Goodbye Google Reader, Hello Feedly

/ Geek Stuff /

I believe that it’s pretty obvious that I’m a geek and one of the things that I like to do as a geek is to stay up to date on the latest geeky news. In particular, I get most of my information from io9.com, which is a really amazing blog that posts a ton of science fiction and fantasy content. They usually post around 30 articles each week day. No, I don’t read them all. In fact, I probably only read one or two a day, but I scan the headlines and I stay informed about my favorite topics.

In addition, I especially enjoy following the blogs of authors Patrick Rothfuss and John Scalzi. Those two guys share a lot of interesting tidbits about their professional and day-to-day lives, but the main reason I like their blogs is because they can both also be very amusing and seem like genuinely good people.

For quite awhile, I’ve used Google Reader as a way to collect and peruse these blogs and other news sources. I like Google Reader because it’s simple and it’s easy for me to keep track of what I’ve read and mark items for later reading. For several years now, Google Reader has been the main way that I get content from blogs and similar web sites.

Unfortunately, Google announced yesterday that they will be retiring Google Reader on July 1, 2013. Google basically claims that they want to focus their efforts on new and exciting frontiers, rather than tried-and-true technologies like RSS, despite a loyal user base. Most likely, it wasn’t making them any money so they cut it.

At first, I was really pissed. I mean, I really like Google Reader. But then I discovered Feedly, which is a news aggregrator that can actually sync with Google Reader. Feedly is more of an app than a web site, with availability in iOS, Android, Kindle, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. That means that you can use it in your desktop browser (assuming that you aren’t an Opera or IE user) or on most tablets and phones. They claim that by signing up for Feedly before July 1, you can make the transition seamlessly.

I thought that sounded pretty good so I decided to give it a try. Now, I’ve only used Feedly for a grand total of about 20 minutes, but I’m already really impressed. I got the app for Chrome, which is really nice. There are a lot of different options so you can really customize the way that content is presented. As a web designer, it also has a lot of visual appeal. They do a great job making the content look great.

I also got the app for my Kindle Fire. I can honestly say that as much as I like the Google app, the Kindle app is even cooler. It still has a lot of great display options, but it also has a really intuitive interface that allows you to really enjoy the experiencing of reading through your feeds.

I still need to play with it a bit, but I’m excited because I think that Feedly may actually be a huge improvement over Google Reader. I definitely recommend checking it out.

Welcome 2013

/ Books, Geek Stuff /

I have a feeling that 2013 is going to be a good year. Let’s face it, I’m a nerd so the things that are getting me excited about 2013 are mostly upcoming movies, returning television shows, and my epic to-read list.

I’m also hoping to get in a Con visit this year. My one and only convention was Comic-Con in 2010, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Since then, I’ve been dying to go back to Comic-Con or hit up another, closer convention, perhaps Wizard World in Toronto or Confluence in Pittsburgh.

There are a couple of movies coming out that I’m excited about including the new Star Trek and the next Hobbit. I’m not sure, but I would guess that Catching Fire will come out in 2013 as well. Oh, and is Man of Steel coming out in 2013? I think so. I’ll have to see that too.

There aren’t really too many tv shows airing right now that I’m super excited to see return, but I do love Castle, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, and How I Met Your Mother, and I’ll be glad to see some new episodes. (I didn’t realize how many of my favorite shows are sitcoms right now. That’s pretty unusual.) Warehouse 13 will get its second half of the season in April so there’s that too. I’ll most likely watch Supernatural and Revolution, but Supernatural has past its prime and Revolution hasn’t quite won me over yet. So maybe I watch more tv than I realized. Oh well.

Books. Holy crap are there a lot of books (both new and old) that I want to read this year. There are so many that I really shouldn’t even be writing this post. I should be reading, reading, reading. I think perhaps I’ll do a separate post with a more-or-less complete list of books that I want to read this year, but here are a few that I’m looking forward to: Cold Days by Jim Butcher, Stormbringer by Brandon Sanderson, Redshirts by John Scalzi, and continuing The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne.

Yeah, I think 2013 is going to be a good one.

NaNoWriMo 2012

/ Geek Stuff /

In 2009, I discovered a really cool thing: November is National Novel Writing Month and the Office of Letters and Light runs this really cool project that they appropriately call NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is an open challenge for aspiring and accomplished writers alike to write a 150 page novel during the month of November.

It’s definitely a challenge, but they provide a number of really great tools to help you reach the 50,000 word goal. I made my first attempt in 2009 and made it to around 15,000 words I believe. I tried it again in 2010 and made it to around 40,000 words. Both partial novels were complete crap. Despite that and the fact that I didn’t complete the challenge either year, I still found the experience to be enjoyable and, somehow, rewarding.

If you have ever thought about writing in any capacity, you should really give it a try. Completing the challenge is great, but there’s still a lot you can learn by just participating.

I don’t think I’m actually going to participate this year (I didn’t last year either), but I’m thinking about perhaps using it as inspiration to try my hand at a short story, which may be a more realistic goal given my time and (lack of) writing skills. If nothing else, I’ll probably grab a t-shirt just to throw a little support towards a really great program.

Now With Responsive Styles

/ Geek Stuff /

So September was kind of a big month for the blog. First, I posted 10 book reviews, starting with the most recent book I had read and working backwards. I’m going to try to write a review for every book I read this year, but it obviously gets harder each time, because it’s been longer since I finished the book. If all goes as planned, my review for The Lies of Locke Lamora will be the next post.

The second reason that September was a big month is because I made some pretty cool updates under the hood. What I’m talking about is responsive web design. CSS3 allows us to detect the browser’s width and apply styles that kick in at specified sizes. CSS3 is a new technology that has great support modern browsers and has led to responsive design becoming common technique for creating mobile friendly web sites.

I’m a web designer and developer by trade and we’ve been doing a lot with responsive styles at work and I’ve been eager to apply some of the techniques that I’ve learned to the blog, to make it more usable on small screen devices like phones and tablets.

Really, creating the styles was pretty simple. I simply tweaked the layout of the site at certain points. I kick in the majority of the styles at 950px, which is point when a scrollbar would appear if you reduced your browser width. To start off with, I mostly just reduce whitespace and make the content area a fluid width, rather than a fixed width. Later, I reduced the size of the sidebar and then I turn it off altogether, except for the search, which I placed directly below the header.

But the thing I’m most proud of is the MONSTERS. When I designed this site, I bought the artwork in the header at istockphoto.com, which at the time, worked entirely on a dollars-for-credits system. I bought the awesome moonscape artwork, but still had credits leftover. Eventually, istock notified me that the credits would soon expire so I found an amusing set of monster vectors by the same artist and snatched them up before I lost the credits.

And then I sat on the images because I didn’t have a use for them. That is, until I started thinking about responsive styles. Now, those monsters have finally made their debut. It’s true, depending on your browser size, you may not see them. However, if you browser width reaches 1250px and you are using a recent version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or even IE9, then you should see a monster peaking out of the right side of the browser. There, I’m randomly drawing a monster from a set of twelve and linking it to a random blog post.

Also, if you reduce your browser width, you’ll see the responsive styles kick in. At first, I keep the same header graphics, but then I swap it out for another monster. In fact, I keep swapping every 50px until I just ran out of space. I’m really happy with how it turned out.

If you are too lazy to resize your browser or, sadly, your browser doesn’t support CSS3 media queries, here’s a couple of screen caps of what I’m talking about:

  

Random Thoughts

/ Geek Stuff, TV /

I’ve been trying to think up an excuse for not posting for two weeks and, well, I haven’t come up with one yet. I’m pretty sure that I’ve just been lazy. Yeah, that’s not a great excuse, but that’s life for you. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like writing; I just want to go to bed. Is that too much to ask? I hope not.

Anyways, during the last couple of weeks or so, I’ve thought of a whole bunch of geeky things that I really need to post about, but instead of actually posting about any of those things now, I’m just going to post the list of things that I will post about later. (And you thought I couldn’t get any lazier).

  1. Supernatural – Jinkies, Supernatural is one awesome show. My brother and I have watched the first five seasons on Neftlix and I still can’t get over how much I enjoyed it. We just demolished the series. I really wanted to tear into season 6, but that’s proving difficult. Sad face :(
  2. Warehouse 13 – After we finished Supernatural, we were looking for something else to watch. I had watched the first few episodes of Warehouse 13 season 1 back when it originally aired and found it to be a pretty fun show. Then I attended the panel at Comic-Con and decided that I needed to catch up. Now, I’ve finished season 1 and I’m just waiting for season 2 to come out on DVD.
  3. X-Files – I’ve been watching season 1 of the X-Files on instant watch (through Netflix) in between discs. I’m about 3/4 of the way through and I’ve found it to be pretty interesting despite one horrific theme song/intro.
  4. Castle – Now I’ve moved onto Castle. Not sci-fi so much, but it does have Nathan Fillion and I think that makes up for anything else it lacks. Very enjoyable so far!
  5. The Wise Man’s Fear – I finished The Name of the Wind a few weeks ago and loved it. Even though I have a bunch of unread books sitting on my bookshelf right now, I decided to skip them and go straight for the sequel. Review forthcoming!

Ooooo. The last thing I wanted to mention was that I came across a sweet set of action figures today that I don’t think I can pass on buying. I haven’t bought an action figure since I picked up The Man in Black and Jacob (from LOST) at Comic-Con, but I think it’s time to make another $20-some splurge. That’s right, Scott Pilgrim action figures.

Sure, they only have Scott (poor Ramona), but both figures look really sweet and I think they’ll look even more amazing on my desk!

The best deal I’ve seen is at Entertainment Earth. They have the pair for $24. Not bad.

2010 in Review

/ Books, Geek Stuff, Movies, TV /

With the coming of the new year, I decided to reflect on the books I read and the movies and television that I watched in 2010.

Books

Best Reads

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  2. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
  3. Changes by Jim Butcher
  4. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Best Surprise

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  2. Changes by Jim Butcher

Biggest Disappointment

  1. Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb
  2. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Best Character

  1. Winner: Kelsier (from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn)
  2. Runner up: Fitz (from Robin Hobb’s Farseer series)

Movies

Best Movie

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  2. Scott Pilgrim vs The World
  3. Inception
  4. Tron Legacy

Most Anticipated Movie

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Television

Best Television Show

  1. Lost
  2. Chuck

Best New Television Show

  1. The Event

Best “New to Me” Television Show

  1. Supernatural
  2. Arrested Development

Best Good Guy

  1. Chuck (Chuck)
  2. Hurley (Lost)

Best Bad Guy

  1. The Man in Black (Lost)
  2. Volkov (Chuck)

Hottest Lady

  1. Greta (Summer Glau) on Chuck
  2. Sarah on Chuck

So long 2010 and thanks for all the fish.

I Almost Wrote a Novel in November

/ Geek Stuff /

As I mentioned earlier, I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the second time this year. It was great fun last year even though my attempt at a novel was a complete flop. This year, however, I went in with an open mind and a better idea and ALMOST busted out 50,000 over the course of November.

Almost, but not quite. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find quite enough time. Over the course of the month, I did manage to write 39,589 words, which is a freaking lot, let me tell you. That translates to just about 132 pages. I was so close! Next year, it’s going to happen for sure.

So, I didn’t finish an entire novel in a month, so what? I still had a great time and learned a boatload about writing and what it takes to be an author. And, you know what, I kind of like my little geeky, urban fantasy epic and I’m even planning on finishing it. Will it ever get published? Probably not, but there’s only one way to find out. But I have to finish it first.

Words of Wisdom

One of the greatest parts of NaNoWriMo is that the folks over at NaNoWriMo.org do one hell of a job. They provide a number of great tools and motivation that really do help a lot. I learned so much from the Pep Talks the first time around, that despite a full time job and other responsibilities, I almost wrote a novel…in a month.

This little pep talk of my own would probably seem a lot more inspirational if I had actually finished…but I didn’t so deal with it. Nonetheless, here are some of the things that I’ve learned that helped me get as far as I did.

Just Keep Writing

This is probably the most obvious advice that anyone can give and, yet, it is the most important. No matter how bad your last sentence sounded, ignore the impulse to edit it and write the next one. Editing as you write slows the process WAY down. You’ll have plenty of time to edit it all after you finish.

Novel Getting Boring? Blow Something Up.

If you don’t have a clear vision for your novel (or even if you do), you may write yourself into a boring scene. If that’s the case and you find yourself bored and uninspired, the fix is easy, make something happen. Anything. Just change things up and see where it takes you.

No Time? Make Time.

NaNoWriMo suggests that you should write 1667 words a day to finish your novel on time. I usually needed about 90-120 minutes to write that many words. Some days it was impossible, but I found ways to make it easier. I spent my 30 minute lunch break writing, I postponed doing dishes and cleaning in general, I stayed off Facebook and neglected my RSS reader, and I stopped blogging (that really sucked by the way).

Despite all that, I didn’t make it. Maybe next year, I’ll have to give up on TV or my job, I don’t know. The bottom line is that you should set aside some time every day to write.

So What’s In It For Me?

Pride. Prejudice. Zombies…wait…No, mostly just pride, but, who knows, it could lead to bigger and better things. Maybe I’ll finish my novel and become an accomplished author. Maybe not, but you have to start somewhere and NaNoWriMo is an amazing program that helps you do just that.

Oh, and keep your eyes peeled on bookstores shelves for The David Bloom Diaries #1: Geek. Slacker. Hero. or whatever I end up calling it!

Novelling in November

/ Geek Stuff /

For the second consecutive year, I’ve decided to take part in National Novel Writing Month and attempt to write a 50,000 word in 30 days. That’s approximately 150 pages or 6 pages a day.

Since I’m at the halfway mark, I thought I would share my progress so far. At this point, I’ve written 17,807 words. That is 7,193 words less than the 25,000 that would indicate that I’m on pace to finish on time. Currently, I’m on pace to finish on December 13.

My novel this year falls into the (sub) genre of Urban Fantasy and is written in the first person. I’ve been writing this without much of a plan so I have no idea how it will end or even what will happen next. I’ve found this approach to be very satisfying, which is odd, because I’m typically a planner.

I also thought I would share a short excerpt with you.  Be warned, I haven’t edited it whatsoever. There may be typos, grammar mistakes, or it might just suck (likely). Enjoy (if you can)…

Crap.

It was the first word that went through my mind as I woke up Monday morning. It knew it was Monday morning because I was immediately confused by the noise coming from the black box with red numbers on it. Eventually I registered that this godawful piece of machinery was my alarm clock and it was going off because I had to get up and go to work. As a result, my day began in vulgarity.

Similarly, that is exactly how my Sunday night concluded. I dislike Sundays purely on the principle that Sunday is followed by Monday, which is my least favorite day of the week. All Sunday, I will dread the coming of Monday. It doesn’t help that I also never do anything fun I Sunday. I suppose I could, but instead I partake in laundry and grocery shopping and other mind-numbing activities that leave me with plenty of time to think about how lame Sundays are and how even more horrible Mondays are, which then in turn makes Sundays all the worse.

On this particular Sunday night, I sat down in front of my computer and surfed the web pathetically hoping to find something interesting posted on my favorite web sites, but, as it turns out, even the geeks that write science fiction blogs aren’t so lame as to publish a new article on a Sunday. After 5 minutes I had completed the rounds to my utter disappointment, which is what lead me into the no man’s land that I swore to myself that I would never enter.

I was, as you have probably already noticed, a hopelessly depressed loser. But despite my undesirable emotional and social status, I did still retain some shred of pride. This bit of pride, this dollop of ego, this sliver of self esteem had kept me from doing the thing that I dreaded most for the last five bitter and lonely years. However, on that Sunday night, my pride was finally overcome by a boredom and loneliness that had been growing more powerful for years, and I broke down and did the unthinkable.

I joined a dating web site.

The novel is meant to be lighthearted and fun with a certain amount of dry humor, so hopefully it comes across that way. Feel free to leave your comments. I hope you liked what you’ve read so far!

Happy Halloween

/ Geek Stuff /

With Halloween falling on a Sunday this year, that left two nights for costume parties and a rather busy fun weekend indeed. I tried out two costumes this year, one on Friday and one on Saturday. On Friday, I dressed up as a Buy More employee from Chuck. I did this one on the cheap and, as expected, no one knew what I was supposed to be, but there were some pretty close guesses. On Saturday, I went with the old standby: Marty McFly from Back to the Future. I’ve used this costume for the last three years and I feel no shame for it is pure awesome.

As I mentioned, this weekend was pretty busy and I didn’t have time to comment on a few news items that I found interesting. So I’m just going to insert some brief comments about each and feel better about myself.

Caprica is Done

I can’t say I didn’t see this one coming. The BSG prequel was getting pretty awful viewer numbers and I can’t blame Syfy for pulling the plug. I am a little surprised that they are holding off on airing the final episodes until 2011 however. I guess it just tanked that bad.

I had actually been watching, but, after every episode, I wondered why. I didn’t really like any of the characters or the story and it didn’t really feel like it was going anywhere. I can’t say that I’ll really miss it.

The Hobbit is Actually Moving Forward

This movie has had more problems getting started than I can realistically hope to list, but lately there has been some pretty positive news. There have been several casting announcements, including the confirmation that Martin Freeman will be playing the part of Bilbo Baggins, and that the movie will stay in New Zealand. I’m just happy to hear that things are moving in the right direction and I’m hoping that it’s a sign that we’ll be treated to the quality film that we are all expecting.

Supernatural

I just finished watching season two and, I have to say, this show is great. I really enjoyed the first season and the second may have been even better. Sam and Dean are such amazing characters and the acting is really superb. I’m a little disappointed that I haven’t been watching from the beginning, but it is awesome being able to watch at my own pace too. I may do a full post devoted to season two, but I just wanted to sneak in a quick comment.

Okay, I think that’s enough for one night. Happy Halloween all.

Welcome to WordPress

/ Geek Stuff /

Back in August, I decided to set up a blog on Blogger, because, as a web designer, I was interested in checking out Google’s blogging software (even though I knew it was on the decline in popularity). I had also just returned from Comic-Con and I had a lot of experiences that I was dying to share with the Internet community at large.

Setting up a blog on Blogger was quick and easy (a sure sign of the darkside) and in no time I was sharing my thoughts about Comic-Con, television, books, and geeky stuff in general. For awhile, I was satisfied, but eventually, I realized that Blogger just didn’t give me all of the options that I needed. I also thought it would be much cooler if the blog was integrated it into my existing web site.

So, I made the decision to set up a new blog on my web site and import the content from Blogger. Between Dreamhost‘s One-click Installs and WordPress‘s Blogger import plugin, it was about as easy as you could imagine, and I’ve done enough WordPress development that creating a new template to match the look and feel of my web site was a cakewalk.

All of the posts before this one originally lived at wizarddresden.blogspot.com. For a little while at least, they will live on both sites, but I don’t see that as a problem. If you are new to the blog, I primarily write about Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF for short) novels, television shows, and movies, but I also occasionally blog about music, graphic novels, and video and board games. If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a pretty big geek, but, hey, I’m okay with that.

If you happen to notice any major issues, shoot me an email. There is a contact link in the footer.

Well, I hope everyone enjoys the new setup as much as I do. If nothing else, I’m just pleased that my blog finally has a header graphic that it deserves. Hurray for UFOs and aliens!