.
These books are free, and they are worth the downloads.

2.2. What I did not like:  Sheridan's writing style. His prose is gilded and pompous sounding. His writing shows the influence Grant had on him and becomes readable when he served under Grant, but out from under Grant's tutelage, he reverts to his old heathen ways.

2.3. Who I think is the audience:  History buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book?  No. I've read all the Sheridan I can stomach.

2.6. Other:  I read Ulysses S Grant's memoirs and William T Sherman's memoirs.
     I divide Sheridan's memoirs into five parts:  1. In California and Oregon before the War; 2. The War; 3. After the War; 4. The Indian Wars; and 5. The Franco-Prussian War and a tour of Europe.

1. In California and Oregon before the War.
     Sheridan graduated from West Point in 1853. Soon he was ordered to the Pacific Northwest where he treated with and fought the local Indians in small unit actions. He campaigned summer and winter. This was important for his later campaigns against the Plains Indians.
     By Sheridan's account, he won the conflicts with the Indians single-handed. He stood short in the saddle and short on modesty.

2.  The War.
     Unlike Sherman, Sheridan did not plaster his memoirs with copies of orders. There are some, but they serve to highlight Sheridan's accounts.
     Sheridan found his unit in the Pacific Northwest divided in its loyalties when the Civil War began. Some officers resigned their commissions and went to fight for the Confederacy. Sheridan was promoted captain and ordered to report for duty in Missouri. He executed his orders by sailing from San Francisco to New York City and travelling cross-country.
     When he arrived in Missouri, General Halleck appropriated him to his staff to sort out the mess Fremont had made of Halleck's department's finances. Sheridan wanted a combat command, but he performed Halleck's accounting task so well that it looked like Halleck would keep on staff for the whole war.
     Sheridan ran afoul of General Curtis and his officers who were profiteering. Curtis tried to courtmartial Sheridan, but Halleck stepped in and saved him.
     All the while, Sheridan tried to wrangle a combat command. Sherman offered him a regiment of volunteers, but that appointment fell through. In May 1862, Sheridan was appointed to command the 2d Michigan Cavalry. He won his first battle with this unit and thereby gained a promotion to brigadier general of volunteers.
     Sheridan continued from success to success in other commands in the Western Theater, compiling a string of accomplishments that he never failed to trumpet. One instance stands as an example of his jealousy for acclaim. At the Battle of Chattanooga, his division overran a Confederate held ridge. Sheridan claimed the guns -- cannon -- the Confederates left behind, because his men had taken them. They did not stay to secure the guns but continued in pursuit of the Confederates. Other units secured the guns and were credited with their capture. Sheridan expended several dozen pages of his memoirs with sworn statements from his subordinate unit commandeers to show that his division took the guns, contrary to the official reports.
     After Chattanooga, Sheridan was given command of the Union cavalry in the Army of the Potomac. Meade, his immediate commander, wanted to use the cavalry in its traditional roles for screening and reconnaissance. Sheridan wanted to use the cavalry as a separate arm. Their dispute rose to General Grant, who persuaded Meade to give Sheridan his way. Sheridan took the Union cavalry on an extended raid around the Confederate army. Along the way, his forces defeated the Confederate cavalry and killed their commander, General J.E.B. Stuart. That's the upside. The downside is that the Army of the Potomac was effectively blind while Sheridan went raiding.
     It is worth noting that American cavalry in the Civil War was what the Europeans called dragoons. American cavalry rode to battle, dismounted, and fought with carbines. Sheridan himself wrote that, during the entire war, only once did his cavalry charge with drawn sabers.
     After commanding the cavalry army brilliantly (according to Sheridan) or with mixed results (according to Meade), Grant named him to command the Army of the Shenandoah. The Confederates used the Shenandoah Valley as a gateway to raid Maryland, Pennsylvania, and to threaten Washington, DC. The raids into Maryland and Pennsylvania did damage to the public but the Confederates trooping across the Potomac from Washington scared the bejeezus out of the politicians in Washington who demanded SOMETHING MUST BE DONE RIGHT NOW!
     Grant sent Sheridan to sweep the Confederates from the Shenandoah. Sheridan took some time getting organized, a fact that did not sit well with Grant because the politicians were pissing down his collar. In September 1864, Sheridan got going and burned the Shenandoah. Over the course of six months, he destroyed the Confederates forces opposing him. Then, in a surprise, he returned his army to the command of General Grant. Given Sheridan's ego, this is incomprehensible to me still.
     Sheridan reported that there was much spying going on in the Shenandoah, but he managed to turn this to his advantage by sowing disinformation with rebel spies.
     Grant left Sheridan in command of the forces that had comprised the Army of the Shenandoah. Sheridan headed for Petersburg, Virginia and effectively became the far right wing of Grant's army. His move meant he was perfectly positioned to cut off Lee's route of retreat, and that's what Sheridan did. Soon after followed the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.
     Grant ordered Sheridan to Texas to defeat the last Confederate forces in the field, but Kirby Smith surrendered before Sheridan could cross the Sabine.

3. After the War.
     Sheridan showed great interest in events in Mexico. Although he never explicitly said so, my impression is that he wanted to invade Mexico to kick the French out. He does say that he passed firearms and ammunition to Juarez.
     In 1867, Sheridan was named military governor of Texas and Louisiana. He spent most of his term as governor in New Orleans, investigating a riot, enrolling voters, and replacing elected officials with his appointees. President Johnson spent a great deal of time undoing what Sheridan did. Finally, Thomas replaced Sheridan as military governor. In August 1867, Sheridan left to command the Department of the Missouri.
4. The Indian Wars.
     In Kansas, Sheridan quickly learned  that his forces were too few to keep the Indians pacified unless the Indians wanted to be pacified. He asked for and got state levies. He did the one thing the Indians could not do -- campaigned in the winter (see 'In California and Oregon before the War' above) -- and defeated the Indians thereby.
     His winter campaign was a logistical nightmare from start to finish. I give Sheridan credit for seeing it through. Forcing that campaign on to a successful conclusion was an act of will.
     The sad part is that it was unnecessary. The Indians said they wanted to talk. Sheridan refused. He said the deal was done and the Indians had to abide by it. A lot of Indians and a lot of soldiers died after Sheridan's refusal.
     When your choice is talk or bleed, talk.

5. The Franco-Prussian War and a tour of Europe.
     Grant promoted Sheridan to lieutenant general in 1869. He and Grant believed war between Prussia and France was imminent. Sherman asked for leave to go to Europe to observe the war. Grant gave him leave and supplied him with a letter of introduction.
     After some confusion, Sheridan arrived at King Wilhelm's headquarters in the field. King Wilhelm ordered that Sheridan be shown every courtesy possible.
     Wilhelm did not speak English and Sheridan did not speak German, so they communicated through a translator. However, Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian chancellor, and Helmuth von Moltke, the Prussian chief of staff of the army, both spoke fluent English. (Moltke married an Englishwoman.)
     Sheridan wore his uniform at the front. This was not a good idea. His uniform closely resembled the French uniform. Many times he was accosted by Prussian troops. By accosted I mean they pointed guns at him and he surrendered to them. After the first incident, he rode with a royal pass in his tunic. This did not stop the Prussians from pointing rifles at him, but it did mean they released him quicker.
     At Gravelotte, Sheridan witnessed a charge of Prussian cavalry uphill against French infantry dug into the hillside. Predictably, the French destroyed the Prussian cavalry. Sheridan opined that the Prussians misused their cavalry. Well, they certainly did that day.
      After the French emperor surrendered his forces in the field but before the capital capitulated, Sheridan toured Europe. He was feted in Istanbul, Athens, and Italy. He returned through France and rejoined the Prussian Army about the time the German Empire was declared with Wilhelm as its first Kaiser.
     Bismarck told Sheridan he did not care to march the united German armies through Paris, but the troops wanted that glory. Not to give them that honor would risk mutiny. Bismarck wanted to install the daughter of Napoleon III on the French throne. He believed he could more easily manipulate her than a new French republic.
     I have seen few accounts of the Franco-Prussian War, so I was especially interested in Sheridan's. I gleaned from his account that cavalry made no difference for either side. The Prussians outmarched the French but did not outfight them. The Prussians did not win the war; the French lost it.
     The French moves evidenced poor strategic and tactical thinking. For example, the French marched 140,000 men into Metz, a fortress designed for 25,000. So what happened inside an overcrowded, besieged fortress? They got in each other's way, sanitation failed, and food was exhausted sooner. To Marshal Bazaine's credit, he held out for two months, a month more than expected.
     One thing I wonder about. The King and the Chancellor and many other government ministers were in the field with the army. So who was running the Prussian government during the war?
     Sheridan told Grant that, in military matters, the Americans had nothing to learn from the Europeans. I think he was right. The union army had demonstrated an ability to march and fight and keep supplied under conditions far worse than any the Europeans encountered. I have never found any evidence that Moltke studied American military science, but given the breadth of his knowledge I should be astonished to find that he did not.
     Sheridan's memoirs end here.

2.7. Links:  none

2.8. Buy the books:
Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army - Volume 1
Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army - Volume 2

Thursday, August 2, 2012


     My wife loves sales. So much so that often when we are walking along the sidewalk, I get ripped to the side to stare into a store window at some widget that is marked thirty percent off. I don't even know what it is, but because it is marked down we gotta have it. I hear cries of "Sale!" and "Discount!" I swear, you could sell my wife a sack of wet dog shyt if you marked it 70% off.
     I did not think my wife's penchant for discounts and freebies could intrude on an evening of entertainment, but it did.
     Walking along the street Saturday night, we happened upon a block party thrown by a union of Asian students. Hundreds of college-age students sat on the ground before a raised stage. When we walked up, Chinese performers danced on the stage. My wife took an interest and looked for a place to sit.
     Me? I learned to sit seiza in aikido, but sitting seiza on asphalt is not my idea of fun. I appropriated two chairs to our use. We sat at the back of the crowd so as not to hinder anyone's view. Others followed my example, and soon there sprang up a row of chairs at the back of the audience. As I looked left and right, I saw all the chairs were occupied by young Japanese women in kimonos.
     I practiced my limited Japanese on these girls, and they -- once they discovered how limited my Japanese is -- practiced their English on me. Mostly we smiled and, together, suffered through a number of bands from Beijing who sang off-key. Loud and off-key. With fireworks. The lead -- (ahem) -- singer for one band informed us in English that they had formed the band on Monday before that Saturday. She told us the band's name in Mandarin. For all I know, that name could be translated as the Cacophonous Caterwaulers. That would fit. They then proceeded to screech in Mandarin. Many Chinese attendees -- marked by Tee-shirts that proclaimed 'China' on the back -- applauded. I didn't. Nor did any of the kimono-clad girls sitting near me.
     That was about all the fun I could stand, but in answer to my unspoken prayers, the action took a break while the stage crew reset the stage for the next act: the first Japanese band.
     Four young, skinny men took the stage -- lead guitar and backup, bass guitar, and drums -- calling their band 'ulma sound junction' -- all lowercase. I slumped down in my seat, steadying myself for a Japanese round of caterwauling. Then -- WHAM! -- the boys got off to rolling start, dueling riffs back and forth between lead and bass. And it was good! I sat up a little. The drummer entered with a crash of cymbals, and the bass guitar player started to sing -- in English! With a strong voice and on-key!
     I sat up all the way. The style -- heavy metal -- was not to my taste, and maybe my judgment was affected by the juxtaposition of  ulma sound junction with the Cacophonous Caterwaulers, but, hey, these guys were good. After their second song, they introduced themselves -- in English -- as coming from Okinawa. They came for the exposure. The skinny bass guitarist-lead singer pointed high over the audience and announced, "We have CDs in the back. Take! Free!"
     The echoes from last syllable had not died before my wife rocketed up like she had pulled the triggers for a jet's ejection seat. Luckily for bystanders, there was no one between her and the table where a couple of smiling roadies held out CDs for the taking. My wife stormed up to the table and rattled off a question to the roadie to confirm that this CD was indeed FREE. Not understanding English so well, the poor guy hesitated. That hesitation nearly cost him dear. My wife snatched the CD from his hand. A little shocked, he quickly inventoried his fingers to make sure she had not taken more than just the CD.
     I had not had time to move except to turn my head to witness this incident. Smiling, my wife sat down, waved the CD, and said, "Free!" She was as happy as a clam now. This fortuitous concert had yielded a freebie.
     WARNING: Do not stand between my wife and a sale.

     ulma sound junction's website for PC and for mobile phone

My wife read, laughed at, and approved this post. She, too, says you should check out 'ulma sound junction'.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


     I first listened to Brazilian música caipira with Leandro e Leanardo. Their beautiful Temporal de Amor is still my favorite song. Like American country music, música caipira has evolved into something more Paul Simon than Sons of the Pioneers.
     This past weekend my wife and I ventured to a Brazilian restaurant, Carne do Brasil, run by my friend Ivo. Ivo plastered his churrascaria's walls with flat screens on which he plays DVDs of Brazilian musicians. That is how I came to discover Michel Teló. I come late to the party, I know, but I get there.
     Outside the United States, Michel Teló is the biggest music star on the planet. His rendition of "Ai se eu te pego" topped the music charts across Latin America and most of Europe.
     Here he is singing at the Planeta atlantida in Rio Grande do Sul earlier this year (at 4:17 he crosses to stage right where a group of 40 young women are singing the English version and proceeds to sing with them; that's why people like him so much; he invites you to party with him, and he parties with you):

     For those of you who don't speak Portuguese, MT reports the success of "Ai se eu te pego" across Europe and Latin America. After he sings in English, he tells the crowd that he prefers to sing in Portuguese.
     I understand. My native language is English, and I prefer to sing in Portuguese.
     Tenha um bom dia e, para ser feliz, sempre canta.

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

1. Short review: 

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The character development. The Bat.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Roller coaster.

2.2. What I did not like:  The length. The unbelievable docility of the Gotham police. The stupid excuse for a plot.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Christopher Nolan fans.

2.4. Is the movie appropriate for children to see? Yes. Sex hinted at but not shown. Movie violence; that is, gunshot dead people without entry wounds. No blood.

2.5. On the basis of viewing this movie, will I pay to see the sequel? I think The Dark Knight Rises wraps up the Christopher Nolan trilogy. I might pay to see another one, but I would probably show up late to the party like I did this time. I don't know if I can stand any more of Christian Bale in the role of Batman. He plays serious as Batman and Bruce Wayne. No difference. I liked Michael Keaton's portrayal better. He gave Bruce Wayne/Batman different personalities.

2.6. Rating and the plot in a nutshell:

2.6.1. How I rate movies:
-- I want my money back.
-- Worth a rental, not more. 
-- Worth first-run theater price once. <-- The Dark Knight Rises
-- I will pay first-run theater price to see it again.

Running time: 165 minutes.

2.6.2. The plot in a nutshell << SPOILERS >>:
     Bane (Tom Hardy) escapes CIA custody in an aerial capture: a C-130 overtakes the CIA turboprop in which Bane is flying and a four-man team rappel down to the turboprop to dismantle it in mid-air. (My thoughts at this point: The 130 has an N number painted on the fuselage which means it is registered with the FAA. Maybe these guys are criminals but they keep their licensing straight. And why turn to crime when you can afford to buy, maintain, and operate a C-130?)
    Eight years after Batman defeated the Joker, Gotham City celebrates Harvey Dent Day and the Harvey Dent Law that the Mayor credits with imprisoning thousands of criminals, thus making Gotham safe. (One cop jokes that they will be reduced to collecting overdue library book fines.) Police Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman)* knows the truth about Dent -- he was a bad, bad man -- but will not expose it. Why? 'Cause Gotham City needs heroes.
     In a mishmash of scenes that serve only to introduce characters, we learn that 1) Wayne Enterprises is broke, 2) Wayne Enterprises R&D department created a working fusion reactor (!) that Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) mothballed, 3) Bruce Wayne believes Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) can save Wayne Enterprises and the reactor project, 4) Bruce Wayne is a physical wreck (one character alludes to Howard Hughes's reclusion), 5) Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) knows more than he lets on, and 6) Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) is a charming yet dangerous thief.
     Bane's henchmen shoot Commissioner Gordon, but he escapes and ends up in a hospital bed. (When the henchmen bring Gordon to Bane, Bane kills them both for small mistakes. Is this the kind of leadership that inspires the troops? If I were one of the henchmen, I would look for other work. Bane's retirement plan really sucks.) Bane then breaks into the stock market to bankrupt Bruce Wayne. Why? He's already broke. I guess worse than broke is broke2.
     In short order, Bane isolates Gotham from the rest of the world, traps 3,000 of the police underground (Why does Gotham need 3,000 police, anyway? The mayor said the city had no organized crime, so why keep 3,000 cops on payroll? Jobs program, I guess.), and releases the criminals from the jails. Bane steals the fusion reactor and turns it into a six-megaton bomb.
     Batman comes to the rescue, only he doesn't. Bane beats the crap out of him. (You know, for a couple of guys who were trained in martial arts, they seem to fall back to old-fashioned toe-to-toe streetfighting most of the time.) Bane throws Bruce Wayne into the prison-pit where Bane had been. Bruce Wayne starts the long process of healing.
     Five months go by. The released criminals hold sentencing courts. There are no trials to establish guilt, just sentencing. The fusion reactor is slowly failing and will soon go critical. The cops are still underground. (I know. Gotham's finest show less initiative than a pack of paraplegic cub scouts, but, hey, I didn't write it. Talk to Christopher Nolan.) Bruce Wayne escapes from the prison-pit, returns to Gotham, and asks Catwoman for help in exchange for a clean record. She betrayed him once, but, hey, let by-gones be by-gones. She betrays him again.
     Finally, the cops climb out of the sewers -- looking like their faces need a shave and their suits need a press but not like they have been living in the same clothes for five months. They storm Bane's boys with pistols. Bane's boys let 'em have it with automatic weapons. Bane's boys are bad shots. They machinegun an elbow-to-elbow crowd of cops and kill TWO of 'em, by my count. Everybody drops guns and starts the slugfest, including Batman and Bane. Batman, who lost a bout of fisticuffs with Bane before he spent five ill-fed months in the prison-pit, hammers Bane. Hey, that's it! Hit him in the mouthpiece! Why didn't Batman think of that before? 
     Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Commissioner Gordon and his gang of blues are tracking the reactor through the city. For reasons known only to God and Christopher Nolan, Bane chose to motor the reactor around the city. Gordon et alia ambush Bane's motorcades until they find the one with the reactor. Gordon places a jammer next to the reactor so that Bane cannot set it off. All this work buys him 11 minutes more before the bomb detonates.
     Batman attempts to torture the fallen Bane into revealing who has the detonator, but, being Batman, he's really bad at torture. Miranda Tate knifes Batman and reveals 1) she is the daughter of Ra's al Ghul, 2) she was the child who escaped from the prison-pit, 3) Bane was her protector in the pit, 4) she, too, was a member of the League of Shadows, and 5) she has the detonator. I dunno, but I thought this was a lot to say while she twisted a knife in Batman's guts. Why are villains always so talky-talky? (I did not see this coming. Really. Miranda Tate as the evil genius behind all these shenanigans came as a surprise.)
     Catwoman arrives and blows away Bane. No toe-to-toe bare knuckles for her. She uses 20 Mike-Mike. Tate escapes to die in a truck crash. Batman flies the reactor-cum-bomb away from Gotham; it explodes. Not quite the end.
     The presumed-deceased Bruce Wayne leaves coordinates to John Blake who traces them to find the Bat Cave. We find out that John Blake's first name is Robin. So the Boy Wonder starts out a 30-year old man. Hmmm.
     Alfred goes to a cafe in Italy and sees Bruce Wayne at another table. Smiles. Roll credits. 

     You have to see Batman Begins and The Dark Knight to understand this movie. Really, you do.
* Gary Oldman has been a favorite of mine since I first saw him play a coked-up DEA agent in The Professional. (Rating: ) Jean Reno played the title character. The film introduced a 12-year old Natalie Portman to the screen. (She was twelve when Luc Besson made the movie; thirteen when he released it.)
2.7. Other:

     I enjoyed this movie. I should not, but I did.
     I liked the characterization of Alfred Pennyworth (Sir Michael Caine). Alfred loves Bruce Wayne. He doesn't want him to be Batman. He wants him to live and enjoy life and raise up a family. Alfred cannot stomach watching the boy he raised destroy himself, so he leaves.
     I like the characterization of John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Underplayed but always strong.
     I enjoyed Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), but I did not like her. I saw her change from a thief to a defender of civilization in the movie. Bane and Tate are amoral. Catwoman is immoral and knows it. She needs an ordered society to thrive. The egalitarian anarchy that Bane creates offers her nothing.
     There are many, many things about this movie that I don't like. For instance, it is manifest that Bruce Wayne is as competent to judge character as a pig is to judge wine. He sleeps with Miranda Tate but does not know she is Ra's al Ghul's daughter? Nor that she is a trained Shadow warrior? How do you keep those little telltale movements from showing? Have you ever really watched a Navy Seal move? They have a different air about them. Bruce Wayne ran a five-minute trace on a caterer's maid to find the Catwoman, but he did not trip to the fact that the woman he intends to turn over Wayne Enterprises to is the daughter of his old sensei and nemesis? And then Catwoman betrays him not once but twice. I tell ya, when it comes to women, Bruce Wayne thinks only from the waist down.

     I was sittin' in the theater, watchin' the movie, mindin' my own bidness, when all of a sudden Nolan started throwin' politics at me.
     Baddies are takin' out the stock exchange. The chief of police says he will
not risk cops to save the broker's money.
     The broker says, "It's not my money. It's everybody's."

     Bane -- when he frees criminals, traps the police, and isolates Gotham -- claims he is giving the city back to the people. He rules in the name of the people. The result? Bread lines.

     At one point, seeking shelter in what was a mansion before Bane took the city, Catwoman says to her accomplice, "This used to be somebody's house."
     Accomplice responds, "Now it's everybody's."
     Catwoman's face looks like she just smelled the back end of a gassy goat.

     I am reminded of Macdonough's Song.


2.8. Links:
IMDb review
Rotten Tomatoes review

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