Camille Griep’s New Charity Blues Rules

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First of all, kudos to Camille Griep in writing such a starkly different novel from debut Letters to Zell. I say this not because I disliked Letters to Zell; quite the opposite as you see from my reflections, more reflections , and review. (I pre-ordered New Charity Blues without knowing anything about it simply based on my love for Letters to Zell.)  Rather, she avoided the temptation to play it safe and to be pegged as a certain kind of writer or the tried-and-true route of writing a sequel. Granted, this is still speculative fiction; there are, after all, magical elements, but her previous world was fantasy grounded in overlapping reality whereas this novel provides a gritty, post-apocalyptic reality with magical elements. Moreover, the overall tone is grittier (while remaining less dark than the prevalent writing fashion of the day) even as she deals with similar issues of community and individuality such as: Where do our roles and obligations start and stop and when does feeling obligated result from self-abuse? How do we communicate and remain connected in the midst of having made different/difficult choices over which others differ or disapprove? When does cooperation roll-over into selling out? As much as this book is about fighting the status quo, it also speaks to how we fight. How do we avoid adopting our enemy’s worst characteristics when there seems to be no other way to “win?” Finally, how the heck can a writer so deftly handle these humorous riffs on fairy tales and gritty post-apocalyptic tinged with hope stories? Seriously, if Ms. Griep was considered an up-and-coming writer before, New Charity Blues announces her as a force with which to be reckoned. Simply consider that she has pulled this 50+-year-old man into stories tied around twenty-something fairy tale princess and a twenty-something former ballerina (not a huge call for dance after the plague) and her friends.

Camille Griep

Camille Griep

The book opens up in a world in which many have died through the plague. The city is bereft of power and running water; at this point, people have moved into a survival groove; it is the new normal. It’s no longer all out panic, but life as they’ve known it has come to an end. There is an enclosed, cultish community called New Charity. Said community has also closed off the only water supplies to the city and other regions downstream and has, seemingly miraculously, avoided the plague. The grass is literally greener on the other side of that fence (or wall in this case). Maybe they can give Mr. Trump some wall building lessons and its relative effectiveness, but I digress. So you could imagine those downstream are more than a little miffed at New Charity. The story wraps around the journey of a former New Charitan and the confusing fact that she has a foot in both worlds of the city and New Charity.

Like the princesses before her, Cress finds herself in these two worlds with conflicting obligations and wrenching demands. Unlike the princesses, she makes little effort to live within “the lines,” however, even she feels the pull of expectations. We see the heavy yoke of expectations placed upon one family and it tears it apart. We see lines drawn between people based on their expectations of each other and their lack of trust. We see all this through the lives of the relatively young who receive a fast education through intense experience. We also see the relatively old not dealing with it. Both hold risk.

All of this sounds intense, maybe too heavy and not all that fun. Ms. Griep weaves in her lively sense of humor throughout the book within the circumstances and in the characters. Yes, there’s pain and heartache. There are misunderstandings and comedies of errors that become less comedic. But there’s also a girl and her friends and relationships that grow in the midst of this intense round.

What do I like about this book?

  • Oh, the characters, so many great characters. Even the baddies are great characters.
  • If two books make a pattern, you will never be bored in a Camille Griep book. She continues to encourage deeper reflection for any that read at all beyond the surface. So like Letters to Zell could have been read for a mostly fun light story, New Charity Blues could be read as a page-turning post-apocalyptic thriller more focused on relationships than most. Both of those reading experiences are good, but both represent the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Even old guys like me are encouraged to reflect on how I manage that tight wire of true obligation and inappropriate expectations and the consequences of inaction.
  • Intriguing world building. While this doesn’t present a new world with totally new rules ala Hogwarts in the Harry Potter world or The Name of the Wind, it does build out its speculative elements in an interesting and disciplined manner. She does allow us to fully breathe in the worlds of both the city but especially New Charity and the challenging social structure with it.
  • This doesn’t have plot twists in the traditional sense, but every time I thought I had things figured out, much like real life, I was sadly mistaken. Ms. Griep keeps one on one’s toes
  • Who knew Camille Griep could be brutal, cruel and a torturer of puppies? You see that seemingly angelic and sweet look in the author’s picture above; sheer deception. OK, that last bit might be over the top but she does have a ruthless side. She’ll do things to her characters I can only hope to have the courage to do to mine someday. Talk about your tough love!
  • Finally, Ms. Griep presents an empathetic and deep understanding of the disenfranchised. And let’s face it, we all feel disenfranchised at times.

What don’t I like? Yanking my emotional chain around! OK, that’s what good authors are supposed to do but maybe Camille Griep could do it just a little less well. Tone down the connection with the characters! Make me care a bit less. Stopping sucking me fully into her worlds and her books. I’m a grown man after all; we need to preserve a little dignity. Oh wait, that’s also why I bought the book. Ok, I got one – a little bit of a spoiler coming up – I thought James was going to be a good guy. Are you trying to teach us something about first impressions?

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Whitney Dykhouse & Lauren Ezzo

As is my wont, I went between the Kindle and Audible versions of the book using that lovely Whispersync for Voice feature. The audiobook version is performed by Lauren Ezzo and Whitney Dykhouse alternating between the primary points of view of Cress and Cass. This works well. If you like audiobooks, you’ll like this performance

 

Seriously, read the book. Recognize your own tendency to live up to expectations or at least their influence on you, even if it’s to rebel against them. Think of your own clever way of managing said expectations. Our dear Cress was a bit of a bull-in-a-china-shop, there may be alternatives. Of course, her bullish nature is part of her charm, definitely set things in motion and saved lives, so not such a bad method.  New Charity Blues has sealed it – I have an unmitigated love for Ms. Griep’s work and am an unabashed fan. And yes, I will preorder pretty much anything Camille Griep pens.

 

Lana Axe’s The Wrathful Mountains Whisks You on a High Fantasy Ride

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Reading Lana Axe’s The Wrathful Mountains is somewhat akin to jumping on a high fantasy themed water ride – it takes you along at its own pace, depositing you where it will. I was pulled along the current of the narrative even as I was craning my (figurative) neck to visually parse the world that is part of the Nōl’Deron series. We meet the Ulihi, and their intriguing high priestess, Tashi, who comprise a native tribe whose identity and practices have continued unbroken for time out of mind. We follow the exploits of Kaiya, a Dwarf sorceress where magic is almost exclusively in the hands of the elves. She is closely followed by her friend, and sometimes more, Galen the elf, who, of course, studies Dwarf runes. This unlikely cast of characters, along with help from the stalwart mining dwarves, are tasked to rid the world of recently awakened evil set to destroy the world. Relying on her power with wind and her own wits, Kiaya is obliged to step into the line of fire with potentially more capable help unable to be reached in time.

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[Note: I was provided a copy of the book for an honest review]

The Wrathful Mountains is the most recent entrant into the Nōl’Deron series; while one’s experience may be enriched by reading the previous books unlike most fantasy series,  this may be read on its own. One of the things I found intriguing about the book is that it builds our understanding of the characters and their relationships within the context of the narrative. In other words, rather than focus on exposition or memories to have us come to know the characters or their connections, it does so through the action. So, before I even knew it, Ms. Axe had me caring about what happened to her characters and the people to whom they are tied. It seems a literary embodiment of that line from Batman Begins: “It’s not who I am underneath but what I do that defines me.” These folks show their care for each other through risking their lives for one another; they overcome the tension between peoples through action. They show their love through gifts. Now, you might think it odd that a person who lives words, like Lana Axe, would emphasize words over action, but not so, at least in this novel. Now, don’t get me wrong, words are important; they have power in the story. I’m simply remarking that a book that seems, at first blush, to be all about narrative drive and little about character building or relationships does give us characters and relationships who come through the back door of action throughout the story.

This is a story of a heroine with honorable people who help her. There are no deeply conflicted characters, reluctant leaders or anti-heros. It doesn’t rely on lots of twists and turns or a novel so focused on the world it inhabits that the story meanders to a slow-moving stream. It is, in the immortal words of Garrison Keillor, a place where “the women are strong, the men are (mostly) good looking and the children above average.” These are straight-shooters.

I enjoyed the book, was surprised how quickly and naturally it swept me up in the action and the characters and will definitely come back for more.

Robyn Cage’s Born in the Desert burns in our hearts and emboldens our souls

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Robyn Cage – courtesy of robyncage.com

Even a brief survey of Robyn Cage’s songs shine out her unbridled love of music; she is no subject of the pop music machine. Her choices are unique, and, while her videos are stages and embed all sorts of artifice, they are never fake or artificial. With all the semi-goth, steampunk undertones of her look, her voice and words are those of a balladeer. There is a narrative drive in all of her songs, her videos, and her choices. I’ve been following Ms. Cage since I first saw her “Burning Now” video when it first came out in 2014; my response at the time was “Ridiculously good” (who knew we would have our history through Twitter)? That remains my response with the added realization of the breadth of her work. Simply listen to her the post-apocalyptic “Burning Now” with underlying baseline flipping to minor key misery then to the crystalline clarity of her cover of Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” sounding as if she’s a member of Celtic Woman. Then there’s her tribute to David Bowie – here she is, appearing to float on the Great Salt Lake with only her voice and a keyboard. She nails it with a combination of earthiness interspersed with ethereal trills. What a range within a still relatively small body of work. So this is Ms. Cage – melting our minds with the story of “Theatre Noir” and capturing our hearts with her collaboration with Isobel Von Finklestein in “Annabelle’s Dance. ” There is variety and breadth as the threads of storytelling conjoined with beautiful singing are woven throughout the disparate songs.

With this picture of Ms. Cage before our eyes, let’s take a look at how this plays out in her album Born in the Desert.  This beautifully eclectic album starts out with “The Arsonist and The Thief”: “They met in the desert-their encounter was brief/He was an Arsonist, she was a Thief/He struck a match and she burned with desire/She stole his heart, he set hers on fire.” I love the images even this brief line evokes. She sings of the tentative nature of love that needs to be nurtured by using juxtaposed images.

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I also love how “Larger than Life”  embodies Ms. Cage’s ability to meld her storytelling, songstress side with a driving pop sound. She speaks of the downward slide of love which builds towards a more driving sound with the pre-chorus: “We walked on holy ground/We took a sacred vow/You stripped me of my power/You broke me down” crescendos with this fabulous chorus: “I used to be a Goddess, a Priestess/In your eyes/I used to be stronger, stand taller/ Larger than life/ Now you’ve cut me down so small/ I don’t exist at all.” This mix of ballad and pop reflecting loss and recognition of strength work perfectly.

“Born in the Dessert” clearly sets itself up differently as she begins with her voice slide down the notes, an earthier tone and a melody whose beat roles just a little different than our expectations. She moves from near sotto voce to fortissimo voce as she builds her story.  Her rich imagery of a flood of blood, pushing boulders up a mountainside and rising from the dust are what make her “love songs” unlike any other. Her imagination also shines in “Burning Now” while exercising her penchant for using opposing images, in this case, ice and fire: “But I’m learning now/My love is burning now/I’d do anything/To make you turn around/These icy walls are burning/My heart is burning now”

Here’s a cool remix of “Burning Now”

It’s interesting how much “Annabelle’s Dance” and “Theatre Noir” share a similar sound for two very different songs. Annabelle’s Dance is almost a postcard of a time in a girl’s life, providing both a picture of the girl and a slice of her emotional/thought caught in time. Theatre Noir, on the other hand, is a vignette of a performing circus group with a man who wishes to follow his love and to do so must become one of them. One of the things I love about Robyn Cage, and this song, in particular, is that she invites and involves those who don’t fit, those, to quote Maxim Gorky, who “are foreigners in their own country.” We misfits, fit in with her; her songs welcome us in and tell our story.

I haven’t even touched on the recognition of our storms and struggles in “If you Don’t Try”, our breaking from our cocoons in “The Cave”, letting go our anger at disillusionment in “Cinderella Story”, the loss of a loved one in “Letting Go” or the power of love to change us, even to enable us to love in “Capacity.” These are all great songs. What makes this album so special is that Robyn Cage applies her considerable voice, exquisite timing and emphasis to build a musical tapestry of varied weaves and texture into a lovely, coherent album.

I highly commend this album (and all of her work) to your listening pleasure.

Peter Tieryas’ United States of Japan Encapsulates Horrific Authoritarian Rule in Brilliant Writing

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United States of Japan takes a similar premise as Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle in an even more dystopian direction, that premise being that America lost the war, Nazi Germany has the Eastern portion, Japan has the Western portion and the Nazi’s and the Japanese Empire are distrustful frenemies. All of the action takes place on the west coast with the Nazi’s being a mere mention. If you like your visions of the future dark and dystopian, there’s plenty of that here. There is also plenty of hope and a recognition of fortitude in the face of totalitarianism. This is a personal journey and a political movement. There are no one dimensional characters (although some of the bad guys are thoroughly bad).

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received an advanced review copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.]

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The seriously rock-a-lockin’ book cover for USJ

What makes this book such a rare gem is that it manages to do all things well. Its writing is clever, careful and often beautifully phrased, which is especially challenging with contemporary dialog (about which more later). America, mainly focused on California, is reeling in the aftermath of its devastating post-World War II loss. In depicting said America,  Mr. Tieryas’ follows Chekhov’s dictum: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” He does so in spades, painting the scene in all of its livid, detailed glory which sometimes presents surprises and is always all too believable. The characters are multidimensional, interesting and, often, not nice. They, too, are full of surprises. The cohesive narrative flows quickly while pulling you completely in and spitting you, wrung out, by the end. Often, good books do two or three of these aspects of writing well; Mr. Tieryas accomplishes the rare feat of nailing every one, making this a great book.

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Peter Tieryas

So I’ve bestowed high praise on the book. Why? Well let’s take a deeper dive into each of these elements of writing:

Phrasing: In some ways, this is the most impressive aspect of the book. This is a fast moving, action packed book with intrigue and twists. Most of the beautiful phrasing I find has a bit more stately pace such as Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus or Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane. Not that they’re slow, but they are less focused on action. Moreover, this is a contemporary novel (where as the two examples I gave are either timeless or historic). Why does this make it harder? We tend to be a little lazy, often using shorthand, and have less precision in our speech than in times past. I’m not saying formal (or stuffy) writing has better phrasing, rather we tend to use lazy phrases like “I’m good,” “you feel” and “what’s up?” Not bad in and of themselves, but less than eloquent (unless judiciously used). Mr. Tieryas uses phrases like: “The skyline was a fissured gradient of conflicted red, forlorn gray and dissipated azure” “The Americans they saw were in a daze, faces devoid of emotion, a hollowness that made them appear to be ghosts in costume. They saw Ruth and Ezekiel walking past, but gave no reaction, their spirits crushed by the specter of a carmine Helios above.” Even the quick dialog has some punch: “It’s a viral gun that rewrites the history of your blood. If I shot you with this, in five minutes, you wouldn’t be recognizable.” Yes, I had some visions that turned out to be tame compared to someone we later see injected with this. Is all of the dialog brilliant? Of course not; some is quite matter of fact. However, the whole tenor of the book is careful, frequently lovely, phrasing matching the milieu of the world around the characters.

World Building: Mr. Tieryas builds an amazingly complex world that vastly changes the culture of western America to a confluence of Japanese and American culture and different from both. It is populated with Mechas, giant human-piloted robots with supporting intelligence made to look like Samurai, portical (similar to tablets), electric cars and bio and mechanical body enhancements. Often words from Japanese culture are embedded in the story and dialog. So it’s this complex shift in culture and technology and yet, with some cool hat trick, he makes it all make sense without being overwhelming. By the time you finish the book, it seems to take on a believable life of its own that, while not comfortable (who would voluntarily live in such a world), seems natural. I also love the gaming culture.

Characters: The main characters, Beniko Ishimura and Akiko Tzukino, are complex and starkly different. There are aspects about both that grow to appreciate. There are surprise moments for some of the characters, but no jarring changes from the type of people they’ve presented themselves to be. They are not alone as characters of interest. Suffice it to say that the characters are varied, mostly complex and interesting. Their relationships with one another are not the focus of the book but build, especially between the primary figures, throughout the book.

Narrative: While there are stories within stories, twists and turns and cultural and references that are unfamiliar (at least to me), the storyline is clear, compelling and coherent. I love this take on an alternate history, albeit not the actual alternative itself. This has the right feel for a possible weird, wacky and messy alternative to the fairly weird, wacky and messy world in which we live. I appreciate how much of the narrative is grounded. No one comes out smelling like roses. Not only do Americans put Japanese (and just plain Asian looking) people into concentration camps, but in this version, do horrific things when they become desperate. The Japanese are willing to do anything to remain in power, even 40 years after their victory. Well told and well done.

Honestly, this is one of my favorite book I’ve read this year and on my all time favorite books. This is my introduction to Mr. Tieryas’ writing, so I will be adding Bald New World and Watering Haven to my list of books to read.

Phrasing: 4/5

World Building:  5/5

Character:  4.5/5

Narrative: 4.5/5

After my lengthy hiatus from reviews, I’ll add a new feature (for any who might have glanced at my previous reviews), music by which to read the book.

A Little Book Music: I spent a good deal of time listening to Anne Akiko Meyers Plays Satoh / Debussy / Messiaen / Takemitsu / Ravel. Especially apropos was Satoh’s ‘Birds In Warped Time II’. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, Inception also works well. I’m sure there’s some head-banging screemo that would work for parts, but I just can’t read to that.

Romulus Buckle and the Luminiferous Aether is a Fun, Deep Dive into Romulus, Atlantis and Surrounding Characters.

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Romulus Buckle and the Luminiferous Aether, the third book in Richard E Preston, Jr.’s Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin series, takes a slight deviation from the styles of the previous two and focuses a little less on action and a little bit more on world making, relationships, character, and backstory. That may sound dull but it’s not. There’s still plenty of action, but with the added bonus of delving more into each character we’ve come to know and love. It’s also in this book where we truly dive (literally and figuratively) into Atlantis, and get more story behind the Sabrina and the children of Balthazar, leader of the Crankshaft clan.

You will want to read these in order – more on Romulus Buckle and the City of Founders and Romulus Buckle and The Engines of War.

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Richard E Preston

We are once again bestowed with a starkly different setting for this book than the other two. While we remain in the steampunesque Snow World, most of the action takes place under water, in Atlantis, the never-lost city under the sea. The Atlanteans base their culture on the Roman Empire, replete with burnished armor and red-combed helmets, Senators in togas, and feelings of superiority. Mr. Preston describes a world of wonder, one that seems both possible if not real with an otherworldly quality to it. Under a thin veneer of civility and power lies of people that are both savage and scared. Those two are never a good combination. Whether it’s the mysterious luminiferous aether with its odd electricity or the items on the menu, this undersea world feels quite alien.

We have an opportunity to learn more about the Captain, Max, and Sabrina as well as some of their related family. It’s interesting to see both the parallels and the differences between the airborne culture of the Crankshafts and undersea one of the Atlanteans. Of course, some of the similarities are relatively obvious like being on a vessel whether it’s riding under the ocean or on top of the air; there are a number of similarities both in discipline and in design. However, it is the cultural differences, beyond of modes of transport and living space, that make the real story.

Romulus Buckle by Daniela Giubellini., courtesy of http://richardellisprestonjr.com/

We also get the backstory to the Atlantean’s themselves as well as Penny Dreadful’s story (who was introduced to us in Book 2). In the course of providing the respective back stories of these characters and places, we are brought along with just that, stories. So, it’s not some long boring monologue used for exposition but intriguing side stories that are well integrated into the whole. Yes, this is a book with more disparate storylines, not all of which fully converge before Mr. Preston’s very unkindly delivered cliffhanger. We’ll have to wait for the next installment to see them converge.

The things I love about the series – its swashbuckling nature with a steampunk twist, in the immortal words of Mal – real damn heroes, and familial relationships that go beyond blood all continue to be played out albeit with some tweaking and nuance added.  Romulus Buckle is taken out of his comfort zone, if threading the air in a gas balloon tethered by ropes could be called a comfort zone, and placed leagues under the sea. Despite the pressure (undersea and otherwise), he holds firm to his character as does his company.

Romulus Buckle and the Luminiferous Aether is another fabulous book in the Pneumatic Zeppelin series and I look forward to its next entry (which I would do even if not left dangling from a story-rope even as I’m hoisted into the next story – just sayin’).

 

Mozo and Lumia 950 – Flagship Uniqueness That Wears Thin Too Quickly

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One of the complaints about Microsoft’s Lumia 950 is that some think it just doesn’t feel or look like a flagship phone. While I love the phone and the Windows 10 Mobile OS,  the phone did seem to lack a certain panache. Mozo Accessories, a Finnish company who worked closely with Nokia and now is an official partner of Microsoft, comes to the rescue with their leather covers; they replace the original plastic back cover.

UPDATE: Alas, while they look fabulous out the box, the sides wear easily near the ports, so I cannot recommend them anymore. See below for details.

 

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Mozo’s back cover for the Lumia 950 XL

These back covers are not just another pretty face either – they support Qi wireless charging. They seem durable with metallic accents and unique looks. While I really like the brown leather and its stitching, I went for the subtler white version; a bit of a nostalgic nod to my (now old) white Nokia Lumia 920. The phone stays slim with its perfect fit, has precise openings where needed, grips well in the hand and, while it has very defined edges, it doesn’t dig into your hand. A nice cover indeed. (BTW, I bought mine at MobileFun – they seem the least expensive place and it arrived in perfect condition and timely.)

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Now the rest of this phone is rock-a-lockin’. I find the Windows 10 Mobile interface smooth, intuitive and a delight to use. The phone sports  a 5.2 in,  2560 x 1440 screen with 3 GB of RAM with 32 GB of storage with a microSD slot for another 128 GB (which can go up to 200 GB), a Qualcomm six-core Snapdragon 808 processor running Windows 10 (mobile) with a 20 megapixle camera (using fifth generation optical image stabilization) weighing in at 150 g being 8.2 mm thick. This means it’s an amazing phone with a stunning camera and utterly gorgeous screen. Use a Display Dock (and Continuum), keyboard and monitor, it can become an office away from home.

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So this lovely bit of tech now looks like the flagship phone it was destined to be.

 

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Update

Much to my chagrin, this destined look is short-lived. After only 2 & 1/2 months of pretty easy wear, both the USB-C and Headphone jack ports have degraded and the silver metal-like coating is gone around them (see below). For over $40, I would expect better wear. So I went out of the way to get a cover to really give a flagship look to the phone and, it ends up looking a bit cheap.

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Highlighted USB – C port where the silver has flaked off.

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Highlighted headphone jack where the silver has flaked off

Halie and the Moon’s Blue Transmissions EP Leaves You Anything but Blue

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From the very first verse of The Story: “I’m the girl outside your window painted blue/who holds the shadows, waves goodbye, and shelters you…” to that of Into the World “He spoke you into the world on the edge of his tongue…,” Blue Transmissions: Vol 1 wraps you into a lovely cocoon of eclectic sound not easily pressed into any genre while bearing the mark of this special collaboration of vocals, cello, bass, acoustic guitar, and drums.

Blue Transmissions: Vol 1 is a new EP (dropped December 8th) from a new group, Halie and the Moon. They hit my radar because of my love for Halie Loren’s velvet voice. Along with Ms. Loren (vocals & piano), they consist of Katherine Dudney (cello & background vocals) – to get a sense of Ms. Dudney’s talent, check out her original composition, River, Bobby Stevens (bass & background vocals), Daniel Gallo (acoustic guitar) and Beau Eastlund (drums). Both Messrs. Gallo and Eastlund previously collaborated with Ms. Loren on Butterfly Blue (one of my favorite albums) and were members together in Concrete Loveseat (it seems that the Eugene music scene is close knit). While, along with Ms. Loren’s voice, it is Ms. Dudney’s cello that colors the unique sound they produce, the band melds so well that you would think they’ve been together for years. This is evident from how well they play very different types of songs in the jazz/pop of The Story to the ethereal ballad of Winter, the jazz/funk of Breathe and the folk/pop of Into the World. Listening to them fuse together the musical backdrop of the story given in Into the World is particularly mesmerizing.

Courtesy halieandthemoon.com, photo credit - Bob Williams

Courtesy halieandthemoon.com, photo credit – Bob Williams

Like a butterfly leaving its cocoon (OK, I couldn’t resist), Halie and the Moon is a new creation unlike any of the individual artists in it but making them, together, greater than the sum of their parts. That being said, The Story is more reminiscent of Ms. Loren’s sound on previous records, including Butterfly Blue, than the other songs here. The bouncy beat, turn of phrase and lit of voice all harken back to previous work (which is lovely), yet there is this undercurrent of bass beat, strings, and guitar that are the hallmark of the new collaborative sound they bring together. That bounce meshes well with the upbeat lyrics: “Well it’s high time that we stumbled to the city/don’t need a dime if we shine up all our pennies/A highwire and an umbrella make a new day/somersaulting to the faces on the subway…”

The band has emphasized their offering of Winter in a music video:

They’ve done so for good reason. Ms. Loren’s honied-voice combines perfectly with the dream-like quality of the song with its poetic lyrics:

Love, won’t you sing a lullaby?
White, naked as the winter snow…
Hey, can we give another try?
It’s time to make our way home.
It’s time to be alone, time to hide away now
Time to keep a love alight inside – every love alight… Love, can we find the other side
of this night, woven with a silver hope?

I love the drum and bass beat intro into Breathe, the slide of the cello throughout and the interesting word-images it employs: “Don’t you feel like a homeless balloon/In someone else’s song?/And you play along” They delightfully frame the piece with their musical phrasing in a slight piano/cello interlude before it breaks back into: “Breathe now, baby/Let the constellations take you/And all and all the everything/Is hanging on an ether swing…”

In some ways, Into the World is my favorite song in an EP filled with delights. I love portraiture in words and this builds its pictorial narrative perfectly through music and verse. The vignette of their relationship opens with an acapella line: “He spoke you into the world/On the edge of his tongue…” It later fuses together voice, piano and string on the simple world of “You.” The theme is wonderfully repeated while transmuting into something new: “He wrote you into the blue/On the edges of the sky,” much like the relationship and person described. Finally, it ends, full circle, acapella, with that same line: “He spoke you into the world.”

 

My only complaint about Blue Transmission is that it is a four song EP and not a 12 (or more!) song full album. I clearly appreciate the effort it takes to produce something like this but do look forward to hearing more from this group. It is a delightful collaboration. So, if you’re looking for something new to play on that new smartphone, those new headphones or other musical accouterment from Christmas, look no further than Blue Transmissions. I highly commend it to you for your listening pleasure.

 

Moving to a Higher Capacity Micro SD card for Windows 10 Mobile – Tips and Tricks

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Digital storage continues to become more and more affordable just as we need more and more. My current phone, Microsoft Lumia 950, comes with 32 GB of storage on board. I paired that with a 64GB card I had been using. So that’s a whopping 96 GB of storage on a phone! I know for many of you that’s a yawn, but I still find it remarkable.

TrueShieldLumia950Over

However, my phone can play lossless audio, shoot stills at 20 megapixels and can shoot video at Ultra HD resolution (3840 x 2160)! That all can chew up storage. To put this in perspective: my 8 megapixel Lumia 920 camera pictures (saving in jpg) would take up about 1.2 MB per shot, my Lumia 950 takes up about 6.3 MB per shot in Rich capture mode (meshing multiple shots together. Video taken at on my Lumia 920 at full HD (1080p) would take 2.1 GB per hour. 1 hour of Ultra HD video takes up 318 GBs. So, before I knew it, I had roughly 20 GB of music (despite using Groove’s streaming service), 20 GB of video and miscellaneous documents and files that added up to 58 GB of storage used on my 64 GB card. Yikes! The phone is less than a month old. So, what with Black Friday sales and cheaper cards, I upgraded to a 128 GB card. I would love a 200 GB card, but that’s still a bit too rich for my blood at $100 on Amazon. I bought my card for $40 on sale; it’s roughly $50 right now. Note: these prices are for well-known storage players; this is an area you don’t want to go with an unknown manufacturer.

Great! But wait, now I had to move all the apps, documents, pictures, music, and video over. You might think that this is a long but simple process of copying all the files on the card onto the new. Not so much. Apps won’t work if you simply copy the card. Can you move all the apps and data so that everything is preserved to work just like it did on the old card? Yes, but it’s some work.

InfrastructurallyRobustOffice2

 

I have a particularly happy situation in which to do this:

  • I have a Microsoft Surface 3 Pro with enough capacity to back up the old card. This means I have a USB 3 port (much faster than USB 2) and an SSD drive on which to store (again, fast access).

TranscendUSB3CardReader

 

 

 

PNY126GBMicroSDXC

  • The Sony 64 GB card I was backing up was rated at 40 MB/s and the new PNY 128 GB card was rated at 60 MB/s.

 

 

 

 

I averaged about 30 MB/s backup and about 18 MB/s copying onto the new card. Now, both of those are not only slower the theoretical USB 3.0 speeds but even USB 2.0 theoretical maxes. However, in practice, that’s 2 to 3 times faster than I would get with USB 2.0. So, despite this relatively fast setup, it’s still time-consuming. Your mileage may vary. On Android; I hear that a simple copy doesn’t work there to preserve apps either. Of course, you have no worries on iOS since you’re stuck at whatever capacity you have on board when you originally purchase the phone (hint-buy as much as you can afford and pay lots for iCloud backup).

So here’s what I did:

  1. Move all of your applications from your current Micro SDXC card to you phone (hopefully, you have capacity). This means selecting each by hand and selecting “Move”. If you don’t wait for that move to be done before you try to go to the next one, it seems to stop and the new one take over. So wait.
  2. Take that card out and back it up. For the 950, this means either indicating that you want to remove the card or shutting down, taking the back off.  If you said for it to remove the card, then pull the micro SD card out. It is a close fit with the battery in, so you may have to turn the phone over and let it drop out. If you shut down, then the battery out. Remove the card, put it into your card reader and copy. Of course, you could just plug into your USB 3 port with your USB 3.1 to 3 cord, but you’ll have to get the old card out anyway to format the new that you might as well use the card reader.
  3. Put the new card in the phone and format. Do this while step 2 is underway. You don’t need to put the back on again, but that might be safer. I left it off.
  4. Pull the new card out (doing all you did in step 2 unless the back is already off), copy the backup data from step 2 to new card.
  5. Put the new card back in the phone. Put the battery back in, cover on and start up.
  6. Move all of your applications from your phone to your new card. Yup, each one by hand. This takes a while, so just keep at it while you do other stuff.

Viola – a number of hours later (if you’re like me and had 58 GB used for applications, documents and media (music, pictures and video). Just copying nearly 60 GB of data takes between 20 minutes and half an hour. All the apps remembered their data and login information (if that’s how you left them from the old card). Now, as long as I don’t shoot much Ultra HD video, I’m good to go for a while. Hopefully, the next card I buy will border on a terabyte, but for now, I have a bit of breathing room :)

TruShield Tempered Glass – Saving the Day, One Smartphone at a Time

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TrushieldSPLumia950

Got to love the time on this phone

Recently, I bought a Microsoft Lumia 950 Windows 10 phone. Love is a pretty strong word when it comes to inanimate objects, so let’s just say I thoroughly appreciate this phone’s features and capabilities; I am, perhaps, inordinately fond of what I can do with this phone. (More on how this fits in my mobile world here.) One of those features I love is its WQHD (2560 x 1440) 5.2” AMOLED ClearBlack screen. Whilst this lovely 564 ppi eye candy is covered with Gorilla Glass, even that can be scratched or, heaven forbid, cracked. Enter the world of tempered glass screen covers. In particular, Trushield Tempered Glass Screen Protector for the Lumia 950 comes to the rescue.

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a side view with TruShield on

Before I wax poetic on the virtues of glass screen covers, let’s walk down memory lane. Back in the day, we had to settle for plastic film, the installation of which would break me in to sweats and soapy fingers. Once done, even if you did avoid bubbles (which was unlikely), viewing your phone screen was like looking through a mirror, darkly. Why have these great screens if we can’t view them in all of their luscious glory? True ballistic tempered glass covers avoid these limitations.

TrushieldSPLumia950Info

They install relatively easily. They are super-clear to look through (you’ll often forget you have one on) and if it gets horribly scratched, you’re out $10 or $15 and you just get another cover. So, all is well with the world, right? Not so much. My first experience with tempered glass, through personal recommendation, was Tech Armor for my wife’s iPhone 6. It worked well and, at least in my experience, is some of the best tempered glass available. Alas, they service a very limited market of only the very most popular phones, chiefly iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones. While the Lumia 950 is fabulous, it’s not super popular. So, for those of us who follow a road less traveled, we need to turn elsewhere. Now lots of folks sell things they call tempered glass but are plastic film; stiffer than a Zagg cover but they still tend to have bubbles. It turns out to be quite challenging to get a good tempered glass cover, at least on Amazon. The first one I ordered came without the cover at all. The box had the alcohol square to clean the glass, dust absorbers but no glass cover! The second one was a mediocre film cover; clearly not tempered glass. Then there was TruShield. Finally!

TrueShieldLumia950Notes

My Lumia 950 – with notes on the cut-outs

TruShield tempered glass actually did install in a straight-forward fashion sans bubbles. Looking at my screen with it on is indistinguishable from when it wasn’t on. All scrolling, gestures, selections and anything else that requires our little digits touching the screen work perfectly. No sensors, lenses or mics were harmed in the making of this safety. In other words, it does the job for which it was designed. That is, alas, a stunningly rare thing. I heartily recommend TruShield tempered glass screen protectors for your Lumia, HTC, LG or whatever your poison. If you ever get a slight cut across your screen (as a friend of mine did on his LG G4’s screen protector), you’ll be glad you did.

There’s no place like (infrastructurally robust) home, 2015 Edition

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MOC3

Mobile Office – 2015

While we appreciate our ability to be mobile (and we’re able to do more with mobile tools than ever before), as I previously posted, we also love to come back to a well-designed workplace (I love my job). As the mobile world has gotten better, so has the old homestead.

 Below is the 2012 version of the robust office.

D

– His more substantial big-brother –

Now here’s the 2015 version of that picture with some updates:

-The Better Big Brother

– The Better Big Brother
While the most of the changes are subtle, they’re substantial
  1. In the 2012 version, you see the wireless charging pad, but not my Nokia Lumia 920 (WP8) because it was used in taking the picture. The 2015 version shows my more powerful Microsoft Lumia 950 (WP10) on the same charging plate.
  2. I went from a good but bulky mouse to a trim mouse the uses Logitech’s unifying system, which allows me to use the same USB receiver for up to 5 devices; the keyboard used the same one.
  3. Improved monitor and monitor stand – both flattens out the monitor viewing and declutters the stands.
  4. Move to a Surface Pro 3 with a docking station. Provides a third monitor and helps on the mobile side of things.
  5. Logitech Keyboard using the unifying system.

A couple of other small updates is the Microsoft LifeCam for conference calls, an updated Plantronics wireless headset and the oh-so-necessary Lava Lamp. (Our gecko friend was on vacation, but still here). What’s not shown is what I no long need separately – the Surface RT I had. Now I have one device that replaces two which is actually more capable than both. I also moved from Windows 7 to Windows 10 (and ran Windows 8.1 in between).

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